Welcoming diverse thinking


By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

As we continue to explore ways to better share common places and welcome one another in the relationship of community, let’s unpack where we really are with welcoming diverse experience and thinking.

When someone shares an opinion that appears different from our own, do we lean in and listen?  Do we ask questions to understand their perspective or do we check them off the list and begin conversation with someone else?  When we need to tackle a tough problem or a new community issue do we reach out broadly and welcome others in or do we retreat to pal with those who we know “see it our way?”

With a hurdle to clear far too often we are quick to implement ideas and aim to fix, therefore it’s natural that we tend to group with others who have similar tendencies and views.  What feels natural here, however, has been proven to not yield strong results.  Rather, learning and sustainable change comes through a diverse dialogue of exploring and clarifying the challenge; sharing broad and different ideas to approach the matter; good time in development of next steps and then implementation.  Each piece of the process is so very important. With others around the table who have diverse gifts, the challenge gets clearer and the way forward is productive and thoughtful.


Looking at respect

Marisa blog

By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Are you feeling the reason for the season — are you feeling the promise and renewal as we move into the spring season? Are you eager to do something following the blessing and rejuvenation of Easter?  Make change or start anew? As Mahatma Gandhi once said, are you ready to “be the change that you wish to see in the world”? Don’t lose momentum, the first step might be much closer than you think.

At Heritage Christian, one of the ways we demonstrate our Christian compassion, a corporate value, is by smiling and making eye contact.  It is a seemingly simple discipline that if we aren’t careful in today’s day, might just become a lost art. We believe that our commitment to connecting sets us apart and it starts by showing our respect for others by looking them in the eye.

If given time to reflect, I think we can all agree on the power of connection that comes through eye contact.  Whether simply a passing connection to demonstrate our respect and care for another or looking deeply into someone’s eyes as a window into their soul, we rely on eye contact to connect and communicate on a conscious and an unconscious level.  Eyes tell us so much. They show us interest, direction, focus and emotion. Each of us is prepared differently to make eye contact, and that’s ok too! The purpose is to show respect and interest and welcome others. Begin by showing that in whatever way is most comfortable to you.

Today I ask that you take that step in being the change you’d like to see, to build a better relationship of community and to respect and connect with others.  As you pass by someone, smile and make eye contact. When you pay for your groceries, look into the eyes of the cashier, smile and say thank you. When you share dinner with your friends or family tonight, make a point to share eye to eye contact.  Let this simple gesture open you up to others. Let them see your willingness to acknowledge, respect and get to know them. You won’t be disappointed and you will be surprised to see how natural it is to respond to what you see in their eyes. The opportunity for change opens up from there!

Reshaping responsibility


By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Recently we have been hosting agency-wide feedback sessions exploring responsibility and accountability in our culture. We have been imagining the results of our work as we move away from blame and shame when our actions don’t have the outcome we’d hoped for. Instead we are getting to the hard stuff.

That’s right, I am suggesting that blaming, shaming, punishing and moving on is the easy way out. We as leaders lay our heads on the pillow at night thinking we have done something that helps improve care or make our work safer, but it doesn’t work! In fact, research shows it has never worked.

Perhaps we do it because it’s all we know, and we do live in a blame-addicted society. Perhaps we do it because it feels good to blame, shame and punish when we ourselves are hurting. Or perhaps we do it because we often don’t know what else to do. We fall back on assuming “human error” or “bad” judgment and we continue to behave in ways that attempt to “fix the human.”  The human being is the constant in the human service business. You cannot remove human error, just as you can’t always predict human judgment in a complex system. But you can learn to understand what made the person’s behavior absolutely logical and rational to them at that moment in time. By understanding those system influencers, not only might you strengthen the work of one, you stand a chance of helping others.

At Heritage Christian, we are working to create a culture that shapes responsibility through learning. We are improving by responding to how work is really done rather than creating policy based on how we imagine the work to be done. We know that people carry even greater responsibility for the outcome of their work when they themselves can point to and learn from all of the context that helped to create the outcome. When we imagine the collective impact of this hard work we see improved communication and trust. When we stop blaming and shaming, we see greater investment in the work we do. We see improvement even within imperfect service systems. We see a broader path for success. Onward!


The Spirit of Welcoming

HCS_Springdale_082817_125_LRBy Marisa Geitner, President and C.E.O.

In a fractured world, it can feel natural to pull inward to avoid the sharp edges of conflict. But the only way to heal today’s fractures – to make it safely past the shards – is actually to pull together. To lessen the distance. To become whole.

To welcome.

It starts with conversation, with getting to know someone else. That leads to community and relationships. And we find that when you welcome community, that’s when you welcome true change.

Every society and every time period has had its own list of people who were not welcome. That created a fracture, a break.

Children were expected to be seen but not heard. Women were to be in the kitchen. African Americans were sent to their own schools, supposedly separate but equal. And people with disabilities were forced to live behind locked doors.

Each time the way forward has been to welcome.

And this time – when our industry is changing, our workforce pool is shrinking and our society is reeling for direction on how to treat people – the answer is still to welcome.

So, welcome to the conversation. Together, let’s welcome the change we need in order to be a stronger, more whole, society.


Making 2018 a year of gratitude and joy

gratitude is a lens that helps us amplify goodBy Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Happy New Year!

I’m not typically a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but this year one hit me that seemed to make sense. In 2018, I will approach each day with as much reflection and anticipation as I would the turn of a new year! After all, it just makes sense and is much more manageable. I will recap the day, sort my accomplishments and build my ‘Things to Anticipate’ for tomorrow. Although I acknowledge the harder part might be what I hope NOT to do: I will not perseverate on what I did not accomplish. I will not carry regret for time I did not have. I will not hold on to those retrospective missed opportunities.

Today it seems natural to tip toward a mindset of scarcity… I didn’t get enough sleep. I didn’t get enough done. I ran out of time. If only, if only, if only. Counterfactual thinking (should have, would have, could have) really zaps our gratitude and therefore our joy. For me, it is time to focus with gratitude on the abundance of my day – the just enough. To marvel at how the day unfolded so differently than I might have expected and yet, I did it! I had just enough time, just enough help and accomplished just what I needed to despite the variations of a dynamic day.

We know that gratitude is a lens that helps us amplify what is good, and who couldn’t use a bit more reflection on the good of our day?

Onward to 2018!


The art of showing up

Buffalo100517_017By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Just to keep our interest as we approach our January book study of Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown, I thought I’d share a concept that has me thinking differently about healing in a hurting world. The concept as Brown describes it is “Hold hands. With strangers.”  In a day when we may be so overwhelmed by differences and confused or angry about our interpretation of the beliefs of others, we find our world in a spiritual crisis. It’s hard to see beyond ourselves let alone be mindful of something greater. In times of such spiritual crisis Brown suggests it is essential that we remind ourselves that we are undeniably connected as we are all human beings, connected in a way that is impossible to disentangle or separate. If we ignore that connection it’s easy to retreat, to shut-down, and to “hate” from afar – behavior that just perpetuates hurt and divide.

So how do we exercise a renewal in that human connection?  By showing up for experiences of collective joy and collective sorrow. We’ve each experienced both from time to time. How about collective joy?  You know that one song at a wedding reception that has everyone instantly dancing or at the very least singing? You find yourself acting silly alongside others you’ve never met but who cares…. Celebrate good times….. Come on! Maybe the stadium full of college football fans when the team fight song or alma mater plays. You don’t care who is standing next to you as long as they are singing, too, as you sway back and forth with your arms draped across one another’s shoulders. We are connected!

The collective sorrow, although painful, is equally – if not more – powerful. Depending upon your age, you remember exactly where you were and who you were with when President Kennedy was shot, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded or when the towers came down on 9/11. We stop in our tracks. We stand in shock and disbelief alongside one another. We ache at the loss and we turn to comfort and to be comforted by whomever we are with. We share sorrow even as strangers and it binds us. It reminds us that there is something bigger than us, reminds us that we are created as part of the same race, the human race! It is powerful and healing.

Throughout this holiday season I hope you will take the time to be thoughtful about what you are showing up for. Be watchful for the magic moments of collective joy and celebrate them!  Show up and stand with others in times of sorrow and tragedy, too. Let it be a reminder of our connectedness within this beautiful and intricate human tapestry.

When our belief that there's something greater than us, something rooted in love and compassion, breaks