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Be a Better Facilitator, Be a Better Leader

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Facilitating is an important skill on the job, at home, and in your community.

If you want to lead, you need to be a great facilitator. I asked Jim Dowling, a great facilitator that I have the privilege to work with,

What are three practices that will improve my facilitating skills?

We discussed these points:


A facilitator uses authority to persuade the participants to trust the process. Authority comes from having an agenda and using transparent protocols for the meeting. By setting down what will be discussed and how it will be discussed, the facilitator creates the authority to keep the discussion on track and civil. People will trust the process when they believe the everyone will be heard and have a voice in the meeting. The reluctant will take part when they believe the group will respect every person and give opinions a fair hearing.


Speakers say a lot at meetings, covering points on and off the agenda. Fatigue from listening and learning can disrupt the connection between the speaker and the audience. People absorb knowledge at different rates. It’s the facilitator’s job to keep the speakers on track and help everyone with their listening and learning. A great facilitator periodically summarizing what the speakers have said. Speakers appreciate a summation during the meeting if the facilitator respects the speakers’ authority on their topic and keeps the speakers the focus of attention.

A great summary distills the key points and ideas delivered in a logical and memorable précis that links back to the theme of the meeting. It states how the audience can benefit by what was said and shows how it relates to the purpose of the meeting. The facilitator summarizes, builds bridges, and tells the audience the next steps outside the meeting.


A great facilitator knows the temperature of the audience and the speakers. How are the speakers reacting to the audience? How is the audience reacting to the speakers? People are excellent at taking the temperature of people, because we’ve done it since birth and know an uncomfortable situation. The art of taking the temperature is knowing what to do when it get hot, cold, or stormy. The facilitator is the social lubricant for the meeting and a condenser that focuses and re-channels discomfort or ill-will. If the concepts of the speaker roil the audience, the facilitator identifies the discomfort, names it to the audience, and relabels it to remove its power and move on to the next point. For example, the speaker states why the unemployed members of the audience are not getting jobs and tensions rise. The facilitator steps in, acknowledges that the discussion is uncomfortable and why, says why the speaker’s key points relate to the topic, and moves the audience and the speaker on to what’s next.

If you want to be a better leader at work, at home, or in the community, learn the skills of a great facilitator and practice them.


Turnaround, Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games by Mitt Romney

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Why I Read This Book

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney is running for president of the United States. I wanted to learn more about him. I remember his father George W. Romney, former Governor of Michigan. Romney Sr. sabotaged his own campaign for the presidency with the unfortunate but true remark that U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Vietnam had brainwashed him on the war. He was a different kind of candidate for office, and I wanted to know what kind of candidate is Mitt.

The organizers of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics thrust the roles of president and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC)  as Mitt Romney tells the story. Financial scandal inside of SLOC required the organizers to replace its leaders with an independent leader free from the appearance of corruption. Mitt was their choice.


Mitt Romney has an elegantly simple formula for leadership that consists of vision, values, and motivation. The leader defines the vision and the group values, while motivating the group to execute the mission consistent with the vision and values. A leader derives 20% of his authority from his or her title and 80% from the decisive action he or she takes.

These are inspiring thoughts and shows that Mitt has empathy for the member of his team. This quote from his book reminds me of his father’s unfortunate brainwashing comment:

One of my early decisions would have a big impact on how the organization viewed my leadership. … Think about it: when you take a job to perform a service, not to earn a paycheck or win a jackpot, you don’t really care a lot about how people think of you. You have the absolute luxury to do exactly what you think is right. p. 56

The more fortunate wording about caring about people and doing what is right would have been,

a service job requires you to focus on people, because they are your #1 concern. Your task is to persuade people  your vision is right.

If Mitt refers to not caring about the negative comments by outsiders and soon to be outsiders, he’s still off base. I believe a core skill for leader is to stop those people from becoming active enemies by listening to their concerns and showing your decision incorporates those concerns even if you reject their advice. Better a pacified critic, than an active enemy.

Another core skill for a leader is to recognize that the people you lead know their interests and needs better than you. A leader is not elected to do exactly what he thinks is right. He’s elected to serve the people’s values, interests and needs while moving them to towards his/her vision. Abraham Lincoln envisioned a union without slavery and Barack Obama believes gays have the same civil rights as heterosexuals. But, leaders persuade people that doing right will best serves their values, interests, and needs. People don’t want leaders to tell them what is right.


Mitt grew up in a Mormon family dedicated to service to his family, church, and community. Mitt’s father, mother, and grandparents practiced service and staked their reputations on service. Yet, in the end, Mitt writes a capstone to his philosophy on service in the paragraph quoted above about not caring a lot about how people think of you. George Romney would have written that differently.

Mitt writes a lot about his family’s history.  He is a dedicated family man, and wants to be respected for those qualities.

I read his book to learn about his leadership examples, ideas, and style gained in business.


Bain Capital

His recollections on becoming a successful business person take second place to those about his family, though his boss at Bain Capital, Bill Bain, influenced Mitt enough to be quoted throughout the book:

  • Trust your gut, because there’s a scientific basis for it.
  • Show you care about money, and your team will also.
  • Round team members’ flat spots (counter a member’s weakness with another’s strengths) and round flat sides (get someone else to do what you don’t do well, attributed to Tom Stemberg of Staples). Curiously, Mitt approves the advice, then writes he didn’t have time to follow it with SLOC.
  • Most things can be fixed, but smart or dumb is forever. A curious sentiment for a leader to harbor.

Mitt Romeny shares the formula that he used at Bain Capital to turnaround the companies in financial distress, writing that he used that same formula to save the 2002 Winter Olympic:

Perform a strategic audit – a complete review of every aspect of the business that can take months.

Build your team – select the right people, build unity, and motivate them.

Focus, focus, focus – don’t try to do too many things; do what’s important and do that well.

Guiding Principles at SLOC

Mitt published in the book the excellent guiding principles of SLOC that were place on every SLOC desk.


  • Involve all appropriate stakeholders in each project/issue.
  • Think horizontally, not vertically, within SLOC’s structure.
  • Consider other viewpoints and find win-win solutions.
  • Emphasize and recognize team success.
  • Be helpful to others.

Pride and Passion

  • Seek Gold Medal performance in your own job.
  • Love what you do.
  • Relish each small victory and achievement.
  • Realize you impact on history while at SLOC.


  • Be honest, direct and respectful in all your communication.
  • Accept feedback, avoid defensiveness.
  • Seek prompt resolution to issues with others in a personal and professional manner.
  • Listen more, talk a little less.


  • Be loyal to those not present.
  • Do what you say you will do.
  • Don’t have hidden agendas.
  • Respect and value diversity in others.

Fun and Celebration

  • Take your work seriously, not yourself.
  • Encourage laughter at all meetings.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Look for opportunities to include others.
  • Celebrate those who demonstrate SLOC’s Guiding Principles.


I learned that Mitt Romney is a person driven by details and a sense of entitlement. He is an expert at identifying and categorizing details and then prioritizing those categorized details to achieve the goal. He is a terrific networker. He knows how to round the skills and experience of experts in business, government, social welfare, and people management to achieve goals.

One example of his family’s reputation for categorizing and prioritizing is his paraphrasing from his great-grandfather Miles P. Romney’s biography:

Loyalty to country and to his church was a cardinal virtue…. His was the assumption that men should be students of both state and church government in order that they might intelligently carry on in harmony with the fundamental law and discipline of each and not be like “dumb driven cattle,” exercising no mind of their own. p. 9

A Romney presidency would a presidency driven by his personality to categorize details and to select the right people to achieve goals. The question is can a turnaround formula successfully used at Bain Capital and SLOC work govern the American people?

The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the Age of Revolution by Alex Storozynski

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Polish Generals in America?

Thaddeus Kosciuszko

I grew up in Maryland and a memory I carry with me is riding in a car down the Pulaski Highway dedicated to Casimir Pulaski. He was a Polish general in the revolutionary Continental Army. My teachers didn’t spend classroom time on the European Poles that fought for American independence, focusing instead on what American patriots thought about American patriots. Learning how foreigners saw and reacted to the American revolution helps to understand the choices faced and made by America’s founders.

Thaddeus Kosciuszko

Alex Storozynski introduced me to Thaddeus Kosciuszko, another European Pole that decided America’s fight was his fight and why.

Joining the Continental Army

Thaddeus Kosciuszko, schooled in the arts and sciences of European warfare offered his services to Benjamin Franklin. Kosciuszko requested that Franklin give him the examination to join the Continental Army as qualified military engineer and officer. Franklin told him no such examination existed, and sent Kosciuszko on to meet others to test his knowledge.

Fortifications and Logistics

Kosciuszko’s specialties were fortifications – both how to build them and how to defeat them – and military logistics. He proved both were critical to engaging and defeating the better armed and supplied British armies in the battles of Fort Ticonderoga, Saratoga, and West Point. Kosciuszko understood the well-supplied army that took advantage of the lay of the land won battles, while rash American generals put their faith in a man with a musket.

Kosciuszko studied the river ways and lake systems of New York,  known as the Empire State for its navigable waterways, and created plans for a system of fortifications and redoubts to defeat the British armies. Generals and staff in the Continental Army didn’t appreciate this thinking officer that believed planning can win a battle. They ignored parts of his plans and turned other parts around to the advantage of the British. When the generals listened to him at the Battles of Saratoga and West Point, the Continental Army won. When they didn’t at Siege of Fort Ticonderoga, the army lost.

Polish War for Independence

Kosciuszko practiced his military and leadership skills during the American Revolution, and then used those skills in the Polish wars for independence. George Washington wanted Kosciuszko to remain in America. He praised Kosciuszko as a great American general and offered him land and work in America after the war. Kosciuszko chose instead to return to Europe to lead Polish armies against the Russian and Prussian armies.

Kosciuszko helped craft the Polish Constitution of 1791, a document more liberal than its American counterpart. George Washington departed from his foreign policy of non-involvement to support Kosciuszko and his Polish cause for independence. While president, Washington praised both Kosciuszko and the new Polish Constitution. Washington’s praise is remarkable, because he knew that his support for the Polish cause would turn the governments of Russia and  Prussia against the United States and incur trouble with the reactionaries in France and England.

Storozynski and Kosciuszko taught me that:

  • European money from France and Spain purchased the armaments and supplies the Continental Army needed to fight the British army.
  • The Continental Army depended on the technical knowledge of European trained advisers like Kosciuszko to stand against the large British army.
  • Kosciuszko intervened time and again to have Washington and the Continental Congress treat its soldiers better.
  • Kosciuszko’s planning turned the battles of Saratoga and West Point into victories.

The Way of the Actor: a path to knowledge and power by Brian Bates

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Can Actors Teach Us?

Charlton Heston's Major Dundee

Scholar Brian Bates likes to write about his associations with actors and actors’ associations with us. Moving past his fixations on stars, Bates recounts memorable stories actors told him.

Transcending Time and Experience

Charlton Heston, for whom Bates has great admiration, describes the end of a day’s shoot on the remote Mexican desert site of Sam Peckinpah’s Major Dundee. Heston and his fellow actors in full battle dress galloped through a desolate village on the way home for the evening. He saw people peering out from the windows of their homes at his troopers and realized their presence and dress transported the villagers back into the mind of their ancestors.

Christ, here they come again,” Heston imagined them thinking.

Actors and acting can transcend time and personal experience.

Two Interpretations of Acting with Authenticity

Jack Nicholson explains the actor’s method to Bates. Does the actor learn the lines, study the emotions, and then deliver both in a professional performance? Or, does the actor “drop in” character to express the emotions from personal experience?  Nicholson says neither and gives Bates an example.

His character should be sad. So, does Nicholson draw on his understanding of and experience with being sad. No! He translates the lines and situation into action.

I think about what he wants, what’s the environment. Think about the problem facing the character and from that comes feeling and action necessary to achieve the ends, the emotions the audience sees.

An excellent description of acting that mimics authenticity.

Simon Callow follows the British acting methods, which arrives at authenticity by another approach. 

Show what you want and you will show the vulnerability that audiences see as authenticity.

If you’d like to read a review of Bate’s Way of the Actor, you can begin by reading this review by An Opinionated Heathen.

District 4 Toastmasters Spring Conference

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The Event

The District 4 Toastmasters held their Spring Conference, It’s Vegas Baby, at the Milpitas Embassy Suites on May 14, 2011. I attended the all-day conference that featured keynotes speeches and a table topics competition in the morning and district officers’ meeting and international speech competition in the afternoon. We thank the conference support staff whose hard work led to the success of the conference.

Keynote Speaker Jana Barnhill

Past President of Toastmasters International Jana Barnhill inspired us to stay on mission to improve our public speaking and our communities at home and worldwide.  She related her experiences visiting clubs where she found each club has its own flavor, yet each club helps each member to improve his or her speaking, gain leadership skills, and grow the circle in influence.

Speech evaluation is a club’s foundation for improvement, so Jana reviewed the keys for a  Toastmaster to deliver a great evaluation:

  • Focus on the positive to be effective.
  • Lift the speaker to a higher level.
  • Never let the speaker settle for what’s comfortable.

Jana chided that you don’t get to Vegas, baby, by settling. Surround yourself with successful people, and work to your full potential as a better speaker and person.

Jana asked, Why join Toastmasters? Because being a Toastmaster affects how people see you, Jana replied. A Toastmaster everyday demonstrates learned and practiced skills in listening, analyzing, and leading. That is why you should join and stay with Toastmasters.

Toastmasters’ Key Tool for Improvement: Mentoring

Kevin Dolye, DTM and International Director, Region 2, why mentoring is important and how to approach mentoring in a Toastmasters’ club. He drew the distinctions between a mentor as coach and mentor:

  • Coaches correct and mentors support.
  • Coaches tell and mentors listen.
  • Coaches lead and mentors partner.
  • Coaches want results now and mentors look for long-term improvement.

To motivate us to mentor, Kevin asked us to name the teacher that helped the most in grade school. Everyone in the audience had a name in mind; proof Kevin said of the power of mentors and their everlasting impression on us. And, I say, thank you Mrs. Faulkner!

The International Speeches

The international speeches and speakers inspired me and their messages can inspire you. Here are the seven speakers I had the privilege to hear:

Arnie Buss, Losing My Baggage – Arnie recounted a lifetime of emotional baggage that he’d collected. These personal defeats and rejections weighed down his spirit and ability to move forward. Outside help provoked him to reconnect with the defeated and rejected Arnie and ask him, What could I do? The answer most often was he did the best he could then and now he could make peace with his past. His emotional baggage got left behind, and unimpeded Arnie  continues his journey.

Belinda Chua, Singing – Belinda wanted to sing, but her voice betrayed her, leading to feelings of being a failure in the eyes of her parents, teachers, and friends. The shame haunted her and dampened her spirit, until the day she decided to take singing lessons. Belinda hasn’t become a professional singer, but she has learned important vocal exercises that improve her body and spirit, and she’s learning to sing in harmony one note at a time.

Maria Leone, What Does it Take to Make It? – Maria shared three lessons from her audacious work to be a successful business executive, loving mother, and cancer surviver: indulge your love of learning at every stage of your life, feed your determination to succeed even if you don’t know the outcome, and realize each choice taken is yours alone.

Chris Lozano, Surfing Life – Chris used the metaphor of his favorite sport of surfing to remind us that whether you’re riding a surf board or standing on life’s ground, the difference between taking a spill or riding to shore depends on staying in the moment,  recognizing opportunities and deciding which is right for you, and being persistent. And, know how to tell the difference between the dorsal fin of a dolphin and a shark.

Emmanuel Mayssat, One Million Lights –  Emmanuel, a Silicon Valley engineer, told us about One Million Lights, a project to distribute one million solar lights to replace dangerous and polluting petroleum lanterns and give children a better chance to learn and live health lives. He called on each of us to take on a project to make a better world.

Lucillee Sarkisian, Keep Moving – Lucillee challenged our belief that our brains are static and do not grow. She further exhorted us to do what’s right to care for our brains. She told us brain research has found that no matter your age, you can grow both new neutrons and connections in your brain through mental and physical exercise. Walk your brain to better health and thinking was Lucillee’s message.

Jean Tsong, Battle Hymn or Siren Song? – Jean discussed Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother  through her own experiences as the daughter of Asian-American parents. Jean pled her case that parenting is more than implanting a fierce desire to achieve. Children want and need love, Jean testified from her own experience. Nurturing children puts them in harmony with themselves and those around them. Jean said Chua’s thinking may be the symptom of the personality disorders that are hidden from sight and unacknowledged in Asian cultures.

Seven inspiring and educational speeches from seven individuals that lived what they learned and shared with us. I thank them all!

My Personal Thanks to Page Edwards

On a personal note, thank you, Page Edwards, our newly elected Division E Governor, for placing your confidence in my leadership skills when you selected me as a candidate for the incoming E3 Area Governor for Division E.

Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country

Koala Orphan

I love travel writing. Another of my favorite travel writers introduce me to Bill Bryson, singling out In a Sunburned Country as one of his best.

I also love facts and here are some that Bryson shares with his readers:

  • Australia is the largest island, the only island that is a continent, and the only continent that is also a country.
  • Its land surface is among the oldest in the world.
  • 80% of what lives in Australia (by type) lives nowhere else in the world.
  • Australia is the driest, flattest, hottest, most desiccated of all the inhabited continents.
  • Australia is the home of the oldest living thing on Earth, the Great Barrier Reef, and the largest monolith, Uluru (Ayers Rock).
  • Australia has more kinds of animals that will kill you than anywhere else, including 10 poisonous snakes and five other creatures that are the most lethal in their class: funnel-web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish.
  • Australian wildlife is known for kangaroos that bounce instead of run, fish that climb trees, foxes that fly, and crustaceans large enough to engulf a person.
  • Australia is the only modern nation founded by convicts.
  • Australia is a very interesting place populated by very friendly people.

But, no worries, mate. The beer’s cold and the barbie’s hot. Read In a Sunburned Country and enjoy a great read.

Praise for the Speakers at the Division E Speech Contest, Every One a Winner

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The International Speech Contest for Division E of District 4 of Toastmasters International was held on April 8, 2011 at 1455 Market Street, San Francisco. Though one speaker won the contest, all five speeches captured and motivated me to write these summaries.

Scott Goering, How to Give a Speech: Master the three essentials of public speaking outlined by Scott, and you can master the world:

  • Be comfortable with your body, and your gestures will come naturally.
  • Internalize your message, and the audience will know you are authentic.
  • Turn it on, and show that you are a motivator that people want to hear.

Michael Dart, Coffee with Nikki: Michael struggled with and closed down from fears about life and death. Confronting those fears hindered his personal fulfillment. He began change by knowing he had to put aside his expectations limited by fear and to embrace what life delivered. Change in practice began when he agreed to mentor Nikki, an orphaned Vietnamese-African America outcast from Vietnam who became a street person in San Francisco. When he  learned how Nikki celebrated the unbearable, he began to ask crucial questions beyond his fears such as, “Where do people like Nikki go who don’t fit in our society?” Finding the answer to this question gave Michael unexpected rewards.

Maria Leone, What does it take to make it?: Sharing with us personal stories at once horrifying and edifying from her life and death battle with breast cancer, Maria told us what it took for her to win at life:

  • Fall in love with learning.
  • Stay the course.
  • Say Yes! to life.

John McKnight, Values: Recounting the incredible life of Emily Warren Roebling, wife of Washington Roebling, the reputed builder of the Brooklyn Bridge. When Washington was unable to complete his duties as the lead engineer, Emily selflessly and silently took his place to complete what was then a man’s job. She taught herself higher mathematics, the calculations of catenary curves, the strengths of materials, bridge specifications, and the intricacies of cable construction. When Washington’s superiors wanted to remove him from the project, Emily spoke for him and persuaded them to keep him on so that she could finish his work. John McKnight reflected that when he is in doubt about his career, he meditates on the values that led Emily Roebling to success, a lifetime devotion to learning, leading, and communicating.

Anthony Hogan, Home: Modeled on the lyrics of Otis Redding’s (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, Anthony recounted his life’s path while introducing us to his kinfolk in Georgia, his intellectual awakenings on the East Coast, and his growing taste for the sensuality of living a full life in San Francisco. Redding’s song became a metaphor for the pain and happiness in Anthony’s life.

Each speaker delivered the #1 speech.