Ideas. Relationships. Adventure.

Brown University 2015 Graduation

A scene from the Brown University graduation of 2015…you can guess who the guy is in the middle with the sunglasses and big smile.

This is a time of year when many of us have either completed school terms or have celebrated the accomplishments of children or other friends/family members at commencement ceremonies.  Scholar and author Warren Bennis was thinking about this time of transition when he wrote the following in his landmark book On Becoming a Leader:

“If I were restricted to three words in any commencement speech, they would be:  Ideas, Relationships, and Adventure.  Ideas are the basis for change, for re-invention, for, yes, intellectual capital.  Relationships have to do with outstanding people working in harmony and openness, where everyone feels empowered, where all members feel included and at the center of things, where they feel competent and significant.  And Adventure has to do with risk, with a bias towards action, with curiosity and courage.”

The challenge for organizations and their leaders is, as Bennis states it, to “create the social architecture where ideas, relationships, and adventure can flourish.”  That isn’t easy, especially in light of challenges facing us today, but those who “choose to succeed must have the strength to persist in the face of setbacks, even failures.”

It is my belief that building the type of social architecture to ensure that ideas, relationships, and adventure can flourish is a collaborative effort that never ends.  Each of us plays an important role.  How we model behavior from our own perspectives and positions is as important as written statements of organizational or personal values.  When it comes to the organization where I work, I’m glad to be traveling that path with a group of talented and committed colleagues who are eager to continue that work together.  It is the only way we’ll succeed.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

New Perspectives

The Next Level

The Next Level by Scott Eblin

In his book The Next Level, Scott Eblin warns against being too myopic, which can lead to silos in organizations or businesses. We all understand our organization or business, but often only from one seat or perspective.   I bring this up because of a conversation I had last week with one of our senior staff leaders in my organization, the National Trust. We were discussing ways in which we could help individuals on our team who become too closely identified with one program, their work in one city or region, or expertise in saving one type of historic resource. It reminded me of my own experience.

Several years ago I was working with an executive coach.  After receiving 360 degree feedback on my work, she asked to see my resume, which listed my various preservation jobs since I entered the field. Once she reviewed the resume, my coach had me undertake what I thought at the time was an unusual task.  I was to rewrite my vita without using the words “historic preservation” or without the name of any of the agencies or organizations where I had worked.  In other words, she wanted me to take a fresh perspective as to who I was and my capabilities at the professional level.  That led me to think about my eight-year stint as executive director of the Preservation Alliance of Virginia, for instance, in terms of skills and accomplishments without relying on the jargon of my profession.  No “I led an effort to enact Virginia’s historic preservation tax credit” for this exercise.  Instead I had to talk about coordination of a network of supporters, communication of key concepts to the media, collaboration with partners to reach new audiences outside my professional field, and providing effective testimony before legislative committees.

It was an eye-opening experience. I had become so identified in my own mind with my preservation career, that I simply never put much thought into how the skills required to do my job translated into a broader world of possibilities.  This exercise, along with several others she had me do, forced me to look at my career, skills, and life with a new perspective.

When one becomes myopic, you don’t step back to think about the type of skills you may bring to other work where you could be a valuable team member. Similarly, you don’t think of areas where you may want to seek training to broaden your expertise. Let me encourage you, as you think about your work and what you bring to making a difference in this world, that you think bigger and try a fresh perspective every now and then. I suspect you will be surprised at what you find.

Have a great week.

More to come…

DJB

In Praise of (Useful) Meetings

One of the items that is a perennial in our staff satisfaction survey is the comment “we have too many meetings.”  Many organizations face the same feedback. A recent article I read on productivity suggested we should avoid meetings at all costs, quoting the billionaire Mark Cuban as saying that one should “never take meetings unless someone is writing a check.”  That’s easy for him to say. He pays people to have the meetings to get to the check-writing part of the deal.

Meetings for a dispersed organization with a value of collaboration are inevitable and necessary.  Useful meetings are, unfortunately, not inevitable.  I had a colleague tell me of an experience where someone blocked out two hours on her online calendar with a meeting request, then showed up at the appointed time without an agenda or even an understanding of why they had called the meeting.  No one was sure if the right people were in the room. The participants ended up stumbling around until the crux of the matter at hand was identified, which was then dispatched in less than 30 minutes.  I told this individual that anyone in our division has my permission to refuse to accept open-ended meeting requests for long blocks of time that do not have a clear agenda or purpose.

Death by Meeting

Death by Meeting

Patrick Lencioni’s book Death by Meetings suggests a different way.  Lencioni says we have to

“…fundamentally rethink much of the way we perceive and manage meetings.  That means we cannot keep hating them.  And we must abandon our search for technological solutions that will somehow free us from having to sit down face-to-face.  And we have to…accept the fact that bad meetings start with the attitudes and approaches of the people who lead and take part in them.”

In this work, Lencioni notes that the “single biggest structural problem facing leaders of meetings is the tendency to throw every type of issue that needs to be discussed into one meeting” instead of clearly distinguishing between various purposes, formats, and timings.  While the format won’t work all the time, he suggests we think about check-ins, tactical decision-making, strategic planning, and periodic review as different types of meetings with different timeframes, different participants, and different venues.

I am not a big fan of George Will, but he does have a good line about why baseball is preferable to football, and that is because the latter “combines the two worst things about America: violence punctuated by committee meetings.”  If we focus, we can do something to make the meetings in our lives much more useful.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

I Am Not Invisible

Last evening I spoke in Athens, Georgia, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation.  The topic was the future of preservation, and I took segments from remarks given by my colleague Tom Mayes at the recent EDRA conference on Why Old Places Matter and combined it with the basic elements of our recently released Preservation for People:  A Vision for the Future.

The first key concept from the vision is that a people-centered preservation movement hears, understands, and honors the full diversity of the ever-evolving American story.

I built on this concept by noting that,

“The recognition of our stories and the capacity to see yourself and others in the American narrative has a profound effect on our sense of identity.   A few years when the National Trust conference was held in Nashville, Congressman John Lewis challenged us to believe in the idea that ‘my house is your house.  My story is your story.  The history of my people is the history of all Americans not just African Americans.’”

The Well-Tempered City

The Well-Tempered City by Jonathan F.P. Rose

I followed that with a quote from The Well-Tempered City, by Jonathan Rose, the visionary developer, urbanist, and former NTHP trustee.  In that work he notes that cities emerge from the interdependence of related parts.  He says, “compassion is essential for a city to have a healthy balance between individual and collective well-being.”

It is my belief that hearing, understanding, and honoring the full diversity of America’s story helps provide “the connective tissue between the me and the we, and leads us to care for something larger than ourselves.”

After my remarks, a member of the Foundation’s board came to speak with me.  Linda Davis is a civic and business leader in Athens, a member of the local school board, and African American.  She told me that the vision is right in line with what she has been supporting in Athens in her five years on the ACHF board.  She said, “I am not invisible” and this future is “exactly what I hope for preservation.”  Her comment was straightforward, yet poignant.

Americans have conveniently forgotten most of the people whose lives are part of our layered history.  At this time of deep division in our national life, I believe—more than ever—that we each have to do whatever we can to hear, understand, and honor the stories of those who might have been forgotten in the past.  We have to make sure they are not invisible.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Circle of Concern/Circle of Influence

Every Saturday morning we’re in town, my wife and I do two things without fail:  we buy our weekly groceries at the local farmers market, and then we spend an hour at the French pastry shop Tout de Sweet drinking coffee, eating scones, and talking.  I call it my Candice time, and it is the one extended period during the week we have to focus on the week ahead and—more importantly—on bigger issues that are on our minds.  When it comes to Saturday mornings, empty nesting has its privileges.*

This past Saturday as we discussed the impact of stress on our lives, Candice asked me what was on mind.  I realized (with her help) that I had begun to focus on things I couldn’t control.  Reflecting later on that conversation took me back to a book I first read in the early 1990s, Stephen R. Covey’s classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  “Be Proactive” is the very first habit, and early in the book Covey notes that we each have a wide range of concerns—“our health, our children, problems at work, the national debt, nuclear war.” He suggests we separate those from things in which we have no particular mental or emotional involvement by creating a “Circle of Concern.”

“As we look at those things within our Circle of Concern, it becomes apparent that there are some things over which we have no real control and others that we can do something about.  We could identify those concerns in the latter group by circumscribing them within a smaller Circle of Influence.  By determining which of these two circles is the focus of most of our time and energy, we can discover much about the degree of our proactivity.  Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence.  They work on things they can do something about.”

Covey writes that those who focus on things they can influence radiate positive energy, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.  Reactive people, however, focus on things they cannot control or influence with results that include blaming and accusing attitudes, reactive language, and increased feelings of victimization.

Circles of Concern and Influence

Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence (credit: Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing)

There are so many things that concern us on a daily basis, and it differs for everyone.  I realized that the first thing I could influence was where my focus was trained.  It was helpful advice more than 20 years ago, and I’m glad it came up again during this week’s Candice time.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

* I realize that with Andrew living at home while he builds experience and saves money for conservatory we aren’t “technically” empty nesters.  But having a 24-year-old who manages his own schedule and helps out with all types of chores around the house is even better than empty nesting…and we don’t have any more early Saturday morning swim team meets!

The Importance of Mornings…and Evenings…to Increased Productivity

Improved productivity has been on my mind recently. Thankfully, there are tips, articles, and entire books on the topic.  A quick Google search will uncover…well, 97.9 million options.  (I just checked it for you.)

In looking through several recent articles as well as notes I’ve made in the past, I was struck by the importance so many writers put on mornings…and evenings.  This rings true, and let me tell you why.

An article in Forbes noted that highly productive people practice a consistent morning routine.  “My single greatest surprise while interviewing over 200 highly successful people was how many of them wanted to share their morning ritual with me,” said writer Kevin Kruse.  “While I heard about a wide variety of habits, most people I interviewed nurtured their body in the morning with water, a healthy breakfast and light exercise. They nurtured their mind with meditation or prayer, inspirational reading, and journaling.” And when they started to work in the morning…

“Ultra productive people know their Most Important Task (MIT) and work on it for one to two hours each morning, without interruptions. Tom Ziglar, CEO of Ziglar Inc., shared, ‘Invest the first part of your day working on your number one priority that will help build your business.’ What task will have the biggest impact on reaching your goal?”

As a morning person, I get this.  Your first hours awake can be a time of great clarity and focus.  So what were the suggestions that struck me about the evening?  In the same article by Kevin Kruse, he noted that productive people “make it home for dinner.”

“There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done. Highly successful people know what they value in life. Yes, work, but also what else they value. There is no right answer, but for many, values include: family time, exercise, giving back. They consciously allocate their 1,440 minutes a day to each area they value (i.e., they put it on their calendar) and then they stick to the schedule.”

Arcadia Farm Dinner June 2014

Making it home for dinner with family and friends helps increase productivity!

A different article on bad habits to break if you want to increase productivity, focused first on how one spends time in the evening.  Using your phone, tablet, or computer in bed is a sure-fire way to harm sleep and productivity.  But…I bet you knew that already.  You probably read it online at some point.

Here’s to productive mornings…and evenings.

Have a great week.

More to come…

DJB

The World Has Need of You

Dome at Union Chapel

The dome at Union Chapel

I was reading several essays by the Quaker educator, activist, and author Parker Palmer recently when I came across one that included a poem with the title, “The World Has Need of You.”  He was drawn to this work by poet Ellen Bass in part because of her line “It’s a hard time to be human.”

Any time can be a hard time to be human, but we do find ourselves living in what can charitably be called interesting—perhaps historic—times.  Palmer makes the point that each of our lives, words, and actions makes a difference, especially in times of stress and widespread anger.  The world needs us to think and then act broadly and deeply, with integrity and charity, as part of a community.

Palmer links to another essay by the writer Courtney Martin that deals with first questions.  First questions that stay with us for a lifetime, such as an eight-year-old Dorothy Day, witnessing the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and shaping the rest of her life around the question of why we wait until times of stress to care for others without judgment instead of “Why can’t people always care for one another unconditionally?” First questions that drive us to understand that the world needs us.

Detail from Triumphs and Laments

Detail from Triumphs and Laments by William Kentridge (Rome, 2016)

All of this has me thinking about my own first questions, and what actions the world—at home, work, in community, and globally—needs from me now.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB