Saturday, April 23, 2016

Litmus Test for Success

It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else's eyes. - Sally Field, actress
I grew up an "A" Nazi.  I was crushed if I did not receive an "A" for every class, a little less so if I did not receive an "A" on every assignment. My grades represented whether I had attained success.

Unfortunately, this attachment of success to an outside source can cause real problems in the real world. Tests are subjective according to the person creating and/or grading the test - obviously essays, but also multiple choice because you can often interpret the question in more than one way.

But there are no "test scores" in the real world, so we end up relinquishing the measure of our abilities and success to those around us: our peers, our supervisors, our family.

Re-evaluating the litmus test for determining my success is a lesson and skill I learned when I went to law school.
It's never too late to be what you might have been. - George Eliot, novelist
It was a "late-in-life" career change. Being a lawyer was a dream I had since childhood but I never saw it as a possibility. It was out of my socio-economic view point. No one in my family, or extended family, had ever attained a degree so advanced. No one in my family's social circle had a similar profession. I thought only rich people could afford to go to law school because one of the requirements, at the time, was no employment during the first year at least. I assumed only the well-off could afford to go to graduate school without working to pay their livings expenses.

At this later point in my life, I could afford to not work for the first year - though not all law schools require non-employment any more. 

Still, I was worried about whether I was up to the task since I had been out of school so long. I worried about whether I could compete with the much younger students who were fresh out of undergrad. I worried that I would not even take the bar exam until I was 40 years old.

Despite my worries, and with my husband's encouragement, I decided I would do it anyway.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

If You Don't Like the Conversation, Change It

Our ability to carry on doing our work . . . depends crucially on the conversations we have with each other. - Philip Streatfield, English painter
Hellen, a doctor I know, was having problems with her Home Owner's Association (HOA). An HOA is like a small government for a neighborhood. They are elected by the home owner's of the neighborhood and enforce the CC&R's - Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions - written when the community was formed and sometimes updated by the current board.

She had faced the Architectural Committee in response to a neighbor complaint concerning a shed in her back yard. A neighbor without any view of the shed had complained to the HOA board about the shed being only 2 feet from the backyard wall instead of 5 feet. He was not the neighbor sharing the wall in question.

When the HOA board failed to respond quickly enough, the neighbor notified the city of the "violation." A city inspector came out to the property and said the shed was not in violation. The city required a shed be placed on the back 1/3 of the property, which Hellen's shed was, but had no distance requirement from the backyard wall.

After repeated complaints from the neighbor, the HOA sent a notice of violation to Hellen. She replied to the complaint and attended the Architectural Committee meeting to plead her case.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Never Underestimate the Power of the Ask

When I hear somebody sign, 'Life is hard,' I am always tempted to ask, 'Compared to what?' - Sydney J. Harris, Journalist
Cindy, a local business owner I had coached solution-oriented leadership strategies to, called me about a personal problem. She had been trying to help a friend of her son, both seniors in high school. The boy, "Jim" was the oldest of three children living with his "grandmother" because his mother had gone to jail. His "grandmother" was not really his grandmother. She was the grandmother of his two siblings from another father.

Being suddenly without a parent for support, and being in the top 10% of his graduating class, made scholarships a necessity and a possibility all at the same time.

He had also heard he was Native American, which would make him eligible for additional college assistance. Unfortunately, he did not have a tribal identity card nor did he know if he had ever been registered with a tribal entity.

The woman had already called the a tribal counsel and a local community college, both of which had been very helpful in telling her what documents he needed to get get his tribal card, to get into school, and to apply for several scholarships.

And that's when the real problems started.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Why Me, Why Now

So many times people told me I can't do this or I can't do that. My nature is that I don't very listen well. I am very determined, and I believe in myself. - Chantal Sutherland, model.
Whether working-for for-profit or non-profit business or even on a personal level, I have spent more than half my life in the problem solving 'business.' Sometimes I am not sure if I was born with a solutions-oriented mentality, or life events caused one to develop. My nickname among those closest to me is "the options girl." My motto has always been "there has to be a way, if only because there has to be." I have never found an obstacle that cannot be overcome, though not always the exact way I would have liked.

Through all my activities as an attorney and consultant, I kept noticing a disappointing trend. Even with all the resources available on the internet and in print to break through our barriers and overcome obstacles using different techniques and mindsets, people and events all over the world demonstrate an inability to solve problems or see problems differently. Race, culture, religion, gender, or geography make no difference.

Instead of "thinking outside the box," people just make bigger boxes. Instead of "breaking all the rules," too many don't even know what the 'rules' are - not even their own personal rules.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Fundraising: Getting from Half-Full to Fully-Funded

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more; you are a leader. - John Quincy Adams, U.S. President
I recently attended a fundraiser for a non-profit focused on underprivileged children. The event included an overview of the many organizational projects and then invited attendees to sponsor a project by adding total funds for the project to an envelope. Those who did not want to sponsor an entire project could add funds to a general envelope. After giving time for donations, the keynote speaker took the stage and gave a beautiful speech - though it had absolutely nothing to do with the organization, its activities, or a invitation to support the organization.

The organization's leader reached out to me for feedback about the event after a few days. She also shared that the fundraising goal was not met. I advised her that the event was very nice and very well organized, but that I could suggest some improvements to help her get closer to the fundraising goal next time.

First, understand the role of the keynote speaker and choose one accordingly. Many times organizations invite a "popular" or "known" speaker who delivers a great speech for themselves but provides little value for the organization or its mission. Either choose a keynote speaker who has a passion or interest in your organization, or at least express an expectation that the keynote speaker give a speech that connects with your cause. The best keynote speakers will do this automatically. Unfortunately, speaker fees often put the best keynote speakers out of range of small non-profits.  Remember, while a high-profile keynote speaker can be a draw for attendees, a good keynote speech that resonates with your audience and connects to your cause is of greater value. At the very least, the speaker must encourage the attendees to support the purpose of the event - donations.

Second, be unique. Add some unusual or uncommon element to your event. No matter the size or budget of a non-profit, a solutions-oriented leader can find many options if they think creatively. Some suggestions would be:

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

12 Steps To Display Confidence When Speaking

With confidence, you have won before you have started. - Marcus Garvey, Jamaican political leader
Confidence is like a magnet. It pulls other confident people to you. It also attracts opportunities.

But not everyone feels confident all the time. Do not kid yourself that the great leaders you admire have never had self-doubt - or that they never did again after they reached "success." To be successful, to be taken seriously, you have to display confidence - even when you don't feel it as much as you would like.

Displaying confidence, whether for a speech or conversation, requires work - inside and out. You will forever be overlooked for opportunities if you are unable to project enough confidence in yourself, your abilities, and your ideas to get noticed. But there are steps you can take to both be more confident and appear more confident.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Singapore: Solutions-Oriented Leadership Case Study

The ultimate test of a leader is not what you are able to do in the here and now - but instead what continues to grow long after you gone. - Tom Rath, Strengths-Based Leadership
Being a solutions-oriented leader means you are focused on fixing a course for the future. While you know that identifying errors and obstacles, holding people accountable, and creating procedures to prevent future missteps are important, recognizing what is right rather than what is wrong will take you closer to your goals. You are interested in being proactive instead of reactive.

Things will not always go your way. You will not always have all the resources you think you need.

The point is to focus on what you do have and how you can make the most of it. Try writing down what you do have, no matter how small, to really see them as your assets. This change in focus often opens your mind to finding creative options and resources you never realized you had.

The country of Singapore is a great example of solutions-oriented leaders recognizing the obstacles but focusing on finding solutions - to great success.

After years of struggle under British colonialism, Japanese occupation during WWII, and the spread of communism in the region, Singapore agreed to a merger with Malaysia.  Unfortunately, it did not last long.

Singapore faced high unemployment, high crime rates, low education rates, a large immigrant population, racial divisions, no national identity, few economic opportunities, lack of natural resources, lack of land, lack of housing, and very little infrastructure. But the most pressing problem was lack of sovereign security. Sudden independence with no plan or protection meant other countries might attack, or forcibly absorb, Singapore into their countries on unfavorable terms.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Creating Tomorrow's Solutions With Proactive Decisions Today

Remember action today can prevent crisis tomorrow. - Steve Shallenberger; author, Becoming Your Best: The Twelve Principles of Highly Successful Leaders
A fellow member of an attorney discussion group came to our meeting with a problem. She was confused and conflicted and desperately wanted advice. She had recently had an aging client come into her office with a very young girlfriend. He wanted to change his estate plan to give everything to his girlfriend - instead of the current beneficiaries, his adult children. As the attorney had not created his original estate plan, which was many years old and originally included a now deceased party, she told him he would have to bring in the original estate plan so that she could review it and see if it was changeable and how it might be changed.

Her problem was that, while she did not actual suspect abuse and could not prove coercion, nor did she see direct signs of diminished mental capacity, she did feel the client was likely being pressured by the very young girlfriend and was potentially not thinking clearly.

She was faced with moral, ethical, and legal problems.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Is Humbleness Sabotaging Your Advancement?

One thing that holds us back is fearing our weaknesses more than having confidence in our strengths. - Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Now, Discover Your Strengths.

A few of years ago while at a Bar Conference, I attended a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) course on using Social Media for marketing a legal services. There were two presenters, one male and one female, both lawyers. I have no memory of what the male presenter said. However, the female presenter was excellent.

She seemed confident and authentic as she spoke about how she is a runner and often posts about her experience on local trails on Facebook and Twitter as a means to socially engage her clients and keep her at the top of their mind as a legal resource.  It was an engaging presentation with lots of examples of how she did it and how positively it had affected the number of referrals she received from her clients.

At the end of her presentation, she provided her full contact information and offered to connect with members of the audience to exchange ideas or even just have coffee.  Then she left the podium and joined the other presenter at the presenter's table while the moderator made closing remarks.

I wrote down her contact information and was excited because I wanted to connect with her. She seemed like jus the type of woman and lawyer I wanted within my circle of friends.

As I watched her return to the presenter's table, I saw her lean over to the other presenter and say,"Did I do okay?"

I was instantly crushed.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Leadership: Making Decisions Based on Your Company Values

It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are. - Roy Disney, Walt Disney's elder brother and the financier of his efforts

In my younger years I worked in a lot of restaurants.  Never fast food, always sit-down style. In the mid-nineties it was Steak & Ale, a fancy steak restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas. Always a top choice for romantic dinners and special occasions. The lighting was low and the chairs had high backs, reminiscent of royalty chairs meant to remind us of the Renaissance Era and make us all feel like kings. I worked there for several years as a hostess and office assistant. Our uniforms were khaki knee length skirts, white button-up shirts, a navy blazer, and a red bow-tie.

About a year after I started, a co-worker got caught up in a drug bust. She was not involved in drugs herself, but her boyfriend, who she did not live with, was evidently a drug dealer.  Unbeknownst to them, his activities were well known to the DEA, who were watching him closely.  Unfortunately for her, the DEA decided to bust him while she was visiting him between shifts. She got arrested too.  Even though the DEA testified she was not involved, she was sentenced to eighteen months in Federal Prison (Federal Minimum Sentencing Guidelines...whole other story).

When she was released on parole, she returned to Steak & Ale to ask for a job. She had worked for the company since she was 21 years old, and most of that time as a bar tender. She had a great work history with the company and was well remembered among the staff.

Unfortunately, conviction of a federal crime, any federal crime, comes with some parole restrictions. One of them is that a parolee cannot serve alcohol.

Her job as a bar tender was definitely out. Hostess and busboy wages were meager and she was not qualified for kitchen staff. The remaining position, server, had the most need for the restaurant but the position usually included serving alcohol.

The company had a dilemma.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Increasing Productivity Through Stacks of Ten

People often assume that the same approach will work for everyone, that the same habits will work for everyone, and that everyone has the same aptitude and appetite for forming habits, but from my observation, that's not true. - Gretchen Ruben, author

My niece was medically discharged from the US Army, after serving a tour in Iraq, and she decided to apply for her first job. She had gone into the military right after high school and had never worked in the “civilian world.”

The company she chose had an online application, which if the applicant qualified, would result in a second online application that included three questions. An interview would only be given if the answers to the three questions passed muster.

She did qualify and received the three questions. Two questions were no problem but the third question completely stumped her.

My niece could have simply given up and not submitted the answers at all, thereby not even getting to the interview stage.

She could have answered two of the questions and left the third blank.

She could have just said whatever she could think of, which may or may not have been what the company was looking for.

Instead she decided to search for perspective or advice about the question. Knowing the time we live in, she probably did attempt to find an answer via Google, evidently without success. But she eventually ended up asking me what I thought.

The question was, “Supposed your job included processing hundreds of files over and over. How would you keep motivated?”