“ERMIA” Updates

Melissa Weiksnar, a longtime member of an HBS forum in Boston,  suggests this occasional variation on members’ monthly updates.

Ask each member to share an “ERMIA” update”:  What did you Eliminate, Reduce, Maintain, Increase, or Add since our last meeting?  And how does this update make you feel?

This kind of update helps members focus on issues of balance – how are you spending your time, what have you changed recently, and what would you still like to change?   Items to be mentioned could relate to your business, personal, or family life.

A forum #METOO exercise

It is sometimes said that sex and intimacy are the final frontiers of forum.  When forums are willing to share deeply about topics like these, they have reached a level of trust and vulnerability that leads to transformational value.

An exercise focused on issues raised by the #METOO movement, can be one part of these conversations.

The hashtag #METOO is about the phenomenon of people (usually men) in the position of hiring, mentoring, supervising, and/or opening doors for women, and using that as leverage for requiring, suggesting, or demanding a sexual relationship as either an explicit or implicit quid pro quo. The discussion can be broadened to include any type of sexual harassment, gender bias, or sexism in the workplace.

Advance reading (5 minutes)

To encourage deeper sharing, meet first in small groups of 2, 3 or 4 members (Optional: Men and women members of the forum meet separately.) (30 minutes)

When the #METOO story broke, what came up for you? How did you feel? What in your personal life experience did it bring up for you? How have you personally been part of a “#METOO” moment or a possible #METOO moment as a participant or a bystander or an upstander, and how did you feel then? And how do you reflect back and feel now about that story?

The full forum reconvenes (30 minutes)

Confidentiality ground rule: Each of us is allowed to share only our own stories with the full forum, not the stories told by others in our small group meetings.

What thoughts and feelings did the sharing bring up for you?  What was it like to talk about this?  What further thoughts you are having now? What did you share in your small group that you might want to share now?

Possible additional prompts/questions:

  • What was your business school/college/high school experience like as it relates to #METOO?
  • What recent or long past experiences are you now reminded of? Why? How does that make you feel?
  • How do you feel differently from the other people in the forum regarding this issue?
  • How are you resonating with this conversation? What other memories/experiences are being triggered for you? How does that make you feel?

Bob Halperin and Barbara Deck

It’s the hard days who determine who you are

Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of FaceBook, and author of the bestselling book Lean In, was invited to speak at the University of California commencement in 2016.  She chose to talk not of what she has learned in life, but of what she has learned in death.

She related the tragic story of how, a year before her husband Dave, age 47, had died suddenly of a previously unknown cardiac issue. She shared the challenge of deep adversity, and “of what you can do to overcome adversity, no matter what form it takes or when it hits you.”  Sheryl went on to say:

A few weeks after Dave died, I was talking to my friend Phil about a father-son activity that Dave was not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave.” Phil put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

Sheryl concluded: “We all at some point live some form of option B. The question is: What do we do then?”

I reflect to myself: How have I responded when Option A was no longer available to me:

  • When a professional colleague of mine died too young of cancer and the opportunity to collaborate with him was lost?
  • When I expected to receive a job offer that never came?
  • When a treasured business partnership came to an end?

I am inspired by Sheryl who said:

Dave’s death changed me in profound ways. I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss. But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again. I learned that in the face of the void — or in the face of any challenge — you can choose joy and meaning.

As a forum, consider reading Sheryl’s book on this topic, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, or this shorter version published in the Boston Globe.

Then discuss as a forum:

  • What have been some of life’s toughest challenges for me?
  • How did I deal with them?  What role, if any, did gratitude play?
  • Almost all of us will face deep adversity at some point in our lives.  How can forum be a sounding board and resource now and in the future?

Great questions that lead to deep updates

There are many ways to encourage forum members to share during the updates part of the meeting.  One of the simplest approaches is to ask members the following questions.  Each person can then decide which question(s) resonate with them and which they will answer when they share their update.

  • What is the toughest relationship challenge (personal or professional) that you are facing now?
  • What is the toughest leadership challenge you are facing now?
  • What is the greatest fear you have now?
  • What is going on in your life right now that you have not spoken with anyone about? What are you hiding?
  • What are you complaining about, blaming others for, or notice yourself playing the villain, victim, or hero?
  • What are you not sharing because you don’t want to seem perfect?
  • What is something that you don’t like about yourself that you are working on?

Whichever question(s) members choose to answer, encourage everyone to also answer one more question:

  • … and how does that make you feel?

Financial planning: A great forum topic

Talking about money and finances can be great vehicle for forums to go deeper, leading to greater levels of vulnerability, trust, and insight.  Here’s one way to begin the conversation:

  • One member brings copies of key pages from their retirement plan (income, expenses, assets, debts) and unpacks the document(s) for the forum:
    • How did I develop this plan? (myself, with a professional)
    • How do I feel about it: my uncertainties, reservations, and doubts?
  • Others respond by sharing their experiences and feelings:
    • What resonated for me?
    • The memory or experience that was triggered for me…
    • This topic/conversation makes me feel…
    • This is how I connect with what has been shared so far…

Some additional questions to spark your discussion:

  • What is the next (financial) thing I would like to do in my life?
  • What is stopping me?
  • Am I obliged to others or do I feel free to follow my own plans?
  • How much control do I feel over my financial life?
  • What meaning does money have for me?
  • Does financial planning drain or invigorate me?
  • Do I feel that I will have to retire to get the reward I deserve?
  • When I am not working, do I feel worthy?
  • What do I expect from hard work?

Another option: Invite a financial planner to your meeting, and ask each member to do some advance homework for an interactive exercise with the planner.

Forum updates: Two powerful questions

For a change of pace consider doing away with any formal update forms, and instead asking members to complete one or both of the following sentences during their update:

  • The most challenging (personal or professional) relationship I am dealing with now is… With whom? For how long? Why? How do you feel?
  • My toughest business or leadership challenge is… and this is how I feel…

These questions have the potential to cut through the chatter and quickly identity important presentation topics.

How does your brain process emotions: Lessons from the Disney/Pixar movie “Inside Out”

The recently released movie “Inside Out” may wow you with its animations and special effects, but it is not a children’s movie.  We peer inside the brain of a young girl and see five emotions – joy, sadness, anger, disgust, and fear – fighting to control what will be imprinted into her core memory, and with which emotional “color.” Encourage everyone in your forum to watch the movie before your next meeting, and then pose some of these questions suggested by Abigail Burd:

  1. When we meet Riley, most of the time Joy is in charge of her thoughts and personality. Which emotion(s) do you feel most often?
  2. Riley and her family go through a lot of changes when they move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Have you ever gone through a big transition like this?
  3. How are the glowing balls, or “core memories” made? What are yours?
  4. What do the core memories have to do with Riley’s personality?
  5. When Sadness touches one of the happy core memories, she colors it blue. What do you think is going on then? Is it possible that our current moods can color our past memories? Or how we define our personality?
  6. When Riley’s mother tells her that she is helping her parents by being their “happy girl,” Riley feels pressure to only show them her joy. What do you think of this?
  7. Do you think that our society values certain emotions over others? Which ones?
  8. At the end of the movie, Joy learns that other emotions, especially Sadness, are also important. Why?
  9. Do you think it is easier for males or females, or for younger or older people, to express different emotions? Which ones? Why?