One week in September, E-mails from three directions heralded a possible keynote speaking engagement from an organization outside my market.
Two problems popped up immediately. First, public speaking and I haven’t been getting along. In fact, I’d given it up.
In the last nine or 10 years, I’d been speaking around the country, always at the risk of becoming sick and definitely guaranteeing a week of low performance caused by jet lag. A few years ago, I’d even joined Toastmasters, the speakers group, to practice away my anxiety. It helped, but to be professional, I wanted to “graduate” from the group.
The second problem had to do with values, not so much in and of themselves, but the expression of them. I sensed that the sponsor would be what we used to call “Bible thumpers,” the radical right in religion and politics, very much out of my intellectual and emotional comfort zone.
Was there a disconnect? Could there be a bridge?
Edward Marshall, author of “Building Trust at the Speed of Change” (Amacom, $25), pinpoints the problem exactly, the “many people have lost the feeling that their opinions really matter, that they will be treated fairly and honestly. The sense of what is right and fair in work relationships seems to have given way to what is expedient ”
I kept feeling that organizations had been wanting of me what they thought they wanted, rather than what I had to offer. With this in mind, I picked up the telephone in September to respond to the E-mails, willing to listen, prepared to decline.
Barbara Maryatt answered the telephone at Washington Cathedral in Redmond, Wash. With tremendous warmth, she said that Excel Business Foundation, a values-based professional development group where her husband serves on the board, wanted me to speak. When I learned that the sponsoring church is evangelical, I thought, dismayed, “Oh, no.”
Although I grew up in a somewhat fundamentalistic climate, I didn’t follow suit. I’d avoided the topic of religion among my conservative relatives and in my professional life , the latter after a student asked me to testify in front of about 40 other students.
As an entrepreneur, I absolutely didn’t mix religion with business. This meant, in part, developing a repertoire of tap dances to sidestep people attempting to impose their beliefs.
However, the workplace is changing. Religion no longer is a forbidden topic. As best-selling author Ken Blanchard pointed out at the time, “They aren’t dyed-in-the-wool, or they wouldn’t be asking you to speak.”
Marshall recommends that organizations become relationship-based to honor individuals and engender trust so that the workplace “can tap into the full potential, intellectual capital, and energy of the workforce (for) breakthrough results.” Conversations with Dick Maryatt, corporate sales manager at Automated Data Processing, reflected nothing less than sincerity, genuineness and integrity.
In fact, he, his wife and the other people involved in the Excel Business Foundation were quietly recruiting, based on their trust of me as a person who, as Marshall says, is “taking care of something that is important (to them).”
Erskine Austin, executive pastor of Washington Cathedral and a retired Marine Corps colonel, was standing by the door with Dick Maryatt when I arrived for the engagement. He led me through the sanctuary to its splendid waterfall.
I stood in front of the group and realized I felt fine. Delivering “Bringing Value to the Workplace” required less of me than speaking had for years.
Culp is the author of “Be WorkWise: Retooling Your Work for the 21st Century.” For information, visit (www.work-wise.com).
& #352;1999 Universal Press Syndicate