Four Ways “Stranger Things” Teaches Us How to Crush It at Work

Lessons from Stranger Things to thrive at work

I’m obsessed with the Netflix show “Stranger Things.” A cross between Stand by Me, Aliens and Firestarter topped with a huge dollop of early 80’s nostalgia, this compelling ode to the power of friendship is more than just great entertainment. It also contains life lessons for thriving in your career. Here are four ways Stranger Things teaches us how to crush it at work (without revealing detailed spoilers):

  • Teamwork rules. Individually, the kids at the heart of Stranger Things are smart and resourceful. Eleven is a bonafide telekinetic ninja. But they are dealing with some inconceivable challenges that can’t be tackled alone. Chances are good you aren’t facing a crazy otherworldly monster at work (well, I guess that depends on your definition). However, whether you are trying to launch a new product, or turnaround a difficult situation or just kill it in your day-to-day role, a lot more can be accomplished working together in teams than going solo.
  • Focus on the greater good. Okay, true confessions…sometimes Stranger Things scares me to the point that I watch scenes with a hand covering my eyes. What lurks near the Hawkinsville lab is the stuff of nightmares. No matter how terrified they get, the show’s protagonists find the courage to confront the big bads by focusing on the greater good – saving people they love and the community overall. When situations can be intimidating, overwhelming or downright fearful at work, focusing on how your actions will help co-workers and the business in some way can be the impetus to igniting powerful change and achievement.
  • Be open-minded. You might not think a quartet of pre-teen Dungeon & Dragon loving geeks can be heroes, or that adults who seem like train wrecks can rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes. In this show, most major characters have an evolution of some kind. The same can be true of the people you work with or have known at different points in your life. Instead of pigeonholing individuals, be open to allowing them to exceed expectations, change and grow beyond what was thought possible. For example, our Senior Vice President of Operations at National DCP started as a truck driver 25 years ago. When his leadership talent became apparent, John was promoted to numerous supervisory roles at the company’s Massachusetts Distribution Center before taking on his current national role. Today, he is our point person for handling major operational initiatives like helping the Dunkin’ stores we serve recover from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
  • Confront the bullies. As anyone who’s been on social media recently knows, bullies aren’t limited to the schoolyard. They come in all ages, roles and sizes in the workplace too. You know, the guy who always ridicules your new ideas in front of the boss or the area manager that publicly berated an employee during the last regional meeting. The first step should be talking to that individual on a one-on-one basis to educate them about the negative impact of their behaviors or turning to Human Resources for counsel and intervention if needed. And if that doesn’t work, anticipate the bully’s onslaught and diffuse the situation without delving into unprofessional behaviors yourself. Eleven used her powers to stop middle school bullies from attacking her friends, but season two’s new addition Max didn’t need a dose of magic to stand up to her jerky step-brother. For more tips on self-advocacy, check out this post or video.

How have you crushed it at work lately? Has a pop culture phenomenon like Stranger Things ever inspired different areas of your life?

Good Times: Are you prepared for the best to happen?

From Stephen King to Maya Angelou, numerous cultural icons have been quoted on the concept of hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. Many organizations certainly operate with that mindset, creating contingency plans galore for handling crisis situations. But if everything goes right, how well-equipped are you to accept the good times? It takes a different mentality to handle better than expected outcomes. Just ask my friend Jini Thornton, whose quest to find her biological parents exceeded her wildest dreams.

Adopted at birth by a fierce, loving single mother who passed away 17 years ago, Jini has created a great life for herself. She built a successful business management firm that represents major entertainers and thrived personally with a happy marriage, raising two now adult sons. Then last year, Jini’s curiosity about her birth family prompted an exploration of She steeled herself for disappointment and possible rejection.  This past Good Friday, the website presented a DNA match with a man who ultimately proved to be an uncle by birth. Next came meeting her birth mother, who was forced to give Jini up for adoption as a pregnant teenager.  Initially cautious in their interactions, Jini and her birth mother, who serves as an administrator at an Ivy League university, have maintained near daily contact since.

Connections were formed with dozens of friendly cousins and extended family members along the way.  Just a few weeks ago, she met her 95-year-old maternal grandmother at a heartwarming, emotional family reunion. One of the most special moments was meeting her birth father at that same event. He had no idea Jini existed until she contacted him. A recovering addict who has been clean for over a decade, he has welcomed her with open arms. “I hear from my father almost daily and he calls me sunshine,” says Jini.

Sounds like the ideal ending to a Hallmark Channel movie, right? In many ways, it is. But welcoming good times still takes a lot of energy. Here are three tips to help you make the most of good times:

  1. Prepare for the best. All too often we approach situations with the inevitable veil of failure. You know, defeatist self-talk like “I’m going to ask for a raise but of course it won’t happen” or “submitted my application for the new job but they probably won’t call.” Instead, visualize yourself achieving good times and the very best outcome…accepting a huge raise, nailing the important presentation, winning a big client and more. Then map out the steps associated with success. For example, getting a raise would involve how you plan to celebrate, allocate the extra income, share the good news with others and more.
  1. Focus on self-care. Change – good times and bad – can be stressful and requires a certain amount of energy. That’s why it is so important to focus on taking great care of yourself. For starters, get enough sleep. Benefits include better handling of stress, mental acuity, increased creativity and more which support welcoming great outcomes into your life. Incorporate daily practices that keep you centered, happy and motivated. I’m inspired by my personal trainer, Jenna Minecci, who is fueling her mission to spread awareness about ACL Injury Prevention in female athletes though daily meditations and working on a book about her experiences with multiple surgeries. As for my happy place? Well, that’s achieved by early morning exercise sessions involving killer music before heading into the office.
  1. Create healthy boundaries. If you’ve heard of the concept of Positive Intelligence, it is all about unlocking your potential by mastering your mind. Good stuff, right? Check out the complimentary inner saboteur assessment on the site. My top inner saboteur trait is the pleaser, which is known for trying to make everyone else happy at the expense of oneself. I said yes to just about everything, not wanting to miss out on fun opportunities or disappoint others. This Giving Tree-type behavior ultimately lead to a boatload of exhaustion and  So now, I try to focus on just a few “extra-curricular” activities and do them well, rather than trying to be everything to everyone.  Even when faced with numerous exciting possibilities, having those boundaries in place makes the ones I choose more enjoyable and meaningful.

How do you prepare for great outcomes? Have a story to share about hoping for the best and receiving something even better in return?

What Wonder Woman teaches us about employee engagement

It might seem like Wonder Woman doesn’t have much to do with employee engagement. After all, the beloved icon uses bullet proof bracelets, the lasso of truth and super human strength to protect humanity (and rack up box office gold) while companies focus on employee engagement to improve productivity, reduce turnover and enhance results. However, given that Wonder Woman’s compassion, courage and commitment to doing what’s right truly saves the day, organizations can learn a lot from our superheroine about engaging their workforce. Lessons include:

  1. Operate with clarity and purpose – Okay movie fans, if you haven’t seen the film yet, spoilers are ahead. In this inspiring flick, Wonder Woman is clear her mission is to protect innocent people and stop Ares, the God of War, from destroying humanity. That’s something we can all rally around, right? Companies that have that kind of clarity about their mission, vision and values connect better with employees and generate stronger results. In fact, a Gallup Survey found that a 10% improvement in employees’ connection with the mission or purpose of their organization would result in a 12.7% reduction in safety incidents, an 8.1% decrease in turnover, and a 4.4% increase in profitability.
  2. Build strong teams – Despite her strength and smarts, Wonder Woman couldn’t have prevailed without the support of the rag tag team brought together to infiltrate enemy territory. (Plus there’s her future affiliation with the Justice League, where Batman, Superman and their brethren all work together for the greater good.) Super star employees are great, but super star teams are even better. Investing in training, leadership development and succession planning to help people reach their potential – something which ADP reports only a third of U.S. employees give their companies high marks in those areas – is a win-win situation.
  3. Embrace ethics – Wonder Woman had the choice of ruling as an all-powerful being with the villain, or staying true to herself but battling it out. She picked the second option, finding the inner strength and ethical fortitude to prevail. Companies that choose the ethical path, even when it can impact short-term profits, connect deeper with employees. For example, corporations like AFLAC, Accenture and Marriott International were recognized as one of the world’s most ethical companies which no doubt influenced their inclusion on Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work
  4. Care about others – Her deep concern for others prompted Wonder Woman to plunge onto a battlefield to free a French town occupied by German soldiers during World War I. Companies that genuinely care about the communities and people they serve inspire greater employee loyalty. Many organizations are placing an increasingly higher value on corporate social responsibility. At National DCP, our community outreach effort focuses on health and wellness, hunger relief and sustainability issues and we’ve been rolling out an employee volunteer time off program. Some employees see corporate social responsibility as a key factor in choosing where they work; Horizon Media estimates that 81% of millennials expect companies to publicly pledge to be good corporate citizens.

As a kid, Wonder Woman was my favorite superhero/superheroine.  (Though she had some hefty competition from my close namesake – She-Ra, kick-butt cartoon goddess extraordinaire – in the 1980’s). In addition to being a positive role model and empowered character, it is gratifying to see how her behaviors can inspire better corporate cultures and employee engagement too.

How does your organization engage employees? Who is your favorite superhero or superheroine and how has that impacted who you are today?

Self-Advocacy: Five Tips to Claim Greatness

I have been a sucker for riddles since first encountering them in the form of bad jokes (Q: How do you catch a squirrel? A: Climb up a tree and act like a nut.) on the side of a Dixie cup in kindergarten. But my all-time favorite is one that has provoked thought for generations – “If a tree falls in a forest but nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Quantum physics aside, what resonates personally is the message that not expressing your thoughts or opinions can hurt you professionally and personally. And even when you have had a career of phenomenal achievements, a hesitancy to practice self-advocacy can cost you in terms of pay raises and promotions.

Knowing that you are ready to claim your greatness (cue inspirational background music at this point), here are five tips for mastering the art of self-advocacy:

1. Be willing to self-promote. Okay, self-advocacy doesn’t mean taking a megaphone out when the CEO walks by to shout “reduced costs by 43%” or “launched new software system on-time and under-budget” like a used car salesman. However, thoughtfully sharing your ideas and accomplishments in the service of others is effective. Let’s say you have been asked to speak at an industry conference. Internally, send an email and/or report about how this speech will benefit the business, thanking everyone who contributed to the innovative program you’ve been asked to present. Notify your firm’s communications team, offering to write a blog post or newsletter content about key learnings from the conference. Post a LinkedIn update about this activity. Consider presenting a webinar to others in the company about how your topic could be used to ignite ideas or improve performance.

2. Make data your BFF. Looking for a raise or promotion? Research the stats to substantiate the ask. Salary surveys applicable to the role you hold in your geographic market can easily be obtained at sites like Benchmarking practices that other companies are engaging in can also be effective. For example, you can see the value of starting a data analytics team in your organization and would like to lead it. Talk to three to five comparable organizations about how they handle data analytics, the benefits and drawbacks of specific approaches and then craft the recommendation for managing this area in your organization, including why you are qualified to generate maximum ROI. Just remember that the delivery of your message matters as much as the content behind it.

3.  Aim high. Understanding your skills, strengths and weaknesses, where do you see yourself headed in the organization? Now, what happens if you aim higher? Over twenty years ago, a friend of mine enrolled in community college classes took a temporary accounts payable job in a Fortune 500 company. In this first exposure to a professional work environment, he started dreaming about one day becoming a department director. But over time, as hard work and smarts lead to new, bigger opportunities, he started aiming higher. Today that individual works at the C-level of a billion-dollar company, running its highest performing division.

4.  Build a career/life strategy. Taking the long-view of your career, which includes breaks for maternity leave or sabbaticals, can help in planning a career path that meets your professional and personal needs. In this Wall Street Journal article called “What’s Holding Women Back in the Workplace?” Microsoft Corp. executive Julie Larson-Green noted “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s only life.” The key is being proactive. Accenture’s Getting to Equal 2017 report found that building a proactive career strategy is one of the critical accelerators in closing the gender pay gap for women. Whether you are just entering the workforce or already work in management, you can consciously design your professional experience at any point. Look at others whose career/personal trajectories you admire – peers and people at all levels of the organization, not just those in more senior roles – and ask for time to obtain their insights.

5. Give your inner saboteur a time out. In the professional executive coaching world (yup, we have one – think of a bunch of individuals who get excited about human potential and organizational development, sort of like how Comic-Con enthusiasts view pop culture), that internal voice that sometimes holds you back is called the “inner saboteur.” It might have started many years ago to help keep you safe in some way, but now the saboteur chimes in with thoughts like “what if you fail,” “maybe you’re not good enough” or “don’t rock the boat,” when you strive to make big, positive changes in your life. We’ve all had them at some point. Unfortunately, trying to ignore these thoughts can be ineffective. Instead, listen to what they say, thank them for any benefit gained from their protection in the past, explain why you have decided to behave differently now – and then take the major leap forward. I have seen people do this effectively in a journal entry, as a visualization exercise or as an imagined conversation in their head. Whatever the case, giving the inner saboteur a time out to focus on self-advocacy instead helps you claim your greatness.

What steps have you taken to practice self-advocacy? Have a story to share about asking for and then receiving what you want?