Category Archives: Uncategorized

White People Don’t Know They’re White


Jo McDermott

Before I Explain What I Mean

First, let me tell you why I’m writing about this.  This is a post about people not knowing what they don’t know.  When you don’t know what you don’t know, it really gets in the way of being effective.  If you are completely unaware of something, then you are missing out on a whole world.  If you are basing your understanding of the world on the assumption that everyone thinks like you, you CANNOT communicate effectively because you are starting from the wrong place.

Now Let Me Explain

I have to be careful how I explain this.  I told a close friend that white people don’t know that they’re white–several times–and  years later a conversation made it obvious that not only did she not understand what I meant, she didn’t believe me either.  I have always thought I was pretty aware of the issues…

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My Top 10 Blog Posts

Someone  recently asked me what my top blog posts were.  Here are the top 10 in terms of readership.  Which one do you like best?

Get a Mentor, Use a Mentor

Personal Change Management

Take Feedback, Especially Bad Feedback, as a Gift

I Am Heartbroken

Why Doesn’t Your Team Work?

White People Don’t Know They’re White

How Do You Know if You’re a Good Leader

Multiple Intelligences: IQ, EQ, SQ and other SO

Moms at Work

My Boss Doesn’t Listen to Me

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Leaders Are People Too



I know that those of you who consider yourselves leaders are not surprised that leaders are people.  Among students in my leadership classes and among my coaching clients who aspire to be leaders, however, I am frequently faced with skepticism when I make this statement.  Why is that?

First of all,  AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, leaders who are leaders because of personal power, are seen as “people.” By “people” I mean that they think, they understand, they reason, and most important, they feel.  And their followers know and believe that. It is the leaders who are “leaders” because of positional power whose “people-ness” is questioned.  (We’ll discuss whether you are ever a ‘leader’ because of position in another post.) We humans operate on assumptions and mindsets most of the time–people at the top of the organization are ‘them’ not ‘us’.  (Top of the organization is relative too–if you are above me in the organizational hierarchy, I think of you as at the ‘top.’)  If I do NOT have a relationship with you–either based on knowing you, respecting you, liking you, or needing you–then I apply all the stereotypes that I hold about organizational leaders to you.  Just as in the case of all stereotypes–if I know you, I don’t think you fit the stereotype.

I want to challenge leaders to think about what to do about this if what I say here is true.  I also want to challenge aspiring leaders to think about what to do about this if it is true that leaders are people, just like you.

For Leaders

Make sure people know you.  Leadership is relationship based.  There are lots of ways for someone to know you–they can know your expertise (and respect it), they can trust you (and know they can count on you), they can admire what you’ve been through to get to where you are–if they know it (and respect that), they can depend on you to be reliable (and respect that).  If the only relationship your followers have with you is based on your position on the org chart compared to their position on the org chart, then  what you get from them will be limited to how much you are paying attention, how much they agree with you and how scary you are.  None of those things last forever–or even for every long.

Rallying the Troops - Organization Chart

You need people to do things–the things you ask them to do–because they think they are the best things to do.  You need them to think for themselves, take initiative, be creative, stick with things, and be confident.  These are much more likely to happen if your people know that you’re a “people,” and not just a box above them on the org chart.

For Aspiring Leaders

So why does it matter that leaders think of themselves as people and all who work for them think of them as “them?”  It is lonely to be a “them” who is trying to get something done.  Did you ever think of that?  Did you ever think of what it feels like to try to do a job and to be faced with mindless obedience?  (Well, if you’re a narcissist, it probably feels pretty good–but for the rest of leaders–it’s not great.)

What about if the people who work for you treat you as trustworthy?  With respect (that you can feel)? With honesty?  With independent support?  What do you think the leader’s response to this kind of treatment from you will be?  The funny thing about trust–trusting grows trust–no matter which way it starts.

Followers have control over the relationship with their leaders too.  Acting in the role you want can gradually build that role.  Trusting can create being trusted.  Independence can earn respect.  Respect and trust are career enhancing.

Leader. Concept. 3d illustration.

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You Talk. Do They Listen?

Depositphotos_16625249_xs (1)

I got reminded again today that just because I say it doesn’t mean they hear it.  I had been telling a colleague for several days, maybe even for a couple of weeks, that I had a report that gave her the information that she needed.  It was a report that documented a process that we are trying to improve.  She was the lead on improving this process and I had created a report that showed her exactly what she needed to monitor.  I thought I said it very clearly.  I should have noticed that I had to say it several times and every time not only did she seem disinterested, in every instance she fairly quickly changed the subject.  I also thought she looked at me as if I were stupid, but I’m probably just imagining that.

Anyway, I finally gave up.  I printed it out and left it on her desk with a note that said, “Thought you might want o see how we’re doing.”  She sent me an email before I got back to my desk, asking where the h**l I got this report.  My immediate–and fantasized reaction–was to say “I’ve been telling you that I had this report for WEEKS!”  BUT whose fault was it?  Hers because she hadn’t heard what I had said, or mine because I hadn’t gotten her attention with the information?  I was the only one who cared about the message getting through until she actually ‘heard’ it–then she cared too.  So . . . if I cared more, I think it was my responsibility (or in my interest) to figure out how to get it across.  She was blissfully ignorant.  I was enormously frustrated.

In her case, all I had to do was SHOW it to her.  I, on the other hand, get information best through hearing it.  So I (repeatedly) gave her information the way that works best for me.  I wasn’t focused on the receiver’s needs or receptiveness.  I wasn’t even thinking at all of it as a reception problem–I was simply sending the message into the universe and expecting the right recipients to receive it.  It was as if I were speaking Chinese to a French kindergarten class who wanted to hurry up and go out to play.  Ok, ok, that’s a bit exaggerated–but not much.

We know we have to speak the language of the person we’re talking to if we want our message to get through.  Using the appropriate medium and venue is equally important. Pay attention to how THEY send information–that is very likely the way they like to receive it.  If you notice that you’ve tried to ‘send’ the message more than a couple of times, try to send a different way–with pictures, or with something tactile or have someone else–their friend, or superior or someone more or less animated than you send the message.

NOTICE when the message isn’t getting across.  Then try things till it does.

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Be Careful When You’re New

Select leader person career to work job

Just started a new job? Managing a new group? Leading a new project? There are lots of great books to help you with the critical steps for success, and of course you can always read my post, Starting a New Job? Hit the Ground Successful! There is another thing that you should do, however, that isn’t really covered in these sources—or maybe it is something you shouldn’t do.

Wait To Bring In People You Trust

You shouldn’t immediately disregard the people who are there and bring in people who you trust from a former life. You should spend some time and effort evaluating the situation for yourself. Don’t bring in your own experts or colleagues to do that evaluation. Do it yourself. Talk to the people who are there. I see new leaders make the assumption that the people who are there ARE the problem. And that is certainly sometimes the case. It is not true, however, that ALL of the people who are there ARE the problem.

Look at:

  • How long they have been there?
  • What roles have they been in?
  • Do they seem frustrated with the current situation?
  • Are they glad that you are there?
  • Can you tell what role previous leadership has had in creating the problem?
  • Don’t take other’s opinion at face value.  What do YOU think?
  • What do THEY think the problem is?
  • What do THEY think the solution is?

I see the same thing happen in organizations over and over. The new guy comes in. He brings in a consulting firm to evaluate the organization OR he brings in the guys from the last organization who helped him be successful. Either of these slows things down. The consultants do not get instant cooperation. They take valuable time and then they only provide recommendations (which are sometimes ‘off’ by some percentage) and you still have to figure out how to implement the recommendations (which, of course, the consultants always suggest that you use them). The guys from the last organization take time to hit the ground running and just because their skills and abilities were right in the old organization, they may or may not be right in the new one. And you are only getting other people’s counsel; you aren’t understanding the situation first hand.

Do It Yourself

Do the investigation on your own. Talk to the people in the organization—you need to do that anyway, both to build the trust and relationships and to thoroughly understand the organization. THEN bring in others to help.

Remember, building trust is a two-way street. If you skip that step and just bring in people you’re comfortable with and already trust, then you are likely to be a long-term visitor in your own organization. And that will not lead to long-term success.


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So, You Want To Get Promoted. What Are You Doing About It?

People Who Do Their Job Don’t Get Promoted

performance level conceptual meter

Doing your job is not enough.  You were hired to do your job.  The fact that you do it–even that you do it well–is not enough to make you stand out.  If you don’t stand out, you don’t get promoted. This is a very important concept to “get.”  What are you doing to stand out?  When people across the organization (not just your unit) think of you, do they think you stand out?  Do they think of you as a “go-to” person who “gets it done?”  Do people outside your unit even think of you at all?

There are different cultural expectations within organizations.  “Follow the rules.” “Be a team player.” “Make your boss succeed.” “Get results.” What are the expectations in your organization?  Are you meeting them?  Are you exceeding them?  To get promoted, you must exceed them.  I actually don’t know an organization that doesn’t expect people–leaders–to get results.  Do you get results?  I’m not asking if you try hard.  Or if you work hard.  Or if you do what you are asked.  Do you get results?  Consistently?

Two Sides To Getting Promoted

There are two sides to getting promoted.  First, the need for someone to be in the position has to exist.  Second, you have to be obviously the best choice to fill the position. The first isn’t under your control (although you should always be hyper-aware of these opportunities).  The second is under your control.

  • Sometimes you can see opportunities coming.  Your boss is going to retire.  There is a major reorganization happening soon.  Someone is leaving. The company is growing.
  • Sometimes you know what you want the next step to be.  You may want to go to the next level in your organization. Or you may want to hop to another organization with a new kind of position.

You should have A PLAN for whatever opportunity you see and want.  What skills do you need to acquire.  Are you being obvious in getting those skills?  Are you seeking experiences that will grow those skills?  Do others in the organization know that you’re growing the skills?  It’s always important to remember that people don’t necessarily know that you are growing.  Sorry.  It isn’t obvious unless people are paying close attention.  You need to make it obvious.  How will you stand out so that people will immediately think of you when the opportunity opens?

Stand Out.

I used to sit in on conversations considering people to fill critical positions.  It was unusual when everyone in the group all knew the same people.  Most candidates had one advocate and maybe one other who had an opinion and the rest didn’t know the person.  So . . . the candidate that everyone knew really stood out, especially if all the opinions were glowing.  When you think about the potential next positions for you in your organization, think about who would participate in the decision.  Do they know you?  Do they think highly of you?  What can you do about that?One to Watch Marked Person in Organizational Chart

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Surviving A Tornado As A Metaphor

First of All

My family and I are fine.  I’d like to thank all the people who reached out to check on me.  For those who don’t know, I live in Oklahoma.  In fact, I was in New Jersey on a business trip when the big tornado hit on Monday, May 20, 2013.  The day before, Sunday,  tornados raged through Oklahoma and like many Oklahomans, I watched on TV as they moved across Oklahoma–within a mile or two of my work, within a mile of where my brother was working, within 2 miles of where my sister lives, within a mile and a half of where my other brother lives.  We checked with each other by phone as the storms moved across the middle of the state.  We did what we do in Oklahoma.  We closed the drapes, made sure we knew where the flashlights were, put the cars in the garages and knew where we would go (our safe place) if the storm came close.  In Oklahoma we know the weather broadcasters by their first names.  We know the name of the helicopter they use when tornadoes come.  We know the names of the vehicles that the storm chasers use.  We (all of us–the broadcasters, storm chasers, helicopter pilots, and TV and radio audiences) track these storms block by block.  They tell us what minute the storm will be at what intersection.  When the storm gets close, we go to the place that we have determined is the safest place in our homes, and we wait for the storm to do what it is going to do.

Have a Plan

This is not a passive reaction.  This is a proactive process that involves all of us.  There is a plan in place.  There is a complicated and detailed process to get the information to us about when to take action.  We do not mess around.  I was in an office building in Cincinnati once when the storm alarms went off.  Everyone just kept working.  I started to get up to go someplace safe but I came back.  I couldn’t go without at least trying to get others to come with me.  I went to the closest high-ranking person and asked if we shouldn’t get moving to the center of the building.  Then I went to another person.  And another.  They uniformly had the same reaction–they were amused by me, they told me that it was ‘just’ a thunderstorm, and that no one ever went to the center of the building.  I gave up.  I went to the center of the building and waited.  They were right.  Nothing happened.  The storm passed and I learned later that in Cincinnati they sound the alarm whether it is a severe storm or a tornado.  From an Oklahoman’s perspective–this is nuts.  People need to know when a tornado is coming, they need to not be confused with mixed signals, and they need to proceed to the safest place.  Oklahomans know what to do.  People are amazed that there were so few fatalities in the big Oklahoma tornado.  There were 24 too many fatalities, but there were not hundreds of fatalities because Oklahomans know what to do and THEY DO IT.

Sometimes It’s Different

Sometimes the situation is different.  Sometimes what is happening is bigger, worse than even your best plan.  That is what happened on Monday, May 20.  This storm was unprecedented.  The broadcasters knew it.  Lots of Oklahomans knew it.  Very few of us had ever heard the weather broadcaster who we listen to say that the only way to survive this storm was to get out.  To leave.  To get underground (only a small percentage of Oklahoma homes have basements or storm shelters) or to get out.  People knew what that meant, too.  It meant that this was bigger, beyond our standard ‘safe place’ plans.  My sister was in the backroom of a restaurant.  She was huddled with others doing what you do when a tornado is coming–waiting for it to do what it does.  Then my nephew called her and asked where she was.  When she told him, he told her that he was watching the radar–most Oklahomans have apps or access to watch the Dopplar radar of these storms–and that the storm was heading straight for her.  He told her to get out.  To drive south.  (This is not normal advice–normally he would be relieved that she was appropriately sheltered and tell her he’d talk to her once the storm had passed.)  She listened.  She got in her car.  She saw the terrifying tornado about half a mile away (the tornado itself was more than a mile WIDE, so that tells you how close it was) and she drove south.  This is NOT what you normally do.  In Oklahoma you know that being in a car is dangerous.  You know that semis get blown all over the place and are dangerous to be near.  They blow off overpasses (this happened the day before).  The drivers lose control and  become dangerous barriers in your way.  Sometimes, though, what is dangerous is LESS dangerous and you just have to do it.

Have a Plan, Execute It

There are thousands of stories from the storm this week.  People clearly did what they had to do to survive.  They KNEW what to do.  Many, many people owe their lives to the superior weather reporting that happens in Oklahoma.  They owe their lives to people who shared shelters and coolers (like at my brother’s store).  They owe their lives to teachers to protected them.  They owe their lives to having a plan and not hesitating about putting it into place.

Help Each Other

As the stories unfold from the tornado, there are so many stories of people helping people.  People reaching out and doing what they can.  Some of the unpublicized stories are what corporations are doing to help people.  Because I have an Oklahoma address, I’ve gotten emails from companies reaching out to me as a customer.  The company I work for has taken action to help Oklahoma with its resources and to reach out to employees who are affected.  (Makes me so proud!!) Our Oklahoma basketball hero, Kevin Durant, gave $1 million to help.  Even though I was not directly affected by this tornado, I’m so grateful to each and every person and corporation who has helped.

So Where is the Metaphor

Tornadoes are rare events.  Except in Oklahoma.  Except in Moore.  The lessons though–know what to expect, have a plan, have ways to get the information you need, don’t hesitate to act, know when you adjust your plan–apply to most of the things in our lives.

Blessings to All Those Affected by the Oklahoma Tornadoes This Spring

If you have the ability to help, the American Red Cross is always there for the victims of tornadoes (and other disasters).  I recommend giving them some help to help others.


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You Know How To Communicate, Right? You’re Good At It, Right?

Most People Aren’t Great At Communication

My experience is that not very many people are genuinely good at communication–in all the ways that they need to be.  You may be good at it with your kids or with your employees or with your boss, but it is highly likely that you AREN’T good at it in all the times/ways/with ALL the people you need to be.  There are so many factors that create good communication:

  • Language
  • Listening
  • Talking
  • Presenting
  • Pictures
  • Videos
  • Reporting
  • Words
  • Feelings
  • Visual
  • Ideas
  • Timing
  • Messaging

When you think about your communication, do you think about all of these?  Let me give a few examples:

If I tell you I’m thinking about a star, which of these do you think about:

A star is a star is a star

Depends, doesn’t it?  If you are an editor for People Magazine, then you probably think about the star on the red carpet.  If you’re a quilter like me, you might think about the Ohio Star quilt pattern (2d from the right).  If you’re Jewish, maybe the Star of David.  If you’re an astronomer, then maybe the galaxy.  If however, you are in a synagog, that makes it more likely that you’d think of the Star of David.  If you’re in a quilt class–you get the point.  Mind set and context have a lot to do with your interpretation of what you hear.  Do you think about that when you talk about something or ask people for things?  I’ve been in situations where people clearly misunderstood each other using common words.  When Engineers and Marketers are talking to each other, then it is easy to misunderstand.  People who are talking about new processes v. old process, new systems v. old systems, higher levels in the organizations v. lower levels in the organization, younger people v. older people, experienced v. inexperienced.

Think about the ways in which people use the same words that you use.  Is it possible you’re not getting your point across?  Remember that what you think is fast may not be what others think of as fast.  Complete may not be the same complete.  Strategy.  Urgent.  Important.  Right.  So many ways to have different interpretations.  So many ways to fail to communicate.

It Doesn’t Matter If The Message Doesn’t Get Through

That’s why it’s important to use pictures, questions, videos.  Whatever it takes to draw out the different interpretations will help you get clear.  It doesn’t matter if you are being clear (as far as you’re concerned), if the receiver is getting the wrong message (and especially if it seems clear to the receiver).  That is a failed communication.

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New Manager? New Team? How To Find the Balance.

Congratulations, New Manager!

You just became a new manager.  You just got a new team.  You have lots of ideas of what needs to change.  You point out things that are wrong.  You tell them what needs to be different.  All is good.  Right?  What?  They resent you?  They are sulking?  They grumble?  They stop talking to each other when you walk up?  What’s wrong!?  Why isn’t this working the way you dreamed?

Well . . . put yourself in their shoes.  What makes you ‘righter’ than them?  They’re doing the job.  They’ve been doing the job. They are not deliberately doing a bad job.  Their perspective is their job.   Let me put that more clearly–each person is looking at his/her job.  The tasks.  The deadlines.  The barriers.  The annoyances.  They are not looking at the ‘whole.’  They are not thinking about how it all fits together and how to make it better.  They have a different perspective than you.  In fact, I’ll bet $$ that your perspective is recent.  Especially if you got promoted to manage them.  Now that you have a different job, you’re looking at it differently.

Why would they understand your perspective unless you explain it to them.  Provide them some context.  From what they can see, you’re being critical (if you were formerly their coworker, they may think you’ve lost your mind) without any basis.

What is happening to you is a little like how you walk into your house day after day and see nothing wrong with it, until you find out your mother-in-law is coming in 2 hours.  Suddenly you see everything that is wrong and freak out about how you can’t get it all done before she gets here.  Neither perspective is right.  The house has some things wrong, but not all that you see from your mother-in-law’s view.  The same is with the new job, the new team.  There are some things wrong.  You need to EXPLAIN how and why you see these things, though, to your new team.  You need to realize they are perceiving the criticism as being about them, which is not fun.

See it through their eyes and work hard to explain what you want to change in a way that provides context and an appreciation of how they can help fix it–not how they are the problem.

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Are You Stuck?

Image converted using ifftoany

Have you noticed that you’re not moving up in your organization any more?  Have your last couple of job changes been laterals?  Have your last couple of reviews been ho-hum? Are you starting to get the message that you’re stuck in your career trajectory?  There are some common causes and, believe it or not, some things that YOU can do about it.

Are You Bored?

Do you find yourself finding other things to do (other than your job) at work?  Are you consistently late for work and early to leave? Do you think you can do your job in your sleep? Have you done it and done it and done it and don’t want to do it anymore? Do you remember when you were challenged by the tasks of your job, but that was a long time ago?  Boredom is a common cause of burnout and demotivation in a job.  And it shows.  You may be the most experienced, the one with the longest tenure, but if you aren’t engaged with your job, it shows.  People who aren’t engaged don’t get promoted.  People who are bored are obvious about being bored.  People who are bored don’t get promoted.

Are You Under-Performing?

Have you noticed that people are passing you up?  Are they getting promoted (or appreciated and recognized) when you sit there like chopped liver?  This is the time to be really honest with yourself.  Are you really performing as well as them?  I know you’ve been telling yourself that you are, but are you really?  Are you making deadlines?  Are you over-delivering?  Are you looking for ways to improve what you do?  Are you looking at what you boss (and her boss) needs and trying to figure out how to get that done in addition to what you’re supposed to work on?  If your peers are over-performing, then you aren’t making the cut if you are merely performing.

Do You Have an “Attitude”?  That Shows?

Are you pissed?  Are you aware that you’ve been treated unfairly, badly, been ‘wronged’?  If so it shows.  No matter how much you try to keep it under wraps, it shows.  If it shows, people back off from you.  They can ‘feel’ your anger.  They certainly don’t promote angry people-even people who are out-performing others.

Are You Falling Behind?

We are constantly barraged by new systems, new tools, new processes at work.  Are you up-to-date on all of them?  Even the ones that you don’t need to use very often?  These tools, systems and processes change the way our minds work.  If you’re not keeping up, then you mind is not in sync with your co-workers’ minds.  Or your bosses.  People who can’t do the latest systems and tools rationalize it–I can do the same thing–the old way.  That may be true.  For a while.  Then others can take it to the next level and then the level beyond that.  And you can’t go there with the old way.  You may not even know what you can’t do if you don’t understand the new way.  Think about the things that you don’t do.  Texting?  Excel Pivot tables? Macs? Photoshop? Prezi? Dropbox?  Get with it. Do it.  Keep up.

Are You Being Rigid?

This is somewhat related to the item above, but that is more about tools and systems.  This is more about the way you think.  Are you open to new ideas?  I do organizational change management for major organizational changes.  I do a lot of ‘readiness’ workshops.  I see the rigid ones.  They are hard to get to the sessions.  They sit in the back and glare.  They bring up all the ways/reasons/causes that this won’t work.  My personal favorite, “We tried this before.”  Everyone resists some changes–that is completely normal.  If you resist all changes, if you are the one who knows all the ways and reasons this won’t work, then you aren’t fun to have around.  You certainly aren’t likely to be promoted.

Are You Not A Good Fit For Your Organization Anymore?

Organizations change.  People change.  Just like with marriages, sometimes you’ve grown apart.  Sometimes it’s time to move on.  The hard part is knowing when.  I used to work for an organization that was fairly small when I started and very large when I left.  It was a midwestern company when I started and an European conglomerate when I left.  It had one kind of product when I started and lots of kinds of products when I left.  Over the course of time from when I started and when I left there was an ebb and flow to the ‘fit’ for me.  Some management changes made it worse and some made it better.  Some positions were good fits for me and some were lousy.  In the end, it was me who had changed the most.  It was me who figured out what I liked about the work I had done for this company and figured out that I could find more of that kind of work as a consultant than as an employee at that company. It was a gradual evolutionary change in the relationship.  It happens.  It takes considerable thought and analysis to figure out whether it is a normal ebb and flow in the relationship or time to move on.  When it is time, either for you or the organization, then it isn’t likely that you will keep moving up.

What Do You Do?

Even if you decide that the fit isn’t right, there are things you can do in the mean time.  You have to really be honest with yourself.

  • If you’re bored, figure out how you can start to out-perform your peers.
  • Figure out how you can over-deliver.  Figure out how, in addition to your normal responsibilities, how to deliver something that your boss really needs.
  • If you’re angry, get some professional help to understand where it is coming from and to decide what to do about it.
  • If you are behind on the technology or systems or processes in your organization, then dedicate yourself to catching up and becoming an expert.
  • If you’re rigid, start to experiment with loosening up.  If you find yourself having a negative reaction to an idea, explore–privately at first–what would actually be the worst thing that could happen if the event took place.  Little steps can take you a long way to letting go of your rigidity.  Once you’re comfortable with letting go a little, then start to be more vocal about that openness.
  • If you are not a good fit for your organization, figure out why not, what you need in an organization and then GO FIND IT.
  • Any and all of these will relieve your boredom.  When you are experimenting with new behavior and thinking, it is really hard to be bored.

When your boss and peers see changes in you, it is highly likely that your upward trajectory will restart.

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