Finding your North Star: What are your guiding principles?

The North Star is the brightest star in the Ursa Minor constellation and is commonly referred to as the “Pole Star”. Without GPS, travelers would locate the North Star and use it to guide them to their destination.  This is why we call guiding principles, the North Star. When you have nothing else, it is what will guide you and assist you with completing your goals. When all else fails, you can defer to your guiding principles to help you make decisions in your life.

As a follow up to my blog, Establishing a Baseline for Yourself, I wanted to provide insight into how to create goals that will excite and guide you into the next phase of your life. However, as I was writing, I quickly realized that in order to complete any goal, regardless of how great it is, you would first need to understand your reasons for wanting to complete that goal.

So how did I define my North Star? 
Years ago, I felt like I was in a fight of my life. I was going through a nasty custody battle for my son and during that time, there were people placed in my life that I felt had no boundaries as to how far they would go to hurt me or my son. I knew that for me personally, I feared the wrath of God and established spiritual boundaries that provided limits on how far I would act on my hurt, pain and even vengeance. Over time, those boundaries became more and more rigid. There were things that I would not do and there were things that I would not say in an effort to hurt or cause pain to someone else. I would learn to recognize when people were treating me wrong and force myself to elevate above them – that became my North Star. My North Star is to have enough discipline to rise above those who seek to oppress me or bring negativity in my life.

With this defined, I was able to move forward with establishing goals that were exciting and aligned to my North Star, my guiding principles.

So how do you define your North Star?

Think of a time that you would prefer not to repeat. A time, that sits with you, that was life altering – where YOU had the power to do something and didn’t. It’s a feeling that stirs in the pit of your stomach or the center of your torso; it reminds you that you should’ve done something differently. You didn’t like the person that you were at that time. It pissed you off. It upset you. It embarrassed you.  That moment in your life was life altering and shifted the way that you thought about things, the way that you thought about yourself. That moment defines your North Star.

  • Maybe you saw someone in the street struggling and you didn’t stop to ask them if they needed help. The feeling stayed with you.
  • Maybe you lost your temper over something minimal and you felt like a jerk about it.
  • Maybe you let someone get under your skin and you were embarrassed by the way that you reacted.

These moments define your North Star. It’s the promises that you made to yourself that would prevent or at the very least decrease the likelihood of you ever feeling whatever way you hated feeling ever again.

Taking the examples above, write your North Star in a declarative format:

  • I will do my best to make time to help those who may need an extra hand or those who are unable to help themselves.
  • I will identify what irritates me and understand why it irritates me.
  • I will not allow others to control me. I will not allow others to disturb my peace.

Keep in mind, that you may have several guiding principles and that is ok. Your guiding principles may change over time and that is ok, too.  Write them down and keep them at the forefront of your mind. Your North Star serves as a compass as you try to define and work towards your goals. It is what recalibrates you if you veer off track; it serves as your conscience and it should resonate with you to the point where you respect it above all else.

 

Before you say “Yes” – Compatibility with the Hiring Manager

In this day in age, there’s so much competition in the workforce that sometimes you’re just happy to get a callback. You chat it up with the recruiter and the phone screen goes off without a hitch, the next thing you know they’re scheduling your next round of interviews. You’re excited and nervous but prepared to take this next step. You walk into your interview to a panel of people, everyone is asking questions and you are nailing them; growing even more confident. This job is yours! They ask if you have any questions, and you rattle off a couple of rehearsed items before bidding your farewell. You send a thank you email and the next day – BAM – you get an offer letter and you accept! Sounds pretty awesome, right?

So tell me, who will you be working for? What’s their management style? Does it sync with yours?

Marcel Schwantes, a speaker, leadership coach, advisor, and syndicated columnist, wrote a story for Inc.com titled, Why Do People Quit Their Jobs, Exactly? Here’s the Entire Reason, Summed Up in 1 Sentence, and in it, he refers to a study conducted by Gallup that surveyed 7,272 U.S. adults about reasons for leaving a company and 50% stated: “to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.”

This reason is real. Every time I’ve thought about leaving a company that I’ve worked for, it was because of the management style of a boss or boss of a boss. Just listen to the water cooler conversations, they are riddled with people complaining about the micro management, the “laissez faire” attitude or the down right nastiness of their boss.

Here are some things that you can do prior to taking the job, that can help you assess compatibility between you and your potential manager.

1. Know what you need from your manager in order to be successful. It was through having a bad manager that I became aware of what I needed from my manager in order to be successful early in my career: protect my scope, run my cover, and give me the runway to do my job. In summary, don’t allow everyone to task me with any and everything, have my back by being my ally, don’t micro-manage me.

Maybe you need someone with a true “open door policy” or a person who takes the time to walk through a situation with you. Maybe you need a person who is loyal and defends the decisions of their people. Like any relationship, you have to first understand what are the key enablers and destabilizers to your success. Being micro managed or talked down to, could be destabilizing traits that can be demotivating to you as an employee. Think about your supervisors or maybe a matrixed manager, the good and the bad, and hone in on the elements that motivated and demotivated you. You have to know your hard limits before you interview for your next position.

2. Speak to the hiring manager prior to accepting the position. This should be a no brainer but never accept a position without first having a conversation with the person you’ll be working for. Maybe they are on vacation or out sick – wait for them to come back into the office before making your decision. You should be able to ask questions and gain an understanding of high-level expectations in their words. If the company is willing to hire you without input from the hiring manager, then that says a lot about the organization and its culture.

3. Ask tactful questions. I once interviewed a person who made me feel like I was the one being assessed for fit and guess what? I hired them. Their approach was tactful, sincere, and purposeful. Sure, I answered their questions but through the exchange, I was also able to analyze their approach, ask counter questions and gain insight. If the hiring manager is offended by questions related to their management style, then that should definitely send off some red flags.

4. Go with your gut. I know. I know. It’s cliche’ but it’s real. Short and to the point – If something doesn’t seem right, if you’re not getting a good vibe, then move on. It could be your dream job but with the wrong manager can turn into your worst nightmare.

Keep in mind, that even if you come across a good manager, it doesn’t mean that they are a good manager for you. Know what you need in a manager first, and then assess the manager against those needs. This is the best way to measure the future compatibility between you and your potential boss!

XOXO

WoMan vs. the Universe

Sometimes things don’t go quite as you plan.

As you all know – my husband’s birthday was Friday (in case you missed it, see Birthday tribute) and typically we do pretty nice sized birthdays. One year was a trip to Dallas to see the Cowboys play in their season opener – my hubs is a huge Cowboys fan (Go Ravens!). Another year was a weekend trip to the Big Apple. The most surprising year – for me anyway – was a house party – complete with a DJ, bartender, and a custom made Dallas Cowboys cake compliments of The Kitchen Empress. (This also turned out to be my surprise engagement party!)

I say all of this to say – I don’t slouch when it comes to birthdays and this year was no different.

Here was the plan:

  1.  Mom was going to take the baby to see my grandmother who lives down South and my oldest was to stay with my sister. (My middle child stays with his Mom in another state.)
  2. I booked a room at the Gaylord hotel.
  3. I reserved dinner at the Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse at the MGM Casino.
  4. On the morning of his birthday, I planned to cook him one of his favorites for breakfast.
  5. Last but not least, we would then head over to Spa World for a day of massages before checking into our hotel.

I told him to pack a bag and anticipate greatness!!! Mama had a plan!

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Ok so maybe “greatness” was reaching. The day started at 6 am to the wake-up call from our 9-month-old baby girl. This was our first birthday with our daughter so already, I hadn’t quite factored this into the plan. Whoops!

Mom came over to the house the night before to pick up the baby and get on the road but ended up staying the night. My oldest decided that he wanted to go but had a bit of an issue with leaving that night – he had a friend stay over and leaving without him was a non-starter.

Now with 6 people, instead of the original two for breakfast, we had to pray that this food multiplied like Jesus’s 5 loaves of bread and 2 pieces of fish. We had sweet potato waffles (Hubs loves anything with sweet potatoes) with eggs, bacon, sausage, and scrapple with a little orange juice on the side. Low and behold – breakfast was a success! It reminded me of growing up when my family from NC would come up and we would fix breakfast for 15. Le sigh – I digress.

We finished breakfast around 10:00 am and lollygagged for another two hours before it was time for folks to start the journey to grandma’s house.  Mom then decided, at that very moment – bless her entire soul, to ask my sister if she wanted to go down, who of course said “yes” but didn’t get off until around 3 pm.  So long story short, Mom and family left for my sister’s house around 3ish and Hubs and I followed suit commencing the birthday extravaganza bonanza – five hours behind schedule!

No sweat. Being the project manager, that I am, I decreased scope and struck Spa World from the day’s agenda and headed straight to the Potomac Mills Outlet. Now let me explain, we loveeeee the Outlets. It’s our happy place and my hubs especially love Potomac Mills. However, traffic had other plans so we activated our contingency plan and headed to Tangier at the National Harbor.

Finally, back on track and focused on the celebration – I went ahead and told him to pick out a head to toe outfit for this evening, make sure that it was suitable for a five star and versatile enough for us to cut a rug after we feasted and gambled the night away. However, the Universe had other plans. Less than an hour into our shopping excursion, Tangier experienced a power outage and had to close the doors to all of their stores. Meanwhile – I’m like, you have GOT to be kidding me! (not to be confused with Game of Thrones ha ha ha -I’m a nerd)

With no outfit for dinner, we decided on a casual Ethiopian restaurant located in Old Town Alexandria but first, we needed to check into our hotel.

Let me just start this off by saying that The Gaylord is absolutely beautiful with some amazing views of the Potomac River. Okay, that’s done. We must’ve brushed up on the wrong side of the lady who checked us in because she had the worst bedside manner and a plain ole’ ugly attitude.  Apparently, since we checked in at 6:00 instead 3:00, the hotel ran out of King sized beds and stuck us with a double complete with a view of the top of buildings, three trees and a couple of houses. When we asked was there anything that we could do to get a better room with a King she said – nope. When my husband asked if anyone canceled their reservation – she said nope. When we asked to cancel our room, she said ok but you will still be charged.

Now don’t get me wrong – it is what it is. They were busy, we were late and we didn’t request a king but her lack of empathy pissed me off! It’s like – lady, act like you care! I could’ve saved a couple of hundred and stayed home. Anyway, we went to our room dropped our bags off and headed out to dinner but couldn’t get out of the parking lot because we didn’t know that we needed to add parking to our room! :: face palm::

Once we pay the $12, NOW we are able to head to dinner!

Can you life saver!??  Hawi’s Ethiopian Restaurant was everything and more! I highly recommend it and the owner was such a pleasant soul to encounter. He really made the experience and truly saved the day!

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Coming off the high from dinner, we were feeling a bit optimistic, so we decided to head over to Macy’s for an outfit. We thought we would save a couple of bucks and pick up some spirits to pre-game to in our double bed hotel room before we had some serious Casino action.

Ha ha ha ha ha! The Universe again told us to sit down and quit being cute. So because my sister and our oldest son went with my Mom, we paid our “couch son” (our sons best friend) to walk our dog – once that night and once the next morning. Well – he never showed up to walk the dog, so to end our night, we made the 45-minute track back to our house to a lab mix who thought we were never coming back to get him!

Let’s recap, shall we?
Breakfast – Successful in a “the more the merrier kind of way!”
Spa World – Postponed
Outlets – Traffic canceled one plan and a power outage destroyed the other
Hotel – Double beds, no view, and horrible customer service.
Dinner – canceled original plan but plan B was extraordinary
Casino – never made it

After we laughed about how this was like an episode of Seinfeld, we sat at our dining room table (didn’t go back to the hotel) and realized that Operation: Hubs Birthday 2017 was an epic fail. And to think – this man wanted to go back and try his hand at craps -I told him to quit before we end up broke, busted and disgusted! 🙂

We’ll get it right the next time.

Universe – 1, Shannel – 0

XOXO

Introducing my Husband, on his birthday!

When I first met this hunk o’ love, he was behind a bar serving drinks at my house warming party. I wouldn’t have been able to guess in my wildest dreams that we would be married with kids, living a pretty awesome life together.

He has truly healed me; accepted my scars, stayed patient through my pain points and loved me unconditionally. His genuineness is so incredibly sexy to me. I trust that whatever he tells me is face value with no malice attached, no hidden meanings – it’s a breath of fresh air and something I don’t take for granted.

Our kids are 15, 14, and nine months with the oldest two coming from our previous relationships. Being in a blended family is not easy. It takes commitment, around-the-clock work and a “failure is not an option” mentality. I couldn’t have asked for a better father to our children. He is simply amazing!

                                                        We’re missing one but you get the point.

God really outdid himself when he made him.

I’m so blessed to have this man in my life to share my forever with. Happy Birthday, my love!!!!

Establishing a Baseline for Yourself

I guess it’s the project manager in me but I love establishing a baseline of anything. Whether it be how much money I spend each month to how messy my house is on any given day – establishing a baseline gives you a starting point for whatever you are trying to accomplish. In this blog, I’ll discuss how you should go about establishing a baseline of yourself which is critical to moving forward with the rest of your life. (yes – I’m dramatic by nature.)

So about 7 or so years ago, the then guy I was dating, decided that he didn’t want to be with me anymore and ran off to marry his then baby mother. Around that same time, I got into a pretty bad accident that totaled my car and almost totaled my friendship with a good friend of mine who was riding shot gun from a night of partying.

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The night of my accident.

It was 5 a.m. We had stopped at a diner around 4 a.m, after coming back from DC, which was a good hour away from my house. I remember looking over at my homegirl who was fast asleep and thinking “damn she sucks as a passenger.” The next thing I knew, I was veering off the side of the road towards an embankment, I over corrected and hit a jersey wall. What I failed to mention was that this event was preceded by nights of partying, event hopping, and living by the stupid motto “#teamnosleep”.

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After the smack in the head by God, I decided that I needed to baseline my life. So I sat down one evening and wrote down the following 7 categories:

  • Education
  • Career
  • Transportation
  • Relationship
  • Friendships
  • Children
  • Living Situation

Now you can write more or less; the categories are completely subjective and are dependent on the areas in your life where you would like to place your focus. At the time, these items were top of my list.

Once I established my categories, I then made a column for where I was at that very moment in my life. Not where I wanted to be, not the pretty picture I paint for people or the lies I tell myself. The raw and uncut shit-show version that was my life. This was my baseline:

No. Category Baseline
1 Education in school but don’t know when I’ll graduate
2 Career dead end job; boss is the devil 😦
3 Transportation TOTALED; trying to figure out which car I want
4 Relationship single; out of a relationship and still not over it
5 Friendships Some of them are solid; others are hanging on by a thread
6 Children one week at my house, one week at his dad’s
7 Living Situation living with mom

Once I wrote it down, read it out loud and cried a little – I went down each line asking “Is this where I want to be?”, “Do I want more?”,  “Am I better than this?” For each area, the answer was “I deserved better for myself.” So I made another column and I added my goal for each area of my life regardless of how crazy it was. I didn’t confine myself to where I currently was – I dared to dream bigger! (cliche’ enough for you?)

So I made another column and I added my goal for each area of my life regardless of how crazy it was. I didn’t confine myself to where I currently was, what resources I had – I dared to dream bigger! (cliche’ enough for you?)

No. Category Baseline Goal
1 Education in school but don’t know when I’ll graduate Graduate with my Bachelors before 2011
2 Career dead end job; boss is the devil 😦 get the hell out of (insert company name)
3 Transportation TOTALED; trying to figure out which car I want Buy a car
4 Relationship single; out of a relationship and still not over it I’m good – I need to figure out me
5 Friendships Some of them are solid; others are hanging on by a thread Solidify them. Be a better friend. Show up to events and give gifts.
6 Children one week at my house, one week at his dad’s Stability for him at all times.
7 Living Situation living with mom buy a house

This exercise not only pulled me out of my rut but it helped me to refocus my life. It gave me a north star to follow and it taught me to establish boundaries with friends, family, and situations. Inadvertently, it taught me that it was ok to take some time out to focus on me.

XOXO

 

Managing through layoffs

As a people manager, I understood the fundamental principle that I was no longer an independent contributor.  I had a team that I was responsible for, who looked to me for guidance. So when my company went through a steady stream of layLayoff Image 2off’s, I remember thinking about my team and how best I would handle their concerns. Regardless of whether your direct reports are directly impacted, meaning that they will be laid off or indirectly impacted, being that someone they know or work with will be laid off – as a manager, it is your job to manage the situation.

Inevitably, if you’ve established trust amongst your team,  your people will come to you asking, “What’s going on?”, “Am I safe from layoff?”, “What’s going to happen to our team?” How you choose to answer these questions will set the stage for the type of manager that you want to be.

1. Be Honest.

Sitting in a conference room with 11 eyeballs and a few more sets of ears on the phone waiting for me to answer the outstanding question, tested me in my role as a people manager. “Are there layoffs happening and if so, when?” I knew by the way that the question was asked that they anticipated a lie to tumble into the dense air.

The quickest way to lose respect from your people is to lie to them. At the end of the day, people are feeding their carnal concern of whether they will be able to survive and provide. Lying only prolongs the inevitable and provides another reason for your talent to look for other roles.

At the time, I received permission to confirm that the layoffs were indeed taking place but was told that the date was not to be communicated. When I was asked the question, I confirmed what my team already knew, that layoffs were indeed happening. Regarding the date, I informed them that although I knew the date, I was unable to tell them. I apologized for not being able to give any more information but when I could, I would share. Although they wanted a date, they respected my honesty as their manager.

2. Treat them like adults.

For weeks prior to my potential layoff, I was concerned about whether I would be laid off. The same questions that plagued my direct reports, plagued me when they I faced this dilemma. I wanted to know as much information as possible so that I could prepare for the worst. I was told absolutely nothing however, my workload substantially decreased over time. I went from being overwhelmed to having time to write my blog. I would ask, “Am I being impacted?” and I would get the same response, “No, not at this time.”  I knew they were not being honest and it insulted me.

When you treat your people like adults, they will in return act accordingly. Be as upfront and as honest as possible.  You may not be able to directly tell them that they are impacted but generalize the concern and advise your team to update their resumes. If they need resume assistance, offer to help or point them in the right direction. This prepares all impacted employees, regardless of whether it’s a direct impact or an indirect impact, for whats to come.

If you are able to tell them, do so. Advocate doing so. I had a boss who was laid off and he was told five months in advance of the action. He told me that this was the best thing that could’ve happened to him. He was able to prepare himself and his family for the inevitable, take steps to establish his next career move, and come to peace with his double digit tenure at the company. Instead of being upset with being laid off,  he was thankful and he gave 100% of his effort until his last day.

3. Show empathy.

Take a moment and imagine being in their shoes. Maybe you were on the other side of the table, digesting that there was a chance that you would be laid off. How did you feel? What thoughts ran through your mind? What was the firEmpathy Image 1st thing you wanted to do? If you’ve never been in the situation,  try and read the stories of others before you have the conversation with your direct reports. Imagine not knowing when you will receive another paycheck and the domino effect that that would have in your life.

Showing empathy is something that a lot of people talk about but have a hard time doing. Being able to recognize the feelings of others, communicate understanding and have a genuine concern for them as a human beings can be a bit difficult when you are under a lot of stress as well. Be sure to practice empathy on a daily basis to avoid trying to fake it during the time when you will need to show it the most. You owe it to your team to empathize with the situation.

Before you quit…

You know when it’s time to leave a company. You get that sinking feeling like you’ve overstayed your welcome or that you’re in a bad relationship where neither one of you want to make it work. Every meeting is a waste of time, every email is “WHAT do you want?”, every call is a “Can you call someone else?” – your heart and mind is just no longer in the game. It’s time to move on to greater pastures and explore the open terrain – there are millions of company’s out there looking for a star like you, right? Of course – but before you quit, chuck the deuces and eat your “good luck” cake, think about completing a few of these tasks:

1. Have a job lined up.

Seems like common sense but when your emotions are in high gear- common isn’t so common. Make sure that you’ve spruced up the resume and yes, even the cover letter, sent it off to some potential employers, received a job offer AND accepted the job prior to leaving. The last thing you want to do is walk out of one stress pit and into another.

2. Have a plan.

Maybe another job isn’t for you. You’ve saved up enough money, fell into an inheritance or moved back in with the parentals so that you can meditate with monks until you find your calling. So what? As long as you have a plan that is sustainable – make it work and stick to it.

3. Exit with grace.

Oh how you’ve dreamt of giving your boss the middle finger or tripping your nosey co worker as they come bouncing down the hallway. I would strongly advise you not to do anything that will disrupt your grace. Don’t burn any bridges and keep your vengeful thoughts to yourself. You never know who you might see or need on your way to the top.

4. Stay in the game.

You’re quitting. You know this and everyone else who knows you know this as well but don’t go out like a quitter. Give your best until your very last day. Make sure that the transitions of your work products are smooth and pleasant. Be present and continue to share your thoughts and ideas. Smile and remain friendly. You never know who is watching you. Be sure to leave a lasting impression even if you have your own selfish reasons for doing so.

5. Show empathy.

If you are quitting because the work environment sucks, then it should be easy to show a little empathy towards the folks that you’re leaving behind. They haven’t figured out their way out yet, they’re probably just as miserable as you are, and could probably use a kind word or 10. Stay humble and show some compassion. Quit dropping hints about you leaving, about how “they” will miss you when you’re gone and blah blah blah. Even if the work environment is great, your work will still need to get done; folks will have to increase their workload and their productivity levels in order to stay ahead and fill in the gaps. Translation: More work for them.

Being able to quit a job is such a glorious feeling. You’re able to leave on your own terms and on your own time. Make the most of it and make sure that when you do decide to quit that your plan is solid, your reputation is in tack, and your network is reliable. You may want to come back one day – you never know. 🙂