Monday, September 29, 2008

Au Revoir Thank You Note?

The Lord and I were headed up Tenth Avenue on our way to Lincoln Center when he mentioned an interview with Chris Matthews about Richard Nixon. Normally I am loathe to hear anything about either man but The Lord said I'd like this story so I encouraged him to go on.

To make the point Nixon had a soft heart, Matthews described a visit by the young Kennedy children and their mother to the White House. The Lord wasn't sure if Mrs. Onassis or Nixon initiated the visit but Nixon welcomed the children and personally gave them a tour. (Reader, are you riveted by this story?) Just as I began to mentally rearrange the food in the refrigerator, The Lord produced the voila moment: Two days after the visit, Nixon received hand-written thank you notes from both Kennedy children.

"Is that the correct amount of time for sending out a thank you note?" inquired The Lord.

Wonderful question. And here's my response: It's fabulous to send out a personal thank you note within 24 hours. It sets you apart -- I swoon when I get one. But there's a rhythm to these're cannot send them out too quickly either. For example, it's completely warped to leave someone's office, take the elevator down to the lobby and on your way to a Starbucks, text message a thank you to the person you've just spent time with.

Take some time to think about what you want to say and within 24 - 48 hours of receiving someone's gift or time or recommendation, write a handwritten note of appreciation. Slip the note in the mail and sit back and wait for the huzzanahs from the recipient. You will get them, I promise.

With so few ways to out-class the competition, this is guaranteed to do it: A simple card, a few sentences of thanks and a stamp.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oh for an adventure!

The Lord informed me that he would be leaving very early this morning to take his trusty (and rusty) MG to the mechanic in Massachusetts en route to a meeting in Connecticut. "Early?" (Envious as I love early mornings trips). "Five-thirty and I'm taking Al. He loves an adventure."

An adventure? Has The Lord been evolving right before my eyes? Isn't this the man who famously said "that's why they call it work" when I complained about some nimcompoop boss.

Having studied at the School of Seven Dwarves where whistling is taught before grammar, I marvel when people talk about burnout and on the job agony and yet cannot imagine an alternative (and fight me if I try to suggest one.)

Call me naive but I do have a few examples of people who turn the everyday into an adventure. Take Miss Dazzle who parlayed a consulting gig into running one of the country's preeminent tabletop accessories company. Despite an hour commute and an 11 hour day, Miss Dazzle uses her "toing" time to talk fashion, politics and culture while keeping her relationships current and close. Or Miss W., who leads a first-rate public relations firm wearing rockstar glamorous clothes, teetering heels and wielding a blackberry that emits literary and literate missives rather than incomprehensible responses. Although this wonder woman once "packed it in," today she's a force and having the time of her life.

Could Dazzle's and Miss W.'s success have something to do with attitude? Hmmm....

Thursday, September 18, 2008

More Oxygen, Please

Over morning ablutions (he shaving, me patching), the Lord High Executioner and I discussed modern day business behavior (i.e. boorish and rude behavior that is now classified as 'bottom line' managing). As someone who appreciates and even relishes urgency, I'll confess that I prefer my cut to the chase with a dollop of pretty please.

The Lord remarked, "it's not easy to find someone with technical competence who's also personable."

Yikes. Could he be right? If so, bombs away, my dears...kill them with kindness as I'm certain that someone with talent and a wonderful attitude is going straight to the top.

There have always been and always will be mood-disordered individuals who lead corporations to success. But everyone also knows that they inspire little loyalty, only fear. And my guess is that they don't have nearly as much fun as the leaders who get the vision thing and also develop the talent and energies of those around them. The best boss I had knew how to have fun even while meeting deadlines, soothing clients, bringing in the business and managing a staff. She did it all without the withering glances and fear-inducing scowls.

I'm one of those people who love to work hard with a little song in my heart. Laughter serves as my stimulant -- no matter how long the day and how much needs to be done, I need to find the joy in what I'm doing. And I'm not the only one.

Miss K. owns a charming boutique on the Boulevard Millburn. K. really knows her merchandise. She knows how to present her product. She's brilliant at sales. One would have to say she's technically competent at being a proprietess. But here's what makes her a phenomenon: she loves what she does. She's producing so much oxygen people stop in just to take a whiff.

I'm a great believer in options -- we all have choices in the way we run a business, sell a product, maintain relationships, lead an organization. For super performers like K., being technically competent is just one measurement of success and not the only reason for getting up in the morning and loving her life.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Inner Tom Hagen

One of the things I think I do awfully well (besides coaching and competitive dressing and oh yes, keeping friends for life) is talking to myself about everything. Over the years I've become my own Tom Hagen, The Godfather's consigliere (understatedly played by Robert Duvall) who sat by his side, offered sage counsel and then executed anyone who crossed the Corleone's.

I ruminate on everything and anything that piques my interest. While I don't always agree with myself I must admit that my inner conversations are energizing and hopefully illuminating.

Here's a conversation I had yesterday: Why do people slur their name and the purpose of the call when leaving a voicemail message? Am I the only one who is forced to listen not twice but three times in order to glean the purpose and content of the message? People, you know who you are that drove me to pay a service (Phone Tag) to convert the garble into text-messaged pidgin English. But tell me, why do people make the call and then dash off before creating a message that delights and moves me to action?

And lately I've been shaking my head and asking myself, "Why don't people respond to emails that are clearly time-sensitive?" People, this is huge. Huge! No wonder people say they can't get anything done -- they're not doing anything to push the can down the road. Toni M. says it's about "closing the loop" and I can't agree more. Stop multi-tasking and finish something.

As I was driving home from work last night along Boulevard Millburn, I asked myself, "Is clueless the new black?" Holy moly, why would a brand new store place a sign in the window that's hanging by only one piece of tape? Does anyone care? Is anyone there? We only get one shot (and less than four seconds) to create an impression.

Can any of us afford to put anything less than a well-shined shoe or a crisp and legible sign forward?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

When is a peeling fence just a fence?

I begin this blog posting the same way I began my diary in 1962 B.T. (before therapy) with an apology: Dear Blog, sorry for not writing to you.

For reasons beyond my control or understanding I left my keys in my car overnight and found myself with a dead battery. Once the car was boosted I was instructed by the Lord High Executioner (aka husband M.) to take it for a spin. Feeling guilty and stupid all at once, I grabbed my Annette Gantz black cotton jacket and rainboots and high-tailed it to the highway. No luck. The best bet was to head to Livingston, NJ which is why I was coming up South Orange avenue and caught the light at the corner.

This used to be my neck of the woods many epochs ago when my second shift kicked in and I drove the boys to the extracurricular activities that were considered shoo-ins to the haute colleges we aspired to. Whether or not these nocturnal swims were the tie-breakers we'll never know but I remembered the homes that dotted the way and now, I was staring at the rather forlorn and decrepit white picket fence that adjoined the parking lot for the pediatrician's office on the corner. Wow, I said to myself, he's really fallen on hard times.

But where was the evidence?

I didn't know the doctor nor his practice but it reminded me of a New Yorker cartoon where the shop owner posts a sign in the window "Lost My Motivation." No matter what anyone tells me, a dirty white picket fence in front of a doctor's home office is symbolic of something.

I've said it before but it's worth repeating: We're all reading messages about one another throughout the day. If your hair needs a trim, your fingernails are dirty, your pants have a spot (or two or three), I will not assume things are going brilliantly for you. And if you step outside in the morning looking like a zillion with the latest silhouette, hair full of bounce and a smile that's genuine and welcoming, well, I'm going to take a leap of faith and imagine you're living an enviable life. You may call me shallow (others have) but I'm convinced that clothes serve as armor and protect us from negative and undermining influences.

No matter where I'm going or what I'm doing I take the time and the energy to create an image of purpose and flair. You see, I'm a great believer in serendipity and I never want to thwart the opportunity to meet someone fabulous. When I'm dressed for "ready" I'm far more willing to initiate that hello, have a little chat, share a confidence or a recommendation.

If you've "lost your motivation" find someone who can remind you of your gifts and your talents and how they can be better utilized and make them part of your team. A peeling fence ain't just a peeling fence but a metaphor for a demoralized vision of life and its possibilities. A little coat of paint would probably do wonders.