Tag Archives: handling pressure

Do “People Things” First

img_10981.jpg“Business would be easy if you didn’t have to deal with customers and employees.” A tired but true saying my father often muttered after coping with an unhappy customer.

“People Things” are the issues that arise out of dealing with people. “People Things” include daily interactions, but they are critical when dealing with customer
complaints, employee discontent or a colleague’s request for assistance.

Money concerns generate the most critical “People Thing “ issues. When someone says, “It’s not the money,” assuredly it’s the money. Pocketbook issues, such as payment disputes and payroll concerns, are “People Things” that need to be resolved promptly and discretely.

Because dealing with people is the most complex aspect of business, “People Things,” should be at the top of a to-do list. Such concerns are ones that cannot be put off—procrastination only worsens them.  However, decisions should not be made “on the fly.“  “People Things” require undisturbed time to focus on, understand and resolve issues and concerns.

Make the rest of the day easier by  placing “People Things” as the first priority on your daily to-do list.

Memories Of Wine

The colors of the differing layers of its walls reflect the eons the Colorado River has flowed through the Grand Canyon.  Similarly, the wine corks Terri and I store in a five-gallon water bottle reflect our times together.  Viewing the layers of corks, you realize they reflect the ebb and flow of our prosperity: a layer from bottles of Robert Mondavi and Silver Oak wines on top of one consisting of those from Ernest and Julio.

In the course of one of the Ernest and Julio periods—a time of worry about money and jobs—I was celebrating the New Year with friends in Charleston, South Carolina.  One early morning, I noticed a newspaper headline announcing the CEO of a large corporation had passed away leaving a considerable fortune.  It struck me: I was spending time and energy worrying about money, when this titan of industry would have given everything he had for what I had acquired for no cost…my good health.

I don’t have millions of dollars but I possess wealth of which men of substantial means would be envious: good health, friends and a loving family.  I am blessed with the God given ability to work and surrounded by wonderful people and friends who inspire me by refusing to give in to adversity.  I have learned, I am the most productive, successful and satisfied when I grasp just how fortunate I am.

A long-time friend informed me that he is suffering from a degenerative disease.  Always the picture of health, he never let on to a problem that makes it difficult for him to stand and walk.  When the doctors told him in a relatively short time he would be confined to a wheel chair and eventually bedridden, he informed them they were wrong; he wasn’t going to let that happen and that he no longer needed them.  He never went back to those doctors and he’s still walking.  Listening to his story, I was taken back by the courage it took for him to face each day and shameful of how I let incidents of little importance drive me to distraction.

The market, oil spills, Greece, the economic trials we are facing—there is no profit in fretting about what you cannot control.  I try to cast negative thoughts out by focusing on what I can do.  To brood about “what I can’t do” is negative, debilitating and destructive.  Conversely, concentrating on “what I can do” is positive, invigorating and constructive.

Gazing upon different layers in the bottle of corks, I don’t dwell on the good and bad times.  Instead, I linger over memories of the wine: even the least of which was better than none at all.

Fear Can Drive Success

The “Fight or Flight” syndrome describes how someone reacts when they are unexpectedly frightened.

Taking a walk, my wife Terri and I came across a neighbor’s yard sale. The man hosting the sale told Terri he had a special memento she might be interested in. She watched as he slowly opened a box; suddenly, without warning, a fake squirrel sprung out. I grabbed her arm as she was starting to swing at the guy’s nose. “Fight or Flight,” Terri’s instinct when startled is to fight.

In a magazine survey, respondents were asked which golf shot they feared most. I expected a difficult stroke to be the number one answer: out of a sand trap; over water or an attempt out of deep rough. Surprisingly, the top answer was “The first shot off of the number 1 tee.”  The fear of failing in front of  people waiting to tee off gave rise the response.

The fear of failing in front of others is responsible for one of people’s greatest terrors, the fear of public speaking. The trepidation engendered from speaking in public is not limited to addressing a large audience; it prevents people from expressing their opinions in small meetings. I have  heard people utter, “I wanted to say something but I was afraid someone would find my opinion to be stupid.”

There are people who seek out situations that others dread. They thrive on  success: a place kicker called upon to kick the winning field goal with only seconds left in the game; a political candidate addressing an audience of thousands of people; a fireman rushing into a burning building.

I am not convinced you never truly overcome a deep-seated dread of something; I do believe you can learn to harness and use it to drive success. When you recognize and accept a fear you can take actions overcome it: golf lessons, Toastmasters and the list goes on.  Whatever you do will pay off in ways far beyond overcoming your fear.


It is not a matter of being fearless. The fear is sometimes constant, but it’s about moving forward regardless of the fear. Courage means feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” -Gillian Anderson


It was hotter than blue blazes, nowhere to stop and we were lost. Two days after Hurricane Andrew devastated South Dade County. along with an engineer who worked for Dade County, I was assessing school damage.

With downed trees, roads blocked by debris and landmarks blown away, the young engineer who had  been assigned to southern Dade for years, couldn’t locate the schools.

Block after block we passed heavily damaged homes: roofs blown off, trees uprooted and cars overturned. Some homeowners spray painted defiant signs on the sides of their houses: “We survived,” “You loot—we shoot” and “To hell with Andrew.” Others demonstrated their sense of humor: “Firewood for Sale” and “Used furniture—cheap.” Most frequently you would see the name of their insurance company: “Allstate—stop here,” “State Farm—where are you.”

In almost every yard home owners were cleaning up after the storm. No electricity, tropical hot—many without a roof over their heads—they continued working. Impossible tasks, that day after day, had to be undertaken one limb, one piece of debris, one precious memento at a time.

People faced the heat, the lack of water and the endless clean up and they dealt with the fear of looters. Armed with pistols and hunting rifles they banded together to patrol and protect their neighborhoods. They told stories of gunshots in the night and despite a dawn to dusk curfew, strangers roaming the streets.

Exiting from an elementary school near Homestead I heard a loud noise. Walking to the sound I spotted people standing on the sidewalk, cheering and crying tears of relief as soldiers from the 82nd airborne marched down the street. Dispensed only to provide humanitarian aid, nevertheless, their presence provided a needed sense of security.

When I left the key in the ignition and locked the car, The 7:00 PM curfew became a serious issue. Not wanting to spend the night in south Dade, I waived down a passing deputy who unsuccessfully tried to Jimmy the lock. In desperation I shattered a ventilation window and unlocked the vehicle. A damaged window was the cost for me to leave behind the misery that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were enduring daily.

Andrew taught me lessons about resilience, determination and community. I observed people pulling themselves up to rebuild and band with neighbors to protect their homes; I passed volunteers directing traffic in the brutal midday tropical sun.

I learned People are tougher than I thought.  In the midst of chaos and the absence of government they will do what is necessary to protect their families, homes and community.

Waste Not and Want Not

My maternal grandmother came from a family that belonged to the Protestant Reformed Church of France and my grandfather was raised in the Presbyterian tradition; together they taught my mother to practice Calvinistic thrift.  Notwithstanding her fun loving ways—she loved a good joke and a sip of Scottish nectar—my mother was very careful with money.

My mother’s thrifty nature was deepened by the Great Depression.  Raising two young children , she learned to pinch every penny.  When something broke, it was repaired—with a toolkit consisting of a kitchen knife, a hammer and a pair of pliers, she could fix anything.

Sue Tucker’s mantra was “Waste not; want not.”  Christmas gift-wrappings and greeting cards were saved for the following year.  A meal would last for days.  After Thanksgiving, for weeks we would eat turkey: sandwiches, hash, tetrazini, salad and finally, soup.  Believe me, if she had found a way to do so, paper napkins would have been washed and reused.

I came along when times were easier.  My parents wanted to spare me from the worry of  depression and war; so like many in my generation, I was spoiled.

“Waste not; want not” is a principle almost forgotten by the “Boomer” generation.  My cohorts and I  spawned a disposable world: a new computer comes out, get rid of the old one; something breaks, buy another; cook too much, throw the leftovers away.

I recall my parents’ reminiscing how they made do.  My mother never forgot the lessons she learned during her upbringing and the Great Depression—similarly, the lessons learned during the Great Recession will shape behaviors for years to come.


Waste not; want not.”  Thomas Hardy as quoted by Sue Tucker

Perfect, Just Perfect

When hosting friends at a restaurant, my mother and father asked their guests to suggest what wine to order. Lillian Todd responded, “I know a wine that will go with every dish.”  They agreed to her making the decision and after getting the waiter’s attention, she pointed to a selection on the wine list.  As the food was being served, the sommelier poured a sweet, after dinner wine, Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry.

Her fellow diners grumbled and teased Lillian about her selection.  They complained about the wine’s sweetness and incompatibility with the food.  In tears Lillian asked my father’s opinion of her selection. His response: “It’s perfect, just perfect.”

Along with another couple, we had been invited to a friend’s home for dinner.  The other couple responded “white zinfandel” to the host’s inquiry as to what they would like as a before dinner drink.  Our host, condescendingly responded that he wouldn’t serve such a wine; that he would pour them a French white instead.

He made a show of opening the bottle, pouring and sniffing the wine, expounding on the aroma and explaining that it was produced near the Mediterranean Sea.  Obeying instructions, the couple swirled,  sniffed and tasted the wine.  They oohed and ahhed over the flavor and commented on how much they had learned.

When our host excused himself  to go to the kitchen, the couple placed their glasses on the table, glanced at each other and the woman said, “But I really like white zinfandel.”

I learned from my mother and father the secret to building relationships is by looking out for the needs, wants and likes of others: a lesson that has proven to be true in my personal as well as my business life.

Tact, diplomacy and kindness are qualities that draw people to you.   It takes little effort to build people up.  Graciousness creates many benefits, such as loyal friends and business partners.  Even more important, graciousness creates a positive attitude that leads to a fulfilling life.

In southern towns friends show up with food when someone passes away.  So, when my father died, I was not surprised to find Lillian at our door.  In her hands she carried a roasting pan containing a fragrant, beautifully cooked leg of lamb.  After inviting her in, I inquired how she had prepared the roast.  Smiling she said, “I marinated it in Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry—you know your father thought it was perfect, just perfect.”


A guest never forgets the host who had treated him kindly.” – Homer

The Best Wine

The best wine is that your guest prefers.” – Terri Tucker

Vigilant to Danger

Sitting in a night club, I observed an elderly man delivering a martini to his well-dressed  wife.  She finished the drink and with her legs tightly tucked together, rolled out of her seat and fell to the floor.  Almost at once, waiters and managers appeared and helped return her to her chair, where she laid her head on the table.

Placing a kiss on the back of her head as he stood, her husband unsteadily exited the room.  I was concerned about her being left alone until I spotted him reentering: wobbling and precariously balancing two martinis in his hands.

The over consumption of alcoholic drinks can lead to unintended, embarrassing and sometimes dangerous occurrences.  Consisting of almost straight alcohol, a martini is a particularly potent cocktail.  An insidious concoction, the strong concentration of spirit erases inhibitions and good judgment.

In his later years, my father decided to become a martini drinker.  Not realizing the potency of the drink, he unintentionally embarrassed my mother and she asked me to speak to him.

On a Friday afternoon, I cautioned him that a martini was too strong of a cocktail for a man of his age.  I suggested a glass of wine before and during dinner would be more appropriate and safer.  He sat quietly for a while and then said, “Thank you for the concern, but what I drink is none of your business.”

The next evening at a local restaurant, my father stared at me as he ordered a vodka martini.  Determined to keep him from over consuming, when he turned away, I grabbed his glass and gulped down half of the vodka mix.

After a puzzled glance at an almost empty glass, he ordered another martini. Again, when he wasn’t looking, I drank most of the potent drink; and as before, when he saw the glass was almost empty, he ordered another one.  Once more, I emptied most of the glass.  Only dinner being served stopped my insane consumption of my father’s drinks.

Monday morning, dad entered my office, closed the door and said, “So you believe I have a drinking problem—that’s the pot calling the kettle black!  I had four martinis and was just fine; you had one drink and we had to help you out of the restaurant.  I suggest you limit yourself to a glass of wine before and one during dinner.”

Friday evenings Terri and I enjoy a martini.  After arriving home we will exercise, change clothes and prepare dinner.  Shortly before the meal is ready we will fix our drinks and then—with our favorite music playing in the background—we’ll retire to the living room and spend time together.  By the time we finish the cocktail, dinner is ready to be served and there is little temptation to have another.  It is a ritual we look forward to: a quiet time spent putting the week behind and preparing for the weekend to come.

Upon reading a sign warning to “Drive With Caution,” you proceed with care.  Like driving on a road under construction, the consumption of alcohol requires you to be vigilant to the dangers that are present.

 A Treacherous Friend

Wine is a treacherous friend who you must always be on guard for.”-Christian Nevell Bovee

Let’s Have Another Cup Of Coffee

Prior to my teen years, my mother would fix “coffee milk” for me. Sweet with milk, sugar and a small amount of coffee, I would sip the cup dry and then scoop the leftover sugar from the bottom of the cup. I never had “real” coffee until my senior year in high school.

Early one Saturday morning, I invited myself to breakfast at the house of a friend. As his mother assembled the meal, she asked if I would like a cup of coffee. When I answered yes, she placed a can of Maxwell House on the counter and told me to make the coffee. She watched as I stared helplessly at the can and then taught me the recipe for coffee that I still use today: one rounded tablespoon of coffee for each cup and one for the pot.

Coffee became a big deal during my freshman year of college when “coffee dates” were de rigueur. In the mid 1960’s, the administration at Florida State University confined freshman girls to their dorm rooms between seven and nine in the evenings on weekdays. At the end of the “quiet hours” was when the dates would occur and we would share time over coffee. Afterwards, fueled by coffee, I would stay up for hours and then struggle to make morning classes.

“C Rations,” a soldier’s “meal in the field,” included instant coffee that was best used in making canned sweet rolls edible. Tightly packed in a two-inch round, green can, the army sweet roll resembled and was as hard as a hockey puck. We would pour hot coffee over the dried confection and after a few minutes of soaking time it would be good to eat. In the “field” we didn’t worry about spilling coffee; it was a different story when working for my father.

Because of some disastrous spills, my dad had a rule that employees were not allowed to drink coffee at their desks. If someone wanted to drink a cup of coffee, they had to find a place away from their work to do so. A benefit of the rule was that it provided him with a reason to drink coffee at locations away from the office: with the president of a local bank; at a local diner with customers; or with me, in a restaurant.

Away from distractions, business questions were easier to deal with. In the mid-morning, in a quiet restaurant, there was time for stories; to talk about sports and fishing and to share concerns—conversations in a relaxed atmosphere lending to inventive problem solving.

Caught up in the hubbub of life, often we neglect spending casual time with our colleagues.  A cup of coffee is a good excuse to do so


It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.” -Dave Barry

The Fear of Being Wrong

I was nervous about bidding the heating and air conditioning systems on 3 school additions.  The specifications called for chilled water cooling—systems we had little experience installing.  However, the department manager convinced me he knew what he was doing, and if we got the jobs, we could perform the work. We won the bid, installed the systems, and they would not operate.

The problem resulted from chilled water not moving through the system at a high enough volume.  At first we believed the lack of flow resulted from entrapped air—so we attached garden hoses to the piping and ran the pumps continuously to remove the air. Sure enough, with the nozzle of the hose in a bucket of water, you could see huge bubbles of air belching from the pipes—but the systems still didn’t work.

The architect decided the problem was dirt from unclean piping.  When they reported this, the school system’s construction manager threatened our contractor customers, who then contacted our bonding company—the situation was becoming dire.

Not understanding the intricacies of chilled water cooling, I was afraid we had done something wrong. Day after day, I would spend hours at each job site, running the pumps in hope the systems would purge themselves. During school board meetings I defended our work, and afterwards evaded questions from local media. We were spending thousands of dollars trying to make the systems work, not getting paid and our reputation was being ruined.

At my wit’s end, I hired a consulting engineer to review the plans, specifications and our installation. I forwarded the documentation to the engineer and arranged for him to tour the jobs. A couple of days later, he called and told me there was no need to inspect our work, upon reviewing the plans he determined the pumps were too small to maintain the required water flow. I forwarded his written report to the contractors and the problem was solved—in fact, we were paid to change out the pumps. I made a serious error by undertaking a job that I did not understand, and because I was afraid we had made serious mistakes, I compounded that error by not seeking professional help earlier

The fear of being wrong, being afraid to discover the root of a problem, can lead to it becoming worse.  A decision based upon incorrect facts is bound to be an incorrect decision.


It is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses.” – William Arthur Ward

Golfing In Gator Infested Waters

Lining up for drive, Terri asked, “Is that a large squirrel in the fairway?” I looked towards the golf ball I had launched down the fairway and responded, “If so, it is one heck of a squirrel. I think it’s an alligator”

It was an alligator: one that had crawled out of a pond that paralleled the fairway. When we got closer, we watched him saunter over to my ball, pick it up and carry it back to his watery sanctuary.

Realizing what had happened, I thought back to when I was playing golf in Prince Edward Island and a fox crossed the fairway, grabbed my ball and ran back to his lair. Observing what had taken place, a local told me the fox regularly hung out on that particular hole and if he stole your ball you got to drop and hit another one—he also advised to me do it fast before the fox had the opportunity to steal my second ball.

A similar event took place when I was playing golf in Miami. I was walking towards my ball when a crow picked it up, flew to a palm tree and dropped it into the palm fronds. What ensued was an argument whether I got a free drop, had to climb the palm and play the ball or take a one-stroke penalty for an unplayable lie. I took the free drop and spent the rest of the day watching out for the ball-thieving bird.

The weekend after the alligator had stolen my ball, Terri and I were playing the same hole and my ball laid near the pond where the gator hung out. Terri, driving the golf cart, dropped me off and turned the vehicle to go to her ball. Realizing that I had the wrong golf club, I yelled for her to come back.  Hearing my cry, she made too sharp of a turn and rather than being thrown out of the cart, jumped to safety.

The cart was pointing down the slope that led to the pond. In shock from her sudden exit, Terri was standing behind the cart when it started to roll towards the water. Observing from a distance what was taking place, I took it for granted that she would catch and stop the slow moving vehicle; then I realized it was moving faster. I yelled, “Terri, the cart! Stop the cart!” Roused from her stupor she started after the cart: too late as it rolled into the pond.

The cart, with the water almost to the top of its seat, sat  in the middle of the pond.  With no one to help us, Terri set off to find help and I dejectedly stared at the half submerged golf cart.

Thinking about how embarrassed we were going to be, I yelled, “Stop. I’m going to push the #$*&@ thing out of the water.” Terri responded, “You’re going to do what?” As I took off my socks, I yelled “You heard me, I’m going to push the #$*&@ thing out of the water.” When I started towards the pond, she placed her hands on her hips and exclaimed, “I forbid it!” That did it. I was headed into the water.

Surprisingly, the bottom of the pond was firm sand and I was able to push the cart. After I got started, I heard splashing and looked and saw Terri headed into the water. Worried about the alligator and other creatures that called the pond home, she was running towards me with her golf shoes on and lifting her feet so high that her knees were near her chin. She joined in pushing the cart until it got stuck and then as I pushed, she placed it in reverse and backed it out of the water.

For a couple of minutes we stood still; then, without saying a word, I put my socks and shoes on, got out my eight iron and prepared to hit my second shot. Likewise, Terri grabbed a club and started to her ball. The next couple of holes we didn’t play well but we completed the round and without saying a word about what happened, returned the golf cart to the cart shed.

Our watery experience reminded me of a valuable lesson: before seeking help make an effort to solve a problem. Who knows? You may be able to push the cart out of the pond.

Self Help

Self-help must precede help from others. Even for making certain of help from heaven, one has to help oneself.” – Moraji R. Desai