Category Archives: Leadership

Just Ask

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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

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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.

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Kev-Ang at the opening gala

 

 

Volunteer Augusta

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I hold a clear memory of walking to school in the fourth grade in our small town of LaJunta, Colorado, entertaining a wide array of big thoughts. It was the mid-70s, and for some reason I kept pondering about what life would be like when the year 2000 rolled around. I calculated how old I would be, and had difficulty picturing myself at the age of 33, a number that borders on senior citizen when you are still in single digits. I couldn’t have imagined then, that when December 31st of 1999 finally rolled around, I would be volunteering my time for a city-sponsored New Year’s Eve party in Augusta, Georgia.

Fast-forward to 1999. I had recently graduated from Leadership Augusta, a program to promote civic involvement, and one of my fellow graduates had thrown my name in the hat to be the volunteer coordinator of a street festival celebrating the new millennium. In one of the most difficult volunteer-recruitment gigs ever, I had the overwhelming task of convincing people to not only give up their free time on such a significant occasion, but to do so out in the cold, working such jobs as selling cokes, serving beers and working ticket gates.

Going into the big night, I had many open slots I had been unable to fill, and I worried that there would be unmanned posts all over the festival grounds when the time came for the big countdown. As it turns out, the volunteers from the prior shift came to my rescue, and pulled double shifts to make sure that all went well for the historic moment at midnight. It is a powerful thing when people surprise you with their generosity, and that is exactly what happened. Many of them visited my check-in table at the end of the event to tell me about their experience.

Cheeks rosy from the cold, and eyes gleaming with excitement, they proclaimed that they had an amazing experience. “Angela, we had the best time!” They gushed their enthusiasm to me as we stood around Broad Street at 1am. “We loved our volunteer time and want to do more of it! How do we go about it? How do we sign up for the next community event that needs help?”

In what Oprah would call an “aha” moment, it occurred to me that there might be a need for someone to serve as the liaison between the people who want to serve but do not know how to go about it, with the agencies who need the help but do not know how to find it. The next day, I went back to my dealership and convinced them to sponsor a website called Volunteer-Augusta.com, a resource for volunteers and non-profit groups to connect. What I didn’t know then, but realize today, is that the creation of this website and the cause of volunteerism would become my life’s passion.

In the 15 years since the site was built, I have observed first-hand the impact that donating your time can have. Volunteering allows you to have unique experiences you would not have had otherwise. You learn new skills, meet new people, feel the intrinsic reward of doing something positive and get a sense of connection with your community. You often are pushed outside of your comfort zone, which for an introvert like myself, translates into powerful personal growth.

The most impactful benefit of volunteering, however, is perspective. No matter how difficult your life may seem at times, it all comes into focus when you serve others. Whether dishing up a hot meal for a homeless person, taking donated soaps and toothbrushes to a women’s shelter, accepting tickets at a local arts event, walking shelter dogs around the park or standing outside of Kroger, ringing a bell for the Salvation Army-in these moments, you realize you are a small but vital part of a larger whole. By becoming engaged in a new endeavor, you help our community to become more robust. Your own life experience becomes richer, filled with more gratitude, kindness, and generosity. Your circle of influence expands, as you create alliances to affect positive change for all citizens. Your kids witness the importance of service, and the seed for their future volunteerism is planted.

No matter how much or how little time you have to give, I encourage you to participate in a variety of charitable activities. Build a diversified portfolio of experiences. Your first step is to think about what causes are important to you. Then visit the volunteer-augusta.com website, and find the contact information for those agencies to learn more. If you are on social media, you will want to join our Facebook group, where over 1,000 people have signed up to stay in the loop on upcoming volunteer needs. Follow us on Twitter, where there is a constant stream of 140-character posts about getting involved. If for any reason you encounter difficulty finding volunteer jobs that are a good fit for your schedule and interests, call me directly, and I will do all I can to get you as hooked on volunteering as I am. I’m confident that we will take our collective small gifts of time, and together make a tremendous impact on the area we call home. I think my 9-year old self would be proud at how it all turned out.

A Grain of Rice

I’ve never been a fan of politics. I’ve kept my opinions to myself, steering away from political debates in the same way we’ve all been warned to eschew chats about sex and religion at the dinner table. This avoidance is wise, given my corporate PR position and leadership roles with various organizations. You can’t offend anyone if you don’t foray into the arena at all.

Lately, however, I’ve been dipping my toe into the local political scene, and have decided that there is too much at stake to continue to play it safely on the sidelines. When it comes to next week’s Mayoral election, a quote from the movie Mulan keeps popping into my head: “A single grain of rice can tip the scales,” says the Emperor of China. “One man may be the difference between victory and defeat.”

Another quote keeps popping into my head, advice from an old friend with tremendous political expertise: “Be careful when you show your cards in the political poker game: if you decide to go public with your support of a candidate, make damn sure you back a winner.”

The problem with this advice is that you cannot always be sure. Some races are close, and they require our involvement. They seem to be calling for the grain of rice. Sometimes, for the good of the cause, you have to stick your neck out there,  even though you cannot be 100% sure they will win. You risk alienating people who support a different candidate, and you risk aligning your personal brand with someone who may not be victorious on Election Day.

Here’s the catch: for communities to prosper, we cannot all sit quietly with our opinions to ourselves. There are donations to be made, signs to be posted, events to be attended, flyers to be distributed, voters to be educated. This is especially true when the competition is tight, and victory can come down to a handful of votes.

From the time I heard that Hardie Davis was running for Mayor, I knew he would have my vote. I am a huge Mayor Deke fan, and want his successor to build on that momentum- a unifier, an articulate ambassador for Augusta, someone we can trust to represent us. What I didn’t know at the time was that I would become involved, and exposed. I have officially shown my cards. And there was one issue that pushed me over the edge. SPLOST.

I am in support of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that is on the same ballot as the Mayoral race. It is a similar package to what has been given voter approval in the past, but this one is tarnished with controversy sparked by misinformation. I am completely convinced that there are Mayoral candidates who refuse to support it simply because they think the public has issues with it, and are afraid to make a stand. Hardie Davis is not afraid; he is informed and supportive. The day the Augusta Chronicle announced that he was the lone SPLOST advocate of the 5 Mayoral hopefuls, I immediately grabbed my purse and made an online donation to his campaign. I was in.

My decision to publicly support Hardie was reinforced at tonight’s Mayoral debate, presented by the Augusta Richmond County Committee for Good Government. In a standing-room only crowd at the Julian Smith BBQ pit, the audience filled with a Who’s Who in politics, Hardie not only held his own, but shined above the rest. He so impressed the crowd that voting members of the Good Government Committee decided to endorse him as their official candidate. But I get ahead of myself. Here’s the scoop on the debate:

I can go ahead and help you eliminate Charles Cummings and Lori Myles, and not just because their numbers are low in the polls. Mr. Cummings, who was difficult to understand, did manage to get the crowd laughing, although not in a good way. At one point, he announced that if elected, he would hold all city commissioners accountable, even if it meant giving them a “report card” on their performance. At his mention of the promise to “hold their feet to the fire”, I was quick to look over at commission members in the audience just in time to witness the nonplussed expressions on their faces. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that it would be difficult for Mr. Cummings to build consensus among the Commissioners with that tactic.

I don’t have much to say about Lori Myles- oops, sorry – DOCTOR Lori Myles, who made reference to her advanced education so many times that I began to wonder if it was an academic competition instead of a political one. She seemed angry and defensive and preachy. I tried to picture her making local speeches and kissing babies, and the images just wouldn’t surface. She is the only person who mentioned SPLOST all evening, but there was no love behind her words. She also made a comment about the city running on a deficit for the past 5 years, an error which Hardie Davis corrected.

Alvin Mason had many supporters in the crowd, and they became quite enthusiastic when he let it be known that if you are looking for a female in office, you might as well vote for him because his Mom is going to be an integral part of his leadership. Mr. Mason actually did quite well in tonight’s event, smiling often and demonstrating an astute mastery of the political charm needed for the Mayoral position. Unfortunately, he has some crazy idea about the Riverfront levee (one that the US Army Corps of Engineers would never allow) and is anti-SPLOST, so he’s off my list. I’m also unsure why he feels he is the only one of the 5 candidates with the “skill-set to sign contracts, something only the Mayor can do.” Overall, a decent performance, but he too is low in the polls and unlikely to be a major contender.

Which leaves me to the 2 top contenders, Hardie Davis and Helen Blocker-Adams. Blocker-Adams has had quite an eventful week in her campaign. She received the endorsement of The Augusta Chronicle, and the next day was blasted by callers on the Austin Rhodes radio show for her personal financial instability. (Bankruptcy, foreclosure, bounced checks, repo, etc- the full package.) Critics question her ability to be a steward of the city’s finances if she cannot manage her own. Blocker-Adams says that her financial troubles are so common that today’s news actually “aligns her with 99% of the population” of this community. I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to be lumped into that category.

I know Helen, who is a nice person and passionate volunteer for the community, but I’m not convinced she has the experience, leadership skills, or polish to represent us on a global stage-which, let’s face it, we are on as a result of the Masters. I have no reservations that Hardie and Evett Davis could mingle with visiting dignitaries, business execs considering Augusta for their expansion,  or other leaders interested in collaborating with our community. Furthermore, I disagree with Blocker-Adams promise that all city employees should get a raise because a) that’s not her decision b) we are in budget crisis mode and c) there are 2,600 employees. What are the odds that they are all doing a good enough job to warrant a raise?

Speaking of 2,600 employees, do you know how I was able to easily whip out that figure? Because Hardie Davis mentioned the number when discussing city finances. One of his strengths for the night was his use of facts to make his point. He presented himself as confident, well-spoken and intelligent. In addition to the HR stats, he also tossed out specifics such as the incompleted Highway 56 and Windsor Road projects, the 16.5 acres of land affiliated with Riverfront issues, the importance of private investment, the potential for Technology Square, and the 31,000 students who need to not only succeed in their local education, but also to have a reason to live and work here after graduation.

Hardie said that the role of government is to promote the well-being of its citizens. His vision makes sense to me, and I am confident that he can build on Mayor Deke’s great progress. If Hardie can be the grain of rice that tips the scales for Augusta’s success, then perhaps we can be inspired to be the grain of rice that tips the scales for his campaign and for SPLOST on May 20. It’s too important to sit back and be quiet. I might even bring it up at the dinner table.

Angela’s 8 Meeting Rules

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1. No meetings longer than an hour without the introduction of alcohol.
At a recent budget meeting, it was starting to look like we would never get finished. The inherent difficulty of a budget meeting hinges on the idea that decisions to give or take money from a certain area means more philosophical debates regarding the value of that area. Those wanting increased funding are defending it, others are challenging the worth of the program. We all have our pet projects and opinions, and everything spews out onto the table willy-nilly. Time will elapse quickly before any hope of consensus begins to surface.
Then came that moment in the proceedings when heads were hurting and clocks were given more attention than a swimsuit model parading through a room of adolescents. We wanted to leave, but we also wanted to do so with the knowledge that we would not have to return for a second round. In that moment, the host of the meeting left, and returned with a handful of cold beer bottles. I’d never seen such a transformation before: sullen faces now beamed with enthusiasm for the task, and we had a balanced budget before the first bottles were finished. From then on, I was sold on the idea that if the meeting was inherently difficult or long, there should be libations available. You may call it a crutch or a consolation prize; I call it an essential building block to success.

2. If you break rule number one, be prepared for me to leave before the meeting is over.
I hate leaving a meeting early, almost as much as I hate being late. I don’t like anything that calls too much attention to myself. That being said, I will walk out somewhere around the 2-hour mark even if I have no other pressing plans. It’s really a matter of principal at that point. If the meeting leader cannot structure our conversation and respect the time we are giving, then I am not obligated to give them free reign with my attention. On one Board, notorious for chatty, long-winded meetings, I stayed as long as I could, out of a perverse curiosity to see how long they would keep us. They were still talking at the three-hour mark when I departed in disgust. I served on that Board for 2 more years, attended almost very meeting, and never once stayed to the end.

3. Every meeting should have someone in charge, and that person should follow an agenda.
If we follow the assumption that nobody really enjoys being in a meeting, then the person who called it owes the attendees a productive and cohesive dialogue. No matter how many meetings you have led, you need to know exactly what you want to accomplish and how you plan to do it. The only thing worse than a too-long meeting is a chaotic one. We’ve all been in enough of these gatherings to be able to recognize when someone is “winging it”. Don’t do it.

4. Whether you’re in charge or in attendance, remember that a meeting is not the place for problems that only apply to one person.
I’m always amazed when a person feels compelled to waste precious meeting time with a complaint that only affects them. They selfishly direct everyone’s attention to an isolated issue with no relevance to the group at large, one that could easily be addressed in a one-on-one conversation after the crowd disperses. Before you comment or pose a question, ask yourself if it really would be of interest and relevance to the others, or do you just have a random thought that could be held for the speaker’s direct attention after the meeting is over?

5. Do not talk to the person next to you when someone else is talking!
This one amazes me the most, and is very prevalent. People don’t realize how distracting and noisy the whispered “side conversations” really are. I am not above giving people the evil eye when I hear the vexing murmurings. If someone tries to engage me in conversation directly, I ignore them completely. If what you need to say or ask someone else absolutely cannot wait, at least write it down and silently share notes at the table. Even texting would be better. As much as we all know the etiquette behind a text-free meeting, it’s still better than whispering to your neighbor. There is no quicker way for a meeting to devolve into chaos than one or two side-bar conversations gone astray.

6. Be succinct.
I’m sure by now I have demonstrated the value of time, so I challenge everyone-leaders and participants- to edit their comments down to the bare essentials. Keep the anecdotes brief and relevant, do not repeat yourself, and do not monopolize the conversation. It’s a meeting, not a lecture or performance. A meeting implies participation by members, so let’s all be adults and share the spotlight.

7. Dont forget the power of the sub-committee.
If a conversation on one topic becomes too time-consuming and animated with a wide range of opinions, it may be a signal to form a smaller group built with the most vocal participants. These impassioned members can address the topic in a separate meeting and report back.

8. Finally, a gentle reminder of the fine art of listening.
We all have something to say, and we are all waiting for our time to say it. If we hope to accomplish anything with our time together, however, we absolutely must put our own thoughts on hold and really listen. I try taking notes when people speak, so that my ear is open to the main message. In the end, we can only expect the time to be valuable if the atmosphere was one of open sharing and equal exchange. If, as meeting leader, you are having difficulty getting your group to that point, don’t forget you can always excuse yourself and return with some bottles of cold beer.