7 Leadership Books for a World Class Culture

51QArmq8raL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_

It has been said that leaders are readers, but it is often difficult to find the time to sit down with a self-improvement book in the midst of life’s fullness. For many of us, reading is not only a reprieve from stress, but an inspiration to find new ways to do a job more effectively.

The books I most appreciate are the ones which resonate with my own experiences, especially as a self-described high maintenance customer. My bosses expect excellence from me, and I have been conditioned to demand it from the companies where I spend my money. As a consumer, I can tell instantly if a business cares about building long-term relationships. There are 2 big tests of an organization’s culture of customer service.

1-Are the employees happy? I am sure you have walked in to a business and instantly caught a positive or negative vibe about the place. This vibe is a result of the team culture, which is rooted in how the associates are treated by their team leaders. We cannot expect our employees to offer good customer service if we don’t show them exemplary support and common courtesies. I have 12 different responsibilities in my job, but the one thing that is the most important to me, and I can do nothing else until it is done, is making sure my team has everything they need to be successful.

We all know that sub-standard employee performance and high turnover can be the death of any business. There is no greater responsibility than to recruit the best, train them well, and SUPPORT them. I just had a team member celebrate her 10-year anniversary with my department. During that time, I have made a conscious effort to offer my ongoing encouragement and tell her that I appreciate her often. It is the ideal relationship of mutual respect, and one that allows her to foster that same loyalty in the team she develops.

There is no way that the team members will care about the company, the product or the customer if the boss doesn’t care about them, as workers and as people. It has been said that 90% of an employee’s job satisfaction is how they feel about their boss. The strongest leaders I know in building a culture of customer service embrace servant leadership, where the boss is willing to jump in and work alongside of the team, both to set an example of excellence as well as to show that they are willing to help. They ask about their employees, they know about what is important to them, and they are approachable if the employee has a concern. They say thank you…a lot. They ask for their input. They know their strengths, and are interested in fostering their development. For more on this topic, consider these books:  The Customer Comes Second by Diane McFerrin Peters and Hal F. Rosenbluth and The 12 Elements of Great Managing by James K. Harter and Rodd Wagner.

2- How does the company handle mistakes? The second test of an organization’s customer service protocol is what I call the Art of the Apology. There was a time in my dealership’s history when our customer service national ranking was 210 out of 220 dealerships in the country. During those years, I called myself the professional apologizer. I learned what to do and what not to do during an apology, enough to write a book of my own. But the essence is this: we are people, we are going to mess up, but how we handle it shows our character for the better or worse. Think about how your employees apologize to you when they make a mistake. What do you like to hear? It’s the same thing that your customer wants to hear from you: I take responsibility, I will make amends and work to minimize the chance that it will happen again. What bosses and customers do not want to hear is excuses, reasons, finger pointing. The customer NEVER needs to hear why something messed up. Even if they ask why it happened, I tell them I am focused on the solution and assure them that I will later work behind the scenes to fix whatever broken process caused the problem. The only thing worse than having to apologize, is having to apologize to the same customer more than once for the same thing. If you find yourself if this position, there might be some teamwork issues to repair. Thankfully we have since repaired our team issues and are back into the top 10 in the nation, but let me assure you, it was an arduous climb back to the top. Fixing a culture is difficult, but it’s the only long-term solution. If this is a focus for you, check out The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Many business books like this are presented in fable format, knowing that the busy executive only has the time and attention span for a helpful story-with-a-lesson. It makes for a quick read and a powerful testimony to the essential value of teamwork.

In addition to taking ownership, the other critical components of an apology include acknowledging the other person’s feelings and demonstrating sincerity. I put myself completely in the moment, give the apology my full heart and intention, and offer empathy for any frustration I may have caused them due to my lack of leadership. Let’s face it, if I had better leadership and processes, the incident would likely have not occurred in the first place. I am at the core of the mistake and should own that. People know when you speak from the heart, so mean what you say with your whole being. Acknowledge their feelings by saying “I know that must have been frustrating for you. I would feel the same way.” ONLY then can the relationship start to mend. For this topic, I suggest Legendary Service by Kathy Cuff and Victoria Halsey. I have had the honor of meeting Kathy and she changed my entire understanding of how to make amends with someone who is upset.

Here are a few action items to consider if you are dedicated to a culture of customer service.

  1. Create a personal mission statement-Life is short. Ask yourself what is your legacy. Do you want to be known as a nice person? A good father? A good boss? Your personal mission statement should infuse your actions at home and at work. Mine is to be a blessing to others. This mission simplifies my decisions and reduces my stress, because it guides my actions and demeanor. Consider the book Give and Take by Adam Grant as you craft your own. It may help you grasp why some people give more than others and why a shift towards giving is essential in business. If you are a giver in a world full of takers, it also helps you accept your less helpful coworkers better because you know they are wired that way.
  2. Kaizen is the Japanese word for continuous improvement and should be a part of everything you do. The only way to become a better leader and human being is to ask questions, read, take an interest in others and challenge yourself to learn from mistakes. The best title for this is What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith: It’s chock full of readable examples of top leaders and how they had to learn to change their ways to reach the next level of success.
  3. Learn these two phrases and say them often. I am sorry, and I appreciate you. (customers and employees). Mean it.
  4. Focus on your people. Get to know them, absorb stress for them, let them have some fun once in a while.
  5. Read How Starbucks Changed My Life by Michael Gates Gill. It will just take just a couple of days but it will stay with you always. A job with a supportive atmosphere can be life-changing for your employees. What a way to be a blessing to someone, and how rewarding to watch them thrive and develop while in your care.

One extra last Title I recommend:

Everybody, Always by Bob Goff: If spirituality is an important part of your life, this is a compelling message on how to love even the most difficult people in your world.

Just Ask

IMG_4708

Addressing envelopes is one of my favorite volunteer gigs. In addition to improved penmanship, it gives me a productive but relaxing vibe, almost percussive.  I enjoy falling into the hum of a wandering mind while writing out names and addresses in whatever handwriting style I’ve adopted for the day. These cerebral meanderings take place several times a year, when I help Leadership Augusta mail invitations or letters to their alumni family.  There are over 1,300 past graduates of the program, at least 800 of whom are still within our reach to contact. The remaining have either passed away, moved away, become MIA, or asked to not be involved. Every year 30-40 new names are added to the books. We try to send correspondence to everyone we can, with the hopes of keeping the program sustainable.

I enjoy seeing the names of these alums each year. Some are good friends I know well, some are people I have met only briefly, others I have never met but feel like I know after writing their information on invoices and invitations so many times. I delight in seeing the new names, recent graduates with their alumni future shining brightly in front of them. I wonder if they will attend events, become involved in the community, encourage others to participate in this leadership program affiliated with the Augusta Chamber of Commerce, which has been in existence since 1980.

During this year’s dues invoicing, writing out envelopes led me to ponder how vastly different the LA experience has been for everyone who has graduated. We were all exposed to behind-the-scenes glimpses into what makes Augusta tick, hearing insights into such topics as criminal justice, healthcare and education. We were all encouraged to use our leadership skills not just within the bubbles of our own diverse industries, but also to venture into other territories in the community which might be in need of our talents. In the years which follow this grand networking adventure, however, the responses vary greatly. Many of us pay dues, attend luncheons, volunteer on future classes and serve on charitable boards, while others continue with their lives, unchanged. The range of involvement spans from the people whose lives are transformed, to those who contribute only briefly, to those who never offer their time or their financial support.

My personal Leadership Augusta story was one of the transformations. I served on the board, volunteered with the alumni committee, recruited new leaders to apply.  I consider my Leadership Augusta experience to be the best thing I have done professionally, one that enhanced my confidence at work, as well as brightened the stamp on my community service efforts. I am grateful to this organization for introducing me to the opportunities which gave voice to my talents, and ultimately, to my life’s purpose, which is, simply, to be a blessing to others.

Knowing what Leadership Augusta has meant in my life, and knowing that it has not been that for everyone, I contemplate the reasons for this broad spectrum of impact while I write on these envelopes. For my experience, I have 3 people specifically to thank. Had I not met these people, my Leadership Augusta experience would be just a pleasant memory from the late 90’s era. If they had not voiced their faith in me, I, too, would have sat shyly behind the scenes and lamented that I passed through the program, unchanged. In the 38-year history of the organization, I realize that I am in a small minority who can say my life was touched in a profound way. I indebted to the 3 people who bravely said, “I think this girl has something to offer.”

The first is Woody Merry, a graduate of the class of 1987, who nominated me to participate in the first place. Our interaction prior to that was minimal (perhaps serving on a political campaign together, if I recall correctly), but he must have seen some potential, and I thank him for that initial leap of faith. The next Angela champion, and the most significant, was Brenda Durant. She was in my class of 1999, and ever since then has been an awesome connector who throws my name into the hat for projects in the community. One of them, Celebrate 2000, was the catalyst for the creation of VolunteerAugusta.com, which connects charities and volunteers. Finally, Bryan Quinsey was the Leadership Augusta Coordinator in 2002 who recommended me to the Board of Directors, the start of a 12-year term of service. He must have seen something in me when we served together on the Red Carpet Tour during Masters week, and I’m forever thankful that he did.

Sometimes one person is all it takes. By nominating someone for a position or program, inviting them to join you on a project, or encouraging them to get involved, you can be the difference between a memory and a potential metamorphosis. During the interviews referenced in my last blog about Leadership Augusta ( Angela’s LA journey ), I asked a bank president why she never got involved in the organization after graduation. Her reply was profoundly straightforward: “Because nobody asked me to.” It only takes one person to reach out to another and vouch for their gifts, or let them know they are needed. We can make our volunteer organizations stronger and enrich one another’s feelings of connection and engagement. No matter how trivial the job might seem, there is a person in your circle of influence who would appreciate being nominated, who is hoping to be included. Take the time and just ask. I am indebted to my three champions for their initial encouragement, and to the current board of Leadership Augusta, who continue to reach out to me. I hope they continue to ask me to jump in, as well as the many other alumni members who are ready to get involved. For the meditative benefits alone, I would be happy to address envelopes for years to come.

Open Letter to Andy Jones

Dear Andy,

Before I knew Kevin as a spouse, or a boyfriend, or even a friend, I knew him as a co-worker. He is the best kind of co-worker: helpful, smart, fun. You can trust him to have your back and to work at his highest ability. He is the type of person who cannot cut corners, or pretend to work for the sake of appearances. He’s just not wired that way. So as a battle buddy in the field with him, I could lean on him for customer issues, technical questions or honest advice.

I imagine that any of his bosses in the automotive industry for the past 3 decades would say that in addition to being the best kind of co-worker, he is also the best kind of employee. If he is at the job, he is working. Period. Because Kevin is never one to shy away from tedious or arduous tasks, the boss knows that giving him a project is the best way to be certain that it will be completed. Kevin is always willing to make sacrifices for the company, work through lunch, show up on time and stay past the required shift. Kevin’s integrity guarantees freedom from concerns about unethical behavior. Granted, his honesty sometimes hurts if he disagrees with your opinion, as he is never one to play to the political or ego-based side of an issue, but that seems a small price to pay for an employee who genuinely wants to do well. Kevin is who he is, no more and no less. He is never someone different depending on the audience.

I suspect that as his boss, you had some of these feelings about Kevin, inspiring you to make grand gestures of support during his tenure with your company. I was a beneficiary of the generosity you extended. (See my past blog about your kindness early in the relationship: Kevin Superstar ). You allowed him to take time off when he needed surgery. All seemed to be going smoothly. The job was certainly stressful for Kevin, as he put in 70+ hours a week to manage a 60-person department, but profits and customer retention were good, so the ship stayed on a straight path to success.

Then something shifted in the relationship. Stress for both of you increased exponentially. Kevin was not allowed to replace needed employees and became severely short-staffed. Your stress seemed to spike during the time when another dealership was added to the auto group. Suddenly the mutual pressure manifested into a final break. Kevin was asked to step down from his role as Service Manager, with little explanation and few options. In the weeks since this has occurred, I have experienced a wide range of feelings. I have now reached a point where it is important to me that you know that I do not blame you for this inevitable ending, which was sad and confusing while it was taking place, but is now proving to be a blessing.

Kevin would never have left this leadership role on his own. I think you know that, based on a particularly striking moment when he was provoked to do so and held his cool. I know of no one else who could endure that. No matter how much he suffers, he just does not back down from a challenge and has a suprisingly high tolerance for discomfort. So it was up to you to make the difficult decision for him. The good news is that Kevin is suddenly healthy again. His blood pressure is normal for the first time in years, he is more emotionally accessible, he eats and sleeps better. While the future is extremely uncertain and I know it causes him great consternation, there is a peace in the assurance that the trials of his recent past are behind him.

At one point, near the end, you took Kevin out to lunch to figure out how to fix it. I wasn’t there, but I can imagine the conversation as if I were the proverbial fly on the wall. You chatted quickly, trying to get him to open up. Kevin was recalcitrant and withdrawn. When he told me about the lunch, I told him that I felt sorry for you because I know what it is like to try to bring him out of his shell after he crawls in it. It is hard to reach out and try to communicate with someone who has shut down. I get that. The difficulty is that the lunch was probably a year too late. By that time, there had been too little support, too little thanks, too little honest conversation on both sides. From a business management perspective, it was the perfect storm.

Suffice it to say, it is a sad outcome anytime someone who has worked hard for so many years is asked to step down. I know it could not have been an easy decision for you and I do not hold any grudges. In fact, if I leave you with anything, it is my sincere appreciation. I thank you for giving him the opportunity to manage such a large operation, and for the gestures you extended during that time to let him know you appreciated how much he grew the business. I thank you for all that you do in the community, and for supporting other employees who have dedicated their careers to your organization. Mostly, though, I have to thank you for letting Kevin go. I cannot fully articulate how happy I am to have him back, and I will do all I can to ensure that whatever is in the cards for his next adventure, that he does not give so much of himself that he loses his way or gives up the fun balance in his life.

For the past 8 years, when people would ask me about Kevin, I would always offer some variation of a reply indicating that he was working too much, as ever. From now on, my reply will be that Kevin is finding his life again, and is truly happy. Kevin takes ownership of his parting from your management team, knowing the responsibility to tell you what was failing rested on him. Trust was lost on both sides, and let it be a lesson to us all; we can ill afford to take any relationship for granted. We need to nurture it with more “What can I do for you?” -type questions and more “I appreciate you” -type statements.

 

My best regards to you and your organization for ongoing success. If I can ever be a blessing to you in the future, I hope you will not hesitate to contact me directly.

Sincerely,

Angela

Angela Maskey

P.S. I also need to thank you for asking me to take your Guest Relations Manager to lunch when she started her job, to give her advice. It was during that meeting I came up with the title “Happiness Manager”, a nomenclature I have since embraced officially at my job, with tremendous results. I don’t know that the lunch helped her much, but it was transformative for me. For that as well, I am forever grateful.

Two Japanese Words

kaizen

Any time I talk about customer service, I have to break out two of my favorite Japanese words, commonly used in the world of Lexus: kaizen and omotenashi. Kaizen means continuous improvement, an ongoing passion for personal and professional development. It goes without saying that any conversation about customer service will require a constant pursuit of offering better service today than we did yesterday. We must read, learn, try new things. Omotenashi is a little trickier to explain, as I don’t know that there is a true English equivalent.

Omotenashi loosely translated means hospitality, but it really is a stronger version of it. Imagine that your favorite celebrity is going to visit your home: think about how you would put out your best dishes, purchase fresh flowers, and prepare their favorite foods. This level of service is anticipatory, offering amenities which the guest doesn’t even know they want or need. It is a hospitality level designed to delight the guest, help them feel at ease, and create lasting memories. For a company aspiring to the utmost level of the customer experience, one can easily sense that omotenashi is the ideal goal.

In thinking of customer service in this way, I am reminded of the motto held by the Ritz Carlton: We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. I love this phrase, because it conveys a sense of manners and graciousness. It implies that it is an honor to serve others (which it truly is). When I hear about a situation involving a heated debate with a customer or coworker, I think of this motto. Keeping a poised demeanor is absolutely essential, and the more that we maintain our decorum, the calmer the other person will pick up on our dignified presentation and respond in-kind.

In addition to these two concepts, I am unable to discuss customer service without mentioning employee engagement. I believe with my full heart that there can be no ongoing culture of exemplary guest service without a conscious commitment to the internal customer, the associate. It is not realistic to expect team members to be superstars of omotenashi and kaizen without a direct supervisor who embraces those same values. Of the 8-10 responsibilities I have at the dealership, the one which is my absolute priority is caring for the 5 employees for whom I am responsible. I cannot do anything else unless I know that they are ok, and that they have everything they need for the day. I work extra hours to accommodate special schedule requests, ask them about life events, keep communication lines open about their duties and tell them I appreciate them. As we have built our relationship over the years, they have rewarded me with a loyalty that impresses me daily. These amazing individuals provide anticipatory service to the Jim Hudson Lexus customers, seeing things that need to be done for them and jumping in without having to be asked. Ours is a relationship of the utmost level of mutual respect; we watch out for one another and safeguard a positive work experience. When guests comment on the friendliness and service extended by my department, I feel that it is a direct reflection on how they feel about their job.

It has been said that how one feels about their job is 90% related to how one feels about their supervisor. This is why I take my leadership responsibilities so seriously. Considering how much time we spend at work, I have the power to impact someone’s daily life in a significant way. I am sure that John Mackey of the Whole Foods organization concurs: “If you are lucky enough to be someone’s employer, then you have a moral obligation to make sure people do look forward to coming to work in the morning.”

The best way to fulfill this obligation is to lead by example. If I instruct my team to be punctual, well-groomed, polite, attentive, hard-working…then I myself must demonstrate those attributes in excess of the level I expect from them. If I am encouraging kaizen and ongoing learning, then I must pursue it, as well. My team and I help one another to be better employees, and by extension, better human beings. As we sustain an elevated level of courtesy and graciousness in our environment, that same optimistic attitude begins to ooze into our personal lives, with positive results. We become a blessing to one another.

Being a blessing to someone is at the core of everything I choose to do in my life. It has become my mission statement, informing every interaction at home, work or in the community. The cool thing about having a personal mission statement is that it simplifies decisions. Anytime I am overwhelmed or in doubt, I ask myself how I can be a blessing to the other person, and the answers and actions flow from that. Followers of my blog will recall how I came to discover this mission statement a couple of years ago, but perhaps do not realize how transformative it has become. Be a Blessing Blog By asking myself how to be a blessing to others, it brings personal significance to the customer service I extend. I want to bring the most beautiful aspects of omotenashi to the guest in front of me in each moment, and I am rewarded with a feeling of actually being in love with my job. I go home each night knowing that the work I am doing is my life’s purpose, and it is more fulfilling than any career I could have imagined for myself 30 years ago when I helped my first customer in my first job almost 40 years ago.

While there are still moments of incredible stress and frustration in my work life, I cannot imagine doing anything else, for any other company, as long as I am physically able to work. Customer service positions have to be the most challenging and difficult of any jobs today, but by embracing two small Japanese words and coming up with a mission statement that resonates for you, I can testify that even a job you have had for many years can become new, fresh, and amazing.

 

For Mary Catherine

Most of us spend our teens and 20’s in a decidedly selfish stage of life. We want to party, we care about how we look, we spend money on ourselves as quickly as it falls into our greedy little hands. Looking back on this phase, I see myself mired in a boy-crazy,  superficial slog to adulthood, holding on to the Freudian Id of myself like a sentimental stuffed animal with which I was unable to part. At the time, I imagined there were people who eventually matured and did crazy things like save money or be responsible, but I did not know many of them my age, and my own ambitions were nebulous and egocentric.

As a result of all of this vain immaturity in my youth, it struck me as particularly impressive when I observed my niece Mary Catherine as she approached young adulthood with the poise of someone who had been given a cheat sheet on how to become a good person. She thrived in high school and college, with good grades and great friends. Despite some mild anxiety issues, she found the bravery to join the cheer leading squad, where she was loved by her team. In college, she pursued her passion for teaching with a sincere love of children and a true calling for the profession.

She graduated college last year and became a teacher at Parkway Elementary. It has been so cool to watch her blossom in this role, because she has always known what she wanted in life: to be a teacher, a good person, and one day, to have a family. While she enjoys fashion, she is not obsessed with her appearance, and never pretends to be something she is not. At a time when most people put God on the back burner, she shows commitment to her faith. Authentic is definitely a word I would use to describe her.

mc1

The other words I use most often to describe her include kind, charming and levelheaded. Now, at 23, she once again demonstrates another trait of maturity: exemplary grace in adversity. Because it was her first year as a teacher, everyone thought that her recurring bouts of sickness were from exposure to all of her young students. After a series of tests, the family was stunned to learn that she has Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). She was immediately put in the hospital and is now in the middle of a month-long aggressive chemotherapy which could possibly impede her chances of having children in the future. Throughout it, of course, she is resilient, retaining her Mary Catherine spirit and showing the rest of us, as always, how a healthy mindset translates into a life well-lived.

mc3

 

In a show of love and support, her friends have started a Go Fund Me page, both for the family burden of immediate medical expenses, as well as the hope of fertility treatments which will allow her to pursue her dreams of a family in the future. I ask my friends to offer your prayers for her strength and health, and/or a small gift to her page. I know that I would not have moved to Augusta back in the late 90’s if it were not for the sweet child I wanted to be near as she grew up. I know that many people join me in saying that Mary Catherine is an inspiration and role model to them, as well. The quote that sticks with me the most during this time is from the movie Mulan, when the Emperor says to the Captain, “The flower which blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.” MC is indeed that flower, so I thank you in advance for your prayers and support for her.

Support Mary Catherine Go Fund Me page

M is for Maskey

A friend gave me a set of coasters for Christmas, beautiful beige ceramic ones with an elegant gold M etched into the top. I set them out on the coffee table this weekend, and Kevin jokingly asked if the M was for Miller. I assured him that the M was indeed, very much for the name Maskey

coaster

It’s easy to see why he asked the question; he knew that I was still on a Miller buzz after an amazing grand opening weekend. Staff and volunteers for the Symphony Orchestra Augusta had just successfully introduced the revived theater to the community, following a 10-year, $23 million-dollar journey, and I had been blessed with a front row seat on the ride.

beforeafter2

The years leading up to this moment were filled with donated time and money unlike any endeavor I had ever undertaken. I served on the SOA board during the feasibility studies (2008-2011), a time I used to hound project chair Levi Hill IV to let me do anything in order to be involved. “I’ll sweep floors, hang posters, anything you need,” I vowed with awestruck enthusiasm for the impending renovation. Eventually my tenacity and vocal outbursts during board meetings must have convinced him of my passion for the building, because in 2011 he asked me to lead a team of like-minded marketing people to advocate for the campaign in the community. I recruited a group of impressive community leaders and creative minds to serve on the “MMT”,  the Miller Marketing Team. For the next 6 years, the MMT coordinated an ongoing stream of events to create awareness for the fundraising campaign and future construction. As a result of my role in these activities, I would ultimately be asked to serve on the board of the newly created Miller, LLC, and thus began my education in everything from capital campaigns to easement rights.

image

Kevin always supported this often crazy journey of mine. I devoted entire weekends to representing the Miller at public events like the Downtown Loft Tour, Arts in the Heart and the Junior League Holiday Market, as well as coordinating our own events, including street festivals, birthday parties, music videos and private tours. Kevin has seen me selling shirts, answering questions, recruiting volunteers, building websites, attending meetings and even gift wrapping to raise money for the cause. He has watched me pour our personal money into marketing materials, event supplies, team lunches and souvenir sales. No matter how thin I stretched my time or money for Miller-related activities, Kevin remained steadfast in his encouragement. Never once did he challenge my level of giving, not even when I passed out broke and exhausted at the end of my many Miller adventures. I imagine most people would have at least had one conversation starting with “Um, honey, are you sure about all this?” Not my Kevin. He even allowed me to plaster Miller art and photographs all over the house, including a 9-foot painting we bought at a fundraiser back in 2010.

millerart

He knew that the Miller journey was not always easy, for me or for the others who were involved. Volunteers and staff came and went. There were doubters, obstacles, learning curves and political battles. My portion of those challenges was minuscule compared to what Levi endured, always with grace and confidence. I tell anyone who will listen that the Miller stands proudly today because of Levi, and I have crazy respect for this charming gentleman and intelligent leader. Somehow the right people always came to us at the right time in the project, and I tend to think they were drawn to Levi’s unwavering faith and charisma. There were too many heroes in this battle to mention, but two individuals in particular felt like gifts from heaven when we needed their strengths the most. Anne Catherine Murray came in as Director of SOA at a time when the boat was flailing a bit, and she was able to maneuver us back on course with her experience and ability to make tough decisions. She was gracious and savvy; she seemed to intuitively know how to focus the talent on deck. Then, as we neared the finish line with much left to accomplish, in flies Marty Elliott, the Mary Poppins of General Managers, with her knowledge and firecracker energy.  What a blessing these three leaders have been, and I credit them and the major investors for the phenomenal structure which now connects the past of downtown Augusta with her future.

beforeafter1

During the opening gala, despite the incredible symphonic presentation and vocal performance by Sutton Foster, I was restless and wanted to walk the space by myself. While the sold-out crowd enjoyed the music, I meandered the glossy arcade and strolled past the shiny displays. It was a surreal moment, remembering what it used to look like and feeling a tiny bit out-of-place. I focused on being fully present in the moment, still emotional after the presentation to Levi which had taken place onstage a few moments earlier. I knew I would remember this night as long as I lived, the culmination of years of efforts by hundreds of people, humbled by the fact that I was a small part of it all, and honored to know that the name Maskey would grace the plaques in this space for generations to come. And for that, the final thanks has to go to Kevin Maskey. I want him to know that no matter what challenge I tackle, that M will always be for Maskey.

kevang2

Kev-Ang at the opening gala

 

 

Minimalist Holiday, Wrapped Up

I’ve been thinking about the Minimalists lately. The holiday season is lurking ahead, replete with the dangers of over consumption. It is easy to go overboard with superfluous purchases, falling prey to ingrained expectations and family rituals. This habit of overspending during the Christmas season is born in good intentions but lacks the restraint and thoughtfulness which the minimalist movement embraces.

If you are unfamiliar with the Minimalists, I encourage you to watch the compelling Netflix documentary about a trend towards simplicity and away from the excessive pursuit of non-essential material goods. (Or peek at the website here: The Minimalists ). I saw the film for the first time in January of this year, still high from the massive spending record I had set over the prior few months. The timing for the message was perfect, and in my state of unprecedented stress and debt, the story of Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn resonated with me in a profound way.

I’ve watched the video multiple times throughout the year, and have been aggressive in pursuing the values. The entire house has undergone a transformation, with the exception of my husband’s possessions, which he has patiently asked me to stop donating without permission. My wardrobe is streamlined, our house decor borders on the austere, and my sister’s eBay sales have hit a spike. Whatever missing part of my life I was trying to fill with spending, I now attempt to fill with hobbies, such as writing, reading or gift wrapping. Which leads me back to the holiday predicament.

How do I embrace the values of minimalism and still pursue my passion for the creative outlet of gift wrapping? How do I tweak my approach to the gift exchange traditions which have been a part of my family’s story? The Minimalists offer suggestions in this podcast ( Gift Giving for the Minimalists ), including gifts of experiences, consumables and charitable donations. This last idea hits home for me, since there are so many cool non-profits in the area I would love to support, and I like the message of “hey, I know this cause is important to you, so for Christmas, I made a donation to them in your honor.”

Suddenly, a development opened the door to a solution for my dilemma. My friend Crystal has a new job with Augusta Animal Services, and told me about a donor who is willing to match any contribution made during the first two weeks of November. When I heard this good news, it seemed like an ideal way to try to get the “donation as gift” concept out there. I told her that for anyone who makes a donation to her organization on behalf of a loved one, I will offer to gift wrap a custom message so that their recipient is still able to experience opening a present. Free gift wrap and matching donations might just be the platform we need to do something positive for the furry friends in our area, and satisfy my personal challenge to give gifts with more meaning and less material consumerism.

If someone on your shopping list has a passion for animals, this might just be the unique and thoughtful gift you have been seeking. I will customize the look of the gift to the style you think they would enjoy, such as a natural, craft paper wrap or an upscale, high-gloss presentation. If you have a hard time with the complete lack of a physical object, I can include a pet-based holiday ornament, so there is some small keepsake memento of the gesture. (While not a strict minimalist approach, I could still get by with it by building a case for the ornament adding value to the overall gift-opening experience. 😉 )

Feel free to message me on the contact form on my wraps website ( Orange Cat Wraps  ) if you would like more information. I will likely stress a minimum donation around $50, because of the quality and time of the wrapping, and the urgent need for the spay/neuter program which will benefit. I am flexible, though, because I want us all to feel like it is not how much we give or spend, but how much thought there is behind the gesture. Hopefully the Minimalists will approve.

###

P.S. If the animal donation is not a fit, but you like the idea of charity-as-gift and want the complimentary wrap, I will also wrap for donations to other non-profits in the area, including (but not limited to) such organizations as the Miller Theater, Golden Harvest Food Bank, SafeHomes, Fireside Ministries, Salvation Army and Child Enrichment. Let’s chat.