10 B.E.S.T. Life Lessons

“If your presence doesn’t make an impact, your absence won’t make a difference.”

This quote reminded me of my Godfather’s home going celebration. Rev. Carl F. Brinkley had been a part of my life since birth, supporting me through all stages of my life and comforting me when both of my parents passed. As I listened to individuals from different parts of his life, pay tribute to him and attest to the significant impact that he had made on their lives and others, I recognized that my Godfather  had left me with 10 B.E.S.T. Life Lessons.10

  1. Let your faith inform your work
  2. Spend more time caring about others than focusing on self
  3. Know when to bring peace to the table
  4. Don’t accept no; continue to look for the possibilities
  5. Regardless of the circumstance, continue to fight on
  6. Be a trail blazer
  7. Don’t just talk, act
  8. Remember to think about what you say, to whom, when
  9. Love community and people
  10. Make sure you have the right temperament for the right time

Thanks Godfather for continuing to make a difference!  make a difference


Perception is Reality

The President’s secretary called to schedule a meeting. The meeting was to discuss feedback that had been received from my peers and employees. Now that didn’t sound positive to me. I couldn’t imagine what this meant; no one had said anything to me that would indicate something was wrong. Rather than get myself all worked up, I decided not to speculate and wait until the meeting.

The meeting began with polite, small talk. Then the President stated that he wanted to share with me some feedback that he had received and was concerned because it reflected upon my ability to meet my performance expectations. His words were like shock waves.  I was devastated and couldn’t imagine what this was all about.

He continued, “Your peers don’t think you are a team player.” “Your employees see you as controlling.” If you are to be an effective leader in our company, neither of these behaviors are acceptable.

shockI was in shock. The fact that the President had called me in to share this with me rather than asking my peers and employees to speak with me directly suggested that he shared these thoughts too. How could this be? From my perspective, I had been giving my all to both the team and organization. Working over sixty hours a week, holding weekly individual meetings with my staff and monthly team meetings. No one had ever said they thought I was “controlling.” And what about my peers? Always responding to their requests in a timely manner and soliciting feedback on projects that impacted their areas. Not one of them had ever said to me that they thought I wasn’t a team player. After getting over my initial shock, I asked the President to share examples of my behaviors that suggested their perspectives. His examples left me even more perplexed. Bringing the meeting to a close, he asked me “What are YOU going to do to turn things around?” Needing time to clear my emotions so that my thinking would be objective, I told him my action plan would be on his desk the next morning.  Back in my office, I closed my door so that I could reflect privately on all that was shared.

bigproblemIt was clear to me there was a BIG problem. My perceptions were not matching those of my employees and peers. Given the disconnect, I needed someone who could be objective to help me sort this out. One of the consultants of the HR firm that the company used came to mind. Immediately, I reached for the phone and gave him a call. After explaining the situation, he helped me understand that as long as everyone had “their perceptions,” regardless to whether I thought they were accurate or not, it was their reality; hence would impact my leadership performance. He further emphasized that to change their perceptions, would require me understanding what precipitated them and then doing what was necessary to change the perceptions. The consultant then guided me in the development of a 3-prong plan targeting relationships with my employees, peers, and the president. And it started with a self-assessment of my personality preferences. Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,  the consultant helped me to understand how my preferences differed from my team, peers, and the president. We then planned a team retreat and  structured  1:1 meetings with my peers and the President.

I recognized that the perceptions would not change without me exerting the effort to understand.

My effort resulted in changed perceptions of me. After investing the time with my peers, they realized that my focus on results was not about “outperforming them” but was tied to my passion to “achieve results.” Working with my team, I learned that “my preferences” for structure and organization was different from theirs. Most of my team “preferred options and flexibility.” They saw behaviors associated with my preference as “controlling.”  I saw the behaviors associated with theirs as “inefficient and sometimes costly.”  This self- assessment helped me to respect difference and learn how to flex when appropriate. Updating my President regularly about my actions, lessons learned and results, helped him to understand that I was committed to being an effective leader in the company.

lessons learned buttonThe following five important lessons emerged from this situation.

  • Understanding my personal preferences helped me to understand how to manage them when working with others whose preferences are different.
  • Spending time with others outside of the time in meetings and working on projects is necessary so that relationships are established that help everyone to have a better understanding of each other.
  • Periodically checking in with others to verify my assumptions is necessary.
  • Another person’s perception is their reality, regardless of whether you agree.
  • If you want someone to have a different perception, it is up to you to put the effort into doing what is necessary to facilitate the change.

B.E.S.T. Thoughts

  1. When has someone had a perception of you that was different from what you thought it should be? How did your perception and theirs differ?
  2. Did you own changing the perception? If so, what did you do? Did you get your desired outcomes?

A Winning Smile

At three, my mother and I were walking around down town, looking in the stores, and I was getting a chance to try on new clothes.  In the midst of this fun activity, we ran into a person who knew my mother but had not yet met me. She looked at me and said, “You are a cute little girl. What’s your name?” To my mother’s surprise, I didn’t respond.  In fact when she looked at me, I was displaying a frown on my face.frownNow giving me the clue as to what to say, my mother interjected, “Patricia, tell the lady your name.” Instead of picking up on the clue, I continued to maintain my frown, and did not utter a word. The unfamiliar lady said, “I know how children can be. Just when you want them to do something, they choose to do the opposite.”  My mother was polite with the lady but I could tell by the way she was holding my hand when we walked away that she was not happy with me. As soon as we got home and settled, here’s the conversation that took place.

Mother: “Patricia, what made you frown and not respond to the nice lady that we met in town?”        Me:  “I don’t know.”

Mother: “Did you forget your name?”      Me: “No”

Mother: “So what is your name?”    Me: “Patricia Gail Larkins”

Mother: Next time, when anyone asks you your name, I expect you to tell them. So what are you going to say the next time someone asks you your name?  Me: Patricia Gail Larkins

Mother: Patricia, when you greet people you want to make them feel happy and welcome. You can do that by smiling. And you have such a beautiful smile. Show me the smile that I like.          Me: I put a broad smile on my face.

Mother:That’s the smile I like and want you to use every time you see someone; whether you know them or not. Do you understand? Can I count on you to share your beautiful smile?

Me: Yes

I never wanted to disappoint my mother. From that day forward, I smiled at everyone. Fast forward to the 2nd Grade. I was nominated by my class to compete for the school title, “Miss South Street Elementary.”  During that period in time, electronic devices didn’t exist; so voting was done by students casting a paper ballot. Our voting took place in the school’s auditorium. Each grade’s nominee sat on the stage with a ballot box in front of them. Students entered by class and cast their votes. Being that I was in the 2nd grade, I was the 2nd person they saw when they entered.  As each student came toward me, regardless of their grade, I smiled, said hi, and gave my name. At the end of the voting, and when the votes were counted, I had WON.


I was Miss South Street, a second grader flanked by attendants from the 5th and 7th grades.  When I shared the good news with my mother. I also told her that I had remembered to smile at everyone.

Your B.E.S.T.  Thoughts

When you smile, how do you feel? How does your smile impact others?

How does smiling impact you “being your B.E.S.T.?”


Jets & Limos: Are They Really Perks?

As I pulled up and parked in a space reserved for my company, it was my first time in a private airport.

Airhostess and pilot greeting business people before boarding private jet
Air hostess and pilot greeting business people before boarding private jet

Before I could try and figure out what to do next, there was someone at my car door asking for my bags, whisking them and me away at the same time. No lines nor delays as we moved swiftly to the jet. Now that was service at its best.  Soon everyone was settled on the company’s private jet. All the key players together, sipping coffee, and strategizing about the big meeting ahead. It was clear to us that the Chairman expected this meeting to yield a partnership, integral to our company’s next growth phase. This ride provided an opportunity to make sure everyone was on the same page and everything was buttoned up. It seemed like only minutes instead of hours when the pilot could be heard announcing the landing and at the same time our limo was pulling up on the tarmac. perks While stepping off the jet into the limo, bags secured, we were on our way. Within minutes, the chairman was on the speaker phone giving us an update that was necessary to prevent being blindsided at the upcoming meeting. Just as the chairman answered our last question, the limo pulled up at the meeting location, the driver was helping us out, and gathering the materials needed.

The meeting started on time and everyone was on one accord. The potential partners were impressed that all members of our team were able to answer their questions. Print materials were provided that contained the additional level of detail needed to help them feel comfortable that our company was the right partner.  As we stood up and shook hands, everyone was relieved when the leader of the partnership said he was looking forward to our collaborative relationship and knew that working together there would be a significant impact on the industry. Our driver was right there as we walked out the door and once in the limo, everyone cheered. Immediately the phone rang, and we all smiled knowing it was the chairman wanting to hear the outcome. Responding to the call, our CEO said, “Mr. Chairman we have a new partnership.” “Just what I expected,” the chairman replied.

Everyone was staying to work out the details except me. I was off to another meeting with the chairman that was to begin at 8 am the next morning several states away. Luckily the jet was going to get me there early evening. While waiting on room service, I would have just enough time to unpack and check my messages.


The next morning, the car service picked me up at 6:30 am so that I could meet with the chairman prior to the meeting. Over breakfast, we talked about the previous meeting and he reminded me that all of the company perks had made it possible for us to close the deal.  I considered the chairman, my personal coach. He liked providing me with tips about the corporate world since this was my first private sector experience and senior leadership position. This morning’s tip- “You see the jet, limo, and car service are all tools I use to make sure we are prepared, use our time efficiently, increase our productivity, and can be responsive to our customers and partners.” And then the chairman seized the last few minutes in the car to review the outline of my remarks.  When the driver opened the door, we both knew we were prepared for the next meeting. And I knew it was in part due to our access to a cadre of tools- jets, limos, and car service.

Your BEST Thoughts

What are some tools that you use to facilitate using your time efficiently?

What tools have you used to increase your productivity?

What perks do you have that facilitates your ability to “be prepared?”

Put Downs Can Lift You Up

 There was something exciting about being on a college campus- observing students chatting as they headed to their classes; listening to professors sharing their expertise; engaging in a faculty meeting.  This felt like the next best move for me. I could take what I had gained from my practical experience coupled with my subject matter expertise and now help create a pipeline of future professionals. Satisfaction and excitement filled the air as I got in my car and headed home. The next day, on the other end of my phone was the Department Chair extending an offer to me to join the faculty of the Education Department at this college. My Instructor position would require me to teach, supervise students in their external clinical practicums, and establish a college clinic that would provide internal practicum opportunities.reachingfordream This was a dream position and I couldn’t wait to get started. 

At the first campus-wide faculty meeting, it was evident that I was among the youngest to join the faculty and among a few faculty members that had been trained out of state, much less a graduate of a “Big 10” institution. I saw myself as an asset to the college. There was so much to be shared and value that I could add to the college and my specific department. It didn’t take long before community partnerships were identified and external student practicum sites established. Next was the grand opening of the on-campus clinic, much like the one I had utilized at my undergraduate program. Students loved having access to me to problem solve, and brainstorm innovative interventions. Things were going great, at least that was what I thought until I was called into my Chair’s office. I could tell by the look on the Chair’s face this wasn’t going to be the positive meeting that I thought.

“Miss Patricia, ‘Dr.’ Jones has brought it to my attention that the students say you are in your office every day. I thought we had discussed during your orientation that you only need to be in your office during established office hours. Maintaining daily hours is creating problems for the other faculty with their students.  Now don’t make it necessary for me to remind you again “Miss” Patricia to just keep your office hours.”  I couldn’t believe that I was being reprimanded for caring about my students and once again being “put down” by being called repeatedly ‘Miss’ Patricia. This had occurred in our faculty meetings as well. Everyone referred to me as ‘Miss’ Patricia with an emphasis on ‘Miss’ as they addressed each other as ‘Dr.’  The faculty committee assignments were disseminated and the Dept. Chair announced that I was unable to chair a committee because that position was reserved for faculty with a doctoral degree.

Regardless of “what” the chair and faculty members called me, I remained confident that I was adding value to the department, contributing to the intellectual growth of the students, and developing a pipeline of quality professionals. But I had come to a point of frustration. I reached out to my Advisor from my graduate program with whom I had maintained contact after graduation.

mentorHe was now my professional Mentor. Dr. B. informed me that growth in any academic institution would require that I obtain my doctoral degree. I could always count on my mentor to be straight forward. Before getting off the phone he asked, “So what are you going to do?” My mentor was good at challenging me to think and take personal responsibility.After our conversation, I began conducting research on doctoral programs then selected the one that met my requirements, applied, got accepted, and earned a fellowship.

At the end of the academic year, I handed in my resignation. The Dept. Chair looked surprised as he asked “What are you going to do ‘Miss’ Patricia?”  My reply was simple, “I am going back to graduate school to earn my Ph.D. degree.”  Within record time, three years later, I had earned my doctor of philosophy degree. I was now “Dr. Patricia.”doctoral

Upon graduation, I was hired to teach at a University in the Nation’s capital.  My new position required teaching in both the undergraduate and graduate programs, directing master’s thesis, doctoral dissertations, and conducting research.

I sent a note of thanks to my former department. Their “put down” had “lifted me up!” 



Your B.E.S.T. thoughts

What are some put downs that you have encountered?

When did you turn a put down into a lift up?

How have you let others influence you “being your b.e.s.t.”?

How has your mentor helped you navigate a “put down?”

Shades of Grey

blackorwhiteUp until one encounter in my doctoral program, I had spent my life seeing things as black or white.  For example,

  • The answer was either right or wrong.
  • People were hard working or lazy.
  • Businesses were about making money and Non Profits were about helping people.
  • I was happy or sad.
  • The teacher either wanted to help me be successful or was trying to make it hard for me to be successful.

This particular day, it was my first opportunity to facilitate a family group session. I entered the Center with excitement and eager to put into practice all that had been taught.  At the end of the session, my instructor, Dr. Betty, asked me “How did you think the session went?”  My immediate response, “it was awful.”  Not a surprising response since all I could see when she asked the question were the things that had gone wrong:

 I didn’t handle the conversations well. I had forgotten to make sure everyone participated. I let one person talk too long. I hadn’t empathized with one of the participants.  Now I was about in tears because the session hadn’t turned out like I had hoped.

Lucky for me, I had Dr. Betty. Recognizing my emotional state, she said in a comforting tone, “Now, let’s take a look at your session. Think about it. What did you do that went well?”

After much thought, I said “At the outset I explained the purpose and rules of engagement. I asked each person to introduce himself/herself and share with the group something about their family member that was special. I made everyone feel welcome and safe.”

changedirectionOnce I changed the direction of my thinking, I realized that there were quite a few things that had gone well. Dr. Betty smiled as she saw my ‘went well list’ expanding and about to outnumber my ‘awful list.’  “So what did you just learn?” she asked.  Dr. Betty had a style of facilitating self-discoveries in a meaningful way. I began to recognize that style as one of her unique teacher characteristics. “Well, I guess the session was not totally awful. I did do something well.”  At that moment I had moved from feeling a need to beat myself up to recognizing that while I did do something well, there was still opportunity for me to improve and get better. After all, this was my first session.


Happy that I had uncovered an important lesson, Dr. Betty then said, “You know everything is not black or white, there are shades of grey!”

Your B.E.S.T. thoughts

When has your change in thinking impacted your perception?

What perception did you change because of your teacher?

How does shade of grey help you to “be your b.e.s.t.?”

Big Fish in a Small Pond…pays dividends

Shortly after starting graduate school, my father passed unexpectedly. Now, it was just my mother and me.    momandmeAlways loving unconditionally, my mother encouraged me to return and finish grad school even though it would have been easier for her if I returned home. You see my mother found herself, at 64 years of age, having to learn how to do all the things that my father had always done for her. As an only child, my mother and I had a special bond.  Wanting to be close enough to her so that I could assist when needed, but not so close that she would transfer her dependence from my father to me became my priority. Upon graduation, I decided to seek employment nearby but not in my hometown. As it turned out, just the right opportunity presented itself in a community three hours away. The interview sealed it for me. I liked the man who would become my supervisor. There would be a diversity of clients providing me with diverse experiences, and an opportunity to put into practice my new knowledge. I loved that I would have an opportunity to build a program and collaborate with a variety of partners. So without hesitation I accepted the position. In my eagerness to be near my mother and find a professionally rewarding experience, I neglected to examine the location of the job and made assumptions which later proved to be all wrong.

Upon returning to start the job, to my surprise I found that my graduate school was larger than the community where I was now residing. The weekend sports excitement was the rivalry football game between the two local high schools. What a shock given my previous rivalry football games had been between Michigan State and the University of Michigan msuwith over 100,000 fans and the “Big 10” experience.  There were few young professionals and limited activities or events for me to participate. Initially I spent most of my weekends headed to my hometown. My college friends didn’t think I would last more than a year. But it turned out I was there for three. They would ask, “Why are you still in that small community?” It boiled down to the fact that being a “big fish” in a “small pond” had its benefits.

Being a progressive young professional in the community landed me as a regular talk show guest on the local radio show- gaining experience in media presence. My program at work grew in size, requiring more staff to be hired.  At the beginning of my 2nd year, I was now the supervisor and with a new title “Head Speech-Language Pathologist”- gaining experience in managing others. Raising funds was key to our organization’s success and so I learned how to create partnerships and implement fundraising events. This particular part of the state was often left out of major state-wide appointments and activities because it was difficult to find people who met the requirements to serve.  The Governor was being pressured to appoint someone just at a time when I was doing some work and had expertise in the particular appointment area. I landed the Governor’s appointment, joined the state commission and expanded my network. By winning the local beauty pageant, I ended up competing at the state level for Miss Black Georgia (became the first runner up) and the first African American from this location to compete in the Miss Georgia pageant.

Most importantly, I learned the value of relationships.


Whether it was  the lady who provided me a room  and opened her home to me until I could find an apartment; an old family friend who within hours found an apartment when things went awry with my initial contract; the young woman who reached out in the hallway of my office building to welcome me to the community and became my friend (she still remains a friend today and was among the first to host a “Be Your B.E.S.T.” book signing); the supervisor who treated me like a family member and was there to celebrate my marriage “at last”; and the many patients and their family members who made me an extension of their family who taught the importance of family in my professional work. This small place contributed so many invaluable experiences that influenced who I am today.

When I reflect back to these days, I am grateful that I didn’t give up on the place because of its size because it presented “big” opportunities! Remember your environment does play an integral role in you “being your B.E.S.T.”

Your B.E.S.T. thoughts and something to chat about….

How has your environment shaped you?

What about your environment has helped you to be your B.E.S.T.?

How does size of your space impact you?