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.


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Book Review: One Piece of Paper by Mike Figliuolo Part One



The Simple Approach To Powerful, Personal Leadership


By Mike Figliuolo

It is so exciting for leadership development junkies like me to pick up a new book and instantly know how you can apply it!  That is what happened to me when I bought this book on  I tend to be the type of reader that will jump to the back and see what treasures are in the appendix then when/if I find them, I will read more.  Well that is what happened to me.

Mike is an impressive guy that I connected with through networking in 2008 when I started The Ermi Group.  A West Point honors grad, former professor, consultant and executive, Mike founded thoughtLEADERS, LLC. He lives in Ohio and I was able to meet him face-to-face at that time during a visit to Cincinnati, and he really took me under his wing. He is a generous mentor and has helped me in countless ways.

Mike describes his book by saying,"Imagine explaining your leadership philosophy on one piece of paper – a simple 8.5” x 11” summation of all you are and all you want to be as a leader. How powerful would it be to have a discussion about that single page with the members of your team? But that’s impossible. Or is it? This book will help you do exactly that."

I am a pragmatic leader and I also have an affinity toward efficiency, so when I heard about this concept I just had to get it!

Here is a high level overview of what you will find in this gem, and a couple of my own examples as I reflect on my own leadership maxims.

The Leadership Maxims Approach

“One piece of paper will guide you through a simple approach for creating, articulating, and living your personal philosophy-one that can be shared on a single piece of paper.” Mike's maxims are simple catch phrases, stories, events that happened to him that keep him honest with himself in terms of what is important to him.  And Mike's maxim that moved me the most is "He drinks 7-up."

I tell it all the time to my coaching clients.  It was simple, and powerful.  In short, when Mike was an arms officer in the US Army, one of his junior soldiers was having some performance issues.  A 'problem child." Apathetic, no pride of ownership in his work, sort of disheveled and showed up late, no regard for authority.  One day on a break, they were playing cards and one of his troops went to get some sodas.  Mike gave him a list with the name of the person and the type of soda to get.  "Two Pepsi's, a Dr. Pepper, three Sprites and one 7UP."  When the sodas were distributed the problem child received a 7UP and said, "How do you know I like 7UP?"  Mike responded that he knew a lot of things about him and went about his day.  The next day the problem child showed up on time, completed his work and actually exceeded some duties.  Mike asked him what happened to change his behavior and he responded, "Well, sir, yesterday when you got me a 7UP, I realized I wasn't some random private in a platoon to you.  That's the first time in a long time someone showed me I matter.  Thanks for doing that for me. I figure if you care about me then I should probably care about the work I do for you."  I LOVE THIS STORY!  Just as simple as "He drinks 7UP."

Creating your Maxims

    • Maxims by definition is a principle or rule of conduct. (p. 7)


    • The best type of maxims is the short and direct ones that come from the heart and your own personal experiences.


    • “The maxims approach requires you to share your life experiences with others, which can be very difficult.” (p. 10)

The Benefits Of The Leadership Maxims Approach (p.12)

    1. First, your maxims will help you set aspirational goals to be a better leader and to continue your personal and professional growth.


    1. Second, your maxims will set expectations for your team members for how you want them to behave.


    1. Third, your maxims will help you and your team members make better decisions more rapidly, because you will have an established set of principles for how you want to behave as a leader and how you want them to behave as members of your team.

QUOTE:  “Your team does not follow you and respect you because of your title.  They follow and respect you because of the person you are.” (p.18)


    • Why do you get out of bed every day?  Find your motivation, because most people get out of bed each day for personal growth.


    • Simply write down words, phrases, or images that come to mind as you consider these questions. 
      What are MY leadership maxims:

        1.  Why do you get out of bed each day? To use the gifts God gave me to the best of my ability; provide for my family; be a catalyst for change; have some fun and enjoy waking up!

        1.  How will you shape your future? Get it done! Be curious. Everything happens for a reason.

        1.  What guidelines do you live by? Gotta have faith.

        1. When you fall down, how do you pick yourself up? Daddy. Resilience.

        1. How do you hold yourself accountable? If I tell everyone about it, then I HAVE to do it!

Stay tuned for the rest of the book review in a future post!

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Guest — Holly Williams
Cannot believe that I picked up this book from a pile on my desk and started reading it today! You gave me my copy about 3 months... Read More
Monday, 26 March 2012 23:36
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Appreciating the Diversity of Our Nation

I have been doing some traveling recently after a long stretch of local work. I used to travel all the time, but in the last few years it has been sporadically at best.

I have been to Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Raleigh in the last 3 weeks. Not a lot of travel compared to many, but enough for me to realize the distinctions of cultural differences. I grew up mostly in CT and spent many years in the North East. I went to school in Lynchburg, VA, but when you are 18, I am not sure you are really paying attention to the culture or friendliness of people.

After college I went back to CT for about 5 years before leaving there permanently in 1991. Over 20 years ago, I left my state that I did most of my education from, the people I knew and my family and ventured out to upstate NY to a small little town called Norwich situated between the metropolises of Binghamton and Syracuse. I remember being struck by how friendly people were. We became “regulars” at the four or five eating establishments and merchants and business owners were grateful for your patronage. I was the Sales Training Manager for the business and covered the US and Canada. I got to travel and be immersed in all the major US regions, and really got a passion for local foods, dialects, norms and uniquenesses.

A few years after that in 1994, I moved to Cincinnati. Wow, the big city by comparison. I was so excited about the opportunity! I just turned 30 and my career was soaring at Procter & Gamble and my workaholic underpinnings had been formed. I was climbing the corporate ladder, and loved everything about it! Seven years there and what struck me was the charm and humility of the Midwest culture. People were genuinely polite, interested in what you were doing, asked about your day and really wanted an answer more than “fine.” I really thought I could live there forever. I loved my friends who became like family, I traveled around the world, and I had stability and satisfaction in my career. I loved learning about different cultures around the world and not just in the US! My obsession with understanding the backgrounds and style differences of people AND the ability to help bridge the gaps that keep people from working optimally together was born!

In 2001, in order to be with my beautiful step-daughter who lived in Maryland with her mom and step-dad, my husband and I left all the stability of P&G and moved to the DC metro area to be a closer part of her life. Best decision EVER from a personal perspective. But my glorious travel days were put on pause for a couple of years. When you are acclimating to a new region of the country, you miss the things that made you feel comfortable. While I love where I live, the surrounding areas were not as ‘homey’ as what I had become used to. The people, while polite, were not overly friendly. The pace was faster, the edge of working in our Nations' Capital was completely different, and I sort of put my head low, worked like mad, and went into survivor mode. My husband had a stroke at age 38 and left the workforce due to disability.

I worked at several organizations as a change agent and HR executive, and realized the average lifespan of an HR Exec in DC is about 18 months. So my perspective and world view became very DC-centric. I started my own firm in 2008, and was blessed with local gigs, so I was home A LOT! And I have grown to absolutely love where I live. The business opportunity is amazing and I have dear friends and colleagues I would not want to lose for all the tea in China (as my husband likes to say.)

I changed my business strategy in 2012 and now I find myself on the road again. And I love it! While I miss my husband and 5 year old, I know this is where I am supposed to be.

So back to my epiphany…I really love the people of the mid-west. Genuine kindness, a life pace that includes others, and a trustworthiness that I can relate to. And the south has a charm and a history of chivalry. I cannot tell you how many doors were opened for me, luggage carried, elevators held open, all the basics I had learned to forget being a woman executive that wants to play in the boys club.

So much gratitude. So much to think about….

Recent comment in this post
Guest — Barb
You are living in the midst of diversity! Life is exciting when you decide to make it so. Travel gives you a picture of the "big... Read More
Wednesday, 14 March 2012 18:04
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Skills and Talents for the Long Haul

In celebration of the Reverend Martin Luther King's birthday many organizations and the feds honor his amazing accomplishments with a day off.  I think it is an important day to recognize, and if he were to be alive today I'd hope that he would feel like his marches, rallies and inspiration changed the way we value diversity forever.  His words and sacrifice of his own life has made an impression for the long haul.  He has gone down in history as one of the great orators and influencers of our time.

I also took the day off and my family was invited by dear friends to join them at Massanuttan Resort in Virginia with their family.  It is a four seasons resort, and the weather had been cold enough for them to make snow, so the plan was to hit the slopes.   I long ago sold my old Olin IV 180 cm relics at a yard sale believing that if I ever ski again the equipment would be archaic.  I last skied in 1993, and the biggest memory I have from that was painful burning thighs and freezing icy conditions.  I moved to Cincinnati soon after, and skiing is not exactly a local sport there, so  I got interested in other things.

My husband had not skied since 1995 and we sold his skis last year in a yard sale. Kate, the 5 year old seemed to be interested, so we decided to get her a lesson in the resorts' Slope Sliders program which was just wonderful. Her teacher was Spencer, and the whole experience was perfect for her.  It was a solid foundational introduction to the basics, she sloshed around in her clunky boots, made snow angels, learned the pizza wedge and was able to successfully get on the innovative Magic Carpet conveyor lift that beat the heck out of the old rope tow that I learned on.

I was petrified.  My husband and I decided to rent skis and give it a whirl.  In case Kate wanted to take up the sport some day, it would be nice to do it together.  We rented the skis and the hardest part was getting the darn boots on.  I was surprised at how little the equipment actually changed.  Apparently the technology innovations have been reserved for the abundance of snow boards, and not for the ski rental industry. But that was OK, it was familiar.

We carried our skis up to the chair lift, snapped them on, held our breath and swished onto the quad chair lift.  Now there has been some nice changes here with a gate to stop you and release you when it is ready for you, a rubber belt then moves you automatically, and far fewer falls than what I recalled.  We made it, and sat down   without incident.  It was exhilarating actually!  I had forgotten how fun it was to look down and see the diversity of skiwear, styles and ages. Tons of kids!  I did not recall that many young children skiing in the 70's but, then again, there may not have been as many given the vast differences in the economy.

OK, it was time for tips up and to get off the lift...and we did it!  We did not fall and it was just as easy as the last time I did it.  I squealed with glee as I pushed off and headed down the hill.  It all came back.  I had originally thought I needed a lesson to refresh my memory, but the brain and the body are amazing phenomenons.  It came back and it really was like riding a bike.

It was wonderful for our egos, especially my husband.  He suffered a stroke in 2002 and has some residual right side weakness in addition to other things, but he did GREAT!

Think about our emerging leaders and the Millennials entering the workforce.  They are learning skills and talents that they will hard wire in for the long haul.  We only really get one or two chances to set the tone and get it right.  The brain remembers.  The body recalls what the stresses and pressures feel like.  I am passionate about giving them the tools they need, the resources and frameworks to help them get it right EARLY in their careers.  They may not use these skills right away, but they should be in it for the long haul, and as leadership development professionals, we need to be in it for the long haul as well.

How sustainable are our programs?  Will they traverse the challenging mountains of 20 years from now? Will they navigate the terrain and make it down the hill, and then back up again?

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