September 19th, 2011 by Darci Congrove
A few weeks ago, I accepted an invitation to a dinner billed as “Girls Night Out.” I didn’t know what to expect or who would be there. Our hostess was Barbara Fergus, a successful business owner known for her philanthropic efforts. The guests were an eclectic collection of people in a wide range of age and race, and from a variety of different careers — business, public service, nonprofits. There were twelve of us, many of whom had never met one another.
The dinner itself was lovely, from the table setting to the food. However, the dinner definitely took a back seat to the conversation. As we sat down at the table, our hostess instructed us as to how the dinner conversation would go. Barbara asked each of us to answer the following question: “What are you doing to make our community a better place?” Then, she said that if we didn’t have a good answer to that question, and we didn’t have any immediate plans to do something good for the community, that the group would discuss and try to help us figure out what to do next.
Wow. I was thankful that I didn’t have to go first! As the conversation went around the table, the answers were amazing. One woman has just launched a new nonprofit, another is leading sweeping changes in a major corporation’s diversity policies, yet another is mentoring young people, someone is leading adult educational programs. Each of these women is doing something to make the world a better place, generally without acknowledgement or accolades, but just because it’s the right thing to do.
When the conversation would start to go in a direction where someone was talking about their job or their business, our hostess reminded us that she was interested in the “above and beyond” parts of our lives, not the part for which we earn a regular paycheck.
I left feeling excited and challenged, and I’m certain that everyone else did as well. As I have thought about that dinner over the last few weeks, the questions at the outset of the evening were so powerful, yet so simple. There is definitely a lesson here in how to motivate people:
Kudos to Barbara for realizing that the simple act of facilitating a conversation can encourage others to do something great. It’s no wonder that she has been successful in leading a business and so many other important community initiatives. She knows how to inspire others.
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