Happy Father’s Day Jack!

John F Halpin 01.10.1929.03.30.1984We lost our Dad 31 years ago on March 30. I joke about him and even mention him in my ‘speaker intro’. It says that I have 45+ years of work experience and the first 13 years were in his office, John F. Halpin, CPA, where he was my first people problem.


That’s all true!


Today, Father’s Day, I want to celebrate him and all the many gifts he gave his children.


But first, let me share a few things that did not translate well between the generations in our family.


A love of fishing was not one of the gifts he gave us. He loved to fish from the pier off Bonelli Road at Eagle Lake and we did that often (often for him was maybe once every year or so). We caught catfish big enough to eat once. For some reason, none of his five children ever go fishing….


He took us camping, and none of us are campers as adults either. He only bought a camper when we got so big that the entire family of seven could not sleep in one Holiday Inn room. He bought a pop-up camper when I was in the fifth or sixth grade. I can remember taking my best friend, Kelly, with us on a camping trip to a Mississippi State Park. The camper slept eight, so why not take eight people, right?


Momma had to drive our big Dodge Station Wagon with the newly installed trailer hitch pulling our pop-up camper. Dad wasn’t a good driver around town because he was always focused more on keeping his pipe lit than watching the road. They seemed to have some secret agreement that she did all highway driving.


Of course, she could not back up our station wagon with the camper attached. That was not a significant issue during our treks. We didn’t make a lot of stops en route and when we did, for instance at an IHOP for breakfast after she had driven all night, she would find a way to pull into a parking lot next door to the IHOP where she could park without backing up during either our ingress or our egress.


When we would finally arrive at our destination, often at dusk during the on-site campground manager’s supper, Momma would insist we be assigned to a spot positioned at the end of a triangle so she could ‘pull through’. When that option was not available – which was often – she would then insist that the campground manager drive our station wagon and back our camper into our assigned spot, even if he was in the midst of eating his supper.


This is when my Dad would disappear to entertain the other campers.


As soon as we arrived at the state park or KOA Camp Grounds, he got out of the car wearing his usual leisure attire: shorts with a dress shirt (no worries – he only wore short sleeved dress shirts), black socks, and black dress shoes. He would then go from campsite to campsite looking for people he could meet and entertain with his stories about Vicksburg, MS.


The rest of us were left to set up our own campsite.


Setting up a campsite was fairly simple except for one important task: leveling the camper. With a pop-up camper, it’s critical that the camper be level, because four people were sleeping on the beds that ‘popped out’ after popping up the entire camper. If the camper were not level, one side could tilt and those two sleepers could have easily been injured as they slipped through the canvas sides.


I don’t recall much discussion about this at home. I imagine our Uncle Bubba came over to check out the camper and most likely would have pointed out the importance of this task. I imagine my baby brother, Willie Boy, was probably taking note. Regardless of whether or not any of that happened, I do remember vividly how we got our camper level once we arrived at our destination.


If I was in the sixth grade, that would have put Willie in the second. I can remember this as if it were yesterday. At this point Willie was just a little fellow. But he would go from corner to corner of the camper adjusting and re-adjusting each bar that, as I recall, dropped down from the underneath of the camper and could be adjusted based on the ground and sand where we were parked.


He worked meticulously, as if he were an engineering genius. He never failed to get the entire contraption level. Willie would later demonstrate this engineering genius in lots of ways but in the second grade that had not yet emerged.


But here’s what my Dad did give me that remains with me every day.


He gave me an example of living by faith. He was never much of a church-goer, but our friend, Marian Alvarado, badgered him incessantly until he attended a Charismatic Prayer Meeting with her. These were held at the Carmelite Monastery on Terry Road in Jackson, Mississippi. He only had to go once to experience a full conversion and a peace that he had never known. He then went about sharing this experience with anyone who would listen. Momma and I attended those prayer meetings with him. We all loved that faith community, the music and the experiences. What an amazing thing to be able to experience with your parents when you are still in your formative years.


He gave me a love of people. He loved connecting with people and swapping stories. He loved meeting people and then reporting to his friends about the interesting people he had met. He was curious about everyone and, with his photographic memory, would remember details most everyone else forgot immediately.


Jack loved his friends. He loved having high-balls with them. He loved competing to be the center of attention with the funniest stories with the most outlandish characters.


Dad gave me a love of storytelling and he taught me the power of telling stories. I remember so many of his stories he shared with me in his office on Saturday mornings. He told me stories about his clients and their businesses.


He also gave me a love of business. How revenue was generated, where customers came from, what were the driving forces in the success of his clients. He talked with reverence about each person because he loved and respected everyone.  He considered everyone a good friend; from the elevator operator to the bank president.  He never met a stranger.


He instilled a love of community. He volunteered for over 35 years as the Board Chair of the Warren County Welfare Board. He served as a founding Board Member of the federally funded Children and Youth Clinic.  He worked to build community and ensure everyone had access to basic human rights regardless of race or financial ability.


He loved being from Vicksburg, Mississippi and loved that his great grandfather had been the first Mayor of Vicksburg after the Civil War, during reconstruction. He spoke with authority about those who did harbor prejudices based on race. He explained to me that if people are insecure, they need someone, a group of people, or even an entire race, to look down upon.


He loved that so many people remembered his own father, who was killed when he was eight years old. He relished in the introductions that those people made for him when he returned after college and established his CPA practice.


Because he did take me to work with him on Saturday mornings he gave me a love of all of these things – business, storytelling, and community – though it might not have been the best way to raise a child! These experiences did cause me to hurl my way into my own CPA career with a lot of unproductive baggage. However, I’m grateful every day for Jack and for all the gifts he gave me. My love of business, people, story telling and my own faith are my critical success factors today in my life and in my own small business.


Even in Mississippi it’s not a good idea to put an eight-year-old child to work on the family farm or in the family CPA firm. But it’s all good!


Happy Father’s Day Jack!





Total Team Alignment Daily Question

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be offering a Daily Question.  In my opinion, the person asking the questions is the person being the Strategic Leader.  I hope you enjoy these questions.

If “Bob” is not meeting our expectations, what is missing?




If you find this question and your  subsequent ponderings valuable, you might want to participate in one of our complimentary public Webinars on Total Team Alignment.

Here’s the link to find the schedule.

This link provides the opportunity to register and the opportunity to be interviewed during one of these Webinars.  Please feel free to share these links with your colleagues, team members, and leadership team.

Honoring Our Elders

In some spiritual and religious traditions, today is All Soul’s Day.  While I no longer subscribe to those belief systems espoused by these traditions, I do love the rich heritage and rituals associated with days like today.

As someone whose life as been heavily influenced by my Dad, I can’t help but think of him today.  He died at the age of 56 in 1984.

He looked around the breakfast table one Saturday morning when I was about 8 or 9 years old and saw me among my siblings and said, “why don’t you come into the office with me this morning?”.  He owned a sole-practitioner CPA firm, John F. Halpin, CPA, in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  The firm had about a half-dozen ‘girls in the office’ and I became one of them that day.

I started my career that day by operating the microfiche machine to maintain permanent records of his client’s bank statements.

I continued to work with him after school and on week-ends through college.  He’s why I became a CPA.  It took me 20 years to determine I was not well suited for that work.

I can’t help but think of Melody Beattie’s quote today as I think of my Dad and am grateful for all the bad things he taught me workaholicsm, putting the clients’ needs ahead of my own and being a hard worker.  He taught me many good things too.  I learned how to laugh and tell a funny story from my Dad. More importnatly, I learned how to engage people in a way that makes them want to be forthright about their deepest concerns.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”                                                                   Melody Beattie


Achieving Results through Personal Connection

Today we present a recent interview with Katharine Halpin conducted by Dr. Lois Zachary of Leadership Development Services. Click on the hyperlinks under each interview question to listen to the live response to each question.

Dr. Lois Zachary: Why are personal connections in the workplace so important?

Katharine Halpin: I believe that people can foster close personal connections with each other by having mutual respect, trust, the ability to speak authentically, honestly and forthrightly. If we have those kinds of connections, then whatever business challenges arise – and the business challenges will inevitably arise every day – we’ll be able to work through those challenges productively and effectively and in a very timely manner.

Listen to Question 1 Podcast

Dr. Lois Zachary: How can you go about doing that effectively?

Katharine Halpin: We have to remember that every interaction either builds trust or tears down trust. And so we have to prepare for every interaction – whether it means that we send an email, meet one on one, or meet in a small group. Even if we’re going to bump into somebody in the hall, we need to be prepared so that we can give those people the right context and most importantly so that we can be coming from the right perspective. If you’re going to send an email, it’s important to think about how that email’s going to be received by that other person. You have be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes as you write the email to ensure that it’s going to be received in the most productive manner.

Listen to Question 2 Podcast

Dr. Lois Zachary: So preparation is important but you also write a lot about and talk a lot about authenticity. How does authenticity get played out in connections, and to what degree is it important in the workplace?

Katharine Halpin: My definition of authenticity means the degree to which you are willing to be vulnerable. Vulnerability means being willing to take personal responsibility for the results regardless of the outcome – not just when they’re successful, but most importantly, when they’re not. And, then you need to be willing to admit to your own opportunities for growth. I don’t like to think in terms of weaknesses, but we all have opportunities for growth. So when we can own those and share those freely, and really make light of them – for example “Oh, I just had the volume turned up too high on my gift of enthusiasm, perhaps…”

Listen to Question 3 Podcast

Dr. Lois Zachary: In the workplace, there’s a risk in being vulnerable. How do we bridge that gap?

Katharine Halpin: I think it begins first with connections. It’s almost like a chicken and egg: which comes first? We have to have the connections, the trust, and the mutual respect, to enable us to feel safe enough to be vulnerable. Without the connections, our colleagues won’t feel safe with us.

Listen to Question 4 Podcast

Dr. Lois Zachary: How do you see context enhancing connection and communication in the workplace today?

Katharine Halpin: What I do  is help leaders them look at things from a bigger context. They often have a context such as “Joe is an idiot.” Or, “Bob is an idiot.” And I try to help them think about Bob’s history and Joe’s history. I ask them “what’s the bigger game that we’re playing here?” I try to get them outside the myopic, small-minded/small perspective and get into a mindset or context of playing a bigger game. What are we most committed to here? What is the big game that we’re trying to create around this organization or this team? And that often helps people get out of their own way and get out of the blame game. When they start to see how they can take responsibility for the role that they’ve played they can begin the process of creating much more effective results.

Listen to Question 5 Podcast

Dr. Lois Zachary: As you know, connection is a really important piece of mentoring. Some of these same attributes you are talking about – authenticity, connection, vulnerability, and context – play out in mentoring relationships. Why do you think they might be so important?

Katharine Halpin: I’ve been in a variety of mentoring relationships over my almost-40-year career, and I see that the ones that were the richest, the ones that were the most powerful and most productive of course for both mentor and mentee, were those where we had all those things. If I was simply assigned a mentor in an organization, or if I took on a mentor for myself and we didn’t spend that time building that connection, then the mentoring was often flat. It was out of context. It was not nearly as useful as it could have been if we had taken time to build those connections.

Listen to Question 6 Podcast

Dr. Lois Zachary: It’s often hard for a mentee to find a voice, to feel safe, to be able to be vulnerable, and also to find a voice in order to move into that bigger picture future. Do you have any thoughts about how both a mentor and mentee might work at that?

Katharine Halpin: I think that’s a function of time, – both time together and then time to prepare. Once you have time together, you can start to build that connection where you’ll have the safety. And then, when you take the time to prepare. Say you’re going to have a 45-minute mentoring session later this week or early next week. I would want to take time over a period of days – 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 20 minutes − to start to formulate my objectives for that mentoring situation, that opportunity, the things that I’m trying to get a better grasp on right now, and start to formulate the questions. I don’t think any of us can find our voice easily in the moment. And the more mindful we can be when we go into those situations the better. When we’ve taken the time to prepare then I think the more easily we can find our voice and express our own needs and our own goals and our own objectives. And have that give and take. You want a mentoring relationship to have a give and take. “Well, that doesn’t resonate for me, but this would resonate with me.” Or, “This approach would work more effectively for me. I can’t see myself trying that, but I can see myself trying this.”

Listen to Question 7 Podcast

Dr. Lois Zachary: A final question for you. What’s the best piece of mentoring advice you’ve ever received?

Katharine Halpin: The best piece was early in my career when I was still an accountant, before I was a CPA. I was mentored by a partner, at that time, one of the big eight accounting firms. He said to me, “Katharine, you’re not really an accountant. You’re really a social worker.” And I wasn’t in a space where I was able to hear that. But he was right on the money. It took me another twenty years of struggling as a CPA and as a management consultant to really find my voice and to be able to do this kind of work that’s more intimate and more focused as a facilitator and as a coach.

Listen to Question 8 Podcast