leadership, history, business, #rooseveltriverWhat makes great leaders great? Is there a moment, an event, that you can point to and say “this is when they became great”, or “this is when they made history”, or even “this is when they became presidential”? Is there a catalyst, an event, where they stand up and lead? Meriwether Lewis was Thomas Jefferson’s secretary, William Clark was hanging out in a cabin in the southern Indiana territory (sorry, I HAVE to throw my heroes in the mix, I know they weren’t presidents), Lincoln was a no-named lawyer from Illinois, Benjamin Harrison played ostrich and stuck his head in the sand for the first two years of the civil war, Roosevelt was considered for the head of street cleaning in New York, and Eisenhower was a mid-level officer primarily known for being a good football coach. What happened? How did they end up in history books? Why are we (read “me”) still talking about them 50, 100, and 200 years later?

Over the last several years, I have studied all of the above to one degree or another. Two keys stand out for me: First, the ability to see things in a grander scale, let’s call that vision, though its more than that, as we will see. Second, the ability to engage with people at an individual level, while at the same time engaging with people en masse and to obtain buy-in.

Vision: Great leaders see things that others don’t see.  They see order, where others see chaos. They see patterns and correlations where others see unrelated events. They are more comfortable with a blank slate, than with the status quo. Let’s use Roosevelt as an example (Hey! It IS the Roosevelt River after all!). Here is a man who struggled with the decision to enter public office as the head of the street cleaners in New York (hardly a presidential role), yet in a few short years he became, Chief of Police, then Governor, and then Assistant Secretary of the Navy (and eventually a Vice Presidential Candidate and, as we know through history, President of the United States).

The Navy Roosevelt inherited was not even a foreshadow of the elite force we know today. All of the Armed Services were still decimated from the Civil War just a few decades removed. Yet, instead of following the status quo, Roosevelt saw the opportunity as a blank slate. Instead of focusing inward on our own shores, Roosevelt saw the United States as a rising world power and the Navy as a key component of that rise. Roosevelt developed the Large Policy, policy that defined plans for a canal to allow traffic from the Atlantic to the Pacific, fueling stations scattered throughout the world for new battleships, and the relationships with foreign powers that would have to be built to support this grand strategy.

Yet with this grand strategy, this grand vision, Roosevelt would struggle against the, dare I say, the politics of the status quo. (Parenthetically, I wonder now if it was this struggle against the status quo that many leaders face had a hand in Meriwether Lewis’ untimely death, be it murder or suicide?) Roosevelt continually butted heads with those who wanted to protect the status quo, or who didn’t see the patterns that he saw. This leads us to the second key of a great leader…

Buy-in: That innate ability to engage with some people on a very personal, a very intimate level, to develop a team and have that team follow them anywhere, even to face death (oops, getting ahead of myself here), while at the same time, engaging the masses (if not the powers-at-be) all to achieve the vision, the grand strategy, the Large Policy. canoes

Roosevelt’s America found itself at odds with Spain. Cuba would become the battleground. Roosevelt volunteered. He volunteered to help form the first United States Cavalry…a fighting force of volunteers known to history as the Rough Riders. Roosevelt helped to raise a regiment, not from soldiers and sailors, but from cowboys, ranchers, hunters, and gold miners…his friends from the Bad Lands in South Dakota. Friends that would come when he called, friends that would follow him any where, not because they believed in the Large Policy, or the grand vision, but because the believed in Roosevelt. (It is interesting to note, at the beginning of the conflict Roosevelt was a Lieutenant Colonel, Leonard Wood was appointed Colonel, yet the image of Roosevelt and the Rough Riders is emblazoned on history.)

As Roosevelt’s political career blossomed after the war, he was able to engage the populous. Through imagery (like the Rough Riders, the Teddy Bear, the “big stick”) he engaged with the common man. It enabled him to gain the presidency and it enabled him to implement parts of his Large Policy even against some very powerful political adversaries. Did they see the vision of Roosevelt? Did they see the correlations and trends? I seriously doubt it. Again, they believed in Roosevelt, believed he cared about them, believed he spoke for them.

Great leaders today have these same two traits: vision and the ability to achieve buy-in on a personal level and on a large scale. Where do you spend your time? Do you have a great vision, but struggle to achieve it?…look to achieve buy-in. Do you have a great team, but no place to lead them?…seek a vision, a strategy, a Large Policy. (Again, parenthetically, I believe that is what made Lewis and Clark successful. The names are inseparable in history. Why? Because Lewis had a vision and Clark had buy-in. Together they achieved the un-achievable.)

So is it a point in time? Is it a single event? Is it a catalyst that catapults some to greatness? No…it is having the vision and the buy-in so that the point in time, the single event, the catalyst is recognized for what it is (or created) and leveraged.

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

My wife, Carmen, and I love cop shows, from the iconic Hill Street Blues and Law and Order to our favorite today, Blue Bloods. We get engaged with the characters, always trying to solve the crime before they do, sometimes wondering why they don’t see the obvious killer right in front of them. Blue Bloods is great because it goes beyond the typical crime drama by following the lives of the New York’s first family of crime fighting the Reagans. We do not miss an episode.

As I explore #RooseveltRiver, I am struck by two things. The first, the countless ways that Roosevelt pops up in my life. Shortly after embarking on the #RooseveltRiver exploration, I was in a meeting regarding the implementation of our new HR system. Each participant in the meeting was given a profile of a new employee to enter to help test the functionality. Me? I was given the new employee Theodore Roosevelt. Hmmmm…several months later, I was at an offsite meeting…sitting in a conference room…the name of the room? The Roosevelt Room, of course. I can’t count the number of times this happens.

business, leadership, history, #RooseveltRiverPresident_Theodore_Roosevelt,_1904So, have you seen it? Blue Bloods’ Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) and his striking resemblance to Teddy Roosevelt? His look, his mannerisms? His trait of always trying to do the “right” thing? The picture of Roosevelt hanging in his office? Honestly, I don’t know if I would have seen it, if it weren’t for my exploration (hey there is a reason I am a CIO and not a detective!). So what is the strong relationship between the fictional Frank Reagan and the very real Theodore Roosevelt? If you aren’t familiar with the show, Selleck’s character is the New York City Police Commissioner, an office once held by Roosevelt himself.

In a recent episode, Reagan feared he was losing touch with the officer on the beat, to help connect, he left his office and his security detail behind and hit the streets to observe, connect and yes, even hold some of the beat cops accountable to the standards of the New York City Police Department. It was an excellent episode.

Do you want to know where Reagan (or at least the writers) got the idea? Ok, you guessed it…from Roosevelt. When Roosevelt became Police Commissioner, he wanted to clean up the department and to hold the officers accountable to a higher standard. How did he do it? He hit the streets. (In fact, Roosevelt was known for trying to clean up things…like politics. His first appointment, by President Benjamin Harrison, was to help clean up civil service. His first step? Clean up civil service in Indianapolis, Harrison’s backyard!)

The second thing that strikes me on the #Roosevelt River, is how I gain new insights and perspectives every time I review Dan’s Guidebooks and my notes. The words jumped of the page, “Your direct presence sends a message”. Roosevelt could have commanded new expectations of behaviors with a stroke of the pen. He then could have relied on the chain of command to implement the changes and hold the officers accountable. Instead, he hit the streets. He knew the mere presence of the Police Commissioner would send a message to the rank and file that a memorandum could never send. His presence said “this is serious”, “he means business”, “you better toe the line”, perhaps even, “I care enough about this message and about you to deliver it myself”.

As a leader, it is important to remember this lesson and how to use it. “Your direct presence sends a message.” It does change the dynamic in the room, the mere presence of the boss or leader does change the dialogue and the tone…and that’s OK…in fact, sometimes it is not only desired, it is necessary to affect the change needed to meet the goals and objectives.

Copyright Terri Heisele

Copyright Terri Heisele

Think about the last time you assumed a new role. What were the first steps you took? Did you use the lesson of Roosevelt and have a direct presence? Would you do it differently the next time? If so, what steps would you change?

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

history, leadershipI pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

How many times have you said it? Hundreds? Thousands? 31 simple words. We repeat them as a matter of rote. How many times have we really thought about these words and what they mean?

I recently had the deep honor to attend the Naturalization Oath Ceremony. My friend Muhammad Maaita was taking the Oath along with 60 other proud soon to be Americans. They came from dozens of different countries, from all over the globe, but they all shared to common desire to become US Citizens, they had met the requirements of residency (most, like Muhammad, five years), they had passed the English test exhibiting the ability to read, write and speak English, they had passed the civics exam showing an understanding of US history, our form of government and the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. They gathered today to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.

leadership, history, patriotism

Muhammad Maaita

If they were all half excited as Muhammad, this group of new Americans will be a model for groups to come. The smile on his face was contagious!

As we sat there watching the ceremony unfold, I couldn’t help but wonder, how many of us who have been born into citizenship could pass the tests? English? Ok, maybe most of us. But, Civics? I don’t know about you, but I hated Civics class in high school (funny from a guy that grew up to love Lewis and Clark and other figures from US History). Could you pass it? Take the practice test. I double dog dare you (and post your score)…I missed FOUR!!! Pretty lame!

OK…assume you passed all the requirements…now raise your right hand and repeat after me…

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

Hmmm….140 words. 140 words vs. 31 words. Read them again…go ahead, I’ll wait…….Wow! What a difference THAT would make, if we ALL had to take this oath and if we ALL had to live by this oath.

Many peoples, many religions, formalize the Rite of Passage, or the Coming of Age, that time when we move from childhood to adulthood. The forms and ceremonies differ dramatically, but they all symbolize the same three stages: withdrawing or separation from the current state, transition between states, and finally re-incorporation into the community. You could say the college experience embodies these three phases: the student leaves home (separation), studies and learns (transition) and finally graduates and heads out on a career (re-incorporation).

Here, within the Native American cultures that lived the lands hundreds of years ago this rite of passage was vitally important, many times signified by the person taking a new name, an outward symbol that they were not the same person as before.

The Oath of Naturalization follows the same three phases. Once expressed, the individual is incorporated into the body of citizens of the United States. What if we ALL had to pass the tests? What if we ALL had to take the Oath? What if we ALL followed this rite of passage? I believe we would be a stronger people, a stronger country, a more bonded people.

Witnessing this event, made me proud to be an American, made me proud of Muhammad and his rite of passage, and made me proud to be Muhammad’s friend.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

His journal entry was simple.

           X

the light has gone out of my life

What event would evoke such a dismal comment from a future President of the United States? It was February 14, 1884,  Theodore Roosevelt was hard at work in Albany, miles away from home, when word reached him about the deaths of his mother and his wife just hours apart. The day brought this section of the #RooseveltRiver to a close, the culmination of six crucial years in the life of Roosevelt.business, leadership, history #rooseveltriver

These six years saw Roosevelt deal with the death of his father (his foundational relationship), drop out of Harvard, re-enroll and then graduate from Harvard, become engaged to and marry his wife Alice, finish his critically acclaimed book on the Navy in the War 1812, receive word from doctors that his health would severely limit his life, discover his life’s calling in politics, find his soul in the Dakotas and the Badlands, and experience the birth of his first child. The lessons he learned in these years would help him deal with the darkest day of his life and develop into leader we remember today.

When I think back on those years in my life, they were quite a whirlwind as well, though I didn’t face anything as dark as the death of both parents and a spouse. During those same years (19 – 25), I got married, had two kids, started college, transferred schools (twice), got a job, discovered computers, moved to Chicago, moved to Indianapolis, moved to Lebanon (the city in Indiana, not the country in the Middle East), started a spiritual journey with a seagull and a barnstormer (that’s for you Jay), and watched my mom deal with the recovery from a near fatal fire.

Some people like to live on the edge, challenging life at every turn. Roosevelt did enjoy a physical challenge like dude ranching out west in the Dakotas or canoeing in the Amazon. In fact he would rely on these adventures to get him through tough times in life. But more than these extreme adventures, Roosevelt found him self on the edge in every day life, challenging himself and others not to be pulled into the center, not to accept the status quo. Roosevelt exemplified this living on the edge style early in his career by focusing on “cleaning up” politics and government.

After spending 30 years in IT, I can’t think of another career I could have chosen that would have been more on the edge…and the edge continues to move outward at an every increasing pace, yet even in IT there is a center, a status quo. The old days of being able to lock everything behind closed doors are gone. No longer can we “command and control”, block Facebook and employees will just use their phones. Instead, we must embrace but protect. Today the edge is cloud, mobile, gamification, crowdsourcing, the internet of things, and much more.

business, leadership, history, #rooseveltriverIsn’t that the definition of being a leader, though? Living on the edge, continually pulling those around you out of the center? It is difficult, like being caught in a whirlpool above a rapids (hey this is a series about a RIVER), the closer to the center you are the harder and harder it pulls you in. The further and further away from the center, the swimming gets easier, but you can’t pull anyone with you. If you get too far on the edge you run the risk of being thrashed about in the rapids.

Where do you spend your time? In the center? On the edge? Beyond the edge?

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

With sincerest apologies to The Kinks and the great Lou Reed (RIP) sometimes lessons on the #RooseveltRiver come from the most unusual places.

business, leadership, #rooseveltriver

My brother “came out” over 30 years ago. It was a much different time and being the son of the Baptist minister in Southern Indiana could not have made an incredibly difficult announcement any easier. I have to admit (and I think he would too) my brother and I had a rocky relationship for most of our childhood and young adulthood. He was (much 😉 ) older than me, liked to tease me incessantly, and sometimes would beat the crap out of me. I can, however, remember two occasions that made a huge impression on me. The first was when he filed as a Conscientious Objector for the Vietnam War draft. What an incredible stand for what you believe in. The pressure he was put under from the interviews, the filings, the name calling. I gained an incredible amount of respect for him during that year or so.

The second was when he announced he was gay and occasionally dressed in drag. I think the pressure of the CO filing was nothing compared to making this announcement. I am sure I was not supportive at the time (I had a lot of growing up to do) however, I was secretly very proud of him again…for making a stand for what he felt and what he believed.  My wife and three year old son went to visit him a few months after, I can remember touring his house and my son tugging on my hand and looking up at me and asking “Why does Uncle Jack have dresses in his closet?” and later my wife admiring the photos of beautiful women on his mantel (uh…they weren’t).

As our rivers flowed on and the decades passed, he and I met up for beers one evening last year. Our conversation turned to our jobs. I was now an executive and he had made is living in front-line retail. I remarked how good he was at his job. Everyone loved walking into the store and being waited on by him. There were times, that customers would ask for him and if he wasn’t in, they would leave. Everyone in the area knew him, from the office secretaries, to the politicians and business leaders. I likened his skill to that of my dad, the now retired minister that still “works the room” every chance he gets. He laughed and said, “but you get up in front of large groups all the time and speak, talking one-on-one is easy”.

I told him I was serious and was very impressed. I asked how he does it, how is he that comfortable with meeting newbusiness, leadership, #rooseveltriver people all the time. “Its not me,” was his reply, “its my persona. Just like when I was a dancer, I put on my persona and hide myself inside it”. BAM! Another lesson on the #RooseveltRiver hits me like a rock in the rapids. Sometimes the more obvious the lesson, the harder it smacks you. Its like the preparation my son does before he gets on stage, the preparation my dad did prior to a sermon, its like the preparation I do before a big presentation. We may not have described it as a persona…but its a perfect  way of looking at it. THAT’s how you work a room…prepare and put on your persona.

So next time you see me at a networking event, if I have a strange smile on my face, I am not being rude, I’m just singing “Lola, L-O-L-A, Lola” or “Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo” to myself.

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

I don’t know what made me do it. I don’t know what I was thinking. Chalk it up to a 6th grader wanting to get attention. Boy, did THAT happen! It was nearing the end of my 6th Grade Year. Soon, I would be heading off to Junior High. My sixth grade teacher was the first male teacher I had ever leadership, change, businesshad, he ruled with authority. He WAS authority in my school. Weeks before he had announced the Science Fair Competition. Everyone had to submit a project and everyone had to present their project to the whole 6th grade class. Today was the day!

Honestly, my project was kind of lame. It was something about perpetual motion and lighting a candle on both ends or something like earth shattering like that. After waiting through several of my classmate’s presentations, it was time for me to present. I did fine enough I suppose…until the end…until I decided to tell some outlandish story about how I had been working with my chemistry set the night before, gotten sick, had to go the hospital, was still in constant pain…and THAT is why I did the candle project. It was a doozy of a story and all B.S. Maybe I told it to impress my girl friend(s), who knows…but it gets better (or worse actually).

Business, leadership, changeAfter all the presentations were done, our teacher announced that he was selecting the top three projects and we would present to the entire school. Guess what? My project was selected. Man was I stoked! Too Cool! That afternoon, the whole school was gathered together including the principal. The first kid presented his project, I think it was on nuclear fission or something. The second kid’s project about the space-time continuum or some bogus thing like that. THEN, then it was my turn, me with my perpetual motion candle. When my presentation was done, my teacher spoke up from the back of the room, and told me to tell my chemistry set-hospital visit story. So, very hesitantly, I did. By the time I was done, the teacher and the principal were both in tears laughing at me so much.

Years later as I was exploring the #RooseveltRiver (2013 – The Year I Canoed with Theodore Roosevelt) from birth to age 19, some parallels and themes emerged. During these years, Roosevelt became fascinated with science and history. He was an avid reader, but not only a reader; he was a writer as well. He completed his first book by the age of 16. His father was the dominate figure in his life helping him to develop into a man. His personality set him apart and despite having very poor eyesight he excelled in boxing and outdoor activities. Toward the end of this time frame Theodore’s father passed away and had a profound impact on him. Many of the lessons of his youth and the impact on his life were evident in later years.

While our lives are not parallel, I too was an avid reader. As a teen and on into my twenties I read book after book on programming, systems design, database structures, and application life cycles. Ask my sons, I used to hold them on my lap and read to them. They are probably still scarred!  I wasn’t the writer Roosevelt was, I wrote song lyrics instead of books (you see, I was going to be a rock star!). However, it was still a way to release my creative passions as did he.

The discoveries during this portion of my exploration were many and deep. Two lessons came from these discoveries. The first was related to change: my ability to embrace change, but also my ability TO change. For years I was petrified of public speaking, I could not even imagine getting up in front of a group and presenting a topic. If I were in a meeting, I would not speak up until I had time to digest everything and very methodically process what I heard. I hated that moment in a meeting when all eyes turned my way. I felt like that very embarrassed 11 year-old kid ready to crawl into a hole. As I developed in my career, I knew this was something I would have to overcome. I did this through preparation. The reason my science project was so lame was because I failed to prepare.

Roosevelt was a larger than life individual, fueled by traits like exuberance, passion, and enthusiasm. What of your traits the strongest impact on those to whom you are communicating? Think about that for awhile. Put yourself in the shoes of the “communicatee”, what comes through your from your communication style? What traits are strongest when you are communicating well? I asked several people to describe the traits that come through with me. Modesty, humility, and empathy were recurring themes. However, one jumped off the page: passion. The realization that I communicate best when I am passionate about the subject AND I let that passion show through was lesson number two for me.

Several years ago, my wife suggested I tell our Lewis and Clark story to her mom’s Rotary Club. At first, all I could see was that 11 year-old all over leadership, business, changeagain, but the more she nudged the more I warmed to the idea (this was not the only time in our relationship that she nudged me over what I thought was a cliff, only for me to learn I could fly). However, to be successful, I had to prepare. I wrote my presentation out long hand. I rehearsed, and rehearsed and rehearsed. I combined my passion with preparation and have now lost track of the number of times I have spoken in front of groups.

Accenting a strength enabled me to overcome a weakness.

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

Theodore Roosevelt? That Theodore Roosevelt? The one that was president like a hundred years ago? Yep, THAT Theodore Roosevelt. I spent 10 months canoeing with Teddy Roosevelt, dead about 100 years.

Copyright Grasmere Lodge

Copyright Grasmere Lodge

How is that possible, you ask? Bear with me, and I will explain, and then I will begin to tell you about the adventure! It was late fall 2012, the executive team and spouses were getting together for a dinner prior to the holiday season. There was to be a guest speaker that evening, Dr. Dan Miller of Historical Solutions. Dr. Miller wrote the book on Goodwill, literally, he is the author of “A Life of Goodwill: Three Leaders and Their Impact on an Organization”, a leadership story of Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana. It was one of those coincidences that I love….several people had been telling me I needed to meet Dan because of my love of history (thanks Angelo!). So, after dinner, I introduced myself and we agreed to meet for coffee a few weeks later.

It was at the coffee that I learned in addition to being a prolific author and speaker, he also does executive coaching (he calls it Creative Conversations) and various types of workshops. As he explained Creative Conversations, he meets with the individual, gets to know them, and selects a person from history. Then throughout eight to ten sessions, he maps out that person’s life and looks for correlations to yours. The kicker to me was that he equates the person’s life to a river, an allegory I have always used as well. As many of you know, I am a river rat. I would rather be on a river than just about any place on the planet.  He promised to have my historical figure at our first session; my assignment was to have a competency or trait upon which to focus our development time.

By now you have probably guessed the river I was going to travel was the Theodore Roosevelt River. You are quickerBusiness, Leadership, Management than I, I assumed it would have been either Lewis or Clark, at the very least, one of the men that accompanied them on their adventure. I knew very little about Roosevelt, but I was game. So I threw my canoe in the river and began my journey.

In our first session, he laid out the format that we were to follow. Each session starts with a review of what’s been happening in my life both professionally and personally since our last session. Next is a dive into a specific span of time in Roosevelt’s life (this was done chronologically throughout the 10 sessions). The session concludes with a discussion of three “Paddles” or three questions to ponder. A week or so after each session, Dan provides a copy of the slide deck and a “Guidebook”, or notes of the session, his reflection on our discussion and an assignment for the next session.

To go through each session would take a book…hmmm, I can add THAT to the list of books I am going to write! Instead, let me give you a couple of the highlights of my trip down Roosevelt River. I will explore others in future posts.

Our journey started with looking at Roosevelt in the years 1858 to 1878, ages birth to 19. The first thing that struck me is that Roosevelt was born in 1858, I was born in 1958. As he went through life, our ages would be parallel. He loved to read, was physically active, and had written a book by the time he reached age 19 and entered Harvard. As a child, I also loved to read, played football, baseball and ran track. While I hadn’t written a book, I did want to be a rock star so I had written the lyrics to a couple of hundred songs by the time I was 19. Me? No, I did not go to Harvard, I attended Indiana State and did not fare as well as Roosevelt in my studies.

As would be the norm, Dan challenged me with three paddles. The first would turn out to be somewhat prophetic. Paddle One: A foundational relationship leaves a lasting mark on your approach to communicating with authority. For Roosevelt that foundational relationship was his father Theodore Sr., for me that relationship was my mother (no surprise there). Dan’s analysis would fill pages, but one point stands out.

“There is no question that your mother is a major influence in your approach toward communicating with authority. You learned, and not all that badly, in my view, that you should be modest and unassuming in your communication with authority. You defer in communication. Her experience with and after the fire also opened the way for you to be more expressive in group or audience settings.”

Man, talk about spot on! The assignment based on this paddle, was to write a short paragraph about a step forward taken by my followers. One paragraph about what they did right. Dan stated change was was a gift given to me by my mother through her experience of change and its possibilities.

Believe it or not, the next highlight of my adventure was in the second session. Roosevelt was in his early twenties (age 19 – 25 to be exact). During this time he discovered his love for the west at about the same time he became interested and involved in politics. Because he took to dressing like a cowboy, in Albany he was given the label “the Dude”. Now, this was not meant to be hip and cool like Jeff Bridges’ the Dude in the Big Lebowski, no, this label was a slam.

One of Dan’s paddle went right to the core of a label. “Externally, a label may take control of your communication, for Roosevelt, it, of course, ‘the Dude’. What label applies to you? How does it affect your communication?”

BAM! Another one hits the mark. For me, its the “IT Guy” label. I have been in IT for over 30 years. At times, that label can get in the way. I would rather be seen as a “Business Guy” with an IT expertise. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a meeting and the phone, projector, or microphone doesn’t work. What happens? All eyes turn to me…the IT Guy! Hell, I can’t fix it! When my technology doesn’t work, I call one of our outstanding support technicians!

My assignment was to write two lists. The first was a list of things about me as person that have nothing to do with IT. The second was a list of the things a CIO does beyond being the IT Chief. The next step was to match up the two lists and look for ways in which I, as more than IT, blends with CIO, as more than IT.

OK, I am in danger of getting a DR;TL comment (Did not Read; Too Long)…throughout upcoming posts, I will explore sections of the Roosevelt River and dive deeper into the lessons I learned through this journey. In the mean time, I highly recommend Dr. Miller’s Creative Conversations to anyone that is looking to learn more about themselves and to grow professionally and personally.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

It all started on Thanksgiving day,  a long, long time ago, in a beat up station wagon, somewhere on Interstate 65 and Statethanksgiving, family, tradition Road 46 between Indianapolis and Nashville (Nashville, Indiana that is). My first wife, our two kids and I were heading to her mom’s place for Thanksgiving. The drive was going, well, it was going like you would expect it to go with two boys under the age of 10 strapped in a car in the days before iPods, Gameboys, iPads, and cars with DVD players. Even though it wasn’t a long drive, they were still bouncing off the ceiling. My wife was reading, and me? I was jamming out to Q95 (well, as jamming out as you can be with a wife and two kids in the car).

It was about noon. OK, to be specific it was straight up noon, when this song came on the radio, this song about Alice…and a restaurant, a song called Alice’s Restaurant (sorry Arlo, I had to do it). Here was this guy, playing guitar, telling a story, and singing (granted there was more storytelling than singing),  but it was captivating, not only for me but for the two banshees in the backseat, they quieted down and listened…for 18 minutes and 34 seconds they listened! It was AMAZING! By the time Arlo finished the last chorus, with the boys and I signing along, we were pulling into Nana’s drive.

A year later,  we were on the road again, in the same beat up station wagon, with the same two rambunctious kids in the Arlo Guthrie, traditionback, listening to the same Q95, low and behold they played the same song, at the exact same time! Amazing! What is the coincidence of that? (Ok, it wasn’t for another year or two that I realized it was a Q95 Thanksgiving day tradition to play Alice’s Restaurant at Noon, I was a REAL slow learner back then!)

Fast forward several more years. My wife and I were divorced (hey, as my youngest son, Brad, once said, “This isn’t Leave it Beaver around here, ya know?”), I was spending Thanksgiving with my girl friend and both of my sons were spending Thanksgiving with their mom. Although we had been divorced for some time, I still was not used to not seeing them on a holiday like that. I was kind of moping around, helping Carmen get dinner ready when the phone rang. It was my oldest son JT.

“Dad, are you listening?” he asked.

“Huh? Listening to what”, I responded (I guess I was still somewhat of a slow learner).

“Alice’s, are you listening to Alice’s?”

“expletive deleted!”

I immediately ran to the stereo, turned on Q95 and listened in. I think I even began to sing along. I am sure Carmen thought I was going a tad nuts. After the song was over, I started to explain the story to her…how it had become a Thanksgiving Tradition to listen, how the boys and I would sing along…all of it. She just looked at me, smiled and walked over to her CD Cabinet, reached in, and pulled out the CD “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie. If I wasn’t already smitten with her, I was now head over heals!

Fast forward about a decade or two. The tradition continues. Every year at Thanksgiving, no matter who is joining us, JT Arlo Guthrie, traditionand Brad, their families, our folks, and the occasional friend, we play “Alice’s Restaurant” and sing along. We even printed off all the lyrics so our folks could be sure and follow along. Dave and his wonderful baritone providing cover for all the rest of us who can’t really sing.

OK, so Arlo may not have ACTUALLY saved my life, but he without a doubt saved my Thanksgiving and helped us build a sense of family and tradition during a time of turmoil and transition. You can bet that at noon on Thanksgiving, we will be gathered in the family room, with Arlo pumping through our Sonos stereo, singing at the top of our lungs.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

It had been over 20 years since I had been on a hay ride. I daresay, that probably holds true for the majority of the participants at the recent #GWTS2014Summit…but let me start at the beginning. Leadership, Business, Management

A year ago, we put a twist in our annual budget and planning cycle. Many companies and departments conduct offsite planning “summits” and we had always done much the same. In 2012 we added something I had talked about doing for years. We invited some of our vendors to participate. To be invited, the vendor had to be a “strategic partner” (see “Three Keys to a Lasting Relationship“). So, after my management team had spent a day and a half reviewing business plans, trends in the industry, and trends in technology, our vendors arrived. We spent the remainder of the second day reviewing those plans with them, asking for feedback, and asking for general questions.  For the inaugural event, the feedback we received afterward was very positive, enough so to repeat in 2013.

Always looking to improve and listening to the feedback from the that first event, we made some changes to the format.

First of the changes…Twitter and the hashtags. As I talked about in a previous post, Twitter is my new way of taking notes at conferences (see I will never take notes again). I thought…”why not”. So, I created the hashtag and began tweeting first thing in the morning of day one. I encouraged my team to join in (though I must say NO ONE DID, ahem, are you listening?). I also sent a note to the entire department and our vendor partners suggesting they follow along with the activities through Twitter. Our day began in the Roosevelt Room at Fort Harrison State Park (ok, that is significant, but to find out why, you have to read a future post about my journey with Theodore Roosevelt).

Day one was focused on internal discussions with our management team. We reviewed business and infrastructure plans, however, we dedicated the meat of the day to open discussion, about the department, our company, and where we are versus where we want to be. Believe it or not we ran out of time!

As day one of discussions came to a close, it was time for another departure from the prior year. As I mentioned, last year the partners came at the end of day two. While the conversation was good, I believed it could have been better. So, this year, we had the partners join us for dinner at the end of day one (now before anyone reading this panics and thinks we bought dinner for 35 vendors, we did not, we asked that each vendor attending pay for their own meal. There, feel better?). The dinner was catered by the park at one of their shelter houses.

My team and I headed down to the shelter house while our guests began to arrive. Many had met the year before, or had been involved in joint meetings with us. However, there were some new faces to introduce to each other. This was one of the reasons for the shift to the end of day one…to get the introductions out of the way. Keep in mind, some of these vendors represented companies that were competitors of each other (not on our account mind you, but competitors in the market just the same). We had warned them all to put on their big boy and big girl pants for the event; it was after all about transparency and dialogue.

Gradually, the conversation began to shift from introductions into curiosity. Why HAD they been instructed to dress casually and wear outdoor shoes? Where we going to hike? Where we going to have a scavenger hunt? Maybe, a “vendor challenge”? (btw nice tennies, Steve!) Soon the sound of a large tractor could be heard in the distance. Since only two of knew what was happening, no one noticed. Moments later a large John Deere (Dave, picture our John Deere salute here!) tractor pulled into the parking lot next to the shelter house. It was pulling two large wagons filled with hay. Still, not many noticed.

I stood up on one the picnic tables to get everyone’s attention and announced, “Before dinner, we have a surprise for all of you! You may notice the two wagons behind me, everybody…follow me and pile in, we are going on a hayride”. At first the crowd didn’t move, as if they thought I was kidding. Me? Kid? I don’t think so…let’s go folks EVERYBODY IN!  Finally, 40+ of Indianapolis’ finest business people were piled in the two wagons and we headed out for a 45 minute tour of Fort Harrison State Park.

Business, Management, LeadershipAt first there was some awkward chit-chat and bemusement, I don’t think many of them could believe we were actually on a hay ride. The further along the pathways we traveled, the polite chit-chat gave way to laughter, spirited conversation and picture taking.  You could sit and watch the inner child come out. By the time, we were halfway done, there was debate about which wagon was the “cool, more fun wagon”. (Personally, I think the one I was in was the cool wagon!).

After the adventure, the dinner was served. I think the hay ride dominated the conversation at most of the tables.

The next morning as we gathered in the Roosevelt Room, the evenings activities had the exact effect we were looking to achieve. The greetings were boisterous, the conversation lively, and…the ice had been broken. We kicked off the meeting with a special guest and a dear friend of mine, Dr. Dan Miller of Historical Solutions (www.historicalsolutions.com). Dan provides leadership training, team building, and executive coaching, all in the context of exploring history. Those of you who know my passion for Lewis and Clark would think we were twins separated at birth. Dan provided us with an historical perspective of our surroundings, in the Roosevelt room of For Harrison, the relationship between Teddy Roosevelt and Benjamin Harrison and an approach to planning, preparation and execution. There could not have been a more appropriate start to our day.

Next up, we reviewed the business and technology plans and highlighted our discussions of the day before with our partners. We then asked each partner to present their views on the trends they are seeing in their slice of the industry. I am sure it was tough, ask a bunch of business development people to get up in front of a room of 45 people and NOT SELL and only give them FIVE MINUTES, it had to be tough! (Ok, to be honest, next year, I am going to edit their slides beforehand and remove any of those “here is who we are, how much we sell, and who our customers are” slides!) Check out the Twitter hashtag (#GWTS2014Summit) to see some of the highlights from the round-robin presentations.

We spent the remainder of the morning in a group discussion of our projects, the trends, business issues, and our direction. In addition to some great thoughts, I believe there were several business connections made within the group and some ideas for additional areas of partnership with us were formulated.

Our partners left at the end of the morning discussion, we were then joined by our newly formed architecture team. We spent the next couple of hours diving into discussion topics specific to our technology architecture. By mid-afternoon, we were joined by the remainder of the team and we jumped into topics about process, team dynamics, and communication.

Overall, it was a very successful summit. We learned a a lot from each segment, solidified our roadmap, and potentially made some connections for business. We are already planning next year’s event and how to make it even better…hmmmmm, something like “Vendor Wipe Out” comes to mind….

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

Growing up in American Baptist Churches as the son of a minister (yes, I AM a PK), these words were always front and center. Carved in the communion table in front of the pulpit, I would read them countless times over the years. However, it wasn’t until much later in life that these words took on a new and different meaning. With apologies to the author and translators of the New Testament, at this time when the Christian world celebrates Christmas, I would like to talk about donuts. Yes, donuts.

My favorite thing about celebrating Christmas are the traditions, rituals if you will. Every year we watch the same movies: Scrooged (laughing at the “toaster” line like hearing it for the first time); A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out, Ralphie”); Christmas Vacation (reciting all the lines); and of course, It’s a Wonderful Life (crying at the end for the 40ieth consecutive year). Each year we attend the Christmas Eve service (though Baptists cannot stay up until midnight, so ours is at 11). And each season is highlighted by the gathering of family and friends, exchanging gifts and cards, and music across the generations.

However, of all these traditions, my favorite tradition is making donuts with my mom, it is never officially Christmas until the donuts are done. We call them “Grandpa’s Donuts”.

My fondest memories about my Grandpa Williams revolved around his two magnificent donut machines.  Every time without fail when he would come to visit, we would run out to meet him as he got out of the car. All four of us kids would jump up and down with excitement, all asking if he brought the donut machines. And, every time without fail, he would look at us, scratch his head and say, “Oh my, I think I forgot those in Milwaukee.” He would then begin digging around in the trunk of his car and, sure enough, tucked back in Brown Bobby Doughnut Machinethe back behind all the luggage would be THE MACHINES! (The machines were actually called “Brown Bobbies”) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Bobby).

My great-grandmother has given the machines to him in the late 1920’s. During the Great Depression, my Grandpa would make donuts to sell at the Post Office where he worked. He needed the extra nickel for two donuts to make extra money to support his growing family.

On one of his trips to visit us in Evansville, he wrote the recipe in the front of mom’s cookbook. He must have known that trip would be his last. When he passed away in 1971, my mother inherited one of the Brown Bobby machines.

Over the next couple of decades it was used to make donuts for the occasional church bake sale but eventually fell into disuse. In the mid 90’s, I was a new manager and wanted to do something special for my team. My mom and I rummaged through her closet and there, tucked in the back, behind the boxes we discovered THE MACHINE! I donned my Grandpa’s old apron (handmade by my Grandma, with stitching that proclaimed the wearer to be “The Doughnut Man”) and we plugged in the Brown Bobby, fingers crossed it would still heat up. As we made the donuts and listened to Christmas Carols, something magical happened. My mom and I began to share stories about Grandpa. Gone for almost 25 years, he was remembered with stories, smiles, laughs, and tears. A new tradition was born.

For over 20 Christmases now, we drag out the machine, plug it in, and hope that it heats up one more time. I don the apron and wave my hand over the machine testing the warmth just as he did. We decipher the recipe, written in the front of a cookbook by a little old man, a very long time ago. We listen to Christmas music and tell the same old stories about him that we have told for years.

When my wife Carmen and I were married in 2001, she joined in the tradition. She, my mom, and I would make the donuts. My dad had the difficult job of quality control (sampling the donuts as we made them!).

This year, my mom has been battling some health issues, so instead of gathering at her house, she and my dad brought the machine to our house. She sat at our kitchen island while Carmen, my dad and I made the donuts. We listened to the carols and told the stories about Brown Bobby DoughnutsGrandpa. At some point, it occurred to me, I was truly making Grandpa’s donuts for the first time. Our first grandson, Braxton, was born in September, making me an “official” Grandpa!

Over the years, we have given donuts to countless friends, relatives and co-workers. We have shared the story of “Grandpa’s Donuts”. On this Christmas Eve, take pause. Take the time during your traditions to remember. Remember your family, your friends. Remember your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Honor your traditions in “remembrance of them”.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.