Thursday, June 30, 2011

Oh Say Can You See        

July 4th is a big holiday, and it’s not just about fireworks. Here’s a confession: I never realized how much New York City had to do with the American Revolution - sure, I studied this in school, read lots of books since then and saw countless movies – but I grew up in the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York, learned about General Herkimer and the Battle of Oriskany and beyond that the rest were just names of faraway people and places. Considering the New World adventures of the early Dutch and English settlements in New York, the importance of the Hudson River as a commercial thoroughfare and the economic dynamics of trade and taxes in the New World it’s not really surprising how much history there is around here. And here’s a less known story that probably should be told and understood more.

During the Revolutionary War, the British had kept American prisoners on ships in Wallabout Bay (between Manhattan and Brooklyn) under terrible conditions. Around 11,500 prisoners died from disease and malnutrition and they became known as the ‘prison ship martyrs’. More American soldiers and sailors died of intentional neglect in these ships than died on all the battlefields of the American Revolutionary War, combined.

The English were short on the cash needed to deal with the Colonies and even shorter on foresight. Because these floating prisons were off the beaten path (as roads back them were probably called) they went for nearly two years before anyone discovered them. By then the effects of this neglect were a reality and the dead and dying were more than could easily be hidden. And as with many things, the consequences of this action went far beyond what the decision-makers at that time could have foreseen. The colonists, who up to that point were not as united as might have been thought, were so outraged by this inhumane treatment that even those loyal to the British began to think that the colonies really did need to break away. The moral of this story: the law of unintended consequences is powerful.

And then:

  • The colonists rallied around this atrocity and drove the British out of the New World.
  • More than a century later a memorial was established in the park that’s at the end of the street I live on – the martyrs were entombed there and a monument was erected.
  • A plaque on that monument reads: “In memory of the 11,500 patriotic American sailors and soldiers who endured untold suffering and died on the prison British ships anchored in Wallabout Bay during the Revolutionary War 1776- 1782. Their remains lie buried in the crypt at the base of this monument which was dedicated on November 14, 1908.”

We think of heroes as those who fight on and live to tell about it. But in reality the things that stir men’s (and women’s) souls are far less than that. Acts of bravery are also found in the suffering and stoicism of those who maintain their dignity in the face of unbelievable odds. Things like this make thoughtful people reconsider their priorities and reset their plans; they create friendships and alliances that were not thought possible; they have the potential to bring about the kinds of change that alters the course of mankind and they create stories that are relived and retold forever (especially on days like the 4th of July). America is not the only country that celebrates its past – but in the scope of Americana, this is a big holiday. It’s one that’s equally important to everyone who calls himself or herself a citizen and it’s one that continually reinforces what we stand for.


It’s too bad that days like this have to be born in revolution but whatever their origins, they should stand as a reminder that nothing good comes easy and whatever is worth doing is worth being passionate about. The American Revolution certainly stirred passions that continue today in celebrations like July 4th and the singing of our national anthem (which started as a poem written by Francis Scott Key that was then set to the tune of a popular British drinking song). As you look around and celebrate this holiday weekend you’ll most likely encounter others whose passions run deep. Connect with them and join in the celebration, join along in the singing or whatever other festivities are happening, reflect on the things that have gone on and which made you what you are today and reach out to those around you and thank them for helping make this a such a special place to live. Oh say can you see: those democratic freedoms that the prison ship martyrs died for so long ago are alive and well. And that’s truly something to celebrate on our country’s 235th birthday.


So, my quote and message this week are about passion:


“There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life.”

-Federico Fellini

Federico Fellini, (1920 – 1993), was an Italian film director and script writer. Known for a distinct style that blends fantasy and baroque images, he is considered one of the most influential and widely revered filmmakers of the 20th century.


Is there passion in your life? Of course there are many different kinds of passion: the kind you feel when you fall in love and experience your first kiss, the kind you find when you’re introduced to a cause in which you believe unconditionally and the kind you discover when you’re turned on by the work you do. Each is a treasure, each sets your mind and spine tingling, each steals your sleep because you can’t wait to get back to what you’re doing. These sharpen your focus, define the boundaries of your enthusiasm and commitment, charge your spirit with energy and enthusiasm and stir in you the potential to greatness. When you’re passionate like this, there really is no beginning or end – there is only the … passion. And this kind of passion for life, love or work is way beyond good. Find your passion today and let it light your life!


Hey America: Happy Birthday!


Monday, June 27, 2011

                                                          Giving Back         

I’ve been a member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) for more than 20 years. This association of over 250,000 members is where people like me go for professional information, networking, discussion, education and certification. For many years I was a volunteer leader and served at both the local and national levels on many of the SHRM committees and Boards. And much like the volunteer service that many give to non-profit organizations and causes that are near and dear to them, it’s wasn’t about getting paid – it was about giving back to something that’s important to you.

I’ve also served on the Boards of for-profit organizations too, and for that I’ve gotten paid – but that’s a whole different thing. Because non-profits operate for the good of others and not solely for the purpose of making a profit (although in today’s economy they certainly have to pay their own way), organizations like United Way, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Public Radio and TV, the YMCA, the Humane Society, local Food Banks or Coops, and organizations that assist people with special needs all rely on committed men and women who want to serve and make their communities better. And that was the deal with SHRM: I was inspired by the volunteer leaders I met when I joined that organization and attended meetings, conferences and events; I was guided in my interests by these volunteer leaders when I thought about giving back to SHRM and I followed their lead when asked to serve. I was doing something for the greater good of my profession and the people I served with became both friends and role models for me. Long meetings, lots of phone calls, immense satisfaction and great friendship – these were what it was all about; we were managing good things, creating new things and making old things better. We were stewards of this great association and our reward was in knowing that others “got their money's worth."  Pretty cool!

After more than a dozen years of serving on many different SHRM related boards, I gladly stepped aside so others could have that same experience – after all, someone did the same for me. But those who came after me were guided not by the people who had built the organization but rather by other professional volunteers who seemed to be more concerned about themselves than the organization. Things like Board pay – in my day there was no such thing, but these new folks felt that they should get paid for their time. Things like upgraded business class travel – I clearly remember flying in the back of the plane. But guess what: I’m not sure that’s what volunteer participation is about. Webster defines volunteer as “doing charitable or helpful work without pay”. Maybe this is what it takes to get volunteers these days but I suspect that there are many professional members of SHRM who would gladly serve for nothing, the same way my colleagues and I did for so many years.

When asked about these policy changes, the new leadership of SHRM evades the questions. When asked why dues are going up, they cite inflationary issues rather than these kinds of new expenses. When asked for the meaning of volunteerism, they can’t look anyone in the eye and answer with a straight face. In short, they act as though they can’t be trusted. And because the members understand what’s going on, they feel that maybe they really can’t trust their leaders. Not a good situation.

Add to the mix the fact that most of the former volunteer leaders of SHRM are raising the same questions. And so it’s no surprise how the current leadership is feeling and acting. Evasive answers, misstatements, self-serving new policies and a general lack of transparency - these could threaten this venerable association. Too bad. The people who now are leading SHRM are policy wonks and communications wizards – but when the SHRM members see this kind of behavior, they sense that something is rotten and beginning to smell. These same members are the people who in their non-SHRM positions are forced to give straight answers every day in all of their organizations, and so they want that same level of treatment from their professional Association’s leaders. They want to trust, but suspect that they are not getting enough to earn it.

And now the annual conference of SHRM is about to get under way in Las Vegas and I suspect that what happens in Las Vegas next week may not stay in Vegas. So when faced with these questions in that public forum, I suggest the current “volunteer” leaders of SHRM reflect on what their mothers used to say to them: “Honesty is the best policy”; “Do the right thing” and “Always say “I’m sorry”.

I don’t often write about stuff like this, but this issue has been on my mind. My quotes and message this week are about ownership and responsibility and that got me thinking about this. The current leaders of SHRM aren’t thinking like owners, they’re not acting responsibly, and they are not engendering the trust and respect that those who empower them with the authority to lead the Association for them expect. Over the past several months these blogs have talked about leadership, responsibility, professionalism and character – as we look out over the national landscape, those values aren’t as abundant as we might hope they’d be. Who knows – maybe some of these SHRM leaders are influenced in some small way by this lack of values. If that’s the case they may want to look out over the horizon and see the democratic voices sweeping the Mideast or look back at the most recent midterm elections here in the US – I think there’s a general demand for accountability and sensibility from those who want leaders they can believe in and trust. Maybe that’s too big a thing to expect. Maybe not.

So, here’s my quote and message for this week:

“Think like a customer and act like an owner.” -John Silliman Dodge            

John Silliman Dodge has a 30-year career that spans and integrates music, media, marketing and management. He's a graduate of Ohio University's School of Telecommunications and has been a recording artist and a Creative Director/Production Manager.

What does an owner think about? Developing a plan of where you want to go and how to get there (vision and mission). Hiring the right people, listening to them and then letting them do what they do best (builds morale). Paying the bills and all the responsibilities that go along with that (shows respect). Reducing inefficiency and waste and making sure that everything is put to best use (go Green). Limiting unnecessary expenses by turning out lights and reusing things (being frugal). Having enough customers who appreciate you because you appreciate them (planning for the future). Doing the right thing (creating trust and learning from your experiences). These all add up to being a person that others can rely upon because they’re responsible, believable, trustworthy and focused. And if you do these well, you’ll have time to learn your customers’ likes and dislikes and needs and the things they consider when deciding whether to come back again. Think and act like an owner today – the people who are depending on you will appreciate that.

Stay Well!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Nobody Loves Everybody

I’m new to big city life and the unbelievable volume of graffiti that is just about everywhere here. On the sides of bridges and high up on buildings (how do they get there), on walls adjacent to railroad tracks (I thought that third rail was enough to keep people out of those areas), on glass and windows and even on stoops and curbs. And on one curb I saw the words Nobody Loves Everybody – and that got me thinking.

I get the fact that some of these taggers (hey, do I know my lingo) are hugely creative – if you don’t believe me just check out the figures they draw, the pseudo-signatures they use and the scope of their work. There was an article about this in the New York Times that suggests graffiti may actually be more mainstream than anybody thought

But I wasn’t aware that some of these works could be so deeply emotive - Nobody Loves Everybody certainly is that. So how does a kid with a can of spray paint get to know something like this? Maybe he or she heard someone else say it, maybe it’s even a common phrase used on the street or it could have been in a movie or sitcom and just stuck with them. In any case, to spray it on a stoop or curb is an interesting way to spread a thought.

Forget about the fact that there are geniuses and agencies who labor hard to get some brand or snippet across to the public – this guerrilla marketing tactic (another street term) is far more direct, and may in fact go viral (I’m on a roll here) more quickly than other more commonly used tactics. So I did a little informal survey – I asked several people who had walked past this Nobody Loves Everybody statement if they saw it and what they thought: 11 out of 17 answered “yes”. Conclusion: this tagger’s work was pretty effective in conveying the message.

I remember in College there was bridge that ran over a deep ravine – and painted on the rocks below: When you’re dead, you’re dead! Pretty effective anti-suicide campaign – and in fact it was talked about widely because the suicide rate at Cornell actually did go down that year. But that’s a straight forward and targeted message aimed at a very specific problem. Getting back to the here and now in Brooklyn, this broad yet thoughtful Nobody Loves Everybody is not so straight forward. Here’s my take on it:

• We all care for some but not for everyone and that’s ok. In the end, however, you should be kind and respectful to all.

• It’s okay not to love everyone – that would be too much to ask. But make sure that the ones you do love know about it.

• Maybe it’s a challenge to really understand your true feelings and to act accordingly. Because if you don’t, then you and others lose.

• Be confident in your true feelings and let them show. All anyone can ask is for your honesty and openness.

So if my half-baked sample was at all indicative, then let me extrapolate a bit more: we’re all on this planet for a reason and how we act towards others is important. And whether we care or don’t care about someone, it should be for the right reasons and we should act accordingly and appropriately. It’s only right and fair, and it’s how we want others to treat us. I guess this is how people really get along, especially in someplace as densely populated as New York City. But whether you’re here or in some other less populated area, as a fellow traveler on life’s journey it’s important to be honest, real and considerate. I’m not saying you have to go get a can of spray paint – how you speak and act should do it.

My quote and message this week are about taking responsibility for and ownership of the things you do:

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 –1945) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian. He was also a participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism and a founding member of the Confessing Church. He was one of the few church leaders who stood in courageous opposition Adolph Hitler and his policies.

What are you thinking about today? Every day brings lots of thoughts and at the end of the day how much do you have to show for it? You have to be ready when thoughts happen: sometimes you think of things, sometimes others think of them for you and other times you’re just around when things come up. Doesn’t matter – you have to be ready for everything. Being ready means being responsible enough to do what’s needed – preparing for and treating things as if you own them, approaching what you do thoughtfully and creatively and dealing with everything effectively and appropriately. No matter what you do, others will notice and they’ll make judgments about you and you’ll end up with a reputation (good or bad). So be ready today for whatever happens today; do what you have to do today to be the best you can be today; own your actions today.

Stay Well!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Milkman Revisited

Eddie Lee

Every week I keep an eye out for interesting things to share; but this week I feel compelled to revisit a topic from two weeks ago that many of you commented on. It seems that my reference to “the milkman” stirred a lot of memories and your comments have sent me into a bit of a reverie. So let me tell you a little bit more about my ‘milkman’.

Eddie Lee was his name. He had one of those old panel trucks with Dairylea painted on the side. Dairylea was the dairyman’s cooperative league in central New York and I guess they employed guys like Eddie to promote their products. He was a neatly dressed (I remember some kind of dark uniform) and always wore a hat and tie. But more than that, he also always wore a smile. We had one of those metal boxes that sat outside the back door and in which he’d leave the milk and whatever else my mother ordered. Eddie delivered all of our dairy products even though I recall Mom going to the grocery store for many other things (remember the A&P and the P&C). And even though we called him the Milkman, he really brought so much more because he always delivered the milk with a smile and never left without asking if there’s anything else we needed. Whoever thought that world-class service was a more recent thing didn’t know Eddie.

Cheese, butter, eggs, cream cheese, eggnog, cottage cheese, heavy cream, sour cream – you name it, if it was a dairy product he had it along with the milk. And even though he had a preprinted order form that we could fill out and leave for him, he always seemed to be around to talk about our family, his family and our other needs. He was almost like a part of the family – I even think I asked if he could come to my bar-mitzvah. And it’s not like we had a succession of milkmen – he was it; I believe he started the route and retired when that kind of business went out of fashion in the mid-60s. I’m sure he was just an employee (more like an extension) of that dairy league, but to me it seemed that he was part of the team that fed and milked the cows, drove the trucks in the mornings after picking up the milk at the barn, pasteurized the milk so we wouldn’t get sick and all the others things that went into that business so that the milk got to our house cold and fresh. They all came together in his personalized service – with a smile – that we just don’t see much of today. Hey, I go into food stores today and the staff there can’t even tell me where the dairy section is! Guys like Eddie Lee loomed large in our world back then – he knew our birthdays, when we were graduating from something, whether we were sick (and if we were feeling better) and even conveyed messages and information from house to house in the neighborhood.

It was pretty cool, it made us feel good and it’s probably why all us baby boomers love shows like Happy Days, I Love Lucy, The Wonder Years and Laverne and Shirley. If I’m not careful, next I’ll be sitting out on the stoop and staring off into the middle distance of long ago memories. But before I do that I need to slap myself and remember that the great things we experienced and learned along the way could and should be rolled out whenever those best practices fit our everyday needs. Great ideas, whether retro or new, should never be ignored; great improvements, whether to fix something or start something new, should always be considered and great service – the kind where real people are concerned about and address the needs of other real people – should be part of how we live and work and act. Forget about the fact that we can’t go back; we can certainly remember the good and make sure we use it in our everyday lives, every day. The things we do – whether alone or a part of a larger team – always need to take into account the best of everything we’ve done and experienced and learned along the way. I’m not sure we will ever go back to tipping out hats like Eddie used to, but we should never forget or ignore what we all learned from people like “the Milkman”. Thanks to all the Eddie Lees in all of our lives!

My quote and message this week is about teamwork and team spirit – the key ingredients you need to have a successful recipe.

"Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story.” -Casey Stengel

Charles Dillon "Casey" Stengel (1890 –1975), nicknamed "The Old Perfessor", was an American Major League Baseball outfielder, manager and often-quoted punster. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.

Are you a good player or a team member or both? The answer is that you should try to be both. You certainly have to have the skills and abilities to make the team (or get a job or join a group) and these will be some of what you need to be successful. But if you and the others you’re with don’t pool and leverage these, then you and the others won’t be playing or working as successfully as you could. It’s only when everyone merges their collective talents that you all have the chance to win. Stengel managed lots of teams and his greatest successes were with the ones that had the individual talent AND the collective will to work together. Finding others to work or play with you is easy but getting you all to where you need to be in order to win at what you’re doing takes hard work and a collective commitment to excellence. Play as part of a team today and help write a successful story.

Stay Well!

Friday, June 3, 2011


April Showers Bring May Flowers

“April showers bring May flowers.” We’ve all heard this rhyme, usually having been taught it at an early age by our parents or teachers. It’s a popular thing to say and hear around the springtime, but where did this rhyme come from?

In 1557 a gentleman by the name of Thomas Tusser compiled a collection of writings he called A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry. In the April Husbandry section he wrote:

      “Sweet April showers, Do spring May flowers”

So, I guess this means there have been a lot of spring showers since at least 1557. But what do I know – after living in Las Vegas and then Laguna Beach for the past 30 years, I’d forgotten about cold or rain. In the past six months here in New York City I’ve noticed people putting up with all kinds of miserable weather - this past winter is now being referred to as the coldest, snowiest and longest in a long time and spring was said to be the wettest in decades. Rain every day for a month, cold and gray every day for that month too. So, April showers merged into May showers, and not much in the way of flowers were to be found. And then came June.

The sun came out: the grass has taken off and is growing like, well, a weed; the blooms and leaves on the trees have sprouted overnight and look nearly full-grown and what about the flowers and vegetables – let’s just say that in the past two weeks our tomato plants have grown to nearly my height. This unbelievable growth is unfortunately matched by the growth of allergies too – itchy eyes, runny noses and stuffy sinuses seem to be the rule and not the exception.

I had forgotten how much of a change this could be.  From trees that were bare, lawns that were brown, flower beds that needed a good raking – these have been replaced by the natural growth that softens the landscape and feeds the world. It’s an impressive sight – dandelions and buttercups dot the grasses, trees with all kinds of leaves and flowers, vegetable and flower gardens adorn every patch of dark brown soil. Nearly every street here in Brooklyn is lined with trees and each tree has a neat little enclosure that is filled with flowers and shrubs. And driving along the highways and byways throughout the East is accompanied by a riot of growth of grasses, trees and forests. A month ago I could look through the trees and see the depth of these forests - today I can’t see more than a few feet into the dense growth. It’s a glorious landscape and it clearly shows the renewable nature of nature.

It’s at times like these that I’m thrilled to be alive.  It’s at times like these that the growth around us inspires the growth within us. It’s at times like these that our place in the continuum of the universe is impressively apparent. Most of the time we live in our own little worlds, we notice little more than what’s immediately around us and we take life for granted. But in this time of spring growth, when the showers inevitably lead to the flowers, that’s when we truly acknowledge and join the greater community that surrounds our lives.  Enjoy this late Spring – and even though Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of Summer, there’s still a few more weeks before those lazy hazy days replace these days of wonderful growth. Enjoy these days and let them fill you with the wonder and pride of renewal and personal growth.

All of this reminds me of these words by George Harrison and the Beatles:

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it's all right…

My message and quote this week is about quietly and calmly letting your sun shine through:

“When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.” -Jacques Cousteau

Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910 – 1997) was a French naval officer, explorer, ecologist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher who studied the sea and all forms of life in water.

Are you leading an extraordinary life? Some lead lives of quiet desperation (so said Thoreau) but that doesn’t mean we all can’t dream of better days and things to come. And when we accomplish more, when we achieve greater things, when we rise up above our normal selves, that’s a time when we can and should feel full of excitement and pride. That’s a time when we should share our new-found realities with our family and friends and colleagues. Because truth be told, these personal triumphs inspire others to try harder, to care more, to work longer, to dream bigger and to get up on our tiptoes and look out over the horizon for the next big thing. It’s hard to believe that the rain will stop, the sun will come out, the blossoms will bloom and the birds will sing – but if we can see these changes in others, then we can begin to hope and dream ourselves. Find your successes and share them with others today – you have no right to keep them to yourself.

Stay Well!