Monthly Archives: February 2016

History is Alive


I am frequently asked why I love history so much.  History is alive. It’s full of people and how they lived their lives.  Since we learn by observing other people, historical persons are the ultimate role models.

For example, George Washington was brilliant at projecting confidence.  The worse things got, the more he appeared calm and confident. His attitude inspired his troops to continue fighting for eight years in the Revolutionary War. Any business owner understands the importance of projecting confidence to employees, clients, and competitors. Confidence breeds success.

Another guy I’m partial to is General George Thomas, nicknamed the Rock of Chickamauga.  Why? When the entire Union line broke and scampered back to Chattanooga, Tennessee, he refused to retreat and ordered his men to stop the Confederates. He turned a potential disaster into merely an embarrassing day for the Union Army.

Every business owner has experienced a version of Chickamauga when a key client cancelled a contract leaving a giant hole in the company’s bottom line or a project went hideously wrong. Successful business owners hold their nerve, trust their team and battle on to retrieve something from the mess.

History also gives us perspective. Without historical comparisons, we have a tendency to believe the challenges we face are brand new. But there truly is nothing new under the sun because human nature doesn’t change.

Take a look back at the first “world war” known as the Peloponnesian War which lasted from 431 – 404 B.C. Athens and Sparta fought across Greece, then on to North Africa, Sicily, Spain, and all Mediterranean points in between. They trashed the known world fighting for economic and political control. The war created an opportunity for the competing Persian Empire to try to conquer Europe.  It all seems a bit like Microsoft and Apple who were so busy fighting each other they failed to recognize the threat posed by Google.

The Peloponnesian War is described in wonderful detail by Thucydides. He had time to write because he was unemployed after disagreeing with his superiors about the Athenian strategy to defeat Sparta. He’s an early example of making a career transition, in his case from soldier to historian.

Thucydides tells of heroic battles and the suffering of civilians, of spies and traitors. His most memorable character is Alcibiades who sold out his home town of Athens to the Spartans, then switched sides, before pulling yet another switcheroo. Alcibiades eventually sold out all the Greeks to the Persians.

Alcibiades must have been charming because it took years for the Athenians and Spartans to stop trusting him. Today, Alcibiades would be labeled as anti-social or sociopathic. I’ll bet you’ve met an Alcibiades at some point in your career.

These few examples illustrate why I love history.  I have role models for every possible event in my life.  I can see how current challenges are the same or different than historical events and that guides my strategy on how to react.  No how-to book will ever match what I can learn from history.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website:

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Lessons in Leadership: Learning to Listen


I have recently been elected President of our synagogue’s Board of Trustees, a position for which I had been preparing for several years.  The last couple of years leading up to my presidency, I began paying special attention to the current president, observing her leadership style and comparing it to other past presidents.  And now that I have been in the role for a few months, I’m figuring out my own style and learning some valuable lessons.

First and foremost for me is learning to listen.  My profession as a news reporter requires me to both ask questions and listen for answers.  The goal is to seek out information relevant to the story I am pursuing, digest it and present it in a clear, balanced, fair manner.  It is up to the consumer to draw her own conclusion about the information.

As a leader, I am required to listen first to my constituents’ thoughts, problems, suggestions, complaints, etc.  Often what people want most is to be heard.  For example, there is one older woman, recently widowed, who calls me regularly and will also pull me aside in synagogue to chat.  At first I tried to avoid her, fearing criticism or complaining.  But after thinking about it, I decided to dive in head on when she calls or asks to talk.  What I found is that she is lonely, cares deeply about the congregation and really trusts my leadership.  Now when she wants to talk I gladly spend time with her.  The key for me is to just listen, ask minimal questions and when she is done, I thank her for her thoughtfulness, concern and dedication.

This practice of listening also applies to other leaders in the community.  There is one particular Board member who calls often to voice his opinion, usually on a topic recently covered in a meeting.  With this person, I often screen his calls because he leaves long voice messages, covering much of what he wants to discuss.  He is a really nice, caring guy, but also long winded.  Again, what he wants most is to be heard, so by waiting until I have sufficient time, he can get that need met.  I’ve learned he is insecure about speaking up at meetings and sometimes needs a little more time to formulate his thoughts and opinions.  The meetings are often fast paced, with the same few folks doing most of the talking, and he just isn’t comfortable.  But I value his opinions and I am trying to encourage him to speak up more.

Just before I took office I met with my friend who was the outgoing President.  She said that she thinks of congregants like her kids.  Sometimes they just want comfort and to know someone is listening.  She encouraged me to find my own leadership style and advised me to never forget that I am always being evaluated and observed by others.  It was good advice.

What are your leadership lessons?  Let us know and be watching for more of mine.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Check it out at  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Hurricanes and Turtles

Snapping Turtle

My husband and I share our home with two cats – two animals that are as different as chalk and cheese. Oscar is a grey, black and brown tabby with a white nose and cheeks, a white bib, and four white paws. He has green eyes with black liner around each.  Oscar can only be described as portly – he is the older of the two by eight years.  He commands the high ground in the house in some ways.  His preferred hangout is the loft above the den/office where he naps during the day, but his preferred nighttime stance is curled up right against my hip, wedged just tightly enough that turning over will place him in some danger if he doesn’t move quickly enough.

Jasmine, on the other hand, at age three, is the social committee.  A Maine Coon mix with the typical ruff, long fur and feather tufts between her toes, she is also remarkably gentle, loves to be brushed, talks all the time, and has a purr that can be heard across the room.  Although much lighter in weight, with all her fur she looks to be almost the same size as Oscar.

Jasmine joined our family about a year ago, and the introduction between these two took a while.  However, Oscar was tolerant, and Jasmine was persistent.  Now they often squabble, but also can be found lying on the bed together at times.  Jasmine does not climb up into Oscar’s lair, and Oscar does not climb on Jasmine’s cat condo.  They will eat each other’s food if either can get away with it.  Water bowls and boxes seem to be shared territory.

If Oscar and Jasmine were a human couple, I would say that Oscar is the minimizer – the one who just wants to shut things down and avoid conflict – while Jasmine is the maximizer – what do you MEAN you don’t want to talk about it, we have to get to the bottom of this right NOW!

Maximizers and minimizers are roles that turn up in most coupleships.  The problem is that both individuals who play these roles tend to think that their way of doing things is the way things should be done.

If you are the person in your relationship who tends to be more verbal, to want to initiate talking or getting to the bottom of a problem, or who has a hard time when your partner wants to take time out from dealing with a situation, you could be a maximizer.  Another metaphor for this role is that of being the hurricane or the tiger – you have outward moving energy that wants to be expressed.

If you are the person in your relationship who just wants to get things back under control and to shut down any problems, on the theory that most things will take care of themselves if they are not made too much of, you are probably a minimizer – you have inward moving energy that wants to close off.  A metaphor for this energy is that of the turtle – pulling into its shell for safety (but remember that turtles can be snapping turtles, too, if necessary).

If you recognize yourself in these descriptions, you might also want to know that the more you minimize or maximize, the more likely it is that your partner will do the opposite – and that will get you both stuck in an ongoing power struggle.

If you are stuck:

  1. Step back and take a time out.  Don’t return until you have calmed down.
  2. Recognize your own energy type and try to incorporate some of the opposite energy.
  3. Accept your partner’s energy with grace. You are not likely to change this essential quality – best to learn how to appreciate and manage it.
  4. Squabble if you must, but always end up peacefully – like Oscar and Jasmine.

After all, lying on the bed together isn’t a bad outcome!

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at

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