Multiculturalism: Some Experiences Last a Lifetime

Some experiences are so powerful and meaningful, you don’t realize it for many years. And some become even more relevant as time goes on.

As a high school student, I was very involved with the youth group at my church. It started in middle school, but really took form in high school.

I got some opportunities through my church life experiences which have had an effect on me, and gave me opportunities as a teen/young adult that have helped me to continuously expand my experiences and world view.

At 17, I was able to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity in South Bend, Indiana. We hammered, took down walls, some people painted, and prepped a house to look like new as only high school students led by adults can do. It was demolition work, and probably a better fit for me than building would be.

I learned, as a primarily left-handed, but ambidextrous-ish person, that I can hammer with either hand, but it was very important to match the eye I used with the hand I was hammering with. A couple of good wacks to the thumbs reinforced that, and I think I ultimately decided my right hand was a bit better.

I also learned that turpentine takes off paint, but getting covered in paint due to being a terribly messy person is not really recommended. (The paint war probably didn’t help, but if turpentine gets off paint, wouldn’t that be irrelevant?)

Well, no…it is not meant to be bathed in, and I certainly have not made that decision or mistake with paint again.

At 18, I spent around 2-ish weeks with other high school and college students riding in vans from Indiana to join high school and college students (led by adults) just over the border of México. This event was sponsored by churches, in Indiana and Iowa, and led by Jayna from Indiana and Blake from Iowa.

We spent time at an orphanage, painting murals on walls, pulling weeds, and playing in the pool during the hot summer afternoons with the children who lived there.

We gave the gym, pool building, and general area a facelift, through painting, pulling weeds, and providing emotional support to the children and adults who resided and worked there.

We all tried to work to our personal strengths by remaining aware of the heat, self care, our own talents and skills, and the all important singing and camaraderie during evening devotions and guitar singing.

I’m an undiscovered folk singer, and when I get the opportunity to sing with a group in a key that works for me, I’m going to enjoy myself.

Although my high school French, and my not yet taken college German, were not all that helpful with communicating with the children and adults whose first language was Spanish, we did study important Spanish words and phrases during our drive to Texas to help to communicate in Spanish with the children and adults who worked or lived at the orphanage.

We learned that ‘trabajo’ means ‘work’, and ‘Conta Cuesta Es’ means ‘How much is’…..?

The ‘how much is?’ Question helped for our trip to Monterey where we did a little shopping and bartering for items toward the end of the trip, where we went once we left Reynosa.

We learned that ‘tango hambre’ means ‘to have hunger’ and most importantly to me: ‘donde esta el bano’, or where is the bathroom?. This is a phrase I use in my self talk to this day when looking for a restroom.

We stopped midway in DFW, the Dallas/Fort Worth area, as it is just about the mid-point between Mexico and Tipton, Indiana; as well as a good meet up point with our new friends from Iowa.

During the hot afternoons, we cooled off in the pool. Keep away was a huge favorite of the children who used the pool to cool down from hot summer days, and also a favorite of mine, a trained life guard who also loves to play and have fun.

I learned that ‘a qui’ means ‘here;’. They used it to mean ‘give me the ball’ or ‘I’m open’.

I learned ‘alto!’. Which means ‘stop’. I would yell ‘a key!’ A key!’, which sounds the same, and frequently got me, the object of the keep away, the ball. The children then yelled ‘alto! Alto!’ To tell each other to stop saying ‘a qui’.

I vaguely remember playing where those of us who had traveled in from the US played against the children and those who lived there, but it has been quite a few years. I also have played a lot of alto saxophone in my life, so I probably tuned into that word fairly quickly.

I learned that if I yelled ‘alto!’, sometimes that made the person stop and look.

Lots of fun was had in Reynosa by those of us who spoke English, Spanish, and sometimes a combination of the two.

At age 19, I traveled to France near the border of Switzerland, with my sister to be a part of a multi-cultural experience with 16-21 year olds.

Friends from Ireland; both Catholic and Protestant, who in 1990 did not have a history of peacefully co-existing; England (Bath), Czechoslovakia (now known as the Czech Republic); East Germany, West Germany (who had just joined to be Germany), Norway, and many youth from France attended. The East and West Germans were experiencing very different economic times including costs prior to their merge, and the people from those countries shared first hand the experiences they were having.

They spoke of movie prices, which had been somewhere around $3 in East Germany, compared to $10 in West Germany. When the merge occurred, the country had one price for movies, which was the West German price. Our friends from East Germany related the struggles with the quick inflation and how that had personally affected their families.

I had just taken 2 semesters of German at Indiana University (a 4 credit class, taught by a woman who would later teach me about Women in German History) which for my American ear was easier to hear.

I learned that each of the other countries participating taught English in primary school, when, as our friends taught my sister and me, we are more able to learn it.

Learning a different language after the age of 12 is much more difficult, so my sister and my experience learning Spanish/French (for her), and French/German for me set us far behind our friends in terms of speaking their language (whatever that might be) fluently, and each of them spoke English to an extent that far out-performed our efforts at speaking their first language.

All instructions were stated in German, French, and then English. We had an activity each day, and worked to clear a 5k trail. We had a talent show where I accompanied on piano as my friend from Bath sang ‘The Long and Winding Road’, by the Beatles.

I do not remember my own talent, but do remember a couple of girls playing the recorder, which is not an especially easy instrument to play well.

Sarah, from Bath, incidentally did not like carbonation in her soda. She clarified, each time she made her Coke ‘flat’; that this was not a product of Bath, England. It was her preference, as a resident of Bath.

I learned from one of my Irish friends that when I asked ‘should I wear pants?’, in regard to temperature, that her chuckle came from the fact that those with her Irish dialect called ‘pants’ what my sister and I referred to as ‘underwear’.

It was amusing to me that she had thought I asked such a personal question, and I have referred to those shorts with longer legs as ‘long pants’ ever since.

I also learned, fast forwarding to 2018 when ‘23 and Me’ became popular, that approximately 97% of my genes come from Northern Europe, most specifically from Ireland.

I have olive skin, which is reminiscent of the skin of those with Spanish heritage (among others). My parents have a long history of lovingly arguing about who is more Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

My cousin loves to tell a story about our Great Grandfather, who left Ireland for America due to his parents’ refusal to let him marry his maid.

We don’t know who he married, but he married someone and had children in America. I have always respected this great-grandfather whom I have never met; due to his integrity and tenacity about following his heart and his refusal to follow a class system assigned to him.

My mother’s family, in Ireland, was Irish Catholic; and my dad’s family, in Ireland, was also Irish Catholic. My mom was raised Methodist (Protestant), and my sister, brother and I were also raised Protestant (Methodist, and then Christian: Disciples of Christ). I attended church with my friends during sleepovers throughout school, and in college attended the local Catholic Church full of students and 2 young priests.

Two of my best friends in elementary school were being raised Baha’i, which promotes unity and works peace.

1990, France:

My sister and I described, matter of factly, that our mom is Protestant and our dad is Catholic. Our two friends, who worked at the holiday resort where we ate all three meals of the day, were incredulous that this could occur.

An experience in Belfast had caused quite a bit of trauma in our Irish friend with the pony tail (even then, terrible with names). Our Irish friend with the bob-length hair was less shocked, but did describe how our other friend’s family had urgently gone to the other side of the wall during the unrest in Belfast regarding religion, and not all of her family had survived.

Last week, as I continue to check the genetics as more and more people participate in ancestry testing, I learned that I had a 3% chance of having olive skin.

3. Per Cent.

As I child, once I learned in biology about dominant and recessive genes, I called myself ‘very recessive’ because I did not look like my family.

I have been complimented for my tan skin tone for much of my life, as I say ‘thank you’ and wonder how to avoid the tan lines that appear if I go outside for more than a little bit.

As a 51 year old, I checked my ancestory results again and saw that 3% chance of being olive skinned, as more and more people of my descent are getting their ancestry results to understand our origins.

As you think about your culture, and different life experiences that have helped you to form your own systems of values and beliefs, what are some ways you have been affected that help you to be open and non-judgemental of those who may speak a different language, have different values and life experiences, or may have different skin tones or hair textures from you and the people in your life?

What are ways that you would like to promote peacefulness during a time where there has been so much unrest?

What is a goal you have, that you can do within the next few days, or month, or even season to help your life feel more peaceful?

Is your goal to make a goal?

I’m excited to be having some different life experiences than I had planned for, and was very reticent to experience.

I hope your day goes as well as it can, and that you have some positive interactions with yourself and others this week

To read an article I posted on ‘Thrive Global’, Click below. That article discusses my trip to France to promote World Peace, where I learned about culture, met some great friends, and recognized some of my privilege.

https://thriveglobal.com/stories/culture-shock-france-in-the-90s/

Leadership: Using Empathy ‘I Hear You Saying You Are Frustrated’

So anyone who lives in the US (or really, in the world) knows that there has been a recent election in the US.

It was, or is, a very tight race, with lots of people voting for the candidates whom they feel best represent their interests, their level of comfort, and numerous other reasons that compel people to vote.

Record numbers of people have voted, which affects local races, the Senate, Congress, and the election for the next leader of our country.

As a leader, both in parenting my children and as a leader in my work environments, I tend to have a lot of opinions about characteristics of leaders and what I find useful in bringing out the work/change in others that we are working together to accomplish.

A story of when I was first hired to be a supervisor of staff:

I was 28, and my two children who were born on the same day were just about 1 years old. I had been providing mental health therapy to families who were involved with Child Protective Services, and had learned about a program called Healthy Families. A difference between Healthy Families and the work I had been doing was the timing of the intervention to assist kids who were at risk for being abused or neglected by their caregivers. The program is intended for families who have a certain level of assessed need.

Healthy Families targets families who are going to care for an infant, and has to begin within the first 3 months of the child’s life. The research has been pretty clear that children who receive prevention/protective services fare better in terms of lowering their likelihood of being abused of neglected compared to those families who do not receive that support. The criteria to qualify for services at the time period in which I was working was a pretty low amount of documented risk, and families chose to be a part of the program.

I was hired to supervise this program that was new to two of the counties in which I had been working. I was promoted from my position as home based therapist/caseworker, to Healthy Families Supervisor.

A few benefits to me were the following: I had a predictable time to finish work each day, which was generally before the day care my children attended closed; I was able to be a part of something which I truly believed in and wanted to support; and I could utilize my skills/training in mental health to supervise entry level staff. I went from being a peer to several other employees, to having no peers. I got to jump in and lead two staff who were fairly new to the company and learn with them how to implement the program. I was also able to retain just a few clients I had been meeting with for counseling and of course, continue to parent and lead my children to be functioning adults.

I noticed that utilizing empathy when a staff is feeling frustrated helped them to perform better.

If I had a staff who was stressed about trying to schedule the number of families that they were seeing, particularly taking into account the distance the families lived from each other, I could identify the emotion that the staff was feeling by naming it and then have a discussion with them about their interpretation of what could help.

Example: I hear that you are feeling frustrated about getting all of your families scheduled. It sounds like you are concerned about driving distances between each client, while you are also wanting to make sure to get them all scheduled. That must be stressful.

The above is an example of empathy. I’m verbalizing that I hear that they are frustrated, which they may have specifically stated, and I am summarizing what I am hearing that they are frustrated about. I am then stating the stress that I am interpreting that is causing them.

One difference that we have among us is that we tend to use different words to express our feelings. I might say frustrated, and the staff member may correct me and state they are not frustrated, they are irritated. Or angry, or sad about it.

Me naming the correct emotional label was less important than me indicating that I heard what they were saying, with an opportunity for them to correct me if needed.

Leading with empathy can be very effective in getting desired results both at work and in the home enviornment with parenting children.

With kids, I will give a different example, which involves my then 4 year old son.

He was hungry, or wanted to play something different, or had some sort of need.

I don’t remember specifically what we were having a disagreement about, but I do remember getting quite frustrated and raising my voice to a higher volume. I was repeating myself, and he was repeating himself, and we were not communicating well

He stopped and yelled my name:

Mom!! I get frustrated when you use that voice to yell at me!’

As you may be able to tell, he had spent four years of his life (so far) with a therapist for a mother. He wasn’t getting his needs met, which for arguments sake was a snack before dinner.

I wasn’t getting my need met, which was for him to accept that I had told him ‘no’ and to move on to something else

We both started using loud voices, which can be hard on our ears and unpleasant to hear.

When he yelled my name, I stopped and listened. He was able to express his feelings, and to name his own emotion. This story includes an ‘I-statement’ and it indicates that he was listening and hearing my loud voice.

As we all work toward having peaceful moments, I encourage you to think about how you can show empathy for others.

How can you, as someone who is hearing someone say something, indicate that you are hearing what they are saying and understand what they are saying about how they feel?

In graduate school, at the University of Cincinnati, we had a whole course on practicing reflective listening and using empathy. We practiced with each other, and it felt awkward at first.

As you are working to get your needs met and yourself heard, how do you respond when someone shows empathy to you? Do you feel more heard and listened to when the person you are speaking with names the feeling you have or reflects back what you have said?

I challenge you to work to increase the amount of empathy that you show. I encourage you to speak in ways that show the person you are talking with that you hear not just the words they are saying, but also the emotions behind it.

I’m a ‘Boss’,but I’m not ‘Bossy’: Leading with Authenticity and Servant Leadership

In my most recent article on leadership, I wrote about leadership in children. In this article, I’m focusing on leadership as it goes along with leadership style.

In 2015, I attended a training on Protective Factors. At one point during the 3-day training, the leader had us write a sentence about ourselves, where we said ‘I’m a (blank), but I’m not (blank)’. We then got into pairs to discuss what we had written.

I wrote ‘I’m a Boss, but I’m not Bossy’.

See, I have a bossy older sister. As the middle child, I have perceived myself as not being bossy due to the way that I direct and lead. I was bossed…..a LOT (she’s two years older than me, which makes me perfect boss age to her), so I tend to direct differently.

I told my friend, who is a leader in her role, about my statement about 6 months later; that I was a boss but not bossy.

She disagreed, pretty vehemently.

She perceives me as quite bossy, and has worked alongside me in multiple roles through our work. We have gotten to be close friends since we met six years ago.

She has observed me managing and organizing safety fairs, and recognizes the terse look I get on my face when things are not quite right. She has observed me when a disgruntled staff member attempted to usurp my leadership, and is in tune with my knee jerk irritation. I generally try to keep that irritation under wraps unless I find it useful to me.

Side note, after completing ’23 and Me’ to determine where my olive skin came from (I’m fairly recessive in my family with my dark skin where 3 out of 5 are blond and lighter skinned, I discovered that I am 93% Northern European, mostly Irish. Recognizing the Irish temper in me has probably helped me in some ways, and allowed me to show it a little more freely in others.

When I attended the Protective Factors training, I was working for a large not-for-profit agency. The management style there was different than any I had previously experienced.

Prior to working there, I had worked for two very small companies where I reported to the leader.

At the first location, we were a for-profit company where the founder held the title President, and the rest of us were either Supervisor (we had three master’s level supervisors at our largest, when there were 20 employees) or direct workers, who primarily held the roles of case manager. We usually had a master’s level therapist or two.

We had multiple programs, and I had multiple roles, during my almost 14 years with the company. Figuring out what programs to apply for next, integrating new grants into our current work, and getting the best out of the employees we had or would hire were a significant parts of my role during our supervision (management) meetings.

After leaving that company, I worked for a nearly 40 year old non-profit which had multiple funding sources. These included two Federal grants, contracts with the State of Indiana, local grants, as well as local donations and funding.

This agency had a long history in the community where I resided. It was board led, and the leadership team was the Executive Director, the Director of Programs (me), and the Director of Development. I worked for those two companies, both of which fell victim to the housing recession, for a combined total of 17 years.

The three of us at the non-profit brain-stormed in monthly management meetings about how to make our current programs better, what grants to apply for, how to get the best out of employees, participating in the community, and how to respond if we were to not be awarded one of the grants that we had.

In 2013, after just over two years of working there and being a great fit for that role and that leadership team, the company was not awarded a Federal grant which allowed us to provide a Pregnant and Parenting Teen program.

Following the loss of that grant and our flagship program, we merged with a much larger nonprofit which was housed in Marion County.

That agency has programs all over the central area of the state, but did not really have much involvement in Hamilton County, where Promising Futures, the non-profit, had been located. That agency is almost entirely funded by contracts with the State of Indiana, with a small portion being funded by corporate and local donations and United Way.

Hamilton County is a wealthy county, and in fact is one of the wealthiest in the nation, due to the average income level of people who live there. It is one of the most populous counties in Indiana, and is an anomaly for the state.

The perception in many surrounding communities is that people who live in Hamilton County don’t have problems, and that there are no people who have a lack of income in the county. This clearly was and is not the case. There are fewer known resources in Hamilton County, particularly considering the population, and they can be difficult to find.

Our merger with the large agency was complete as 2014 started. Staff had been informed and interviewed for positions with the new larger agency in August of 2013. The small non-profit had been informed that we officially had not been re-awarded the 5 year grant in the previous May. The grant would have renewed at the end of February, but due to sequestration had not been awarded to those who received it until early May. We had closed our group home and apartments at the end of March due to the lack of continued funding, with a plan to re-open if we were awarded funds once the decisions for funding had been announced.

In 2015, I would be the only remaining staff from Promising Futures to stay at the large agency, and I remained until 2018. Managing within a large agency was a much different experience than managing within a smaller one.

When I began working for the larger agency, my role changed. I worked alongside another Director within the same office who was over Prevention Programs, and another Director who was housed in Madison County (a local county with very different demographics than Hamilton County) who supervised Intervention Programs.

Instead of having a direct boss at my location, I had a Vice President to whom I reported, who then reported to the CEO.

Within a few months, I applied for and was hired to be the Director of Prevention Programs, which was housed in my same location. I applied partially due to my love for prevention, but also due to a fear of losing another Federal grant and thus my job security.

My responsibilities increased by about 70% at that time, which was fairly overwhelming. About four months later, the second Federal Grant that Promising Futures had held was not re-awarded to the larger agency.

For the first several months of Directing the Promising Futures and Prevention Programs, I reported to two different Vice Presidents, depending on the program.

These two individuals had very different management styles, and had different histories with the company.

After approximately 2 months, the Vice President who had a long history with the company, but not with the CEO, moved on to other opportunities. I was then managed by one VP for all programs that I supervised.

The large agency is over 100 years old, and the systems in place regarding bureaucracy were very clear to those familiar with them. Their bureaucratic system closely resembled how the programs under the State of Indiana (Department of Child Services) were organized and led.

I learned as I went, which is typical for my kinesthetic learning style, about how to work with separate people and departments for things like Accounting/Finance, Human Resources, Residential, Development, and other Community Based and Foster Care programs. The departments were led by other Vice Presidents, who all reported to the CEO, who had come on board at the beginning of 2013.

I learned, through the nearly five years that I was with the company, that a strict bureaucratic leadership style is not something that I had been familiar with prior to working there.

The small town of Tipton, Indiana where I grew up, is non-hierarchical, which fits with my leadership style and personality. I was shaped by my childhood experiences, spending years k-12 going to Tipton schools and I identify with the community as where I was raised.

I moved there from Hamilton County just before starting Kindergarten. Many people have lived in Tipton county for generations.

Tipton is historically a farm community. There were about 5-6 families that held/hold most of the farmland, which means that those families have a lot of feelings about land development.

Most 13-16 year olds who were living in Tipton in the early to mid 80’s worked in the corn fields over the summer and had spending money for the rest of the year if we budgeted for that.

As far as the income levels of my peers, there were factories in Kokomo, where many people in the community held employment. Many of my friends had teachers as parents, and Tipton County also housed Pioneer, which has historically been one of the leading corn/soy bean producing companies in the nation. Tipton has some of the best soil in the US, so de-tasseling corn correctly was very important, and we developed a teamwork ethic that I believe is part of the culture of the town.

With a high school of 650 total students in it, 150 in my class, and a city limit size of 5,000, you can imagine that fielding teams and school plays requires a lot of crossover skills. You want your teammate to help you have success, so we learned to build each other up and play to our potential from a young age. What we learned, growing up, was what is now known as Servant Leadership.

I spoke with a childhood friend of mine who is now a leader in her field and who also lives in Texas, about leadership styles and what she values.

She discussed Servant Leadership, a term I am familiar with but wanted to hear her take on. She discussed the importance of encouraging and motivating your employees to work for shared goals. She discussed wanting to get the best out of others, to achieve success. She talked about how it is about trust, and the important of leading from a ‘we’ perspective and not ‘I’.

She’s had a lot of success in her role, and has worked for over 20 years with her company. She discussed encouraging staff to feel like ideas are their own, and some tactics she has utilized in leading peers and those who do not directly report to her.

One of the things I learned from my experience at the large non-profit about my supervision style, is that others have some very different values in terms of how to lead and about communicating and delegating tasks. Working someplace with a very different history required me to learn new paths.

Supervision and Management

There are many different types and amounts of supervision and management styles that people need, and a one size fits all approach can make getting shared goals difficult to accomplish.

There are those who love to be told precisely what is expected of them, who are very de-motivated by and distracted by those who are less likely to want that type of direction.

There are people who experience the highest level of success with a framework of what is expected. Give them the framework of what is expected to be accomplished, including parameters, and they will thrive in their role as they determine what path is best.

People less inclined to follow specific rules may develop ‘work-arounds’. A difference in how people adhere to rules can be stressful to those who follow rules very specifically, as well as for those who are less inclined to do so.

I tend to call people who have thetendency to follow rules very specifically ‘rule-followers’. I tend to be more of a ‘parameter follower’. Tell me the parameters, and I will have success in my role.

We each have different tendencies and methods to our own successes, and managing and leading requires knowledge of what helps each of us be productive and learn so that we can achieve those shared goals.

When I think about leading, I think about those who are being led.

There are those who cooperate and encourage the achievement of shared goals, and those whose goals are not the same as their leader’s, or the agency’s, who sabotage and work against shared goals.

A leader in a non-leadership position can be a great asset, and someone who sabotages shared goals can be equally effective at causing chaos.

When a leader has the role of managing others and providing supervision, the level of importance of rules and requirements is affected. People require funds to pay their bills and make purchases, so the amount of emotions around following rules is different from situations where an exchange of funds is not part of the situation.

A personal rule I have as it pertains to leading in employment situations is that I do not threaten staff that if they do not cooperate, that they will not get paid. There are people in leadership positions with whom I have worked that used that tactic, and in my opinion the anxiety and fear that specific threat causes decreases staff’s effectiveness at tasks.

There are also labor laws which prevent employers from withholding pay except under very specific circumstances.

Leadership, when it includes management, involves helping things run smoothly, again to achieve shared goals.

An effective leader may manage directly, with a lot of initial instruction and explanation to prepare staff for their roles when someone starts a position. Some leaders manage by preparing and talking with staff about what is coming and what to expect, with the expectation that rules will be followed and to decrease interventions.

I tend to lead ‘from the back’. What this means is that I encourage those I am leading to accomplish our shared goals by setting parameters, explaining expectations, then letting them learn to work as I intervene when necessary. I establish a relationship of trust, and talk quite a bit in the beginning of the supervisory relationship about how I encourage their questions, and will monitor, explain, and correct to help them learn their role.

I work to assess strengths and weaknesses, to see which areas need more leadership and monitoring, and which areas are more of a strength for each employee.

I do a lot of training by peers, who do the role every day and can answer questions about repeated tasks easily.

I help those I lead understand what is expected, how to turn to each other for appropriate help, how to learn from staff who have had success in their roles, and I set up an expectation of success. I then monitor and am available for interventions through supervision, availability for questions, and other quality control depending on my role at the time.

In Conclusion

As you think about ways you want to lead, and things that are important to you in leadership, what do you think about?

As you think about those irritations from those who have led you in the past, whether it was someone you chose as your leader or someone whose leadership style is very different from yours, what can you learn from that.

A very good friend of mine once said to me ‘we can learn as much from being led poorly as we can from being led well’.

What can you learn, as you lead your children by parenting, lead others in your position of work or friendships, or as you are led? How can you encourage, from your position, success for shared goals?

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