Don’t Leave before you Leave

Yesterday, I had a few meetings to reconnect with people who inspire me and who I had worked with in previous contracts or employment.  We discussed a number of challenges, but the one common thread that continued to unravel throughout the day through different facets and perspectives was this: don’t leave before you leave.

You’re not retired until you retire.

One manager shared her frustration with people who were near retirement and didn’t want to learn new technology.  She shared that she was in a room of employees when one person argued that he was two years from retirement and shouldn’t have to learn to use new technology.  Her brilliant comment, “You’re not going to be retired at work and collect a paycheck.”  The younger employees clapped.  She pointed out that we need valuable, growing employees at every stage of their lives of employment and if you believe that you don’t need to learn new things when you are near retirement, you may be limiting your own talents.  We all know that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks – if they want to learn them.  And you’re only as OLD as you feel, right?

Legacy Plans work

Another manager I met later in the day talked about retirement-age employees who established legacy plans and devoted their last years of employment to completing one big project.  Some of them spent over 50 years working in this organization!  Over 50!This project has lasted for years – and the employees refuse to retire until it is live.  The manager said, “They will be here until the project is successful no matter what.”

I laughed because the work I did with these employees was to introduce and encourage legacy planning.  I never considered the challenges that might arise from true legacy dedication, but the engagement of this project team and these employees is top notch.  The manager was more concerned about this project “stealing” from their earned retirement!

Then, there are those in between

I have coached the “in-betweeners.”  I have been an “in-betweener,” and my final meeting of the day was about the “in-betweeners.”  These are the people who are miserable at work.  They go to work every day with dread or blah yet for reasons they hold dear to their hearts, they cannot give up.  They cannot leave.

Many of them are like the legacy builders and just want to see the end result of their work.  Sometimes they have fear that the work will fall apart without them.  Sometimes they have fear of failure.  Sometimes they just don’t want to give up.  Regardless, they leave before they leave.  They are shells of themselves, not focused on anything important and certainly not working toward their true potential.  And yet, they won’t throw in the towel and say goodbye.  Often, they won’t even explore other employment or job roles.  They will just “be.”

Life’s too short to just “be.”  Life’s too exciting to be just “blah.”

When it’s right to stay

It’s always confirming to hear reports of engagement.  What really gets employees to be a part of life at work?  Touching base with other leaders throughout the day and hearing their conviction to engaged employees confirmed for me once again that people will be more engaged and motivated when they feel competent in their skills, confident in their roles, connected to their teams and the organization, and are convicted to the purpose of their team’s work – and, in many cases, their own legacy.

One manager talked about an employee who was ” blah” and became “WOW!” through hard conversations and openness to feedback.  She needed the right work, the right support, and the right purpose.  Once that was established, the employee and manager  soared.

Another manager shared his own challenges with being engaged as a leader – that he was challenged with his own conviction and had to take time to realize that his challenges were not related to the engagement of the teams, but rather his own dedication and alignment to the vision of the work.  He established his own game plan to address misalignment to the vision and reengage himself in true leadership.

As I walked from building to building during the day meeting with one leader after another, each manager pointed out the “people impact” my work had achieved in the short time I was there.  I was inspired not because of the work I left behind, but by what they carried on and applied to other projects when I wasn’t with them, and how they put their leadership egos aside to truly become the leaders that made their teams flourish with record productivity and engagement.

They were working every day with purpose:  to create an environment where employees believed it’s right to stay and do their best whether they are retirement age or in-betweeners.



Debunk the myth: you don’t have to lead to achieve great success.

You don’t have to lead to achieve success.

You don’t have to be a leader to achieve success.

You don’t need a lofty title to achieve success.

You don’t have to climb the career ladder step by step, rung by rung, to achieve success.

Lately, coaching sessions and general conversations with leaders have rounded to a dramatic realization: we have missed the mark. Lives of learning that the most successful people are at the top of the organization have tainted our vision of happiness at work, and it’s starting to catch up with us.

Imagine that you have a 5 or 10 or 20 year career working to be the boss and then the boss’s boss and so on. One day, you realize that you are not fulfilled. You realize that you don’t want to be a leader: you want something else. You ask yourself, “If I am not a leader, if I give up this leaderly ladder life, can I still achieve success? If so, what does that look like?” Or even worse, “If I take a non-leadership role, am I a failure?”

No, not a failure. Now is the time to redefine your life goals and focus on the big picture by internalizing the following points:

1. Many people have had life-long, fulfilling careers doing what they love, regardless of the title.

I worked with hundreds of teams, and the most successful teams have as much respect for their janitor as they do for they CEO. If you enjoy leadership, become a leader. If you enjoy doing the work, do the work. The most valuable contribution you can make for yourself and your team is to find what makes you tick and do that.

2. You are not trapped.

So often I hear clients talk about feeling trapped in their position and the “Ask me if I am a tree” joke comes to mind. You are not a tree. You are not designed to live your entire life in one space. Leave. You may have to take a pay cut (about 50% of my clients do), but there is no price tag on loving life. We all land on our feet once we work toward our passions and stop allowing societal pressures, like the career ladder, limit our options.

3. Stepping out of a leadership role to be YOU is leaderly.

We forget that some of the best leaders lead from the heart and are sincerely, whole-heartedly understanding the needs of themselves…and then others, reconciling that these are one and the same. If you realize that your position is not YOU, moving on will inspire others to realize their true potential as well.

4. A person with a title is not always a leader.

I won’t forget one of my favorite conversations with a leader about titles. To paraphrase a lengthy conversation, this leader said, “I have had the title of Supervisor or Manager for nearly 30 years, but I don’t lead my teams. They lead the work and I help them be successful. The title is meaningless, it’s the relationship and respect that matters.”

Some people have the ability to be good leaders. Many people do not and many people desire not to be leaders but feel it is their only option for advancement.

If you’re not motivated by helping others achieve their success as individuals and part of a team, that’s just fine. More and more positions are being created currently that allow you to be recognized for great work as part of a team rather than placing the best workers in positions of leadership that don’t fit their skill set just to “keep them.”

Find (or create) a position that allows you to be you. You deserve it.

We don’t have to be leaders to achieve success.

Once you do what you love and realize the unlimited options available to you outside of the career ladder, you will write back to me about how good it feels to breathe again, now that you’ve removed yourself from the space that didn’t lead you to YOU.

Even if you’re not a writer, you will want to share your story with others.

Breathe. You are not a tree.

Employee engagement: the song is changing, have you noticed?

Day after day, we sing the same song…over and over again. Then, one day the song changes yet people continue to sing the same outdated song over and over again.

Is this the case with Employee Engagement? Will it be the case in our near future?

We offer programs and activities and action plans and recognition events to enhance employee engagement, understanding that our problem is a lack of engagement.

What if that’s the old problem, not the current problem, and certainly not the future problem?

What if with our passionate, energetic, younger employees (millennials and younger), we are experiencing the opposite problem? At first, I called this problem “over-engagement” and then I laughed at my label. If we consider people who are forward-thinkers, community builders, doers, innovators, technologists (in every aspect of their lives), and purpose-driven with passion for creating a new and better world “overly engaged,” we’ve got a society that holds back the greatness of people – that is established to actually limit engagement and not promote it.

When I consider what the millennial and younger generations bring to the world of work, I call that engagement. I call that passion. I call that community building, and I call that hope.

Our focus for these folks should not be how to engage them in the workplace, but rather how to guide, support, coordinate, and lead their energy, passion, and talents to do really great things together.

That means taking a good look at employee and workplace policies that will limit the creativity and energy these folks bring to the table. The world is their office…any time.

That means taking a good look at the role of leadership in organizations. What behaviors will leaders expect, reinforce, and foster within and amongst their team members.

That means taking a good look at hierarchy and organizational alignment. Are the benefits of this organizational infrastructure still realized or are they outdated and limiting to new ideas, creative thinking, and teamwork?

That means taking a good look at culture. Inevitably, these new employees will change your organization’s culture. Are you prepared to manage these changes or are you willing to allow them to manage themselves?

For years, we have been singing the tune about disengaged employees. When the song changes, will you notice? Will you be ready?

What have you done to really, truly create an environment where employees feel valued, are confident in their skills and talents and how they contribute to teamwork, and have the autonomy to make responsible decisions to manage their work and their life? Leave your tips in the comments below.

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The Homeless Encounter in Seattle

“Let’s run, Mommy!”

We are in the heart of Seattle on a long overdue family vacation. It’s our final day of touring the City, and we’re beginning the mile walk from the water to the science center. After two days of hearing our four year old complain of tired legs, I was ecstatic that she wanted to run and skip up the ascending streets ahead (a much better option than the piggy-back rides we’d been doing).

She and I ran from the rest of the family, looking back here and there until they were so far back that we couldn’t see them anymore. We stopped at a corner to check navigation and take a breath, and two men asked us if we needed directions. “Head North to Fourth,” they said and we skipped across the road following their lead.

Soon, I noticed that we were passing people with developmental disabilities and recognized the familiar odor of homelessness.

We stopped to admire the painted piano on the sidewalk, daring each other to play a song. As we were moving to sit down, one of the men asked if he could play for us. He started playing and singing a Billy Joel melody. I watched my child sway to the music and smile.

I looked around me. At one time, this scenario- this street in an unfamiliar city with my precious child to protect- would have scared me. I would have run or at least walked briskly out of fear. Instead, words echoed in my head as tears came to my eyes, “they have talent; they are amazing people.”

As a social worker for 17 years, I learned the most valuable lesson from helping homeless people, hearing their stories, and getting to know and understand them. I learned that all people, ALL people, have something amazing to offer the world around us.

I remembered the man during the recession who lost his Fortune 500 accountant job and was found badly beaten in a park by his house and brought to shelter who later, with my help, went back to work. I remembered the battered women I helped find shelter with adorable young kids and the mentally and developmentally challenged people I helped begin a new life that, in some cases, was very similar to the Seattle residents I saw on that street. I remembered the talent that I found within them.

And on this day, on this street about half a block from the mental health center, I appreciated the gift this man was pouring into my daughter who later exclaimed, “He was beautiful! That was the most beautiful song I have ever heard!”

He let me take a picture and we thanked him profusely (high five and fist bump) before we ran off to be reunited with the rest of the family. (We literally ran off with him shouting, “Why are you running?” To which I answered, “She wants To!”)

This is a photo and memory that will guide us and remind us that all people have gifts to offer the world around us. It was a great lesson for my daughter and a much-needed reminder for me and hopefully you, too.

Gen X: The Middle Children

A middle child. I know it well. I was raised in a family of 4 children, the only other middle was the only boy. I play the role of the middle child in my family. At work, I play it, too…as a member of the Gen X generation.

We are the Generation X (and some Y) –

We’re the helpers, guiders, mediators, and team connectors. We play a significant role in joining people together, negotiating from two or more perspectives, living under, above, and beneath.

We’re also the forgotten generation: the generation that exists but only in small part, with indifference and insignificance. We are the generation that survived our early careers through a recession. We struggled to find jobs and landed in employment that wasn’t ideal but was necessary. Our colleagues were our elders by a decade or more.

Yet, we undestand you, The Baby Boomer generation-

The oldest child, the generation we Gen Xers joined early in our careers, the generation that flooded the workforce years before we left elementary. You were there first. You made the rules. You busted down barriers and formed and reformed the status quo. You fought to change the world and make it better for the people like us who followed.

You were teachers. You learned things first and challenged us to learn them faster and better. You shared insight, you mentored, you coached. You planned. We depended on you for safety, stability, strategy.

We see your challenges as you raise children and care for your aging parents. We see you exchange a 30 year career of passion and dedication, loyalty and love. We see your hesitation as you leave your legacy to the unknown – as you pass your baton to those who come after.

We understand you, The Millennial Generation-

The youngest children, the generation that has been joining the workforce in numbers, challenging the status quo and wanting to be heard. We see your passion, your indifference to the status quo, your hope for impact, love, and change. We see your desire to make waves. We were there, too…not long ago.

We see the value you bring to the world of work: the breath of fresh air each of your ideas resembles. We want your ideas about work/life balance to become our reality too…and believe it or not, all generations agree with your values. We just don’t know how to bridge the divide and become one together.

And that’s where we, the middle children, play a critical role. We have thrived and survived with you both. We hear your outrage and questions and fear. We mediate, negotiate, translate. We build teams with seasoned and vibrant ideas: teams that challenge the status quo together.

We help you speak…to each other. We bridge the gap.

We are the middle children. We are your helpers.

What situations have you experienced where the generational divide helped to create stronger, better results for the organization? What were key strategies used to achieve these results?

For more blogs from the middle child, visit

5 lessons from the year I stepped out of my comfort zone.

In 2016, I left my job of 15 years to start building my own business coaching individuals and organizations through change.  It’s been an exhilarating and challenging experience that included mountain highs and valley lows. Below are a few lessons learned from my year of change.

1) Fight for what you believe in.  Change work is challenging.  Although people want to change and intend to change, the process is uncomfortable and difficult as the “unlearning” process and learning process come head to head.  There were many moments I wanted to back down and let good be good enough, but I realized quickly the importance of fighting for what I believe in, that these amazing Leaders and staff are worth the fight.  And when the battle is over, the reward is obvious and glorious.

2) You will find people who want you to succeed everywhere.  There were moments of reflection where I recognized those around me who were cheering us on even from the darkest corner.  They kept me focused, they kept me real, and they kept me motivated.  They craved our success, they wanted to be a part of this large team, and even on a personal level, they left encouragement and support in a variety of ways. 
3)  When the going gets rough, do what’s right.  There were many moments when I was challenged personally and professionally.  I met personalities who challenged my own self-respect.  There were times I needed to lead but wanted to follow.  There were times my change efforts were challenged to the core.  I gathered courage and wisdom, working hard to focus on the outcome of my work and lead the organization to do what’s right for the customers and employees together.  

My mantra throughout (which was often communicated to me through others), was always, always do what’s right.  Fear *not* following your instincts and have the courage to challenge the status quo.  

4) Understand your value.  There is a voice that loudly discredited the value I brought to my work.  This voice was shocked when requests came in for speaking engagements, when I was a finalist for a prestigious award, when organizations I coached achieved awards and public accolades, and when Leaders I guided and coached achieved success.  The voice said I didn’t matter.

This voice was purposely, exhaustingly silenced. This was the voice of the person I left behind, of the me who didn’t understand the value I deliver every day to the people around me.  This voice ignored the reality that my influence played a significant role in all of these successes.  This voice ignored what reality said.  Shhhh, voice.  Shhh.

5) Ask for help.  I thought since I was now on my own, I needed to do it on my own.  There was a moment early in my year when my husband looked at me in earnest and said, “Carolyn, you don’t have to do this alone.”  That was the moment I started reaching out to others for help.  

I contacted former colleagues I adored and people I had yet to meet.  I asked them to share professional tools, think through challenging scenarios, and offer personal and professional insight.  I talked with judges, project managers, developers, IT Managers, other change leaders (a lot of them!), other consultants, chiefs, mentors, my sisters, and my friends.  

I asked for help in a variety of ways, and I was blessed with a more robust toolbox, a positive network, inspiration, and ongoing support. 

I learned to become a team player in a much broader network.  I learned influence is valued and valuable, and I learned that the passion in working toward something you believe in will inspire others.

My first year led to a a great start of a second year of building my consulting business.  

And now, my husband and I also work to help others achieve success in building their business.  We recognize the gifts we were given during our first year and show our gratitude by paying it forward.

And if YOU were one of the many who provided support, guidance, tools, a listening ear, laughter, or just information, I cannot thank you enough. I am a better person and professional because of you. Thank you for investing in my work…and please continue to spread your love and great influence.  The world needs more of YOU.

For more information about our work, visit

You are a leader.

It’s the large moments created by thousands of small moments that truly make a difference…leading up to that one large moment when you recognize the feeling of being a great leader.  

You guide, coach, and lead others.  You help them grow and achieve great success as individuals and as part of a team.  You retain talent, you attract talent, and you support talent in joining other teams and sometimes other organizations.  You are invested in the great work you are able to achieve together.  

Your most challenging moments are making the right choices to foster a healthy culture, and having the courage to promote and defend those choices against the status quo.  

You see yourself in the future of the organization.  You see your value in guiding your team and have remarkable strategy underway.   You are clear, focused, and deliberate. You are confident, trusted, and liberated. 

You are a leader.  

We can help you get there.