Author Archives: angelamaskey

About angelamaskey

Member of Georgia Cancer Center Team Coordinator of VolunteerAugusta.com Gift Wrapper Orange Cat Wraps Leadership Augusta Class of 1999

The Poetry of Team MC

In 2018, my niece Mary Catherine told me about a song that lifted her spirits in the most overwhelming moments of her 2-year struggle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia: O’Lord by Lauren Daigle. I added the song to my playlist, and fell in love with it immediately.

Though times it seems
Like I’m coming undone
This walk can often feel lonely
No matter what until this race is won
I will stand my ground where hope can be found

MC stood her ground where hope could be found, indeed. The terrain she traveled from diagnoses to remission was physically and emotionally turbulent, demanding every ounce of fortitude from her small frame at a time in her life when she should have been able to enjoy the carefree days of young adult life.

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I listen to this song when I want to sit quietly with my thoughts, filled with an immense gratitude for music that comforts, medicine that heals, prayers that fortify, and friends that care. The place in Mary Catherine’s story that I now want to spend some time is the space that holds all of the blessings: the people who were there for the Hydrick family in ways large and small, the stories which hover in my heart when I hear Lauren Daigle’s resonant voice.

I think of the doctor who visited the Hydricks at 9:30 at night, giving them hope in their worst possible moment. I think of the Lexus customer who stopped by my office and told me about her young son, who always hated school until he had MC for a teacher, and who prayed for her healing every night. I recall the fundraiser we attended at the school where MC taught, a fun run with families of students, people who love the Hydricks, including friends of mine from Lexus.

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Throughout Mary Catherine’s ordeal, these friends asked about her daily, offering prayers and support in any way available. They still ask how MC is doing, they attend and support every event, from the school fun run to the annual fundraiser for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. The time, prayers, donations, words of encouragement were enduring, unfailing, and inspiring. When someone is there for your loved ones without question, without hesitation, there lies the love, and in that love is what I consider to be the poetry of life.

David Carradine said: “If you cannot be a poet, be the poem”. We may not have Lauren Daigle’s gift for words and melody, but we have the gift for action born of love. For the past 2 years, that action has sprung to life as many Mary Catherine fans support “TEAM MC” in the Light the Night Walk for LLS. On October 2nd, Mary Catherine Hydrick will be the honored hero for the 2020 CSRA Light the Night Walk, and I have no doubt that the poetry will blossom once again.

Team MC page for Light the Night 2020

I am reading a book by Amanda Palmer called The Art of Asking; in it, she explains that “asking for help with gratitude says we have the power to help each other”. In asking for support, we allow people to connect to us in a more profound way. In responding to those requests, we say to the person: “I see you.” It is acknowledgement, it is understanding, it is solidarity. 

It is in this spirit that I ask everyone I know to help me. My dream is to honor Mary Catherine’s victory and her role as honored hero by blasting the roof off of the $5,000 goal we have set for Team MC. For every gift, prayer, gesture and compassion for MC-past and future-I say to you: Thank you for being the poem. I see you.

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https://pages.lls.org/ltn/ga/csra20/teammc

Link to 2018 MC blog

Let me tell you about my Mom

Dad didn’t understand why I needed a new dress. He said I already had a perfectly good one that I had only worn once. I tried to explain that I couldn’t wear a prom dress in a beauty pageant, but I could see his eyes glaze over. I had lost him. Thankfully Mom came to the rescue and bought me the dusty rose colored gown that would allow me to blend in to the crowd of big-haired hopefuls in the 1983 Miss EHS contest. Mom understood, just like she did when I absolutely had to have an Op-brand t-shirt for beach day. Dad thought $10 was excessive for a t-shirt. In all fairness, it was (back then). But I explained to Mom that “everyone would be wearing one” and that I would be left out. I wore that red Op shirt for years.

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Doesn’t look like much, but it was a big deal back then.

Suffice it to say, Mom understood much more than I gave her credit for when I was growing up. The tougher of the two parents, she was the one holding me accountable when I didn’t do my chores, calling me out on poor decisions and waiting for me when I stumbled home too late from a date. Like most mother-daughter relationships, we had some tricky years when I stubbornly refused her sage advice. Over time, however, we cultivated a more balanced relationship. I would learn my lessons the hard way, as most of us do, while she continued to toss out warnings that I ignored. I began to realize that her actions were based in love. Even today, in my 50’s, she still drops hints that soundly vaguely parental, and she still worries about me. That will never stop, and that is a good thing. It means she cares. If life has shown me anything, it is how difficult parenting can be, and how rare when it is done well. She did it well.

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A fave pic of Mom, sassy and savvy.

In the 90’s, Mom and I traveled a bit, taking road trips to Maine (with an accidental excursion to Canada) and New Orleans. She and I share a sense of adventure and learning new things, and I credit her for my open-mindedness, as well as my appreciation for people from all walks of life. I came to realize that I could ask her just about anything (except for technology or sports) and she would have an intelligent answer. She was my Google before Google was invented, and I often find myself telling people who ask me for advice, “I’m not sure about that. Let me call my Mom, and I’ll let you know.” As a retired social worker and avid reader, her grasp of a wide range of topics never ceases to amaze.

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Traveling together in the 90’s

One of her many topics of particular expertise has always been money. Dad (like me) tended to err on the side of short-term, low-discipline financial choices, and Mom had to hold the family together. Budgeting, saving, scrimping and investing all became her strengths by necessity. I recall family meetings in the 70’s when we were told we were going to have to hunker down for a bit and cut some corners. I also recall in 2007, she told me that she was pulling all of her retirement money out of the stock market because she was concerned about the relationship between the dollar and the yen. Her financial adviser thought she was crazy, and then everything bottomed out. It was then I realized the full extent of her financial savvy, telling people that if my Mom told me to invest in dog poop, I would sign up on the spot.

While I never did develop her financial skills, I do credit her for my love of reading and passion for service to others. She took us to the library often as kids, leaving us to explore and encouraging us to bring home our prize finds. When a family in need came into her radar, she would send us to our rooms for clothes and toys to donate, and we would ride with her to the home of the recipient family, where we could meet and play with the kids who would later wear our hand-me-downs in their school photos. Those moments stay with me, and I am grateful for the perspective I gained from what was not only insightful parenting, but also leading by example. When I think about the successful parts of my life, and the good things about how I turned out as a person, I know without reservation that the credit for those traits goes to my Mom.

Today my Mom is 80 years old. She still mows her own grass, walks twice a day, makes kind gestures to others and reads voraciously. While the pandemic prohibits us from throwing her a proper birthday party, as evidenced by our socially distant front-yard photo shoot, we look forward to the day when we can celebrate this special day for a smart, caring, savvy, strong Mom. Like always, she understands.

 

 

Top Ten List of Top Tens

Top Ten Favorite Movies

  1. Casablanca
  2. Shakespeare in Love
  3. A Little Chaos
  4. Beauty and the Beast (Disney version)
  5. XXX
  6. Moulin Rouge
  7. Darjeeling Ltd
  8. The Longest Week
  9. Mulan
  10. Now, Voyager

Top Ten Favorite Songs

  1. Show Must Go On by Queen
  2. Life is Beautiful by Sixx AM
  3. It’s My Life (ballad version) by Bon Jovi
  4. Northside by Tim Brantley
  5. Hold On To Your Dream by Rick Springfield
  6. 50 Ways to Say Goodbye by Train
  7. And So I Pray by Jem
  8. I’m Not Ok by My Chemical Romance
  9. Still Got the Blues by Gary Moore
  10. A Song for You by Ray Charles

Top Ten Favorite Places to spend money

  1. Target
  2. Clinique
  3. Publix
  4. Hallmark
  5. Michael’s
  6. Stein Mart
  7. Dillard’s
  8. Art on Broad
  9. Book Tavern
  10. Barnes and Noble

Top Ten Favorite Causes

  1. Miller Theater
  2. Golden Harvest Food Bank
  3. Augusta Symphony
  4. Leadership Augusta
  5. Child Enrichment
  6. Leukemia Lymphoma Society
  7. Friends of Augusta Animal Services
  8. Salvation Army
  9. Safehomes
  10. Heritage Academy

Top Ten Favorite Writers

  1. David Sedaris
  2. Will Schwalbe
  3. Fr. Gregory Boyle
  4. Adam Grant
  5. DH Lawrence
  6. Atul Gawande
  7. Russell Brand
  8. Elizabeth Gilbert
  9. Joan Didion
  10. Anais Nin
  11. Amor Towles

Top Ten Favorite Bands

  1. Queen
  2. Sixx AM
  3. Linkin Park
  4. Bon Jovi
  5. REM
  6. Matchbox Twenty
  7. Edison Project
  8. Styx
  9. Journey
  10. No Doubt

Favorite Singers

  1. Rick Springfield
  2. Jem
  3. George Michael
  4. Russ Taff
  5. John Mayer
  6. Tim Brantley
  7. David Ford
  8. David Owen
  9. Sade
  10. Edith Piaf

Top Ten Favorite Hotels

  1. Charleston Place
  2. Chateau Elan
  3. Margaritaville Nashville
  4. Vendue Charleston
  5. Hermitage Nashville
  6. Proximity Greensboro NC
  7. Ritz Lodge Lake Oconee
  8. Studio 154 Nashville
  9. Shamrock Ocala
  10. Four Seasons Whistler

 

Top Ten Favorite Foods to Eat

  1. Cinnabon
  2. Shells and Cheese
  3. Takosushi Kevin’s Roll
  4. Guacamole and Chips from Caesar at Poblano’s
  5. Fluff (mine)
  6. Pancakes (mine)
  7. French Toast
  8. Lefse (Dad)
  9. Egg Breakfast Food (Mom)
  10. Lasagne

Top Ten Favorite Books

  1. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  2. Tattoos on the Heart by Fr. Gregory Boyle
  3. 10% Happier by Dan Harris
  4. Books for Living by Will Schwalbe
  5. Selected Poetry of Rilke, trans. Stephen Mitchell
  6. Everybody Always by Bob Goff
  7. Everything that Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
  8. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
  9. Naked by David Sedaris
  10. Give and Take by Adam Grant

11. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Team Roland

The guy who sells meat products at Fresh Market knew what Kevin was going to buy: several pounds of the inexpensive chicken thighs, which “the wife will cook for me”, and an equal amount of expensive chicken tenders “which are strictly for the cat”. They had a nice chuckle about it, “I hear ya!”, but it was true. While I did sometimes cook the pricier meat for my husband, in all honesty, Roland was always on the receiving end of the choicest cuts.

While Fresh Market guy might have thought I was playing favorites, Kevin knew I was in a state of desperation, and he kindly accommodated me. Roland had been suffering from hyperthyroidism for many years, and my whole world revolved around getting my beloved orange cat to eat. Adjusting medicine, buying special cat food, making emergency trips to the vet, hand-feeding chicken tenders cooked in bacon and warmed in the microwave for 7 seconds (!), smearing food on his paws so he would lick it off-I was like a madwoman in pursuit of the sweet moment when I would see my bone-thin feline consume calories.

Mom calculated today that Kevin and I lived this way for five years, coping with a what is apparently a common issue in older cats. Throughout this journey, Roland would be fine for months at a time, albeit very thin, clocking in at less than 4 pounds, eating small amounts consistently, in an extremely spoiled and finicky manner. Then he would suddenly go on a hunger strike, during which he acted restless and ate NOTHING, and became insatiably thirsty. It was painful to witness. In these moments,  when even home-cooked Fresh Market chicken or juice from a can of tuna were rejected, I would find myself in the office of my very patient and caring vet, Dr. Scholer at Hilltop Animal Hospital.

Dr. Scholer and his team always worked me in to their schedule, and welcomed Roland as a beloved guest. If my frequent visits or incessant questions were vexing, Dr. S never once let it show. He was always on “Team Roland”, and approached my cat with a sincere concern and willingness to try whatever was needed to get him back on track. He even once met us at the office on a day it was closed because I was too squeamish to give Roland a shot myself. Over time we found a trifecta of fluids, vitamins and steroids to boost the appetite enough to get Roland up to speed.

I have had cats my entire life, but there have only been 2 others who won my entire heart as completely as Roland, and they were both orange tabbies, as well. Roland followed me everywhere, greeted me at the door, slept with me, told me in no certain terms what he wanted, and badgered me until he got his way. I refused to take trips longer than a couple of nights because I hated being away from him. Mom took super-good care of him during these times, and returning from vacations to see him safe and healthy when I returned was pure bliss.

In addition to being a beloved pet, Roland also had fans on the internet. Experiencing the joy of gift wrapping presents every Christmas while he supervised was the reason I labeled my hobby “Orange Cat Wraps” and after sharing pics of him with the gifts every year, he received rave reviews among my Facebook and Instagram friends.

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But the absolute pinnacle of love, the ultimate moments of heart swelling, occurred when I came home at the end of the day and heard Kevin exclaiming to Roland from the other side of the door. “She’s back!” Kevin would cheerily tell our thin orange cat. “Come on, let’s go greet her, she’s here!” I would open the door, and my amazing husband and adorable cat were always right there, welcoming me home with love and hugs and kisses and meows.

Here is a “selfie” that Kevin and Roland took recently. They took selfies often when I was at work, and seeing them together brought me instant happiness. Kevin grew to love Roland in the past 13 years, and the feeling was mutual. Perhaps he knew that Kevin was the one ordering obscene amounts of canned cat food in his favorite flavor (whatever that might be at the time), or he appreciated that Kevin allowed me to turn the entire house into whatever Roland needed. Special beds? Sure! Turn on water in sink for cat to drink? No problem! Chair next to counter for cat to jump? Absolutely. Kevin never got angry when Roland made accidental messes on the floor, or complained about the amount of money spent on his food and care. Kevin, like Dr. S, was always “Team Roland”, and that unwavering support fills me with overwhelming gratitude.

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Sadly and inevitably, the trifecta’s impact diminished after last week’s hunger strike, and we lost our struggle to find a new antidote. Roland passed away on Monday, and my week at work has been one of quiet despondence. Being very new at my job, there is not a single co-worker who knows of Roland’s death or what it means to me. Had I still been working at Lexus, this experience would have been completely different. My team there all knew about my cat and were Team Roland, for sure. I spoke of him constantly, told everyone when I had to leave to take him to see Dr. S, and showed pictures to anyone who would tolerate it. It’s certainly not a bad thing to grieve in silence, and I’m sure my new peeps would express sympathy if they knew, but I keep it in my heart every day until I get home, and then I walk in the door, and there is nothing. The profound silence wraps around me, and my only comfort is the gratitude I have for the extra time I had with Roland. I am also thankful for everyone who was encouraging during his illness and Orange Cat Wrap adventures. I was so blessed to enjoy 15 years with this adorable boss of the house, and to have so many loved ones on Team Roland. We will miss our orange cat.

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Roland supervised all blogging activity

Freefall 2019

Ten years ago, to fulfill a goal from my bucket list, I allowed myself to be strapped to a robust young man in a tiny airplane climbing steadily in the sky. We watched as the plane door opened, and together we stepped beneath the wings, pausing only for a moment before flinging ourselves into a loud rush of wind. Although the step out onto a microscopic ledge was a harrowing moment, the contrast of exhilaration and sereneness surrounding the release of the parachute sticks with me the most. I have been thinking about this tandem jump in recent days with a forlorn pensiveness, creating an internal narrative in a quest for inner peace following my resignation from Jim Hudson Lexus.

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It is both undesirable and inappropriate to explain the reasons for my departure after an intense 16-year tenure; suffice it to say that they are as complicated as they are depressing. To discuss the reasons would be similar to navigating small talk with well-wishers about the sudden divorce of a seemingly happy couple: way too personal and serving no constructive purpose. I can say this, however: I fought for what I believed was right, and I take ownership of the outcome. In addition to my own departure, the battle culminated in a loss of many valued team members, including two of my dear friends and front-line comrades, as well as my husband. In these situations, where there is a good deal of “agreeing to disagree”, nobody wins, in the end.  Although supremely confident that the store and all departing employees will thrive, I reserve the right to spew optimistic PR clichés while mourning something I have long considered to be my life’s purpose and passion. As I write this, two weeks later, I still feel as though I am free-falling in the air, scrambling for the parachute cord.

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In the heat of the battle, I did not hesitate at all, despite a kind offer to “take a few days and think about it”. I replied that the only required deliberation was to negotiate the transition details. I then promptly stepped onto the microscopic ledge of the metaphorical skyscraper of my career and jumped, with no parachute beyond the comfort of knowing I was not alone. In the days which followed, despite the ensuing tears and a sinking nausea deep in my belly, I also experienced the calm resolve of knowing I made the right decision for myself and my family. An inevitable peaceful floating into the unknown will be a metaphor made more acute with the phrase “I will let you know where I land”, exchanged with friends constantly throughout each day.

I think back to the person I was when I came to the dealership in 2003. Financially, I was in a sad place, living in an apartment with no heat and possessing such a low credit score that I suspect it might have been a negative number. Mr. Hudson had to guarantee my first car note with Lexus Financial. While my financial transformation over the years is certainly a source of pride, my greatest accomplishment is one of personal growth. In the past 16 years, I fine-tuned skills which lend credibility to another of my oft-used current phrases: I truly am a better person for having the honor of working for this incredible organization. I have mastered the art of the apology, I am a meticulous organizer, and I take immense pride in my efforts to be a blessing to customers and colleagues. I understand the value of processes, am a stickler for personal responsibility for mistakes, and have made strides in stress-management (a tough one in the car business). I may have even developed a small sense of humor, but time will tell if the laughter was just my co-workers being polite.

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I am filled with profound gratitude that my team leaders allowed me to engage in so many exciting projects, many of which were my own creations. They empowered me to do what I felt was best for the dealership and the community, and supported me without question. The credit for my personal growth goes to this level of unwavering mutual trust over many years. I can endorse the integrity of this organization and the leaders in the beautiful new facility on Washington Road, and I can also take responsibility for much of that which went awry. In the coming years, I will work on other areas of personal growth still needing attention, not the least of which is a borderline pathological need to help everyone and fix everything. During my tenure, I gradually took on increased responsibilities, so that by the time I left, I was involved in every inch of this 56,000 square foot building, as well as each member of the team within the modern glass walls. Nobody asked me to do this, I just kept adding plates and integrated them into the juggling act which was already tenuous leading up to our move. It was inevitable that some plates would drop, wires would cross and exhaustion would settle in like an unwelcome relative.

One of my PR clichés is calling my next unknown job “a new adventure”. In this adventure, whatever it might be, I will bring my same work ethic, initiative, organization, passion for customer service and ability to work with little supervision. What I will not bring is my proclivity to take on duties outside of my purview because I assume that nobody else can do them with my same level of care. I will share the blessed burden of service with my equally capable team mates, communicating when my juggling act has reached full capacity, and learning to enjoy whatever new terrain awaits me in my safe landing place. In the meantime, I will be floating, more gently, pledging to stay in contact with the many friends I made in the Lexus family and Augusta community, and if I ever find myself in the position again where I need to make such a bold leap of faith from a precarious ledge, I will be wiser for the experience and quicker to find the parachute.

Leadership Thoughts for the New Year

Leaders must:

  • Have a clear mission and vision
  • Make it crystal clear how you expect everyone to implement your vision
  • Provide ongoing support and feedback
  • Hold them accountable when they stray too far from their purpose
  • Thank them when they excel
  • Admit when you make a mistake
  • Strive for continuous improvement for yourself and your team
  • Advocate for care of self and others
In the absence of leadership, expect one of four responses from each member of the team
  • They will do what they want with their own interests at heart
  • They will do what they can in an attempt to help the the team
  • They will step into the perceived void in the leadership role and attempt to influence change the best they can
  • They will feel compelled to leave due to loss of confidence
If you are struggling as a leader, ask yourself how much honest and supportive conversation you are having with your people every day.

If they are not responding to your mission in the manner you expect, they either do not understand your expectations, do not believe that there will be consequences for doing their own thing, do not have loyalty and trust for you (which must be earned) or have their own interest at heart, making them unfit for the team.

There are no shortcuts for direct, honest and supportive conversation, even if brief, with your team members EVERY day. This cannot be delegated and cannot be procrastinated. Talking to your team constantly, asking questions, saying thank you and building trust is the only path to loyalty, which is the only path to cohesive teams and fulfillment of your mission.
I implore you, if you are a leader, do not ever let a day go by without talking to as many of your team members as you can, giving them your full attention in a respectful manner and reinforcing your expectations and concern for them as human beings.
My best wishes to all of us who struggle as leaders and struggle with their own leaders. Be kind to one another, be gracious of our mutual strengths and challenges. Most of all, say this to one another every day, and not just today, on Thanksgiving: I appreciate you.

The Rabbit Conundrum

More than 20 years ago, I cared for a baby bird who fell from a nest at the Saturn dealership. I named it Fred, (pronounced “Fwed”), and cared for it from helpless infant to independent adult. Once it became clear that the bird was ready for freedom, I released it at my Dad’s house, harboring the fantasy that I could visit anytime in the future, gently call out “Where Fwed?” like I had done constantly for weeks, and it would land on my shoulder in the same way it had in my house. I pictured being involved with Fred for the rest of his life, making sure he always had food, and demonstrating a bond that defied nature.

Full Story of Fred the rescued bird

As you can imagine, my hopes were dashed on release day, when Dad and I opened Fred’s cage and it flew away, never to be seen again. Despite many calls of “Where Fwed?” into the void of Dad’s lovely garden, my shoulder remained as empty as my broken heart. I knew I did right by Fred but also missed him greatly. I still think about Fred anytime I see a small brown wren sitting on a branch, wondering whatever became of the bird that consumed my life during those weeks in the late 90s.

Because of my experience with Fred, I knew not to expect a lifelong bond when I assumed responsibility for an injured rabbit at our dealership last week. I accepted that I would become enamored of the bunny, who would likely only tolerate me during our short time together. I pushed the thought out of my mind and focused on the present, promising to do right by the animal and not be selfish, understanding that I would want to keep it and that it would want to be free.

Kevin had texted me a picture of the rabbit they captured in the shop, and I went right up to them and bossily snatched the box from the hands of the technician who caught it, assuming that I would be the person to care for the frightened critter, despite the fact that there are over 100 other employees in the dealership who could have easily done just as well.

Perhaps my bossiness could be overlooked, given the circumstances. In addition to my Fred experience long ago, I had been seriously embracing my inner Dr. Doolittle lately. In the past month alone, I had cared for an injured bird and rescued kitten, both discovered at the dealership in similarly dire circumstances. This young rabbit, the latest addition to the Lexus animal menagerie, made a magical appearance by bounding out from the engine compartment of a customer’s car and onto the back of a surprised technician.

I knew right away that the small brown bunny was injured: I could see a large gaping red patch of flesh between the shoulder blades. I suspected that something in the engine scraped the rabbit’s back, which was completely devoid of any skin in that spot. My immediate commitment to the animal was to care for the injury and provide safekeeping for now; there would be plenty of time later for decisions regarding final outcomes.

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After many attempts to find the right veterinary partner for my patient, it was determined that surgery was in order, followed by a week of recovery, including the dispensing of meds. Dr. Boucher was the perfect professional to advise me. Rabbits are high stress animals, she explained, and wild rabbits cannot be domesticated. Too much stress can easily give a rabbit a heart attack, so calm nurturing followed by a release to nature was the ideal path. She had a financial estimate prepared for me, and I had a budget in mind which would determine the rabbit’s fate. If the quote for surgery exceeded my funds, some painful decisions would have to be made.

Fortunately, her quote came in slightly under my pocketbook threshold, so we proceeded with the surgery. I left the unnamed orphan in her care, whom they labeled as “stray rabbit Maskey”, and went to the pet store to purchase supplies. At this point the budget pretty much went out the window. I purchased the vet-recommended Timothy hay and rabbit pellets, as well as the largest rabbit cage I could manage (some assembly required). By the time the rabbit came to my home, it had a large condo filled with food, water, treats, bedding and a cubby area to hide during stressful moments.

“Stray rabbit Maskey” was the name I gave to the pharmacy tech when I went to pick up her meds. Upon realizing my quest, the tech graciously discounted the final expenses for blown-open budget. I offered to name the rabbit after her in appreciation. She giggled, and said, my name is Amanda. From that moment on, so was the rabbit’s.

My week with Amanda was delightful for me and, I imagine, torture for her. I got to care for an adorable creature, she was forced to endure gentle pets on the head in exchange for free food and pain medicine spurted gracelessly into her mouth. Kevin hooked me up with a camera so that I could watch her every move, and “Rabbit cam” was born. Cute video updates to Facebook and Instagram kept Amanda’s fans informed on her progress. In the span of one quick week, we all watched her chew, groom, stretch, and rearrange her condo. In addition to the clips already posted on my Facebook and Instagram pages, I offer this snippet captured by #rabbitcam. I call it “I Meant That”, showing her falling off her ledge but acting all cool about it.

One moment which was not caught on camera throughout this ordeal was an episode entitled “The Great Escape”. I must have let my guard down one morning, or perhaps Amanda found a momentary surge of bravery. During my usual food refilling and cage cleaning, she bound out the condo door with the same zeal she used to escape the engine compartment. In that moment, she turned into a pinball. She was zinging from wall to ceiling to wall to window with a velocity that belied the calm days she had just spent lollygagging in the condo. I was acutely aware in this moment that I could name the animal and spend all the money and time I didn’t have to give, but nothing would change the fact that THIS RABBIT IS WILD.

I was able to catch Amanda and place her back in the condo, but I knew that the time had come for the sutures to be removed and the rabbit to be released. I carried the entire condo to Dr. Boucher’s office (thankfully it was on wheels), and Doc proclaimed Amanda healed and ready for new life. I returned home, forlorn. Despite my mental preparations warning myself otherwise, I was fully in love with this adorable critter. I used the rainstorms as an excuse and postponed the release for another day, not wanting the trauma of bad weather to make it harder for both of us.

This Sunday morning at 645am, I knew the time had come. It was quiet and I was ready. I wheeled the condo to the screened in porch, placed the rabbit cam strategically, and opened the porch door. Amanda was hiding in her cubby as I quietly opened her condo door and let it rest in the position that creates a down-ramp for easy exit. I silently let myself back in the house, not wanting my presence to add to her stress. I watched from inside the house, knowing that I was in for a wait.

At 6:55am she poked her head out of the cubby hole and froze. She sat motionless, looking out into the expanse of her potential freedom, but doing nothing. I watched her, imagining the decision-making or courage-summoning going on in her mind. A constant source of food, medical care, love and safety surrounded her. A world of birds, fresh air, grass, other rabbits, spacious land, unpredictable weather and predators offered an alternative future. It’s not unlike the conundrum we all face, essentially. There are the safe restraints of the familiar versus the dangers of unknown adventures. For Fred, it was no decision at all. He was born to fly, and he flew right away. Rabbits, however, are high-stress creatures. Amanda was immobile in her moment of trepidation, and I was watching in sadness from the other side of a pane-glass window.

 

At 8:01 she tentatively crossed the threshold, stepped down the ramp and ran into the porch area. After brief exploration of the porch, she bounded out the open door and into the yard. At 8:03 she was gone from our sight, and despite the condo which remains in place in case she wishes to return, the Rabbit cam is quiet. All that is left is me knowing I will be looking for her in every bunny in our rabbit-centric neighborhood, every small movement in our backyard. I will be asking “Where Amanda?”, knowing there will be no reply, and hoping, as always, that I did right for the animal I was trying to help.

Lessons in Leadership

My first team leader job was a Clinique Counter Manager position in my early 20’s; I was responsible for 1 full-time and 2 part-time beauty consultants. Back then, I could not have imagined that my entire career would revolve around various management responsibilities, or that learning about leadership would be a lifelong pursuit. My passion for servant leadership started a few years after the Counter Manager gig, when I accepted a position as Sales Manager for the Cosmetics department at a Rich’s store in a South Atlanta shopping center called Shannon Mall. It was the time I spent at Rich’s Shannon with 15 female sales professionals that ultimately became my foundation for  how to build a dynamic team and how to be a supportive boss.

Shannon Mall, sadly, no longer exists. It closed in 2010 after 30 years of business, and online pictures of the declining retail facility do not help me recall my years working there. The memories I cherish come from a folder I have kept since the 90’s, with photographs of my team, documenting a time when we created an encouraging work family. These are the women I grew to love, and for whom I would do anything to create a pleasant work atmosphere.

When the Store Manager of Rich’s at Shannon Mall offered me the opportunity to run my own department, I was initially uncertain. In an effort to help me decide, I visited the store and skulked about the cosmetics area to get a sense of it. I watched the women working there, who seemed to have a sense of dedication and camaraderie, and I could easily imagine myself in their midst. I accepted the position and the transformation began immediately. From the impressive individuals within that small space, I learned how to be a team leader. They taught me about building a culture, resolving conflict and communicating in a positive way.

 

There is a popular leadership quote: “people want to know how much you care before they care how much you know”. I approached the job with this in mind, in a position of humility, knowing that I was young and inexperienced and that they knew the business top to bottom. Once the team had a sense that I was more interested in offering support than disruption, they began to trust me and provided me with the tools I needed to succeed as their leader. The key, as is so often the case, is to listen for the answers, instead of forcing one’s own answers onto others.

I constantly asked questions and accepted guidance. I rolled up my sleeves to work with them. I was open to new ideas. I was not afraid to put in long hours. In exchange for this, the team rewarded me with not only their knowledge, but their kindness and their trust. They made grand gestures for my birthday (see photo of a money tree above) and they were committed to the success of our business. We worked hard and played hard and cared about one another. There were struggles and fights, much like any family, but at the end of the day, there was respect.

When I think of the kind of boss I am today, I know that I have these women to thank. I am not afraid to have the tough conversations with people, but I know that you have to do it with calmness and consideration. I am known to launch innovative projects, but I value process and protocol. I accept that there is a fine line between supervisor and friend, but realize that you can truly love the team members you serve and fight tooth and nail to make sure they are happy. All of this I learned from these 15 women, and my subsequent team members through the years can give them the credit (or the blame) for the type of boss I eventually blossomed into being. Although we only spent a few years together, it was a pivotal time in my leadership development, and an experience I greatly treasure.

Pet Matchmakers

I have claimed for years that my BFF Crystal has a superpower: she is the perfect matchmaker between animals and their forever human caretaker. It has happened enough times for me to be convinced that she possesses some special sixth sense for it. I learn of someone in search of a pet, give Crystal the particulars, and she miraculously finds a cat or dog which sparks with that individual. One couple I know, friends of mine, have adopted two separate rescue dogs from Crystal. The dogs not only bonded with my friends but with one another. These connections are instantaneous and a powerfully touching thing to witness.

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In recent months, it seems as though I have become ensnared into the matchmaking business.  Today my co-workers saved a kitten by removing the grill from a car and extracting the tiny feline from a dangerous hiding place. It was a beautiful team effort-three guys got the tiny critter, one took pictures and found a home for it, and another brought it to me to safeguard until her new family could come to the dealership. All of this on the same day my in-laws left to go home to Missouri with their new rescue dog-an adorable fluffball named Bella, for whom they drove two days across the country to meet and adopt.

One lucky Kitten!

Rescued from the inner workings of a car.

It’s also the same day that one of our esteemed Lexus customers won an award for her ongoing passion for rescuing homeless animals, especially those who tend to slip under the radar. It’s easy to find a home for a kitten like the one we saved today-it is tiny, adorable and likes people. It has a cute story that accompanies it. Pairing dogs and cats who are older, or have special medical needs, or timid personalities, is a tougher challenge, and our customer Martha Ann Tudor has the superpower for that. She has a gift as matchmaker for homeless animals with more complex stories but equal amounts of love potential, and the Augusta Chapter of the American Red Cross rightly honored her for this work.

Martha Ann explains her gift for helping animals

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There are bumps in the road, to be sure. Matchmaking with animals, much like with people, comes with a fair amount of blind dates gone wrong. Pets can be shy or traumatized and not show their full personality for a week or more, which is challenging for those of us who believe that a commitment to a pet is a promise for life. Having a rescue matchmaker increases the chance for success, a blessing for both sides. Martha Ann and Crystal get the backstory on the potential pet pairing and offer transparency regarding what to expect.

When it clicks, it sure is a sweet thing to witness. Watching Bella leave for Missouri, knowing the mutual happiness which is imminent in her new home, was incredibly heartwarming. Seeing rescue kitty snuggling up to her new person, I could breathe a sigh of relief and feel a surge of vicarious joy. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing reports from people who have fallen in love with their new furry family member, gushing about what a perfect fit they found, and expressing appreciation for a pet who has enriched their lives.

Martha Ann and Crystal know this joy well; they live it every day, working to match each dog and cat with the ideal person, but we all can play a small role in this process. We can help rescue the needy or injured animals we find. We can like or share the social media post which could connect a pet with a new home. We can volunteer at shelters or offer to be a foster home for cuties in transition. Ultimately, we can all be matchmakers, helping one another to find the perfect pairings for the pets who deserve our love. Thanks Martha Ann and Crystal, for your superpowers and for inspiring us to be heroes like you.

 

7 Leadership Books for a World Class Culture

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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.