Friday, September 20, 2013

Uncle Dusty's Guide to Leadership

I recently graduate from an excellent leadership program called the Excellence in Government Fellowship with the Partnership for Public Service.  This program brought together 200 current and future leaders from across the federal government from Departments of State, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Defense, Education and many others including the White House and even the Architect of the Capitol's Office.  This program was based on the Executive Core Qualifications for the Senior Executive Service, which I refer to as the muckety-shmucks of the federal system.  As one of my career goals is to become one of these illustrious muckety-schmucks, being one of the ten VA employees selected to attend is a definite feather in my cap, so to speak.  
We graduated last month and I submitted a speech in hopes to be selected to represent my classmates at the ceremony.  While I was one of the top three finalists, another classmate from the Department of Education was chosen and her speech was truly inspiring.  However, I thought it might be fun to share the words I would have spoken.  Maybe they'll resonate with you.  So herewith are my (not-quite) immortal words.

"Leadership, like education, should be focused on developing the next generation. It’s the whole “pay it forward” concept without the schmaltzy movie with the kid who saw dead people in the only other movie he made that anyone remembers.
My time in the Excellence in Government Fellowship, taught me a number of lessons, five of which I’ll focus on today.  Customers are anyone who isn’t you.  And your focus should be on the customer; however, you have to first know who you are in order to be effective.  This reflection will force you to be honest with yourself about who you are and why you think the way you do.  The best leaders are aware of their limitations and work to strengthen them by focusing on what they do well and trying to emulate their successes.  Reading the “Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry” was an important step in remembering to focus on the positives, learn from your successes and to use those lessons to address your failures or “areas" of "improvement” (with actual air quotes).
I have a passion for teaching, but not in a traditional setting.  One of the ways I am able to transfer training from short to long term memory is to immediately teach those lessons to my managers and other staff upon my return from each session.  The one group of people for whom I can easily translate each principle to specific work should be the staff in my own department.  And this introduces staff at all levels to principles and philosophies that they otherwise might not have access.  To withhold leadership training until someone is placed into a leadership position is not setting those people up for success.  Everyone can benefit from leadership training, if for no other reason than to have a frame of reference for their leader’s expectations.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but an important lesson was one I received long ago from my mother and most of my elementary and high school teachers; to “hush” every now and then and actually listen to those within your sphere of influence.  If you’re always talking, Dustin Terryll, how are you going to know what people think? 
Combining listening with authenticity is integral to success.  You can’t simply understand leadership principles but you must live them every day.  I know I am not Abraham Lincoln (I am far too stylish to wear that whole ‘beard with no moustache’ thing); however, I can take his lessons and merge them with my leadership style and put them to work every day.  And these are ideals that are still relevant today.  Lincoln’s “Circulating among the troops”?  It’s the same principle as a Lean’s Gemba Walks, just without the Toyotas.  Fair warning, these interactions with your front-line staff will take a thick skin.  Letting your employees offer candid feedback, without fear of reprisal, makes sense.  Where do you think you should get ideas on how to improve a process if not from those who actually use the process every day?  If you function in a vacuum, you function alone.  If you aren’t sure you’re in a vacuum, you probably are. 
I know opening yourself up to scrutiny takes courage but you should never be afraid to make a mistake.  No one is perfect but Jesus and he doesn’t work for the federal government, y’all.  Can I get an ‘Amen’?  Empowerment comes from employees feeling supported in taking calculated risks.  One way to foster that environment is to be honest about your struggles, failures and triumphs.  This way, your employees know that you don’t think you’re perfect and you don’t expect them to be either.  If we stopped trying to be perfect, we could all focus on being awesome!  And empowering your employees is the key to success.  Not to get all Dilbert cartoony, but if you have to tell your employees they are empowered, they’re not.
The final lesson is one I learned from my esteemed coach, Feli Sola-Carter.  She showed me that to be a great leader you have to believe you have a message to be heard; a vision to be shared; a style to be copied…to a point.  Not everyone can pull off pastel chinos, am I right?  Followers are the reason for leading.  If you don’t think you and your vision are admirable, why should anyone follow you?   
I applied to EIG to become a more thoughtful leader, to be a better support system for those with whom I interact.  I tell my staff that I don’t come to work focused on customers.  I come to work focused on my staff and they, in turn, focus on the customer.  The significance of the Excellence in Government Fellowship is it allowed me to grow as a leader by arming me with an exceptional set of tools.  If I use every available tool to create an environment where my staff have everything they need to succeed (space, equipment, training, empowerment), our customers, and in my case, our nation’s Veterans, receive all that they deserve."
And that is all I'm saying.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Uncle Dusty's Guide to Miss America

                I have been involved with the Miss America system since 1991 and I in that period of time I have educated more people than probably wanted to know about the great things the Miss America Scholarship Program can offer young women.  Outside of being the largest provider of scholarships for young women in the world, any young lady can increase her confidence, involve herself in social causes and get wonderful interview tips simply by competing.  As the 92nd Miss America will be chosen this week, I thought it only appropriate that I give you Uncle Dusty’s Guide to Miss America. 

 1.       Miss America was started in 1921 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  The first winner was 16 year-old Margaret Gorman from Washington, DC.  Originally, the pageant was a traditional beauty pageant highlighting the women wearing swimsuits.

2.       The only person to every win the pageant twice (that practice was stopped soon after) was Mary Katherine Campbell from Ohio.  She was Miss America 1922 and 1923 and was 1st Alternate in 1924.

3.       The pageant was stopped in 1928 due to a few scandals and waning interest.  It was revived in 1933 and 15 year-old Marian Bergeron (Connecticut’s only winner) was crowned.  The contest wasn’t held in 1934 so Ms. Bergeron unofficially held her title for two years.

4.       Resurrected in 1935, they added Talent as a mandatory category and Henrietta Leaver of Pennsylvania took the title with a song and dance routine.  Some of the more interesting talents that have snagged a crown include Vibraharp (Bebe Shopp, 1948), poem recital (Evelyn Ay, 1954), an original fashion design exhibition (Nancy Fleming, 1961), ventriloquism (Vonda Van Dyke, 1965), conducting the Miss America orchestra (Jane Jayroe, 1967), trampoline (Judith Ford, 1969), Flute (Shirley Cothran, 1975), Gymanstics (Kylene Barker, 1979), Tahitian Dance (Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, 1988) and Marimba (Debbye Turner, 1990).  These days most every winner sings, dances or plays the piano.  I long for roller ballet or clogging.

5.       In 1941, when the first runner-up from 1940 (Rosemary LaPlanche of California) came back to effortlessly win the pageant, the rule that a young woman could only compete once was instituted.   Jo-Carroll Dennison from Texas won that year.  I'm going to assume she deserved it over Roselle Marie Hannon of Pennsylvania who first runner-up in 1941.  Since she's from Texas, I'm giving Ms. Dennison a pass.

6.       In 1945, Bess Myerson became the first Jewish winner and the first Pageant scholarship recipient.  This scholarship came at the suggestion of Jean Bartel, Miss America 1943, who was the first college student to win the title.  For those who are curious, she was a Kappa Kappa Gamma at UCLA.  I was fortunate enough to meet her in 2011, a few months before she passed away; every bit as elegant as you'd expect royalty to be. 

7.       The pageant began post-dating the year for the winners, leaving 1950 without a representative.  Miss America 1951 (crowned in 1950) was Yolanda Betbeze, an opera singer from Alabama, who refused to tour the country as a swimsuit model for Catalina swimwear, the Pageant’s major sponsor.  The subsequent comment at a new conference by Miss America 1949, Jacquie Mercer of Arizona, “Why don’t you go start your own pageant,” led to the beginning of the Miss USA Pageant.  This is why there is no talent category in Miss USA.  As a note, the beauty queens you see on YouTube who have embarrassed themselves answering questions are Miss USA contestants.

8.       In 1955, Lee Meriwether became the first winner to be crowned on television.  I offered to carry her to her room when she said her feet hurt after the Miss America Shoe Parade in 2011.  She politely declined, but did ask if she could use my shoulder to help keep her balance to change out of her heels.  I do believe I’m still smitten.

9.       The first back-to-back Miss Americas from the same state are crowned; Mary Ann Mobley and Lynda Mead Shea, Misses America 1959 and 1960 respectively.  As a note, they were also Chi Omega sorority sisters at Ole Miss, giving that particular house more Miss America titles than 28 states.  Hotty Toddy!

10.   The only other state with back-to-back winners is Oklahoma, bringing their total to six.  This places them in a tie with California for the state with the most Miss Americas.  Ohio has had six titles, but only 5 winners (see #2 above).  The other states with five winners include Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan.  Mississippi and New York have four each; Texas, Minnesota, Arkansas, Alabama, Colorado, Kansas and Virginia have had three each.  The only southern state to not have a Miss America is Louisiana, although they’ve had several first runners-up.  Why the focus on the South, you ask?  As Suzanne Sugarbaker said, "You will never see an ugly Miss Mississippi!"

11.   There have been 86 young women who have held the title of Miss America.  I have met 35 of them.  Yes, I am bragging.  Most impressive was Bebe Shopp, Miss America 1948.  I met her in 2011 and she walked the Shoe Parade route for in 3-inch heels.  That, my friends, is a real woman.  It was after this parade that I also formed an alliance with Miss America 1982’s (Tawny Godin) husband to pilfer her parade sign as a souvenir.  I feel my knowledge of and dedication to this program should give me immunity from any punishment.

12.   The first African-American Miss America contestant was Cheryl Browne, Miss Iowa in 1970.  The first African-American winner was Vanessa Williams of New York.  When she resigned her crown 11 months later she was succeeded by another African-American woman, Suzette Charles, of neighboring New Jersey.

13.   Sharlene Wells, Miss America 1985, is the only winner born in another country.  Her parents were Mormon missionaries in Paraguay.

14.   Social platforms were added in 1989 at the suggestion of Miss America 1988; Kaye Lani Rae Rafko (by far, the best named Miss America).  Ms. Rafko was a Nurse who spent her year talking about AIDS hospices.  There is a requirement for each contestant to have spent many hours volunteering with the social cause of her choice.  Miss America 2000 and my fabulous friend, Heather French Henry, spent her year as an advocate for Veterans and she has written and illustrated children’s books with a patriotic theme. 

15.   I haven’t always agreed with the winners (Missy Hurdle was robbed in 1992!) but I will always love the Miss America program and the great things that it does for the participants.  Good Luck, ladies! 
And that is all I’m saying.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Uncle Dusty's Guide to Religion

                Growing up in a Southern Baptist church, I have had many conversations about our specific denominational beliefs, such as the interpretation of “new wine” in the Bible as unfermented grapes, which is grape juice and that is what we drink during the Lord’s Supper, also known as communion.   I currently attend a Presbyterian church as the pastor is the author of a Bible Study I completed at my non-denominational church in DC.  I like the Presbyterian Church and I agree with them except something in their creed about believing in the Catholic Church, which I do not say with them.  I simply stop talking, hard as that may be to believe. 
                At a recent dinner party at my friend Peter’s (Hi Peter!) home, we were discussing his Iranian/lapsed Presbyterian background and it lead to a discussion of different denominations and being the token Southerner, I was asked to share how my people (Southern Baptists) view other denominations.  When I ran pretty quickly through the list, those in attendance asked me to put finger to keyboard and share this information with the world, or at least the 44 of you who read this blog.  So here goes Uncle Dusty’s Guide to Religion.

1.       Baptists (there are several subsets): 
Southern Baptist - Big hair in a good way.  May be located outside of the South.  Fondness for casseroles, preferably cheese-covered.
                                Missionary Baptist – Not Southern Baptists, but close.
                                American Baptist – Not Southern Baptists at all.
Primitive Baptist – Not Southern Baptists but attend church once a month and are also fond of casseroles.  However, they do the actual washing of feet which, while Biblical, is a bit too literal for most Southern Baptists.
2.       Methodists – Baptists who drink and dance without shame or guilt.
3.       Catholics – Pray to Mary, who Baptists admire but do not worship.  That whole ‘Pope thing’, Baptists find confusing.  They have been known to attend Mass in their pajamas.  Unsure of where they stand on casseroles.
4.       Episcopalians – Catholics with more money and less guilt.
5.       Presbyterians – Episcopalians who are sometimes somewhat more liberal but with just as much money.
6.       Lutherans – Not certain this is an actual denomination; may refer to a group of men named Luther.  Rumored to appreciate casseroles, but what man named Luther wouldn’t?
7.       Mennonites & Amish – Mennonites drive cars; Amish drive buggies.  Both wear basic black but in a decidedly non-trendy way.
8.       Assemblies of God – Suspected of speaking in tongues.  Sometimes have big hair.  Allowed to watch TV.  Baptists are not real sure about any of the aforementioned information and are far too polite to ask.
9.       Pentecostals – Big hair, but not in a good way.  Can’t watch TV.
10.   Church of Christ. – don’t have pianos during their services because there were no pianos in the Bible.  I don’t remember Bible verses mentioning pitch pipes but they use those.  Do not broach this subject; they will not find you humorous.
11.   Seventh Day Adventists – not sure it’s a real church; might be a cult.
12.   Moonies – definitely a cult.
13.   Hari Krishnas – do they still have those?
14.   Jehovah’s Witnesses – ride bicycles and don’t like holidays.
15.   Scientology – Really?  I think everyone has the same opinion. 

I don’t think I’ve forgotten anyone, lest I was afraid to mention them.  Oh, and before whomever I just offended get your knickers in a knot over this list, remember that to forgive is divine but to forget is downright rude.  At the very least you should forward this to your friends so y’all can all be angry at me at the same time, while my readership increases.  I’m trying to get a book deal, y’all.  And that is all I’m saying.