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The greatest gift

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Carol Kinsey Goman is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker who addresses association, government, and business audiences around the world. Her latest book and program topic is The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work.

I was still in high school when my father was fired from the San Francisco Examiner. My dad loved the newspaper business and his job working with the newsboys who sold papers on street corners.

I will never forget that afternoon. I came home from school to find my father in the kitchen, bent over the kitchen sink with his head in his hands. My heart went out to him -- I knew he must be devastated. But then Dad straightened up, grinned, and said: "Now we're going to have some fun!" Turned out, my sister was dying his grey hair brown so he'd look younger when he went looking for a new job.

Witnessing this kind of resilience at a young age had a profound impact on me. My father -- who went on to operate several new businesses before he died on the job in his 80s -- made the vagaries of change seem like a great adventure. Same goes for my mother, who took up country-western dancing and remarried as a 70-year-old widow.

I don't remember my parents ever sharing slogans or advice about "managing change," but I do remember exactly how they handled the sometimes frightening changes life dealt them.

As leaders, this is how the people around you learn about managing change -- by watching what you do and sensing how you feel, not by simply listening to what you say. Here are five examples of leaders who "walk the talk" in their organizations:

1. "Valuing diversity" is a stated goal for many organizations. But at Bayer Corporation, CEO Greg Babe's genuine commitment to a diverse workplace is well known, and the company has a track record of hiring disabled workers. For five years Babe has been the executive sponsor of Bayer's Diversity Advisory Council, and he currently serves as Chairman of the Pittsburgh Disability Employment Project for Freedom. As he recently wrote in an op-ed for the local Pittsburgh paper, "Business leaders must move beyond myths... It is imperative to adapt hiring procedures and work environments to be inclusive for all workers, including those with disabilities."

2. Research shows that only about 13 percent of family businesses survive into the third generation. But at Bassett Mechanical, a mechanical engineering company, Kim Basett-Heitzmann, helped secure her position as president and COO the hard way. She worked as an employee -- not an observer or a figurehead -- for 10 years, gaining on-the-job experience in almost every department before taking over the top spot in 2007.

3. It's one thing to proclaim that communication is paramount to openness and collaboration, and another to have a leader who makes that proclamation a reality. At Cisco Systems, John Chambers constantly relies on visual technology to communicate with global stakeholders. He holds quarterly TelePresence meeting with customers, press, and analysts from around the world and runs a vlog where "On My Mind" and "On Your Mind" sessions allow him to interact personally with employees around the world. In 2007, Chambers hosted the first virtual company meeting, which brought people face-to-face in both "real" and virtual formats -- and changed the way company meetings were conducted at Cisco.

4. The Kaplan Thaler Group, an advertising agency, was founded with this simple but powerful philosophy: It pays to be nice. And its leaders, Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, are living proof that nice delivers! My favorite story from their best-selling book, The Power of Nice, happened when the agency was in tough competition for a certain client. KTG won the business, and the client explained why. The client had fully expected that agency employees would act nicely toward them; after all, they were the source of potential revenue. But what impressed them most was how genuinely nice everyone at KTG was to each other. The client knew that the agency wasn't going to be side-tracked by back-biting or office politics, but instead, would focus all of its energy on collaborating to come up with break-through creative ideas.

5. Some leaders walk the talk -- and others walk before they talk. This is the case with Paul Hogan who founded senior-care business Home Instead, Inc. Hogan spent 12 years caring for his own grandmother , an experience that convinced him of the need for non-medical care and elder companionship services to help seniors live independently at home. In 2008, Home Instead provided more than 40 million hours of care to seniors around the world. Hogan is now taking an public active role in advocating for the needs of seniors at both personal and policy levels. Hogan's book, "The Stages of Senior Care," guides readers through challenging care-related decisions. He has brought attention to aging-related issues at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, the Ambrosetti conference on Lake Como, and forums across the U.S.

So, in this season of presents and giving, I'd like to remind you that one of the greatest gifts you have to offer: Living out your values in a genuine, active way -- it may inspire others more than you know. Happy holidays!

By Carol Kinsey Goman  |  December 22, 2009; 5:07 PM ET  | Category:  Leadership skills Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Posted by: huangzhixian184 | December 27, 2009 8:42 AM

For years, average Americans have exuded optimism and energy, whether they were talking about their political preferences, their employment aspirations or simply what they had for breakfast. But that was before the economic meltdown one year ago. What a difference a year makes. The frightening reality is that where there was hope, now there is cynicism. Where there were dreams, now there is disillusion. Instead of courage and resolve, there is blame and finger-pointing.

Ms. Goman: Will your children inherit a worse America than you did, and will your children will have a better quality of life than you have?

A once-optimistic people are now filled with rancor and vitriol, and why not? Americans in the unhappy majority are struggling to keep their jobs as million-dollar bonuses are being awarded at companies their tax dollars bailed out. They're watching Congress showcase the partisan spectacle we now blithely confuse with "government." They have learned (with good reason) to distrust their leaders, their institutions and even their own positive values in a culture that has turned coarse and critical.

Perhaps we can dial back this anger if we begin to fix two complaints: the lack of accountability and the lack of respect in our dealings with each other.

The core American complaint about politics is that wrongdoing isn't punished, other than at the next election. From scandalous personal behavior to bailouts of everyone and everything except the hardworking middle class, Washington is seen as the source for America's mistakes. Enforcing rules and letting failures fail would stop the excesses today and prevent the mistakes of tomorrow. Such accountability in business would likewise prevent executives at imploding companies from walking away with millions while their employees get skunked. Employers resent the lack of loyalty and commitment from their people; employees resent the lack of job security and the need to work longer and harder for less.

For business and political elites, the message should be clear: Restore trust. Politicians should be hosting more town hall meetings even if it means encountering surly voters. Business leaders should be seeking input from their hard-pressed customers and workers, and they should stop paying themselves huge bonuses while everyone else suffers.

Posted by: shadowmagician | December 24, 2009 1:19 PM

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