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Appreciating the Ghosts of Christmas Past

Well, I hope you all survived the feast that is Thanksgiving.  It is my favorite holiday.  It's all about family, friends, food and gratitude.  And the tradition in my home is start decorating for Christmas that Saturday and Sunday.  My daughter's birthday is three days after Christmas, so this entire season is all about Jesus and Kate.  As many do that celebrate Christmas, we take out our decorations and all our ornaments tell a story.  We have multiple themed trees.  The main family tree has most of the ornaments.  We are tacky tourists and have an ornament from just about every where we go.

There is the Victorian Tree which dons my decor from the mid-80-'s, which is when I first started my 'own' Christmas collecting after college.  There is the Sports Tree, which is mostly golfers and Buffalo Bills (for die-hard husband who grew up there.) And the 'Hummel Tree' - I inherited a collection from my mom and my mother-in-law blessed me with many ornaments over the years.  Then of course there is the 'Barbie Tree' my daughters claim.  I get a very special feeling when I unwrap these treasures this time of year.  Kate is old enough and gentle enough to help me now, so she is learning all the stories associated with these gifts.  It is a healthy practice to remember who gave that one to you, and then think about them, and how those moments in time shaped your life.  Some clients choose to forget the past and move on.  Others dwell too much and let it drag them down.  I believe there is wisdom in the past, and lessons to pull from.

This is probably my favorite ornament.  My mom, who passed suddenly from a heart attack in 1979 when I was 16 years old, made it circa 1973. I remember she made many of these, and the pins, ribbon and bling were scattered on the crafts table. The loving memories of my childhood sweep in when I hang it prominently on the Victorian Tree, and everything else surrounds it.  Plus blue was her favorite color.

This ballerina was given to me by a mentor and surrogate mom when I was getting married in 1988.  Nancy Ryder Shay-she was a significant woman in my life at the time.  She was nurturing and loving when I needed it most.

This cross-stitch Santa was my one and only attempt at needlework.  (It is unfortunate, my mom was brilliant at needle work, and I did not pick up any of those skills.)  I attempted to fit into my then-Cincinnati neighborhood and joined Kindervelt.  They had KinderMart and I made this ornament for the fundraising event.  It took me 12 hours.  I used to joke with my neighbor Sue that it was the most expensive ornament at the sale if you consider my hourly salary multiplied by 12.  Instead, she bought it for me for $5.00 and surprised me.  I still LOL when I unwrap the thing.  Never again.

My mother-in-law and Todd's grandfather 'Pipe' painted these by hand.  Back in the 60's they did not have a lot of disposable income to spend on ornaments, so they made these precious trinkets and I begged her to let me have a set for our tree.

Procter & Gamble and my time in Cincinnati was spectacular.  I met life long friends and mentors and my career was launched and focused.  I was fortunate for 13 years at P&G. I followed and was inspired by a myriad of leaders.  We left P&G in 2001 to move to Maryland to be with my precious step-daughter Lexie who is now in college.  When we left OH, it was difficult as my friends became my family.  And it is ornaments like this that I can recall such memories.  P&G was the foundation for starting The Ermi Group.  Learning is a core value there and that company invested so much in my development.  I had a formal mentor, was part of a high potential program, and was given rotational job opportunities.  I had a global role, traveled the world, was exposed to incredible diversity, and started coaching very talented leaders.  It's where I caught the leadership development bug. These programs are critical in any leadership development strategy.

Travel has always been a big part of our lives as it is for so many.  Before Kate, we were big fans of California wine country.  The smells, the people (one of my mentors retired there and we got first class tours and treatment!) and the wine of course!  Visiting my parents on trips to Newport, RI and seeing the beautiful mansions decorated for Christmas. And business trips to Germany, where I learned these little handmade ornaments are quite popular.  And the cardinal's bird house I won in a fun ornament swapping party picked out by a woman I greatly admire.  These are moments that allow for the space to appreciate.  A leadership skill we can all work towards improving.



Back to Basics: Don't Burn Bridges

The smallness of this vast world amazes me.  It's almost every day I meet someone that knows someone I know very well.  Baltimore/ DC metro is a BIG place.  Almost 8.5 million people! Three major airports.  It is the heartbeat of our nation's power. And yet it is so small.  My HR/OD/Coaching background shrinks the size a bit, but we are still talking A LOT of people!


I recently worked a trade show and met someone new that had a close relationship with a dear friend.  And from an entirely different season of my life.

I used to compare the leadership development community to Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon-and more like two degrees if you've done a tour at Fannie Mae!  And the coaching community is so generous and connected that it is commonplace to run into one another along the way.

My dad and mentor would constantly reinforce 'Network, network, network."  Being relationship-oriented, this was never a big problem for me.  I am genuinely interested in what people do, how they think, what motivates and zaps them.  And I also learned early on that when you are changing jobs, whether it's a new company, a promotion or a lateral - don't go 'lame duck.'  You know, the phenomenon of a complete lack of energy, interest and engagement in the current work for being distracted by moving on and the new work.  Those left behind remember how you were on your way out the door, and you just never know when your paths might cross again.

Some hardwiring early in my career was not to burn any bridges.  You can't always influence if people like you, but as you move on to your next adventure, be sure you don't give anyone a reason to gossip about how you left.  You never know who you are going to meet that knows the people you have known in another 'life' or worked for at that place.

I was at another trade show where I saw people I hadn't seen in 10-15 years. Back in the day, a couple of them were fairly nasty towards me and others at work.  It was almost comical to see how interested they were in my firm and how I might be able to help them, or introduce them to people I know.  It's much easier to do favors for people that you care about.

In my Leading Millennials workshop, we discuss the business basic to not burn any bridges if possible. You just don't know who knows someone you know, and you cannot control what they say.  So have them say good things!  I have had some surprising lessons about this, thinking you had a good relationship with someone and their story about you was different than what you expect.

Leverage social networking for your professional image.  I see many Millennials with active Twitter and Facebook practices for their personal life, and not much for their professional presence. Linked In is the Facebook for business.  You get to control the content and most recruiters will look to see if you are there.  Keep in touch with people.  Say hello just because, not when you need something from them. And many background checks now request Facebook and Twitter account names and passwords so they can check your character off hours.

    • Network
    • Don't be a lame duck
    • Watch burning bridges

When you meet someone new, imagine what you want them to be saying about you 10 years from now as you work that first impression. You'll be shocked how quickly 10 years fly by.

Recent comment in this post
Guest — Dad
A very, very thoughtful article, and how true. So I am a mentor now, thanks dear, and love you. - Dad
Friday, 16 November 2012 00:35
  1 Comment

Emerging Heroes and Resilience


Tragedy has a way of reaching into the hearts and minds of people.  Hurricane Sandy is the Katrina of the east coast.  Over 1100 miles separate these two areas hard hit by natures' conundrum, and the destruction experienced was and is astounding.  I hesitate to ask how many of you know someone impacted by Sandy's wrath.  A college mate lost her home in a fire/flood combination on the Long Island shoreline.  Seaside Heights is but a distant memory from a 1980 summer vacation that shaped my high school years.  My next door neighbor as a child had to be rescued from her Weehawken apartment.  Many more I am sure that I have not heard about.

I am glued to the TV these last couple of nights marveling at the stories of herculean heroism that are emerging.  Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, NJ  is one of them in my mind.  He has invited powerless hurricane victims to his house.  The Twitterati are in full force, and you can follow many of these heros for yourself as they are documenting their experience in 140 words or less over the course of the day.  I can't imagine the despair  looming over those who lost their homes. While the death toll continues to climb, it seems it is only a fraction of the roughly 1833 of Katrina.  Sandy allowed us to plan.  And many evacuated from their homes, and returned to rubble.

I lived in New Jersey as a child, and grew up in Connecticut, so hurricanes are part of the weather history.  Hurricane parties bring people together, and if you are lucky, you only lose power for a few hours and it feels like camping.  And quality time with family as we hunker down and pray to be spared can create many meaningful memories.  We taught Kate how to play Monopoly during our Sandy stand fast.  And she won!  You suddenly get much more patient when you have no where to go.

New Jerseyans/New Yorkers are a feisty bunch.  You see their fervor during Yankees, Mets, Jets, and Giants games.  They are survivors.  No one will ever really know why these things happen to which people.  Especially after 9/11.  And many took a pretty big hit during Irene last year.  It takes a certain amount of resilience to tackle the types of challenges.  It would be quite easy to give up, let depression overcome you, and stop the fight.  And these situations will certainly birth a new kind of hero.  One that is not looking for the spotlight, and helps others they do not know in horrid conditions because it's a duty to take care of our own.

I will be making a donation box to send up to Jersey this week.  And will be praying to see what other calling there is to get involved and be part of the solution.  I saw so many people selflessly head to Mississippi and Louisiana in 2005-06.  I was in awe of their dedication.  I donated to the Red Cross, and I wished I was able to do more.  I want to discover what my next level of involvement and commitment is in this tragedy.  A fierce winter is predicted for the northeast this year.  And that season is upon us.  Not the best timing when entire communities are wiped out.   Everything is disrupted.  Everything will change.  And the energy it will take, the mindset to rebuild is hard to sustain even for the most impressive leader.  Leadership lessons and role models are emerging each minute.  You are all in my prayers.

--Jon Bon Jovi


Elections, Women, and Honor

Election time is drawing near and no matter your political preference or lack there of, we as American's have the privilege to be able to vote in a democratic process our founding father's designed and our veterans, service men and women throughout our history have tirelessly fought to protect.  It's an honor actually.  I know there are many men and women of all ages, ethnicity, socio-econmic conditions, geographic, secular and non-secular channels that will make a choice to get out on November 6 and vote (or earlier.) And there are those who are apathetic and disillusioned. My 20 year old daughter gets to vote in a Presidential election for the very first time.  Many will hang inaugural chads. And their vote matters.  What they believe, their values and passions can be noticed and counted.

I hear the contrarian view as well.  "Oh who cares." "My vote doesn't matter." "I don't like any of the candidates, the issues don't impact me."

I say, "Then write in a candidate and make a statement!"  Especially the women out there!  It is appalling that in 2012 there are nations where women cannot vote, or speak or show their face in public.  Where elections are fixed, or non-existent.  We live in the United States of America people!  Every 4 years we get to make a declaration about the economy, social and global welfare, national security, education, the environment, transportation, terrorism.  The list is endless.  Is there really not ONE issue that resonates with those who opt out of their privilege to vote?

I have never missed an opportunity to vote in a national election.  My first Presidential election was in 1984.  It was Reagan/ Bush and Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro.  The first VP woman candidate in the history of our nation.  Here I am thinking "okay, a woman candidate. That's interesting." I took it for granted. Never did it cross my mind that it would take 24 years until we had another woman candidate.

I was fortunate enough to be raised by parents in the 60's and 70's that encouraged me to believe that I could do and be anything.  I was bathed in idealism, a stereotypical Boomer.  And being a woman was a mere fact, not a hindrance or historical stigmatism.

 I never associated myself as a feminist when the bras were being burned and Gloria Steinem founded Ms. Magazine.  I didn't pay much attention to be honest.  I assumed I had rights, if I worked hard and treated others with respect and trusted God I would be OK.  Naive, maybe, but I never doubted I would get a job and support a family some day.

I distinctly remember being a junior in high school, the 1980 election actually, and one of my male classmates at Pomperaug High School in Southbury, CT told me that men were smarter and better than women.  I was shocked.  I went home to my parents in total disbelief!  I couldn't appreciate women suffrage, although I learned about it in history, it didn't impact me at all, and it was history, it wasn't present day. My dad never let on to me that women were anything but partners and equals.

And here we are in 2012 where many of the world's women are oppressed.  Where some religions believe women should be silent.  And to my continued shock and awe, discrimination, lesser pay and harassment in the workplace still exists.  And 57% of college graduates are women.  Shaking my head in disbelief.

No matter the outcome in this election, I want a country that enables all who work hard, want to learn and contribute to society the opportunity to do so.  That anyone can make a living, use their talents and gifts, get an education.  Are respected no matter their ethnicity or gender.

Have shelter.

Eat safe food.

I still believe we live in the greatest nation on earth.  Let's rise to that standard again.


If it's all in your head, it's likely dead

The Ermi Group is including guest blogging starting today!  I'd like to introduce Steve Van Remortel, founder of SM Advisors.  Steve is the author of a new book I am reading called Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream:The Scoop on Increasing Profit by Differentiating Your Company Through Strategy and Talent.  The book launches on 10/16/12, so check it out! Thanks Steve and good luck on your book launch! 

I’ve met a lot of business leaders who have a business plan in place but they have it in the wrong place. If your business plan is all in your head, then it is likely going nowhere.   You must develop the plan with the right group of people within your organization, and then make sure that everyone knows that plan. The more people you have working “On” (versus “in”) the business the greater success your organization will achieve.   We call it the Strategic Quotient, which ranks from one to ten (ten being the best.) the level of understanding of the mission and strategy across the organization.   If your company ranks 8-9, then most of the people in your organization know the plan. Many organizations rank only one or two because the plan has not been shared.

A key to developing and communicating your business plan is to include the right people on your planning team. Obviously, you can’t do it all yourself.   It is important to assemble a planning team that will be able to develop the plan and then help execute it with all employees. Here’s a quick guide to help you whittle it down to the right people for your planning team:

    • Each department should be represented.
    • Optimum number is five to eight people.
    • Include those whom we call the “Get-its.” These are the strategic thinkers in your organization.
    • Keep in mind that you will be sharing confidential information. There must be a level of trust.
    • Include key individuals who will help in plan execution.
    • Identify those “young stars” who are the leaders of the future.
    • Consider any collateral damage you might create by leaving someone off the team. Talk to those left off the team individually about their role in the organization and planning process.
    • It is important that all employees know they will be part of the department planning process.
    • Board members typically are not part of the planning team in a “for profit’ organization. The Board’s job is to challenge and approve the plan and hold the team accountable. It is the team’s job to develop and execute the plan.
    • Board members for non-profits can bring value being on the planning team.

Once you finalize your team, announce the launch of the planning process to your organization. Let everyone know that you will be communicating with them and looking for their input throughout the process. Make sure the plan doesn’t just stay in your head. Make it a “living” document all employees are engaged in.  Remember, Those Who Plan – PROFIT!

Steve Van Remortel, founder of SM Advisors and creator of the Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream process, educates and inspires business leaders on how to differentiate their organization by applying the fundamentals of strategy and talent. In his first book, Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream: The Scoop on Increasing Profit by Differentiating Your Company Through Strategy and Talent, he provides all business leaders a simple step-by-step planning process they can implement into their organization to optimize its performance. The book launches, Tuesday, October 16 and is available



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