The cover on the New Yorker this week made me really sad. It seems the light of the Lady of Liberty has gone out. I just signed up to lead an effort in support of immigration and refugee rights. Not sure what I’m getting into, but it will be an adventure.

I love the diversity of Des Moines. It has increased so much since I started working here in 1980, and it still is not that great, but it’s much richer than it was.

When Republican Governor Robert Ray spread the welcome mat for Southeast Asian refugees and immigrants, he did a great thing. Since then, Des Moines has become home to a rainbow of people from all over the world. There are more than 100 languages spoken in the homes of DMPS students.

It’s exciting to walk through a grocery store and hear other languages and drive down the street and see people wearing traditional Burmese or Somali dress. We have restaurants where we can eat Mexican of course but also Thai, Indian and even Ecuadoran. Our neighbors who have come so far enrich us in so many ways.

But is this about to change? I hope not! We will work to continue the welcoming tradition of Iowa.

This week Shelly and I worked with a group of Ugandan college students who were visiting Drake University. It was a highlight of a team building session for the Adams Leadership Academy. They were so candid and open. They were so excited to experience snow!

When I asked them to close their eyes for a centering exercise, they were afraid I was going to hypnotize them! Shelly and I led them through Real Colors. Justine was the only one with a dominant “orange” personality so she and I worked out the “brightening” activity together, identifying joys, strengths, needs and values for our personality preference.

When I said good-bye to them at a reception Thursday evening, Justine was still asking how to achieve her goals. Collaboration, Justine, collaboration. We need ALL the colors to be successful.

Strengthen Relationships

Whether online, at work or at home, I measure the quality of my life by the health of my relationships. How am I feeling about the people and organizations I connect with? What am I accomplishing through those relationships? Are they helping me grow? Or distracting me from my hopes and dreams?

Cyndy Erickson, Shelly Johnson and I presented a workshop recently at the Iowa Non-Profit Summit on strengthening relationships to achieve a more productive workplace. Key components of strong friendships and partnerships are communication, focus, continuing assessment and feedback. Not a simple task, but the rewards are great.

Jose, one of my Earth Heroes summed it up, “Miss Martha, when I’m special I work really hard.” In very few words Jose eloquently stated the key to education. It’s about the relationships. Between students and teachers and among students.

This fascinating article in The New Yorker says this about the creative process, “Like every element of ‘Hopscotch,’ we figured it out through conversation, testing, discovery, iterating.” Opera director Yuval Sharon has created an amazing experience in limousines and on rooftops in Los Angeles. The piece made me want to fly to LA to see it and I’m not even an opera fan!

I’m sure their conversations included honest feedback, one of the most difficult components of communication. How often do we avoid mirroring someone’s unproductive behavior to them? Or withhold the positive feedback that provides motivation and incentive for futher effort?

What are the costs of avoiding those conversations? Cyndy Erickson facilitates Fierce Conversations including delegation, confrontational and coaching conversations. It can be done as a one- or two-day workshop and could be combined with Real Colors or other professional development.

Real Colors is a personality assessment based on Myers-Briggs. We use it to help groups identify strengths and preferences. Then we build on it to develop better communication and stronger teams.

What is amazing to me, but perhaps shouldn’t be, is the way the group at the Summit received a brief centering/mindfulness exercise. More and more I’m using techniques I’ve learned from yoga to bring groups into the present as we begin programs. Giving permission and instruction for stillness and breathing seems to strike a chord among many.

For strong relationships, the ability to pause and breathe deeply is essential to overlooking minor annoyances, for gathering courage for the difficult conversation, for rewarding jobs well done.