Monday, 21 September 2015


Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, takes a good look at how we, and the medical community, deal with people in the later years of their lives. For those of us with aging parents or who ourselves are already past the midpoint, whatever that may be, there are some very honest observations and recommendations in Gawande’s latest offering.

I had conversations with my own parents prior to their deaths that were quite different due to the circumstances attending each one.  When my grandfather died, I thought it was a good opportunity to talk with my father about his father’s death and how it had affected him. At that time I was in my 30’s, my Dad in his late 50’s and my grandfather was 82 when he died. To my surprise, my father used the occasion to talk about his own mortality.  What he told me was essentially when that day would inevitably come, all the arrangements were already in place and that my brother and I did not need to be concerned about the details.

What I recall, besides being surprised about his openness and willingness to talk about life and death matters, was that this was typical of my father who was careful about details, who paid attention to seemingly small things that had a large impact, and who had a personal faith that transcended the mundane.  He served as a good role model for me and my brother in so many ways and for that we will always be most grateful.  When he died suddenly in 1979 at age 67 of a massive heart attack, we were shocked but in some ways already prepared.  Among other things, what he had put in place for our mother provided for her for the rest of her life, which continued for another 30 years.

My mother, who remarried at age 70, four years after my father’s death, was a vital presence until the last year of her own life when the decline started to take its toll.  When she was hospitalized with pneumonia in October at age 95, I recall an honest conversation between us about life and death and how gratitude had played such a large part in how she had lived.  Her mind was alert, her sense of humor still in place and she said she was ready to die.  What I said was that it was okay with me and I was sure that when that time came she would know and that we would be fine. She left the hospital, moved into a local care facility and four months later, checked out one night and just did not wake up in the morning.  She had told her doctor that evening that she wanted no further medication or treatment except perhaps something to make her more comfortable.  He complied.  That was two months prior to her 96th birthday.

My wife’s mother, who will be 103 in January, moved recently into a life care community where she occupies her own small apartment with help down the hall if she needs it.  It’s called “assisted living” and that arrangement seems to be working well.   She is still sound of mind, although it is becoming more difficult for her body to function at the same high level.  She is an avid reader, a published author, watches sports on TV and just had a party for some 17 friends although she says most of her close friends are already dead so she had to make some new ones.   She took a cruise last year up the coast of Maine and down the St. Lawrence to Montreal.   A companion traveled with her for assistance.   She drives an electric cart around the center of town and loves the freedom it gives her to move about.

These examples serve me extraordinarily well as I consider how to make the most of whatever time remains in my own life.  My intentions are to continue to connect with our families, to celebrate each day with that attitude of gratitude and on occasion continue working to help others with their own personal, professional and organizational transitions. I have written two small books in the past few years and have another fun one on the drawing board for this year.

Each sunrise brings the gift of a new day with unlimited and creative opportunities for enjoyment, relationships, conversations and connections.  My active full time career of 50 years has morphed into part-time, much to be preferred. I have the luxury of accepting only those invitations that are truly interesting and in my judgment, worth the investment of time, effort and energy all of which fortunately still seem available.

We are blessed with the ability to travel widely and often.  Our home base is in beautiful, northern New Mexico and our freedom to travel increased when we sold our home and properties in the country and moved into a much smaller house in town, into a 55 plus community.  I would not have thought about becoming a “snow-bird” some years ago but the desire and ability to migrate south across the border seems to be one more gift.  I suppose you could say it's part of a larger plan.  Staying active physically, mentally, socially, emotionally and spiritually seems to be working, at least for now and for that I am enormously grateful. 

Monday, 14 September 2015

The Seven C's of Competent Leadership *

Rate yourself (or your leader) on a scale of 1-10 for each one.  Total and average.  See results.

1. Communication that is clear, concise, compelling and timely.  Stay in touch with customers', clients' and constituents' information that keeps them connected

2. Collaboration that is supportive and encouraging.  It takes time, effort and energy,  but the results are convincing.

3. Confidence that inspires mutual trust, mutual respect and the open sharing of information, otherwise known as transparency that provides clarity.

4. Courage to take on the difficult challenges and find workable solutions, solve a problem and move forward.

5. Compassion that illustrates and demonstrates care for the well-being of individuals and the environment in which they all work.

6.  Commitment to agreed upon goals and plans and to the enduring completion of tasks and projects affecting all constituencies.

7. Character that reflets integrity, honesty, empathy, genuineness and warmth, indications of  concern for the common good.

* In addition to the C word at the beginning in each of the seven, find another C word or more in every one.  If you had to choose, which one would you put at the very top?  These are not in any necessary order or priority as that depends on your own and your organization's particular needs.

Friday, 11 September 2015


A few weeks ago, I returned to Greenville, Ohio, to celebrate my 60th anniversary of my graduation from high school.   I spent, yes spent, the first 18 years of my life in this small town of about 13,000 in west central Ohio, close to Indiana. It has only grown by 3,000 people in the past 60 years.  It hasn't changed much except for the addition of a few big box stores on the north edge of town, along with a downturn in the downtown area, once a thriving business center of shops and stores.  There are some new medical facilities and a new high school since I graduated.  I was born there in the local hospital, June 24, 1937, at 10 AM on a Thursday morning. 

Of the 148 graduates and 29 associates (those who were in the class starting in 9th grade, but left before graduation) only 38 attended the reunion, many with their husbands and wives and some alone.  In the first 50 years, 25 died and in the next 10 years 26 more left this world, one more than in the first 50 but given the variables of age and health, it's understandable.   Some could not attend because the lack of good health prevented their traveling and many have just lost interest in staying connected.  30 people who still live in the area did not show up for one reason or another.   I moved away after graduation from college in 1959 and returned only to visit parents and relatives and see old friends.

Being Mortal, Atul Gawande’s recent book, with the subtitle Medicine and What Matters in the End now seems more relevant although I found it spot on when I read it a year ago.  I had not given a lot of thought to how the lives of most people end in the final weeks and months and although I am blessed to be in good health and still active on several fronts, we know that life can change dramatically, even suddenly.  Here is what recent data says about deaths in the U.S. in one year, 2012, and in spite of large numbers seeming to have little meaning for one person, this information may be of interest to some.

  • Number of deaths: 2,596,993
  • Death rate: 821.5 deaths per 100,000 population
  • Life expectancy: 78.8 years
  • Infant Mortality rate: 5.96 deaths per 1,000 live births

Number of deaths for leading causes of death:
  • Heart disease: 611,105
  • Cancer: 584,881
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 149,205
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 130,557
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,978
  • Alzheimer's disease: 84,767
  • Diabetes: 75,578
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,979
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 41,149

What that says to me is that I am not a statistic, at least not yet, and that it’s important to do whatever you can to stay healthy. Each person has his or her own story and each family’s story adds to the history of each generation.   As I looked at those numbers, I wondered if those who keep such data accounted for those killed in the armed forces for any given year.  

It also says to me that I have successfully reached “life expectancy” but at this point, under current conditions, barring anything that isn’t yet known or seen, I will exceed that number.  It’s not a concern by how much or under what conditions. Suffice to say I live a life of gratitude each day and feel blessed to be able to continue enjoying the comfort and conveniences afforded me.

I am fortunate to continue working part-time both in my profession and beyond.   I try to write something every day, continue to read and learn and I am in touch with a variety of people in different places.  I check in regularly on my mental, physical, social and emotional conditions. And, we connect frequently with our extended family of seven children and thirteen grandchildren.

I have a life partner, wife and best friend who shows her love and support in countless ways that enrich my life.  She shows her concern and care and I try to provide the same, and that makes our life together better than either of us would have otherwise.  We have mutual interests in books, movies, travel, friends and food and are usually looking ahead to see what’s next on our calendars.  I’ve written a couple of books the past two years, keep this blog and a web site and am working on a third book to see if I can get it out yet this year.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, 5 September 2015


Like many of you, I write down my thoughts and experiences from time to time, keep a journal on occasion around travel, maintain a blog and use social media, mostly Twitter and LinkedIn, for a variety of purposes.  I have written several books, numerous articles, and have a web site that will be updated and refreshed soon.   Until recently, about four years ago, I never considered myself a writer although I may have morphed into that activity out of the encouragement and support of others in my network of colleagues and friends.  I wrote columns and contributed to newsletters considering those part of my work and career.

Now, at this later stage of my career, having begun professionally in 1962, I have the luxury of working part time. I respond only to those invitations and projects that interest me most, often having to do with change and transition, whether in organizations or in individuals.   While change is an all-embracing topic, I consider myself a life-long learner who is still willing to change what I do or how I do it if I believe it will be better than what I was doing previously.  And, I stick to some “tried and true” practices as well.

I began working outside of home in 1947 at age 10 when I set pins in a bowling alley. I always had jobs at home and still do!   I got my social security card and felt like a real grown-up worker guy. The Protestant work ethic was alive and well in our family from an early age onward.  Other jobs I had before I graduated from high school included working on the railroad in maintaining the tracks; being a grease monkey in my Dad’s auto dealership; helping my grandparents, one on a farm, the other in a general store in a small town; and being a camp counselor and cook for 300 Boy Scouts. Work in the college years included life guard; construction labor; and office experience.  Such a variety was most welcome especially as learning experiences and the pay was good too.
In 1959, I started driving buses and continued that through graduate school and beyond during summers, holidays and sometimes weekends. This past May, because I enjoy driving vehicles of any kind, I accepted a job driving an airport shuttle from Santa Fe to Albuquerque two mornings a week. It’s fun and I meet all kinds of interesting people from all over the world.  The stories of their lives and work are fascinating.  None of these other jobs have ever taken anything away from my main career as a teacher, administrator, leader and consultant.  If anything, those jobs of a different sort add a dimension of understanding and appreciation for the human condition.

I am deeply grateful for the immense opportunities that I have had to be an active participant in so many productive experiences.  My education contributed enormously to my career.  The K-12 journey followed by 4 years of undergraduate school, 7 years of two graduate programs in two different places resulting in 4 degrees have all played their respective parts.

The privilege of being selected to lead several schools in their growth and development as principal or headmaster was only successful because of all those other people who contributed to those experiences. It was truly a team effort.  Out of all of this came an invitation to serve as a consultant to both organizations and individuals that were considering transitions, significant growth and change.  I did that formally and professionally with a firm located in Boston, and I had the privilege of living in and working from Santa Fe although it required a fair amount of travel.  Now I do it on my own time when and where I choose.  I would not have dreamed of such even ten years ago but here we are.

What’s next as I look ahead?  I am continuing to learn more about technology and educational reforms, planning a few more writing projects, some more travel, and hopefully learning some Spanish this winter in Mexico. I also contribute to the professional development of others through seminars, workshops and symposia on several different topics and have two gigs scheduled for November, one in Santa Fe for Leadership and Design, and one in Barcelona for ECIS (European Council of International Schools)

On the personal front, we have downsized (see blog entitled “When Downsizing is Right Sizing: Why Less is More”) and we are very connected to our seven children, thirteen grandchildren and several siblings.  We just attended my 60th high school reunion and I realize even more how blessed I am with good health, energy and enthusiasm for living fully.  We are looking forward to having all our children and theirs together next summer in Vermont for one of our ongoing reunions and they all have their own unfolding stories which are fascinating.  What a tribe and what a world!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

When Downsizing is Right Sizing: Why Less is More

It seems that a large number of people in a generation is in serious conversations about moving to smaller living spaces, jettisoning a number of possessions and moving toward simplifying and uncluttering their lives.  At least once or twice a week I find myself answering questions about how and why we decided to do that and I applaud these people who are seeking ways to have more time and do more of the things they enjoy most.  That can range from spending time with family to outdoor activities to travel to volunteering for a worthy cause or charity of your choice.  That’s about giving back and for another discussion.
I believe that downsizing first occurred to us when we were traveling in our RV/Motorhome and met a number of people in this sub-culture who had either already done it and were living full time in their house on wheels, free to move about for work, for seasons, for different locations.  Since I already worked remotely I did not need to be in a stationary office and that gave us an additional dimension of freedom and mobility.  We also discovered that we had all of our basic needs with us albeit in much smaller, compact quarters, not unlike that of a large boat.  So, we called it our land yacht.
Each time we went away from home we had to have people look after our property, our home with two offices, two bedrooms, two baths, two large portals, and a large living and dining area.  We had animals that included dogs, cats, chickens, miniature donkeys and when we returned most of the work there fell to us with some additional house and landscape help on a weekly basis.  We lived on 12 acres with two houses, a large barn, several outbuildings, numerous gardens, and a koi pond with an incredible view over the Chama River in northern New Mexico.  It sounds lovely and it was for almost ten years.
As the work and expense continued to be an ongoing concern, we came to the conclusion that it was time to sell and consider our options, or vice-versa.  We sold the two properties and houses, each 6 acres adjacent to each other, purchased a larger, more comfortable motorhome and set off on another adventure, seeing what it was like to live full-time on the road, going north in the summer, south in the winter.  We enjoyed that for 9 months and came “home” to Santa Fe where we had stored most of our “stuff” in two large units near our favorite RV park.   Now what?
We considered condos, smaller houses with less maintenance and finally decided to design, build and purchase a manufactured house (i.e. mobile home). We had it delivered and moved it onto a small lot in the park behind the RV campground where we had camped for several years when in Santa Fe.  The house is about 1000+ square feet, two bedrooms, two baths, with a large covered deck, a small storage shed and convenient to shopping and services.  It’s not exactly part of the tiny house movement but it’s definitely in the category of smaller.  It’s economical, comfortable and more than adequate.  And, we lock the door and leave anytime for several days, weeks or months.  It’s a small community of people who look out for one another.
This is one illustration that affords us a level of freedom, independence and a significant reduction in possessions, equipment and property that had to be maintained and supported.  Ask yourself this question:  What would improve the quality of your life that is within your reach?  The answer may or may not have to do with “living space” but chances are at some point you will arrive at a time of transition and then you can design the change and make your own choice. Here are a few additional questions that might inform your next change.  What is it that you need or want that you do not now have? Less work, more time?  Fewer responsibilities, more freedom?  Less expense, more resources?   Form your own questions. The answers are yours to pursue and enjoy.  Less is truly more!