Women’s Voices Are Significant to the World

iwd-logomain2Today marks International Women’s Day, one day each year that celebrates the “social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.” This year’s theme is Be Bold For Change. Take a moment to honor and recognize the women who have served as positive role models in your life, who have inspired and motivated you, and who have bravely charted new territory as pathfinders.

Now imagine your life without them. Oh, wait a minute. You wouldn’t be here if not for a woman! This message is being reinforced by leaders of the January 21, 2017 Women’s March. They are encouraging women to participate in A Day Without A Woman on this International Women’s Day by not spending any money (or alternatively supporting women- and minority-owned businesses)  and by not engaging in any work.

Think about all of the women who have encouraged and inspired you. Mothers. Grandmothers. Aunts. Sisters. Daughters. Granddaughters. Great-granddaughters. Sisters-in-law. Mothers-in-law. Teachers. Bosses. Co-workers. Neighbors. Religious leaders. Shop owners. Community leaders. Political leaders. Friends.

I for one would not be the person I am today were it not for the courageous, intelligent, fearless women who came before me.

On this day, I honor my maternal grandmother who emigrated from Poland to begin a new life in America. She spoke no English when she arrived at Ellis Island. As a wife and mother, she ran a large household (with seven children) on a small stipend. Her values of hard work, discipline, and sacrifice were passed on to her children.

My 96-year-old mother continues to inspire me every day. I have enjoyed many lengthy conversations with her over the years, listening to her life story, and understanding her remarkable life as a first generation American. It took her ten years to work her way through college to receive her first degree – at the age of 47. At the age of 80, she received her second college degree. Although she could have audited classes for free as a senior citizen, she preferred to pay for every class so she could earn a degree.

Many women have inspired me from afar. The list is too long to include all of them here, yet, a few stand out…women of all ages and backgrounds:

“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” Gloria Steinem


“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Maya Angelou


“Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.”

Tina Fey


“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” Malala Yousafzai


“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Mother Teresa


“Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.” Amelia Earhart


“One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time.” Barbara Walters

Now more than ever, women’s voices must be heard. We are economic decision makers, leaders in education, innovators in science and technology, entrepreneurs, and nurturers of the human family. Our inclusive and collaborative style leads to positive change. A quick review of Forbes Magazine’s “The World’s 100 Most Influential Women” will remind you of the capabilities and accomplishments of women.

At some point today, pause for a moment, and silently thank the women who have encouraged, supported, and inspired you. Or better yet, pick up the phone and call them!

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Advocates Offer Support

Hand-Balance-1-285x300In your life, there are individuals who know you, care about you and want you to succeed. These admirers are your  advocates, people who speak on your behalf, not because you ask them to but because they believe in you and want you to succeed. They are the ones who tell other people how gifted or talented you are, how you would be perfect for a job or position or would be a great addition to a board of directors. Many of my advocates are responsible for my career success. Because of them, I was recommended for – and landed – several jobs and board positions.

Years ago, I received a call from a professional woman who was also my mentor. She had been at dinner the evening before with a man who was looking for a marketing director and company spokesperson. When he asked if she knew anyone who was qualified for the job, she immediately said, “I know the perfect person.” The next day the man who would later become my boss called me, and I ended up working six years for that company. I didn’t ask my mentor to help me find a job. She recommended me because she believed in me and wanted to see me succeed. You see, my mentor had seen me in action, and was familiar with my work style and the quality of my work.

A young woman who I have watched grow in her career for more than 20 years shared her story with me. When I first met her, she was just 18 and had accepted a position with a nonprofit organization as an administrative assistant. She was working her way through college. She had a positive attitude and engaging personality and loved working with people. Several years later, she left that position to work in the Human Resources Department of a large corporation. She had found her career passion.

Early on, she shared with her boss a future goal: To become head of the department. He told her what she would have to do, and said that it would require obtaining experience at one of their out of state plants before moving up within corporate headquarters. When such a position became available, she was the first person he approached. She accepted the position and happily worked her way up through the corporate ranks. It didn’t happen by accident, of course. This boss of hers was her advocate. He believed in her and wanted her to succeed. When the position became available, he knew the “perfect person.”

As you move through your life and career, identify who your greatest advocates are. Keep in contact with them so when greater opportunities become available, they will think of you. Let your intentions become known. You just might receive a call, text or email from your advocate who thought you were that perfect person.

What are you doing to keep in contact with your greatest advocates on a regular basis? How are you letting your intentions become known?

Remembering Mattie Stepanek


Ten years ago this week, America lost a young hero, Mattie Stepanek. His name may not be widely recognized, yet, his poetry and his passion for life touched the hearts of young and old alike. Mattie Stepanek achieved more in his short life – just 13 years – than most do in a lifetime.

I first discovered the poetry of Mattie Stepanek while standing in a bookstore in 2001. A table near the front door was filled with dozens of copies of a featured book entitled Heartsongs. It was the cover’s whimsical design and vibrant colors that captured my attention. I opened to the first page of the book. Greeting me was a photograph of the author, Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek, along with his biography. I began reading his heartwarming story. In this book of poetry, I selected and read several poems. As I read his story, I learned that Mattie was born with a rare disease, Dysautonomic Mytichondrial Myopathy, which interrupts the body’s automatic functions, like breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and digestion. It also causes muscle weakness.

Mattie began writing poetry at the age of three. From an early age, he accepted his disease, even though he required a ventilator, regular blood transfusions, medicine, therapy, leg braces and eventually a specially designed power wheelchair. As a prolific author of several New York Times best sellers, he appeared on all of the major television networks (yes, he appeared on Oprah), cable and radio stations and was featured in most major print publications.

His message was simple: Love life and love one another. Despite a life-threatening disease, he joyously embraced life and treasured each day. The disease claimed the lives of Mattie’s three older siblings and then in 2004, it claimed his life. He wrote seven books and created several audio recordings. He regarded himself as a peacemaker because he truly cared about the global community.

I keep his poetry books on my bedroom nightstand, ready to be picked up and read any time I need to listen to Mattie’s words of hope, love and joy. To learn more about Mattie’s legacy and the continuing work of his mother, Jeni Stepanek, Ph.D., and the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation, visit www.mattieonline.com. Be sure to sign the petition by July 17, 2014 to officially create a Mattie J.T. Stepanek Peace Day.

“Peace is possible…it can begin simply over a game of chess and a cup of tea.” Mattie J.T. Stepanek

Photo: Mattieonline.com

Plant a Seed of Hope

SeedlingWhen was the last time you planted a seed of hope in someone else’s life?

When I was growing up, my dad called me his “Yardbird” because I helped him with outdoor chores. He instilled in me at that early age the knowledge that any seed that is planted can grow into something beautiful when it is nurtured. Every day I watched those seeds grow and change. Every day I hoped to see something new.

Now many years later, as a Master Gardener, I have the privilege of planting seeds of hope in the lives of some individuals who are new to gardening. This year I chose to volunteer with the Cleveland Crops program, a partnership among the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Ohio State University Extension Service, Master Gardeners of Cuyahoga County and others. This urban farm program educates, trains and employs individuals with developmental disabilities so they can lead productive lives.

During our first training session last week, we Master Gardeners provided information and answered questions about basic planting and watering techniques. In the coming weeks, we will teach other aspects of gardening to willing participants. When asked if they were excited about the hope of getting involved in gardening, many of the participants enthusiastically said “Yes!”

In the world today, we must remind ourselves to put aside our own needs and focus on others who need our time, attention and expertise. There are individuals within our own communities who simply want a chance, to prove that they can contribute and be part of something greater than just themselves.

Last week, I planted a seed of hope in every person I met. What seeds of hope can you plant in someone else’s life?

Nelson Mandela: Mentor to the World

MandelaCroppedThere is not a more fitting capstone to this series on mentoring than ending with a tribute to Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, a man who was — and remains — a mentor to the world.

Qualities: Nelson Mandela possessed many endearing qualities. As a humanitarian and peacemaker, he gave a voice to human rights and demonstrated the capacity of the human spirit. As he fought to end apartheid in South Africa, he united people not only in his country but also around the world. His carefully structured messages were spoken from his lived experience and the heart. As he advocated for social justice, freedom and equality, his actions and intellect positioned him as a powerful world leader. Even in his later years, Nelson Mandela founded The Elders, a group of seasoned global leaders, to work together on human rights issues and world peace.


“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

“Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

“Courage is not the absence of fear — it is inspiring others to move beyond it.”

“There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

Questions: Reviewing Nelson Mandela’s purpose-driven life, I am inspired to pose several questions for all of us to consider as we move our lives forward in a more purposeful way:

What voice lies dormant within me that needs to come out? On whose behalf can I speak or serve as an advocate?

How can I treat others with greater dignity and respect?

What contributions can I make to my community, my country or the world? To enhance education? To eliminate poverty? To feed the hungry? To model sustainability? To live in peace?

What small changes can I make in my life, every day, to become a more positive role model for others?

What bitterness or negativity can I rise above and begin living my life more fully and wholly? Who do I need to begin building positive relationships with…whether at home or at work?

When you find yourself struggling with a big question, a challenge, or an altercation, ask yourself, “How can the wisdom of Nelson Mandela guide me with courage and grace?”


Remain Open With Mentors

605542_balance_primeFifth in a series.

Learning from someone who has more experience than you do and who can share successes and failures openly is a tremendous gift. The key to getting the most out of a mentoring relationship is your ability to maintain as open a mind and heart as possible. Here are a few tips to help you maximize the experience:

Be honest about what you need. Honesty allows the relationship to be more open and transparent. As the protege, you drive the relationship. When you are honest and open, your mentor will reciprocate. Open conversations are more productive and tailored to your needs.

Don’t be judgmental. Your mentor will share thoughts, ideas, opinions and feelings with you. When you immediately find fault with what your mentor is saying, you are being judgmental or overcritical. In the process, you may miss what is being offered to you. To open your mind and heart, tell yourself, “I am open to what s/he is saying.” That way, you receive information without judging.

Weigh your choices. Your mentor may offer you different solutions or tactics to consider. Use critical thinking skills to weigh those choices carefully. Identify solutions that work best for you. Take time to make important decisions. Ultimately, the choice is only yours.

Expect the unexpected. Your mentor may surprise you with tactics or solutions that might seem off the wall or even odd to you. Be open to them. You may find yourself saying, “I would have never thought of that” or “That’s a different way of approaching this.”

The key to a successful mentoring relationship is remaining open in your mind and heart. In what way can you open your mind and heart to the wisdom and advice that your mentor is offering to you?

Establish Mentoring Ground Rules

Businessmen on Sports FieldFourth in a series.

Now that you have chosen your mentor, decided what assistance you will need and identified how to trust and respect your mentor, it is time to establish ground rules. Discuss these topics with your mentor:

  1. Frequency of meetings. Determine how often you will meet…weekly, monthly, quarterly, or as needed.
  2. Length. Discuss how long your mentoring relationship will last. You may need your mentor for just a short time to assist with a specific area of professional growth or for a longer period of time.
  3. Roles. Outline the roles that you and the mentor will play. Are there various hats that your mentor may wear, such as career expert, financial advisor or resume builder?
  4. Confidentiality. It is critical to discuss confidentiality. You must have the assurance of your mentor that all of your conversations are kept between the two of you. Confidentiality builds trust.
  5. Communication. Every person has her/his own preferred method of communication. What is your mentor’s? What is yours? Some people prefer face-to-face while others like telephone conversations. How will you communicate between meetings?
  6. Feedback. The most under-valued component of the communication model is feedback. Not enough people ask for it or give it. Establish mechanisms for feedback, whether you solicit it or it is given to you unsolicited.
  7. Formality. How formal or informal will your relationship be? Will you be meeting at your mentor’s private club for a business lunch, or will you meet for a cup of coffee at a local coffeehouse? Even the most formal of relationships can relax over time once you get to know each other.
  8. Boundaries. Every relationship has boundaries. Since you and your mentor are engaged in a professional relationship, use your best judgment to not overstep those boundaries.
  9. Time. Your mentor’s time is valuable, as is yours. Be respectful of your mentor’s time. Take advantage of every meeting by coming prepared with topics for discussion, potential challenges you are facing and intelligent questions that serve your needs.

What other ground rules would you establish? Discuss them at the beginning, and lay a solid foundation for success in your mentoring relationship .

Trust and Respect Your Mentor

Reckless personThird in a series.

Every meaningful relationship is built on the foundation of trust and respect. Within a mentoring relationship, you must trust your mentor to provide you with guidance and expert advice, based on his/her professional and personal experiences. Respect her/his opinions and ideas for the same reason, because your mentor has lived through challenges that you may not have yet experienced.

Trust takes time. Invest quality time at the beginning of your relationship to get acquainted with your mentor. It is through inquiry that you will learn about each other. Come prepared to your first meeting with a series of thoughtful questions that open up the dialogue. Be respectful when you ask the questions. Here are a few examples:

  • Who has had a great influence on your life?
  • What are you hoping to get out of our mentoring relationship?
  • What have been some of your greatest challenges in life? How did you overcome them and succeed?
  • At what point in your life did you feel lacking a direction? What did you do to get back on track?
  • What are the best strategic decisions that you have made in your life?

What additional questions would you ask?

Every human being has a story. What is your mentor’s story? Open up the questions beyond just career. To know the whole person, consider that person’s entire lived experience. The more that is revealed to you, the more you will understand. As you begin to understand, you will begin to trust. Building trust begins with honest, open dialogue.

How to Select the Right Mentor

ResourceWordSecond in a series.

Before you select a mentor, first consider Lesson 2: Decide what assistance you need. This will guide your selection process to find an appropriate mentor. Here are a few examples:

Are you thinking of changing careers? Find someone who has successfully transitioned from one career field to another, whether by choice or necessity. The key: Has this person made the shift easily?

Do you want to start your own business? Look no further than business owners who you already know, or consult the pages of your local business journal to find entrepreneurs who have been successful in their business ventures.

Are you trying to figure out how to climb the corporate ladder? Maneuvering the culture and politics of large organizations requires the guidance of someone who has already survived this feat. Look within or outside your organization.

Do you want to be considered for more high-powered assignments? Pay attention to people you know professionally who are working on large projects with greater responsibilities and who have credibility as a project leader.

Are you interested in getting more involved in the community? Observe who is already contributing to your community’s growth and development through boards, task forces or committees. Review their accomplishments.

Can one mentor help you with more than one of these needs? Absolutely. For instance, if you are interested in elevating your visibility, a mentor could assist you with the last three examples listed above.

When you decide what your need is, it will become clear to you who may be an appropriate mentor for you. Do your research. Interview several potential candidates to see who best fits your needs. You will know when you find the perfect mentor because you will feel the connection from the beginning. Choose wisely. Mentoring relationships can last several months or even years.

How do you begin a mentoring relationship? Ask the person you have selected if s/he would consider being your mentor to help you with your specific needs.

What a Mentor Is and Isn’t

QuestionMarkWPeople-CroppedThroughout your career, you may find yourself in need of guidance, advice and direction. A mentor can help you expand your thinking and get you where you need to be. Many employers offer in-house mentoring programs, often pairing a senior and junior executive. Some professional organizations offer programs as well. If your company or professional organization does not provide a formal mentoring program, then consider finding a mentor on your own. This person could be someone you admire and respect from your profession or your community. In the coming blog posts, I will share with you my insights on how to benefit from a valuable mentoring relationship.

Before you do anything, you must first understand Lesson 1: Know what a mentor is and is not. 

A mentor is: A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor who brings specific expertise to the relationship. A mentor is a willing partner who is interested in helping you reach your goals. This person may or may not be from the same profession as you. A mentor serves as a sounding board, someone with whom you can share thoughts, ideas and issues. S/he can also shorten your learning curve and teach you more in less time. A mentor’s common sense helps you weigh your own decisions. A mentor’s time is valuable, so take advantage of that expertise by making every meeting productive.

A mentor is not: A mentor is not a person who tells you what you should or should not do, rather, someone who guides you and serves as a resource. A mentor is not a counselor (someone who is certified to handle specific behavioral issues), so don’t use her/him to dump on. Don’t focus all of your energy on negative problems (what is wrong). Instead, turn your energy to positive outcomes (what is possible). A mentor is not someone who can “automatically” advance your career. That, as you know, requires time and effort. A mentor is not someone who you meet with once or twice; mentoring relationships usually last for many months or even years.

Are you at a point in your career where you could use a mentor?