Success and Value, An Equation

Corporations, non-profits, businesses and start-ups share a success model based on achievements. Each organization has its unique thumbprint written into a mandate or mission statement. Most have these posted on their websites as hallmarks of thoughtful, good business practice. Attention is being paid to the ‘why’ a company exists and typically in the case of non-profits, the ‘who’ they are attempting to serve. The statements are based on Values.

Over time, and as growth occurs, these achievements are measured. Goals are set for employees, financial benchmarks increase, companies buoyed by success look for innovative ways to meet their potential. And this is where it gets interesting.

As a contract employee with many years of freelance consulting and producing,  I have been privy to a wide scope of high level board room conversations. As incredibly diverse as these projects have been, one constant is true – the leadership in these rooms sets the tone. (There are many fantastic articles and books about leadership that prove across cultures specific leadership styles remain consistent. No need to re-visit in this article. Brene Brown’s  Dare to Lead is quite literally, the manifesto.) Stay with me here…

It is the culture of success in the board room that defines the ultimate success of the company. Obvious, yes? What isn’t so clear is how the measurement of success can easily slip away from the early achievement goals based on Values. Being in the room or part of the conversations of so many different types of organizations has offered me a front row seat with a balcony perspective. Leading my own projects has provided the ‘in the trenches’ experience of keeping a team on the path to reaching  goals while holding onto the mission -which is the true heart of the work. It’s not easy. Especially when there are so many ‘constituents’ to please! Murky messaging occurs when the heart of the work is forgotten and success outcomes shift. Here is today’s big realization:

We value the measurements of our success. When really, for true success we should be measuring our values.

Boom.

Mic drop. (Hello, is thing on? Anyone still with me?)

In our pursuit of success – as companies and as individuals – have we put all our eggs in the ‘measurement basket’? When did measuring our values stop being important? Companies need to continue to keep the values at the forefront of decision making asking questions such as ‘is this new direction inline with our company values?’ That initial foundation of ‘value built success‘ unfortunately gives way to numbers driven, employee stressed, higher and higher achievement expectations that chase outcomes based on numbers metrics.

Let me put this another way: a new company initially looks for clients who mirror their values, we look for like-minded clients who share certain affinities. They are the low hanging fruit so to speak, of potential contracts. As the company succeeds and expansion continues, the measurement of success is increasingly about productivity, achievement and growth. The story that can be told by the accumulated data – the numbers –  takes center stage; percentages based on dollars and bank figures; graphs, charts and spreadsheets become the benchmark.  And this is the easiest way to recognize a shift in company culture. The story changes. The story is no longer about the ‘why’ and ‘who’.

Growth, achievement, output, all absolutely need to be the goals of running a successful corporation. Success is awesome and important. It just seems to me, that when we put more emphasis on the measurements – the data – we lose sight of greater potential. Give me a room full of people dedicated to the Values of the organization and the achievements will blow the limits off of any growth chart! Focus on the Measurements, and the value system is askew. That same room of awesome people will have to use that same extraordinary collective energy, to push numbers. Ugh. Trust me, focus on the Values and the numbers will follow.

I just need to say it one more time. About Success.

To achieve true success we need to continually Measure our Values. Otherwise, we end up Valuing the Measurements – which is not a long term strategy for success.  It’s people, people! Keep our eye on the Values and growth will follow. Along with happiness.  And a whole slew of other healthy outcomes.

Kim and Sara, the Language of Music

Like Mother Like Daughter was my first collaboration with Kim Blanchard Souch and her daughter Sara Sobey. This mother-daughter duo began performing together when Sara was just a young teen. Kim was a touring singer/songwriter while pregnant with Sara, so it was not a surprise that Sara could sing before she could speak! What Kim could not have known was that music would be more than a bridge between them. For a long time, it would be their only shared language.

Diagnosed on the autism spectrum, Sara had a very limited vocabulary. It was when she sang that Sara could communicate with an extensive vocabulary, discovering a joy that was both physical and emotional. Her body would almost hum as her voice resonated!

This is just where this duo’s story begins. Tours, fundraisers in support of the Autism Society, recordings and appearances brought much attention to their beautiful harmonies and storytelling.  Original songs penned by Kim have told the stories of mothers and daughters, family, life, love and loss.

Now, something extraordinary is happening. Along this life journey Kim and Sara have developed their own unique voices. They perform together – and always will! But now there is room for self-expression. Kim’s path is returning to her roots as a touring artist with songwriting for herself and others as a renewed focus. Sara’s dream has been to perform with a Symphony, which happened for the first time this year.

There is more, much more, to come from both these artists and I can’t wait be a part of this next chapter! Over the coming months, their music journeys are diverging and yet we know they will always be entwined. For as they find new strength with their own voices, that beautiful harmony they create will only deepen.

Enjoy this link, to Kim Blanchard Souch and Sara Sobey singing:

Like Mother, Like Daughter

The Importance of a Friend

My Brother’s Keeper, an Obama Foundation led initiative to provide mentorship to young men of color, found a special home in Spartanburg, South Carolina. It was an honor to tell its impact story in this video. The partners from the community, the school and school district as well as the men who commit to years of mentorship, are making a difference one young man at a time.

 

Love is In the Air

The sweet fresh breezes of spring resound  ‘Love is in the Air’! Wedding season is about to get real. It is making me a tad nostalgic. My thoughts drift back to my first marriage.

We were young. Very young. It was a brief engagement followed by a simple wedding. There were just a handful of guests, mostly my friends. As it was a hasty affair, the hundred year old tree in the field provided a shady spot to exchange our  solemn vows. There is much about that day I remember in great detail. I spent my childhood living my life as if in a great novel. Often repeating moments that had just occurred in the third person, as if the narrator of my own story. (Louise paused from her typing, smiling to herself at the memory of a younger Louise standing in the middle of the field under the shade of the tree.)  The sky was really blue. like, really blue. And the sun was blazing. Although it was hot, I remember the cooling breezes shifting the tall grasses near the fence.

My friend Susan really gets credit for making it all come together. When you are in Grade 4 and contemplating a ‘forever and ever’ commitment, it helps to have a good friend’s encouragement. Taking her role as both wedding planner and officiant quite seriously, Susan marched me across the schoolyard hopscotch pads, between the baseball diamond and soccer games, across the track field to the big oak tree where a few of our girl friends were waiting. Holding dandelion bouquets. (Actually I don’t really remember the bouquets, but we did often make dainty dandelion chain crowns during recess.)  I stood there a bit queasy shifting from one foot to the other wondering of all things, how I was going to break the news to my parents.

Now, here is where things get a bit fuzzy. I distinctly remember Susan getting perturbed that the groom had not yet arrived. All the girls, me the exception, began yelling at the groom to leave his game of pick-up soccer for just 2 minutes to make it official! ‘Because, if he couldn’t commit to even that, then how was Louise supposed to take this whole relationship thing seriously? I mean, come on!’ My betrothed kicked the ball into the field punctuating an exasperated ‘FINE!’, then ran to the tree and my giggling friends. With great gravitas, Susan clasped her hands and asked us to repeat the vows. I said my ‘I do’, looking directly at Susan. My groom gave an exasperated ‘Yeah, whatever’, kind of touched my hand and then ran back to the game. And that was it. In that 15 minute afternoon recess  I became the first of my friends to marry. They congratulated me and one of them offered to go tell my sisters who were playing on the other side of the schoolyard. I remember feeling different, somehow. Awed by the the whole situation and my prominent role. I can’t really explain it – older maybe? Definitely wiser. As the bell rang and we joined the rest of the school running towards the doors, I mused to myself ‘it’s true, marriage really does change you’.

There is, ahem, one important element that I can’t recollect – getting back to that ‘fuzzy bit’. It is the kind of detail one thinks one could never forget. I swear on a stack of dandelion crowns, I can’t remember the groom. Not his name or even what he looked like. He may have been wearing brown corduroy pants. Gosh, who did I marry that warm spring day? Alas, the first Mr. Louise Fagan will forever remain the blurry memory of an otherwise beautiful ceremony. (I’m just thinking it would have been nice when we reached our 20 year anniversary to have given him a bit of a ‘shout out’. Kinda feel bad about that one.)  

Back to the marriage. We never really spoke afterwards, my first husband and I. It was a short-lived union that suffered from a lack of communication. We drifted apart. It was bound to happen. He had his friends and I had mine. By morning recess the next day it all seemed so long ago. Sigh.

Spring, see what you do to me? It’s that promise of warmer days and weddings. Love and lovebirds. Joyously anticipating my own son’s wedding in just a few short months. (I think it’s his first). Love sweet love is in the air!

 

beautiful bloom blossom clouds

Bits & Scraps, Threads & Stitches

Remnants of fabric connected by intricate stitches, are a mirror for a woman’s story. With leftover bits and scraps, loving hands delicately construct warm, protective, beautiful coverings. Quilts are metaphors.

During  the era of my Great Grandmothers, quilts and blankets were created out of need. There was a form and a function. Just like the family structure. Women were the center of their homes. Their identities defined by being wives and mothers.  Yet like women throughout time, our foremothers found ways to amplify women’s experiences by telling and re-telling each other’s story. Many women found creative, personal and even political expression through Quilting.  Individual personalities showing in each finished piece. Form and function overlayed with decorative design. They created a legacy stitch by stitch. Quilts are stories.

In ‘How to Make an American Quilt’ directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, based on the novel by Whitney Otto, we witness the sharing of wisdom that occurs as a group of friends gather, as they often have before, to stitch a quilt. The quilting circle is the conduit for the revealing of deeply personal stories, confessions of their joys and heartbreaks, all the while imparting life instruction to an apprehensive bride. This young woman, played by Winona Ryder, in her search for her own answers, takes these stories being told, these scraps, and pieces them together as a sort of armor of comfort. One of my favorite images is a young Ryder lying under the quilting frame, listening, absorbing the voices and experiences of the women stitching the fabric above.

Quilts are maps. The fabric pieces reveal a life’s journey; threaded side by side. Random or precisely laid out, stitch after stitch weaves another pattern, like tributaries meandering from the river. Patterns chosen tell a broader story or give the reason for the quilt – wedding, new home, anniversary, birth of a child translated by patterns with names such as Double Wedding Ring, Log Cabin, Pinwheel, Applecore, Patchwork, made without machine, cut, pieced, assembled and stitched.

Quilts are art. To take remnant pieces and make something functional is a talent, but quilting goes farther. The finished quilts are moving works of art. The ‘herstory’ of generations of women whose hands lovingly threaded the bits and pieces, the remnants, and created the protective blankets that sheltered new born babies, wrapped young lovers, comforted the sick. When I run my fingers over the old threads, I am remembering the lives of the women who sewed the quilts, honoring the stories that were told over and through each careful placement of fabric and delicate stitch. Quilts are prisms.

 

 

Gardens

To work with creative people is a tremendous gift.  Days filled with questions, searching for explanation and understanding. Social commentary, expressing the human condition, taking what’s inside and churning it out, exploring, defining, soothing, infuriating… nothing is off limits for the artist’s probing perspective. To be a creative thinker is to be at once an artist, sociologist, listener, observer, explorer, imaginative and brave.  Oh yes, brave.  Whether you are the most celebrated recognized artist or create without audience or support, the personal dilemma can be the same; ‘who am I to write, or compose, or draw, sculpt, paint… why is my story unique or worth telling’.

The colleagues I have been working with have faced this inner struggle and  have found their voices. It’s a challenge to believe in your unique perspective. Being a red tulip in a garden of yellow can be, well, uncomfortable. Or absolutely stunning. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. My inspiration for the next phase of work will be from the creative minds that challenge me to look beyond the obvious, think of possibilities and believe in the sound of my own voice.

2014 Summer Reading List!

Ah summer reading… childhood memories blur into a hazy nostalgia of endless days curled under the backyard willow tree with a book. And then another. And yet another. Adventures transported me to a big wide world beyond the Dairy Queen at the edge of our small town. The characters lingering long after the book was finished. One summer, I am not ashamed to admit, my best confidant was Laura Ingalls! 

So it is no surprise then, that when the hot June, July and August months are on the horizon I look for my ‘summer companions‘. Which stories, characters and lives will become intertwined with my own, whose demise will break my heart and will there be one story that triumphs – each book filling me with deep joy and gratitude for the writers that braved to share.

This year my list is one of discovery and re-discovery. Some I will read for the first time and others I will re-visit out of a need for the wisdom they offer. It is a small representation of the reading list worthy titles and I am curious to learn about others. If you have a book or two for the list, please add it through the comment page. I will re-visit the 2014 Summer Reading List again and add the suggestions. Louise Fagan

2014 – Here we go!

If I had to look for a common thread amongst these books, it would have to be, generally, the rebirth or affirmation of spirit. Each author explores deeply personal stories – some fully integrated into the narrative, others from a more measured distance. All titles are available through Amazon and most are available on the shelf or by order through your local bookstore (which is always the best way to buy a book!).  

Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter – Growing up with A Gay Dad by Alison Wearing published by Knopf

A moving memoir about growing up with a gay father in the 1980s, and a tribute to the power of truth, humour, acceptance and familial love.   Alison Wearing led a largely carefree childhood until she learned, at the age of 12, that her family was a little more complex than she had realized. Sure her father had always been unusual compared to the other dads in the neighbourhood: he loved to bake croissants, wear silk pyjamas around the house, and skip down the street singing songs from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. But when he came out of the closet in the 1970s, when homosexuality was still a cardinal taboo, it was a shock to everyone in the quiet community of Peterborough, Ontario—especially to his wife and three children.

The Western Light – Susan Swan published by Cormorant Books (available in paperback July 1 2014)

Finalist for the 2013 OLA Evergreen Award Mouse’s world is constrained by a number of factors: her mother is dead, her father – the admired country doctor – is emotionally distant, her housekeeper Sal is prejudiced and narrow, and her grandmother and aunt, Big Louie and Little Louie, the only lifeaffirming presences in her life, live in another city. Enter Gentleman John Pilkie, the former NHL star who’s transferred to the mental hospital in Madoc’s Landing, where he is to serve out his life-sentence for the murder of his wife and daughter. John becomes a point of fascination for young Mary, who looks to him for the attention she does not receive from her father. He, in turn, is kind to her – but the kindness is misunderstood. When Mary figures out that the attention she receives from the Hockey Killer is different in kind and intent from the attention her Aunt Little Louie receives, her world collapses. Set against the beautiful and dramatic shore of Georgian Bay, the climax will have readers turning pages with concern for characters they can’t help but love.

The Paper Garden – Molly Peacock published by McClelland & Stewart

Mary Delany was seventy-two years old when she noticed a petal drop from a geranium. In a flash of inspiration, she picked up her scissors and cut out a paper replica of the petal, inventing the art of collage. It was the summer of 1772, in England. During the next ten years she completed nearly a thousand cut-paper botanicals (which she called mosaicks) so accurate that botanists still refer to them. Poet-biographer Molly Peacock uses close-ups of these brilliant collages in The Paper Garden to track the extraordinary life of Delany, friend of Swift, Handel, Hogarth, and even Queen Charlotte and King George III. How did this remarkable role model for late blooming manage it? After a disastrous teenage marriage to a drunken sixty-one-year-old squire, she took control of her own life, pursuing creative projects, spurning suitors, and gaining friends. At forty-three, she married Jonathan Swift’s friend Dr. Patrick Delany, and lived in Ireland in a true expression of midlife love. But after twenty-five years and a terrible lawsuit, her husband died. Sent into a netherland of mourning, Mrs. Delany was rescued by her friend, the fabulously wealthy Duchess of Portland. The Duchess introduced Delany to the botanical adventurers of the day and a bonanza of exotic plants from Captain Cook’s voyage, which became the inspiration for her art. Peacock herself first saw Mrs. Delany’s work more than twenty years before she wrote The Paper Garden, but “like a book you know is too old for you,” she put the thought of the old woman away. She went on to marry and cherish the happiness of her own midlife, in a parallel to Mrs. Delany, and by chance rediscovered the mosaicks decades later. This encounter confronted the poet with her own aging and gave her-and her readers-a blueprint for late-life flexibility, creativity, and change.

The Heart of a Woman – Maya Angelou published by Random House

In The Heart of a Woman, Maya Angelou leaves California with her son, Guy, to move to New York. There she enters the society and world of black artists and writers, reads her work at the Harlem Writers Guild, and begins to take part in the struggle of black Americans for their rightful place in the world. In the meantime, her personal life takes an unexpected turn. She leaves the bail bondsman she was intending to marry after falling in love with a South African freedom fighter, travels with him to London and Cairo, where she discovers new opportunities. The Heart of a Woman is filled with unforgettable vignettes of such renowned people as Billie Holiday and Malcom X, but perhaps most importantly chronicles the joys and the burdens of a black mother in America and how the son she has cherished so intensely and worked for so devotedly finally grows to be a man.

Stripped Down Running by Andrea Nair published by Friesen Press

Outwardly, Hannah  appears to have a wonderful life. She is intelligent, funny, adventurous, attractive, has money and a great husband. One would expect her to be happy—but she is far from that. What shows outwardly masks an inner personal turmoil. Hannah puts herself on a path to discover what is driving her increasingly destructive behaviour and finds out that what she thought she knew and who she thought she was, couldn’t be farther from the truth. What happens instead is a series of events that rip her life and her heart apart. When the chaos becomes too great, Hannah is forced to address the inner darkness that is blindly propelling her, or face losing everything.

There are other authors who I am patiently waiting for their next offering. This is just a small selection – again in no order :

Cathie Borrie Waiting with great anticipation for this title due January 2015  The Long Hello – published by Simon and Schuster

Joseph Boyden     Giles Blunt       Louise Penny       Rohinton Mistry

Post your summer reads in the comment section below and I will compile a list of suggested summer readings in the coming weeks!