Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Life Lessons From Amy

Often life teaches us to pay attention to what's important, to say the things that need to be said...to let the people who make up the color and fabric of our lives know that they give our life meaning.

So is the lesson of life this past week. Amy, my mother in law, is in St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, MN following a stroke.  She has not regained her speech. She will soon be placed in hospice. Some really tender moments happened while we were with her in the hospital . We sang one of her favorite songs to her-- You Are My Sunshine. She lit up. She clearly recognized the song, even trying to sing along. I suspect she relived  lovely memories of days with her grandchildren where she would play the organ and sing that song to them.

Two of my sons came back to IL on New Year's Eve while my husband, daughter, and I stayed back in Minnesota. They came home to find an inch of water in our basement.

At first I was incredibly angry, sad, frustrated ... how much more should we have to endure? I experienced all of the emotions that emerge from darkness.  Then I tried to think about what reallymattered. We had lost things--all of which could be replaced. The reality is, we are losing a matriarch, a love force in our family that cannot be replaced. That's where our focus needs to remain. All of our light needs to surround her now.

I call my brother in law twice a day to hear how things are going. Yesterday, my brother in law put me on speaker phone so that my mother in law could hear my voice. I tell her everyday that I love her, that she has created an amazing family, and that she is loved well beyond what words could ever express.

My vow for 2011 is to put voice more often to the feelings of gratitude for the people in my life that I love. To you, know that you matter--you make a difference in my life. I am eternally grateful to and for you. My hope for all of us is that we will make this commitment. Everyday, let at least one person in your life know that they have made a difference, that they matter. Let them know that your life is better because they have been part of your journey while you are here. What an incredible tribute that would be to Amy.

You matter. You make a difference. I am a better person because you have been a part of my life. I am grateful. Won't you help me share this life lesson from Amy?

For more information on the acceleration of women in business go to http://maureenobrienspeaks.com

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Diversity of Thought

The best, most creative, most competitive ideas happen when we allow diverse perspectives to emerge. Recently, the Global Women's Leadership Forum (www.globalwlf.com) held a Forum hosted by Motorola where the topic was Diversity of Thought--The Competitive Business Advantage and Catalyst for Success. Close to 100 female executive women from Fortune 500 companies, and several executive men gathered to define what diversity of thought means to the sustainability and success of future business.

The day began with Jeanette Kilo Smith, VP Global Inclusion and Diversity of Motorola who offered that full engagement  of all employees is necessary particularly in this economy. She demonstrated very eloquently diversity of thought and its connection to perspective.

Lisa Bacus, VP Marketing, American Family Insurance talked about the importance of Employee Resource Groups and their ability to provide measurable results in an organization utilizing diversity of thought and perspective to generate new ideas which create new business and reach new customers. Lisa shared that "our life experiences create diversity of thought and perspective that needs to be vocalized and shared to energize an organization.

Lucy Sanders, CEO/Co Founder,National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) gave the lunchtime keynote. Lucy shared incredible statistics specific to the inadequate number of women at the table--particularly in technology. As part of the solution, Lucy suggested that we clearly need to engage young women and girls int he STEM programs in schools ( (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)  to provide the diversity of thought needed at the design table for innovative ideas. Lucy also talked about unconscious bias which impacts all of  us as leaders and as individual contributors--whether we are aware of it or not. Sources confirm that businesses benefit from diversity of thought in innovation.
Other essential thought leaders who contributed wisdom to the meeting were:
·        Elton Ndoma-Ogar,  Diversity & Inclusion Manager, North America, BP
·        Karen Tandy ,  Senior Vice President, Public Affairs, Motorola
·        Tyronne Stoudemire , Global Director, Diversity & Inclusion, Hewitt Associates
What does diversity of thought mean to you? Do you see evidence within your organization that diversity of thought is solicited and encouraged? I'll be interested to hear your response.

For more information on the acceleration of women in business go to http://maureenobrienspeaks.com

Friday, July 16, 2010

The TakecaraU! Campaign!

 When did we become a country of corporations employing so many people who DO NOT CARE? Each of us, I know, has a customer service nightmare story! I hear about them everyday when I'm speaking in organizations or talking with friends. A day does not go by without a story of yet another customer--in every segment of business-- disappointed with the service they've received. How and why did we get to this?

Recently, I was attending a convention in Orlando. I had decided to fly to Tampa a day before the convention to spend time with my 86 year old parents.  Work had been really stressful, and spending time with Mom and Dad while cherished, was not really a way to lessen my stress. I decided to give myself a treat--I would rent a convertible while in Florida. It would be a symbolic reminder of the "playtime" I so hungered for in my busy life.

After landing in Tampa, I went to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car booth and secured my convertible. It was a white Sebring with a black roof. Great looking.  When I opened the trunk, something did not look right.  I have rented Sebring's before. There is a certain way that the security latches have to be in place. I called the attendant over from Enterprise to take a look. He made some adjustments and assured me the convertible would now work fine. Of course, we didn't try it. Problem # 1.

It was about 107 degrees (okay 93) in Tampa. I decided before leaving the Enterprise parking lot that it was just too hot to put the top down.  When I got out on the highway, however, I decided that putting the top down was really symbolic for me--remember--playtime. I pulled to the side of the road, and pushed the button to release the top.

Windows down, check. Top started lifting, check. Everything seemed fine. Until the top went completely vertical. It would not go any farther. It looked like a big claw sticking straight up in the air. Beads of sweat were forming on my forehead-some from the heat, the rest from panic.  What if the roof wouldn't go back down? Pretty sure you cannot drive a car this way.

After several tries (and an exhale of relief), the top did go back down.  I continued my drive to my parents home in New Port Richey, FL, which is about 45 minutes from the Tampa airport.

When I got to Mom and Dad's, I called the phone number on my contract with Enterprise. I got into an automated web--never did get a real live person.  This went on for about an hour. I finally called the 1-800 number which sent me to the local office in New Port Richey.

Heidi at the New Port Richey office answered. I told her of my dilemma. Her first question was "why are you not calling the Tampa office?" I let her know I had tried and that I had been in an "automated spin" for the last hour.  "That's really weird," Heidi said. "I've been calling them all day and I haven't had any problem."

Good to know. My blood pressure is rising.

 It was now almost 5 p.m. I had been working on this for one full hour. Mom and Dad were anxious to go to dinner. We were already past the time for the Early Bird special pricing.Crisis continues.  Heidi got back on the phone and promised me I would get a return phone call from the Tampa office..

There was not a call back.

I called again to try to get through to Tampa. Nothing. Same automated spin.

Finally, again I called the 1-800 number, feeling somewhat like a stalker, and Mom and Dad now fully pacing since we're not in the car going to dinner.

My call was yet again forwarded to the New Port Richey office. This time I got Morgan;  person number two to whom I'm telling my story of woe. 

This part is amazing. You'll think I'm making this up. Sadly, I'm not.

Morgan listened intently to my story. His response was, "Yes Mrs. O'Brien, I fully understand your frustration. It's kinda like buyin' a toy at Toys R Us and getting it home, and it doesn't work." 

I am not kidding. That was really his response. My blood pressure is now at full tilt.

"Um, NO Morgan. It is NOTHING like that," I rebuked. This is a $300cost/ day of symbolic freedom for me!" Now I was in a full rant.

"Well, maybe what you need to do is drive the car back to the Tampa airport and exchange it.  You didn't rent the car from this location, Tampa really needs to help you and ... we close at 5 p.m.," Morgan offered.

I cannot believe it.  I have 24 hours of symbolic freedom, which I am rapidly losing AND I am watching two 86 year olds pacing because we're not at dinner. I have a convertible that frankly, DOES NOT CONVERT.

Morgan decided to call the Tampa Office for me and promised I would receive a return phone call. He was true to his word. Shortly thereafter, I got a call from Kevin at the Tampa Enterprise Office.

"Mrs. O'Brien, tell me what happened," Kevin said apologetically.  This is now the third time I'm telling the story, and when I did, Kevin, the night manager, had this to offer.

"Oh Mrs. O'Brien I am really sorry. This should never have happened. I will leave a message for the manager tomorrow morning because I cannot get a vehicle to you tonight.  It may be difficult for him to get a vehicle to you in New Port Richey. Perhaps you could meet us at Veteran's Parkway and 54?"

Wait a second... is this not the company with the slogan "We'll pick you up?"

I told Kevin that tomorrow morning would be fine but that meeting them anywhere except the driveway where I was would not be fine.  I reminded him of his own company's slogan and told him that they could "pick me up" in a convertible that actually converted! Then they could drive themselves back in the car that I had with the fully vertical top!

The call ended.

Next morning at 7 a.m. I got a call from Joey, the daytime manager.  He too asked me to tell him the story and was very apologetic.  Without missing a beat he said, "Mrs. O'Brien, we're going to make this right. I'm not sure how yet, but I am going to find you a car, and it will be delivered to you by 8 a.m."

Is this really the same company? I cannot believe it.  I said to Joey, "Joey, why did everyone else make this so difficult? I am not an unreasonable person. You listened and seem to be executing a solution. Why does this not happen company-wide, and why don't you suggest that everyone behave like YOU do?"

Here is his response... and in the moment, a light bulb went on for me.

"I wish I could, Mrs. O'Brien. But I don't have a big enough voice  to make a difference."

Wow. There it is. There's the answer.  There are two things we have done to employees in this country.
  1. We have tied the hands of employees so tightly they cannot make any decisions because they are not empowered.
  2. We have learned to accept mediocrity or less than mediocrity.
The good news is that Joey did exactly what he said he would do.  He found a car--a red Mustang convertible. He had his associate, Andy Larson drive the car to me at my parents home.  When Andy arrived, he too asked for the story, shaking his head in disbelief as I told him all that had happened. Andy gave me his personal cell phone number. He told me to call him personally with ANY ISSUES, and pleaded that I give Enterprise another chance to earn my trust.

Every story needs a good ending. This story has one.  This experience has called me to do something about the service in this country. I know even in my own business, there have been times where I have not offered my absolute best. That STOPS TODAY.  Today is the beginning of the TakecaraU Campaign.

Many of you know I wrote a book a couple of years ago called Takecara U.  It is a problem solving process utilizing the curriculum of C.A.R.E (Contemplation, Acceptance, Responsibility, Extension).  Takecara U is now going to become a countrywide customer service campaign.  Still working out the details but I'm asking you to join.  When you do, I will be sending you a free TakecaraU band and/or button that you'll wear with pride because you've made the promise to offer your BEST SERVICE everyday!

Join me, will you?  I'm remembering that as of today we're all in this together.  You have my promise ...  I am here to TAKECARA U!

Maureen O'Brien, CEO

For more information on the acceleration of women in business go to http://maureenobrienspeaks.com

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why Do YOU Think There Are So Few Women At Senior Levels of Management in Corporate America?

 Yesterday I attended the Women's Leadership Breakfast sponsored by The Executive Club of Chicago.  Over 900 (of my new closest friends) were there, men and women. Giselle Riba DiSpigno from IBM, Sherilyn Weaver of Caterpillar, and Homa Sabet Tavangar , author of "Growing Up Global" were on a panel facilitated by Karen Jordan,  of ABC-7 Chicago.  I felt most connected to Sherilyn.  She told the story of the Penguin and the Peacock (see trailer at http://www.crmlearning.com/a-peacock-in-the-land-of-penguins).

We were able to submit questions to the panel. The question I submitted was, "How many women are in senior level management positions for CAT, and is there a plan in place to increase that number in the future?"  Sherilyn responded that there were 33 top level executives at  CAT; three are women.Two of the women were appointed within a year of each other. They've both been VP's now since 2007. Of course Caterpillar is not isolated in this circumstance. So my question to you is this, why do YOU believe that there are so few women at senior levels of management in corporate America?

For more information on the acceleration of women in business go to http://maureenobrienspeaks.com

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Love, Compassion, and Honor

Our family just returned from spending a few days in Sedona, Arizona.  The weather was beautiful.  The views breathtaking.  While there, I actively worked on being thankful, appreciative, centered, and at peace. I promised myself that my focus through the holiday season and beyond would be gratitude, compassion, honor, and love.

We flew home on Thanksgiving night, planning to celebrate the holiday on Friday. My son Liam from Pittsburgh  was not able to be with the rest of us in Sedona,  but he would join us at our family gathering in Batavia.

Our Thanksgiving table was beautifully set. All six of us worked together in the kitchen to prepare the meal.  The aroma of the turkey and pumpkin lingered heavily in the air.  It felt as though it was going to be a perfect family day.  It was good to be home.

I had invited a dear young friend of mine, Melanie, to come to our Thanksgiving celebration.  She accepted. We were delighted to have her at our table.  After dinner, it was time for my daughter  Lizzy (a high school cheerleader) to head to the basketball game to cheer.  Melanie's beautiful black Lexus was parked in the street just off the driveway.  (If at this moment , you're getting that sick feeling in your stomach, you would be right on!)  Lizzy promptly backed into that beautiful Lexus. Our perfect day had abruptly come to an end.

Our dining table is right in the front window of our home. I remembered thinking to myself, "I should go outside to be sure that Lizzy makes it out of the driveway without hitting Mel's car."  Just as I finished that thought and rose to make my way outside, the two cars became one. My blood pressure hit tilt. My practice of peace, compassion, honor ... went right out the window.

Lizzy, knowing that she had made a judgment error, was shaking and sobbing from head to toe when she got out of the car to assess the damage. In the same moment, Melanie went to Lizzy and displayed incredible grace and kindness. She kept reiterating to Lizzy that this was a "thing" that could be fixed--no one was hurt--and that was what was so important.  She said these things at the same time that she hugged my daughter tightly in her arms.

As I watched this, I was truly amazed at this young woman's understanding and care and compassion towards another human being.  I know Mel loved that beautiful car, but her priority was to help Lizzy know that she had made a mistake, that it was an accident--not fatal, and that this moment would pass. Imagine the learning that happened for Lizzy.  Here was another woman whom she does not know well, consoling her.  Certainly Mel could have made the choice to lecture or reprimand her, but she did not make that choice. She chose instead to help Lizzy keep her honor and dignity in tact, and modeled behavior which I am sure that Lizzy will forever hold in her heart.

It was a really good lesson for me.  I can be eruptive and react beyond what is necessary (or healthy) in situations that are clearly "not fatal."  Melanie helped put the feelings of love, compassion, and honor that I so desperately wanted to carry in my heart from Sedona into real life actions.

I then came across this  Ojibwa Prayer, "Teach us love , compassion, and honor ... that we may heal the earth...and heal each other."

In this "classroom" of lived experience, are there places in your life where you might actively practice love, compassion, and honor? Certainly for myself there are. In this season of thanksgiving, I am incredibly grateful for the lesson.

For more information on the acceleration of women in business go to http://maureenobrienspeaks.com

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

 The last day of October.  Unimaginable. Another season is passing.  As I look out my window, I see mounds of leaves blanketing the ground.  I wonder, "where did the time go ... what have I impacted ... where have I made a difference?"

This evening our front porch will become a magical, mystical platform.  Little goblins and witches, princesses and pirates will take center stage.  We will reward them with treats for their promise of NO TRICKS!  They will exit with glee for we are the "big bar" house.  News of the big bar will spread frantically through the neighborhood.

Tomorrow will dawn a new season--one of Thanksgiving and gratitude.  I hope (for all of us) that this new season lasts well beyond the one month allotted; that we are conscious and mindful in our everyday lived experience.  That we have a knowingness that we are called, chosen, purpose-filled people who impact, inspire, and make a difference.  For my own life, this is surely something that I need to commit more time to practice-- mindfulness, thanksgiving, and gratitude.

I think I'll start tonight. I am grateful for the King Size Snickers Bar that I will consume ... mindfully ... and enjoy!

Happy Halloween!

For more information on the acceleration of women in business go to http://maureenobrienspeaks.com

Monday, October 5, 2009

Business Boot Camp For Women

Wow. Say boot camp and I start to break out in a rash! That causes me mental imaging of yelling ... sweating ... tears. But not so this Friday, Oct. 9, as the Wheaton Women In Business bring to the Lisle Hilton a Business Boot Camp. The "Sergeants" for the day will be Lynn Torre (financial expert), Barbara Rozgoni (social media expert) , and Caroline Ceisel (relationship expert). I personally know Lynn and Barbara. They are PHENOMINAL. I cannot wait to meet Caroline. I'm convinced she and I were separated at birth. She (like I) believes that real success begins with relationships!

C'Mon...end strong in 2009 and get your 2010 plan 'fit and ready.' This is all about you and your success.

Time to "Get Your Big Girl . . . BOOTS!"