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By Deb Schweikert (LDS 272)

The Federal Executive Institute Alumni Association (FEIAA) Forum is over . . . and what a fantastic forum it was! What we learned over the course of the day was phenomenal. If you missed it, here are four highlights.

1. Emojis are good!
Nick Morgan, author of Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World, was our leadoff speaker. An expert in communication, Morgan gave examples of how electronic communication is actually making life more difficult. We think that we are much better at communicating via e-mail than we really are. To top it off, when we send an e-mail, tweet, or text, we lose a vital part of the communication “package”—body language. When we eliminate feedback and context (which tends to happen when we aren’t communicating face to face), we tend to make (wrong) decisions based on emotion, not necessarily on facts. We need to make connections with people, especially if the subject being discussed has high emotional value. And always remember, if a subject is emotionally important, go talk to the person; don’t send an e-mail. Morgan closed with five recommendations, the last of which was to use emojis to show our feelings.☺

2. Getting to be an SES means that you must be able to accept and use feedback.
Many of us have been to several forums, and the Senior Executive Service panel earns the title of “best ever!” Dr. Vivian Chen (USDA), Jack Schreibman (DOT), Dr. Lisa Thompson (VA), Bill Valdez (Senior Executives Association), John James (DoD), and Joseph McMillan (Qualifications Review Board) gave priceless advice for those seeking to join the ranks of the SES. All told their stories of how they reached that pinnacle in their careers, and all emphasized gaining as many varied experiences as you can in the course of your career. Start looking at the Executive Core Qualifications—NOW—to determine what gaps you have that you still have time to do something about, whether it be details, volunteering for special projects, or trying something new and totally out of your comfort (and expertise!) zone. Be prepared for others to “empty their pen” when giving you feedback on your first attempt at writing ECQs—and take their advice as a gift.

3. Forgiveness is critical for all of us to get through the most unimaginably painful experiences.
Using Nelson Mandela as her focus, Dr. Antoinette Allen shared a powerful message on forgiveness and how that is the method Mandela used to survive 27 years of incarceration and come out on the other side as a resilient, optimistic leader. She talked about the “rhythm” of courageous leadership, encouraging us all to model forgiveness at work (to cultivate similar behavior in others), to apologize and attempt to make restitutions (taking responsibility for our mistakes), and to rebuild trust by working on a common task (creating new experiences and memories of cooperation). 

4. People (and therefore cultures) can be classified as “tight” or “loose,” and how they perceive threat determines whether they will be in a conflict or cooperation mode.
Dr. Michele Gelfand, a professor at the University of Maryland and the author of Rule Makers, Rule Breakers, spoke about how closely we adhere to social norms, and how that can explain why people (and countries) have such diverse thinking and approaches to how they live. Dr. Gelfand has conducted numerous studies around the world, and her theory holds true regardless of location, sex, race, or religion. Dr. Gelfand’s book should be mandatory reading for today’s leaders everywhere. Her talk was thought provoking for the audience—they saw the world and the challenges that currently face us in a whole new light.

I hope you were able to attend, because this was truly a great day of learning. If you were not there this year, please make every effort to join us next year, when we will be celebrating our 50th anniversary! 

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