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If You Wanna Be a Cowboy…

August 23rd, 2009

James Owens’ book, Cowboy Ethics, (www.cowboyethics.com) points out that cowboys seem to be an undisciplined bunch, but for more than a century they have lived by an immutable set of guidelines – the Code of the West.  If you want to be a cowboy, you have to live by the Code. The Code includes “riding for the brand” – in Owens’ terms, “giving allegiance and respect to the brand, where they are deserved and returned.” Owens, a 35-year Wall Street veteran, points out that what’s good for the cowboy is applicable to Wall Street – and to other industries as well.

Like many of us, I frequently give and get business referrals and I recently saw how Owens’ perspectives apply to all of us.  A business colleague mentioned a service provider to his company that could be helpful to mine.  He specifically mentioned a young associate with the provider and so I asked for the associate’s contact information.  I sent the associate an email, mentioning our common business contact and asking if the two of us could set up a meeting to discuss my business need.  I got an email back that basically said, “I’m really busy, but you can try to call my cell phone if you want.”

Okay then. I was a warm lead – a referral, interested enough to initiate contact and my business was within the target profile for the associate’s company. Did this service provider have enough business, or was this particular associate just too busy to care? Or was it something else?  

The next morning, I received an invitation to connect on a social networking site from this same associate. Part of me admired his outlaw audacity.  Here was a guy who was too busy to talk to me about my business need.  Yet he had time to ask for my connections to people that I trust and respect without showing me either.

So what?  This scenario happens daily.  Most of us move on from a less than satisfactory experience and do business with someone else.  Or we may tell others about our experience and reinforce the negative perception of the offender’s brand.  But what if we saw situations like these as opportunities for us to ride for our own brand – ourselves and our company?

Respect and trust are fundamental – part of my code for doing business. So I sent back a reply email:  Jake, I received your invitation to connect online; thanks very much.  I hope you understand that since we haven’t met or spoken yet, I’ll defer acceptance until after we’ve gotten to know one another. If you’d like to do business with me, you’re welcome to give me a call this afternoon.

I got a call that afternoon, an apology – and great service. He’s gained a new mindset and a customer that he treats with respect; I’ve gained yet another business connection that speaks well of me and my company in the marketplace. Like cowboys who honor the Code and ride for their brands, we need to ride for ours, even and maybe especially when others don’t.  When we do, what might have been rough terrain can become fertile grazing.

Rotary Thought Spot Smiles and Great Spirit: A Sense of Place

August 12th, 2009

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.

–  Nelson Mandela

 If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored. One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.

 – Henry Miller

My family hasn’t bee on the leading edge of social trends very often. 

But it turns out that we were decades ahead of the curve. When I was growing up, our family vacations were the original local “staycations.”  They didn’t involve airborne, exotic summer travel. But for my brothers and sisters and me, they were all adventures in places familiar enough to be comfortable and infrequent enough to be new experiences each time.

Our extended summer weekends included travel up the southern coast of Maine, where the Atlantic was even colder than on the beaches of my hometown near Boston. Then there was the close-to-nature foray that my mother referred to as our Annual Never-Again Camping Trip.  And every year there was at least a week-long stay at my maternal grandfather’s summer cabin near Lake Winnipesaukee in the mountains of New Hampshire.

For kids from a seaboard city, the White Mountains seemed like Lewis and Clark’s wilderness. It was a 5 -mile drive on dirt roads to the nearest grocery store called the Sundries Shop – the most unusual store name I’d ever heard. The cabin had three bedrooms, lots of space for sleeping bags and a loft where my grandfather slept. It was heated by a wood-burning stove. Even in the middle of August the early morning temperatures could dip to frost levels, and nothing felt better than the heat of a burning log or two on our bare knees.

The small communal beach we shared with other cabin residents was in a clearing along a wooded path about a half mile from the cabin – a walk that also involved orange salamanders, odd insects, frogs, chipmunks and the occasional larger beast that stumbled across it, and us, during daylight. Arriving at the beach was our reward for bravery. 

Looking over the conifer-rimmed expanse of Winnipesaukee it was easy to understand why the Pennacook tribe, the lake’s original inhabitants, called it the Smile of the Great Spirit. We would cannonball off the weathered dock, swim out to the floating barrel raft and play pirates as it rocked in the wake of passing speedboats.

At night we’d sometimes drive to Wiers Beach, the largest tourist beach, and stroll the boardwalk. I loved walking through True’s Gift Shop with its homey paneling, shelves filled with arrowheads and Quoddy moccasins and pungent, pine-filled muslin sachets.  

Out at the end of Wiers pier, the Mount Washington alternately docked and cruised the lake.  Teenage swimmers begged and dove for coins tossed by indulgent tourists on the boats and the pier. Mesmerized, I’d watch the swimmers dive, come up triumphantly with the coin held aloft, and shout “thank you!” Then they’d store the coin in the pockets of their cheeks like amphibian squirrels.  I vowed that I would be one of those divers one day – as long as my mother didn’t find out.

Lake Winnipesaukee was less than 3 hours from my hometown. But it was a world away, made familiar by repeated visits and made strange and new by the intervals between them.  Each summer I would revisit, rediscover and renew my sense of belonging in this place.

As August unfolds, I’m reminded of those days on Winnipesaukee.  

What the Smile of the Great Spirit was for me in my childhood, Rotary is for me as an adult. It’s a familiar place, made new with each visit. A place where I can feel totally comfortable, and at the same time be challenged to look at my commitment and service to others in new ways. 

For most of us, our clubs are only a few miles away from our homes or offices. Yet what that one hour of fellowship and service represents is a “staycation” from our everyday concerns and routines. Great spirit – and smiles – are there for us if allow ourselves to discover them and renew our sense of belonging to this place called Rotary.

When’s your next “staycation?”


PDG Elizabeth

Ways toBring  Great Spirit Into Our Lives and Clubs

Experience Rotary again for the first time:

Years ago, Kellogg’s refreshed the branding of one of its classic cereals with the tagline: “Corn Flakes. Taste them again for the first time.”  It’s equally good advice for a long-time Rotarian.  Treat your next Rotary meeting as if it’s your first. Experiencing Rotary again for the first time is one of the easiest ways to bring fresh energy to the club – and your place in the club.  You may also be surprised at the insights that come from a new look at your familiar club.

Take a Rotary “staycation” by attending a district meeting or doing a make up at another club:

Attending a district event neighboring club can be renewing – and meeting new people with different service objectives and projects within the familiar context of Rotary is an effective way to expand and challenge our mindsets.

Review and renew your participation in club activities:

A Rotarian once mentioned to me that he refuses refuses to ever participate in his club’s highway trash pick-up days.  The reason wasn’t his health; it was his mindset.  Another perspective is that doing something we would normally not do, except in service above self, is  part of the reason we’re Rotarians.  The next time that sign-up sheet comes around for something you’d normally decline, consider giving it a try (I don’t play cards but I plan to help out with our club’s Texas HoldUm fundraiser -exactly for that reason). It takes a whole club to serve a community, and sometimes it takes an out-of-the-ordinary activity with familiar people to generate fresh perspectives and renew our Rotary spirit.