Tag Archives: communication

Naming, Knowing, & Trusting

“Here’s my promise: I will know your first and last name by the end of the week.” This didn’t sound like much of a promise really; until you consider that it was a promise I made to more than 100 youth, most of whom I was meeting for the first time.

Early in my career I was put in charge of a four-week summer youth camping program. I was barely aged out of the “youth” category myself. (Looking back at that period, I ask, “What in the world were they thinking?!?!” yet, it was a position I held for 11 summers.) Each week we would receive a new batch of campers and each week I tried very hard to get to know each of them by name. Sometimes I was successful; other times I was not. Occasionally, I’d stand before the whole group at the orientation and make that promise. Always, though, even unannounced, I would do my best to learn and remember each camper’s name so I could greet them by it…at least once by the end of the week.

There were two reasons I made this effort.

First, being known by our names feels good. Who has not known the embarrassment of being known as that “other person” or “hey, you” on occasion? Or the awkwardness of being called by another person’s name…even if it does look a lot like ours? Or the irritation of being called a different name that is a mispronunciation of our name? (You can imagine how many times THAT happens to me, especially during the holiday season, with the last name of “Klaus.”)

When I work with people, even on short assignment, I do my best to learn and remember their names – first and last – because I know how important it is. Sometimes, I even rehearse the pronunciation of their names, especially when I mess up the first time. A few years ago, I was working briefly with a woman whose first name was a lovely Spanish name that was nearly unpronounceable to me. I kept Anglicizing the name – not belligerently or uncaringly – but because I just couldn’t get my mouth and tongue to make the right Spanish vowel sounds. She became frustrated and corrected me rather directly. I came home that night, consulted with my spouse on the correct pronunciation (Spanish is her first language), and I rehearsed like crazy. The next day my effort was obvious even if my execution was still imperfect. This experience, which was a bit difficult for both the woman and me, reminded me how important it is to know a person’s name and to get it right.

Second, getting know, and correctly using, the names of people is a simple yet solid community building activity. From the moment those campers arrived, my staff and I had only six days to create a sense of community among them, which we knew would “make or break” the whole camping experience for many of them. By learning their names and being able to use them, and allowing them to know and use our names in return, we were taking the first steps in community building.

Correctly learning and using the names of people is still one of the easiest and best strategies in community building and community change. Each of us can do it and we can do it all by ourselves. The only permission we need is the permission of the person whose name we are trying to learn and use.

However, knowing a person’s name does not equate to knowing the person. This is a mistake commonly made in American culture which values fame and celebrity. Just because we know the names “Beyoncé” or “Lady Gaga” does not mean we actually know them. In community work we need to go beyond just knowing names. We need to know people and we need to be known by them. We need to get to know people as we let them get to know us. This is the beginning of trust. This is important because, as you may know already, change happens at the speed of trust.

At another point in my career I worked at University of Iowa Health Care as a fundraiser for the children’s hospital. As part of my orientation I received a packet of information that included a wallet card titled, “15 House Rules for Service Leadership.” I still have it today because I think it offers some great advice for learning people’s names, getting to know them, and building trust. See what you think:

  • Break the ice
  • Stop and help
  • Take the time
  • Keep people informed
  • Anticipate needs
  • Respond quickly
  • Respect privacy and confidentiality
  • Handle with care
  • Maintain dignity
  • Treat adults as adults and children as children
  • Listen and act
  • Help each other
  • Keep it quiet
  • Look the part
  • Respect our differences

Be greater, Do good, Everyday.

Tom Klaus

 

The Unintended Consequences of “Five Words of Gratitude”

After I published my last full blog asking “What if…?” I pursued a little “what if?” of my own that has had profound and delightful unintended consequences. I had read an article in the New York Times about the Webby Awards which are given out each year by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. I was fascinated by a rule of the Webby Awards that is enthusiastically enforced by booing audience members: no acceptance speech can be more than five words long. Wow! It makes me actually want to watch the Webby Awards program!

The article offered several exemplary brief speeches, including these four that I particularly like:

  • “Had we lost, we’d sue.” American Bar Association Journal in 2008.
  • “Making life terrible for dictators.” Human Rights Watch in 2010.
  • “Donating my unused word.” Corporate Social Responsibility Amalgamated in 2012.
  • “The Oscars should do this.” Actor Kevin Spacey in 2013.

Inspired by the Webby Award’s succinct acceptance speeches, I began to wonder: What if…I asked people to express Heart of Gratitudetheir gratitude to significant people in their lives in only five words? What could they say? What would they say? Would they even do it?” I decided to create an online Google form where people could post their five words of gratitude to another person and invite people to share them. I did not blog this at the time and decided to only post it in LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and made it the subject of my monthly “marketing” newsletter (because I really hate having to do marketing anyway and this seemed more fun than marketing). All of this was just for fun and I was not counting on having many, if any responses. Well, I was wrong. I got a bunch of responses. Here are just a few:

  • To a sibling: “Thank you for graciously listening.”
  • To a child: “Your smile makes my day!”
  • To a colleague: “Deep thinker with a conscience.”
  • To a deceased parent: “Inspiration to overcome obstacles.”
  • To a patient: “Honored by attending your childbirth.”

Because so many of the responses are very powerful and I have been deeply touched by them, I decided to share this invitation a little more widely through my blog. I have been asked whether I will share the responses and, yes, I will. However, I am not exactly sure how and when I will do that. For now I will continue to compile them and in the near future I will be sharing many of them in future blogs.

In the meantime, if you would like to contribute, please click on this link: Five Words of Gratitude.

Be Greater. Do Good. Everyday. (Those are not my five words of gratitude but someone did suggest they could be.)

Tom

Driving the Rusty Spike – A Free Teleconference for Stuck Writers

On Thursday, September 18, 2014 from 7:30 to 8:30 PM (Eastern), I’m offering a free quickee teleconference titled, Driving the Rusty Spike: Lessons Learned in the True Life Adventures of Dissertating and Other Nasty Writing Projects.

This is a one-hour teleconference on how to make progress toward successful completion of a dissertation, thesis, or other weighty writing project that feels like it is stuck and just hanging around haunting your life. If you, or someone you know, is in the midst of one of those writing projects and would like a respite, mixed with a bit of witty encouragement, please join me. This is especially good for folks who have decided to inflict one of those graduate degrees on themselves that require a lot of writing.

Here’s a brief description:

You sailed through the course work, the comprehensive examination, and daily grind of pursuing a graduate degree or advanced study. Now it’s time to write that dissertation, thesis, or even book, that seemed a long way off when you started your program. Uh-oh. Brain freeze! Energy loss! Reactor core melt down! (“And don’t ask for any more warp 9 speeds, Mr. Spock. Our star drive is completely burned out. The only thing we have left is impulse power.”) How can you possibly find it within you to get over this last hurdle and sprint to the finish line?

In this teleworkshop you will receive:

  • At least 10 strategies for refueling your spirit, refocusing your mind, and reclaiming your drive to finish that dissertation, thesis or other major writing project
  • Inspiration to start moving forward again and to keep moving
  • Affirmation of your effort and support from others who are on a similar journey

I will be leading the teleconference. Here a little about my own experience that informs this presentation: Tom Klaus (Ph.D., Organizational Leadership) infamously described the doctoral journey with this appalling metaphor, that was nonetheless often quoted by others at the university whenever he was introduced: “It’s like tapping a rusty spike slowly through your forehead, into your brain, and yet finding it weirdly exhilarating.” Tom did finish driving the rusty spike and has been a prolific writer throughout his career, including books, articles, curriculum, and blogs. He is a nonprofit business and leadership development consultant based in Laurel, Maryland; an adjunct professor at Eastern University (Philadelphia) in the School of Leadership Development and Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership programs; a blogger for his own site, Non-Profit GP, and Tamarack, an institute for community engagement based in Canada; and a nonprofit leader with deep and wide experience.

There is no cost for this teleconference. You only pay the cost of long distance charges to call into the teleconference line. However, advance registration is required.

To Register: Click HERE to register (or cut and past into your browser this link: http://tinyurl.com/DrivingTheRustySpikeOR  you can use this contact form to register as well:

Between September 1 and September 12, you will receive confirmation of your registration and the conference call number and access code. Please note: Your registration information is confidential and will not be shared.

If you have questions, please contact me at info@nonprofitgp.com

Yes, please feel free to share this information with others you believe may be interested.

Be greater, do good, every day.

T.W.K.

Giving Voice to the Voices in Our Head

We all have voices in our heads. They are the ideas, random thoughts, non sequiturs, and inspirations which often appear out of nowhere, even in the middle of the night, like this blog at 4:15 AM on a Saturday morning when I could be sleeping in. Fortunately, they also occur at other times of the day. I am especially good at non sequiturs at all hours.

So, there I was watching the opening ceremonies of the Sochi 2014 Olympics last night (yes, this is one of those non sequiturs but it is going to make sense in a minute). I am loving the spectacle of the show and I am enjoying it so much I pick up my tablet and start tweeting. I am blathering away on Twitter for hours when, finally, a friend sends me a note: “What are you doing?  What are you talking about?”  I reply: “Well, the opening ceremonies of the Sochi 2014 Olympics, of course.  Duh!” The show ended, I went to bed and I woke up at 2:50 AM with a startling realization: I had not been using any hashtags to give my friend, or any other of my zillions of followers, the context of the voices in my head. Okay, who is the idiot now?

And, of course, that is the point! (Yes, another non sequitur but I will connect it now.) People who have followers (aka leaders) need to remain always aware of the voices in their heads. Communicating ideas, random thoughts, and inspirations clearly to others is essential.  Even more, it is a core responsibility of leadership to communicate effectively with our followers and colleagues. Regardless of how creative, inspirational, and important the voices in our heads, if we do not make a focused effort to share them clearly and coherently, they flow out as a string of non sequiturs. Look, an occasional non sequitur is fine as it tests whether people are really paying attention to us. However, a steady string of them can cause people to seriously question our competence.

Here are a few lessons I learned, again, tonight on how all of us can avoid confusing our followers whenever we are wearing the mantle of leadership:

  1. Remember, the voices in your head are in your head only. Seems pretty basic and easy, right? It usually is until we have hit a gusher of ideas. In those moments they want out so bad we forget that others cannot hear those voices too and do not know the context out of which they flow.
  2. Slow down.  Do not go immediately for your cell phone to call a press conference or text, email, post, or tweet any of your insights to the world. Do not call for an all organization staff meeting, video conference, convocation or write a company-wide memo. Sit with it for a while. Mull over it. Have a cup of coffee or tea. Walk around the block. Whatever you do, keep it to yourself for now.
  3. Write your idea as a Haiku poem. Haiku poetry is typically only 10 to 14 syllables in length. By writing your idea as a Haiku, not only will you distill it to its very essence, you’ll also make it sound very pretty. Even more, it will help you organize your thoughts and push you to communicate them more clearly and concisely. Yes, even Twitter gives you 140 characters and it does not always seem adequate, to be sure.  Trust me, though, you can thoroughly confuse people with 140 characters.
  4. Try it out on one or two people who will not agree to any idiotic thing you say just because you are the leader.  Yes, share your Haiku poetry with them.  You do not have to tell them it is a poem, if that seems too risky to you.  You may be worried, after all, since you are the leader, that they may judge you for taking time away from your important schedule to write poetry.  You know, though, it is not such a bad idea that leaders write poetry.  It models the capacity for reflective thinking as well as the wisdom to break with the insanity of a frantic schedule.  If these one or two or more people quickly grasp the idea, seem warm to it, and are comfortable “kicking it around” with you, then you can share it with more people.

In retrospect, I really wish I had taken a few minutes to test my tweets instead of being carried away by the inspiration of the moment.  Nonetheless, it was a good reminder of how the voices in my own head can confuse my followers – whether on Twitter or in a real-time leadership role – if I do not intentionally, thoughtfully, and clearly communicate them.

I’m going back to bed.

More later…

T.W.K.