Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

In about 5 minutes, the proverbial ball will drop in the center of Times Square to mark the beginning of a new year -- 2011. May the coming year gift to you good health, richer relationships, new problems to solve / opportunities to make this world a better place, meaningful life lessons, new challenges, simple pleasures, hard work, accomplishments of which to be proud and more. I look forward to chatting with you as we tackle the new year together . . . 10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . Happy New Year!

Countdown to the new year!

Talk about procrastination . . . ten minutes until the new year, and I still owe you 2 more blogs. So this will be short and sweet, albeit most sincere. I hope that for every valley you have visited in 2010, you visited two mountain tops and that even the most dire situations of the past year provided you with new insights and hope.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Picture a suspension bridge as a metaphor for the bridges we cross as we practice the language of leadership. A bridge from our inner dialogue to the spoken word; a bridge from the spoken word to the actions they inspire; a bridge from our actions to the bottom-line results we ultimately influence.

The pylons represent stability, essential when the winds of adversity are blowing against us. These winds represent change – change in terms of frequency, velocity, complexity, and sometimes predictability. Without a stable foundation, the structure could collapse.

The suspension cables symbolize the importance of flexibility supported by the common threads ultimately anchored by a stable foundation. Without flexibility to offset stability, the structure could break.

The deck is the solid platform on which we suspend judgment and practice the language of leadership – the means to the end – recognizing, of course, that in an environment of continuous improvement, there is no end – simply another bridge. Without a solid platform from which to speak, the structure could lack purpose.

The side spans symbolize the first and last steps toward a particular goal. The journey requires courage to begin, commitment and trust to persevere, and endurance to finish.

Without these characteristics, the structure could stand idle and lose integrity.

The center span signifies improvement and progress from point A to point B. Without continuous improvement, our competition will leave us in the wake of yesterday.

At first glance, the bridge may appear linear; however, it actually has great breadth and depth and width which, when combined, create a multi-dimensional system. A multi-dimensional system translates into one of diversity and inclusion; creates many avenues to tap into talent, lets silence speak, and is rich with teachable moments. Without a multi-dimensional system, an organization lacks the power of collaboration.

A bridge, itself, embodies synergy whereby the whole is greater than the sum of its parts . . . a bridge to the leadership language of a new day.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Brrrrrr . . . .

I love this time of year . . . the feel of snow in the air, off-set by the warmth of a wood-burning fireplace; the sounds of holiday music; the sights of seasonal landscapes; tasty delicacies reserved for this time of year; the aroma of fresh pine and apple cinnamon spice; the opportunity to search for the “perfect” gift for family and friends.

My holiday spirit was boldly interrupted one morning recently. The outside temperature was 18 degrees – with a wind chill factor that blew the reading into the single digits.

The inside temperature? Sixty-seven. As visions of sugar plums danced in my head, my heat pump had settled in for a long winter’s nap . . . at least, if I didn’t do something quickly.

By the time calls for fuel delivery and service repair were acted upon, another night had passed and the inside temperature had dropped another 20 degrees.

Was my rude awakening a reminder to subscribe to routine maintenance, or was it a brief window into the world of those who may suffer in silence from a house that lacks sufficient insulation and/or struggles with rising heating costs? Most likely . . . both.

When our body is exposed to temperature extremes, especially for extended periods of time, our emotional thermometer can register: frustration, anger, impatience, rigidity . . .

Add the burden of payment-on-demand, and stress likely increases, and it is as if our emotions are hand-cuffed to the rising and falling mercury.

Holiday RX:

As much as I lament my Appalachian Power bill, I used this episode to motivate me to support APCO’s Neighbor-to-Neighbor heating program. Adding a few dollars to my payment due, will add a few paid kilowatts for someone less fortunate than I. I invite you to have your furnace checked routinely and to consider adding to someone’s holiday warmth.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Seven Down; Five to Go

On January 15, 2010, I introduced “Thinking Out Loud” online – a blog to establish an HR Alliance with you through a monthly article on a pertinent people perspective. While my monthly agenda has waivered, my pledge to produce a total of twelve articles during 2010 stands strong. That being the case, I owe you five messages and have less than a month to deliver. Best I begin now!

I realize I am but a mere hitch-hiker on the electronic super highway where others may tweet and text frequently throughout their day. Yet, one must walk before they can run, so I will not apologize for my online baby steps. The 2010 decision to blog was not about quantity. For me, it was more about trying something new, exercising my love of writing and learning where it might take me; having fun; exploring the creative cavities of my mind in search of a new perspective . . .

I expanded my business services this year to include “ghost-writing” and have been engaged by several clients to write on their behalf – to tell “their story” via an award application; to promote "their strengths and talents" via a project proposal; to articulate "their intentions" via a business document. Hopefully, 2011 will provide additional opportunities, incentives and motivation to write, thus I have coined 2011 “The Year of the Pen.”

And, now for today’s blog . . . oops, out of space . . . eight down; four to go.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

God is great; God is good.

She's 10 years old and attends a fourth grade special education program at a local elementary school. Her sight impaired from a brain tumor, she wears a pair of thick glasses to help compensate for the blindness in one eye and the 45% vision remaining in the other.

With the help of her single mother of two, nearly half her size, she is working diligently to lose weight and is elated over her recent 30 pound success. The prospect of a hot dog to celebrate from a sidewalk sale, in which her mother is participating, is met with great expectation.

Before her ravenous appetite is satisfied from a gourmet luncheon of a hot dog (complete with cheese, ketchup, chili and onions), low fat potato chips, and a diet soft drink, she bows her head. "God is great; God is good, and we thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed. Give us, Lord, our daily bread."

Slow? I don't think so. Trouble seeing things clearly. I think not.

She has surely received a "special education" and qualifies in every sense of the word as "gifted." We would all do well to learn from her reverence; her remembrance; and her unbashed sense of gratitude. She certainly gave me pause to remember all that for which I am grateful and too often neglect to give thanks.

You are right, Savannah . . "God is great; God is good." May He richly bless you.

Monday, July 12, 2010

More Handshakes; Less Heartaches

In my last blog, I wrote about the qualities of teamwork, collaboration and communication and how significant these qualities are in determining outcomes. The more effective the teamwork, collaborative process and communication style, the more positive the outcomes.

A phenomenon known as the Apollo Syndrome also illustrates the value of teamwork, collaboration and communication.

Several astronauts with top NASA credentials and high intellect gathered to address a highly complex issue.

Likewise, a group of individuals from NASA gathered who were indeed very smart, yet lacked the qualifications and expertise of the aforementioned astronauts. They were challenged to address a similar highly complex issue.

Interestingly, the second group was more successful in discovering the best options for resolving the problem. Their success was attributed to their effectiveness in teamwork, collaboration and communication, contrary to the first team who worked more independent of each other, yet below their collective capability.

When looking for ways to foster handshakes and eliminate arm wrestling, companies are invited to contact HR Alliance to learn more about our offerings. Among those services we provide are: experiential team building programs, serving as an external consultant to facilitate collaborative initiatives, and training on the subject of effective communication.

Congratulations to those organizations that recognize the power of a handshake and the opportunities for win-win results.

Friday, May 21, 2010


How many times could a handshake result in more effective – more positive – more peaceful results than arm wrestling to prove who’s strongest – physically, mentally, emotionally, financially?

Working with each other (the handshake approach) implies the potential for all involved to benefit. The process goes by many names, among them, teamwork, collaboration and communication.

Working against each other (the arm wrestling approach) implies competition, and competition implies someone loses. This process goes by many names, too: conflict management, power struggle, and a “we” versus “they” mentality.

According to Brigadier General (Retired) Charles Campbell, Afterburner Director of Flawless Execution University (, in the 1980’s the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) conducted an exhaustive study regarding airline disasters. The results of the study led them to the conclusion that the vast number of plane disasters were not caused by inclement weather, pilot error or mechanical failure. In fact, most airline disasters were caused by the absence of teamwork, collaboration and communication.

In the 1990’s, a similar study was conducted by the WHO (World Health Organization) regarding the causes of error-related deaths. The results showed that such deaths were not caused by lack of training or lack of skills of medical professionals. Deaths caused were also not tied to unavailable facilities and resources. It was discovered that, like the NTSB study, error-related deaths are much more likely to occur due to the absence of teamwork, collaboration and communication.

Thirty-thousand feet in the air or a hospital surgical suite . . .
. . . distress among family members, political controversy, labor-management disputes, war in the streets and with other countries . . .

How many times could a handshake prevent heartache? Would (1.) working together as a team, (2.) building upon each others’ strengths in collaboration, and (3.) respectfully communicating with each other lead to better outcomes?

I vote in favor of a handshake.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lord Willin and the Creek Don't Rise


Perhaps you’ve heard your father or grandfather quote the old adage by qualifying a “yes” with “Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.” Or, at least, that’s what my Dad would say.

Translated, “Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise” is said to mean: “With good luck and no major problems, we can be successful.” With all due respect, I take issue with the author Benjamin Hawkins.

Luck and no problems . . . or skill, hard work / smart work, opportunities, choices, and action? Which is more likely to help us achieve a desire result? In fact, if “luck” and “no major problems” result in success, the task may be so routine that energies would be better directed toward a more challenging objective?

While I casually subscribe to the cliché: “The harder I work, the luckier I get,” I wouldn’t count on luck and the absence of hard work to lead me in achieving a challenging goal.

Something to think about?

Chat with you later . . . “Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.”

Mary Jane Umberger, SPHR, President
HR Alliance, LLC
580 W. Main St.
Wytheville, VA 24382
(276) 223-1718

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Welcome February 2010! Twenty-eight days . . . among them:
Groundhog Day
Lincoln’s Birthday
Valentine’s Day
President’s Day
Fat Tuesday
Mardi Gras
Ash Wednesday
Washington’s Birthday
Waitangi Day
Your birthday? Anniversary?
the beginning of the Chinese new year . . . whew . . . what a busy month of celebrations.

Let’s look at February 14th, best known for the tradition of Valentine’s Day; this year it shares the beginning of the Chinese New Year.

According to the Chinese calendar, 2010 is the Year of the Tiger which legend describes as follows:

“Tiger people are sensitive, given to deep thinking, capable of great sympathy. They can be extremely short-tempered; however people have great respect for them. Sometimes ‘tiger people’ have conflict with older people or those in authority. Sometimes ‘tiger people’ can not make up their minds, which can result in poor hasty decisions or a sound decision arrived at too late. They are suspicious of others, but they are courageous and powerful.”

Do you see any “tiger traits” in yourself and others?

Perhaps the Year of the Tiger provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon those qualities we want to shape our year.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Designed for leaders seeking opportunities to learn progressive strategies that improve working relationships and positively impact bottom-line results!

Wytheville Meeting Center Lunch: 12:15 p.m. Seminar: 1:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Series of five (5) half-day luncheon seminars offered by experts in their field

$99 per person per session; Series Discount = $425 per person for all five (5) sessions

Advance registration required by 2/9/2010 to take advantage of Series discount. Make checks payable to: HR Alliance.

For more information, contact:
Mary Jane Umberger
HR Alliance, LLC
580 W. Main St. Wytheville, VA 24382
(276) 223-1718
To register online, go to:

3rd Annual Leadership Development Series


The Be-Attitudes of Extra Ordinary Leaders
Increasing your effectiveness . . . one attitude at a time
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Facilitated by: Janet Crawford, MHA, MBA, PCC
President & CEO of Extra Ordinary Living, LLC

State of the Union Address
2010 Legislation impacting business
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Facilitated by: Mark Goodwin, Partner
LeClairRyan – Richmond, VA

Crucial Conversations
Fact, Impact, Solution
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Facilitated by: Lorie Deal
Leadership Development North America for TeleTech®

Dynamics of Difference: Opportunities & Challenges
Solutions that lie beneath the surface
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Facilitated by: Susanna Rinehart, MFA
Multicultural Fellow & Associate Professor of Theatre & Cinema @ VA Tech

The Business of Going Green
Weaving Green into the fabric of your life
Thursday, April 22, 2010 / Earth Day
Facilitated by: Keith Litz, Environmental & Energy Specialist
Wytheville Community College Manufacturing Technology Center

Featured Green Sponsors: Gatorade; Mt. Rogers Community Services Board, MTC Transformers; Wytheville Office Supply

Friday, January 15, 2010

That is the question . . .

. . . whether ‘tis nobler to keep one’s thoughts to themselves . . .
or to take arms with the pen and risk sharing perspectives with another.

With my apologies to the memory of William Shakespeare, I ponder the dilemma whether or not to create a blog and take arms with the pen (or keyboard, as the case may be). In so doing, I ask myself two questions: (1.) Why? (2.) Why not?

Because I love to write
Because I have just created a new website – a convenient vehicle on which to hitch a ride
Because what I write may have a positive influence on a reader or sound a call to appropriate action
Because I may learn something in the process
Did I mention I love to write?

Why not?
Because I may not be a very good writer
Because developing a blog requires refreshing the site regularly – What if I have nothing to ‘say’?
Do I have the time? Will I make the time?
Will I make the commitment?

Perhaps I am burdened by my internal critic who warns me: “What will other people think?” “Maybe you’re not such a good writer after all.” “No one will read it.”

I was once told by a newspaper editor: There are natural writers and there are writers who pace, sweat, and wring their hands over the page. I fear I am the latter; however, my love of writing shall take precedence.

Given the beginning of a new year – the beginning of a new decade – by the power vested in me, I make a commitment to allocate the time to create a monthly blog throughout 2010.

And so, the “Whys” have it.
If we focus on our strengths, we tend to look for ways why we can.

If we focus on those areas we do not consider our strengths, we tend to justify our inaction by looking for ways why we can not.

In today’s economic, political and litigious environment, we often find ourselves in a state of flux. The answers to “why” and “why not” may not seem as clear as they once did. It is not uncommon for clients to contact HR Alliance to help distinguish between the “whys” and the “why nots.” I am grateful to those who call and allow us to participate in discussions that result in appropriate action because . . . the “whys” have it.

I invite you to visit: and respond with your questions, suggestions, thoughts, opinions, and ideas on future blogs.

In the meantime, to each of you,
please accept my sincere best wishes
for a new year of happiness, good health, prosperity and peace.

HR Alliance is a human resource management consulting firm and, through a host of talented colleagues, provides HR consultation, outsourcing, leadership development training , outplacement and a myriad of other resources designed to foster professional growth and organizational success.

We are available for around-the-clock support 24/7. For more information, please contact us:

Mary Jane Umberger, SPHR
HR Alliance, LLC
. . . a catalyst for positive change
580 W. Main St.
Wytheville, VA
Office: (276) 223-1718
Mobile: (276) 620-1618