Attitudes Aren’t Taught, They’re Caught

Mary Dixie and George Brown

My grandparents: Mary Dixie Bearden Brown and George Alma Brown

Attitudes are important in so many aspects of work and life.  Some people complain because there are thorns on roses, while others praise thorns for having roses among them. My grandmother, who I quote frequently, use to say that “Some folks are born in the objective mood.”  Grandmother did not have a lot of patience with people who were always complaining and objecting to what others did.  Both she and my Grandfather—and their son, my father—always had a positive outlook and attitude toward people.

In David McCullough’s The American Spirit, he speaks of the impact our attitudes have on others.  “Everyone who’s ever lived,” he notes, “has been affected, changed, shaped, helped, or hindered by others.”  He then quotes Margaret McFarland, a professor of child psychology, who says that “attitudes aren’t taught, they’re caught.”  Speaking of teachers, McCullough notes that “if the teacher has enthusiasm for the subject at hand, the student catches that.”  McFarland adds, “Show them what you love.”

Last week I spent time at three of the National Trust’s New York-area historic sites—The Glass House, Lyndhurst, and Kykuit.  All three have seen recent increases in important metrics like attendance, revenue, grants, programming, and media mentions. The evolution of those three sites toward more relevance with their local communities and the nation at large was the subject of a discussion with our trustees.  I would suggest that one of the most important changes that has taken place at each of these landmarks is that of attitude. Given a forward-looking vision and the permission to bring new ideas to the forefront, the staff and volunteer enthusiasm for “showing what you love” comes through in spades at each of these special places.  Our trustees and guests saw that on display all weekend.

Each of us can be a teacher.  And each of us can help others catch an enthusiastic attitude about the things we love.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Winter Has Come

No Baseball

No Baseball…until February

Well, that will leave a bruise.

I’m at a board meeting for work, so will have to wait until later for a longer reflection on the Nats 2017 campaign, but oh my…the bad taste from that last game is going to linger for a while.  I was sitting in the only television room in the place, watching the game alone until 1 o’clock in the morning.  At least I resisted the temptation to pull out a beer or have a glass of wine to drown my sorrows.

Gio does his Gio thing and melts down under pressure.  Max and Wieters pick the worst possible time to play sandlot ball.  Dusty’s loyalty bites us in the behind.  Harp isn’t always Mr. Clutch.  Instant replay can be correct and yet wrong for the game.

Oh…and for those Chicago Cubs fans who are itching to tell you how your team blew it…you’ve now become just like the insufferable Red Sox and Yankees fans.  Is that what you really want?  Memo to self…if the Nats ever do win a first round series in the playoffs or more, don’t gloat.  It is just a game. Behave like the Royals fans did during their recent run of excellence, and just thank the baseball gods that you got to have some fun.

Winter (and more) to come…

DJB

Surviving in a Golden Age of Sycophancy

Who knew, but apparently we are living in a golden age of sycophancy.  Flattery.  Brown-nosing.  By whatever name it goes by, we’re talking about sucking up.

Over a 40-year career, I’ve had a number of bosses.  On the exceptional-to-bad continuum, I’ve seen both ends, and a lot in between.  But I’ve been fortunate in that only one regularly sought out flattery from those who worked in the organization. Most good managers and senior executives see through obsequious behavior.  Colleagues see someone excessively playing up to a manager and roll their eyes (if they are charitable) or share their thoughts with others around the water cooler (if they are less than charitable).

No Flattery Zone

No Flattery Zone

There’s a better way:  learn how to manage up.

As I have suggested to my team at work, building a strong, professional relationship with your manager has nothing to do with sycophancy.  It has everything to do with doing your job and being the type of valued colleague who understands and supports a wider vision beyond one functional area or program.  Communication that assumes good intent is key. Strong staff at every level leverage their boss’s communications profile to help him/her do their job better. In the process, managers learn to speak more effectively on behalf of the agenda you and your team are pursuing. And I do want to acknowledge that there are “bad” bosses, who don’t respond to management (of any type) and who abuse their position of power.  When faced with that type of situation, a different response is necessary.

However, assuming you are working with a decent boss who wants you to succeed, here are three tips on managing up that I’ve learned over four decades which you may find helpful:

  • First, in your communications, position your colleagues and teams for success.  Excessive focus on your personal accomplishments is not only off-putting, but it really doesn’t help your boss, who is judged on the success of teams and projects, not individuals. We all succeed because a wide range of people support our work. Let your boss know that you understand this basic fact of life.
  • Second, if you want to keep your boss out of the details of your work, providing regular updates will give him/her a rising comfort level and confidence that the job is being handled. If s/he is always in the dark, they lose confidence in (and sleep over) your work.  Updates don’t always have to be face-to-face, and you should develop an understanding with your boss on how s/he likes to receive information.  It may be something as simple as a two sentence email as a FYI, that includes a “no need to reply” note.  If you do this consistently, your boss will probably let you know if the flow of information is appropriate. Also, when my bosses have reported to someone else (such as the CEO or the board of trustees), I have always let him/her know when I’m having a conversation or working with their boss. It is a simple courtesy, and it also ensures that when the CEO or trustee brings it up to my boss (as will often happen), s/he can speak from  a base of knowledge and not be blind-sided.
  • Finally, be a problem solver, not just a problem identifier. Think of what you are asking your boss to do (instead of sending an email asking your boss to essentially Google something for you.  That happens more than you would realize.)  Speak in terms of solutions and don’t work as if it is the job of your boss to fix your problems or do your work.  Even if your proposed solution is not ultimately adopted, your manager will appreciate that you have taken the time to think through approaches to handling the issue at hand.  I like the format of “what, so what, now what” that Scott Eblin suggests in his book The Next Level:
    • What:  What issue needs to be addressed or considered?
    • So what:  What are the implications of this issue that make it worthy of consideration?  Why am I bringing this to your level, as opposed to fixing it myself?
    • Now what:  What needs to be done next about this issue?  What action/support do I need from you for the proposed solution (which may range from an email response I’ve drafted, to an offer to make a call to a partner, to a fully formed plan)?  What milestones should you look for in terms of progress?

When an organization is flat, managers—by nature—have a very wide scope of responsibility.  Flattering them doesn’t accomplish much. But focusing on how you can help him/her do a better job is critical to success.  So don’t suck up.  Manage up!

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

P.S. – By the way, if you want to write and tell me this is the most helpful blog post you’ve ever received, I won’t charge it against your flattery account (he says with tongue planted firmly in his cheek)!

To Learn Something New (About Old Places), Bring in New Partners with Different Perspectives

Cooper-Molera Garden

Garden View at Cooper Molera prior to the beginning of rehabilitation (credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

At the National Trust for Historic Places, where I work, we believe that historic sites are fundamentally places of intersection. When we allow them to share their stories, historic sites are dynamic spaces where past, present, and future meet in a variety of ways.  One very important way they intersect is with community.

About ten days ago, I visited Cooper-Molera, one of our National Trust historic sites where delight and enjoyment are at the heart of our community intersections.  Cooper-Molera is a two and one-half acre property in the heart of downtown Monterey, California’s historic commercial district. There we are implementing a new model that combines commercial uses and interpretation in creative ways.  We will have a bakery, restaurant, and event center in adaptively used historic buildings operating in collaboration with museum uses in one of the adobe residences to reinvigorate the site, sustain it financially and engage audiences that might never visit a historic site or house museum. Those are the people we should all want to meet at this intersection.

We call this a shared use model for historic sites, because the commercial, for profit, museum, and nonprofit entities all share the same space and support each other.  This shared use model itself is an intersection with the local community, developed through intense engagement with local preservationists and long-time supporters of the site and with unexpected partners including a for-profit developer and community institutions like the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Rehab at Cooper-Molera

Rehabilitation and New Construction underway at Cooper-Molera

 

Rendering of Cooper-Molera as a shared use site

Rendering of Cooper-Molera as a shared use site

There is a great story that emerged from one of our recent conversations with a group of Latino leaders in Monterey.  The “Cooper” in Cooper-Molera was an American sea captain, John Cooper, who moved to Monterey when it was part of Mexico and developed a robust business as a trader and merchant.  In the past, we would have focused almost exclusively on his story and we were surprised when this focus group of Latino leaders said we should focus on it again as one of the main stories we tell.  But they had a different spin on it.

John Cooper, they reminded us, immigrated from the US to Mexico when he came to Monterey and he did so without papers—as an undocumented immigrant.  He came in search of economic prosperity, he converted to Catholicism and married a woman named Encarnación Vallejo, who was the sister of General Mariano Vallejo, arguably the most powerful man in Mexico at the time.  He and Encarnaciόn had children and in 1830, John Cooper became a naturalized citizen of Mexico. We’ve been telling this story for years, but never framed this way.  Our focus group urged us to tell this old story in a new way that would highlight its ironies in the current political climate, focus on the central role of Encarnaciόn de Vallejo Cooper, and allow Latino audiences multiple ways to see themselves in the history of this place.

As is true in so many aspects of life, we never fail to learn something new—in this case about old places—when we bring in partners with different perspectives.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Bubbles. Lots and Lots of Bubbles.

Mohonk Mountain House

Mohonk Mountain House

On a visit to Mohonk Mountain House earlier this year, I took the opportunity to reconnect with Dr. Nina Smiley.  Nina has the wonderful title of Director of Mindfulness Programming at this Victorian-era resort that has been in the Smiley family since 1869.  I first met Nina almost twenty years ago when she was serving on the board of the National Trust’s Historic Hotels of America, and she remains one of the most thoughtful, perceptive, strong, yet gentle people I know.  Talking with Nina is—to put it simply—a joy.

When we spoke in March, the topic turned—naturally—to mindfulness.  As the author of The Three Minute Meditator, Nina believes that mindfulness can be just minutes away if we give thought to how we communicate with ourselves.  That often requires recognition that our self-talk can be taking us away from the moment and leading us into a negative rut.  In the course of the conversation, Nina suggested as an exercise taking a simple task that you do multiple times a day—such as washing your hands—and using that as a cue to bring your thoughts back into the moment.

Three Minute Meditator

The Three Minute Meditator

It seems that finding a cue that works for you is key. Shortly after my conversation with Nina, I found myself at a wash basin in an airport restroom. I clearly wasn’t focused on the task at hand, but this time the outside intrusion helped bring me back to the moment.  Around the corner, I could hear a father speaking to what was clearly his very young son.  The dad’s instructions went something like this:  “Let’s begin with the water.  Now add some soap.  Begin to rub your hands together and create bubbles.  Lots of bubbles.  Lots and lots of bubbles….now rinse the bubbles off your hands.  Finally, let’s dry those hands.”

It was a simple and charming 20-second exchange. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment.  It was the cue I needed to take something simple and use it as a way to reconnect to the moment.  It is an exercise, if you will, to move closer to mindfulness, which Nina and her co-author (and twin brother) David Harp, define as “a mental state characterized by clarity, insight, compassion, and serenity, no matter what is going on around you.”

Clarity. Insight. Compassion. Serenity.  Those traits appear to be in short supply in today’s world, where we are constantly bombarded by outside stimuli.  Perhaps you have your own cues to bring you back to the moment.  If not, feel free to do as I do, and think “bubbles” as you stand at the wash basin.  It may lead to a small step back to mindfulness.

View of MMH

View of Mohonk Mountain House

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Multitasking (Or Another Word for “Not Paying Attention”)

How well do you think you can multitask?  Let’s take a little test.  Click on this one-minute You Tube video and see how well you do.  You will need your sound, so in an open office environment either use headphones or turn the volume down a notch or two.

If all of you are like the 30 colleagues I joined last week in a retreat, no one will ace the test.  That’s because it is impossible to give your full attention to two things simultaneously.  (Don’t confuse this with my recent note about keeping two opposing ideas in your mind.  Very different concepts.)

The retreat leader used this as the kick-off to the day’s discussion, and added a confession:  she often finds herself multitasking in meetings.  As recently as the Friday before the retreat, she was on a call with individuals from around the country.  She was also using the time to check email.  She confessed that more than once, she looked up and thought, “I don’t have a clue what was just said.”  In fact, she admitted to having to send two emails out over the weekend to gain clarity on what was discussed on the call.

I think we can all make similar confessions.  I take notes on my computer in order to have a paper-free office.  But the temptation exists to switch over and check email when a speaker drones on and on (perhaps that speaker was me on one of your calls).  Or perhaps you search the web at those times.  Or finish the on-line crossword puzzle you began on the commute into work.  In any event, attempting to multitask—and convincing yourself that you can follow both pieces of work simultaneously—is very human.  And, as multiple studies have shown, very wrong.

At last week’s retreat, we put our phones in a basket for the duration of the morning’s sessions.  I decided not to take notes on my computer, and instead jotted a couple of items down on a piece of paper while staying very engaged with the presentations.  Our retreat leader asked that we be present, and I found it was a very satisfying morning when I made the decision not to think about the 250+ emails, funding proposals, upcoming trips, and a hundred other things that normally call for my attention.

And if you respond, “But my meetings are boring,” then take a look at another recent note about how we can make our meetings more meaningful with better thought and planning on the front end.

Bedford Springs Resort

Bedford Springs Resort

By being fully present in our discussions and meetings with colleagues, friends, and family, I believe we can make our lives better.  That’s going to be my goal moving forward, and perhaps you’ll want to join me.

Have a great week.

More to come…

DJB

P.S. – For the retreat, we stayed in a wonderful historic hotel – the Bedford Springs Resort – in Bedford, Pennsylvania.  Revitalization News had a great story about how the restoration of the hotel had also rejuvenated the nearby town.  Check it out.

Communication

Listening

Listening

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

This observation was included in a recent online post about the history of jargon, and it got my attention.  I’ve been writing and reading a boat-load of reports, letters, and proposals in the past few weeks, and I know how easy it is to make the mistake of thinking that communication has “taken place.”  I’ve made the mistake myself recently, on more than one occasion.

“Excessive use of jargon can weigh down our communication and can be taxing to listeners. It may make it more difficult for others to grasp the full meaning behind our message. Worst of all, using jargon can be distancing. It may make some listeners feel excluded because they may not understand all the jargon and buzzwords being used—especially if it comes on thick and fast.”

So what, according to the author, tops the current list of bothersome business buzzwords?  Synergy.  Low-hanging fruit.  Thinking outside the box.  This summer I bought a card featuring the famous New Yorker cartoon by Leo Cullum showing a man talking to his cat, adjacent to the litter box.  The caption?  “Never, ever think outside the box.”  In my book, that’s a great use of jargon.  In most instances beyond New Yorker cartoons, however, jargon can be frustrating.  In preservation, we have our own professional jargon.  (Section 106, anyone?  Cultural resources?)  Business consultants who work for us also have their jargon.  (Quick, how many of you know that SaaS stands—in some minds—for Software as a Service? Or that CCN is a Change Control Note.  Nope?  I didn’t either.)

How to improve your communication?  First,

“…consider evaluating any jargon you might be in the habit of using. Carefully constructing your important messages to avoid buzzwords and replacing them with thoughtful expressions may pay dividends. For one thing, the absence of stock phrases or formulaic expressions may signal that you’re speaking authentically, from the heart, about things that matter to your business and to those you’re addressing. Buzzword-free communication can help you stand out above the din of the crowd.​”

Family members who don’t work in the field are a great test for the quality of your communication.  Ask yourself: “would a friend or family member not involved in (my) world understand the expressions I’m using? If not, change them to plain English. This is not about ‘dumbing down’ your content. It’s about explaining the same content in plainer language that’s widely understood.”

We all know and cherish people who write or speak clearly so everyone can understand.  Harry Truman is one historical figure known for his plain speaking, and it helps explain how a man who ran a men’s clothing store rose to become president of the United States. Truman memorably phrased his ability to get to the point when he said, “I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.”

So go out there and give ‘em…well, whatever is needed to clearly make your point.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB