Monday, May 27, 2013

What It Takes To Get A Lake Named After You

Say the name Foster Sayers around here and most people will

reference the lake encompassed by Bald Eagle State Park.

Sayers was just a country kid from Centre County, Pennsylvania. Some called him a bit of a roustabout...a ruffian. Feeling a bit aimless he volunteered for the US Army in the middle of WWII.  Then, in November of 1944 he moved forward on his own initiative to engage two German machine gun emplacements and drawing their fire so the rest of his company could move across an open field and outflank the enemy position. While his mates wiped out the Germans, Sayers was hit multiple times and died that day from his wounds.

Foster Sayers was posthumously awarded our nation's highest honor, the 
Congressional Medal Of Honor

From his citation:
He displayed conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty in combat on 12 November 1944, near Thionville, France. During an attack on strong hostile forces entrenched on a hill he fearlessly ran up the steep approach toward his objective and set up his machinegun 20 yards from the enemy. Realizing it would be necessary to attract full attention of the dug-in Germans while his company crossed an open area and flanked the enemy, he picked up his gun, charged through withering machinegun and rifle fire to the very edge of the emplacement, and there killed 12 German soldiers with devastating close-range fire. He took up a position behind a log and engaged the hostile infantry from the flank in an heroic attempt to distract their attention while his comrades attained their objective at the crest of the hill. He was killed by the very heavy concentration of return fire; but his fearless assault enabled his company to sweep the hill with minimum of casualties, killing or capturing every enemy soldier on it. Pfc. Sayers' indomitable fighting spirit, aggressiveness, and supreme devotion to duty live on as an example of the highest traditions of the military service.
He was just 20 years old. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Damage When Everyone Is Just 'Doing Their Job'

Every now and then one is confronted with something so absurd that it makes one want to
run off and sit in the meadow for a mass dandelion break.

In this case it was last week’s briefing by President Obama’s spokesperson Jay Carney stepped in front of reporters to explain the White House’s role in the IRS playing political favorites and the Department of Justice secretly obtaining the call logs of the Associated Press.  This is not a Red Team/Blue Team commentary….forget the partisan talking points for a moment. What continually depresses most Americans is that this press conference was just another accepted routine bit of Theater Of The Absurd

Jay Carney is a smart man.  Has to be in order to get that high up the food chain.  But everyone knows he didn’t believe half of what he was saying that day.  He was Just Doing His Job.   And the journalists sitting in the crowd that day.  Also very smart people at the top of their industry.  Not one willing to stand up and say “Oh this is just BS”.  Instead they reported in dry terms the typical He Said/She Said “balanced” reporting.  They were Just Doing Their Job.

In that context I came across Seth Godin’s recent post concerning Thomas Midgley, the man famous of his invention of CFCs and the idea of putting lead into gasoline in order to reduce engine knock...both environmentally destructive innovations.  However, the patents on those ideas were worth billions.

Of course the introduction of lead immediately had serious health consequences for refinery workers. Yet Midgely and others quick downplayed the effects.  As Godin notes:

An entrenched industry needs the public and its governments to ignore what they're doing so they can defend their status quo and extract the maximum value from their assets.

I would add this also applies doubly so to entrenched government bureaucracies, media outlets, and even third sector advocacy organizations.

Godin continues:

And we give them a pass. Because it's their job, or because it's our job, or because our culture has created a dividing line between individuals who create negative impacts and organizations that do.

People who just might, in other circumstances, stand up and speak up, decide to quietly stand by, or worse, actively lie as they engage in PR campaigns aimed at belittling or undermining those that are brave enough to point out just how damaging the status quo is.

In general, people just want to be left alone to live their lives with as minimal hassle from The Power as possible.   But that is increasingly hard in a world full of Midgleys who succeed in a society which rewards spin and obfuscation.  Godin concludes:

We might consider erecting a statue of him in every lobbyist's office (and college campus and public square and government bureau), a reminder to all of us that we're ultimately responsible for what we make, that spinning to defend the status quo hurts all of us, and most of all, that we have to balance the undeniable benefits of progress, innovation and industry with the costs to all concerned. I can't imagine a better person as the symbol for a day that's not about honoring or celebrating, but could be about vigilance, candor and outspokenness instead.

My suggestion: Use this post to contemplate not what they are doing, but to consider how you are defending the status quo.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Why do older Boards have such difficult time with younger Leaders?

Late night phone call from one Executive Director I'm coaching.  At 28, she falls squarely into that 'Millennial' demographic and thus encounters frequent frustrations with her Board who are significantly older than her (I'd say the youngest Board member is in their early 50's).

I won't go into detail about the nature of her relationship with the Board, but it does read like some stereotypical Generation Gap.   The Board, which actually showed itself willing to take a chance on a bright up-and-comer, has since fallen back into a "What's wrong with these kids?" attitude as the Director implemented needed changes to bring fresh air into a nonprofit that had become stale.

Since I was an advisor to the Board during their executive search, I'm familiar with both sides of this story.    As they neared the end of the hiring process, I alerted the Board that the new ED would bring a large cultural shift to operations and that they'd probably see large turnover in staff in addition to a whole different presence in the community.    This has come to pass.

To help prepare the Board for this cultural shift, I shared with them the following perspective of a young Polish writer about how the expectations of young people have been conditioned by their experiences of the Internet.   They bring a vastly different set of skills as well as needs to the job.   If you have young people on your staff and want them to excel, then read on.

NOTE: I've edited out the introduction so as to get directly to the meat of the piece.   

Piotr Czerski - We, the Web Kids

1. We grew up with the Internet and on the Internet. This is what makes us different; this
Piotr Czerski
is what makes the crucial, although surprising from your point of view, difference: we do not ‘surf’ and the internet to us is not a ‘place’ or ‘virtual space’. The Internet to us is not something external to reality but a part of it: an invisible yet constantly present layer intertwined with the physical environment. We do not use the Internet, we live on the Internet and along it. If we were to tell our bildnungsroman to you, the analog, we could say there was a natural Internet aspect to every single experience that has shaped us. We made friends and enemies online, we prepared cribs for tests online, we planned parties and studying sessions online, we fell in love and broke up online.

The Web to us is not a technology which we had to learn and which we managed to get a grip of. The Web is a process, happening continuously and continuously transforming before our eyes; with us and through us. Technologies appear and then dissolve in the peripheries, websites are built, they bloom and then pass away, but the Web continues, because we are the Web; we, communicating with one another in a way that comes naturally to us, more intense and more efficient than ever before in the history of mankind.