Mother’s Day and the 5 Inheritances

I was talking this morning after church about the Mother’s Day service that had just been presented by a fellow member.   I told her that I originally had not thought of coming to church that morning because I had been missing my mother more than usual around this time of year, although she had passed away 13 years ago.

She asked me why, and I said I thought it was my father had just passed away last October, and my feelings about missing him had somehow opened up a room in my head where I had been storing my feelings about my mother, stirring them up as well.   I told my friend that the difficult part was seeing ads EVERYWHERE asking you to get a present for your mother, which was frustrating for me since I was unable to do so.

But after the service I felt so much better, because I felt like we were celebrating our relationships with our mothers, which continues on even if our mothers themselves have passed on.   My friend said, “I’ll tell you what helps me at Mother’s Day, because my mother passed away a long time ago, like yours did.    List 5 things in your head that you feel you have inherited from her, whether they are physical, emotional, or spiritual attributes that you have.”

I did so, and here’s the list I came up with–I encourage you to make your own list.


  1. My interest in foreign languages and cultures–actually, it was my mother’s brother who visited our house when I was six years old who sparked my interest in learning Spanish, because he amazed me with his ability to switch instantaneously from English (which he spoke with my sister) to Spanish (which he spoke with his wife).   When I did a report in third-grade on Afghanistan, and the teacher yelled at me for giving a report on something which “no one in the class cared about,” my mother was like a tigress whose lion cub had been attacked, and told the principal of the school that the teacher had no business discouraging my interests, even if they did not fit in with what she thought third-graders should be interested in.   She encouraged me when I had an opportunity to live in Germany after undergraduate studies, and in Japan after graduate studies.
  2. My emotional intelligence–my intellectual interests were encouraged more by my father, but my mother was one who could always read people and situations and come up with a solution to interpersonal problems.   I’m not as skilled as she was, but I certainly recognized the value of these skills.
  3. My interest in literature and the arts–I was a left-brain person, studying mathematics and physics almost exclusively when I was in high school and in college.    When I got a job to earn money for graduate school, I was on an evening shift at the phone company when I was doing data entry, and I therefore had most of the day free.   She encouraged me to go to the Art Institute of Chicago and to read some of the great works of literature, which opened up in my head an entirely new right-brain territory that laid dormant until then.   I attribute my well-roundedness as an educated person to her gentle insistence that the arts had something to contribute to my life as well as the sciences.
  4. My volunteering–my mother, and my father for that matter, “retired” in only the nominal sense of the word when they turned 65.    They immediately got involved in volunteering, my mother for the AIDS ministry in Chicago because of her medical background as a nurse practitioner.   When I was looking for work after being laid off from a job in the aftermath of the recession in 2008, I used the opportunity not only to search for a new career, which I found in the field of project management, but also to volunteer at the Project Management Institute, first in the Orange County, CA chapter and then in the Chicagoland chapter when I moved here in 2013.    Volunteering has allowed me to give back to both the community and the profession, and it helps me keep in touch with the different generations of people in the workplace.    I’ve also been a volunteer at my church and at Toastmasters, and it has allowed a natural introvert like me (another trait I had in common with my mother) to still get plenty of opportunities for social interaction through my volunteering activities.
  5. My love of diversity–my mother worked for many years in the Headstart program as a nurse practitioner in many heavily African-American communities, and developed many lifelong friendships with colleagues that caused her not only to be tolerant of people from different races, religions, and backgrounds, but to actively seek them out to form bridges.   She belonged to a group that put on such events as Diversity Dinners, which brings together people from different backgrounds to have dinner together and discuss not what differences they have, but what they have in common.   In honor of the coming Mother’s Day, my sister and I went to the Diversity Dinners held recently, and we had a great time.

All of these threads that make the tapestry of my character were ones I inherited, in one fashion or other, from my mother.    When I got home from church after recalling the above “5 Inheritances,” I no longer felt lonely or missing my mother.   Why?  Because I realized she still lives on, in me!

SIM Women Executive Leadership Forum 2016

I attended the Society for Information Management (SIM) Women’s Executive Leadership  Forum, which was held here in Chicago, IL on May 5, 2016.   I was attending, although I am not a woman or a member of SIM, because I was representing our Project Management Institute (PMI) Chicagoland Chapter with a sponsor booth at the event.   It was important that the chapter support what the SIM Women group are doing, but there’s another ulterior motive.   I want to report on what they are doing so that our PMI Chicagoland chapter can also empower OUR women executives while encouraging the next generation of women to enter the field.    So besides networking during breaks, I was busy writing notes during the speaker sessions!

Some of the highlights of the conference were

  • Keynote speaker:   Franz Diana, talking on “Re-Imagining the Future:  A Journy Through the Looking Glass” talking about future trends in information technology in the next 20 years.
  • Keynote speaker:  Suzanne Bates, talking on “One Size Does Not Fit All”:  the various dimensions and elements that go into “Executive Presence.”
  • Panel discussion:   Authenticity/Success:  Finding Your Moral Courage and Your Voice
  • Keynote speaker:   Maureen Healy:  Increasing Your Influence Through Authentic Leadership.

In addition to these keynote speeches or discussions, there were breakout sessions that included the following topics:

  • From Bootstraps to Bootcamp–How to Go from “Starting Up” to Funding, Running & Leading
  • Beyond the C-Suite Career:  Options & Board Pursuit
  • Networking Through Philanthropy
  • Be the Change:  “Change” Suite Leaders
  • The Power of Community
  • Everyone’s In Sales:   Make it A Profit Center by Selling Yourself and Your Ideas to the Organization
  • The Who’s Who of STEM

The idea behind the conference is to empower women in the information technology field who face the double challenge of working in a technological field which is dominated by men.    I did a separate blog post on Suzanne Bates’ talk on “One Size Does Not Fit All,” which so impressed me that I bought her book “All the Leader You Can Be.”

And to tell you the truth, it wasn’t for my position as a project manager that I thought the book would be helpful.   Last Saturday, I was elected to the position of Division Director for the South Division of District 30 Chicagoland for Toastmasters International, which means I will have 7 Area Directors reporting to me as I have five leaders at the District Level including the District Director who are my direct reports or supervisors.    So it is of very high importance that I get a set of metrics to be able to assess and evaluate the Area Directors under me.   Of course, I intend to assess myself so that I can project my strengths and shore up my own weaknesses, so that I will be a good leader for the District level leaders (our Toastmasters version of the C-suite) to work with during the coming year when my position starts in July.

I learned so much at that one-day conference that it’s going to take a lot of time to absorb!

One Size Does NOT Fit All–Empowering Women Executives

At the Society for Information Management Women conference held on Thursday, May 5th in Chicago, IL, one of the keynote speakers Suzanne Bates, CEO of Bates Communications, described efforts of many companies to empower their women executives and how these efforts fail despite good intentions because they take a “one size fits all” approach.

I had the opportunity to attend the conference, although I am not a woman nor in information management, because of the good fortune I had to represent our Project Management Institute’s Chicagoland chapter as one of the sponsors of the event.

So I gave about the chapter during the network breaks, but was able to attend the keynote speaker presentations, including the one by Suzanne Bates.

First of all, some statistics on women executives.   Although women represent 47% of the labor force, and 44% of all MBAs earned are by women, only 14-15% of executives are women.    Companies have long recognized the need to diversify their work force, and have done various activities to encourage women to become executives or develop their career once they are executives.

But, according to Suzanne Bates, one of the activities they try to do is to send ALL women on workshops, for example, to increase their confidence.   This sometimes backfires–but why?    Because if you study the trait of “confidence”, and to statistical studies of the performance reviews of men and women, you find the startling conclusion that men are not, as a group, more confident than women.   Women, on the other hand, if they are feeling a lack of self-confidence, tend to express this more to colleagues, whereas men who are feeling this way tend to bottle up these feelings inside.   So the PERCEPTION is that women are less confident, but that is not the REALITY of the situation.

In order to tease out reality from perception, Suzanne Bates created a set of metrics for “executive presence” that fall into one of three categories:

  1. Character–qualities of the leaders as a person that are fundamental to his or her identity and ive us reason to trust him or her:   Authenticity, Integrity, Concern, Restraint, Humility
  2. Substance–cultivated qualities of mature leadership that inspire commitment, inform action, and lead to above-and-beyond effort:  Practical Wisdom, Confidence, Composure, Resonance, Vision
  3. Style–Overt-skill-based patterns of communicative leadership that build motivation and shape and sustain performance:  Appearance, Intentionality, Inclusiveness, Interactivity.

In measuring these traits among male and female executives, the surprising result was that more significant difference among women than between men and women executives taken as a group.    By just telling women to “be more confident”, we are not teaching women the specific skills they need to succeed, by focusing on the strengths among the above traits they already have, and developing a plan to shore up their weaknesses.

By doing an “executive presence” skills assessment, and then following up with external coaching and internal mentoring, women can increase the skills they need to both be and be perceived to be strong executives who earn the respect of their teams, their colleagues, and their direct reports.

In the end, Suzanne Bate concluded that women, it turns out, are not ‘broken’ and do not therefore need to be fixed to succeed in the corporate culture. It is the corporate culture itself that needs to be fixed, by allowing both men and women executives a chance to improve their specific executive presence skills they need to focus on to succeed.

I was so impressed with the talk that I am making sure I send a copy of her book “All the Leader You Can Be” to my fellow directors at the Chicagoland chapter of the Project Management Plan to see how we can implement its contents to diversity our leadership at our chapter!

District 30 Toastmasters South Division Action Plan

At last Saturday’s Spring Conference for District 30 Chicagoland of Toastmasters International, I was elected to be the South Division Director.

In an earlier post, I talked about the best ways to prepare for being a Division Director, but now that my desire has become a reality, I need to put down my action plan for making sure that I am both effective (doing the right thing) and efficient (doing things right) in the Division Director position.   These are all to be accomplished in the month of May and June, the bulk of the plan being done this month.

We had a surprise handed to us at the South Division because of another area that was added in the week before the Spring Conference making the South Division have a total of 7 areas, as opposed to the other divisions which have only 6 areas at most.

1.  Select Area Directors–S51 through S55 already selected

1.1  Select Area Director for S56

1.2  Select Area Director for S57

2.   Interview Outgoing Area Directors for SWOT analysis of Areas

3.   Interview Incoming Area Directors for skills, personality assessment (Myers/Briggs)

4.  Submit Area Director list to incoming District Director for approval

5.   Setup South Division folder on Google Drive or Office 365, create subfolders for each area

5.1  Give access to each Area Director to South Division folder

6.   Get District calendar deadlines from incoming District Director

7.   Setup planning retreat in May for Incoming Area Directors and Outgoing Area Directors

7.1   Decide date, venue based on availability of Area Directors

7.2   Create or buy planning materials (markers, post-it notes, etc.) for planning retreat

8.    Ask Area Directors to get assistant(s) for position

This is a living document–I intend to let my Assistant Division Director review it, and then we’ll start putting deadlines on it by this Friday, 5/6/2016.


District 30 Toastmasters Diversification Plan

I came to District 30 Toastmasters here in the Chicagoland area back in the summer of 2013.   It’s coming on three years now, and in that time, I had in the back of my mind a plan to increase the diversity of Toastmasters within the District, but did not felt I could act on it until I became a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM).    This is because it is a sweeping vision, and I didn’t feel that people would take me seriously enough to consider it until I had some solid Toastmaster credentials after my name.

Last Saturday night, I was sitting at the ceremonial dinner held before the DTM induction ceremony  when I sat next to someone who reminded me inadvertently of my plan.   It was as if the universe was saying, “you know how you told yourself you would put this off until you became a DTM?   Well, you’re just about to become a DTM, so here’s a little reminder!”

That person was Tadeo Speiser, an Hispanic-American whose family came here from Ecuador.   We talked about my interest in learning Spanish and other foreign languages, and how Toastmasters could become a vehicle for increasing at the same time the multilingual and multicultural character of the District.   He invited me to the Hispano-Americano Toastmasters Club this Saturday, May 7th, to talk to the club about this topic.

Toastmasters Diversification Plan

  1. Increase the number of Hispanic-Americans who participate in Toastmasters Clubs throughout District 30.
  2. Support the multilingual clubs like the Hispano-Americano Toastmasters Club, the Francophone Toastmasters Club, and the Polyglot Toastmasters Club (for German).
  3. Explore the creation of additional multilingual clubs involving the immigrant communities from Poland, China, or other large immigrant populations in the Chicagoland area.
  4. Make English as a Second Language (ESL) resources available to clubs throughout the District 30 Chicagoland area to help those members who are trying to improve their English ability.
  5. Explore the creation of an ESL Toastmasters Club.

To use the language of project management, this is a portfolio-level plan.   I had approached a project manager I respect regarding this as a potential High Performance Leadership (HPL) Project, and he correctly pointed out that this is way to big for such a project.  An HPL project can take months, but this plan would take at least two years to implement.

However, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, and the first step is to write down the plan and put it out to the public, because this will spur me on to take action on not have it just remain a dream.

My next step will be to present this at the Hispano-Americano Toastmasters Club this Saturday.   As a Division Director, I will interacting with District-level leadership who will have good recommendations on how to go about implementing this plan.

For example, Charles Brooks, an African-American who was a District Governor about a decade or so ago, had the idea of diversifying District 30 so that it better served the African-American community.   Now the clubs that he has seeded throughout the South Side of Chicago, such as the Wrightwood-Ashburn Overachievers (WAO) club, have become powerhouses in their own right not just in the South Division, but in the District at large.   I am sure to take a lot of cues from him on how he accomplished this.

Of course, I have to develop connections to the Hispanic-American community in Chicagoland, and that is why I welcomed my interaction with Tadeo Speiser.   I look forward to seeing him again and the rest of the members of the Hispano-Americano Toastmasters Club this Saturday!

Multilingual Language Learning Plan–May 2016

In March, I went to a local bookstore and got Benny Lewis’ book Fluent in 3 Months.   One of his first recommendations for learning multiple languages at the same time is to make concrete goals for each of the languages you intend to focus on.

So I wrote down a multilingual learning plan, which I intend to review every month.    The purpose of today’s post is to review the plan for April 2016 and improve upon it in drawing up a plan for the month of May.

  1. Multilingual language goals–Long-term

I am fluent in five foreign languages if you measure that fluency in terms of B1 level or higher on the Common European Language Framework.

So for those five languages, I have put my goal to become one level higher by 2017.

For the languages I have been studying but which I have not achieved fluency, I am also putting my goal to become one level higher by 2017.

For those languages I have not studied before, but which I want to study in 2016, I’m putting the target as BEGINNER (A1).

Level Goal Language
C1–Advanced Japanese, French
B2—Upper Intermediate Chinese, German, Spanish
B1–Intermediate Italian, Portuguese
A2–Elementary Arabic
A1–Beginner Korean, Dutch, Hindi, Irish, Vietnamese

Although I put all languages on my level goal list, certain languages have higher priority level, which translates into studying frequency.   Also, although my ultimate goal is to speak with native speakers, my intermediate goal  is to use textbooks in order to prepare for proficiency tests.

2.  Multilingual goals–method, priority level

Language Goal (Test/Textbook) Priority
Japanese JLPT N2, Tobira High
French DALF C1/C2 Medium
Chinese HSK 4, eChineseLearning (online lessons) High
German ZDfB (B2) Medium
Spanish DELE B2, AP Spanish Medium
Italian Italian Now Medium
Portuguese Portugues Actual Medium
Arabic Mastering Arabic, Rosetta Stone 3 Low
Korean Integrated Korean Beginning 1 Low
Dutch Living Language Beginner Low
Hindi Beginning Hindi, Rosetta Stone 1 Low
Irish Living Language Essential Low
Vietnamese Elementary Vietnamese Low

3.   Multilingual goals–April 2016 (review)

Here were my goals for the past month..

Language Goal (Test/Textbook)
Japanese Kanji Kentei review level 9–still working on level 9!!
French Start review of Foreign Service Institute French course level 1, units 1 and 2–still on unit 1
Chinese–DONE 2x/week Skype lesson with eChineseLearning, HSK 4 listening comprehension test #2 prep
German Duolingo (complete entire skill tree)–completed up to level 6 out of 8
Spanish Start review of Foreign Service Institute Spanish course level 1, units 1 and 2 (only completed unit 1)
Italian NONE
Portuguese NONE
Arabic Mastering Arabic ch. 2, 3–only completed ch. 1
Korean Integrated Korean Beginning 1 (reading Hangul)–haven’t completed Hangul
Dutch NONE
Hindi NONE
Irish NONE
Vietnamese NONE

Well, I can tell you I didn’t accomplish very many language goals in April.   I did complete my three-month course of language learning at eChineseLearning, but the other goals I only partially completed.

But here’s why I’m putting these goals on my blog–because my failure to achieve them is public, it makes me want to rededicate myself to the goals of May.

Let’s see what I accomplish in the month of May!

Language Goal (Test/Textbook)
Japanese Kanji review level 9 (grade school level 2)
French Duolingo (refresh skill tree)–start DALF training (C1/C2)
Chinese Intermediate Spoken Chinese Unit 1
German Duolingo (complete entire skill tree)
Spanish Duolingo (refresh skill tree)–start AP Spanish (C1)
Italian Start Italian Now
Portuguese Start Portuguese Grammar
Arabic Mastering Arabic ch. 2
Korean Integrated Korean Beginning 1 (reading Hangul)
Dutch None
Hindi Beginning Hindi (reading Hindi script)
Irish Living Language Essential ch. 1
Vietnamese Elementary Vietnamese Pronunciation Guide

Here’s how I will improve my language plan for May.

a.  High-priority languages–after completing a three month Skype course in Chinese, I need review of some basic conversational patterns.   I got a textbook Intermediate Spoken Chinese from Tuttle Publishing which does exactly that.   What I like is that the conversations are recorded so that you can take the part of one person in the dialog at a time to really see if you can speak Chinese not just correctly, but at a conversational pace.

For Japanese, I found that the first step of the  review I can do for the JLPT N2 level exam is to review the Kanji and vocabulary for levels N5, N4, and N3.  In turn, the way to do this is to go through the elementary school Kanji grades 1 through 6, which means in terms of the Kanji Kentei (the Japanese Kanji Proficiency test aimed at native Japanese) to review levels 10 through 5.   This month I reviewed level 9 (grade school 2) by going all of the readings in a workbook and putting them on flash cards.   However, each grade there are more and more Kanji so, although I could finish all the level 10 Kanji in a month in March, I wasn’t able to do the same for the level 9 Kanji in April.    I’m practicing my Japanese listening skills by watching the NHK historical drama Ryomaden on Drama Fever.

b.  Medium-priority languages–I finished the skill trees for Spanish and French on Duolingo and am reviewing those languages now by listening to the Foreign Service Institute’s courses for Spanish and French.

I’m starting the 7th level of the German skill tree.   I aim to be done by the month of June.  It works well to concentrate on completing one skill tree at a time while periodically reviewing the ones I’ve already completed.    So I’ll complete the German skill tree before I start on Italian and Portuguese.

c. Low-priority languages–I was WAY too ambitious by listing all of the languages.   I started Arabic using a great textbook Mastering Arabic Vol. 1, but need to continue with Chapter 2.    I found that textbook is way better than the one I had been using before.   Korean and Hindi have different writing systems which I need to master before studying the languages in more depth.

d. Metalanguage–I found that Benny Lewis’ book Fluent in 3 Months was a great motivator for my language studies.  I’ve decided to get an online subscription to his Fluent in 3 Months website in order to go into more depth the principles that were in his book.   The first section is on Language Hacking, using tips and tricks to accelerate my language study of any language I’m studying

Let’s see what I accomplish in the month of May!

Which Way Did They Go? I’m Their Leader!

At the District 30 (Chicagoland) Toastmasters Spring Conference, the keynote speaker was Jana Barnhill, a past International President of Toastmasters.    In the past, we have had speakers who were champions of the World Championship of Public Speaking.    At this conference, we had somebody who was a champion of leadership at Toastmasters International.

In her talk “Which Way Did They Go?  I’m Their Leader”, Jana Barnhill gave some apropos advice which I definitely took to heart since I had earlier in the day been elected to the position of Division Governor which starts on July 1st.

  • Lead by Example–if you get in the trenches and work hard with your team, they will be willing to work hard for you
  • Everyone must know what is expected of them–you need to give them the locations of the gates they must go through, but you can allow them to figure out how to get to those gates
  • Know as much about the organization’s policies and procedures as possible–when you can answer a question from your team without having to say, “let me get back to you on that”, you will gain authority in their eyes
  • Seek advice wherever available–on the other hand, if you DON’T have the answer to a question, admit you don’t know and find out!
  • Achievers must be recognized–don’t take the achievements of your team for granted
  • Show respect to everyone–you were there once yourself, and so you need to extend your courtesy to those who may be asking something that to you is obvious
  • Be positive–“yes, you can” should be your motto
  • Have a sounding board–if you ARE negative, however, don’t be negative in front of your team, have a PRIVATE sounding board, preferably somebody outside the organization who doesn’t know the other personalities involved:   this will make them more objective when you listen to their complaints
  • Stay focused–there are so many demands on you and your team, keep reminding them what the focus is so it doesn’t get lost in all the noise
  • The person in charge takes full responsibility for any failures , but …
  • Full credit for success goes to the team!

What I liked about Jena Barnhill was, when I went to ask her a question after a talk, I didn’t get the feeling I was talking to a Past International President of Toastmasters.   She didn’t come across as a celebrity or royalty, but as just a more experienced leader in Toastmasters that anyone could go to for help or advice.    I am more confident of my ability to enter the Division Director position because I intend to follow her advice she gave at our Spring Conference!