Monday, December 30, 2013

5 Discoveries To Propel Me Into The New Year

Each item on my list hit me just like this photo, mostly for good

As we close 2013, I am compelled to look back at that the past year and sift through everything for the all the lessons I need to take forward with me. So much has happened since Jan 1, I am truly hard pressed to pick the most important or significant happenings but I'm forcing myself to do so. Here goes - the top 5 discoveries about myself and/or my business from 2013:

1.  I am not a pet person and I am not evil because of it.

At some point over the second full year we have owned our lovable dachshund, Chica, I realized that I am not a pet person. My temperament and natural instincts do not jive with animals in a long term relationship. The bigger discovery in this, I am not evil because of it. American culture makes non-animal lovers out to be evil, sinister or unkind people. That fact was half the battle with my coming to terms with my condition as non-pet person. I wanted to be a pet person. I'd chastised myself for not warming up to it, even as we adopted and bonded with an adorable dog. Now, I love our dog and care for her deeply and I'm doing my best to cherish the time I have with her but I'm doing it in freedom of accepting my status as a non-pet person.

2.  My company is going to change the country's discussion on Inclusion and Diversity.

One year ago now, I'd imagined that my business would crack into more corporate opportunities. I did not know how or when or what those opportunities would look like but I knew we'd somehow make an impact and move into the corporate arena. I'm super grateful for a call back in the late spring from a former colleague of mine at The Home Depot that set this new influence into motion. Between my work on a contract for Accenture and The Home Depot project, Relationships Matter Now is a new and distinctive voice in Inclusion and Diversity. We are being sought for conferences and across industries for consultation on how to best move forward inclusion and diversity strategies. For us it is simple, taking RMN's brand promise of engage, collaborate and lead, we will change the way companies view and implement inclusion as a strategy to move their businesses forward in the 21st century.

3.  I am not an angry person.

This is a very recent and fresh discovery. See my post from last week for more elaboration here. I love this one because society feeds that false narrative to strong, forward thinking black women any opportunity it can. I could name many examples recent and in the past that confirm that the world would like us to buy the narrative that black women who speak their minds and push forward their causes are angry. Hell, I'd even given myself an excuse for my "anger". It worked. Until it didn't. You see, I have much evidence that I am a lot of things, passionate, powerful, emotive, assertive, outspoken but not angry. This discovery is tied with the next one for my favorites of the year.

4.   My intentionality for connections propels my life and business.

One of the most important needs I have is the need for connectedness. I believe I need to be connected much more than others due to my mom's departure early in life. As I've aged, I have perfected the art of extending the branch for connection to everyone I meet. It is fascinating to watch me in action. I could tell you story-after-story of how this impacted me this year but only one story matters... the story of meeting Ernestine Beck-Fulghum. This woman was "randomly" seated in an audience of over 100 people who came to hear me speak about strategic planning at a conference for elected officials in Illinois last Oct. As I closed the successful talk - about 80% of the attendees rushed forward, I did what I always do in this case - looked for connection points with each person who took the time to come and meet me. My connection to Ms. Beck-Fulghum was my mom's hometown of Robbins, IL. That one fact and my ability to quickly articulate it connected me with someone who knew my mom, my hero,  and I am forever grateful for that encounter. I have no idea where it will lead but it changed my whole year.

5.   Building gratefulness into my life physically.

Picking up the idea from my Twitter BFF, I started an awesome jar to record all the good and great things that happened to me, my family and my business this year.  The idea, is to record on paper every time something awesome happens and collect it in a visible place. At the end of the year, you are to open it up and acknowledge and be grateful for all the good that has happened. It is full as I look at it now and I can't wait to go through the papers tomorrow night. What I love the most about the concept is the intentional act of stopping and recording the good. Of course, we remember good things but most often we remember and carry the hurts, the slights, the disappointments. I feel them in my body as I type this. It is a full 360 degree exercise to intentionally think about and record good. I also feel the good things I put in the jar as I write about them. I want to fill my jar with double the good things in 2014.

As I move into the new year and start to lay out my objectives, I am grateful for these discoveries that have impacted my life and business greatly. What are the discoveries of 2013 that propel you into the new year?

Monday, December 23, 2013

What Lie About Yourself Will You Debunk This Holiday Season?

Me - Circa Fall 1976. Gingham rules.
During the holiday season, passing through the houses of your family, you always get a glimpse of yourself at different points in time. One of the benefits of holidays is the nostalgia of holidays past. Another benefit is the contrasts of what we can see and hear from others versus what we have told ourselves over the years.

The pretty little lies we tell ourselves.

This year, I debunked one of the lies I'd held onto especially since becoming a parent. Ironically, it was the picture you see here that started the debunking process.

Let me frame this picture for you. This picture was taken in the fall of 1976. I was four years old about to be five and had just started kindergarten at Pensacola Christian Academy. Less than 60 days before this photo was taken , the unthinkable happened on August 19th - my young mom left this life on earth.  Now that you know that, look into the eyes of this young babe. What do you see?

I see life. Hope. Wonder. Happiness. Joy.

And that is the polar opposite of what I've told myself over the years. My short fuse and hot temper,  which has really calmed since become a parent,  had always been attributed to anger. I thought that I was angry and that it all started when I lost my mom. I believed that created characterization of myself. It comforted me after a certain rage or outburst, "it's OK, Denise. You're an angry person and you always have been," I'd say to myself, practically justifying my bad behavior. After all, I did lose my mom right before I started kindergarten. If anyone had a REASON to be angry, I did and righteously so. I even gave myself "credit" for controlling my anger well throughout the years.

Seeing that photo above in my dad's house the week after Thanksgiving gave me pause. For the first time in a long time, I stopped and looked at it. Then I proceeded to look at all the photos he had of me from the early days and there are few as we lost many of them in a storage debacle in the 90s.  Lots of laughter, loads of light-hearted moments captured time and time again. Each photo of me showing a love of life and joy. Each photo confirming the previous one, I was genuinely a happy child. And that happy child has grown up to be a genuinely happy adult.

Yes, I have an explosive temper. Yes, my fuse is short. But I am not angry. Passionate, emotive, outspoken but not angry.

Now I ask you, especially in these days of family visits and holiday festivities - what lies about yourself are you holding on to? In what ways can you revisit who you are and embrace your true characteristics versus the false ones you may have created?

I am relieved to realize that I am not angry, I get angry but I do not hold anger as a character trait. What an amazing discovery this holiday season! Can't wait to hear about yours.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Changing The Country's Relationship With Inclusion

See the difference?

All my life, I've been exposed to issues of diversity. Born in 1971, my entry into the world was precipitated by the new era of equal opportunity for all Americans. By the time I had my first job in 1993, we'd been almost 30 years into this era yet attitudes about equal opportunity were shifting. Fast forward to 2013, the second full year of my entrepreneurial venture and yet again topics of diversity, equal opportunity and inclusion hunted me down for my point of view.

Leading a strategic business venture and constantly consulting with government, nonprofit and organizations of all types and sizes, my perspective on diversity and inclusion is always a topic of discussion, even when it isn't.  Instead of giving my "tried and true" diversity class taught response, this year, I started to give my true thoughts on the subject because my relationship with diversity and inclusion has been the same since I entered the workforce 20 years ago. The only difference now, is I'm in a position to spread my point of view and bring others along in a big way.

It is not rocket science or anything earth shattering yet it is both. The simplicity of my point of view is not marred by the complexity of the issue it seeks to solve. Each day I speak about and consult on the direction inclusion and diversity must go, it is clearer to me that my company and I must lead the way. This huge and daunting task does not scare me. It energizes me. My perspective on the topic is now being sought by Fortune 500 and small companies alike. The once reluctant diversity practitioner is now an inclusion strategist. My inclusion strategy work hinges on the following:

Inclusion must include everyone.

Inclusion is essentially a leadership and competency discussion.

It is that simple.  Yes, there are many issues of inequality and oppression that have gotten the United States to its current state today. However, we must be able to count on every one to take us where we need to go. We do not have critical mass in leadership among minorities or women however, our current strategies to get there are not working, particularly in corporate America.

We need to lift the veil of secrecy for upward mobility in these environments. All organizations need to understand and articulate what it takes to lead. This will be different in different places, there is no "one size fits all" formula.  From there, it will be necessary to make a joint effort with education officials to build a pipeline of qualified candidates to lead and cast the net out to all areas of our society to build and grow those leaders.

So now we go to work, transforming the country's attitude about this very important topic, one organization at a time.  There is lots of work to be done to change our country's relationship with inclusion. I am excited that Relationships Matter Now is leading the way.

Monday, December 9, 2013

I Am Mandela. You Are Mandela.

As I stepped off the plane from a quick trip last week, my breath was taken away by the news I read in my Facebook feed, "RIP Nelson Mandela." Of course, I knew the day would come when we'd say goodbye to cultural icon, Nelson Mandela who was 95 at the time of his death. I just was not prepared for that day, just yet.

Ironically, I'd just read an excerpt from a recently release book of a friend and noted racial reconciliation author, Ed Gilbreath.  Remembering Birmingham is a short e-book that reflects on the famous Letter from Birmingham Jail written by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. The complexity and conflict of being a leader of the civil rights movement was palatable to me as I read this quick tome. Earlier that week, in a conversation with my 76 year old father, the topic of my activism came up. My dad carefully asked me if I'd considered myself a radical.

I paused to really absorb his question and he immediately began to apologize and started to take back the question when I interrupted him.

"Actually, dad, that is a great word for what I am." We ended up talking about why I was OK with the word and what it stood for and we spoke about Dr. King and his work, specifically in Alabama as I was headed to that state that very week. After the conversation with my dad, I'd been wrestling with his question and my "full on" embrace of the radical label. Nelson Mandela crossed my mind during this reflection. I tucked those thoughts away as I prepared for my trip. Traveled to Alabama, accomplished what I wanted to accomplish and on the way back finally read the e-book I'd downloaded in October.

It is no coincidence that the conversations, reading the e-book and the passing of Mandela all occurred when it did. These events are all interrelated.

This all matters for one reason: A rallying call for me and my fellow leaders.

We are called to be radicals. Radicals for good. Radicals for justice. Radicals for equality. The passing of Nelson Mandela last week only solidifies my thinking about leadership and my own place in society. We can no longer wait for the next ... Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. We are it. I am she. It's been clear to me since my early 20s and most of my actions to date support this. We are the leaders we've been looking for. Clearly the accomplishments of Dr. King and/or Mandela will never be replicated. It is a different time. We face some of the same issues but both those great men pushed doors open that must be continuously walked through by as many of us as possible.  In all areas of our lives we must continue to strive to lead from a place of integrity and lift up as many people in the process as we can.  Not only on  MLK day in January or Madiba's birthday in July but every day.

My heart is heavy at the passing of Nelson Mandela but I fully embrace the challenge to carry on his legacy. #IAmMandela

Monday, December 2, 2013

3 Benefits Of Relaxing Completely

Last week, I did something I have not done much since I ventured out on my own to run Relationships Matter Now, LLC. I completely relaxed on the island of Jamaica to end my favorite month of every year.

Like many other entrepreneurs, I am wound pretty tight and uber focused on my growing my business. Not many days go by that I am not thinking about, working on, networking for or otherwise moving my tiny but mighty business forward. It is a daunting task to completely relax for me.

As an entrepreneur, this is the toughest part of our jobs. Unplugging and spending focused time relaxing. While I have not done it much in the last 2 years my company has been my full-time gig, I can honestly say I relaxed and did it well last week defines relax this way:

1. To take one's ease; rest.
2. To become lax or loose.
3. To become less severe or strict.
4. To become less restrained or tense.
5. To reduce in intensity; slacken:
While it was very difficult to do, I recommend anyone do it from time to time and here's three reasons why...

Fresh Perspective

One can never have too much perspective in my humble opinion. Removing yourself completely from your environment is a great way to gain perspective you need on your own life and situation. Being on the island, with nowhere to be at no specific time was also a completely different perspective for me. It helped me to see just how much work I cram in daily and in every crevice of almost every day. I most certainly will find ways to steal away for rest thanks to the perspective I gained on this trip. I also found myself reflecting on different things while away from work. Reflecting on my life as a wife and mom more than I have in a long time. I also had time to devour the latest Malcolm Gladwell book which challenged me in a number of ways. My closest relationships will benefit tremendously from my newly gained perspective while in paradise.

True Rest

Our bodies and minds need rest. I am a stickler for getting 8-9 hours of sleep nightly but clearly I stink at resting myself well in other ways.  Nothing was more telling than my outright mind and body release the second day on the island. I could barely move. It was great to not have to. Rest or respite (my preferred word) is needed on a much more grander scale than my insistence on nightly sleep. We need to take a break from our regular routines. We need to sleep more than we normally do. We need to break away from our normal thought patterns. We need to disrupt our habits. We need to stop. Stop and just be. It is really tough to do but really rewarding when we do it.  

New Energy

What I'm feeling in the post vacation after glow is not an island hangover. I am feeling a burst of new energy. New energy around my life  and every role I have.  Ideas on how to apply some of the knowledge I gained from doing nothing for those few days are just one of the welcomed side effects of the full relaxation exercise. I have no tension at all in my body and so my sleep last night was amazing. It's like I got a new, clean slate to start with this day. As I was making my "To Do" list, there was an added sense of urgency for every item that made the list. I have no meetings on deck and I'm sure that is a God send since I am amped up full of ideas and energy for my work.

It's been some time since I completely relaxed like I did last week. I can't even remember the last time but I know it was well before I started my business or even the journey to my business over 5 years ago.  I was way overdue and will challenge myself to find mini-respites to experience the tremendous upsides of total relaxation more often. You'd be wise to join me.

Monday, November 18, 2013

3 Truths I Take Into My "New Year"

Last week, I turned 42 and it was an amazing week full of contrasts that led up to the big day.  Like any week, there was joy, pain, bad, good and an overflow of lessons that I feel compelled to share. Three in particular jumped out of my head today.

Conflict Is Good

No matter the topic, no matter the players, conflict is good. Conflict provides an opportunity to reflect and understand both yourself and the opposition. When executed healthily, conflict can be a conduit of greater intimacy and/or growth in a relationship. Even unhealthy conflict alerts you to people, places and situations that need to be removed from your life. Use conflict to grow and expand. Don't shrink from conflict even if you are not good at it. You cannot not build muscles you never exercise. Get in the ring every now and then and go a few rounds. It will do you good. Besides, if you are never in conflict, chances are you are doing nothing with yourself and need to step it up.

Inferiority Is A Lie and Optional

When people treat you as an inferior, it is only optional that you accept that treatment. We have every opportunity to repel inferiority messages and behaviors, in the moment or later. This one is big especially for soft-spoken or less confident leaders. If you are second guessing yourself due to the way someone else is treating you, it is imperative that you quickly regroup and regain your true standing. Step back and recite the truth of who you are versus the message of inferiority someone else placed on you. Repeated exposure to inferiority messages start to stick unless you combat it and combat it with all you have. Spend time with folks who treat you as equal as soon as you can after a dance with inferiority. And always cast off inferiority messages, preferably on the senders but always get them out of your head and heart.

Love and Admiration Cures All

Sprinkled throughout the week were opportunities for me to see that I am truly loved and admired. Whether it was a meeting with a client that ended with a thoughtful birthday treat or a another meeting with a new friend/colleague where I was given feedback on the reaction to my debut presentation at a statewide conference, I was reminded that I matter and that the work I am doing matters more. I had a conversation where I was reminded that I was trusted. Mixed in with regular birthday greetings on my Facebook wall were heartfelt expressions of love and appreciation of me. People from every era of my life took the time to connect last week from all over the world. For every tough moment I faced, there were many more tender moments all waiting for me to accept and discover. Love from my family and close group overflowed and filled me. I cannot even express how blessed I feel - I had a George Bailey moment more than once this past week - "It's A Wonderful Life" My life is wonderful.

There were many more lessons, big and small, but those three will carry me in this new year of my life and I hope they will inspire you in yours.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Wonder: Give In To It

Can you see the "wonder" in the Arbol de Tule in Oaxaca, MX? This is the oldest tree on Earth and we saw it last summer

When you hear the word "wonder," what comes to your mind?


Wonder Woman

Stevie Wonder

Wonder Bread

If I'm honest, all of the above were some of the first things I thought of when thinking about this post. But the true inspiration of the post is a series of things that have happened since September 25 that are nothing short of miracles to me.

Some work related, some service related and many personal related. All fitting the bill of wonder. Dictionary says wonder n. a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable or v.  to feel admiration and amazement; marvel.

How often do you allow your self to give in to wonder? If you are like the average person, I bet you find ways to explain it away, you ignore it or worse, you are frightened by it. It seems we have come to a place in history where we downplay wonder.

With all the "controls" we have of our time and space with technology these days, it seems that we as a society have lost our ability to stop and truly feel wonder.  Here are two ways to keep that from happening to you.

Let Go 

As simple as it sounds, it can be the hardest thing for most people, letting go. Let go of expectations of others. Let go of outcomes in your every day dealings. Tune in to actuality and let go of what you imagine things to be. As a type-A personality, this is something I have to be extremely intentional about. I often find myself coaching myself to let things go out loud- actually speaking "let go." This is not to say you don't plan or work toward goals or objectives. What this means is simply not being married to how things play out. Absolutely follow your dream and use your best talents daily but don't be set on the HOW it all works. A whole new area of my business was born this past summer by me being open to it, allowing the 'intrusion' in and seeing where it led. It was most definitely a goal of mine in 2013 to serve more Fortune 500 companies but man, am I grateful I was not hell bent on how I'd serve them.

Tune In

In order to genuinely feel wonder, you have to be paying attention. Tuned in. Since by its nature, wonder is unexpected, unfamiliar or inexplicable, you won't see it unless you are tuned in to it. Being buried in your email, you won't see it. Keeping your head lowered toward a device won't help you see it.  You have to be engaged. You have to fully listen to people around you. You have to look for ways to connect yourself to wonder by being open. My favorite thing that happened in the last 60 days was meeting a woman who went to high school with my mom. If you haven't followed me, you may not know that my mom departed this life at a very young age when I was 4 years old. With very few family members on her side and even few non-family connections, there has been a huge void of information about her that has nagged me all my life being the seeker I am. A few weeks back I was speaking at an event in Chicago and at the end, about 70 people rushed the stage to meet me. As people handed me their cards, I looked fully in their eyes and fully at their cards and made and intentional effort to connect with them. I do it every time I speak. Little did I know that a woman would look back at me as I quickly mentioned that she worked in the town my mom lived in as a child and tell me she grew up there to. We stopped in that frantic moment and realized we were connected through my mom who'd passed away 37 years ago. Wonder.

And I could share more than a dozen other similar instances that occurred in my life over the last few months. Today, I want to challenge you to stop and give in to wonder. I am certain it is all around you just as it is all around me.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Start Drawing Your Lines People

We are entering "the most wonderful time of the year." Retailers have already commandeered the airwaves and brainwaves getting us ready because the holidays are quickly approaching. For some folks, this "magical" time of year can be among the most stressful days they experience all year. My advice to them is simple.

Start drawing your lines, people.

And by lines, I mean just that... your boundaries. Whether its work related or personal and family related, holidays tend to blur lines that people normally have no issues guarding at other times a year.

By definition, boundary means a line that marks the limits of an area. It's way to keep somethings in and other things out. Relationships Matter Now just wants to  help you get a jump on setting your boundaries for the upcoming holiday season. Here are a few ways to do that:

Guard Your Time

Time will be your most precious commodity this season and there will never be enough to do every thing you want to do. Set boundaries now about how you will use your time. As an entrepreneur, I have to lay out how I intend to use the extra time that I know I will have between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day otherwise it will be wasted. Clearly, I need to designate specific Barreto kid/No work space.  I need to create some overall immediate family space as well as some extended family time. And I plan to have some time to spending thanking my clients for their business as well as continue prospecting and pitching business to folks who are working during this often slow time.

Guard Your Energy

While time is your most important asset during this season, energy is a close second. Get proper rest to fuel all the activity you put in your calendar. Be mindful not to waste energy on drama or excessive explaining of any kind.  Schedule activities that increase your energy. Sleep some more. Avoid the folks  in your life who suck energy from you and gravitate more toward those who replenish you as much as you can. Can't completely avoid energy vampires? Ok. Small doses. Commit now to VERY small doses of those people. This is often a tough ask but is critical to the third piece of advice.

Enjoy Yourself

Have fun. Do as much as you can during the holidays to have fun. Be intentional to take time off and enjoy your family and/or friends. Steal away and get some me time, if that's what makes you happy.  Cross things off your list that don't bring you enjoyment this holiday. That's why I advised you to guard your time and energy first, then you make space for enjoyment. Genuinely smile and give big hugs to those around you if that's what you enjoy. Hole up in your room in the dark snuggled in the covers alone, if that's what brings you joy. Make it a priority to spend as much time as you can this holiday season enjoying yourself.

Now you have some tools to build boundaries for yourself this holiday season. And you even have a few weeks to build out the plan to execute them.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Get In The Arena

Upon doing something really extraordinary such as playing a championship game and coming up short, people often say, "I am just glad to compete," or "I'm so glad to be here." Until this week, I never understood that. Being the uber competitive and ambitious person I am, I could not understand how "just being there" was satisfying or fulfilling. 

Until now.

This week, my tiny company went to meet with a global multi-billion dollar corporation about partnering on a project. The meeting was the culmination of a few years of networking and building our reputation and was by no means a coincidence or luck. It was the result of a series of intentional actions and it felt amazing to be there. 

In the arena. Playing with the big dogs. And it was during my quick,  less than 24 hour trip to the headquarters of one of the most powerful companies on the planet that I finally understood the old, "I'm just glad to compete" saying.

There is a feeling of satisfaction being at the table sharing ideas with the best. There is a sense of accomplishment "just being there." Now, make no mistake. I want the business and intend to do everything in my power to secure it. But taking a moment to stop and reflect on being in the arena is important. 

The tiny "win" of being at the table for this enormous opportunity can challenge me in my thinking about this and other opportunities. Positive momentum of any kind can be converted into fuel. Parallel to that is the relationship building aspect of the meeting that is priceless.

For the first time in a very long time, I went into the arena without regard for the outcome but more open to what the arena experience was going to bring me. To have a company my size entertaining a partnership with one of the world's largest entities is beyond exciting. It is downright humbling and breath-taking. I want to soak it all up and not miss any lesson from the experience. And I need to do that before I shift my energy into moving this beast from a prospect to a partner.

Stop and give yourself credit for being in the arena. Absorb all the good you can from small wins in the journey. Marry yourself to the experience more than the result.

It makes the arena experience all the more rich when you give yourself space to learn from and enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why Early Adopters Matter For Entrepreneurs

It's hard to believe that it was 6 years ago now that I was first looking at joining the Apple iPhone craze, a full 4 months later than the debut of the original in June 2007. I never considered myself an early adopter by definition but in reality I was when you consider how many more people joined the iPhone bandwagon since that time. defines early adopter as follows:

Early adopter is the minority group (comprising about 14 percent) of population which, after innovators, is first to try new ideas, processes, goods and services. Early adopters generally rely on their on intuition and vision, choose carefully, and have above-average education levels.

Over the past few weeks, I have been blessed to speak to some of the very early adopters of my work with Relationships Matter Now, LLC. These are the people who in the very beginnings believed I was on to something with my mission to revolutionize relationships on planet Earth. Clearly, family and close friends count as early adopters but they are biased. So in my accounting of early adopters of Relationships Matter Now, I exclude those who were close to me before the time of launch. My early adopters are the tribe members that knew me but were not so personally invested and gave me the push I needed in ways they may never have even imagined. I'm gonna quickly highlight how each of them helped me when it mattered most and how my brushes with them lately seem to be of no coincidence.

Corporate C-Suite Executive

Early on, really before I started walking toward building Relationships Matter Now, I had a C-level HR executive in my network whom I connected with periodically regarding my corporate marketing career. This woman knew the ins and outs of how to maneuver in Corporate America and really was sharing with me lots of great insights on how to best manage my trajectory. When I decided that I may pursue something different, HR leader and professionals seems a likely target so I mustered up the courage to introduce some of my early ideas and concepts to this executive. Not only did she validate them as innovative and thought provoking, she assured me people would hire me - the marketing gal - for this type of work. She so quickly help me make the transition from marketing specialist to people specialist. During a recent lunch date, I was reminded of her push and validation of my early ideas as we are looking to collaborate on a project I'm pitching to big global company soon.

Non-profit Agency Leader

Stopped in the produce section of my local grocery store in front of me last Sunday was one of the early people who took meetings from me for potential work with Relationships Matter Now, a leader of a mid-sized non-profit from a neighboring community. Before I approached her to say hi, I was flashed back to the moment I first reached out to her and how she readily met with me as a fresh entrepreneur. I remember her willingness to meet with me several times and how she introduced me to who would become my business attorney. Then we spoke for what ended up being 30 full minutes right there over the granny smith apple cart. She said no less than 5 times how proud she was of me. She devoured my update stories of the clients I've secured as well as the ones on the hook that I'm pitching now. She once again, as she did so long ago, encouraged me with potential opportunities and thoughts of introductions. Funny, when we first met, I'd always hoped to have her agency as a client but in fact she has been so much more to me over the years as a early believer  and promoter of my work.

Tech Guru

Finally, I come to the tech powerhouse who was in my network as a loose connection only to convert into a close one when I asked for his support of the Pepsi Refresh Everything digital social good project.  He'd been a peripheral part of my tribe and supported me with votes over the many ups and downs of my participation in the program. When it all fell apart and I did not win the funding, this tech genius volunteered to do the work I was trying to win the money for... build my web presence. He came to the table in the early days matching his best talents to help me use mine. Today, he is one of my closest advisers and we talk and collaborate frequently. But it was his own putting his time and talent on the line to help me and mission that started it all.

You see the early adopters are what fuel the innovation for entrepreneurs. Those folks willing to "try" you out and notice, not one of my early adopters ever wrote me a check. Early adopters are critical to the success of any venture and understanding their value and what you gain from them fuels the future. It is no coincidence that I've been crossing paths again with all the people who were there initially to push me to start Relationships Matter Now. We are at a big crossroads for growth and seeing and interacting with each of those early adopters has given me the added boost I need to push through this new intersection.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

3 Ways To Empower Yourself When You Receive Negative Feedback

Negative feedback is part of life. Unless you do nothing and are totally irrelevant, there will always be people who do not like you and will tell you about it if you ask. One way people avoid negative feedback is to never ask for any feedback at all. Feedback is necessary to growth and negative feedback helps keep us on our toes. While it is natural for us to be hurt by negative feedback, we should never let it derail us. I stress again, negative feedback means you are doing something. And doing something is way better than doing nothing. However, we should make the most of all the feedback we receive, even the negative.  Here are three ways to empower yourself when you receive negative feedback:

Consider The Source

Seems obvious but one of the most important things to understand is who is giving the feedback and what their motivations may be. Do not spend too much time digging but do take a few moments to pick apart why the specific source of negative feedback is negative. Reflect on the interactions you had with that person. Often times, negative feedback comes from a stark difference between the giver and receiver of the feedback. Differences in style, tone and disparate frames of reference are often behind negative feedback. Knowing some of the "back story" of the giver can help you put the feedback in perspective.

Accept Specific Constructive, Dismiss Vague or Ambiguous

When seeking feedback, always give room for explanation. That way you can get at the "color commentary" around what is driving the answers. When you get negative feedback, accept specific constructive comments. Those comments give you something to build on or work with. I recently had a survey on a project come back where I specifically asked about how we were managing time. The responder gave me a good rating (there were better choices) and then wrote that I needed to "build in more breaks." Regardless, the reason I did not build in the breaks  -now I know that is an important driver to the answer of that question. I can do something with that. On the flip side, you have to let go of vague, negative feedback. Let it sting, feel it but if the giver the feedback does not show you how you can make it better, then there is nothing you can do but shake it off.

Focus On Your Overall Feedback Versus The Outlier(s)

The tendency in this life is to focus on the one dissenter. People spend many fruitless hours trying to convince the one person who dislikes their work versus focuses on the many who do. Unless your overall feedback from a specific project is all negative, you need to spend more time on the positive feedback. Build on the good comments and responses. Look for ways to reinforce the relationship with those who like and understand your methods. On the same survey I referenced in the previous point, I had one bad overall review and it stung. I kept playing in my head the responses until I remembered that it was one out of 18 participants in the project. All the other responses were good. Some even gave constructive comments to help me get better while the one person who responded negatively did not take the time to tell me why. My time and effort is much better spent focusing on how to improve and move forward relationships with the other 17 people and let the one person go.

Feedback, both positive and negative, is a necessary function of doing life. However, feedback by its nature should always seek to improve both the receiver and the giver. The next time you receive negative feedback, take a few minutes to look for the ways it can improve you.

Monday, October 7, 2013


With less than 90 days left in 2013, I am feeling a lot of pressure, especially in my business. Every new project I do from now until the end of the year is pure profit so booking new business is a big priority. It is also a busy time for planning for 2014, so continuing to prospect, have conversations and send proposals for 2014 is also critical to end the year well and have a solid start to the new year that is quickly coming.

I don't know about you but it is often in times like this that I feel the most paralyzed. The ability to just... go, is often stifled. And while I've most spoken about this from a business standpoint so far,  by no means is this thought limited to work or career. Personal stuff needs our attention, too. The holidays are coming quickly and we all know that can be a landmine of opportunity relationally speaking.

So this post is not only an encouragement for you but a huge reminder for me. The following barrage of questions are to be answered by you (and me) as soon as humanly possible. The fate of our year depends on it.

What in your life needs some attention today?

Who needs to be followed up with immediately?

What celebrations have you been postponing?

How can you maximize the last few months of 2013 to ensure a strong finish?

Who in your life is desperately needs to hear from you?

What project is calling your name?

What can you do to get an even BIGGER jump on 2014?

How can you ignite yourself to just... GO?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Be All In or Leave

This faucet is funny, who would ever choose lukewarm? I'm sure there are some

Almost two months ago, I heard TED sensation and shame researcher, Dr. Brene Brown say something that moved me so profoundly I can't shake it, to this day. As she taught rom her bestselling book, Daring Greatly, she asked us to be courageous and engage in our lives and our relationships. She spoke eloquently about the lasting and deep damage of what I will call "the drift" in relationships.

Every person reading this knows exactly what I am talking about.

The lackadaisical hug and routine kiss from a spouse with nothing behind it.

The obligatory weekly call to your parents/sisters/you-fill-in-the-blank where there is no real interest in the information exchange

The "uh-huh, uh-huh, I know what you mean" empty words you get in return as you pour out your heart to your partner.

That pal who never gets around to calling you back yet swears he misses you and "wants to hang."

Surfacy chit-chat in hallway at the school function with a friend that ends with the promise to call or "get together soon."

While it may be easier to "hang on" and fake it, people need you to be honest. This reminds me of a painful but necessary split I had back in 2001 with a person who up until that time had been a great friend to me. While it took me years to understand and heal from the blow of the "break up," I am grateful she did it. It took courage for her to tell me her truth about where our relationship had gone from her point of view. I salute her honesty, even though it stung me for years. In the end, I was better off knowing that she was over the relationship - regardless the reason or how she severed it. She gave me the opportunity to have closure and move on with my life, without her.  She gave me a gift, when she could no longer be all in, she left.

To everything there is a season, including our relationships. It is perfectly fine for a relationship to come to an end and in many cases very healthy for all parties. We all deserve people in our lives who want to be there. We need to be connected to people who want to connect with and know us.  Our dignity, peace and growth as individuals depends on these truths.

Don't drift.

Be brave.

Ask for what you need/want/desire.

Be honest when you are no longer getting it.

Let people go.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Best Thing About Fall For Leaders

Every fall, I write a throwaway post about my favorite season of every year. This year will be different. I'd like to challenge leaders to use the fall and change of season as a catalyst to end 2013 on a high note.

When you think about fall, it can be an elusive season in comparison to others. Look around you now, the holiday season is subtly creeping in on us and no one will be surprised when it lands. We all long for spring after winter, especially those of us who live in areas where winter plays out with major weather shifts and sunshine deprivation (Yes, Chicago - I'm calling you out).  Summer is loved, enjoyed and lamented as it winds down and winter starts smack in the middle of the holidays as we close each year.  Fall, if not intentionally managed can be a squandered treasure each year.

Fall is the season that makes or breaks your year each year. 

It is that serious and I want leaders to look at 3 quick reasons why:

Your Final Shot At This Year's Goals

Fall is the last season of the year where you can tangibly impact your goals. With holidays around the corner and the tendency for most individuals and companies to slow down and take time off as the year closes, every week in September , October and early November is critical for a leader to impact how their year ends. Review, reflect and re-tool those goals and make sure you are doing activity to help you reach as many as you possibly can.

Preparation Time For The Next Year

Fall is also the best time to prepare for the coming year. Most organizations are budgeting for the coming year during this time so it is a great way to get a jump on activity for the new year that is less than 100 days away. You can position your team and yourself as key components for success in the year to come by pro-actively scouting and pitching opportunities in the fall. You will most certainly want to do this so you can participate in the final reason.

Making Yourself Available For Year End Respite

As the year closes and holidays set it, you should make yourself and your team ready to take advantage of this natural order slow down. Do the heavy lifting now, in the fall so that you will be able to better enjoy time away from work when others in your life also have that time available during the holiday season. Every good leader takes a break to renew and recharge. Great leaders do so with the peace of mind that they have put in the extra effort at the right times. Fall is the right time for that effort.

So if you are like me and you enjoy the fall for the crisp weather, candy corn and fashion shift - now you have some new and more productive reasons to look forward to fall each year.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Are You All In?

Are you all in?

Yeah, you! And yes, I'm asking you point blank.

Are you all in with your own needs, wants and desires? Have you identified those needs/wants/desires? Are you making progress toward the things that are most important to you? Are you taking responsibility for your time? Your behavior? Your priorities?

Are you "all in" in your relationships? Are you being honest with those folks you choose to do life with? Are you letting yourself be known? Are you allowing yourself to love fully? Are you engaged with the people you encounter on a daily basis? Do you let your partner/spouse/kids/parents/siblings see you for who you really are?

Are you "all in" in your community? How are you helping to make your environment better? What are you doing to contribute to the well being of your neighborhood? Do you know people you live near? Are you leveraging your own talents/resources/contacts to make life better where you live?

Are you "all in" at work? Do you bring your best self to your job every day? Do you understand the goals and objectives your workplace is trying to achieve? Have you asked? Are you engaged with your co-workers?Are you using your best talents every day?

I know that was brutal. Too many questions, not many answers but that was the point. You own your life. Too many times in the last few weeks, I've spoken with people who are not happy, have no direction and are flailing toward nothingness. They are lonely although they are doing life with many people. They are unfulfilled although they appear to have it all. They ask me "how I do it?" Well this post is the answer.

I hammer myself with all the above questions, constantly. I am never satisfied with less than positive answers. If I find during my internal "interrogation" that I am down or not very content with an answer, then I go on a quest to change it. I enlist people who love me to help. I keep pressing forward until I am at peace with what is coming back to me. I leave it all on the field - every day of every month of every year. I am "all in" in this one life I have to live.

Are you?

Monday, September 9, 2013

I Love Having Options! Do You?

Heading into the final quarter of 2013, Relationships Matter Now, LLC has a little momentum! We have  several pending government projects in competition and at least 1/2 dozen opportunities with major corporations in the early stages of development. In two months, we expand our parks and recreation work to another Midwestern state. I am writing the final part of my fiction novel debut and already have the promotional marketing copy for the book ready to go. And, I have an opportunity for a larger assignment with a current client as well.

That all sounds well and good on paper but the reality is, I need to make some tough choices heading into this final quarter of 2013. You see, my tiny but mighty company can only do so much. We want to continue to deliver the delightful experiences that our partners have become accustomed to while growing to serve even more people. Knowing that, I am faced with some big decisions to close out this year.

Luckily,  my relationship with choices and decision making is sound. Normally a commitment phobe and hater of closing out options, I have come to a place where I can critically evaluate while also trusting my gut. I use my heart but take my head along with me. Risk is my friend and calculated risk is my lover.

I love the acts of weighing all the options and laying out scenarios with each option before me - in writing - on paper. My blood rushes as I pour over pieces evidence and fits of emotion to support or debunk each choice. I don't lose sleep over the choices after I make them. I constantly look for ways to optimize the choices versus beat myself up over them. I also have a habit of changing course if the choice I made no longer serves me. Ultimately, making choices is part of life and how you approach this act can determine the quality of life you have.

Today, I challenge you to look closely at the way you make choices and look for opportunities to improve your choice making skills. We are all faced with choices, sometimes constantly. Having a method and process for how you make them can make a big difference for us and the people we do life with.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My Favorite Part of Parenting

Cast from the cult classic The Breakfast Club
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to introduce my kids to one of my all-time favorite movies, The Breakfast Club. This was not the first time I'd introduced them to movies or media I loved, last year I started the #MomsClassicMovies series which has included, Say Anything, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Wayne's World and Clueless, to name a few.

However, this time was very different than all the previous installations of #MomsClassicMovies. My 12 year old girl and 8 year old boy wanted to discuss the movie - for 90 plus minutes. And discuss we did. While I jokingly complained that this discussion took us deep into the wee hours of the night one Saturday, I loved every moment of it. Sharing things or ideas that mean a lot to me with my two kids is my favorite part of parenting.

Watching them make discovery of concepts and truths while questioning and probing my brain for guidance is my favorite past time. The ability to share my perspective while listening and receiving theirs is priceless. I had many parents ask me why I thought it was OK to allow my kids to watch this movie, at this time. One mom asked, "How did you handle the circle conversation?"

You know the one scene deep into the film where the Jock, the Brain, the Basketcase, the Princess and the Criminal have an explicit talk about sexual experiences among other topics. It was not a big issue at all because I've been pro-active to discuss all types of topics with my children before now. In fact, I know that kids today are exposed to much more than we think no matter how much we protect them. I'd much rather have the discussion we had a few weeks back prompted by my sharing one of my favorite movies with them than any other way. Believe me, those discussion are happening with our kids, the question is are we part of them.

I'm not leaving it chance. We're the parents who allowed our kids to watch NBC's The Office and Parks and Recreation with us. The humorous and off kilter nature of those shows have made it easier to have discussions with our kids that otherwise may not occur. And again, I count all these discussions and moments of engagement with my children as my favorite part of parenting.

What is your favorite part of parenting?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Courage: Don't Leave Home Without It

Award winning TV producer Mark Burnett with Willow Creek Pastor Bill Hybels

Courage is no longer for the warriors of the world. Increasingly, courage is required of every day people.  At the annual Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit - it was a recurring theme of day one of the two day leadership training event.  From the opening session with Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels to the final interview session with Hollywood producer Mark Burnett, courage in leadership was practically demanded by every speaker. Courage with our calling and courage with our people were the top two areas emphasized.

We all have a calling in life. Some of us are called to lead companies. Other of us are called to lead teams. Many more are called to lead families. Regardless your calling, our WCA GLS  leaders reminded us, again and again, that courage in your calling is a dealbreaker. Attorney and entrepreneurial leader Bob Goff said, “If we were not afraid, we’d live the life worthy of our calling.”
He is right on point. The day we get a glimpse of what we are called do is the day we must decide to stare our greatest fears in the face and defy them. It is not a one-time deal, it is a daily decision to get up and pursue our life’s work. Our calling deserves our attention and accountability. We owe it to the calling to live no other way. How else will we motivate the people we do life with to join us in the calling if we ourselves are afraid to go for it.


People in our lives need us to be courageous as well. Whether it’s the family you lead or the team at work, the people we lead expect us to have the courage to take care of the entities we head. We must ensure that the environment we lead is a healthy one where the inhabitants can grow and flourish. Business strategist Patrick Lencioni challenged us to know the people who work with us. Take an interest, make certain we know our people so that they can live up to their best potential and have the courage to face their own callings.

Relational courage is of utmost importance in our lives both in business and personal settings. Burnett stated that “unresolved emotional conflict drains the energy from an organization.” It takes courage to face conflict with others. It takes courage to root out toxic behavior. We cannot move toward our collective or individual calling without courage in our relationships.

Take a moment this week to look for ways to be more courageous in your calling and with the people you do life with.

Monday, August 19, 2013

3 B's of Back To School

Relationships Matter Now wishes students of all ages a great back-to-school season.  We also have a few pieces of advice as you go back to school.

Be Confident

You have all you need to conquer this new school year inside. Be confident in what you've learned to date knowing it has prepared you for the new things you will learn this year. Remember, the way you start is the way you finish. Go in full of confidence that you will have a great year and that is what you will have. Leave fear and apprehension at the door. Be confident that all you need to be successful in this new school year is within you.

Be Relaxed

All the activity to get back into the school routine can mess with your nerves. Relax. Really. Relax in the confidence we just spoke about. Make sure you get enough sleep; that may mean getting to bed earlier than normal in the early days due to the anxiety. Nothing makes us more relaxed than a full tank of energy and you only get that from getting the proper amount of rest. You have a clean slate. Now relax and enjoy it.

Be You

Without question, the most important thing to remember for the new year is to be you. Go into this new school year being fully who you are. Embrace yourself and all the quirky qualities you bring to the party. You are the only "you" there is and the world needs you, your perspective and your style. It is tempting to blend in to "fit in," but that is a recipe for disaster. Now more than ever, it is critical to just "do you" and let those who appreciate you into your life while repelling those who don't.

This new year is going to be great. Take the time to be confident, be relaxed and be yourself as you start. We are all cheering for you!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Which YOU Do You Do?

Coming off an incredible 48 hours of intense leadership training, my head is still spinning, 2 days later. All the incredible knowledge from lawyers, doctors,  Ivy League professors, corporate gurus, international pastors and some of the every day people like me who covered the event on the digital experience team is just bursting from my brain.

The one thing I feel compelled to share now, as I sort thru the most important nuggets to make action around in my life and business, is the point of "which you do you do?"

Meaning, which "you" do you do most often in your life? We all have this aspirational "you" - the person we idealize in our heads and if asked, is most likely the "you" we describe when folks ask us for a self-description.  The person who has specific principles and values that we can quickly rattle off. Many of us also have the "real" you that vaguely resembles the "you" on paper. This the  "you" that shows up in our every day living that rarely actually uses those principles and values that we hold "close to our hearts."

Over and over as I listened to talk after talk, I kept challenging myself with this question, "do I really live up to the me I have dreamed in my head?" I would nod in agreement to many principles that were given and then ask myself, "do I live out those principles as often as I can?" I would peer deep into my own consciousness and look for inconsistencies as I furiously agreed and co-signed with many of the topics and themes discussed at the WCA Global Leadership Summit. Speaker after speaker referred to the important work of being honest on who you are, where you are so that you can make goals to be better. 

I am happy to report that after much self-reflection, I'm congruent. The "me" in my heart and on paper is very close to the me I live. I even checked in with a couple of close advisers and they agreed with my conclusion. This was super important to me as I invest regularly in my own personal growth and development. One of the "returns" on my investments is the ability to actually see my own values and principles put into action on a regular basis. It's not enough for me to "hear" and have my values reinforced if I am not actually converting that into action in my life and business.

Now, I throw the challenge to you. Have you made an effort to ensure that the "you" on paper and in your heart is aligned with your daily living? Do you make choices that honor your principles and values regularly? Are there people around to help you in this endeavor of being the best "you" you can be? If the answer is not in the affirmative to each question, that is OK. Taking the time to reflect and ask those questions are the first step to getting you there. But I challenge you to get to work on this immediately.

Regardless the theme or topic, it is imperative that the "you" you do every day lines up to the "you" you value most. One way to experience life the way you've dreamed is to bring your dream world into reality, starting with you.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Focus on 'Followership": The Secret To Great Leadership

Retired General Colin Powell shook up the WCA Global Leadership Summit today by challenging leaders to focus on a little talked about aspect of leadership - the importance of "followership."

"You are nowhere without followers who want to follow you," were his exact words. General Powell went on to make three quick points to drive home the importance of great leaders focusing on followership as the secret sauce to solid leadership. 

I'm Not Getting The Work Done

Any good leader recognizes that they need their people to get their vision converted to action. But a great leader understands that the work itself is done by his/her followers. Great leaders make no illusions and they recognize and empower their people to the work thy are charged with doing. 

Everyone Has A Purpose

Great leaders understand that every person in the organization they lead, no matter the role, is important. Just as an organization has its purpose, so does each individual contributor. It is a great leader who can draw the purpose of each person on their team and ensure they know it. 

It's Always About The Followers 

Our leadership depends on our followers. No ifs ands or buts - without followers, you are not a leader. So, everything you do as a leader should be about your followers. You must figure out how to build an environment where your followers flourish. You must figure out how to empower every person you lead to get you closer to your organization's goals and objectives. 
As we seek to grow as leaders, we'd all bode well to follow in the footsteps of retired General Colin Powell and take time, often, to focus on our followers. Build up our followers as a means of strengthening your leadership. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Grow With Me At The Global Leadership Summit!

 Each August, I have an appointment with myself to recharge my batteries. Some years, there are multiple recharges but every August, since 2006, I have recharged my leadership batteries at the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit.

As a leader, it is my obligation to grow- every day of every year. I take this obligation very personally and I intentionally set out each year to grow. Part of my process includes two days of focused learning from a cross-section of leaders from around the globe. I unplug from my normal daily duties to absorb nuggets of wisdom and I've always shared those with my tribe throughout the two days.

The Global Leadership Summit is hosted by Willow Creek Association and is crafted to to infuse vision, skill development and inspiration for the sake of local church transformation. That is the intent but the GLS is also an incredible catalyst for marketplace transformation as well. In fact, that is what first attracted me to the summit to begin with. In addition to pastors doing incredible feats around the world to further the gospel, key global leaders from government and the private sector have graced the stage to teach as well. I credit the GLS as being one of the many factors to convince me to venture out as an entrepreneur. Business leaders I'd admired and respected have come to share their journey as well as young entrepreneurs who are changing the world in their own way. There was even an international rock star on the roster back in 2007.

This year will be no exception.  Come Thursday, I will be among some of the greatest church and marketplace leaders in the world for two days of learning, sharing and most importantly,  growing. In addition to my normal expectation to grow personally, I am part of the @wcaglas digital experience team  and will share my perspective with a broader audience.

Be sure and follow along:

Twitter: @DeniseWBarreto

Join our conversation!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Are You Ready For The Back Nine of 2013?

It's really ironic that I use a golf term to describe the remaining time in 2013 since I haven't picked up my own personal clubs in more than a decade. But it's always been my favorite golf term as a hacker so I keep using it even though I don't golf anymore.

I like the term for what it always stood for when I did play: opportunity

Regardless of how I played the first nine, the back nine was always my chance to make it right. If you are an avid golfer you will argue that point but stick with me. Notwithstanding the course or how it may or may not be my favor on the back nine, think of it purely from a physical standpoint. If you don't golf daily (and if you do golf daily, stop reading  - you are not my audience. Thanks.), then the first nine holes tend to be getting your body and muscle memory back into the golf groove you have - bad or good.

You focus more on mechanics and the particular details of the game. You can be irritable as you realize what the extended time away from the game - be it weeks or if you live in the midwest, months - can do to your swing and mental stamina.  You nit pick yourself and others you golf with. The front nine can be painful. But not the back nine.

You are more relaxed. Your body and muscles have had ample time to warm up and acclimate to the game. You play with abandon because either your front nine score was so bad it doesn't matter what you do from this point forward or you played close enough have a great shot at winning so taking a few more risks might bring the reward.

I just described myself on the golf course but I also described myself the entrepreneur. The first half of the year is in the books. Done. History. Many of my objectives are still there and within reach while others are just blown away. Regardless - I am stoked for the back nine of this year. My relationship with my goals is a fluid one. I have set goals but I am flexible to new ones that always seem to appear - like this year's fiction novel. If you'd have told me in January that I would be writing a fiction novel in June, I'd have laughed at you and thrown you out of my office.

I lay out objectives at the beginning of every year and each July, I stop and reflect on where I am and how I can end the year in the best possible manner. I review action steps and course correct as needed. I also delete or postpone items that no longer fit into my year plan. By August, I refuel my leadership tank at a conference. By mid-August - I am ready to punch the gas pedal to end the year ablaze.

It is not too late to hit some of those objectives of your list. Take some time in the last few days of this month to review and re-energize yourself toward your 2013 goals.  The back nine is green and waiting for you.

Monday, July 22, 2013

3 Things Necessary To Truly Discuss Race in America

Unless you live under a rock, there was no escaping a discussion on the topic of race in the United States last week. Our country has a painful and long history of racial discord and while there have been many strides made, there is still a long long way to go.

Nothing tells us this more than when we have a lightening rod event such as the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the February 2012 death of  Trayvon Martin, an unarmed  17 year old,  last week. The emotions on all sides of these issues run deep and wide.  Both sides are asking painful questions:

Are all white people racists?

Are all black males criminals?

Could I have been George Zimmerman? Am I biased, bigoted or prejudiced because of race?

Could I have been gunned down just for walking down the street in a hoodie? Could that have been my son?

What about the violence in black communities? Why aren't they mad about that?

Why is the country split on this decision about George Zimmerman? Once again along racial lines?

I don't have the answers to all the above questions but like everyone else, I have an opinion. An opinion reached by the perspective of my experience in this country to date.  Regardless my opinion on the Florida case, my contribution to the overall race discussion is a follows: We will only resolve race relations in our country by building genuine relationships across racial lines.

This whole conversation on race changes when three things are present; trust, respect and love. It is impossible to have a honest dialogue about race with someone if all three of the above are not present. This applies even within the same racial circles.

Trust equal safety, safety from fear of judgement or retaliation. When you can speak your mind to someone you trust, you don't have to preface anything. You can say what you need to say as well as hear what someone else has to say, the trust opens the door to honesty.

Respect equals validation and validation empowers more discussion. When you respect someone, it only means you give them the freedom to express especially when you disagree. Respects allows the space to dig deeper and deeper into issues and that space produces productive opportunities for resolution around the sensitive topics related to racial issues.

Love wraps it all up. Where there is love there is no fear. Where there is love there is a genuine interest in preserving the relationship above all else. When you love someone, you can empathize with them easier and empathy allows you to feel what they feel. It is difficult to say destructive words of generalization that may fall on someone you actually know, care about and love.

The next time you find yourself in a discussion about race, run the test of trust, respect and love across the relationship before you utter or type one word.

We can change America, one relationship at a time.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Choose Wisely

We all have them.

Hundreds daily, tens of thousands weekly, yet we often don't even realize it.

Many think that ours are more important than those of others.

Some criticize those of everyone else and never reflect on our own.

Some of us avoid them at all costs, yet our avoidance is actually a selection.

Many think ours do not effect others, while some folks make all theirs based on others.

Some of us barrel into ours heart first, thinking later.

At any given moment, we have been all of the above as it relates to choices.  Choices are plentiful and that is especially true in the United States of America. However, it is important to focus only on our own choices. They are really the only ones we truly have control over. They are the only ones we should be discussing extensively. Our own relationship with choice really determines how our lives go. Clearly, many things happen  outside of our control but we choose how we face those things, how we move through them.

I have been especially challenged this year with this concept in every role in my life, wife, mom, marketer, and public servant. This past week, no less than 4 times, in interactions with others, I acknowledged and owned that I could have made a better choice. I fully own my choices and spend a great deal of time examining them. My theory is that we'd have a much more peaceful and enlightened society if everyone took some time to look at and own their choices in life. If we all paused to acknowledge them, examine them and learn from them - I am certain we'd all be healthier in every way.

Take a moment to reflect on the last week and the choices you made. Can you see areas for improvement? Can you foresee opportunities this week to make better choices? Review all areas of your life, personal and professional.

Let's all make an effort to choose more wisely how we live.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Best Parenting Advice Ever

Yesterday, my son had his first communion. We are not Catholic so this was not the "first communion" in that sense but it was the first time my son has participated in the sacrament of communion at our church.

One thing I noticed, right away, was how he observed his dad and I.  He watched each of us closely. Our posture. How we held the elements. Then within an instant, he was sitting holding his elements exactly as we were.  I caught his eye and he smiled broadly as if to show me he was ready, like we were.

This struck me and has continued to touch me ever since. The rest of the day was normal but I was on guard. Thinking about my every move.

How do I react when my kids ask me for something? What is my posture? Tone of my voice?

What is my "go to" expression when they ask something I'm not too enthused to answer?

Where is my heart?

I asked all of this because it all matters. Not just on the big things like communion.

My son and daughter are building their cues on how to live by the way I live.

Am I grateful?

Am I humble?

Am I fearless?

Am I real?

Those are all traits I'd love to be know for but do I live them? Daily?

Well I can look no further than my own kids to see the answer.

Be the people you want your kids to be. Best parenting advice ever.


Monday, June 17, 2013

The Birth of Easy, A Novel

Yeah the last thing I needed on my "To Do" list was to write a fiction novel.


There are so many things I've yet to accomplish in 2013 on my objectives list, it certainly could have done without a new book project.

But that is the beauty of this story and my life. I am open.

Open to possibility.

Open to hurt.

Open to failure

Open to change.

Open to the scary "what ifs" of this life.

Last week was another tough week in a string of challenging weeks in my life this year. Yet, I went to Dallas on the promise and hope of a new business breakthrough. Little did I know the "breakthrough" was not external but internal. Helpless to my exterior situation, I turned inward to soothe myself and came out with a full blown fiction novel idea. By Friday evening, it was full outlined and ready to be written. A few "facts" to know about makes this incredible:

  1. I do not read fiction. Haven't read fiction in many years, probably the last time I read a fiction book was pre-2001 (before marriage and first kid) Think - Bridget Jones as the last fiction. I know, pathetic.
  2. I often question how anyone has time to read fiction - not my genre at all. Not an interest in my body  for fiction as a reader or a writer.
  3. I am slammed with 4 projects in the works and many proposals out for bid. Really, I am at my busiest since I started my business.

Yet, I have to write this book. Now.

Don't ask me to explain it, I just know in my heart this is something I need to do. So I'm off to do it. And to make this insanity complete, I've shared my intention with my world already. That's right, I've announced it. Spoken with a potential copy editor and priced out design services.

I am even living up to my own promise to myself to sequester myself for optimal writing opportunity. A book writing retreat is scheduled for the DoubleTree Suites one month from today. I fully expect that 32 days from now, my first fiction manuscript will be complete.

So I'm taking my own advice, I tweeted this the day before I birthed my book, Easy, a novel -

"5 things the last 24 hrs taught me: don't assume, be specific, trust yourself, always ask & use frustration as fuel forward #2013Fearless"

Monday, June 10, 2013

Marriage Is Work - The Best Kind

Ben Affleck and Jen Garner during the 2013 Award Season - a good one for Ben

Way back in February, I wrote a post about 2013 Academy Award winning Best Picture Argo's Director, Ben Affleck. That post was solely about the work part of his triumph. Find it here. I was so impressed and did not get to actually see the movie until a few weeks ago. Fired up to cheer for Ben all these months later, I was reminded of his acceptance speech all over again. I loved the speech. Every word. And while before I chose to focus on the work part of the speech and pursuing your dreams, it is the other "work" part of the speech, I'd like to focus on today.  Ben said something to his wife, fellow actor, Jennifer Garner, about his marriage that sent the internet abuzz.

"I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It’s good, it is work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I’d rather work with."

We are full speed into the 2013 wedding season now and what better time to shine a light on Mr. Affleck's wise statement.  Marriage is work. No doubt. Without question.

Many people tried to read into his statement as if something was "wrong" in their marriage. He went so far as to "defend" his statement in a SNL monologue months later, inviting his wife to join him. Ben, you needn't have worried. Those of us toiling in our own (12 years and counting over here) marriages get it. More people would be wise to listen to what you said. Even in his SNL defense - he touched on something I think most people can relate to as well.

"You define what’s important to you by what you dedicate your time to."

After seeing the masterpiece that is his work in Argo - I got it all over again. I have for the last few years been building a business and love my work. Just as I love my marriage and family. Work has such a huge impact on my life and I can see how easy it is to parallel almost every thing else to it.

Owning a business is work.

Anything worth having, requires work. 

Most valuable things are created with work.

Raising kids with someone else is work.

Wealth is created the first time with work.

And yes, marriages that go the duration also entail work. Kudos to a Hollywood star for being so brutally honest with us and sharing that they, too, experience some aspects of life like the rest of us.

I have always appreciated Ben Affleck. Thanks, Ben for validating that irrational appreciation.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Thank You Series: The Honorable Mentions

Coming up with the top three stories for my Thank You Series was such a great experience. Taking the time to reflect on people and situations throughout my life that have impacted me for growth and progress really was a worthwhile exercise. Because there were so many excellent examples to choose from, I'm posting the honorable mention list for your viewing pleasure:

Dick Case - World Class Hiring Manager

Huge Thanks to the late Richard W. Case, founder of USA Baseball and International Baseball Federation official, for showing me how run a world class interview process. Back in 1994, I interviewed and did not get a role with USA Baseball as PR Manager. My experience with Dick Case has still been unmatched as it related to a hiring process. He communicated with me weekly during the 11 week process, alerting me to changes and updates every time. Ultimately, he did not hire me but in the final call, he let me know what a pleasure it was to meet me, gave me real and actionable feedback (told me to get some media interactions and gave me specific ways to do so) and let me know that I could use him as a reference or let him know if there was anything he could do for me in the future. Needless to say, I did take him up on the offer and we stayed in touch until his death in 2003. Class act and without question a huge influence on me as a hiring manager!

Rose Glenn and Emma Lewis - Pinch Hitting Aunts

Big ups to my uncle's wife and my dad's sister for impacting me greatly in the early years. After my mother passed away at such a young age and left two very young daughters to my father, there were two aunts that stepped up in a big way to help. Each in her own way, my Aunt Rose and my Aunt Emma supplemented in a larger way than anyone else in the early years following my mom's death. Be it "Back-to-School" shopping in the city or summer break refuge at Camp Auntie - both my dear aunts were lifesavers in their own way. Both are passed on now - one my senior year in high school and the other just this past month.

Susan Reiter - Daughterless Mom - great friend and encourager

On the same note of "mom figures," I'd be remiss not to shout-out to Susan - a co-worker turned great friend who was actually born the same year my mom was born. We have been great for one another as she lost her daughter a few years before we met. Practical in nature, Susan has be a great ear and shoulder since 2004.

Mike Kleis - Open handed manager

Steve Davidson - Soul nurturing friend - male

Kathy DeWitt - Soul nurturing friend - female

Phil Dillard - It doesn't matter how you met friend

I had to put a stop to the list because I've been blessed with amazing people in my life over the last 41 years. My Thank You Series will be an annual event because every person I've mentioned deserves their own post.

It is good to stop and reflect on people who influence you. Take time to remember those who have contributed to your growth and progress often!