It was challenging for me to not see my son, Luke, as he began attending Purdue University a few years ago which is about two hours away from where we live. I found that I really had to communicate so much more and more clearly to continue to influence him.
Last summer I traveled with my immediate family to Rhode Island and New Hampshire to be with my extended family for a wedding. All the activities were amazing and fun, but I think one of the best parts and a part that I always look forward to is the time I spend with my brother. As I have written before, my brother and I always end up on some adventure; usually more than what we had planned for.
So Ross, a close friend of mine and amazing endurance junky, threw a question at me late last fall and asked, “Do you want to do a road bike ride with me this spring?”. Now I had not ridden a road bike since I was in elementary school, but did ride quite a bit with my Dad back then. I had actually acquired my Dad’s old Miyata touring bike from him just before this and because I always like a challenge, I said, “sure”...
I met former Marine Sergeant the last adventure trip that my son and I went on to West Virginia. He and his daughter were avid rock climbers and through discussion he discovered that we were going to be bouldering, but not rock climbing because we didn't have the gear to climb. He immediately invited us to climb with he and his daughter the following day; we definitely took him up on it. He let us use his gear and so I put the harness on, the shoes and then listened as he reminded me of how the carabiners and rope all worked. I locked in and then looked at him and said "climbing" and he looked back at me and said "belaying". I turned to the 70' wall, looked up at it to strategize on the path that I would take, lifted my foot and hand to the first foothold and handhold and off I went.
Gaps in our lives come in many forms and flavors. As I reflect on the gaps in my life, I think of the gaps in my teeth that an orthodontist took care of (LOL), I think of the gap in my skill of playing baseball that hours of practice bridged, I think of the gap in my knowledge as I attended my engineering courses in college that my professors helped me connect with and I think of the physical gap between my brother and I. My brother and I live, and have lived, many states away from each other ever since he went off to the Naval Academy in 1986. I remember that day and knew that life was going to be different for me.
Our West Virginia trip was amazing. Luke, my brother, Dave, and his two boys, Sam and Joe had a great time of building relationships and creating memories while around the campfire, climbing on rocks and whitewater rafting.
On the first day, Luke and I connected with another former Marine and he invited us to climb with his group and to use their gear, which we didn't have (yet). What a blessing that offer was. Luke and I were able to climb multiple walls, but the biggest was a 70' face that you can see behind the title of this post. What an exhilarating experience it was!
I wrote a blog a while ago called "Watch & Listen: That's Leading?!" about how impactful just watching and then listening can be for a leader. I also stated that I was not very good at it. I recently had a performance evaluation and one of the blind spots I have is that I am not a very good listener. I think I knew this, but this definitely became reality as I listened to my evaluators share examples of when I wasn't truly listening. I really took this to heart and want to get better so I have begun a journey to improve my listening skills.
I read a quote by Ben Franklin the other day and it really got me thinking about life. He said, "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I learn. Involve me and I remember." Ben's quote made me think about how much time I let pass quickly by when I have not intentionally given those I'm leading the opportunity to gain experiences, even experiences that may push them outside of their comfort zone. I also thought how many experiences when those who have led me went without intentionally asking if I could be included in order for me to gain knowledge through the experience.
It was after my freshman year in college at Maine Maritime Academy when I went on a Navy summer deployment to fulfill my NROTC commitment and scholarship. This deployment was a two week excursion on a 42' sailboat that a Lieutenant (LT) and six Cadets sailed from Newport, Rhode Island to Castine, Maine. I had sailed before with my family and had taken sailing for a Physical Education class in my first semester. I knew how to sail, but I had never experienced anything like what I did off the coast of Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts.
Are you comfortable with risky or edgy situations? As a leader, should you be? If you were, would it help you become a better leader? I have to say that I love a good challenge and if there is risk involved, then I love it even more. I don't know why I love risk so much. It could have been the influence of my brother when I was young as we repelled out of 70-foot oak trees. It could have been the influence from my time in college when I jumped off of 40-foot cliffs in Horseshoe Beach, Bermuda. It could have been the influence from my time in the Marine Corps where we did all sorts of training with guns and explosives. What I do know is that all of this "risky" experience has helped me understand that when you take risks, there are rewards that come with them. This not only helped prepare me for life's risks ahead, but also for taking on risks when I think it is most important: when I am leading people.
I was visiting a friend and her husband in Denver earlier this summer and we decided to take a hike up Mount Falcon. It was a great day for an Indiana "flat-lander," to just enjoy the amazing character of the Colorado Mountains. On our hike we came across the tree that you see behind the title of this post. It was amazing how it was able to grow around and over the rocks beneath it. I thought to myself that it had to have gone through some challenging storms both in the spring and winter seasons on top of this mountain. How did it hold on through all those challenges in its life? As I was sitting at the Global Leadership Summit a couple of weeks ago, Bill Hybels, a well-known pastor, author and speaker, talked about something that made me reflect on that unique tree on top of Mount Falcon. He stated that there were five aspects of intangible leadership. One of the aspects was "grit," which he fleshed out for the leaders in the audience.
John Muir once said, "In every walk with nature, one receives far more than one seeks." I totally believe this because I love seeing leadership intertwined in nature. There are so many views of leadership to reflect on, and I know I must miss a ton as I wander down paths and creeks depending on what I may be going through or have experienced most recently in my life. One view of leadership that I have seen a lot most recently has been the view of of humility. The picture behind the title of this post spoke to me and inspired the title because you can see that there is a tree on top of the hill ("the leader"), but that is not where the focus is. It is on the flowers ("others") that are all around that tree. I believe as leaders that this is exactly where our focus should always be. It should be on others around us and not ourselves.
I read an article the other day while sitting in the Dentist's office. It was called "What If Humans Had Eagle Vision" by Natalie Wolchover. I would have to say that it was interesting and was not what I had ever thought about when I had seen many eagles on my adventures. The article talked about how the eagle's eyes would allow humans to have a sharper focus, a central magnifier and also superior color vision.
The last few weeks have been a challenge for me since I only have a short amount of time left at my current workplace. It has been a challenge setting up my team to be in a position where they will be successful, but even more challenging has been the times of saying good bye to those people that I have worked with for six and half years. While it has been a challenge, it has also been a blessing. It has been amazing how many people have communicated to me how I have influenced them in their leadership. I hope that I don't come across as egotistical, because I am not trying to, but I want to share with you my intrinsic joy that I have felt as dear friends and co-leaders have thanked me for inspiring them. This has allowed them to lead their people in new ways, and then (this is the awesome part) seeing their people lead the same way.
Last night, my mother-in-law talked with me about the loss of her husband and about all the "stuff" that he accumulated like tools, notes from his Bible studies, knick-knacks and other things—they really don't matter now. When we go through his stuff, we throw most of it out. It was a numbing thought, but then we talked about what did matter. There were a few physical items that mattered only because they help us remember my father-in-law when he was here with us, but as we discussed what really mattered, it was obvious that it was the relationship that we had with him. The memories of him, of his face at certain moments, in times of pain and in times of immense joy. The times in the truck with him when he would let me drive. The times when I would do something well and he would pat me on the back and give me a word of encouragement.
I was reflecting the other day on where leadership happens. Where does inspiration take place? Where is the example seen? Where does the coaching with a pat on the back transpire? Have you ever thought about that before? Where has your true leading or influencing happened with those people at work, those in your home or those you just come into contact with? Hadrian, the 14th emperor of Rome, was known as the third of five emperors who ruled justly. From 117 -138 A.D., he was determined to consolidate the borders of the Roman Empire. In 122A.D., Hadrian began building a wall around his empire.
I have come to believe that it is crucial that we as leaders focus our efforts on two areas over all others: 1) on setting the vision for where we are leading our teams or organizations; and 2) on developing the people that we lead within that team or organization. I believe that most of us leaders do an okay job with setting our vision, but when it comes to focusing on developing our people, we can become fearful in fully committing. I think this happens for a couple reasons. First, I believe that we think that if we focus our time and efforts on developing our people, then the work won't get accomplished or not as much work will get done. Second, I believe that we think that if we spend so much time developing our people, they won't get the work done that they need to be successful.