Grace under Fire

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Tips for maintaining professionalism in chaos

 

In the last three weeks, our world has been turned upside down by something well beyond our personal control. For many professionals whose careers have been built by discipline and control, it’s a real issue. While trying to figure out how to keep our businesses financially viable, we suddenly find ourselves as teachers, maids, cooks, and personal care professionals. It’s overwhelming, exhausting, and irritating.

In a crisis, an individual’s character is truly exposed. I’d like to share a few tips for the professionals that are also parents out there that feel like you are losing control. It has helped me maintain my composure while dealing with an immense amount of stress.

I’ll start by saying my family is in a dual-income scenario in which we outsource everything. Between my husband and myself we own two businesses, one of which has payrolled employees, the other has 1099’d and my husband is also an executive at a Fortune 50 company. This is my audience, so please disregard if you are in the great fortune of having a stay at home parent.IMG_9923

Routine: Not much has changed in my routine. I still wake up at the same time to get my workout in prior to work. Same bat time, same bat channel.  My kids, for the most part, wake up at the same time as a regular school day (6AM), and they need to get dressed and get downstairs by 7AM for class. This expectation was set as soon as we realized that we would be in this for several weeks.  Fortunately, their school work is relatively easy as they are still in elementary school. One of my sons has been late for school twice this week and paid the consequence by folding laundry.

I still get my toughest work done in the morning, it’s just an hour later. My business runs somewhat in a regular albeit shorter schedule. If someone were to look at how my company runs on the inside, they wouldn’t see much difference from January to today other than more virtual conferences.

Dinner and bedtime are still on the same schedule as well. This keeps my family on track in terms of expectations. While my kids know what is happening in the world, it doesn’t impact their daily expectations, same for employees. IMG_9924

Personal Appearance: Once they are started on their schoolwork, it’s business as usual for me. I still dress for work. A crisis is a time in which you need to be hyper-sensitive about the things you can control. Control the way you present yourself, get dressed, put on your makeup and do your hair, even if it’s not professionally groomed at this point. The psychological effects of maintaining your physical appearance in a time of immense stress are irrefutable. Personal hygiene and presentation are forms of self-care and this isn’t the first time I have been meticulous about my appearance. Three years ago I lost both of my stepparents within a month of each other. The only thing that I could control was how I showed up. My brother commented on my “grace” during this time period and it wasn’t that I had mastered grace, it’s that I displayed it in my appearance.

I have the same expectations for my children. They are to get up and be dressed just like they would for school. This gives them the sense that this is a regular day in which they need to be held accountable, just as they would be at school.

I have the same expectations for employees even though I cannot mandate it.

Patience: Understand that this is all just temporary. It may be a few more months prior to adjusting back to some of the way we operated in January. I use the word “some” because I hope that we bring some of the things we’ve learned in the chaos forward and incorporate it into our new normal. But for now, we can practice patience in all categories of our lives. Practice patience with your family, your profession, your expectations in the market, and your expectations with yourself.

This article may be irritating to some. It’s even a little irritating to me, but I hope that it will shed a little light on the importance of routine, personal accountability, and patience. As we navigate this, focus on the things that you can control and practice patience with the things that you cannot.

 

Style Matters

Business, Work Wear

Pink Kids Collage Instagram Post

“It all seems so vain and selfish”, is what an acquaintance of mine said regarding my position on impression management.  To tell the truth, I thought the same way early in my career, and it showed.  However, what we wear speaks volumes in just a few seconds. Social psychology tells us this as well as a boatload of facts and data, but if it’s hard to wrap your hands around the vanity of choosing style, let me arm you with my own personal style journey.

Photo Cred: https://www.adp.com/spark/articles/2018/04/advocating-for-gender-equality-in-the-workplace.aspx#

Negotiate Like A Man

Business

I was recently engaged in a search in which very few people in the US are qualified: under 15, to be exact. Interesting enough, the final candidate pool consisted of 2 qualified individuals – a male stepping into the role and a female with a few more years of experience than the male co-candidate. Several rounds of negotiation ensued with both candidates and the end result didn’t surprise me: The male candidate ended up negotiating his compensation to a level more senior than the more experienced female. The male got the job.

Stop Apologizing

Etiquette

It’s no secret that half of the workforce is female. It’s also not a secret that a majority of those working females are also mothers. This summer, I chose to work remotely so that my children could spend time with their grandfather and attend awesome summer camps that were out of the state. I am a firm believer of taking my children outside of their comfort zone. At the ripe ages of 6 and 8, we left Atlanta for 5 weeks. I rented an office in Beaufort, SC where my father lives, and let my boys have the best summer of the lives. I only missed two days of work and had the most productive five weeks in nearly 6 years.

Obstacles are Expected and Excuses are for People Who Need Them.

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This is part three of four regarding military men and the lessons I learned.

“Excuses are for people that need them”, said my former CEO, Art Lucas, to a former colleague of mine. She had explained that she was running behind because of the nightmares of Atlanta traffic. Art Lucas was former Army and took zero excuses from anyone. You have a target and whether the target was a time, a number, or a place, the objective was to meet it. Excuses were just distractions or obstacles to overcome while meeting your target. Obstacles in any pursuit, are to be anticipated.

Much like Meridian Group, Art Lucas started as a small one-man business in 1970. Art had the important vision of helping military personnel transition to the civilian workforce after completing their military service. Lucky for me, later Art expanded his business to included executive search as well as expanded his footprint to include 17 offices worldwide. I started working there in early 2005.

Art was an early riser and he was one of the first at the office which was one of the few things we had in common, albeit my objective was to beat traffic into the office. He, like many successful CEO’s, knew the importance of starting your day early. Because our days started at a similar time, and my cubical was on the same floor as his office, we often met in the lobby or taking the stairs up to the office. Sometimes I’d take the elevator, but most of the time I take the steps to get the blood going after spending 25 minutes in the car. It’s amazing what you can learn from someone just by taking the stairs or rising early. Those were probably the only two things Art and I had in common at the time.

A good CEO looks to find common ground amongst their ranks. He would occasionally stop by my desk to ask me what I thought as an associate regarding whatever policy du jour change. So as a junior associate, I was able to know the CEO at a different level than most. If our paths didn’t cross in the stairway, in the lobby, or at my desk, I would poke my head into his office once a week to say hello. If I caught him early enough, he was usually gazing over a map of the low country, near Savannah. Outside of his family, it was clear that Art was passionate about four things to me, the military, his employees, breaking the socioeconomic divide in Atlanta, and acquiring land in coastal Georgia. Art wisely started a company that could aid him in all four of these passions.

Art taught me what it meant to be a charitable company. Without a doubt, Art had revenue targets and high expectations of his employees, but he also wanted to provide an avenue to give back. This was my first introduction to corporate charitable causes in a time when this wasn’t popular to infuse into a corporate culture. He would promote paid internships for high performing, low-income teens in summer internships with our company and with our clients. I was able to act as a mentor to a teen over the summer months and it aided in my development as a whole person.

To me at the time, Art was an insanely smart man with an MBA from Thunderbird to match. But reflecting on it, he may have just been of average intelligence but of extraordinary discipline. His discipline carried him from a one-person shop to 17 offices internationally and an eventual buy-out from a PE firm. He relocated to coastal Georgia in 2010 to pursue his passion for acquiring real estate.

I ended up leaving the firm after he sold. At the time I felt like the magic was gone, but now I think to realize it was less about the magic and more about the identity. When you know who you are working for and what they are passionate about, it gives you a sense of ownership in the company.

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I visited Art several years ago and I asked him if he missed the recruiting business. Without pause, he said, “I miss knowing that the work I did on a daily basis provided for so many employees and their families; that my work, directly and indirectly, helped so many people make a good life.”

Art left behind a legacy of talented, disciplined recruiting professionals. I was fortunate that his military style and discipline resonated with me and even luckier our paths crossed frequently so that I could see the embodiment of executive corporate leadership at a young stage in my career. It has shaped every aspect of my professional life. Art was also right because excuses are for people that need them.