Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Blues Buster!: Pamela Hawley adds a little levity

This installment is part of our weekly Blues Buster! series - funny, inspirational and real-life stories from within the nonprofit sector.  You can see all of our Blues Busters! on our website.

Pamela energetically answers the phone at 8:30am on a Monday morning. As she describes her most memorable moments in nonprofit work, she shares her views on life and leadership. In a nutshell; keep it in perspective, and don’t forget to laugh.

As Pamela relates, this view was shaped in part by her Father. She vividly recalls a painful time when her Dad turned to her and asked, “Pamela, what will it matter in 10 years?”

In 10 years, she thought? In 10 years we will have forgotten most of these small challenges, in 10 years what I’m working on today may not even be an issue.

Her father wisely reminded her that the significance of a current problem can suddenly be dwarfed by taking the long view. Focusing on doing our best and loving others are the main areas he recommended she focus on. Too often these important values are forgotten in the stress of a single moment.

It was in another tense moment, that Pamela brought her team out of the trenches with this perspective.

“We were in a team meeting, talking about a big marketing issue we’d been facing for months, and the team started to get really low,” Pamela describes.

Team members were exhausted and starting to become hopeless. Pamela describes how the marketing arrangment had been plaguing them for months and – point was – there was nothing they could do. They had done all they could, and it was time to patiently wait. The talking grew more and more frustrated, more and more down.

Pamela took some time to think about this situation and the low tone. In the afternoon, she asked the team for some time. As they turned her desks towards her, she thought of her father’s wise words…and the voice of Mitza Ditz.

Who’s Mitza?

A former inspirational boss? No. A spiritual guru? No.

Mitza Ditz is one of many characters Pamela recreates on stage. That’s right, this go-get-em CEO is also a Groundlings trained improviser. This particular character is a somewhat empty-headed administrative assistant who is gunning for a CEO position.

You can imagine the momentary shock the team felt when the high-pitched, squeaky and slightly New York voice of Mitza cut into the tension, coming out of their CEO, “You know guys, what will it matter in 10 years? Cuz you know there’s only so much you can do…and then you can’t do anymore!” A few smiles and chuckles filled the room. I might as well end up playing all slots casino or any other online casino.

Mitza continued through a rip-roaring pep-talk and then started bringing in friends, too. Pamela switched to another character – a 60 year old rough and tough truck driver named Shel Morgut.

“All right team,” Pamela chortled in a rough, baritone trucker voice, “we gotta keep driving…the most important thing is that donut at the next rest stop. Keep it in perspective!” Soon enough, the team had broken through their hopelessness and was, in fact, laughing out loud.

Pamela describes her motivations in that moment, “You know a good leader is someone who can focus on the team. They have a pulse, a read on how they are feeling. It’s someone who can implement the vision while looking internally at what’s going on inside people. You need to bring levity – both inside and outside.”

Unfortunately for me, I don’t have a boss who does stand-up in the middle of team meetings. And I’m thinking you might not either. But Pamela has offered a solution.

A special delivery just for Blues Buster readers, here’s an inspirational message from Pamela…I mean Ditza…I mean Mitza. May this help you to keep it in perspective…and have a laugh.

Pamela Hawley is the founder and CEO of UniversalGiving™, a web-based marketplace that helps people give and volunteer with the top-performing, vetted organizations all over the world. You can learn more about UniversalGiving at http://www.universalgiving.org/, and more about Pamela Hawley on her blog, Living and Giving.