Category Archives: People stuff

Meeting Angus. Type A.

We all know him (or her). Let’s call him Angus. He’s Type A. We see him in our rearview mirror, changing lanes and zigzagging his way from far back there on the road to our back bumper in a minute or two. He is stuck behind us and starts swaying right and left in the lane to signal we’re going far too sloooow. We check and see we’re doing about 10 miles over the speed limit. No faster than that, we decide. Now Angus is gesticulating. His arm is out of the window and his index finger goes round and round – hurry up will ya!

Is that Angus in your rear view mirror?

Just before the next intersection he moves into the turning lane on our left. Left turn only, with a white curved arrow on the asphalt. Phew, he’ll be gone. The light turns red. We stop, and he stops too.  There’s a red arrow for his lane. At least he didn’t run the red light. We wait. The light turns green and we start crossing the intersection. And wroooom, he cuts in right in front of us from the turning lane. We stand on the brakes not to hit him. That was too close!  No, that was Angus. He’s in a hurry. Always.

Taxis (Stock image)

Or we may meet Angus on the big city street around lunch time. Running with his briefcase under one arm, and the other waiving for a taxi. Taxi! Prepared to fight for the first taxi that appears around the corner. We resign to the fact that we’ll not be meeting our lunch date on time.

But suddenly he’s down! Holding his chest. Now we need to call 911. It looks like poor Angus is having a heart attack. We’re still there next to him when the ambulance arrives.  We say we don’t really know him, just been meeting him here and there. The paramedics work fast, he’s lifted into the ambulance. And he’s gone. Or is he?


 I originally wrote this story about two years ago (now shortened/edited), but was reminded of it today as I had a really close call with Angus. Somehow, miraculously, I was able to avoid a T-bone collision with him.  I’m a bit shaken, but happy that my reflexes are still sharp. I hope I won’t meet him again any time soon. And I hope you’ll stay safe too.

New to Management? Don’t You Worry.

Congratulations! You just got promoted into management. That’s a great achievement, and you’ve worked hard for it. Became the top producer in your technical field. Finally your talents have been recognized. And the promotion comes with a sizeable raise, more green in your wallet. Good for you!

Porsche 2
Your new parking spot…

And there are other perks that suddenly become yours to enjoy. Like your own parking space in the company garage. You can come as early and leave as late as you please! The same spot will always be there waiting for your new company car. Oh, did you say this job didn’t come with one? Then you should consider an upgrade right away. Think about the message you’re sending driving a Morolla. Seriously. You don’t want to be seen as a minimalist now that you are in management.  Consider something smarter, something that sends a message of being in charge. Something that will signify a strong start.  You’ll be watched. The first 90 days will be critical to your success.

Dressed for the occasion… (stock image)

That brings us to the next thing you’ll need to think about. You guessed it, your attire. No more casual. You need to exude confidence. Preferably with a bit of an edge. Shopping you go!  Remember that every occasion, from the Board meeting to the dinner hosted by the President’s wife, has its right attire. And the brand matters. I know, you’d be the first to agree. Brand is everything.

Now, prepared for success, you’ll just need to manage. Plain and simple.  You told me corporate doesn’t think you need training,  coaching, or mentoring. Good for you! They believe you’re ready. You’ve shown them the muscle. Heavy lifting, continuously exceeded targets. A smart specialist always makes a great manager. That’s what they told you, right?

Driving results…(stock image)

Don’t you worry.  Managing is fairly straight forward. Just remember you now have the powers to hire and fire. Go get your own team! What does the current team know anyway? And their loyalty to you is questionable. At the minimum, change some key players.  Shuffle the chessmen. Keep them on their toes. Nobody should become too comfortable.

To sum it up: you just need to hire the right people, instruct them in necessary detail, and manage their performance. That’s all. Hire, Instruct and Manage, HIM. Easy to memorize. You set the targets. They do the work. You monitor the results. And make sure you get the credit. It’s hard out there. Up or out, as they say. There you go. Good luck to you.

Epilogue: Despite my intention not to mix too many lemons into my blog of apples and oranges, I wanted to write this “monologue by a management consultant” after continuously finding far too many people in management jobs without the necessary skills, and seeing first hand what that can do to the teams they manage. And ultimately to the company. So here’s to lemon juice!

Feel It in Your Heart?

I’m always interested in new research findings and recently came across an intriguing research study that I thought I would share with you. This research into emotions, and where we experience them in the body, was conducted by Aalto University in five separate experiments with over 700 participants from two very different cultures. The results were recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (US).

Credit: Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland
Credit: Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland

This picture presents the bodily topography of basic and more complex emotions associated with words. The body maps show regions whose activation increased (warm colors) or decreased (cool colors) when feeling each emotion.

The study concluded that emotional feelings are associated with discrete, but partially overlapping (maps of) bodily sensations, which could be at the core of the emotional experience. Unraveling of the subjective bodily sensations associated with human emotions may help us to better understand emotional processing, including emotional disorders.

Definitely interesting findings. You can read the entire report of the study here (the pdf takes a while to load).

The Empire of Time

Sitting at the foot of the pyramid

I turn my face toward the afternoon sun

like so many have done before me

its rays warm my body

enlighten my thoughts

and bring me some perspective

of life as a continuum

the past merging with the now

and the future stretching

to the eternal empire of time.

Dancing to Your Own Tune?

That’s Brilliant! Wouldn’t you like to hear this enthusiastic proclamation? Particularly if it was made about you, lets say after you gave a speech at a reputable non-profit’s fundraising dinner or spoke at your old friend’s wedding? Or perhaps if it was uttered by critics about your first novel or your second exhibition showing acrylics on canvas? Or shouted by the clapping crowd after you sang “stand by me blue suede shoes” at a karaoke bar in Nashville or maybe in the Bahamas?  I bet many of us would. And lucky you if you actually did. Great to be recognized, kind of confirmed as somebody. Brilliant definitely sounds good.

But life can be tough, praise can be hard to come by. We may hear something that sounds a bit like a compliment when our teenager wants to borrow the car or a co-worker needs us to cover for him on a Saturday night, but we may never really get recognized as brilliant. Most of us just have to live with it. Be happy doing half-brilliant things. Wear the half Carat, so to say.

From time to time, some of us may also need to wrestle with our hardest critic, moi (or mwaa). He has become very good at giving a quick punch. Surprise us when we least expect it. Pull us down on the carpet, hard fall, there you go, I told  you! What made you think you could do it? That’s hard speak, difficult to take. But pause. Before we get up for the next round, we need to recall who trained him. At the minimum, we drove him to his practice sessions for years, paid for them! And now what do we get? It’s clear that we need to re-evaluate the situation, rebalance the relationship. Exercise some authority. Moi, you will go to training again, dance lessons. Smooth and close, no more wrestling.

Having moi retrained, it’s likely to be easier to take feedback or criticism from others constructively.  Like if someone in the karaoke crowd shouts “they are two different songs”, we’ll just smile and say “they might be, but that was my version of it”. And we may finally have the courage to write that first book, create that piece of art or give the piano concert we always dreamed of. Once we do get on with it, we may hear a tiny whisper that’s brilliant! I told you! That’s when we know we are finally dancing to our own tune and following the path that’s opening in front of us.

(based on one of my earliest posts, art work courtesy of my hubby)

Meeting Angus

We all know him (or her). Let’s call him Angus. We’ll see him in our rearview mirror, changing lanes and zigzagging his way from far back there on the road to our back bumper in a minute or two. He is stuck behind us and starts swaying from right to left in the lane to signal we’re going far too sloooow. We check and see we’re going almost 10 miles over the speed limit. No faster than that, we decide. Now Angus is gesticulating we don’t know how to use the gas pedal. His arm is out of the window and his finger goes round and round – hurry up will ya!

Next he moves into the turning lane – right turn only, with an arrow. Phew, he’ll be gone. The light turns red. We stop, and he stops too. Oh, at least he’s yielding to the traffic before turning right.  We wait. The light turns green and we start crossing the intersection. And wroooom, he cuts in right in front of us from the turning lane. We stand on the brakes not to hit him. That was close!  No, that was Angus. He’s in a hurry. Always.

Or we may meet Angus in the office. He’s booked back-to-back, has a demanding job. He’s always running. In meetings he talks fast, cuts us off and completes our sentences. Talk faster, moron, come to the point. One day we may see him running to the photocopiers on his way out of the office. His assistant has forgotten to copy something he will need for his next string of meetings.

But the big copier is busy, collating 25 copies of a 100 page report. And the small one is out-of-order. A white paper taped to it tells the story. And he loses it! Yells and screams #&%@ to his assistant and the whole office. This is everybody’s fault. Why is nothing working in this place?! His jaw is clenched and sweat drips from his upper lip. Angus is an overachiever, due for promotion next month. What would the company do without him? But he hasn’t learned to manage his stress, and he doesn’t have any patience to talk of. He definitely doesn’t like problems. Ever.

Or we may meet Angus on the big city street around lunch time. Running with his briefcase under one arm, and the other waiving for a taxi. Taxi! Prepared to fight for the first taxi that appears around the corner. Seeing him approaching, we have already given up the hope to meet our lunch date on time.

But suddenly he’s down! Holding his chest. Now we need to call 911. It looks like poor Angus is having a heart attack. We’re still there next to him when the ambulance arrives.  We say we don’t really know him, just been meeting him here and there. The paramedics work fast, he’s lifted into the ambulance. And he’s gone.

Or is he?

My Ostrich Moment

I don’t like conflicts or disagreements. Most of us don’t.  My natural inclination is to be positive and optimistic, always give the other party the benefit of the doubt. So when life throws these negative episodes in my way, my first instinct would be to bury my head in the sand or run away. Much like the poor ostrich has falsely been accused to do when it comes under attack.

This was particularly true when I was younger. Most often I would give in for this instinct, try to walk away or at least look in the other direction. What conflict? I didn’t see anything. And if I didn’t see anything, it wasn’t going to be there anymore. Or so I hoped. But that’s not how it works. Conflicts get worse by time if not dealt with. Life teaches us many lessons and one thing I feel I’ve learned something about is conflict resolution.

I credit much of my initial growth in this area to one specific conflict situation. Just before my thirtieth birthday, I was appointed to my first management job, as the Head of a Division of thirty some people, all considerably older than me. I knew it was a tall order, but believed that I could do it – with a lot of learning along the way. Some of my staff were very enthusiastic and others much less so. I observed this already in my first few days, but gave in to my inclination to look the other way. I was hoping that if I just worked hard and showed them that I was a good leader, things would calm down. I was wrong, I could sense it. So one day in my second or third week on the job, I decided I needed to do something uncharacteristic to me. Not to hide my head in the sand, but instead try to define and understand the problem a group of my most senior staff seemed to have. I needed a higher vantage point. So I invited six of them for lunch.

So when all of us had received our plates, I didn’t resort to small talk, but asked them how they felt about my appointment to this job. I wanted to hear them out. It was like opening the flood gates. They all talked and I listened. I learned they had a deep concern: my appointment to this important job was a disaster for the Division. I was of the wrong gender and by all counts far too young and unexperienced. The only woman ever to hold this job before me had been very experienced, twenty years my senior, and she had failed miserably. And the youngest male who had ever held this job was forty when he started, ten years my senior. They asked me to withdraw from the job so it could be opened for a new search.

Wow! I certainly did not have the odds on my side. My first thought was to run – fast and far. But I didn’t. I decided to acknowledge their fear that I may not succeed. I also understood that they feared for their jobs as this was a time of “right sizing” in the company, many divisions were merged or abolished altogether. I told them that I believed I could succeed, but only if we all pulled together. I had a lot to learn. I also told them that I wanted six months to demonstrate that I was the right person for the job, that my only interest was the success of that division. If I was proven wrong, I would resign at that point. Anyone can survive for six months, so we had a deal.

Almost six months later, my Division held the customary semi-annual retreat to review progress and to plan for the future. Our day-long meeting was set in the beautiful Stockholm archipelago. I opened the meeting but before I even got to the agenda, one of these six people asked if she could say something before we started. She took the floor and told everyone in the Division about our lunch discussion. She told very bluntly and honestly what I had been told and how I had responded. While she was talking I observed amazement on many faces. Then she said that she and the others wanted to apologize to me publicly. And so we lived in harmony, survived as a Division and worked together successfully the next five years.

This conflict was the first one I had tackled head on in the workplace and it taught me many valuable lessons. I have since faced many other conflicts and helped to resolve countless ones. To me, the key ingredients to successfully resolve a conflict, whether in the workplace, in the family or between friends or neighbors, are the following:

  • Acknowledge the conflict as soon as it starts, when it has not yet had the time to grow and fester, and do not brush it under the rug;
  • Try to define the issue objectively, detach from the personalities involved as much as possible. A lot of hurt can be avoided if we are able to be objective and look at the issue and say here it is, this is what it looks like and then ask, with honest intentions to resolve the situation,  how do we find a new way of doing things, a way forward;
  • Listen attentively so that we actually hear the other party;
  • Acknowledge that the problem took its time to develop, so the resolution will also need to take its time;
  • Understand that sometimes only small steps can be taken to start with, instead of trying to resolve all of it in one go; and
  • Understand that particularly when the conflict has been allowed to escalate and bad things have already been said, forgiveness will need to be part of the solution.

I still don’t like conflict, but now I don’t hide or run from it. Once the issues have been resolved, and good intentions to follow through have been demonstrated, harmony and peace usually return in time. What is your experience?

Staging the Play

Sometimes I have these deep philosophical moments and I ponder life ‘s mysteries, such as the path our lives take. What or who determines how our lives turn out. Is it solely us or is it the God,  destiny or just luck, the environment where we live in, or is it the people we have in our lives such as our parents, siblings, kids and our friends?  Or do those forces co-exist in some kind of orchestrated performance that is our life? And what part do we ourselves play in all this?

These are big questions and we usually answer them, either silently in our minds or speaking out loud, much depending on the lenses we wear at the moment, or the outlook we have from our vantage point.  I don’t pretend to have the answers, only a few fragmented thoughts that have gradually emerged, and have influenced some of the choices I’ve made in life.

I believe that the first determinant that plays a role in our lives is the global lottery: where on our earth we are born. The society,  culture, climate and the economic conditions of our birth place, all merged together, frame much of our lives,  at the minimum during our younger years. Their influence may reach far into our adulthood and often over whole life spans, which are also bound to be shorter or longer depending on where we were born. So we all start our life performances on very different stages.

The second factor that tends to influence our path in life is our family,  which we don’t choose – at least consciously once we are here. Family members are the key players early in the play. Some of us have a family, others don’t and yet others lose their family or part of it early in life. Then there is the issue of quality.  Needless to say that some families,  even if intact,  do not provide a healthy and supportive environment to grow up in. This first set of characters for some of us is stable, and for others unstable or nonexistent.

Then we become adults and can steer our lives in whatever direction we desire, or so we sometimes think.  The opportunities to change the circumstances given to us at birth and the cast of characters in our play are vastly different from one continent and country to another. Sometimes even from one village or family to another. If we were born to a wealthy family in, say New York, or to a poor family, say, in a small village in Somalia, would we have the same opportunities to shape our lives if/when we reached adulthood? I think most of us would say that the options available for shaping our lives are vastly different based on the stage and the set of players given to us. It would be naive to think that “everyone makes his own fortune” in the same way, as an old saying goes.

Once we mature, I think most of us try to make the best of the pieces given to us, whatever the stage. Sometimes we can change the stage and other times we can change the players. What are then the key things or ingredients that can help us in this endeavour?

I would start with hope. It’s an emotional state which promotes the belief in a positive outcome related to circumstances in our lives.  Hope helps us to take action to overcome adversity. It helps us to remain more positive in the now and in looking forward.  If hope is a necessary ingredient in shaping our path in life, how do we get it? I would say that there are several possible contributors to having hope. To me, one contributor would be a strong faith in a higher power from which we can gain inner strength and comfort. Another important factor would be the support we receive from our fellow travellers, whether in our close cast of characters or others.

Second, I think we need courage and determination to overcome adversity – of whatever kind – we’ll meet on our path. Courage is often required to take action to change our circumstances, and to jump on the opportunities presented to us. And determination helps us in keeping at it and not giving up when we meet obstacles.

However, to think that we could control everything in our lives would be a mistake. Such a belief is bound to lead to disappointments and lots of worrying. We should just do our best, try to make the right choices and stay as positive as possible in order not to attract negative events to cross our path. And then relax in the knowledge that the path will open for us to walk on.

My last point would be on the support we provide to others. Do we just care about those players closest to us, or do we also care about those fellow travellers whose stage was not set up as neatly as ours? I believe that one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences on our path is to find a way to also support those not in our immediate cast of characters, help them to find hope. This can be done at many levels: at individual, community of country level. And such actions will certainly shine more light on our own path as well.

Sing for Your Life!

Life without music would be a mistake. I agree with old Nietzsche on that. Next to writing, music is my favorite form of expression. Not that I am very good at either.  Of course it would be lovely to excel in something, simply because one could offer so much more inspiration and joy to others. But the main thing for me is to exercise arts, in whatever form it takes. Artistic expression, as I see it, comes from the inner spark we all have and gives a voice to the feelings and experiences we have on a daily basis, whether joyful or sad.

My earliest music experience was a song contest for kids when I was three years old. My mom probably thought I sang well for my age. I don’t remember much of the event itself, but for several years had a huge and really ugly brooch in my drawer. I got it as a prize for sharing the first place with a ten-year old, singing “Violets for Mother”. I finally gave the brooch to my grandma because I thought it was more suitable for her age…

I then sang in choirs both at school and in the church, until my mom got a cheap Landola guitar as a present from someone when I was about eleven. I started borrowing it when she was at work.  I only remember that my fingers were hurting a lot, sometimes almost bloody, but I continued to practice and somehow I managed to learn the basics. So in my teens I would learn all kinds of songs (think church as well as Radio Luxembourg) and play them. It made me feel happy.

Later, in my twenties, I took classic guitar lessons for about a year, but my teacher was always picking on me because I didn’t have the time to practice enough, so I quit. When I think of it now, that practice gave me the push I needed to get beyond the very basics. Just about.

Somehow I have always connected music and work. Not that I forced people to listen to me performing during lunch hour in the cafeteria, but I always managed to get small groups together to do musical skits, some glad and funny stuff. We would perform at work parties, events and conferences. It was lots of fun for all of us and it brought people together. Once we even made an EP record for our sports club at work. It was appropriately called “Sweat is Dripping” (or Svetten Lackar in Swedish).  I still have it and listening to it brings back very happy memories of home.

It was not until my Africa years when I started making music a bit more seriously. Still just for fun and for cultural immersion. In our first country, Zambia, I soon realized that my closest colleague in the office was a quite famous singer and the Chairman of the Musicians Association in the country. We started singing and playing together on weekends at our house. He taught me many traditional Zambian and Zimbabwean folk songs. And we made some of our own music together. It was just wonderful to be able to entertain colleagues and guests at various events in their own language. I value that experience tremendously as it deepened my connection to Africa, its people and its traditional culture.

So in every country we lived in, I would always do something with the local musicians. The language of music is totally uniting! And I got a much better understanding of ordinary people’s lives in these countries by learning to know the families of these musicians. In Uganda, for example, we founded a small band with local musicians to play World Music. We’d play African “Lingala” music mixed with western music of “good vibrations” and our own music. We used to play on weekends at hotels and other music venues, including the first ever blues festival in the country. We also recorded a tape together, mainly to give away to the radio stations to benefit the local musicians, and to friends. That was one of my happiest times of musical expression.

Today I sing and play whenever the “spirit” hits me, or a fellow musician comes along. I sometimes hope the “spirit” would hit me a bit more often…just because it’s so uplifting and inspiring. Next to writing. But I listen to music on a daily basis. I hope you enjoy music too, whether listening, singing or playing an instrument, whatever your mood and inclination calls for. I believe, as Auerbach once said, that music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.