I Wish You’d Been There

April 22, 2014

I really wish you had been with me in the mayor’s office.

I was in Darrington, Washington, the small logging town hit hard by the March 22 mudslide that destroyed much of the nearby community of Oso. The slide buried about a mile of the highway connecting many of the 450 families in Darrington with their jobs, their grocery shopping and even the shipments to and from their lumber mill.

Though I wasn’t there on vacation, I did enjoy the breathtaking scenery.

On disaster assignment for the American Red Cross, I went to city hall with our district operations manager to talk about our work in the community. When we entered his office, the mayor rose from his desk stacked high with papers and gave us a hearty handshake. He wore a ball cap and flannel shirt – just what a Midwesterner like me would expect to find in a lumber town quietly tucked away high in the Northern Cascades. A faint smile on his unshaven face, however, failed to mask the strain of his mayoral duties.

“Initially we had concerns about giving up space,” he said, referring to the many outside groups that came wanting to help. That’s a typical response from those living in rugged, close-knit and self-reliant communities. “The Red Cross is neutral and I appreciate that,” he said. “Your work here has been stellar.”

While pleased to receive the compliment, I pushed to uncover unmet needs where we could help. “What advice would you give to us at the Red Cross?” I asked. (Here’s where I especially wish you’d been with me.) Without hesitation, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Keep taking good care of my people.”
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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.

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The Sticky Note Organizational Chart

September 17, 2013

The best organizational chart I ever created was made on a white wall using a black Sharpie pen and yellow sticky notes.

The setting was an office in Midtown Manhattan shortly after the devastating landfall of Superstorm Sandy.

Working for the American Red Cross, I had been assigned to serve as the Public Affairs Chief on the disaster relief operation. When I arrived in New York, more than a dozen members of my team were already there, and during the two weeks I served in that role, more than 50 individuals were assigned to the public affairs group, though not all were there at the same time.

In the midst of the disaster’s chaos, my first task was to organize the sprawling staff, most of whom I had never met. Although our disaster headquarters was in New York City, our job was more difficult because we had crews spread out in each of the five NYC boroughs and on Long Island. Their varied assignments included handling media inquiries, writing stories, taking pictures, creating social media content and performing other communications tasks.

At a quick staff meeting in the hallway, we introduced ourselves and each person briefly described his or her experience and areas of expertise. I reviewed the paperwork on each team member and then huddled up with one of my key managers to draw a table of organization. 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.

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You Know It’s Time to Go Home When…

November 18, 2012

I am finally home after my deployment to New York City as part of the incredible disaster relief effort of the American Red Cross.

Memories of the long hours, the minor frustrations and the stressful conditions will quickly fade. My enduring memories will focus on the extraordinary team I worked with, the genuine kindness of the people of New York City and the thousands and thousands of people we helped who were affected by Superstorm Sandy.

One memory I’ll cherish is the brief chuckle I received when a fellow worker stopped by my cubicle at our headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. Without comment, he handed me a photocopied sheet titled “You know it’s time to go home when…” The list was not attributed to anyone, yet I share it with appreciation for those who brought a little humor into a serious workplace.

You know it’s time to go home when…

  1. You start referring to your hotel room as home.
  2. You start rearranging the furniture “at home.”
  3. You start receiving mail addressed to “resident” in your hotel room.
  4. You can’t remember the last time you wore something that didn’t come out of a suitcase.
  5. You no longer get lost.
  6. You know trouble spots on the traffic report on the radio.
  7. You stare uncomprehendingly at the people who have just been deployed when they ask, “How long have you been out?”
  8. Crisis counselors cry on your shoulder.
  9. You have trouble finding your home state on a map.
  10. When you hear of a disaster in another part of the country and you say, “Hey, I’d like to go there,” and suddenly you realize you’re from there.
  11. You start telling tourists where “the sights” are.
  12. You start telling the locals where “the sights” are.
  13. You start losing your native accent and begin speaking like the locals.

I will miss New York, and I hope to return. Yet, the time had come to return home.

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Does Anyone Care that March Is ________ Month?

March 1, 2012

Years ago, I began my career as a hospital public relations intern. My responsibilities included promoting National Hospital Week which occurs each year in May. I really tried to make the general public aware of this momentous occasion, but I eventually realized that no one outside of the hospital really cared. I was disappointed that my well-written news releases failed to convert that week into a newsworthy event.

Over time I discovered that almost every hospital professional (except for PR interns) had a day or week designated in their honor. For example, National Doctors Day is celebrated on March 30.

National Nurses Week begins each year on May 6th and ends on May 12th, the birth date of Florence Nightingale. During that week there is a National Student Nurses Day and also the globally-celebrated International Nurses Day. To further complicate things, each subspecialty within nursing has a special day or week—emergency nurses, gastrointestinal nurses, oncology nurses, pediatric nurses, cardiovascular nurses, neonatal nurses, perianesthesia nurses, nurse anesthetists, operating room nurses, IV (infusion) nurses, neuroscience nurses, school nurses, ad infinitum.

Oh, and don’t forget about the national days and weeks recognizing pharmacists, physical therapists, dietitians, occupational therapists, food service workers, respiratory therapists, social workers, home health providers and medical transcriptionists.

Red Cross Month begins today

March was first proclaimed Red Cross Month in 1943 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Since then, every president has designated March as Red Cross Month. This is a time when we hope to remind everyone about the work of the American Red Cross. We also want people to understand how we depend on public support to help people in need.

So, as you celebrate Red Cross Month, please don’t be distracted by March Madness, St. Patrick’s Day, Super Tuesday, Earth Day, Daylight Savings Time and the beginning of Spring (the vernal equinox). Furthermore, please don’t be sidetracked by those hapless PR interns who have been assigned the task of writing news releases to educate you that March is also: Read the rest of this entry »


Two Years, 124 Posts and 10 Observations

August 18, 2011

Two years ago today I launched this blog. I began much like I did when I was a kid learning to ride a bike—having no particular destination in mind but somehow trusting that the ride itself would be the ultimate reward.

Now, two years into this journey, it’s time to take a moment and 1) celebrate the distance I’ve traveled, 2) recall the scenery I’ve enjoyed along the way and 3) reflect on life’s lessons learned.

Here are a few random thoughts and observations about my blogging journey:

  1. This is actually fun. I enjoy writing and I like being a blogger. I give myself enough editorial freedom to have fun, and I’ve never seriously considered monetizing this effort, though some bloggers make good money from their writing.
  2. This is also hard work. Like riding a bike, the fun comes only with the exertion of energy. I’ve mentored several wanna-be bloggers who started and then, for a variety of reasons, never continued. Maintaining a blog for two years is a worthy accomplishment.
  3. I blog best when I follow my own rules. I’ve read countless blogs and books about blogging. They all contain rules I’ve mostly chosen to ignore. For example, they say that success comes with frequency of postings. Well, I decided long ago to publish only when I had something to say and I refuse to be bound by an arbitrary, self-imposed quota. Last year, for example, I let several guilt-free weeks slide by without posting. Read the rest of this entry »

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