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Gratitude Boards

In times of uncertainty, gratitude is very important. We have a gratitude board at work where everyone is encouraged to share what they are grateful for. It is a way of creating a ripple effect of gratitude through the whole organization.

I also curate ideas on one of my Pinterest boards. I encourage you to check it out here:

Today, I am grateful for the following:

  1. Fluffy cuddles from my dogs
  2. An awesome son who helps me out around the house
  3. A husband who is understanding and kind

What are you grateful for today? Share in the comments!

Food Hack: Chinese Five Spice Powder

This is a quick post for today, I just wanted to share one of my absolute favorite spices and two ways I use it: Chinese Five Spice Powder. This spice mix is usually a combination of white pepper, cinnamon, fennel, star anise, and clove. The first time I had it was actually while attending a conference at a Disney resort. They had made truffles and topped it with the spice. The combination with chocolate was so good I have looked for it as a dessert every year at the conference since then. Unfortunately, I have not seen it.

When I first started experimenting with Instant Pot cooking, I tried making Chinese Spareribs. That recipe was an epic failure which has not been attempted again, but one of the ingredients was Chinese Five Spice Powder. I could not find the blend anywhere in stores here in Southern Maryland. I probably could have found it at the Asian grocery, but one night it just popped up as a suggested Amazon purchase (is’t the algorithm scary?!). So now that I had this ingredient and it’s initial purpose was a bust, I needed to find another use for it. I remembered the treat I had at Disney and decided to try something:

We were hosting a dinner party and one of the guests brought yummy brownies from BJs. I decided to try to kick them up a notch. I added the spice blend from my pantry to the brownies and oh my goodness were they good. It reminded me of Mexican Chocolate which has a dash of cinnamon or chili added to it. It was so good, I plan on making other chocolate desserts using the spice. I think cookies will be my next experiment. Maybe something like a snickerdoodle, only chocolate.

I also tried my spice expirament for something more savory. For Thanksgiving, we hosted my in-laws and one of them is keto. Well, guess what spice is keto-friendly? I have been trying to convince my in-laws to the benefit of the Instant Pot. So I made my Instant Pot Acorn Squash recipe (which is my top post on NQSH!) but I made it a little different by adding some Chinese Five Spice Powder to it. My father-in-law can be picky when it comes to food, but he loved it. It smelled like fall and tasted just as yummy.

If you have any other ideas for using this spice (other than the ribs), I would love to hear about them! Post your suggestions in the comments.

Easy-Peasy Sticky Buns

I saw this recipe on Pinterest and wanted to try it. So I included the ingredients in my Walmart Grocery order (*hint* place your order after midnight to grab a time slot during this time of social distancing). There was just one problem…I ordered the wrong frozen product. I got yeast rolls instead of cinnamon rolls…and my pudding was substituted for instant. So I did what I could and hacked it with what I had. Turns out it was pretty yummy!

Materials:

Ingredients:

  • 1 package vanilla pudding mix
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 1/2 package Rhodes Frozen Yeast Rolls
  • 1/4 tbs Cinnamon
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 stick salted butter
Procedure: 1. Grease the bottom of your baking dish by rubbing it with your butter stick. 2. Sprinkle nuts on bottom of pan.3. Place frozen rolls in pan, they should touch (I added another row after the picture was taken).

4. Sprinkle with pudding mix, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Slice the remaining butter into pats and place around your pan.

5. Cover with plastic wrap, place in a warm dry spot, and wait 3-5 hours. Yes, hours. Your frozen dough will defrost and begin to rise.

6. Preheat over to 350 and take plastic wrap off your pan. See how the dough is bigger?

7. When oven is ready, bake for 15-20 minutes. Careful that your sugar does not start to burn. Take out and let pan cool. 8. When cooled, place a tray or baking sheet over the top and flip your pan onto the tray. 9. Scrap remaining bits out of pan and sprinkle on top of buns. 10. Enjoy! Thoughts for next time…Add more nutsMake a simple syrup with brown sugar mix to make it stickier…maybe use lemon or orange juice…

Do Nothing Day

“Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something.” – Christopher Robin

Today is Saturday, but it is a different Saturday. Today is a Do Nothing Day…leave the teleworking and the homeschooling behind. Okay, so technically January 16th is Nothing Day, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate it today. Don’t plan on being productive today. Just plan on being…you may find that by slowing down and doing nothing that you actually discover something. Of course, doing nothing doesn’t mean just sitting in silence like a mystical monk on top of the mountain somewhere. But it also doesn’t mean that what you are doing has to be for purposes of anything other than you enjoy it and can relax.

According to a study conducted in 2014 by the American Psychological Association (APA), 77% of the people surveyed reported regularly feeling stressed. An almost equal percentage of 73% reported experiencing psychological symptoms caused by stress. Half of those responding reported experiencing a negative impact to their personal and professional lives. The cost to employers for stress related health care or missed work is over $300 billion (American Institute of Stress, 2016). Stress is an epidemic plaguing many Americans. It can affect their relationships, their work, and their health. However, through making small “c” type creative endeavors part of their daily routine, an individual can see a positive return on their emotional well-being that can lead not only to a lessening of stress levels, but also prevention.

When we are stressed, the body goes into protection mode. Our blood pressure rises, heart beats faster, and our senses become more alert. According to Abbott (1998), “our hormones can also rise the levels of fat, sugar, and cholesterol in the bloodstream” (para. 5). When we are stressed, it can affect our mood and interactions with other people such as being short-tempered and irritable. It can also lead to sleep disturbances, constant colds, and in some extreme cases: death. Overall, being in a constant state of stress is unhealthy for us physically as well as emotionally.

According to Runco (2014), “[c]reativity can help the individual maintain both psychological and physical health” (pg. 110). While many creatives face a stigma of the “mad genius” where the creative is believed to be so immersed in creative work to the point that they let their mental and physical health suffer, that example has more to do with manic type states and does not actually categorize every creative. Actually, creativity can help to alleviate stress and build a more positive mood. Nicol and Long found that music hobbyists with low levels of stress were among the group that had the highest amount of creativity (Runco, 2014). Creative endeavors are one way to cope with the buildup of emotions that need to be let loose.

Maslow (1971) also describes a need for creativity as being part of his Hierarchy of Needs. Creativity is part of the highest tier of the pyramid because creativity is part of what is needed for the individual to reach that stage of Self-Actualization. Artist and author, Julia Cameron (2002) refers to this as “discovering a sense of perspective”. She recounts the story of a woman named Sarah who was described by many to be high-strung, crazy, and nervous. This woman went from therapist to therapist, treatment to treatment. It wasn’t until she began to use creativity tools as part of her daily routine that she began to find balance in her life.

A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who do small creative projects report feeling happier and more relaxed (Lewis, 2016). According to the study, “[i]ntervention designs are still relatively rare in creative research […], but research suggests that art-making interventions can reduce stress and anxiety” (Conner, DeYoung, & Silvia, 2016, pg. 2). In fact, the study found that the effects of small creative endeavors, small “c” tasks, could induce states of “flourishing”, as described by CsikszenItmihalyi theory of flow states. These states were recorded as lasting longer, up to a day longer, than the time the participant invested into the activity. If emotions can have an effect on levels of creativity (Runco, 2014), then it makes sense that the inverse is also true where engaging in creative endeavors can have a similar effect on emotions resulting in a more positive mood and therefore reducing stress levels.

Stress Reduction Strategies

One suggestion on how to beat stress is to play music; however, music alone is not enough to beat stress. Researchers from the Stanford School of Medicine found that when played in conjunction with stress-reduction techniques, stress levels dropped for the participants in their study. They found that upbeat music was also the best selection to play during the activity (Harrar, 1999). A study of the relation of knitting towards stress reduction stated that many people choose hobbies as a way to reduce stress because these types of activities can provide a distraction from the stressor and also provide the individual with a feeling of control in the situation (Utsch, 2007). While avoiding a problem is not healthy, immersing the self into an activity like knitting can induce a feeling of concentration that allows for a more mindful and present sense of being. There may also be connections to Csikszentmilhalyi’s concept of flow and Torrance’s studies of Japanese satori (Runco, 2014). Similarly to knitting, baking is another small creative activity that can provide focus and control (Lewis, 2016). 

Journaling and creative writing are another method for relieving stress and contributing to positive mood building. Building on the work of Maslow’s self-actualization, researchers have found that if an individual participated in positive-writing, this was followed by an increase in mood and well-being. The study also found that writing created an outlet for solving problems and working through difficult experiences. In addition to affecting mood, there was also a documented increase in immune function as well (Lowe, 2006). As was mentioned in the work of Lowe (2007), positive-writing can increase mood and well-being. However, it is also important to record moments of triumph or success. Dr. Stacy Shaw Welch, Director of the Anxiety and Stress Reduction Center of Seattle recommends keeping a folder of past successes and referring to that folder when struggling or feeling anxious about a current project. By doing this, it can lay waste to the internal squelchers that distract us from believing that we are capable of accomplishing our goals (Weiner, 2007). According to Runco (2014), it is important to not only stimulate a good mood, but also to know why one is in a good mood. Therefore, it is important to keep notes or some type of journaling for reflection purposes as well as being able to analyze what task or routine was being completed that lead to the good mood.

Runco (2014) also suggests as creative tools the idea of shifting the perspective of a problem so you can see it from another angle or turning it upside down. The benefits of looking at something from a new angle is that it can inspire renewed interest in the problem which can generate new ideas and it also can change the perspective enough that new ideas will be generated because things will no longer be looked at as obstacles. A major way of changing your perspective may be leaving the problem entirely, taking a break and trying something new or even traveling. Runco (2014) states that traveling produces excitement as it can be stimulating. This change in mood can facilitate creativity as well as help people to be more grounded. They may even produce those aha moments because the individual is no longer so focused on the thing that was stressing them that they are finally able to think clearly.

So how will you spend your day? Will you pack it full of to-do lists? Or will you take a moment to savor the opportunity to find balance and center your being?

References

Abbott, I. O. (1998). Practical strategies for reducing stress. Practical Lawyer, 44(8), 63-74. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/274310495?accountid=10559 .

American Institute of Stress. (2016). Daily life. Retrieved from www.stress,org/daily-life .

Conner, T.S., DeYoung, C.G., & Silvia, P.J. (2016). Everyday creative activity as a path to flourishing. In The Journal of Positive Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2016.1257049

Cameron, J. (2002). Walking in this world: the practical art of creativity. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam.

Harrar, S. (1999). Got pain? Got the blues? Try the music cure. Prevention, 51, 100-105+. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/212668450?accountid=10559 .

Lewis, D. (2016 November 29). Feeling Down? Scientists say cooking and baking could help you feel better. In Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/feeling-down-scientists-say-cooking-andbaking-may-help-you-feel-better-180961223/ .

Lowe, G. (2006). Health-related effects of creative and expressive writing. Health Education, 106(1), 60-70. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/214706253?accountid=10559 .

Maslow, A.H. (1971). The further reaches of human nature. New York, NY: Penguin Compass.

Runco, M.A. (2014). Creativity. Theories and themes: research, development, and practice (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Utsch, H. (2007). Knitting and stress reduction (Order No. 3250730). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304742173). Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/304742173?accountid=10559

Weiner, L. (2007). Yes, you’re stressed…but what are you doing about it? Shape, 26, 138-146. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/195288526?accountid=10559 .

Change is Scary…the first 90 days in a new leadership position

The following is from an essay I wrote as part of my doctoral studies in educational leadership and management. It was a response to a prompt asking for the steps that should be taken upon stepping into a new leadership role. My organization will soon be going through a transition of leadership. Libraries and schools have a lot in common when it comes to managing people and resources. The concepts taught in an educational leadership program can be helpful when transitioning in a leadership role in a library as well….or really any organization.

According to Watkins, “[t]he actions you take during your first three months in a new job will largely determine whether you succeed or fail. Transitions are periods of opportunity, a chance to start afresh and make needed changes in an organization” (Gallos, 2008, pg. 293). To have a smooth transition, it is important that a new leader, follow a series of steps not just during the first year, but in the first ninety days. These include evaluating the program, collaborating with stakeholders, transitioning towards change within the organization, and reflecting on the process. As Fullan (2011) states, change can be scary. The leader’s role is to make this change as smooth of as transition as possible for stakeholders.

First Steps: Evaluation

According to Watkins, during the first ninety days, it is important to take a diagnostic look at the organization the leader is joining so as to understand the full scope of the challenges and opportunities (Gallos, 2008). He recommends having crucial conversations with stakeholders about the expectations the new leader has for those within the department. Fullan (2011) describes a situation where a new leader to an organization started his role by contacting others in the organization to ask what the organization meant to them. Before making any changes to the organization, this leader first took the time to have conversations about the importance of the organization and what the organization meant to the stakeholders within that organization. Doing this can not only help the new leader gain a clear picture of the organization, but also an understanding of the culture that makes up the backbone of the organization. Taking the time to listen to the stakeholders is also a way to inspire authentic leadership (Heifetz, Linsky, & Grashow; 2009; Gallos, 2008). These first initial steps are crucial to the developmental growth of the new leader.

Since it is important for the new leader to inspire trust and buy-in within the organization, an evaluation model using a collaborative and participatory approach is recommended (Ruft-Eft & Preskill, 2009). Using this type of approach can result in the inclusion of a large stakeholder group, a better understanding of the program and its effectiveness, and improved skills. By involving stakeholders, opportunities are created to help the leader and the new supervisors learn from those who are vested in the program. It also brings to the surface the values and beliefs that are inherent to the culture of the department.

Also important is to take a look at the roles of those in the organization; Watkins recommends that the leader look at team members and their roles to decide if some restructuring is needed (Gallos, 2008). Leaders should approach change carefully so that the people in the organization may adjust to the change. Overall, they must place building relationships as a priority before all else or the changes they hope to implement will be doomed to failure (Senge et al., 2012; Scharmer, 2008; Gallos, 2008; Heifetz, Linsky, & Grashow, 2009).

It is important to also evaluate each situation and decision through a lens of inspiring trust within the organization. Evans (1996), states that leaders who are authentic are the ones who inspire trust and are followed. Goals and actions must be aligned, and there needs to be transparency behind the steps taken. The more open communication is, and the more information is shared, then the higher the probability of success for implementing changes. This can also be part of the crucial conversations with stakeholders. Holding conversations among the stakeholders can also lead to the development of better collaboration which leads to the next step in the process.

Second Steps: Collaboration

Watkins suggests that to build leadership capacity within the first ninety days, the leader must create coalitions where alliances are made with members of the organization who all have a shared vision of the success of the organization (Gallos, 2008). Relationships are very important to change initiatives. While having a coalition is great towards moving the change forward, there must be a clear vision of what the changes are and how the department plans to initiate them (Fullan, 2011). Senge (2012) recommends the practice of dialogue as a way to build alignment toward a shared vision and goals. In a dialogue session, people can talk safely about issues that may exist within the department. Once everyone’s thinking has been established, the organization can then begin to move towards establishing actions towards change.

When it comes to decision-making, a team would be established to come together when there are a large number of choices, typically four to ten, to evaluate. This evaluation would be done using an evaluation matrix (Pucchio, Mance, & Murdock; 2011). To complete the matrix, the team would look at the criterion that needs to be considered for the evaluation. The criteria could be looking at the purposes of a resource; for example, does it fit multiple needs or is it too subject specific? What is the return on investment? By involving the team in the decision and evaluation, the leader is acknowledging that everyone is part of a larger system (Senge et al., 2012). Before beginning the transition process, showing that the opinion of the people in the organization holds value is essential to establishing the authenticity of the leader (Fullan, 2011).

Third Steps: Transitioning

According to Bridges (2003) and Fullan (2011), change is a messy process that inspires fear in many people. Part of that fear is because there is too much that is unknown. In this scenario, the unknowns are the new leader coming in and how that will affect the organization. Bridges’ transition process can result in a relatively painless and simplified journey. Bridges (2003) says that there are three stages in the transition process: endings, neutral zones, and new beginnings.

Endings. To begin, one must start with the end. This is not looking at what may happen in the future, but rather saying goodbye to the way things were (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009). Some of the things that may need to be said goodbye to are the previous leader and old ways of doing things. This could initially cause tension within the organization because the staff is unsure of what will happen next. The conversations that were mentioned in the previous section are a good place to start for understanding what the concerns may be of the people in the organization. These conversations can help to clear up any misunderstanding that might exist from the confusion (Gallos, 2008).

Neutral zone. The neutral zone, according to Bridges (2003) is the in-between zone of the transition caused by change. In this phase of the transition, people are uncomfortable. Because of this discomfort, some people will try to rush forward before they are ready, and others will try to go back to the past. It is inevitable that they cannot return to where they were, but they also cannot move forward too fast, or they will be doomed to failure (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009). By taking their time in the neutral zone, they can prepare themselves for moving forward by changing their mindsets. Watkins suggests that it is the role of the leader to make sure the organization is up to speed on what they need to know so they do not lag behind too long (Gallos, 2008). Communication during the transition is crucial to the success of the change initiative.

New beginnings. In the final phase, people need to accept that things are different and change their behavior to succeed where change is concerned. According to Bridges (2003), many people freeze when they are faced with a change to how they have done things. They did not want to let go of the past and accept that things are different. However, new beginnings should be celebrated rather than feared. It is a time for new starts and acceptance. Watkins suggests achieving early wins by identifying opportunities in the organization where good things are happening (Gallos, 2008). Celebrating these small wins is a way to build momentum within the department, but it also helps towards establishing the authenticity of the new leader.

Because the transition stage is part of a process, it can overlap with the other steps. The leader must make sure to pause along the way to make sure that everyone in the organization is receiving accurate information and communication about the process and the changes being made. It is also important to note that the change process of transition is not a speedy one. While it may be tempting to push forward, the leader must recognize that not everyone in the organization will be in the same zone (Bridges, 2003). The leader’s role is to guide people through the process, listen, and reflect upon the actions made (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009).

Fourth Steps: Reflection

An important goal of the leadership transition in the organization is to maintain or improve the same level of quality, satisfaction, and program success that existed within the previous leadership. Senge (2010) states that “[a] society without a way to value its past naturally discounts its future” (pg. 373). Yes, while it is important in a transition process to let go of the things of the past (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009), that does not mean that there are not still things that can be learned from what was done. To maintain the sustainability of any change the organization initiates, the organization needs to step back and reflect upon the change initiative and the actions that were taken (Scharmer, 2009). There may be some comparison that needs to be made between the two approaches. The leader can hurt their authenticity if they do not acknowledge that there were things that were working under the previous leadership (Gallos, 2008).

Reflection is an important part of any leadership process, but especially when trialing new ideas that have not been tried before in the organization (Scharmer, 2009). As the leader, it is also important to reflect upon mistakes to see what can be learned (Pucchio, Mance, & Murdock; 2011). Scharmer (2009) and Senge (2012) both argue that internal listening, or presencing, are ways of connecting to people and your change initiative. This is a process that involves not just listening to the self but also having an open mind, open heart, and listening to others. In addition to the leader looking inside, the leader should also hold additional reflective dialogues with the stakeholders within the organization. It is always a possibility that the change effort could result in failure, but there are still lessons that can be learned from these failures. It is important to reflect upon those to see what the organization, or system, can learn from them (Scharmer, 2009; Gallos, 2008). This is different from the dialogues that were held during the evaluation stage of the process. In that stage, the leader was trying to learn about the culture and the people within the organization. This reflective stage takes place after the transition; the purpose of this reflection is to evaluate whether the change is working or if something needs to be tweaked in the process. Change is a process that might not work out the first time. If the leader hopes to remain authentic and sustain success, then they must be prepared for the possibility that the process could take a while (Gallos, 2008; Heifetz, Linsky, & Grashow, 2009).

Summary

While the steps illustrated here focus on the first ninety days of undertaking the role of leader within an organization, it is a process that will not end in three months or even in the first year. The value of taking an adaptive and authentic approach to leadership is that the leader is always learning (Heifetz, Linsky, & Grashow, 2009; Gallos, 2008. If the leader is coming from outside of the organization, they must first learn what they can about the culture and listen to the concerns of the people who make up the system. Listening to the people in the organization shows them that their opinions are valued and it can help to lessen any fears that they may have during the transition process (Senge et al., 2012; Scharmer, 2009). Before making any changes, first gain their trust (Evans, 1996). Once implementing the changes, make sure to maintain open communication and collaboration between those in the organization (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009). There is a goal of continuous improvement and collaboration where everyone in the organization has a voice and an important role (Gallos, 2008). After the change process is started, then again reflect on the changes that were made to decide if they are working. This is a process that may loop back on itself, but to maintain sustainability, it must be accepted that things might not work. The organization was successful under the previous leader; however, the only constant is change which means that the organization cannot keep doing things as they were previously done. Together through open hearts, open minds, and open will; changes can be successful.

References

Beetham, H. & Sharpe, R. (2007). Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: designing for 21st century learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Boss, S. (2011). Technology integration: a short history. In Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-history

Bridges, W. (2003). Managing transitions: Making the most of change (2nd edition). Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Evans, R. (1996). The human side of school change: reform, resistance, and the real-life problems of innovation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fullan, M. (2011). Change leader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gallos, J.V. (2008). Business leadership: a Jossey-Bass reader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Heifetz, R., Linsky, M. & Grashow, A. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership. Boston, MA:  Harvard Business School Press.

Pucchio, G.J; Mance, M; & Murdock, M. (2011). Creative leadership: skills that drive change (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Russ-Eft, D. and Preskill, H. (2009). Evaluation in Organizations: A Systematic Approach to Enhancing Learning, Performance and Change. New York, NY: Perseus Books.

Scharmer, O. (2009). Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Senge, P, Cambron-McCabe, N., Lucas, T., Smith, B., Dutton, J. & Kleiner, A. (2012). Schools that learn. New York, NY: Crown Business.

Senge, P.; Smith, B.; Kruschwitz, N.; Laur, J.; & Schley, S. (2010). The necessary revolution:working together to create a sustainable world. New York, NY: Broadway Books.