Nina Spencer

Accentuate the Positive

"You've got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive and e-lim-minate the negative and latch on to the affirmative; don't mess with Mr. In-between", so croons the timeless song and message from the 1944 Bing Crosby, Betty Hutton classic Hollywood musical, "Here Come the Waves". Cute in a song lyric, trickier in life--especially at work! The rest of the chorus? "You've got to spread joy up to the maximum. Bring gloom down to the minimum. Have faith, or pandemonium liable to walk upon the scene."

Do you find yourself "awfulizing" at work sometimes? full of "woe is me" and pining for the easier, happier "good ole days"? If you do, answer the following questions to accentuate your positive focus on your workday experience. Even if you don't "awfulize" about work, still take a few moments to answer the following questions. Canvass colleagues for their responses, too. I bet you'll hear some very interesting and funny tales!

1. Who is your favourite "boss"? And why?

When I canvassed my own random sampling of clients I heard responses such as: he/she believed in me; gave me a chance to prove myself; didn't berated me when I made mistakes; took care of me regardless; gave me autonomy when I was ready for it and not before; demonstrated the right level of leadership through all my levels of expertise; was a human being first and a manager second--not subsumed by her title--exhibited personal power as opposed to positional power; she was just herself--her grace was to see everyone's gifts and inevitably she played to each of her staff's strengths rather than weaknesses--and she knew it; he spent his time building us up and making us look good so he automatically gave us tasks at which he knew we would succeed; she went to bat for us with her boss; treated us as equals; was never about, "I'm the manager and you're the peon serving me"; she set about serving her staff and because she did that there wasn't anything we wouldn't do for her--she had her detractors--some saw her as weak because of these traits, but not her staff...and to this day I'm still friends with her and I haven't worked for her in there years! Coincidentally, in the New York Times, Sunday, May 15, 2005 edition (under the section entitled" Office Space/The Boss) President and Chief Executive of Hyundai Motor America, Robert F. Cosmai, also weighs in on this topic, saying, "...instead of chastising me he gave me insights...he helped me to become a student of our business."

Do you hear yourself in any of these words? What would you add?

2. Even if you're not thrilled about your current boss, list one positive thing you can sincerely say about him or her?

3. What one positive event from your early workdays had the greatest effect on what you do today?

4. What's the most positively daring thing you've done professionally? For me, it was "going it alone" so many years ago, now--before the time of exit packages--and "hanging out my own shingle". How about you? What's yours?

5. If you weren't doing what you do today, what other job would you do?

6. What positive lessons from your first "teen" job do you still live by?

My first summer job was playing the music for the junior sessions at my figure skating club for $1.00 per hour. If I wasn't on time it was very conspicuous, indeed. Figure skaters need music...it makes them go! For me the lessons learned from that time included: be on time, or, better yet, be early; be prepared and willing to go the extra mile; be proud of what I contribute and understand how my contribution fits into the essential ingredients of the "bigger picture" purpose of those I'm serving; even the simplest and humblest of $1.00 per hour jobs is necessary to some and quietly appreciated by all. And, lastly, get over fear of heights, both the literal one (climbing a rickety old ladder up to the 5 x 8 gondola-style music room perched in the rafters of the arena), and the more metaphoric one of public speaking (constantly having to use the public announcement system, hearing my amplified voice echo throughout the building--always a humbling experience to hear one's voice on recording or through a microphone until one gets used to it).

7. What's the one thing you want to accomplish in your current position before you either change jobs or focuses or retire?

8. If you could spend a week in any other area of your organization, which would you choose and why?

9. Do you have a pet (or did you at some point in the past)? If so, what has it taught you about work-life balance? about what's really important day-in and day-out?

My thoughts? Cats probably know more about work-life balance than any other animal on the planet; they're seriously into relaxation--lolling around in the sun on my porch or the roof of my car and I don't even own a cat! They have a knack for finding the best spots; they take what they want and what they need...the sunny spot in the best window with the comfy cushion--whatever makes that spot the best, they take, without apology; cats don't feel guilt.

As for me, my dog, Angus, recently reinforced a lesson I always understand intellectually but sometimes forget. He was joyously tearing around our backyard, playing an enthused game of catch me if you can. All of a sudden, in mid air he yelped with pain and landed, spraining his back leg. One false move shifted the disposition of his day and a few more to follow. He knew immediately that he must surrender to his new circumstance and take the time to mend. No stoicism for him. He easily let me pick him up and take care of him. Perhaps more of us in the workplace (and elsewhere) could learn to do that for ourselves and each other when we, too, are "hurting". As for Goliath, our grand old 30 year old red-footed tortoise (who's destined to outlive us all and must be bequeathed in my will)...from April until October he freely roams our fenced backyard from sun-up to sun-down, soaking up the sun and eating all the dandelion leaves he can stomach. From Goliath I've learned the wisdom of taking it slow and easy whenever you can, look for good fortune in your own "backyard" (just like Dorothy realized in the Wizard of Oz) and be sure to stop to munch on some good home grown garden greens along the way! Them's good eatin'!

10. What's the worst mistake you ever made at work that taught you a valuable lesson?

Ah, this question. My response? Easy. Early in my speaking career I was scheduled to deliver the closing keynote at company conference. The president was to make my introductions, however, he chose to take 10 minutes of my scheduled time to share important company news. Unfortunately for the audience (and for me, too) it was seriously bad news regarding job security. My topic was, "Positive Thinking: Attitude is everything". Just imagine having to go on with that topic at that moment! What did I do? What did I say? What could I do? I sang, "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that's amore!" I threw the singing in as a bonus. They were not amused. I carried on. I did my job, with the same gusto and commitment as always, reminding myself, as my lips continued to move despite fidgety people and growing negative vibes, that my job was to deliver "the goods" as promised. I was responsible to this group but not for them. Strategically I learned that, at the time any new client firmly wished to book my keynote or workshop facilitation services, I would forever more ask, "What issues of an organizationally tender or political nature should l know of before I speak? Will there be any show stopping news delivered during the conference/meeting?

Bonus Question: What's the funniest thing that's ever happened to you at work?

If shared, responses to this question help bring out the team laughter and draw staff together. My first shared tale landed me on my tail! As I walked across the gleaming hardwood floor, after being introduced and approaching the platform, I slipped and fell in front of a whole grand group of an all male audience. To this very day I'm impressed with myself for thinking so quickly on my feet (or should I say my...bleep!). While still horizontal, I smartly and promptly retorted, "I've never before fallen for so many men at once!" We all howled, and I? I proceeded, a little bruised in the body, but not so much in the ego.

Another funny work experience saw me caught in a vulnerable position yet again. As a speaker, I travel a fair amount. I'm quite good at remembering to count the number of hotel room doors to the exit, in case I must feel my way along during a fire alarm. One night I'd forgotten my usual counting ritual. Although I was already in my lightweight nightie, I just knew I wouldn't sleep soundly without knowing the count. I sheepishly opened my door, peeped out into the hall to make sure all was clear, and quickly leaned far enough out to count. Unfortunately I leaned just a little too far and then...bang! My spring-loaded door promptly closed behind me! There I was in the hall with only the (skimpier than I'd like, under the circumstances) clothes on my back. What to do? The only thing I could do! I mocked confidence walking along the corridor to the elevator (praying no one would be inside--no such luck!), walked across the lobby to reception and got a new key. Bless their hearts for giving me a lovely terry towel robe for the return journey!

And what, you may ask, working wisdom did I glean from these two funny workplace experiences?

1. Always be as sure footed as you can, watch out for those slippery patches and bounce back as quickly as possible.

2. Always dress appropriately for work. While traveling, I now wear pajamas I'd be proud to wear in public if I must!

Remember..."You've got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive and e-lim-minate the negative and latch on to the affirmative; don't mess with Mr. In-between". "Here Come the Waves" may, indeed, be the name of the movie from which this golden oldie song originates, but from what my clients tell me it might as well be the title of most of our workplace experiences, too. Those "waves" seem to keep on coming, don't they? So, as much as you can, for yourself and others, too, "spread joy up to the maximum, bring gloom down to the minimum, have faith, or pandemonium liable to walk upon the scene." Don't mess with Mr. In Between.