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Welcome to my site and thank you for reading. After many times thinking, if only I had a blog, well-- here we are. This blog will feature writings on a variety of topics from roadside food, to leadership in the fire service; politics; culture- gay, straight, and indifferent, my experiences in New York; and much much more. It's my hope that you will find it interesting and that it stirs at least some thought and discussion. I am certain you wont always agree, but that is what its all about right?

Friday, September 4, 2015

A buckeye, virgo, enfj writer looks at 41...

     Its a funny thing being forty.  That halfway mark in life is a crazy place. Makes you do all kinds of weird stuff.  Like a teething infant with little use for vocabulary, or even demonstrative hand gestures, you find yourself wanting, but not really knowing what, exactly. 
     Even more interesting is turning forty one.   Its the other side of the crest of the roller coaster now.  You want to do so many things. You have seen the entire park- from the waterslide to the go-carts; the old car ride to the theater (remember who we are talking about here). 
     But most of all what you do not want is that feeling. That part of the ride as you go down the hill and feel all of it slipping away. Except your internal organs which you distinctly feel trying to climb out of your nose. 
     That 15 seconds is the longest time on earth. Or so it feels.  And when you finally reach the end of the torture. When Newton's laws compel all the important parts back into position, you try to stand.  Probably wobble. And go on about your way. 
     Maybe you remember what you saw from the summit. That the other side of the park is really cool. But more likely, distracted by whatever, you tell yourself, maybe next time. 
     The oddest about about being on this side though, is that nagging question about how many next times there will be. How many more rides on the roller coaster?  How many more chances to see the whole park. Or at least make a really strong effort. To not waste away in the gift shop, or self induce a coma of fried food; soft serve ice cream; and heat stroke. You silently question what experiences you will leave undone. What curiosities or wonders will be uncircled on the amusment park map; or left unfulfilled in the bottom of that list's bucket. 
    I guess we really dont know that answer. Our time is written on the side of our bottle in ink only God can see.  And that is probably a good thing. For then it is up to us to make the most of what we are given. To ride the ride as often as we can. And to live not in fear of time that is dwindling, but in joy of experiences, on both sides of the roller coaster. To empty our buckets and cross off our lists in truest Virgo style, making the most of this crazy time riding down the other side of the mountain.  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Well it's been awhile

     It has been a little over four months since I last was able to share something in this space.  There are many reasons for the absence. Some are understandable. Most are just excuses. A few more are biological.  Its hard to write during recovery. While your self image and personal framework and list of expectations are slowly coming back into focus writing can be like trying to drive a car down a winding road in heavy fog backwards. 
   But, none-the-less, here we are.  The experience in NYC, all 15 years of it, has left me richer and poorer; more confident and more nervous; healthier and fatter; more known and more alone.  In other words, it was and shall always remain a completely irrational experience.  Personally and professionally. Either one. What happened there, especially at the end, makes little sense.  Ok. It makes no sense. Just like any crazy time though we cant help but try to figure it out, to analyze it, to ask the probing question that will break open the kernel of worthwhile understanding that surely had to be the reason behind the madness. 
Or we can make another choice.  Select another view. That the experience lies not in the events but in the meaning we choose for them.  The destination we choose after finding ourselves on the wrong road.  When you finally turn around at the end, what then?  Where Do you  go then?  
     Those ideas were the foundation of the first sermon i attended at Riverside Church in March of 2012.  They were the theme of the first Richard Bach book I ever read and my favorite John Steinbeck book too. All my life has been that question- from here where shall I go?  That feeling of excitement of an new place- or a missed turn that leads to an unplanned encounter with a beautiful place or person.  The truly Undiscovered Country. 
     My truth has come to be that the road doesn't really end, even though I have often longed for the ultimate destination. Perhaps there is no great answer. No pearly gate at the end of a path where I can set my bags down and find what I have been looking for.  Perhaps home isn't the end of the journey but the journey itself?  
     Is it any wonder then that one of the things I was most excited to buy after escaping from my Alcatraz-  was the latest edition of the Rand McNally road atlas?  Or that I am so dedicated to getting my partner to come to love the idea of a road trip?  Maybe NYC turned out not to be my home but a 15 year period of changing my tire on the side of a busy highway? Now, tire replaced, windshield clean; tank almost full again- I think its time to get back out there.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Wake Up Joel

I confess that he has dragged me in many times.  When I was feeling low or doubting myself the sacharine sweet preaching has made me feel better.  And that does not make it bad.  But the ease always comes with a price- the denial of reality.  For being a Christian is not easy. More often than should be the case, doing the right thing gets you the opposite of a reward. Ridicule. Anger. Venom.  

All of this and more are reserved for the person who tries to stand up for what is right. The person who tries to chart a different course.  The level that even friends can stoop too when- for just a moment-you stop playing the game and try to live to the higher calling is shocking in every way.  This is not to claim any saintly garment for me.  I am the farthest from a Saint. The back row of the church was my place. Maybe is my place.  But just the attempt to follow that brighter path can so anger people that they can not stand your presence.  The fear is greater than almost any known to man. Its first victim is reason, followed by rational thought.  Logic never stands a chance. Conversation and listening- they were felled by the first volly. Toy soldiers stood not a chance. 

 In the smoking ruins of that battlefield you find yourself alone. With your faith.  And then you realize the price that will be paid.  And in the distance you slowly see the outline of that rugged old cross. Only then do you start to get the point. Its not meant to be an easy road. Its not meant to always be a celebration. Just because you read some bible verses on Sunday morning doesnt mean the pearly gates swing open wide and the shower of gold begins. Quite the opposite in fact.  

As you claw towards something better through the fog and the debris of what was- clambering for what can be- you know in your heart that the journey is yours alone to follow. That the choices are yours alone to make.  Even when they cry out for your blood.  Even when they turn and walk away.  Even when they say youve changed.  Especially then.  For thats when you start to grasp what its all about. The journey of faith that stretches from a Golgotha field- to the appomatox where you make your stand.  It may be painful- it may be solitary- but it is the place you must go if you are to begin to know just what your life is for. 

 I guess even if Joel would have said something, I wouldnt have believed him. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Greatest Sin

Sin is a funny topic.  The vast majority of time, people only talk about it in relation to what others are doing.  The world is covered with people who are convinced they are sin finding experts.  Able to pick it out of a lineup or recognize its scent much as an Italian Grandmother can tell with one flick of a wooden spoon that the gravy is ready. 

But that isnt really what sin is about.  Being able to see it in others is one of humanities most worthless skills.  Much like being able to curl your tounge or name all of Carrie's boyfriends from Sex and the City or every batter that ever averaged above .325 for a season.  The beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And only then because of whatever value the person places on their view of the fact- or the judgement. It provides no benefit to anyone else. At all. Ever.  

How many people have ever changed one item of their daily agenda because someone else called it a sin?  But how many have patted themselves on the back for calling it out.  Pranced like a peacock, totally satisfied that they have done the work of God on earth for calling out another's behavior.  Judge not lest ye be judged. That part must have been taught on the day they missed. Splinter in another's eye. Log in your own.  Nope, they have nothing.  I really wish I could attend your church Huckabee. That special bible you have in the pew must make for interesting reading. Like a redacted intelligence report from The CIA. Except who's innocence are you protecting?  Never mind though, for the irony is that their words are not what make the sin. Or even call it out for others. No. 

My lifetime has taught me something far more significant.  The only sin is mine. The only sin I can see and feel (or own) lives just under my breastbone. It only lives when I give it permission.  When the meditations of my heart and the words of my lips repeat the slanders of others.  Or, worse, when I start to buy into them.  Take them deep down inside for a long cuddle on a cold winters night.  Frame them. Hang them from my wall. Just under the "home sweet home" sign.  That is what sin is.  Letting the work of God, the creation of God, be soiled by the vocalized fear of others.  Taking their words as your own.  Believing for one minute that the chanters and protestors, the liars and the thieves are talking about you from truth when, in fact, its all about them.  Those times- when you allow your divine light to be dimmed- those are the times God sheds a tear.  Not that you have wronged God- not that you have done a bad deed- or lived a wrong life. No. The tear is shed because you looked in a mirror- saw the reflection of just what and who you were made to be- and said no.  God. Or Allah. Or the creator- you made a mistake. You didnt do right this time. I am a less than perfect image. And a less than perfect being.  Can you imagine any word more horrifying to your parents? Can we imagine any phrase more destructive to our beautiful place on this earth?  No. And God Cant either. And that is a sin. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Of Course Its Personal! (Lessons on the Path to Leadership)

As a leader or manager of a troubled organization, you will in variably be told that you should take nothing personally.  That the reactions of those you are attempting to lead really aren’t about you. You will be told to keep smiling, stay the course, and let the attacks fall off your supernaturally thickened skin like so much rain water off a tin-roof. 

That is such a wonderful concept it is likely etched in stone at the Leadership monument that must exist somewhere on the grounds of FDR’s home or in the basement of the business school at Harvard. 

But the first point of failure of the books and the seminars and the conferences and speakers is that they rarely if ever explain to you how to get there.  They do not bother to share the map required to find that place inside where you can be safe  from the taunts and the ridicule and the venom unleashed when you call upon your workforce to do a little better or try something just a bit different than what they are used to.

What many also fail to tell you is that the attacks on you will be personal because the reactions on the part of the workforce are personal!  Entrenched and atrophied organizations are made up of entrenched and atrophied people.  They are not necessarily bad people. In fact, many will be personally convinced of the righteousness of their actions and their mindsets and will believe that their actions and reactions are therefore fully justified. 

However, that does not imply that they will find it in themselves to react in a rational manner when confronted with change.  This is because of several critical factors.  On the macro scale, many of our public organizations do not boast legions of workers skilled at analytical thinking taking into account multiple variables.  On a micro scale—they are just damn scared of anything you are going to try to do that takes them too far from their comfort zone.  As these entrenched organizations often have strong collective identities, histories, and traditions, it is no wonder that the reactivity to changes in that organization occurs in the land of the personal.  You may, in their mind, be quite literally attacking their way of life.  Although it may seem dramatic, these reactions can rise to the level of a nation facing a disaster or terrorist attack—or a community raging against the “outsiders” who have come to change their way of life.  You must understand, if you are taking on the role of a change agent, that the response of some to organizational change can be that basic—that fundamental—and with that level of passion and fear. 

Therefore—it should come as no surprise that they will lash out in unanticipated ways to those who are the faces of that change.  Never mind if the change is necessary, or beneficial—it is a threat.  And you are a threat.  And you will be treated as such.  The level of reaction will vary based on the organization and people involved—however, we do a very poor job of training our new leaders and managers on how to manage that element of the relationship between them and their organization.

It is my firm belief that this single element explains why so few public organizations obtain incredibly high levels of success and why change is so hard to enact.  Most leaders or managers will start their plan, try to put things into effect and, when faced by the counter-assault, back down into their darkened office, shaken to their core by the return fire, and never come out again.  Their plans start collecting dust on the shelves—and the organizational remains mired forevermore in whatever state it was six months before, when the dreamer had visions of so much more.  And, having tasted “victory”—the resisters to change become even more convinced that if you just yell loud enough—just react with enough negativity—well nothing will ever change.  Only then, things will have to get so bad before they become receptive to change that the organization may well beyond saving.  The difference is trying to save the smoker from cancer before their first serious health problem—or after their third bout of cancer—when the choices are clear, we owe it to ourselves and to those we serve to enact necessary change before things are so bad that to doubt the need for change is shockingly ignorant for even the most defiant.

What “they” should tell you—but what they don’t—is the need to keep going.  That to make sure things don’t get to the lowest point, you must find some inner strength of your own.  You must be willing to adjust tactics, and to maintain a constant level of enthusiasm for where you want to take the organization and why.  Remember, all of the reactivity is almost never based on a realistic assessment of the quality of your ideas.  Looking at it on paper from a distance, some of the most ardent dead enders would see the benefits from the changes you are trying to implement.  But this is not about data or results—it’s about reactions.  Human. Visceral. And almost never a rational examination of the future of the organization. 

If you can understand the cause of that fear.  The human nature of dealing with change—especially in organizations that see little change and/or have had bad experiences with it—then you can plan your response plan when everything seems to blow up around you. 

The critical elements of that approach are for you to have a solid and simple plan of what it is you want to do.  Be able to explain your key points in brief, simple sentences, with a few bullet points.  For example:  In 2015 we will make sure every worker has been trained on the new computer system. Why?  Because it takes too much time away from that one departments job to do all of the data entry—when it would be much more efficient for everyone to do it.  They will yell—they will scream—even if the department wants the change—even if everyone can see it makes more sense. They will accuse you of trying to eliminate jobs—they will say everything worked fine the way it was—what’s the point of changing?  If you do not have a few key answers to respond with, you will be dead in the water:  Examples:  This will help us justify as many positions as we have in all departments—it will lessen the heavy workload of some—it will get you better response time for the reports you need, etc.  Always focus on the simple points of benefit—of the need and restate it as often as you need to.  Until you are well passed tired of hearing.  But never get tired of saying it. 

Whatever it is that you respond with—just make sure you do not respond from the level of those that will attack you.  You can shape your message—you can adjust your tactics.  But the moment you fall to the level of being the screaming raging lunatic—the other side has won the argument.  Just as in a battle, you position can often be your greatest strength but If you give up the position, you will lose the battle.

Second, don’t stop doing what you need to be doing just because people aren’t reacting the way you wanted them do.  Can you imagine a Civil War General telling his troops to lay down their weapons and go home because the other side didn’t do something the right way?  No, of course not.  And such is the way with leadership and management in these types of organizations.  You have the goal in sight—you have the vision of where you want to lead the organization.  Get it done.  It will not be easy—it will not follow the lovely map you printed out from the internet—but the only way to guarantee you will never succeed is if you stop trying.  If that initial counter assault renders you so upset you cannot move forward—if you take their reaction so personally that you question your purpose for being in your role in the first place—then you will not find any lasting success.

Maybe that is what they mean when they say don’t take it personally. Even though many in your organization WILL take it personally—organizational change and transformation cannot become how you define yourself.  You must have the inner strength to ride through the insults, the taunts, the questioning of your motives and methods—to see yourself through to the other side.  Having a strong sense of faith helps, having a good group of professional mentors to reach out to for advice does as well.  But above all, you must be able to suspend your reactions on those crazy bad days when you realize just how crazy things can get when you want to change the color of the paper towels in the bathrooms. 

When you have mastered this understanding—when you know what is likely coming—then you can truly be ready to bring transformative leadership to these types of organizations.  Ironically, it is these types of organizations that are most in need of what you have to offer—if you can learn that it really isn’t personal. And if you can learn to stay on message, avoid being reactive yourself, and stay committed to helping your organization be a better place—for those who work there and those whom the organization serves. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Leadership and Management: what no one has the courage to tell you

The field of leadership and management studies is marked by never ending fads, pleasantly attired gurus, and far too little real life insight from those who have tried, failed, and failed again to bring about serious change in their organizations.  All of the formulas, apps, and charts are of little use if you do not have an honest idea of what to expect when you actually try to put a new idea and vision into effect in the workplace that is your own.  They are even less useful when you encounter the type of resistance that can and does occur from some of the most dysfunctional of organizations. 

This is not meant to diminish the wonderful work done by so many in the field. The theories and concepts of people like Townsend, Drucker, Kotter, and so many others has been of foundational importance in even my own career.  But what those brilliant minds often do not prepare you for is the reality of the system in which you will attempt to bring to fruition the lessons you learned from the highlighted and dog-eared pages that line your bookshelves.   

First, you will never work in a vacuum. Where you are or where you go will have a history that long pre-dates you.  No matter how troubled that history may be—no matter how glaring you may see the current or future potholes or cliffs that threaten the future—the past will be stronger for many of those you attempt to lead or persuade.   Particularly if you are in an entrenched organization, with long standing mindsets, strongly held beliefs and its own way of doing things—there is a transition phase that must be managed well if you are to succeed.  That is old news for the readers of Leadership Books.  But what is new is just how basic that first phase must be if you are to succeed 

In essence, the implementation of progressive concepts about leading organizations requires a first step that most writers assume has already occurred—the believe that these ideas are valued—or at least valued by a group of people willing to listen to them with a partially open mind, or perhaps one open ear.  Most of those you will attempt to lead in these organizations do not possess a “Learner’s Mind” as the former interim senior minister at my church called it.  In fact, they have only a reactionary mind.  There are reasons for this—and those reasons are only one factor why many leadership and change management plans start far too distant down the Yellow Brick Road.  Remember, Oz is nothing without the Tornado—the nasty neighbor—and the Black and White part.  If you forget the beginning steps—the danger is that those you are trying to lead may lose the whole reason for the journey.  And if people are willing to even look at the map, well it’s going to be a very short journey indeed.  

But how to manage that trip in the absence of a learner’s mind?  What if the group, or team, or company or organization that you have been tasked to lead hasn’t made it there yet?  What if they proudly attend the meetings of their local flat-earth society and have no interest in your concepts?  Albert Einstein himself would be dismissed by this band of “professionals”—would you not fall to the same fate, but probably faster?

It is my belief, that this is not a diminishing phenomenon, but rather a growing one.  Reflecting the polarization of many of our political and social systems—where the art of compromise, even of learning, has atrophied, is it no wonder that some of our institutions are suffering the same fate as people who should be willing to learn new ways, new ideas, and different processes, instead dig in their heels and refuse to grow. Like a plant that refuses water or food.

I know the answer from those in the private sector—fire them all!  Promote those that share the vision!  Introduce metrics to measure success and demand that the measures be met!   But what if the world in which you work isn’t the private sector?  What if you are in a sector that values, above all, intransigence masked as security and status quo, labeled as tenure or protection?  Maybe you have the ability to leave—find you way to Park Avenue and the towers that speak your new found language.  If so, good for you. 

But there are others, many others, who are responsible for companies, organizations, departments, or bureaus that live outside the natural rules, in lands with their own laws—to which reason, relativity, and the normal order of things just don’t apply.  As with all advanced life forms—they have a consciousness and a sense of being.  And they do not see growth—but only fear.  They see the changes to come and, much like a Pope hearing of Martin Luther—know only one way to react. 

These coming articles will discuss that reaction—and how you as a manager or leader must deal with it.  I realize clearly that management and leadership are quite different beasts.  But for these discussions, they are inherently related and co-dependent.  The talents required by both are the same. In organizations such as these, the management of change and the vision that leads it ultimately are useless if those doing the work or being led just refuse to move. 

How to get them to move?  In a world where reason fails to work, where statistics and logic are disarmed and rigidity and dissonance are notes in the national anthem—how can we hope to make things better?  That is what this series will discuss.  Sadly, there are no easy answers.  But for those who face this challenge answers must come. 

Too often, these groups are in the fields that are most important—government, public safety, and critical utility and transportation sectors.  In each of these institutions the need for better results—for improvement—to get more out of strapped budgets— is never ending.  Lacking the flexibility of the private sector, however, doing more with less becomes too often doing more with the same. The same old mindsets, the same old approaches, the same old biases. 

The leaders and managers of fire departments, police departments, 9-1-1 Centers, and other similar organizations are crying out for solutions as they face an ever changing environment with workforces that are sometimes unwilling to acknowledge the realities around them.  This spells disaster for that organization and, equally as important, those that the organization serves. 

There are better ways.  Let’s find them.

Monday, November 10, 2014

An Honored Deal- Addressing America's Veterans Crisis

Few problems facing this country speak about our priorities so clearly as the way we grate our veterans. First, we have asked them to complete more combat tours than should ever be imagined in war with questionable goals and foggy outcomes.  We leave them in those places for years and then fail to provide adequate physical and mental health services upon their return to civilian life.  Finally, our congress fails to pass legislation to address  the challenges faced by so many upon their separation from service-- from a lack of jobs to a VA that is obviously not doing the job it should be.  

The time has come for an "Honorable Deal.". This comprehensive approach to veterans services would address these issues and more through a common sense approach-- leveraging the best solutions from our past to meet the needs of the modern veteran and his/her family.

Part One:  Solve the Housing and Community Problem

Many of our military bases across the United States have vast tracts of underutilized land and space.  In one or two bases per state, utilize these spaces to construct 1,000 pre-fab homes for veterans.  Using modern pre-fab construction, these 400 square foot homes should cost no more than $10,000 to $15,000 per unit.  For families, a larger model, approximately 1,000 square feet would be constructed.  Each of the "transitional housing bases" would be able to support approximately 2,500 people.  In these areas, access would be permitted to outside community directly-- in other words, no gate between the community and the outside, however security would be maintained by base personnel.

These new communities would be constructed using  traditional urban design, meaning a "walk-able" community-- with a few stores at the center, open spaces, and playgrounds.  In addition, a medical center offering veteran's and family services would be constructed in the center of the community.  This facility would also offer mental health services and community meeting space as well as training and educational space for local community colleges, high-schools, tech-schools, and other entities to use.  This design would be standardized across the country, allowing even this facility, which could also be a re-use of existing/abandoned space, to be constructed inexpensively and efficiently. 

Of special consideration would be vacant "big-box" retail outlets in close proximity to the military bases where the housing would be located.  These types of buildings could easily hold all of the services to be offered and would remove a potential blight. 

Part Two: Solve the Jobs Problem

For those veterans moving onto the transitional housing locations, jobs could initially be provided on the base or in the local community government helping address critical infrastructure needs and general community maintenance.  In this case, approximately 50,000 jobs would be needed.  In cases where local governments do not have vacancies or the local military base can not support the work-- five year tax subsidies would be provided to local governments or private employers to hire veterans.  This would be on a temporary basis until the veteran has obtained necessary skills to find full employment (five years or less). In each of the areas where one of these facilities would be located, a local jobs survey would identify key unfilled or undefiled classes of jobs.  Vocational and Technical Training would be provided to meet the needs of that local community.  This training would be supported by a public/private partnership and be open to all local residents-- not just those who are veterans, however veterans would receive an allotment of available jobs and, where feasible, preferential hiring- especially where their skills sets meet the needs of local employers.

Part Three: Solve the Education and Training Problem

At the local community centers would be the opportunity to take classes and training leading to employment.  However, for those not living within the centers, there must be improved access to training for all veterans.  A National roll-out of a veterans and low-income training and hiring program would benefit both veterans and those with little access to essential skills training. As mentioned above, local employers would be surveyed to determine their needs for new employees.  This is a golden opportunity to fill the jobs American employers can't because of a lack of trained and qualified workers. 

Part Four:  Make any Success Sustainable 

Many would be concerned about creating a new government welfare program-- no matter how noble the cause or idea.  For this reason, the communities would have a graded tax structure to fund both the communities themselves and the services they provide.  The start-up costs and expenses for the first  three years would be funded by the federal government.  However, beginning with year three, residents of the communities would pay a 3% flat tax on income earned as a type of "local government residency fee"-- This would increase to 4% in year four and 5% in year five.  If anyone wishes to stay in the community beyond the five year period, they would have to pay into an additional Community Development Fund to help pay for community expansion infrastructure needs, etc.  A critical component of this effort would be keeping costs low-- reducing the need for car travel and including gardens and other sustainable elements to any community design.  The goal will be for families to be able to support themselves on one-income or with one partner working part-time instead of two full-time workers.  This will decrease costs for the family and improve family cohesiveness.

Next Steps:

This is my idea but it is not my problem.  It is OUR problem. If you have suggestions for how we could improve it, please feel free to comment or to share.  If you are a politician and want to do something with it-- that's even better.  But if you think its stupid or unworkable- fine-- what's your idea?  Whatever we do, t has to be sustainable and take into account the big picture.  Too often today, we can't even get little solutions for big problems-- who knows, maybe we an get a big solution for a big problem?