Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

A Lasting Lesson From A Moment In Time

As summer vacations begin to wind down, many of us are refocusing on local businesses, seeking to learn new techniques to attract customers and create new revenue. Learning comes in many forms – seminars, forums, and continuing education. Sometimes though, the most lasting lessons come from the briefest encounters.

Aktion

Aktion Club of Lake Norman

For more than a decade, I have served as the advisor to a group of special needs adults called the Kiwanis Aktion Club. These young adults meet each month at the Lake Norman Chamber to socialize, conduct community projects, and participate in programs to enrich their lives.

Recently, a friend asked if I had a personal connection to this group. Perhaps a family member with special needs or a friend with a disability? As I started to reply, I had to suppress the tears. Yes, there was a story. There’s always a story.

In 1983, I joined a local community service group called the Jaycees and jumped head first into nearly every local project. Then one day, the Chapter President asked for volunteers to participate in Camp Hope Sunday. The statewide charity was a summer camp for children with disabilities. Each year the Jaycees would dedicate one Sunday to drive to this special camp and spend an afternoon with the young campers. The volunteers would take a picnic lunch, usually stopping at KFC just outside of the camp, and spend time with the campers.  After lunch, the kids would sing a few songs for their hosts.

The first few times I was asked to join in, I always found an excuse why I couldn’t attend, but in 1986 I was president of our Jaycee Chapter and felt that I had to go. Once there, I was assigned a little boy. Thirty one years later I still remember his name … Jason. Jason was just like any other ten year old child except he was considered special.  Jason had Down Syndrome.

Shortly after we arrived, we sat down for our picnic. The room was loud with laughter and chatter and Jason hardly took a breath between bites as he filled me in everything that came to his mind. When he reached over and started picking up food off of my plate, I was slightly taken aback.  But Jason just laughed as if he had told the biggest joke of all.

Several minutes later Jason joined a group of kids to sing a few songs. Picture twelve children, all singing the same song, but each and every one in a different harmony and pitch. I caught Jason looking directly at me, eyes locked on mine, and he was smiling from ear to ear. After the last song, he ran back to our table, anxiously asking could I hear him?  “Absolutely,” I replied. I’m quite sure he was the loudest child on stage!  As our group gathered to depart, I’ll never forget that moment when this young boy who I met just hours before, wrapped his little arms tightly around my waist, and said “I love you Mr. Bill.”Aktion 2

We drove three hours back to Rock Hill and although others in the car were carrying on conversations, my thoughts were still on Jason and the other campers. That’s the day, the very moment, I realized Jason didn’t have a special need – I did. But not anymore. I truly believe God gave me that moment with Jason for a reason.

When my friend asked me recently did I have a special needs child of my own? I said yes. I have a couple of dozen of them actually. We meet every month at the Chamber. We call ourselves the Aktion Club.

Some Aktion Club members are in their 20’s, some in their 30’s and they may not be kids – but in a very special way, they’re my kids. When they have every reason in the world to rail against their own particular challenges – they laugh, love, learn, and serve.

Jason touched me in way that I have never forgotten. This ten year old child with Downs taught me I didn’t need to be afraid. He had enough love for us both as he wrapped his arms tightly around me as my body literally shook.  Three decades later I remember that simple hug. It was the afternoon I found God’s Grace in the heart of a child.

Bill Russell

The above article was written for The Lake Norman Citizen Newspaper – July 26, 2017.

 

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August 16, 2017 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, Lake Norman Aktion Club, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lots to be thankful for!

Last weekend, a longtime friend called to inform me she was moving to Colorado and hoped we could get together again before she made that trek out west.

Jill was one of the first people I met at the lake when I took over the helm of the Chamber in 1996. She and I could not have been more different in our political philosophies. She was a diehard progressive and I was clearly a conservative when it came to my beliefs and values. Yet, our love of the Lake Norman community and the potential of this region transcended our partisan differences.

jayceesAs a reporter for the only newspaper in the area at the time, Jill and I were both involved in many of the milestone events for our area, such as the groundbreaking of the “New” Exit 25 on I-77 and the grand opening of Birkdale. Since she also served as president of the Lake Norman Jaycees and was active in both the Chamber and Rotary, she and I interacted a great deal over two decades.

As we sat together on her last weekend in town, we lamented how partisan, bitter, and angry politics have turned both nationwide and locally. Ironically, we also both remarked how glad we are that it will soon come to an end – at least until next fall! We spent the next two hours reminiscing friends we have lost here at the lake and celebrating how things have grown and prospered since we first met over 20 years ago.

As we started to say our goodbyes, almost on cue – a beautiful Lake Norman sunset burned brightly in the sky above The Port City Club. We watched as the sun slowly sank below the cool waters, glistening orange and yellow as the day gave way, surrendering to twilight.

We hugged one last time and she left for her new life out west. Driving home, I was reminded that during this season of Thanksgiving, how very fortunate and thankful I am to all of the many people like Jill who have profoundly shaped our community and my life. And, how much better the Lake Norman region is because of these remarkable individuals. I am also very thankful that unemployment is down, our local real estate market is thriving, and commerce is strong. The chamber continues to introduce new businesses to the Lake Norman market, engage new members and benefit from the immense dedication of our volunteers. For these things, we are immensely grateful!

Recently, the Chamber held a Public Safety Luncheon where we saluted our local Police, Fire, and First Responders for keeping our families and businesses safe. While riots and protests ensued just a few miles down the road, our communities were safe! For that and for the services this special group provides each day, we should all be relieved and thankful!

We also celebrate the growth of our Lake Norman Chamber Young Professionals who celebrate their second anniversary this month! This group is growing as we see more and more young adults get involved in their community. America can feel the power of her young people and nowhere is that more evident than Lake Norman.ed-collab

Last month, we called on local businesses to help our Lake Norman Education Collaborative and you responded recognizing the need for businesses to partner with our public education. Thank you!

While I am thankful the campaign season is coming to a close – I am also very grateful to the men and women who both serve and those who seek political office.

As I watched Jill walk away, it occurred to me sometimes it’s the smallest of things and the people who have touched your life you cherish most of all. You may not remember all they said, perhaps not all they did, but you remember how they made you feel and the impact they have had on your life.  It really is a lot to be thankful for.

 

 

December 20, 2016 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycee) Speeches, Politics, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Every Picture tells a story

Lake Norman Chamber Candidate Forum

It seems as if the last few weeks have been nothing but a flurry of political activity.  The first week of September, the Charlotte region hosted the Democratic National Convention.  Later that week, a delegation from the Chamber and Visit Lake Norman made our annual trip to Washington DC to meet with our federal delegation and to attend the N.C. Business and Economic Development Summit with members of the North Carolina Congressional Delegation and Senate.

These past two weeks we have held two candidate forums featuring our candidates for United States House District #9, Mecklenburg County at large and District #1, and the new N.C. House Seat District #92.

 A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by Kristy Etheridge from WBTV who asked did our businesses see much of an impact from the DNC?  I told Kristy that months ago, we cautioned area retailers and hospitality businesses from being overly optimistic that delegate spending would be a “silver bullet” for our local economy. 

In speaking to some local business owners both here and in Charlotte, as well as DNC vendors, sales were for the most part disappointing.  While our hotel industry did quite well, some retailers in Charlotte were actually hurt in that regular customers and clients did not patronize the businesses during the DNC.

The real strength of the DNC was its ability to showcase our area to not only the nation, but the eyes of the world.  A political event of that nature is perhaps second only to the Olympics in terms of international exposure.  Media coverage, as well as national and international awareness, focused on the Charlotte and Lake markets.

Before the gavel sounded at Time Warner Arena, our Chamber had already been contacted by a Senior Producer with RTL Netherlands, a television news organization, on giving our perspective on the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care act (Obama care).  Their producer had seen the media coverage of our August Focus Friday on the subject.

Perhaps Vinay Patel, whose company SREE  owns Marriott’s Courtyard and Residence Inn in Huntersville, summed it up best at this month’s Visit Lake Norman Board meeting when he pointed out the DNC proved to the world Charlotte is no longer a second-tier city when it comes to hosting an event. 

Tom Coderre and Bill Russell

While I did not have a chance to attend any of the official DNC, I did tour the facility and had a chance to have dinner with a close friend I had not seen in over a decade.  Tom Coderre, the Chief of Staff to the Rhode Island Senate President and a former State Senator himself, attended the DNC as a delegate.

Tom was a National Vice President of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) in 1992-1993 when I was the National President.  One of the youngest NVP’s to ever serve the Jaycees, he was assigned to many of the larger states like Texas and Kansas.  In the beginning, some of the Jaycee leaders from those states could not imagine such a young man from such a small state could be that much of a resource. However, Tom soon proved true the adage “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.”  Among the ten National Vice Presidents, Tom was recognized at our Annual Meeting in Greensboro as the Most Outstanding National Vice President and received the coveted  Don Cavelli Memorial Award.

Tom and I avoided most of the political issues of the day and focused on what we were doing with our professional careers.  However, before we went our own ways he introduced me to other delegates from Rhode Island including his Mayor from the City of Providence – Angel Taveras, and I had the chance to meet delegates from Maryland.

One by one, they each told me how much they were enjoying Charlotte and the region. “Charlotte is a beautiful city,” one remarked and when I identified myself from Lake Norman, another commented, “Oh, I was there yesterday – spectacular!”

Travelling back home in my convertible that night, an old Rod Stewart song came on the radio.  I listened to the refrain of the familiar song I had heard so many times before… “So remember, every picture tells a story don’t it”     In this case… I couldn’t agree more!

October 12, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Climbing the ladder of success

Dad & I riding in Fort Mill (SC)

I’ve been one fortunate guy in my professional career.  I cannot begin to describe how much fun it is to work at the Lake Norman Chamber with some of the most creative, energetic, and generous business people in the Charlotte region.  A couple of months ago I attended a fundraiser for Triple Cross Ranch which helps instill confidence in young people with special needs riding and working with rescued horses.

It comes on the heels of the Ada Jenkins Ice event which raised well over a hundred thousand dollars for our outstanding outreach center.  Add to that the Chamber’s Habitat Build and the generosity of Wells Fargo and our many other businesses and you understand what I mean about the generosity of our business community.

Prior to going to work at my first Chamber of Commerce 19 years ago, I was active in a service organization called Jaycees (Junior Chamber of Commerce).  I had no grand plan to lead the organization other than serving as a local president like my dad did in 1965.    Through hard work and a great deal of help by many people working together, I was fortunate to climb the leadership ranks of the organization eventually being elected national president in 1992.  I travelled to 47 states and seven countries speaking to Jaycee chapters across the nation.

Meeting with the Montana Delegation in Portland, site of the 1992 Convention

Years later, I had a young man ask me how a local Jaycee becomes national President.  As I talked about the lonely nights traveling hours by car to meetings as a state officer to a membership night only to find a handful of people and no prospects in the room – or turning around the next night and driving four more hours to train officers to find 3 or 4 people had shown up – how demoralizing that could be.

However, it was all worth it seeing new clubs and chapters making an impact in their community or an individual who might have been one of those handful I spoke of one day becoming a business, community, or elected leader because we encouraged and pushed them to be their absolute best.

As I spoke to this young man, I saw him glancing all around the room, not listening at all to what I was trying to tell him.  He was more interested in who he was going to talk to next.  He wanted to be the best but he was  not interested in the journey – just the destination.  That journey is the dues we all have to pay to get there.  There is no elevator to the top of success.  You have to climb each step one at a time, working hard every step of the way.

There are simply no short cuts to success.  That’s why sports teams practice each day leading up to the game.  That’s why successful business men and women seek out business coaches, mentors, executive training and never stop in their search to learn and be better each day.

As I mentioned, I simply love what I do.  Each day I get a chance to work and learn from the very best.  People who dare to reach for the stars every day and even if they fall short of the sky, they clear the tree tops and leave the ground far behind.

May 15, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lessons I have learned along the way #6 – Knowing when to stop!

The following is the sixth a ten part series of “Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way…”

Knowing when to stop 

While I lead a non-profit Chamber of Commerce today, my first occupation after graduating from Winthrop University was serving as a marketing representative for Harper Brothers, an office furniture and supply company in Rock Hill (SC).  Sales isn’t really a subject you can learn from a text-book.  It really derives from natural and learned abilities, experience, knowledge of your product, customer needs and expectations and competitor information as well as good advice or coaching from a mentor or professional coach.

One of the first golden rules I learned from sales was that most people have a tendency to try to pack too much information into their delivery.  We tell them how to build a watch instead of just what time it is.  Sometimes the best sales approach are the simplest ones.    Public speaking is another area where people get caught up in their message and say way too much when they already have their point made.  When I was a teenager, I was terrified of getting up in class and giving reports at Northwestern High.  Eventually though, I overcame that fear through practice and experience.  In 1992, I addressed a convention with a 35 minute speech to 3,500 delegates.  That would not have been possible without practice and preparation.

Charlie Madsen and I meet before my final speech to the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce.

I learned to craft talks on a subject and rehearse it over and over until I had the delivery just right.  Then one day, one of my mentors from the Junior Chamber (Jaycees), Charlie Madsen, gave me some simple advice.  “Bill, when you give one of your motivational talks, look around the room.  If you see them eating out of your hand, you know you got them hooked, finish it.  Don’t go into another story or make another point no matter how good you think it is.”

Charlie reminded me of the young politician on his first campaign speech.  He booked a big auditorium hoping for a great crowd, but he found only one man sitting alone  in a chair.  He waited and waited but no one else showed up.  Finally he looked at the lone guy and he said,  “Hey, you think I should get started?”  The man looked at the politician and said, “Sir, I’m just a farmer and all I know are cows.  But if I take a load of hay out and only one cow shows up, I’m still gonna’ feed it.”

So the politician reared back and gave him his best.  He talked on and on for an hour, then two as the farmer shifted back and forth in his seat.  Finally when the politician  wrapped up with his big delivery, he asked the old farmer just how he did.

Once again, the farmer pondered and then said, “Sir, I’m just an old farmer.  All I know are cows.  Of course, I do know that if I took my whole load of hay down to the pasture and only one cow showed up, I wouldn’t dump the whole load on him.”

Charlie winked at me as he made his point.  Your talks, speeches, and sales presentations are defined as much by your audience as your product.  I learned to tailor talks to groups using the people in the room.  Reading expressions to see whether my points had been made or needed to be expanded upon.

The bottom line know your product, know your competitor, most importantly know your audience, and finally know when to stop.

August 10, 2011 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dare to be Strange” – Lesson #5 in the lessons I have learned along the way

Wally Owings, Former US Jaycees NVP

The following article is lesson #5 in lessons I have learned along the way…

More than two decades ago, I met an accountant who had a slightly different twist on the phrase “Dare to be different.”  Wally Owings was serving as a National Vice President of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce from Virginia assigned to my home state of South Carolina.  Owings met with the local presidents and state officers from South Carolina’s largest young people’s organization and encouraged us to get out of our comfort zones.

Nearly all of us were familiar with “thinking outside of the box” but Wally took it the extreme.  He said as leaders we were all likely comfortable with leadership and daring to be different.  But it wasn’t enough to be different – we had to dare to be strange.  You cannot be afraid of having people think you are odd or peculiar if you’re going to push people past limitations they impose on themselves, often accepting the status quo.

Owings shared a story he had read about Walt Disney when Disney was a young fifth grader.  The teacher assigned students in his classroom to color a flower garden.  As the teacher walked down the rows observing all the students carefully coloring in the lines with bright bold colors, she stopped by young Walt’s desk.  The teacher noted that all his drawings were quite unusual – actually strange.   Picking up one of his drawings, she remarked, “Walt, your picture is all wrong.  Flowers don’t have faces on them.”Walt looked back at the teacher and confidently said, “Mine do!” and continued busily finishing his task.   Have you been to Disneyland or Walt Disney World lately?  If you have, you’ll see all the flowers still have faces.

This past January we recognized former Cornelius Mayor Nannie Potts with the Chamber Diversity Council’s first Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to the community and region bringing people of all races and backgrounds together.  Ms. Potts, an African-American, participated in the sit-ins at the Woolworth Department Store in Statesville, similar to those taking place during the civil rights struggle of the early 1960’s.

Nannie Potts receiving an award from Commissioner Bentley

The actions of those engaged citizens were looked at by some as more than strange, in their view it was an act of defiance.  However, Potts and those that joined her that day saw a wrong and they attempted to right it.  Leadership is getting people from where they are to where they have not been.  According to, Owings,  “It’s often doing the scary and uncomfortable.  We worry too much about what others think but they are not prepared to go where we are moving.  Leadership is lonely by definition.”  Wally summed it up to us young business leaders two decades ago, “You just have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable – that’s as strange as it gets.”

Some people saw the actions of Wally Owings, Nannie Potts and Walt Disney as strange.  However, they saw the world around them and did more than dare to be different.  They pushed the envelope, dared to see the world differently than it was, and accepted nothing less than their very best.

July 5, 2011 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Love What You Do!” – Lessons I have learned along the way #4

The following is the fourth in a ten part series of  “Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way…  Love what you do…”

Gene Martin and Bill Russell, Past S.C. Jaycee State Presidents

I have written many times before of a mentor of mine from my Jaycee days, Gene Martin, who long ago encouraged me to “Love what you do, do what you love, and deliver more than your promise.”  It’s more than just a saying for me – it’s been my guiding principle for more than thirty years.

This past weekend I was attending the North Carolina Brewer’s and Music Festival at Rural Hill when one of the Chamber’s newer members, Kelly Franklin from Rely Local, asked how I decided I wanted to work at a chamber of commerce. I shared my early civic involvement and how after college, I started my career in sales at Harper Brothers in Rock Hill (SC), an office furniture and supply company headquartered in Greenville. However, my real passion seemed to be community service.  Simply put, making my community a better place to live and work.  That commitment to community was passed on to me by my parents who participated in a number of civic organizations themselves.

Bill Russell Jr. and Sr. spending quality time together

Long ago I asked dad why he worked so hard in the community and he quickly pointed to a verse from Matthew 5:16 which states, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”     Kelly listened intently and then began speaking about how welcomed he felt when he first met our staff as a prospective member.  The warm smile and open ear from members of our staff.  How he felt that first day and succeeding visits to Chamber programs and events, not just by our staff, but Ambassadors representing our organization.  I cannot convey how proud I was as he spoke about the important role we play in helping that business succeed.  It’s a statement I hear often, but one in which I never grow tired of hearing again.

Minutes later I was off to a ribbon cutting for a new veterinarian business in Huntersville. Speaking to the crowd at the Open House for Carolinas Veterinary Care Clinic, I welcomed Alisha and Alycen to our growing “Chamber family.”  As I was packing up the ceremonial scissors at my car, a young Huntersville couple commented on the remarks I made and agreed that much of what I said about our quality of life was why they chose to relocate to Huntersville and the Lake Norman region.

As we parted, the man looked back over his shoulder, and said, “Great remarks by the way – you looked like you were having fun!”  A quick smile and he was on his way.  Minutes later I was off to one last stop, “Brian’s Dog House Grill” and the grand opening of yet another new business – a family restaurant at Rosedale.

Grand Opening of Brian’s Dog House Grill

Walking up I was greeted by Brian, the owner, and Elizabeth Morgan, one of our Chamber Ambassadors who presented me with a check and application for Chamber membership she had picked up from another business… and all this on a Saturday!

That night, it occurred to me much of what had transpired that day – the community event, a ribbon cutting, and a grand opening all occurred on my day off – the weekend!  But I’m not sure I could have spent it any better.  Not every day is filled with fun and fellowship.  There are days when our task is much more serious and intent.  Our job is to grow business at the lake.  Jack, Janet, and myself – we’re in the people business.  We love what we do, do what we love, and we strive to deliver more than we promise.  And if we look life we’re having fun…  well, we are!

June 6, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Put me in Coach

USC Coach Steve Spurrier with Bill Russell

The word “coach” means different things to different people.  To the athlete, it is the person who pushes them to perform at their very best.  The coach motivates and inspires the athlete to operate at peak performance, often in the framework of a team, but on occasion, in an individual effort.  These special advisors are no different than the business coach who works with individuals to discover untapped talents, to achieve goals and objectives, once thought unobtainable without their counsel. 

People at the top of their game, the best in their profession, still need a coach.  Some might be surprised that the greatest golfer in our lifetime, Tiger Woods, still has a coach that pushes him to be the very best. No one reaches the top on their own – often you need a successful network and perhaps many different mentors and coaches for you to be the very best you can be.

Bill Walton

Recently, I was in Washington, D.C. attending a legislative conference with the U.S. Chamber and meeting with our federal delegation.  Past Lake Norman Chamber Chairman John Hettwer and I saw a poster that indicated that former NBA player Bill Walton was speaking on Technology and Innovation, and we decided to attend.  Walton met John and I at the door and the event organizer took note of the name tag I was wearing when he said, “It’s not every day we have Bill Walton and Bill Russell in the same room.”  I’ve become accustomed to the kidding I get bearing that famous name.  I often retort back, “I’m sure the former Boston Celtic ‘Bill Russell’ gets his fair share of being mixed up with the nationally renowned chamber executive.”  Well, perhaps not, but if the NBA Russell is a legend, I’m at least a legend in my own mind.

Walton had some great advice that he shared with us that afternoon. Much of it was lessons taught by his mentor and UCLA Bruin coach, the legendary John Wooden. Walton reminded each of us, “It’s the skill, timing and position not the size and strength that counts.”  He also shared, “it’s not how high you jump – but when” and perhaps one of his better gems “never mistake activity for achievement.”  

Coach Ray Parlier with incoming S.C. State Jaycee President Bill Russell

As I listened to the words of Bill Walton, I could not help but think of the mentors that have served me so well over my career.  I am fortunate to have had a business coach, a political coach, and a spiritual coach.  However, one that perhaps made the most impact on the field I have chosen is Coach Ray Parlier.  Ray was the Athletic Director of Furman University and a Past State President of the South Carolina Jaycees.  Parlier was a former football trainer that rose through the ranks to become a driving force in Furman’s national championship run in the late 1980’s.

“Coach” would have me placing little sticky notes on the refrigerator and the bedroom and bathroom mirrors with goals he expected us to obtain – and obtain them we did.  Those reminders, which I once thought unobtainable, became my focus.  Ray was my first coach who pushed me past self-imposed barriers to reach my potential.  Perhaps his greatest advice in leading a non-profit, whether a chamber of commerce or a civic organization, was simply to “love your people.”  Before you can lead them, you have to show them that you care.

Political Advisor Charlie Madsen

My life has been full of mentors – Charlie, Chip, Ray, Joni, Dad and the list goes on and on. I can think of no greater reward for anyone than having made a difference in someone else’s life… helping them chip away the stone to unveil the beautiful statue within. Bill Walton closed that afternoon with a line that Wooden impressed on the young men that he led to their countless national championships, “Make each day your masterpiece.”  The Lake Norman region is our canvas, painted each day by the countless numbers who call this community home. Painted not by a single artist but all those whose dreams are bigger than their visions, and their actions – which are louder than their words.

October 13, 2010 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Must Be Equal in the Eyes of Each Other

Helen Thomas - Former White House Press Corps Member

Last month, Helen Thomas, the legendary White Correspondent retired. The longtime White House journalist has covered every president since Dwight Eisenhower and broke several barriers for female journalists. She resigned her position as a columnist with the Hearst Newspapers in the wake of controversial remarks made in late May about the need for Jews to “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to Poland and Germany.  There was some discussion among talk show hosts that perhaps this prejudicial gaffe by an 89-year old legend should be overlooked. However, according to many who know her, this latest comment was not her first Anti-Semitic comment. It was perhaps the first caught on video and replayed for the world to witness.

The words we use not only say a great deal about how we feel on issues but reveal our very character. I remember long ago reading the quote, “True character is revealed at what you do when you think no one is looking.” The same can be said about what we say when we think no one may repeat it. As much as I have loved and admired my grandparents, all of whom are deceased now except my Grandmother Feemster, I still recall a Saturday afternoon hearing my grandfather use a racial slur that sent chills down my spine. Perhaps such language may have been in the main stream and considered acceptable by some fifty years ago, but it was certainly not acceptable just a decade ago when I heard it.

Even more recently, in a private conversation with several business leaders, I heard the CEO of a very prominent organization use a similar expression. This individual, still in a significant leadership position today, has perhaps the brightest intellect, business acumen, communication skills, and education of anyone I know. Yet, my perception of this individual as a community and business leader will perhaps never be the same. This one instance altered forever my view of this person. It doesn’t mean that they are not a good person or that they cannot change. We all make mistakes and I have made many myself. However, it is absolutely mandatory that as community and business leaders we learn from our mistakes, so that we do not dare repeat them.

Our Chamber of Commerce has created a diversity program whose mission it is to support the diverse minority business community in the Greater Lake Norman region and create access through education, networking, and advancement opportunities. In short, we realize that we are stronger as a region because of the diverse population that calls Lake Norman home. We are not born bigots with natural discriminatory views. We learn them – we also teach them.

Meeting President Reagan in 1992

One of the highlights of my life was meeting and having lunch with President Ronald Reagan.  Regardless of your political views, most concede Reagan brought about a renewed patriotism and a sense of optimism to our country. Reagan once said, “It is not enough to be equal in the eyes of God. We must be equal in the eyes of each other.” Let us all pray that we begin to live out that principle. Much sooner than later.

July 11, 2010 Posted by | Social Causes | , , , , , | 1 Comment

You are the Message

What exactly does “You are the message mean?”  Actually how we say something is just as important as the words we speak.  The hand gestures we use, the tone and pitch of the words, our eyes, smile, humor, all say volumes whether spoken or not. Professor Albert Mehrabian of UCLA determined that listeners were influenced by non-verbal facial expressions and body language 55% of the time.  Our voice – its pitch, tone, and variation accounted for 38% with the words we actually speak making up the remaining 7%. We’ve all judged speakers on whether they sounded hollow or sincere.  Did the speech come from the heart or did it sound contrived or rehearsed?  The words themselves are meaningless unless your audience believes you own them.

In 1991, I was the president of the South Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), the largest young people’s civic organization in the state.  It was a one year elected position and my responsibility was to get our members motivated to exceed the goals and objectives they set for the year. While our Jaycee Chapters were in the business of raising money for a variety of charitable causes from MDA to St. Jude’s, perhaps no cause was more dear than our own state philanthropy – Jaycee Camp Hope for kids with mental disabilities.

Gene Martin accepting a Presidential Award of Honor

We had four state meetings during the year – four opportunities to fire up the troops.  I remember sitting down with one of my political advisors at the last meeting of the year.  He asked if I knew what I would say to them as they prepared to finish out the year as strong as possible. I handed him a speech about volunteerism, patriotism, and assisting the families of soldiers who were fighting in the Gulf War.  My advisor, Gene Martin, read the speech, handed it back, and told me, “Bill, that’s a great speech.  Really good stuff.  But is that what you really want to say to them?”  I admitted sheepishly, “No.  I want to tell them to go get more young people involved.  Recruit more people into the organization.  Membership is people and we’re in the people business.  The more people you have, the more money you can raise.”  Gene looked at me, removed his glasses, and said in his slow South Carolina accent, “Then go tell ‘em.  You were elected to lead.  They’ll follow you.  Just go tell ‘em what they need to do.  Bill, if you don’t do it, exactly who do you think will.”

1990 - 1991 South Carolina Jaycees - The Best of the Best

To this day I remember walking to the podium 20 minutes later.  My hands were trembling thinking about what I was fixing to say.  No notes  – no prepared remarks.  Just a short talk from the heart why we needed to get more people involved.  “We were born for this moment, the fate of our communities lie in our hands.” In 1991, the South Carolina Jaycees started the year with 4,294 members and ended with 5,008 for a net growth of +714.  Most of the new members joining in the last couple of months of that Jaycee year.  We raised nearly $75,000 for our state philanthropy Jaycee Camp Hope, and $20,000 for a new Lupus Awareness program. In addition, we raised more than $200,000 in goods and services for the victims of the Ohio Floods, who the year before had been so generous with our communities during Hurricane Hugo.  The South Carolina Jaycees were also recognized as one of the Top Five Jaycee States in America that year.

Twenty years later, I still give talks to civic groups and Chamber members urging them to be their very best. Rarely do I attempt to use prepared remarks.  I learned long ago, the best speeches come from the herart.  If you show folks how much you care, they’ll show you what they can do.  My advisor, my friend Gene Martin left me with a very valuable lesson, “Our words speak boldly of our intentions, but our actions speak louder than the words and while the words are important – we are the real message.”

June 18, 2010 Posted by | Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) | , , , , | 1 Comment