Archive for July, 2012

Stephen Covey Lives On

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits…” Also Apply to Non Profit Boards

By Joseph John

It didn’t take any time at all last week to think about an article that I should write. As I picked up the newspaper and headed towards the obituaries, (a habit of mine), a headline shouted out: “Renowned author Stephen Covey dies.”

In the third paragraph of the AP release, the obit stated “…a pioneer in the self-help genre aimed at helping readers become more productive in their lives, most notably with the ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’…” And that’s when I thought, “Yes, many of the habits Covey wrote about can indeed be applied to nonprofit board members.”

I quickly went to Wikipedia (it was much faster than finding my copy of Stephen Covey’s book, which I’m sure is dog-eared, by the way) to refresh my memory on the  seven habits he wrote about. You may recall that each chapter is dedicated to one of the habits, which are represented by the following imperatives:

Independence or Self-Mastery

The First Three Habits surround moving from dependence to independence (i.e., self mastery).

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Take initiative and take responsibility

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Self-discover and clarify your deeply important character values and life goals. Create a mission statement.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Prioritize, plan, and execute your week’s tasks based on importance rather than urgency. Enrich the roles and relationships that were elaborated in Habit 2.


The next three habits have to do with interdependence (i.e., working with others).

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Value and respect people by understanding a “win” for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten his way.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Use empathic listening, which generates reciprocal listening. All of this creates an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving.

Habit 6: Synergize

Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork. Get the best performance out of a group of people through encouraging meaningful contribution, and modeling inspirational and supportive leadership.

Self Renewal

The last habit relates to self-rejuvenation.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a balance among the four dimensions: Physical, Spiritual, Mental, and Social/Emotional.

So many of the seven habits Stephen Covey addressed for the “individual” are transferable to the collective “individuals” of a non profit board. Think about it: just the first three habits can establish a strong foundation for a very dynamic and successful board of directors: 1) be proactive, 2) begin with the end in mind, and 3) put first things first. “First things first” or, to use another famous Covey quote “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Yes, Stephen Covey may have passed away, but his lessons — and our need to follow the seven habits — will always remain.


Brainstorming can be a successful activity — Can’t it?

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

by Neil Kuvin

The most time-consuming meetings seem to be so-called brainstorming sessions where many in the selected group unfortunately are naysayers and there doesn’t appear to be an atmosphere of “let’s get it done.” And furthermore, the concept of actually coming up with a direction and plan is not in many folks’ mind or agenda. You find yourself rehashing the same ideas over and over again?

We’ve all likely been there.  When brainstorming sessions don’t work, you come away with a sense of pure frustration, you feel like you’ve wasted precious time, you’re no closer to achieving your objectives, and you hate the smartass across the table who keeps pointing out – with seemingly great relish – why your ideas will never work.

To achieve successful outcomes from a brainstorming session, you’ll need to apply a few rules – before, during and after the session. I’ve come to think of these as the Golden Rules That Must Be Respected, because I’ve noticed that anytime any of these rules are broken, the result is almost always going to be frustration and fatigue. So, with apologies to the Godfather, the following are my personal Golden Rules for successful, interactive brainstorming.

Brainstorming Rule 1 – “Leave the judge. Bring the kid.”

First, keep the team small, probably no larger than six people, so that everyone can contribute. Having too many silent team members can kill the creative spirit in the room.  “Judging” types can be real downers in a brainstorming party. Purely because of their tendency to apply overly-structured thinking, and rushing to judge ideas before they’ve had a chance to really flourish and spark off other ideas. Make sure that EVERYONE involved comes into the brainstorm session wearing the right kind of hat: it should be a propeller beanie, instead of a police cap. Have fun, and remember to say this to yourself: “There are no bad ideas – merely unfinished ones.”

Brainstorming Rule 2 – “It’s not business, Sonny. It’s strictly creative.”

So now that you’ve brought the kid (and the propeller beanie), putting him in a sterile conference room isn’t going to help him really cut loose. Creativity is messy and fun: your environment has to be the same.  Stick up flip chart paper all over the room, scatter Post-it notes everywhere, and give the team members lots of pencils and pens. Get everything written down or sketched out, so that everyone can “see” the idea, and you get a fantastic visual record of everything that came out of the session. And never throw away the charts: they’ll serve as great memory joggers later on, and may even help to spark off ideas for different projects.

Brainstorming Rule 3 – “When it comes to ideas, go for broke.”

A brainstorming session is meant to produce ideas. Lots of ideas. It’s not meant to produce the perfect idea. There will be time later to cluster the ideas in big groups, and to start applying your inner ruthless judge. But that time isn’t now.  If you’re the facilitator, keep the energy high, encourage everyone to come up with more ideas: crazy or otherwise. Get the team to hit a target of 20 or 30 ideas. The reason why I advocate a larger number of ideas is down to the 9-10 rule: 10 ideas will probably result in one workable idea at the end of the day. If you need to present three ideas to the client, you’re looking at a base case of 30 from the session.

Brainstorming Rule 4 – “If anything in this life is certain, it’s that anyone can be creative.”

Brainstorming doesn’t stop the moment the ‘official’ session stops. The best ideas may not necessarily come from the session itself; it may suddenly leap into your consciousness while you’re about to go to bed, or when you’re talking to your colleagues about last night’s movie. That doesn’t mean your session has failed; it only means that brainstorming – like being a good person – is not something you should do only during prescribed hours. Great brainstorming sessions can act as a catalyst for breaking up the crud that’s blocking up your creative ability. I guarantee that the more you do it, the better you’ll get.


The public relations of banning “supersizing”

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Michael Bloomberg:  What are you thinking?

by Neil Kuvin

You’ve all heard the public relations ruckus over New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large soft drinks in New York.  Doesn’t really matter whether you think his proposed ban on large Cokes, Pepsi’s, 7Ups and others is within his or any local government’s jurisdiction.

There’s no doubt the proposal has driven conversations connecting soft drinks to obesity and poor health. And this move by New York City’s Mayor was proposed only several weeks prior to the “Affordable Care Act” coming our way courtesy of the President and the Supreme Court.  Precedent of a perceived national grabbing power act is tantamount to an easy path to local passage of legislation of this kind.  And in that sense, it can already be counted as a Public Relations success.  How?

On May 30, Bloomberg introduced his proposal to amend New York City’s health code to prevent vendors in the city from selling soft drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces. The ban would apply to restaurants, street-side food carts, delis, movie theaters, sports stadiums and arenas, but not convenience, grocery or drug stores, where such drinks are mostly sold in bottles and cans.

On May 31, the two most prominent providers of soft drinks, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, hit back at the mayor’s proposal:

“New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase,” said Coca-Cola in a statement.

“Public health issues cannot be effectively addressed through a narrowly focused and misguided ban,” said McDonald’s in a statement.

It’s no surprise that these companies would be against such a ban and release strong statements saying as much. But that’s beside the point. If Bloomberg’s goal was as principled as that, in effect to raise awareness of the connection between soft drinks and obesity, then he has hit his Public Relations mark, whether or not the ban goes into effect.  That’s the good news of Public Relations.

However, am I missing something?  What’s the pull on the negative Public Relations side, especially since the Health Care Act is now law and likely the most controversial and argued of all recent Congressional and Supreme Court decisions?  Are New Yorkers going to be energized by the side-effects of what they consider legal intrusion into their personal buying decisions and fight back, just like many in our country will consider the “tax” (penalty) on their income worth clenching their fists and their teeth and doing something?

New Yorkers can be a very rowdy group. So can Texans and Iowans and Californians.

And it ain’t over yet.