Gratitude, Connection and Learning

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Not too many years ago I would have looked at the many challenges of the year 2014 through very dark colored glasses. I would have only seen the negatives and seen myself as victim.  Definitely a man cloaked in the coat of “woe is me”.

Thankfully in life we get the opportunity to take off the dark glasses of the past and see a new world in front. We get to see that there is a better way to live. We get to learn that no matter your financial place in life there is so much more that can bring you fulfillment. And most importantly there are people we have yet to meet that will bring new light. People that show you the importance and power of Gratitude. Those that we not only connect with but with which there is a connection. And the people that remind you everyday that at any age we can learn.

Gratitude:  I am not sure I knew before this year the meaning of Gratitude.  And I certainly never understood the power of having a grateful mindset. I do know that learning how to be grateful for what I have and not being buried by what I want has done much more for me than any depression medication. That while unemployment and debt hung over my head I had people in my life that believed in me. I had people in my life I could help in many ways without money. And most importantly that what was little to me was the moon and stars for others. I also learned through people such as Wendy Wolf (@lettersproject) and Carmen Marie (@CarmenHappyMe)  through the power of Gratitude in their stories of real life, that the future held much less darkness than the past.

Connection: In 2013 through several social media platforms I started to connect with people from around the world. I was truly in awe of the the ability to learn from people in Lebanon,  Australia, Serbia, Great Britain and throughout the United States. In 2014 I learned that connecting was only step one, and that step two was to make a real connection. Not in person but emotionally, through ideas,  through a post, by being part of a webinar, hangout or a class. The idea that people throughout the world would support me through personal and family health concerns was humbling. That I could find a best friend and others who wanted to know and support me not as a twitter handle but as person opened my heart. People such as Sage Bramhall (@mysageadvice) Samantha Hall (@Samantha_S_Hall) Alli Pollin (@AlliPolin) Hoda Maalouf (@maahoda) Iva Ignjatovic (@IvaIgnjatovic) and Nora Whalen (@NoraWhalen) and others have shown a connection is far more than just  connecting. It is definitely true that it is about Quality not Quantity.
Hopefully 2015 will bring a chance for step three, some face to face connections where I can tell people how blessed I am to know them.

Learning: They say you are never too old to learn. I am definitely the poster boy for that concept. Life is a continual lesson on life. This year I have learned being an introvert is ok and that it is not permanent.  That you can find within yourself a purpose, whether it is to be a better parent, a better leader or maybe a better friend. You can learn that the real secret to success is knowing and acting like people matter. That we are part of something bigger. That saying you matter and then showing it can bring light to anyone, including yourself. And learning that I matter is where everything starts.
I also learned you never fail unless you quit and quitting is not an option. The past is history and history will only be repeated if you allow it to happen. We control that choice.

Lastly, yet by no means least important,  I want to thank my Mom and Brothers and Sisters for their support this year. Even with your own challenges you have stood beside me in mine. And thank my children who bless me daily with their presence in my life. Words will never express my gratitude.

I look forward to 2015 and all it will bring.  Thanks to each and everyone of you for being part of my life.

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Engagement is Attitude !!

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There are so many studies and articles written in business magazines and on blog posts today that it is clear we have an Employee Engagement problem. Note I didn’t say issue or opportunity because there is no question that the state of affairs in the area of engagement in the workforce today meets the standard of problem. A lack of engaged employees is costing businesses throughout the United States billions of dollars a year in lost productivity and turnover. I might in all honesty be tempted to move from the level of problem to the level of crisis.

Here are a few ideas I have on actions we can take to turn around this pending crisis.

Change our Attitude: Many would say that there needs to be a change of culture. Myself, I would say we need to change our attitude. Our current attitude towards workers is that they are paid to meet the goals we set for them. In other words, they work for us. The new attitude needs to say they are paid to work with us towards a common goal of growth and opportunity.  In this world, they work with us.

Realize People Matter: We spend billions of dollars every year in this country on new technology and systems. Some of that spending on new innovative ideas is truly worth the money. Having said that, no matter how good the technology or the system it takes good people, if not great people, to get the return on investment expected for this technology.  Systems are like football plays, no matter how well designed they are, without players to execute the play it is going no where. Find and develop great people.

Redefine Teams: We have all been told for years that there is no I in team. My view is that a team is made up of individuals.  And that great teams have outstanding individuals working together and being led by an outstanding leader. In almost any sport the great teams get results because they have outstanding players in each position and a coach that knows how to bring them together toward a common goal. When one member of the team fails to be outstanding the results are in jeopardy.  

Focus on People Skills and People Development: Show people we are interested in their future. Their work future with your company and their ability to represent themselves and your company in the community. Help them develop what many call “soft skills”, and which I call “People Skills” because they are not soft, they are as valuable as gold in developing customer sales and service skills, communications skills, leadership skills and life skills. People Skills are the key to everything from influencing people to buy your product to handling the difficult accountability conversations we all must have to get results. And outside of business they can improve the quality of your life.

Lead By Walking Around:   People want to see the leader.  They want to hear his vision and they want to see the actions he takes. Hiding in an office, sending down directives focused only on your needs will never get you a engaged team. Let them see you see. Talk with them not only about work but about life and show them you want them as part of the team that gets outstanding results.

These are  five people centered ideas that can make a big difference in engaging your team because they are focused on them. And because they look at moving people back to the forefront of your business, which is where they belong and which will help them be engaged. Engagement is not about money and not about allowing people to not get needed results. It is about showing people they matter to you as people, not an employee number.

Make The Connection !

connection (1)There is no doubt that in today’s electronic world Social Media is the place to be. Whether you are an entrepreneur building a business, a student looking to learn or a news station spreading a story, people are on social media. You can use Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Instagram or one of many other social outlets for personal development, chatting, job hunting or meeting someone new.  The fact is that social media has brought the world, if not geographically closer, electronically closer. It is truly an opportunity to connect.

Connection is such an important part of Social Media. At the same time connections in our homes, at our jobs and in our communities are also important pieces of our daily life. Although at times we may all feel we are, or want to be alone, we are not. We are part of something bigger. How much bigger is a choice we all make.

Let’s look at some of these connections:

  • Family: Families come in different sizes and different configurations. And the challenges in todays world are different than in other generations. One value still stays in place. Connection and engagement not just communication is extremely important for families. My younger son Stephen and I share a love for NASCAR racing. Although he lives 350 miles from me, we have started a race day ritual where we text throughout the race. We connect through this communication. As a part of a family you play a service role for other family members. Whether it is to help in a crisis or just to sit and listen to someone vent we must make time and keep an open door for true connection within the family.
  • Work: I read every day about how many people are not engaged in their jobs. I say job because if you are not engaged it is not a career. Leaders at every level have the power to change this reality. You change it by connecting with your people. Before you tell me you don’t have time to connect I will ask you if you have the time and money to replace all the good people who leave your company because you have not connected? There are two things that I am sure of in business. People want to be appreciated and feel like part of the company. If they don’t they will leave. Talk with your people. This isn’t about being liked or friendships, if you are against those things, it is about having respect for people as human beings. When I was a District Manager I would try to talk to every member of the store team every visit. Why, because it showed they matter.
  • Communities: We all have some things we love and don’t like about the places we live. Yet do we truly connect with others in our community? Are we doing volunteer work or supporting the local sports teams or being sure we get out and vote? We live there, although some of us are at work more than home, we are part of something bigger. It is part of our story with which we should connect.
  • Social Media: You may be on social media through one or many of the available outlets, but do you connect there? I don’t mean plug-in and read a few stories or watch a video here or there, I mean connect. Do you read a blog post from twitter and make a comment? Do you comment on a Facebook post or just hit like? Do you ever reply to a companion and have a conversation? Do you take it to the next level and do a Hang Out or Skype to get to know the person? Social Media is a great place to connect with people. In a typical week I will chat or connect directly with people throughout the United States along with friends from Lebanon, Australia, Canada, and India just to name a few. The diversity and ability to learn is endless. You just have to connect. There are definitely connections you don’t want to make and you need to have boundaries. At the same time connect where ever you can learn from, teach and engage with people.

I have been asked what I would like people to say about me at my memorial service. I would hope they would say ~ in difficult times he never gave up and I appreciated his connecting with me because I know he cared. You have a story to tell. Connect with people and tell that story. At the same time, listen to their story because you may be amazed at what you will learn.

The Feel of Fall

 

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We see trees on mountains reaching for the sky
As their leaves full of beautiful colors fall as if waving goodbye.

Water running down the cooling mountain streams
Showing a morning hint of fog matching the hot cocoa steam.

The gathering of birds getting ready for an annual flight
Knowing coolness in the air returns as the sun disappears early in the night.

We know that through each year seasons come and go
That what once was summer rain will soon land as a blanket of winter snow.

Yet we find time to gather pumpkins and eat turkey in feast to one and all.
Preparing for winter through a colorful and grateful period called fall.

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Bullying- Choose to Make A Difference

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A Bully: a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller weaker people. Or, to act the bully toward, intimidate, domineer.

Bullies cross our path in every part of our lives. As a young man during middle school I was bullied. I don’t know that I understood what it was back then because it simply seemed a part of life. I would definitely have been defined in those years as an introvert and other than a few close friends and teammates from various sports teams I was not very outgoing. I guess this made me a good target for those that kids wanting to show how tough they were. What I am most proud of is that I didn’t back down to bullies I stood up and fought. After a couple of these conflicts the bullying for the most part stopped. And maybe learning to just walk away help taught me to handle it better.

I think we often assign in our minds that bullying only happens between kids at school. To me that is a very big mistake. Bullying happens in school, at home and at work. The news over the past several weeks has been filled with stories about Child Abuse and Domestic Abuse. In my opinion these are just other names for bullying. If you look at the definition above, bullying is about “intimidating smaller weaker people”. In Child Abuse an adult is intimidating, or worse a child. In Domestic Abuse an adult is intimidating, or worse another adult. Bullying has seemed to taken the name for child intimidating, or worse another child. I also think that people see bullying as physical. Yet bullying, in my mind as often happens, can certainly be as much if not more verbal then physical.

No matter the titles we want to assign for each of these areas of bullying, the important focus right is how do we get it to stop? There is no one simple answer. There are two areas on which I think our focus needs to be;
1) With Child Abuse and Domestic Abuse we are dealing with adults as the primary bully. And unfortunately, although I believe continuing education of perpetrators is helpful, the important thing is that we make the consequences meaningful. Our legal system has to set a tone. Businesses including Sports Teams, have to take a firm public stance against people convicted of Abuse. Including publishing an Abuser list as we do with sex offenders. Until there are real consequences we will struggle with stopping abuse.

2) With Bullying in the schools we have the most opportunity to make a difference for the future. Our educators have become more and more focused on #stopbullying programs. It seems they are working to make a difference. As we have seen on videos and in the news, no matter this focus, the schools can’t, and shouldn’t be expected to do it all themselves. We are not talking about an educational change we are talking about a change in culture. It will take the support of communities, businesses, educators and most importantly parents to help change from “this is a school problem” to this is an unacceptable problem that has no place in our society. Our best chance is to talk about acceptance. Talk about empathy and the importance of connecting with people and not judging. To set the standards for acceptable behavior and the standards for consequences for unacceptable behavior. With children those consequences would first involve further education on how to interact with people and their differences, or education on why bullying does not make you stronger it actually makes you weaker. This education must be supported by parents or counselors or both. We don’t have to mold children only in math, science, languages or physical education, we have to mold them on how to be part of society. Social studies and history are very important to the education of children. Yet how to be social and how to accept where people came from and how we are the same than different could make significant difference.

Although these two examples may not be considered bullying they are examples of cultural change and attitudes that feed a bullying culture. On the sports news this past weekend I saw a report about an adult at a College Football game who gave the middle finger salute to the opposing team after their team lost. When did this behavior towards people become acceptable? Is college football really that important that this behavior is ok? My Daughter who is 10 years old and her cousins who are 9 and 8 years had to leave a High School Football game because her Mom and Grandfather were being verbally abused by a parent for sitting on the wrong side of the field. They sat there because of her Grandfather’s sight. Is this a culture that will help stop bullying?

The one thing I know about bullying in any environment is that we have the ability to stand up and say no more. That we have the ability to make the choice to educate our children, and if needed adults, on how to connect with people in society. This is not a one day, or once a month issue. It is a 365 day a year issue. And we as a society need to choose to make a difference.

Diversity: Our Building Block and Our Weakest Link

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Unless you are an American Indian or the descendant of an American Indian then you have the bloodline of an Immigrant. I am not and American Indian or descendant. I am the son of an Immigrant. I am at the same time an American. I was born here and have lived here my entire life. I have the flag of the United States hanging in my home and I have had friends die for this country in war.

I say all that because the fact is that the foundation of this country was built with the bricks of Diversity. If we truly opened the books of US history we would find contributions made by people of every race, color and creed. If you believe that God created the earth and the humans that inhabit this planet you must believe he created us all the same. If you believe in evolution, then we all evolved from the same place. The bottom line is that no matter the external visual of what is seen by the eye we are all human. Yet in that humanity we find the need to see what is only on the outside not on the inside. We judge and label people by how they look before we take one second to get to know them.

I was blessed in my youth to have lived in an upper middle class town outside of Boston. I was also fortunate enough to have had parents that gave us the opportunity to see the world outside of our town, not only through travel but by bringing the outside to us. When I was in High School in the 1970’s my parents sponsored a METCO student. He was an African-American student bused to my high school from Boston. He brought to me a view of a different way of life, a different vision of the world from his prospective and he brought me a teammate and friend. We were also fortunate enough to have sponsored ASF students from Spain and Mexico. These connections helped us see a vision from other countries with differing languages and cultures. The time spent in my youth with this diversity molded my beliefs that the world is made up of nothing more and nothing less than humans.

Yet despite, or maybe because of, the shrinking of the world and the ability to connect with people of diverse languages, religions, cultures and world visions we continue to fight the acceptance of others. In 2014 we put up fences around our boarders. We have a racially driven fight in the streets near a major US city. We continue to fight a never-ending religious battle throughout the Middle East. And we can’t stop fighting long enough to respect the dead from airline crash.

The hands, blood, sweat and tears of all kinds of humans built not only this country but this world. When we decide to open the doors to the opportunities diversity can give us we will have the power to do or fix anything. It will be a challenge because the walls we have put around ourselves are high. The first step, as with any struggle is to look in the mirror and accept we have a problem, only then can we find a way to fix it. With the connections I have made with people from England, Lebanon, Australia, India and many more places I know there is a want to fix this issue. We just need to realize that diversity, once the strength of what build us, is now our weakest link with the ability to tear it all down. As humans we can not let that happen.

It’s Not Personal!………Yeah Right !!

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If I was to grade my strengths and weaknesses throughout my life having difficult conversations would rank pretty low. I certainly have had them, anywhere from telling people we were going to have to shut down their location to informing my Mom that my Dad would not be going home with us that night. At the same time I have avoided many I should have had.

Difficult conversations are hard. Normally they are about things we don’t want to talk about. They are hard because they involve another person or group of people. They are often filled with emotions and they not only affect the people involved but ripple to those that surround them. They are difficult because they matter.

The fact is that difficult conversations often do damage. These are not water cooler conversations about last nights game or who won Dancing with the Stars. They are about a person’s future. They are going to change a person’s life. From that moment in time things are going to be different.

As leaders we need to handle them with that understanding. This does not mean we should sugarcoat them or in any way not make sure that they are honest conversations. They must be conversations for which we prepare. That we have in place as many facts as possible to talk about. Ones where we are going to have a good understanding of what happened to get us to this point. And we are going to have an idea of what the results will be from the conversation. At the same time we can not block out that there is a person on the other side of the table and that someday that person might be us.

There are certain things we need to focus on when thinking about a difficult conversation we are preparing to have:

The Conversation is Personal: We may want to think it is just business at work or “not about you” at home but these conversations are personal. They are going to be emotional. In many cases there will be hurt and anger. And unless we want the damage to turn to an explosion we need to listen with empathy. We will need to listen with our mouth closed and allow the emotions to flow.

It is Not About Winning: In all honesty difficult conversations only have a winner if the conversation ends in what Stephen Covey call a “Third Alternative.” A place in which the results were better for both people. A rare happening in difficult conversations. If you go into a conversation with the goal of winning it will blow up.

Do not Assume: No matter how you try you will never know how a person will respond until they do. The only thing you can every assume about your plan for a difficult conversation is that it will not go as planned.

Start the Conversation by Learning: For me the best way I have found to start a Difficult Conversation is to ask questions. Asking open-ended questions is how you learn. It is also how you allow the other person to answer with as little emotion as possible. And when the questions you ask are based on an understanding of the facts in place the person you are speaking with may come up with the final answer by themselves. At one point in my career I investigated an issue between a team member and his Manager. That afternoon I sat with the team member and had in front of me five questions based on what I had learned. By the fifth question he told me that realized he was in the wrong job and gave his notice. He basically taught himself.

The first thing I learned in looking deeper into this important leadership skill is that the worst thing you can do is avoid a difficult conversation. At some point you will have to have it or one may be had with you. An avoided conversation does not get easier. Secondly, it will take all the people and communications skills you have for it end in a way both people can move forward. Third, how you handle this conversation will say a lot about you as a leader.

My last thought is this; in the end a difficult conversation is about treating people with respect. Tearing another person down and sending them away broken so you could look strong and powerful says much more about you than them. And remember that may be you someday.

What’s on the Inside?

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The world is learning some lessons this week. As often is the case those lessons come with pain. On Saturday night a young man was killed in a racing accident. A part of the accident was a man who many of us have cheered to victory on various occasions and many look up to as a sporting hero. On Monday evening the world lost one of the greatest Comedians of all time, a man who has made all of us laugh, many times.

The names of these people are not important. And in all honesty what they look like has no importance either. As @BlairGlaser says in a recent post. “The connection is, after all, what has immeasurable value.”(ow.ly/AcfbH). Most of us try to connect in some way with famous people we see in our lives. We think they have it all, the fame, the money, the power, all those things we see as successful. With the young man and his family our connection is loss. Unfortunately there is something in these situations we are truly missing – real connection.

I am sure most, if not all of us have heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”, yet we do it everyday. Every time we look at a person we judge the outside first. Many times upon doing so we dismiss them. Maybe we are prejudice in the worst case or simply picky. Either way we make a judgement, will I get to know this person better or will I just move on? In the cases above we made a judgement about people based on their ability to make us laugh or drive a race car. We saw the book yet have never known what’s inside.

Take a moment and ask yourself how many times have you decided to connect with a person based on looks and found that on the inside it was different. Or, you connected because they were rich or had things you wanted and found them impossible to live with. Even said to yourself two or three years later I wish I had really gotten to know them! We have all had those moments.

I am not an expert in any way about relationships. Over the last ten years or so I have however learned that unless I learn to listen with empathy, ask great questions and get to know someone from the inside there is no real connection. Do we really have any idea of the what was going through the minds of the three people mentioned above? We can all play analyst, but we don’t know. Do we know what is going on in the minds of our family, our friends, our co-workers? We certainly don’t if we don’t take the time to find out.

Connecting with other humans is a key to life. In many ways when we are younger it is much more simple than today because it is done face to face. Yet it can be done through social media. There is a person in my life that I have tweeted with, chatted with on Facebook, text with often and when possible talk with on the phone. We talk/text/chat about good times, difficult times and basic life. These moments have formed an emotional connection. We have never met in person. I think at some point we will, but if not the connection will still be there.

Connection does not happen from the outside in. It happens from the heart out. We may want to connect with famous people for who they are on the outside. We may think we are connected to family and friends based on what we see. Unfortunately neither is often the case. Life moves way too fast for most of us. Don’t let that stop you from taking the time to truly connect with those in your life. The next moment they may be gone.

Loves Long Traveled Road

The highways that move from my home
Find me often on them alone
Traveling over mountains beautiful in fall
And through cities with buildings so tall
I listen to music late in the night
Or talk shows in the morning light
At times I will talk with family far away
Other times I cry because I can not stay

The trips to the ones I see
Start with much excitment for me
The feeling of hope for what’s begun
That more than anything we’ll have fun
Knowing our time together will bring a smile
Even if it will only be for a while
Believing from the very start
This trip brings happiness to my heart

These journeys down the winding road
Are to see both children young and old
And to see family so very far apart
My love for them always in my heart
The travel itself is never really tough
Only hard thing is the leaving stuff
Knowing no matter how long the hug and kiss
All the ones I travel to, everyday I miss.

~dedicated to Ian, Stephen, Jessica and Jayde my four wonderful children.

A Beach

cropped-sunrise.pngWalking in the morning light
Watching out over the rolling seas
Amazed by such a beautiful sight
And the feeling of a cool summer breeze.

Feet feeling moisture through the sand
The waves of nature crashing on the shore
Knowing we once walked here hand and hand
Wondering why life wasn’t that simple anymore.

As the day passes and the children play
This space will take cover and try to hide
Much like a heart hidden with much to say
Awash with the emotion of the morning tide.

Yet just as life ebbs and flows
Each day with rise of the morning sun
Until past when the moon light glows
A beach will always bring laughter and fun.