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Helping people work and play well together

With due respect to firefighters, surgeons, roustabouts, and others who frequently top lists of the most demanding jobs, my mother worked harder and longer than any ten of them combined. Her responsibilities in our family organization included being household manager and primary care giver for her husband and their seven children. At times her job expanded to include caring for her elderly grandmother-in-law and babysitting grandchildren all while continuing to rear her own not-yet-adolescent children. And our many pets. For more than 44 years - from Roosevelt to Reagan - my mother worked all day and every day to develop the rawest of materials into self-sustaining adults who could (and do) contribute to the well-being of their families, their communities and to the world at large.

That said, my mother never worked in a corporation. She never even considered it; in her day a respectable, college-educated, "colored-lady" went into nursing, teaching, social work or library sciences before marrying and settling down with a family. Corporations weren't an option for her for a host of reasons, not least of which were the bundles of joy that she and my father produced. And produced. And produced. And..., well, you get the point.

My work as an organizational consultant was a new concept for my mother, one about which she was endlessly curious. From my earliest days as a trainer at Allstate through my globetrotting years with Andersen Worldwide and into my life as an independent consultant, she often asked about the work I was doing and listened attentively while I blathered excitedly about team development, strategic visioning, large group intervention, Kotter and Senge and Schein - oh my! - and many other facets of this consulting life. A wise woman, Mom would often say something in those discussions that would help me clarify an issue or see a new way to address a client's problem.

And one day she said something that helped me see my work in a new way. It was during an afternoon tea party hosted by the adult daughters of my old neighborhood for our even more adult mothers. (It would be heresy to call the celebrants little old ladies because some of the daughters are approaching the ages our mothers were while we served them tea and finger sandwiches that afternoon. Not me, of course, but some of the daughters.) Like a dog whose ears perk at the sound of his master's voice, I overheard Mrs. Hughes ask Mom what "Little Judy" was doing for work. My mother, with characteristic eloquence, replied, "Little Judy helps those who either never learned or learned and forgot how to work and play well with others in kindergarten do so in business."

That's it in a nutshell. Every job, every contract, every client, every class, every meeting, every conversation comes down to that. As Bob Mager wrote, adults are often babies with big bodies; business can be a marvelous playground or can evoke horrible dodgeball flashbacks. My mission is to help people find satisfaction and yes, even joy, in the process of working together to create. My satisfaction and joy comes in the moment that people see and choose another, better way. That's a fitting life's work for my mother's daughter.

My mother, Lida - shown here with my eldest brother, Charles - continued her tireless efforts to rear us and our children through the first term of Barack Obama's presidency and cast her final ballot for his second term. Her children and grandchildren remember her always, especially when we play together.

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