ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Image -- Image -- Image

Several of us had a conversation the other day about trying to help two people change their public images. The other people in the conversation were well-intended friends of the man and woman needing (desperately needing) help. My friends were trying out all kinds of indirect methods for approaching these people. They were afraid to deal with the topic directly.

Since part of my consulting practice is to help those seeking professional growth, to look at their image and to make suggestions for improvement (I’ve even been known to go shopping with clients), I told them you need to be direct but use a warm and friendly manner. If you tell these people that it would enhance their public image if they made slight changes in their grooming and manner of dress, they might be hurt for a second or two, but if they like you they will recognize that you are trying to help them and will be responsive to your help.

“Oh, we don’t want to hurt their feelings” was the surprised reply. But, having worked with people for over thirty years, I know that if you are trusted and liked, you can be direct and honest. It might hurt for a second, but is far less painful than being caught in levels of subterfuge. 

The moral of the story: people are a lot stronger emotionally than we give them credit for – honesty with kindness – usually works well.

Building a Camel When You Wanted a Horse

We all talk about the value and virtues of team work. But, what happens when a bunch of people all have to be satisfied and any decision becomes watered down to please everyone? There is something so different about getting input from those who have expertise or a stake in the project from everyone having to agree. Trite expressions like “too many cooks spoil the broth” come to mind when too many people are actually involved in the decision itself.

Getting input from others is so valuable – but the fewer people involved in the actual decision, the better. This is true about a great many things, including interviewing prospective new employees.

I’ve been involved in the process of being a finalist in contract negotiations watching the difference between organizations where someone in charge makes the actual decision, and organizations where the “team” or “committee” makes the decision. In the latter case, you have to please everyone and so the less outstanding or unique or controversial you are, the better off you are. In the first case, the person or group hired is most often the best of the companies under consideration.

Compromise always – well, maybe almost always – yields something less than what is truly desirable. The most obvious example of course is the decision to merge black and white and get unwanted gray. 

I can’t write this without recalling the young professional couple who compromised on the selection of their new car. She wanted a station wagon (this was years ago) so she could transport a bunch of kids to all their activities. He wanted a big red convertible as his gift to himself for becoming a successful professional. They could have easily afforded both. Instead they made a compromise and bought a four door sedan and neither was happy.

So, if you want a horse – a beautiful sleek thoroughbred – get an expert who knows how to build your horse, don’t have everyone in the building involved in adding their good ideas and watch the lumps start to form.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Leaders and Followers

The flying geese have the right idea. Apparently they select a leader based on the task on hand. The goose that knows the route best will be selected to lead them home, and the best nester will teach the others how to build their nests.

Do we do the same? Do we defer to experts? Or, does the need to look good get in the way of deferring to others.

Have we become so “politically correct” that we look for the feet of clay in our great people? Do we demean our heroes instead of worshiping them?

I ask all these questions because of an article I read in the San Jose Mercury News, written by New York Times columnist, David Brooks.

Mr. Brooks notes that contemporary monuments of great people, reduce them to ordinariness as opposed to elevating them. He compares the FDR memorial to that of Lincoln and Washington. We look up to the statue of President Abe Lincoln and President George Washington. FDR is seen according to Mr. Brooks as “a kindly grandpa.” David Brooks goes on to state, “The proposed Eisenhower memorial shifts attention from his moments of power to his moments of innocent boyhood.”

Why? Are we afraid of greatness?

Quoting the same article:

In his memoir, “At Ease,” Eisenhower delivered the following advice: “Always try to associate yourself with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you do, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you.”

To have good leaders you have to have good followers – able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it. Those skills are required for good monument building too.

This is a pet issue of mine because it personally bothers me when I hear people tear down and gossip negatively about great leaders who are no longer with us. Although it may be true – or not – I don’t really want to know that someone I admired actually had warts. Sure, none of us are perfect, but let’s look up to people, not down at them.

Looking down may make you think it makes you look better, but it doesn’t. Only people with self-esteem – true self-esteem – are comfortable looking up.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Abrogating Responsibility to Create the Simplest, Most Effective Process

I’ve written about this before, but my experience last week at an event leaves me having to write about it again.

An intern, a young man in his twenties was assigned to add some labels to a few hundred programs (there had been some last minute donors after the original programs had been printed) and to fold the programs for distribution to people as they came to this event. The expectation was that it would take about a half hour to complete the task.

As the time for guests to arrive was nearing, the event coordinator for the event noticed that the programs were not yet ready and since I had arrived early, she asked if I would help finish the project.

I joined him and observed him slowly and carefully – too slowly and too carefully – folding the programs one by one. As I watched for a minute or two, I noticed the labels sitting on the table. There were two sets (two different people needed to be honored on the program – in two different locations on the pages.) They didn’t look touched.

He explained where they needed to go, leaving me to ask, “So, are the ones that are folded complete?” “No”, he replied “they still need to be inserted.” “So, why are you folding the programs only to have to unfold them again to insert the labels?” I asked.

“Oh” he replied. I quickly recruited two other young men to help. One to unfold, myself and another man to insert labels, and the original intern to refold – this time much more quickly since I showed him how to do it.

OK, you could say the intern was lazy and that might have been true, but more to the point, no one showed him how to do it properly – leaving him to figure out his own system. No one even checked to see if they could offer suggestions for process improvement. As usual, the assumption was that he would figure it out himself.

This happens much of the time in the business/government world. Managers think they are empowering when they assign a task without teaching a proper process. They should at least find out if the person assigned the task knows how to complete it in the most efficient and effective manner.

Time is wasted. Money is lost. People become frustrated.

Innovation and Creativity

A few years ago, I conducted research with approximately 50 C level executives here in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in the country. I sought to learn how they managed for creativity in their organizations – and where they wanted to achieve it. 

I operationally defined creativity as a process and innovation as product. Creativity is wanted everywhere in an organization but there is little done to encourage it, and much apparently done to thwart it. Innovation – e.g. specific product design – is allowed in specific groups, such as R&D, but is often ignored when the potential for it is “bubbling up” outside of R&D groups.

Yet, throughout the world, competition is based on creativity and innovation. You’d think we would design our entire educational systems to encourage new thinking, trial and error, experimentation, creativity and innovation among our youth. But, mostly we don’t. Mostly we demand memorization, conformity, and quiet unobtrusive behavior.

I’m going to share some personal stories with you – to make my point.

My mother convinced the New York City school system to allow me to enter Kindergarten (the year before first grade in public schools here) one-half year earlier than the usual acceptance date. I was not yet five years old. In a conversation with my mother, in my hearing, my kindergarten teacher said, “A piece of her tongue ought to be cut out because she asks too many questions.” How’s that for an introduction to all that education could and should be? I learned to hate school as a child.

Years later, when my hatred dulled, I became a college student. I was taking an undergraduate course in The Philosophy of Religion which was actually an introductory course comparing many religions of the world. Having read all the great books of the Western World, and many others describing eastern philosophies in the years before I ever entered college, I was excited to take this class. Our instructor informed us that we were to be given essay exams. That made me even more excited, because I knew the material, I had all those years of personal study into philosophy, psychology, politics and religion and I wrote well and quickly.

We had our first essay exam. I had a wonderful time incorporating information from the text, the class lectures, my other reading and my own ideas. I synthesized and wrote what I considered to be a brilliant essay exam. Imagine my horror and shock when my paper was returned with the grade of B.  I thought I deserved an A+.

I made an appointment to see the professor and asked him why I had received such a low grade. He looked at his notes and basically informed me that I had not mentioned specific words and phrases and thus he didn’t know for sure that I had read the text and listened to the lectures. I asked him if he couldn’t surmise from my synthesizing that I had not only read and heard, but had understood and used the information creatively. He responded that he wanted the exact words so he could grade accurately.

From that time on I regurgitated the text and my notes and received “A”s.

These are two examples of many from my personal experiences as a student in New York City (Kindergarten) and Silicon Valley (college). 

We here in the United States are supposed to be freer and more creative and innovative than people in many other parts of the world. I think we are losing our edge – if we haven’t already lost it. We’ve lost so much of it that it now seems unusual when others say, “Innovation is the road to the future.”  (Innovations: The Road to the Future, an advertisement by BMW.)

In other countries students are stifled even more than I was. Some educational systems still teach by recitation and rote-memorization. Students are expected to accept as given the information they are provided without question. 

Yet, there is a demand for creativity and innovation in these countries as well. It was the needs of Singapore that got me interested in doing the research I did in the first place. Singapore was looking for ways to become more competitive in business and was encouraging consultants to come and teach their educators how to create more opportunities for innovation and creativity in the classroom. I was not one of the consultants they selected, because I was not famous enough at that time.

I understand that the primary way in which they attempted to inspire creativity and innovation was to mandate it for one hour a day in the classroom. I sure hope that was only a rumor – or maybe only a temporary solution to start them on the road to freeing their students from out-loud recitation and rote memorization.

The potential for creativity exists in almost all of us. Watch little children at play. Yet, it gets shamed – ridiculed – even beaten out of us as we are taught to conform, to behave, to “be like other children.” Over time we force most children out of their spontaneous creative selves and into the mold that is consistent for each culture at each point in time. Uniformity becomes more desirable than uniqueness.

Technical skills – math, science, chemistry – all demanding a high degree of “absolutism” are the educational paths that are considered most desirable and potentially most lucrative. We stifle and mold and get laser beam focused brilliant technical minds – but we’ve made it almost impossible for them to “think outside the box.” It’s hard to break free when you’ve been forced inside a box all your life. We discover how much we’ve lost when we look around and have no one to promote into management – because they’ve not only lost their zest for creativity, they’ve been so laser beam focused that they’ve never developed the people skills necessary for good management.

In my work I work hard to help people take risks and try new things – to stretch – to play – to once again let their creative minds find a path. It’s not always easy. There is so much fear. Fear of mistakes. Fear of ridicule. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of punishment. Fear of credibility. Fear of loss of respect. Fear of losing the job.

When you look inside highly successful companies you learn that there are only a handful of people that are the creative minds in those companies. They are people who earlier in life had earned the reputation of being rebels, non-conformists, and even weirdos. Yet, it’s those minds that open the eyes of others to see things in a different way – to create – to be innovative.

How do we tap these qualities in others? How do we allow people to leave the safety of their conforming lives to try new things? 

I have a friend who won’t learn anything new. She grew up needing to be perfect. People with a need for perfection are risk-aversive because if they don’t excel at something new they consider themselves failures. There is no freedom within their psyches to try and err and try again.

It has to be OK for a little kid to color outside the lines. To paint a purple cow. To show the sun as bigger and brighter than the scene below. It has to be OK for students to synthesize their learning rather than making it easier for the teacher to grade the paper by using only the rote-memorized words. It has to be more than OK – but highly desirable – for people within an organization to have opportunities to figure out better and more effective ways to do the same old boring tasks.

One of my clients had as one of their values: “It’s OK to make mistakes – as long as they don’t get to the customers.”  It was important. It allowed people to try new things. It didn’t mean that people could do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to – if they wanted to change a process they needed to do a pilot project and if it worked well get management approval for any major changes. If they wanted to explore a new software system, or develop a new product they had to do it in time that was allotted to them after they completed their “deliverables.” BUT, they were encouraged to try.

Which reminds me of another personal story – and I apologize if it seems as though I am bragging.

I spent much of my youth and early twenties working in offices as a secretary, bookkeeper, “gal Friday” (meaning one person office doing everything), executive secretary, office manager, credit and collections, and eventually efficiency expert. My college and graduate education was all at nights while I worked full time days.

I learned to be efficient. Really, I learned how to turn my laziness into creative solutions to get things done faster, quicker, more accurately and more effectively. Instead of doing the work “the way we’ve always done it,” I looked for simpler ways and often found them. I learned to do more with less – to work smarter not harder – and it paid off in many ways.

I became (as I said before) an efficiency expert in my early twenties. Now, many years later, I streamline systems, re-engineer, encourage and manage change, and work with individuals “helping them get the best out of themselves and others.”

It’s all because of that Kindergarten teacher. Hating her, hating what she said and hating school because of it, they couldn’t stifle me and force me to conform. I attended, but ignored them. I learned how to cut school as often as possible. I was skipped because they didn’t know what else to do with me. I stayed relatively free – and today am accused of being creative and innovative.

So, what’s the moral to the story?

If we want to be competitive as a nation, as a company, as a society, we need to start by allowing young children to continue to explore and express themselves creatively, while at the same time having them learn what we need them to learn. It’s about balance.

In the workplace we need to allow time and create not only opportunities but pathways allowing creativity and innovation to be recognized – not just hope they bubble up in spite of middle managers’ apparent need to put the lid on the bubbles.

You can’t mandate creativity and innovation. You can only encourage these by reducing fear of making a mistake and being ridiculed or punished for it.

Courage is the first of human qualities
because it is the quality that guarantees all the others.
Winston Churchill

Monday, March 14, 2016

Creativity Needs the Quiet Spaces

Although still an amateur, I paint in both oil and watercolor. I’ve been attending a series of facilitated groups based on the book The Artist’s Way, written by Julia Cameron – and one of the things that has become so clear to me is the importance of TAKING THE TIME to get out of your ordinary day and do something that will enable you to clear the cobwebs and see the world differently. For me, going to museums or the beach seems to fill the bill. 

So, how do I apply this to creativity at work? As you know from reading my newsletters, I conducted a survey of 50 C-level executives asking them a bunch of open-ended questions about managing for creativity. Most didn’t really create processes for it in their organizations. I’ve helped some of my clients create systems to manage for creativity – and it really needs to be managed effectively in order to get what you, the CEO really want.

But now I’m wondering – what about spaces designed to stimulate creativity? What about rooms with videos of the ocean for example – places where people can just go and chill out away from their desks, computers, iPads, android phones and other technology. Places that are both stimulating and restful.

If you think about it, most creative moments – epiphanies – come about during restful times – in the shower, driving (without a crowd) washing dishes, chopping wood, or just daydreaming.

I know too that if I have serious writing to do -- I think about it before ever sitting down at the computer. I let the ideas gestate in my mind for a day or two and then my path to expressing what I wish to express comes clear.

Board Members Manage, They Do Not Control

When we elect our neighbors to serve on our Boards we expect them to be positive and professionals guardians of our property, common areas, HOA finances and also help resolve any neighbor-to-neighbor disputes.

We do not elect them to become bullies, corrupted by their power – yet sometimes that is exactly what happens. Sometimes it happens because the power has gone to the heads of specific board members, other times it feels as though they have forgotten we are friends and neighbors and respond to any problems as though we were enemies to be treated as criminals. In the later cases, I believe it is because they take the advice of overly-legalistic property managers and/or attorneys.

Other areas that separate the “controlling” boards from the “managing” boards is how decisions are made. In a controlling board, the budget is both created and approved by the board, as are decisions regarding the use of the common areas, the pool, etc. In a “managing” board, issues are brought before the homeowner’s for discussion and vote.
This is particularly true of the budget – which in a managing board is submitted at least a week before the annual meeting, is discussed at the annual meeting, revised if necessary, and voted upon by the community.

Here are some common examples of issues that occur in most complexes – and the methods to resolve them by controlling boards – and suggestions for how they can be resolved by friendly managing boards.

Board as Bully Examples

One common example of what I am terming “board as bully”  is when a homeowner comes to the monthly meeting wanting to ask for help and/or express a concern and is told that they have to submit a form in advance and since they did not submit that form they could not speak. Now, if we were a huge government agency with hundreds of people clamoring to speak at each meeting I could see taking this position. But, for most of us, we are friends and neighbors and only a few of us at a time come to the meeting to voice our concerns.

What’s a better way? Of course, allow that person to speak, and if the issue is one that requires further research, advance notification to others, or anything that actually requires deferring the matter to a later time, after they’ve had their say, politely tell them what action will have to be deferred and what to expect.

Another issue, also related to members of the community wanting to have their say before the board, occurs when the agenda is set so that the time allotted to community members is very brief and only at the end of the meeting. This forces anyone to have to sit out the business of the community, about which they cannot have a say, only to be given a minute or two to speak.

Is the time of the board members so valuable that they can’t spare time to listen to the concerns of their neighbors? I think not. I would much prefer to have the meetings more open and available to everyone. If a lot of people are there trying to speak, perhaps there does need to be a time limit so everyone can have a chance. Otherwise, I suggest letting it take the time it needs for someone to make their point and have extensive discussion among the rest of the people in attendance.

I’ve also seen boards change the vote of the community. Two examples:

·        At an earlier annual meeting a community voted to keep the swimming pool open from 6:00 AM (people swim laps before going to work) to 11:00 PM (people use the spa before going to bed). Some years later the new president of the board, who lived near the spa, decided he didn’t like the noise and so without bringing it back to the members of the association, arbitrarily changed the rules to suit his time frame. 
·        A complex decided at an annual meeting to have a two year term limit for its board members. Ten years later a man, who had no professional status of his own, became president of the board and changed the rules to suit himself. He served as president of the HOA for five or six years.

You might ask:  How do people get away with these changes? The answer: apathy. Most homeowner’s say they do not want to “make waves” and it is better to just ignore these things. They allow the bullies to bully.

Neighbor to Neighbor Issues

When people live in communities they are often living close to each other and they don’t necessarily have perfectly compatible values or behaviors. Sometimes they actually rub each other the wrong way – and resort to complaining to the board.

Typically the response of the board is to have the property management staff send a formal notice about the complaint, threatening sanctions if the action occurs again. This of course assumes guilt – contrary to our belief that people are innocent until proven guilty.

What’s a better way?  
¨      Make no assumptions about guilt or innocence. We have a tendency to believe the first person who comes to us – they are not necessarily telling us the whole story – merely their personal slant on it. Do not take sides. 
¨      Ask the complaining neighbor if he or she has discussed it with the person they are reporting. If they have not, suggest they do so before bringing a formal complaint against that person. 
¨      Offer to mediate a dispute between these neighbors so that goodwill could be restored. 
¨      Talk, in a friendly manner to the people involved trying to help them find a solution – this is called conciliation. 
¨      If all else fails, suggest they go for formal mediation.

Petition for Exception to the Board

What happens when an owner comes to the board to explain that they just lost their job and will be unable to pay their monthly HOA dues for a few months until they have a new job?

In controlling boards, they are fined, found to be in arrears, and liens are placed on their property. Once a lien has been placed on someone’s property, it affects their credit and can even harm their potential for employment. Unfortunately, too many property managers advise that the board must take this formal and punitive action because otherwise they are “playing favorites.”

I don’t agree that this is always the proper action to take. Sure, if the homeowner has been in default many times in the past, is very new to the complex and unknown to be reliable and responsible, or has a criminal record, the board might have no recourse but to file a lien.

But, if the homeowner is someone who has lived in the complex for a while, has always paid their dues on time, and can be trusted – why not trust them? Why not make an exception and give them a three to six month extension on their dues?

The rationale for not making exceptions is the statement that the board must be fair and equitable. But fair and equitable does not mean – nor has it ever meant – treating everyone exactly the same. We treat people as they deserve to be treated in almost all other situations, don’t we?

Even in a court of law there are factors in mitigation and factors in aggravation, with the court having a range of sanctions available to them.

Summary and Conclusions

Just as managers manage differently in the business world, board members manage their responsibilities in HOAs differently – sometimes because of their personal personalities and values – but more often because of the advice they receive from overly-cautious attorneys and property managers.

Yet HOA Boards are dealing with their friends and neighbors and there are more comfortable and friendly ways to handle decisions and solve problems. My vote is to:

·        Remember that kindness, understanding, and courtesy go a long way – a much longer way – than threats and sanctions.
·        When decisions need to be made, it is much better to allow those who have a stake in the results of the decision to have plenty of time for discussion and even vote.

Finally, do what’s right – not what the bullies want, or the majority decides. Remember, some of our forefather’s warned us about “The Tyranny of the Majority.”


I was at an interesting meeting last night sharing the evening with about 50 bright, energetic and enthusiastic people all of whom were interested in having others buy into their personal philosophical and political points of view.

During the discussion there were those that thought strongly espousing a point of view was the way to win the debate. Others felt that changing people’s minds was impossible and trying was useless.

Some of us, myself included, talked about the importance of using persuasion. Some of the points made by myself and echoed by others:
  • First and foremost you must be respectful and courteous to the other person. 
  • Never say “I’m right – you are wrong” – no matter how diplomatically you might phrase.
  • Listen and question more than you speak.
  • Questions should be phrased pleasantly with a pleasant tone of voice. No sarcasm or suggestion that the other person is an idiot. 
  • One possible question: “Will you share with me the reasons that led you to that conclusion?”
  • As you learn about their point of view, you have the opening to continue to use the Socratic method of questioning (like a therapist holding up a mirror) or you can gently suggest adding information to what they possess, or sharing how your point of view changes that perspective. 
  • Don’t use big words – don’t use vague umbrella concepts – don’t use loaded terminology – and don’t use jargon.
  • Little by little you might be able to persuade them to your point of view.
Years ago I noticed that my husband (now ex for many years) would have all the facts and figures at his disposal and would inundate others with his vast knowledge – he won the argument – but never changed anyone’s mind about the issues. It’s not the facts and figures, it’s not how smart you are (or think you are) it’s about finding out their premises, their goals, their basic values – and working from there.

This is true in political arguments. It’s also true in workplace discussions about product or process.
Goals and Premises

In order to understand the differences in points of view, we most often have to go back to the basics: what are the basic premises under which they are operating and what are the goals they are trying to achieve?

One story from my consulting practice:

I was shadowing the chief engineer in a transportation company one day, during my role as his mentor. He and I attended a meeting that was being led by an out of state consultant. Our roles were to listen – not to take over.

The out of state consultant was offering his conclusions as to where signal switches should be placed along the track for a new kind of train. He thought (for example) they should be placed at A, C L, and Q. Another consultant (from a competing company) was saying, you are all wrong, they need to be placed at A, B D, F, and M. The two consultants went back and forth, “I’m right you’re wrong” without ever having reached an agreement.

As I listened I realized that their basic premises and eventual goals were different. The out of state consultant was suggesting switches that would enable the most speed. The local consultant, knowing the terrain, was suggesting switches that would create the most safety. Each was right, given their basic premises and goals.

So, when we disagree with someone as to how they should do something, perhaps we ought to first learn what their premises are and what they want to accomplish.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Political Candidates: Branding

As most of you know, since running for Assembly myself I’ve added to my services so that I can also help others running for office. Much of my professional practice has been helping people grow both individually and professionally, so helping candidates “grow into winning” is a logical next step.

Just as businesses need to brand themselves, candidates need a theme – or a brand – by which they get identified. It should be short, sweet and consistent in all your speeches, literature, etc.

One of my clients is telling people that he listens. This fits for him because he has been active in attending community and service club meetings of all kinds for a long time. He listens to what people say they need and want and is basing his campaign strategy on that message.

Another client is focused on transparency as her theme – it fits because much of her prior work has been holding a microscope up to examine the ethics/honesty of other politicians. (Diogenes?)

Other people running for office are still using the same stale angry rhetoric loudly stating that the other candidates are wrong and are stupid, evil, etc. I don’t think that’s a winning strategy. 

Truly, the time has come for all us to be positive in our approach. To find a theme that fits our values and personalities – but one that others will resonate to in a positive manner.

As I meet with people while staffing our voter registration booth at all the art & wine festivals I’m even more convinced than before that in order to be accepted as viable we need to turn off the anger and turn on the positive approach to solving the problems of our constituents and potential constituents. People are fed up with hearing about conspiracy theories and “chicken little the sky is falling down” rhetoric. They want to hear about real things that impact their lives.

A word to the wise!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, March 09, 2016


Everyone talks about empowering their staff, but I wonder how many managers actually do so? To empower someone is to provide them with the opportunity to take on responsibilities and to have the authority commensurate with that responsibility.

Let me give you an example or two about what happens when you dis-empower people.

I was consulting to an American telecommunications company when they were purchased by a French company. Prior to the purchase, managers and directors had responsibility and the authority to make decisions. They had respect and visibility. For example, if a manager (or even someone not in management) had a good idea, it was that person who presented the idea to the appropriate audience, including the CEO. Responsibility and authority were pushed down to the lowest logical level and employees were given opportunity to shine and to grow their skills. Promotions were based on the assessment of performance.

Well, the French company worked differently. All decisions were made at the highest level (across the pond) and if you had a good idea, your job was to make your boss look better, and he made his boss look better, and eventually only the senior vice-presidents had public visibility and acclaim.

Another way you dis-empower people is to micro-manage them and step between them and the others with whom they are working. It happened to me recently. I am an ex-officio member of a board of directors and had assumed responsibility for finding a commercial realtor and starting the process of looking for new space for the organization. Having worked with a fine commercial realtor before, I mentioned that I would contact him and set up a preliminary appointment.

A member of the board said he wanted to join me and I said sure. Instead, he called my realtor, introduced himself as “in charge” and undercut my professional relationship with the man. In addition, he showed up at the meeting and took over, even going so far as to mention that he had information not available to me – and that he and I were only 80% in agreement (I have no idea where we were either in agreement or in disagreement.) In effect, he pushed me aside.

When I called him on it – he did it again. He wonders why the fun has gone out of the project for me.

Now, when you empower people, they get energized, motivated, and stretch their abilities to prove to you that your confidence in them was justified.

Which would you prefer?

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Volunteering is Value-Added To Your Life, Business and Health

In this busy and stressful era it is all too easy to hunker down and pay attention to nothing but our daily tasks. It is a choice many of us make all too often. We work and work and work without a change of pace. We need activities that make us feel good, that allow us to meet other people and if we are employers or managers, to give our employees a sense of pride in us, our company and themselves.

We join associations, some of which have paid professional staff and so we participate as audiences to the speakers. Unfortunately, too many of us treat our smaller non-profits in the same manner. BUT, these organizations run on volunteer work exclusively and really need us to step forward and serve.

In the past Americans had been noted for their volunteerism. Now, we expect the government or some magical “them” – “the other” to do the work necessary for us to enjoy the benefits of the associations to which we belong.

I’m reminded of a quote I used in my Board of Director’s Training Book[ii] which bears repeating today:

These Americans are the most peculiar people in the world. You’ll not believe it when I tell you how they behave. In a local community in their country a citizen may conceive of some need which is not being met. What does he do? He goes across the street and discusses it with his neighbor. Then what happens? A committee comes into being and then the committee begins to function on behalf of the need. You won’t believe this, but it’s true, all of this is done without reference to any bureaucrat. All of this is done by private citizens on their own initiative!

Americans of all ages, conditions, and all dispositions consistently form associations to give entertainment, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send out missionaries.

The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of function performed by private citizens.' Alex deTocquiville.

It is sad that in recent years we volunteer less and expect the paid professionals (or government employees) to do it all for us. This change has caused a loss of community involvement, a reduced sense of belonging and inhibited social contact.

Volunteering adds value to your life. Not only do you add value to your community, your nation, your pet causes, your industry and yourself – you enhance your professional reputation, your networks, your skills and in the business world, what employees think of you and the company in which you work.

What is value – added? Clearly, it is getting more than you bargained for; more than the basics of the product and service, more than just waking up in the morning, going to work, coming home and watching TV. In life, and in professional development, giving additional value is the significant difference between those who find happiness and succeed and those who don’t.

One of the most valuable lessons you can learn is to build in time to volunteer your services to organizations important to you. By volunteering, you afford yourself the ability to tackle new problems, meet new people, test your new skills, and network with others who get to see you in action. It is a growth experience, a networking opportunity and of course a way to feel good about yourself.

It is also one of the most important vehicles by which America continues to be a free nation. When we voluntarily take care of our communities and those in need, the government doesn’t need to step in and intervene. 

When you voluntarily help educate our children through after school activities, you provide them with an opportunity to expand their horizons. When we voluntarily support our religious institutions no one group can dictate which religion is the “proper” one for our country. When we volunteer our services to the political party of our choice, we help to strengthen its ability to represent our beliefs in government.

When we volunteer our services to our professional organizations we help them flourish, we help in the growth of our profession, and support the continued growth of those in our chosen field. If we don’t volunteer in organizations that reply on volunteerism, we run the risk of having that organization fold. They need us as we need them.

Volunteering in our professional organizations is one of the most important ways we have to guarantee our career enhancement as well as the overall enhancement of the excellence of our profession.

And, if you want to view it from a totally self-centered point of view – what better way do you know to make yourself visible to your peers than by volunteering in your professional organization?

By volunteering you get known for the quality of your talents. By volunteering you get to be seen in a way that is richer than thousands of dollars of advertising. By volunteering you rub elbows with people you’d never get to meet otherwise, including people who might become very valuable to you professionally.

For all these reasons, giving yourself in a value-added manner to your community, your pet causes and your professional associations gives back to you a hundred fold, as well as it helps to strengthen the organizations to which you belong and preserve the freedom of this country.

[i] Portions of this article have been taken and modified from an article written by Dr. Diamond which appeared in the SVEC (Silicon Valley Engineering Council) newsletter, January 1997.
[ii] Training Your Board of Directors:  A Manual for the CEOs, Board Members, Administrators and Executives of Corporations, Associations, Non-Profit and Religious Organizations.  Diamond, ArLyne, Ph.D., 2005, Productive Publications, Toronto.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Is Your Self-Esteem Attached to Your Salary?

What is your self-worth dependent on? Do you measure it by the money you are earning? If so, you may be feeling that you are worth a lot less than you were a few years ago. But, it probably isn’t you – the world’s economy seems to be faltering and everyone (well, almost everyone) is earning less than they had before.

I have friends who were retired and comfortable who lost so much in this recession that they now can no longer travel and have to budget their retirement funds very carefully. Others have gone back to work, taking jobs that have far less status or intellectual requirements than those they had before retirement.

If you, like so many men and women over 50 have been downsized and you have been forced to accept a position at far less money and prestige than you are accustomed to having, it might be affecting how you view your worth. If you lost your job completely, or have seen your savings and investments lose value, you might be tempted to think less of yourself.

But, that’s not really what self-esteem is all about. Your self-worth, your sense of yourself should be determined by who you are – what kind of person you are – not how much you are earning or the title they gave you at work.

Self-esteem has two components according to Nathaniel Branden, (The Psychology of Self-Esteem). The first is your basic lovability. Although the basic sense of lovability starts from the manner in which your parents acted towards you when you were just a baby, as an adult you can certainly enhance it by the manner in which you interact with others. Are you a good person? Do you care about people and do they care about you? Can you look yourself in the mirror and say that you like the person you are?
The second component of self-esteem has to do with your ability to function effectively in the world. Look at all you’ve accomplished up ’till now. You’ve made it. You’ve been successful. You’ve climbed your mountains and achieved much of what you set out to achieve in life. Mountains can be of all sizes and shapes. Whether you’ve achieved success as a locksmith or as an athlete doesn’t matter. What matters is that you feel good about what you’ve done.

So, now you are over 50 and feel as though you’ve been rejected and discarded. I’m here to tell you it’s not because of you – not because of what you have or have not done. We are living in a crazy world where only youth and the latest fad seem to matter. Don’t let it get to you.

Generally speaking, what do we bring to the workplace? Maturity, wisdom, time management, the ability to get others motivated and productive, organizing and planning the projects and programs. Most of us have learned not to take offense where none was intended and to be the mediators and conciliators when others are in conflict. Certainly we have the ability to give guidance based on our many years of experience. We are sensible and seasoned. What we offer is perspective and “adult supervision.” 

So stand tall, look yourself in the mirror, and remind yourself that you are worth a great deal.