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Monday, March 29, 2010

Veldon Law: Leaders Can Laugh At Themselves

Who or what are we, if we can’t poke a little bit of fun at ourselves? I have the sense that most of us take ourselves much too seriously. Such has been my experience with many within the legal profession, save a few. For those few I’ve known and worked with over the years that have a great sense of humor and can laugh at themselves and their profession…these are for you….

______________________________ ______________

ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?


ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory?

WITNESS: I forget.

ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?

______________________________ _____________

ATTORNEY: Do you know if your daughter has ever been involved in voodoo?

WITNESS: We both do.




WITNESS: Yes, voodoo.

______________________________ ______________

ATTORNEY: Now doctor, "isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning?"

WITNESS: Did you actually pass the bar exam?

______________________________ ______

ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the twenty-year-old, how old is he?

WITNESS: He's twenty, much like your IQ.

______________________________ _____________

ATTORNEY: Are you sexually active?

WITNESS: No, I just lie there.

______________________________ _____________

ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken?

WITNESS: Are you shitting me?

______________________________ ___________

ATTORNEY: So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?


ATTORNEY: And what were you doing at that time?

WITNESS: Getting laid

______________________________ ______________

ATTORNEY: She had three children, right?


ATTORNEY: How many were boys?


ATTORNEY: Were there any girls?

WITNESS: Your Honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney?

______________________________ ______________

ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated?

WITNESS: By death.

ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated?

WITNESS: Take a guess.

______________________________ ______________

ATTORNEY: Can you describe the individual?

WITNESS: He was about 20, medium height, and had a beard.

ATTORNEY: Was this a male or a female?

WITNESS: Unless the Circus was in town … I'm going with male.

______________________________ _______

ATTORNEY: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?

WITNESS: All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.
__________________________ ___________

ATTORNEY: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to?


______________________________ ___________

ATTORNEY: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?

WITNESS: The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.

ATTORNEY: And, Mr. Denton was dead at the time?

WITNESS: If not, he was by the time I finished.

______________________________ ______________

ATTORNEY: Are you qualified to give a urine sample?

WITNESS: Are you qualified to ask that question?

______________________________ ________

And the best for last:

ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?


ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?


ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?


ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?


ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?

WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.

ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?

WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

______________________________ ________

Some would say … “my friends, in that most of our politicians and government officials (inclusive of the courts) are made up of lawyers is why our nation is so screwed up.” As leaders what can we learn from having a sense of humor about ourselves and roles?

From personal experience and observations I can attest that leaders are human. They make mistakes. Some do great things and sadly, some do horrible things. They can make good decisions and they can make decisions that seem pretty strange. And they, like the attorney statements above, can say some pretty stupid things. Hopefully, like the attrorneys that I referenced, they too can laugh a bit at themselves for the stupid things they say and do. If they can and do -- it makes them real to those they have the privilege of leading.

-- Veldon Law

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Veldon Law: The "Tinkling" Bell of Leadership

I’m an ole Idaho country boy and just up the road from my childhood home was a field, with two horses in it. From a distance, each horse looked like any other horse. But if you were to stop your car, or to walk up to the fence and look closely at the horses, you would notice something quite amazing.

By looking into the eyes of one of the horses you would find that it is blind. Its owner had chosen not to have him put down, but had attempted to make a good home for him. This by in itself is somewhat amazing. But more amazing was that if you were stand still and listen, you would hear the “tinkling” sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound you would find that it comes from a bell on the smaller horse.

Attached to the second horses’ halter was that small bell. It let its blind friend know where it was -- so it could follow. If you were to stand and watch these two friends for any period of time, you’d see that the horse with the bell was always checking on the blind horse, and that the blind horse was always listening for the bell. It would then slowly walk to where the other horse was, trusting that he would not be led astray.

When the horse with the bell returned to the shelter of the barn each evening it would stop occasionally and look back, making sure that its blind friend wasn’t too far behind so that it couldn’t hear the tinkling of the bell.

Perhaps, the “leadership lesson” of the two horses is overly obvious. What can we learn from the horses? Years later and in looking for personal application, I learned that as a youngster I had the chance to realize that sometimes we are all blind. In our blindness we need to carefully listen for and follow the tinkling bell of someone who sight and vision (I use the word vision here to denote vision in the largest sense possible – meaning much more than sight). Other times when we are the ones that have the sight and vision, as we lead, we need to make sure that those we are leading are in fact following. In so many ways as leaders we must also be willing followers, too. When we are leaders, our role is to help others find their way. In this role those being led may not always see us, but they know we are there. -- Veldon L. Law

Friday, February 5, 2010

Veldon Law: All The People Say, "We Ourselves Have Achieved It"

There are those in or with authority all around us. They range from law enforcement officers to parents to bosses to political figures.  It is evident if we watch the news, observe familial behavior, or are part of any organization that “authority” doesn’t necessarily mean “leadership.”

John C. Maxwell, one of the most prolific writers of our time, in his book, "The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader," says this:  "What makes people want to follow a leader?  Why do people reluctantly comply with one leader while passionately following another to the ends of the earth?  What separates leadership theorists from successful leaders who lead effectively in the real world? The answer lies in the character qualities of the individual person … leadership truly develops from the inside out.

Real leaders understand how to be a positive example day in and day out. Real leaders build-up, they support and encourage. They value competence and communication and work to develop it in themselves. They have focus, vision, and the courage to take calculated risks. They are generous with their wisdom, remain humble, and know when to shut up and listen.

In stark contrast are the “would be leaders” that through their position of authority wish to rule over us. Many perceive themselves because of “title,” feelings of entitlement, or arrogance to be leaders, when in fact by their behavior and leadership style, are nothing more than “bossy overlords.” They attempt to manipulate “underling” compliance, loyalty, effort, and teamwork through control, what is and isn’t communicated, partial truth, etc. They have a tendency to live in a Machiavellian world where the end justifies the means.

How many real leaders have you known or observed? In my experience “leaders” are few and far between and I can only hope that as a reader your experience has been better than mine. It is so easy to directly observe the contrast between real and would be leaders, especially in leadership provided by public “servants” and within our work settings.

Real Leadership

From the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 17, whose title comes from the opening words of its two sections, “way” and “virtue” outlines levels of leadership. “The highest type of ruler is one whose existence of which the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy.” It continues, “The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’”

I can’t imagine the Sage in this quote is trying to manipulate with the idea that “Leadership is getting people to do things they don’t want to do.” It is obvious by its context that the Sage has learned to trust, to empower, and to encourage people in a way that allows them to jump in feet first, motivate themselves, and see the work and accomplishments as their own.

I think it is fair to say that real leadership is a rare thing. Those who have it leave a legacy of strong-hearted people. Those who don’t have it leave a wake of resentful people. – Veldon L. Law

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Veldon Law: Sight Doesn’t Mean Vision

The life, struggles, and near miraculous accomplishments of Helen Keller have been used over and over to inspire and provide a real life illustration of how one’s will can be a driving force to overcome the most difficult of circumstances. Perhaps, her life and the inspiration provided hold the potential to also illustrate a variety of leadership principles.

Most know that it took Helen three years to learn the alphabet. To understand others she would place her middle finger on the nose of the person talking and then she would place her other three fingers on the speaker’s upper lip and her thumb on their larynx. In this way she could interpret what was being spoken. This says nothing of the difficulty of her learning to speak, and overcoming her lack of sight.

It is in relation to her sight that we can learn a valuable leadership lesson. In the later years of her life and in an interview with a reporter she was asked what she thought was worse than being blind. Her reply, “having eyes to see, but not having vision.”

As a leader, we hold the position and the responsibility, the eyes in Ms Keller’s vision equation. But as she insightfully saw - sight doesn’t equal vision. As leaders we ought to regularly take stock and examine whether we also possess and use our vision. Veldon L. Law, Ed.D.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Veldon Law: Learning Organizations Always Changing

Chameleon Organizations: Always Learning, Always Changing

As a youngster, and much to my good mother’s horror, I used to love to catch chameleons. As a rural Idaho boy the chance to catch these fast, color changing lizards was an exciting annual challenge while we spent six weeks in southern Florida.

The annual jaunt to Florida was much anticipated for any number of reasons as my father prepared for the approaching baseball season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not the least of these reasons was outdoor boyish adventures involving a variety of reptiles, particularly the chameleons. Elusive because of their speed and hard to detect because of their ability to change their color I learned at a young age that change and speed generally equaled “survival.”

Years later I listened carefully to two members of my staff as they reported recent accomplishments. “We’ve added a new program, changed vendors, merged two departments, changed our internal reporting, and developed a new marketing approach.” Then the teaching and learning opportunity, “We’ll be glad when things get back to normal.” It was my privilege to help them realize their change efforts were not just short gusts of change. For survival and for them and the organization to thrive their conditions of change must be normal, everyday occurrences woven into the fabric of the organization’s culture. Sad and numbered are the days of those unable or unwilling to embrace continuous change; to change their colors so to speak.

Leadership “authorities” have dubbed quick response and adaptable organizations “learning organizations.” They are organizations which possess unique characteristics, characteristics which as a leader I have been able to instill in the organizations where I have held senior leadership responsibilities as a COO or CEO. I’ve personally learned, taught others, and led organizations to grasp the following concepts.

Learning Organizations Allow Debate
Employees are free to disagree and are expected to work out solutions among themselves. Leadership and management give fewer directives while they are viewed as supportive of the work being performed to achieve the organization’s mission and vision. Internal respectful disputes over the way to accomplish established performance objectives are fine. They do not interfere with – indeed, they can enhance – individual and organizational performance.

Learning Organizations Encourage Continuous Experimentation
We don’t have time to figure out the ideal way to respond to our customer demands,” a manager in a learning organization once explained. “We simply try something and, if it doesn’t work, we try something else.” In my personal experience I’ve learned that there is wisdom in making these determinations more calculated, more strategic. Regardless, the focus on continuous market driven improvement is a fixture within the organizations. Emphasis is on actions; try it, and fix it.

Temporary Not Permanent
Nothing is forever, in learning organizations; employees understand that seemingly long-term policies are temporary and subject to review. A new policy, program, or procedure – or even products and services – may be in place for only a short time.

Contradictions Are OK
In learning organizations, it is not necessary for all practices across all areas to be in synch and that just like situational leadership, there is value in practices fitting the circumstances. Accordingly, within the organizations where I have provided leadership I knowingly adopted short and long-term plans that conflicted. I held inherently contradictory expectations, such as high quality vs. low cost, quick response vs. no mistake, thorough discussion vs. quick decisions, seasoned judgment vs. inexperienced people.

Overarching Management Principle
One overarching management principle to which I have held tightly in developing learning organizations is that leadership is open to input from many sources, and we continuously adjust to better serve those I term, “stakeholders.” Further, the organizations’ cultures have been altered to embrace this basic truth that the organization welcomes continuous improvement, and that continuous improvement requires a commitment to individual and organizational learning. Additionally, there is organizational knowledge that in the absence of learning and adaptation to the environment, like the color changing of the chameleon, we simply repeat old practices which means we likely don’t thrive nor survive.

Definition of a Learning Organization
With numerous definitions proffered I have found personal identity in David Garvin’s explanation. Garvin says a learning organization is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.

Five Main Activities
In successfully implementing this definition I have led the implementation of policies, processes, and programs that encourage the following five main activities. These activities are found in any organization that has adopted the theoretical underpinnings of becoming a learning organization:

1) Systematic problem solving;

2) Experimentation with new approaches;

3) Learning from individual and organizational experience and past history;

4) Learning from the experiences and best practices of others, and

5) Transferring knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization.

Veldon Law: Beyond the Fund Balance

Questions to Ask Your Chief Financial Officer

Many in key positions of organizational leadership find themselves in roles requiring an understanding of financial matters beyond the specifics of their education and experience. While there are leaders that have risen to their role through the ranks of the “accounting department,” it would seem that many have had little more than:

1) basic accounting,

2) responsibility for departmental budget development,

3) keeping spending within a set limit, and/or

4) generating income to meet a particular goal.

Obviously, organizational leadership requires some understanding of financial matters but leaders are generally appointed for skills beyond just fiscal acumen. So for the many of us in leadership roles who lack a professional background in accounting there are strategic questions that leaders can use to stay abreast of the financial health of the organization as well as ask to guide planning. These are questions for the organization’s chief financial officer which will keep you as the organization’s leader informed while you meet your fiduciary responsibility.

Key Questions

The following are questions whose answers have a tremendous impact on organizational policy and planning. They are questions designed to peel away the top layers of financial information in an attempt to arrive at substantive detail without micro-managing the CFO. They are questions whose answers do not require a CPA for understanding, and they are questions to which every CEO should have answers.

1) What are the organization’s various sources of revenue?

2) How reliant on vulnerable streams of revenue have we become?

3) If there are auxiliary enterprises, are they self-sufficient, and have we transferred or hidden some of the costs of operation into other funds?

4) Do any trends in major categories or revenues and expenditures cause you concern?

5) What if any concerns do you have with cash flow?

6) Would you describe the nature and amounts of our accounts receivable, and discuss our likelihood of collecting outstanding amounts?

7) Should any outstanding long-term debt be refinanced to save money, improve our ability to pay, or to remove troublesome debt covenants?

8) Would you describe the composition and nature of the organization’s outstanding accounts payable and accrued liabilities?

9) Over time, have there been any major change in assets, liabilities, or required transfers that cause you concern?

10) Would you please outline the type and amount of each of the organization’s investments?

11) What fiscal obligations does the organization have related to leases, operating agreements, monthly capital payments?

12) What is the age of our information technology, and do we have a planned replacement or improvement schedule?

13) Has the failure rate on any of our buildings’ major components or equipment been increasing, and do we have a plan for rehabilitation or replacement?

14) In dollars would you describe the intermediate term impact of any labor agreements with various employee groups relative to compensation and benefits?

15) Do we have any new reporting requirements and will those requirements affect reports we are accustom to receiving?

16) Would you describe how decisions are made about resource allocation?

17) Does the expenditure of resources track with the organization’s plans and the priorities as articulated by the Board and leadership?

18) Against whom do we benchmark our financial performance?

19) What have we learned about our financial performance in comparison to those against whom we benchmark?

20) Is there any other financial information you believe might assist us as policy makers?

Each question lends itself to broad implications. Without addressing each potential implication, the implications range from determining price sensitivity, avoiding embarrassments over lack of timely payments to venders and employees, providing a tool for discovering efficiency of payment systems, to long-term liability, etc.

Armed with these questions and following a thorough discussion of them and the implications for the organization with the CFO an organizational leader will be well prepared to address strategic planning and organizational leadership, their major responsibility.

Veldon Law: Into The World Of Online Giving

Remember the fun of hide and seek…ready or not here I come? Well, like the game, online charitable giving is coming…"ready or not."

Ready for some astounding figures? Fidelity Charity Gift Fund and United Way raised $314 million and $257.4 million respectively in 2007 through their online efforts. While online giving rarely has climbed above five percent of all gifts received, it is something many non-profit organizations are pursuing with vigor. In 2007, eight charities raised $25 million or more online. Ted Hart (CEO of Hart Philanthropic Services) has tracked online giving since 2001. He reports that on-line giving reached $10.44 billion in 2007, a 52 percent increase over the previous year. Compared to all giving in that year, $10.44 billion is small potatoes, but the continued and expected giving growth, through this medium, is a trend that deserves watching.

As further evidence of the need to follow this trend:

The University of Indiana Foundation projected it would raise $900,000 via its online efforts. This was a whopping 150 percent increase over the $356,079 they raised online in 2007.

The Wise Giving Alliance found that their survey’s youngest respondents, those between 18 and 29, are the most open to the idea of giving online. This bodes well for having online giving as an option.

The ePhilanthropy Foundation found the average age of donors who currently give online is between 35 and 40. This bodes well as an existing target market as foundations woo and cultivate this particular generation’s support.

The future of online giving suggests the need to plan for the time when those between the ages of 18 and 29, that have grown up with computer and web access most of their lives, begin to dominate the giving landscape. While this eventuality is at least 20 to 25 years away, wise foundations should now be planning how to best court this market, and in the meantime, begin to garner resources from other tech savvy donors.

Through online fundraising leaders of non-profit organizations have a new venue for reaching out to potential support.

Tips for Online Fundraising

Joanne Fritz, nonprofit columnist on offers these 10 tips for online fundraising:
1. Get legal with your online fundraising.
2. Market your online fundraising program.
3. Explore all of your options for online fundraising.
4. Make sure your website invites online donations.
5. Observe proper online etiquette in your online fundraising.
6. Provide lots of ways for people to donate—not just online.
7. Make sure that your website donation button is big and above the fold.
8. Provide the opportunity for non-monetary contributions, such as volunteer time.
9. Show real donors and specify how donations will help.
10. Try segmenting your online fundraising audience.

Read Joanne Fritz’s full article, “Online Fundraising: A Start-up Guide.”