Archive for August, 2010

No, No, That’s North Carolina

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

My last post was about Texas.  This week I felt the call to write a bit about my adopted state of South Carolina.  I adopted it because both of  my parents were South Carolinians but they decided to bring me into this world while on an education safari in Texas.   I am a Texan by birth, a South Carolinian by lineage.

Historians call Roanoke the Lost Colony.  I think it is South Carolina.  We’ve been around for a long time but no one really knows we are there.  I tell people I am from South Carolina and  they say, “oh, I love the Carolina Panthers!”  No, that’s North Carolina. Or, “I had a good friend who went to Duke”; or, “I flew into Charlotte once”; or ” wow, Billy Graham lives there”.  No, that’s North Carolina.  They all give me this half smile, half frown, puzzled expression and make a mental note to look up South Carolina on Wikipedia. 

Case in point, I am from Beaufort, South Carolina.  Beaufort is a collection of islands off the South Carolina coast.  Beaufort is quite simply a beautiful location on the way to nowhere.  Either you  planned to visit Beaufort or you are lost, you took a wrong turn, you are directionally challenged.  You meant to go to Savannah, Charleston, or Hilton Head but you ended up in Beaufort asking for directions with a half smile, half frown and a puzzled expression on your face.  Beaufortonians are very adept at handling cases of  wrongturnitis, in fact, most of Beaufort’s population is composed of lost tourist who arrived by mistake, discovered how beautiful it was and decided to stay.

I fear that South Carolina only gets attention when we do something news worthy.  In other words we do something dumb or out of step with the current century.  Examples of this news worthy attention would be:  

Starting the Civil War which led to Congressman James L. Petigru’s famous remark that “South Carolina was too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum.”

Miss South Carolina in the  Miss Teen USA Contest Beauty Contest, no further commentary necessary.

A governor who mistakenly believed that the Appalachian Trail was the fastest route to Argentina.

The  Citadel (my alma mater) admitting women into the Corp of Cadets and or conducting one of our infamous mess hall food fights.

We boast the largest Peach Water Tower in the nation, but it could be mistaken for other things.

These are just a few famous highlights for a state that is largely forgotten.  So what is the good news?  South Carolina is a beautiful state populated by gracious and caring people who encourage you to visit places like  Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Hilton Head, eat pork barbacue sandwiches with the locals at Piggy Park or fresh shrimp from the boats on Shem Creek.  You can also read Pat Conroy’s book about growing up in the South.  Of course we are more than happy to pour you a glass of iced tea as we help you figure out where you took a wrong turn and ended up in that “other Carolina”.

Dance Hall History

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

I just got back from Texas where my wife and I spent some time in the hill country outside San Antonio.  One of our favorite places was Gruene, Texas (pronounced Green).  Unless you stop to read the Historical Markers in the town (something we actually do), the average visitor would be clueless about the town’s history because there is nothing about the town that gives you a hint about its past. 

Folks who visit Gruene walk around wearing an assortment of shorts, sandals, tank tops, wranglers or wet bathing suits from tubing down the Guadalupe River.  They eat Blue Bell ice cream and Armadillos droppings (caramel candy) from the Country Store after enjoying lunch or dinner at either the Gristmill Restaurant or Gruene River Grill.  They shop at places like Cotton Eyed Joes, Gruene With Envy, Tipsey Gipsey or my favorite, Pookie Janes.  Pookie Janes was my favorite because of The Man Cave.  At the back of the store there is a secret door to a back porch clearly marked “The Man Cave”.  Upon entering The Man Cave you will find two lawn chairs, a t.v. with remote control and a small refrigerator stocked with beer and a sign that reads “One per customer”.  Shopping just got easier.

All of this makes for a great visit, but were it not for Gruene Hall you would miss the town’s history.  Gruene was originally the town of Goodwin until Henry Gruene arrived in the early 1870s, built a cotton gin, dance hall and school.  Cotton farming put the town of Gruene( name changed in 1903) on the map.  Gruene was a thriving  farming community until the arrival of the Boll Weevil in 1925.  The destruction of the cotton industry meant the decline of the town. 

Gruene was resurrected in the early 1970s as a part of the tourism industry associated with the nearby city of New Braunfels.  The cotton gins are now restaurants and most of the original buildings either sell antiques or are trendy boutiques, but if you want to hear, smell and taste a genuine part of Gruene’s history you have to visit the dance hall.  The social life of Gruene has been connected to this dance hall for over 130 years.  Gruene Hall is wood tables, wood floors, wood bar, long-necks, live country music with audience participation and Texas two-step.

When you step into Gruene Hall you  are entering a social world that has not changed all that much since it was built in 1878.  It’s just fun.  Most of the musicians who perform are local talent who play there because they love music and get paid from tips dropped in large plastic buckets, though Gruene Hall has seen the likes of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson too.  Everyone smiles, laughs, nods their heads to the music and a few dance.

Whatever you might think about dance halls, places like Gruene Hall continue to carry part of a town’s living history long after events like the Boll Weevil manifestation devastated its original farming community and destroyed its cotton economy.

So if you are ever in the Texas hill country north of San Antonio be sure to visit Gruene and make sure you sample the town’s history at Gruene Hall.


Proud Parents

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

I am in Texas right now for our youngest daughter’s college graduation.   She is graduating with a degree in Social Work and soon after her graduation she will journey to the Pacific Northwest to help plant an inner city church.  For a while we thought that she would end up somewhere in Africa working with children and that may still be in her future, but, for now, she has decided to make Starbuckland her home.  Her experience as a barista will serve her well in the the land that coffee built.  At some point she will have to buy some model of the national car of the Northwest, a Subaru equipped with a Thule cargo rack.  But for now I think she is planning to use public transportation.

As your children grow up you play that mind game of ”what they are going to do one day”, but I have decided that the more important question is “who are they going to be one day”?  They will change their minds a lot and do all kinds of different things with their lives, at least 40 of those changes will occur in the first two years of college or in the first five years out of college.  But it is who they are that matters, that they become people of character who decide that life is about investing yourself in others and not just making sure that the golden parachute is waiting at the end of your career.

Or to put it in the words of Nelson Mandela, “There are two kinds of leaders in the species humankind. There is the man or woman of personal ambition, and there is the man or woman who creates a self out of response to people’s needs, the call of conscience against oppression, injustice, and sufferings of any nature within our human condition. To the one, the drive comes narrowly from within; to the other it is a charge of energy which comes in others’ needs and the demands these make on all of us who share humanity. Conscience is a form of solidarity.”

So to my daughter graduating  from college and to all of our children, we are so very proud of you.  We are proud of what you will do with your life yes, but, more importantly, we are  proud of who you are, people of character.  In Mandela’s words, you are men and women who will create a deeper self and a more  just world out of your response to other’s needs.

Leading Change-Part II

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

So if you can’t analyze and think your way into change, what’s the alternative?  What if the change you need to create is not one of understanding, it is one of feeling?  People have to see the need as well as feel the need for change.  Folks can listen to your explanation of a problem, listen to the empirical data that supports your arguments and agree with you about the need for changes, and then not change the very behaviors that are reinforcing the problems.  Why?  

Analyzing and thinking is not enough.  People need to see the need and feel the need in order to make the changes that will make a significant difference.  Data and arguments do not overcome the inertia created by the uncertainty, fear, worry and doubt created in an organization that lacks clarity, direction, or purpose.  In those environments people will nod their heads at the appeals for change and then find creative ways to work themselves back into the status quo.

So why is SEE-FEEL-CHANGE a more effective approach?  You still have to provide compeling evidence for change but you want the kind of evidence you offer to  hit people at an emotional level: disturbing, hopeful, sobering, galvanizing, etc.

I was reminded of my first job out of college.  I was high school history teacher and varsity soccer coach.  The team I inherited had suffered several losing seasons in a row but they had a prior history of  winning.  The team’s talent was okay and the boys seemed  eager to learn and turn things around.  I spent time analyzing the team’s problems and I identified several areas that needed major improvement.  The main problem was that they needed to raise their level of play significantly if they were going to be competitive again.  Each player needed to improve their individual skill level and the team had to start playing together.  We had countless chalk talks, individual training sessions and team building events.   The team did improve going to the playoffs two years in a row, but the level of play was still not where it needed to be and we plateaued.  The biggest problem was that the team thought that they had improved enough and that their level play was now adequate  

I did not know what else to tell them or show them at this point.  They were frustrated with me and I was frustrated with them.  This was not an understanding problem.  It was as if we needed to experience something together that would communicate the change that was needed. 

The summer following our second season I took the team to Mexico City for two weeks to be trained by Mexican coaches and to play in a Mexican league.  For twenty-one South Carolina boys this was culture shock on a major scale.  The language, food, and customs forced them to lean on each other to get through those two weeks.  They became better friends on this trip, but more importantly they became a team.  We lost every game we played and we lost badly.  The teams we played embarrassed us with their skill and provided us with clear evidence regarding the level of play that we had to achieve in order to become competitive. 

They returned from that trip a different team on a mission.  Together they had each SEEN and FELT the change that had to happen.  They were now emotionally motivated to make the individual and team changes that would take them to the next level. The following season they went undefeated and won the state championship.  Over the next thirty years the school would win over twenty state championships.   The changes that team made created a winning tradition and expectation.

If you are a leader and you have not read Switch, I encourage you to get a copy and take your time reading it.  The first changes may be the ones you have to make in the way you lead.