Monday, July 27, 2015

College Orientation Lessons

Last week, we had the opportunity to observe / participate in the rite of passage of incoming college freshmen – The College Orientation.  Here was the chance to be introduced to the school (Johnson and Wales), introduced to the city (Providence), introduced to fellow classmates and meet some of the teacher.  For the new students, it is a chance to make the vital connection with the school and new friends.  For the parents, it is a chance to provide some comfort that our children will have a great experience and comfort in their school selection.

After the orientation was over and we were driving back home, while Debbie and Bec snoozed for part of the ride, I had the chance to reflect on the last few days.  It struck me that the school was in the process of building a high performance team.  I began to compare this process with building a project team and the excitement generated at the school versus the lack of excitement in the workplace. My thoughts came out as follows:

Team Selection
The future college student spends the time looking at colleges for fit and educational needs.  We spent the time with our daughters visiting colleges to find out what type of schools they liked so that they could make the biggest decision up to this point in their lives. They applied to the schools they could best see themselves attending.  Even though the college has to accept you, the student makes the final choice (it is about choices).  When Bec came to us and said, “I have made a decision…” and we were happy she made the decision.
Project Managers / Leaders spend the time looking for the people that they think will bring the right skills to the project, providing the best chance for success.  Initial conversations about the project’s resources are at the management level.  Team members have little or no choice in the process.  Many years ago, when I worked 15 minutes from where I lived, I was selected for a project that required driving an hour and 15 minutes each way, every day without reimbursement. “Why did I get selected,” was my thought at the time.
Building the Team
After a quick “hello” session, Bec left us to join the incoming class.  The students were broken into smaller teams (by major), participated in icebreaker activities and various team building exercises.  Next, they did all-team activities to better know each other, building new bonds and creating an atmosphere of excitement.  “I already met people that I will be in class with,” Bec told us.
Project Managers / Leaders after planning out the project and outlining the process have a Kickoff meeting where, in some cases, this is the first time team members hear what the project is about. 
After orientation was over, Bec told us that they learned group cheers and a school cheer (which we saw on a video).  The students put on a talent show for themselves, cheering each other on. The orientation was led primarily by upper classmen who were the excited team leaders.  On the way home, Bec said, “I am looking forward to September and starting school,” which was music to our ears!
Some projects get the honor of someone in senior management sending out an email on the importance of the undertaking.  Depending on the project, a senior manager will make an appearance at the kickoff meeting. If lucky – the project is given a special name.  I like to provide a positive outlook and give a “Go team” at the end of the first couple of meetings. I have been asked, “Why are you always so positive?”
The goal is to graduate in four years; everyone is there for that same reason and wants to maximize their experience.
The goal is to complete the project (on time and on budget); not everyone buys into the goals and reasons for the project and tries to minimize their experience.  “Why do we need to change if everything works well for us,” is often heard.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Family and Milestones – This is How We Do It

 “I can’t believe that he was able to book the secret back room for this,” I called out to Debbie.  “That is so exciting!”  Wow! Our favorite steakhouse!  Yes, I know years ago, my brother Jeff had a wine cabinet there, but the back room – the business dining room area – this is so cool.  It is one of the places that we always dreamt about going to celebrate an event.  And, here it is, Jeff’s 50th and our Dad’s 80th.  Two important milestone birthdays was definitely a reason to celebrate.  We set the date, made the plans and looked forward to it.  As day drew closer, set for July 8th, Dad’s birthday, and Jeff’s birthday 3 days later, we became more excited about the celebration and the venue.  Then a few days after the dinner, Magda was taking Jeff to Bora-Bora as a gift for his milestone.

“The best laid plans…”  

The call came in Tuesday night.  It was Jeff from Houston, where his wife Magda, was at M.D. Anderson for her monthly checkup (she has been on test medications for cancer).  “The doctor said that we will need to be here for at least 10 days,” my brother told me.  Everything, as it should be, was put on hold.  We decided to go to a different restaurant to celebrate Dad’s birthday – it is not every day one gets to reach the age of 80.  As a kid, I remember people that reached 70 were considered very old.  Not today.  Dad still deserved the right to celebrate, even if one of his sons and daughter-in-law were unable to attend.

That left Jeff in Houston, a billion miles from home, to celebrate his milestone without fanfare and in a hospital.  

You know, family is a funny thing.  As parents, we do all that we can to nurture our children so that they will grow up into great adults.  As spouses, we do the things to make our life-mates strive to be their best and work towards a higher level of teamwork.  As grown children, we look after our parents, and sometimes, after our own siblings.  We get extremely angry at our family.  We get excited by doing things with our family.  We wonder at times why we have family.  Other times we wonder how we would get by without our family.  It sometimes seems like we are damned with our family; however, most times, we are blessed to have them.

Dad’s comment at dinner was, “It does not matter where we go for dinner, but who is there that we get to spend the time with.”  He is right, as we celebrated his milestone.  Brian (my other brother) and I knew deep down what we needed to do.  Our families knew what we needed to do.  We did what we knew we had to do.  Cost and time can be suspended and we can always revisit our actions and the impact of them at another time.  When it comes to family, we will always be there for each other.  One weekend in Houston, this allowed us to provide much needed support to Jeff and Magda, but also helped us to celebrate our brother’s milestone; there was no other option.  The morning before we left, Brian and I received an email from Dad.  He does not often send emails and this one meant a lot. “Have a good trip. You are doing the right thing and I am proud of you.”  Even at 52, with responsibilities to my family and work and other ventures, it is still nice to hear that from your father.

Friday, we flew down to Houston.  Saturday, with a small group of friends and family, we celebrated Jeff’s 50th in the hospital with a good ole Texas BBQ feast, bottles of wine and cocktails.  We were able to celebrate the milestone with a few unique side stories to boot.  My dad’s word from a few days ago still rang true.  Sunday, we hung out and Monday it was time to head back home.  Do we wish things were different?  Yes.  Did we make the best of the situation and have a great time?  YES!  For that reason alone, we are thankful to have been able to celebrate the two milestones on the correct dates.  This is what we do for each other and would not have it any other way.  When it comes to family, we are always there for each other, in good times and in bad times; to support, help and show our love for each other.

Monday, July 13, 2015

They’re Gone and Nothing’s Gonna Bring Them Back – Lessons from the Grateful Dead

I am a Deadhead.  I have been one for over 30 years.  Yes, that means I did travel to see the band play and saw multiple nights in a tour.  I am often asked how I could see so many shows – easy, every night has a different set list, and in improvised-based music, each performance becomes a unique experience. My brothers and I have played in bands for more than 25 years, whose music sense came from the Grateful Dead.  Having just watched 4 out of the last 5 shows given by the remaining four members of the band before officially “retiring” the name, gave me a chance to reflect on some of the lessons learned.

Inspiration – At the end of the day, it was about the music.  That is what it always came down to for the Zeiler brothers.  Yes, it was a great party atmosphere at the concert (I would be remiss in not saying that).   But, it was the ability to improvise and take the music into unexpected avenues.  You always looked forward to a song that was rarely played (e.g., Dark Star, Attic of my Life, encore And We Bid You Goodnight at Bobby’s birthday in the Meadowlands) that provided inspiration.  I was a fan of their late keyboardist, Brent Mydland, who was a great soloist, and even better at, what I call, filling the empty spaces, either with musical fills or as an undercurrent to spur the music onward.  Most forms of music are structured, and a soloist has a few bars to improvise.  Similar to Dixieland music, the Grateful Dead had all seven members improvising at the same time.  To do so, everyone might seem to lead, but it takes listening to each other, a willingness to take a musical risk and finding the sounds you search for.  My brothers and I have spent 30 years reaching for the musical bar they set.

Mindset – Yes, I know that the band was identified as part of the hippie movement.  If you looked beyond the long hair, the tie-dyed shirts and the cloud of smoke, most followers were kind, friendly souls and had a mellow, casual attitude.  Many of the Deadheads did grow up to become successful in the fields that they pursued.  I remember, we had friends that had this extreme negative, druggie image of the concert scene.  We treated them (concert prices were MUCH cheaper) to a concert at Giant stadium.  We went early, barbequed in the parking lot, met some other friends and walked around to the vendor areas before going into the concert.  Afterwards, they realized that their impression was all wrong.  It was a great experience for all involved.  One other point on this, when looking for a wife, one of the traits that I was looking for was that she needed to be a Deadhead. Happily, Debbie met that criteria and we have gone to many concerts and shared some great (life) experiences together.

Closure – 20 years ago, in June of 1995, we went to see the Grateful Dead play at Giant Stadium.  We only went once or twice a year at that point, down from trying to catch as many shows as possible in the area from a few years prior.  It was a strong show, better than the prior year.  The Dead played Unbroken Chain, a song rarely played live, and had the mystique about it that if you heard it, the Dead were going to break up.  Little did we know that a month and a half later, Jerry Garcia would be found dead and the band, as we knew them, would never be the same.  Yes, every band member variation brought excitement, and some disappointment as the lead instrument was not there. The Fare Thee Well Tour gave us all a chance to say goodbye and listen to our favorite band one last time, bringing a sense of closure.  We might be sad to say fare thee well to an “old friend”, but happy, after 20 years, to finally be able to do so.

Mickey Hart gave the final words, from the stage.  The first half is applicable to any experience and the second is just great advice.  His words clearly summarized the “long, strange trip”: “The feeling we have here — remember it, take it home and do some good with it.  I’ll leave you with this: Please, be kind.”

Please, feel free to share your experiences / impact from the Grateful Dead, or any other band…

Monday, July 6, 2015

I Got a Promotion This Week!

Even at 52 year old, something as simple as promotion can really get me going!  You know, you work hard at something, you do it consistently, and you remain persistent towards your goals, all the time wondering if someone notices.  One day you hear, “I have a little speech to give you,” and the first thought is “What did I do?” Yes, even optimists have these thoughts.  I was pleased to hear the good news, but as with such things, there is a higher level of responsibility.  That is where I hope not to disappoint.

As a parent, we constantly strive to provide a good example.  Our children are like sponges, they see what we do, they imitate the things that they see, and then it becomes a part of who they will be.  I have always believed in leading by example, I work hard, strive for the things that have meaning to me, enjoy taking care of my family, etc. It kind of follows the old catch phrase, “Monkey see, Monkey do.”  It is important to show that with hard work and being diligent in our efforts, we can take the steps to move ahead.  I continue striving to set a positive example, even as my children are transitioning to the young adult stages of their lives. 

Even as adults, the “Monkey see, Monkey do” philosophy works.  If you find someone that is tops in their field, watch what they do and learn from  them, you can strive for better things.  I happened to be in the right place at the right time to watch and learn from one of the best in the business, so when he delivered his speech to me, I was so excited that it included the word “boss”.  There he was, standing in front of me, a giant in his field, Juggles, the clown, who due to a recent injury asked me to step up and to be the Boss Clown for the July 4th Parade.  What an honor and a privilege.  He informed my fellow clowns, “Laff a Lot” and “Frumpy”, that I was going to be the Boss Clown.  OK, so there was some horn honking, attempts at high fives and the other things that clowns do, and at the parade, we did the things we always do – bring joy and happiness to the parade goers.  Juggles, and his wife Glitter, as a clown group, have the name the states what clowns do, we bring “Miles of Smiles” to children, both young and old.  At the end of the day, I was still just a clown, but the recognition did mean a lot to me, and the one day I get to be “G Clef”, is a day I look forward to every year.

Hope that you had a great July 4th weekend, enjoying the independence that was hard fought and ours to cherish!