Foster Sayers: The Making Of An American Hero

Foster Sayers: The Making Of An American Hero

Say the name Foster Sayers around Central Pennsylvania and most people will probably reference the lake encompassed by Bald Eagle State Park, even though they don’t know exactly why the names are connected.   Sayers was just a country kid from Centre County, Pennsylvania. Some called him a bit of a roustabout…a ruffian…nobody special. Feeling a bit aimless he volunteered for the US Army in the middle of WWII.   Nothing in his training or service made him stand out as anything special.  Just another kid taking part in the most destructive war in history. One which would eventually leave 60 million dead.   He was assigned to Company L, 357th Infantry, 90th Infantry Division.  The 90th were known as the Tough Hombres, but in battle were anything but.  Poor leadership plagued the outfit leading Gen. George S. Patton to famously quip to reporters ‘The Division is bad”.    Into this notoriously underperforming came Private First Class Foster Sayers.   Then, in November of 1944 with his company engaged in fierce fighting near Thionville, France, Foster Sayers moved forward on his own initiative to engage two German machine gun emplacements thus drawing their fire so the rest of his company could move across an open field and outflank the enemy position. While his mates wiped out the Nazi defenders, Sayers was hit multiple times and died that day from his wounds. From his citation: He displayed conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty in combat on 12 November 1944, near Thionville, France. During an attack on strong hostile forces entrenched on a hill he fearlessly ran up the steep approach toward his objective and set up his machinegun...
How Entrepreneurs Will Save Education In Erie PA

How Entrepreneurs Will Save Education In Erie PA

In what can only be described as a stunning gambit, the Erie (PA) school board is threatening to permanently close all four of the city high schools unless the state of Pennsylvania sends more dollars to schools in the city by the lake. It’s a matter of equity, according to superintendent Jay Badams, “We simply can’t offer them close to the same experience their peers in other districts have locally.” While many consider this just to be a bit of cheap political theater, dismantling the high schools could be the best news Erie kids have received in 50 years. What drives most public school employees is their foundational belief that they are the last guardians of education against meddling parents, corporate interests and a political process that has gone insane.  From this perspective, school leaders simply cannot see themselves as the root of this broken system.  Yet those who howl the loudest are the same ones who design the ineffectual curricula, bloat their administrative staff, negotiate inflated labor contracts, and lobby for sweetheart pension plans.  The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars… In the private economy, any company which operated in the same high cost-low results manner as public schools would have been swept aside long ago.  The only thing enabling this system to lumber on is the ability of the government to extract money from the populace and redistribute it to those trained in maintaining the status quo. This worked in a world where the pie continued to expand and Erie could get a larger than proportional chunk of the new money.  But the Pennsylvania economy has...
7 Reasons Why We Need To Be Public Speakers

7 Reasons Why We Need To Be Public Speakers

It’s 2008 at a nonprofit conference full of breakouts and public speakers. Up at the lectern was the director of a nonprofit doing fantastic work with the homeless. I long admired her work and anticipated hearing her talk. Yet that day I was practically bleeding from the ears with boredom. This woman, who lead an impressive nonprofit, sounded as interesting as a file clerk at the department of motor vehicles.  What happened? Most of us don’t craft our presentations to be spectacular, we design them not to be disasters.  This is Defensive Speaking, which is similar to doctors who practice Defensive Medicine.  It’s the investment of scarce resources making sure we don’t foul up royally as opposed to devoting our energy towards attempting the incredible. Thus most of our presentations are boring because the majority of presentations we sit through are boring.  Everyone is trying so hard not to look like a fool that very few are brilliant. This won’t cut it anymore. In a world with tsunamis of information, being average is as good as being invisible. Mediocre presentations hurt our organization. Whether speaking at an event we organized or addressing a group convened by others, somebody is investing a lot of time and energy to bring this audience together.  Appearing before a group of real live people is an enormous chance to move them, to inspire them, to excite them about our mission.  Second-rate talks are an opportunity lost. A limp address encourages a good chunk of the audience to think certain thoughts:  “Their leaders are lifeless”, “Their future is not bright”, “They’re not worthy of my donation...
Take Part In The Strengths Revolution

Take Part In The Strengths Revolution

Midnight approaches. People turn their attention to the clock on the wall, or the big ball falling from above. The countdown continues with those around you raising their voices as the seconds tick by….5 …4 …3 ..2 …1 ….HAPPY NEW YEAR!. A fresh year. A fresh start. Resolutions to do better in the coming 12 months. But in the midnight hour consider how many pledges are focused upon fixing a weakness. Thus we start off the promise of this new beginning by dragging in our baggage from the past. This personal attitude bleeds over into our lives as employees and leaders. We become preoccupied by identifying what’s wrong and then pouring massive amounts of resources onto fixing “the problem”.   But what if we were to take that same precious energy and used it to build upon what we do well? Might we benefit more by improving what we are doing right? Is there value in building upon strengths versus fixing weaknesses? Much of basic management literature up until recently lionized ‘problem solvers’. Too often our organizations rewarded those who could fix problems, even when it meant the heroes were surreptitiously creating new problems to be solved. Then in the 90s a fundamental transformation in thinking began to take hold. Research revealed that what made leaders great was the presence of strengths and not the absence of weaknesses. Our view about how leaders can improve suddenly shifted.   Thus was born the Strengths Revolution. Humans are a diverse lot. Each of us come with a combination of pluses and minuses. What we now understand is that it’s our strengths that make...
We Can Get More Business Through Our Philanthropy

We Can Get More Business Through Our Philanthropy

In the military, Spray And Pray is a derisive term for firing an automatic weapon towards an enemy in long bursts, without making an effort to line up each shot or burst of shots. This lack of focus is prevalent amongst those without the benefit of proper training. Sloppily directed fire is ultimately wasteful.  Unfortunately, too much of business philanthropy mirrors this Spray And Pray. Every day hundreds of thousands and millions of small donations are made with the possibility they a) do some good in the community and b) provide some recognition of our ‘good corporate citizenship.’   Spray And Pray is a strategy based on hope and hope is not a strategy. Seeking Value One of the cornerstones of enterprise development is The Value Proposition.  In approaching potential backers, the formal proposal states the case for why an investment of “X” will create “Y” amount of value to the investor.  But this approach is one that traditional nonprofits have been slow to embrace when dealing with potential business sponsors. The typical charity pitch involves the search for funding to support the mission. Thus the appeal is often intensely focused on those needs.  Rarely is the value to our business part of the equation.  But in an age where networks are crucial to success, providing mutual benefit creates strong long term relationships which enhance the nonprofit’s effectiveness as well as the bottom line of our business. “I get 40 requests per month.  That’s more than one per day.  I can’t say yes to all, but don’t know how to pick and choose which ones are right for me”. The...
Surrounding Yourself With the New Kind Of Talent

Surrounding Yourself With the New Kind Of Talent

The talent needs of nonprofits have changed due to the Great Recession   The demand for ‘soft skills’ is accelerating as nonprofits seek to be more nimble In both corporate and nonprofit sectors, ‘creativity’ is the ‘soft skill’ most sought by leaders Today’s leaders must : 1) Question Status  Quo  2) Rethink current business models  3) Destroy organizational lethargy   What type of talent should the Executive Director nurture in current staff?  What should they value in new employees? The answer is critical to differentiating between our current understanding of the ED’s role and The New Generation Executive Director.  It will impact the Director’s career, the effectiveness of the organization and the people served by that organization. The qualities that an ED values most in their team sets a standard that affects everything from program development, fundraising, collaboration and the long-term success of nonprofit. Employer surveys over the past four decades document the growing emphasis upon  “soft” skills: communication, dependability, tenacity.  In fact, the transformation is now so complete that basic technical skills requirement no longer rank in the top five of what employers seek.  As one Director explains, “I can teach them what they need to do a good job, but they need those soft skills like persistence in order to do a great job and add real value to this organization.” Now comes new data which suggests that leaders’ priorities in this area are changing in important ways.  Whether it is corporate or nonprofit, ‘creativity’ is identified as the emerging critical competency for the successful enterprise of the future. That’s creativity—not administrative skill, passion or even dedication. In the midst of an era...