The summer of 2017 has been a period of healthy transition for my family and me. Work has been relatively quiet with little travel, Jackson starts Kindergarten in two weeks, Colin grew a size (finally), and Emily is moving to shorter days at work. Over the years we have gone from being very social to being somewhat of hermits. Seeing as how “woo” is one of my bottom 5 Strength Finders, I decided I was going to turn it into a strength, and get my woo on to build us a network of friends 🙂
Last weekend was one of the first big opportunities for me in rebuilding a social network, and it came at the high cost of leaning into many discomforts, chief among them, camping with strangers. Our new church, Grace @ Polaris, hosted their 24th annual father child camping treat in Mohican Valley. For those of you unfamiliar with Ohio, picture a forest on the outskirts of Amish country with no cell services (my Millennial friends just had a panic attack). Colin, 3 years old, was not old enough, so it was just Jackson and me. Mind you, I haven’t camped in more than 20 years and I’m not sure that I ever tent-camped for a weekend. I showed up with a small cooler, enough firewood to fuel 20 camp sites, a tent, and some sleeping bags. Needless to say, I was out of my element and really out of my comfort zone.
As Jackson and I drove into the camp site, there was a large circle with tents all around and it was our objective to just pick a site and get busy. As I stated earlier, I knew absolutely no one. So what does one do in that moment, pick the least visible place possible. Jackson and I picked the back left arc of the circle, furthest away from the common area, but strategically close to the bathrooms.
There were about 30 kids playing on a slip and slide and Jackson wanted to play. We put on his bathing suit and then he stopped about 20 yards away, unable to push himself to play with strangers. I buried myself (literally) in then tent and began to set up camp. I was trying to avoid the discomfort of one of two things in a Christian environment: 1) “hi how are you doing, tell me all about where you are with your faith”, or 2) being totally ignored. Pretend like I’m busy to avoid discomfort was my best option.
I was struggling with the rain guard and the guy next to me came over and just started helping. He introduced himself and then just struck up chit chat, nothing awkward. His daughters (13 and 7) started talking with Jackson and eased his nervousness. The broke the ice without a formal ice breaker. Nathan and his children made Jackson and I feel like we belonged. The next afternoon the pastor was walking by and Nate called him over to introduce him. I’m familiar with pastors and my expectation was surface-level conversation or social awkwardness. After introductions he said, “tell me about yourself” and within 5-minutes we were quizzing each other with baseball trivia. Expectations broken.
Blogger man get to the point… ok got it!
The bold words above were the lessons learned from this great adventure in leaning into discomfort. The past 8 days have led me to deep thought about last weekend and then transformation I could experience if I would open myself to it. It made me think quite a bit about my workplace and how I treat my team and colleagues. What was I doing well and what could I do better? I was proud of the culture we have built, not dissimilar to that of the camping experience, but there are certainly opportunities to further improve.
Out of Our Element– You have experienced this, probably many times a week. The most confident of us experience discomfort by being out of our element. I handle this discomfort differently at work than I did camping. When I find myself out of my element, I try to “learn enough to be dangerous”. I do not need to be an expert in all things related to the FIU, but I need to have a general understanding of everything. If I’m able to prepare beforehand, I do. If I’m not able to prepare beforehand, I study the situation and people, identify the expert(s), ask questions, and won’t leave until I understand the impact to my team.
Avoid Visibility– I try to stay consciously aware when someone is “hiding” in plain sight. I’m not a front-row or back-row person. I position where I can see the most faces (corner of a rectangular table). If I am the leader, I engage first with eye contact and then I lob “softballs” to the uncomfortable people to give them an “in” to the conversation. This helps them relax and participate.
Pretend Like I’m Busy– Have you ever been caught in that situation where you don’t know an answer or feel way over your head in the conversation? So you earnestly study a blank screen or those words on the paper? Friend, your intense stare won’t change a thing. Borrow a trick from our Millennial friends, ask questions, force understanding, and have a voice. You learn more and a shorter period of time, which increases the opportunity for you to add value.
Break Your Expectations– Do you ever look at your calendar and see a meeting where you expect the absolute worst things to happen? Or you feel like it will be a complete waste of time? Human nature to be sure. It is a habit you formed, now you have to form a new positive habit to break your expectations. Whenever I dial into a call, respond to an e-mail, or having a meeting scheduled, I try to visualize a cool splash of water to the face. The better I can clear my expectations, the more value I can add, and the more benefit I can receive.
Continuous Improvement- Never settle for status quo or BAU (Business as Usual). I’ve caught myself a few times saying, “we are finally BAU” because we now have some volume predictability and static quality. I then catch myself treading into this dangerous territory. The moment I accept that we are BAU is the moment I digress as a leader. My team would tell you of a familiar term I use… “picture the FIU as a school spectrum. You start in Kindergarten and end in the 12th grade. Each year you mature in different ways. If the FIU were on that spectrum, we would just be finishing Kindergarten”. When do we hit our last day of 12th grade? Somewhere around 2040 when I retire.
Have a great week!
When was the last time someone sat you down and said, “wow, you are really bad at that”. Or husbands, when your wife says, “how does this dress look on me”… do you answer? (I would recommend not). Or a President plans on how to pardon himself… too soon?!
One of the principle foundations of my marriage and subsequently how we raise our children is built on a number of core values, and one of the most valuable values is feedback. My wife has this thing she does when she gets frustrated with me (yes it does happen). She starts the conversation out with, “**Nickname**, I’m a little frustrated… ” and I know we are about to sort out some issue or misunderstanding. It is an artful practice, but those four words plus my name, triggers an emotion in me that I need to listen, let her finish, and then speak. If I don’t understand the concern, I ask thoughtful questions, if I disagree I ask for clarity, but I do try to acknowledge, apologize, and course correct. The apology is the hardest step, but no one every said I was a finished product 🙂
We take tone and words very seriously when interacting with our boys. Never have we defamed or shamed them out of anger or frustration. Never has there been a word that would wound them for life like, “you are stupid”, “shut up”, “go away”, etc. If we are aggressive in an unhealthy way with them, we always apologize and then have a conversation about our frustration, but start it with, “Daddy shouldn’t have yelled”. Now before you roll your eyes, please understand, this does not mean we do not discipline our children or speak assertively when needed, such as, “COLIN, GET OFF YOUR BROTHER”! or “JACKSON, DO NOT TALK TO YOUR MOTHER LIKE THAT”. Any time we discipline our children it is followed by, “Jackson/Colin, come here please”. We then open the dialogue to root out what caused their behavior or action, help them understand why that was inappropriate, help them solve (on their own) how they could have responded differently, and have them respond with an acknowledgement and apology.
Over the course of my life I have found that the theory of feedback is a wonderful thing, yet the action is something to run like hell from, both giving and receiving. Up until the past year, when feedback was delivered to me I took it as “Jason, you suck… why do I even bother with you”! Yet the lack of feedback left me open for negative self-talk like “I must really be bad or they must be trying to get rid of me, they never critique my work”. You’ve been there, right?
Over the past year I have enveloped myself in a variety of studies, particular around improving my emotional intelligence, and subsequently, my leadership skills. One quote that has stuck with me over the past year is from Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel”. When I read that I decided I wanted to be a different person and a different leader.
As leaders we have an opportunity to shape generations of people into sound decision makers, strong character, healthy risk takers, and impactful leaders. We cannot do that if our focus is handing out trophies for every win, mean mugs for every loss, or confusion during every challenge. The art of leadership begins with your ability to read, recognize, and act on the behaviors of your team through feedback.
This past week we completed our midyear reviews. As I mentioned, most of my adult life, any negative feedback delivered to me sent me to this place of self-doubt, negative self-talk, and consequently self-sabotage. This year, my boss gave me a 3-page midyear with the most thoughtful feedback I have ever received. The biggest criticism, I can be impatient. When I see an opportunity I want to drive it to immediate completion without taking into consideration other matters, such as politics (my words, not my boss’s). When I read the feedback, I laughed because it was true. I immediately called my wife and said, “boy does BOSS know me”. We chuckled and, a couple times this weekend, she has reminded me when I have started down an impatient task on something, such as baseboards.
I know impatience can sometimes get the best of me, and I discovered this last month. I’ve been reading studies on improving impatience and trying to gain perspective on how to not push my impatience to my team and family. It’s a learning curve, but I have confidence that I will get there.
So how do I deliver feedback? I lean into that important discomfort. It’s uncomfortable because it is never easy to look someone in the eye and give them constructive feedback. Human nature is to deliver the feedback as quickly as possible and end the conversation just as quickly. What this does is puts you into an uncomfortable position to also rush through the positive feedback and thus diminish the efforts of the person. So after months of tuning, here is my strategy.
Step 1: Set Expectations: “Person, thank you for giving me the opportunity to deliver some feedback on your performance. I want to make this meeting productive and a two-way street, so lets discuss some of the great things you have done and some areas for opportunity”. Notice, I invited them into a conversation, set the expectation that we would discuss good and bad, and noted the good things as “great” and the bad things as “opportunities”.
Step 2: Always Start with the Good: “Person, what do you feel are some of your strongest accomplishments so far this year”? You start with the good, allow them to self-reflect, and invite them to participate immediately. I make it a practice to reaffirm what they have pointed out, because it is clearly top of mind for them, but I also make sure I add a few points. This lets them know that I take note of what they do, not just what they tell me they do.
Step 3: Opportunities: Now is the time to really lean into that discomfort! “Person, on the flip side, what do you think are your areas of opportunities”? Seldom do I get “none”, and more often than not I get a laundry list of trivial things. I listen intently (do not take notes at this time) and focus on their words and emotions. I thank them for their transparency and spend several minutes digging into why they feel those are opportunities and helping them build accountable action plans to improve on the opportunities. Typically I craft my observations into their observations, which makes the conversation flow with buy-in. Is that always possible? No, so…
Step 4: Critique- When critique is needed and not identified by the person, I start with a targeted entry of the discomfort, “person, I have a couple additional areas of opportunity that I would like to discuss and see if we can collaborate on a strategy”. I then follow up with a broad topic and then pinpoint it with examples. “Bob, I appreciate how passionate you are about the quality of the product of your team, it shows how much you care about the work and development of your people. However, some of the feedback I have received, and on a couple instances I have observed, you are dismissive of the feedback of your peers and do not engage on finding a solution for disagreements. For example,….”
Step 5: Action Plan- I am a believer in the positive notation of an action plan and do not always view them as a negative. I avoid the terminology when I can, but I put a strategy together to help develop the opportunities. In the example above, I would let Bob respond and I would listen. I would then circle around to the corner of my desk to get a bit closer to Bob, without invading his space, and draw out some ideas on paper. I would give that written document to Bob, because it isn’t on a formal template and it is less intimidating.
Step 6: Set Expectations- I would set expectations with Bob, very clear and concise, and obtain is acknowledgement and buy-in. After Bob leaves my office, I document every detail of the conversation
Step 7: Feedback alone is useless without follow-up. I make sure that I follow up with Bob in two weeks on the actions we laid out.
Friends, feedback isn’t easy whether we deliver it to our employees, peers, or family. It is never easy to look one of my little boys in the eye and correct their behavior. I get the watery puppy dog eyes that are heart breaking. Similarly, it is never easy to deliver that feedback to an employee. In each case, improvement and development only comes when you lean into that discomfort and give the feedback they NEED to hear in a way they WILL hear it.
I would love to hear your thoughts and tips on delivering feedback if you care to share in the comments section!
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!
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.
“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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!