When I was very young, I discovered I was different from most other kids. It is probably because my two brothers and I didn’t have a “normal childhood,” most of our skills and abilities were self taught. That probably explains why I read so many personal self-help books, and have branched out into business books such as, "The World Is Flat" by Thomas Freidman, which I have repeatedly tried to finish, but failed.Thank goodness the mention of Gary Boomer in the book was on page 14. Each time I started another section in that book, I felt like that television character, Marie Barone, who lamented every month when a dozen Florida grapefruits or Bartlett pears came from a fruit of the month club gift.
Perhaps that is why I am reluctant to read books like Get It Done: A Blueprint for Business Execution, by Ralph Welborn and Vince Kasten, or Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, by Larry Bossidy.
All these business books make very good points, are well written, and often are cited as must-reads by leading consultants, but I get lost as the extensive verbiage becomes unbearable for me.
On the other end are the surveys, such as the recent Grant Thornton one, that found U.S. business leaders make “strong execution” a high priority in 2007 with 83 percent placing the quality of an organization’s execution as a top three priority. As with most surveys, the results aren’t too surprising and it up to the survey takers and others to analyze what the results mean.
I thought maybe the best way to cover this important subject is in a column. Here goes:
A school teacher with 20 years' experience, who works at an alternative night high school in a major Northeastern city, decided to take the bus instead of drive. It was snowing already and there would surely be a lot of snow and ice on the streets when she finished at 10 p.m.
The teacher started walking to the bus stop for the almost three-mile trip. The bus was there, but it wasn’t moving even though there was a green light. She didn’t run and risk falling and got on, paying the fare with a Metrocard.
There was an agitated, well-dressed passenger probably in her seventies talking in Chinese. The bus driver did her best to try to understand, but since she and none of the passengers, of varied racial, ethical, and cultural backgrounds, neither spoke nor understood Chinese, the woman got more excited and her face got redder as clutched her chest. Some of the passengers wanted to help but couldn’t figure out how, others didn’t seem to notice, and a few wished the bus would just start moving.
That is when the teacher moved into action. Although she spoke no Chinese, she was able to calm down and communicate with the woman. The teacher, taking a number of deep breaths, showed the woman that she needed to calm down, and then she gently reached out to her. After a while, the teacher took out her cell phone and the now less-panicky woman was able to show the teacher a telephone number that she had taken out from her pocketbook.
The teacher called the number and reached an 11-year old girl named Yulang. It was the lady’s grandchild, the only one home. The teacher made sure that Yulang understood her grandmother would be taken care of, put the grandmother on the cell phone, and soon found out what happened. Trying to get to 77th Street in Brooklyn, the woman had taken the wrong bus and was heading to East 77th Street, miles away from her intended destination.
The grandmother, holding the teacher’s hand, got off the bus, breathed a deep sigh of relief, and said probably the few words in English that she knows: “Thank you.”
There was one final “conversation” after they got off the bus and as the teacher saw the police officer stationed at the school walking with a takeout dinner. She gently patted the officer’s upper arm to show the grandmother the officer could be trusted.
The teacher then went into the school, where in the same way that she touched that woman, she touched her students, some of the very hardest-to-reach, many, from poorer families, who dropped out of regular high schools, and repeatedly failed state-wide exams, but still a thirst for learning survived.
That teacher doesn’t simply give out prior state-wide exams to these students, many with untapped and unrealized potential that others couldn’t reach or gave up on, and mark them. But rather, she explains to each student how to approach each type of question, and tells them how the exams are marked, especially the essays.
And how do I know all of this? She told me, as that teacher is my wife.
Column dedication: To my father, who I watched many nights as a child made a virtually perfect perked cup of coffee, and to my mother, who taught my older brother and me that Alan, who had severe cerebral palsy and was restricted to a wheelchair, was just like my brother and I, a child who loved to play. I still fondly and vividly remember Alan’s smile and his loud infectious laugh.
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