Volunteer to Apprentice to “Real Work?”

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

What is a good definition of “real work?” Evidently it’s not quite as easy to define as some would think—especially in a large international organization whose very existence depends upon the coordinated efforts of the hundreds of thousands of members who pay to belong to it and deliver leadership and communications skills training. Some members even contribute time and skills learned elsewhere to expand upon and deliver improved technical services provided by the organization’s paid employees. That organization is Toastmasters International, and the issue was brought up by a Past International Director’s FaceBook post which said, “Fellow Toastmasters: PLEASE do not list your volunteer work at Toastmasters under “employment”. You’re not an employee, you’re a volunteer. And there’s no need to helpfully suggest that I should also list myself as an employee — even as a (past) International Director, one is still not an employee. That’s for just the people who get paid at WHQ.” That post was quickly followed by “And yet, what are we to make of the new district leader titles that are coming out next year? District Director, Division Director, Area Director, Finance Manager, etc. I believe they are intended to make Toastmasters experience, when it appears on a resume, more directly translatable into equivalent business or nonprofit titles. I might quibble with whether an Area Director is in any way equivalent to a corporate Director position. But, it seems clear that Toastmasters wants to be on our resumes in the professional experience section.” Then there was this insight: ” Many of us forget that directing a district, overseeing a budget, and supervising volunteer staff is like running a Department for an organization. We need to think of our service as a learning opportunity. When I was District Governor, I said it prepared me for my current position as Executive Director for a small Chamber of Commerce.” Several years ago, I myself ported technical skills I learned in a Toastmasters setting to paid professional work. Along the way, however, I also took formal technical skills training, passed exams and obtained a widely-recognized professional certification. I am not the only member to have  ported skills learned in “real jobs” into our volunteer organization. And I am not the only member to have ported skills learned in a volunteer organization into a paid position. Potential employer or potential employee…learning experiences are learning experiences. Skills are skills. They are completely independent of how much one earned—or did not earn—for applying them in a setting where those skills are valued. It’s all about how the knowledge, skills and abilities are talked about when they are ported from one environment to the other.     Susan Ellsworth         https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pequod-Systems/46475331027

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Your Profession: Does your Volunteer Experience Really Matter?

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

Recently Dan Rex, the CEO of Toastmasters International, announced that the TI Board of Directors had decided to institute new District officer titles that, among other reasons, would “Create a parallel between district leadership and leadership in the corporate and volunteer sectors.” Basically, the idea is to help volunteers easily explain to current and potential employers what knowledge, skills and abilities they were likely to have acquired by participating in these roles.

All very nice and mostly window-dressing, insofar as many members have thought.

The real question is, does your volunteer experience actually prepare you for paid work? Does your volunteer experience really matter?

Recently, I sat down with George Marshall, whose online Toastmaster Tools are used by members around the globe. I asked him that very question, and here is what he said.

During my year as Toastmasters Area Governor, I became very interested in the big differences in club quality, and as I gathered data about each of my clubs to try to help them, I realized that the information I wanted was sometimes hard to gather in useful form. I learned a lot that year about downloading the reports and doing my own analysis in spreadsheets.

After a while, I decided to automate the more time-consuming tasks. I started working on what eventually became the Tools for Toastmasters website, summarizing some of the reports in real-time. After a year or so, I realized that the data would be more useful if it were in a database, which I knew nothing about. But I sat out to learn how, and with the help of mentors, within a year or so, the core of today’s site was in place, with built-in summaries and analysis of several types of Toastmaster data.

I have learned a lot about databases with this project, some of which I have been able to apply to our business. [Freemont Web Solutions].

Susan Ellsworth

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Standing by Whose Values?

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

What kind of organization(s) do you belong to? Several years ago, I belonged to the American Library Association, a professional and educational non-profit organization organized along the lines of the interests and support of its membership. In 1974, its membership was just over 34,000. That year, the ALA council ratified a resolution supporting ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.  A 1977 resolution called for future conferences to be held only in states that had ratified the ERA, beginning with the 1981 Annual Conference. This was no small decision for the ALA, since its headquarters was–and still is–in Illinois, a State that had not ratified the ERA. ALA members and the council were essentially putting their money where the best interests of its membership were. More accurately, they had decided not to put their money where their interests were not supported. (1)

Now I belong to another 501(c)(3) educational organization. This organization’s bylaws say that

This corporation shall not discriminate, in the conduct of its programs and activities,
against any person on the basis of age (except those persons under 18 years of age),
race, color, creed, gender, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, or physical or
mental disability, so long as the individual, through his or her own effort, is able to
participate in the program or activity. 

This organization has scheduled its August 2014 International Convention in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As of this year, Human Rights Watch reported that In violation of international standards against discrimination, Malaysian leaders continue to denigrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak gave speeches in June and July 2012 in which he asserted that the activities of LGBT people do not “have a place in the country.”

On March 28, the Guardian ran a story by Kate Hodal which said

A government-backed musical in Malaysia that aims to warn young people about the perils of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) in this Muslim-majority country has sparked controversy over its “state-sponsored bigotry” and potential to incite hatred.

Asmara Songsang (Abnormal Desire) follows the lives of three LGBT friends who throw loud parties, take drugs and have casual sex, thereby incurring the wrath of their religious neighbours, who attempt to reintroduce them to the teachings of  Islam. Those who repent are spared, while those who don’t are killed in a lightning storm.  

While not itself discriminating against members of the LGBT community, the organization has invited its membership to spend money in a country that violates international standards of discrimination—one of which is directly related to sexual orientation.  It has also committed to put its money —and the money of its membership—where one of its own bylaws speaks to a different value.

(1) Cassell, Kay Ann. “ALA and the ERA,” American Libraries, December 1982. p. 690.

Susan Ellsworth

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Once again, Please help me welcome Dan!

Dan Antion

Dan Antion

Normally, you see my smiling face in the upper left corner of this blog. However, my friend Dan Antion recently wrote the delightful blog below, which I believe you will enjoy! —- Susan Ellsworth

If we Can’t kill eMail, can we Please Fix It
by Dan Antion

During the last year or so, I listened to several speakers at content management and social media conferences suggest that business email will soon be a technology of the past. danantion_graphic

Judging by my inbox, and recognizing that people are still sending faxes, I think it’s safe to say that I will be getting email throughout what remains of my career. If that’s the case, I would appreciate it if the people who send me business email would take it upon themselves to improve the quality of the email that they send. If I thought everyone would give this topic the thought it deserves, and change their behavior accordingly, I’d stop writing after making the following statement:

Consider that regular business email, the stuff that I will read simply because you sent it, comes with an implied contract based on mutual respect. Then remember that once my respect for you has been earned, that you have to prevent me from losing it.

Since I get so much email, from so many sources, let me offer a few general guidelines to make those emails better:

Size matters.  I had a chemistry professor who required written lab reports but thought they should be factual. In warning against long explanations in lieu of facts – he used to say “remember, the longer the wronger!” It’s the same with email. A single paragraph business communication will be appreciated. A couple of paragraphs will be tolerated and a multi-page monologue will probably be ignored.

Don’t be a jerk.  This sounds like so much common sense, but it’s easy to look like a jerk in email. Unless you want to look like a jerk, reread your message before you click send. Think about whether what you wrote will be understood in the absence of facial expressions, tone of voice and that precious act of reaching out to touch my shoulder. By the way, if you don’t want to reread it because it’s so long, refer to the previous paragraph.

I have an inbox. After you send your email, continue not being a jerk by not calling me, texting me or visiting me to ask me: “Did you get the email I just sent?

Some subjects are better left out of the inbox. If you are dancing around a sensitive issue, delete the email, walk down to hall, or pick up the phone and make personal contact.

Stop crying wolf. Remember that I can sort my email by sender, so I can see if there are patterns in the email that you send. If 2/3’s of your subject lines include “Important” or “Must read” maybe you need to think about the way you organize, schedule and prioritize your work/day/life.

If you find yourself saying “this is good advice for most people, but it doesn’t work in my situation,” maybe you need to think a little harder about your situation and about the nature of email.

One subject – one thought. I know it’s not a text message, but email shouldn’t be a sermon and it absolutely shouldn’t be a lecture. If you have three complex points to make about a subject, schedule a meeting to discuss your thoughts.  This works better because I can communicate my boredom with my facial expression and I can point out when your first assumption is wrong and therefore you should stop blathering.

Email is not a presentation.  Forget the “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” mantra that is supposed to set you up to make a great speech.  Just tell me what you want me to know in short, grammatically correct sentences – preferably less than 5. If you are thinking about including graphics, drop the “s” – limit yourself to one graphic.

Note: I added this next rule in response to Microsoft’s addition of the Screen Clipping tool into Outlook.

Remain in media. If you are reading my document, reviewing my presentation or testing my spreadsheet, use the features built into Office on the Review Ribbon instead of artfully crafting a treasure map of arrows and text boxes for me to follow. This should also help you comply with the ‘one graphic’ rule.

Oh, one last thought, particularly if you are still clinging to the notion that you or your emails are somehow special and should be exempt from these rules: If I wouldn’t need to be in the room when you told somebody this critical information in person, please leave me off the CC line.

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LinkedIn Customer Service: You could learn from a Toastmaster I Knew

Several years ago when I was new to the Toastmasters International organization, I complained to a fellow member about an Area Governor who seemed to be completely out of touch with the half dozen clubs he was supposed to be serving. My friend, a wise and experienced member, said “Well, you can always learn from a bad example what NOT to do.”

Over the past three months, LinkedIn has provided a great example of what not to do. LinkedIn appears to have abandoned providing technical support for those who use it. Its announcement that “As of January 31, 2013, the LinkedIn Answers feature will be retired from LinkedIn. We’ll be focusing our efforts on the development of new and more engaging ways to share and discuss professional topics across LinkedIn. In the meantime, you can still pose questions and facilitate professional discussions through other popular LinkedIn channels including LinkedIn Polls, Groups, or status updates.” has not exactly won friends and favorably influenced people.

The LinkedIn data export utility has not worked as illustrated for over two months. In what used to be a help forum, there are comments such as “this screw-your-customer policy needs to be changed.” and “I did try to call the corporate office, but you no longer get a human. Such arrogance. I did manage to send an email to a supposed support contact, but, not surprisingly, have received no reply. We’re all just left hanging.”  The cockles of my heart were not warmed one bit when, after sending a message asking for help, I received an automated message with a trouble ticket number.

I am reminded of the late Charles M. Schulz character Lucy, who just won’t listen to anyone other than herself. His March 2, 1985 strip says it all.

"What?"

“What?”

For a social media platform in which users have posted blog after blog and post after post talking about listening to one’s customers, it’s pretty sad to see a major player in the social media world turning a deaf ear even to its paying customers. LinkedIn has provided a great example of what NOT to do.

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Relax It’s Only the FBI

RIOT—Relax, It’s Only Toastmasters—is a friendly tagline that Aref Dajani, a good friend of mine chose as a theme when he was a Toastmasters District 27 Governor. The theme went viral in the global Toastmasters community, and today there are members of Toastmasters International who quote that theme without knowing where it came from.

Today’s RIOT is a creature of a completely different kind. It represents a potential threat to levels of privacy that some of us have come to expect in social media. In short, Raytheon’s Riot (short for Rapid Information Overlay Technology) appears to have been an outcome of a Request For Information from the FBI. The RFI for a Social Media Application specifically stated an interest in an automated search and scrape capability of both social networking sites and open source news sites for breaking events, crisis, and threats that meet the search parameters/keywords defined by FBI/SIOC. [Strategic Information and Operations Center]. It also indicated an interest in “Ability for user to create, define, and select parameters/key word requirements. Automated search of national news, local news, and social media networks. Examples include but are not limited to Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, Twitter, Facebook, etc. ” In a word, the FBI was looking for an application to spy on whoever posted in social media and on whatever broadcast the FBI considers to be of interest.

The last update to the RFI was a March 5, 2012 AMENDMENT #5 RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS. Question 12 was disturbing, to say the least. The question was The sheer volume of Twitter posts alone will be roughly 73B annually, which will become a significantly large number for archival and search in a short period of time.  How many years will the government want to store prior social media inputs before they begin to purge data (or will they purge data)? The FBI’s response? The FBI is unable to answer this question at this time.  More research is needed on the FBI’s side to determine the space needed.  Please submit your capabilities and any suggested capabilities you believe meet the FBI’s needs. In other words, Tweet away…we’re keeping yours for an indeterminate period—especially if we regard your Tweet as a threat. Somewhere along the line a simple request for information turned into a contract, and Raytheon produced its proof of concept (and product) for the FBI.  The video demonstation of the ease with which RIOT can scoop up, package and draw conclusions from discrete pieces of data you and I have posted left me wondering who the next customer will be. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.
Susan Ellsworth

 

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Learning off the Grid

Success in life usually includes learning off the grid. A Ph.D. friend of mine learned his “people skills” off the grid, not through his formal graduate coursework in statistics and mathematics. He learned off the grid through real life experiences. He learned off the grid by dealing with members of his religious community. Some were extreme traditionalists who would be content to live in the seventh century, and some were modernists far more comfortable with making major changes.
My friend chairs a 16-member Toastmasters committee in which I have a consulting role. In a recent meeting, one member proposed an idea completely outside the previously-established values the group had established. My friend, rather than shutting down the suggestion, asked this member questions which, while respecting the idea still opened the door for the member to return gracefully to the fold as it were. The member, his position having been validated, returned to supporting a plan that was within the values set up by the group.

My friend had used negotiation skills he had learned off the grid. And, by simple observation, I got a new skill second-hand and off the grid. Or perhaps I had built my own private off-the-grid environment. Youngsters learn how to tie their shoes off the grid. I had learned how to build a computer off the grid. Perhaps it’s a matter of finding a friend with a different grid than yours and helping yourself to a few amps.

Have a great week!

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How Embarrassing!

Do you — or a friend—have a name that others just seem unwilling or unable to pronounce or spell correctly? We do.
There was a time when we thought that of course everyone would be able to say PEQUOD Systems. But no, cold-caller after cold-caller mangles our name, and it comes out as “Prequad.” Advertiser after adveretiser mis-spells our name as PRQUOD or PREQUAD or PREQUOD.

Over this past weekend, while I was observing the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s 17th Annual Marathon reading of Herman Melville’s MOBY DICK, I decided it was time to take action. This will be my first annual blog about how we pronounce our name.

It’s about time I did so. Last year, I participated as a team member of my Toastmasters Club in a high performance leadership project whose objective was to get all our multi-cultural members learning to say each other’s names as we all wanted those names to be said. Our group leader chose to implement a version of the International Phonetic Alphabet as a tool with which to educate the 25+ members of the club. He also recorded individual members saying their own names, so that we could later on download and listen to those recordings.

Our club is not alone. There are multi-cultural Toastmasters International clubs around the globe where one can find members who come from a wide diversity of backgrounds all sitting in the same meeting. And we said so in a letter to the President of Toastmasters International at the time.

Having said all that, and often having said that the real value of being a Toastmaster is when one is outside meeting walls, I must stand up here and say: PEQUOD rhymes with PEA QUAD. Can you please say PEQUOD?

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Which comes first: the Word or the Attitude?

Recently I saw Michael Hyatt’s blog about how our words impact others. How true that is. When I was a young adolescent, my mother told me in a rather condescending tone that I would have a very hard time in school with math and sciences. Dutifully, I had a hard time with math and sciences. Except for geometry—-which, thankfully,neither my mother nor my father had mentioned. Fortunately, I married someone who had and still has different words that also impact me. With his words, I learned how to build and manage a computer. With his words, I studied for and passed systems management exams that would have blown my parents away. With the words of friends, I plunged into technical platforms I had never visited before. It was all because they believed in me…and said so.

Continuing along, I read another Hyatt blog. That one had everything to do with how a shift in one’s vocabulary could change one’s attitude.

Wait a minute! I thought. Isn’t that a bit backwards? Change in attitude is what changes one’s vocabulary, right? Not exactly. Consider the number of social media posts that simply copy what someone else has already said. Consider the number of posts that make you say “Hmm..when is the last time I heard that person use that word before?”

I’m inclined to think that associating with positive-thinking people who are open to ideas not necessarily their own and spending just a few minutes a day checking an online dictionary or thesaurus can grow the language we need to express a change in attitude. The two things—-attitude shift and change in vocabulary—work together. And that taken together, these two elements can make a huge difference in all aspects of our lives.

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Teamwork and Leadership are great…and how are they Rewarded?

 Linda Finkle’s newsletter from the Incedo Group is the exception to my general practice of hardly ever reading every newsletter I receive. Her November 8 “Generate the Power” about corporate team-building landed in my inbox just about the same time as a lead from NIMBLE did. In a strange quirk of coincidence, I’ve been in an online discussion about teamwork and leadership.  And recently I’ve been working with two small and delightful Toastmasters teams.

One of Finkle’s key points about corporate team-building is that “teams can’t function well if everyone is the same personality type or of like mind on everything. You need a mix of the right technical skills and the right interpersonal skills for a team to jell and work together successfully. ”  She’s absolutely right. Furthermore, she points out that “”When individuals on a team enjoy working together, corporate team-building is the natural outcome. It isn’t something you have to create. As in all relationships, the members will have little spats, disagreements and challenges, and that’s healthy. They will also most often work through these problems without intervention on the part of management. That’s what makes a strong team.” And she’s right about that, too.

What does that have to do with NIMBLE, the simple, affordable Social Relationship manager? One of NIMBLE’s core values relates directly to working with teams. Last month, an iconic note to partners opened with the sentence “Nimble is a lot more fun and productive when you invite more team members to nurture and grow business relationships as a team. ”  There is a congenial shared LinkedIn Nimble Partners group to which even the founders of Nimble contribute answers to questions posed by partners.

My favorite global life-time learning organization Toastmasters International encourages teamwork by promoting annual change of local leadership roles. A lively official LinkedIn Toastmasters Members group with 28,500 politely discusses virtually every aspect of our organization and its programming. That includes building teams.

Yet in the paid day-job world, how is teamwork rewarded? When is the last time you and your team evaluated yourselves *as a team* ? To what extent is your compensation based on how effectively your team works together? Rather scary, wouldn’t you say? The simple truth is most of us succeed at doing those things for which we are rewarded, and it makes sense to reward teams that work well together.  That’s my thought for the day and I’m sticking with it.

Cheers!

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