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International Tour Management Institute, Rhode Island, Key Note Speech

International Tour Management Institute, Rhode Island, Key Note Speech

1/26/2015 12:00:00 AM EST

Leadership Metro Richmond - Speech and workshop

Leadership Metro Richmond - Speech and workshop

2/10/2015 8:30:00 AM EST

CODEP Conference Facilitation (Haiti Deforestation Project)

CODEP Conference Facilitation (Haiti Deforestation Project)

2/27/2015 12:00:00 AM EST

Duke University "Theory in Practice" Seminar Guest Speaker

Duke University "Theory in Practice" Seminar Guest Speaker

3/6/2015 12:00:00 AM EST

The Cosmos Club Women in Leadership Series - Speaker (date still tentative)

The Cosmos Club Women in Leadership Series - Speaker (date still tentative)

3/16/2015 8:00:00 AM EDT

Women's Leadership Conference, Key Note, Warwick, Rhode Island

Women's Leadership Conference, Key Note, Warwick, Rhode Island

6/9/2015 12:00:00 AM EDT

BLOG: What's On Martha's Mind?

BLOG: What's On Martha's Mind?

Here is a list of recent blog articles.

A Quilting Studio of One's Own

A Quilting Studio of One's Own

12/17/2014 12:00:00 AM EST
5 days ago

Seriously. Creativity is not just about kids and Legos, or emaciated artists in Paris garrets, or cartoonists for the New Yorker. Creativity-is-us and it needs space, attention and nurture.

I have yammered in speeches and blogs about being creative as a restorative after crisis. True, true, and true. And recently I stopped talking and went into action.

The biggest room in our house is in the basement, which for years has been crawling with teenagers, old couches, drum sets, and Christmas decorations. With the kids gone, it's been simply dumb space. Yes, it's unfinished but it's huge. Good ceiling height as well.

I have commandeered it now as a quilting studio. That means hauling out loads of stuff, scrubbing and painting the concrete floor, repurposing the ping-pong table as a huge cutting surface, tossing old videos and books to clear shelves, and hanging quilts. Oh, what fun! I now have a massive Room Of My Own.

Yes, I've run one of the biggest real estate outfits in the world but I had never completely appreciated that having my own space would mean so much. I dream about it at night. I daydream about it while driving. I find myself simply standing in it, looking and looking, imagining all the projects.

Quilting is about color, geometry, and space. It's also about making something of beauty. I'm near bursting with excitement about settling into my space, feeling the spread of my wings, and giving in to my creative self.

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Why Write Books in This Day and Age?

Why Write Books in This Day and Age?

11/24/2014 12:00:00 AM EST
4 weeks ago

I'm working on my third and fourth books simultaneously. One is fiction, a sequel to my first novel. The other is a book about leaders and their stories and challenges when their organizations face crises.

This is not a time when writing a book is a very good business model or financial retirement plan. Millions are published each year and their commodity profile makes the exercise of writing a book shrink in the face of the exercise of marketing the book.

Nevertheless, a book establishes a person and helps with branding. In some respects a book is a calling card, a line on the resume that indicates one's persistence and personal discipline. It's true that I don't have a business card anymore -- just a copy of a book.

Writing a book also contributes to "The Conversation." In my case, I have specific comments to make about good government, competent leaders, and coming to terms with our unwieldy world. In fiction, I write about my passion for community, the role of the church in our society and gender. Everyone has saws to twang and the orchestra is better for the individual effort.

Yet, writing is mostly and deeply personal. When I'm not consulting or speaking, I hoard my time so I can write. I am a bit driven about that. My hand specialist says that typing is actually a good thing (thank gawd) for my arthritic fingers. I write wherever I go. My computer is with me on vacation and this paragraph is emerging while I'm on the DC Metro.

Writing books keeps sane. When I am on some idea or story, I tend to beat them to death in my head. Writing forces me to record them, resolve them, and move on. If I didn't write, I would probably burst  -- or talk even faster than I do now -- because my internal ideas have such energy for me. I think they are like champagne, waiting to explode out of their container. Writing is a form of release.

But, mostly I write because I love it. I love the first ugly draft of disconnected thoughts. It's an embarrassment of riches and sludge. Then, my neat-nik side takes over and I start to organize. I love the messiness and then the emerging clarity. It is wild creativity alongside my quest to control - all in one. It's who I am and it's wonderful.

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Leadership and Emotional Discipline

Leadership and Emotional Discipline

11/21/2014 12:00:00 AM EST
a month ago

Leading is in many ways about wearing a straight-jacket. While we would like to think it is a role in which our instincts, spontaneity, and momentary flashes of brilliance are important, that is not the case.

When I was leading a big organization, I found I had to rope myself in. If I started to brainstorm ideas, I had to be careful. Too often staff would put things in motion thinking I was issuing directives. When I got exasperated in a meeting, everyone would shut down and stop talking (I sure didn't do that too often!) Once I was at a conference exuding excitement and enthusiasm about a particular strategy and the folks in the room took on the next workshop exercise without any normal sense of constraint or manners. The noise level went way up; people were tossing candy around, high-fiving; the recommendations they made were almost nonsensical. It was as if folks had become uncorked.

In other words, leaders' emotions can set off all sorts of prairie fires. -- good, bad, or otherwise. They have a disproportionate capability to create drama, steer people down unnecessary paths, cause the wrong reactions, and so forth.

When I was at the Yale School of Management recently, there was some good discussion among the first year students about the discipline a good leader must have. In a nurturing sense, a leader should not crowd or shut down the passion of the people in the organization. In an efficiency sense, a leader should not distort and confuse strategies and directions. In power terms, leaders should have a more sustainable approach than emotionally galvanizing an organization as that will fade as the leader's energy wanes. In creative terms, a leader needs to model agility, generative ability as an example but not in place of the organization's. And so forth. So much rides on building the engagement of an organization in its work. Leaders do a poor job of this if their own whimsy and feelings are taking all the airspace.

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Social Media. Is it the Right Forum for Learning Leadership?

Social Media. Is it the Right Forum for Learning Leadership?

11/19/2014 12:00:00 AM EST
a month ago

I've participated in social media for well over a year now, posting blogs, following Twitter, building a LinkedIn following, and all that happy stuff. My area of interest is "leadership" but that is quite vague, big, and boil-the-ocean. I get much more response when I post about North Dakota, quilting, or visiting the Flight 93 War Memorial.

Concepts on social media are a bit tricky, methinks. The online discussion of leadership is often full of platitudes, prove-the-obvious-science, or some cute model about colors or animals that represent certain aspects of leadership style. I find it pretty tedious if not simply lightweight. Fluff.

I also find it mechanical, especially all the articles about the ten ways of leading bored teams or the 26 ways of spiffing up your meetings. Formulaic stuff.  The online forum is removed in too many ways form the actual experience that people need to learn about leadership.

So, I'm going to continue to try writing and posting but I'm losing a sense that social media provides the best place for deep self-awareness or the truly flaying questions about values and behavior that leaders must face.

Tell me I'm wrong. I want to know if my expectations are off-kilter or I'm misplacing my hopes.

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The Middle of Novel Writing (Month)

The Middle of Novel Writing (Month)

11/18/2014 12:00:00 AM EST
a month ago

The goal for the month, if you are seriously part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month -- look it up online) is to pump out 50,000 words by midnight, November 30. I won't make it. By a long shot.

However, I have written something every single day and my novel (sequel to In Our Midst) is taking shape. It's moving in some unexpected directions (to Cambodia, for one thing.) It's crowded with women and I am not sure that's serving the plot well. It's a little hesitant. I am not quite ready to pour my emotions into words, somehow. I think I needed to figure out the structure a bit more rather than flop around in agonizing spasms. And, emotion is unhelpful if it isn't in service of a story that makes sense.

It is interesting to speed write a novel. The results are a lot of scaffolding, action, and pretty aimless dialogue. You can't sleep fast and I don't think it is really possible to write gripping material fast. At least not for me. That's a good thing to know and remember.

I know I can do it. This isn't about writer's block or confidence. I have written a novel and it worked and has been enjoyed and well received. However, I am confirming that my methods for that book were not a flash in the pan. They are my methods. I will write steadily but not in a marathon. I will allow characters to take me places that could change the story, so I can't lock it down too soon. And, I will enjoy it. Why rush something that gives me such pleasure and speaks to me so deeply? This isn't a race.

Back to work. Maybe another 300 words today.

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Load Bearing Leadership

Load Bearing Leadership

11/17/2014 12:00:00 AM EST
a month ago

For years I worked on Saturdays down at our church in the Annapolis historic district, rebuilding the place. Part of the project was renovating three historic homes along Duke of Gloucester Street. As we stripped back the dry wall of the oldest house we realized it was structurally vulnerable. Severely. This was nearly an evacuate-the-building moment.

Our wonderful architect and construction-smart folks soon secured the place with some load bearing beams. They designed them so that they strengthened the external walls and internally we could create rooms that were larger and a lot more functional. It was a great example of design in action and it taught me the obvious lessons about teamwork and creative responses to new and even dangerous situations.

However, there is a lovely metaphor that I took from that experience, one that I often play with in my mind. It is about the way those load bearing beams changed the fundamentals of the buildings. I believe that leaders are, in many ways, the load bearing beams of an organization. They provide a ballast of strength that allows the organization to open up, be creative, and perform better.

When I give tours of the renovated buildings and we stand in one of the large sunlit rooms, I point out those load bearing beams. They are painted red and easy to spot. The reaction of the visitors is of amazement and curiosity. The beams continue to inspire and open up people's questions and interest. They continue to lead.

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They Call the Leaders "Animators"

They Call the Leaders "Animators"

11/16/2014 12:00:00 AM EST
a month ago

I visited Haiti earlier this month. Four of us went to evalutate a reforestation project (CODEP) that our church has supported for over a decade. We have many questions about how best to go forward -- when can we help? what do we do that doesn't take work/jobs away from Haitians (painting, building, planting)? are we engaging in "toxic charity" or true partnership? have they really planted 13 MILLION trees?

 

The visit was short but packed. We drove south out of Port Au Prince through miles of slums, markets, traffic, and dust. The project guest house where we stayed was in a rural area, by the water although we spent our days up in the mountains. We met many wonderful people, asked questions, and listened a lot. We saw women carrying five gallon containers of water on their head climbing straight up the mountain -- to water the trees. We watched men in groups of three pick-ax the mountain to eek out a small terrace for planting.

 

We were invited to sit in on a sliver of the monthly board meeting of the "Animators", the Haitian leaders of the project. Ten men, two women, gray hairs and young faces, Creole speakers, some know a little French, maybe. Some had come to the meeting over the mountains by foot. Others had hitched a ride on the back of a truck. One was dressed up in a white shirt and slacks. Others had torn, shabby clothing. They sat on folding chairs in a simple room built to allow plenty of air between the boards and sheltered with a large overhang. The mountain view was magnificent and formidable. It was one place in the world NOT to have anxiety about heights, nor to shrink from challenges.

 

Each Animator presented a report on their groups of mountain peasants who are hacking out narrow terraces, planting seedlings, and nurturing their little embryonic forests. They had serious issues on hand about the future of the project, the potential for growth, the placement of shared equipment, the new well and cistern, aand security.

 

Animators. It is such a powerful word for leadership. The definition is "bring to life" and they are doing just that, turning scrubby, moonscape mountains into green ones where they can harvest food and, as they told us, turning their children from redheads with swollen bellies to bundles of smiles and feistiness.

 

They animated me, too, bringing to life those questions about power, help, support, concern, arrogance, love, fancy, simple, and community. We should all have the chance to travel, see the world, and learn about the mountains that people climb -- together.

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National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

11/2/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a month ago

NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month. November is the month. The online community is committed to producing 50,000 words by the end of the month.

I have thought about doing a concentrated writing spree and am going for it this year. My first (and only) novel took about ten years to write. I composed it on the bus going to and from Annapolis and Washington. It was a wonderful, emotional escape from the trials of dealing with DC. At the time it was also the only part of my day that was carved out for me, only.

Now I'm very interested in trying to write a novel a little faster (otherwise, I will be 72 before this one sees the light of day.) I am hoping that signing up for NaNoWriMo will keep me focused and create some pressure to pay attention to the fiction writing I want to do.

So far I have produced about 2000 words in a day and a half and I am already learning A LOT. Oh my. The thing about fiction, which I almost forgot, is that it can go anywhere. I don't have to hold to the disciplines of a factual outline. The dialogue between a couple of characters can suddenly go north, south, or east. It is so much freedom, it is overwhelming.

A sequel, I am learning, is interesting in that you already have some characters in the pot. I am revisiting Stanton, Indiana, about eight or nine years after In Our Midst. Alexandra is a high school senior and she is the core of the story. Readers will remember her as a precocious nine-year-old who had recently lost her father to cancer, was living in a new town, and had a mind of her own. She's back as a high school senior and I love spending time with her again.

OK, enough for today. You will be hearing a lot about fiction writing this month. It's still early -- you could sign up for NaNoWriMo, too. I encourage it.

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Dig Into  "SENSIBLE LEADERSHIP" - More blogs by Martha (Writing Page), podcasts and video of Martha (Speaking Page), the blogsphere about Martha (What Others Say Page). 

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Living By the Numbers Means Grit and Creativity

Living By the Numbers Means Grit and Creativity

10/28/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a month ago

Toxic Charity

Toxic Charity

10/26/2014 12:00:00 AM EDT
a month ago

I am reading Robert D. Lupton's Toxic Charity in preparation for a trip with some members of my church to Haiti to review a reforestation project we have been sponsoring. The trip is in a couple weeks and I will certainly have more to say during and after it.

For now, the pre-reading is interesting, to say the least. Leaders, givers, and anyone trying to "change the world" need some particular discipline. In the case of charities, it involves understanding deeply the why -- why are you giving and why are you helping? How much of it involves your own wish to feel good?

True servant leadership is not about elevating one's self or one's works. Charity should not inflict damage to other's motivations, skills, and sense of self-worth. Unfortunately, it is very easy to find great pride and even arrogance associated with having resources and having power. Instead of empowering others, we empower ourselves with our self-righteousness.

Easy to say. Easy to point out. Let's see how well we do as privileged Americans visiting a place lacking in much privilege and laced with challenges.

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