Share Your Passion

Recently MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel invited employees to participate in “We are MnDOT:  Share Your Passion,” a forum for employees to share their interests with each other, by submitting a 125-word description and a photo of their passion. The profiles are then posted on the walls of each floor where employees work.

I thought it was a wonderful idea. Sharing your passion will help employees learn a little bit more about each other, get better connected and more engaged with each other, therefore help build stronger community and relationships within the department.

This is what I came up with for my passion profile. I wrote more, but had to cut down to 125 words:

Reading, learning, writing and blogging are my #1 passion. I write about whatever comes to my mind, hence my Woodbury Bulletin Column “On My Mind” which is an Areavoices blog now.

My #2 passion is healthy and green living. I love gardening and walking.

As a citizen of the world (grew up in China, went to graduate school in Germany, and living in US since 1991), I travel a lot. In summer 2012, I visited New York, Princeton, Philadelphia, Chicago; Germany, Hungary, Italy, France and UK.

I love taking pictures, won Woodbury Photo Contest twice.

I love volunteering and getting involved in community, graduated from the 1st class of Woodbury Citizens Academy, and was a founding member of Minnesota Jinglun Chinese School.

Never stop learning!

What is your passion? Share it with others!

First day back to work at MnDOT

After 20 days of the Minnesota government shutdown, I was contacted by my supervisor yesterday afternoon (July 20) to go back to work today.

The shutdown was over. The waiting was over. The anxiety was over. So was my homecation. I was happy to go back to work today. I got up early and left for work a few minutes early.

At the entrance of the Transportation building, I was, like every other employee walking in, warmly greeted by our MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel and his management team with a cheerful “Welcome back!” and a handshake or a hug. They had been waiting at different entrances shortly before 7 am when employees started to come in.

Coffee and donuts were available which added some bitter-sweet touch to the event.

Reporters from media were on site to report the event and interview people. Check out this MinnPost article MnDOT workers get a warm ‘Welcome back!’

Our office managers also handed out a hand written note from Commissioner Sorel to every employee. In the note, Sorel extended a personal welcome back and thank-you. He ended the note with “We are MnDOT!!” – a slogan and an initiative his management team created in the last couple of years.

“We are MnDOT”expresses the pride of being a MnDOT employee. “We are MnDOT” videos share stories about who we are, what we do, and what makes MnDOT great.

Later in the morning we had an office meeting to go through the checklist that the management team had worked on in the last couple of days to help employees ease back to work. Our office managers also expressed their personal welcome back and thank you.

Around 8 am, Governor Dayton stopped by at the Transportation Building to greet returning employees. At noon, he sent a thank-you note via email to all state employees.

In the afternoon at 2 pm, Commissioner Sorel and Deputy Commissioner Bernie Arseneau conducted a web cast for all employees. The web cast started with a “We are MnDOT” video. Then both leaders again welcomed everyone back to work. They shared what happened during the shutdown, talked about return to work checklists and resources, and how to resume business.

It sure felt good to be welcomed back at work and to be valued.

Thanks to Commissioner Sorel and his management team, I feel proud to be working for MnDOT and being a part of “We are MnDOT.”

“Heroes of MnDOT” honored at the State Capitol

Today MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton honored seven individuals, MnDOT’s Critical Incident Stress Management team and all 1,800 MnDOT Snow Fighters at the award ceremony of “Heroes of MnDOT,” held at the State Capitol Rotunda at 10 AM.

“The purpose of this inaugural program is to acknowledge employees who acted courageously or provided meritorious service in response to extraordinary or dangerous circumstances. I believe it is important to have such a program to recognize when our employees carry out these extraordinary acts and pause to honor their fortitude and commitment.”

2011 Heroes of Mn/DOT include:

Donald MachacekFor his selfless and quick action that saved the lives of a mother and her two children in July of 2010.

Thomas Shields – For his selfless and quick action that saved the life of an infant in December of 2006.

Julie TodoraFor her quick response that saved the life of a heart attack victim in December of 2010.

Judy Jacobs – For her extraordinary support of the City of Wadena following the June 2010 tornado.

Kristine Hernandez and Jessica WiensFor their extraordinary support of Wabasha County during the September 2010 flood relief effort.

Jolyn CrumFor her selfless and quick action that saved the life of a Mn/DOT co-worker in January of 2011.

Critical Incident Stress Management Team(DeLorah Curry, Desiree Doud, Garland Jackson , Tony Kilpela, Jason Penaz, Brad Powers, Bob Wryk, Larry Quade) – For their extraordinary support of MnDOT employees and staff during critical incidents.

Snow FightersFor their extraordinary service during the snow and ice season of 2010-2011 and for keeping the citizens of Minnesota safe.

Since Sorel became the MnDOT Commissioner in April 2008, he has proved himself as a great leader. In my eyes, he is small in stature, yet giant in character, wisdom and leadership.

Sorel has done great work at MnDOT to improve morale, team work, commitment, trust and transparency. He advocated continuously for servant leadership.

When Mark Dayton became the new governor of Minnesota, Tom Sorel was the first commissioner to be reappointed in the new administration. MnDOT employees were happy to keep him as their commissioner.

“Heroes of MnDOT” is another program Sorel initiated to show his recognition and appreciation for employees who go above and beyond their duties.

 “It always will be my honor to pay them tribute,” Sorel said.

Minnesota transportation funding

A reader raised a question in responding to yesterday’s post Let your voice be heard – Minnesota GO: “How can MN build infrastructure with a $5 billion deficit?”

I think Minnesota, or  the US in general, cannot afford not to build a better infrastructure. Even public transportation in China is much more advanced than in the US. Here is a post I wrote on this topic after my trip to China last summer.

Yes, Minnesota has an estimated $5.03 billion two-year budget deficit. But Mn/DOT’s funding comes mostly from designated sources, almost half of its funding comes from the fuel tax. Approximately 80 percent of Mn/DOT funds are appropriated by the legislature and 20 percent is statutorily appropriated.

The following charts show where Minnesota’s transportation funding comes from and where it goes (for fiscal Year 2010)

Sources of Minnesota state transportation funds

Uses of Minnesota state transportation funds

Mn/DOT is a multi-modal agency. Its activities include transit; aeronautics; freight and commercial vehicles; construction; maintenance; and operation of 12,000 miles of state highways. Approximately 30 percent of Mn/DOT’s appropriations are state aid to local governments for road and bridge projects and other activities.

*Source of information: Mn/DOT Funding and Finances

The biggest speech of my life

If you ask my kids or anyone in my family whether I am funny and have a sense of humor, they will for sure say: “No.” They can’t picture me as being funny and humorous. And that’s true.

But somehow, some people at work think differently of me. They think I can entertain people and make people laugh. That’s why I was invited to speak at the farewell party for MnDOT Deputy Commissioner Khani Sahebjam today. He was roasted by several high profile speakers from the federal, state and city governments, from the state legislature and consulting firm. 

Being invited by the MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel to speak at the event was an honor for me. I was the only female on the panel and I am no body, i.e. not someone with an important title, but I sat among the others who all have impressive titles. It was truly an honor. I was grateful for the opportunity to speak. I made the biggest speech of my life in front of 100-200 people.

Don Theisen, Washington County Public Works Director and County Engineer was among the guest speakers. I didn’t know him at all, but I took the opportunity to thank him for the work his Dept. does. Thanks partly to the nice work the Washington County and Woodbury Public Works Departments do, Woodbury made it into several Best Places to Live lists in the last few years.

Woodury does feel like a better place to live, especially after a snow day.

After we had the biggest snow storm since 1991 on December 10-11, 2010, I was able to dig my car out of my garage and drive from Woodbury to work in St. Paul on Monday, but my coworkers who live in St. Paul were not so fortunate. They couldn’t go to work in St Paul, because their streets were not plowed for a couple of days.

I enjoyed the public speaking, something I just discovered recently. It was fun to make people laugh.

Above and Beyond Award

Today the Mn/DOT Health & Wellness Committee members received the “Above and Beyond” Award presented by Commissioner Tom Sorel.

Among all the Minnesota State agencies, Mn/DOT has the most active Health & Wellness Committee that offers a wide varieties of programs to employees, such as yoga, Tai Chi, relaxation, fitness boot camp, weight watchers, the biggest losers, brown bag learning series, annual walking and running events, etc. The work is done by volunteer employees, with no financial support from the agency. 

Thanks to the creative and hard work by the committee members, most Mn/DOT H&W programs are offered free to Mn/DOT and other state employees. Some are paid by participants themselves. Mn/DOT also has a fitness center that is solely supported by membership fees.   

Mn/DOT is leading the way in promoting healthy living among state employees. Some other state agencies look up to Mn/DOT for inspiration and support.

I have enjoyed working on several H&W projects – brown bag learning sessions, Minnesota State Capitol Run@Work Day 5K, etc. Most recently we organized our first Cafe Mn/DOT. We invited employees to show their talents. It was such a fun and community-building event. People loved it.

I am glad to be part of the Mn/DOT H&W Committee.  Today we were all very thankful that our Commissioner came to present the recognition award to us, along with the Human Resources Director Eric Davis and  Employee & Corporate ServicesDivision Director Pam Tschida.  

This is the first time that the H&W Committee members were recognized with the Above and Beyond Award. It really shows Sorel’s commitment and support for making Mn/DOT a workplace of choice.

Sorel has done a great job at Mn/DOT in the last two year. We are happy that he will stay for the next few years under the new governor Mark Dayton.

Highlight of the day

I was just checking my Facebook account in the evening and saw the following question posted by tinybuddha:

“Share your joy! What’s been the highlight of your day?”

In the comment line I wrote: “Spoke in front of a crowd and discovered that I have some sense of humor and can make people laugh.”

Today I did something out of ordinary, or out of my comfort zone, and in the process I discovered something new about myself.

I am an introvert. I grew up in a family where no one is very talkative.

My father is the best handyman I know in the world, but he is not a man of word. He is quiet and doesn’t talk much.

My mother is a math teacher at school. So she talks more than my father. But I don’t remember her being very talkative either.

My brother and I are more like my father. We are all introverts and quiet.     

None of us had any sense of humor. There were not much joking and laughter at home.

Since coming to the U.S. almost 20 years ago, I think I have changed a little. Though still an introvert at heart, I have picked up some extrovert traits. I am not as shy and quiet as I used to be. I feel comfortable talking to people, even strangers.   

But being humorous? Not me. Public speaking? Not me.

I am so much more comfortable with written words than spoken words.

Today we had a Library Grand Reopening Celebration at Mn/DOT Library where I work (More info is available in the Dec. 8, 2010 issue of Mn/DOT Newsline). We had invited guest speakers including 

  • Tom Sorel, MnDOT Commissioner
  • Bernie Arseneau, Division Director
  • Nick Thompson, Office Director
  • Linda Taylor, Research Services Director
  • Sheila Hatchell, Library Director

In the last few weeks and months the library staff had worked hard on the remodeling project and in preparation for this event.

Last night as I was laying in bed feeling excited about this big day ahead, I wondered what it would be like to speak in front of a crowd, standing next to the big guns in the organization. Would I have the courage to do it? 

The more I thought about it, the more I felt like that I could do it. At least I could give it a try.

So this morning before the event began, I talked to my supervisor Sheila and volunteered to present the prize drawing at the end of the formal speeches, which I did.

It turned out that I did a great job, to my surprise and probably everyone’s surprise. I brought people to laugh a lot.

Afterwards I got many positive comments, and a nice big hug from our great commissioner for a job well done.

My heart was filled with joy, because I did something I had never done before that brought joy and laughter to others.

This was the highlight of my day.  It could be the highlight of the week or month.


MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel at Library Grand Reopening Celebration. Dec. 15, 2010

Tom Sorel stays as MnDOT Commissioner

Today Governor-elect Mark Dayton announced that Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel will continue his post under his new administration.

This was not a surprise to me. I heard rumors before the official announcement that Sorel would stay. That’s what I hoped and expected.

As the MnDOT Commissioner since 2008, Sorel is well respected and liked by MnDOT employees and people in the transportation community.

Like some other MnDOT employees, I also sent my comment of support for Sorel to Mark Dayton via his website a couple of weeks ago.  

I was not surprised that Sorel was Dayton’s first appointment as governor-elect. I guess it was an easy decision. With strong support from inside and outside of the organization, from both parties, from public and private sectors, and from unions, Sorel was obviously the best choice.

When the announcement was made, I heard cheering from some co-workers.

Tom Sorel lives with his wife and son in Woodbury.

The following are two interviews I did with Sorel.

Interview with Mn/DOT Commissioner Tom Sorel (Feburary 2010)

Meet the new MnDOT commish (June 2008)

Nuts! – book interview

I recently interviewed Bernie Arseneau, Mn/DOT Division Director for Policy, Safety and Strategic Initiatives. Berine is my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss :-)

We talked about the 7th book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg 


Tang: Why did you pick this book? 

Arseneau: I like the idea of having fun at work. Being professional does not mean being serious all the time. Professionalism does not exclude fun, humor and celebration in the workplace. “Nuts!” resonates with me for what I value and appreciate.    

Tang: How did you like the book? 

Arseneau: The first six or so chapters were hard to stay interested in. They are about the history and background of Southwest Airlines. But then starting with chapter seven it gets much more interesting. I really like the last few chapters. They are more of the climax of the book.   

Tang:  What are the last few chapters about that you really like? 

Arseneau:  In chapter 20, “Employees come first,” Southwest’s mission statement is presented. It is not the typical mission statement you find in many organizations. 

The first part is addressed to customers: “The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.” 

The second part addresses the employees: “We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth. Creativity and innovation are encouraged for improving the effectiveness of Southwest Airlines. Above all, Employees will be provided the same concern, respect, and caring attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest Customer. 

The point is that great service begins at home. Putting employees first is really important. When we take good care of our employees, they take good care of our customers. 

Chapter 21 “Leaders leading leaders” talks about leadership. 

Leadership is not a one way communication where one leads and the others follow. Leadership is two way communication. Leaders collaborate. At Southwest, leadership is practiced through collaborative relationships. In a collaborative relationship, the roles of leader and collaborator are interchangeable. They are partners in solution. Leadership is something all employees do together. 

 Tang:  What are some other ideas or concepts from the book that stood out for you? 

Arseneau:  Chapter 18 “Unconventional advertising” mentions three things that Southwest Airlines strives to do in its advertising: aiming to intrigue the audience, to entertain and to persuade. Southwest communicates its mission in a fun, zany, yet highly effective way. It told its story to the public and captured the attention and hearts of many. The Southwest story shows that you can have humor and fun at work. It not only increases productivity but also builds a great spirit. 

The chapter also talks about making every employee a living advertisement. I really like that. I like to see every person at Mn/DOT as an ambassador and leader for Mn/DOT.

Tang: The author talks about the Southwest Spirit. It’s the spirit of liberty and freedom that encourage employees to use their imagination, express their individuality, and exercise leadership. It’s the spirit that engages the minds, hearts and souls of the Southwest employees to do the right thing. It’s the spirit that ignites the burning desire in every employee to excel. Do we have a Mn/DOT Spirit? 

Arseneau: Within Mn/DOT, we have groups of people in functional areas of work, such as maintenance or safety, who work together with incredible dedication and a great spirit. But sometimes it seems that we are not as strongly linked together as a complete organization. It would be great to grow our organizational spirit into a robust, overarching Mn/DOT spirit, across all Mn/DOT functional areas, like the spirit that is so evident at Southwest Airlines. 

Tang: How can we foster such a spirit? 

Arseneau: First we need to help employees understand that no matter what you do, where you work and what position you hold in the organization, we all work for a common purpose. Each brings value to the organization. Each can make a big difference. We are one family striving to be the global leader in delivering a safe and efficient transportation system for the public. We need to go beyond our functional areas and work together more closely throughout the organization. 

Then, we need to do a better job communicating internally. Like Commissioner Sorel always says, tell our stories, acknowledge our successes, and celebrate our achievements. We should publish stories of extraordinary service in the newsletter, focus on the positives as learning opportunities more than the negatives.      

Not only we should engage all employees to be leaders, we also need to engage their hearts and minds. You can’t foster a spirit without people’s heart and mind engaged and without their being passionate about what they do. 

When we put employees first, practice the collaborative approach of servant leadership, the spirit will grow. 

Tang: The current Mn/DOT leadership team has been doing a better job in terms of creating opportunities to make Mn/DOT a fun workplace to work. This has definitely raised moral and team spirit. I have heard very positive feedback from fellow employees. What can you do better as a leader?  

Arseneau: One way is to reach out and connect with employees more regularly and nontraditionally. Our calendars are filled with meeting appointments. By learning to delegate, time can be opened up so that employees can be engaged  and empowered to be more independent and to be decision makers. Our job is to help people understand their purposes and roles in the organization and then empower them and support them to do their job. By having trust and confidence in people, they will rise to the expectations. 

Tang:  Can you share some insight you gained from reading the book? 

Arseneau:  An old saying is that, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” I once learned that a good leader’s job is not to lead the horse to water or to make him drink, a good leader’s job is to make the horse thirsty so that he will go to water and drink by himself. Each person needs to take ownership of his own work and life. The desire has to come from within the individual, to drink, to thrive and excel. 

We need to allow, encourage and empower employees to think creatively and risk intelligently, so they can come up with innovative ideas and solutions, be the leaders and decision-makers in whatever they do. 

Tang: Please share some quotes from the book that are very meaningful for you. 

Arseneau: “Make rules, systems, and procedures your servants, not your masters.” (p. 95)

 “Humor and creativity go hand in hand – ‘HA HA leads to the AHA!” (p.212)

“Love chooses service over self-interest. Love uses power to serve and wealth to expand its capacity to serve.” (p. 234)

”The customer is not always right. Employees, not customers, come first.” (p. 268)

“True happiness is found in serving a cause that we believe has lasting significance.” (p. 281)

Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits. 

Arseneau: Comparing to my wife who can go through a couple of books a week, I am a light reader. Outside of work, I like to read mysteries, books that are light and action packed for a mental getaway. One of my favorite authors is John Sanford who wrote the Prey Series.

Leadership principle – book interview

I recently interviewed Mike Barnes, Mn/DOT Division Director for Engineering Services. We talked about the sixth book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, The world’s most powerful leadership principle : how to become a servant leader by James C. Hunter.



Tang: Why did you pick this book?

Barnes: After I heard a talk by Commissioner Sorel on servant leadership, I read the first book by James Hunter titled “The Servant” and really liked it. It puts servant leadership into more of a story. I also liked Hunter’s writing style. So I picked his second book to learn the practical side of servant leadership principles.

Tang: What did you like about the book?

Barnes: The book is practical and helpful in both format and contents.

The first half of the book is about WHAT good leadership looks like, what servant leadership is, what the principles are. The second half of the book is about HOW to implement what you learned, the steps necessary to becoming an effective servant leader. It’s easy to read and understand.

The principles taught in the book relate to our everyday life and are applicable to everyone whether you are someone in a leadership role, or a parent, teacher, coach, etc.

Tang: What are the principles of leadership that Hunter talks about in the book?

Barnes: Hunter talks about the following eight principles of leadership: patience, kindness, humility, respect, selflessness, forgiveness, honest and commitment. He also does a great job comparing leadership and the action part of love.

Tang:  What are some ideas or concepts from the book that stood out for you?

Barnes:  Leadership is not management. You do not manage people. You manage things, and you lead people.

Leadership, love, and character are all about doing the right thing.

Leadership is influence. The foundation of leadership is not power, but authority and influence. They are built upon relationships, love, service and sacrifice.

One cannot love people without serving and sacrificing for them. When we serve and sacrifice for others, we build authority (influence), and when we build authority with people, when we can influence and inspire people to action, we become leaders.

The whole book and the idea of servant leadership can be boiled down to this: To lead is to serve.

Tang: What new things did you learn from reading this book?

Barnes:  I have read many different leadership books. What I found refreshing and interesting is that Hunter compares love and leadership, character and leadership and brings them all together. They are about the same thing – doing the right thing for others and for the common good.

Love is not just a feeling, more importantly, love is an action word. Love is a state not of the feelings, but of the will. It is the will, the choice, the willingness of a person to be attentive to the legitimate needs, best interests, and welfare of another regardless of how he happens to feel. That’s what love is really about. I hadn’t thought of love in this way as Hunter talks about in the book.

Tang: The idea of servant leadership has its origin in Christianity. In this book, Hunter references to Bible and Jesus as the great leader a few times. What would you say to people who have a different faith or are atheists and therefore might be put off by the religious tone in the book.

Barnes: I have read other books on servant leadership that have a much stronger religious overtone than this book. Yes, this book refers to Bible and Jesus a few times when it talks about love and serving others. But the book is about leadership and is targeted for the secular readership. The ideas and principles in the book are fundamental laws that are universal and unchanging. They apply to everyone regardless of your backgrounds and ideology. Everyone can benefit from the book.

Tang: The author talks about examples of great leaders who are well known around the world, such as Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King. Do you know someone in your own life who is a true leader?

Barnes: I think my grandmother exemplified the servant leadership principles. She loved our big family, church and community by serving and sacrificing. She has influenced and inspired me with her character and authority.

Also Dan Dorgan, Mn/DOT’s bridge engineer for many years and recently retired, is an excellent example of servant leader and set the example to follow.

Tang: Motivation is an important component of leadership. To influence and inspire people to action and greatness, you need to know how to motivate them. What can you as a leader do or what can Mn/DOT do to truly motivate employees?

Barnes: As Hunter says, true motivation is about lighting a fire within people, and moving them to action because they want to act. We need to understand the deeper needs that human beings all share – the need to be appreciated, recognized, and respected. We should take time to say thanks more often and find more ways to say thanks. People appreciate personal thanks, written thanks, public praise and promotion for good performance. That’s what we should do better.

Tang: Often times people go to leadership training, learn some great ideas, feel energized by the new knowledge. But afterwards, not much changes. As Hunter says, nobody becomes a better leader by reading a book or attending a class. We become leaders by applying our learning, knowledge, feedback and experience to our everyday lives. To become a better leader, one must be willing and motivated to change and grow. How do you plan to take what you learned to the next level?

Barnes:  I totally agree, head knowledge without application isn’t worth much. We can’t change overnight, but we can take small steps one at a time and make incremental change. I have sat down and created an action plan for myself. I need to work on myself every day. Building up character is a work in progress. We can never stop learning, change and grow if we want to be leaders.

Tang: Please share some quotes from the book that are very meaningful for you.

Barnes: “Leadership development and character development are one.” (p.23)

“Managers do things right while leaders do the right thing.” (p. 31)

”Management is what we do. Leadership is who we are.” (p. 32)

“To lead is to serve.” (p. 73)

Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits.

Barnes: I read a lot while in military and in college. Basically I read two types of books. One is the technical and professional type of books. The other type is management/leadership and personal development related.

I have been reading more books since Commissioner Sorel came to Mn/DOT to try to stay ahead.

In terms of favorite books and authors, I don’t really have any. But I would say, Home Depot’s Home Improvement Series are my favorite how-to-do books as I enjoy working on fixing things around the house.

That’s Not What I Meant! – book interview


Here is an interview I had with Julie Skallman, Mn/DOT Division Director for State Aid, about the fifth book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, That’s Not What I Meant!: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships by Deborah Tannen.

Tang: Why did you pick this book?       

Julie: I am interested in learning about different communication styles and how to improve communication between people, especially people from different cultural backgrounds.

My daughter recently got married to a young man from India. I thought this book would be helpful in giving me some insight to be a better communicator and to be able to understand other people better. It’s very applicable to my personal life as well as professional life.

Tang: What did you like about the book?

Julie: The book uses real life examples that I can very well relate to. When I read some of the conversations used in the book, I could see myself or someone I know in there.

Tang: What new things did you learn from reading this book?

Julie: Being a woman and engineer, I like to be direct. Tell me exactly what you want me to do, and I will do it. So I can easily get frustrated with people who are not direct and don’t have the same conversational style as I have.

The book has a chapter on why we don’t say what we mean. It talks about two big payoffs to being understood without saying explicitly what we mean.

The first payoff is in rapport. Tannen says it is far better to get what we want, to be understood, without saying what we mean. It makes us feel the pleasure of being on the same wave length. This is the pleasure of those magical conversations when we say just a few words – or no words at all – and feel completely understood.

The second payoff is in self-defense. If what we want does not meet with a positive response, we can take it back what we meant. Indirectness provides a protective armor and avoids direct confrontation.

Now I see value in indirectness and have a better understanding of why some people use indirectness. I will get less frustrated with people who are not as direct as I want.

Tang: Give us another example of something you learned that is interesting and worth sharing?

Julie: Asking questions can be interpreted as either showing interest and appreciation, or being nosy and overbearing. Asking too many questions make some people feel interrogated, asking no questions make others feel ignored. On the other hand, some people welcome questions, because it shows you are interested in them and you make them feel important. And for people who value privacy, asking no questions shows that you respect their privacy. So there is a fine line here.

This tells us, when we ask people questions, it is good to consider what their cultural backgrounds and personalities are.

Tang: How has reading the book opened your mind and broadened your perspective in some way?

Julie: When we talk about differences and diversity in the workforce, we often think of immigrants and minorities, people who come from different countries and from different ethnic backgrounds. Yes, there is obviously a cross-cultural difference.

The book talks about cross-cultural communication between male and female. We could be growing up in the same neighborhood and even in the same house, and still have cross-cultural difference. So it made me think of diversity from a broader perspective.

Tang: How has this book changed your life in a positive way?

Julie: I grew up in a small town where I learned manners such as “Don’t talk in a loud voice,” and “Don’t interrupt conversations.” I have a relative who talks fast and interrupts others a lot. I used to think that she was rude and felt uncomfortable around her.

But now I realized that we are just different in how we use conversational signals – pacing and pausing, loudness, pitch and intonation.

Tannen says we almost never make deliberate decisions about whether to raise or lower our voice and pitch, whether to speed up or slow down. But these are the signals by which we interpret each other’s meaning and comments. When speakers have different habits about how and when to use conversational signals, it can cause frustrations and problems.

Because I am a soft speaker and don’t consider it appropriate to interrupt, I can come across as not assertive and indecisive in the workplace with people who are different. Now that I am aware of the different conversational styles and signals, I feel more comfortable to speak up and to get my points across.

Tang: Please share a quote from the book that you like.

Julie: “To many women, the relationship is working as long as they can talk things out. To many men, the relationship isn’t working out if they have to keep working it over. If she keeps trying to get talks going to save the relationship, and he keeps trying to avoid them because he sees them as weakening it, then each other’s efforts to preserve the relationship appear to the other as reckless endangerment.” (chap. 8, Talk in the Intimate Relationship: His and Hers, From Children to Grown Ups)

Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits.

Julie: My mother was a voracious reader. So I grew up with reading. I usually read two books a week. I always have a book with me in my bag.

I enjoy reading science fiction, fantasy and mysteries. For me, reading is relaxing. It’s the best way to escape from the stressful reality.

Two of my favorite local Minnesota authors are Vince Flynn and John Sanford. I also like Janet Evanovich. She uses a lot of humor in her mystery books. If you need a good laugh, read her books.


Creating Magic – book interview

This week I interviewed Rebecca Fabunmi, Mn/DOT Special Assistant to Commissioner/Deputy Commissioner. We talked about the fourth book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney by Lee Cockerell.

Tang: Why did you pick this book?

Rebecca: Even though I am an engineer by training, I am also very creative. I like to create things, such as hand-made cards and other gifts. I used to dance and play music instrument. I like to write poems and stories. So this title “Creating Magic” was very appealing to me.

Tang: What did you like about the book?

Rebecca: I like the author’s style of writing. He shares his life journey, where he comes from. He uses examples from his own life, both his achievements and mistakes, to illustrate his points.

I like the author’s honesty in sharing his failures and mistakes. I found that I learn the most in my mistakes.

Tang: In the book Cockerell talks about 10 common sense leadership strategies: remember everyone is important, break the mold, make your people your brand, create magic through training, eliminate hassles, learn the truth, burn the free fuel, stay ahead of the pack, be careful what you say and do, develop character. Which strategy do you think is mostly needed at Mn/DOT?

Rebecca: The 10 strategies are all important. I would say the first one, everyone is important, tops my list.

We need to foster a caring, respectful, people-oriented culture within Mn/DOT. As Cockerell says, when you take care of your people, they will take care of your business, not because they have to, but because they want to.

Cockerell uses the acronym RAVE for Respect, Appreciate, and Value Everyone. No matter what job each one of us does at Mn/DOT, we are all special and important.

Being a leader means you have to get to know everyone on your team, reach out to everyone, respect and appreciate everyone, connect with and care about people, make yourself accessible and available, listen to understand, be a good communicator, and don’t micromanage. It’s good to involve people in the decision-making process, and give them responsibilities and authorities to make certain decisions.

Tang: What other strategies would you like to highlight here?

Rebecca: Make your people your brand and create magic through training.

People are the most important assets in any organization. Cockerell says you can’t achieve true excellence unless you attract, develop and keep great people.

We need people who have competencies in technical, management, technological and leadership areas. We should look for people in unlikely places.

We need to give people resources and tools they need to excel by developing effective training processes and learning opportunities.

As a leader, being a teacher, coach, counselor and mentor is far more effective than just being a boss.

Tang: What challenges do you see in implementing some of the 10 strategies at Mn/DOT?

Rebecca: As a state agency funded by tax dollars, we have to deal with the public misconception of misuse or abuse of tax money. This can at times lead to creating a fear based mentality. There are a lot of things we can’t do that the private sectors do well, such as have social and special events to get people together, and to celebrate achievements.

Tang: What can we do about it?

Rebecca: We should encourage people to do things that can create a community and a culture of belonging. It’s good to invest in people, in their development and well being as a whole person.

Mn/DOT should do more for employee recognition and appreciation. When we give out achievement awards, we can make it a bigger deal instead of keeping it like a secret. Share the success stories in Newsline so people know why someone gets an achievement award and so they can get inspired.

Tang: What other suggestions do you have?

Rebecca: We have a common purpose and vision at MnDOT. I believe manager’s ability to be more accessible to employees, getting employees involved in the decision making process and be more transparent always make an incredible difference that is reflected in productivity and one’s desire to come to work. Also having more one-on-one conversations to connect and get feedback on a regular basis, not just when there is a problem that needs to be dealt with.

Tang: Cockerell talks about giving people a purpose, not just jobs. I know you worked on the Mn/DOT strategic vision with a group of Seeds workers in 2008. How important is the vision?

Rebecca: Communicating our vision and mission to the frontline employees is very important. I agree with Cockerell. If we can connect our daily work with our organizational vision, our mission, see our own work in the bigger picture, and have a purpose in what we do, then our work becomes more meaningful. We work collectively to make Mn/DOT a better place, and to provide a safe and effective transportation infrastructure to the citizens.

Tang: Disney has a culture of inclusion and diversity. I know you have a diverse background yourself. What is your experience at Mn/DOT and how are we doing in this aspect?

Rebecca: I was born in Lagos, Nigeria to a British Mother and a Nigerian Father. We came to the U.S. when I was three years old. I have lived in Massachusetts and Hawaii. Diversity is a natural part of my life.

I am a product of the Seeds Program at Mn/DOT. I came to Mn/DOT as a Seeds student and stayed on after graduation. Mn/DOT is a great place to work. I believe Mn/DOT is hard at being inclusive. However, we can always do better.

Tang: Please share a quote from the book that you like.

Rebecca: (p.81) “…excellent structure has built-in adaptability. If you have created a culture of change, in which everyone from the top to the bottom is empowered to find creative ways to improve the organization, you’ll be better able to adjust to unexpected events and emergencies.”

Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits.

Rebecca: Both of my parents were educated in the U.S. They valued education. My mother was an avid reader. When I grew up, I always got books as presents from my parents. My life has always been around books and reading.

I like to read self-development books. I also like to read fiction with good stories. I plan to write a book some day. But I am not saying more about it at this time.

I wish I would read more history and classics.

Tang: You just graduated from the Executive MBA program at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management in Minneapolis. Congratulations!

Rebecca: Thank you. For two years I worked full time and went to school full time. Now I feel relieved that I have only one full-time job. I am also excited to put my new learned knowledge to work at Mn/DOT.


Minnesota Emerging Leaders Institute

Tonight I am working on my application for the 2010-2011 State of Minnesota Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI). ELI is a leadership development program for a select group of thirty emerging leaders from across state government designed to help them become successful and effective in tomorrow’s workplaces.

This will be the fifth year the Management Analysis & Development (MAD) group within the Minnesota Management & Budget offers the program.

Last year my supervisor has approved my request to apply and has already budgeted money for me to do so this year. Now I need to get the application in.

My application along with others from the same agency will have to go through a review process conducted by Mn/DOT. Then the selected ones will be forwarded to MAD for further review and approval.

I am confident that my application will be selected and I am looking forward to a great learning and networking opportunity.

Lincoln on Leadership – book interview

I recently interviewed Serge Phillips, Mn/DOT federal relations manager. We talked about the third book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips.


Tang: Why did you pick this book?

Phillips: I like to read about historical subjects and biographies.
Lincoln is considered by many as the greatest president and leader in our country. A lot has been written about him. He has become such a heroic and mythical persona that his actual persona can be overshadowed. I wanted to find out what really made him such a great president and leader.

Tang: So what did you learn from the book?

Phillips: Lincoln became a president at a critical time in this country. By the time Lincoln took office, seven states had seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. Ten days before he took the oath of office, Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederacy. President Buchanan had given up hope of holding the country together.

Under Lincoln’s extraordinary leadership, he was able to overcome the nightmare he inherited. He held the divided nation together and abolished slavery.

The characters and qualities that Lincoln possessed – honesty, integrity, vision and decisiveness, empathy for the common man, devotion to the rights of individuals, commitment to the Constitution and liberty and equality – are the foundations of his extraordinary leadership abilities that contributed to his remarkable accomplishments.

Tang: What did you like about the book?

Phillips: The book is good at emphasizing Lincoln’s leadership principles. It provides examples of his principles in four categories: people, character, endeavor and communication.

Tang: What new things did you learn from reading this book?

Phillips: Lincoln was the only U.S. president to hold a patent (for a method to make grounded boats more buoyant). You can read about it at this website.

Lincoln was also a very humorous president. He wrote his own speeches and over a thousand of letters.

Lincoln was a man of paradoxes. He was consistent yet flexible. He valued security yet dared to take risks. He controlled his emotions so they remained private. He wrote out harsh letters but did not send them out.

Tang: What part of this book inspired you most?

Phillips: When Lincoln took the oath as the nation’s 16th president, he was relatively unknown. He was the first Republican president, a Washington outsider, and viewed as completely ill-equipped and unable to handle the presidency. He had little respect in Washington except for his most loyal supporters. Even his cabinet members considered him a figurehead whom they could control.

Yet Lincoln demonstrated that he possessed the leadership qualities and abilities necessary to turn the situation around and to save the nation.

As a great leader, Lincoln is an inspiration for many people, including our current president Obama.

Tang: What are some ideas that you can use in your work or daily life?

Phillips: Lincoln had an open door policy and was very approachable. It was relatively easy to visit him at the White House. He enjoyed talking to people, and telling anecdotes. He often used humor to solve difficult situations.

Lincoln was good at building strong alliances on both personal and professional levels. He gained trust, respect, loyalty and commitment by taking the time to talking and listen to people, mentoring and empowering people and showing compassion. He treated his subordinates as equals.

Lincoln was a good leader, because he persuaded rather than coerced people to get results. He made requests or suggestions rather than issuing orders. He discouraged litigation and encouraged compromise.

Lincoln encouraged innovation by making allowances for failure.

Lincoln knew how to solve problems by bringing all feuding parties together to the table and let them work things out, until peace is made.

A good leader is someone who gives credit where credit is due and accepts responsibility when things go wrong.

Tang: Please share a quote from the book that you like.

Phillips: “I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.”

Tang: Has reading this book changed you in any way?

Phillips: It rekindled my interest in reading more biographies of famous people. You can learn so much from other people. It also reminded me of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. Parallel Lives is a series of biographies of famous Greeks and Romans, arranged in pairs to illuminate their moral virtues and vices.

Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits.

Phillips: I like to read newspapers. I read local papers as well as some national papers such as Washington Post and New York Times.

In addition to read history and biographies, I also like to read fiction and English translations of works from all over the world.

Tang: Any other thoughts regarding the book, Commissioner’s Reading Corner or reading in general?

Phillips: Reading helps me learn and gain better understanding of certain subjects. It also helps me relax.

I like the Commissioner’s Reading Corner idea. Through reading the books Commissioner recommended, we get some understanding of what his leadership style is based on.

Related posts:

Getting Past No (3/26/2010)
Letters from Leaders (2/24/2010)

Adopt a Highway for a cleaner earth

Today is Earth Day.

In Twin Cities, Minnesota, we had a gorgeous day with sunshine, clean air, blue sky, and the temperature close to 70. It’s neither too cold, nor too hot, nor windy. A perfect day weather-wise that everyone should be happy about. 

Don’t take it for granted. Some places in other parts of the world don’t have what we have, either due to an act of nature (such as volcano in Europe) or effects caused by human action (air pollution). 

Instead, take a moment to appreciate what we have, and think about how each of us can contribute to protect the environment and keep our earth clean. 

There are many things we can do. These days, tips and ideas abound. We are certainly not lack of information in this regard.

I recently had an article published in The Edge, Soul of the Cities, titled “Eight R’s for a Greener Earth.” You can read it here.

I came across this Simple Mom website today that lists 40 tips to go greener. Personally, I am already doing many of the things listed.

But in this post, I want to mainly talk about a program that some might not be familiar with. It’s called “Adopt a Highway.”

Adopt a Highway program, offered in several states, provides community groups, churches, businesses and individuals an opportunity to make a personal contribution to a cleaner environment. This May marks the 20th anniversary of Mn/DOT’s Adopt a Highway program.

According to Mn/DOT, there are more than 12,000 miles of state highway in Minnesota of which 9,800 miles are adopted. Currently, there are an estimated 4,500 statewide groups and 45,000 volunteers registered.

By joining the Adopt a Highway program, groups agree to adopt a highway for a minimum of two years and pick up litter on a segment of highway approximately two miles in length usually two to three times a year during spring through fall.

In return, Mn/DOT will erect a sign along the group’s section of highway to recognize their commitment to a cleaner environment, provide retroreflective safety vests, trash bags and safety information, and remove filled bags and large, heavy or hazardous items from roadsides.

If you are looking for a one-time project, you can “Pick a Highway.” Pick a Highway is a one-time litter picking activity on an assigned segment of state highway. Mn/DOT will provide the bags, vests, training, and bag retrieval. You contribute approximately four hours of labor.

You can take on the Adopt a Highway or Pick a Highway program as a family, a group of neighbors or friends, as a church or an organization. It can be a great team building, community service and volunteer project. 

For more information about the program, visit Adopt a Highway website.

Taking risk

Today I stepped out of my comfort zone and did something I had not done before.

I was asked by our Mn/DOT commissioner Tom Sorel to co-facilitate with him a book discussion with in-house and remote audience.

Now I have been working on the Commissioner’s Reading Corner  project for a while and was really looking forward to this kick-off of the monthly book discussions today. But to facilitate a discussion and speak in front of the public was not something I felt comfortable with. While writing is easy for me, the thought of speaking English (which is not my native language) in front of people made me a little nervous. I was afraid of making mistakes.

But then I decided to take one of the advices from the first book to be discussed today, which is to take the risk, take the opportunity and give it a try. I told myself, if I make foolish mistakes or make a fool of myself, so what? This is April Fool’s Day. I have an excuse.

Once I took on the challenge, I went right to work. I didn’t have much time to prepare.

I quickly wrote down the things I wanted to say as an introduction. And I reviewed the book again and made notes and comments to share at the book discussion.

With my notes in hand, I felt more confident to face the unknown.

The one-hour discussion turned out to be great. In fact I was not nervous as I expected. I think Commissioner Sorel is so fun and easygoing that he can put people at ease. The feedback I got has been very positive and encouraging.

In case you are wondering, why Mn/DOT has this Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month discussions and what the purpose is, here is the reason.

Leadership is one of the strategic directions in Mn/DOT strategic vision. Under leadership it says “Empower all employees to be leaders and ambassadors for MnDOT.” Our Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month discussions offer an opportunity to collectively engage employees in developing leadership skills.

In my 2/24 post, I already shared Commissioner Sorel’s comments on the first book in the series Letters from leaders: Personal Advice for Tomorrow’s Leaders from the World’s Most Influential People by Henry Dormann. Tomorrow I will share a few comments I have.


Getting Past No – book Interview

I recently interviewed Deb Ledvina, a Mn/DOT employee since 1992 and an attorney who was appointed by Commissioner Sorel to serve as Mn/DOT’s first ombudsman in September 2008. We talked about the second book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations by William Ury.

Tang: Why did you pick this book?   

Ledvina: I read this book almost 20 years ago. It was such a good book, it stuck in my mind. So when Commissioner and I were talking about books for Commissioner’s Reading Corner, this one come to my mind. We both read it and liked it. And the topic of the book is so relevant to the work I do at Mn/DOT, it’s just a perfect fit.

Tang: What do you like the best about the book?

Ledvina: The book filled a void in other leadership books by offering a practical, step-by-step approach to problem solving. It’s like a recipe book or checklist I can follow easily. It helps me navigate through a problem or an issue and find solutions with more confidence and ease. The ideas and steps in the book are really helpful in all aspects of our work and personal lives.

Tang: What are some ideas that you found helpful?

Ledvina: I am an action oriented person and tend to react a lot.

The first of five strategies in the joint problem-solving process is “Don’t react: go to the balcony.” It means to distance yourself from your natural impulses and emotions, to control your behavior and reaction. Buy yourself time to think. Regain your mental balance. Instead of getting mad or getting even, concentrate on getting what you want. Don’t make important decisions on the spot.

Going to the balcony gives a useful image for getting perspective on the situation: imagine yourself standing on a balcony looking down on your negotiation.

Tang: Can you name one new thing you learned from this book that’s empowering?

Ledvina: Forget the old saying: “My way or the highway” and don’t use power play.

In part II, chapter 5, it talks about using power to educate. The key mistake we make when we feel frustrated is to abandon the problem-solving game and turn to the power game instead.

Instead of seeking victory, aim for mutual satisfaction. Don’t use power to impose your terms on them. Use your power to educate the other side that the only way for them to win is for both of you to win together.

Tang: How has reading this book changed you in a positive way?

Ledvina: I know every disagreement can be worked out, almost anything can be resolved if we approach it from this joint problem-solving perspective. As I re-read this book, it really inspired me again and gave me more energy to do my job.

Tang: Please share a few passages from the book that left a big impression on you.

Ledvina: Negotiation is joint problem-solving. “It is soft on the people, hard on the problem. Instead of attacking each other, you jointly attack the problem. Instead of glowering across the table, you sit next to each other facing your common problem. In short, you turn fact-to-face confrontation into side-by-side problem-solving.” – Overview on p. 5

“Breakthrough negotiation is the opposite of imposing your position on the other side. Rather than pounding in a new idea from the outside, you encourage them to reach for it from within. Rather than telling them what to do, you let them figure it out. Rather than pressuring them to change their mind, you create an environment in which they can learn. Only they can break through their own resistance, your job is to help them. ” – Overview on p. 11

Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits.

Ledvina: In recent years, I listen to more books on the tape in my car than read print books, though I still read every night. I found I am an auditory/verbal learner. I process information better by listening.
Mostly I read self-help books, because I want to be the best person I can be and do the best I can do. 

Related articles:

Interview with Mn/DOT Commissioner Tom Sorel 


Interview with MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel

Recently I have the pleasure of working with Minnesota Dept. of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel and his staff to create the Commissioners’ Reading Corner to promote reading, learning, and servant leadership within MnDOT.

Sorel’s article “Enhancing our leadership skills, one book at a time,” a list of his recommended books on leadership, and my interview with him on the first book in the series titled “Drawing leadership inspiration from Muhammad Ali and other” are available in the Feb. 24, 2010 issue of MnDOT Newsline, a biweekly employee e-newsletter posted on the MnDOT Newsline website.

More information including my complete interview with Sorel on reading is posted on the MnDOT’s internal website which is not accessible to the general public. I have posted it below.

A previous interview I did with Sorel published in Woodbury Bulletin on June 11, 2008 titled “Meet the new MnDOT commish” can be view here.

I created an account on and posted the list of Sorel’s recommended books here.

Interview with Commissioner Tom Sorel


Tang: Commissioner, I know you are an avid reader. You read a lot and often recommend books to others at meetings. What has influenced you to be a reader?

Sorel: I was a typical boy while growing up. I was active in sports and other things. I didn’t read a lot. Reading came to me later in life.

Tang: What was the turning point?

Sorel: The turning point came when I was working on my MBA at Thomas College in Maine. I had to read a lot of books on leadership, management, organizational development, business strategy, etc. Reading expanded my mind to other areas. At one point in my life I even read a fair amount of poetry. The more I read, the more I enjoy reading. I became addicted to it.

Tang: When it comes to reading, who has influenced you the most?

Sorel: When I was at FHWA, I noticed that I respected certain kinds of people who had some common traits. They were leaders in upper management who were avid readers and good storytellers, people like Federal Highway Administrators Thomas Larson and Rick Capka, U.S. Secretaries of Transportation Rodney Slater and Mary Peters. Because of them, I was inspired to read more.

Tang: How has reading and books helped shape your thinking and your life?

Sorel: When I read, I pick up thoughts and ideas that apply to work or personal life. Reading about the journey of others can increase knowledge, enrich lives and even save marriages. Reading makes me a better rounded person, positively affecting my work and family life. I am a better leader, a better communicator, a better husband and a better father because of continuous reading, reflection, and learning.

Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits.

Sorel: I read every day, and more when I travel. I read trade publications to keep myself informed about what’s going on in the industry. I often take my 8 year old son to book stores (he reads everything there is to read about the Vikings!) and pick some books on leadership for myself while we’re there.

Tang: Do you have any favorite author?

Sorel: Not really. I will generally pick up a book for the topic. One of my favorite business books is “Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success.” For leisure reading, I like mystery, and my favorite author is James Patterson.

Tang: What do you want to achieve with this Commissioner’s Reading Corner?

Sorel: I want to encourage Commissioner’s staff and all MnDOT employees to read or read more, to help MnDOT become a learning organization. I would like this to reflect what we are trying to do at MnDOT, to build servant leadership and to serve the citizens in Minnesota.

I hope the Commissioner’s Reading Corner can provide a central place, a focal point for people to find books, and provide a more personal and safe environment for people to come together to share their thoughts and ideas. It will also provide an environment for people to “explore” and expand their thinking on various topics.

On the 1st recommended book:

Letters from leaders: personal advice for tomorrow’s leaders from the world’s most influential people by Henry Dormann, 2009.

Tang: Why did you pick Letters from Leaders as your first recommended book in the series?

Sorel: This book is a collection of letters and advice from some of the most successful leaders around the world. Each letter is very short. It’s easy to read and discuss. So I think it is a good start.

Tang: What part of this book inspired you the most? Can you share some quotes from the book that struck you personally, left a big impression and made you reread it, pause and think for a moment.

Sorel: Three individuals and their letters stand out for me.

Muhammad Ali was my hero when I was a boy. He talks about life as a journey and a great adventure. We should have fun and laugh. He says:” I worked hard and then worked some more, trying to be the best that I could possibly be at what I was doing. I learned that tough times are a part of our journey in this life, but that challenges make life interesting. Even though it can be painful and frightening at the time, the greater the obstacle, the more glorious the moment of success… It is also important to have fun. I enjoyed my life. No matter where I was or what I was doing, I took the positive from the experience and lived in the moment, connecting with the people around.”

Dalai Lama talks about love and compassion that we don’t hear much in the business world: “The key to a happier world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. What is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities. We must all learn to work not just for our own self, family, or nation, but for the benefit of all humankind.”

US Congress representative Diana DeGette talks about the benefit of changing lives. She says: “Whatever your interest is – whether science, public health, military affairs, or the environment – you can immerse yourself and have a fulfilling career that also has the benefit of changing lives.”

Tang: How has reading this book opened your mind and broadened your perspective?

Sorel: It made me think what I want my legacy to be. I want to share knowledge. I feel a sense of social responsibility and obligation to share what I have learned and know, to pass on the knowledge to the younger generation, at the same time learning from them. We are all leaders in some way, with opportunities to influence and change lives.

Tang: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and knowledge. I am looking forward to reading with you, learning and growing, and making Mn/DOT a learning and growing organization.

Sorel: I am very excited about this new initiative.

Brown bag opportunity for local businesses

I am on the Health & Wellness Committee at Mn/DOT. We are putting together a series of “brown bag learning seminars” for our employees this spring.

We are interested in topics such as getting organized, decluttering, Feng-shui, alternative medicine, etc.

If any businesses in Woodbury and Twin Cities are interested in doing an one-hour presentation on any health and wellness related topics, please contact me and I can send you a Presentation Request Form for review.

Once your presentation request is approved by the Committee, it will be advertised to all State of Minnesota agencies. It would give you some great exposure for your business. There is a potential of your information reaching over 1,000 Mn/DOT employees alone, and thousands of other state employees as well. 

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions: qin.tang @

Minnesota snow plow crews deserve praise

I stayed home in the last two days during the first snow storm of the winter season.

Concerned about ice on the road, slippery road condition and bad traffic, I left home half an hour earlier today for work. 

To my relief, once I left my neighborhood, there was not much snow or ice on the road. Once I got on the highway, the road for driving was totally clean. If I didn’t look at the side of the road, I couldn’t even tell that it had snowed just yesterday. 

Statewide, Mn/DOT has 800 snowplows to cover 12,000 miles of state highways. There are over 1500 snow plow drivers who work hard to keep the highways clear and safe in the winter. 

Counties and cities have their own snowplows to cover the county roads and city streets. 

If you have not lived in other states or countries during winter, you might not realize what a fantastic job our Minnesota snow plow crews do. In other parts of the country or world, a little bit of snow could paralyze the entire region. 

I think Minnesota’s snow plow crews deserve our thanks and praise. 

If you want, you can send a thank-you to Mn/DOT or leave a comment on Mn/DOT’s Facebook page.

I am sure the snow plow drivers would really appreciate comments and feedbacks from the public.