Bursting with Joy

I like speakers who give talks to parenting groups and to professional organizations. They have a message that’s worth spreading to both of these audiences, and they often highlight an intersection of leadership and parenting. They are my kind of people!

One such speaker is Dr. Jane McGonigal, a world-renowned creator of alternative reality games, a leading researcher in how gaming affects the brain, and an expert in how games can improve our lives. A few days ago, I had the opportunity to hear Jane speak at my husband’s company; last month, she spoke to parents at my children’s high school. Granted, my husband works for a gaming company, so Jane’s talk was highly relevant to him and his colleagues. And, although I’m not a game developer, I found Jane’s talk inspirational to me as a parent and as a business leader.

In describing the positive emotions that you can get from games, Jane mentioned naches, a yiddish word meaning pride or joy in something that someone else does. Often it is used to describe the pride that parents have for their children. But, that feeling of “bursting with joy” is not limited to parents. Jane discussed how kids can feel naches after they teach a parent how to play a video game, especially when the parent does well. Wow. How often do we see kids bursting with joy over their parents’ accomplishments? A rare occurrence, right? Yet, it is one that should be treasured, given the research that links positive emotions like naches to healthier and more vibrant lives.

Her talk made me think about my previous blog post on the importance of leaders being open to learning things from their employees. Leaders who look to learn from their staff can create a workplace where naches and other positive feelings can flourish. Personally, I’ve felt such a sense of pride many times during my career. I remember feeling it after my manager delivered a stunning demo that I helped him prepare him for. I felt it after hearing my manager use an analogy I had used the previous day. But, there were many times I should have felt it, but didn’t, primarily because my manager didn’t give me credit for my contributions.

Are there things a leader or a parent can do to help nurture a sense of pride after their employees or kids teach them something? Absolutely! Here’s what I try to do:

  • Acknowledge the contributions of others. Thank your kids or the employees who helped you learn, be prepared, or deliver something big. Write about it in your family’s holiday newsletter, mention it in a meeting or email, or thank the person individually.
  • Celebrate the accomplishment with those who helped you. Give high-five’s or hand shakes, take them out for a meal, or hold a small party.
  • Reward them. Depending on the size of the accomplishment, consider bonuses or gift cards, spending time with your kids doing something they enjoy, or rewarding them in other ways that are consistent with your family or company culture.
  • Learn from them again. Look for ways to learn more from that person or team. It’s the ultimate compliment.
  • Cultivate teaching opportunities. You can be a strong role model for learning from others, but you can also help connect the dots. If your child needs help with math homework, suggest that they ask an older sibling for help. If an employee is struggling with a new skill, recommend that they reach out to another person you know who does that skill really well. Within a team or a family, teaching and learning from each other develops strong bonds and encourages that sense of pride and joy.

What are your ideas for nurturing a sense of pride in other’s accomplishments, at home or at work? I’d like to hear from you!


p.s. Curious about how to pronounce naches? The “ch” is pronounced gutturally; it’s not “ch” as in “cheese,” but rather “ch” as in “Bach,” the composer. (From About.com.)

© 2012 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Got Guilt?

Raise your hand if you think you have mastered the art of feeling guilty. I know I have, at both home and work. I feel guilty if I serve sandwiches for dinner, if I wasn’t able to give someone a bonus I thought they deserved, if I don’t go to the farmers’ market to buy organic produce, if I forgot to give someone credit for contributions they made to a project…you get the picture. I bet many of you feel the same way.

But, there is good news. According to a study published by the Stanford Graduate School of Business earlier this year, guilt could be a building block for leadership. In  Why Feelings of Guilt May Signal Leadership Potential, the authors reported:

  • Driven, hard-working people often mentioned guilt as a motivator.
  • Guilt can cause individuals to work harder to resolve problems.
  • Guilt-prone people tend to have a strong sense of responsibility to others, and that responsibility helps others to see them as leaders.

My favorite quote is, “There are many ways of responding to mistakes or other problems, including blaming others and blaming yourself. But the most constructive response, and the one people seem to recognize as a sign of leadership, is to feel guilty enough to want to fix the problem.”

I used to wish I wasn’t so prone to feeling guilt. However, after reading about the Stanford study, I’m starting to feel good about it and the effect it must have on my leadership style.

How about you? What role do you think guilt has had on your leadership style? Can you think of problems you decided to fix because you felt guilty about them? I’d like to hear from you!


© 2012 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

You learn something new every day

Photo of a school bus
Photo by Jared and Corin. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

I can still hear my high school English teacher, Mr. Steiner, saying “You learn something new every day.” He challenged us to stump him with questions about the news, trivia, and vocabulary.  I appreciated that he sought to regularly learn from his students, and that he was both honest and humble when he didn’t know something.

Last month, I attended a talk by Rosalind Wiseman, a parenting educator and author of several publications including Queen Bees and Wannabes. Rosalind spoke about how parents should take responsibility if they see an injustice such as bullying, and what to do if your child is a victim. She emphasized that if you don’t know how to handle an issue that your child brings to you, admit it. But, at the same time, turn it into an advantage. Since your child would most likely rather scrub toilets than talk to a counselor, use the fact that you don’t know how to handle the situation into an offer of “But, I know just the person who can help…”

I started thinking about how I’ve handled situations at work over the years when someone asked me a question I couldn’t answer. Sometimes these were technical questions, sometimes personnel questions. I wouldn’t ever just say “I don’t know” and leave it at that. I would put that person in touch with someone who I thought would know the answer. If it was something I thought I should know as well, I’d offer to send an email or attend a meeting with both people. I guess this is my equivalent of turning it into an advantage: I had the chance to learn from someone else as well as expand my network within my company.

When my kids need help with homework, I am embarrassed to admit how often I’m stumped. History questions are the worst. (Thank goodness for the internet!) But, I often learn something interesting and applicable as a leader…

When my daughter was in 9th grade, she asked me to read over an essay she was working on for English class. She specifically asked for feedback about its style, explaining that it had to follow the format of a persuasive essay. When I admitted to her that I didn’t know what to look for, she patiently walked me through a letter by Dr. Martin Luther King, pointing out the role of each paragraph. Not only was I then able to give her feedback on her piece, I learned something I would apply at work the very next day. An employee in one of my groups had written a statement about how he disagreed with a standards proposal published by another organization. His draft was antagonistic and not very compelling. I suggested that he rewrite his letter, following the format of a persuasive essay. I felt I was giving helpful, constructive feedback, and I remember being so grateful for what my daughter had taught me.

But, let’s face it. Admitting that you don’t know something is hard. After all, shouldn’t leaders and parents be all-knowing? To turn not knowing something into an advantage, I try to follow these best practices:

  1. I don’t pretend to know an answer when I don’t.
  2. I ask a lot of questions. Not only does this help me learn, I am also showing I’m interested and want to help.
  3. I offer at least one step to take to find the answer.
  4. I look to learn something from it.

Did you learn something new today? What have you learned from the children in your life that you’ve brought to the office? I’d love to hear from you!


© 2012 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

A Gratitude a Day Keeps the Stress Away

Scan of Keep Smiling CardWhen I was growing up, my mom had a card on her kitchen bulletin board that had the simple phrase, “Keep Smiling.” I imagine she must have looked at it often when she was raising her five children.

I think my mom was on to something. Today, there is scientific research on the positive effects, even competitive advantages, of being happy and grateful, with many authors and speakers spreading the word. I had the opportunity to hear Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, talk about positive psychology. In fact, I heard him twice: once at an executive offsite held by my company and again a few months later through Common Ground, a speaker series sponsored by my children’s school. He surprised me by giving the same talk to both of these audiences. Clearly his message is equally applicable to both leaders and parents.

Shawn recommends five small changes that will have a lasting impact on your optimism:

  1. Make a life habit out of gratitude. Write three things at the beginning of every day that you are grateful for. At dinner, share things that you are grateful for with your family.
  2. Keep a journal. Write about one meaningful, positive experience you had over the past day. Do it every day for 21 days, and it will become a habit.
  3. Exercise every morning. You will be more successful with your daily responsibilities because of it.
  4. Meditate. Take your hands off your keyboard and watch your breath for two minutes. You will learn to focus more and multi-task less, which will reduce stress.
  5. Practice random acts of kindness. Write a two sentence email to thank someone, personally or professionally, before you read anything in your inbox. Start off your day expressing gratitude.

Soon after hearing Shawn speak, I added “Gratitudes” to the agenda for my weekly staff meetings. I’d start the meeting with something I was thankful for, either at work or at home, and then I’d ask my staff if they had something to share. I liked the way I felt after doing this. The stress of whatever I had been dealing with that morning was left behind, and I was able to focus fully on the meeting. I also learned some neat things about my staff and what was going on with their groups or in their personal lives.

I wish I could say that I do the same thing over the dinner table at home. On occasion, we will share what we are grateful for, but it is not a daily habit. I think I need to start it. If my kids are reading this post, be prepared!

What do you think of Shawn’s five small changes to improve optimism? Do you already do some or all of them at home? At work? I’d love to hear from you.


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© 2012 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.