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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Character Building Project

                       From days of wearing dress up shoes for a Banking Career             dee 14

A memory clip was excavated from the archives of my mind the other morning when I opened an email from a friend and colleague named Gladys Diaz.  In particular, the following two paragraphs appeared in her blog that were uncommonly familiar to me.
“Your thoughts affect your beliefs and your beliefs affect your perception of the world, men, relationships, and even yourself.  The more you focus on your fears, disappointments, what you don’t have yet, and anything else that reaffirms those disempowering thoughts, the less likely you are to experience what it is you truly desire.
You are 100% responsible for creating both the life and love your heart desires.  The more you focus on what you want, without driving yourself crazy thinking about how it must or should look and what needs to happen for it to come about, the more likely you are to attract and draw those things into your life.”             Gladys Diaz  2014  http://www.heartsdesireintl.com/what-are-you-hopefully-anticipating/

      In Spring,1984, I addressed a roomful of people with nearly the same words. Many of them were offended they had been asked to attend a leadership training session; it implied they needed “flixing.”  Others were convinced that their offices couldn’t withstand their absences for three hours.  In a room of 24 trainees, some were delighted with what I overheard them call the training program as a “paid vacation.” To be fair, there were at least three participants that came with a sense of curiosity and interest. It was the first leadership training programs I had run since I started to work for Shawmut Bank. In retrospect, I realized that by starting with that message, it was as if I came in the middle of the story for many of the trainees. At the end of the session, I asked the participants to complete evaluations on my performance. I did well. They liked me. I was clear, organized, entertaining. I was neatly dressed and professional. The problem was that about half of them had no idea what I was talking about.
     When I reported to my boss, Ken Seyffer, with the feedback, I felt beaten up. How could half of them not understand the basic tenets espoused by Wayne Dyer, Napoleon Hill, and Robert Schuller?  There is a consistency to the messages. Maybe I just didn’t say them in a way to which they could relate?
“Evans,” he said, “Don’t take it so harshly. Consider it all part of Character Building.”

My path into training in the financial industry was a loosely woven cloth that came together most unexpectedly. Previously, I worked for Amherst Associates; a financial consulting firm.  The company specialized in using computer models to design insurance reimbursement models in hospitals.  After that, I worked for Human Factors East. It was the hardest, most life-changing career move I ever made. The company was dedicated to building leadership skills at all levels within organizations. In particular, we focused on senior management – C.E.O., C.F.O. levels whenever possible. I was responsible for marketing and some training. It was there I first started to learn how to design and deliver training programs. A thimbleful description of what Human Factors offered would be that we were teaching people to look within themselves to find the answers they needed to be better leaders. We made it fun, but it was still work. It required being open to seeing familiar things in an entirely new way. There were three day, or intensive ten-day sessions. While the programs were exceptionally well-received in the San Rafael, CA location where our headquarters were based, it was a harder sell in conservative New England. I was fortunate to be on board for the experiment that came from opening an East Coast office. After a few years, the eastern offices closed; by that time, my life was forever changed. I had learned fundamental ways of questioning, thinking, and simply being in a relationship with a Higher Source. As I like to say,
“You can’t unring the bell.”           
With those two jobs and a belief system to shore me up, I felt that I was uniquely prepared to apply for my next job. I submitted an application to work in a bank in Amherst, MA. in September, 1983. There were no openings at the time.  The Human Resources person interviewed me briefly and said she would keep my résumé on file.  I was shocked when, one week before Christmas, I received a call from a woman in Human Resources in the Main Branch of the Shawmut Bank in Springfield, MA  It was about a thirty-minute ride from where I lived.  My interview fell on December 23.  As luck had it, the appointment fell on the first snow storm of the season. I was worried about the drive because my car was without snow tires. I was anxious about where to park. I didn’t have boots that went well with my one wool suit. In addition, if I changed my suit, I would have to change my handbag.  I was grateful I had pulled my hair back in a tight knot; the falling snow was doing its best to turn my hair into a ball of frizz and loosened tendrils. The snowflakes melted as I raced into the bank. It was a building designed during the Art Deco era. I was a bit too self-absorbed to take in the entirety of the massive gilded mural inside, but it was a splendid and regal interior.  I was ushered upstairs to a small, windowless room. A human resources employee left me there with a cup of water.  First, I was interviewed by a very conservatively dressed man with a dry sense of humor, whose intelligence radiated from his eyes. I was told this is Mr. Burr, Assistant Vice President of Marketing. He was quick with repartees and humor.  I felt an inexplicable rapport with him. When the interview was concluded, I thought the process was concluded. But no, a man in a diminutive shape and a powerhouse of energy nearly jumped into the room.  He was older, clearly Mr. Burr’s boss, Vice President of Retail Banking. He firmly pumped my hand in greeting as he said, “Ken Seyffer.”  Which actually confused me because that was not my name.  It was anawkward moment, but I played with it, “Ohhhh, you are Ken Seyffer, I was thinking you thought I was Ken Seyffer.”  There was a sinking second when I believed my joke fell flat. Then, his head tipped back and he bellowed with a barking laugh.
”So you come with a sense of humor,” he said as he pulled out a chair. Mr. Seyffer indicated that I should do the same. Sitting across from each other we talked briefly about nothing to do with banking.  Abruptly, he stood up and left the room. I didn’t have a clue what to do.  Was the interview over? I waited. And waited. Just as I decided that the interview was a bust and had gathered my purse, brief case and nerve to walk out, he returned with Mr. Burr. We sat down at the table again. Mr. Seyffer asked me if I had any unanswered questions at that point. When I denied having any loose ends, he said, “It was truly a pleasure to meet you. I am sure that, whatever you do, you will go far. And remember, when you make mistakes in life – and you will – they are nothing more than Character Building.” He offered another handshake, then he was gone. My heart sank.
I thought, “I have to rework my resume. That sure sounded pretty much like a brush-off.”
When we were alone again, Mr. Burr said, “Don’t mind him, he is a bit tightly strung. Now--returning to the business at hand.  We would like to hire you as Director of Training. You would come in as an Officer. While the salary is not commensurate with what you were earning, you will have more stability, good benefits and more vacation days here. There are annual bonuses and cost of living increases.  You have room to go up in your pay grade. There is every reason to believe you will be back at your former salary within a year, perhaps with a promotion to Assistant Vice President, if you do a stellar job. We would expect you to basically set up the training department from the ground up. How does that sound to you?”
“I am flattered and thrilled.  Exactly to whom would I report?” Honestly, I was slightly intimidated by the Director of Retail. He was charming, but he had street smarts. He was very sharp and often faster on the uptake than I allowed.
“On a day to day basis, bring your questions to me. Ultimately, Mr. Seyffer is both of our bosses. When do you think you might be able to start? Would January 2, 1984 fit your schedule?”
It was about six months later, when I ran that first leadership training program at the bank. It was then that I came face to face with my first Character Building opportunity. Since then, life has delivered more character building opportunities than I can count. What I can say with absolute certainty is that the voices of Wayne Dyer, Napoleon Hill, Robert Schuller, Ken Seyffer, and Gladys Diaz and hundreds of others have all contributed to my Character Building Project. It’s definitely a work in progress.

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