Words Matter.

July 14, 2020

Recently, one of my colleagues sent me a musing about his favorite words. I found myself reading it several times and each time it made me smile. It sounded like him. As I read each of the words and his rationale for why he liked it, it was comforting to read – like having a conversation with him yet being inside of his brain while having it. The second part of his post was pondering what other people’s favorite words were – and why. Upon considering the question, here is what I learned:

1.      Language, like so many other things, can be (and probably is for a lot of people) filled with muscle memory. There are many words that I use because I’m just used to using them. And when I stopped to think about my favorite words, the first place I went was the obvious – what are the words I use all the time…I came up with a few (“awesome” being the one that came to me first). Is this a meaningful word to me? Do I consciously think about it and then use it in a sentence at just the right time? NO. It’s just a word I find myself using. Muscle memory.

2.      I believe (and say) that words matter. I feel that very strongly. So then why am I so lazy with this? Why do I let my muscle memory jump in and take over? I think the BLM movement has me thinking right along with the post I already mentioned. I’m quick to judge others when they use the wrong words, and quick to praise when they use the right words…so it became evident that it’s time for me to think more carefully (and slowly) about the words I use in specific scenarios.

3.      With that in mind, below are some of my favorite words that I use thoughtfully. I have also added in some Alicia-isms (as reported by two of my previous colleagues/friends in a 2013 birthday post), because these are things I still say, and I still believe, and I still think matter.

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BrilliantA long time ago a mentor of mine explained that this was a very under-utilized word. There is a story behind it, but suffice it to say, I agree. I use this word now when someone says something that makes a connection for me – that offers an insight that I hadn’t yet seen. It’s a word that when attributed to someone, typically makes them smile and want to say more brilliant things. I savor this word and use it for the perfect situation. And when I do, I love it and usually say it more than once: “that was Brilliant. BRILLIANT”. I’ve been known to explain my fascination with this word during keynote speeches in front of large audiences.

Legacy. This has been one of my favorites for only about 5 years – there is some kind of magic that happens when you turn 50 that leads you to understand the importance of the word and it only gets more focused and urgent over time. To me it is about what you are compelled to leave – your family, your friends, your community and maybe most importantly, this world. I believe if we can get clear on this earlier in life, it might better influence some of the choices we make.

Gift. As in, “What is your Gift?” I use this word to define the thing that you do so well, that comes so easily, that you think everyone can do it and therefore you brush it off without recognition of how good you are. I also think once you can define and refine your gift, it becomes your obligation to give it – not a choice. It can be tied to your legacy (it’s great if they are tied).

NarrativeI think I use this differently than some people. When I speak of narrative, I mean the story you are telling about yourself – both intentionally, and unintentionally. What do specific decisions do to your narrative? How focused can you be on your narrative such that what you want it to be is actually what it is?

Intentionality. I love this one. When you focus so hard on something that when it happens, you are not surprised – in sort of a cosmic way. To me this means when things happen because that’s the way they are supposed to happen. You put something in the universe, and with it you put energy and focus and suddenly it’s yours. It’s similar to my meaning of energy.

Serendipity. Because I love when this happens. The fortunate accident that leads to something wonderful. And because there is a famous ice cream place in NYC called Serendipity where I have beautiful memories with both of my kids.

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Assume Positive Intent.

You Give Life to that Which you Give Energy

Learning is Uncomfortable and Training Doesn’t Work (this is more relevant when you recognize I say it as a Chief Learning Officer having spent about 30 years in the L&D field)

Never run from something, always run to something.

Relationships are where the real work happens

You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to get a teeny bit better every day.

This last one came from the list my friends sent me, and I don’t remember saying it, but I like it…

It’s never good to lose your cool, but sometimes you just have to tell people when they’re acting like assholes.

Please feel free to comment right here or send me a note with your favorite words. I have become fascinated with the whole exercise. My commitment is to be more thoughtful, more intentional with my word choice – because we know how much this matters.

Brilliant. 😊

Is it Authenticity or just plain Judgment?

June 7, 2016

Last month, Adam Grant wrote an OP/ED in the NY Times called “Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ is Terrible Advice”.  Read it here.  Typically,  I enjoy reading Adam Grant’s columns and respect his opinion, so I was anxious to read this one, having spent so much time thinking about Authenticity and the role it plays in Leadership.

After reading the column, and admittedly being slightly surprised at how much I disagreed with the overall sentiment, I saw Brene Brown’s response.  Brene Brown is another person I  read voraciously, I follow on Instagram and value most everything she says.  Read her response here.

I love an intellectual debate – especially between people as smart and intellectually curious as these two.  However there was still an element of the argument missing for me – something important that  hadn’t yet been discussed.  I continued to think about it.

Below is my interpretation of each of the perspectives.  It’s important to read the full articles though – because like anything else, these summaries are the observations through my lens:

Adam Grant’s perspective: Too much authenticity is never a good thing.  Nobody wants to see the true you – they’d rather you censor yourself – or “self-monitor”. He goes on to say that ‘Low Self Monitors’ are people that don’t really censor themselves – they are not politically correct, they say what they mean and they mean what they say – regardless of who they are talking too.  He says a lot more than that, but that’s the gist of what I read.

Brene Brown’s perspective: She agrees that authenticity has become an overused buzz word, however has a very different definition than Mr. Grant.  She believes one must be courageous and vulnerable to be authentic – to accept our imperfections. In order to do this, we must set boundaries, understand the boundaries and be self-monitoring – almost the opposite of how it was described in the NY Times piece.

This article and response has stayed with me…I continue to talk about it, to share the article with teams with whom I’m working, to lead discussion groups about it.  I mentioned it to my friend and colleague Cathy Salit, CEO of Performance of a Lifetime and Author of Performance Breakthrough.  Not only had she read the article and the various responses, she wrote her own LinkedIn comments on it as well.  Read that here.

Cathy Salit’s perspective: She believes that we play several different roles at any given time – for example, the role of mother, boss, friend.  She calls this ‘multiplicity’.  However, maybe more importantly, she believes that authenticity is a process of growth and creativity.  In other words (her words) ‘in order to be truly authentic we must be both “who we are” and “who we are becoming”’.

After so many conversations and so much debate, I finally have my own perspective to share….. I agree with Brene Brown – authenticity takes courage. I agree with Cathy Salit – we have to keep learning and playing various roles so that we can authentically be who we are growing into.

However, what role does good, old fashion judgment play here? Where is empathy in the conversation? What about the other person or people?

It seems to me that one of the basic tenants of being an adult, is being able to use good judgment.  Do you always say what you want when you want? Of course not.  Do you always just do what you want, whenever you want to? Of course not.  Are you being authentic?  Of course.

Think about this:

  • The mother of a teenager is a role I play with great difficulty. I often find myself wanting to say things that I would never actually say.  Am I being inauthentic?
  • I am always in a hurry – I’m busy and what I like to refer to as ‘time optimistic’. Which means, I always want to drive faster than the speed limit allows.  However, I try to stay within a close range of the speed limit so that I don’t get pulled over.  Am I being inauthentic?
  • I own a personal training gym. Many people come to the gym to reach very specific goals – yet they don’t work very hard.  They expect they are going to get results merely by showing up.  I would love to call them on it – to push them to push themselves. Yet I want them to feel comfortable in the gym going at their own pace.  Am I being inauthentic?

I don’t think any of these things are inauthentic.  I think we are confusing authenticity with good judgment.  In this crazy world in which we live, maybe what we need is to stop fighting over definitions of words and looking for excuses to behave the way we feel like behaving in the moment.  Maybe we need to be more thoughtful, and more empathetic.  Authentic means being true to yourself – to your values and your beliefs – not being able to say everything you want to say whenever you want to say it.  That’s impulsive and in some cases dangerous. And doing it in the service of being “authentic”, well, that’s just careless.

So, maybe it’s not really about authenticity.  Maybe it’s about judgment. And emotional intelligence and critical thinking and responsibility.  I wonder if we held people accountable for using better judgment – if we expected people to think about the consequences of their behavior or reactions instead of making excuses for it if we’d have less shootings, less accidents and less scariness in our lives.

I pride myself on my authenticity.  I often get praised for it – as one of my best attributes.  I also like to believe I have good judgment that supports that authenticity.  And I have high expectations that all adults should.

Thank you Adam Grant, Brene Brown and Cathy Salit for helping me to better articulate my views and pushing me to consider a different perspective.  My authentic perspective.

Authenticity: What is YOUR Performance?

February 29, 2016

A long time ago, in a place far, far away I learned a little something about improvisation. Truth be told, I always wanted to be an actress. Always. But, even though I grew up in NY – the mecca of true acting, I went a different path…..the corporate path.

That however,  didn’t really mean acting was off the table for me. I just had to learn a way to integrate it into my life and my work……I became a facilitator.

Not exactly the Broadway stage for which I yearned, but the stage nonetheless. And a very important stage – because I had a platform to teach people something that they needed to learn.

Anyway, decades ago I had another chance to integrate the stage into my career…..enter stage left Cathy Salit, the CEO of Performance of a Lifetime. (for more info click here). Cathy was (is) an actress – she grew up in NYC and spent her whole life around the theatre. So it was natural that she’d be a natural. But innately she knew that the stage offered even more than the pure, unadulterated entertainment we all have come to expect. She knew that the skills used in the theatre could be integrated into a corporate environment and leveraged as more than even a metaphor –

she knew that the skills used on the stage were the very same skills that if leaders could improve, so then too would their business performance improve.

While I was at American Express I was able to incorporate Performance of a Lifetime – specifically, improvisational skills – into a big sales meeting for which I had responsibility. Learning skills like thinking on your feet, making your partner look good, accepting what is offered and building upon it became second nature when practicing them as part of fun improvisational theatre exercises. Why was it so hard to practice this at work?

My work with Cathy didn’t end at American Express. Rather, she is one of the people in my favorite “collection”. The collection of great minds that come with me wherever I go – those people that I call on when I need a different perspective, a new way of looking at something, or to teach a whole lot of people some really important skills. The work that we did together at the United States Olympic Committee was ridiculously fun. Working with the US Olympic delegation (the athletes, and some of the coaches that make it to the games) before they went off to the 2008 games in Beijing, China on the critical skills necessary to be role models and ambassadors for the United States in addition to winning medals and realizing their dreams was an amazing platform – I pinched myself several times.

So why all the talk about Cathy and Performance of a Lifetime?

Not only because she taught me the importance of making memorable experiences to create learning, or because her methods of teaching are fun and engaging and therefore perfect when integrated into the business world. But because she taught me the importance of authenticity. Of being true to yourself – your strengths, your flaws and all that goes with it – with the recognition that nobody is perfect. But the beauty is – she taught me that we all “perform” all the time – we use our authentic self to play the various roles in our lives – role of employee, of mother, of friend. And these roles/performances can be shaped by us – we are our own director. We can choose to build on our own strengths in a particular role or hold back in another – all the while being authentically ourselves.

I learned today, when catching up with Cathy that she is in the middle of playing a new role in her life….the role of author. Cathy has just written a book about this amazing approach called, Performance Breakthrough: A Radical Approach to Success at Work. And not only did she write a book, she wrote a book that some predict will be a bestseller. It comes out April 12th, 2016. Cathy talked with me about the process (it was hard) and the journey so far (it’s been fun) and the people she met (they are amazing).

But mostly she asked about me. I kept trying to turn it back to her, but she turned it back to me every time. And she said this…..

“What? You OPENED a GYM??? That’s such an Alicia performance! I mean, most people make a commitment to exercise like this – ‘I think I’ll buy a book on nutrition’ or ‘maybe I’ll schedule a few sessions with a personal trainer’, but not you – the Alicia way of doing it is – ‘I think I should buy a gym’ – and then you do it!”

Then she said “I love that we are on new life journeys together – how exciting”. And that’s when I knew…..everyone I know needs to read her book….Go online now and pre-order it here: performancebreakthrough/book.com. Because I’m one of the lucky ones that got a pre-publishing glimpse of it and let me tell you this –  it’s AMAZING. Because that’s what a Cathy Salit performance looks like!