The Journey of Perception

This past weekend I took my boys on a little journey and, since the trip, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how we perceive one another, it’s dangers, but more importantly, the necessity to be aware and humble of it.

The trip started early Friday afternoon. We journey 90 miles to the northwest to my hometown of Findlay, Ohio. For those of you that have read my previously blog entries you know that my childhood wasn’t normal by any means. When the opportunity came in 1999 to bolt and move to Columbus, I did so without the slightest hesitation, and for good and bad, I never looked back. The sights and sounds of Findlay were like nails on a chalkboard. Nostalgia was not present in any cell of my body. 

Nearly 20 years later I returned at the request of my eldest, Jackson, and took a mental and emotional journey that I had not taken since leaving, even though I have physically journeyed that path once or twice. The trip started with a stop at my favorite pizza place, Jac N Do’s. The boys wanted to see the house I grew up in and my Aunt Judy’s house. The journey that I once perceived from house to house was much shorter than I remembered. The next relevant stop on their bucket list was where I went to Kindergarten, Northview Elementary. I could almost picture myself sitting on the monkey bars talking g to Stephanie Kuhlman, about whether I stay or go…. the playground that I once perceived as gigantic, dwarfed in comparison to the Columbus playgrounds I now see. 

We drove past my favorite spots, stores, and parks… whatever they wanted to see. We concluded at Dietsch’s Ice Cream, where Jackson proudly told the gentleman behind the counter, who happened to be an owner, “my daddy use to work here and he made the best ice cream in the world”! To which he earned a hearty chuckle from Tom Dietsch. 

As we navigated Findlay I realized distances between point A and B were much shorter than I once perceived. What I once perceived as a “long drive” in Findlay equated to a “quick trip” in Columbus. Further, the places I feared to see again or emotionally invest in brought fond memories and not pain. What I perceived to be a wound-yielding place became a place of peace and completeness in my heart. Those feelings pointed my brain toward my ” now” with my family and career, and how perception is an art of reality.

Friend, how does the world at home and work perceive you? More important, how conscious are you of that perception? Is it, “Dad is always grumpy”? “Susie won’t listen to my ideas”! “Don just doesn’t care”. “Molly is too busy for me”. Capture that first thought that came to mind and don’t let it go, chances are your thought was correct. Perception can be a wonderful self-reflection tool to make oneself better, but the prerequisite is humility. If my wife perceives me as “grumpy all the time” (she doesn’t FYI 😀), I can respond with “no you are wrong”, or ” hmm, she sees something I am missing”. Case in point… when we were dating I was stagnant in my career and felt like I was always getting passed over. I blamed and she coached. She said, “I know you think it is them, and it probably is, but what is it they see or don’t see in you that is causing you to be past over”. Six years after that sage advise I became an Exec in the very industry I was toiling in. I owe it to my wife and to God, but they used the tool of perception.

Now think of your workplace. How would your teams and peers perceive you? Easy to work with? Listener? Partner? Humble? Rolls her sleeves up? Values his people? Or the contrast? He is difficult and hard headed! It’s her way or the highway! Now he has an ego! So I have to take care of the clients while she does nothing! A thank you from him would be nice once in awhile!

It never feels good to have your flaws pointed out, particularly when you aren’t aware of them. So what do you do? Tomorrow when you go to work, find one or two colleagues that you trust and respect and ask for feedback. More important, commit them to be your accountability partner. Obtain feedback from different levels. “Tom, what can I do to be a better business partner”. “Carol, how can I make your day-to-day better”. “Tim, how was your weekend”? “Mary, I appreciate having you on my team”.

It starts with simple relationship building communication, the ability to handle and give feedback, and the acceptance that we must have constant character evolutions to be good parents, spouses, leaders, and partners. Ask yourself tomorrow, how can I show grace and humility to others today? You will find that question, and the subsequent action to be no different than pouring water on a dry garden.

Make it a go day friends!

Jason

How to Love Your Neighbor/Colleague/Boss/Team

Happy Fathers Day to those of you who are fathers and grand-fathers! I hope your day was as special as mine. My family and I just returned from Myrtle Beach where the weather was perfect the entire week and Colin (3 year old) and I slept in every morning until 10 am! 

 I spent a lot of my time preparing my lesson plan for the upcoming summer session. I am teaching a Leadership course at Capital University for the MBA program beginning next week. As I worked through various topics such as managing stress, organizational behavior, generations, etc., I continued to swirl my brain about one topic… how do I show love at work.

My HR friends reading this across the globe probably panicked a little, but please allow me to explain. There are many types of love. I love my wife and children differently, but they (along with my God), are my greatest loves. I love the Indians, Cavs (don’t troll), and Buckeyes. I love going on vacation and reading. I love seeing great stories like how people rally when others are in need. Each love is different and covers a wide spectrum such as passion, interests, faith, and family. 

I think there is a type of love we sometimes miss that is required to be a successful leader and that is being able to love at work. Now the reader must understand one thing about me, I make mistakes. As my father-in-law often says from the pulpit, “I am the biggest consumer of grace there is”. If he is #1 then I am #2. We all slip up and mistreat someone through words or actions, but the kind of love I am speaking of is the lifeboat that pulls people in when you torpedoed them with unkindness. My 5 year old son Jackson put it best last night. We drove 12 hours and all were tired. His brother passed out in the bunk below and he himself nearing sleep he said, “Daddy, I LOVE you and you know what? I always will….even when I get mad at you…because….well… that’s how life works”! He spontaneously kissed my hand, pulled the blanket over his head, and was asleep.

I left his room with soggy eyes and I thought,”this boy, such wisdom, and sees the key that most of us miss, love”. I laid awake until 2:00 a.m. thinking about Jackson’s words and wondering how I could be more like this 5 year old. How do I forget about the bullies, the one-uppers, the hurtful actions of others…. how does work-love work in those scenarios?

That’s just how life works. Listen friends, we all have those people in our past and present that the mere mention of their name will make your face turn red and blood pressure rise. So how do you show love in that situation? You love by turning the page. You can’t undo what has been done, but you have a choice to love yourself enough to not ruminate about the hurt. You show love to that person by moving on, whether they deserve it or not. Some of the worst leaders I have ever worked for or were subjected to turned out to be the most important lessons in my career. Love the lessons you learned from them and be thankful you received the hurt instead of delivering it to someone who did not deserve it.

So bring the same lesson of love to today. “But Jason, you don’t know what he/she is doing to me! You want me to love that boss”. Yep. As I mentioned above, love comes in many forms. If someone is persecuting you, there is likely to be a deeper troubled root. Maybe they don’t understand the work. Maybe they lost a loved one. Maybe their boss is unkind or attentive to them. Does it excuse their behavior? No of course not! You show love by taking the high road and executing the job you are expected to do. Root yourself in integrity, do not compromise your values, and execute! Get out if the opportunity arises, but the high road is the road to impact change. That is showing love.

I will close with this. I show love in a variety of ways at work. To my direct reports, I show them love through absolute trust. They make mistakes, so do I, love is rolling up my sleeves and digging with them. To the Managers that report to my directs, I try to show them love through confidence building. They are all very good and I make sure I interact with them as much as possible to thank them for the work they do and to reiterate my belief in them. To each member on their teams, a total of about 110, I love them through time. Over the course of the past three months I have conducted 30 minute 1:1s with each of them. We don’t talk about production or quality, but what drives each Joe and Sally on my team. I diligently take notes so I can follow up on that big game, the scary surgery, the vacation, etc. They are important to me and I love them with my time.

In the workplace love can be shown by forgiving, trusting, helping, and giving. It’s not a romantic gesture, rather a gesture of goodwill. It takes a lot of effort to invest at this level and forget the past, both are still struggles for me,  it at the end of the day you will be successful because you are building a foundation of stone and driving people from the inside instead of the outside.

There’s No Crying In Business!!

“Are you crying? Are you crying? There’s no crying! There’s no crying in baseball”!, Tom Hanks famously said to Bitty Schram’s character in a League of Their Own. Hank’s character was infuriated over Schram’s mistake and be-rated her, which prompted the crying. This scene ran through my mind this morning at church as the pastor spoke about how life is filled with curve balls.

I grew up enamored with baseball (I’m watching the Indians as I write this). I could tell you detailed stats of every ball player in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I hit and threw rubber baseballs against our garage doors for endless hours each day. I worked meticulously to be one of the few left-handed shortstops. I loved playing the game (also in softball form) until last year, when I accepted the cries of my body and exchanged my bat and glove for a set of irons and a driver. As the pastor shared Biblical examples of “curve balls”, I reminisced about my playing days, but thought more about how the mechanics of baseball pitches play as perfect analogies in the business world, particularly the curve ball.

For those of you that are not devout baseball fans, please allow me to explain the mechanics of a curve ball. A curve ball can take many forms, but the premise is to deceive the batter in thinking the ball will arrive across the plate in one location, however the spin on the ball makes it drop to another location. If you, the batter, do not see the rotation of the laces on the ball, you may think it is going to hit you. You turn to avoid the plunk, but hear “strrrrrrrrike”! You are perplexed to see the ball had glided across the plate. Often batters are overly aggressive and swing for the fences, only to be fooled and look silly. Other times the batter reacts too slowly and look a fool as he swings softly long after the ball crossed the plate.

A curveball is such an art that it takes years of practice for a pitcher to pitch it and a hitter to hit it. Some never master it. Such is life right? I have shared my personal journies through the death of two children and a less than normal childhood. I have given talks about bullying and navigating dangerous corporate waters. I have swung and missed, in embarrassing fashion, at curve balls at work and at home, but one thing is consistent… I adjust my helmet and gloves, take a couple practice swings, get back in my stance, and patiently wait on the next pitch. Each time I get back in the box, I don’t know what is coming or where that pitch will land. I know that if I want to get a hit, I must stay back on the ball, avoid swinging too early or too late, and aim to make contact.

In work and life we face curveballs every day. Once in awhile the person throwing the curve at you is erratic. Sometimes you will have a dozen pitchers wind up and throw at you. This once happened to me and I learned quite a bit from the experience. I was once responsible for the completion of a project and it’s end product, but had no control over how the widget was made. The widget was put together, but needed a lot of work. My goal was not to make the widget maker look bad, but rather improve the widget. The widget maker believed I had compromised my integrity and focused on exposing that rather than fixing the core problems. Curve ball one came at me and I expected a fast ball and so I swung erratically. My first reaction was to defend endlessly. My boss was great, gave me a figurative pat on the ass, and pushed me back in the batters box. 

The second, third and forth pitches by the widget maker were erratic and missed the strike zone. The issue became less about me winning and more about the integrity of the product. I quit defending and began offering solutions. When one so,union was ignored, I stayed back on the ball and offered another solution. When my character was questioned again, I stayed back on the ball and offered partnership.

My point to the work story is simple this, don’t swing erratically when life throws you a curve ball. You my not know where that pitch is heading, and honestly your curve ball may take a life time to land. I don’t know where the curve ball of the loss of two children will land, but I must stay back and wait patiently, for it will land. The situation with widget making had a resolution. Eventually the character attacks subsided, because I wouldn’t swing erratically. Eventually the integrity questions were replaced by conversations of resolution. Because I wouldn’t swing at the curveball, there was no cause for the widget maker to continue throwing it. The problem was successfully remediated. 

Friend, my encouragement to you is this: there will be a lot of curveballs in your life, particularly at work. The next time you find yourself in a tough situation, think of the curveball and remember, patience keeps you from looking like a fool and being erratic. A skilled leader will wait for the right pitches and swing accordingly. If someone challenges your character, don’t swing. If someone effectively challenges, appreciate it as a learning opportunity. Bottom line is this friend, your job takes skill, and to master skill you must practice. Find your routine and never stop practicing!

May this week be fruitful for you!

Jason

How Mothers Shape Leaders

Happy Mothers Day to the mothers reading my blog! 

Everyone has a story about how a mother, or mothers, shape our lives. My life was shaped by a collection of mothers acting in very different ways. My biological mother left me when I was three years old and was absent the majority of my adolescence. By the grace of God I was left with my paternal grandmother and my aunt. When I was 16 years old my grandmother’s mental faculties began to fade, and I had to work two jobs (shout out to Dietsch Brothers and JC Penney) to help make ends meet. From each mother experience I learned much, and each relationship shaped my leadership strategy.

From my birth mother I learned that people will disappoint you, but you cannot take it personally, though it took me 30+ years for that ah ha to come. You see, she had her reasons for leaving, some valid and some selfish, but the one thing that she would never do is take any accountability. When you lead people, at home or at work, accountability is essential. My boys are so precious to me. Even though they are 5 and 3, when I make a mistake, get overly frustrated with them, etc., I get down at eye level, look them in the eye, and own my mistake. At work I try to do the same thing. If I make a mistake or make a questionable move, I own it. On my desktop is a quote by Michelle Obama that speaks of always going high regardless. 

As a leader we must be conscious that mistakes can compound. When you fail to take accountability for your decisions and actions, you create a festering problem that won’t go away. When you don’t take accountability, you negatively impact your relationships. 

My Grandma and Aunt taught me so many things in life that shaped me as a leader. My Grandma was 60 years old when she became my primary care giver. We lived on Social Security which equated to $20,000 per year. One Thursday a month my grandma would take me to Rax (shout out if you remember Rax) or Wendy’s, and we would sit and talk. It was the gift of one on one time that she gave me. I repeat this monthly with my boys… a quiet table at Wendy’s to talk about whatever they want (usually super heroes). There are still many other nights playing Legos, trains, and ball… but the Wendy’s time is precious.

I could write 100 blogs about my grandma and aunt, but the above less of sacrifice and quality time transcend time. I have taken this lesson to the office. The most important thing I can give to my team is my time. As of now I manage 122 people. I have had, or have scheduled, one on ones with each and I do so annually. The conversation is never about production or quality but about them. You quickly learn the passions of your people and their hopes and dreams. I part with them by looking them deep in the eye and saying, “I am here for YOU. You give me your effort and integrity… I will equip you with everything I have”. I say it differently to each, but I mean it with every fiber of my being. 

Now my wife… where to begin…. Most people would say marriage is tough and gets harder when children come. I can say that after 7 years of marriage that it hasn’t been tough at all… maybe it’s luck, but I call it partnership. Never have I seen a mom execute better than Emily. She is patient and kind and has an endless toleration for things (except cleaning and then, quite frankly, she is a nuisance) 🤗 We have two wonderful boys together and two beautiful children in Heaven. If it were not for Emily, I wouldn’t be anything today. I attribute my success as a leader to the partnership we developed at home.

What have I learned from marriage that I apply to work? You cannot master marriage, just like you can not master leadership. To think you will be successful just because you have done something the same way for 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, or 30 years… is treading dangerously close to arrogance. What I have learned from Emily’s motherly skills is to work hard at being patient with the maturation of my team team, as she is with the maturation of our boys. You have to let individuals operate within a safe space, to figure out who they are, and to make decisions. As we try to raise honorable young men at home, so to must we leaders raise our team, regardless of age or experience, to achieve their potential. 

This blog would also fall short if I didn’t mention two other exceptional women in my life, my step mother Robbin and mother in law  Barbara Edwards. Robbin was thrown into a dysfunctional family back in the 1980s and persevered through thirty years of interesting, to say the least. She stayed the course and is a wonderful grandma today. Barbara raised three amazing children, has been a source of stability, and is also a wonderful grandmother.

So to tie this blog up with a nice little bow, I want to recap a few of the leadership lessons learned through the moms in my life.

1) The intent wasn’t to throw shade at my birth mom, though reading back through the blog looks like it. Had she not been the mom she was, I wouldn’t have the wonderful life I have. I’m not bitter or upset, I’ve accepted that some things happen for reasons we don’t understand. You must walk through life, including work, with your eyes up including when someone stares you down for accountability.

2) My grandma and aunt showed me that you have to put your self aside when you life calls you to extend your duty. Never underestimate the power of your time when given to your team… especially at an individual level if you can.

3) From my wife I have learned the gift of patience and partnership. No individual person has ever been successful on their own…. so look for those key partnerships, make sure they are healthy, and have the patience to let them mature together.

Many blessings God to you all!

A New Baby Goes to Heaven and Changes Me As A Leader

April 13, 2017 started out as an ordinary day for my family and me. Around 2:30 in the afternoon I was on a conference call when my cell phone rang. I looked down and it was my wife. Usually I wait until my calls are over and then call her back, but something told me to pick it up. Three words were pressed from her lips that once again changed the course of our lives, “the baby died”. As best I could I held my composure. She was at the doctor with both boys and I was 40 minutes away. I dropped everything and ran to my car… not knowing if my new ankle would support a run… and hoped adrenaline would get me there.

I drove with composure, but fought uncontrollable emotions. I cried… I yelled… WHY this? WHY again? We were out of the danger zone… we have two healthy boys… HOW?! I saw my wife first and boys second. Five year old Jackson was as composed as possible until we said to him, “Jackson, it is ok to cry if you are sad”. That ushered in the third worst moment of my life (after the deaths of two babies)… the must gut wrenching cry of , “why did my baby sister have to die… why again…I want my baby”!

We held our family, crying, and wondering how we were going to get through this again. Would I have to bury another child (the answer no, by 3 weeks), how would we ever be whole with two children in Heaven? We no longer believed the cliche that “God won’t give you more than you can handle”, because we knew that wasn’t true. Survive it, yes, handle it no. Emily and I have amazing family and a couple great friends, and where we couldn’t “handle”, they handled for us. Two weeks later, the pain is still raw and numbing… even as I write this I can’t believe I’m writing it.

The reason I write it is that it also changed my leadership style, for the better, as Andrew’s death did two years ago. I’m not writing for sympathy, but to share how the horrors in life CAN make you better, or it CAN make you bitter, your choice. I am blessed to have an extraordinary man as a boss. When the baby died, he immediately was there. He along with my peers and my directs, knew I had too much to handle, and they picked me up. Last week flowers arrived from unexpected places and calls from people I never anticipated. The message was clear, we walk this out together.

I learned from my boss, peers, teams, and colleagues was simple… grace wins every time and, most importantly, it needs to be the fiber of my leadership. Dictionary.com has seven definitions for the word “grace”. The most applicable definitions for Corporate America include “favor or goodwill”, “a manifestation of favor, especially by a superior”, and “mercy, clemency, pardon”. As I meditated on “grace”, I realized that grace doesn’t exist without transparency. Transparency, as defined by businessdictionary.com, is “lack of hidden agendas and conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making”.

So what does that mean for you as you lead your teams, or dream of leading in the future? My first recommendation is that you trade in ALL of your political motivations and thoughts and replace them with “transparency”. When we let our personal agendas get in the way we often become blinded of the needs of our teams and tend to play “hide the ball”. Playing politics will get in the way of thoughtful collaboration, efficient problem-solving, and saving your company money and reputational damage later.

Ridding political ambitions does not solve the problem by itself. Without “grace” you will certainly be blunt and action oriented, but will come off as arrogant , uncooperative or a know-it-all. Take it from someone that  altered the wrong way of doing this, me, no one wins without grace.  My second recommendation is a strategy that has always worked for me and has been enhanced by keeping grace at the forefront. I manage 4 direct reports, each managing a combined 16 Team and Project Managers. The Team Managers collectively manage 99 FTE. We all play a part in the success of our team, but the 99 production employees are our heart and soul. My goal is to clear obstacles for them to work efficiently. To understand those obstacles I must understand them. Each year, twice per year, I spend 30 minutes with each of them. I do not talk about their stats (production and quality), I talk about them. What interests them, drives them, annoys them. I collect the data, look for efficiencies, make changes where needed, and improve the whole of my team. 

100 employees, 30 minutes each, twice per year equates to 100 hours. It is 100 hours well spent because we create efficiencies and identify control gaps, but it allows them to see my management philosophy is real. Through the death of my babies I have learned to better in these interactions instead of bitter. I demand excellence from my team, but with grace mistakes are tolerated. Through transparency mistakes are identified and corrected. We do not tolerate laziness or corner cutting, but when you lead with transparency and grace, a demand for excellence is universally accepted (with outliers of course), and your “average” becomes above average, and your above average becomes excellent. 

Listen friends, we all experience tragedy and pain. I would encourage to find how those events can make you a better leader. We are all together as a community for such a short season (I tell all 120 people on my team this when I meet with them). Let’s find ways to make each other better. One last practice I do each day is the “revolving door”. To get into my workplace I swipe my badge, wait for the ding, step in, and revolve until I enter the office. As I revolve, I evolve…. i look at it as coming through the tunnel at the Super Bowl…. I don’t know how many days I will have to make a difference… in that 5 second spin I tap my chest and remember why I do this each day… God, Emily, Jackson, and Colin in the present… God, Andrew, and Baby October cheering me from Heaven. I want my team to feel this unshakeable love and support.

Be the present for your team…. you have them for a brief moment in their career… shape them!

Leadership = Indebtedness

What!?! This was probably your first response in reading the title of my March blog post. Max DePree, author of “The Art of Leadership”, wrote one of my all time favorite lines when he said, and I paraphrase, leadership is a condition of indebtedness and we leaders must give to our people. It is a combination of believing that everyone brings something to the table, diversity matters, and you must master your approach. I do not plan on claiming mastery of these skills until somewhere around 2044 ( my likely retirement date).

Friend, the world has changed and it is time to get our hands calloused when it comes to our work. If you are like me, you grew up professionally in an environment where you “pay your dues” and “wait your turn”. I recoil a bit when I read or encounter comments where “Sally has been here 10 years, you should hire her”. Sally is probably great, but it could be naive to suggest Sally could do a job based on tenure alone. The reverse is true of this situation. Bobby has just finished his first year of work in the new department and 2nd year post grad. Bobby states that he has “mastered his craft” and is ready for a promotion into management. The “pay your dues and wait your turn” has given way to “you owe me” and “I want it now”. What I desire to hire is someone that has coupled both personalities: the drive of the “I want it now” and the patience of the “pay your dues”.

So what does this have to do with the theory of “leadership = indebtedness”. Let’s first take a look at DePree’s first step, everyone brings something to the table. In building Compliance teams I have always focused on hiring people of integrity and high character. The goal is to get it right 80% of the time. If 8 of 10 people have high character and integrity, they tend to be humble, want to learn, yet still desire growth. I have hired parking garage attendants, HR specialists, hospital workers, and business professionals with no AML experience, many of which have turned into immeasurable assets. Each person brings something different to the table. The experienced internal brings company knowledge and helps new-to-company employees adjust. The parking garage attendant brings organization, drive, and efficiency. These experiences rub off. Mixing a diverse workplace together can be magical, assuming you nail the character and integrity pieces. Picture 100 unique people each placing a brush stroke on a canvas. One stroke is plain, 100 strokes = art.

The final piece outlined by DePree is the leadership approach. As a leader, regardless of your organization size, your job is to incorporate each person into the canvas. Your department is the art studio. It allows your artists to find their potential and share their experiences. It is a place to allow your artists space to achieve and learn from mistakes. It gives you an opportunity to challenge and stretch them, which will create meaning in their careers and life. Is it possible to execute this environment when you work an “assembly line”… day in and day out the work looks the same? 

Friends, I have done the same Compliance work for the past 13 years and have been in the financial industry since I was 18 years old. I have managed 1 employee and I have led 125 employees. The key is to consistently provide opportunity, but that opportunity doesn’t have to be daily. If you are like me you can’t afford to have turnover. You also strive to keep employee satisfaction high. I have been successful in both areas by employing a few key strategies:

1) Know what drives your people- if you have more than 100 people, this could be challenging (but still doable). I have 122 FTE and I know them by name, face, and where they came from. I take notes and try to meet with each person in a 1:1 every year, focusing on development and not work. You add value to your people when they know YOU care and YOU know what drives THEM. You can then empower them to find and use their gifts.

2) 9-box, oh how I love the 9-box. It allows me to create a deep bench of talent. How do we mai train the drive of the “high performers/low potential”? How do we provide enough “meat” for the “high/high” until promotional opportunities are available? 9-box allows you to group similar employees and execute a sound action plan. 

3) Think Tank ‘Em! Take your 9-box, mix the lot and build think tanks (an IBM strategy if it sounds familiar). Bobby is great at efficiency, Sally at quality, Tommy at projects, and Susie at subject matter expertise. Hand them a process and make it more efficient!

Friends, this works at home too! As I write this I have my 5 yo and 2 yo hard at work on laundry. Jackson, the 5 yo is a bit OCD while Colin is aggressive. We have a laundry shoot in our bathroom and I can’t carry it downstairs because of surgery. Colin is carrying clothes from the bedroom to Jackson, who is meticulously putting them into the shoot, and I am downstairs ready to sort and wash. Every good process needs a boss, and my wife is ready to instruct us when needed 🙂

Have a great month everyone! Find your way to being an indebted leader this month!

Lead with Your Feet!

I have spent the last two weeks preparing this blog along with two non-profit speeches and a presentation. I have dozens of thoughts, experiences, and practical applications to share, but I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around a central theme. For those of you that write, speak, and/or teach, you know your presentation has to have a central theme, or it doesn’t work. So I spent some time yesterday dancing around topics and, still, nothing stuck. Then, credit to my father-in-law’s sermon this morning, it struck… we should ALL be leading with FEET in mind! Bare with me, but know this, there is nothing that disgusts me more than feet…. my feet, your feet, or my childrens’ feet. 

“So what does ‘feet’ have to do with leadership?”, you ask. Well I am glad you asked that question and I will share with you some practical applications I employ at work, and some of the lessons I learned this past week. To set the context, you should understand that I have freedoms within my position that allow for unique leadership as long as I do so with integrity and honesty (core value of “do the right thing”). Disclaimer: this blog does not represent the view of my company, it is solely my view 🙂 I have tried often and failed often, and frequently hung my head when failures occurred. What do you see when you hang your head? Yeeeeah that’s right, FEET!

To further set the context, I want to share a quick story with you. The story begins at the end of January and involved my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, a counselor and teacher respectively. For the past year they have gone through the motions to adopt. On a Tuesday night in January we were BAU as a family, celebrating my father-in-law’s birthday, and then on Wednesday morning they got the “drop everything you are doing and get to City X” call, they had been chosen. This was no ordinary adoption, as the baby would have to spend weeks, if not months in the NICU due to some choices made by the mother. Fast forward to yesterday… my family journeyed to Springfield to welcome the baby home. In between late January and yesterday morning, one could see the powerful display of leadership from my brother-in-law and sister-in-law.

Initially you may ask, “how does adoption have anything to do with leadership and feet”? Again, glad you asked! In my mind’s eye, to be a once-in-a-generation leader, you must have the unique ability to deny thyself. “What the hell does that mean”? Glad you asked! When that call came in, chaos could have erupted, but it didn’t. They rallied the troops… friends, family colleagues, etc. They made a plan with urgency and precision, not losing focus on the most critical element, the baby in the NICU. Over the next several weeks they tirelessly took shifts, traveled to and from work, rested and repeated. Of more than 700 texts on a family text string, I never saw a complaint, a blame, indecision, or self-pity. Day-in and day-out they executed the game plan, asked for hands, and pushed medical staff as needed. They slept. They repeated. I am convinced that had they not mastered their “feet”,  servant leadership, early on in this crucial experience, the baby would still be in the NICU, surrounded by worn out frazzled parents, with no end in sight. Congrats to them for adopting a baby girl, but doing so in on of the most efficient displays of servant leadership I have ever seen.

Good story but no relation to the  Business World, right? Wrong friend, it has everything to do with the Business World. One need not be a person of faith, or be in a leadership role, to apply the principles of servant leadership. Servant leadership, the “deny thyself” mentality does two things: 1) Do the right thing for your company, and 2) do the right thing for your team as a whole. (Take a guess at who benefits when YOU do this). Here are some applicable strategies that have worked for me that have been molded in the servant leadership kiln. 

First, I want to pause to explain the “feet” comments earlier. Feet, as mentioned, are disgusting, God bless pedicurists! Feet are the lowliest part of our body. They are dirty, sweat, and stink. It is easy for us to maintenance our hair, teeth, and hands, but feet! No thanks! You may wash a friends car, but would you ever wash his feet? You would if you were willing to fully execute servant leadership. Are you willing to do the hardest tasks to make your team more engaged, efficient, happy? If yes, welcome to servant leadership!

1) Bury the need to be the smartest person in the room, but be the best listener- listen friend, my directs would tell you I am not the smartest in the room, so would my wife, my children, and if I had a dog, my dog. To that I say, “YES”! That tells me I “hired-up”, “married-up”, and the kids got my wife’s genes 🙂 My job at work is to take away as many barriers for my team to execute the operation. I give them support, resources, and a clear strategy for what needs to be done and how to get there. I drive ahead of them like a snow plow, not a drunken pace car.

2) Accountability- if I am wrong I own it, but I also come armed with a solution. For example, quality of work is important in most jobs. One of my quality bench marks is 5% and I had a policy in place that was driving a rate of 15%. I had the wrong strategy, given the environment, which put undue pressure on my team. I owned that poor decision, worked with my team to put a better plan in place, and 5 weeks later we are at 4%. Lay down thy ego and pick up a mop I say. When we, leaders, own the problem and drive solution, we show our teams that openness drives solution.

3) Be accessible- my schedule, like many of yours, is double and triple booked all day long. Many on our employees would describe us as “about 7ft, light brown/glass, with a knob, and a nameplate”. I desire to show my appr citation of those that work for me. I study my org chart, take notes of my encounters with everyone, and remember them by name. I thank them by name and follow up on something they told me. Grant it, this is getting harder now that my team exceeds 100 FTE, but our interactions must be human and humble. Show them that you care not only about the work they do, but who they are.

Friends, I hope you take something meaningful from my blog. Please share if you do. Most importantly, find ways to be a servant leader and I promise you, your teams will accomplish things you never thought possible!

The Fear of Bullies

This past week I have had flashbacks to my childhood as I watched my eldest son transition from a 4 year old to a 5 year old. Kids are so raw with their emotions, and we do our best to limit television consumption so as not to create manufactured emotions (even though they are watching the movie ‘Trolls’ at this very moment). Jackson, my eldest is a sweet and deep child, but in those moments of honestly raw moments he can say or do things that make me cringe. For example, his 6 year old friend made him a card for his birthday. When he saw it he said, “I don’t want a card”…. (story to be continued at the end of the blog). How do I nurture a man of integrity and not bring out the primal instinct to be an alpha / bully.

I grew up in the home of my Grandmother, and her less than $10,000 per year in social security income. I didn’t give much thought to my scenario until I hit middle school. I was a popular kid until the 7th grade (that’s how it worked back then). It all changed at the Glenwood Orientation, when parents sat beside their kids in the auditorium and I sat there clutching a bike lock key in my hand. I was quickly labeled an “orphan” which caused others to inspect me further.

At that point in my life I had deformed ears… which earned me an elfish nickname. I also had braces that extended beyond the time frame to remove them because my grandma could not afford their removal. I was also a skinny kid with freckles and economy haircut, which didn’t help my cause. My last hangout with a friend was in September of that year, and I never had a friend again until my Junior year in high school, 5 years later.

I was a fairly athletic kid, but my confidence was not battle tested. I visited the school counselor, who proceeded to tell another student of my personal pains. I earned a spot on the basketball team, but all the baggage an 11 year old carries earned me a spot in the back of the bus on road games and a table isolated with one other boy away from the rest of the team at post game dinners.

By the time I got to high school I was just ignored, which I preferred to the bullying. Sure, at times the “jocks” would steal my lunch money or baseball cards, or make me pay extra to trade cards with them, but I survived. I was accepted at Ohio State, but couldn’t quite kick my internal fear of bullies. I ruined friendships, rarely had a date, but I survived.

I will have future writings on lessons learned in my teens and 20s, but the message I want to share with my readers is that no matter how old you get or how high you move on the corporate ladder, there will always be Bullies. You either learn to deal with them productively, or you let them consume you. Do not be mistaken, the way you handle your emotions with bullies is not an overnight phenomenon… it takes years.

My journal to effective bully-management occurred in the fall of 2008, at the ripe age of 30. My faith was blossoming, but my life-wife came along, Emily. Over the next 8+ years Emily would force me to go to my core and root out the source and address it. When you face decades of bullies fear and anxiety become a natural part of your life. It is like a drug addiction, you may go into remission, but it is always a threat.

Corporate America has a new kind of bully, or they just mature in their bullying tactics. I am fortunate to work for a line of bosses that are anything but bullies. My boss has some amazing stories in his journey, and from him I have learned “corporate patience”. In a previous life, a long time ago in a galaxy far away…, I wasn’t as lucky. At every corner came an attack… I was called a ” battlefield promotion”, ineffective, disloyal, and pitchforks galore pointed my direction. In those moments I fought like hell to defend my my integrity and work, but but the bullies in glass houses wouldn’t have it. Have you been here? If you have, you know the kicking and screaming  approach doesn’t work.

As I said earlier, Emily was the first “Avenger” in my life who started my rethinking. Then I had more great people in my work life like Erik Chuang, Barry Wellins, and Rick Seba. Men that would challenge me to be better and hold me accountable to change. I learned that Bullies will always be there, they are like seed scattered along the side of the road. The wind will scatter them further and they will bear no fruit. As long as I make character and integrity the soul of my actions, I will be fine. As long as I communicate with my team, boss, and business partners, deliver sound action and results, I will be fine. As long as I control my temper, do not divide people, and respond in kindness, I will be fine. Do I fail sometimes, YES!  But my inner soul, and Emily, make me aware, and I apologize 🙂

Do you find yourself dealing with corporate bullies? If so, meditate on my story. Bullies live in perpetuity…. get use to it,  but don’t accept it. When they come at you with pitchforks and sledgehammers, take Martin Luther King’s advice and do not pick up a weapon in retaliation. Make your communication crisp, drive results, own your mistakes, and lead your people with the utmost integrity. You may lose a battle, but the war will not be lost.

Oh so Jackson. Emily and I had a conversation with Jackson and helped him explore his feelings. I said he was a deep boy and he proved it. He was remorseful and wanted to rectify the situation. He approached his little friend at church this morning, hugged her, apologized, and told her the card was beautiful. I am so very proud of my son!

Happy birthday Jackson!

The Story of Losing My Son: When Unthinkable Tragedy Makes You A Better Leader

June 18,2015 started out as just another Thursday. We were getting ready to go to the 20 week check-up at the doctor. We had done this twice before so it wasn’t a big deal. I was exhausted from work at that time, but found peace in seeing my child bounce around a television screen. At this point in life I was an anxious and fearful person, but felt safe because we were well into that second trimester. We cozier into the room with three year old Jackson and one year old Colin, excited to see their baby brother and sister, but not comprehending really what was going. Up popped our baby, but no sound. 

In that moment it didn’t hit me. The nurse went and got the doctor and Emily knew, while I thought their machine was broken. The nurse came back, asked to take Jackson and Colin, and that is when I knew, this would be the worst day of our lives. We walked in planning to see our baby on a screen, little did we know we would be holding him that evening and saying our good byes.

It’s been 19 months since Andrew went to Heaven, but the tears flowing as I write this are just as real as the tears that flowed June 18, 2015 and the ensuing weeks after. Holding Andrew in his basket, seeing his beauty, wanting to be his daddy and protect him (God help me continue this blog…), and realizing just how helpless I was. I couldn’t do anything to comfort my wife or explain to Jackson (Colin was too little) why his baby brother wasn’t ever going to live with him. Losing my wife or boys would be just as painful, probably more if I am being honest, but selfishly I pray I never experience pain like that again in my life.

I think it is important for me to share where I am now, as it leads into my leadership lesson for the week. My wife and I are people of strong faith and in our faith we find our bedrock. Two specific events happened to me that launched me in a direction of peace and hope, the first was Andrew’s funeral. Emily and I sat in the front row, gazing at Andrew’s tiny little casket when Jackson jumped on my lap and said, “Daddy, I prayed for you so you can stop crying now, Andrew is in Heaven”… he also wagged his finger at me when he delivers his instruction. The second was advice from a counselor, shared with Emily, weeks later. The advice was “rest in knowing that because Andrew lived he receives eternal life, and you will be reunited with him one day.

Now that I have thoroughly soaked my shirt with tears and you have read this story…. so what? What does this have to do with business, let alone leadership?! Well let me tell you. It took a good 14 months after losing Andrew to stop responding out of an emotion of fear and anxiety.  My day started with fear of making mistakes that would harm the security of my family… and those of you who have experienced fear while leading know that fear mongering is real and bad people will try to capitalize.

I am convicted with the belief that Andrew changed me for the good not only personally, but professionally. Every day for the past 595 days I wake up thinking of my dear son, but not in a “whoa is me” attitude that would be justifiable. I think, “because Andrew lived, I have hope” and I smile. For those of you who are DYI’ers, you know your electricity won’t harm you cause it is grounded. For me, my connection to Andrew is that ground wire to the Bedrock, and I will be okay no matter what happens today, because I have hope.

While that is faith based for me personally, the product of me that I produce at work must be different. Hope translated into professional speak is leading fearlessly. We all face obstacles every day, some enormous, some self-created, and some generated by others. Some problems you can see coming from a mile away, some blind-side you like a dodgeball to the temple. You have a choice: do you respond or do you react.

Most of the time reacting can be dangerous for a leader. Back to the DIY analogy… when you react it is often like crossing a white and black wire, “POP! ZAP”! Followed quickly by a wife quip of “I told you to turn the power off”. In my leadership style I treat reacting like holding a connected black wire in my teeth while connect the white with my wet hand. Do I fail sometimes and react, yes!

Why is responding better? Responding let’s you plan whereas reacting is an imidiate uncontrolled respond to your emotion. Building a brain plan can take weeks/months or it can take a few seconds (long enough for an itchy pause). Your 5-second plan can be as simple as, “my boss is angry and yelling at me, I will speak confidently, own the problem, and the solution”. You may not have caused the problem, or even know about the problem, but you can always be part of the solution. Which is better, “boss, that is Bob’s”!!!! Or “boss, I don’t know what happened but I will work with Bob to identify the cause and drive a solution”. Leaders lead. 

When I lost Andrew I clung to the hope of seeing him again. I still cry at times because I want him here, but he, along with Jackson, Colin, and Emily, motivate me every day to be a good man and a high character leader. Andrew’s death taught me that I cannot control everything, but I can always believe, never sacrifice character, and keep my eyes up and not down (where fear, anxiety, ego, and aggression dwell). My encouragement to you is to control what you can control and for the things you can’t control, ground yourself in whatever gives you hope (family, friends, golf, etc) and let that be your catalyst to see you through the rocky terrain of being a leader.
Each year on Andrew’s birthday we visit his grave and release balloons 

Love Language Leadership

Busy day in the Frantz household. Jackson was busy researching global unrest while Colin was working the phones, dispatching the Avengers to areas of need. They were on a “church high” and wanted to save the world from bad guys. As I sat watching their intensity (yes that is my blue cast foot), I came away impressed how two imaginations combined in a way that shows team work in its simplest form.

 
Later in the day Jackson and I had some one-on-one time and I wracked my brain on what a one-legged dad could do to entertain a rambunctious 4 year old (a few years from beer, wings, and sports). I decided to engage his imagination that he showed earlier with his brother. After a quick haircut we went to Target, grabbed some Sharpies, and construction paper. We then set up shop at Starbucks… where luke warm hot chocolates were the choice. 

To further set the context of our day, one must understand that I promised the boys that I would build them a fort instead of a swing set when I could walk. Jackson has been obsessed with what the fort would contain. So I decided to listen to his deepest thought until I heard the magic words “I think that’s all daddy”. After an hour and several drafts our finished product looked like this:


It was a refreshing way to begin (I think of Sunday as a beginning) a week after the previous week saw talks of a wall, immigration bans, protests, and so on. My interactions with my boys made me think of how important team work is, but as head of household, how vitally important it is to lead with humility, even when emotions kick in. 

Last week in my “Managers Book Club” meeting, my managers and I spent an hour talking about good and bad managers and how we could be humble leaders in a high-stress field. The conversation with my team had an educated balance, but the same core lessons as my conversations with my son. The lesson learned, that I want to share with those of you still reading, is to be IN the moment but not CONSUMED by the moment, aka self-awareness.

So what makes a good boss per my team? Authentic, clear, good communicator, and a good listener. We drove the conversation around performance evaluation time (’tis the season). A good boss gives authentic feedback, not just a pat on the back. He knows how to speak the love language of every employee on his team. She knows how deliver feedback that is precise and gives opportunity to improve and celebrate successes. A good manager drives accountability without fear mongering, no matter the heat of the moment.

A bad manager conversely does the exact opposite. Passive aggressive, everything is a fire drill, bad communicator, and employs the “one size fits all” communication style?

What type of leader are you?

Are you sure?

I will close with this example of how many team responded this week to adversity. We had a department wide issue that caused me to have to pull the “fire alarm”. Instead of pulling the alarm and running, I mapped out a plan before pulling. I addressed my senior managers first, laid out the problem, how we got there, what the end goal needed to look like, and we built a plan. AFTER the plan, we carefully pulled the “alarm” with a call to action email laying out the problem, the game plan to address it, and the accountability expected of each of the 19 managers. We then came together as a management team and put the “love language” plan together at a micro level to address the 115 employees. 

By the end of the week we had steered the ship away from the iceberg and toward the shore. My managers made it succeed,  but it succeeded because the egos were left at the door, all sleeves rolled up, and we spoke each other’s love language until the problem was resolved.

Will you join me at home and at work in practicing emotion management and speaking the love language of those entrusted to you?