Monthly Archives: February 2017

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