Reflecting on the Legacy of Sen John McCain

“We are taught to understand, correctly, that courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity for action despite our fears.” – Sen John McCain

“I don’t mind a good fight. For reasons known only to God, I’ve had quite a few tough ones in my life. But I learned an important lesson along the way: In the end, it matters less that you can fight. What you fight for is the real test.” – Sen John McCain

When Sen John McCain passed away last week from brain cancer, our country lost a national treasure.  There is simply no other way to put it.  There are few men or women in our time who have made the impact that Sen McCain had on our country.  Courage, compassion, respect, integrity – all of these are words that are often used when describing Sen McCain.

So if you will allow me, I would like to dedicate this leadership blog to John McCain, pay respects to the qualities that made him such a great leader, and offer parallels on how we can live our lives in the spirit John showed in his own.

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Are You Set Up For Success Tomorrow?

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey

Several years ago when I was working as an executive at a large national technology staffing provider, we undertook a project to find the silver bullet for evaluating and hiring the best sales and recruiter staff members. We had developed a culture of performance, and up and down the leadership ranks we were obsessed with hiring the best talent we could find.

In our business – like so many others – hiring the right talent made all the difference whether your company would outperform the competition. That meant you had to hire sales resource who could consistently find, qualify, propose, and close profitable business day in and day out. You also had to hire recruiters who understood the technical market, could source and qualify top talent, match them well to our clients’ needs and culture, and bridge the expectation gaps often created around compensation.

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A Servant Mentality…

“The happiest people are those who care more about the happiness of others.” – Father Manuel La Rosa Lopez

“Before you are a leader, success is about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is about growing others.” – Jack Welch

What in the world do these two quotes have to do with each other? One is a clear reference to a personal state of mind, while the other is a reference to a professional mindset. Two completely different topics, so why try and blend them into one message?

In truth, they are exact mirrors of each other. Let me explain…

First, let’s examine the quote on happiness. My daughter recently graduated from high school and was fortunate to be awarded one of the Ronald McDonald House Charity academic achievement scholarships. To recognize the recipients the Houston chapter of the Ronald McDonald House held an awards breakfast in late May of this year. As part of this event, they brought in several speakers to share wisdom on both the importance of education and the necessity of hard work and effort in achieving long term success. Continue reading

If You Plant Corn, Corn Will Grow

“If you plant corn, corn will grow” – Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching

I ran across this quote a few weeks ago and fell in love with it. I did a little research to find out the source and underlying meaning, only to discover its tie to Buddhism. I have always appreciated the teaching of Buddha, largely given its context of the internal reflection and conflict we must overcome to gain both enlightenment and fulfillment in our existence. This isn’t an article on Buddhism, but the connection is helpful.

I love this quote because of its profound simplicity. “If you plant corn, corn will grow”. Sounds like something you would hear on a Hotels.com commercial from Captain Obvious, right? But its meaning is deeper than what you see on the surface. Perhaps similar to the verses in the Bible – “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians) and “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully”. The connection with corn, or farming as is referenced in the bible, is a simple yet effective metaphor to illustrate the long term effect of near term actions. Continue reading

I Believe in You…

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.” – Jim Valvano

As many of us here in the US are consumed with March Madness and the college basketball finals this weekend, I thought I would use a quote from one of the more storied coaches of my time – Jimmy Valvano. Jimmy was the head coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack and went on to be a well-known sports commentator for ESPN.

While he led his college team to a college championship in 1983, he is more widely known for the content of his character – determined, driven, passionate, and a coach whose reputation of caring for others was rivaled only by the grace he showed in his final battle with cancer. For those of you who know of Jimmy Valvano, no introduction is necessary. For those who don’t, it’s worth some research, as one of his lasting legacies is the Jimmy V Foundation – a charity set up by Jimmy in his last months of life for the express purpose of ‘winning the battle against cancer once and for all’. Continue reading

He hit a home run and didn’t even realize it

“You hold back only to realize there is nothing keeping you back, except yourself” – Rachel Wolchin

One of my favorite books – subsequently turned in to a movie – is Moneyball. It is the story of Billy Beane (then the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team), and how he transformed baseball using a revolutionary approach to assessing, drafting, and ultimately fielding players based on a complex formula of statistics. The approach, called sabermetrics, had only hereto been used by a small following of fans for fantasy and similar tracking of player performance. Billy was the first Manager in professional baseball to embrace the approach and use it as a primary factor in his decision on which players he kept on his team and the order in which he had them bat. Today most professional baseball teams use this approach – and in many respects this is behind the recent success of the current world champion Houston Astros.

Back to Billy – his achievement is even more profound when you consider the circumstances. At the time, the Oakland Athletics were a second-tier professional market with an extremely limited budget to match. Most of the more successful franchises were spending 2 to 3 times more than the Athletics, allowing them to field the best talent in the league, and in return, consistently outperform other teams. Continue reading

What your Ch’i says about you…

“Your energy introduces you even before you speak”

[Unknown]

Recently I was visiting one of my branch operations when a team member made an interesting comment to me.  “Are you OK?” she asked.  “Yes, why?” I responded.  “Because I’m sensing a vibe with you right now that suggests otherwise”.

You could have knocked me over with a feather.  A vibe?  What kind of a vibe?  What in the world was she talking about?  Heck, I came in to the office clean shaven and sharply dressed.  I was composed, professional – like I always am.  And I didn’t think I had any type of scowl or frown on my face.

And yet she sensed a vibe.  She sensed a negative energy that stood out clearly in me.  My energy introduced me well before I even spoke a word.  And had I not been given the feedback or a chance to reframe, I would have left a completely different impression than the one I hoped to leave with my fellow team members.

So when I saw this quote pinned to the branch leader’s wall in this very same office, I had to take note and reflect on its importance.

“Your energy introduces you even before you speak…

In the study of martial arts, many of the disciplines emanating from the Asian continent speak of a term called “ch’i”.  Ch’I (or qi) is described as an individuals “life force”.  Other ancient cultures have a similar concept – “ki” in Japanese, “prana” in India, and “Great Spirit” in Native America.  It is an energy within us that differentiates a corpse from a living body.  This energy de and is as real as the physical bones and muscles we can touch and feel.

What these cultures also believe is that this energy can be channeled to create a healthy mind and body, or if left unmanaged, can lead to unhealthy outcomes.  The ancients believed so fiercely in this that many rituals and practices were tailored to nurture and channel ones Ch’i.

You have no doubt seen examples of small framed men and women with less than impressive physiques breaking boards, bricks, or other hard surfaces with their bare hands – and left with no damage to their bones or muscles.  They achieve these feats by channeling their Ch’i – their life energy.

Now, this is not a message designed to encourage you all to become martial artists.  Rather, the reference is designed to help illustrate both the importance and power of the energy we all carry in us.  Our life force.

In leadership, and in our own pursuit for personal success, this same energy can be used.  It can be channeled and controlled as long as we have an awareness of its existence and a willingness to feed it.  And as they say, what goes in, must come out.  Positive energy channeled within exudes positive vibes to others.  No doubt you have heard the term “he/she lights up a room”.  How?  Well, in many respects, its their energy level.  Its their output.  Their energy introduces them before they speak.

So, what does your energy say?

Climbing Mt. Everest

“Sometimes we think that progress must occur in one direction. But that’s not really true. Sometimes you have to go backwards to move forward.”  –  Alison Levine – Lead the first all-woman US expeditionary team to climb Mt Everest

Several years ago I had the privilege of hearing Alison Levine present as a keynote speaker at technology industry symposium. An accomplished mountain climber, she is one only a handful of females who have climbed Mt Everest, and may be the only one to have traversed all 7 of the highest summits in the world. If you’ve not had the chance to hear her speak, it’s worth exploring her website to get a sense for her accomplishments and her passion for leadership (http://www.alisonlevine.com). The way she translates them in to something each of us can appreciate is a talent in itself.

Such was the case when I saw her speak about her journey to the top of Mt. Everest. Her story was riveting, and the implications for both business and leadership have left an impression with me for years. In fact, her story inspired me to do a little research on climbing Mt. Everest, and led to a few of my own observations on its relevance to leadership. I’d like to share a few of those with you today. Continue reading