Remembering Dr. Maya Angelou: helping students and humankind find our voice

Maya Angelou died today.  She was 86.  Initial news said she died peacefully at her home.  Although not certain, I think this is the same house, where as a student of hers at Wake Forest  back in 1983, I presented my final exam on the stage she created on her living room floor.  My final exam involved presenting a speech I had to write in the persona of the abolitionist and freed slave Frederick Douglass for her class “Race, Religion, Politics and the South”.  Not the easiest exercise for someone from white privilege and an all-white fraternity.

This woman, who had lost her voice for years as a child (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) helped me find mine, just as she has helped countless other students and people worldwide find theirs. Today I am remembering that first day as a senior in her class in Wingate Hall.  The window behind me was open and the beach song Fill Me Up Buttercup was wafting in from the jukebox of my fraternity.  Ms. Angelou was in front of the class and I could almost feel her beckoning me forward into an unknown future with her voice -- that voice!  Who can ever forget the rising and falling of her voice?

I will never forget her first lesson.  There must have been about 25 students waiting for our famous teacher to arrive.  She walked in and in short order asked students to introduce their fellow students to her using full names with titles.  Within 15 minutes we knew full names of individuals who had been strangers, and we received our first lesson on the importance of names and identity; a lesson delivered in part poetry, part lecture.  Years later, when I saw my former teacher standing on the Capital Steps delivering her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning”, at William Jefferson Clinton’s presidential inauguration in 1993 and hearing her powerful words naming nations, ethnicities and people calling us all to our common identity standing on the Rock, planted by the Tree beside the River. I was beaming with pride saying I have witnessed some of those truths and glimpsed some of those rich images when they were gestating in the aliveness of what she created in the classroom  with her students! Remember who you are! Claim it! Call it forth in others! And greet others in the spirit of that knowledge!

In that same house, Ms. Angelou greeted my own father and mother when they came to the  party she held for graduating students.  Much to my consternation, my mother, with the best of intentions, presented Ms. Angelou a copy of the Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana’s Cotton Country Cookbook known for its butter intensive recipes and thinly veiled glorification of bygone southern days.  Ms. Angelou, ever hospitable, welcomed the cookbook with its pen and ink illustrations of slaves picking cotton and remarked something along the lines of “I am sure there must be wonderful recipes here.”  Another lesson taught to this student: the lesson of hospitality.

Ms. Angelou introduced me not only to my classmates that first day, and then to a host of other poets and clarion voices such as Frederick Douglass but to a deeper self which called forth a new voice for me. Where that eventually led me was to seminary, and then to post-graduate work and study in misanthrope South Africa, learning from voices long silenced. I went on to minister in the church, and work in nonprofits with urban youth to help them access college and organize for better economic conditions in their neighborhoods.  

News of her death has me reminiscing of days long ago, and feeling blessed for the long reach of her influence.  Using your own authentic voice is a tricky thing whether you are 68 or 53 or 22. No matter our age, we all struggle to find it – and keep it– this sense of who we are in relation to the world and God – what I call our relational competence.  She had little patience for anyone who spoke in front of her class with a “small voice” and would challenge us to reach down and project with confidence, purpose and poise.  I’m now in my 50s, and my voice can get a little tired, it isn’t always certain as it was in my youth, and it can be a bit warbly when it comes to addressing the social issues of the day. But today, I think about Maya Angelou’s voice and my own becomes stronger.  I find myself wanting to right the societal wrongs, tell my wife and kids I love them, sing and make a joyful noise, and most of all, to be a bit more gracious and hospitable to those around me just as she was to all, including my well intentioned mother.    I moved on from Wake Forest, never taking the time to reach back and to say thank you to her.  So today I say – with a strong voice - “Thank you, Maya Angelou!”


Photo:  www.wfu.edu. Gallery http://mayaangelou.wfu.edu/photos/


What happens if Joe doesn’t come to work…ever again?

Chances are you know Joe.  Every organization has a “Joe”, no matter the size of the company.  He is the one who keeps the IT systems going and the critical applications your sales team daily depends upon spinning.  Joe is the one everyone in the department turns to when a decision needs to be made. Joe is the only one the investors want to talk to.
At your work, you may be that “Joe.”


But what happens if , one day, Joe doesn’t come in... for good?


Lack of a succession plan for key leadership and employees can cause havoc in an organization as it struggles to function following a planned or unexpected exit of a key leader or employee.  It is an invisible problem until it hits.  When it does it can spell disaster.  
Effective organizations pay attention to the importance of succession planning.  And effective succession planning involves keeping your eyes on the three balls of continuity of leadership, risk management and strategic leader development so the invisible doesn’t become a problem when your organization faces planned or unexpected exits of your key employees.  


Click here
to view our slideshare to view our thoughts and tips on things you can do today to make sure you don’t have a big problem tomorrow.View our slideshare with 9 slides containing useful tips on succession planning



Disaster Plan Required for Magician’s Rabbit

It appears “Marty the Magician” (a.k.a Marty Hahne) has until July 29th to write a disaster plan for the star in his magic act:  Charlie the bunny. 

According to a Washington Times article: “Agriculture Department tells magician to write disaster plan for his rabbit” (@washtimes on Twitter), the United States Department of Agriculture has told him he must have a plan for what to do with his bunny during and after a disaster occurs.  Marty Hahne writes:  

“My USDA rabbit license requirement has taken another ridiculous twist,” he continued. “I just received an 8 page letter from the USDA, telling me that by July 29 I need to have in place a written disaster plan, detailing all the steps I would take to help get my rabbit through a disaster, such as a tornado, fire, flood, etc. They not only want to know how I will protect my rabbit during a disaster, but also what I will do after the disaster, to make sure my rabbit gets cared for properly. I am not kidding–before the end of July I need to have this written rabbit disaster plan in place, or I am breaking the law.”

I will leave it to the blogosphere to carry on about the over-reach of government to legislate or to overly complicate a rather simple matter.  I can understand where the USDA is coming from having written preparedness plans for a local Humane Assn. and having worked in disaster relief following Hurricane Katrina.  I know of the challenges authorities face – and the animals themselves - with caring animals following a disaster.   

As one who prepares disaster plans for companies – both regulated and unregulated – I am here to help Mr. Hahne address the concern they expressed in their 8 page letter with extensive and detailed plans that can dwarf their 8 page letter! (Check out a link I have at the bottom of this post to take you to free planning resources.)  But, it seems like these simple steps would suffice:

Before a Disaster Strikes

  1. Prepare a family preparedness plan. (This is important if Charlie resides at your home.)
  2. When performing out of town, before you go do a quick web search to familiarize yourself with available pet store, feed store, and veterinary services in the town where you and Charlie are performing.
  3. Prepare an emergency “go box” of lettuce, carrots, and water and keep separate from your main “office” (e.g. performance stand, hat, cape and those Houdini contraptions you magicians use).  Keeping the “go box” in your car is a good plan.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the exits and safe locations where the performance is taking place.
  5. Other mitigation actions involve scanning the crowd to evaluate what children may be overly aggressive or have ill intent towards Charlie.

During a Disaster

  1. Place Charlie in your magician’s coat or cape pocket and follow the appropriate emergency procedure (e.g. evacuate, shelter in place). – This is the essence of your plan! If it calls for an evacuation, walk and don’t run and try not to scream.

After a Disaster

  1. See if Charlie is okay.
  2. Use your common sense.
  3. If you are unable to care for Charlie, make sure your wife can.  If she can’t, use your alternate back-up and location which could be that wonderful elementary school teacher in your town whose classroom has a class bunny and hamster (but no snakes).

Unlike with the rabbit, business owners can’t stuff employees in their pocket or hat and run when there is an emergency.  For business owners who have human employees and not animals in their care, we shouldn’t need the government mandating that we have detailed plans.  But we do need to have emergency plans and continuity plans because it makes good business sense to be able to protect your most important assets. 

We at Patmos make it easy (our recent blogs will take you to a plethora of free planning templates).  I hope you will take advantage of some of our resources to make it easy for your company to plan.

We are also here to help Marty Hahne who evidentially the USDA is required to be trained.  To Mr. Hahne: I am willing train you for free if you will teach me a magic trick.

Download our Emergency Plan template.

Get our Free Risk Assessment Guide and Disaster Scenarios



Patmos’ experience in helping businesses and nonprofits in Middle Tennessee become more resilient is utilized by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce 

This week the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce released its online resource library on its website to help Middle Tennessee organizations prepare for future disasters and business crises (Disaster Resource Library).  Nashville staffer Lindsay Chambers heralds the project in her blog “Be Prepared: Creating a Continuity Plan for Your Business.”  (Read Ms. Chambers’ blog).

Patmos, LLC was pleased to be part of this effort by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce to boost the resiliency of businesses in Middle TN.  The Nashville Chamber selected Patmos, LLC to develop this disaster preparedness and recovery plan for the Nashville region’s business community. 

John Hilley, President of Patmos, worked with Chamber executives to prepare online planning resources, including the online disaster planning resource that is especially geared to the smaller business (fewer than 100 employees) to help them address the most pressing concerns.  An additional planning resource developed for the larger size organization that may face industry regulations concerning the protection of data (e.g. healthcare, financial organizations) will be made available on the Chamber website at a later date. Patmos involved the crisis communications expertise of Aileen Katcher of Katcher Vaughn & Bailey Public Relations (KVBPR) to develop a crisis communications plan that the Chamber would use to ensure effective communications in the business community during future disasters.

Ms. Chambers recalls the impetus for the online disaster planning resource in her blog:

“Following the 2010 flood, Mayor Karl Dean tasked the Chamber with creating a Business Response Team to help connect local business owners with the resources to recover quickly. The most important lesson we learned from this experience was the need for businesses to prepare for disasters before they strike.  As an outgrowth of the Business Response Team, the Chamber created an online disaster planning resource.

The statistics are staggering in terms of the survivability of businesses hit with a significant interruption. According to The Hartford’s Guide to Emergency Preparedness Planning, created by The Hartford Financial Services Group:

  • 43% of the businesses that experience a disaster and have no emergency plan never reopen
  • only 29% of those that do reopen are still operating two years later.

Often, being prepared is the key to recovery.  This online tool helps close the gap for small businesses who know they need a plan but are not sure about how to go about creating one.

 Click here to visit the Chamber’s Disaster Resource Library

Follow Patmos LLC


About the Nashville Chamber

The Nashville Area Chamber (@NashChamber)  is Middle Tennessee's largest business federation, representing more than 2,000 member businesses in 10 counties (Davidson, Cheatham, Dickson, Maury, Montgomery, Robertson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson, Wilson). Through a wide variety of programs and initiatives, the Chamber works to positively impact the economic vitality and enhance the quality of life in the region, while supporting the growth and prosperity of Chamber-member businesses.

About our partner in this project, KVBPR:

Katcher Vaughn & Bailey Public Relations, Inc. (www.kvbpr.com; @KVBPR) develops innovative public relations programs and crisis communications plans for health care and civic growth and development clients. KVBPR helps align client’s interests with the people who are important to their long-term interests and success. The firm is a partner in WORLDCOM, a global partnership of independently owned public relations firms.

About Patmos, LLC

Patmos, LLC (www.patmosconsulting.com; @PatmosLLC) provides services for corporate and nonprofit clients focusing on organizational resiliency. Patmos' diverse and unique set of experiences and skills – business continuity and disaster recovery planning, aligning processes and systems, leadership development, change management with heart, risk assessment and strategic planning -- provide the fundamentals which organizations need to survive and grow, while adapting to today’s challenging and complex realities.  John Hilley is Founder and President of Patmos, LLC.



We are throwing your business - and your employees - a lifeline

Business emergencies and crises come in all shapes and sizes, and nobody likes to think it may happen to your organization. However, creating a plan to respond to various types of emergencies -- and preparing your staff to exercise the plan effectively -- could make all the difference in the survival of your business.

While large companies have in-house emergency planners and business continuity professionals, many small businesses and organizations can't afford a disaster planning team.

That's why we created two free guides to help organizations of all sizes get back to business faster after a disaster or an emergency.

The first step of a Business Continuity Plan to help your business be prepared for and bounce back from a crisis is to know the risks you face.  But before you can create a Business Continuity Plan, you must understand the specific risks your business faces.  After you identify risks, the next step is to protect and help your employees know what to do in the event of an emergency.

  • Get your Free Risk Assessment Guide that provides informative tools to help your company be better prepared for various threats. 
  • We’ve thrown you a lifeline by preparing an Emergency Response Plan that you can download and customize to fit your organization. It outlines immediate reaction and responses to emergencies, focusing on safety and protecting your organization’s assets.   

 Grab your lifeline and download our free Emergency Response Plan.