Would you steal your forum mate’s computer or car?

Of course not. We all learn from an early age to respect the property of others so taking without permission is simply unacceptable.  But far too often and without thinking, we steal something even more precious from our forum mates – their time.  When you arrive 10 minutes late for a forum meeting and six other members must wait to begin, you have stolen collectively an hour of their time.

Tardiness is a chronic problem among busy executives, but time is money, and there is no better example of that than your forum mates wasting time around a table, their combined compensation ticking away at thousands of dollars per hour. And chronic tardiness, no matter how innocent, can gum up the gears of a forum’s ethic, build resentment and anger, and make forum members less willing to share and be vulnerable because of that tardiness-induced stress.

Here’s one simple way to be on time:

  • Block plenty of time on your personal calendar to arrive early, even assuming traffic delays or other unforeseen circumstances.
  • If you are early, simply wait outside in the lobby or in your car, checking email, making phone calls, or reading the article you’ve been saving but never get to.

Your fellow forum members will appreciate the courtesy and respect you are showing for them, and this will build everyone’s commitment to not steal our forum mates’ most valuable possession, their time.

Great questions that lead to deep updates

There are many ways to encourage forum members to share during the updates part of the meeting.  One of the simplest approaches is to ask members the following questions.  Each person can then decide which question(s) resonate with them and which they will answer when they share their update.

  • What is the toughest relationship challenge (personal or professional) that you are facing now?
  • What is the toughest leadership challenge you are facing now?
  • What is the greatest fear you have now?
  • What is going on in your life right now that you have not spoken with anyone about? What are you hiding?
  • What are you complaining about, blaming others for, or notice yourself playing the villain, victim, or hero?
  • What are you not sharing because you don’t want to seem perfect?
  • What is something that you don’t like about yourself that you are working on?

Whichever question(s) members choose to answer, encourage everyone to also answer one more question:

  • … and how does that make you feel?

The right way to add new members to your forum

Adding members to your forum can be a source of renewal and new energy, but the process needs to be managed thoughtfully to maximize the probability of successful new member integration.  Consider following these steps:

  • In a forum meeting, get clarity on these questions: How many members do we want to add and when do we want them to join? Are we looking to enhance peer quality or diversity of perspectives or both? Are there any other demographic considerations (e.g., gender, industry, career stage, scope of responsibility)?
  • Appoint a forum member to serve as “point person,” managing the process of communication with potential candidates, and with Alumni Forum Services and your local club in sourcing candidates.
  • Decide how your forum will engage with candidates: over the phone, in coffees with selected members, and/or by inviting them to a partial or full meeting. Everyone needs to be clear on the process and time frame.  Ideally, at least a couple forum members will meet the candidate(s) before they attend a full forum meeting. Topics of discussion can include:
    • Member and candidate demographics/backgrounds
    • Forum experience to date and expectations/aspirations for the future
    • Reviewing the forum’s constitution or norms
    • Coordinating calendars: Determining when the candidate will attend their first meeting
  • Before the candidate attends a full meeting, arrange for them to have an orientation call with Alumni Forum Services to review forum principles and processes.
  • Select an integration exercise to use at the first meeting that the new member will be attending. Some ideas are available here.
  • To support the integration process, assign a “forum buddy” to every new member who will check in regularly in the first few months after joining. Also encourage other members to meet the newest members for coffee or a meal to get everyone connected as quickly as possible.

Forum leadership: The role of the moderator

The voluntary moderator is key to the success and health of your forum. Some ideas to consider as you organize your own forum’s leadership plans:

  • The standard model is to have a moderator and asst. moderator, often with the assistant also being the moderator-elect. As an alternative, two people can serve as co-moderators and share/divide the responsibilities.
  • Ideally, the moderator’s term is one year, but sometimes that’s not possible. If so, terms should be no less than three months to ensure continuity in the forum’s meetings.
  • Over the life of the forum, each member should have a chance to rotate into the moderator role, but not everyone will have the time, temperament, and skills to serve. That’s okay. There are other opportunities to serve the forum.
  • Whatever approach you take to the role, the moderator should delegate, delegate, delegate! He or she is not responsible alone for the success of the forum.  Many tasks can be “outsourced” to others: sending meeting notices, keeping the parking lot, ordering food, coordinating retreat content and logistics.
  • The most important roles of the moderator are to lead by example, serve as a role model, and ensure that forum remains a safe space for members to share their toughest challenges and highest aspirations. That’s also the role of a leader in any organization, so serving as moderator is great practice for the rest of your life.

How does your brain process emotions: Lessons from the Disney/Pixar movie “Inside Out”

The recently released movie “Inside Out” may wow you with its animations and special effects, but it is not a children’s movie.  We peer inside the brain of a young girl and see five emotions – joy, sadness, anger, disgust, and fear – fighting to control what will be imprinted into her core memory, and with which emotional “color.” Encourage everyone in your forum to watch the movie before your next meeting, and then pose some of these questions suggested by Abigail Burd:

  1. When we meet Riley, most of the time Joy is in charge of her thoughts and personality. Which emotion(s) do you feel most often?
  2. Riley and her family go through a lot of changes when they move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Have you ever gone through a big transition like this?
  3. How are the glowing balls, or “core memories” made? What are yours?
  4. What do the core memories have to do with Riley’s personality?
  5. When Sadness touches one of the happy core memories, she colors it blue. What do you think is going on then? Is it possible that our current moods can color our past memories? Or how we define our personality?
  6. When Riley’s mother tells her that she is helping her parents by being their “happy girl,” Riley feels pressure to only show them her joy. What do you think of this?
  7. Do you think that our society values certain emotions over others? Which ones?
  8. At the end of the movie, Joy learns that other emotions, especially Sadness, are also important. Why?
  9. Do you think it is easier for males or females, or for younger or older people, to express different emotions? Which ones? Why?

The Final Frontier: Starting a Conversation in Your Forum about Money

It’s sometimes said that money is the final frontier of forum.  When forums are willing to share deeply about a topic like this, they have reached a level of trust and vulnerability that leads to transformational value.

This does not mean that all members have to be ready to disclose income, net worth, and other key financial indicators.  Instead, consider these options:

  1. One (brave) member shares voluntarily their financial snapshot, and then describes how they think about their situation, options, and concerns. Others can then respond with their own experience, without feeling they need to disclose specific numbers.
  2. Here’s a list of a great list of conversation-starting questions (adapted from a recent Wall Street Journal article on this topic):
  • What is your most painful money memory?
  • What is your most joyful money memory?
  • How did these experiences shape your relationship with money?
  • What three things did your parents teach you about money?
  • Which of these lessons have you applied in your financial life?
  • Was your family rich, poor, or middle class growing up? How did you feel about that?
  • What were your family’s values around money?
  • What is your greatest financial fear?
  • What are your most important financial goals? Do you know how much is “enough” for you, this year and long term?
  • What are you willing to do differently around money?

I would love to hear how your forum approaches this topic.  We can all learn from each other.

What’s on Your Moral Bucket List?

David Brooks recently published an insightful op-ed in the New York Times called The Moral Bucket List.  The article provides great food for thought for any forum.  Some questions that your forum might discuss after reading the article:

  • What are my “resume” virtues? What are my “eulogy” virtues?  What do I aspire to be versus who I am today?
  • Consider Brooks’ “moral bucket list.”  Which of these have I cultivated in the past; which can I cultivate in the coming year?
  • How can forum help each of us as we strive for meaning and purpose in our lives?

Best practices when a new member joins your forum

When a new member joins your forum, you are eager to have it go smoothly for both new and veteran members.  Consider following as many of these practices as you can:

  • Before the new member attends his or her first regular meeting, have a couple veteran members meet the new member for coffee. This provides a chance to review the forum’s typical agenda, meeting schedule, and other norms, and answer any questions.  If in-person isn’t possible, schedule a phone call, fold these points into the first meeting, or set a follow-up before the second meeting.
  • Begin the first meeting by asking each member, new and old, to commit or recommit to forum confidentiality.
  • Substitute an integration exercises for one of your usual presentation slots.   This might be “Lifeline,” “If you really knew me…” or other new or previously used exercises.
  • Plan on the new member participating in updates just like everyone else.  Veteran members can model the process.
  • Encourage the new member to present relatively early in their membership, not necessarily at the first meeting, but don’t wait six months.
  • Assign a “buddy” to the new member to meet for coffee or a meal before the second meeting.

Bob Halperin

What I’m most ashamed about myself

A Forum member told me that he tried a different presentation approach at a recent meeting:  He simply discussed “the five things I’m most ashamed of about myself.”   He reported that it was quite difficult, but the other members quickly dove in with their own issues, and it helped bring the forum closer together.

Obviously it takes a while to build enough trust to do this kind of presentation, but the member found it quite helpful.

Are you and your forum ready to tackle this presentation topic?

Bob Halperin

An evergreen forum topic: Dealing with aging parents

The topic of elderly parents is a great one for forums because everyone has dealt with it, will deal with it, or has observed others (including their own parents) deal with it.

Following are possible approaches which you can adapt for your forum’s purpose.

–          A pre-meeting option:  Ask each member to answer a selection of these questions related to their own parents (http://www.aarp.org/relationships/caregiving-resource-center/info-08-2010/gs_talking_points.html)

–          Begin the discussion with a story.  The following is a well-known one that might set the stage: http://www.snopes.com/glurge/woodbowl.asp

–          Icebreaker: How did you observe your parent(s) talk about and deal with their parents as they became older and needed help?  What lessons did you take away?

–          Presentation/discussion options:

  • One member shares his/her particular situation in typical forum style and others respond with relevant experiences.
  • Two or three members dealing with related issues share mini-presentations, and then others respond with their questions and experiences. (This approach is more complicated than the traditional single-presenter session.)
  • Go around the table asking: What question(s) are you (or your parents if forum members are younger) wrestling with related to this topic?  Record the questions on a flip chart/white board and then decide which ones you want to focus on using these prompts:
    –  What thought provoking questions could we ask each other to help us think about this topic in new ways?
    –  What stories from our own experiences could we share to help each other?

–          Closing exercise: Go around the room and ask each member to share what insight/idea/perspective they are taking away from today’s discussion.