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The 100% Smile

"You need to be 100%. When you are at work, be fully present. Be 100% at work. When you are at home, be fully present. Be 100% at home."

On our Team trip to Panama in early 2019, we dedicated our final day to introspection, both for the Tribe and individuals. We dived into the myth and danger of the single story. We explored the absolute power of meaning making and the challenges that come from unconscious bias. We then split into our day-to-day working teams and provided each individual an opportunity for introspection, support and accountability. We personally identified a single tweak that would improve our own life and one that would improve our work.

Reid and I are obsessed with the idea of 1% changes. It’s our moniker to represent our approach to positive change. While there are times where grand gestures are needed, quite often the greatest improvements are small, targeted, and grounded in specific people and place. Each person on the front lines is in the best position to analyze and identify what they feel is not working and try small controlled experiments to see if they can improve quality, speed, and happiness. This is far from a new philosophy. Kaizen, attributed to Toyota, has been adopted and permuted to a world of different organizations.

In the middle of 2018, my family and I achieved a life dream and moved to an island off the coast of Africa. Modern Tribe’s approach to remote work gave me the freedom of choice and for that, I am insanely grateful. In March, I had a friend come visit during Carnival. We explored the madness, played with my kids and reconnected. It was wonderful. Two days before I left for our company retreat J (that is his real name) asked me if I was ok and why I was so grumpy. The thing is, I didn’t feel grumpy. In fact, I felt delighted with my life and my family. But I paused and just watched myself and my family for the next day. Oh boy, there was a lot of grump flying around. It wasn’t just me, everyone in our house had fallen into a pattern of terse comments and ornery reactions.

The vibe and culture of my home was at the forefront of my mind as I entered the session on 1% personal changes. I had joined the sales team for the session and asked for ideas. What could I personally do to move the needle. “Are you smiling when you first see them? If you feel happy, you might want to notify your face.” Tess had a moment of genius. Julie likes to run a tight ship and in the window after school, homework, activities, dinner, ablution, and the bed-time battle, we are on a mission. While all those things aren’t particularly optional, my own attitude is the one thing I can control. And frankly, I need a mnemonic to remind me that I can choose not to give in to the grind. So for the last 3 weeks, I’ve been working on leading with smiling. The thing is that smiling is interesting. Did you know, if you stand tall, put your arms out to your sides as wide as you can, throw back your head to greet the sky and smile as big as you can, it is nearly impossible to stay grumpy. Emotions and physical expressions are two way streets.

I was in a line at a business conference a decade ago listening to two women speak. I wish I could credit who it was. She was asked how did she balance her responsibilities to her family, and being CEO of a global tech company. Her reply blew me away. “You need to be 100%. When you are at work, be fully present. Be 100% at work. When you are at home, be fully present. Be 100% at home. It’s so easy to spend half the day at work feeling guilty you are not there for the kids and not doing enough. Only to go home and spend the time with the kids worrying about the latest problems at work. People can tell when we aren’t present. We’re less effective and less happy.” Words to live by, and for me, a lifetime journey.

Each of the 100 people on the trip chose a 1% change to move forward their ability to live well and do good work. The team wrote these down, and we shared them with our managers and accountability buddy. These experiments should be quick, measurable and tracked. It is totally fine if they don’t help or move the needle the wrong way. Stop the experiment and try something new. When something works, make it canon, and then go to the next experiment. I probably have another month of just focusing on leading with smiling before I’m ready to layer in something else.

My next idea is to speak softly for a week. I’ve noticed that everyone in my family speaks super loudly. Lots of passion. Maybe if the volume came down a notch, things might sound less dramatic. Who knows. =) I’ll keep tweaking, 1% at a time.