I’m an Eeyore and I’m OK with that


When it comes to work, I’m an Eeyore, and I’m OK with that.

When someone proposes a new idea, I immediately begin to think of all the problems or things that would prevent it from succeeding. It’s not that I don’t support the idea, most times I do, but my brain kicks into logistical overload and I think through all the obstacles and challenges that would need to be overcome to make it happen.

It’s a blessing and curse…especially when you’re known as the happy act blogger.

But I’ve come to embrace my Eeyore and I believe it has helped me in my communications work.

It allows me to anticipate problems, think things through, and make better decisions.

It has helped me to develop emotional intelligence and a risk lens, so when the time comes to execute, we’ve done a good job planning and preparing for most contingencies.

It has also helped me to accept the things I cannot change, courage to try to change the things I can, even if I haven’t mastered the wisdom to know the difference.

Dan Rockwell in his Leadership Freak blog says you can be negative and still succeed. Overly optimistic leaders minimize challenges, fail to anticipate problems and are more likely to throw in the towel when success doesn’t happen quickly.

Being optimistic is great, but blind optimism is dangerous.

This week’s #HappyAct is to embrace your Eeyore but never lose the faith.

Serenity prayer

Learn from everyone you meet


Girl with her coach

The first week of September is always a week of mixed emotions in our household. We’re all sad summer is coming to an end, but the kids are excited and nervous to go back to school and dive into their courses and learning.

Usually a few weeks in, there’s the normal complaining about one of their teachers. We’ve always urged the kids to be open and understand that you can learn from everyone you meet, even from people you may not connect with or get along with. I think they’re finally starting to understand this.

It’s a great lesson for us all. I remember one time a friend of mine asking me why I make small talk with people on trains and planes. They said, “You’re never going to see them again, why do you bother?” I looked at them as if they had eight heads, and answered that it was because I enjoy talking to people, and I learn something from every interaction.

I’ve also followed this philosophy throughout my career. I once had a boss who was honestly one of a kind, and so different from me. She was very reserved, you never knew what she was thinking, precise to a T and not exactly a change agent or a communicator, but I learned so much from her and respected her for her knowledge.

I’ve also worked for people that taught me about the type of leader I didn’t want to be. Luckily I haven’t had too many of these bosses. The last-minute, disorganized, all over the map types, or worse, the “do it my way or the highway” dictatorial director (I only worked for one of these and they were gone in three months.) They were important reverse role models in my career and in some bizarre way, I may have learned even more from them than my good bosses.

The kids have learned this in sports too. There has been several times when at the beginning of a season, they’ve said they’re not sure they like their coach—he’s a bit loud or yells a lot or is harsh. But often at the end of the season, once they understand the person’s coaching style and get to know the person, they love their coach and say they’ve learned so much from them.  

This week’s #HappyAct is to learn from everyone you meet. I’d like to dedicate this week’s blog post to all the coaches out there who give tirelessly of their time and energy to help kids be all they can be, on the ice, the field, and on the water. You are doing such a wonderful thing. Thank you! This photo is of Clare and her kayakying coach this summer, Rhiannon Murphy. 

The rise of incivility in the workplace

man sticking out his tongue at a phoneEarlier this month, I participated in Respect in the Workplace training at my work. It was excellent.

While there was a pronounced focus on harassment, timely given the Me Too movement and stories of sexual abuse and harassment out of Hollywood, there was also an important emphasis on respect and incivility.

Incivility in the workplace is on the rise. Both McKinsey and Harvard Business Review have published excellent articles on this trend and the hidden costs.

According to one study in 1998, 50% of workers reported they were treated rudely at least once a month. In 2011, the figure rose to 55% and 62% in 2016. That’s twelve times a year most of us experience some form of incivility at work.

What happens when we experience incivility in the workplace? We feel devalued, hurt, emotionally upset. It becomes hard to concentrate and focus on tasks at hand. It is emotionally draining. If it festers or the conflict worsens, the fight, flight or freeze response begins to override our ability to function. We disengage or we leave altogether.

Incivility results in lower productivity, higher employee turnover, and lower employee engagement.

What wasn’t addressed in the training was the root cause of this disturbing trend. Some may attribute it to Trump or social media. I believe the root cause is directly related to the amount of pressure and stress on employees to deliver results at all costs—often at the cost of incivility.

And here’s the scary part–none of us are immune.

A few weeks ago, I found myself speaking a bit icily on the phone to a colleague who had not communicated with me that they would miss a requested deadline. There was no phone call or email to let me know they could not complete the work, despite several attempts on my part to follow up with them.

Who in this case was disrespectful—me for adopting a clipped, direct tone (but hopefully still professional) to the conversation, or my colleague for not communicating with me in the first place? You tell me.

There is one thing I do know. People will always take their cue from the people at the top. Leaders must live, breathe and model respect and civility in the workplace if it is to be sanctified in the culture of the organization.

There is a nasty trickle down effect that occurs when a leader speaks or sends an email with highly caustic or sarcastic language to employees. It sends a message—it’s OK to act this way, when it’s not OK.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a stand against incivility in the workplace. We all need to be leaders to make our workplaces happier, positive places to be.

Lessons learned from the great Stuart McLean

Stuart McLeanThis week, Canada lost a national treasure. Stuart McLean, best known for his radio program The Vinyl Café and early days on CBC radio, passed away at the age of 68.

Stuart was one of the best teachers and mentors I ever had. I first met Stuart in 1984 where he was one of the young, hipper instructors in the Ryerson school of journalism. (I’m smiling as I write this because Stuart never in a million years would have considered himself hip.) We were instantly smitten by him.

Stuart wasn’t just a teacher. He was a friend. He was one of us. He’d invite us to his home for coffee on the weekends to hear our story ideas, and review transcripts or tape, or go out for a beer after a full day in the studio.

As a teacher, he was patient, encouraging and insightful. He’d let us explore and discuss ideas, perched on a desk at the back of the room, always watching and observing and jumping in when needed to steer us in the right direction. He knew the greatest learning was by doing and exploring, and gave us full reign to make mistakes, learn and grow.

While many people may remember Stuart as a great storyteller, I will always remember him as a great listener. Stuart had this uncanny ability to make you feel like you were the only person in the room. He gave people his undivided attention and hung on their every word.

I remember the time Stuart turned the tables on me and interviewed me for his radio program and one of his books. The segment was on Ernie the Hot Dog Man. Ernie was a fixture on Ryerson campus, and Stuart interviewed some of his students to find out what Ernie meant to us.

It was unnerving to be on the receiving end of the microphone and Stuart’s steely gaze. He thrust the microphone under my chin and started asking questions. His eyes never wavered once from my face. He said nothing–just sat and nodded with a slight grin on his face. I realized after I had watched a master at work. Stuart had perfected the art of listening and knew how to get his subjects to open up and share their inner most thoughts and feelings simply by staying silent.

Here are just a few of the things I learned from Stuart McLean.

I learned that every person in this world matters and has a story worth telling.

I learned to be curious and to ask questions.

I learned that people appreciate when you take an interest in their lives

I learned the importance of listening with your heart

I learned the power of silence in drawing people out

Most of all, I learned what it meant to be a good human being.

As I was reading the many tributes to Stuart this week online, I came across one story about his philosophy on teaching. The first duty of a teacher he said was to build confidence, no matter how deep you may have to dig. “If there’s something good in the assignment turned in, praise that,” he said. “If the writing’s bad but the broadcast quality is good, praise that. If the broadcast quality is poor, but they’ve organized it well, praise that. And if everything is bad, but their posture is good, well, dammit, praise that.”

I’m still learning from this great man.

Stuart, I know you’re up there in the vinyl café in the sky, microphone in hand, capturing new tales. This one’s for you.

Aim for progress, not perfection

strive for progress signIn my line of work, I make it a mission to cut out jargon. There is one buzzword I’ve adopted and even grown fond of lately–the word agile.

More and more, you hear about agile teams, projects and processes. Agile methodology is when you plan out your tasks or work in phases, then measure and tweak along the way.

The reason why I like this word so much is because the agile approach embodies an inherent philosophy that has a direct impact on happiness —the importance of aiming for progress, not perfection.

Two of the leading experts in the field of perfectionism are Canadians—Paul Hewitt, a professor at the University of British Columbia and Gordon Flett at the University of Toronto. In just one of their many studies of 10,000 professors, they found a statistical co-relation that those pursuing a perfect solution had a lower number of publications, lower amount of citations and a lower impact on their profession. They also had a higher rate of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and, shockingly, a higher rate of suicide.

I’ve never been a perfectionist. I can’t imagine the burden that weighs on people of trying to be perfect or achieving the perfect result all the time.

I’ve learned there are many ways to skin a cat. When my team works on a design concept or develops communication plans at work, there isn’t any single right or wrong answer or method. There are simply different options and approaches with different merits and risks. You choose a course, try it out, see what works, then adjust your plan.

You learn most when you fail. Unfortunately one of the biggest issues in business today is organizations say they are willing to let their employees fail, but when push comes to shove, the focus on the bottom line wins out. Companies are so lean they can’t afford the time, money or resources to fail.

Still, aiming for progress, not perfection is a philosophy that can benefit just about every aspect of our lives. Trying to lose weight? Aim for progress, not perfection. Studying for a big exam? Planning a large event? You know the answer.

This week’s #HappyAct is to aim for progress, not perfection. Perfection is an elusive dream. Instead set small, baby step goals, and celebrate when you hit milestones.

Five things you can do to be more coachable

The Fury girls show off their new logo–Clare is lying down in front

It’s Wednesday evening and I’m sitting in the stands at the arena watching another one of Clare’s hockey practices. Her Frontenac Fury team are doing passing and shooting drills on the ice. The kids soak up every direction, instruction and piece of advice of the coaches.

Children are highly coachable. They are desperate to learn, try new things, and improve. As the season goes on, it’s incredible to see the progress they make as they practice and hone their skills and gel as a team.

Why is it as adults we lose some of this willingness to accept counsel and guidance to help us improve?

The other day, I was talking with a co-worker about someone we work with. The person we were talking about is highly intelligent, skilled and knows their job inside and out. But sometimes they can come across as harsh, blunt and unfeeling towards others and it can create friction in meetings.

My co-worker asked, since I knew this person better, whether they would be open to me sharing this feedback? I thought about it, but I concluded that this person wasn’t highly coachable, and instead of helping the situation, it might make matters worse.

As a people leader, I can tell you one of the things I look for and value most in people is whether they are coachable. Whether they are willing to take constructive feedback, advice and counsel, and apply it to learn, grow and ultimately improve their performance. This to me is far more important that the skills and knowledge they bring to the table.

Journalism school and years of playing team sports helped me be open to feedback and criticism. In fact in my role now, I get nervous if someone returns my copy to me with no changes, because I think it means they never read it! But I know just as much as the next person there is much more I could be doing to be more open to constructive feedback to improve my performance. Often it’s emotion that gets in the way of positive coaching.

Here are five things you can do to be more coachable

  1. Be open to trying things a new way. Focus on the benefits of the new approach, instead of what could go wrong, then commit to doing it the new way and see what happens.
  2. Check your emotion at the door and focus on the outcome or goal you are trying to achieve.
  3. Be humble and admit when you are wrong. How can you improve if you are never wrong?”
  4. Take initiative to learn or practice a new skill on your own.
  5. Remind yourself that the person giving the feedback is only trying to help. If you know it comes from a good place, you will be far more likely to be receptive to the feedback.

Every great writer has an editor. Every great athlete has a coach. This week’s #HappyAct is to be aware of how you respond to feedback and try to be more coachable. You’ll feel more positive about how you accepted the feedback and for the positive change and growth you experienced by being open to new approaches.

How to deal with an unreasonable boss

people quit because of bad bossesThere’s a new book I’ve put on my summer reading list: Colin Powell’s My American Journey. Here’s a great quote from it:

“The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” —Colin Powell

Oren Harari, a professor at the University of San Francisco says if this was a litmus test, most CEOs would fail. I couldn’t agree more.

Powell talks about busy bastard bosses, bosses that never rest, and as a result never let their staff rest. It’s sad, but I’ve heard of more busy bastard bosses making life hell for their employees in organizations and it’s time we put a stop to it.

Powell advises against being a BBB. He writes, “Be busy, work hard, but don’t become so busy that you cut out other things in life, like family and recreation and hobbies. And never be so busy that you’re not giving your staff and your followers enough time to do the same thing.”

Here are tips for dealing with an unreasonable boss:

  • Don’t check email at night unless it’s a crisis. Just because someone sends you an email at 10:30 at night doesn’t mean you have to answer it at 10:30 at night.
  • Watch and learn how they like to work. Some bosses want everything by email. Some want updates in a meeting. Learn their preferences and as long as they’re reasonable, change your habits to accommodate them.
  • Set limits. If you need to be home with your kids in the morning, but can stay late if needed at night, make them aware of this.
  • Be concise and to the point, and ask for clarity. Unreasonable bosses often think they communicate well, but they don’t. They’re so focused on being busy, and moving on to the next thing on their list, they gloss over instructions and fail to provide clear direction.
  • Figure out how to get what you need or get things done through other people so you don’t have to deal with them.
  • If they give you an unrealistic deadline, ask for more time. If they say no, ask which other work can be put on hold so you can meet the deadline.

Most bosses aren’t bastards, but they are busy. If you set limits, learn how they like to work, and do good work, you’ll have a good chance of establishing boundaries and a good work life balance.

And for those poor souls who work for a busy bastard boss who are hopeless—bosses who are so unreasonable or disorganized they make it impossible for you to do your job, who don’t care or even know about what’s going on in the lives of their employees, and only see employees as a head count or resource, find another job.

Lavish praise not criticism

flowers bloomingThe world needs more praise and less criticism.

If you’re a parent, you know the power of praise. Praise is like the warmth of the sun that nourishes and helps the petals of a flower unfold. Criticism will cause the flower to shrivel up and die.

This week’s Happy Act is to praise someone. Your child. Your partner. A co-worker. Tell them what a great job they’ve done then watch them blossom and grow.

Write your own employment contract

employment contractIt’s scary how many people I talk to fielding work calls and emails at all hours of the day.

This has what the work world has come to these days. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. You can write your own employment contract. I wrote mine years ago after I got laid off early in my career. Here’s what I promised myself:

  • While on vacation, I will not check my email. I’ll make sure I have sufficient back-up and confidence in my team to handle anything that comes up in my absence.
  • I won’t work weekends unless there is something out of the ordinary that necessitates cutting into my precious time with my family.
  • I believe that someone else’s lack of planning does not constitute a crisis in my day and I have pledged to never be the cause of a crisis for people I work with because of my lack of planning. That would be disrespectful.
  • I deserve and will take at least 10 or 15 minutes to eat my lunch.
  • Whenever possible, I will go for a short walk at lunch to clear my head, and get a few minutes of exercise and fresh air.
  • I will leave the office at a reasonable time each night so I can have dinner with my family. My productivity takes a nose dive about an hour after my normal work day ends, so it is not in my best interests or the best interests of my company for me to stay.
  • I will work my hardest and uphold the highest standards of professional integrity.

This week’s #HappyAct is to write your own employment contract. Do you think mine is realistic today, or am I a dinosaur? Leave a comment.

Be a mentor part 2: Matt’s perspective

Matt and his wifeSpecial guest blog

(Read part 1)

It took me awhile to figure it out, but, I am a writer. The longer I worked the more I realized my passion in life was with writing and communication. Since my current job involved no writing at all I was looking for a change. I didn’t want to leave my company or all of the insurance knowledge I had gained over the years, so I looked for an inside move. My sights were set on our company’s Communications area. Without any related experience or a related degree I knew it would be tough. I needed some help. That’s when I reached out to the one person I knew in the Communications area, a person I had been looking up to for inspiration for years, and asked her if she would consider mentoring me?

I had no idea what to expect when I asked Laurie if she would be my mentor. I was hoping she would accept, meet with me a few of times, give me a couple of writing assignments, and layout a rough map of what I needed to be doing to get where I wanted to be. Well, almost two years later our monthly meetings have continued and the scope of our discussions have expanded to more than the narrow field of communications.

Is this mentor – mentee relationship what I expected?


It was much, much more.

Professionally, my mentor has given me more than I expected.

  • She has shared her vast network of contacts with me.
  • Guided me on where the company is moving and where opportunities for experience and jobs will be.
  • Brought me up to speed on what industry leaders to follow and what books to read.
  • Stressed exactly the things I needed to do in our company to succeed (and have a chance at moving into the career I dream of).

Helpful? Very!

But, it was the non-professional things that had a bigger impact on me.

  • I am more motivated now then I have ever been in my work. Not only do I have that dream of moving into a communications job, but with my mentor’s support it feels like it is a realistic goal.
  • Having someone you trust, to share personal work related problems (such as conflicts with coworkers or management) is invaluable. Especially if that person, like my mentor, has been on the other side of the fence in management roles.
  • It has made me more empathetic. My mentor has changed the way I view those above me. She has allowed me to see the more human side to those in supervisory/managerial/directorial roles.

I did not expect this mentor mentee thing to cause such a monumental change in the way I feel about work, but, it definitely has. I am a much better employee in every way because of it.

This week’s #HappyAct is the a repeat of last week’s: find someone to help you grow. And thanks, Matt, it’s been a slice!

Contributing author: Mathew is a very productive and sarcastic cubicle citizen who reads way too many Dilbert comics. He blogs about his life outside of work at theplaceunderthepine.blogspot.ca.