It’s Time to Make Lemonade

It’s Time to Make Lemonade

It’s Time to Make Lemonade

With the arrival of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), we were all faced with a crisis that has reshaped the way we live our daily lives. Restaurants have been forced to cease dine-in services and serve meals for “take out” or “delivery” only. Well-stocked shelves at grocery stores have been replaced with rows and rows of empty shelves because of “panic buying.” Who would have ever thought that toilet paper would be a prized possession? Schools have either closed entirely or are now providing educational services on-line only. Many states and local governments have issued “shelter in place” orders. Others have encouraged citizens to only leave their homes when necessary. Most churches have replaced congregational worship with on-line worship services and I know of one church which built a stage outside to provide worship services for people who call to get the radio frequency so they can attend worship services much like we used to go to drive-in movies. Sports addicts are being forced to watch reruns of previous games since all sports events have been cancelled. The contents of emails and posting on various social media are now filled with tales of frustration and boredom.

As I was contemplating various topics for this month’s column, it occurred to me that since all of us are faced with the same dilemma — how are we going to deal with this crisis – I decided I would share with you my perspective on dealing with this crisis. I decided the things I will do are:

Realize that dealing with crisis is not something new: In fact, dealing with crisis is a rather common occurrence for all of us. We have all dealt with numerous crises. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, during my life time, some of the crises that have occurred are the bombing of Pearl Harbor (12/07/41)which resulted in the United States’ participation in World War II which had begun in 1939, the “Recession of 1949,” Korean War (June 25, 1950 – July 27, 1953), Vietnam War (11/1/1955-4/30/75), Cuban Missile Crisis (10/16/62-10/28/62), assassination of John F. Kennedy (11/22/63), assassination of Malcolm X (2/21/65), assassination of Martin L. King (4/4/68), assassination of Robert F. Kennedy (6/6/68), Energy Crisis of the 1970s, AIDS epidemic (1981), Black Monday (1987), Columbine High School Massacre (4/30/99) and numerous other school shootings that followed, “Y2K”, “9-11” (2001), Enron Scandal and Crisis (2001) and a host of others which I cannot recall at the moment.

Control what I can Control – I cannot control the virus, but I can control my reaction to it. I can decide to take all the necessary precautions recommended by the World Health Organization, such as practicing social distancing, washing my hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or if soap and water are not readily available using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily.

I can also remember that crises come and go and I do not have to sit around and let this crisis control my every thought. I can choose not to be overcome by boredom, fear and frustration.

Make Lemonade: There is an old adage that says, “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” That is what I decided to do.

During the first few months of 2020, MBA was experiencing less business of almost any year in the nearly 14 years since we started the company. However, it looked as if everything was going to change beginning in the middle of March. On the calendar we had training events in Denton (March 17th-18th), Midland, (March 23rd-24th), Angleton (25th-26th) Corpus Christi (30th -31st) and Tyler (June 17th-18th). I was scheduled to speak at a National Leadership Institute in Annapolis, Maryland the first week in June. A group in Oregon had contacted us about providing them some technical assistance. Things were looking bright, then the Coronavirus arrived. All the March trainings as well as the National Leadership Institute in Annapolis had to be cancelled or rescheduled.

It became glaringly obvious that for the next few months, MBA’s “outgo” would be exceeding its “income.” While nothing will be going into MBA’s coffers, the utility bills (gas, water, electrical, telephone, etc.), payroll, and office expenses will continue to result in withdrawals. All of a sudden, MBA was transformed from a job I love to an expensive hobby I love.

Rather than becoming frustrated and overcome with worry, I am choosing to look at it from a different perspective. First of all, we have dealt with crises before and we managed to survive. Why should this time be any different?

As I began to look at the situation differently, I realized that most of the events we had on the calendar are not being cancelled but rescheduled. We may have to work harder to fit them into our schedule, but most of the projects are still there. Finances may be tight for a while, but we will survive. I have decided I am not going to let this get the best of me. I am going to make lemonade.

I am using the extra time I have available as a result of the coronavirus to do a variety of things: Among them are cleaning and reorganizing my office (which should have been done a long time ago), developing some new workshops, reading some books I have been wanting to read, but have not gotten around to reading and which I hope will also contribute to the development of the new workshops, writing more, and doing some marketing to secure projects for when the crisis is over. Even though my calendar does not look as crowded as it was at the beginning of the month, I feel more productive.

Another impact of the virus is that the Bible Study group I teach at our church on Sunday mornings has been suspended. Most of the people in the group are older than I am. Most are in their 80s & 90s. I am now reaching out to them each day, checking on them by email to find out if they need assistance with something, to encourage them and even share a little humor from time to time. All of that is less time consuming than the six to eight hours a week I spent preparing to teach the Bible Study before the virus caused us to suspend our meetings.

I have friends across the county who are either retired or are near retirement, some of whom are wrestling with some serious illnesses. I decided to call each of them and catch up with what is happening and to try to provide them some encouragement. We shared memories, laughed at some of the things that have happened over the years and in trying to be a blessing to them, they became a blessing to me. What a great time I have had with them. Not sure I would have had that experience if my schedule had not been interrupted by the coronavirus.

As I penned the paragraphs above, a memory bubbled up to the surface of my mind. In 1998, I was driving back from Austin late at night after having been there to testify before the legislature. It was late. I was tired and things had not gone as well as I would have liked. I was afraid that what the legislature was about to do would have a negative impact on the field of criminal justice and especially on probation. As I drove along with my negative thoughts, I began to focus on other areas of my life and the negativity began to permeate my feelings about every aspect of my life. I got to thinking about having kids so late in life and how that was going to affect my retirement. I was thinking, “I’ll be 65 when my oldest child finishes high school and 67 when my youngest finishes, and then I will still be facing college expenses. My children will be going to college on Social Security Scholarships.”

As I was driving and feeling sorry for myself, I began to think about the good things about those situations. As an older parent, I have had more time to devote to my children than I would have had when I was first starting my career. Hopefully, I became a wiser parent for having waited to have children. Financially, I was able to do so much more for my children than I would have been able to do if our children had been born when my wife and I were younger. When I got home, I began to write the following poem:

Aging Gracefully

© 1998

by Mel Brown

Lord, remind me when I whine

of all the things that are mine.

Make me grateful for what I’ve got

and for all the things that I am not.

My knees – they creak and they crack

and I always have a pain in my back;

but when I hurt with each step that I take,

I can know I’m alive, because I still ache.

My eyesight’s not what it used to be

and that’s not all that’s failing me.

My hearing gets worse as each year passes,

but I still have ears to hold up my glasses.

The teeth I have now are all fake;

But, as a result, they don’t ache.

So Lord remind me when I whine

of all the things that are mine

and make me grateful for what I’ve got,

and for all the things that I am not.

And please help me to always recall

halitosis is better than no breath at all.

The question I would like for my readers to answer is, “How are you making lemonade?”

Loyalty and Long-Term Employment, Are They the Same?

Loyalty and Long-Term Employment,  Are They the Same?

Loyalty and Long-Term Employment, Are They the Same?

While providing some technical assistance to an organization a few years ago, it became apparent to me that a very pleasant employee, who had been  with the organization a very long time and who seemed to be liked by nearly everyone on staff, had learned to do just enough to fly, unseen, under the performance issues radar and really contributed nothing to the organization.

Later, in a conversation with the organization’s chief executive, I asked him to tell me about the employee, who for the purposes of this article will be referred to as Joe.  He described Joe as “a great guy,” “very likeable,” and “very loyal.”

My follow-up question was, “Tell me how Joe has demonstrated his loyalty.” The ensuing conversation between me and the “Exec” went something like this.

His response was, “We have had an extremely high turnover for a number of years, but Joe has stayed with us when so many have not.  He could have taken a job somewhere else, but he has remained loyal to us.”

Me: “Has he told you he has had opportunities to work other places or do you know of specific places that he had the opportunity to take a job and did not?”

Exec: “No, not really.”  I just know that with the high turn-over rate we have had, he has chosen to stay with us.”

 Me:    “Could it be that Joe is just not motivated enough to apply somewhere else?’

 Exec: “That’s what I am saying.  He is loyal to us and does not want to go anywhere else.”

 Me:    “Has Joe ever done anything here that would make you think he is the best employee on your payroll?”

 Exec:  “Not really.”

 Me:    “Has he ever gone out of his way to make another employee successful?”

 Exec:  “I don’t recall him ever doing something like that.”

 Me:    “Does he volunteer to take on tough assignments.”

 Exec: “I don’t believe so.”

 Me:    “Has he ever offered solutions to problems the organization was experiencing.”

 Exec: “Hmmm, not that I remember.”

Me:    “Does he ever do anything for the organization that is not in his job description?”

 Exec: “Now that I think about it, I am not sure.”

Me:    “Has he grown in his current job over the years?”

Exec:  “Not really.”

 Me:    “If every employee you have did their job the way Joe does his, would you think your organization would be the most outstanding organization in the state?”

 Exec:  “No.”

 Me:    “Is there anything about Joe other than he is likeable and he is still on the payroll that makes you think of Joe as a loyal employee.”

 Exec:  “I am beginning to think that maybe Joe is not as loyal as I thought he was.”

 Me:    “I think you are right.  I think you have been confusing loyalty with comfort, lack of motivation and long-term employment. I think Joe is just comfortable, not loyal. He doesn’t seem to be contributing anything significant to this organization and he lacks the motivation to apply for a higher job here or to apply for a job somewhere else.” 

This is a rather long introduction to this month’s column, but I wanted to make a strong point — loyalty has nothing to do with length of employment, blind obedience, or unthinking devotion. The things that demonstrate an employee’s loyalty are:

Integrity – Employees who consistently seek to do the right thing are not just following a personal credo – They are also looking out for the long-term interest of the organization in which they work. Such employees are faithful to the company; possess strong feelings of care, responsibility, and bonding. They have a powerful willingness to make an investment in the organization and sometimes make personal sacrifices for the good of the organization.

Doing Their Best to Make the Organization a Success – Loyal employees make sure they do quality work.  They per-form as if they own stock in the company.  My Administrative Assistant who actually runs the office ensures that it runs smoothly. When making travel arrangements or purchasing supplies, she treats our company’s money as if it were her own.  She makes sure we get the best price for everything we purchase.  

Loyal employees are not limited by their job descriptions.  When they see something that needs to be done, they do it. They volunteer for difficult assignments.  They also become the “go to” person in the organization.  Other people in the organization seek them out for advice.

Dissenting and Disagreeing – Loyal employees do not blindly accept every idea presented by the organization’s executive.  As pointed out by Patrick Lencioni in his book,  The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,   members  of  cohesive  teams  engage  in unfiltered conflict around ideas.  Loyal employees weigh the positives and negatives of a decision, sharing conflicting opinions and play the devil’s advocate.  They create stimulating conversations that lead to better decisions.

 Talking Positively about the Organization – When loyal employees talk to people outside their organization, they talk positively about where they work.  After a decision is made, loyal employees get behind that decision even if they privately disagree. They don’t just pay the decision lip service; they support the decision as if it were their own and work toward its successful implementation. Truly loyal employees put aside their feelings and actively try to make every decision the right decision – instead of undermining it or wishing it would fail so they can prove themselves right.

 Asking Questions Others Will Not — Many employees hesitate to voice their opinions or feelings whether in a group set-ting or in a private meeting.

During a meeting, I once had an employee ask me a question about a new initiative I had just announced to the group. After the meeting, I pulled her aside and ask her why she had raised the question since she had been on the planning committee that developed the initiative.

Her response was, “I was not asking for me.  Some of the people in the room had expressed some concern about it and yet they were not asking questions in the meeting, so I thought I would give you an opportunity to explain it and answer the questions they had, but were hesitant to ask.”

Loyal employees have a great feel for the issues and concerns of the people around them, and they ask the questions or raise the important issues when others won’t. They know that if the organization is going to function well, the executive needs to know what employees are thinking and employees need to know what the executive is thinking.

Preparing You When They are Going to Leave —

As you have realized, truly loyal employees are not your aver-age employees.  They are usually your best employees – the ones you hate to see leave. However, they often do.  They leave for a variety of reasons – a better opportunity, their spouse is being transferred, or to do something entirely different that they have always wanted to do.

When it is time for them to leave, they will tell you. They will help you in any way they can to fill the hole they create by leaving. 

When that time comes, be as loyal to them as they have to you. Wish them well and remain a resource for them as they begin a new adventure. 

How High is Your Lid

MBA’s mission is to equip individuals and organizations to accomplish their visions, missions and goals and every service we offer our clients – regardless of whether the client is an individual or an organization – is designed to equip them to accomplish their visions, missions and goals.

Because leadership has such an impact on both individuals and organizations, leadership development is something in which we encourage all readers of this column to be involved.

With that introduction, let me return to the title in this month’s column: How high is your lid?

The first Law in John C Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is “The Law of the Lid.” This law states, “Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness.” As Maxwell points out, “Leadership is always the lid on personal and organizational effectiveness. If a person’s leadership is strong, the organization’s lid is high; but if it’s not, the organization is limited.”

In other words, the more effective you want your organization to be, the more leadership ability you need. The effectiveness of your organization is determined by your ability to lead others.

I love the story about a sales manager who was having a meeting with all of his sales representatives. His division had the poorest sales record in the company and he was determined to get his team to perform better.

He began the meeting by showing the group charts that re-flected the sales made by each of the sales teams in the company, He made them keenly aware that their team was the poorest performing team in the company, and told them that had to change.

He began to berate them for their lack of sales and threatened if the team did not perform better during the next six months there would major changes in personnel. He then turned to one of the sales representatives who had been a professional football player and asked, “that’s what happens in professsional football. Isn’t it?”
The former pro player said, “That’s true. If a player did not perform well, he was cut from the team. However, if the whole team was performing poorly, we usually got a new coach.”

Lou Holtz, the only college football coach to lead six different programs to bowl games, said “You’ve got to have great athletes to win, I don’t care who the coach is. You can’t win without good athletes, but you can lose with them. This is where coaching makes the difference.”

As Maxwell points out in his book on the laws of leadership,

“Unity of vision doesn’t happen spontaneously. The right players with the proper diversity of talent don’t come together on their own. It takes a leader to make those things happen. It takes a leader to provide the motivation, empowerment, and direction to win.”

This is true whether you are an executive, a division manager, or a unit supervisor. When an organization is not performing well and is committed to doing better, there are only two choices – the leader can change or the organization can change leaders.

The great news in that statement is that an organization does not have to change leaders if the leader is willing to change.

Is your leadership lid as high as you would like? If not, what are you willing to do about it? What would you need to do to raise your lid?

Helpful Hints for Executives

Leadership Coaching with Mel Brown

Because of the tremendous response I received to March’s column which contained “Helpful Hints for Executives,” I decided to present some additional   “Helpful Hints.”   The two hints    I would like to pass on this month are: “People Do Things for Their Reasons, Not Yours” and “The Time to Start Planning Your Next Budget is Immediately After You Get Approval on the Previous One.” 

Hint # 4 People Do Things for Their Reasons, Not Yours

As a supervisor, manager, or executive, you may wonder why people you supervise don’t do what you would like them to do or why your boss or board of directors doesn’t respond positively to your ideas.  It may be because you described what you wanted done in terms of what moves and motivates you and not in terms what moves or motivates them.  It is important to understand that people do things for their reasons, not yours. 

Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”  The question, then, is “how do we get people to want to do what we want done?” 

The answer is that people will always behave in ways that are congruent with their highest values.  If you understand that person’s highest values—what really means something to them—and you speak with them in a language that resonates with their highest values, you are more likely to get them to perform in the way you desire.

Let me illustrate the principle this way. When I was Executive Director of the Montgomery County Department of Community Supervision and Corrections, the Community Justice Assistance Division (CJAD) of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), announced that in order to divert offenders from the Institutional Division (ID) of TDCJ, CJAD would make money available to local departments to develop and operate community corrections facilities (CCFs). 

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The Value of Looking Back

Leadership Coaching with Mel Brown

Recently, I read an extremely well-written, thought provoking posting on LinkedIn written by Valerie Rivera, who describes herself as a “Culture Catalyst/Design Thinker/Coach.” I not only connected with Valerie on LinkedIn, but also obtained permission to use her posting as the introduction to this month’s column. Her posting said:

My heart was pounding so hard in my chest, I thought it might explode.

I’d finally attempted to go running in Colorado, but my lungs were revolting against me. After years of living at sea level, the altitude was really taking its toll.

In a show of solidarity (or maybe pity?), my right shoe untied itself three times. The left one was not so generous. Still, I welcomed the excuse to stop and catch my breath, grateful that I’d skipped the double knots – but dejected by my apparent lack of stamina. I turned around to head back just as the sun began to set, and the view shocked me. I’d been running uphill THE ENTIRE TIME!

I was so focused on putting one foot in front of the other that I hadn’t even noticed the true magnitude of my quest. Then it hit me – this was just like starting a business. Disappointment, rejection, elation – sometimes all in the same day! Which leads me to wonder: when things are difficult, do we turn around often enough to celebrate how far we’ve come? More.. Read Full Article

Do It – Write: Part 2

Leadership Coaching with Mel Brown

In last month’s column we explained the “Do It – Write” approach to writing for publication, explored how to develop articles using this approach, and discussed potential sources from which you could draw material for publication.

Incentives to Write

While the leaders in most professions are not generally given the “publish or perish” mandate faced by those in the academic ranks, having material published in a recognized journal can enhance the career of the writer. Most employers will view favorably those individuals who bring positive recognition to their organization by publishing information about their programs, services or products.

Having your work appear in print also brings recognition from peers in the field. This recognition often brings with it opportunities to speak at conferences and seminars or to serve as a consultant to other organizations. These activities, in turn, provide additional opportunities to develop material for publication.

In the “Do It – Write” approach, not only does speaking furnish material for articles, but having your work published can also provide additional opportunities to speak. Each activity serves as a resource for the other.

In addition to the benefits or incentives mentioned above, writing for publication gives one a sense of accomplishment and also serves as a form of self-development. The more you write and speak, the better you become at writing and speaking.

Do It – Write: Part 1

Leadership Coaching with Mel Brown

In your capacity as a leader/manager, you may be called upon to make a presentation to a group regarding the work your organization does, to serve as a speaker for seminars or workshops, to write a grant or a proposal or to prepare a report for your boss or board of directors.

The next time you find yourself involved in one of these activities, ask yourself if what you have to say might be of interest to a wider audience. If so, when you do one of the above activities, write. Consider turning that report or speech into an article for a magazine, newsletter or journal.

The “Do It – Write” idea came to me quite by accident. Just prior to moving to Conroe Texas in November, 1979, to begin my job as Director of the Montgomery County Juvenile Department, I attended a meeting of The Texas Corrections
Association. The editor of that association’s journal asked me to submit an article for publication. Extremely flattered, I readily agreed. However, I moved to Conroe, got involved in my new job and forgot about writing the article.

When the deadline for submission my manuscript was imminent, I frantically began searching for a subject for the article. In my search I discovered the penciled outline of a speech I had given numerous times to college classes and civic
groups. That outline became the skeleton around which I built the article, “A Philosophy of Juvenile Detention,” which appeared in the January/February 1980 issue of the Texas Journal of Corrections.

How to Get People to Want to do What You Want Done!

Leadership Coaching with Mel Brown

I wanted one of those facilities for my jurisdiction. The state required that the application for these funds be approved by the local Board of Judges prior to submission. I knew each of the judges on my board. I knew their values and their judicial philosophies. I went to each judge individually to try to persuade him or her to support the application when it came to the entire Board for official approval. What I said in my presentation to each of the judges was based upon his or her philosophy.

While there were 9 judges on the board, I am going to share with you the approach I took with the two who were on each end of the continuum of judicial philosophies. On one end was a judge who had been the elected prosecutor for 12 years before ascending to the bench. His philosophy of probation was something like “trail ‘em, nail ‘em and jail ‘em.”

The other judge was what I refer to as a stereotypical “frustrated social worker” judge. His approach to community supervision was therapeutic. He wanted to “save the world,” but he continued to give offenders chance after chance long after their behavior demonstrated they had no desire to change.