Exploring Values: Caring

Mike Murray

Mike Murray

By: Mike Murray
STC Fellow
Former Three-Time Chapter President

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles about values, which is a natural complement to the writer’s ongoing series on excellence. Over the next several months, Mike intends to work with chapter leaders to define our community’s core values. The first value has to do with caring—and, in so doing, making a difference. Read on…

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word … all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

—Leo Buscaglia

I once heard a story about a man who often said, “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.” He found himself compelled to make eye contact with people around him. A warm smile and a hearty “Hi!” later, he seemed able to determine if the person wanted or needed to talk or preferred to be left alone. Most people this man met couldn’t help themselves—they talked.

Based on many years of mentoring, general counseling, and common sense, the man found that once a new-found friend started talking, he was always able to share some good advice with the person. Sometimes the new friends responded and sometimes they didn’t, but that didn’t matter. The man’s love of people compelled him to “keep talking.”

As the story goes, the man found himself sitting next to lady in the third-floor waiting room of a doctor’s office. After making eye contact with the lady, the man learned in the ensuing discussion that the lady’s sister had Parkinson’s disease (PD). It became evident to the man that the lady and her sister had given up hope. They lived every day with depression and general gloom. They had given up the fight for life.

The man had some experience in this area, for he also had PD. For the next few minutes, he regaled his new friend with general tips and specific information he thought would be helpful. He told her about a local Parkinson’s outreach program, and he passed along contact information for the director of that program. The more the man talked, the more the lady’s face lighted up. Then the lady and the friendly man were called in for their appointments, and they went their merry way—or so the man thought.

After his appointment, the man took the elevator to the first-floor lobby to await his transportation. A few minutes later, his new friend emerged from the elevator. Seeing the man, the lady quickened her pace until she was standing right in front of him. She began by saying how grateful she was to have met him. She confirmed that she and her sister had indeed given up hope. She said she was watching her sister fade away in front of her eyes. She told the man his words had lifted them from the doldrums. She now had hope, and that hope would give her sister a new lease on life.

As she started to walk away, the lady turned back to the man. With a gleam in her eyes and a smile on her face, she told him, “The world is a better place because you are in it!”

I was completely speechless (not a typical state for me! ☺). Nobody had ever said something like that to me before. As I sat there frozen in time, the lady put the fingertips of both hands on her lips and blew me a kiss, and then she was gone.

I sat motionless for many minutes until my transportation arrived and I was compelled to get aboard for the trip home. When I got there, I couldn’t get the day’s events off my mind (nor did I want to). Finally, my eyes began to close as the familiar PD curtain of exhaustion descended upon my day. Still, there was a grin on my face as I slowly made my way to bed with my two wonderful dogs and my extra-special, loving wife. My final thoughts as sleep overtook me were the words the lady had said to me that afternoon.

I had made a difference in two lives.

It’s moments like this that make me want to keep meeting new friends.

Caring about the happiness of others, we find our own.

—Plato

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Spotlight on Excellence

Mike Murray

Mike Murray

What must we do to reach it? Part 1
By: Mike Murray
STC Fellow
Former Three-Time Chapter President

“Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible.”
— Ronnie Oldham

In this series of articles, we have explored two aspects of excellence, including what it is and why it’s important. The article in this issue gives you some insights regarding what we must do to achieve excellence. After weeks of thinking about how to present this information and studying numerous Internet articles, I was still at a loss as to what to say and how to say it.

As I sat here at my computer at 4:20 a.m. one morning due to the onset of my occasional insomnia, it suddenly dawned on me that I already have the information I need. It’s all in my head because I have lived it! So, this article is a little different. It is written from my personal experience.

I have a number of important things to share with you about achieving excellence, so the article in this issue of MtM will only cover what we must do to achieve personal excellence. I will address organizational excellence in the next issue.

 

Individual Excellence

Find your spark

You can’t know what you want to be excellent at without first identifying your interest—that is to say, your spark. You know when that spark forms within you. You can feel it. It starts with a casual interest, but suddenly, you realize that it has grown into a glowing flame—something you want to do or be a part of.

It’s a joy to encounter someone who is truly excellent at what he or she does. It might be a manager who builds strong and motivated teams or a waitress or waiter who anticipates your every need. It could be a teacher who unlocks the desire to learn in each student. Similarly, it’s exciting to identify someone who has obviously caught fire. He or she is focused, always in the conversation, exudes a certain energy, and takes personal initiative without being asked. I am extremely pleased to say that I have identified a number of those people in our chapter. Not only are they ensuring our continuing success, but they are also on their way to fulfilling their potential as strong leaders and outstanding members of society.

How can you become known as someone who consistently demonstrates excellence? Have you ever noticed that those who are excellent at something make it look so easy? That’s always a sign of motivation, and therein lies the key: Motivation is required for excellence.

 

So, you found your spark – now what?

Following is what I have found it takes to fan that spark into a full-fledged fire of excellence. Everyone has all the potential in the world to do whatever it is he or she dreams of or wants. Here are the key principles of personal excellence.

Believe in yourself. Said another way, feel the fear, and do it anyway! When it was my turn to be the chapter president, I told the assembled crowd that I felt like I had suddenly become the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, who at that time were enjoying their dynasty. I was petrified. But, with the wise counsel of W.C. Wiese and Dan Voss, I dove in head first.

Self-belief is paramount to every success. To get somewhere, you first need to believe in yourself. The only way to develop your self-confidence is to get up off the chair in the back of the room (or the chair in your living room) and do something!

Get out of your comfort zone. In another example, a young lady named Bonnie Spivey was asked to make a presentation to an audience at the STC annual meeting (now known as the Summit). She was so frightened that she worried that she would freeze up, if she didn’t get sick or pass out first. Well, Bonnie felt the fear and did it anyway, delivering an outstanding presentation. I was so pleased that I created a new certificate in her honor: the G.U.T.S. award, which stood for “Give Up the ’Scuses.”

Have the hunger for excellence. You need to want to achieve excellence. Without hunger and the resulting passion, you will do things half-heartedly, and, quite predictably, you will get only half results. The emphasis here is on what you want, not what others want.

Set huge goals. Emphasis on the word “huge.” Not the normal standard goals that you know you will definitely achieve. These are goals that really make you stretch yourself, soar, and beam with satisfaction when you achieve them. Never settle for average. And drop the expression “good enough” from your vocabulary. That’s for those who are comfortable with mediocrity, not for those with the spark of excellence.

Keep building your skills. The path to excellence is a continual one that requires constant upgrading and skills development. No matter how much time and effort we have already spent in developing ourselves, there will always be opportunity to improve and be better. Don’t hide from challenges; welcome them! And don’t retreat from problems; attack them and solve them. See them as opportunities.

The Orlando Chapter provides the perfect opportunity to build your skills. In addition to the monthly program, the chapter has numerous experienced professionals with expertise spanning a wide range of disciplines within technical communication. They would be glad to guide and mentor you no matter how old you are or where you are in your career. If you truly have the motivation, the burning desire for excellence in your heart, when you hit one of those inevitable “bumps in the road” in your career, you will take the initiative to find one (or more) of these people to help you get past it.

How do you find one? You ask. Many of our chapter members and leaders are passionately committed to this form of professional development within our community. One good medium for this is the chapter listserv. A young professional recently posted a request for guidance on which tool skills he should get certified in to advance his career. Within an hour, he had received a detailed response from one of our chapter members; the next day, he received another … and one of these chapter members is continuing to work with the young man on a regular basis.

Go the distance. Going the distance is what separates an amateur from a professional. True professionals let nothing stand in their way to keep them from attaining whatever is important to them. No setbacks can keep them off track. Personal excellence begins when you go beyond the call of duty and you never stop improving.

Letting go. Letting go of your need to control everything that will happen to you along the way, letting go of your need to control the outcome, and allowing things to just happen are important aspects of achieving excellence in your life. Detach yourself from the outcome, and KNOW that it will all be taken care of. You have prepared yourself for this journey, and now all you have to do is surrender. Learn to enjoy every moment of this journey toward excellence. Learn to be present in everything you do, and let yourself be completely immersed in every action you take, in everything you say or do, whether big or small. Make each day excellent, and at the end of your life, you will add all of these days, you will put them together, and your result will be an excellent and successful life.

So remember …Excellence is a journey, not a destination. Light your fire, and enjoy the trip!

 

Next Edition: What must we do to reach it? Organizational Excellence

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Spotlight on Excellence

Why is Excellence Important?
By: Mike Murray and Dan Voss
STC Fellows

“Excellence can be achieved if you risk more than others think is safe, love more than others think is wise, dreammore than others think is practical, and expect more than others think is possible.”                                                                                                        —Anonymous

Personal Excellence

Whether the topic is personal excellence or organizational excellence, the principle is the same. When you focus on excelling at whatever you do, your name (or your organization’s name) is always part of the discussion for the next big thing.

A favorite story of mine is Sylvester Stallone’s rags-to-riches saga of how he overcame overwhelming odds in his life to be the international movie star we know him to be today. When he was a baby, he was born with a half-paralyzed face due to birth complications, which led to a slurred speech. This was the key reason why he was rejected thousands of times by casting agents. Because he never gave up, he finally got his big break as the star of Rocky one day—and this came after years and years of relentlessly trying.

I have often heard various versions of the expression, “If you’re going to be a ditch digger, be the best ditch digger in the world.” Oprah Winfrey says it this way: “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.” Through many years of my life, I’ve learned that pursuing excellence in everything I do is infinitely better than settling for mediocrity. It should seem obvious that the pursuit of excellence in everything you do would be the surest road to maximizing your potential, yet so few of us strive to do just that. You will never be disappointed in your pursuit of excellence, for there are no traffic jams along the extra mile.

Everything…everything can be done either horribly, somewhat well, very well, or excellently. This applies to jobs, relationships, hobbies, speaking, writing…everything. If you’re willing to settle for “horribly” or “somewhat well,” be ready to accept the rewards of having something that’s less than what other people are willing to accept. But if you strive for “very well” or “excellently,” you’ll reap a bigger reward and your legacy will be that of someone who tried to “do it better” and succeeded. Someone who does things excellently will be remembered well. Someone who slides by and settles for less will be remembered as a slacker. It’s completely up to us whether we strive for excellence or whether we’re willing to just let life pass by without putting out the extra effort.

Organizational Excellence

My entire philosophy of excellence is predicated on the hypothesis that the essence of excellence lies in the quality of the individual’s performance. The key, then, is to build and sustain a culture in which each individual contributor is inspired to passionately and voluntarily give his or her best every day. Whether it’s in an STC chapter or in a huge international corporation, this philosophy holds true. An organization cannot achieve a level of excellence without individual members or employees who are themselves committed to excellence.

Every human being wants to be valued and appreciated. Employees and volunteers respond to appreciation expressed through recognition of their good work because it confirms their work is valued. When employees and their work are valued, their satisfaction and productivity rises, and they are motivated to maintain or improve their good work.

In my tenure as chapter president, I realized the importance of getting to know the members individually and to identify the skills of each that were a fit for a specific position, thereby increasing their probability of achieving success. Once, a member stepped in without being asked and took over the responsibilities of a suddenly departing volunteer in addition to her own commitments to our community. She was a real hero in my eyes, and I took the opportunity to create the Chapter Hero award—a simple, inexpensive piece of round Lucite that included the person’s name, date, and the words “Chapter Hero.” Another time, a volunteer committed to making a presentation at the STC annual conference in spite of feeling so nervous at the thought of public speaking that she worried about the possibility of freezing up or even fainting on the stage. Because she gave it her best in spite of her fears, I created the G.U.T.S. certificate because she “Gave Up The ’Scuses,” overcame her trepidation, and delivered an excellent presentation.

There has never been a volunteer who has been thanked too often! To paraphrase STC Fellow W.C. Wiese, “You can never have too many awards.” Recognition before peers can be a powerful tool in developing a growing sense of excellence. People within an organization want to keep feeling that sense of pride and fulfillment and encourage others to “bask in the sunshine” along with them. They feel valued and needed, thereby encouraging them to continue on the road to excellence that the entire organization will share. It only takes a few such volunteers or employees to create an excellent organization, but every one of them is needed. After all, that ditch isn’t going to dig itself!

U.S. women’s soccer star Michele Akers personified commitment to excellence. Akers, an aggressive attacking center midfielder regarded as one of the greatest female soccer players of all time, was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) in 1991 just as she was reaching the peak of her game. (Voss, 2003).

In her acclaimed book The Game and the Glory, Michele explained: “I get what they term ‘shocky’—my body starts going into shock as my blood goes to my vital organs instead of into my arms and legs. As my blood pressure drops, the blood flow to my brain diminishes, my mind gets mushy, and I lose concentration. A tornado roars in my head, my thoughts scatter, and my body feels weighted down and as slow as molasses.  Sometimes I’ve actually gotten delirious on the field and had to be led to the bench by my teammates or the trainers.” (Akers, 1999, p. 27)

Michele refused to give in to the CFIDS and remained a key player on the U.S. women’s national soccer team. However, her disability reared its ugly head as the U.S. was playing China for the World Cup in 1999. As center mid, Michele’s job that day was to contain China’s high-scoring striker Sun Wen, their greatest weapon and, as such, the biggest threat to the U.S. team’s bid for the Cup. In so doing, there was no time for her disability.

I can’t afford that this afternoon. If I’m tracking Sun Wen, I gotta be on. One half-second of distraction or a single mistake in judgment could cost a goal, or the game, and a world championship.” (p. 27)

As it turns out, Michelle did shut out Sun Wen that day. She gave it everything she had for 90 excruciating minutes, only to topple, nearly unconscious, to the turf after a collision with U.S. goalie Briana Scurry while helping to prevent China from netting the winning goal just as regulation time was about to expire.

Michelle was carried from the field and rushed to the triage unit, where she gradually regained consciousness as IV fluids coursed into her veins. She recalls being vaguely conscious of the din of the crowd rocking the stadium above her, at first wondering what the score was during the overtime session—then awakening to the realization that the score had to be 0-0 … until either the “golden goal” or penalty kicks resolved the outcome.

No, Michelle was not physically on the field as Brandi Chastain scored the winning goal on the fifth and final penalty kick, ripped off her jersey, and fell to her knees waving the jersey like a victory flag as her teammates mobbed her—an image that will live in sports history. But you can bet that Michelle’s spirit was on that field every step of the way during those two overtimes, during those five PKs, inspiring her teammates to victory.

To excellence.

NEXT TIME: What must we do to reach it?

REFERENCES:

Akers, Michelle, 1999.  The Game and the Glory, an Autobiography.  Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.  ISBN: 0-310-23529-4 (hard)

Voss, Dan, 2003. “In World Cup Soccer and in Overcoming Disabilities, ‘Impossible’ is Just Another Word for ‘Work Harder,’” Proceedings to the 50th Annual International STC Conference, Dallas, TX.

Mike Murray

Mike Murray

Dan Voss

Dan Voss

 

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Spotlight on Excellence

Editor’s Note:

In the previous article, our newly-appointed STC Fellow shared some of his wisdom with us. Some of you may also be following his feature column, Spotlight on Excellence. A fitting feature from a fine Fellow, one could say. 🙂 (Thank you, thank you. Hold your applause.)

Mike Murray asked me to assure you that Spotlight on Excellence will return in next month’s edition of Memo to Members to answer the question, “Why is Excellence important?” Please stay tuned!

Also, please click here to catch up on two other articles in this exciting new series.

Spotlight on Excellence

Mike Murray

Mike Murray

What is “Excellence?”
By: Mike Murray
STC Associate Fellow
Former Three-Time Chapter President

(Author’s Note: In this series of articles, we are exploring the concept of “Excellence.” In this issue, we address the question, “What is it?”)

So, what is this thing called “Excellence?” As it turns out, this is a difficult term to define because it can mean different things to different people. In 1964, Judge Potter Stewart rendered a landmark decision that balanced the First Amendment with basic decency. He tried to explain “hard-core” pornography, or what is obscene, by saying, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced…[b]ut I know it when I see it…“ The same can be said of excellence.

Generally, when we seek to define excellence, we think in terms of both personal and organizational excellence.

Personal Excellence

One of the best definitions of personal excellence I’ve ever heard is:

“Producing your best in any given situation, within or without a conducive environment to do so. Strive to be better than last time, every time.”
— Mrityunjay, software engineer and manager in an IT company

(from his blog “Perspectives on Career Management,” para. 7,  https://careermanagement.wordpress.com/2011/12/25/personal-excellence, accessed 04/11/2016)

Personal excellence can be achieved internally when you take personal satisfaction for having accomplished something well. It can be perceived externally when you receive praise for something someone else thinks you have done well. In any case, excellence is a powerful motivator that brings out the best in you.

Real-Life Example

Debbi Field does not share the attitude of the majority, for she feels that “good enough” never is. Her philosophy is simple. It can be expressed in four words: “do a little more.” She believes that no matter how common the task, it should be done uncommonly well. She doesn’t believe in mediocrity; she chooses to follow the path of excellence. In Mrs. Field’s case, the small company she founded in 1977 grew into a one-half billion dollar business called Mrs. Field’s Cookies.

We can all benefit from aspiring to excellence. Excellence is not a final destination we reach, but is an unending process of continuous improvement. What better way to live than by growing better each day? Those who pursue personal excellence aren’t in direct competition with others, for they measure themselves against their own accomplishments.

Organizational Excellence

Organizational excellence is about being perfect together. When organizations work well, they allow ordinary people to do extraordinary things. That’s because they can be powerful vehicles for combining our strengths in a way that makes the whole far greater than the sum of its parts. As individuals, each of us brings both strengths and weaknesses to the group effort. The special power of highly effective organizations is that they render our weaknesses insignificant by combining only our strengths and creating collective excellence. As long as there is a diversity of strengths, each of us can do what we do best and not have to devote either time or worry to the things we don’t do well.

Today’s best-run organizations, such as Google, Wikipedia, Linux, Zappos, and Whole Foods—not to mention the Orlando Central Florida Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication! J—understand and act upon this wisdom. That’s why, in building our organizations, we don’t leverage individual intelligence by building top-down hierarchies. Instead, we build a solid foundation of effective leadership before we attempt to do anything else. Using the analogy of a house, you would logically build a strong foundation before adding the walls and roof. The STC Orlando-Central Florida Chapter adheres to this philosophy. Once strong leadership is in place (foundation), we then focus on things like newsletters, web sites, social media, marketing, and—first and foremost—delivering quality monthly meetings (walls). Finally, we add the roof by developing special programs, such as the mentoring program and Jaffe Awards and entering the Society’s Chapter Achievement Award competition. A strong house requires strong builders. Organizational excellence happens when ordinary people do extraordinary things by striving to be perfect together.

Word of Advice

Building a strong organization takes time and effort. To borrow a saying from the ten-step programs, until you reach your desired level of excellence, “Fake it ’til you make it!” As chapter president, I began each meeting with: “Welcome to the Orlando Chapter! You’re in the right place. We are the fastest growing, most dynamic chapter in all of STC.” At the time that wasn’t true, of course, but it became a self-fulfilling prophesy. After all, who can argue with the nine-time winner of the Community of Distinction Award?

“Excellence is never an accident; it is the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, skillful execution, and the vision to see obstacles as opportunities.”
–Anonymous

NEXT TIME: Why is it important?

Spotlight on Excellence

Mike Murray

Mike Murray

Excellence as a Core Value
By: Mike Murray
STC Associate Fellow
Former Three-Time Chapter President

(Author’s Note: In this series of articles, we will explore “Excellence.” What is it? Why is it important? What must we do to reach it? How do we know when we have arrived? How do we maintain it? What are some examples of excellence in STC and beyond? In the months to come, we will address these questions and more.)

“Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal— a commitment to excellence—that will enable you to attain the success you seek.”
— Mario Andretti
NASCAR Champion

Core Values

Any discussion of excellence must begin with a review of core values. Core values are the fundamental beliefs of a person, an organization, a nation, or a culture. Core values are the guiding principles that dictate behavior and action. Core values can help people to know what is right from wrong. They can help companies to determine if they are on the right path and fulfilling their business goals; they give direction to a nation or a culture; they create an unwavering and unchanging guide.

In an ever-changing world, a person’s core values are constant, but they differ from person to person. They also differ from organization to organization, from nation to nation, and from culture to culture. When core values clash, conflict results.

Since our discussion is focused on excellence in STC, the first step is to establish the shared core values of our organization. They are not descriptions of the work we do, nor the strategies we employ to accomplish our organizational mission and our business objectives. These values underlie our work, they govern how we interact with each other, and they determine which strategies we employ to fulfill our mission and objectives. The core values are the basic elements of how we go about our work. They are the practices we use (or should be using) every day in everything we do.

How Core Values Are Used

A core value is only a true core value if it has an active influence, and if the people or organization manage to live by it, at least most of the time. As an example, imagine you have a project that has to be completed by tomorrow morning. It is now the night before and you are already well past your usual bedtime. Your eyes are bloodshot. The pillow beckons. Should you do the best you can in the next half hour, get some desperately needed sleep, and then in the morning just submit whatever you have? If one of your core values is Excellence (and it is one of ours), that’s not the right decision.

Back in 2002, in my first year as the chapter president, that is exactly the situation I faced in completing and submitting our application for a Community Achievement Award (CAA). That was—and still is—a colossal task. The list of criteria you must meet is 10 pages long, and every activity you “claim” must be substantiated with detailed support documentation—all in triplicate. Our completed application filled fifteen 3-inch binders. To complete this daunting task, I pulled an all-nighter—and we won our very first Chapter of Distinction award. Because Excellence is one of our core values, while the work itself was grueling, the decision to finish the job was easy.

(Editor’s Note: Watch for the next installment of Mike’s series on Excellence in the April edition of Memo to Members.)