Thursday, March 22

Save Energy With Green Buildings

Buildings, says architect Phil Dordai, are the largest energy consumers in the world. Our buildings, not our cars, actually consume the most energy. And, while the typical lifespan of a car is five to seven years, the lifespan of a home or office building is decades, or even centuries. That’s why “it is critical that today’s buildings are built in a more energy efficient manner,” he says.

Dordai speaks at the second annual Mercer County Economic Summit on Thursday, March 22, at 3:30 p.m., at the Friend Center at Princeton University. The summit is sponsored jointly by the Princeton Regional Chamber and the Mercer County Office of Economic Opportunity. Cost: $50. To register contact the Princeton Chamber at 609-924-1776.

The keynote speaker is Robert J. Christian, executive vice president and chief economist of Wilmington Trust. Breakout sessions are scheduled in the areas of healthcare, biotechnology, transportation, real estate development, and saving energy.

Dordai, a principal with Hillier Architecture at 500 Alexander Park, is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council’s New Jersey chapter. He specializes in sustainable design and was one of the first architects in his firm to receive LEED accreditation. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is the nationally accepted rating for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings.

Dordai’s interest in green building and energy efficiency stems from his childhood. “I’m part Swiss and I spent my summers in Switzerland, where there is very little arable land,” he says. Because of that, the Swiss culture “recycles everything,” he says. “It is very important to them. It is a very different attitude.”

One particular event stands out in his memory. “We were there during the winter one year while I was a teen. We stopped at a gas station and because it was so cold, we left our car running. The gas station attendant told us to turn it off because we were wasting gas.”

In 1995 Dordai’s company won a design competition to build a “green” office buildings for Hoffmann-LaRoche. He learned a lot on the project and became convinced that building in an environmentally-sensitive manner made good sense. One of the first green office building in New Jersey, Hoffmann-LaRoche’s headquarters building integrates a number of sustainable design principles such as “daylighting,” energy-efficient HVAC systems, and energy-efficient building configuration.

“When building a new building the national energy codes are a minimum standard, but without working very hard or spending a lot of money energy savings can be improved by about 30 percent,” says Dordai. But whether building a new building or remodeling an existing one, small choices can add up to a lot of energy savings.

Lighting. In offices in particular, the cost of lighting is one half of the total electric bill for the building. By replacing older lighting fixtures with more efficient models, the cost of electricity can easily be reduced.

The choice of light bulbs also affects the amount of energy used on lighting, says Dordai. In general, fluorescent light bulbs are more efficient than incandescent bulbs, but there are also differences in the efficiency of fluorescents. Compact fluorescent bulbs are the most efficient, and save the most electricity. With the cost of energy expected to rise yearly, the savings will only increase. Fluorescent bulbs must be recycled, he adds, so that “fixing one problem doesn’t create another.”

Other measures can also be used to increase efficiency and decrease the amount of electricity spent on lighting. Occupancy sensors, either motion detectors or infrared sensors, will automatically turn off lights when no one is in the room. They cost very little to install, in older buildings as well as in new buildings, and are particularly useful in closets and bathrooms, which are often used for only short periods of time.

Orientation. When building a new building one of the easiest and cheapest ways to ensure that it will use less energy is to orient it properly on the land. By placing the longest side of the building toward the south, energy costs can be reduced by as much as 10 percent, says Dordai, “and you don’t pay any more or less for the building by choosing to place it in a certain direction.”

Heating and cooling. Dordai suggests an energy audit as a way to find out where you can improve on consumption. “An energy audit looks at a building and its systems,” he says. An infrared camera can actually show where heat is leaving a building through doors, windows, and even walls. Tightening up a building can cut heating and cooling bills.

Smarter buildings. But decreasing the amount of air flowing out of a building can cause other problems if not handled correctly, says Dordai. A variety of sensors can increase the efficiency of a building, as well as improve the health of its occupants. Carbon dioxide build-up, for instance, can cause a building’s occupants to feel sleepy. “Have you ever been in a building where around 3 p.m. everyone starts to yawn?” asks Dordai.

If temperature and humidity sensors are not set correctly, fresh air will not circulate properly and carbon dioxide will start to rise. CO2 sensors, another inexpensive item that is easily added to existing buildings, will increase the circulation of outside air when carbon dioxide levels get too high. Sensors can also be placed near windows to turn lights off when there is enough natural light.

We need to be aware of how buildings fit into the overall picture of energy consumption and environmental impact. “Buildings represent 70 percent of electricity use, 12 percent of water use, 30 percent of the contribution to greenhouse gases, and 35 percent of our primary energy use,” says Dordai. “That’s a much larger percent than the transportation industry. That means there is less margin for error when we build new buildings than when we design new automobiles.”

Changing the way we build our buildings today is critical, says Dordai, because today’s buildings will affect our energy use for the next 30 to 40 years.

— Karen Hodges Miller

Protecting Against Employee Theft

She was such a hardworking bookkeeper. She was always in the office before anyone else. She gave lots of money to her church, and every week she sent a sizable check to her gray-haired sister’s account. Who would have thought that that check came from the company’s payroll fund?

Unfortunately, this hardworking bookkeeper’s thieving habits are not all that unusual. According to a survey from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, American employees steal $600 billion from employers annually. That’s $4,500 per employee — 10 times the per capita amount taken through street crime, and twice the shoplifting total. The Justice Department estimates employee theft as 1.5 percent of all global world trade.

Over the last 30 years, Kevin Hart, an attorney with Stark & Stark, has witnessed virtually all the numerous scams embezzlers use to skim money from the company. “It is the one growing business that is recession proof, and despite all the computerization, it remains amazingly unchanged,” he says.

Stark & Stark holds a seminar on “Employee Theft, How to Protect Your Company” on Thursday, March 22, at 8:30 a.m. at the firm’s office in Lawrenceville. Cost: $40. Call 609-791-7030. Hart discusses preventative techniques and the legal aspects of recovery. Co-speaker Marshall Morris, a CPA with Cowan Gunteski & Co. in Shrewsbury, explains the inner working of typical theft schemes.

Admittedly lured into his profession by cash, attorney Hart religiously follows the maxim that the easiest dollar to make is an honest one. A native of Morristown, Hart attended Rutgers University as a political science major. Along the line he got stalled and began dabbling in work as a painting contractor and grade school janitor. Then the possibilities of a more opulent lifestyle struck him.

“I was studying in my spare time anyway, and I wanted some career that would beat this minimum wage pay,” he says. So Hart returned to Rutgers and finished his last semester, graduating in l975, and two years later emerged with a law degree from Seton Hall.

He began work as deputy attorney general for New Jersey, prosecuting all kinds of crime. While better than that earned by a house painter, Hart’s salary was scarcely staggering. “The only criminal attorneys I saw getting rich were defending organized crime,” he says, “and I just couldn’t do that.” So Hart returned to school and earned a master’s degree in corporate law from New York University, after which he joined the Lenox Drive offices of Stark & Stark.

For the last 25 years, Hart has, among many other services, offered corporate clients expertise in white collar crime. As a frequent FDIC-appointed receiver, it is his job to unravel employee theft and recover as much as possible of the embezzled funds.

While it may be the employee who grasps the cash, Hart says that it is often the company, through laxity and dissolved loyalties, that inadvertently eggs the culprit on.

Little by little. The case of the hard-working, church-going bookkeeper is one of Hart’s, and he says that it is typical of embezzlement schemes. Throughout the course of 12 years, this quiet lady purloined $2.5 million from the Central Jersey automobile dealer who employed her.

The process was simplicity itself. The company checks were printed with a carbon copy underneath. The carbon copy acted as a receipt for the firm’s records. Once a week the bookkeeper would take out one check and put a cardboard between the copies, rendering the carbon useless. She would then make the bank’s copy out to her sister, and on the firm’s record copy, write the name of the proper vendor.

Lesson learned too late: Always compare the bank copy of checks against your carbon copy.

“Her initial theft probably began as a one time deal,” says Hart. “She may have needed the money for medicine or some true necessity. But then a week later, when no one mentioned the theft, it became easier and easier to repeat.” This seductive pattern can net the embezzler millions, and eventually lead to his downfall.

The ones who escape, says Hart, are the ones who skim a few times, then have the self control to stop before the losses grow too obvious. Whether it is sophisticated online billing or simple check management, the temptation comes from having lots of revenue coming in, and payments going out from the hands of a a single financial officer.

Lesson two: build counterchecks into the finance process.

Victims in hiding. The typical reaction of a surprising percentage of businesses is to furtively fire the thief — and tell no one.

Recently a New Jersey medical group hired Hart to handle an embezzlement. The scam was simplicity itself. The busy doctors delegated all the financial work to their bookkeeper, who routinely put piles of checks in front of them which they absentmindedly signed. She eventually started to stick in a few checks to herself, and the medicos added their scrawls on the fly.

The bookkeeper’s good fortune became somewhat suspicious when she bought her first Jaguar and parked it in the company lot. Her second Jaguar was purchased as a gift to her new boyfriend. The object of her love affair and automotive affections turned out to be none other than the company auditor. “Sometimes it takes little grease to get folks to look the other way,” says Hart.

Upon learning of this robbery, the doctors were humiliated and too embarrassed to pursue any legal recourse. They didn’t want patients to know that they never looked at what they were signing.

Likewise many banks and publicly-held corporations would rather just dismiss the thief and not frighten depositors and shareholders with tales of their incompetence. “The only problem with this cut-out-the-cancer approach,” says Hart,” is that the thief will go onto another company and steal again. I have seen it too many times.”

Devastation and recovery. But not all theft can be easily covered up. The United States Chamber of Commerce claims that one-third of all failed business start-ups go under due to employee theft. The Montgomery Bank (formerly headquartered at the corner of Routes 206 and 518 in Montgomery) has vanished for just that reason. As the FDIC-appointed receiver for the failing bank, Hart discovered a grand scheme, which netted one employee over $11 million and literally broke the bank. The embezzler not only stole the money, but created a bank within a bank and began taking deposits and depositing them into his own personal accounts.

“The trouble was that this thief had a reverse Midas touch,” says Hart. “Everything he touched turned to mud.” The con artist’s hope was to pay interest on the deposits, but to invest the money, earn a far higher rate of return, and pocket the difference. When this didn’t work out, he became more and more frantic and invested in wilder schemes. Hart announced to the gloomy bank directors that one of the race horses that this individual had purchased was named, ironically, “Hand in the Till.”

They were not amused. There was no money left. The bank president, directors, and shareholders were all left holding worthless stock. One senior executive, going through a divorce, kept his pension and bank stock, while ceding everything else to his wife. He escaped with literally an empty wallet.

Whom to watch. Hart says that most people are basically honest. Studies continually show that only one out of every 10 employees is a flat-out thief. Given any chance, he will steal. Another two or three are saints. You could heap money on the table and they would never touch it. The remaining six or seven are those of more circumstantial honesty. If they have trouble meeting the rent or their child needs medical aid, they can be tempted to “borrow” money from the company.

While there is no end of electronic gadgetry to monitor employees, Hart says such a morale crushing approach is senseless. Making employees feel scrutinized from every angle is not the answer.

“The only real solution is to hire the right people and be the right company,” says Hart.

— Bart Jackson

Playing Games, Training Salespeople

Put together learning principles, sales strategy, and a sales manager who believes in lots of reinforcement, and you might find a bunch of salespeople sitting around on a slow day playing a board game, in this case “Making Your Numbers,” created by the Learning Key.

Games are a good way not only to convey business concepts, according to consultant Patricia Fitzpatrick, but also to reinforce them consistently. “Most adults need to have information repeated seven times in order to retain it and to change behavior,” she explains.

Fitzpatrick facilitates an interactive training workshop on strategic planning, prospecting, sales presentations, closing, account management, and customer satisfaction using the Learning Key’s new board game, “Making Your Numbers,” on Thursday, March 22, at 9 a.m. at the Learning Key’s offices at 1093 General Washington Memorial Boulevard in Washington Crossing, PA. Cost: $495. To register, call 215-493-9641.

People learn in different ways, and Fitzpatrick believes they do so most effectively with a hands-on approach. Games signal fun and can both impart information and generate discussion. “Making Your Numbers” uses a standard game format — a trail across the board, dice, and different types of game cards — to review sales-training concepts. Some cards ask questions about the different stages of the sales process. Others, the “oops” situation cards, pose challenging problems that a salesperson might actually face.

To come up with a solution to a situation card, the selector of the card discusses with fellow players how each might handle the situation. “That is the key to the learning of content in the game,” explains Fitzgerald, “because the sales team is sharing contacts, ideas, and success stories in an effort to solve the situation on the card.”

“Making Your Numbers” takes the players through the five stages of the sales process, with 50 questions for each stage:

Strategy and development. This comprises all those things a successful sales person will do before going out the door with briefcase in hand. Here are a couple of the game’s questions that focus on this stage:

Question: One important concept in selling is that the best way for salespeople to get what they want is to help buyers ___.

Answer: Get what they want.

“The whole concept of successful selling is to help people fulfill their needs,” says Fitzgerald. But unfortunately many novice salespeople are focused instead on themselves — their goals, their numbers, and the sales manager on their back pushing them to fulfill their quotas.

Question: Determining which prospects offer the best investment of your time and effort is called developing a:

a. Target market

b. Profitable client profile

c. Maximum profit strategy

Answer: Profitable client profile

What this means is that a prospect should match who your company is currently selling to profitably. Say you have 10 clients. One of the clients is very big and brings in most of the business’s revenue, but because it is so large, you have to reduce your margins when selling to that company. Although there may be good reasons to have this big client, it may not be your most profitable one.

In prospecting, be sure to look for clients similar to your most profitable ones, not your largest. Although this may seem obvious, when Fitzgerald was a sales consultant and asked hundreds of business owners to describe their profitable client profile, they were usually stumped.

“It’s nice to have a big name-brand client on the books,” she says, “however, to pay the electric bill, and buy the meat and potatoes, you need clients you make money from.” To find these clients, she sent the owners to their accounting books, adding that the profile is likely to change with changes in the market.

Prospecting. Once you know whom you’re trying to prospect, how do you interact with these potential customers?

Question: When making a prospect pitch, you should be brief, assertive, and focused on selling your product or service. True or false.

Answer: False.

“You are not selling the product when you are prospecting,” says Fitzgerald. On the contrary, the first step is to identify whether this particular company actually needs your product or service. “The caveat ‘best to understand and then be understood’ holds true in sales,” she says. A salesperson must quickly get the answers to several questions to qualify a prospect: How do they do what they do, and would your product fulfill a need for them? What is their budget? Are they in a position to buy? Is the person you’re talking to capable of making this decision?

“The successful salesperson will not spend a lot of time with a person who answers no,” says Fitzgerald. If they don’t answer yes to all three questions, it’s time to move on.

Sales presentations. Once they have identified a potential client, Fitzgerald advises salespeople to work in a team environment, using all the resources of their company to put together a presentation.

The first step is to write down a statement of purpose that will be part of the presentation, for example: Mr. Prospect, today we’re going to discuss how, by utilizing XYZ’s system, you can improve the output in your manufacturing plant, save money, and increase your bottom line.

Closing. Ask for the order. “You’d be amazed at how many people don’t,” remarks Fitzgerald. Instead they bask in the great presentation and wonderful conversation.

Fitzgerald suggests several ways to ask for the order: Let’s put this in place, shall we? I can get this in two weeks — would that be good for you? Does your company typically use purchase orders or not?

But she also adds a warning: “Look for and listen to buying signals. Many salespeople talk their prospects out of a sale because they don’t know when to stop talking.”

Account management and client satisfaction. “This is where you live up to your sales promises,” says Fitzgerald. “The sale is not complete when the deal is signed. It needs to be executed.” Satisfaction happens when the customer receives the product or service and has it work for them in the manner you described as a solution. A good salesperson will follow up to ensure the client is satisfied.

Fitzgerald has her own consulting company, BDM, or Business Development and Marketing, and she is a facilitator and co-developer of training with the Learning Key.

It was a year abroad as an exchange student and English teacher in Scandinavia, between high school and college, that gave her an initial career direction. Part of her study of the Scandinavian culture and people involved communicating with lots of business people. She always asked why they had selected their business, and she noticed that their explanations were usually based more on psychology than anything else.

When she got to Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Fitzgerald realized that she wanted to learn more about the psychology of business, so she designed a unique triple major in psychology, business, and communications.

After graduating, she sold fax machines, at $2,000 a piece, for Xerox. She took a 10-year hiatus after her second son was born, but then returned to the workforce as a salesperson for Flavia, the coffee division of M&M Mars, where she spearheaded the introduction of a one-cup, no-cleaning-required coffee maker into the Philadelphia area.

The product intrigued her, she says, because it presented solutions to the age-old office-coffee dilemma. The product increased productivity by saving the time during which employees had been leaving the building to get a good cup of coffee and it required no cleanup. “It got me back into the psychology of providing solutions,” says Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald grew up in Philadelphia, where her father was a steamfitter, “a union boy,” she says, who put in refrigeration and air conditioning in many of the city’s public buildings. From her mother, who had five children and worked in real estate, Fitzgerald says she got her curiosity about the world, adding that curiosity is the basic ingredient of a successful salesperson.

The other important influence on her career, she says, has been her experiences abroad — 19 countries, and counting. “I think that above everything else I’ve done in my life, that is what makes me good at what I do and has led me to this.” From travel she has learned about the similarities among people and hence the similar ways they react in business situations. As a result, it matters little what or where she sells, whether coffee in offices or corporate finance packages in the executive suite. She applies the same principles, and finds that they tend to get results.

— Michele Alperin

Tuesday, March 27

Enrich Yourself While Caring For An Elderly Parent

Marion Somers started caring for the elderly in her New York City apartment house at age 9 or 10. She would pick up shopping lists from people confined to their homes and pick up the groceries they needed, and her pay was the stories they shared. “I found the old people fascinating,” she remembers. “They told me about the olden days when women carried coal on their heads for the little stoves in their apartments or what it was like when electricity finally came to New York City.”

But even at that early age, before she had the explanatory language of psychodynamics, she knew that through sharing their stories with her, the elderly people were transformed. “I realized that when they talked about their earlier lives and the changes they went through,” says Somers, “the old wrinkled person before me changed and was a 20-year-old again. I didn’t understand it, but I found it fascinating.”

Today, with a doctorate in human and organizational development from the Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara, California, Somers can assert this as a psychological truth: “When you trigger people’s happy memories, you bring them back to an earlier stage of happiness, and it projects into the present.”

And empathetically listening to people telling their stories is not only good for them, it’s good for her: “Every time they tell their stories, they are so physically, mentally, and emotionally there that I carry that energy away with me.”

Somers speaks about her new book, “Elder Care Made Easier: Doctor Marion’s Ten Steps to Help You Care for an Aging Loved One,” on Tuesday, March 27, at 7 p.m., in the Malcolm Forbes Amphitheater, Level B, at Morristown Memorial Hospital. The event is sponsored by Friends’ Health Connection. Cost: $10. For more information, or to register f, call 800-247-9580.

When Somers has established rapport with the people she calls “my elderly,” she will often ask them for advice: “What in your life experience have you found has really helped you, and would you share it with me?” Somers believes that the insights, pieces of information, and experiences they have related have helped her to have “a very rich and full and very much in-the-moment life.” She has learned to laugh at herself and no longer thinks in terms of “making mistakes,” but talks instead of “having learning experiences.”

Her elderly have meant so much to Somers that one of her missions is to get others to recognize the value of the elderly in their own lives. “What I want people to do is understand they are a treasury of story, experiences, history, and family history,” she explains.

“All my elderly have been extraordinary in some way, shape, or form, from presidents of corporations to people who have cleaned houses,” she says. “You don’t get to be 80, 90, or 100, without learning a few tricks of the trade, like how to deal with people.” In fact, they have even helped Somers to raise her own children by sharing their experiences and insights. “I realized that every parent goes through ups and downs with kids, and that both your greatest joys and greatest sorrows come from your kids.”

Somers’ father was a New York Transit Authority track man for the subway system, and because her mother was not well, she was the primary caregiver for her three younger sisters. As she puts it: “It was dinner for six every night, from age 10 on.”

Somers thought originally that she would become an art therapist because she loved painting and watercolor, and she attended City College in New York at night, graduating with honors and receiving a bachelor’s of science in art therapy. But realizing that she wouldn’t make enough money to support her children as a “struggling artist,” she became a bookkeeper for eight years.

Then she decided to get a master’s degree in recreation therapy at Lehman College to broaden herself as a person. As what she calls an “accomplishoholic,” she says she “didn’t know how to play.” Hence the degree focus in recreation. “From an emotional and psychological standpoint, to learn how to play would round out my extremely well-developed work ethic,” she says.

Once she had her degree in recreation therapy, Somers moved into the nursing home industry. “I went from teaching three and four-year-olds to 103 and 104-year-olds in one weekend,” she says, adding, “I found I loved the older people, and the fact that I could get paid for working with them — it was as though I had died and gone to heaven.” Eventually she worked her way up to director of therapeutic recreation.

Towards the end of her decade in the nursing home industry, Somers did a nine-month internship in nursing home administration at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in New York because she wanted to see “how a nursing home functions, why it did what it did, and why it didn’t do what I thought it should be doing.”

After the training, at age 40, she started work on her doctorate, specializing in gerontology, retirement, and special populations.

Her dissertation was on retirement issues, because she wanted to understand transitions in people’s lives — planned ones, like retirement, or things that just happen, like a crisis or the death of a child. “I was curious what makes some people succumb to a transition while others rise to the occasion,” she says.

Somers calls herself a systems person. “I wanted to figure out how we could systematize taking care of the elderly so it would be more efficient and more humane,” she says. As she was thinking about these issues, she wrote a book, “The Home: A Brief Moment in Time,” about a year of living in a nursing home from the perspectives of the elderly who live there, their staff, and their families.

As a geriatric care manager and principal of Elder Health Resources of America, whose mission is to meet the increasing demand for elder care information and services nationwide, Somers offers insights to both her elderly clients and to their caregivers. Her website ( is a venue for telling people’s stories, providing resources, and answering questions.

With the goal of trying to keep people at home and independent, she has written a second book, “Elder Care Made Easier,” which she describes as, “my years of experience simmered down to the barest essence of what people need to know:”

Try to be proactive and notice small changes. Adult children often say and think things like, “She’s taking care of herself. Everything’s going fine,” and they don’t get really involved until there is an emergency. Somers advises instead to be “proactive rather than reactive.”

Watch out for the subtle differences: the television is on but your parent is not looking at it; your parent is cautious when going over small thresholds or hesitant moving from light to dark, or dark to light. If he or she comes to a dead halt when entering a restaurant, for example, this may indicate a need for more corrective glasses.

Safety-proof the living space. Check for potential hazards like frayed wires or wires that cross from one room to another, throw rugs, chips or torn spots in linoleum or rugs, a bathroom without bars around the tub or toilet. “When someone has lived in an apartment or house for many years,” she says, “there are so many things you stop seeing.”

Increasing the wattage in all rooms may save an elderly person from falling over an unseen obstacle. But the caregivers must be proactive, says Somers, because “old people are usually frugal and may be buying small-wattage bulbs to save money.”

She adds that if you are taking an older person on vacation, you should call the hotel in advance and find out whether there is an adapted, handicapped-accessible room.

Take care of legal matters. Somers tells of a client who had been married and widowed four times, and had eight adult children. For her last 15 years she had a live-in lover. The issue she needed to resolve before she died was where she wanted to be buried. She decided on eternity with her lover. It was not a matter of who she loved more, but rather that if she chose one former husband over another, then some of her children would get hurt or insulted. She consulted with a lawyer to have her intention made clear, and as a result, says Somers, “her exit was legally as uncomplicated as could be.”

Talk to the elderly as adult to adult, equal to equal. “Sometimes I’ve had to retrain some of the people who hire me,” says Somers, who has been known to chide adult children with no-nonsense statements like: “You talk to your mother like she’s an imbecile. She doesn’t have the capacity to respond, but she’s listening — you can see it in her eyes.”

She advises that even if people appear to be comatose, they should be talked to as adults. “I’ve had too many experiences talking to people in an nonresponsive state, and they will respond,” she says, citing one man who hadn’t spoken for two days and then said, “All of you get the hell out!”

Take special care with communication in the hospital. “I do everything humanly possible to make communication as easy as possible for a sick person,” says Somers. When you look down on people lying in a hospital bed, they often won’t be able to see your features, so don’t ask “Do you remember who I am?” Tell people that it’s okay if they don’t feel like talking, but remember that you can still hold their hands. If someone has a hearing problem, talk on the side with better hearing, or, if possible, turn a light on your face so they can lip read.

Ask lots of questions when deciding on assisted living or nursing facilities. Should you choose one near the caregiver? Does your parent need a facility with a religious orientation? Is it better to move an elderly relative to another state because someone else in the family has more time?

Visit at least two or three facilities and ask questions. First go on an official tour and follow up with your own tour. For example, you might drop in and say, “I’m in the neighborhood and thinking about a facility — can I walk around by myself.” Ask about the visiting hours; whether you can do the patient’s laundry yourself; whether the patient is entitled to physical or occupational therapy, what it consists of, and what its duration will be. “If you don’t ask, no one will tell you,” she says.

Try to get on a personal level without being a nag. Ask the aides about the facility. They are the ones who always have closer contact to the older people and know more about what’s going on than the staff.

Somers says that she has two soap boxes. She wants people to be proactive rather than reactive, and she wants people to appreciate the wisdom that is in our elderly. “We could all live better lives if we downloaded and integrated into our lives their wisdom,” she says.

But when the issue is how to care for aging parents, the psychological impact of any decision looms large. “There are two sides,” says Somers. “We don’t want to take away their independence, but we know that once we do get involved, our own lives will change radically and not necessarily for the better.”

— Michele Alperin

Wednesday, March 28

The Keys To Good Leadership

Sometimes leaders get to the top because that’s where they want to be. But often people end up in leadership positions by default, because no one else wants the job, or because other people in the organization think they would be good at it.

When motivational speaker Shar McBee was in seventh grade, she held her first leadership position after her teacher sidled up to her and said, “so you’ll be running for student council president.” She did, but adds that “it was not something I had set my sights on.”

McBee is speaking about the leadership at the New Jersey Alliance of Women Business Owners’ luncheon in celebration of women’s history on Wednesday, March 28, at 11:30 a.m. at the Crystal Plaza, at 305 West Northfield Road, in Livingston. Cost: $80. For more information, call 609-581-2121. To register, go to

After graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, McBee happened upon a bigger leadership role. She was in her early 20s and was part of a small group of people who wanted to run a voter registration drive focusing primarily on minorities. Because no one stepped up to the dais, she volunteered. At the time a teacher of the physically challenged at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, she would go to the group’s office every day after school and work until 9 p.m. training new registrars.

McBee liked the part of leadership that involved “being of service, being useful, and doing a good job.” But, she continues, “the part that had to do with getting people to take part, to cooperate, to show up, and to do what they said they were going to do, was just awful.”

“What happens,” she says, “is that when you take on a leadership position, you are criticized. People don’t do what they promise, and they gossip about you. I would lie awake at night thinking, ‘Why is this so hard? I’m just trying to be of use, of service.’”

But then she encountered a mentor who said something very simple to her that changed everything: “You know how you feel when someone is trying to get something from you — you put up all your defenses, thinking, ‘Get away from me.’ Leadership is not about trying to get people to do things you want them to do. It is about making it possible for them to succeed. It is about a shift from getting to giving.”

“When you make that shift, it puts you in alignment with the way nature works,” McBee says and continues with an analogy: If you have an avocado seed and plant that seed, nature doesn’t give back one avocado, it gives back thousands of avocados. In fact, one seed contains the potential for 10,000 forests. The planter has to figure out what will help that seed to succeed, what the planter must give to that seed to nurture it, rather than what he or she can get from it in the future.

But leaders often find themselves under a lot of stress to make things happen, and they feel unable to give. “Usually in a leadership position,” says McBee, “someone is putting pressure on us,” and leaders are made to feel that the success of managers, customers, staff, and the whole enterprise is dependent on them. “When there is pressure to succeed and to perform, we switch to getting — I have to get this person to do something, because money and time are at stake.”

After working for a California congressman and then as an entertainment reporter for CBS News covering Hollywood, McBee became the public relations agent for Phylicia Rashad, who played Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” and at the same time was performing in what McBee describes as a Diana Ross-like show, with singing, dancing, and lots of costume changes.

On a Friday night in Las Vegas Rashad had delivered a great performance, and the next day she and McBee were sitting around the pool at the Las Vegas Hilton. McBee was then writing her first book, “To Lead Is To Serve,” and she shared the title with Rashad, who commented, “That’s true, isn’t it?

“I saw the show again that night,” says McBee, “and something had happened. The audience wanted to dance on the stage, it poured out its heart to her and gave her an incredible standing ovation.”

McBee went backstage and asked Rashad, “What happened out there?”

Rashad responded, “I just kept thinking, how could I serve my audience?”

McBee says that on Friday night Rashad’s mindset had been to get the audience to like her, to approve of her as a performer. “She didn’t know it yet,” McBee says, “but in her heart she had made the shift. She realized that these people just came here for a good time, and she asked herself, ‘How can I help them have it?’”

“The reason this works great for anyone in business,” McBee says, is that it costs neither time nor money.

She shares a story about the head broker at a large firm. Although she had always seen herself as giving great service to her clients, she thought of her staff as people who should serve her. After taking McBee’s class, she took a stab at giving her staff what they needed to be successful. “That changed everything,” says McBee. Before that, clients who called the office only wanted to talk to the boss. But when she started serving her staff, they started serving her clients. Now they are more than willing to talk to any client, and the head broker has time to research investments.

McBee, who has spent the last 18 years making a living as a motivational speaker and writer, shares one more leadership tip. “A second really simple thing you can do that makes a huge difference,” she says, “is to be a connector. If you can make people feel included, they will support you. When people feel excluded, they will undermine you.”

The challenge to the leaders of any organization or commercial endeavor is that they are in the middle of things and always feel like they belong — they set the agenda at meetings and have lists of people they need to talk to. This sometimes prevents them from seeing those people who do not feel connected. McBee says has seen one-hour meetings where the leader talks for 55 minutes and then asks for the committee reports.

McBee’s website,, is full of tips on how to be a good leader. In the section titled “How To Change People,” she writes:

“When birds fly in a flock they turn, climb, dive, and soar together — all at the same time. Birds follow the leader on an inner level, so when the leader changes, the others change, too.

“Human beings relate the same way. Often when we think of changing a situation, we think of changing other people. The ‘Joy of Leadership’ method is about self-transformation. We change ourselves, then others change around us.“

— Michele Alperin

Facebook Comments