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 »

Life Lessons Learned from Editing Instagram Pictures

May 27, 2013

Shooting good pictures represents only half of what it takes to be a good photographer.

Equally important is what happens after the shutter has snapped. A picture usually requires some editing. As an amateur photographer, I love Instagram because it simplifies the editing process. The built-in filters allow me to change the colors, the contrast and the focus. Cropping, though limited to square dimensions, allows me to select which portions of a photo I want to focus on.

This week while editing a picture on Instagram, my subconscious mind wrestled with a work-related problem. Suddenly I realized that my photo editing skills could be applied to my real-life situation. I could “Instagram” my problem by adjusting the variables. In other words, I could edit my circumstances in the same way I was editing my picture. Here are the three tools I used:

  1. Crop. Reframing a situation allows me to choose what I focus on. I can blow something up to a larger size, thereby cropping out the context. I must remind myself, however, that what I focus on also determines what I ignore. I sometimes like to zoom out and put things into a broader perspective. My work problem, just like my photos, looked differently depending on whether I cropped tightly or widely.
  2. Filter. I typically do not look at the world through rose-colored glasses. Sometimes, though, it’s helpful to play around with the hue, color balance and saturation. Pictures—and life situations—look differently depending upon how I choose to adjust the warmth, the contrast and even the drama.
  3. Script. For me, a well-written caption tees up a picture for proper viewing. I can nudge the viewer to look at the picture in different ways depending upon the narrative I write. Similarly, in real life I can control the situation by writing and rewriting the script. I can even direct the ongoing conversations by how I engage in the flow of comments.
A bureau-trunk that once belonged to General William H. Sears, field secretary and agent to Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. Now displayed in the archives room of the Kansas City chapter.

One of my Instagram photos—before and after editing—shows a trunk that belonged to the field secretary of Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross.

Once I’m finished editing, I also have the option in Instagram to share my pictures on Facebook, Twitter or other social platforms. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t. Likewise, in life I always have the choice of how much to share and how much to keep private. I will usually share when others will benefit or when I might gain something from the collective wisdom of my community.

I love Instagram. For me it’s a creative expression of how I choose to see the everyday things that surround me. It’s also a reminder that I can reframe, filter, script and share my real-life situations, thereby creating a more colorful, brighter and meaningful world.


Seven Tips on How To Be Interested

April 22, 2013

Be interested, not interesting. That, in a nutshell, is the key to establishing rapport when networking with others.

Being interested, though, is easier said than done. How does one demonstrate genuine interest? Here are some ideas I use:

  1. Approach the unknown with a sense of adventure. Step into conversations with an expectation of discovery. I anticipate that my questions will lead to hidden treasures.
  2. Cultivate your curiosity. The more I learn about someone or something, the more I realize how much I actually do not know. That awareness lays the foundation for an ongoing journey fueled by an insatiable curiosity.
  3. Ask good follow-up questions. It requires little creativity to ask good first questions. We can demonstrate our interest, however, when we follow up with questions that drill deeper. Ask the other person a series of questions beginning with “Why?” and then prompt the person with, “Tell me more.”
  4. Encourage someone to connect the dots. I invite the other person to help me align separate pieces of information. As we talk, we build upon what we’ve already discussed, connecting the dots through a game of “if/then.” (If _________, then how does that fit with _________?)
  5. Ask open-ended questions. In the early stages of a conversation, it’s helpful to warm things up by asking “yes or no” questions. We show interest, though, when we move to open-ended questions that require a more thoughtful answer. As we invite others to elaborate and share more, we show a deeper level of interest.
  6. Reciprocate sharing. Interest is also demonstrated through a volley of shared information. I try to make conversations interactive, sharing my own vulnerability as I invite others to do likewise. The best conversations are two way, relying upon the ebb and flow of interactive communications.
  7. Express gratitude. I’m always thankful for the newfound knowledge and understanding I gain from others. I always try to find creative ways to thank the other person for being open and transparent. In so doing, I imply my continued interest and I invite additional sharing.

We cannot fake being interested in others. We can, however, develop genuine interest by nurturing our innate curiosity. Being interested is a cultivated mindset, a way of life.


The World Has Too Many Victims

January 21, 2013

“I choose not to be a victim!” Those powerful words were shared with me last week by a friend who has had lots of bad things happen to her.

She is currently between jobs, which is why she came to my office to talk over coffee. Because I’ve known her for several years, I also know she is divorced, she’s been bullied at work and, since childhood, she has been preyed upon (and I use that term in its ugliest connotation).

Yet her bold statement—I choose not to be a victim!—got me to thinking.

Does someone really choose to be a victim? Is that a decision one actually makes? Or is a victim created as the result of something bad that happens? Or from the selfish actions of others?

In reality, bad things happen to each of us, so we all might feel victimized in some way. Yet most of us choose to pick ourselves up, or at least to allow others to help us get back on our feet.

Victims, by my definition, are those who choose not to recover. They wallow in self-pity. They feel a sense of entitlement, somehow believing that the world owes them something. Instead of finding solutions, they search for excuses. They blame others for their circumstances. They refuse to take ownership of their reality, and they harbor bitter feelings of anger, despair and revenge.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Roads I’ve Hitchhiked

December 18, 2012

This summer while on vacation, my wife and I were driving towards the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I’d once hitchhiked along those same roads.

That realization opened a flood of long-forgotten hitchhiking memories.

I recalled the time I thumbed a series of rides to Ohio to surprise my girlfriend. Neither she nor her family were impressed that I’d traveled so far—all alone—using such an unpredictable form of transportation. (Sometimes I’m still amazed that she eventually agreed to marry me!)

Then there was the time my buddy Steve and I hitchhiked overnight to Florida. The most memorable part of that trip came after we unfolded our sleeping bags and tried to sleep in the tall grass along the shoulder of southbound Interstate 75. Believe me, it’s impossible to rest while 18-wheelers thunder by at 80 miles an hour only a few feet from your head.

And how could I forget the adventure when my brother Gary and I nearly froze in the open bed of a pickup truck? Although it was summer in Colorado, we crossed the Continental Divide after midnight in the high altitude of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Brrrr!

Back in the day, I logged around 3,000 miles by begging for rides from strangers who might take pity on a poor, long-haired college kid standing alongside the road. Granted, it was a different time and thumbing for a ride was more popular then. Besides, I was young and didn’t think much about danger, perhaps because my mom did all the worrying for me.

On various trips I met a diverse assortment of people. There was the drummer for a popular rock band. I once was picked up by an aspiring ball player who hoped to someday play for the Cincinnati Reds. And then there was the old black man who was so tired he just wanted to sleep while I drove his car across Kentucky.

With the exception of some rednecks in Southern Georgia, the people I met were very nice. For example, I remain grateful for the Orlando policeman who—after reminding me that hitchhiking was illegal—reluctantly gave me a ride to my destination.

The end of the year provides an ideal opportunity to reflect on life and the roads we’ve traveled, both literally and figuratively.

In many ways, life is like hitchhiking. We often head towards unseen destinations, traveling along roads we’ve never been on, and will likely never traverse again. Along the way, we briefly meet some incredibly interesting people, and then abruptly we go our separate ways, never to cross paths again. Yet we remain grateful for those strangers who helped us reach our destination.

During the coming year, I resolve to continue exploring new horizons, though I’ve long-since forsaken hitchhiking. I also commit to creating memories along the virtual highways I’ll travel. I will savor the relationships that develop, and I will always give thanks for the beautiful, kind-hearted people I meet along the highways of life’s meandering journey.


What They Did Right AFTER the Interview

June 27, 2012

As a hiring manager, I looked at more than a hundred resumes this month. I talked with so many people that I had trouble keeping everyone straight.

I even interviewed a handful of highly-qualified candidates. While those interviews were energetic and invigorating, the substance of what we talked about began to fade in the days following the interviews.

The most impressive candidates were those who did everything they could to keep their memory alive. Here are some of the specific things they did right after the interview:

  1. While the memory of our conversations were still fresh in my mind, they quickly followed up with emails and handwritten notes.
  2. They reiterated their enthusiasm. As an interviewer, I often wonder what the candidate thought about the job after our conversation. Sometimes people become less interested as they learn more about a specific job, so it’s always nice to be reassured that their interest has continued to grow.
  3. They reminded me how their qualifications matched my needs. They refreshed my memory by giving specific reasons why they would be the ideal fit for my job opening. Read the rest of this entry »

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