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  • Cary Darrah: Lunch With A Leader

    • Posted on Aug 27, 2016
    This was published on Friday, August 26, in the Waterloo Courier.  

                Which leaders get the most done?  High-profile in the news leaders, or behind-the-scenes, make-it-happen-don’t-worry-who-gets-credit-leaders? 

                The question implies the answer, of course. It’s the low-profile collaborative leaders who make visionary long-term differences, but don’t often make the news. 

               That doesn’t bother them at all.  

                In fact, you may have not have heard of Cary Darrah, or maybe only in a passing reference to Cedar Falls’ Main Street, but she’s made an enormous difference to the Cedar Valley. 

                For decades Darrah has been a prime mover in the remaking and re-inventing of Cedar Falls Main Street.  From 1997 to 2007, she served as Executive Director of Community Main Street, overseeing the transformation of a sleepy and rather dull downtown to its current vibrant full-on mix of shops, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, and boutiques. 

                Main Street’s dramatic transformation impresses visitors and locals alike. 

                Darrah takes little personal credit. “It’s all due to good collaborators I work with who make it happen,” she insists, and she means it.  “None of us could do it alone.”  

                She continued developing and collaborating in 2007 as vice president of community development with the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber, as well as serving as general manager of TechWorks in Waterloo, a project that the Cedar Valley Alliance oversees.

                In June, she moved up to President of TechWorks, where she now oversees that entire operation.  

                So what exactly is TechWorks and what does she do there? Over lunch I mentioned that some people see it as a “blue sky” operation—all brochures and marketing but very little else.  

                “Yes, I know that’s a perception.  Getting it up and running has been a long and complex process beginning in 2007, then the recession slowed us down, then a long recovery during which we demolished several of the older buildings.  Then we turned over ten of our 43 acres to John Deere for their museum.  We’ve just now started doing more of what we intended in 2007.” 

                Essentially, TechWorks now exists to support and expand business and manufacturing opportunities in the Cedar Valley.  Their “Tech 1” building on Westfield Avenue houses a “Makerspace” floor of machinery where entrepreneurs and inventors can experiment with and discover their own designs using high-tech machinery.   In addition, in collaboration with UNI, they house a large 3-D printer that helps students, faculty, and inventors explore that technology. 

                A Courtyard Marriott Hotel will soon become part of their “Tech 2” building site, as well as a new upscale restaurant and John Deere Regional Training Center.  

                For the past several years, Darrah has also organized a TechWorks-sponsored “Leadership Institute” which holds seminars and education classes for over thirty future leaders that their employers have chosen as potential business leaders.

                This October, that Institute will host speaker Fred Kiel, whose book “Return on Character—the Real Reason Leaders and their Companies Win.”  She hopes Kiel’s visit sparks an extended conversation about business ethics and how ethical practices contributes to a company’s success. 

                The entire TechWorks organization began in 2007 when John Deere donated the site of its former Waterloo Tractor factory—43 acres of prime downtown land—and money to demolish the buildings.  Without visionaries like Cary Darrah and Steve Dust, its former President, that site would have become a “green space,” basically, a park. 

                Instead, it’s now a growing and vital non-profit organization devoted to contributing time and talent to enhance business and manufacturing in the Cedar Valley, according to Darrah. 

                She reminded me that “Black Hawk County does the most manufacturing of any county in Iowa,” and that’s due at least partly to an environment of encouragement and support from the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber and TechWorks.   “We’re trying to create an environment that makes businesses and their leaders want to come here.” 

                As proof of that pudding, Forbes magazine recently named Waterloo as the #10 small U.S. city “where business and careers thrive.” 

                For the last twenty years, Darrah’s Cedar Valley leadership has helped do just that. “My job is to listen to people’s needs, evaluate what will help, then implement that help in whatever ways we can.”  

                As Cary Darrah has found, that’s a successful formula for community leadership.



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  • Trump as a Hungry Ghost

    • Posted on Aug 21, 2016
    Here's this morning's (Aug. 21) column.  I'd really like to say it's my last column on this horrible candidate, but probably not. I can't help noticing his ego, and he can't help displaying it.   

    Anyone who reaches their teens knows about ego struggles.  Ego, that sense of self that people develop, protect, and defend, gives adults their identity, after all. 

     A healthy ego remains one of the keys to living a productive and happy life. 
    Yet that sense of self in some people goes wildly out of balance.  At some point it grows monstrous, seeking a larger identity, more praise, more adulation, more everything.   

     Garrison Keillor, when asked whether he found his considerable fame satisfying, replied, “It’s never enough. I want to be Sun King, the absolute and divine ruler of everything . . .”   

     France’s Louis XIV, the actual “Sun King” ruled France for 72 years, and his loyal subjects considered him all but divine, as did he.  He lived a long life convinced of his divinity.     

     French aristocrats actually paid to watch as their King Louis rose, dressed, ate and went to bed.  The King loved an audience, but it was never enough.   

     Never enough--that’s an unhealthy ego.  Buddhists call the unbalanced ego “hungry ghost”—always wanting more, never getting it.  Psychologists call it “narcissistic personality disorder,” and it’s marked by total self-absorption and an inability to empathize.  No one suggests putting them in charge.   

     It’s a form of addiction—a must-have daily fix of adulation and support.  Ego addiction, also known as Pride, became known as the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins.   Pride bullies all virtues into silence.   

     Therefore, at some point, wise people bring their ego under control.   They might see a “shrink,” to cut their ego down to size.  Better yet, they learn by recognizing that they’re not always right. Brave friends and family can help.   

     We can’t have it all.  We don’t know it all.  We need help.  We contribute to the common good without expecting praise or rewards.     

    Learning more selfless engagement and less self-promoting ego is called growing up. This is how smart people become wiser.  Our greatest leaders were wise because they faced great hardships and learned humility.  

     Which brings us to Donald Trump.  He may be smart, but no one calls him wise.  Until his followers move beyond their current fact-resistant state of mind, or until he’s roundly and soundly defeated in November, he’s a hungry ghost. 

     A hotheaded, violence-prone bully as a kid, Trump was rich enough to live an unchallenged life.  No humility penetrated his massive ego.  He’s only grown more hungry for adulation.  I pity those who mistake hungry ghosts for real leaders.   

    Trump reportedly never reads anything that’s not directly about Donald Trump.  

    This is a dead giveaway for hyper-egotism, since reading requires engagement with and concentration on someone else’s ideas. Narcissists hate this, since it takes their mind off themselves. 

    Trump’s followers keep feeding him just what he wants—unqualified adulation. Even if he committed murder in public, as he proudly announced awhile back, they would still love him. 

    That’s a hungry ghost, making himself absolute ruler of all things, immune even to basic ethics and morality.  

     Ego corrupts. Absolute ego corrupts absolutely.  

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