shaded bridge

CEO Letter: February 2017

A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart

I took some time this past month to reflect on the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as we observed the holiday in his remembrance. Not only was he a trailblazing leader but a very insightful philosopher and speaker. His messages about social justice translates well to our efforts and mission. In one of his more well-known sermons, he spoke of the power of leading with a tough mind and a tender heart.
 

“Let us consider, first, the need for a tough mind, characterized by incisive thinking realistic appraisal, and decisive judgement… a strong, austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment.”

 

I am more proud than ever to identify as the leader of this organization. Today, we have a solid foundation and are poised for growth. It is crucial to maintain focus in our approach to achieving our mission and actualizing our vision. Without this solidarity of purpose, our team isn’t moving forward together but just running in place. We must be able to make the tough decisions, lead with character and deliver great service to those we serve.
 

“Tough mindedness without tenderheartedness is cold and detached, leaving one’s life in a perpetual winder devoid of the warmth of spring and the gentle heat of summer.”

 
As a parent and a grand-parent, it is abundantly clear to me of the need for tenderheartedness. It is even more apparent as the leader of an organization such as Skils’kin. Leading without feeling is like trying to grow flowers without sunlight. Every individual at some point needs nurturing, compassion and emotion. With that being said, there are times when an individual needs firmness, boundaries and a more pointed conversation. It is imperative to understand the circumstances to know what is needed in order to have the best outcome. This ability to know is paramount to our success individually and as a team. In every facet of our lives, it is important to offset the tough mind with the tender heart.
 
These traits independently can be detrimental to oneself and an organization as a whole but working in harmony, makes one a force to behold. In the next month I compel you to find balance; in how you work, how you play and most importantly, how you lead and serve.
 
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Ability Is What Matters

David emerged from college like any other top-performing graduate poised for success in the workforce. He graduated summa cum laude from Eastern Washington University with a 4.0 GPA, a bachelor’s in management, and a minor in economics. He has excellent research and computer skills. He has strong character, charisma, and drive. However, unlike the majority of college graduates, David also has cerebral palsy, and despite his successes, David faced barriers to employment simply because he has a visible, documented disability that made hiring managers reluctant to take a chance on him. His disability was too unfamiliar, too uncharted, too visible.
 
However, when Skils’kin CEO Brian Behler first met David, he saw the archetypal intelligent college graduate looking to start his career. Skils’kin hired David in April of 2015 as a business support intern in the Human Resources department. While in that position, David organized the CEO’s visit to Washington, DC for a SourceAmerica advocacy event (which included securing appointments with eight congressional members via tenacious, but professional, phone calls), set up employment contracts, conducted a compensation analysis, and organized database information.
 
It quickly became apparent that David was the kind of worker that any business would be honored to have on their team, so when David competed for a new HR Assistant job posting within Skils’kin in November of 2015, he naturally was hired for the job.
 
David’s leadership and engagement has been an invaluable component of our success here at Skils’kin. When the HR department underwent a difficult period of transition, David proved to be a leader who helped provide constancy and support as he filled in the gaps.
 
David has also shown leadership in his support of the Marketing team’s advocacy and awareness efforts. In February 2016, he shared his experiences and story in two videos produced for Facebook. In one, David articulated his perceptions on person-first language, including how he owns, but is not defined by, his disability. In the other, David opened up and candidly shared how potential employers perceive him when he walks in for an interview. In both cases, David showed courage and vulnerability, true signs of leadership, as he worked to break down barriers and change perceptions towards individuals with disabilities.
 
In October 2016, David again competed for more responsibility and was promoted to Human Resource Coordinator, where he has continued to show exemplary leadership and drive. For example, David conducts new hire orientations, where he facilitates discussions, using himself as an example, that address preconceived notions towards individuals with disabilities and enculturate new hires into Skils’kin’s vision.
 
There’s a reason why we’ve never hesitated in advancing David’s roles and responsibilities. David is a truly exceptional leader and person who exemplifies and advances our mission in every way. However, there is more work to be done. Although prejudice is widely denounced, many people, subconsciously or otherwise, judge individuals like David based on preconceived notions of what they are capable of. It is time to end such discriminatory thinking.
 
We all have barriers to employment. However, all too often, potential employers bring the barriers of individuals with disabilities to the forefront, overshadowing applicants’ capabilities, résumés, experiences, potential, and impact. We cannot let preconceived notions label individuals with disabilities as unfit for work when all other evidence points to the contrary. Instead, we must recognize that disability status does not determine employability. Otherwise, individuals like David get overlooked.
 
Gayle Lawrence, David’s supervisor, notes that “David is a significant member of her team who is always striving to learn new things, yet he also challenges us and brings new perspectives to the table.” David’s leadership and advocacy continually changes thinking, and through his efforts, he is contributing to the changing discussion surrounding disability employment, paving the way for those who will follow.

An AbilityOne custodial crew supervisor collaborating with her team at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana

Moving Life Forward: A Leader’s Avoidance of Enabling

It’s early December in Great Falls, Montana. A light snow covers much of the landscape at Malmstrom Air Force Base, with more snow in the forecast. The temperature hovers just above zero degrees. And Lee, a Skils’kin custodial crew supervisor working through SourceAmerica and the AbilityOne program, is driving the Skils’kin van to pick up her custodial team. She parks by one of the buildings, the team piles in, and she drives off, taking the crew on their daily rounds cleaning buildings throughout the base.

Lee is a supervisor who provides first-rate mentorship. From years of experience, Lee has learned that an effective way to empower individuals with disabilities to become self-sufficient is to avoid enabling the individual (in the negative sense of the word), meaning actions that, while intending to help the individual, prevent opportunities for growth. As Lee explains, members of the community and the workplace often enable individuals with disabilities by underselling their ability:

 

“People are quick to say [to individuals with disabilities], ‘oh, you can’t do that. I’ll do that for you.’”

 

By enabling individuals with disabilities in this way, such as by doing work for them, people take away their opportunities for growth, ultimately hindering their future self-sufficiency. Lee, on the other hand, is a leader who does everything in her power to foster self-sufficiency in the individuals she works with. She doesn’t cut her team any slack, and she doesn’t enable. And the results speak for themselves.

 

Lee unloading a Skils'kin van with her crew.

 

Watching Lee’s crew work is a sight to behold. The team sweeps into the buildings at Malmstrom Air Force Base with blazing efficiency, cleaning building restrooms in a manner of minutes. The team is quick and efficient, and their chemistry is apparent. At each stop the team works in perfect coordination: Conner cleans the mirrors and sinks, Phil starts scrubbing the stalls and walls, Brenda cleans the porcelain, and Doug sweeps and mops the floors. Lee works alongside her team, but she also holds each member accountable for his or her actions, ensuring that the team performs quality work.

Much of the team’s success is owing to great leadership. From Lee’s experience, good training creates a cohesive team and a healthy environment – without proper training, including training that avoids enabling, her team would not be able to experience the success it has.

Lee’s learned her exemplary leadership skills from her experiences as a parent – a parent of an individual with a disability, Phil, who just so happens to be a member of her Malmstrom custodial team. Thus, Lee knows why it is important to avoid enabling because she herself is raising her son to be self-sufficient:

 

“One day, I won’t be here,” Lee explained, “and I want him to be okay.”

 

This sentiment is one that many parents of children with disabilities share.  Many parents of children with disabilities are deeply concerned about their children’s ability to function without parental support. However, by minimizing enabling and creating opportunities for growth, parents like Lee are fostering self-sufficiency.

Lee shows Phil love and support by helping him to become self-sufficient. When Phil asks what is for dinner, Lee’s response is “I don’t know: what is for dinner?”

Phil cooks, washes dishes, cleans, and performs other household tasks, gaining self-sufficiency in the process. Lee also pushes her son to have an active social life, but she does monitor his friends to ensure that he is surrounded by good influences.

Lee is a great example of a parent who courageously moves both her child’s and her own life forward. She has learned to fight against that instinct in us all to enable, and she engages and holds Phil accountable for his actions.

 

“I thought when I had a child with a disability, I would just move on with my life – my child with a disability became my life,” Lee explained.

 

Through her experiences as a parent of a child with a disability, Lee has been able to extend an avoidance of enabling to all she works with through the opportunities created by SourceAmerica and the AbilityOne program at Malmstrom. She continually pushes her son and her crew to perform the quality of work she knows they can do, and her leadership works in tandem with the aims of these two programs. Lee supports her crew, just as she supports her son, by fostering self-sufficiency that will lead to greater opportunity and choice in the future.

Our society is often quick to try to define what individuals with disabilities cannot do; SourceAmerica, AbilityOne, and individuals like Lee, however, are changing this conversation by creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities to showcase what they are truly capable of. It is time to stop enabling individuals with disabilities and underselling their capacities. One way to accomplish this effort is through programs such as AbilityOne and SourceAmerica that create opportunities for employment and growth. By empowering individuals throughout the country to gain the independence and skills needed to thrive moving forward, these programs are creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities to choose, create, and realize their desired future.

 

Lee walking back to the van with her crew.

 

CEO Letter: January 2017

Welcome to 2017.  I hope you and your loved ones enjoyed the holidays.  As the new calendar has begun, so too does it signal that I am nearing six years as CEO of Skils’kin.  I am as excited today being part of Skils’kin as I was on my first day, February 1st, 2011.  I would like to share with you how the words or ideas of passion, culture and complacency underscore my leadership and drive the excitement I have for all things Skils’kin.
 
Passion is defined as a compelling enthusiasm or desire for something. In speaking to me for any length of time you will find that I have a deep rooted passion for Skils’kin, our mission, our services and those who are part of our team. I have compelling enthusiasm for the fact that we touch many individuals in ways that enrich their lives and we have been doing this since 1970.  I expect that our services operate in manners that are as efficient as they are effective.  This separates Skils’kin from many other non-profits in conjunction with our flourishing environment and culture.
 
Culture is the pervasive values, beliefs and attitudes that characterize a company and guide its practices. Our culture is one I take great pride in.  I aspire to create a workplace where individuals feel valued and excited to complete the work set before them. What we do isn’t easy and having a dynamic culture is imperative to our success.
 
It is crucial to have a compelling enthusiasm or desire for something combined with a firm belief in order to start making a difference in the workplace setting.  I strive for all Skils’kin employees to have ownership of their actions and create a positive space around themselves and those who are served.  We focus not only on our external customers, but those who work next to us every day.  We will continue to look forward and engage those around us in positive, meaningful relationships.  For me, our mission fuels my passion and belief in the services we provide and I thrive on a collaborative and engaged conversation or effort.  A flourishing workplace comes from concentrated efforts and intentional actions to create an environment that people want to be a part of.

 

“Complacency is a sword of two edges.  One edge kills hard earned successes while the other end stops future glories.” – Israelmore Ayivor

 

It is only through determination and continued diligence that we can maintain the proper recipe for an effective atmosphere which in turn results in an environment that rejects organizational complacency. We have navigated several years of transformation with the likelihood that continued adaptation will be required of us to achieve our mission and vision.  We must continue to plant the seeds and cultivate our culture and community instead of resting under the branches of previous success.
 
I am eager to begin the New Year with a re-energized sense of purpose and drive.  Please join me in my efforts to create and maintain an engaging workplace.  Let us work together to feed our desire for a Mission driven organization and not take for granted the need to nurture our team.  I look forward to working with all of you as we continue to strive to be the company not only known for creating and implementing the model for delivery of collaborative services for adults with disabilities but the environment where individuals come for the Mission but stay for the culture.
 
Brian Behler's signature

A scenic Wyoming view with trees with yellow leaves and mountains looming in the distance

CEO Letter: December 2016

Looking Forward with Positivity

“New Year – a new chapter, new verse, or just the same old story? Ultimately we write it.  The choice is ours.” –Alex Morritt

 

As we close in on the conclusion of 2016, I reflect back at the roller coaster year it has been.  Escalating gun violence between police and citizens, Syrian refugees struggling to find a new home, and the Zika virus have been in the headlines. Not to mention we have just completed one of the most interesting and debated elections in recent history.  On a more positive note, Skils’kin has completed Fiscal Year 2016 and opened a new chapter for FY 2017.

 

You will often hear me say “It is not what we did yesterday, but what we choose to do today and tomorrow.”  I firmly believe that looking forward is far more productive than focusing on where we have been.  We make the choices about how we perceive the future and our direction.  I take pride in our company and its dynamic culture.  Last month I challenged us all to embrace our own vulnerability and utilize it in creating stronger leadership within ourselves.  This month I would like to think about reframing our thoughts to the upcoming year.  It can be easy to be mired down in the negativity that breeds in current events.  Imagine how much stronger our company, community, and country could be when focused on positive activities and energy.  Instead of tearing down and verbalizing what we don’t like, what if instead we focus on what we want to be a part of and then strive to make that “what” a reality?

 

Our glass can be half full; our glasses rose colored; our attitude optimistic.  Let us go forward with purpose, positivity and vision.  Let’s choose to write our own story, set the tone and lead ourselves and those around us to a more constructive place and space.

Brian Behler's signature

CEO Letter: November 2016

Vulnerability in Leadership

I recently read a book by Dr. Brene Brown titled “Daring Greatly.”  This book impacted me as it discussed strength in vulnerability.  Asking for help, acknowledging our failures, sharing our thoughts or offering to assist others can make us feel out of our comfort zone.  However, how does a flower grow if not by breaking from its seed and stretching toward the light?  Forcing ourselves to reach out of our own safety and offer ourselves to others is one of the quickest ways to make a difference.

 

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.  Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.  Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” –Dr. Brene Brown

 

I firmly believe that it takes more strength to show our vulnerabilities than operating as though they don’t exist.  There are times for all of us when we feel more susceptible to criticism or negativity and that does not make us any less of a leader or strong individual.   Generally we think of leadership as it refers to directing a group or team.  While this is true, I challenge all of us to think about leading ourselves.  Consider how you can make a difference in the overall organization by discarding the fear or anxiety of sharing honestly with others.

 

Inherently, accountability should piggy back on the idea of leadership.  As accountability is one of our core values, I believe we need to examine that through the glasses of leadership.  We often discuss how we validate accountability in the past, but how can we demonstrate this value today and into the future? When we take ownership for our own actions and decisions, we become a stronger leader to ourselves and the community at large.

 

How can you make yourself a stronger leader? I urge you to be bold and show your vulnerability. Be brave and share your thoughts and ideas.  Imagine it; everyone at Skils’kin accepting our imperfections, embracing our beliefs and sharing our philosophies. It can only create better leaders in all of us.

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A black and white picture of a lone tree in a backyard

CEO Letter: October 2016

Contemplating Synonyms

Last month I wrote about change, grappling with and accepting it. As I consider the word “change,” I cannot help but think of all of the synonyms associated with that one powerful word. A synonym (which is a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another) for the word “change” is “evolve.” The past five years Skils’kin has been in a state of evolution with the last two years being the most significant. This brings us to the question of why are we changing and how?
 
To answer the question of why, we need only look at the changes made to our Vision Statement two years ago when we updated our Strategic Plan for the period 2015-2018.

 

Old Vision:  To be recognized, in the communities in which we operate, as the premier employer and provider of services to people with disabilities.

New Vision:  Become the company most known for creating and implementing the model for delivery of collaborative services for adults with disabilities.

 

This dynamic new vision statement also provides us with the concept of how these changes have and will continue to occur. It is driving the recent change that has occurred and for good reason.  This vision statement challenges us to move beyond simply following the actions of other service providers.  It challenges us to create a new model based upon collaboration.  Our new Vision Statement provides many benefits:

 

  • Provides direction and helps us prepare for the future.
  • Provides guidance for decision-making.
  • Guides the types of people you hire and promote.
  • Defines what you will and what you will not do.
  • Helps set priorities and guides planning.
  • Provides purpose and a source of inspiration.
  • Reflects our core values and beliefs.
  • Brings change and hope for the future.

 

The quote from last month tells us:

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi

 

We are wiser today as an agency and so we are changing ourselves and how we look at the goals we aim to accomplish. We are continually evolving and instead of fearing change, we are learning to accept and even embrace it. Through evolution we are finding positive new beginnings and we move even closer to achieving our vision.

Brian Behler's signature

A view from the bank of a river at sunset

CEO Letter: September 2016

Change… Our constant companion.

 
As I consider what message I would like to share this month, I couldn’t help but contemplate the significant changes here at Skils’kin over the last three months.  We have added a contract  in Oklahoma, two senior Human Resource staff left Skils’kin, the Accounting department is comprised of 75% new staff, and Quality Assurance, AbiltyOne Administration, Marketing, Supported Employment, and Supported Living all have newly added team members.
 
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Lao Tzu
 
As I often struggle to place words on paper that accurately reflect what I am trying to convey, I turn to quotes which  often provide me the words I am struggling to find. The above quote by Tzu is a concise partial roadmap for dealing with and accepting change. We have all been affected by change and, at times, it has been a struggle, at least it has for me. Reading the words of Tzu reminds me that change is a vital part of progress in our vision of becoming the company most known for creating and implementing the model for delivery of collaborative services for adults with disabilities. Yet, in the moment there was sorrow and resistance because what do we do with all of this change? Another thoughtful quote I found helps to answer this question.
 
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi
 
When considered together, the quotes from Tzu and Rumi represent a complete roadmap for dealing with change. “Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like” and “change yourself” to live and work effectively in this new order of things. Over the past five years we have witnessed  and managed through significant change. I’m certain more is on the way. Do not fear change, rather, embrace it and allow the natural forward flow of progress.
 
Thank you for the effort you give each and every day.
 
Brian Behler's signature

paved road

CEO Letter: August 2016

Those Who Support Our Mission: Legislators Are Part of the Skils’kin Team

 
I appreciate every opportunity to promote Skils’kin’s mission and encourage others to become part of our team.
 
In mid-March, I was able to do that in Washington, DC when I attended a SourceAmerica Board of Directors meeting. I left a day early to visit with some of our elected representatives and reinforce with them the importance of supporting our mission and the AbilityOne program.
 
Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Senator Patty Murray (WA) are supporters of Skils’kin and our mission, and of the AbilityOne program that accounts for the majority of our jobs. My meetings with the staff who advise them on labor and disability issues were thoughtful and productive.
 
Elevating the day was a meeting I had with Senator Jon Tester of Montana. After I debriefed him on the AbilityOne programs we have in Great Falls and our efforts to support our employees, Senator Tester agreed that “A job solves a lot of problems.” He promised to visit Skils’kin when he is next in Great Falls.
 
Every day, we work hard to be successful, whether at the individual, team or corporate level. It’s good to know that these legislators understand and support us and our mission. It’s great to be part of the Skils’kin team. It’s great to be a Skils’kinian.
 
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Image of a Japanese botanical garden in Spokane

CEO Letter: July 2016

In June, I attended the 2016 SourceAmerica Grassroots Advocacy Conference in Washington, DC, along with Malmstrom Project Manager James Pope, MAFB Food Services Worker Trey Royt, and Trey’s mom Kathleen.
 
The event was both a joy and a reminder: a celebration of how far our field has come, and an acknowledgment of how far it has yet to go. Hearing self-advocates speak so eloquently about their life and the things that matter to them, I saw clearly how important their stories are to furthering progress.
 
As Skils’kin’s CEO, I believe I can present an intelligent, impassioned case for the value of the AbilityOne program, and for the value of employment to a person with disabilities. But there is no substitute for hearing from the individuals themselves.
 
Trey Royt did a wonderful job of presenting his perspective. Many of our employees, given guidance and support, can effectively tell their story to those who can help us move the dial.  As a direct result of conversations Trey had with legislative assistants, we were able to obtain audiences with Senator Jon Tester and Representative Ryan Zinke from Montana. This is the power of telling your story.
 
Well done, Trey. Well done, James Pope, and well done to all members of the Skils’kin family. Each of us has an important story to tell.
 
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