“What Makes a Fellow, a Fellow?”

An Extraordinary Footprint.

The Most Important Personal Honor in American Public Relations

Spring is the time of year when many of our PRSA senior colleagues are nominated or nominate themselves for election to the PRSA College of Fellows. As I begin my 31st  year as a Fellow ‘93, it’s interesting to reflect on the experiences of all those I have coached or mentored over the years. Just about everyone comes to the process with few clues about what a being a Fellow actually is.

Becoming a Fellow is all about the footprint the candidate has left on the profession, culture, colleagues, and society. There are Fellows who have worked their entire careers in a single market and left a powerful footprint. There are Fellows who have worked in a single state and leave a significant footprint. There are Fellows who work regionally or nationally and, in the process, leave a meaningful footprint.

A footprint is about the quality of practice and the level of influence and relevance to the entire practice rather than how many projects completed, or awards won. This is the hardest part and biggest test of becoming a Fellow. It is a profound mindset shift from counting projects, clicks and likes to really understanding the power of the candidate’s intentional, personal impact, ideas, behavior and ethics that help others to become better and improve as practitioners, citizens, public officials, leaders, more honorable advisors, and people of professional substance; people who have then become more successful and influential among the people they impact, influence and change throughout their professional lives.

It’s also more than the activities within the Public Relations profession. It is about the candidates’ intentions, impact, influence, access, and acceptance in their vicinity, marketplace or practice specialties; it’s about how the candidate uses their influence, experience, insights and presence to make important change happen – perhaps bringing reality and sensibility, as well as reducing contention and bringing peace to important contentious circumstances.

Earning their access, intentions, influence, impact, acceptance, and inclusion in what matters.

Sometimes it’s easy to misread this impact, or mistake proficiency or expertise for leadership, personal impact on others. Those who wish to analyze their careers, to assess their footprint, ultimately go through an interesting and introspective analysis of their lives and work. These are the steps I recommend:

  1. Examine one’s life for the lessons that were shared with others and what others learned from their own perspective. And what the candidate learned from being helpful.
  2. Reach back and make contact with those whose lives the candidate truly affected, seek short real examples of the value to them from knowing the candidate.
  3. Ask those whohave known, worked, and benefited from the candidate’s efforts, presence, and insights the answers to five basic questions:
  1. What is/are/were the most important things, ideas or concepts that these individuals learned from the candidate?
  2. What is/are/were the most interesting things, ideas or concepts learned or remembered?
  3. What is/are/were those things these individuals feel they might never have learned had the candidate been absent from their lives . . . What do they know now that they didn’t know before that mattered because they met the candidate, whatever the circumstance?
  4. What meaningful questions did the candidate help others to confront, consider or explore that might not have happened had the candidate not been present?
  5. How has knowing the candidate changed people’s lives, in the beneficiary’s own words?
4. There are crucial personal questions the candidate must ask themselves.

  1. How have you stepped outside the realm of PR for some purpose larger than yourself? What, when and why?
  2. Can you explain your motivation or your intentions for achieving election to The PRSA College of Fellows?
  3. Can you provide a sense of the purpose of your life, larger than yourself?
  4. What evidence can you share that, rather than on yourself, you put the spotlight or gave the spotlight to others?  Or, how you helped someone else find the spotlight for their work and accomplishments?
  5. How do your accomplishments fit together so we can know your plan or how your career was driven, by personal spontaneous actions, self-motivated activities, or other forces?
  6. Have you systematically shared your insights and learnings based on what you were accomplishing and learning in your practice?
  7. How do you share the principles that drive your practice in  hopes that those you help will retain and apply them in their own practices? In other words, are you already acting like a Fellow?
  8. What are some of the lessons, morals, and self-evident truths about what and why you do what you do or believe what you believe?
5. Can and do you explicitly share the principles and higher purposes, if any, and intentions that guide and influence your thinking and judgment and in turn constructively and memorably influence others.

  1. In simple single words and short phrases, how would you describe who you are?
  2. Should you be elected to The College of Fellows how do you plan to remain relevant to those who will seek your assistance and counsel?
6.  What were some of the surprises the candidate experienced as their access, influence, impact, and professional success expanded?

  1. True success in life is intentional. It may start by accident and often does.
  2. What were the Candidate’s intentions as success and visibility increased?
  3. What can the candidate pass on to PRSA’s leaders of tomorrow?
7. How would the Candidate characterize their career purpose(s) and goals?

These questions matter because once a practitioner becomes a Fellow; all these impacts on others continue and intensify. It is more than an honor to be elected a Fellow. This election turns out to be a public recommitment by the candidate to helping our profession and our professional colleagues find ways to improve their skills, yes, but also to begin to look at their practices and their practice circumstances from larger, more powerful social and cultural perspectives.

Becoming a Fellow is about reinterpreting our professional metrics from a new, higher, and entirely different and more impactful perspective: Helping others become more substantive, influential and insightful practitioners. It’s about understanding what matters, what is helpful, what is sensible and often what is powerfully simple and true. It is about professional integrity, honesty, and having a truly meaningful personal and professional life.

It’s a life dedicated to the recognition of the needs and accomplishments of others and working on issues and questions larger than the candidate that creates the extraordinary footprint, election to the College of Fellows represents.

It’s that Extraordinary Footprint that makes a Fellow, a Fellow.

How extraordinary is the footprint the candidate presents in their application and in their life?

© Copyright 2024, James E. Lukaszewski. America’s Crisis Guru®

Get permission to reproduce or quote. Contact the copyright holder, jel@e911.com. Subject line: Permissions

Action Required This Day -2024 New Year’s Resolution #3

How to Have a Happier Life
Use Barbara’s 5 Daily Happiness Habits Plus
The Platinum Rule

This essay attempts to answer what is probably the most frequently asked question for Barbara and I through much of our married life: “How did you work together and yet maintain and project such devotion, love, and happiness for so many years?” Hope Barbara’s ideas help you change your life. We met in high school and were married for 56 magical years. We worked the last 32 years of her life together.   Jim (Jim for Barbara)

  1. Always find and say nice things about and to each other in private and publicly every day, everywhere. Insist on a continuously positive tone. Just start doing it and keep doing it.
  2. Avoid saying those two or three tired, corrosive, divisive things we might love to mention some days. Suck it up, swallow it, and let it go.
  3. Always be positive or blah rather than negative or inflammatory.
  4. Ditch the downers. Keep negative, irritating, needlessly, and intentionally abrasive individuals and organizations out of our lives. Over the years we did lose a number of friends. Their irritating and argumentative behaviors didn’t fit our lives. We could not change them, so we simply dumped them. Happiness broke out immediately.
  5. Happiness is intentional. Get in the habit of subjecting everything you do or plan to do to these happiness-building tests, is it simple, sensible, satisfying, positive, helpful, useful, and truthful every hour of every day? Skip anything that fails even one of these tests. Give yourself the gift of happiness. No’s are always remembered, and are permanent.

Corollaries to Barbara’s 5 Habits

  1. Find things to verbally compliment each other daily, especially in front of family and other people.
  2. Happiness habits practiced every day become easier. Continued, they strengthen your relationship, your love, and your trust in each other.
  3. When in doubt, say yes. Say yes, a lot! Start with yes, end with yes.

This document, initially published on August 23, 2020, the first anniversary of Barbara’s death, was a way for us to answer the happiness questions which are still asked quite frequently. It is shared here because it seems to have had such a positive impact on so many lives. I, we, hope these thoughts are meaningful and helpful to you.

The Platinum Rule*
Help Others Who Want And Need Assistance
Helping Others Achieve Their Goals And Aspirations
Many Of Those You Help Will Thank You.

  1. This rule is 10 times more powerful than the Golden Rule which only says, “ do unto others. . .
  2. The Platinum Rule says help those who need help to help yet others do what the others want or need by providing the necessary assistance to help others who can’t, by themselves, complete what they seek to achieve.
  3. The Ethical and Practical principles I follow support both rules. Share your own version of these approaches with others who work with you, people you’d like to work with, and people you will seek to work with.
  4. Find ways to discuss these ideas, explain them, and ask and answer questions about them.
  5. Everyone you care about or those who care about you should be aware of ideas like The Platinum Rule. Help them live and learn to form their own principles.
  6. Practice The Platinum Rule helping those you help to help others. All will remember and thank you.
  • PLEASE NOTE: This idea has many advocates. When I first began mentioning it I was directed to Amazon which lists more than a dozen currently available books by prominent authors with absolutely the same idea.

Good luck.

We Will Get The Democracy We Deserve

One clear fact at the moment is that there will be one national election on November 5, 2024. Whatever the outcome we will get and live with what we deserve.

Another fact is that the outcome is likely to be one of only two possibilities. Each of these possibilities can be recognized by the language and behaviors of the candidates.

  1. The Candidate who defines democracy by the language of bullying, shaming, anger, retribution, score-settling, humiliation, shoulda, coulda, woulda’s done yesterday, with desperation, evil, and baseless attacks on Government institutions and officials.
  2. The Candidate who defines democracy using the language of greatness, building on past achievements, striving to continue, succeeding, optimism, and tomorrow.

The Vocabulary and Behaviors
of Desperation and Evil
Are Easily Felt and Recognized

Blame ShiftingSmall
Baseless AttacksStupid
Hate FilledMeanness
CoruptWitch Hunting

The Vocabulary and Behaviors of Greatness
Are Equally and Easily Recognized


Your Choice Will Be Very Clear

Code of Conduct For
Evil’s Troops and Followers

Their Creed:
Be Evil, Every Day, In Every Way

Required Daily Actions

a. Deeds, words or actions that vilify.

b. Deeds, words or actions that use sarcasm to ridicule, damage, demean, dismiss, diminish or humiliate.

c. Deeds, words, or actions that are arrogant, causing needless, intentional pain and suffering.

d. Deeds, words, or actions that intentionally, harmfully, and overbearingly express anger and irritation.

e. Deeds, words, or actions that are overly demanding and bullying.

f. Deeds, words, or actions that are just plain mean.

g. Deeds, words, or actions that insult, intentionally demean, minimize, and marginalize.

h. Deeds, words, or actions that become emotionally corrosive, disrespectful, and disparaging.

i. Deeds, words, or actions that are intentionally and maliciously tone-deaf.

j. Deeds, words, or actions that are mindlessly callous (without empathy).

k. Deeds, words, or actions that mindlessly injure.

l. Deeds, words, or actions that intentionally injure.

m. Deeds, words, or actions that spread baseless or contrived accusations and suspicion.

n. Deeds, words, or actions that exhibit overbearing and overzealousness.

What Kind of Country Do You Want?

Happiness is Quite Contagious

The most frequent question I get asked when I talk about Civility and Happiness is, “How do you get this started? What’s the first step?”

My answer is simple, direct, and prompt:

  1. Be a happy person every day in every way.
  2. Happiness is a habit others will notice. Insist on dealing happily on whatever comes along. When you run into someone who is intentionally negative, because being negative is always intentional, abandon them. Just walk away and do your thing somewhere else. If they follow you, ask them politely, but firmly to step back and walk away.
  3. BE THE ONE ready to suggest a happier, more constructive way to do or say whatever life presents.

Get Your Tissues Out
A Very Special Christmas

One of my favorite stories about happiness came to me from someone in an audience who said she really wanted to thank me for helping her reconnect with her younger sister who had become estranged over the years. She said, “I heard you talk about being positive, it seemed so wonderful, but so impossible. Nevertheless, I took your advice and just did them. It happened last Christmas, which is the one time a year when our families get together. It’s usually pretty tense among the adults. We tell ourselves we get together for the kids. But of course, “it’s a bit of a nightmare for them.”

“This year was going to be different. I decided that I would find ways to discuss and talk about things and tell stories in completely positive fashion avoiding all negative words, criticism, and negative thinking. My sister was her usual self, anticipating that we would have these negative clashes and would walk away wondering why we were doing this for yet another year. But I really wanted to see something change.”

“I talked to my kids about it and they promised to really work hard to do and say positive things the entire time.” When they were confronted with negative things simply absorb it and take a positive approach.

“I have to say that I believed that the meeting with my sister’s family was just a bit more positive than in the past. But still it was really hard because the old habits kept creeping back and my sister was her usual kind of negative self.”

“We had occasion to talk on Valentine’s Day. She called me. This surprised me.

I was always the one who called her. And her first comment was, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about what happened over the holiday.” With some trepidation, I asked her what happened over the holiday? She said, “Well I’m not sure, except that I really had a good time and many of the old squabbles and things we talk about routinely just never happened.” I’m trying to figure out why was that. So we talked and I told her about you and about your ideas about taking responsibility for everybody’s happiness beginning with yourself. “She actually started to cry.” Then told a story. Then I told one and we were both in tears, tears of reconciliation, apology, even joy.”

She touched my arm and walked away.

Our Mother Died Badly

The second story involves a woman I saw after a powerful presentation. She said, “I had the most amazing experience because of you and because of the surprising generosity of others. And I just wanted to tell you about it.” So she began saying, “My mother became ill later in her life and spent a lot of her time in hospitals. In the last hospital she was in, where she did pass away, there were accidents and things that went wrong continuously during her care. On the day she died, our family decided to hire an attorney and approach the hospital about some kind of apology, correction, something that forcefully brought to their attention the problems that my mother suffered as her life ended.

To make our point even more boldly, we asked to meet with the top hospital officials in my mother’s former sick room. To our surprise, they readily agreed and when we arrived at my mother’s room it became a totally amazing experience.”

“There were six or seven people in the room, including the hospital administrator, their legal counsel, and a number of other personnel in their professional medical uniforms which they didn’t generally wear. The hospital administrator took a breath and said, “These people, all cared for your mother every day. They will all say they are terribly sorry about what happened to her but, all have some things and stories about your mother that you might not know, but would like to hear.” The nurses introduced themselves they were the day, midday, and swing shift main supervisors. There was a young man, a hospital orderly and a couple others. The hospital orderly went first. He said, “I don’t think you know that your mother was a competitive pinochle player.” We were stunned. My daughter said, “I never saw her ever play a card game.” The young man said, “Well, she played for a time every single day. One of my jobs became finding other patients and employees in the hospital who could play. She got really good.”  Each person had a personal story about her and even about the incidents which so concerned us.”

“They all apologized for mom’s suffering then said their goodbyes. The Administrator suggested that when we were ready to talk to him we could meet in his more comfortable conference room.”

“We sent our attorney home.”

Happiness Can Teach A Lot

The principal lesson has always been, if you give happiness a chance it’s pretty powerful. But the most important lesson for you is that happiness starts with you, and gives you the most satisfaction.

Getting started is easier than you think.

Send a simple thank you to someone who has helped you, who you’ve never really seriously acknowledged. Practice unconditional happiness relentlessly, look for the happy things. You’ll be happily surprised how often people you thanked, respond. I’d love to hear your stories about giving happiness a chance in your life and the lives of those you care about. Good luck! 

The Ethical and Practical Principles That Guide Jim’s Practice – 2024 Version

  1. Wake up each day thinking “Today I may do the most important thing I will ever do.”
  2. Act ethically, strive to find ideal behaviors, promptly, and urgently.
  3. Be 15 minutes early, first in line, quicker than fast, smarter, sharper. Get the best choices.
  4. Consistently challenge the standard assumptions and practices of our profession, build its importance, and enhance the ability of all practitioners to better serve others from the other’s perspective. Raise your hand. Your most powerful change tool: be Inconsistent.
  5. Do the doable; know the knowable; get the getable; arrange the arrangeable.
  6. Expect to be helpful and useful. Teach Pattern recognition the source of most successes.
  7. Focus on what truly matters. Always through an ethical lens.
  8. Go beyond what those you work with believe or already think they know.
  9. Intend to make a constructive ethical difference every day. Ask better questions.
  10. Intentionally look at every situation and circumstance from different perspectives.
  11. Look out for the real victims. Act to protect them and prevent more.
  12. Remember, it’s your boss’s “bus.” They get to drive it wherever they want. If you don’t like it, or can’t deal with it, hop off and go to somebody else’s bus, or drive your own.
  13. Every issue, question, concern, or problem is a management issue, leadership question, concern, or problem before it is any other kind of issue, question, concern, or problem.
  14. Start where leadership or management is or you will arrive at different destinations.
  15. Recommend doable, sensible options. Help the boss build solutions. That’s what they do.
  16. Preserve being heard: If the boss won’t agree to or do your suggestion in 10 days, they never will. Give it up and suggest something else. New ideas get old fast.
  17. Do the Platinum Rule: help others help others achieve what matters to them from their perspective. You will reap the thanks and gratitude you almost never get acting alone. Greet enthusiastically, respond faster, suggest the ground rules, almost always win.

Profiles in Jell-O®:

Cowardly, Crooked, Confused,
Credibility-Busting, Obviously False Communication

Ever notice those defensive, dumb, demeaning phrases that creep or blast into or, heaven forbid, dominate a communications strategy?  What you are seeing is living proof that the organization or its leadership is showing its profile in Jell-O®.  Everyone else notices, too.

These phrases lay the groundwork for credibility-busting communication.  Avoid them if you value your future reputation and the respect of your employees, customers, and key publics.

  1. “A subcontractor to one of our temporary suppliers did it.”
  2. Any phrase with the word “Not.” A lie always precedes or follows.
  3. “He’s not deranged . . . anymore.”
  4. “I am not a crook.”
  5. “I am not a racist.”
  6. “I did not have sex with that woman.”
  7. “It will set a precedent.”
  8. “It’s a merger of equals.”
  9. “It’s a vendetta.”
  10. “It’s a Witch Hunt”
  11. “It’s an isolated incident.”
  12. “It’s company policy.”
  13. “It’s not our fault.”
  14. “It’s not our problem.”
  15. “No comment.”
  16. “Nobody died.”
  17. “Only a few were guilty.  Why punish everyone?”
  18. “Only a few were injured.”
  19. “Restructuring will strengthen our balance sheet.”
  20. “The customer used it wrong.”
  21. “The perfect combination of two great companies.”
  22. “The vast majority are good, decent people.”
  23. “They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
  24. “They have no credentials.”
  25. “They were careless and didn’t realize what they were doing.”
  26. “They were really young when it happened.”
  27. “They’re just disgruntled employees.”
  28. “We are good corporate citizens.”
  29. “We don’t tolerate that kind of behavior . . .   (anymore)!”
  30. “We’d look silly.”
  31. “We’re not paid to find the weasels.”

If you would like to add additional examples that fit the profiles in Jello description, send them to Jim Lukaszewski at jel@e911.com

The Golden Hour Strategy

What is the best response to a crisis? While you may require some time to understand what is going on you can immediately implement a strategic five-step first response. I referred to this as The Golden Hour Strategy because the intention is to launch all five steps within the first 60-120 minutes of the crisis incident, whatever the crisis happens to be.

The Steps

  1. 1. Stop the production of victims. Continuous victim production is what drives the media coverage, the public interest, the emotionalization, the commentary and criticism from 1000 different sources focused on reputation destruction.
  2. Manage the victim dimension. This is what leaders and senior managers should be doing rather than hanging around and second-guessing the command center.
  3. Communicate directly and frequently with employees, stakeholders, victims, survivors, and those directly affected. Calm and settle people down.
  4. Notify those indirectly affected, those who have a problem now because you have a problem; regulators, licensing authorities, neighbors, partners, collaborators, key stakeholders, those who need to know and who should hear from you very promptly.
  5. Manage the self-appointed and the self-anointed; the news media and the new media, those who opt in on their own, the critics, the bellyachers, the backbench bickerers, the bloviators. This is the strategy management needs to help all responders focus on what matters most and first. Far too many response plans have only legacy media public relations driven tactics. Crisis response is a management responsibility driven by a simple, sensible, constructive, positive, and clearly achievable strategy. The strategy needs to be productive, capable of being managed and led successfully by leaders and managers.

The Golden Hour Metaphor

The first hour or two of crisis situations I often refer to as the Golden Hour (or hours). The phrase comes from military medicine at the close of World War II, and during the Korean conflict. Military medical studies of combat deaths by the Army Medical Corp indicated that the single most prevalent cause of death for wounded soldiers was blood loss–the failure to get these individuals into serious life-saving medical treatment quickly after being wounded. They were bleeding to death in the Jeeps, trucks, and other vehicles driving them to the hospitals located in rear areas of the battlefield.

The helicopter, which was brought into wider military use following World War II, was the perfect vehicle to get wounded soldiers quickly off the battlefield. But one more critical component was needed. Surgical facilities had to be as close as possible to the battle lines to further reduce the risks and damage associated with transporting the wounded to urgent care.

The U.S. Army Medical Corp came up with the mobile hospital concept, the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, or MASH, portable fully equipped surgical suites staffed by some of the brightest surgeons in medicine, just like the television show. These mobile facilities were located on the battle line and moved with the progress of the battle.

Here’s the point, 96% of wounded soldiers who arrived alive at a MASH left the MASH alive.

To me, this is the perfect metaphor to address what management must be ready to accomplish in those first 60 to 120 dangerous and chaotic minutes of a crisis.

Some scenarios may require helicopters, but they are very complicated to use. Learn special safety requirements needed to use helicopters in appropriate emergency responses.

The Enormous Power of Thank You

Thank, Applaud, Congratulate, Recognize,
or Honor One Person Every Day.
Just Do It.

Each Recipient Will Remember You
and What You Did For Them and For Others.

Why Do This?

If you are one of the many waiting around for the spontaneous recognition for the good things you have done for others and maybe larger groups, the wait could be longer. Only a handful of us, a very tiny number will experience these magical events in their lives. If you want people to remember you, there are some powerful realities:

  1. Remember others first.
  2. Take some time every day to find people you know you need to thank and do it.
  3. As you develop this habit, you will find that each recipient of your gratitude will remember you, what you did for them, and perhaps what you did for others, then tell you and tell others.  
  4. My personal belief is that every supervisor, senior manager, and leader has an obligation to look for others who do outstanding things, and then take the trouble to personally recognize their accomplishments. These powerful communications often have lifelong impact. Recipients gain what so many of us would like to have, happiness.
  5. Do things that are memorable, that you know are special or above and beyond the call of duty. Sometimes you have to force people to remember you.
  6. Bottom line: Being remembered is a very intentional personal behavior. No thank you, no gratitude, no memory…no happiness. 

Remember, Thank You are the two most powerful words in any culture, any language, and any relationship. Be specific about what you are thanking for will make those two words more powerful, memorable, and actionable.

An Introduction to the Power of Thank You

The first thank you note that came my way occurred shortly after the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) published a couple of my short essays in 1974. The notes came from people I didn’t even know, Chester Burger and Rob8ert Dillionsnider of New York City, for example. Just brief short notes on special thank you stationery they had which said essentially, “Dear Jim, liked your piece, especially A, B, and C. You need to write more about these things. Thank you, sincerely.”

In almost every month of my career from those days to these, I receive thank you notes from people.

Two powerful experiences really illustrate the power of recognizing what you like about how other people have helped you. That read them, enjoy them, and use the lessons they teach.

Handkerchief warning, have some tissues ready as you read these two articles.

The Power of a Note, My First Lesson – A Personal Story

I was 26 years old and a junior manager in a Minneapolis retail music store. The way they went about teaching management was to put junior managers in charge of something real. One of my first “real” management jobs was to oversee the stereo components department in the company’s downtown store. I had a pretty tough, old-fashioned supervisor who had only a few requirements for my first month as manager: conduct a sales meeting on Tuesdays at 7:30 AM, present a new selling idea to the group of five, and write at least one complimentary note to a sales staff member during the month. More than one note was encouraged.

One day, one of the long-time salesmen passed away. It wasn’t my fault. My manager came down and asked me to go through his desk to make sure there was nothing embarrassing to him or the company. The family was coming in to spend some time in the department where the salesman had spent most of his working life.

I went through his desk, an old-fashioned World War II surplus desk with deep drawers. In the back there was a big box of papers; I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but I soon noticed that everything inside the box was in chronological order, with the youngest documents first. As I was trying to figure out what it was all about, I noticed that on every piece of paper, going back more than 30 years, there was a handwritten note from somebody making a nice comment about this gentleman’s work.

There were even several notes from more than 30 years ago, from the company’s founder. Some were just scribbles, “Great job with the Wilsons, we couldn’t crack them, you sold them”, “Thanks”, “You really did a great job resolving the concerns of the Olsons, they kept the merchandise after all. Nice going.” Then it struck me that he had likely saved every positive piece of paper he received. There, on top, was my recent handwritten compliment. I kind of teared up.

When the family came, I put the box on the top of his desk, and his family members began going through it and talking about how many of these notes they knew about. Seems he talked about them at the dinner table whenever he got one. As I think back over that dramatic day, in the context of my career, something I could have done a lot more would have been to consistently and constantly thank people, compliment people, and to congratulate people. The lesson and perhaps the moral is if you want to be remembered, remember others.

The Mark Eklund Story, “All the Good Things”
By Helen P. Mrosla

Courtesy of Reader’s Digest, Copyright © 1991,
Reprinted with Permission of Trusted Media Brands, Inc., Copyright © 2020

He was in the first third-grade class I taught at Saint Mary’s School in Morris, Minn. All 34 of my students were dear to me, but Mark Eklund was one in a million. Very neat in appearance but had that happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischievousness delightful.

Mark talked incessantly. I had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. What impressed me so much, though, was his sincere response every time I had to correct him for misbehaving – “Thank you for correcting me, Sister!” I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but before long I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.

One morning my patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often, and then I made a novice teacher’s mistake. I looked at Mark and said, If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!” It wasn’t ten seconds later when Chuck blurted out, “Mark is talking again.” I hadn’t asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it.

I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. I walked to my desk, very deliberately opened my drawer and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark’s desk, tore off two pieces of tape and made a big X with them over his mouth. I then returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark’s desk, removed the tape, and shrugged my shoulders. His first words were, “Thank you for correcting me, Sister.”

At the end of the year, I was asked to teach junior-high math. The years flew by, and before I knew it Mark was in my classroom again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to my instruction in the “new math,” he did not talk as much in ninth grade as he had in third. One Friday, things just didn’t feel right. We had worked hard on a new concept all week, and I sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves and edgy with one another.

I had to stop this crankiness before it got out of hand. So I asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then I told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed me the papers. Charlie smiled. Mark said, “Thank you for teaching me, Sister. Have a good weekend.” That Saturday, I wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and I listed what everyone else had said about that individual.

On Monday I gave each student his or her list Before long, entire class was smiling. Really?” I heard whispered. “I never knew that meant anything to anyone!” I didn’t know others liked me so much.” No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another again.

That group of students moved on. Several years later, after I returned from vacation, my parents met me at the airport. As we were driving home, Mother asked me the usual questions about the trip, the weather, my experiences in general. There was a lull in the conversation. Mother gave Dad a sideways glance and simply says, “Dad?” My father cleared his throat as he usually did before something important. “The Eklunds called last night,” he began “Really?” I said. “I haven’t heard from them in years. I wonder how Mark is.” Dad responded quietly. “Mark was killed in Vietnam,” he said. “The funeral is tomorrow, and his parents would like it if you could attend.” To this day I can still point to the exact spot on I-494 where Dad told me about Mark.

I had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. Mark looked so handsome, so mature. All I could think at that moment was, “Mark, I would give all the masking tape in the world if only you would talk to me.” The church was packed with Mark’s friends Chuck’s sister sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Why did it have to rain on the day of the funeral? It was difficult enough at the graveside. The pastor said the usual prayers, and the bugler played taps. One by one those who loved Mark took a last walk by the coffin and sprinkled it with holy water. I was the last one to bless the coffin. As I stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to me. Were you Mark’s math teacher?” he asked. I nodded as I continued to stare at the coffin. “Mark talked about you a lot,” he said.

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates headed to Chuck’s farmhouse for lunch. Mark’s mother and father were there, obviously waiting for me. “We want to show you something, his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.” Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. I knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which I had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him. “Thank you so much for doing that,” Mark’s mother said. “As you can see, Mark treasured it.” Mark’s classmates started to gather around us.

Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. I keep it in the top drawer of my desk at home.” Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.””I have mine too,” Marilyn said. “It’s in my diary.” Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. I carry this with me at all times,” Vicki said without batting an eyelash. “I think we all saved our lists.” That’s when I finally sat down and cried. I cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.

The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don’t know when that one day will be. So please, tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late.

How to Write a Good Thank You Note

  1. A one-sentence positive explanation of what specifically got your attention or triggered a productive thought or learning moment.
  2. A general complimentary comment about the person you are writing to: Their generosity, their wisdom, their helpfulness.
  3. A specific suggestion, request, or observation. (Something like, “I really like the part about your joining a small family agency, please write more about your experiences in the future.”)
  4. Closing compliment. “You really are a contributor to our profession. Thank you.”
  5. A useful close, i.e. “Hope to hear more from you”.
  6. Sentimental close (if you really know the recipient). These are two of my favorites of all time, from Chester Burger, one of the very prominent practitioners of his day. A sincere and motivational closing: “With admiration and anticipation, Your Name,” or a more personal close for someone you know rather well, “With Respect and Affection, Your Name”.

Special note: The most powerful format is handwritten and of course, sent through the mail. Compliments sent through email are appreciated but have only a small percentage of impact compared to a personally signed note.

The best time to write a note like this is right now, you are likely to be at your most eloquent, important, and memorable at the moment of your inspiration and gratitude.   

Thank, applaud, congratulate, recognize, or honor someone every day.

Be Remembered.

Be Happy.

Can I Share Some of Your Thank You Notes From Admirers?

In the coming months and years, I will be sharing thank you notes. I very much would like to publish communications like these that came to you and how they affected your life. Email them to jel@e911.com with the Subject Line “Powerful Thank You Notes”.

The Grand Crisis Response Strategy is READINESS

Five Crucial Time-Sensitive Readiness Steps
For Getting the Most Important Things Done
And describable
From the Start of a Crisis.

by James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, Fellow IABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, BEPS Emeritus
America’s Crisis Guru®

The most reputationally challenging time in crisis is at the start and very early crisis moments. So little is known and is very sketchy. The slightest awkward silence, whatever the reason, causes ripples of questions and trouble throughout your response.

Stop thinking, talking, and describing crisis…think, talk, and describe READINESS.

If your readiness preparations follow a grand strategy including speaking from the start, the danger of unexplainable and questioned silences can be avoided. Unfolding event patterns teach you what actual future responses will be required. Choosing to remain silent, whatever the reason, once discovered, is frequently a fatal management career error.

Because you will require some time to understand exactly what is going on you can immediately implement a strategic five-step first communication management response. The goal is to launch your response narrative, and your first response action intentions within the first 60-120 minutes of the crisis incident, whatever the crisis happens to be. Link to Jim’s Wisdom #47

When you don’t (and you often can’t) exactly know what’s happening you can describe and discuss the strategic, and incremental response action steps to be taken, and those already underway.

The Grand Response Readiness Strategies:

  1. Stop the production of victims. This is response goal #1. Continuous victim production and response mistakes are what drives media coverage, survivor and public interest, the emotionalization, the commentary and criticism from 1000 different sources focused on your reputation destruction.
  2. Manage the victim dimension. This is what leaders and senior managers should be overseeing rather than hanging around and second-guessing the command center. Link to Concise Advice #21.
  3. Calm and settle down employees and those directly affected. Communicate directly and frequently with employees, stakeholders, survivors, and those directly affected. Use frequent brief 50–150-word internal statements. These are more easily created, understood, approved, and released than news releases.
  4. Notify those indirectly affected, those who will have a problem or have a problem now because you have a problem; regulators, licensing authorities, neighbors, partners, collaborators, key stakeholders, those who need to know and who should hear from you very promptly.
  5. Manage the self-appointed, the self-anointed; the news media and the new media, those who opt in on their own, the critics, the bellyachers, the backbench bickerers, and the bloviators.
  6. Your message and statement content is the same information you have provided internally a bit earlier.

This is the strategy management needs to help everyone affected inside and outside focus on what matters most and first. Far too many response plans have only legacy media public relations-driven tactics. Readiness for crisis communication response is a management responsibility driven by simple, sensible, constructive, positive, and clearly achievable communication techniques. Communication that begins externally always conflicts with what insiders know. It’s problematic.

Always remember, the technically perfect response appears to be flawed if there is a failure to promptly speak in the early going. Silence always implies doing nothing while victims are being created. There is no credible, believable, or acceptable explanation. The toxicity of silence is completely predictable and preventable.

Key Snap Readiness Wisdoms:

  1. A crisis is defined as a:
    • People-stopping, show-stopping, product-stopping.
    • Reputation redefining events that create victims and/or explosive visibility. I’ve yet to find or see a more clear and concise crisis definition.
  2. “Crisis Management” is a PR term invented to scare managers and leaders into funding communication and other crises related activities. Stop using it.
  3. “Readiness” is a management term (from 9-11-01) that drives serious and often crucial activities that directly and promptly address serious problems.
  4. All organizations have problems. That’s really what management primarily exists to remedy. Crises are extremely rare. Crises are always crucial problems that need to be prepared for.
  5. Even the most technically perfect crisis response will be remembered badly, permanently if communication fails in the beginning. Regardless of the problem itself, the blame will fall on those that failed to communicate appropriately and strategically from the beginning.
  6. Silence always implies doing nothing while victims are being created. There is no credible, believable, or acceptable explanation.
  7. The toxicity of silence is completely predictable and preventable.
  8. Silence, stalling, blame-shifting, and other diversion strategies, if discovered and revealed, are often fatal professional errors by those in charge, however competent they may be.

Mystery Meals for Strangers

There is a hamburger joint called Snuffy’s not far from where we lived in Edina, Minnesota, a real kids and family hangout. We enjoyed eating there because the place was a constant madhouse with happy kids and families.

Shortly after we returned to Minnesota from New York in January 2010, in between blizzards, we went to Snuffy’s, sat at our favorite table to enjoy the happy mayhem. We had our favorite meals and got ready to leave. When I asked for the check, the waitress said, “Your check has been paid.”

I asked what happened. She said, “A couple sitting two tables away paid for your meal.” I asked if there was a tip, and she said, “It was all taken care of.” One of Barbara’s habits when we ate at her favorite New York restaurant, Un Deux Trois (123 East 44th Street, near Grand Central Station), was to sit near the windows where honeymooners and new New York visitors often sat. We would have one of these couples on either side of us. Barbara always asked one couple what they planned on having for dessert. The general response was, “We hadn’t thought about it yet.” So, Barbara suggested they try the profiteroles, one of her favorite desserts. It’s a puff pastry stuffed with whipped cream and usually placed over chocolate ice cream. It is pretty yummy.

Then she would walk over to the maître d’ and ask them to provide the couple next to us with appropriate servings of profiteroles, which we paid for on our way out. Then we would loiter around in the vicinity of the restaurant waiting to see the reaction of our recipients. They were always pleased, a little puzzled (it was New York after all), but ultimately gobbled up the dessert.

At that point, we would head to our train for the trip home.

The point is, this is a really cool, affordable thing you can do, makes you feel great, and even better because nobody knows who did this complete surprise.

We would go to Snuffy’s usually on Saturday afternoons or evenings. Often, we’d pick the largest family we could, then time it so we could pay their bill as we left the restaurant after paying our own.

Can’t think of a more fun pay-it-forward habit than this one. Recipients, like us, talk about it for years. So will those you surprise. Maybe the gesture spreads.