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Currency and Legacy

The currency of our lives is the legacy we leave thriving behind us.  It is not the what that we’ve done, it’s the who we have been in each and every moment; the lives we have touched and what we have imparted by our being.  Perhaps, it is not for us, ourselves, to mention these things.  They may flow so easily and seamlessly through us, we may be unaware.

I watched Sheila Nevins give her “last testament” on the PBS NewsHour the other evening, but she left me out!  Now, I wasn’t offended or anything, lol, quite the contrary. I would not expect to be in her last testament, at least not specifically.  Sheila, if I can be so familiar, is a towering figure at HBO and in the entertainment business as a whole.  President of HBO Documentary Films, producer of so very many documentaries and the most esteemed awards and distinctions.  Of course, she talked of none of these in her last testament.  Ms. Nevins shared the intimate experience of sitting down with her lawyer and finalizing her will, decisions on remains, organ donations and all, and then escaping into the ice cream parlor for a giant sundae, one of the joys of life.  The other exquisite joy, her son, a love she spoke of so eloquently.

So, why would she speak of me?  Well, perhaps, we are not the best people to give last testaments of ourselves, because Sheila left out some important things.  You see, I met Sheila in the late nineteen-seventies, when she was a rising executive, already quite achieved (though I knew none of that at the time), and I was a twenty-something waiter serving her breakfast many a morning at the Puffing Billy Restaurant on 86th Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan. (Yes, I drove a taxi cab, waited tables and did a whole lot of other things in my youth, all glorious experiences.)

Sheila was quite a striking woman, and more than that, she carried an ilk, a certain regal quality, a good thing, but also creating a sort of, “keep your distance.”  And, I did, at first.  But, as weeks went by, and I shared a word with her here and there, and then conversation, I found a kind, warm and generous person, that special kind of generosity, a generosity of the soul.  On some level, I think she saw that I was a searching and struggling twenty-something, and she was encouraging, mentoring and supportive in the most subtle and meaningful of ways.

From time to time, Sheila and her husband Sidney (Koch) would venture into the restaurant for lunch or dinner.  Sidney was an investment banker and quite accomplished.  He was equally filled with kindness and generosity, no wonder they found each other and have been together so very long.  When the restaurant closed and I found myself working at an entry level job in banking on Wall Street, Sidney invited me for lunch at an exclusive and private nineteenth-century merchants club in the area.  Who extends such kindness and generosity?  These two people do.   Some years later, when my first child was born, much to my surprise, a gift from Sheila arrived at my front door.  We had barely kept in touch, yet there it was.

So, I think, just maybe, you’re getting the picture here.  I am quite certain that I am not the only one to have experienced this exceptional extension of goodness from Sheila, exceptional, yet came so naturally from the being of this elegant woman.  This was and is her way of being.  And, when our journey is moving towards its end point, and we are looking back over the years and the paths, and the accomplishments and the so-called missed opportunities, we, ourselves, may miss some of the biggest and most important impacts we have had, we have accomplished, in the way we extend our selves, our souls, to the souls of others; not for gain, not with forethought, simply out of the goodness of who we are. And this, as much and maybe more than anything is our legacy that we leave behind, thriving and living as an experiential example.

So, Sheila, I want to say that I hope you’re not going anywhere anytime soon. I’m guessing you gave this last testament because you know you only have a few more decades or so to go. ☺  But, I want it to be complete for you, and hopefully, I have helped to complete the picture.

Hawaii Five-No. This Is Not a Drill! Check & Balance or Bust.

Hawaii Five-No. This Is Not a Drill! Check & Balance or Bust.

A Good Leader Must also be a Good Manager

October 2000. I got into the office early that morning and already had a voicemail to get to an 8:30 meeting. I quickly found out that a distribution system that was running for about a year had maxed out the bank account that drew funds to make these payments. I was put in charge of a task force to find out what happened and get it fixed. It didn’t take long to determine that data from one system was being transferred to another system that was paying the money out. The problem: when the payment system took the records in, there was no confirmation to determine whether the output equaled the input in the number of records or amount of money…nor were there any other validations. While one might expect a check and balance that went to a more granular level, at the very least, there should have been a systematic check at the macro level. And, that was only the beginning. The distribution system was designed so badly, it was making duplicate payments – and sometimes to people who shouldn’t have been paid at all. I came to call it the Chernobyl System*, after the shoddy Soviet-era nuclear power plant that had no containment system. It blew up, contaminating millions of people with radioactivity and creating a forbidden zone with a radius of at least thirty miles that will remain uninhabitable for at least 180 years, and some scientists say 3,000 years.

Hawaii Incoming
Fast forward to Monday, January 13, 2018. Vern Miyagi, the man in charge of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA), standing side by side with the Governor of Hawaii, had the courage to say, “This was my fault.” The procedures in place allowed one single individual to “push the button” to issue a live alert that there was an incoming missile minutes away from impact to Hawaii. What!?!?!! Yes, you heard me right. No checks or balances or confirmations. One person can make this error, and it can go through to strike fear and panic in the hearts of 1.4 million Hawaiians and tens of thousands of tourists.

Hacked to Death
C’mon, stuff like that is one in a million. Really, let’s go back into the ancient history of
September 2017. Equifax, the giant credit agency, announces it has had a data breach of
143 million Americans – including their Social Security Numbers, driver’s license data, security questions and answers and more. Equifax CEO, Richard Smith, who was forced to resign, testified before the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee and said, “The human error was that the individual who was responsible for communication in the organization to apply the patch, did not.” One person – no checks, no balances, only errors…one huge error.

These are examples of inexcusable malfeasance and incompetence, yet it seems to go on more often than we could imagine in the most important organizations. Most managers are competent, but when they are not and when processes are put in place that lacks the appropriate necessary checks and balances, there should be a leader at the top and leaders up and down the line who are asking the right questions.

Check, Check and Double-Check…Really?
So, let’s get a few things straight. Checks and balances cost money. You don’t need to check everything all the time. You need to have the appropriate checks and balances in place. So, how do you know when to check and how often? There is no black and white answer to that, but let’s set down some sound rational ground rules.

When the distribution system I described at the top, the so-dubbed Chernobyl distribution system, was reprogrammed to have the appropriate checks and balances programmed to work systematically, we went forward to use it for the first time. When we did, I put in place manual stops, where we downloaded data and checked it manually in Excel. Each step of the process was manually audited in this way. It was tedious, laborious and time-consuming, but that was the first time we were using the revamped system, and after all, we had already lost millions of dollars, most of which could not be recouped. Think of the financial and political exposure of repeating the mistakes that were already made. We conducted the same validations the second time we ran it, confirming each step of the process, and we were verifying that the system itself was performing the checks and balances correctly. Now, we could have a reasonable expectation that it would run right and pay accurately. We pulled back many of these laborious manual audits and, as we went forward, we did spot checks and a reasonability analysis at the end of a run.

What are the ground rules?
When a process, an operation or a system is in place, here are some criteria to follow:
Criticality, Newness, Reliability
How critical is this?

What are the stakes? The more that’s at stake, the more checks and balances you need.
Legal – Are there legal considerations that could make you, your organization or others legally liable if something goes wrong?
Financial – Is there significant financial risk to the organization or are you dealing with monies that amount to a virtual rounding error?
Political – Will there be fireworks in the boardroom? Will a key client, a key board member or the public be negatively impacted in a significant way?
You can add to the list, but these are the main events, and each of these have a scale. You have to balance the scale between the risks and costs.

How new is your process/operation/system?
When something is new, it needs the checks and balances to ensure that it is running right. This may mean a number of checks along the way. Over time, as you have ensured that it is running correctly and accurately, you can pull back on some, even many of these checks, but you always need some verifications. AND, you must always keep criticality in mind.

We’ve run this over and over again without a single problem.
Don’t get lulled to sleep by this. Things change. All of sudden, they’ve replaced the server, or someone new is on the job. If something has been humming along, that’s great, but you still need to beware of the unexpected and still need to have appropriate checks and balances in place. AND, you must always keep criticality in mind.

*Note: In the wisdom of the senior management of this organization, the software designer who built what I called the Chernobyl distribution system was later promoted and went on to build another system with equally disastrous results.


More Than The Winter Blues By Marshall Tarley

More Than The Winter Blues

There are more people than ever before either not working or working from home.
They are in potential danger.

I received a call the other day from a client, a hard-charging entrepreneur. He was agitated and sounded desperate. “I’m chained to my desk and my PC,” he said. “I haven’t been outside in three days.”

Later that same day, I got a call from another friend who was clearly in despair. Initially, the call was to catch up and invite my girlfriend and I to dinner Saturday evening. The catch up quickly turned to the emotionally tough winter she is having. She is retired, and several activities in her life – an art class, her tennis and more – seemed to vanish, at least for now. What’s more, her grandchild, for whom she babysat a couple of times each week, had gone with her daughter on vacation. She was falling into a vortex of despair.

This is not limited to retired people, though they are particularly vulnerable to it. Individual entrepreneurs, others who work from home and the unemployed and underemployed are also in the danger zone.

In this country today, and perhaps around the world, more people than ever before are not working or working from home. While the unemployment rate hovers at record lows, the employment participation rate is at its lowest point in nearly a half- century. Some economists and commentators say that this is due to baby boomers retiring. That’s a half-truth. The economic collapse of 2008 displaced a vast number of employable people, many of them baby boomers, people in their mid-forties and older at the time, who have never recovered. Many of these displaced workers had to deal with crushing financial needs on top of the social and emotional toll of unemployment and forced retirement. Combine that with those who truly retired, those who are under-employed and those who work from home, either as employees or as individual entrepreneurs, and you have an unprecedented population of people who are vulnerable to isolation, stress, depression, drug use and alcoholism.

What are some solutions?

Economics – This is not a political or economic blog, so I will leave it to economists, industry leaders and our bumbling politicians to resolve the economic issues.
Emotions – Yes, I believe I can be of help on the emotional front.  Or, I might say that if you and make a sustained effort, the four steps below will make a difference – if you use them. When we are already depressed, it is hard to pull ourselves out, but if you get up and get moving, defy gravity, the tools below will work for you. It’s not easy, but it is worth it to take up the challenge and win. If you have not yet reached the event horizon, where you have been sucked into that black hole, great, then this will be a bit easier.

4 Steps to Protect and Strengthen Our Emotional Selves.

Socialize – Yes, I know it’s hard, but you need to push yourself out there. Social contact is one of the most essential elements of brain health and emotional health. Consciously and deliberately plan social events – dinner with friends and relatives, movie dates, museum dates (even if you’ve never been to a museum, you may like it). Join social groups. That’s not you? That’s okay; you are making changes to make your life better. Join a Meet Up Group – I just Googled Meet-Ups in Bismark, North Dakota and there are tons of them of every subject and flavor. Join your church or synagogue groups. Join a bowling league. Painting, writing, who knows what untapped talents you have. Will it all work out just right? Of course not. You’ll learn and pick and choose, but even a bad social experience in one of these groups is way better than spending time alone. Plan, Plan, Plan – Yes, I know it’s hard, but plan a schedule, both a social schedule and an exercise schedule.

Exercise – Again, you’re going to tell me it’s not you? Again, you’re changing. The second most important element of brain health and emotional health (after socializing) is exercise. And, you thought it was only good for your body. Exercise pumps blood through your system and into your brain, it can cause the release of endorphins and dopamine into the brain – these are feel-good chemicals that we love. You can combine the experience and exercise with others. You should (yes, I’m using the should word), you should exercise every day and, if your doctor gives you the green light, do rigorous, challenging exercise twice per week.

Choose Your “Trance” – We do not need to be hypnotized to be in a trance. Trance is a deep state of focus. When we are in this state, everything begins to be colored by our state of mind. In a negative trance-state, we see our world – past, present and future, as bleak. We see the negative side of our experiences, of decisions we’ve made in life, of everything, including our future. Listen carefully, that is a Trance. You get to choose your trance in life, and you can choose a good trance. How? Cast your focus on what’s good and see your life through that focus. Whatever your situation, there are good parts to it. Even many “bad” experiences have elements of learning, of caring, of other good things. Focus there. Sit down and make a list of the good things in your life – they are there, I assure you. Review that list every morning and evening and add to it, because as you begin to see the world from the good things on that list, your brain will naturally see more good in your life. Plus, you will make all kinds of new and good discoveries by following steps one and two above – socializing and exercising.

Use Your Brain’s Natural Gestalt MechanismThe brain is hardwired to seek wholeness, completeness. If there is a blank, an open question that you feel any emotional connection to, even a small one, your brain will persistently seek to answer that question, often creating an endless number of scenarios. How can you use this mechanism to your advantage? Simple and not so simple. The simple part – ask yourself well-formed questions that set your mind on a path seeking answers that make you feel good. Here are a few examples:

I wonder how soon I can feel good?
What surprise will I have today that will make me feel good?
How much do people love me?
I wonder what it will look like to have a great day today?
How good will it feel to feel good?
Why am I so grateful for Sally’s friendship?

You get the idea. One thing though, you are not asking these questions with the intention of answering them with your conscious cognitive thinking. You are asking these questions of yourself with a sense of wonder and caring. Then, just leave them out there in your mind. Your brain will seek answers all on its own, even while you’re sleeping, and create scenarios and actions and good feelings.

So, what’s the not-so-simple part of this? The first time you do it, you may notice some small or large positive change, or you might not notice it at all. You are teaching your brain a new habit, and the more you do it, the more you will train your brain to act on your behalf. You will get better and better results as you go forward. So, the not-so-simple part is staying with it and making a practice of it.

You can ask questions before you start your day, in the middle of a bad time during your day, and certainly at the end of the day when you want to set your mind for a good night. Make up your own questions and use your five senses in creating these questions. We each represent the world in our own minds using one of our senses as a primary sense. Some of us are more oriented to visual, others to feeling, some to hearing and some to taste or smell. If you know the primary sense you relate to, use that one. If not, sprinkle all of them into your questions.

One Final and Important Note – You may find that you’re in a situation where you may need professional help – a social worker or counselor. If that’s the case, please go and see one. Even if you have no money, there are agencies and religious-affiliated groups that can provide this help. The advice above is no substitute for professional help, though it can supplement it.

"You Talkin' To Me" By Marshall Tarley

“Are You Talkin’ to Me?” Emotional Intelligence in 1970’s NYC

We are the product of our experiences
Though the experiences described here were challenging and at times threatening, they were so rich and instructive to an emerging and formative young man – me. Each of us have opportunities to learn and to assimilate that experiential knowledge into the practice that becomes who we are.

In 1976, I was driving a yellow taxi cab in New York City. There were nearly 2,000 murders in New York that year, many of them cabbies. New York was a rough and tumble town, lawless and nearly ungovernable. It was the year the movie Taxi Driver, with Robert De Niro, was released – a violent, gritty window into the underbelly of the New York I was navigating each day. I did drive days. Most of the cabbie murders were at night.

I started before dawn. If I hoped to get a cab for the day, I’d have to show up at the Corona Queens garage by 4:30 am. We were in the middle of a nasty recession. I’d be there with twenty to thirty others for shape-up. If you’re not familiar with that term, it’s where a group of people (at that time, mostly men) show up in the hope of getting work for the day. Once, I saw a man break down and cry, because he didn’t get picked, didn’t get work that day. I was chosen. I thought about giving up my spot to him, but honestly, I was scared that they wouldn’t give it to him anyway and I’d be banished from ever getting a cab again. That was the scene.

I, like a lot of people I knew in those days, were already attuned to maneuvering through rough situations. Driving a yellow cab was no party. I saw a lot of people get a cab for a day and discover (and excuse the pun) that they just couldn’t hack it. Not only did you have to navigate those mean streets, but you needed to establish enough of a rapport with the dispatcher to get a car, and with the mechanics to get one that wasn’t a smoking, clanking bomb that the doormen at the hotels and luxury buildings, and even those on the street desperate for a taxi, would wave by.

To this day, I can remember the dispatcher. He sat behind a glass, like the ticket-seller at a movie theater. He always sat on a pillow, leaning to one side. I felt that he must have actually worn his butt out driving for so many years…until he couldn’t stand it anymore and got the job behind the glass. He always looked like he was in pain, yet you dare not offer any comfort, as that would call attention to his situation. He had a miserable disposition, and though I was always looking for that tiny crevice to slip through a scrap of humor, kindness or comradery, I could never find it. All I could do was speak the language of Brooklyn and Queens, my native dialect, and be respectful. That alone seemed to payoff…at least to get a cab for the day. And, I managed to book enough money on the meter to get a car again two days later and two days after that, and after a few weeks, I was booking enough money consistently to get a regular shift.

Booking enough money meant that you had developed the wiles to aggressively hit the streets, hunt the fares, find your way through the maze of time and space and danger. My first day was intimidating, even frightening. Where to go…what to do. I had established enough of a relationship with the cabbies in the garage to get their philosophies. Some liked going to the airports, waiting on line and getting a big fare. Others thought that was a big waste of time. They preferred to head directly into Manhattan. “That’s where the money is kid,” they said. If you were lucky, you’d get a fare along the way into Manhattan, but, “Don’t waste time lookin’” they said. “Just head straight to the city.” And, that’s what I did.

You lose some control – you have to go where your fares take you and you have no control over traffic. But, you begin to get the feel of the terrain and where the fares can be had and at what times, and, if you were lucky, no one took you out of the Manhattan, because that’s where the action was. Back and forth, uptown, downtown, east and west. And, just when the evening rush hour is beginning, you have to get the cab back to the garage for the night shift. When I closed my eyes to go to sleep that first night, all I could see was the red, yellow and green lights of the traffic signals.

As the weeks and months wore on, each challenge tested me. Small ones, like getting through to the guy who got chicken grease all over the steering wheel on the night shift, without a fight and with enough persuasion to get him to change that habit. There were the cars – they were ragtag. One hot June day,
I drove the entire shift with a heater that would not shut off. If you were lucky enough to get a parking spot at the cabbie stand to go to the bathroom at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, you moved quickly and with your wits about you at every moment. In those days, the Port Authority was a combination homeless shelter and hangout for criminal predators of all stripes. (And, yes, bus lines and scared commuters went in and out of there as well.)

And then, there was dealing with anyone in New York City who might step into your car.
The greatest challenges and greatest delights were the customers. There were the two middle-aged guys having a fist fight in the back of my cab. They told me, “It’s alright, we’re brothers.”
I told them that it wasn’t alright and if they didn’t stop they had to get out. They stopped…for a while, then it erupted all over again. I pulled over and threw them out of the cab…not physically, but I made them get out.

There was the not so sweet old lady in her fur coat, who was screaming at me because I was stuck in gridlock. She was yelling, the horns were honking in a symphony, and there was absolutely nothing
I could do. It was total gridlock. As I sat there in the absurdity of it all, I started laughing out loud. I never forgot that. It was great to just laugh, though it did get her to yell extra loud.

There was the woman who dropped her cigarette that smoldered and filled the car with smoke, making me think the taxi was on fire. One of the most frightening situations was the passenger who pulled a knife out and started waving it and ranting as I drove along the FDR Drive. There was no immediate exit in sight, nowhere to go. When I finally exited onto a service road, he darted out of the cab and ran. I didn’t chase him.

One morning, a commodities trader rushed into my cab on the upper east side. I got her down to her Wall Street office in twenty minutes in the middle of the morning rush hour – a miracle. But, she was late and enraged at me. She said it was my fault, that I had taken her out of her way. “Do you know how much it costs me to be seven minutes late,” she spewed at me. I had to talk her out of reporting me to the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The stories go on and on. And there were some very kind and generous people as well. The stormy day I picked up Lynn Redgrave in the driving rain on the northwest corner of Columbus Circle. I had one of those rickety beat-up cars, but she got in with elegance. She was grateful and graceful and kind. I felt like I had a princess in my car, and she treated me like a prince.

And the wealthy young woman, who, though I got lost several times, was kind and patient and understanding. You remember that kind of simple kindness and grace…the rest of your life. I try to emulate it in times of stress.

Those were formative times, and if we remain open and searching and interested, our formative times never end. How they form us depends on the window we look through; our view of life and humanity filters the experience and gives it meaning. Sometimes, we reject a challenge outright, when grit and perseverance can see it through and open up great new horizons. The choices of anger and condemnation versus patience and understanding or even laughter; seeking rapport or looking down as different or lesser. And yes, if we stop and think, these can be choices. In our everyday lives, we can dare to change a way of looking at the world…just one filter tweaked one little bit can open new pathways of perception for the rest of our lives.

The Pit and the Pendulum

The Pit and the Pendulum – Lessons in Executive Leadership

Some executives believe that pitting managers or teams against each other will create vigorous competition, with the best leader(s) emerging on top. They’re wrong! The result will likely be the most divisive manager or team at the top, ready to sow seeds of distrust, suspicion, hostility and stress. Those ingredients kill-off creativity, innovation, collaboration and growth. In that Pit of conflict, the Pendulum may come to a complete halt. I had the experience of being called in to this kind of environment to conduct what can only be called “an intervention.”

The multi-year, enterprise-wide IT project that already cost many tens of millions of dollars, was way overdue and way over budget. The board of directors was more than a little concerned. It had reached a crescendo. The COO and CIO brought me in to work with the IT management teams. There were two teams and they were at war. I interviewed each manager individually and met with each team separately before daring to bring them together. The stress, anguish and frustration was palpable and poured forth in outbursts of rage and finger-pointing. The Delivery Team was responsible for the system design, software development, coding and delivery of the system. The Testing Team was responsible for every level of testing and for identifying bugs in the system. The Testing Team was dependent on the Delivery Team to understand every element of the system, in order to design the appropriate testing to identify flaws.

There was a powerful interdependency between the teams. That’s usually good.
But, the two management teams had two different sets of goals, and the goals of one team were in direct conflict with the goals of the other team. To add heat and fire to that situation, the teams’ incentive compensation was based on reaching their goals. The results – these management teams were in constant conflict and the project was in a quagmire. The Pendulum had stopped, but the clock and related budget dollars had been ticking on.

The first meeting with both teams had the feel and fireworks of marriage counselling.
Once they had the opportunity to air their differences, I pointed something out that they already knew – the status quo was unacceptable. The board was ready to step in and act. That’s why the COO and CIO sent me in and that’s why I had their full support. Now,
“What do you want to do about it?”

Unfortunately, their solutions were down in the weeds of the existing conflicts.
I asked them, “What is the overall goal for the company as a whole?”
It took a while, and they were able to articulate it and come to consensus on that goal.
Then came the tricky part. As I asked the next question, I felt a little like the guy on the high wire over Niagara Falls, because everything hinged on this.

“Now that we have identified the overall goal for the company, and since both teams have dependencies on each other that must be met in order for the system to be completed, would it make sense to have one set of goals that both teams are mutually judged on?”

There was silence, then grumbling. Finally, a couple of voices perked up. The logic was so compelling, so obvious, they slowly emerged to a consensus and embraced the idea. It was the crucial next step.

(I actually wanted them to be one team, but there was so much individual team identification and team pride – a good thing in most situations but not in this one. I left that as the next evolution.)

I took them a little by surprise at that point. I told them, “Stay right here. I’m going to try to get the COO and the CIO into the room right now to endorse this change.”

I scurried around the building fishing them both out of meetings, explaining the situation and prepping them for the need to approve this change right now. I brought them both into the room and asked one manager from each team to present the new joint goals the two teams had agreed to and the new direction they wanted to take. The CIO and COO approved it on the spot. The CIO immediately followed up with the Director of HR to change their incentive compensation to align both teams to the same goals and metrics.

There was one more small but important change we made. When testing showed up a bug, it was being called a “bug” or an “error.” The design and development managers felt highly insulted every time that happened and it destroyed trust and cooperation. We came up with a euphemism, “item to investigate.” It didn’t completely quell the issue, but it did take a lot of the hurt out of it and made it more objective. It turned out to be an important step.

I went on to meet with the management teams weekly for several months, which they came to refer to as their therapy sessions. The quagmire had been broken. They were clearly making strides forward. It wasn’t always happiness and joy, but sometimes it was, and the bite and battles had simmered down and mostly disappeared. At that point, my job was done. They went on to meet their new goals and their newly appointed deadlines. They delivered this huge system – a revolutionary change for the entire enterprise.

In retrospect, it all seems so obvious. But, it took a completely objective observer, one who could articulate the issues and, more importantly, gain the trust of the management teams and the senior executives, to allow them to embrace the change they needed to move forward.

Marshall Tarley Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

We become hypnotized by a constant stream of media on a tumultuous world of war and famine and political strife,  and we forget…there is another lens through which to look. The lens of goodness in the hearts and in the actions of so many; the lens with which we see the caring and kindness of our loved ones, despite their human faults; the lens through which we embrace all the goodness in ourselves, and give grateful thanks for all the abundance we have and cherish.  Happy Thanksgiving!

The Parent Manager

The Parent Manager

It was a lunch break at a conference when a woman started talking about how stressed she was.

She’s a single mother, working full-time, caring for her two daughters and trying to complete her Ph.D. thesis.  “If I just didn’t have to make their lunch every day. That little bit taken off my shoulders would be such a relief,” she said.

I asked how old her daughters were. She said they were twelve and fourteen.  “Twelve and fourteen,” I said, a little surprised.  “Well, I have an easy solution for you. Why don’t you have them make their own lunches.”

“I tried that,” she said. “They did it once, and never did it again.”

The conference was reconvening, and the conversation was cut short.  The next day, I ran into her again. We talked about a few topics from the conference. Then I said to her, “You know, that lunch thing is important.”

“You think so?”

“Really important,” I said. “After all, what else will you enable your daughters not to do? Or, disable them not to do?”

“Yeah, I get it,” she said, “but how do I get them to make their lunches?”

“First, you have to sit them down and explain how important this is to you.  Don’t just mention it in passing. Make it a somewhat formal meeting. Explain how hard you work and how determined you are to see that they have everything they need. Next, tell them what a big help it would be to you if they make their own lunches every day. Explain that in life, it is so important to meet your responsibilities, just like they see you doing every day. Now, you’re giving them a responsibility.  Emphasize that you are placing your trust in them. People feel honored by this. 

“Make a plan together. Decide the best time each evening or morning for them to make their lunch. Start with two days of the week. After a week or two, make it a regular daily routine. You can prompt them the first time or two. After their first success, thank them and remind them how much it means to you.  When they complete their first full week, get them a little token gift or treat.  Don’t overdo it. Once you have them routinized on this, you can drop off the prompts and rewards, except for a little reward once in a while as a good reminder that they have achieved something important.”

Then, the obvious question came. “And, what if they don’t do it,” she asked.

That’s where most parents fail. They throw up their hands and do it themselves. There are often two dynamics going on here. One, the parent wants to feel needed, wants to be in control and retain authority.  Secondly, they’re afraid to be firm with their kids. They’re fearful of their children’s ire or to see them unhappy.  But, these are the key moments where parents have to tough it out, brace themselves, and wait for the mini-storm to pass. In almost every instance, the storm will be minor and pass quickly.  Parents who fail in these critical moments are the ones who may end up picking their kids clothes out to wear in the morning  when they’re twenty years old, or paying their credit card bills when their twenty-eight, or making all kinds of excuses when they’re living at home and don’t have a job at thirty. Yikes!!!  I’ve seen it all and so have you.

“You have to be able to show some genuine anger and disappointment,” I told her. “You can’t just let them off the hook. In addition, you have to be willing to take something away, even if you’re feeling some hurt over it yourself.  You might tell them that if they can’t do this small thing for you, and for themselves, then you won’t be able to take them to that birthday party this Saturday or their soccer practice on Sunday.  Will that be hard for you to do? Will that pain you?  I’m pretty sure it will. But, it will likely happen only once in a great while, and it will save you from so much more pain down the line.”

“Okay,” she said. “I’m going to do it.”

She looked a little shaken and resolute. I believe she took in every word I said.  I didn’t keep in touch, but I do believe she followed through.

A week later, a middle manager called me asking for help with his team. “They just don’t meet their deadlines,” he told me. “I have to remind them, get after them constantly, and they still don’t meet their deadlines.”

I wish I had gotten that woman’s contact information. I would have had her coach him through his problem.

John LoFrumento

Everyone Needs A Champion…even the CEO!

John LoFrumento
John LoFrumento – ASCAP CEO (Retired)

When people think of a champion, they may think of the star athlete on the Wheaties box. They forget that champion is a verb too. Everyone needs someone in their corner, rooting for them, championing their cause. When we were kids, it may have been a parent, telling us that everything will be okay or giving us that little, “good luck,” before that emerging challenge. I’ll tell you a little secret that I’ve learned — now that we’re grown adults, we still need that voice of encouragement, even the CEO.

We all remember the days following September 11th, they were wrenching and shuddering, especially for those who lived in the areas directly attacked. I was working for ASCAP, the large music company in New York City. Besides being just subway stops from ground zero, we had lost an employee in the attack. When we came back to work, the CEO held town hall meetings for every division in the company. As Leadership Development Director, I sat in on every one of those meetings.  The CEO was a brilliant businessperson. On this day, he was a great people person and a great leader.  He was charismatic and instilled confidence.  His address to his managers and his workers was spot on. He answered every single question from the audience with kindness, understanding and intelligence. It was quite a performance. People left feeling reassured and supported.

I left work late that evening, and just as I walked through the glass doors into the elevator banks, the CEO entered from the opposite side of the floor. He looked tired. As we waited for the elevator, I said to him, “So tell me John, does anyone ever tell the CEO, ‘Good job.’?”

He grinned and shook his head and said, “No.”

“Well,” I said, “today, you did a really good job.”

He looked up and said thanks. I could tell by the look on his face, it meant a great deal to him.
We took the elevator down, said goodnight and went our separate ways.

The thing is, no matter how young you are or how old you get, no matter how much power you may seem to have, we all need to feel that there’s someone in our corner, someone who cares about us, someone to say, “it’s alright” or “good job,” someone to be our champion.


The Fabric of Our Lives

John LaVeglia
John LaVeglia

This is John LaVeglia (see picture). When I was fifteen years old, I worked at his neighborhood store, John’s Deli. He was the first person I ever met who recycled…before anyone ever knew what recycling was. He was worldly and smart. He was efficient, and planned and executed. He had a great rapport with customers and employees. I learned a great deal from him. He was a mentor back then. What’s more, he became a lifelong friend. We got together for a cup of coffee and a catch up today.

Whenever I do my planning for the year, the month, the week and the day, I do it on a Mind Map (a technique I’d love to teach you one day). One branch on my planning Mind Map is always my circle of friends and family…who I need to get in touch with, make a call, send an e-mail or see them, like today.
We all have busy lives. That’s why I keep that branch on every plan, right in front of me. If not, it’s too easy to let friendships slowly fade into oblivion, family too. Even those closest to us, who may silently feel slighted or ignored, may slowly slip away from us. And, for what?…to work more? Our circle of family and friends are the fabric of our lives, its very essence. Keep them in your sights and go out of your way to make time for them.

©2017 Marshall Tarley, LLC