Integrity: One communication at a time

In many firms, large and small, the beginning of a new year is a time for corporate action: right-sizing, down-sizing, reorganizing, realigning and staff layoffs. As anyone who has lived through one of these can tell you – myself included – it can be one of the biggest tests of integrity a leader faces.

Why? Because if leaders fall short on honesty when communicating these changes they risk damaging their integrity with peers, direct reports and clients.

Communicating with integrity is critical to building and maintaining trust in these situations. When Katharine Weymouth, publisher of the troubled Washington Post, recently announced staff changes, she abruptly shut down all questions with a curt “Go back to your desks.” It was a misstep that was widely reported, and it further eroded Ms. Weymouth’s credibility as a leader.

How do you hold on to your leadership integrity when dealing with staff changes? Amy Rees Anderson points out in Forbes that “Integrity means doing the right thing at all times and in all circumstances, whether or not anyone is watching.”

Integrity is arguably the most valuable asset we have; protecting that asset is a challenge in the trenches of today’s competitive business environment.

My business partner has a flexible fill-in-the-blank priming statement that he uses to help leaders live their values:

“You are only as ________ as you are in this moment.

For example, “You are only as honest as you are in this moment.” It can be used to prime your thoughts and actions during the delivery of any tough messages.

I have my own fill-in-the-blank review question:

“Where was the ________ in that?”

To use this tool, I recommend going back over what happened and asking, “Where was the integrity in that?”

These are two very simple but highly effective tools – one priming statement & one review question. Use them to ensure that your actions align with your integrity no matter what messages you have to deliver.

Priming Statement: I only have as much integrity as I show in this moment!

Review Question: Where was the integrity in that?

Let us know if these tools work for you, and drop us a line to share your own techniques for remembering to keep your integrity in the moment.

Happy New Year!


M.E. Hart Speaks at DCRCC 40th Anniversary

Hart Learning Group is a proud community partner with the DC Rape Crisis Center. We support their efforts with training volunteers who work with hotline and advocacy clients.

Their 40th Anniversary Celebration, on October 20, 2012, was a celebration for clients, volunteers and community supporters.

The program began with these stirring remarks from Santa Molina-Marshall, Director of Counseling and Advocacy, “You are why we do what we do. We are here to honor you.”

It went on to feature poems, music, a drum circle, and a video, 40 Voices, that speaks of the desire to create a world without sexual violence.

I was honored to speak about our joint efforts using poetry as a creative tool for self-care and to help clients find their voice. I led a poetry flash-mob that got everyone up on their feet, and performed three poems – Truth Teller, Silent Thrivers, and Healing Walks.

It was an inspirational celebration of 40 years of service. We wish DCRCC continued success and look forward to continuing our community partnership with them.

Happy 40th Anniversary!



STRIVE Values Model™

We recently had a chance to introduce our STRIVE Values Model™ to five groups of finance professionals working in the health care sector.

STRIVE is an acronym representing the values that underly our Hart3i™ Relationship Management System. It means: Safe, Trusted, Respected, Included, Valued, and Engaged.

In surveying the finance professionals, we found that they wanted their daily interactions to contain these values. They wanted to walk-away feeling:

Safe: Physically and psychologically
Trusted: To do the job they were hired to do
Respected: For their talents and skills
Included: Having a place at the table
Valued: For their contributions, no matter how small
Engaged: Being allowed to contribute to discussions important to work

The finance professionals in our seminars confirmed that these values were important to them in their daily interactions. We then explored specific workplace challenges like giving performance feedback and communicating about major organizational changes.

In tough situations people want STRIVE values alive in their interactions.

Let’s take a look at a few workplace case studies in which STRIVE values are not present:

Un-Safe: Discovering that his boss is rummaging through his emails for no reason, Carl feels psychologically unsafe, and begins to look for another job.

Mis-Trusted: When her team lead starts micromanaging her work, Marsha feels mistrusted. Their relationship suffers.

Dis-Respected: At a staff meeting, Bill’s boss tells him his work is unsatisfactory in front of his peers. Publically disrespected, he seethes.

Not-Included: Vicki didn’t receive the email announcing the new merger that directly affects her department. Being excluded from this crucial communication makes her furious.

De-Valued: Mary’s idea led to the team’s project success. Her boss takes all the credit at the all-hands-meeting. Feeling devalued, Mary’s motivation falls dramatically.

Dis-Engaged: Jerry has a place at the table, but he’s cut off each time he speaks. Denied the chance to fully engage, he wonders why he was even invited.

Do any of these examples sound like something you’ve experienced? If you have – or if you have witnessed them – you know how critical STRIVE values are to individual and team morale.

So if we want to live them every day, how should we interact? How should we communicate?

Before we interact maybe we should – put a pause in it for less than a minute – to clarify our guiding intention, assess impacts and consider walk-away impressions.

That’s the only way to make sure that when people walk away from our texts, tweets, emails, posts, calls, and conversations that they feel: Safe, Trusted, Respected, Included, Valued and Engaged.

Let’s STRIVE to keep healthy, effective relationships alive.


The National Catholic School of Social Work recently invited me to be a part of a distinguished team providing practical self-management tools for newly minted social workers entering challenging, often emotionally draining field work.

My presentation covered tools for maintaining balance and taking care of yourself as you provide service to others. We discussed basic physical exercise for releasing tension; then moved to specific exercises teaching the creative writing tools of Keyword, Word Jazz and Haiku poetry to capture the essence of what’s going on in any moment.

For example, after a difficult counseling session, jotting down keywords can help someone step back and get a broader picture of how the session is affecting them on many levels. What does it make them think about? How does it make them feel? How is it affecting the way they work with clients?

Poetic language is expansive, and using the tools of poetry allows us to see the world from different perspectives. Word Jazz and Haiku poetry challenge us to step out of habitual ways of thinking and find new ways to describe thoughts and feelings.

We had over a hundred attendees, some writing poems and sharing them for the first time. The energy, excitement, and openness created sparked interesting conversations after the session.

This Toolkit Meeting was designed to introduce and review the diverse tools available for building a practicioner’s professional toolkit. It started with remarks from Acting Dean, Dr. Steve Schneck; followed by remarks from Associate Dean & MSW Program Chair, Dr. Marie Raber; and brief remarks from Dr. Lynn Mayer, BSW Program Chair.

Dr. Ellen Thursby, Assistant Director of Field Education provided an overview of Field Education and Practice, followed by Dr. Christine Sabatino giving a poignant and vibrant look at the practice of Interviewing.

Dr. Melissa Grady provided crucial information on building an Evidence Based practice, followed by Dr. Susanne Bennett giving a practical perspective on the topic of Supervision. The program closed with our Poetry with a Purpose Self-Care segment.

Synergistically bringing together presenters with a wide range of diverse talents is a great way to energize young professionals entering the messy complexity of real world work. It’s the type of educational event we proudly support.


Honoring Clients as Teachers

AIDS 2012: The International AIDS Conference on the state of AIDS around the globe will begin in Washington DC on Sunday July 22nd. It has me thinking back to a time when the AIDS crisis was just beginning. Fresh out of law school, I found myself on the front line in the fight against the discrimination faced by those early victims of the disease.

Science was racing to discover, name, and treat this mysterious disease. It was a scary time because scientists weren’t sure how the disease was spread.  Many feared it was as contagious as a cold. People who worked with AIDS patients worried about whether they would somehow take this deadly disease home to the ones they loved.

As a newly hired lawyer in DC’s Office of Human Rights, I handled the AIDS discrimination complaints and became a part of the AIDS education team throughout the DC area. I met many courageous people willing to share their stories and help educate the public by putting a human face on the disease. Many of them passed away within a few months of sitting on panels next to me at conferences or speaking at events that we had arranged.

The one hour class I designed – to educate employers and managers about their legal responsibilities not to discriminate in the workplace – swelled to three hours of intense interactions exploring some of life’s deepest and most difficult challenges: making a living for your family and facing down the fear of the unknown. In these workshops, I learned how to use the stories that arose “in the moment” to help move our shared education effort forward.

For example, I remember an intense training with health care providers in which one participant thought that the antidiscrimination law was unfair.

“My brother had a car accident a couple of years ago and the team at our hospital was great,” he said. “They saved his life. They do wonderful work. How can the law ask them to risk their lives with this thing?”

I asked him a surprising question: “What if your brother came to you tomorrow and said, ‘Look man, I have something to tell you. Remember the car accident? Well I had to get blood to save my life back then. Now I’m HIV positive.’ How would you want the hospital to treat him?”

He paused, thought deeply and finally said, “They’d better take care of him. He’s my brother.”

His love for his brother helped him see past his fear. The “what if” exercise had helped him see the situation with new eyes. Then we moved into the difference between decisions based on fear and those based on facts. Experiences like this serve as the foundation for the In-This-Moment action scenarios I use in training today.

This was not what I thought my first legal job would be like. But life in the trenches is rarely as we imagine. I quickly became a committed workaholic. By night, and early morning, I read the most recent findings released from the CDC on the latest discoveries. I was glad for my experience working as a phlebotomist before I went to law school. By day, I spoke to groups presenting the new facts as they evolved; we talked about our complex emotions and the constant challenge of making decisions based on facts, not fear.

I told the story of my first field visit to a client diagnosed with AIDS and being offered cake and Kool-Aid by his loving grandmother. I knew my client must have used the utensils she gave me many times. For a moment, I was afraid. I reminded myself that I had spent months reading that no caregiver had become ill after changing or feeding a baby with the virus. That quickly pushed me past the point of fear and I enjoyed cake and Kool-Aid with my client. Each of us working in the area at that time faced similar moments of truth and had to choose between facts and fear.

I spent the next few years serving on committees, speaking, handling discrimination complaints, going to memorial services, and following the science. My church choir sung at one funeral after another and I volunteered on hospice teams for people I had come to know through this difficult work.

As the international conference returns to Washington this month, I look forward to catching up on the advances being made by those still working on the front lines of one of humanity’s biggest challenges.

I am honored that my career began in the trenches helping clients with HIV/AIDS. I worked with extraordinary men and women who fought not just the physical effects of the virus, but the fear and discrimination that came with it. I think of them often, and I’m grateful for the lessons in courage and dignity that they taught me.


Creative Ways to Tell Your Story

I recently conducted a poetry workshop for mental health professionals, called Creative Ways to Tell Your Story.

I taught specific techniques for using the poetic forms of: KeywordWord Jazz and Haiku to help their clients – especially those who have experienced trauma in their lives – to creatively release the tension from a specific moment, situation or event.

The afternoon was filled with laughter, insights, and moments of unexpected discoveries as we shared thoughts, feelings, and quickly written poems.

With each new exercise people became more engaged, and more willing to join the word play.

I’d like to share one poem that was part of our Word Jazz exercise:

One participant approached me after the session to ask if I had thought of using this format to teach a session on self-development. She said, “I see these as great tools that I can use with my clients, but I also see how we therapists could use it for our own personal and professional development.”

I thanked her for her idea; poetry is a powerful and flexible tool that has enormous potential to help people increase their self-awareness, creativity, and emotional intelligence.

I told her that Hart Learning Group offers an expanded set of workshops in the Poetry with a Purpose series, including:

Creative Ways to Tell Your Story
Reenergizing Visions, Missions and Values
Releasing Creativity for Innovation

Each workshop is 2 hours of fast, focused, informative fun for increasing self-awareness and developing the skill of being able to take different perspectives – which is a core skill for developing empathy. They are perfect for retreats, team meetings, and management development programs. Check out our website for details.

The recent afternoon workshop for mental health professionals was truly inspiring. Thanks to everyone who made our workshop so enjoyable and productive!



Poetry with a Purpose

Every day mental health professionals help people cope with tough life changes that can have traumatic effects, such as the loss of a job or the death of a family member.

On Friday, I will be offering an innovative workshop for mental health professionals called Poetry with a Purpose: Creative Ways to Tell Your Story to teach specific techniques I’ve developed for helping people take different perspectives on the situations they are facing.

I’ve used poetry to help executive teams realign with their values and to summarize learning in workshops. Sometimes a different perspective is all that’s needed to help someone rebalance and move forward into a change with more strength, creativity and commitment.

I’m looking forward to working with this group of professionals who are committed to helping others during stressful times.


Why is – I’m sorry – so hard to say?

I heard snatches of this conversation as I was jogging through the park to clear my head. I didn’t hear the context, or who these two people were talking about, but it got me thinking about the relationship strengthening power of a sincere apology.

Words have power.

And two of the most powerful are, “I’m sorry.”

When used appropriately – with the right tone – they have tremendous power to repair misunderstandings; to mend damage caused by unintended consequences; or to just acknowledge that challenging impacts are noticed and that you care.

I was taught that on the basketball court. When we fouled a little too hard, or landed on someone’s foot getting a rebound, we were taught to say, “My bad…” meaning “my mistake.” It kept the play competitive, but respectful.

I was talking with a colleague about this and he told me he was taught to “never say” you’re sorry because it’s a sign of weakness.

Why is – “I’m sorry.” – so hard to say?

Do we think it is a sign of weakness? Do we think we give up power? Do we think it undercuts our role as leader?

Even when people know an apology is warranted they often hedge and give what can be called the rotten apology so common these days.

You’ve probably heard it. It goes something like this: “If anyone was offended, that was not what I intended…”

The rotten apology implies that “this wasn’t my fault” but the fault of those who didn’t understand “my (clear) intent.” This kind of half-hearted mea culpa usually makes the situation worse.

Confident leaders know that their willingness to admit to a mistake is not a weakness, but a strength.

For example, saying “I’m sorry that happened,” to acknowledge unintended consequences shows that the leader is aware, engaged and connected to the real consequences of his decisions.

In today’s competitive business climate, relationships are important.

A well placed, “I’m sorry,” can strengthen critical relationships needed for a team to remain committed, connected, and loyal to their leader’s vision.




I was honored to be invited to support the educational efforts of DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I spoke at an event held April 26th in the Great Hall of the RFK Justice Building in Washington DC, along with a distinguished panel that included Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West.

I offered three strategies for supporting those moving from surviving to thriving after experiencing sexual violence: Show Up, Speak Up & Lift Up. Each briefly addressed personal and community options for providing support.

Show Up – Be there to listen when they need to talk. They don’t expect you to be their therapist – they just want you to be you – and to know they are not alone. Attend community educational events, and through your presence demonstrate your morale support, even if you don’t feel qualified to say anything on the topic.

Speak Up – “I’m sorry this happened to you. What can I do to help?” Seek out information from hotlines and other professional resources to find other ways to support someone you know who has experienced sexual violence. Correct misperceptions, misinformation and social myths about sexual violence among your family and friends.

Lift  Up – Don’t criticize their efforts to incorporate this trauma into their lives, especially if it takes longer than you thought it might. Lift them up when times get hard by saying something like, “I can see you are working hard and this is a difficult period. I’m here with you. You can heal.” Support them in ways that are comfortable for you, too.

Also featured at the event were Acting Director of the Office on Violence Against Women Bea Hanson, Associate Director of OVW Michelle Brickley, and Ms. Indira Henard of the DC Rape Crisis Center.

Participating in this event is a part of our ongoing effort to help empower people facing challenges like sexual harassment, sexual violence, abuse and discrimination.



Living Your Values

Following some of the recent press about the high profile resignations of  Google and Goldman Sachs employees, I wondered if I could find a story about a company that, by living its values, keeps its employees so happy and fulfilled that they, too, want to tell the world.

Meet Michelle Lee, who started as a teller and is now an Executive VP at Wells Fargo. She tells her story to DiversityInc and shares some reasons for her success. She points to her company’s inclusive culture, and its commitment to putting the customer’s success first.

“The one that rings in my head is that every day we come to work to help our customers succeed financially,” Lee says, “It’s at the core of everything that we do, including all of our efforts around embedding diversity into our business practices.”

After two cautionary tales, I thought we could use a bit of inspiration. Take a moment to read her story about working in a company committed to living its core values.