Sometimes, If It Sounds Like A Duck, It Might Just Be A Duck

My Uber driver, “Fernando” picked me up at the Huntsville, Alabama airport within 5 minutes of my internet ride request. As we engaged in conversation, I thanked him for showing up so quickly. “You’re welcome,” he said, “I just dropped off some people at the baseball stadium, for the Trash Panda’s game tonight. Wait…that can’t be right, I thought. “Trash Pandas?” He can’t have said that, it doesn’t make any sense. Then this chain of rationalization thoughts quickly ran through me head… he sounds like he has a spanish accent…I can’t hear well out of my left ear…and we’re both wearing masks…ahh, maybe he must have said something like, “Tres Pantas.” It’s a little strange that a minor league baseball team from Huntsville, Alabama would have a spanish name meaning “Three Plants”, but these minor league teams often have unusual names…yes, that must be the answer.

As we drove to the hotel, Fernando and I continued our conversation for another 10 minutes or so. Apparently, a few years ago, he and his wife had fled the political turmoil in Venezuela, where he worked as a veterinarian. They were living here in Huntsville now to be close to their daughter and her family. He said that he and his wife loved it here and that they were going to be applying to become naturalized citizens next year.  When he dropped me off, I thanked him for the ride and the conversation, and I wished him well on his citizenship journey. 

Later, I was watching the local TV news in my room. When the sports segment came on, they switched to a live broadcast from the local baseball stadium, where they said the “Rocket City Trash Pandas” were getting  to play their home opener against the “Chattanooga Lookouts.”  The mystery solved, and my over-thinking was exposed! Apparently, even with his accent, my bad ear, and our masks, I had heard him correctly. ”Trash Pandas”…Wow!

The Moral of the Story: Sometimes, even if it doesn’t make sense, if it sounds like a duck, it might just be a duck.

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“Corona Virus Blues”

Written by Don McAlister, 6/28/20 as a standard 12 bar blues song.

1. When this all got started

We didn’t have a clue

‘Bout how crazy things would get

And change everything we knew.

At first it didn’t seem that bad

The danger wasn’t clear

Then cases started popping up

West and East, and then right here.

And now it was a crisis

Affecting me and you

We got it bad

Corona Virus Blues!

CHORUS: We got a virus out to kill us

And it don’t care ‘bout who

And the only way to slow it down

Is to change the things we do.

We gotta stay six feet apart

And cover up our faces

Stay away from bars

Only eat at takeout places.

We’ve been hunkered down for months now

Watchin’ movies and the news

Yeah we got it bad

Corona Virus Blues!

2. Some folks got tired of hearing

What they should and shouldn’t do

And they protested and said

It was time to loosen rules.

Gov’nors felt the pressure

And opened up some places

But still asked us to distance

And cover up our faces

But it got out of hand again

Careless gatherings and booze

Infections started spiking up and

And now we’ve still got Corona Virus Blues!

(Repeat CHORUS and end)

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A House and A Home

A little Father’s Day nostalgia inspired me to write and post this new poem. Dedicated to Dad’s and Mom’s everywhere.

A House and A Home

A child grew up in this house
One or two,
Or maybe more
A child grew up in this house
Crawled, then walked,
Then learned to run across these floors

A child grew up in this house
Cries, and words, and laughter
Echoed down the halls
A child grew up in this house
Infant, toddler and then a teen
Growth recorded on the wall

A child grew up in this house
This place, of wood, and brick,
And stone.
Yes, a child grew up in this house
And turned this house into a

Don McAlister
15 June 2019

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Now & Then






I wrote this poem following the passing of my Mother Ellen McAlister, on 7 March 2018. I offer it as a gift to all those who have lost loved ones. Although they’re gone, their memories live on, in the hearts of those whose lives they touched.

Now & Then

Now and then I will recall
A moment lived, however small
That has a special place
Within my heart.

Now and then, a sound or smell
Or a passing sight that dwells
Just long enough
To bring back memories.

And when those memories race
And I feel their warm embrace
For just that moment
Then turns in to Now.

Don McAlister
8 March 2018

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 An egocentric person
Thinks the world is thurstin’
For the “wisdom” that they know is theirs.
So they opine things all day long
And although they frequently are wrong
They never seem to be uncertain of their fare.

Don McAlister, 4 September 2017


Posted in Better Thinking, coaching, Humor, Leadership, Life, Personal Development, poetry, teaching, That's Life, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chaos & Creativity






If our lives were as simple as we often wish they would be
Black and white…yes and no…and complexity free.
Then the world would be easier to bear don’t you think?
Or would the boredom of simple, simply drive us to drink.

Don’t get me wrong, I like peaceful and calm
And some relief from the chaos and stress.
But there is beauty as well, when things go to hell
That’s when creativity flows at its best.

So be careful what you wish for when things are a mess,
Some solutions, though simpler, are not always the best.
Let the tempo and rhythms of the uncertainty ride
Bring the energy you need to see the box from outside.

Don McAlister
27 December 2016

Posted in Best Practices, Better Thinking, coaching, Leadership, Life, mentoring, Personal Development, poetry, Risk Management, teaching, That's Life | Leave a comment

Our Love/Hate Relationship with Uncertainty

dc56bd2b-398a-43e7-b3db-6f9b1757b979If uncertainty is the state of not knowing what we need or want to know, then we must hate it…right? After all, uncertainty that matters is what we define as risk. Risk is what keeps us up at night. Worrying about it impacts our mental and physical health. It causes us to spend time and resources that we could otherwise devote to the certainties in our lives. We are wired to be afraid of uncertainty, to see it as a threat, and to protect ourselves from its likelihood and consequences by converting “unknowns” to “knowns.”

But wait…we must also love uncertainty, or at least we love the process of its resolution. We love not knowing for sure what’s inside that wrapped gift. Our brains release pleasure-causing endorphins when we hear the unexpected punch line of a joke. We are naturally curious about, and seek to explore and understand the world around us and the world within us. Without the “itching” of uncertainty we would not experience the pleasure that comes with the “scratching” that learning and knowing provides.

So I guess the bottom line is this. Love it or hate it, uncertainty is a commodity of life, which we need for both survival and fulfillment. What are your thoughts?

Posted in Better Thinking, coaching, Life, Personal Development, teaching, That's Life, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Self-Inflicted Project Management Wounds

Proj FF1


Forensic assessments of failed and troubled projects often reveal that the direct causes of the problems, and/or the contributing factors, are self-inflicted. The damage caused by these project management “friendly-fire” incidents can be significant and long lasting.

Consider these real-life self-inflicted Project damage examples:
• You improve a local process within the project with insufficient consideration of the affects the changes may have on the rest of the project system. The overall project is sub-optimized at the expense of making one element look better.
• You fail to measure your project performance in the same way your customer does. The customer metrics may not be fair or right, but if you’re not looking at things they way they are, then trouble is just down the road.
• You shield your team from unfavorable news or feedback to keep them from being distracted. Transparency may be uncomfortable and sometimes even risky, but it builds trust, and engages everyone in early avoidance/resolution of the emerging problem.
• You provide quick recognition of problem solving heroics. Unfortunately, often the work of the most heroic goes unnoticed. You should focus on celebrating team accomplishments and let them identify their own heroes.
• You implemented a rigorous project earned value management system by breaking-down your work packages down to the lowest level, requiring a bi-monthly earned value review cycle, and setting minimum cost and schedule variation thresholds for action. Unfortunately you now spend so much time crunching the raw data through the financial systems and pressing the team leaders for analyses, reports and variance explanations, that you lose your real-time feel for the pulse of the project and emerging changes in context. Earned value metrics are important, but tailor your process rigor to meet the real needs and means of the project.
• You stoically maintain your project cost and schedule baselines in their original configuration, even though significant changes in project customer requirements and performance have occurred that have created variances which are unrecoverable and for the most part, irrelevant to current project conditions. You’ve done this because both you and your management believe you should “own” all variances and you want to show at least some progress in reducing these “original sins” them during the project life cycle. The problem is, that these large “artifact of the past” variances that your team are dutifully measuring, and repeatedly explaining, may be obscuring subtle, near-term adverse trends that could have a significant impact on the current and future performance of the project. It may be time to “bite the bullet” and discuss with your customer and management the implementation of a project re-baseline. For more on this, see my blog, “Knowing When to Re-Baseline Your Project.

These are all real examples of situations I’ve encountered while analyzing the cause network for troubled or failed projects. Projects are complex; people systems with lots of opportunities for human error. Good people, with good intentions will make errors that cause some damage. But, thoughtful review of shared examples like those listed above and others you may have experienced,  can go a long way to reducing the likelihood and consequences of the risk of self-inflicted project damage on your next project.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcomed.

Posted in Best Practices, Better Thinking, coaching, Knowledge Sharing, Leadership, Program & Knowledge Management, Project Baseline Management, Project Management, Risk Management | 2 Comments

Pull Me Leadership





“Push me towards your goals and I will resist, looking backwards at you as the source of my irritation. But, shine a light on your goal, extend your hand to pull me forward, and I will reach out with enthusiasm to join you on the journey.”
Don McAlister
19 January 2016

Are you a “Push Me” or “Pull Me” leader? I’m sure you’ve experienced both styles in your family and business lives, and I’m willing to bet that you have a preference for the “Pull Me” style. Why then do we continue to experience so much “Push Me” leadership in our businesses?

“Push Me” leadership is a throwback to our schooldays when parents, teachers and coaches used that style to motivate us, because we lacked the knowledge, experience and self-confidence required to respond to more sophisticated forms of leadership. I believe that those in businesses who continue to use the “Push Me” style are unknowingly adopting a kind of parental leadership role in their organizations. The parental leadership style may work for a limited segment of the work force, but for the rest it is uncomfortable and counter-productive.

As adults however, our education and experience has provided us a set of basic and specialized knowledge, personal and social skills, and a model for how we want our leaders to behave…”Pull Me” leadership. “Pull Me” style leaders paint a vision for a future state, set and communicate goals and milestones, establish boundaries, provide resources, set the tempo, eliminate barriers, and then empower the team and set them loose to execute using their best skills and judgment.

Take a hard look at your leadership style. Certainly an effective leader must adapt their style occasionally in response to a changing context. However, your predominant style should Pull rather the Push your teams.

I welcome your thoughts on this topic.

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Basics, Art & Heart

coachingAt a recent Rotary Club meeting, our speaker, Mike Sheppard, a retired college and professional football coach, remarked that, “the best coaches teach at three levels: basics, art and heart.”  This simple, but elegant phrase captures the essence of what our best teachers, coaches and mentors do to reveal and build, the talent and character of those in their charge.

Whether in it’s in our school classrooms, on our sports fields, or in our workplaces, there is no more important role, nor a higher calling, than that of teacher, coach or mentor. They inspire us to reach our potential, they generously share their knowledge and experience to help build our skills, they teach us how to trust and be trustworthy, and they show us how to be better leaders and followers.

For all those who teach, coach and mentor… who help us understand, perform, and learn how to treat others…THANK YOU!  This limerick is my gift to you.

Basics, Art & Heart
You coach the basics at the start
Then the subtleties and art
But the job’s not done
Until you teach someone
How to do it all with heart.

                     Don McAlister
16 September 2015

Posted in Better Thinking, coaching, Heroes, Knowledge Sharing, Leadership, Life, mentoring, Personal Development, poetry, Rotary Club, teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment