What Gives You Hope?*

Hope is a call for action! My hope is being tested. Is yours?

What gives me hope is the leadership from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. These leaders have been honest, transparent, responsive, and empathetic. They are communicating clearly and consistently. They do not sugar-coat the hard truths. They have created a vision out of this pandemic by naming priorities, calling on subject-matter experts for advice and following it, praising and thanking people for their hard, courageous work. They are not making promises they cannot keep. They are not worried about getting re-elected. They are worried about the here and now. They are focused on you and me. They inspire me to do and be better.

What gives me hope are the people we take for granted like the sanitation workers, the first responders, the grocery store employees, the postal service employees, and others who are on the frontline with the healthcare people, keeping society together while the rest of us work at home. They are making us rethink healthcare for all, the importance of a living wage, unemployment rights and labor rights as issues of ethics and integrity.

“Nobody looks good in their darkest hour. But it’s those hours that make us what we are.” – Karen Marie Moning

What gives me hope are people who are still wanting to get married and create a family during this pandemic. Love nurtures hope.

What gives me hope are people who are still planning to take that once in a lifetime trip, still planning to start their company, still planning to get their degree, still planning to write their book, still creating art, and still planning to play baseball! They see this pandemic as a speedbump to their plans and dreams.

What gives me hope are fight songs! Queen’s We Are the Champions; Foo Fighters Foo in Cesena, Italy, with a 1,000 rockers playing Rebel, Rebel; The Piano Guys version of This Is Your Fight Song; The Angel City Chorale doing their version of Toto’s Africa; Pentatonix’s version Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah; Heart’s tribute to Led Zepplin at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2012 singing Stairway to Heaven; my ultimate go-to fight song is Melodysheep’s tribute to Robin Williams “Seize the Day.”

Finally, being an inclusive, ecumenical Christian working my way through the season of Lent, Easter gives me hope!

What gives you hope?

* Featured image: Ian Wilkinson and Ishmael updated the iconic mural in the River Arts District, Asheville, NC.

I Am Angry…And Hopeful

It is incredible how something so unseen, and tasteless can have such a significant impact on our lives … the Coronavirus, COVID-19. We know so little about this virus, except that it can live on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours. We have no vaccine but we do recognize it’s more contagious than the flu, and it seems to have a greater negative impact on older adults.

I am angry at our government leaders and their enablers in dealing with this pandemic. The government was unresponsive to this emerging global crisis. On February 28th, POTUS 45 called COVID-19 a hoax. COVID-19 had been in America for well over a month, but full-scale testing is just beginning. Potus 45 declared a national emergency on Friday, March 13th, but said, “I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump said in response to a question about the lack of tests.

There has been more interest in a buzzing economy and getting re-elected than in the health and well being of citizens. We are not only experiencing a health epidemic but a failed leadership epidemic.

Crisis reveals character. It does not build character.

“In a crisis, the only asset you have is your credibility.” – Paul Volcker, former American Economist and Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Credibility is the currency of leadership. Credibility is founded on trust, expertise, and vitality.

This is the second pandemic in my life. HIV/AIDS was the first, and it seemed far less troublesome and worrisome than COVID-19. That pandemic touched my life as I lost my brother-in-law to AIDS back in 1988. Cancer is still a threat. People are dying from drug overdoses and car accidents. Heart attacks have not stopped. People continue to be wounded and die from gunshots.

I am angry with those who have let fear dictate their behavior, such as hoarding.

I am angry at people who have lost the ability to listen to different points of view and not take it personally. I am angry at those who are unwilling to compromise and act with compassion as well as civility.

This virus is causing us to isolate and so many things seem to have come to a halt: personal trips, conferences, concerts, and sporting events. Going out to eat or going to the movies is off-limits. Even going to the YMCA for exercise may not be a good idea. This has all come fast, and it’s left many of us stunned. We’ve not experienced this in our lifetime. Economists are predicting this will be more than a recession. The economy will grind to a halt. It’s like being the middle of strange land without a map or paths forward. This is a time of full-scale VUCAs…Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity/Chaos, and Ambiguity.

Our lives are in one another’s hands. You may save the life of someone you will never meet by just washing your hands. While we are to refrain from touching, we can use our hearts to reach out to one another by the actions we take and the words we say.

Here are the silver linings I am trying to lean into to overcome my anger:

I yearn for the day after 9/11 when we were more compassionate to one another. I am working to be a 9/12 person. I am going to let people merge on the highway. I am going to hold doors open, I am looking for more ways to lend a hand to those in need. We owe it to ourselves and each other to be better.

The Sabbath is a day of rest and unplugging. It is a time to self-reflect, meditate, and build community within our homes and then with others. It is time to nurture our souls.

I am reacting to this pandemic as a huge Sabbath. I see this virus and the process of dealing with it as an opportunity to learn. I believe COVID-19 can push our reset button to be more inclusive and understanding. I also think this virus can help us create constructive conversations about affordable healthcare for all, especially the 27.5 million who are uninsured.

I look forward to looking back on the pandemic and feeling good about the breakthroughs and connections we made. I look forward to better leadership. I am hopeful.


Why Does Money Cost So Much?

Financial peace isn’t the acquisition of stuff. It’s learning to live on less than you make, so you can give money back and have money to invest. You can’t win until you do this.  – Dave Ramsey

When it comes to money, we are not taught the meaning and value of money, let alone how to acquire and manage it well. I did not learn this from my parents. They were not good money managers. Furthermore, managing money was not taught to me in school. It was not taught to me in church. Fortunately, I had an excellent accounting firm for our business that taught me about P&Ls and budgeting!

What I have come to know is that the way I use money is a reflection of my core values and principles. I learned later in life a couple of crucial lessons when it comes to money.

I love money. I love everything about it. I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks. Got a fur sink. An electric dog polisher. A gasoline-powered turtleneck sweater. Of course, I bought some dumb stuff, too.  – Steve Martin

What you value shows up in what you purchase. One of the most significant issues I find in my coaching work is that many people aren’t clear about what they value, thus they are not living their values, hence no budget, they get into debt. Many believe values are what organizations need and create. Knowing and living core values begins with individuals. These are the first two things I challenge my coaching clients: What do they stand for? What don’t they stand for? When you are clear on this, coaching begins and a better life happens for the individual. 

Wealth consists not in having great possessions but in having few wants. – Epictetus

Focus on needs rather than wants. That means: I need to make sure I’m not trying to keep up with the Jones. I am not in competition with anyone else. I don’t compare myself to others, especially with bigger homes, 2nd homes, nicer trips, etc. I am not trying to impress anyone else. I am not trying to meet anyone else’s expectations. When someone gets something big, new, or shiny, I celebrate it for them and check my “wish I had…” at the door.

I am mindful of how marketing, trends, and fads impact me. I don’t go to the grocery store hungry! Being a regular at Haywood Street makes me aware of what I need rather than what I want. I am rich in comparison to many at Haywood, and yet many of them have a more abundant spirit than I do. When you live within your needs rather than wants it is much easier to stick with a budget and pay off the monthly credit card bill.

The four most expensive words in the English language are, ‘This time it’s different.’  – Sir John Templeton

What you permit, you promote. What you purchase, you promote. If I buy bottled water, I promote harm to the environment. When I travel, I carry a water bottle and fill it with tap water. I love good coffee, and I buy Counter Culture. I brew two cups in the morning. I drink one cup at home; the second cup goes into my thermos for later. I figure it costs me $0.35/cup versus $2 + tip for a cup of coffee at the local cafe. I do drink coffee at coffee cafes, but it’s a treat, not a staple. I eat leftovers for lunch most days rather than spend money on lunch, which is a savings of $6 to $12. We cut the cord to cable several years ago, saving about $50/month. We couldn’t begin to watch 150+ channels so why pay for that? Second, there are plenty of other screen distractions!

What are you promoting by what you permit and purchase?

What’s in your savings account?

According to a recent study, 40% of Americans would struggle to come up with $400 for an unexpected expense. If you are one of them, what could you be doing differently to have this emergency $400?

Money experts believe you should have enough money in your emergency fund to cover at least 3 to 6 months’ worth of living expenses. If you don’t have this, what could you do to establish and maintain this fund?

It’s great to value money, but begin with core values!

Does Your Organization Have a Culture of Leadership?

Eighteen participants completed the 11-week City of Asheville, NC, Culture of Leadership. The 2-day Art of Leadership workshop helped to develop their leadership with guidance from the five practices of exemplary leadership from Kouzes and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge. Participants went online to take the MBTI. The feedback revealed how their preferences impacted their ability to lead others. A key outcome is better self-management. The 2-day Teams Are Verbs workshop explored the six critical questions Patrick Lencioni asks in his best selling, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. (page 77)  There were additional class days on strategic planning, project management, and the lean process. Watch a short YouTube video summary.

My Word for 2020…

Each year I pick a word (or a word picks me!) rather than a resolution to focus on. I have learned from experience, resolutions come and go as evidenced by how crowded the gym will be in January and then uncrowded in February! Discovering a word and focusing on that word is sticky and becomes a trigger like a habit. A word tends to stimulate my thinking around situations, conversations, and interactions. A word helps me make a connection with what I am reading and learning. A word becomes a bridge to possibilities, opportunities and the door to curiosity.

My word for 2019 was “community” as in move from being a part of a group to being a part of “community.” Helping create and build community has been a part of my ‘on purpose.’ A true community is a place of inclusion and where people can be vulnerable while feeling safe. I ended 2019 forming a small diverse, equitable, and inclusive community of half white men and half MOC.

My word for 2020 is light. With all the disinformation, misinformation, and alternative facts, “fake news,” I’m going to be more intentional in finding the light. I also want light to help me look at situations and events with fresh eyes, to help me be more curious and to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Robert Fulghum, a storyteller’s storyteller and author of It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On Ittells of time taking a seminar on Greek culture on the island of Crete lead by Dr. Alexander Papaderous. During the close of the last day, Papaderous asked the class, “Are there any questions?”

Fulghum responds, “Dr. Papaderous, what is the meaning of life?”

After some silence and an intense gaze at Fulghum, he says, “I will answer your question.”

Out of his wallet, he pulled a small round mirror about the size of a quarter. He told the story of being a child during WWII and finding pieces of a mirror from a wrecked German motorcycle. He took the largest piece of mirror and scratched into its round shape and used it as a toy to reflect light into dark places. As Papaderous grew he came to realize the mirror was a metaphor for the purpose of his life…to “reflect light into the dark places in the hearts of men and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.” (pages 175-177)

I’m going to seek the light, share it and shine it in the dark places in 2020.

If You Want to “Seize the Day,” Then You Need To…

Since 1989, I have been studying what it means to “Seize the Day.” Watch my YouTube PechaKucha presentation to see and hear what I’ve learned and what I try to practice!

What About Additional Characteristics of an Admired Leader?

James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge, have been surveying followers for over the past thirty years on what are the top seven characteristics out of twenty of an admired leader. Look at the latest results from the 2017 survey on the left. The top four characteristics of an admired leader are honesty, competence, inspiring, and forward-looking. These four characteristics have been consistent over the past thirty years. The first three characteristics – honesty, competency, and inspiring are in line with the currency of leadership, credibility. The pillars of credibility rest upon trust, expertise, and dynamism. Do you agree with Kouzes and Posner’s findings? Do you see the parallel with these characteristics and credibility? How is your credibility? How are you on being forward-looking? Do you have a vision for the future? Is it strategic? Is it viable? Is it inspiring?

While I think these four characteristics are essential for a leader to live into, I believe three components are missing from these twenty: humility, hope, and gratitude. I look for these three characteristics in leaders I choose to follow (and vote for!)

Humility. Humility is an essential topic in the Bible and written about in seventy-three verses. Prayer is a pillar of the Muslim faith. Everyone in prayer is equal. Thus prayer is founded on piety. Humility is piety. In the Jewish tradition, humility is among the greatest of the virtues – greatness is humility. While humility is a cornerstone in the world religions, it turns out to be essential in leadership in the secular world. Jim Collins, Good to Great, discovered leaders in the eleven great organizations had two critical behaviors: personal humility and indomitable will. How is your humility? If you are not sure, take an emotional intelligence 360 assessment. It will give you insight into where you stand as well as develop action steps to become more humble.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis

Hope. Sometimes people need hope more than food to stay alive! Hope is not wishful thinking, optimism, or a positive attitude. Hope is a call to action. Hope is the anticipation of something better coming, a blessing in the offing, a new, brighter tomorrow that you can have a hand in creating. Leaders with hope, who speak strongly about hope, who make hope come alive will have followers who will exceed expectations.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”  – John Lennon

Gratitude. We are bound up in consumerism, competition, and individualism. These behaviors cause us to compare ourselves to others and feeling sorry for ourselves when we see what we don’t have. Happiness is contingent upon that next shiny object, a new job title, a bigger office, a higher salary, a new car, a bigger home, and the latest tech. We continuously fail at being mindful of how we are, what we have, and who has helped us. Gratitude causes us to appreciate what we take for granted, especially the people in our lives. Leaders who live into gratitude are some of the most joyful people I know. Their joy is infectious, inspiring, and cherished. How do you measure your gratitude? When do you take inventory for what you are grateful? How often do you show your gratitude? How do you share your gratitude? Sheldon Yellen, CEO of the property-restoration company BELFOR Holdings, Inc., hand-writes birthday cards to each of his 9,200 employees as well as thank-you notes, anniversary cards, holiday cards, and even to his employees’ kids when they are sick. He has created a culture of compassion through the whole company.

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” – Karl Barth

My leadership challenge to you is to nurture your humility, hope, and gratitude!


What Do You and Your Cohorts Need to Escape?

Whale Watch: Group trying to “escape” being out of balance!

I recently read Rachel Sugar’s, Vox, The Great Escape post.

She writes there are over 2,300 escape rooms in the United States. TripAdvisor says there are seven escape rooms in the Asheville area. If you are not aware of these places, they are rooms where you gather with up to 7 other people and try to beat the clock and “escape” a challenge. Sugar says escape rooms feed “the desire to escape whatever reality you’re in.”

As I read this article, I realized this is the foundation of my work. I’ve been facilitating groups and teams since 1996 and took a big leap in 2001 going to Camp Joy to be the Director of the Venture Out!, corporate organizational development.

Blind Cube: Group trying to “escape” mindlessness and fast thinking!

I help groups and teams “escape their reality” for one to three days. I’ve facilitated these “escapes from reality” at all kinds of venues including cruise ships, MLB ballparks, zoos, fine dining restaurants and Disney World! During that time, I create opportunities for groups to experience a series of “escapes” to energize, discover and learn new skills. Some of my favorite “escapes” include Blind Cube, Whale Watch, Spider Web, Searching for a Black Cat in a Black Room, Survivor and the Pamper Pole! Even MBTI or EQ workshops are a form of “escape” and open doors to learning.

Sugar says the best escape rooms create a “WOW” moment where you and your teammates overcome a shared challenge. My goal with “escape” initiatives is to create “AHA” moments. This is when participants have a breakthrough and see the possibility of transformation to becoming a better team. I’ve had participants share they’ve gotten to better know and understand their cohorts in two-days than the five-plus years they have been working together! That is some serious connection!

I agree with Sugar, “…in escape rooms (as with experience-based workshops), it all matters. There is a beautiful elegance to it: You crack the code, it unlocks the lock. It’s not only surrender, but communal surrender.”

Do you feel the need, the sense of urgency to escape some work reality with your team?


Leader As Mentor: Do you?

I’ll begin with what I know for sure: Experience trumps knowledge.

Mentors have experience.

The mentors in my life have had a significant role in where I am and what I am doing today. They gave and still give me the gift of their time and their wisdom.

My mentors help me be a better person, a better leader. They help me grow, especially when it is necessary and uncomfortable. They are pure grace in my life.

While mentoring focuses on behavior and skills, good mentoring helps develop people from the inside out. Mentoring deals with values and priorities. It becomes a spiritual exercise going beyond the mental and physical. Mentoring requires being vulnerable. Mentoring begins with the heart.

My first mentor was my father. As a freshly minted college graduate, not sure whether to purse a master’s degree, my father invited me to join him in business. It was one of the best decisions I could have made. What I learned about business trumped any master’s degree. What I learned about my father, the courage to leave the corporate world and to go into business on his own, fostered my courage to pursue my passion. As a mentor, my father modeled the way. He offered advice and counsel when asked. My favorite mentoring sessions were long lunches at our favorite restaurant or in his office after a trying day. As a new salesperson on his staff, I remember throwing up in the shower, worried about how I was going be successful. I remember sharing this with my father and his response with a warm smile, “Me too, when I first started!” That piece of sharing was a game-changer for me.

My second mentor was Craig Rider, The Rider Group. I enjoyed the facilitation and education part of my work in the corporate world, but I quickly realized death by PowerPoint was not effective. Craig mentored me in experience-based learning. It changed the way I facilitated and educated others. He shared resources including books and magazines and allowed me to shadow him with clients. We attended AEE regional conferences together. He introduced me to gurus in experienced-based learning like Tom Leahy and Jim Cain. The game changer with Craig was the confidence he gave me when he trusted me to work with his clients. Most of all, Craig was responsible for connecting me with a head hunter that lead to my dream-job at Joy Outdoor Education Center, Clarkville, Ohio as Venture Out! Director.

Effective mentoring has a lasting impact on the mentee as well as the mentor. While mentoring is usually most effective male to male and female to female, I currently have a mentor who is female. Her gift to me has been to help me understand my white male privilege. Lynn Watts helps me be more self-aware. While she is 400 miles away, and perhaps we only see each other once or twice a year, we talk by phone at least monthly.

The other mentor currently active in my life is Scott Steel. Scott has an incredible heart for leadership. He challenges me to bring compassion and empathy beyond work. Like Lynn, I do not see him enough, but we are in contact by phone at least monthly.

Here is another what I know for sure.” I need to pay it forward. The mentoring my father, Craig, Lynn and Scott gave me, I need to give to others. Mentoring is a part of my leadership journey.

Is mentoring a part of your leadership journey?

I Before Team Except After…

Once again, my Cincinnati Reds are cellar-dwellers for 2019. On an average home game, the Reds’ fans fill just over a third of Great American Ballpark’s 42,319 seats, reflecting the Reds’ ability to lose more than win. There are still gripes about Dick Williams, the general manager, and how he manages.  Six-time MLB All-Star Joey Votto is ageing and hot-hitting second baseman, Scooter Gennett, is out with health issues. Bottom line, sports forecasters say the Reds will be lucky to win half their 162 games this season. The Reds’ teamwork is sub-par. So why do we point to sports teams as the pinnacle of teamwork? Yet at all levels of sports, we tend to focus on individuals, not teams.

There is an “i” in team, and we see it every day. “i” is ego. We see the “i” in team from:

  • Jerry Jones, NFL Dallas Cowboy owner, who has proclaimed it to be an honor to play for him.
  • Danica Patrick, NASCAR, demonstrated her “i” in her expletive-laden rant at her crew in 2017.
  • Former NFL Cleveland Brown QB Johnny Manziel’s ego prevented him from being committed and accountable to football and gave him a disregard for authority – essential to being on a team.
  • Women’s professional soccer goalie, Hope Solo’s ego has gotten her into trouble numerous times including when she said, “We played a bunch of cowards” (no respect for the other team).

I still recall attending a seminar in 2002 featuring Tom Peters. Peters criticized Jim Collins, Good to Great, on 5th level leadership. Peters asked the audience, “Who wants to follow a humble leader?” Immediately Jesus Christ, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa came to mind. I thought, “Wait a minute. I’m embracing their leadership!”

Who you are is a collection of choices, decisions and experiences you make and have. When you consciously decide to become a member of a team, those decisions and experiences get magnified and minimized at the same time. Google’s Project Aristotle discovered successful cohesion within the team only occurs when team members become interdependent. They need one another to get work done! Team members feel safe sharing not only ideas but opinions. The four parts of Charles Feltman’s Thin Book of Trust – sincerity, reliability, competence and compassion – are fully engaged with each member of the team. Emotional intelligence is at the forefront of each team member’s interaction.

When you let the idealized image of yourself become your focus, you fail to collaborate and cooperate with others, the essential behavior of being on a team. Trust, the lynch-pin to any and every relationship, fails because it’s all about you rather than the team. If you fail at trust, your “i” is showing and thus you fail at being a part of a team.

” The bigger a man’s head gets, the easier it is to fill his shoes.” — Henry A. Courtney