What Do You Stand For? Against?

November 4, 2014

This political season, I’ve heard too many candidates talk about what they are fighting against. Too few describe what they’re running for.

In sports, I always prefer to be with fans who cheer for their team rather than against an opponent. One demonstrates good sportsmanship, whereas the other results in a demoralizing drain on energy.

I prefer to be around religious people who strive for enlightenment rather than ranting against darkness.

I prefer to be protected by a police force that works for law and order, rather than merely fighting against crime.

I prefer being with friends who are quick to give a compliment for someone’s benefit rather than engaging in malicious gossip against other people.

I prefer having colleagues who work for fulfilling the company’s mission rather than sniping against inane policies and procedures.

When we decide to be either for or against something, we are actually determining whether we will tap into positive energy that builds, or into negative energy that destroys. Granted, when someone stands for something, he or she usually is against the antithesis of what they are for. The corollary, though, is not always true. People can be against something without knowing what are actually for.

What do you stand for? What do you stand against? Your answers will define who you are as a friend, as a professional and even as a person.


Do You Follow a Leader Who Deals in Hope?

March 27, 2014

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” Napoleon Bonaparte

Hope inspires us to believe that better, brighter times are yet to come.

Hope inspires us to believe that better, brighter times are yet to come.

Last week I participated in three days of intense training near our national headquarters in Washington, D.C. I left filled with hope and optimism after I’d met with some of the top leaders in our organization, (the American Red Cross).

On my flight home, I began thinking about my renewed hope, and the quote from Napoleon Bonaparte pushed its way to the forefront of my mind. “A leader is a dealer in hope.”

I thought about the leaders I’ve admired. They instill hope in others because they have:

  1. A vision. Leaders know where they are going. They envision what success will look like, and they paint a vivid picture so others can share in that vision. On the final day of last week’s training, our senior vice president for communications sat at my table in the dining room. As I asked him specific questions about the monumental changes occurring within the organization, he responded by saying, “I have a dream.” He then painted a picture of our yet-to-be-realized future. I could see it! I wanted to be part of it!
  2. A plan. Not only do great leaders know where we are going, they have a plan for how we’ll get there. They may delegate much of the navigation to managers who will guide us through the treacherous terrain, yet they always have a plan.
  3. Situational awareness. I don’t trust leaders who have a Pollyanna-like optimism. I want to follow someone who comprehends the complexity and challenges of the situation, yet is not daunted by that reality. Good leaders are fully aware they will face obstacles such as the scarcity of finances, the machinations of political opponents and the stubbornness of skeptics. Yet they press on.
  4. A team. Good leaders know they cannot achieve success alone. They recruit, train and empower competent team members. Like Moses, they have an uncanny way of reminding their followers that we’re all in this together.  Although we may spend time wandering in the wilderness, our leaders create teamwork by reminding us we are headed towards the Promised Land that flows with milk and honey.
  5. Resources. Too many people wallow in inertia, waiting until they are given ample resources. Early in my career a mentor said, “Resources flow to achievers.” That concept stuck with me. Early victories often are achieved with meager resources, but as momentum builds and success becomes a way of life, resources will follow. After all, wise investors want to entrust their resources to leaders who promise a great return on investment.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Night when Everything Changed

February 9, 2014

Paul McCartney shows his guitar to host Ed Sullivan before the Beatles’ live television appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in New York, Feb. 9, 1964. *

Sometimes out of the clear blue, something unexpected happens. You didn’t see it coming. You didn’t fully understand it at the time.

Yet in retrospect you realize you have experienced a watershed moment, an event when everything changed.

Fifty years ago tonight I saw something that had historic significance, though as a young boy I had no idea what was happening.

I was only half watching the TV when Ed Sullivan announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles!” Suddenly, the black and white tube became a magnetic force that drew me closer.

I remember two things about that night.

First, I loved the music. I’d never heard anything like it. At that moment, I became a life-long Beatles fan.

Second, my parents and their friends hated the music. In retrospect, I think they reacted negatively because they were merely unable to comprehend what was happening. After all, the culture at that time looked and sounded nothing like those iconic lads from Liverpool. (Years later, my mom admitted that the Beatles made some pretty good music.) Read the rest of this entry »

10 Things Networkers Did that Impressed Me

December 19, 2013

During the past five years I’ve been fortunate enough to meet with hundreds of job seekers and others interested in networking. I value these interactions, and will almost always accept a networking request.

As I think back on those interactions, though, some individuals I met with were more memorable. I best remember those who did the following things:

  1. They had a purpose for meeting. Knowing why provided purpose and focus for our conversations. Of course, I never expected anyone to develop a detailed, comprehensive agenda before they requested an appointment. Just hearing them say, “I’m in a job search and want to brainstorm ideas” was a great starting point.
  2. They did not do all the talking. Occasionally, I’ve done all the listening, never having the opportunity to add any value to the conversation. In those rare cases, I just assumed the other person needed moral support as they unloaded their burdens in a stream of consciousness.
  3. They did not expect me to do all the talking. I never do well when the onus is left entirely upon me to do all the talking. I’ll do what I can to make a conversation lively, but let’s not forget that one hand clapping makes no sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Seven Lessons I’ve Learned from Corporate Reorganizations

October 16, 2013

During the seven years I’ve been with the American Red Cross, my co-workers and I have weathered many reorganizations. These changes have directly affected each of us. Next week as yet another wave of change crashes ashore, another handful of associates will be washed away.

Change is never easy, yet there are valuable lessons to be learned during a transition. As I have observed organizational changes, I have realized that:

  1. An employer is not a parent. No one—especially an employer— is going to take care of us unconditionally and look out for our best interests. Perhaps our fathers or grandfathers had that kind of relationship with their employers, but those days are long gone. (On a political side note, I never want to get comfortable with the naive notion that my elected officials will take care of me.)
  2. Wise people dig their wells before they are thirsty. Networking and personal branding are things that too many people begin doing once they find themselves between jobs. Granted, everyone has to begin sometime, but it’s best to expand your network and build your professional reputation when you are not in a free fall after a job loss.
  3. Protectors of the status quo are most at risk. Those who are deeply vested in the status quo are most likely to resist change. Change is inevitable and even necessary. As the great basketball coach John Wooden once said, “There is no progress without change,” Of course, he also went on to say, “Not all change is progress.” Granted, not all reorganizations move an organization forward, but any true progress ultimately requires that things be done differently. Read the rest of this entry »

How I Survived My Unplugged Vacation

June 26, 2013

Two-thirds of the world’s population have no Internet access. I know fewer than a handful of them, including my father-in-law and my mother-in-law.

This month I spent two weeks in their computer-less home in the suburbs of Cincinnati.

My in-law's house has great curb appeal on the outside, but inside there's no Internet access.

On the outside, my in-law’s house has great curb appeal, but on the inside there’s no Internet access.

With no Internet access, I found the experience to be as unsettling as when I lived in Oregon and would go tent camping in primitive sites with no running water. Daily, I feel compelled to shower, and daily I feel a need to connect my electronic gadgets to other devices out there in cyberspace.

Of course, I had my laptop and my iPad with me, but they were mostly useless without being connected to the Internet. With envy I perused the list of neighbors with Wi-Fi networks, but unfortunately, each was protected by a password. Twice I slipped away to a local coffee shop to tap into the Internet. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning to Drive in the Mountains of Colorado

June 4, 2013

I learned to drive in the high country of western Colorado. As a new driver, I never wrecked the family car, but I always remained aware that mountains seldom tolerate mistakes.

Though I no longer live near the mountains, I’m glad I spent my formative years there. Today, I am a better driver and even a better person because of what I learned as a novice there on those winding, high-altitude roads.

The road I was driving on (from old postcard - circa 1940)

The road where dad took me driving. (from old postcard—circa 1940)

Here are three lessons I learned from driving in Colorado:

1. Actions have consequences.

One Saturday afternoon dad took me driving up into the Colorado National Monument. The narrow, winding road snakes its way around the brim of deep, magnificent red-rock canyons. No guardrails or shoulder on the road would have kept us from plunging hundreds of feet to a certain demise.

I vividly recall one treacherous curve where dad glanced down into the abyss below, looked back at me and then calmly said, “You realize that both of our lives are in your hands.”

Those were powerful words for a teenage boy to hear from his father, yet that admonition was burnished into my memory. I never forgot that my actions affect others and will always carry consequences.

2. Expect the unexpected.

Driving—and life—always have a way of surprising us.

In the mountains I learned to anticipate what might be around the next curve. One never knows what will obstruct the road ahead—perhaps a rockslide, an elk or bear or maybe just a slow-moving car with wide-eyed tourists from the flatlands below.

In real life, I’ve learned that around every twist in the road, I will encounter something I’ve never before experienced. Though I try to anticipate and prepare, I will need to immediately react without overreacting, and respond without over correcting.

3. Stop to enjoy the scenery.

Long before I had the option of texting and driving, I learned I could not drive and do other things. It’s never a good idea to multitask while driving.

I could never truly enjoy the breathtaking scenery of Colorado while also keeping my eyes on the road. Sometimes it’s best to pull over and take a brief “sabbatical” to absorb the magnificent beauty that we would otherwise miss.

The years have passed since the innocence of my youth, yet I carry with me the important values I learned on Colorado’s roads.

During my life and throughout my career I’ve been driven to pursue goals and to reach new horizons. Yet I instinctively know that not every journey requires a destination. Sometimes life is best lived when we take the less-traveled road simply because we’re curious to discover where that path might take us.


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