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For more than 30 years, I have been volunteering with House of Charity (now known as St. Stephen’s Human Services), a Minneapolis nonprofit that provides housing and additional services to adults in Minneapolis experiencing long-term homelessness. That work has included a lot of time at our food center. Our food center is open to anyone. We just ask that they are not carrying or using drugs when they enter our door. Over the last few years, I have applied an additional filter when people come in. How is that person doing today? Are they well — mentally and emotionally, in addition to physically?

I sense we will not understand all the repercussions of the times that we are living through until today’s children are well into their early adult years. The pandemic is affecting each of us profoundly, whether we realize it or not at this moment. I believe we have to be more conscious about how we help one another nurture a steady course. That’s why I have increasingly applied this new filter to both my personal and professional life.

Putting People First

Each day, I take time to center myself and my team on what is important. A driving cornerstone for me — and the foundation of Traust’s core values — has always been putting people first. What is really important in times of change — and in times like we are going through with the pandemic — is that we add an extra filter to our dealings with each other every day. Whether I am calling a client, a family member, a team member, or our field staff, it is important to take a few minutes to understand how that person is doing.

I don’t call it a wellness check, but it is a check-in. “How are you doing today? What kind of day are we going to have?” I don’t have a secret methodology for doing this. I don’t have some proscribed doctoral lesson or magic formula. It is all about being truly human and taking time with — and for — the people in your life.

You may be familiar with Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of his seven habits includes a matrix of what is really important vs. what’s merely urgent. This matrix helps you understand how to focus on doing the right things. I find that it is a helpful tool for people to simplify their lives and focus on the things that are most important. With the people that I have a chance to interact with, I am really taking time to help people refine their focus or, in some cases, just to pause. It is good, every so often, to declutter your mind (and your desk) and say, “Yep. All that stuff probably has to get done, doesn’t it? Today, however, what is most important to get done? What is going to be most impactful?”

Lessons from My Mentors

As my career goes along, I am working hard to apply the things that I learned from my mentors — those people who helped me come along as a human being and as a professional. Those people were so good about being grounded. Maybe it is because they came from a different era. Maybe they came from family or work histories where there was a little more structure in their training. Today, it can be hard because you don’t have the General Electrics or the IBMs who had these robust training and grooming programs. People today are too often just thrown to the fire. You either get it or you do not — and if you don’t get it, you are gone.

I spent most of my life, from the minute I left home until just a few years ago, as a “warrior.” No problem was too big. No hole was too deep. Nothing was going to get in the way of the things I was responsible for — whether it was family or work or charity. With the help of my mentors, I have now reached that stage in my life where I am trying to do more sharing, giving, creating, and making opportunities possible for others.

A lot of times that means not stepping in to do or fix something myself. In my warrior years, I used to say, “Okay, I am just going to go do it.” I am learning now to give people the opportunity to be part of shaping the future of parts of my life, like Traust. In the past, I would have taken a lot more of a lead on projects. Instead, I am now guiding and coaching, and giving support.

Staying Principle-Driven

When living in periods of change and challenge — as we are now — it is important to practice the basics and remain principle-driven. One of the things I hope to bring to others is the importance of having a deep keel in the water and a steady course. By being a good example and taking time to help them focus on what is important, I can hopefully provide the kind of benefits to this generation that my mentors gave to me.

A lot of things I have written about here are pretty old-fashioned — and maybe so am I. At the end of the day, I believe that life and business are all about people. It is all about caring. It is about being clear in your intentions and being as pure about those intentions as you can. It is about doing the right thing for those around you.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to each of you. I look forward to reconnecting in the New Year.