Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
- Leo Buscaglia

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Trashman Cometh

     As I was driving back to my hotel in the Buckhead section of Atlanta this morning, having just had breakfast with a good friend, I noticed a curious sight.  There was a woman with a plastic garbage bag trying to pick up a ton of garbage - mostly papers - that was strewn along a stretch of perhaps 200 yards in front of a condominium complex.  It appeared that the papers must have somehow come out of someone's garbage or perhaps a garbage truck.  As I drove past, I thought that maybe I should stop and help, but I was beyond the spot so quickly that it seemed to be too late.  I went another half-mile or so, thinking about the situation, and decided I should turn around and go back to help.  So I found a place to turn around, went back to the complex, and found a place to park.
     I walked out to where the woman was working and asked if she had another garbage bag.  She explained that "they" were supposed to be sending a few more people with additional garbage bags to help, but that her office hadn't come through yet.  I had the sense that she may have worked for the company that ran the condo association.  It seems that some bags of trash may have fallen off a truck, and most of it involved some legal papers, so it was pretty important to get them collected.
     I began picking up papers and before long, the woman and I had gotten it pretty much taken care of.  I introduced myself and learned that her name was Elizabeth.  She was very appreciative of my help, and I think she thought I was one of the residents of the complex.  I never did tell her that I was just a complete stranger driving by and figured I could help.
    As I got back in my car and resumed my trip back to the hotel, I noticed how good I felt from having responded to a need I saw rather than simply noticing it and driving by.  There really is something to the notion that there's an intrinsic high we get from helping others.  And I love these types of quiet, anonymous ones.  Elizabeth will never know who I am, or even why I stopped to help, and none of the residents of the complex will ever know either.  But I know I put a little extra kindness into the world this morning; and how cool would it be if we all capitalized on these opportunities as we see them?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reaching Out to More People

    Earlier this week, I wrote about my commitment to reaching out to people I know when I'm visiting in their cities.  Some of these people I see pretty regularly, and some I may not have seen in 20 years or more.  Either way, I enjoy the process of renewing old relationships and building new ones.  Today I had two chances to invest in such relationships.
     Late this afternoon, I got together with a woman I've know from my old business career.  She lives in Atlanta and so I try to connect with her when I'm in town.  It was great to spend time catching up with her.
     This evening, I had dinner with a high school classmate and track/xc teammate with whom I hadn't really spent significant time in more than 30 years!  He's a pilot for Delta airlines (if you fly Delta, you'll see him as the pilot who appears at the end of the safety video shown on the flight!).  Anyway, we had a great time together.  We caught up on each other's lives and careers, but more importantly, we conversed about a wide range of fascinating topics.  
     I can't imagine people who travel for business and end up hanging out in lonely hotels all the time.  It's so much more fun, interesting, and enriching to connect with these people from all walks of life; but as I've noted before, these connections don't take place on your own.  They only happen because I take the initiative to reach out and make them happen.  And it's always worth it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

With A Little Help From Cheryl

     I was in the Buckhead section of Atlanta this evening and I stopped in at a Maggiano's Restaurant for dinner.  My waitress was a very friendly and helpful woman named Cheryl and I had a great meal and great service.  When I was done (stuffed, to be accurate), Cheryl asked if I wanted to see the dessert menu.  Though I hadn't brought the note I sometimes like to write, I figured tonight was still a good night for someone to receive a dessert courtesy of a stranger.
     I let Cheryl know that I couldn't possibly find room for any more food, but that I wanted her to do me a favor.  I explained that I wanted her to pick something from the dessert menu and put it on my bill, and that I wanted her to then select someone this evening that she thought might appreciate a dessert.  I asked her to present the dessert to the person and just let them know that it was from a stranger wishing them a good day.
     Cheryl was clearly touched by this and when she brought me the check, she explained that she was pretty sure she knew to whom she'd give the dessert.  There was a table of three that she was serving, and two of the guests ordered a meal that came with a complimentary dessert.  She thought it would be nice if the other person also got one, and she was going to tell them that it was a gift from a "blessed stranger."
     I love doing this kind of gesture because it has the possibility of affecting a number of people.  The waitress is definitely impacted and she's likely to go home feeling better tonight, and perhaps even tell her friends and family what happened, and maybe they'll choose to do some act of kindness.  And of course, the person who received the dessert, along with the other diners and his/her table have a surprising experience of kindness and generosity that's likely to have them telling others, and hopefully extending some kindness they might not have otherwise considered.  And they'll never know, nor do they need to know, who started that wave of kindness.  Pretty fun.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Great Dinner

     This may sound strange, but I had dinner tonight with one of Ben's professors from the University of Alabama.  Let me try to explain how this happened.
     Ben has gotten to know quite well an Alabama alum who teaches a leadership class that Ben has taken at school.  The man is actually an attorney in Birmingham and teaches this class each semester as an adjunct professor.  He's an excellent teacher, and an even better person, and he's become a big supporter of Ben over the past couple of years.  I've gotten to know him mostly by e-mail and through Ben (and he's read my book twice!), though I've never met him in person.  Knowing that I was going to be doing a talk in Birmingham, I reached out to see if he would be available for dinner.  And that was this evening.
     We had a great dinner and enjoyed a deep and enriching conversation.  We talked about life and values and leadership and community and wisdom, among many other things.  I think we both walked away feeling like we were better for the experience.  I enjoy these kinds of conversations so much more than simply debating who's going to win a game or what the weather is like or what happened on a TV show.  It's stimulating and enlightening.
     As I've noted in previous posts, when I travel, I always try to connect with people I may know (even if only a little!) who live in the city to which I'm traveling.  It takes effort and some coordination to make these connections.  By the time this month is over, I will have visited with 8 different people in 4 different cities, none of whom I would have seen if I hadn't reached out to make it happen.  These relationships that I've cultivated, maintained, and in some cases renewed, add a richness to life that's hard to define, but I know it's important.  There are undoubtedly plenty of excuses for why we're too busy, or we're afraid the other person might be too busy.  At the end of the day, though, if it's truly important, we need to make time and make it happen.  I intend to keep  doing just that.
     Roll Tide!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Caring for Each Other

     When tragedies happen to a family, it can be awkward to effectively communicate with all the well-wishers and outside people who care.  I imagine that the family probably gets tired of telling the same details and status updates, and yet they want people to know.  Thankfully, the internet has created some good methods, through websites, to help with this issue.  I was looking at one of these sites this evening as it related to a local family in my hometown.
     A number of months ago, a local HS student was in a serious car accident that left her with very significant injuries.  From time to time I'd see a somewhat cryptic mention in the paper, but today I read about a website,, where the family was posting updates and people could write their own messages of support on a "guestbook."  While I don't know the family personally, I feel for their plight and wanted to let them know that even strangers are thinking about them and pulling for them.  I went ahead and signed in and posted a note this evening to the guestbook.
     While it may be hard to pinpoint exactly how it impacts people, I believe that knowing others are thinking of you, and supporting you, can make a difference when dealing with significant challenges.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I Hope They'll Have Fun

     As anyone who lives in the Philadelphia area knows all too well, being an Eagles fan is a frustrating and often times agonizing curse.  This year, more than any year that I can remember, they've sunk to near record levels of disappointment, especially given the pre-season expectations that they were one of the league's elite teams.  As a season ticket holder and avid fan, it's pretty rare for me to miss a game.  However, I'm headed to Birmingham tomorrow and will therefore have to watch the Monday night game on TV.  On the positive side, this at least gave me the opportunity to give my tickets to someone else who might not otherwise be able to get to very many games.
     In this case, I was able to give my tickets to a family friend - a young man who works with many high school students.  For them, it should be a special treat (and they'll probably even be able to stay awake long enough to see the end!).  I hope that they'll be able to enjoy the game, in spite of the level of play the Eagles are likely to put on display.
     As I was thinking about giving away my tickets, I noticed this sense of excitement that I had something that a fair number of people might want and enjoy, and it was fun to think of who best to give it to.  It's great to be able to make someone else's day, and in truth, it was no big deal to me since the money was already spent and I couldn't go anyway.
     In some respects, I wonder if this is what it feels like (though on a much different scale) when some rich person like an athlete donates a million dollars to some particular cause.  It must be fun to be able to do things like that, knowing the kind of impact it can have.  On the one hand, the sacrifice they're making is pretty insignificant given the size of their wealth, and in fact may be much less sacrifice than someone who gives $25 when they had so little to give.  And yet, there's no denying that the $1 million gift can accomplish so much more in terms of an organization's mission than can the $25 gift.  
     I have no brilliant conclusion to that thought; it's just something I contemplate from time to time.  It's not dissimilar to the unanswerable question of how much any one of us should give to others.  Giving what we "can" is such a nebulous phrase.  Undoubtedly, whatever amount we give, we could certainly have given more.  And yet, somehow we each have to decide how to strike a balance between sharing what we have with others who are less fortunate, and enjoying the things we're able to afford given our circumstances.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Greetings Across the Sea

     A few times this year I've written about a great site called PostPals.  It's based in England and is a site that supports children with serious illnesses by letting them know that people are thinking of them.  Through the site, you can read about particular youngsters and e-mail them, write them, or send them gifts. For privacy reasons, the e-mails and letters go to a forwarding address and then they're sent on to the patient.  Today I chose to write to a cute 6-year old girl named Lydia.
     It seems that Lydia has had one serious disease after another since she was born.  And now she is fighting a significant brain tumor as well.  It's hard to even fathom what these children and their families goes through as they battle the enormous challenges they face on a daily basis.  If receiving a caring note from a stranger across the sea can brighten their day just a little bit, it's the least I can do.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Some Editing and Formatting Help

     As some readers know, my son Ben spent from July 2011 through June 2012 traveling around the world on a mission trip through a program called The World Race.  An avid writer, during his trip Ben posted more than 85 blog entries, sharing his thoughts, observations, and inspirations throughout the year.  He's now been compiling all of these posts into one document as part of an independent study project through school.  Believe it or not, the document totals over 100,000 words and roughly 180 pages of single-spaced writing!
     I suggested to Ben today that it might be easier to upload the document to FedexOffice for printing, after the editing is done.  Since I'm pretty familiar with editing and formatting in Microsoft Word from my book-writing experience, I offered to "clean up" the document for him and get it prepared for printing.  Of course, this is never as quick and easy as one expects.  If you've ever tried it, you know that you can spend a ridiculous amount to time trying to get one simple formatting issue (like pagination) to be the way you want it.  Anyway, after some considerable time, I was able to get it looking "right" and ready to print tomorrow.  By the way, if anyone is interested in getting an electronic version of the PDF, just let me know.  I'm sure Ben would be happy to share it.
     While I've purposely tried to focus the majority of my kindness attention outside of my circle of family and close friends this year, I never want to lose sight of the fact that charity (and kindness) does start at home.  Sometimes the best chances to be kind are right in front of us.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

What Does It Mean to be Thankful?

     With today being Thanksgiving, it's of course only natural to be thinking about what it means to be thankful.  I was contemplating this thought this morning, wondering about that very word.  I look around, and can't help but be "thankful" or appreciative for the unbelievable good fortune that is my life.  I have a great family, great friends, a great home, great health, enough money to be feel secure and without stress, and I live in a country where we have unprecedented freedom, safety, and prosperity, at least as it compares to nearly every other place on earth.  But while I can recognize all this good fortune, what does it really mean to be "thankful?"
     It seems to me that two people could be in identical circumstances and yet they could differ significantly in the degree of thankfulness they might feel.  Some of it surely has to do with their perspective.  One person sees all that they have while another sees all they don't have.  But I think that being thankful is more than just a mindset.  It's actually an active word.  I think if we're truly thankful, we express our thankfulness through our actions.
     The clearest way in which we express it through our actions is to help others who are less fortunate.  The very act of doing so is an acknowledgment that we appreciate how lucky we are, and are indeed thankful.  Today, as an expression of my thankfulness, I went to the WishUponAHero website and helped to grant a wish for a struggling woman in Indiana.  
     The woman is diabetic and struggling to meet her bills.  She was looking for help to purchase some winter clothes to help her keep warm.  She had posted her specific needs on a Walmart gift registry and so I was able to actually order her a pullover jacket and a couple of pair of pants in just the right size and have them shipped directly to her home.  One of the great things about this site, which I've referred to a number of times previously, is the way it helps strangers connect with other strangers and allows them to deliver exactly the help they most need.  Pretty amazing.  By the way, over 97,000 wishes have been granted in the past 5 years.
     What better way to express our thankfulness than to perform an act of kindness for someone else.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Amazon Loves Me

     I think Amazon is beginning to like me.  It's just that they make it so easy to send people gifts.  A few clicks and it's done!
     After spending time with a new client earlier this week, I came home and needed to send the CEO an e-mail with some requested information.  I was getting ready to send him a few links to materials that I thought he would find useful when I realized that it would be far more helpful to actually have the books sent to him.  So I went online and in a matter of minutes 3 great books were on their way to home.  
     I've mentioned before that this is one of my more favorite things to do.  When I find a book that I think is particularly valuable, I love to have a copy sent to people that I think would really enjoy it and/or benefit from it.  It's not overly expensive to do, is simple (thanks to Amazon), and is so much appreciated by the recipient.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Back to the Airport

     I was back to the airport this evening, but this time I wasn't going anywhere.  I was picking up Ben and Hannah as they flew home from Alabama and Virginia for the Thanksgiving weekend.  As I was about to enter the F terminal, I saw a woman standing by the curb and in an instant her luggage toppled to the ground and a bunch of things spilled out.  Without a moment's hesitation, I stooped down and helped her out.  
     This wasn't any big deal, and is something probably most people would do in the same situation.  And that's good.  My goal isn't necessarily to always find something extraordinary to do.  Rather it's simply to practice kindness, in whatever form or way it may appear on any given day.  And by virtue of this practice, make it more of an instinctual response or habit.  Today was another step in solidifying that habit.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Busting A Stereotype With Starbucks

     I got home from Fort Lauderdale late this evening and wearily cruised through the near-empty airport on my way to baggage claim and ground transportation.  When I walked outside to get the Preflight Parking shuttle over to where I had parked my car, I found that I was the only one on the van.  I was thinking of giving the driver a Starbucks gift card, but first had to overcome a bit of stereotyping.  Let me explain.
     I'm as guilty as the next person of having the tendency to judge people far too quickly.  In particular this evening, I was thinking about the kind of person who normally drives a parking shuttle.  I figured that they're likely lesser educated and more likely to buy coffee at 7-11 or Dunkin Donuts than they are to walk into a Starbucks.  To my surprise, however, the driver was listening to NPR, and more specifically, an interview that was being conducted with an economist - not the kind of thing I assume most drivers listen to.  When he dropped me off, I asked him if he enjoys Starbucks coffee, and he enthusiastically said that he loves Starbucks, so I gave him a gift card.  He was genuinely thankful, and reiterated how much he likes Starbucks.
      Thinking about it afterwards, it was another reminder to me to simply offer kindness wherever I can, without too much pre-judgment.  As I learned very early in the year, sometimes things go as I planned or expected, and sometimes they don't.  I can learn things from both.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Helping With Bags

     I'm sitting on a plane right now waiting to take off to Fort Lauderdale.  Unfortunaately a door was damaged when the plane was being serviced, and it's taking awhile to figure out how to fix it.  That at least gives me a few minutes to post tonight's story.
     As I was getting on the plane, I was right behind an older couple and their daughter.  As they tried to get their bags into the overhead bin, it was obvious that they would struggle.  Anticipating this, I offered my help and got the bags loaded for them.
     Sometimes kindness involves not just responding to what we see, but also anticipating needs as well.  This requires awareness and intentionality.  We have to be noticing what's going on around us and we have to have the intention of looking to help.  There's no question that this year has tuned up my antenna with regard to these opportunities that I likely wouldn't have even noticed in the past.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Making Another Loan

     I'm proud to say that I participated in my 7th international micro-loan this evening.  This time, I helped a farmer in Peru to buy some fertilizer.  He's a 47 year old man who has 6 children.  On his farm he raises cattle and guinea pigs and chickens.  The organization I do this through is called Kiva.  All of my other loans have been paying back right on schedule and one has been fully repaid already.  
     If you've never checked it out, I'd encourage you to take a look at Kiva's site.  It's easy to participate in a loan for as little as $25.  What an amazing way that almost anyone can help to make a difference for hard-working people in impoverished 3rd world nations.  As your money gets paid back, you can either pull it out, or redeploy it back into another loan.  These people are not looking for handouts - just small loans that help them to expand their businesses and to achieve self-sufficiency.  Isn't that what everyone wants?

Friday, November 16, 2012

No Problem At Baggage Claim

     I was finally returning home tonight after a week away, arriving from Houston into the Philadelphia airport.  Unfortunately, the Philly airport has a reputation for pretty slow baggage handling, and it's not unusual to have to wait 45 minutes or more for your bags to show up.  Expecting the worst, I settled in for the wait.
     To my surprise, not much more than about 5 minutes after I reached the baggage claim area, the bags started to come down the chute onto the belt.  And to make it even better, mine was one of the first ones out.  
     In the few minutes that I had to wait, I noticed the activity at the US Air baggage claim office.  This is where you go to report that your stuff didn't show up and to figure out what to do next.  I was thinking about what a tough job that must be, always dealing with people who are tired, cranky, and frustrated.  That gave me an idea.
     I decided that it might be nice for them to hear something good for a change.  So I went into the claim office with my bag, went up to the counter, and explained that I just wanted to say that my bag came in quickly, that I had no problem at all, and that I appreciated it.  And then I gave the guy behind the counter a Starbucks gift card to show my appreciation.  He was pretty surprised, and he'll probably tell that story to a few people over the coming days!
     Most of us are pretty quick to complain when there's a problem, and we're usually silent when there's no problem.  From time to time, though, it's nice to acknowledge people when things happen the way we want/expect.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Making Connections

     As readers of this blog have no doubt picked up by now, I've been traveling all over the country over the past few months.  For most of my business career, I did very little traveling, so this is all pretty new to me.  I'm beginning to learn some of the ways to manage the toll it can take on your body, and I'm also learning how to make the experience more enjoyable.  The most important thing I can do to make a trip more fun, I've found, is to reach out to my large world of contacts and make a point of visiting them when I'm in their city.  Sometimes this is just a lunch or dinner, and sometimes it might even include an overnight stay in their home.  These visits give me the chance to renew old relationships and/or deepen new ones.  Tonight was one of those experiences.
     After I wrote my book last year, I was looking for someone who could help me with my marketing efforts.  Through some internet research, I came upon a woman named Linda who was based out of the Houston area.  We worked closely together for a number of months and she was awesome.  As often seems to be the case with people I hire, we quickly became friends through the experience.  Though I had never met her in person, we spent many hours on the phone together and exchanged hundreds of e-mails.  Knowing that I'd be in Houston this month, I wrote to her to see if she might be available to meet for dinner, and she enthusiastically put it in her calendar.
     This evening I got to enjoy having dinner with Linda as well as her husband, Ralph.  What wonderful people they are and we so thoroughly enjoyed each other's company.  Earlier this week, I was actually able to enjoy a similar experience when I had dinner in Minnesota with an old college friend who I hadn't seen in over 20 years.  It was so great to reconnect with him and to build upon our previous relationship.
     It takes a little extra effort and some initiative to reach out to people and coordinate the arrangements to make these connections happen.  The result, however, is always worth it.  It's interesting that so many people will say that relationships are the most important thing in their lives, and yet they don't make that extra effort to develop relationships further.  I find that when I do so, I feel nourished and enriched by the experience.  I suspect people are beginning to realize that when they say, "If you're ever in my city you should call me or come visit . . . ", I'm pretty likely to take them up on the offer!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Well-Deserved Compliment

     As I was flying from Minnesota to Houston today (through Chicago), an unusual thing happened on the airplane.  I came across a flight attendant who was human rather than a robot.  Let me tell you more.
     Having been on as many planes as I have over the past months, I think I can recite all of the typical flight attendant messages by heart - from the safety routine to when to turn off your electronic devices to being careful "when removing your personal items from the overhead bins as items may have shifted in flight."  These messages are almost always either read from a sheet of paper or are recited as if they're being read since the messages are memorized word for word.  The bored, almost sing-song voice they use as these are recited makes them sound more like a machine that a real human being.  I'm sure they're trained this way so that they achieve a consistent standard, but in the process, they lose all the humanity.
     Well on tonight's first flight, the head flight attendant was a woman named Patti.  From her first message to her last, she sounded like a real human being!  She spoke clearly and in a natural tone of voice.  She conveyed the usual message, but she did so in her own words, rather than using the memorized script.  When she thanked us for choosing United Airlines, she actually sounded like she meant it.  It was such a pleasure that I had to say something to her.
     When we landed and were disembarking, I stopped to chat with her.  I told her that I wanted to compliment her both on her clear voice as well as the human way she communicated.  She seemed so pleased by what I said, and she explained that though she's supposed to read the script, she much prefers to convey the intended meaning in her own words so that she can make it feel more "real."  I told her to keep it up and how much I appreciated it.  She couldn't stop smiling as I think I affirmed for her what her own instincts told her.  I suspect the affirmation was important and she may still be smiling now. And I'll bet she'll keep doing it, knowing that it's noticed and appreciated.
     Two quick thoughts here:  1) I'm reminded of how important it is to be human.  When we memorize our "lines", no matter how nice the words may be, they tend to lose their humanity.  As Patti said, it's important to keep it real.  That humanness is what connects people with each other.  And 2) I'm glad I made the extra effort to let her know that what she was doing mattered.  It's easy to think about these things and to miss out on the opportunity to provide some meaningful appreciation and acknowledgement when it's deserved.  I'm trying to stay more conscious to those opportunities and to act upon them.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

First Time Flight

     This story may turn out to be one of my favorites from the whole year.  I'll write the first part of it now, and then write the rest when the story is completed in a few weeks.  It actually began a few weeks ago when I was working with a client helping to facilitate a company retreat.
     The facilitation that I was doing involved a series of exercises that took most of the morning, after which the whole company got together for lunch.  I found myself seated at a table with 8 or 10 people and we began talking about a variety of things including my crazy travel schedule of late.  During the course of the conversation, one of the young women, a wonderful person who had won an award for the best spirit in the company, revealed that she had never in her life been on an airplane!  Thinking this to be somewhat unusual these days, I asked her why.  She explained that she wasn't afraid, but just never had the opportunity.  This got me thinking of a way to change that.
     I suggested that we could easily solve that problem and offered to use some of my frequent flier miles to send her on her first trip and asked her where and when she wanted to go.  Her original thought was to visit her grandmother in Florida.  Over the next few days we discussed it over e-mail and for a variety of reasons the Florida destination wasn't working.  However, she and her family thought they might be able to pool some Xmas money and use it to surprise her mother (who also apparently had never been on a plane!)  and have her accompany the daughter on a "bucket list" trip to Vegas.
     This was too good of an opportunity to pass up, so I told her that I'd fly both she and her mother to Vegas and they could use their own money for the hotel and entertainment.  I'm happy to report that the tickets have now been purchased (I was even able to send them first class in one direction) and my new friend is set to go with her mother on a dream trip in early December.  
     This weekend my friend surprised her mother with the details of the trip.  Previously she had only let her know that she needed to take vacation days from work for the agreed upon time.  Apparently her mother was totally shocked and incredibly excited for this mother-daughter adventure.  
     Of course, never wanting to miss a pay-it-forward opportunity, I've asked (and they've readily agreed) that both mother and daughter do at least one act of kindness (beyond what they might normally have done) each day of their trip, and that they let me know what happened.  
     I'm truly excited to be able to facilitate this incredible experience for them.  On the one hand, it may seem weird that a relative stranger would offer to send them on a trip simply as a result of a casual lunchtime conversation.  But that's what's so wonderful and fun about acts of kindness.  We don't have to be constrained by "normal" rules or protocol.  We can simply see a need and respond to it.  And if we can include a pay-it-forward piece, we can start a huge wave of kindness spreading to who knows where.  After all, that's what this year has really been about.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Amazon Again

     I love Amazon!  Not only have they made it so easy to buy virtually anything, but they've made it so fast and easy to send gifts to people.  One of my very favorite things is to share books that I find either inspirational, fascinating, or enlightening in some important way.  Recently, one of my consulting clients recommended one of his own favorite books.  While I was on an airplane today, I finally got the chance to dive into it.  It was truly fascinating and I immediately began thinking of all the people I know who would really enjoy reading it.  Within hours of landing, I had gone to Amazon and had sent the book to one of those people as a gift.  I know he'll love it.
     Some people lament this age of "instant gratification" where people expect whatever they want immediately.  I get that.  On the other hand, I like to work with a sense of urgency.  If I get a good idea, I want to move on it right away. (My own book took me only 6 weeks to write partly because I didn't have the patience to wait!).  I think it's mostly a good thing to have a sense of urgency.  And Amazon makes it easier than ever for me to operate that way.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Great Day Despite Losses

     Well, after nearly a year of being "pen pals", I finally had the chance to spend considerable personal time with my "adopted soldier" Logan.  I arranged for him to fly in to Philadelphia from his home in Kentucky (he's now done with his active military duty) yesterday afternoon.  Since he's a huge sports fan like me, we had a great weekend of football planned.
     On Saturday afternoon, we were excited to watch what we had thought (and hoped) would be a big victory for Alabama over Texas A&M.  Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way, but we enjoyed watching the game anyway.
     Today was a blast.  We got things started with a lunch of awesome ribs at Famous Dave's.  Then we went into Philly and toured the National Constitution Center (Logan is a big history buff) and saw the Liberty Bell.  Then it was off to the Eagles game, hoping to see them crush the Cowgirls.  Unfortunately, that didn't go as planned, either!  It was Logan's first-ever NFL game, so it was still fun.
     After the game, we picked up a pizza (a favorite for both of us) and brought it home to eat while watching the Bears (his favorite team) play the Texans.  We even got to enjoy a homemade apple pie that Catherine baked and some ice cream as well.  Unfortunately, the Bears lost to make us 0-3 in terms of the teams we were rooting for!
     Believe it or not, it was back on January 6th when I wrote this blog post about my decision to participate in an "adopt a soldier" program through Soldiers' Angels.  Never having done anything like that, I didn't really know what to expect.  And here we are 11 months later, having an awesome weekend together with someone who's gone from being a total stranger to becoming a great friend.  And in just 4 more weeks, Catherine and I are headed to Kentucky to attend Logan's wedding as well.  Very cool!  Pretty amazing what can happen if you're willing to extend yourself.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Paying It Forward With a Gift Card

     I was at the airport this afternoon picking up my adopted soldier, Logan (who I finally got to meet in person), when I decided it would be a good day to use one of the the many gift cards I picked up earlier in the year.  As I was waiting for him in the baggage claim area, I noticed an airport employee who was there to help people with their bags.  I walked up to her and asked if she'd like the McDonald's gift card I was holding.  She looked at me a bit quizzically, but when she realized that I wasn't kidding, she smiled and accepted it.  I told her that all I ask in return is that she do something nice for someone else today, to which she replied, "OK."
     I'm finally getting better and better at remembering to include the "pay it forward" part when I do things like this.  I realize that it's not always appropriate, but whenever it is, I surely want to make that suggestion to people.  Earlier in the year, I often found myself so focused on the act, that I forgot the pay it forward opportunity until I thought about it afterward.  I'm learning . . . 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Leveraging My Skills

     Much of the travel that I've done this year (and will be doing next year) has been as a "resource speaker" for the organization known as Vistage.  Vistage is a CEO peer group organization that provides CEO's of mostly entrepreneurial companies with opportunities to learn new material, to solve some of their biggest challenges, and to have a source for accountability. Through Vistage, I've been speaking to groups all over the country, teaching their members how  to build high-performance cultures.  While I'm paid to do these talks, occasionally I'm asked to offer my expertise for free, and I try to oblige when I can.  This morning was one of those times.
     Vistage was putting on a marketing event in collaboration with Smart CEO magazine.  The event was designed to introduce area CEO's to the Vistage model and to give them an experience of a "mini" Vistage meeting.  My role was to give them a taste of what a Vistage speaker/program is like. Based on the reactions, it certainly seemed like a great success.
     It's been fun this year to be able to help people not just through the kinds of stories I've so often written about here, but also through using the knowledge and skills I developed professionally.  When I see people's faces light up as they understand, often for the first time, the pathway to building the kind of team they really want, it's very rewarding.  By impacting the CEO and his/her approach, I ultimately impact a large number of other people in a positive way.  It's funny in a way, that we so often neglect to consider how to leverage our best gifts and talents when thinking about opportunities for service.  Sometimes these opportunities have the greatest impact of all.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Promoting Trust

     While some may think it's naive, I've always preferred to work from the perspective of trust.  In fact, one of the Fundamentals that I taught in my former company was, "Work from the assumption that people are good, fair, and honest."  My experience, as I've documented in many blog posts throughout this past year, is that there's a lot more good in the world than one would think based on what we see in the mainstream media.  Further, I've found that when we operate from trust, and we extend trust, people more often than not tend to demonstrate their trustworthiness.  Not only does this save time, effort, and money, but it also makes for more satisfying relationships.  
     One of my favorite books on this topic is a book by Stephen M. R. Covey (the son of the "original" Stephen Covey of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame).  The book is called The Speed of Trust.  In it, Covey explains how trust creates greater speed and leads to more profitability and more success in almost any area.  He also goes on to analyze trust more deeply and examines the key behaviors that contribute to creating more trust.  I was thinking about that book this evening and decided to send it to someone I know who I think would particularly appreciate its content.  When I come across a book like this that I think is really impactful, I enjoy the chance to share it with others.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Continuous Improvement for Dessert??

     One of the fun little acts of kindness I've done a few times this year is to buy dessert for a stranger in a restaurant.  And believe it or not, every time I do it, I find another way that I can make it better the next time.  Tonight was no exception.
    The first time I tried this, I was in a restaurant in Chicago.  I explained to the waitress that I wanted her to charge me for a dessert and deliver it to a particular couple seated across the dining room from me.  When she delivered the dessert, there didn't seem to be any reaction at all.  It occurred to me afterwards that the couple may have simply thought it came with their meal!  The reason this is relevant is that I want them to be motivated to "pay it forward", and if they didn't even know it was anything special, they were unlikely to do anything as a result.
     The second time, having learned a lesson, I decided to ask the waitress to let the selected couple know that the dessert was courtesy of a stranger.  At least this way they'd know it was something special and not just a part of the meal that the restaurant was providing.  While this was better, there was still more I could do to improve the experience.
     The last time I did this, I was in the Rochester, NY area.  Before I left my hotel room, I wrote out a note that said, "Please enjoy this dessert courtesy of a stranger wishing you an awesome day!  What can you do to make someone's else's day?"  This added a whole new dimension of paying it forward.  While I'll never know what happened, I figure that anyone who gets a free dessert with that note, is more likely than the average person to follow my prompt and find a way to pay it forward.  Tonight, though, I figured out yet another improvement.
     I was in Bethlehem, PA this evening getting ready for a talk tomorrow, and I went to a local restaurant for dinner.  Once again, I wrote out that same note before leaving my hotel so that I would be prepared if the spirit moved me.  As I was finishing up my meal and getting ready to enlist the aid of the waitress in my "scheme", I came up with a great new wrinkle.  
     This time, I explained to the waitress what I wanted to do, but I gave her the note and asked her to pick someone this evening that she felt could use a "pick-me-up." She was blown away and was so excited and thankful for the opportunity.  She told me that she's been waiting tables for more than 5 years, and this has never happened to her.  She couldn't wait to choose just the right person to receive the dessert.    Of course, that led us to talk about my project and the website since she wanted to know what motivated me to do this.  I was happy to give her this site and hope that it will similarly motivate/inspire her to look for and act upon her own opportunities to spread kindness.  Bottom line:  I was able to provide some kindness for a stranger, I gave the waitress an opportunity to experience and be inspired by kindness, and I hopefully prompted a pay-it-forward response.  A triple whammy!!
     In the spirit of continuous improvement, I still have more ideas for how I could make this better the next time!  Stay tuned . . . 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Thankless Job -- No More

     With today being election day, I was thinking about our many local elected officials who spend so much time and effort working on our behalf, in most cases for no pay at all (School Board, Town Council, etc.).  It saddens me when I read letters-to-the-editor or online message board comments that speak with such anger and nastiness when criticizing local officials.  Many of them seem to suggest that anyone with a differing point of view must be part of some nefarious conspiracy to ruin our town.  I think it's the complete opposite.
     Call me naive, but I think nearly all our local elected officials serve our town out of a genuine interest in giving back to our community and they put it countless hours trying to make the best decisions they can while dealing with complex issues.  I may not always agree with every decision that's made, but I don't doubt the motive behind the decisions.  Tonight, I decided to write a note of thanks to one of our officials who will be "retiring" after this election.
     In my note, which was handwritten of course, I let this person know how much I personally appreciated his efforts as well as his accomplishments.  It's too often a thankless job, but not any more (at least for 1 night!).

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Parting Gift

     Today was my last drive for the American Cancer Society for awhile as my schedule gets pretty crazy for the next month or so.  It also happened to be for a patient for whom I've driven several times now.  I think there's only been one other time this year that I've driven the same person multiple times, so this was a little unusual.  Given our familiarity, we were quickly able to pick up on conversations we had previously begun and to go much deeper on some topics as well.  This patient used to be an avid reader, particularly of mysteries, though he hasn't been reading much lately.  He lamented that fact and had announced in one of our previous conversations that he wanted to get back to reading again.  This gave me an idea.
     One of the authors we both particularly enjoy is John Grisham.  When I drove this person last week, I was just working my way through the latest Grisham novel that came out in October.  It's called, The Racketeer, and I had told my patient a bit about it.  I swung by Barnes & Noble earlier this afternoon, picked up a hardcover version for him, inscribed a message, and then wrapped it up.  After his treatment today, I gave it to him to enjoy.  This is his last week of radiation, and hopefully diving into this book will get him back to the kind of reading that brought him so much joy over the years.
     Earlier during our ride today, on the way to the hospital, my patient asked if I would be driving him any other day this week.  When I said that I wouldn't be and that this would be my last time, he said, "That's a shame."  I have a feeling that he enjoyed the chance to have rich conversations with someone beyond simply talking about the weather.  I try to take my cue from each patient as to how much and/or what type of conversation they want to have.  I certainly don't want to pry and I want to be sensitive to their condition.  However, what I've noticed most often is that most of the people really want to connect on a personal level, not just on the surface.  It's possible that this is as important to them as the ride itself.  And I enjoy it more that way as well.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Additional Help

     For those at the NJ shore as well as in Northern NJ, the return to normalcy after the the storm has been slow.  I spoke to my brother in north Jersey today and they are still without power and aren't expecting to have it for another week.  He described gas lines that are literally hours long and most businesses and schools are still closed.  As I sit in my warm and comfortable house, it's hard to appreciate the challenge that so many people are going through and will continue to face.  And so, when I learned of another local effort to help out, I was didn't hesitate to respond quickly.

     I learned through a FB post from a friend, that another friend in town, Lorenzo Eagles, has a brother who is a director of Boys' and Girls' clubs toward the shore.  The clubs were going to be open to feed people, and Lorenzo and his family were planning to go today to help provide meals to relief workers and other families in need.  When I spoke to them, they had already made 175 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and were collecting other food to bring down.  My son Ben and I went shopping and picked up some cases of water, 12-packs of gatorade, juice boxes, bags of apples, and boxes of breakfast bars and delivered them to the Eagles' house to add to their lunch supplies.  Once again, it's great to see how many different people are involved doing what they can to help those who are struggling right now.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Some Sandy Relief

     For those of us in NJ, and much of the east coast, the main topic in the news has of course been the aftermath of the hurricane/tropical storm Sandy.  On a personal basis, my family and I were fortunate to escape with virtually no damage and no power loss.  Millions of others were not so lucky.
     There seems to be quite a disconnect between what many news stations and websites are reporting and what those on the street are reporting via Facebook and other social media outlets.  The consensus seems to be that despite the best efforts of many, millions of people are really struggling.  Many are still without power (and aren't close to getting it), and more significantly, thousands of people have literally lost their homes and/or most of what they own.  It is truly devastating.  
     On the positive side, thousands of people across so many different communities are pitching in to help those in need.  It's another reminder of just how caring and compassionate most Americans are (I don't know one way or another how this compares to other countries).  There are lots of ways to contribute to this relief effort.  This morning, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that some people in our town had rented a U-Haul truck and were going to be collecting items for delivery from 1-5 pm.  I decided to step in and help.
     While out doing some errands today, my daughter and I stopped by Target and picked up some batteries, toothpaste, tooth brushes, deodorant, shampoo, soap, body wash, and a few other items people might need.  We loaded them in our car together with some clothes from home and a case of water bottles we had previously bought and brought them over to the pickup spot.  It was very cool to see people chipping in to help strangers like this.
     This will most assuredly not be the end of my efforts to assist those affected by the storm.  I'll surely do more things in the coming weeks.  I really it amazing to see people come together like this - a reminder of the goodness that I believe is human nature.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Birthday Surprise

     Today's act of kindness was a few months in the making.  In anticipation of my wife's birthday next week, back in August I arranged with my college children to reserve this weekend for a surprise flight home (Ben from Alabama and Hannah from Virginia).  It took some coordination and a little trickery, but we made it all work.
     While my wife thought I was doing another American Cancer Society ride this afternoon, I went to the airport to pick up Ben and Hannah.  On the way home, I dropped them off at Riverton Country Club where I had previously arranged that my wife and I would be having a quiet Friday evening dinner.  To add to the ruse, Ben and Hannah each texted her today about their weekend plans as if it were a typical college weekend for them.  
      After I got home from the airport (and dropping them off), Catherine and I headed to dinner without a second thought.  When we got to the table, there they were!  We enjoyed a great meal together and look forward to a weekend spent together as well.  I knew there would be nothing she'd appreciate more for her birthday than the chance for the four of us all to be together.  It was that much better as a surprise.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Giving Blood

     For the past 6 or 7 years I've been a pretty regular blood donor through the American Red Cross.  At my old company, we used to hold blood drives right in our office every 8 weeks, so it was pretty easy and convenient to donate.  Though I retired from there 2 years ago, I still usually make it back for their blood drives.  Unfortunately, the last blood drive, scheduled for late September or early October was cancelled at the last minute, so I haven't given blood in a few months.  Today I went on line and searched for a local blood drive.  I found one being held at a Knights of Columbus hall a few towns over, so I was able to stop in and donate this afternoon.
     Giving blood is one of those things that I really enjoy doing.  To be honest, I'm embarrassed to admit how many years I didn't give blood, and for no legitimate reason.  I simply didn't do it.  Once I began, and I realized just how easy it is, and also realized just how important it is as well, I became committed to regular donations.  While I understand that some people have health reasons that prevent them from being regular donors, there's no reason most of us shouldn't be giving blood as close to every 8 weeks as possible.  It's desperately needed, it's free, it doesn't take a long time, it's painless, and our bodies replace what we've donated anyway.  Count me in for this one any chance I get.