If you want to be president, act presidential

During this campaign season, we have seemingly lowered our standards. We are giving more than just one front runner license to say just about anything about any one or group without repercussion.

To me, if someone wants to be president, they should act presidential. These candidates are interviewing for one of the most important jobs in the world. We should expect the candidate to exhibit the traits we would want in a leader who interacts with other leaders.

That would mean telling the truth and not being so cavalier when your statements are shown to be untruthful or inconsistent. That would mean not disparaging someone asking a legitimate question. That would mean avoiding labeling and name calling others about perceived deficiencies. That would mean showing a little thicker skin and calming demeanor in the face of adversity.

My view is relatively simple. The louder someone yells to drown out another or the more name calling that person uses, usually means his or her argument is poor. We often mistake leadership with a false bravado. There has been an interesting trend in the corporate world with more introverted leaders. The reason is businesses are complex, so they need to be led by someone who has a grasp of the issues.

People will vote for whom they want. I would like them to consider this litmus test as they do, as they may reach a different conclusion.

My father-in-law, the man with the deep voice

Around the holidays, I often think of my father-in-law Tom, who had a voice that he would take to a velvety deep level. It was not bass level deep, but he could get close to that low if he needed to. He loved music and sang in his small church, actually leading a small ensemble each Sunday with his guitar. Christmas-time brought out the carols and he would relish in singing them.

Some of my favorite memories are when he asked my wife to sing with him on Sunday. She could harmonize extremely well with that deep voice of his. We would arrive at their house on Saturday night and the two of them would rehearse. My mother-in-law kept a dark house so it was very ethereal listening to them play with only small lights illuminating their efforts.

Tom had a rough childhood having to work at an early age delivering German language newspapers in Detroit. Yet, his wages would be handed to his mother to help meet their needs. His real father and mother divorced and he was raised eventually by his mother and step-father. He did not talk much about his childhood, but he did talk about his desire to be a car engineer and musician.

He could not afford to be the former, but he was a professional musician for a while playing various gigs, gatherings, etc. around the area. Unfortunately, he had a tendency to drink away too much of his profits, so my mother-in-law gave him an ultimatum delivered with his suitcases on the porch when he came home. He decided he needed to get a job away from the alcohol and they were married until he died in 1997.

Eventually, he moved down south to become a farmer, where Lee, his wife, grew up. After about a year of farming, he decided if they were going to eat, he better get a job with a salary. So, he became a textile machinery representative repairing the machines. That would be as close as he would get to being an engineer.

In addition to singing and playing the guitar (and accordion before it burned up in a fire), he loved photography and filming. We have footage of him narrating videos he recorded that are priceless with his enthusiasm and deep voice. Even small birds, butterflies, bees, etc. would be entertaining with his excited narration.

So, Tom, here is a toast to you. We hope you had a merry Christmas and please know you are in our thoughts. We hope you are playing your guitar in heaven for everyone to hear.

 

 

The more I practice, the luckier I get

One of the better golfers and competitors of any era was a diminutive man from South Africa named Gary Player. He held his own against the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer winning nine major championships.

During one of his major wins, a reporter asked Player about a lucky shot Player had hit during the round that day. Player responded, “I have found the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

This straightforward answer applies to many things in life. Whether it is golf, basketball, baseball or another sport the more you practice the luckier you will get. But, it applies to music, art, school and work. The more time you practice, the luckier the outcome.

Golf is as good a metaphor of life as there is. In essence, playing golf is managing your mistakes. By practicing, the mistakes are narrowed. In other words, you can more easily find your golf ball in the realm of play after a shot the more you practice.

Very few golfers practice like Vijay Singh. Singh was a very good player, but made himself a great player through outlasting anyone on the practice tee. Herschel Walker, the Heisman Trophy winning football player made himself bigger and faster by doing over a thousand sit-ups, push-ups and wind sprints each day. That is not a misprint. Larry Bird made himself a better shooter by shooting countless shots  after team practice.

Per Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers,” The Beatles became better musicians by playing seven sets, six nights a week in Hamburg, Germany. To keep their sanity, The Beatles had to learn and play new songs.  Joe Walsh, who had many hits as an excellent guitarist and member of The Eagles said, the more you play the less awful you become.

So, practice and practice some more. You may get luckier or, at least, become less awful.

A few oldies but goodies – three most frequented posts

As I reflect on my blogging which began in December, 2011, I tell folks that part of the reason I blog is to give me a place to write what I feel are the significant truths of our day. In a world where everyone seems to have their own source of tailored made and spoon fed news, we seem to lose sight of those truths.

I appreciate greatly those who have taken the time to drop by and read my words, enter a like every once in a while, and on occasion, offer a comment. When someone tells you the efforts you have made are worth a few minutes of their time, it is quite gratifying.

Like you, when I write a piece I have certain expectations of activity and resonance. Some, I have felt would be better frequented are not, while others tend to take off. And, there are a few that catch on later for some reason, where a person finds a lost episode and shares it with others. When I see that activity after months and years, I go back and re-read the post to remind myself what I said.

In the four years I have been writing, three posts have been the reason for about 25% of the visits my blog. The fourth most popular post is beneath 2% of the visits. If you are new to my blog in the past year, you may have not seen these three. I will provide a link below and offer my thoughts on why those three do far better than the others. I would love to hear your comments as well.

Six years alcohol free but still want to drink

I wrote this over two years and am still alcohol free. Many newcomers do not know that I am an alcoholic, but have been able to maintain my sobriety for now eight years. This post is by far my most frequented one, as each of us either have a similar challenge or know someone who has such a challenge. It offers advice I received from an unexpected source that I share with others. “I am not going to drink today.”

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/six-years-alcohol-free-but-still-want-to-drink/

Les Miserables and Social Injustice

My wife and I have always enjoyed the musical, but the music can overpower the true misery of the story. The movie starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway allowed that misery and social injustice to come to the forefront. The singing was captured during the filming rather than recorded later and dubbed over. This made the songs resonate with the anguish felt in their voices.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/les-miserables-and-social-injustice/

Tribute to a Great Boss

Each of us have had several bosses in our career and we know their imperfections. So, when we get a good one, it makes the days at work much more enjoyable and rewarding. I have had a few good ones, as well as some bad ones, but one stood out as a great boss. This post is a tribute to him upon his retirement and a wish for others to have this pleasure at some point in their work.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/tribute-to-a-great-boss/

Please let me know what you think. For those blogs I follow, I would love for you to do something similar as I would enjoy reading or re-reading your work that resonated most with readers. And, thanks for your words of prose, poetry and song along with the wonderful pictures. They are greatly appreciated.

Best wishes to all over the holidays and have a wonderful 2016.

Some hard truths and silver linings

Since we are in midst of a campaign season for the US presidential race, which has been going on forever and we have yet to even cross the halfway point, the real loser in the race has been the truth. In fact, the current leader in the polls on the Republican side has been untruthful 76% of the time (out of 77 adjudicated statements) per Politifacts, a non-partisan fact checking organization. If you are a betting person, the odds would be in your favor not to believe a word he says.

That does not mean the other candidates have not made exaggerations and told a few lies, but Politifacts said the GOP leader has lapped the field. In this crazy race where the attack on political correctness has permitted candidates to be more candid, it would be nice if the candor included more truths. A candid lie told with false bravado is still a lie. But, what do I know? Call me crazy, but I think the truth should be told, and when a falsehood is discovered, the teller should be accountable and correct the record.

A few hard truths for the candidates, supporters and voters:

  • There is little that we can do to stop a motivated terrorist who is willing to lose his or her life on our shores, given our freedoms and open access to weapons. All of us need to be vigilant to report something that looks out of the ordinary and our police need to react swiftly as they did in San Bernardino to locate the culprits to prevent more violence. Our police and intelligence are doing great work, but what scares them most is the under-the-radar extremists.
  • To this first point, the war is on intolerance and extremism, not religion or race. We must live up to our ideals and constitution. We must involve all Americans in this fight against terrorism and not denigrate groups of people. While being vigilant, we must not blow this out of proportion as being done in the presidential race where several have equated it to World War III. Really? These candidates are scaring people into voting for them, but these folks should listen carefully to what the candidates are saying, as they do seem to be making us less safer with less than thoughtful rhetoric.
  • On the good side, the US economy continues to percolate and 2016 is expected to be a good year. This is evidenced by one of the longest successful runs with 70 consecutive months of job growth, unemployment down to 5%, a more than doubled stock market capitalization since the recession and the Federal Reserve raising interest rates. We still need to work on wage growth and middle class, but these have been maligned since the early 1980s with outsourcing, offshoring, downsizing, and technology.
  • The world is making progress in the battle to limit the impact of climate change. The Paris deal is key, but only part of the story. We have reached a tipping point on renewable energy as the cost has fallen and the awareness of the need has risen. Innovation is creating new paths forward and the glut on oil and natural gas has caused those prices to fall which has halted further investment in more costly retrieval of fossil fuels. Plus, the droughts are showing the world that we have a water crisis that will only be made worse by climate change. So, the time to act in a larger way is now as waiting is no longer an option.
  • On the good side, we are working with other countries to try to solve challenges, such as the refugee crisis, terrorism, corruption (where we can), poverty and lack of women’s rights. Opening trade markets with Iran and Cuba are positives that will pay dividends. It is harder to fight someone you have commerce with. And, freer ideas can find their way in. I am actually delighted to see Russia working with us to address terrorism in the Middle East. Terrorism and corruption are the destabilizers there. We must deal with the former first, but not forget the latter. And, entrepreneurialism is helping more women build income in places around the world. Women hold up half the sky says the Chinese proverb, so investing in women will pay huge dividends for a region.

I am encouraged by the progress that is being made. I wrote a post last week about “Year-end Kudos,” but let me restate that the work Pope Francis is doing is immense. He is the greatest, most trusted leader on the planet and he is shining a light on where it needs to be shown. While Angela Merkel is very deserving of her Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, it is the Pope who has shown us our humanity. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will see they face of God,” I read somewhere. Happy holidays to all and have a wonderful new year.

 

That elusive employee engagement

I just completed a very unscientific poll regarding whether people would be in another job or have another job title at this time next year. While the survey group was biased and the questions were simple, the end result of over 2,500 respondents is about 50% felt they would be in another job or have a new title.

Setting aside the veracity of the survey, many employees are eager to do something different. This is one sign the economy is percolating better, but it also sign that employee engagement continues to be largely elusive. Employees have become free agents since the turn of the century and employers have only one group to blame for it – the employers themselves. Employee engagement is lacking because employers killed it.  

As a retired manager, employee and consultant, I have witnessed countless layoffs, downsizings, rightsizings, reductions in force, offshoring, etc. I have also witnessed countless communications of how we have to keep the salary increase budget down because of a recession, downturn, not a full recovery, or because we need to simply watch expenses. With the recession, I have seen the elimination or curtailment of broad-based benefits and perquisites, on-job training, travel budgets, party budgets, office kitchen budgets, etc. that are like an ice-pick chipping away at a sculpture.

The end result is employees do not feel valued. Employers say employees are our most important asset, then the employees see examples of the above and they realize these are merely words. They witness long time employees unceremoniously walked out the door after a downsizing. They see such employees denied the ability to say goodbye. They do not learn of others in different offices in large companies who have been similarly treated until they reach out and the others are gone. What happened to Susan or Michael?

So, the fact employees have always been free agents, becomes even more true, and the employees execute on their newly discovered freedom. The result is employers are searching for ways to try to keep people. They did not have to worry about it as much until the last couple of years, but with an improved economy, others are now hiring. Yet, when a company shows by actions it does not care as much as they should for these assets, then the remaining assets are difficult to engage.

Here is a huge tip to employers. Treat your employees like you want to be treated. Improve communication up, down and across your organization seeking and using input on process improvements. Pay them fairly and include incentives that will make a difference to them and the organization. Teach your supervisors how to lead employees. Help the employees further their careers through training and offer internal movement within your company. Recognize these employees value their families and hobbies, so offer flexible schedules and paid time off.

There are other ideas, but one I will close with is how you treat employees when you must make cuts matters a great deal. The others who remain see this. If you treat people like they committed a crime, the people who remain start polishing their resume. The movie “Up in the Air” with George Clooney starring as a consultant for an outsourced firm that helps companies fire people is highly offensive to me that companies would do this. The company does not have the compassion to do this themselves.

Treat people like you want to be treated. Be fair and communicate as appropriate. Then, you can start looking for ways to attract, retain and reward employees.

 

 

The working homeless I see

With holiday season upon us, I wanted to remind folks that the holidays can overshadow many folks who are doing so much with so little. I volunteer to help with working homeless families as they climb a ladder back to self-sufficiency. We help them along the way, but they are the ones who must climb the rungs of the ladder.

When I speak to groups of people about the folks we help, whether it is a Sunday school class, church service, United Way function, business group or company community relations effort, the audience is always surprised when I say our homeless families work. I usually let that sink in before proceeding.

In fact, 85% – 95% of our families are parented by a single working mother, the fastest growing population of homeless people nationwide. And, about a third of those mothers are escaping a domestic violence situation. Think about that for a second. A woman and family has the additional trauma of being homeless on top of the physical and mental abuse. Our social workers have a process they use with our families called Trauma Informed Care. They understand what the mother and family is going through, while still helping them be more accountable.

Our families are homeless because of reduced hours, a lost job from several, a healthcare crisis, a car issue, daycare costs or because of the domestic violence issues noted above. We help our families by providing temporary shelter for about 60 – 90 days as they get their sea legs underneath them. Then, we help them move to an apartment where we subsidize the rent with the family paying 30% of their income toward rent and utilities. We pair them with a clinical social worker and, if they desire, a Hope Team which is a group of one or more couples that help mentor the family.

Our families exit our program, on average, after twenty-one months with 80% – 90% being self-sufficient, meaning they no longer need our subsidy. And, we measure success after they leave, so we know that 80% – 90% of the families who left housed are still housed on their own after two years of leaving our program. This shows that people need a helping hand to get back on their feet, but truly want to be on their own. I mention this as there are some in our country that believe everyone needing help is a malingerer.

My experience shatters many of those misconceptions. Here are three:

  • People in poverty are lazy. Not true. The people I work with tend to work their fannies off in one or more jobs.
  • People in poverty are less virtuous and are being punished. Not true. The people I see tend to cling to their faith and are more pious than the church members who help them. These volunteers take away more than give.
  • People in poverty are substance abusers. No more than anyone else and in fact to a lesser degree. The State of Florida drug tested welfare recipients until the policy was ruled unconstitutional. The data from this short lived process revealed that people on welfare had less than 1/2 the rate of substance abuse than general society’s rate.

Poverty is merely the lack of money, period.

So, as we celebrate Christmas and other holidays, let’s remember that many are not so lucky. They are doing the best they can. The hole is deep, but they can climb out of it, with a little help. Let’s help them climb the ladder.