Sunday, April 30, 2017

Choosing a big pond or a little pond....

As I prepared to graduate from Slippery Rock University, many years ago, one of my professors said, "Now you just need to decide if you want to swim in a big pond or a little pond."
When we think of fish, many know that the smaller the pond, the smaller the fish. Fish will only grow large in large water. Somehow, genetically, they grow in relationship to their environment. Bigger ponds were in my mind. I had recently completed a tour in the Air Force where I had a taste of different cultures and bigger things. So, I swam on in search of bigger places and bigger things.
Within a decade, much to my surprise, I was right back in my little hometown of Franklin but working in a big pond company - Joy. For 21 years I swam in that big pond working on many international projects, traveling across the US and into a few other countries. As a little fish, I grew some. But I can say that people aren't fish.
The best thing that happened is that the "big pond" put me in my hometown which may seem like a little pond but I know the fish are bigger here. A small pond gives humans something more that doesn't correlate with the fish experience in small ponds.
In bigger communities - in cities - in large corporations - you can make a mark and you can make a name. You can build something. But you can never build the context and connection that you can in a smaller community. I've heard that there are only 6 degrees of separation from you and anyone else in the world. You know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone, who knows someone, who is a friend of the Queen of England. In a small community there is often only 1 or two degrees of separation. You know someone who is friends with the Mayor. You know someone who is a friend of the State Senator. Context and connection are close.
Many of the leaders in our community - the movers and shakers - never left. They are our Judges, our council people, our Mayors, our state representatives, our business leaders, our non-profit Directors, our Chamber leaders AND they are doing - HAVE BEEN doing - huge things in our community that impact many lives. They grew big in this pond and they inspire others - near and far. They inspire me.
It's not about being in a big pond or a little pond. It's about finding the place that allows you to thrive and a place where you can make a difference. In my experience, a small pond - a community of people like we have here in Venango county - provides greater opportunity for making a difference. It's because of context and connection. We support one another. We are close enough, with context enough, that we can do more, go further, and have a greater impact because of it. We care and are more aware of one another's strengths and yes, one another's weaknesses.
I'm not ashamed of having gone away and rambled in bigger ponds but I'm most thankful that circumstances required that I be here. I'm proud to be here and am committed to supporting the efforts of those continuing to make our pond a better place for all.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Border Wall Bailout

This weeks Government drama will be passing a budget to keep the government functioning. The president is threatening to veto any bill that does not give him 1.4 billion dollars for the border wall. During his campaign he insisted that Mexico would pay for it. Now the story is that Mexico will reimburse us for it.
Meanwhile, the building of the wall is opposed by 62 percent of Americans with only 34 percent in favor. So, he doesn't have taxpayer support and it appears he is far short of the support he needs in Congress. In reaction, his spokespeople are using a now familiar line of attack which is that people just aren't accepting that he won the election.
Actually, there are several things he is failing to accept. First, he did not win by a majority and second that this is a democracy, not an aristocracy. He was not crowned to rule. He is called to serve and to serve ALL citizens not just the ones who elected him. Many of his supporters appear to be quite confused about that as well.
While his policies are highly popular with a minority who voted for him, (except when they realize personal implications) they are extremely unpopular with those who did not vote for him. So unpopular, that a sleeping giant has awakened and is rising up against him. Unlike him, this giant represents the majority and congress is well aware of it. Many in congress are faced with a difficult choice, side with this administration and enact policies that are against the will of the majority and get crushed by the giant, or break ranks and start actually representing the whole of their constituents. They are not yet sure about this new giant.
Governing is not easy - especially in a democracy and in a way that preserves a democracy. It's hard and requires reaching compromise and consensus with a long term vision of what is truly best for the nation. Yes, there will be unpopular choices that are actually good for the nation. But if those choices are based in fact and reason, and show results, citizens can come around.
This border wall is not based on fact and reason. It's as irrational as was the promise that Mexico would pay for it. Now demanding that it be funded by taxpayers or he'll shut down the government is also irrational. Congress needs to focus on an actual budget that serves the needs of the country not the ego of someone who suddenly realizes that he needs taxpayers to bail him out of a campaign promise he couldn't possibly keep.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


The collaborative approach is something that seems to be elusive to many. After reading numerous blogs, it seems even those writers struggle to put together a set of good tips. Collaboration is about team building. It's about discovering and unleashing the strengths of each member and helping them achieve more for themselves and for the team.
If you feel the responsibility or carry the designation of "team leader", you are then tasked with discovering and unleashing the strength of every member of the team. It's your responsibility to know and understand what they can do and help them to do it. You had better first understand them and where they are in their mind. Your expectations need to be in line with theirs. Your understanding of what they can achieve needs to be in line with what they can actually achieve. If your expectations and your understanding are not in line with theirs, you will break the spirit of the team.
In a collaboration, all parties feel heard, valued, and understood. Expectations are clear on both sides. There are words and phrases that lead to collaboration. "What if we", "Why not include", "Let's try", "Let's add," "Perhaps we could", "How about doing,".
Collaborative people offer to listen and exchange ideas. Collaboration offers an understanding of effort. Collaboration focuses on value of the other person. It's an approach that lifts everyone that's involved in the effort. It creates energy and motivation toward a common cause. If you're feeling that you are tugging a rope all by yourself, perhaps you need to consider how you are motivating - or not motivating - potential collaborators. In a successful collaboration, everyone feels valued.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

One of Aunt Linda's Kids

It's been a mantra for ages; "Don't do as I do, do as I say." I have watched parents cringe as they fear their children will make the same mistakes they did and try to steer their children in another direction. Not being a parent has put me in an interesting position of being an "aunt" to many young people - mine and theirs. I love the young people in my life, those real nieces and nephews and the ones who have entered my life by choice or chance. They are my "kids".
I will kick their butt in a way that a parent may not. I will have a blind eye for things their parent may not. But I will love them in much the same way a parent will. I look forward to seeing them. I want them to grow strong and thrive. I will likely open the door to them when others may not and many don't even know I will. My heart is tied to them in a way that can't quite be explained, except to say I am Aunt Linda.
When they are in pain, it pains me. When they celebrate, I am celebrating with them. I see my own mistakes in theirs. I see my own dreams in theirs. I see them as the hope for something more and something better in the world. They entered my life - by blood or by chance - for a reason and once they have connected, I am dedicated to them in some form. I want them to succeed and thrive. I want them to do more and do better than I did. They should not endure the pains I did. And when they do, I suffer with them. They are my "kids", no matter how short a time we spent together or how deeply connected we have been. They crossed my path. They are connected to me. I love them and believe I owe them whatever can be given to make their path stronger but not necessarily not easier.  It is not about things or money. I owe them what I know to be true and what I believe will help them. We grow stronger by struggle. I won't fight their battles. I only hope to share stories of battles I fought that were not well planned and executed. Sharing those things that helped me prepare for such battles will help them achieve more success.
They will struggle and fail as I did. My only hope is that they won't fall as hard or as far because of something I said or I did. And because of something I said or did, they can run a thousand miles farther than I ever imagined and do some amazing thing that they didn't think they could. At that moment I hope I'm sitting, in this world or the next, saying 'Wow! Look at that. That's one of my kids'.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Our tiny fragile seeds - Tomorrow

A seed is little more than a hope for tomorrow. It is tiny and fragile and needs just the right conditions to grow. It grows - tomorrow.
Every day we have on this earth is a time to plant seeds. We plant seeds that might grow - tomorrow. But we are also the keepers of seeds. We can provide just the right conditions for seeds to grow. We can be the fertilizer, the water and the sunshine. We can also preserve seeds for another season.
When we think of life cut short, we tend to focus on tomorrow not coming. But tomorrow always comes and then it doesn't quite come in the way we believe or expect.
We see life as what we know and want it to be. It's this cycle in which we live and breath.
We are seeds. We are water. We are fertilizer. We are sunshine. We are keepers of the seed.
Our time here is short. Many of us search for the meaning and a defining mission. But I'm guessing, the meaning and definition are simply ours to decide. Plant seeds. Be a keeper of seeds. Water seeds. Nurture seeds. Shine light on seeds. That's it.
If you are doing one of those things, without malice and with a kind heart, believing in a tomorrow - past you - you are finding your mission and meaning in life. You are no more or less important than the tree in the forest. You simply have more mobility.
Preserve seeds worthy of replanting. Plant seeds worth growing. Shine on seeds that will grow and spread more of the best there is to offer. Nurture what will make a better tomorrow. Be a keeper of the best seeds. Create more hope for tomorrow.
We are tiny and fragile. Our time is short. What will you do with this short time?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Force alone cannot sustain a nation

One of the most surprising revelations in the past week was that our military leaders are now fully authorized to use whatever means they deem necessary and simply need to let the Commander in Chief know about it. Meanwhile, foreign policy is really confusing right now. Our foreign policy objectives are very unclear and statements are conflicted.
When there is a leadership vacuum, something or someone will fill it. It appears that serious foreign policy decisions are now in the hands of the military. No congressional oversight and little guidance from the executive branch.
We have a very well trained military with seasoned leaders. As a veteran, I have deep respect for our military forces. However, their mission and focus is specific. They should be one component of our overall foreign policy strategy not the entire foreign policy strategy or even the central component of foreign policy.
There are long term and broad consequences for military actions. Foreign policy experts and diplomats understand a broader context and international impact of those actions. We have allies. If we want support from those allies, they deserve and expect to understand what we are doing. We cannot expect them to give us total support without knowing what we are trying to achieve.
We should expect our congressional leaders to be in the loop. They should be helping to drive foreign policy and most certainly weighing in on military action anywhere in the world. In theory, we elect leaders to lead. It now appears many decisions are in the hands of our military leaders who were not elected by us.
Perhaps you love a show of force and believe that, alone, is leadership. I would argue that if force is not reasoned and balanced, there will be an equally unreasonable and ill balanced reaction as a result of it. It may very well isolate us in the world - from our allies as well as from our enemies. Force alone cannot sustain a nation.
We spend more on military than any other country in the world - By BILLIONS - and there are plans to throw more money at it while cutting programs in the US. To what end? What is the reason? What will be left in the United States to defend? It's not sustainable.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Is Different not quite right?

Old folk songs are the absolute best in my assessment. There are so many variations of presentation. I listen to them and then I sing them in my own way. I hear something else. Often, fellow musicians hear me and I notice a quick odd look, as though that's not quite right. And then, they settle into hearing me belt it out my way. I sing it the way I hear it in my mind.
While I am aware that others interpreted differently - even the songwriter wrote it differently - I can't help but sing it the way I hear it in my mind. I'm aware of the "that's not right" looks but it is right for me. It works for me. It is my heart and spirit. It's just how I hear it and need to express it.
There is nothing more symbolic of my life than that. I hear it and see it a different way. I sing it a different way. It's just inside of me and needs to come out that way. Long ago I stopped minding that others think it's not quite "right". It's me. It's not meant to be unkind or uncaring in any form. I mean no disrespect to anyone who came before me - the songwriter or the performer. It's just how I hear it and am not afraid to share it.
Over the course of time I've come to enjoy that I hear things differently. It has made me a more introspective person. It has meant that the sharing is not more important than my own joy. I just own it for myself. If others connect with it, then it's a bonus.
The moral of the story for me is that creation is not accomplished by copy. Creation is something altogether different. And different is me.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Bait and Switch" - Airline overbooking

If I sell you something I don't actually have and cannot deliver, I risk serious trouble. It could be characterized as fraud, especially if I take your money then tell you I don't have it. If I tried to give you something you didn't actually want in exchange for what you wanted, it could be characterized as "bait and switch". Historically, these have not been good business practices and have landed many on the wrong side of justice.
In my many years of airline travel I've sometimes encountered "overbooked" flights. It's happened on multiple airlines and is somewhat standard practice in the industry. I didn't experience a lot of "overbooked" flights but enough to have a sense of how it works. In each case, I was traveling for business so I had a specific mission and schedule. Twice, I volunteered to take the next flight as it didn't mess up my mission but to the airlines benefit, I actually never took advantage of the very limited rewards they gave me. It was always flight credit and had to be used within a window of time. Since I rarely flew for personal trips, it was rather useless as the company had no way for me to apply these credits when booking flights.On other occasions there was simply no flexibility in my schedule to allow delays so I didn't volunteer.
Most of us don't fly more than once a year for personal reasons. The credits I got for the times volunteering to wait, required using the credits within 6 months. Even traveling for personal reasons, most people have a plan - a schedule - maybe a connecting cruise.
These days when we book a flight, we can even check in 24 hours in advance and select a seat if we wish on most airlines. We feel a sense of assurance that, short of emergency or weather issues, we will get to our destination reasonably close to our planned arrival. We have expectations - pay for something and we get the expected return.
In the past few decades, airlines have worked to streamline flights and assure that planes are full. They need to maximize their profits. When I flew in the 80's planes were rarely full of passengers. It was common to have lots of room and empty seats around you. Not so today. Now an empty seat beside you is a luxury. Airlines, working to ensure a full plane flies, overbook flights - sell more seats than they actually have - expecting that some passengers will change plans as often people do. In essence, they are selling something they don't actually have and gambling that, by flight time, they actually will. If they gamble wrong, they "pay" people to volunteer to take a later flight that isn't full. If enough people do, they are fine. And if their "payment" - the voucher for a future flight - is not used (like mine never were) they made a great gamble pay off. If, on the other hand, they have to physically pull someone off a flight and get sued for it, they just lost a big bet.
I'd venture that the overbooking of flights might be getting a second look in many airline boardrooms very soon. It's not a good idea to be selling things you don't have and betting that people will take the second option.