The talk

Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. Proverbs 13:10

For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisors make victory sure. Proverbs 11:14

“Have a great rest of your day,” Mark said, seeing off the last customers of the day.  He locked the front door behind him and unbuttoned the top of his shirt.

Samuel emerged from the back office with a bottled beer in hand.

“Whoa, there’s a sight you don’t see often,” Mark said, causing Ruth to stop working and look up at Samuel.  “Aren’t you leaving soon?”

“Nope,” he said, “Ruth said she wanted to talk with us. So here I am.”

“Us?” Mark replied.

“Yes, both of you,” Ruth said, coming around the end of the counter.  “This won’t take long, boys. Come over here and sit.”

They joined Ruth at one end of the large, mahogany table she had picked out several years ago specifically for the bank.  For some reason, Mark began to feel nervous.  Ruth had said earlier she was worried about him and wanted to talk with him more.  He had no clue she also wanted to talk with Samuel, too.  They both sat silently.  It was a scene reminiscent of grade school.

“First off, I love you both.  You know that,” she began.  “Mark, I’ve been meaning to talk to you for quite some time about this.  I’ve prayed about it, and now is the time.”

“You’re quitting,” Mark said.  “I did not see this coming at all.”

“No, I’m not quitting,” she said.  “Now be quiet and let me speak.”

Samuel sat quietly, spinning his bottle slowly on the table, avoiding eye contact with either of them.  He knew what was coming.

“Okay, I’m sorry.  Go on,” Mark said.

Ruth took a deep breath, and then in a most calm tone, she spoke.

“Mark, you’re going to lose Sarah.”

Sam abruptly stopped spinning the bottle.

“What are you talking about?” Mark said, anger building.

“Listen to her,” Samuel blurted out.  “I’ve tried talking to you, but…”

“No, I’m not going to listen.” Mark said, pushing away from the table and jumping to his feet.  “You all don’t know anything about anything.”

Mark caught a glimpse of Ruth’s face, and as quickly as the anger came on, it left.  Ruth was now wiping tears from her cheeks.  Mark stopped talking.  Samuel was now looking at him.

Mark sat back down.  He knew he couldn’t avoid this topic any longer.

“Okay, Mrs. Adams,” Mark said.  “Let’s do this.”

———-

While people attempt to separate their personal and professional lives, it’s not possible.  Smart leaders recognize this and work to get to know and build trust with their teams.  This way the leader has a better shot at recognizing when something may be wrong with a team member and the team member feels comfortable enough to talk with their leader about it.  In this case, Ruth is the leader. It goes both ways.

As a leader, do you know your team well enough to recognize when a member may be struggling with something? 

As a follower, could you do what Ruth just did?

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The Turning Point

Now go; I will help you speak and teach you what to say. Exodus 4:12

An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. Proverbs 12:25

The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.  He wakens me morning by morning. Isaiah 50:4

It was nearing 6 p.m. as Sarah returned to her office.  She knew Adam would already be gone for the day.

It had been an exhausting week of long meetings with clients, evening functions, interviews with applicants for the new account coordinator position and irritating requests and calls of all sorts.

She was beat.  Weeks like this made her question why she ever quit her job at one of the largest and most reputable marketing agencies around to strike out on her own.

But she knew the answer as she sunk into the cushioned, leather sofa she spent more time admiring during the day than actually utilizing.

Coffee in hand, she gazed slowly around the room, taking in the detail that was lost in the chaos of her average day.  The unevenness of the light, gray paint where it met the ceiling; the array of plants by the window; the picture of her team at last year’s Christmas party.  This was her’s.  She had created it.

Taking a sip, she rose from the couch, remembering she had a few emails awaiting reply and headed to her desk.  Lowering into her seat, she reached for her glasses and noticed a note next to them.

“That’s weird, “ she said aloud as she picked it up.

Just wanted to say thanks for hiring me. You’re a great boss and a better person.  See you tomorrow.

“That Adam,” she said.  She could feel a knot forming in her throat.  Her eyes watered.

She leaned back in her chair and removed her glasses, wiping her eyes with her hand.  She felt terrible about the way she’d treated him and others on the team lately.  Everything she’d said and did during the last month was rolling through her mind.  She read Adam’s note again, opened the top desk drawer, removed a tack and hung it on a small cork board.

She promised herself she’d never treat Adam or any member of her team badly again.

———-

The Bible instructs us to use our voices to lift others up.  In Exodus, God tells us he will teach us what to say, and later follows through by teaching us about the power of a kind word.  With that in mind, here are questions to ponder and comment on below.

Do you use kind words to strengthen your team?

Share a moment you were involved in or witnessed where a kind word made all the difference.

Old George

For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisors make victory sure. Proverbs 11:14

Plans fail for lack of counsel; but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22

Mark was always the first to the bank.  The time at which he arrives until the doors open is his time.  Often, he just roams the building, enjoying the quiet and stopping to admire the antique oil paintings of scenes from the Revolutionary War and past U.S. presidents he’s collected since his twenties.

Every day at fifteen minutes until 8 a.m., when the bank opens for business, Mark’s long-time business partner and best friend, Samuel, walks through the side door, carrying his camel-tinted leather briefcase and homemade cup of coffee in a chipped University of Maryland mug.  Samuel was a banker’s banker.  He was cheap and loved making money.  Mark enjoys telling the story about Samuel giving fake flowers to a woman he used to date, declaring, “they last longer and are equally as thoughtful.”  She however saw it differently, and the next day she got her real lilies.

Mark and Samuel go way back.  They grew up together.  They know each others’ deepest secrets.  The intimacy of their friendship is one of the reasons they chose to open a business together.  They simply trusted each other like no one else.

As soon as Samuel entered the bank this particular Monday morning, he saw Mark staring at “old George.”  It was a painting of George Washington with his top officers accepting the British’s surrender at Yorktown, Va., on Oct. 19, 1781. Sarah had given it to him on his 32nd birthday.

“Do you think old George would have made a good banker?” Mark asked Samuel without even glancing in his direction.

“Well, let’s see,” Samuel said, walking slowly toward Mark.  “He rose in the military ranks quite well so that shows he was at least a decent officer.  He was later promoted to general and handpicked to lead the war effort against the British so that shows, at a minimum, he had an aptitude for leading men.  Thousands of them to be fair.  Oh, and let’s not forget he won that little skirmish.  And lastly, he was elected to be the country’s first president.”

“He was also tall,” Mark added.  “Intimidatingly tall.”

Samuel was now standing next to Mark eyeing the painting.  “A most astute observation. Obvious but astute,” Samuel said.

“Yeah, you’re right. He would have been horrid,” Mark said, turning away from old George.

“So, good morning,” Samuel said. “How was your weekend?  How’s…”

“I was thinking,” Mark interrupted, “we should really reconsider charging for checking.  I know we’ve been down this road, Sam, but we could use the income, and we’re only talking a few dollars a year from customers.  I don’t think we’d lose anyone over ten dollars a year.”

“How was your weekend?” Samuel replied.

“It was fine. So what do you think?” Mark said.

“I think it’s a terrible idea,” Samuel said.  “And for all the same reasons you agreed with two months ago when we discussed this.  Have you forgotten those?”

“No I haven’t,” Mark said.  “I just have a different perspective now.  I’ve thought about it more since then, and I think it’s doable.”

Mark folded his arms over his chest, staring at his friend.

“What was the fight about this time?” Sam asked.

“What are you talking about?” Mark said, sounding frustrated.  “Sarah and I didn’t fight about anything.”

“Who said anything about Sarah?” Samuel said.

Silence filled the room for a few seconds.  “Mark, every time you all have a fight, the next morning I come through that door and catch you staring at that painting followed by an overly hypothetical question, especially given the time, and then you hit me with some new idea or some old bad one.”

There was another long pause.  Mark refocused on the painting.

“It is a terrible idea isn’t it?” Mark said.

“For us, yes,” Samuel said.  “Let’s let someone make that mistake.  Then we’ll gladly welcome their customers as our own, and voila, income.”

“And then a new coffee mug for Sam,” Mark said with a big grin, walking backwards away toward the front door.

“Why don’t you do something useful for a change and go greet Ruth,” Samuel snapped back at him.  “It’s almost eight.”

“You got it!” Mark said.  “You’re the boss.”

——–

Did you know that God encourages surrounding yourself with wise advisors like Samuel?

Do you look for potential trusted advisors when you hire? 

The note

A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.  Proverbs 11:25

The week only got worse for Adam, following the berating he took from Sarah Monday morning.  Every day, she was on his case about something.  On Tuesday, it was message passing.  Wednesday, he couldn’t do anything right.  By the time Friday rolled around, he felt something he had never felt before about his job – dread.

The thought of Monday made him want to quit.  “What happened?” he asked himself.  “Is it me?  Is she not telling me something?”

Attempting to calm his nerves, he kept telling himself it was just an off week for Sarah and everything would be fine.  All would be back to normal next week.

But it wasn’t.  And things weren’t the same the next week or even the next.

After nearly a month of agonizingly tense days with Sarah, he started looking for another job.  However, he wasn’t quite ready to quit just yet. He still had faith Sarah would come around and return to the caring, smiling boss he had grown to respect and look up to.

Adam’s parents divorced when he was 17.  He watched their marriage slowly dissolve until all that was left was frustration and hatred.  He suspected something similar might be occurring with Sarah and her husband.

Adam had only met Mark once when he popped into the office and just as quickly departed.  He didn’t even speak to anyone.  That was 8 months ago.  Adam found it strange the only times Sarah even mentioned him were when he “messed up” or the one time he overheard her arguing with him on the phone about having to cancel their vacation to Europe.  She seemed to just shrug if off though.

At the time, he thought it was just normal ups and downs all married couples go through.  He now had his doubts.  He had seen this before.

For some reason, he felt like he could and should do something to help her.  Anything.  And he shouldn’t wait until the next day.  “In fact,” he told himself, “I’m going to make it a point to do something to make her life easier every day.”

It didn’t matter that she was his boss.  She was also his friend.

That day, before leaving for the evening, he placed a hand-written note on her desk that read:

Just wanted to say thanks for hiring me. You’re a great boss and a better person.  See you tomorrow.

That was the turning point.

———-

For part 1 of this story, read “Mark and the farmer,” and for part 2, read “Where are those stupid notes?”

When hiring, do you look for people who refresh and are givers like Adam?  

Do you have an Adam on your team?  Tell us about that person.

Where are those stupid notes?

A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.  Proverbs 12:16

Mumbling to herself, Sarah anxiously yanked open the drawers of the antique desk her father left her in his will two years ago.

“Where are those stupid notes,” she muttered.  “I left them right here.  I don’t understand.  Adam?”

Almost as if he anticipated being summoned, Adam quickly stepped into Sarah’s office. “Yes?” he said.

“Have you seen my notes for the presentation today?” Sarah asked.

“Yes they’re in the recycle bin by my desk.  You…,” he replied.

“They’re where? Why in the world did you throw them away?” she said, clearly annoyed and staring intently at him.  “Why would you do something that ignorant?  I need those notes!”

Sarah stormed by him and out of the office toward Adam’s workspace.  “And who said you could take things off out of my office any way?” she yelled back at him, now rummaging through the over-filled, blue plastic bin

“Sarah, if you’d let me explain,” he said.

“I don’t have time for your explanations, Adam.  The presentation is in less than an hour, and I need my notes,” she said.  “I can’t believe you’d do something this stupid, especially at a time like this.”

Adam stood stunned in the doorway to Sarah’s office, his mouth partially hanging open while she continued the verbal assault.  He had never seen her act this way, especially with him.  Working as her executive assistant for going on a year now, he had never seen her treat anyone this way.  Something was clearly troubling her, he thought.

Sarah had now emptied the entire recycle bin onto the floor.  On her knees, she rifled through the mound, wadding up and tossing individual pieces to the side.  “This is ridiculous.  I don’t see them anywhere.”

“They’re in your email!” Adam burst out.  His words hung in the air like heavy, white smoke on a humid evening.  Silence overtook the room.  Sarah had stopped rummaging, and Adam just stood there waiting on her to say something.

“They’re where?” she said.

“In your email,” Adam replied.  “I typed them up like you asked me to do yesterday, and I emailed them to you this morning, like you asked.”

Sarah still hadn’t moved.  While she felt relieved by this news, she also felt foolish.  Here she was the CEO of an up-and-coming marketing firm, rummaging through the trash after insulting someone she had grown to trust and count on.

“Would you like me to print them for you?  If it helps, I’ll gladly print them for you,” Adam said, as Sarah lifted herself to her feet.

About ten seconds passed before Sarah spoke.

“Yes,” she then said, staring at the hardwood floor as she wiped her gray skirt neat again.  “Yes, that would be good, Adam.”

Sarah then scooted past him again back into her office, sat down, put on her glasses and went back to work.

———–

If you missed part one of this story, Mark and the farmer, click here.

Have you ever experienced or witnessed a situation like this as a leader or a subordinate? How did or would you handle it?

Could you overlook this type of insult at work and forgive the other person?

Comment below to cue up a discussion, and if you like what you’re reading, subscribe!

The pitfall of assuming the worst about others

Assuming the worst about people is one of the most counter productive things we do to undercut progress.  From my experience, the assumptions are often wrong, and once we realize it, embarrassing.

It’s often done when we lack understanding of the other person.  Simply put, the more we know, the more we understand.  Be it another political party, the person who is “just out to get me,” or your neighbor, the more we understand of their perspective, motives and beliefs, the more patient we are with them and more positive we think about them.

As a result, solutions are reached more quickly for everyone involved.

Once I realized this, my perspective of people overall became more positive, which is saying something since I’m a pretty optimistic guy, and my ability to lead improved dramatically.  And most importantly, my wife and I have successfully avoided arguments rooted in misunderstanding of one another.  The benefits are truly endless I believe.

So, my challenge to you is to watch out for this in yourself and others.  If you’re often guilty of this, make it a point to work on it for one week.  I guarantee your stress will reduce, your attitude will improve and you will accomplish more.

Behind Leadership: Alice Pearson Chapman

I have to say if Alice ever has the dinner of her dreams, I want to be there!  By the time it will have ended, I’ll be inspired beyond belief, intimidated from the secret service agent staring at me for hours and in pain from laughing so much.  You’ll understand when you’re done reading.

Any ways, Alice is a vice president at McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations in Nashville, Tenn., where she’s worked since 1995.  I don’t have any stats in front of me, but I have a feeling that type of longevity at a firm is rare.  I learned of Alice from Erin Mercer, a colleague of her’s at MP&F, who stumbled upon my blog.  (Thank you Google Reader.)

Erin recommended Alice as someone to possibly feature here.  By the time I was done reading, I was convinced she had to be the focus of the next Behind Leadership post.  And here we are today.  Enjoy!

What is the hardest part about being a leader?

Alice Pearson Chapman

I think it’s hard to make the transition to leader. It is true that some people are born to take on leadership roles, but most of us have to learn how to lead. It can be quite a shock to realize that you ARE a leader and that people are looking up to you and learning from your example.

What is the best part?

In my opinion, there is no better reward than watching those you lead become leaders.

Who leads you and how did they become a leader in your life?

MP&F’s senior partner, Mark McNeely, is a great leader (as are all of our partners). But Mark, in particular, started the company from scratch and has seen it grow to be the largest independent public relations firm in the state and one of the top 30 in the country. I’ve worked here for 16 years and am lucky to work with Mark on a number of projects. He and the other partners have taught me a great deal about how to lead.

What is your advice for those who want to lead?

First, find a good mentor. Everyone, no matter his or her level of experience, needs someone he or she can go to for advice or encouragement. Second, don’t wait for leadership opportunities to come to you. Seek them out. If this isn’t possible in an office setting, then volunteer with a community organization.

What books, websites or blogs on leadership do you recommend?

I like nonfiction and enjoy biographies. My favorites are “Personal History” by Katherine Graham, “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy” by Robert Dallek and “The Children” by David Halberstam (a must-read for my fellow Nashvillians). 

If you had to choose between no longer being able to lead or losing those leaders you follow, which would you choose and why?

Life is full of disappointment and loss. Good leaders are flexible and can deal with the unexpected, be that losing a valued member of a team, or having to relinquish a leadership post. In short, play the hand you are dealt and move on.

If you could only invite 3 people over for dinner, who would you choose and why?

Martin Luther King, Jr. – He inspired a generation to make the world a better place.

Bill Clinton – Love him, or hate him he’s led a fascinating life.

Tina Fey – We’re both moms who work outside the home. I think we’d have a lot to talk about.

———–

What books on leadership do you recommend?  Who would you invite over for dinner?

Chapman joined MP&F in 1995 as a staff associate and has since worked for a variety of clients at the local, regional and national levels. Her specialties include grassroots campaigns, media relations and event planning. From 2002 to 2005 she managed Metro Nashville’s recycling education campaign, which garnered MP&F the Silver Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America. Chapman is actively involved in the Nashville community, having served as a board member of the women’s networking organization CABLE in 2005 and 2006. She received the Civic Outreach Award from that group in 2006. Chapman is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications.