Monthly Archives: November, 2019

St. Charles Is Coming!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and MJ has been preparing for days!  Jonathon and Aaron and I have been her little helpers, I would say elves…but that is more appropriate for the day after tomorrow.

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Black Friday will mark our annual trek to St. Charles, Missouri to revel in the, Dickens, Christmas celebration.  Last year MJ was in such pain from her mis-aligned spine that we had already chosen to forgo our St. Charles visit, and had chosen a comedy show called ‘Martin and Martin’ with, Steve Martin and Martin Short,…and we were unable to attend that as well due to the debilitating pain that she was suffering.  Fortunately Aaron and Jonathon along with Jonathon’s good friend, Dawn and a friend of hers, were able to attend, and according to reports they throughly enjoyed the performance!

When I am in St. Charles…I suspend disbelief and subsequently I am swept away in time to the land of the famous Charles Dickens story, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ where, before my eyes there are, Tiny Tim and, his father, Bob Cratchit, along with Mr. Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas, past, present, and future.

There is such a variety of Santa Claus and his ancestors that the mystique is mesmerizing!  Little children collect a card from each of the Christmas characters…and so do I!

Through the years I have had the tradition of purchasing, one, handmade Latvian miniature building, with a candle inside of it.  This is from a Polish shop where an elderly lady, probably my age, and her granddaughters work.  I fear that there will be no more houses or schools or barns or churches to buy this year, as she told us the year before last that the manufacturers were going our of their family business.

As you will recall, I love the, generous pour, of the Grand Mariner at the restaurant that we have our Reuben Sandwich at each year.  Aaron and Jonathon love the Trailhead Brewery, and have invited MJ and me to join them…but we are afraid that we might not be able to keep up.

I enjoyed a quality cigar, one year, from the cigar store…I may again?

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St. Charles has Chestnuts roasting on an open fire!

I have observed for over 20 years that the feeling of holiday and family and friends that I receive from our visits to St. Charles, exceed, by a lot, the feeling of being rushed and crushed by our former Black Friday visits to the Malls of St. Louis!

It dawned on me, many years ago, that the, allusive, search for happiness is found, at your own front door!’

The same could be said for working your fingers to the bone…once you retire from your employment and the well wishers are gone and the retirement cake is eaten…your name will soon be forgotten!

I heard a wonderful illustration that described the void that will be left by your retirement.  Fill a paid full of water…and place your hand in it and then withdraw your hand….Observe the hole that remains in the water?

Work is insidious and a fickle companion!  You may feel that it demands the lion’s share of your time and efforts and strength.  You may know that so many people are counting on you and your efforts and that they cannot make it without you.  But, at the end of the day, as my colleague John Hill told me many years ago, it is just a job!  The real purpose of life is to enjoy your family and loved ones and friends!

‘We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute.  We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.  And the human race is filled with passion.  And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life.  But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.’    Dead Poets Society

Thanksgivings….Past

The day after tomorrow is MJ’s favorite holiday of the year!  From our first Thanksgiving together, in 1978, until this weeks model, I have understood the importance of the celebration!

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Over the past 30 + years we have been hosting the event in our home.  For many of those years we celebrated in our four room house in Elkville.  There were years that we had upwards of 25 people…we were close…both in fellowship and physical space!

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I vividly recall getting a new camcorder in the late 80’s and recording video of the events for posterity.  Now, I need to have the tapes transferred to DVD in order to watch them.

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I remember our niece, Tara, riding with Aaron, Jonathon, and me to the theatre, after dinner, to see, Father Of The Bride, and Tara talking about how excited that she was to be, soon, turning 16.  She was so happy and jubilant that it made my holiday complete!

On another Thanksgiving, Berl, MJ’s father came to enjoy dinner with us in our new house in Carbondale.  As he was walking to his car to go home…he fell and gashed his head.  The blood flowed!  We were all frightened!  We rushed him to the hospital and they quickly put him into a hospital bed.  A few minutes later Jonathon and Aaron and I went in to see him.  There he sat, upright in bed, with a big grin on his face and talking a mile a minute!  When the, young, nurse entered to check up on him…he told her that she was beautiful and that it was a shame that he had a ring on his finger!  He then reared up to peer at her hands and noted that it appeared that she had a ring on her finger, as well!  Soon, Fernie, Berl’s wife entered the room and Berl became much more sedate and circumspect!

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As the nurse exited the hospital room she commented, ‘he is a ;pistol!’

We have had turkey for most of the 30 + years of our annual feast.  Our first year in Carbondale, 18 years ago, we had a massive bone to discard when the picking was concluded.  I had the bright idea to place the bone with a little meat hanging on it…by our pond…and let the numerous animals, that cross our yard, have a turkey feast!  I thought that the bone would be taken away by a grateful four legged diner?  After some time, I had to retrieve the, gross and neglected, remains…and dispose of them.

When we moved to Carbondale and the’ big house’…we vowed to purchase a live Christmas Tree.  Thus, the day after Thanksgiving…we visited the local nursery.  We purchased a lovely fir tree and the special stand to sit it in.  We also bought holiday regalia to make the upcoming Christmas special and had the tree delivered the next day.  The first thing that we found out was that we had obtained our live tree about two weeks earlier than appropriate….Because it is…live!  And so, we bought a wash tub to place the tree in and watered and waited…until 10 days before Christmas.

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After Christmas was the coup de gras when we took the, live, tree into our front yard and  planted it…into the very hard soil!  MJ watched from the window as I placed the new member into the natural wonder of our yard…and she said…it is a little cooked…don’t you think?  I responded that it was not the planting that was crooked, but the tree.

‘A. Tree Grew In Carbondale,’  and it was more crooked each year!

Mrs. Moore attended almost all of our Thanksgivings.  Her face radiated her enjoyment and pleasure!  When I think of Thanksgiving…I think of Mrs. Moore!

One Thanksgiving Eve, it came a serious ice and snow storm.  It was early in the last decade, not long after we had moved from our four room house to our 10 room house.  As I slipped and slid home, not able to distinguish where the road ended and the massive ditches began, I thought of the many times that I had braved the elements in pursuit of holiday cheer!  My foreman called me not long after I had arrived home to ensure that I was safe.  They had heard that a Toyota, Camry, which I drove at that time,  had been involved in an accident and the passenger rushed to the hospital.  I was grateful to be home and I was moved that they were concerned about me!

This Thursday the food will be delicious and the feast sumptuous…but it is the people that sit next to us….That make the difference!

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We All Need Love

I was involved in a performance review, recently, where the person being evaluated commented, that it was so nice to hear that she was appreciated.  Indeed, I have never experienced a person that I, sincerely, complimented, become angry or not joyfully receive recognition of their efforts.

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So often we feel that we are living in a vacuum.  We are working diligently and foregoing vacation time and working when we are ill…or donating time to the job…and no one seems to notice or care.

Often we sit on the sidelines while others are applauded, perhaps rightfully so, and our worry and labor and striving…appears to not create a ripple in the placid sea?

A plant will die from lack of attention.  If we cease to water it and neglect it…and trust that it will be all right, we may find that it has withered and passed away.  The same can be said of we humans.  When no one seems to care about us or what we are doing…or what we are thinking…our world may take on a distorted view.

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I wonder if the many individuals who have resorted to gun violence, in our nation, could have been dissuaded and set upon another path…if they were not been bullied or marginalized or had they not become members of a hidden society!

I watched the movie, ‘Us,’ over the weekend.  The flick illustrates a society of humans who live in unground tunnels and unused facilities.  Those living underground and not having the benefit of the sun to shine on them and the opportunities of their identical counterparts in the above ground world are stilted and stymied and stunted in their growth as human beings.

I have often told Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale chancellors and presidents that they should seek input  from their civil service staff as the remedies for the on-going problem of recruitment and retention of students.  When a church or work-place or society pigeonholes individuals…that organization is in the midst of  it’s decline.

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And, so, Thanksgiving is this Thursday.  We will eat hearty and rejoice in the blessings of capitalism and opportunity and being in the right place at the right time…and having the right friends and a quality education from the right schools…

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Others, a lot of others, will huddle in their makeshift tent or scrounge some discarded food from a dumpster or warm their ill-clad bodies over a heating register that is outside a Macy’s Department Store window…as they look, longingly, at the Christmas Display….

5 Days Until ‘T’ Day!

I was out and about today and it dawned on me that the holiday season is upon us!  I have been saying, for weeks, that Thanksgiving and Christmas are getting close…now the revelerie is here!  I purchased a book, The Golden Compass, earlier this week and the Barnes and Noble Bookseller’s attendant, asked me if I was purchasing a Christmas gift.  I replied, joyfully, that I was…for myself.

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Winter is less than a month away.  The first day of the season of snow and ice is, December 21.

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The Brooks Christmas Tree goes up tomorrow.  We will plug in the lights and seldom turn them off, accept when we leave the house, as we enjoy their festive and warm glow.

MJ and I enjoyed a lovely dinner with several members of our church, last evening.  I marvel at how much more I appreciate my fellow congregants, when I break bread with them!

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A group of us were discussing what draws people to church.  Our pastor, wisely observed, that since Watergate, there has been a significant distrust in institutions.  I pondered what he had said, and agreed.  I know what brought MJ and our family to First Presbyterian Church in Carbondale, and that was because her co-workers invited us to a Sunday morning service.  When we arrived we discovered a friendly and welcoming group of people.  Many people greeted us and the minister, at that time, seemed very happy to see us.  Aaron was 17 and Jonathon was 14.  MJ and I were younger as well.  Later that Sunday afternoon, two, sweet, people, Evelyn and Harold Engilking, drove to our little village of Elkville, Illinois…to bring us homemade cookies and tell us how happy that they were that we had visited their church.  I was both touched and impressed!

We attended First Presbyterian for nearly a year prior to joining it.  We are noted for thinking about decisions for a long time.  Yet, we joined because we loved the worship service and the preaching…and the, non-judgmental, family atmosphere that we felt each Sunday.

We were amazed at the missionary outreach that the little Presbyterian Church was engaged in.  Everyone seemed to be doing something to demonstrate their faith by action!

President Kennedy was assassinated 56 years ago today.  I was in the first grade at Hillcrest School in Eldorado, Illinois.  We had recently moved from Chicago.  In those days each of the classrooms had a large intercom speaker hung on he wall.  Suddenly, our principal announced, over the intercom that our President had bad been shot in Dallas, Texas…and that school would be dismissed.  I walked home to find my mother watching the news coverage of the assassination on television and she was weeping!  When I asked her why she was sad…she said the President Kennedy was dead!  I thought that he must have been part of our family?

President Kennedy said:

‘Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet.  We all breathe the same air.  We all cherish our children’s future.  And we are all mortal.

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‘There Is A Crack In Everything…That Is How The Light Gets In’

‘Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring’

‘Forget your perfect offering’

‘There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)’

‘That’s how the light gets in…’

Leonard Cohen – The Anthem

I watched a tribute to Leonard Cohen, the other night, where several Cohen songs were sung by the Wainwrights and others.  I was particularly moved by the lyrics above.

Indeed, in our world, we are obsessed with what our neighbor or colleague or friend or family has done wrong.  In our righteous indignation we are supremely self-satisfied that if others would simply see life and politics and religion as we do…all would be well.

My family and I visited Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1990s and we saw the Liberty Bell.  It has a, famous, crack!

I reflect on the indisputable fact that all of us are members of the same human family.  Why are we so judgmental of our brothers and our sisters and our mothers and our fathers?

Thanksgiving is a week from today, in the United States.  Many of us will enjoy a wonderful feast!  The feast, probably, will contain the traditional turkey and dressing…and cranberry sauce.  There will be the televised Macy’s Day Parade, with Santa Claus concluding the event.  Many will relish football games and, turkey, naps.  While others will plan their black-Friday shopping extravaganzas!  I wonder if we could first love and accept the family that will sit down with us around the holiday table….And then love and respect those who are different from us or who have an alternate lifestyle from ours?

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Will we do more than think, briefly, about the homeless?  Will we pass the Salvation Army Kettles…and throw in some loose change and have our conscience mollified…and know that we have done God’s work?

Our church has a, new, mission to provide quarters and soap for anyone in need at our local laundromat.  Jane, told our board that there had been an overwhelming response to our outreach.  She went on to describe a, homeless, young man who had one change of clothes and subsequently stripped down to his shorts and washed his clothes and his sleeping bag.  Tears welled up in my eyes!  There is a vast amount of humanity that live in another world of poverty and want and degradation and they are seeking another, cracked human vessel…that has experienced the light coming in!

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Integrity…Or…Be Willing To Walk Away!

George Schultz was the Secretary of State in the Regan administration.  During those years, in the 1980s, I had just become the assistant superintendent of Building Services at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale.  This was my first exposure to management and I was 29 years old.  I watched Secretary Schultz, in a television interview, state that he would never accept a job that he was not willing to walk away from, if he were asked to compromise his integrity.

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Secretary Schultz’s words were a lodestone for me and a compass.  During my 25 years in management/administration…I encountered numerous occasions that I had to choose my sense of right and wrong rather than the expediency of what the boss wanted me to do.

I watched as others chose to compromise their values or to ignore their conscience…many times due to being afraid of loosing their employment.  There is, indeed a dynamic of doing what the boss wants done…often when it is ethical…and sliding into continuing to do what the boss wants done….When it is not ethical.

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The most egregious violation of integrity or an ethical compass is the abuse of people.  This comes in many forms which includes; listening to staff’s concerns but not addressing them, assuring staff that you will assist them and subsequently failing to do so, toying with people or moving them about…as if on a chessboard…with no clear managerial need.

Dishonesty or lying to members of your staff are some of the most devastating of lapses in doing what is right.  I have walked out of numerous management meetings where others disparaged and demeaned those that they perceived were beneath us!

For years I worked for a leader who felt that the best way to demonstrate that our organization needed more help…was to stage a slow-down of the housekeeping that we produced.  I refused to do so!  It was my belief then…and to this day that it was our job to clean the campus as well as we possibly could.

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Former chancellor Argersinger was terminated in less than a year on the job.  Jo Ann was not only a breath of fresh air but an inspiration to the university community.  I stood up for her, as did many of my colleagues, but it was scary!  I not only had my job threatened but the jobs of my colleagues in Building Services!

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It occurs to me that it sounds like that I am bragging on myself…but on the contray…I often felt like the ‘skunk at the garden party!’  I wondered if I was not only a bit to altruistic…or a simple minded oaf…or lacking in understanding on how to get ahead!

Mind you, I was not the only one, but rather I worked with hundreds of stelar colleagues that were examples to me in the art of, ‘To thine own self be true!’

So, you may find yourself in a position that, to your dismay, you are misplaced in!  Perhaps your best efforts are misunderstood and met with retaliation or disdain.  I have lived my 62 years being a believer that if your efforts are not appreciated…find somewhere that they will be.

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Appreciation Is The Oil That Makes The Institution Operate

I have heard it said, for the majority of my life, ‘It is not what you know…but who you know!’

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This may sound like an incredible statement, I have witnessed many professionals that will work for free…if they are appreciated!

There is a common malady in management and administration of others, that rears its ugly head on many occasions.  The dysfunction that I am refereeing to is the lack of acknowledgment or recognition of dedicated service in regard to members of the university family or the corporate staff, who have labored in the heat of the day…and sought no reward…but certainly did not seek insult.

I have heard it said, of individuals that work night and day to facilitate the success of their workplace…’well you know…they love to work and labor…unpaid…it is a labor of love for them!’

I worked with a friend and colleague, for many years, who had the most grandiose stories of his past accomplishments.  They were both interesting and enlightening, and had me sitting on the edge of my seat!  It appears that my friend had lived at least two…or perhaps three lifetimes…to accomplish the many, James Thurber-Type, claims!

So, the gifted speaker and spinner of yarns…is the type of person that administration looks for to elevate to positions of authority and responsibility…when another has been working in the trenches to produce an excellent product.  When we look for the shiny object or promotional candidate, or when we pass-over the quiet and conscientious worker who has demonstrated, Herculean, efforts to demonstrate and produce a successful and stelar  work completion and a result that is at the zenith of excellence….We scratch our heads in disbelief that morale is at its lowest point!

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I have wrestled with the subject of leadership since I was a youth.  The presidents of the United States have always fascinated me.  I have witnessed many variations of leaders, the most ineffective that I have seen is the, ‘Little Club of Leaders.’  This would be an exclusive club that has the motto over the door of the Clubhouse…’You Scratch My Back…And I Will Scratch Yours!’

On the contrary, people who feel, genuine, appreciation for the work that they are doing…will rise to the utmost of their capabilities!  Their first concern is not how much money they can make…but how much of a difference that they can accomplish!  Contrary to what CEO’s or chancellors or presidents may believe…there is such an abundance of dedication in the ranks of staff…that they are unaware of the value that these dedicated employees bring to the operation.

I have had the supreme opportunity to feel what is like work in an organization that the majority of my colleagues were working as a team and through their breaks and their lunch and had, bought into, the vision of what it means to be a Saluki, which is Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale’s mascot.  I can assure you that when our most valuable campus citizens, our precious students, felt that camaraderie and dedication to something larger than all of us…they responded with a happiness and joy at being a member of such a, functional and loving, family atmosphere!

 

 

Aaron The Great’s, Birthday!

Another year rolled around for the old man last month…and now it has caught up with the first-born!  Today is Aaron’s birthday!  I remember how excited and proud and full of awe that MJ and I were when Aaron came into the world.  A few months prior to his birth MJ and I were stranding at the front door of our little, four room house, in Elkville, Illinois….and she asked me what I thought a good name for our, soon to arrive, baby would be?  I thought but for a moment…then went quick to my work, with apologies to W. Clement Moore, and proclaimed that if a boy, Aaron, and iif a girl, Abigail!  You see his birth 38 years ago was before the technology of knowing what sex your baby was prior to birth…I think…nevertheless we chose not to know….but to be surprised!

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Aaron came into the world with a lusty cry!  I was in the delivery room!  Dr. Bennett, who I have attended church with the past 21 years, was the doctor who delivered him.

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I was just telling Aaron’s baby brother, Jonathon, that the first word that Aaron said was, Dida, whereupon after each utterance of the derivative of Dad…he raised his hand and, lightly slapped his bottom lip!

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Aaron had a wind-up swing that he loved and MJ and I utilized it daily, and some times hourly, during his first year of life.  If he was not in his swing…his mom or I were dancing with him as he lay  his head on our shoulders and was lulled to sleep…until the dancing ceased!

So, now, he is a man…and has been so for many years.  He is a strength to both me and his mom and is one of the most considerate people that I know!

The first comment that I heard regarding Aaron, when he entered the work-place, was that he was a hard worker!  He has been a hard and dedicated worker and, for the past several years a manager of a multi-million dollar operation .

Each time I see Aaron or hear him talk…I see a lot both MJ and Me in him….and I thank
God for such a rich heritage!

Tonight we are going to enjoy dinner at a lovely restaurant in Carbondale, Keeper’s
Quarters, and tomorrow Aaron and I are going to give the new Stephen King movie…a viewing!

As I become older, as we all do, I am so grateful for Aaron and Jonathon, who are unique human beings…that were loved so much by their mom and dad!
When I was the, only, freshman in a class of junior and senior speech class…I was welcomed by the senior girls!  I enjoyed speech…very much!  A lovely brunette senior girl who’s last name was Uzzle, said of me that, ‘still waters run deep!’  I can make the same proclamation regarding Aaron!

 

 

A Great Choir!

I have been a member of First Presbyterian Church for the past 21 years.  One of the first things that I noticed was the tremendous choir, that sang each Sunday morning.  Not only was the singing melodious but the singers were made up of both young and old participants.

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I remember enjoying seeing Dr. Alan Bennett and Dr. Don Darling…lifting their voice in beautiful hymns!  Dr. Bennett had been MJ’s doctor and had delivered both of our sons.

Gwen King inspired me as a young woman who simply looked beatific as she sang, and she also, often, played the flute!

Within the group was John and Dorothy Baker.  I had known John’s name from my early career at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale.  John was the budget person for the campus and was highly respected.  I recall his, welcoming, demeanor and his speaking with me for some time after our first service at the church.

Dorothy was my mentor, a few months later, when I joined the trustees/board of the church, and she was the chair of the body.  Her kindness to me and interest in my success has stayed with me for these many years!

During the past several years we have had the blessing of welcoming students from both SIUC and John A. Logan College to our choir and have received a morale lift and  the spirit of youth and vitality that is so special and necessary in any church!

Carlyn Zimmerman has been our choir director for the past 12 years.  Carlyn is, simply, the consummate professional.  Not only does she produce a heavenly sound from her choir’s members…but she has unparalleled people skills.  People sing in our choir, often, because Carlyn is the director.  Her kind and engaging personality generates an excitement about church music and singing and participation in one of the oldest of music forms…singing unto the Lord!

Kathy Manfredi’s many years of music education and her virtuoso piano playing…provides edification and encouragement and hope to our congregation…and her dedication is the finest that I have witnessed!

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I have had the opportunity to hear Kathy speak regarding the history of hymns and church music and the value and blessing that it brings to us…and I have learned more than I did during my music classes in both grade school and high school…and university.

So, our choir is a, necessary component of our worship service…and it is a missionary outreach to our University and Junior College neighbors!

Performance Reviews Can Be A Positive Experience!

Recently I was involved in some performance evaluations.  The positive experiences for all who were engaged in the process caused me to reflect on the many, good, experiences that I participated in during my 32 year career at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale.

It has been my belief and management philosophy, since my earliest days of supervisory duties, in 1979, that evaluations or performance reviews do not have to be a negative experience…but rather they should be not only a positive experience…but a learning experience for all involved.

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Evaluations, in their purest form, are an instrument of discovery for both the supervisor and the person being reviewed.

Communication is a two way street.  The annual meeting is a golden time to understand each other better!

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Praise in public and proclaim the strengths of members of your staff…on the mountain top!  Constructively criticize in private and never disclose the suggestions for constructive change with anyone who is not directly involved and has the need to know.

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It is natural for each of us to rise to our best efforts if we receive positive input and recognition for jobs that are well done and a laser like focus on our strengths!

Needs for improvement can be and are caused by a plethora of conditions.  Perhaps a person is not meeting expectations because those expectations have never been fully explained to the employee.

Often I have seen members of our staff who fail to produce quality work because they have not been trained properly or fully.  A person may not have the proper tools or equipment or facilities to perform their job expectations to their fullest extent.

As a manager or administrator, you may have supervisors or managers who are under your oversight…who are not treating their staffs properly.  Abusive of lackadaisical leadership produces a pandora’s box of problems with down line staff.

Many times when I witnessed a crew of full time staff who were of low morale and poor attitude and under-performance…I need look no further than their crew leader or their manager!

Also, a high performer and a person who is beloved by their colleagues and their direct reports and their leaders…still must be held responsible to a higher authority.  I often used the example, at SIUC, that I was responsible to the Director of Plant and Service Operations, and the Director of PSO was responsible to the Vice Chancellor of Administration, and the Vice Chancellor was responsible to the Chancellor, and the Chancellor was responsible to the President of Southern Illinois University, and the President was responsible to the, unpaid, Board of Trustees of the University.

The best meetings that I have had the opportunity to be a part of were with my colleagues where there was a performance problem or issues that we worked on together and we, both, owned the success of the solution!

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A member of my immediate staff told MJ…many years ago…that she had been in meetings with me where she thought, after she had left the meeting…’I just got my ass chewed out…and did not realize it!’

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