Saturday, January 24, 2009

Can we talk?

Abraham Lincoln always fascinated me even at a young age. So, I knew about his "team of rivals" and willingness to listen to everyone's opinion. I thought that he was a great man and a little nuts. After all, who would invite his or her rivals to help in running a government? I use to believe that great men and women had the answers and then let others in on their findings. Wrong.

Studying great individuals reveals that they share an attitude of openness. They listen to and understand what other people suggest, and glean from conversations the most important information. Listening makes them no less passionate about their beliefs, but connects them to the other person (even their adversary) because they begin by identifying the common goal.

So I question, how open are we? Are we willing to listen carefully, respectfully to another view of an issue or do we just shout them down and dismiss them, if not out loud, in our mind? Who knows, by listening we all might learn something.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Were Your Eyes Opened?

"Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve." Martin Luther King Jr.
It started as a simple thought, "let's participate in the National Day of Service." We chose The Center in Asbury Park, NJ a residence for individuals with HIV/AIDS. The posting on the website for the National Day of Service said they needed canned goods and hats and scarfs. We drove over to ask them what they really needed. Colleen and Bob, two volunteers, met us at the door and gave us a tour. The care and concern for everyone who walked through the doors was immediate. Throughout the tour, meeting and acknowledging residents and volunteers alike, everyone was smiling and upbeat. The Center opens the doors to help many others who are not residents and have an amazing food pantry. But Colleen took us into another storage room. "What we don't have are basic toiletries. There is no deoderant, shampoo, or especially in this cold weather, skin lotion." A list in our hands, we left with the awareness that we take so much for granted. Two more messages awaited us on our service day.
Filling our basket full at a local CVS we told the woman behind the register what we were doing. She was thrilled and glad that we were helping out. Then shared her story of having been very wealthy, but she went through a divorce and spent all of her remaining money on health care for her mother who had no insurance. Now she wasn't sure how to pay the bills. But she thanked us for helping others. We walked out more aware of our health and our insurance.
Stepping out the door of the CVS we were asked for money. A "train ticket" was the reason he told us. But after giving him a little cash we watched as he walked into the nearby Burger King to get something to eat. Now we were conscious that we are always able to eat.
The Center was very grateful for the donations, but the residents especially were overjoyed with the candy. Colleen tipped us off that they rarely got treats and the residents loved them. The little bags of chocolate bars were the highlight. Amazing the things that make a day special.
Service opens eyes. It opened mine. So, what did you do today? Were your eyes opened.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hopeless? Not Yet

Sunday morning. Typical ritual for me. Coffee, relaxing music and the New York Times. By the time I finished reading the paper I felt physically beaten down. The news shouted about Israel and Gaza, Russia and the Ukraine, about new conflicts starting in Africa and the continuing tension between India and Pakistan. Pummled by the world I turned to business only to be buried under the avalance of news about bad markets, bad business, and bad people. It was endless. So, I felt myself searching for some sign of hope in all of this bad news.

Our society revels in bad news. Some people claim that it is "reality." Perhaps. But studying great individuals you discover that they thrive in difficult times because they simultaneously see both the current difficulties and a hopeful future. The difference is that they work on the hopeful future. Hope is not just wishing. It is a discipline of establishing a goal, setting the path, and doing everything in your power to succeed.

After I put the paper down I thought of what I hope for in this world. Perhaps this moment can be a turning point. There is a growing distaste globally for violence as a resolution to anything. I hope for more avenues to peace. The partisan war in politics has paralyzed this country. I hope for rational, cooperative politicians to work together to move us forward. Finally, the global financial meltdown highlights that money is not the only answer. I hope we rebuild an economy that focuses more on providing opportunities for everyone to achieve his or her greatness.

Hoping creates energy and drive. It spurs us to move from complaining and worrying to discovering innovative ways to deal with challenges. What do you hope for?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Integrity in the HOV Lane

In the wake of the financial crisis, where CEOs made selfish decisions that destroyed the lives of many people, the question arises "Didn't they teach ethics in business school?" We look at Bernie Madoff and Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois and easily condemn them while opining that they are not men of integrity.

It would be easy to place the guilt on MBA programs, law schools, universities and other institutions. Others might blame parents and say that they are not doing their job. Still others might cry the lack of religion and long for the day of hell-fire and brimstone. But the toughest place we might have to look is in the mirror. Are we tolerating lack of integrity in ourselves and others and in doing so encouraging greater and greater lapses in integrity until someone finally gets caught.

A quick example might help. This evening, driving back to Trenton from New York City, I was amazed at all the cars that were driving in the HOV Lane, which is supposed to be for vehicles with 3 or more occupants, and was stunned with how many of them had only one person. So I started counting and identified 14 cars in a row with only one passenger. By the way, I know the HOV was not lifted tonight.

So, though it might be easy for us to point fingers at those who showed a lack of integrity and hurt others, my question is where did it start? It started with some small broken law, infraction, bent rule because someone thought no one would get hurt. After a while it gets easier.

If I've learned one thing, it is that greatness begins with the small things, not the big ones. We build from seeds that we and others plant. So, our behaviors now, are our destiny to come. What do we choose?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Who Has Time For Greatness?

Lunch today provided a deeper glimpse into a world Jan Sparrow and I are just beginning to explore, the universe of social networking... online of course. A good friend, Meredith Gould, gave us a crash course on the use of these social sites to expand our social real estate and promote ourselves. It amazed me the various ways that I can link to our business website,, my publishing company,, our passion for greatness,, and even our hope for our next venture, Okay, so after the conversation today I joined Twitter. So far it's the most complicated networking site I've seen. But of course I'm also already on Facebook, LinkedIn and Ning and that is aside from my three email addresses. Our question to Meredith at the end of lunch was "who has time for all this?"

Supposedly this is the 21st century way to do business, and perhaps it is. But is this a way to live? Over the recent holiday I had an interesting experience in "unplugging." I left my laptop at a friend's house knowing I would be back the next day and I went home without it. For 24 hours I was without a computer. Of course I had my BlackBerry, but that is not the same. I found myself wandering into my study looking longingly at the table where I usually get online. It amazed me how seduced I've become to this electronic world.

In the time without emails (I turned my BlackBerry off), Facebook, Ning, LinkedIn, or surfing I rediscovered the joy of a good book. I sat for a while and just thought. I even played my guitar which I haven't touched for months. And all of a sudden it hit me. How can we accomplish great things if we are online all the time? What greatness can we aspire to if all we are doing is reading the accomplishments of others and satisfying ourself by making them our "friend?"

So for me, I'm limiting my time. Once in the morning and once at night. It's not easy because now I have time when I'm finished work. But maybe tonight I can use that time to think about changing the world. Or perhaps I'll just play my guitar again.