Sunday, May 3, 2009

April 2009

Go Back to Nature to Find the Answer......

In my early career as a scientist, I once attended an international conference and learned something from one of the speakers that made a lasting impression on me, because it resonated so well with who I am. He said that while he was developing a theory in his field of sport psychology, he reached a point where he got stuck. His mentor gave him sound advice that he followed: “Go back to nature and you will find the answer.” He did, and he was able to find the answer that he applied to his scholarly work. I grew up between the mountains and the ocean with a strong sense of being surrounded, or even a feeling of being embraced, by the natural beauty of the environment. On several occasions since that conference, I have applied those wise words to my own life.

During the past month I learned another important lesson from nature. At the beginning of April when the recession was tough and everyone around here was ready for Spring, we had unexpected inclement weather. The weather forecast predicted up to 6 inches of snow. The Canadian geese were already settled back into the area, celebrating the slightly warmer weather in the pond outside our place when the blizzard arrived. Earlier my son David announced that he was walking close by and noticed that one of the geese was breeding on a nest, on the little island in the middle of the pond. I was concerned what will happen to her eggs once the blizzard started. With the first fall of enormous snowflakes, Mother Goose was probably initially somewhat confused about what was happening, but at the same time ready to guarding her nest. The blizzard started early morning and continued throughout the day. The pond was covered with a blanket of snow and ice, but Mother Goose was dutifully protecting her eggs. Every so often she would shake her head to get rid of the snow, while her body would be covered with snow until only her head was visible, but she was clearly on a mission. Her whole demeanor suggested a strong vision: to protect her unborn. I didn’t ever notice her leaving her nest during that time. If she would do so, her eggs would be in danger, because it was freezing cold. As the days passed the snow eventually melted and early one morning about a week ago, my husband called me to share the most beautiful and touching view from our living room window: Mother Goose was taking the eight goslings for their first swimming lesson in the pond, escorted by a very proud Father Goose protecting his precious family.

Mother Goose taught me that even in tough times like an economic crisis, it is important to stay positive and think growth and possibility, instead of being overwhelmed by collapsing markets or frozen credit in a struggle for survival. Instead, we need to shake these limiting and ‘freezing’ thoughts off our heads and think innovation and growth. It is possible to survive and even thrive in turbulent times. This is a time for opportunity to rethink business processes, markets, strategies – how to improve them to achieve growth. We need to be leaders who are committed to a cause, with a strong vision for the possibility of growth and willing to take an active approach. Leaders who can communicate and bring employees, customers and other stakeholders together in deciding what we need to do to succeed. We need to find new opportunities and reposition ourselves. Eventually the frozen pond will soon melt and let us take our eight new goslings for a first swim across the pond.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

March 2009

Did anyone take the Strengths Finder 2.0 yet? As part of a leadership training program I did one and was surprised to find the descriptions of my top five themes pretty accurate.

Do you know what your strengths are? Your strength will be something you feel passionate about. Something that makes you think: “I can't wait to start!” Something you are eager to learn more about. One of the world's leading researchers on positive psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi from Claremont Graduate University in California calls it flow when we are so deeply immersed in our 'strength’activity, involving a task for which we have a powerful inquisitiveness, that we lose sense of time and space, feel invigorated by our challenge with a heightened ability to focus.

Was there any time during the past week that you got into your ‘zone’? How did you feel during the activity? Was it easy to concentrate? My Strengths Finder stated that one of my passions is that I enjoy focusing on the strengths of others as a way to help them develop personal and group excellence. It also confirmed that I seek to transform something strong into something superb. Now you know why I love my job!

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Saturday, February 14, 2009

February 2009

It is Valentine's Day today (the 14th). A good day to share with loved ones and tell them that you care. My mother-in-law, Mom Burdene, baked some cookies and I put it in little red bags with a card for each family member. My husband and I went out for delightful Italian cuisine for lunch. While other couples were eating their Valentine's dinner, we thought it will be more fun to work out in the local gym. We had almost the whole place for ourselves! Sometimes I just like to do things differently!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

January 2009

In early January our family returned from a wonderful vacation in South Africa where we spent most of the time in the Cape Town area. I attended my undergraduate studies at the nearby University of Stellenbosch. I have many pleasant memories from that time, as those were very formative years of my life. My roommate from college visited and we enjoyed our own reunion. Below is a picture taken in front of the dormitory, Minerva where I lived as a student. In the front are four of the current residents of Minerva with my sister Lydia who works for the University of Stellenbosch. I am the one in the back.

This is a picture I have taken of a beautiful sunset behind Table Mountain, viewed from the Strand area. We enjoyed our time in South Africa with all the wonderful people and took long walks in the beautiful nature!

Monday, December 1, 2008

December 2008

The economy is currently an important topic of many discussions. A local Business Journal asked me to write an article and I include the article below. I called it

Ten tips for leading your business through turbulent times…

What happens on Wall Street unfortunately has an effect on what is happening here in the Cedar Valley, whether we prefer it or not”, according to Dr. Ronelle Langley, President of Executive Coaching International.

Dr. Langley facilitates various management workshops through the College of Business Administration, Executive Development Center to help businesses maintain efficiency and effectiveness through changing times. She shared some strategies that local small business owners can consider to lead their businesses through the current uncertain times:

  1. Cut costs, but don't drain your lifeblood. You need to cut cost, but do that in clear understanding what makes your organization unique, what keeps your people engaged, and why customers do business with you. Don't follow the lead of a publicly traded DIY home improvement store chain that decided a few years ago to cut down on full-time experts who gave customers advice and replaced them with part-time workers without experience. Their rationale was to cut cost, but it came at too high of a price.
  2. Watch your cash. Why do some companies survive during downturn while others fail? A CEO of a trucking company in Iowa stated a major survival strategy during a previous recession was that all his trucks were paid off at the time when the downturn started. He did not to have a monthly lease or payment to make, like most of his competitors – some of them eventually bowed out of the game.
  3. Communicate knowledge exchange. In tough times it is natural to withdraw and resort to some kind of a cave to reflect on strategies. Don't cut out meetings and communication with your employees. Call on the collective wisdom you have in your organization to find solutions.
  4. Stay flexible and agile. It may be less expensive to buy or build a new building as you expand your new business, but in the short run it may be wiser to rent instead. If demands drop, your flexibility will allow you to be more adjustable. A local up-and-coming business leader explained recently it would be great to have a new building for his growing company, but he would rather play safe and continue renting for the moment.
  5. Stay true to your core. Protect your core assets – tangible and intangible. Have a passion to protect the heart and soul of your company. What is your core asset? It may be a strong focus on a personalized service and a friendly atmosphere for your customer. It took a long time to build it up – protect it.
  6. Be proactive with Plan B. Build strategic contingency planning into your core. Ask yourself “What would I do if sales drop 10% or more?” Develop a plan of action now. Read the signs well and react to it.
  7. Be innovative. Innovation does not only mean to come up with a new product or service. Innovation during troubled times may be to come up with new, innovative ideas for solving everyday business problems and improving the process. It could mean finding better, cheaper, or faster ways to get products to the consumer. Companies such as John Deere are working hard to manage their supply chains better. You can do the same with your company. The often-forgotten everyday innovation is as critical to long-term business success as the more exciting and concrete product or services.
  8. Keep your team focused. There will always be external factors out there that will influence the success of your organization. Your employees have a choice to waste a lot of time bemoaning how tough times are and what they cannot change or focus on what they can do. As a leader you can help them to focus on that. During meetings ask your team: “How can we make the best contribution to the future of our company?” United Fire and Casualty in Cedar Rapids recently lost their offices and had thousands of clients to serve during the natural disasters. Their managers shared with me that it was exactly the approach they decided to take to help their teams move forward – focus on what they can do to improve their company's future.
  9. Be a positive leader. Positive leaders can learn and grow from all kinds of circumstances and emerge from adversity even stronger than before. A leader from a global company recently said to me that he is surrounded by people who are reacting in different ways as a result of the current financial crisis. Some react by being scared and not ready to take any risks, while others are paralyzed and not ready to act. He is one of a handful of global experts in his specialized field, and instead of feeling overwhelmed, he feels challenged and ready to find solutions for a positive vision and outcome. When adversity strikes, positive leaders stay hopeful, are more confident in themselves and generate confidence in others, are more connected to their employees, and remain committed to their cause.
  10. Remember you are marketing to customers who are concerned about their finances. Customers are more cautious in their spending. Recognize it is human to retreat to the ‘home base’ or roots when times are tough. Marketing will then focus on family values. Look at the products you offer and see where you can cut down on extras and frills. Customers will rather go for fewer options if they can pay less for good value.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November 2008

On February 10, 2007, Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield Illinois. Later that same evening my husband Jon, who is a mayor here in the United States, and I had the opportunity to meet him for the first time. We met with him several times during his campaign and I was impressed with his authentic leadership style and his ability to be present in the moment. On one occasion I introduced a little boy to him who went through a difficult time without explaining anything. Barack showed very sincere kindness that meant a lot to this boy and the boy expressed a greater sense of hope for the future.

Professor Jonathan Haidt, an expert in Positive Psychology from the University of Virginia in the United States, researched the effectiveness of Obama's public speaking and concluded that part of his excellence is because he is good at inspiring the emotion of elevation, the desire to act morally and do good for others. Many people view him as a natural orator and believe that speaking is happening very naturally for him, but I saw on several occasions that it is still taking a lot of energy from him to do so!

We followed Obama's campaign with interest and celebrated with millions of Americans and people from all over the world on November 4 when Barack Obama was elected as the 44th President of the United States of America.

Above is a picture that was taken on the evening of Barack's announcement of his candidacy to run for President. He asked a photographer to take this picture and I will always be glad that he took the initiative to capture this moment!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

About Me

I view myself as a visionary academic leader with a strong global vision. I enjoy balancing my business interest with academia as a university administrator, professor, scientist, author, and a practicing consultant. I have more than 25 years of academic and research experience. My academic experience includes being a tenured professor, adjunct faculty member, and administrator at higher education institutions in the United States, South Africa, and Australia. During my research career I was leading national and international research projects and also awarded the President's Medal of the Human Resources Council in recognition for my international contribution to the field of Career Development. I worked on longer and short-term projects, or presented at national and international conferences in Australia, Japan, Israel, United States, Portugal, Spain, Poland, Czech Republic, Egypt, South Africa, and Brazil. I have more than 20 publications with articles in international peer-reviewed professional journals and books. I am a people- and results-oriented executive coach who worked with more than four hundred professionals and executives representing a variety of industries in global and national companies during the past 15 years. In my different work environments I positioned myself as a strategic thinker and team builder with strong core values of integrity, compassion, growth, and a global vision. My graduate qualifications were obtained on three different continents: I received my Masters' in Business Administration from the University of Iowa in the United States in 2006; my Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa in 1989; and my Masters' of Science in Psychology from the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia in 1984.

I love being a wife and mom! My husband Jon is also a busy professional and the local mayor. We enjoy supporting each other in our respective careers. We know not to take ourselves or each other too seriously, and remember the importance of just having fun! My oldest daughter Lindi is the Executive Director of Economic Development for a local county in the United States, my daughter Rouxle is finishing her studies to qualify as a social worker, and my son David is in his first year of high school. He does not know yet what he wants to do one day but loves Mathematics, American football, South African rugby, and wrestling. I don't know about a job yet that will combine all his interests!

A few years ago I took about three weeks to formulate my purpose in life. I started off writing numerous pages, then condensing that into a few paragraphs, an eventually ending up with three key words. My purpose in life is something that I bring to anything I am doing, whether I am at home with my family, in the community with my husband and other people in town, in the classroom with my students, as executive coach at a company, as the president of American City University. My purpose in life is to love, learn and grow. Also to encourage, coach, mentor, teach, advise those around me toward the same purpose.

I look forward to share some of my daily professional and personal experiences with you as an virtual, global ACU community and look forward to read what you will share as well!