I recently had the opportunity to speak to a class of college students at IUPUI. We discussed a wide variety of topics including: globalization, outsourcing, culture, career choices and professional networking. It was the latter topic that got me in trouble. You see, I mentioned Twitter. My comment was met with some laughter, some eye rolls and almost in unison, “no one uses Twitter any more. It’s for Olds.”

Olds, now there’s a new one. Olds. I needed no explanation for what it meant. One need to look no further than the gray highlights in my hair and beard to know I fit squarely in the definition of Olds. UGH! Somehow this stung a bit more than being introduced last year as one of the “elder statesmen” of the Information Technology community. THAT came from one of my peers. This came from a group of students young enough to be my grandkids. OK, so yes I am an Olds.

Now, back to Twitter. Ok, class. You may be off using one of the myriad of applications that have replaced Twitter in the thumbs of your generation. But I am not talking about connecting with your peers. I’m talking about connecting with us Olds. Those of us who are in leadership and management positions, those of us who will be hiring you in May when you graduate. Why is connecting with us on Twitter (and LinkedIn) important? To learn. For all of us to learn. Here’s what I mean.

Leveraging the information shared on Twitter is an excellent way to keep up with today’s business news. Much of the tech news I read is a result of a link being shared on Twitter. If Isaac, or Charlie, or Paul or one of the other few thousand people I follow wrote new content, I want to read it. But it is also not about what they wrote, but what the read and found important enough to share it with me (as a member of their network). It’s up to the minute, fresh, it gives you a glimpse into what they are thinking.

I follow a Twitter list. The 100 Most Social CIOs. Imagine that. I can get a peek inside the mind of 100 CIOs in an instant. Just today, here are some of the topics:

It is a way to keep track of an industry (technology) that is changing at an exponential pace!

Some of my most trusted mentors, I “met” on Twitter. I started following them, reading what they shared. Re-Tweeted them, adding my own thoughts. Direct messaged them with questions. Slowing built relationships. Some of them I have now met in person during my travels, some I have interviewed for blog series, others I have interviewed on our podcast.

I also follow our company. I want to see what others are saying about us. Are our products meeting their needs or not? Are we living up to their standards? Who is interacting with our company posts? What things are on their minds? I follow our major competitors for much of the same reasons.

Need another reason to hang out with us Olds on Twitter? When you are interviewing for that dream job, how about following the company. What are they Tweeting about? Who is interacting with their Tweets? Are people generally reacting in a positive manor, or is the Twittersphere full of bad customer services Tweets? Find out the names of the people who are interviewing you. Follow them on Twitter, what things are they thinking about? How do those things apply to the position you are seeking? You can work those topics into your answers during the interview.

Follow people that are in similar roles and other companies. What things are on their mind? Reach to them directly. Find out what’s a “day in the life” of that position. It can be valuable information and it will set you apart from the hundreds, if not the thousands of candidates vying for that same position. You will be amazed how willing they will be to help.

Keeping up with your peers is important. I am not suggesting you abandon the channels you use to stay in touch, I am suggesting you give Twitter another chance as you enter the workforce. It will be a valuable tool for your career.

Now, I’m going to go back to my Rolling Stones music and reminisce about the forty years that have passed since I sat where you are sitting. (btw HOW old is Jagger?)

(Image courtesy of www.ClassicCarCatalogue.com) 

#AmplifyYourLeadership

 

Many of you are also subscribers to my newsletter (“What? You have a newsletter”, you ask? Why yes, I do. You can sign up here), let me start again. Those of you who read my January newsletter saw the 2019 goal I have set for myself to write my next book. The book will be Amplify Your Leadership, in it I will explore ten traits of a leader and the actions you can take to grow as a leader.

Some of you have heard my keynote address “Everything I Learned About Leadership…I Learned from Lewis and Clark”. This book will build upon those themes and ideas to serve as a guide as you explore what it means to be a leader in your own life (professional and personal).

This is where you come in! I need your stories. Have a story of a great (or not-so-great) leader? I would love to hear from you. No, you don’t need to write like Ernest Hemingway. Just tell me the story. If it is one I select to be included in the book, we can set up a time to talk live, I will take furious notes, and then wordsmith for the manuscript. Of course, I will give you full acknowledgement in the book (how cool is that?!!?).

Here’s how I envision this working. Periodically, I will post here and in my newsletter (you do remember I have a newsletter, right?) asking for stories related to a specific trait of a leader. If you have an example of a leader in your life (or you yourself) exhibiting that trait (or not exhibiting that trait) just jot a few sentences (or paragraphs, if you like) and either leave it in the comments or send me an email at Jeff@JeffreySTon.com.

Our journey will delve into these ten traits of a leader:

A Leader:

is Transparent
is Honest and Truthful
is Accountable
is Patient
Seeks Input
is Committed
has Integrity and Character
Admits Mistakes (aka vulnerable)
is Flexible
Takes Risks

If one or more of these sparks an idea in your mind, you don’t have to wait until I post about that specific trait…send me your story today!

Are you ready? Let’s start with: Transparency.

BusinessDictionary.com defines transparency as:

  1. See-through, clear piece of acetate used for projecting data, diagrams, and text onto a screen with an overhead projector.
    2. Lack of hidden agendas and conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.
    3. Minimum degree of disclosure to which agreements, dealings, practices, and transactions are open to all for verification.
    4. Essential condition for a free and open exchange whereby the rules and reasons behind regulatory measures are fair and clear to all participants.

    Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/transparency.html 

OK, we can probably throw out the first one for our purposes. But, does anyone remember using those crazy overhead projectors and transparencies? As I think about leaders and transparency, I tend to focus (like how I did that, overhead projectors…focus…) on the second definition, but, the third can really come into play as well.

Who, in your experience, has exhibited transparency and what did that help drive in your business or life? Have you worked for someone who was not transparent? What did that cause in your organization?

Send me your stories!

“Bueller. Bueller.”

 

by Courtney Joy Jemison

Today, I am excited to feature a guest post from Courtney Joy Jemison. Courtney and I “met” on social media. She reached out on Twitter after seeing some of my posts for People Development Magazine. As I read some of her posts, her messages resonated with me, and I believe they will resonate with you. Read more about Courtney at the end of this post. 

I’m on autopilot—completely lost in thought as I turn left down the main street I always take to get home.

Copyright Matt Choquette via Sapulpa Times

The street is unusually busy.

Reality slowly peels me from my pensive musing, but by the time the anomaly registers, it’s too late. I’m forced to a stop and I’m surrounded.

There’s a line of cars on my left, a brick wall to my right, a barricade of people in front of me, and a line of cars forming behind me. The neighborhood homecoming parade is slowly snaking through the blocked-off roadway. Not yet committed to the worst-case scenario, I lean forward and strain to see if the tail-end of this slithering sea is visible.

It’s not.

I throw my car into park and sit back. I’m conflicted. One part of me is nostalgic as I see the tubas towering over the proud populace. I remember the pride of being part of the marching band in the high school homecoming parade. The disciplined pace of your feet perfectly in sync with your musical comrades. The tight cadences of the snares and bass drums resonating in the streets—those streets that were specially blocked off just for us.

But the other part of me just wants to get home to see my babies. I become overly aware of the seconds ticking away, cutting into my precious time with them, and frustration overtakes me. I whip out my phone and write a stingingly sarcastic and defeated text message to my husband, whom—would you even believe it—has zero control over my ability to get home any faster. Nevertheless, the reasonless emotions have descended and deceive me into thinking that venting will somehow help.

In situations like these, our human nature tends to focus on finding someone with whom we can share the struggle rather than finding a solution to the problem at hand.

I become annoyingly aware of this truth and after my snippety text message, I’m feeling convicted. I know better than this. I made a vow at the beginning of the year to eliminate the negativity and instead, look for opportunity. Committed to upholding this vow, I turn to look behind me and I see an entrance to a neighborhood just 200 feet away.

I pull up the map on my phone and follow this street all the way through the neighborhood and out to the main road. I look behind me again and see that the line of cars I thought was a mile long is actually only three cars deep (amazing how negativity can augment “manageable” to “unattainable” so quickly in the mind). With only three cars in the queue, I know I could walk up to each and coordinate a streamlined reversal into this neighborhood starting at the back of the line. I realize if I’m going to do this, I have to act now before this becomes a logistical impossibility. A fourth car pulls in, seemingly mocking my indecisiveness and further threatening the ease of escape. All at once, my will breaks through my paralysis and I jump out of the car.

I walk up to each one of the drivers with confidence and purpose (mostly to convince myself that this is going to work). One by one, I deliver the hopeful news that if we all back up and turn into this neighborhood, it will conveniently take us out to the main road. You’d think this promising solution for escape would be received with enthusiasm. Man, was I as wrong as the girl who shows up to her friend’s wedding ceremony dressed in white. I was amazed to find that it was like talking to zombies that had to be snapped out of their tunnel vision. And in two out of the four encounters, I got push-back from people stating that they lived in the neighborhood just beyond the parade. I stayed upbeat and smiled as I assured them this road could lead them to those neighborhoods as well.

It’s incredible how committed we can be to the struggle even when opportunity is so clearly in front of us (or behind us, in this case).

Ultimately and thankfully, I was able to convince these four drivers to trust me and they began backing up one by one. We all managed to successfully slip the parade perimeter and make it out to the main road where opportunities were now closer to endless. I took an alternate route home and only ended up about 15 minutes passed my usual arrival time, greeted by those wonderful baby smiles and a husband genuinely surprised that my plan worked.

********************

Up until my recent pledge to reprogram my pessimistic tendencies, I was the person that always had a reason for why something wouldn’t work. I’m ashamed to say that this was actually something I used to be proud of. I, of course, never saw this behavior as negative. I saw it as responsibly reasoning through something and giving a realistic assessment of how it would most likely play out.

Pessimistic people love this about themselves. They think they’re healthily dosing circumstances with a realistic prognosis, when in reality, they’re conceding victories and solutions yet to be realized by calling time of death prematurely.

Optimists, on the other hand, create their own realities. They shape their lives and their futures through proactive thinking, consistent habits, good decisions, and positive outlooks. They aren’t paralyzed by likelihoods and potentialities, rather, this energizes them to embrace new direction and forge new paths in their lives.

Optimism breeds creativity and creativity breeds solutions.

Knowing that, let’s immediately sever the socially acceptable pairing of optimism and naiveté. Naiveté is ignorantly swearing allegiances and blindly forming conclusions. So, let’s not fold the rotten fruit in with a perfectly promising batch of dough. Consider optimism for what it really is—a very powerful tool. And when it is employed as such, it can serve as an objective and creative filter through which all possibilities are considered before a final decision is made. It gives one the emotional and intellectual flexibility to entertain many different perspectives and outcomes, thus engendering the creative solutions that the pessimist is incapable of arriving at.

Caution: the conclusions healthy optimists reach also engender responsibility. This is what the pessimist is so skillful at avoiding. If they can suppress innovation and write off potential solutions from the outset, then they’ve successfully skirted the responsibility to bear them and see them through.

So, contrary to popular opinion, optimism is the more remarkable show of mental fortitude. It takes courage, discipline, and grit to shoulder the risks and responsibilities that come with being dedicated to problem solving.

So, the next time you feel the urge to pipe up in dissent, ask yourself, “Am I assessing or am I solving?

Challenge yourself to lock up your input unless it includes solutions. And always remember:

 

Negativity concedes the victory.

Optimism fights for victory.

 

Negativity assesses reality.

Optimism creates reality.

 

Negativity suppresses potential.

Optimism embraces potential.

 

Optimism, my friends, is not for the faint of heart.

 

Courtney Joy JemisonCourtney Joy Jemison

Courtney is wife to her unwavering solid rock and safe place, John, and mom to two beautiful quarter Koreans, Olivia and Ethan. She is the Chief Creative Officer at Jonah Digital Agency in Texas and a passionate writer on the topics of emotional intelligence and selfless leadership. You can find her thoughts regularly posted on www.courtneyjoy.com and to her Instagram account @courtneyjoy. 

On June 13, 2o17 I was honored to be the headliner for Sparks Talk’s Fifth Anniversary. The transcript of this timed-talk follows. 

It’s 1780, August. You are a young Shawnee teen. Early in the afternoon you climb up the ridge east of the village and look down across the valley. The summer sun beats down relentlessly on the  village. The air is still, smoke from smoldering cooking fires creates a cloud throughout the clearing and tickles your nostrils as you breathe. Along the base of the hill, several small cabins form a circle. To the east a stockade sits atop the next hill. Fields of corn stretch for miles in each direction along the lazy river.

Some of the younger children play in the dirt near several of the cabins. Mothers keep a watchful eye while they go about their chores in preparation for the evening meal.

A dog wanders between the cabins, its tongue drooping from its mouth as it pants.  It enters the cool shade of a doorway, only to reemerge a second later with a yelp as one of the men inside swats at it so the council meeting is not disturbed.

Inside the cabin, the men are engaged in a great debate. The sound of their voices drift up along with the smoke.

You see motion in the corn…you see the flash before you…Crack! The sound of gunfire shatters the afternoon stillness.  Soon war cries filled the air from the west of the village. The long knives have arrived! The smell of burnt gunpowder mixed with the smoke of the fires and burns your eyes.

Why I was standing in a park in the middle of Ohio reading an historical marker on July 4, 2000 is a story for another day. What we are going to explore today are the connections. The connections that drew me to the past and propelled me into the future.

The sign I was reading was in a park dedicated to the Battle of Piqua. A battle between the Kentucky militia led by George Rogers Clark against a tribe of the Shawnee nation. What boy from Indiana doesn’t feel a connection to George Rogers Clark?

I read more of the markers. One was dedicated in 1976. I graduated high school in 1976. Connection.

A Shawnee boy survived the battle. His name was Tecumseh. I attended Camp Tecumseh YMCA camp as a kid. Connection.

Tecumseh grew up and along with his brother, The Prophet, led the Indian forces in the The Battle of Tippecanoe near Lafayette against the US forces led by William Henry Harrison. In 1976 I graduated from…William Henry Harrison High School…connection. The name of our school newspaper? The Prophet! Connection!

I hated history class in high school…and now I was hooked. Over the next decade, Carmen and I would spend every minute of vacation retracing the Lewis and Clark Expedition. You see, Clark was the younger brother of George Rogers Clark. We discovered dozens and dozens of connections. We discovered a deep love for our country, and we discovered a shared love of history. In a sense, newlyweds when we embarked on these journeys, we discovered each other. Ah, but I’m not here to talk about our love story either, for that, you have to wait until my book “The Lewis and Clark Will Never Die Tour” is published!

All these connections are interesting…and we could talk about them all night…well, for another 6 minutes or so. But, what if I could show you how you could use those connections with the past to live in the present and plan for the future? Now THAT would be really interesting!

For the last five years, did you catch that connection? Five years…same time Sparks was launching. I told you connections with the past are everywhere, anyway, five years ago, I started working with an executive coach. Dr. Dan Miller’s approach to coaching is something he calls Creative Conversations. Through these conversations we study the life, or river as Dan calls them, of an historical figure and discuss points in their lives and how they relate to a problem or a challenge I am wrestling with today.

Over this time span, we have studied Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, William Sherman and Abraham Lincoln, albeit briefly. One of the interesting aspects of immersing yourself in history this way is the number of connections you will discover. Now I know those connections were always there, the study just raised your awareness of them.

When we embarked on our exploration of the Roosevelt River, our theme was Communication, Speaking Truth to Authority and Creating an Environment of Candor. The struggle to speak truth to authority was deeply ingrained. I grew up the son of a baptist minister. Children of the minister were to be seen and not heard, you certainly didn’t speak truth to his authority, especially when his authority was HIS authority!

Roosevelt ALWAYS spoke truth to authority. For him it seemed to come naturally. The lessons over the year were endless. However,, one the stuck out for me was his use of gestures. He was a master at using a gesture to make his point. I realized my dad, was a master of using gestures in his sermons. In some ways I adopted my favorite gesture of his, that of getting out from behind the podium and walking about to engage the audience. However, the key lesson here wasn’t the gesture itself, it was when to NOT use the familiar gesture to make a point. To stop walking around the platform and stop, freeze, and make a point.

As my career progressed and I began to be seen as a leader not just of my team, or even of my company, but in the community, this leadership in a new stage need exploration. Enter Dwight D. Eisenhower and the exploration of adapting to new issues and working with different stakeholders. What better model to use than the military man that rose through the ranks to become the leader of the Allied Forces in WWII and then on to the presidency. Moving from a command and control organization to one of politics and influence.

As Eisenhower established his leadership he saw a connection to two seemingly unrelated advances in warfare. This first was the mechanization of, well, just about everything. The Cavalries of WWI were a thing of the past, but unlike horses, jeeps and trucks need fuel. He leveraged that in his battle plans both for his forces and against the enemy. At the same time aircraft became a strategic part of warfare. Eisenhower was able to see the relationship between the two in a way few others did. For me, as an IT leader, it was about the cloud. But not the cloud alone, it was what it could bring when it was joined with organization agility. Together the two can have a multiplying effect. Look for the relationships in the seemingly unrelated!

Our final example come from the life of William T. Sherman, the civil war general. William Tecumseh Sherman…see how I did that? Connections! The theme we explored is “A Plan is a Contract between the past and the future”. Sherman had a plan. Sherman had a grand plan. His plan didn’t always work. He learned, he adjusted, and ultimately succeeded.

Sherman was involved in two battles near the town of Chickasaw Bluffs. In the first he suffered an embarrassing defeat. Some time later, he and Grant attacked the forces at Chickasaw Bluffs and were successful. Grant had used a strategy Sherman thought would never work. He saw, he learned and he acknowledged. We need to support and observe other leaders and other strategies, and adapt our plans for the future.

These are but a few of the lessons of the last five years. Connections to the past are all around us. Lessons from the past out boundless, and ever changing. Even now as I write this, I see new insights, new lessons, and opportunities to impact the future. As you look back over the last five years, over the last 50 years, 100 years, longer, what connections reveal themselves? What lessons are there to be learned in the present to plan for the future?

I am very excited to have a guest blogger for this installment of Rivers of Thought. This is from the pen (ok, keyboard) of a great storyteller. I have been after him for MONTHS to write a post for Rivers of Thought. This storyteller is none other than my cousin, Kenn Beckwith.

Kenn and I were pretty close as cousins go, even though he grew up in Milwaukee and I grew up in Indiana. A couple years ago we reconnected after being out of touch for DECADES! As we have gotten to know each other’s life journey, it is remarkable the similarity in our paths. So without further ado:

family, leadership, #AllLivesMatterIt was last October.

I was late for a meeting.

Traffic was heavy.

I was in the HOV lane because I can afford to pay the toll.

I was driving 69 in a 55.

I was pulled over.

As the trooper approached the car I had my license and insurance in my hand waiting for him. He took them and went back to the squad car. I have a clean record, but was bracing for an expensive fine.

Upon his return he noticed the windows of my recently purchased car and observed they were darkly tinted. After checking the glass with a gauge, he confirmed they were too dark. I explained I had just purchased the car and he told me to take it back to the dealer to rectify.

He then noticed my low tire pressure warning light was illuminated. I told him I had just swapped tires and the sensor had yet to sync. He walked around the car to check for himself.

He then handed me a warning ticket for the entire episode. He was polite, helpful, and in all ways, represented his profession well. I thanked him for the warning; since then I’ve slowed down and I’ve told this story many times.

I’m white.

A few nights ago ago a 33-year old man, his girlfriend, and 4-year old daughter were leaving a grocery store and were pulled over due to a broken tail light. We all know what happened thereafter. I used to have a carry permit – this man did exactly what I was trained to do – he notified the officer.

He’s dead now.

He was black.

I do not pretend to know what it is like to live as a black man in our society. Every time we add one more body to the count of dead people we hear the words “black lives matter.” Then we hear well-meaning people say “all lives matter.” As President Obama said yesterday, “you cannot ignore the data.”

The one question crashing around my brain every time I’ve told the story of my traffic stop has been, “would I have had the same experience if I had not been a 59-year old white male driving a nice car?”

No answers – just sad about the state of our country.

 

Want to connect? Find me on LinkedIn or Twitter (@jtonindy)
Interested in IT and the changing role of IT? Read more on: Intel’s IT Peer Network
For posts on life, love, leadership, and just about everything else:  Rivers of Thought
I write about Leadership and Leadership Development for:  People Development Magazine

 

Proving once again, I am not above using a shameless pop culture reference with “Back to the Future” to drive traffic! What I really want to talk about is not the great movie trilogy (well, at least the first one was great) but rather, leveraging the past to change the future.

About 100 years ago, George Santayana penned his oft repeated line, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This phrase has been quoted (and misquoted) over the last century. Using three vignettes from history, let’s explore the past for some lessons we can use as leaders to shape our future.

Benjamin Harrison & Theodore Roosevelt: The Center and Edge

leadership, business, history

In 1888 Benjamin Harrison was running for President of the United States. A young up-and-comer, Theodore Roosevelt, was canvassing the midwest, feverishly campaigning for Harrison. After Harrison won the election and became our 23rd President, he appointed Roosevelt to serve on the Civil Service Commission.

A rather ironic appointment, wouldn’t you say? Why ironic, you ask? Well, the mission of the Civil Service Commission was to stamp our cronyism and ensure government employees were hired based on their merits rather than by quid pro quo appointments.

Wanting to prove to the country he was his own man, Roosevelt started his work to clean up the federal government in, of all places, Indianapolis, Indiana, Benjamin Harrison’s own backyard!

Roosevelt continued living on the edge throughout his entire career. Always challenging the status quo, always pushing the envelope. While this did not win many fans with the party bosses, who oft times were targets, it did make him one of the most popular presidents in history.

When you think of living life on the edge, what images come to mind? Bleeding edge? Cutting edge? Edge of the earth? Each of these conjure up the dangers associated with the “edge”.

leadership, business, historyI’d like to give you a new image to consider for living on the edge. Many of you who know me, know I am a river rat. I would rather be canoeing a river than doing just about anything else on the planet. A technique for making your way downstream in turbulent waters is to use the eddies, those calm areas of water that form behind an obstruction. A canoeist or kayaker can enter the eddy, rest, regather, regroup, and scout the river ahead.

Using the eddies is not without its dangers, however. Entering and exiting the eddy can be challenging. The line (eddy line) or edge that forms between the fast flowing water of the main channel and the calm, still waters of the eddy can be difficult to navigate. One has to attack the edge at just the right angle to enter the eddy. When ready to proceed, one again has to attack the edge with confidence to re-enter the river.

Roosevelt knew when he need to recharge and regroup, but he also knew to make progress and to make change, as a leader, you have to attack the edge!

George Marshall & Dwight D. Eisenhower: Train for the Future

leadership, business, history

It was early in the 1940’s and history was about to repeat itself. Europe was already engulfed in war and it was only a matter of time before the U.S. would get involved. Over the last several months, the U.S. built its fighting force. From a peacetime corp, the military ranks swelled to 1.4 million soldiers.

The few remaining veterans were comfortable re-fighting World War I. However, Nazi Germany had done in four months with it’s predecessor had not done in four years…seize all of Europe. Marshall knew these new soldiers would need to be trained before the U.S. entered the fray. To accomplish this training he ordered war games to take place in Louisiana, known to history has the Louisiana Maneuvers.

With that order, more than 500,000 soldiers descended upon Louisiana and some other southern states. But Marshall was doing more than just training the troops. He was looking for leaders. He was looking for leaders that could demonstrate a new approach, not just use the same tired techniques because they “worked in the past”. In short, he was looking for Colonels who could be Generals.

leadership, business, history31 of the 42 Division Commanders were replaced during or after the Louisiana Maneuvers. Among those new leaders? Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Business has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. What worked in the past will not work today. Business is changing at an ever increasing pace. What works today will not work in the future. We need new skills, we need new processes. Will the next generation of leaders be ready? Can we help them see the future? Can we help them see the new skills? Can we help them be ready to lead their teams?

Like Marshall, we have to train for the future!

Lewis and Clark & Thomas Jefferson

leadership, business, history(You knew they’d be in here somewhere, didn’t you?)

It was 1806. The Lewis and Clark Expedition had departed from St. Louis almost three years prior. They had traveled about five or six thousand miles by boat, by foot, by canoe. They had narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Teton Sioux, nearly froze to death in the harsh winters, survived temperatures in excess of 100 degrees, and had to eat their horses to survive starvation in the Rocky Mountains. Now, finally on their way back home to “those United States” they were stuck. The snow on the mountains was too deep to cross. They returned to the Nez Perce villages and waited….almost two months.

During this time they developed a new plan for their return trip.  Over the course of the journey the Captains had learned some facts that Jefferson could not have known. Armed with this new information they had a choice. They could wait…return to civilization…provide the information to Jefferson…ask him what to do, then carry out his instructions. Or, they could take a risk! Based on their knowledge of Jefferson, their knowledge of the new facts, and an understanding of the goals of the mission…they decided to split into four groups.

leadership, business, historyPretty significant risk, wouldn’t you say? Dividing what was already a small Corps into four smaller teams and heading out into the still very much unknown? Call it taking risks, call it taking initiative. To be a leader, we have to know when to take these types of educated risks. History does not tell us about Jefferson’s reaction to this risk, nor do we know the “what ifs”. The decision could have lead to untold catastrophes. How would Jefferson have reacted if their journals had been destroyed, or if they had lost some of the precious discoveries, or if some of them had been killed? As leaders, not only do we have to be willing to take risks, but we have to provide an environment and a culture for our employees, leaders and future leaders, to be able to take risks, to be able to fail, and to be able to succeed.

Progress and Change

The worlds of business and technology are changing at an ever accelerating pace. We as leaders need to understand where we have been, as well as, see where we are going. We must become comfortable living on the edge, or risk being sucked into the whirlpool of the status quo. We must train our teams and our leaders for the future. What worked in the past will not work in the days ahead. We must also know when to take educated risks and provide an environment that empowers our teams to take risks, lest we leave significant “discoveries” on the table.

History can and does repeat itself, regardless of the lessons learned. Armed with your knowledge of the past, how will you make progress by changing the future? Let’s revisit Mr. Santayana and his quote…in context:

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This post is derived from a talk by the same name given for Sparks Tech. View the video here.

 

Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn.
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Jeff blogs on a variety of platforms:
Business related topics:  LinkedIn
IT and the role of the CIO:  Intel’s IT Peer Network
Life, Family, Love, Leadership and History:  Rivers of Thought
Leadership and Leadership Development:  People Development Magazine

Now, before you jump to any conclusions and think I am breaking up with my wife, Carmen, or worse yet, that I have become a Neil Sedaka fan, let me assure you neither of those horrific things is true!

business, leadership, Breaking Up is Hard to DoOver the last several months, I have been struggling with the decision to leave a job that I love and to embark on a journey down a new stretch of river. Yes, I am leaving the role of CIO for Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana to join Bluelock, an Indiana tech company that provides Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS) infrastructure and services, as EVP of Product and Service Development. So, after 35 years of being in Corporate IT, the last 10 of which as CIO, I am switching sides of the desk and joining a firm whose product IS technology.

Now, mind you, I absolutely love Goodwill. I firmly believe in the mission, I love the vision and direction, and will continue to support the organization with my time, talents and treasures as best as I am able. However, as sad as I am to leave this organization, I am just as excited about joining my new organization and pushing off to paddle into the unknown (note the veiled Lewis and Clark reference).

How I came to this decision reminds me a lot of how Carmen and I came to the decision to marry. You see, we had been business colleagues and friends for years. As we each went through our divorces, dating, bad break ups and more dating, more break ups, we started to hang out together more and more. We celebrated the highs of new relationships, shared the laughs of life’s journey and held each other through the tears of another break up.

I can’t tell you how hard we laughed, when a well intentioned Maitre D’ seated us at “our most romantic table”. Oh, my god no! We are just friends! Even our friends got in on the act, saying, “You should date Carmen” or “You should date Jeff”. OH. MY. GOD. NO! We are just friends! We don’t want to ruin our friendship!

A few months later, while sitting on her couch, we looked at each other and asked, “So, when did we start dating?” The rest, as they say is history! A match made in heaven, a match with a foundation of friendship, a match of kindred souls.

I have been joking for a couple of years now that if I ever left Goodwill, I would join Bluelock. Maybe subconsciously I was only half joking. At any rate, early in January this year, the CEO of Bluelock and I met for breakfast. Honest, we were just friends! Actually, we were client/provider. We ended up having a great conversation about business, technology and transforming a startup to steady-state. The conversation went so well, we decided to meet again to continue the conversation.

As the months flew by, we didn’t quite look at each other and ask when we started dating, but the dialogue did shift to “what would it look like if…”, and eventually, to “how do we make this happen?”

As great as the opportunity sounded, I was conflicted. I had spent 25 years of my 35 year career aspiring to be a CIO, now I was going to walk away from it? Not to mention, I would be switching sides of the desk, moving to the dark side, becoming an evil vendor, would my friends and colleagues still return my calls? I had spent the last several years building a network of CIOs and IT leaders (Indy CIO Network), could I still lead that group effectively?

I reached out to my trusted advisers: my wife, my mentors, a couple members of the Indy CIO Network, my executive coach, and my dad. Each and every conversation reinforced what I was thinking and feeling, one by one they helped me answer all of the questions swirling around in my mind. Before my most recent coaching session, my coach (Dr. Dan Miller) came into my office and said, “come on, we’re going to do something different today.” With that, we walked to the corner overlooking the river.

“The city is not there, these sidewalks are not here. The traffic is gone. You are here among the trees looking out over the river. What are you thinking? What are you feeling?” After about 10 minutes, he said, “let’s head back and do our session.”

Before we crossed the street, I stopped and said, “Thank you. Thank you for making me stop and think. It is the first time I have stopped in months.”

Later, in our session, as I described the company and my new role. Dan stopped me and said, “You’ve already decided. Quit fretting and embrace it.”

Just as our friends were right many years ago, he could not have been more right about this.

So, as I wrap up my last few days at a great organization, with fantastic people, I look ahead to joining a great organization, with fantastic people. I am excited about the waters ahead!

 

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Jason FisherToday, I am very excited to feature a Guest Post from a friend and colleague of mine, Mr. Jason Fisher. He is a consummate professional and one of the most talented and intelligent people I have had the pleasure of working with. His bio follows this post. Over the years, we have enjoyed several conversations about camping of all kinds, but more specifically, wilderness camping. Last week he was late for work, late for a meeting, but, his “excuse” blew me away. Let him tell it in his own words:

I may have saved somebody’s life today. Well, me and two other thoughtful passerby’s, to give credit where it is due.

So, let me set the stage. I was on my way to work, about 7:40am, cutting it a little close for arriving at a meeting with my boss, my boss’s boss, and a few others, when I get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on the interstate. Three lanes of traffic barely moving, brake lights as far in front of me as I can see, and course, it’s raining.

Music is how I pass the time. Air drums and all the words to my favorite songs. I probably provided some comic relief to everyone nearby. Good.

I finally neared the source of the traffic and see that it is a white car driving very slowly on the left shoulder, nearly scraping the concrete barrier between the northbound and southbound lanes. As I drive slowly past, I see that the man driving is slumped over, clearly unconscious or worse.

I pull over immediately and jump out. The white car starts angling back across the three lanes of traffic. I quickly catch up to the car and ran alongside of it banging on the driver’s window.

Thankfully, he woke up just as we were getting to the right shoulder and he stopped the car. That was also when I noticed another guy had stopped his car right behind mine and ran up with me. A lady also had stopped with us and dialed 911.

As the guy who ran up with me and I were talking to the older gentleman who was just unconscious, but now was dazed, confused, and oddly wanting to drive away, I’m thinking, “I know this guy”. We keep talking to him, insisting that he is not OK and he needs to stay right there.

It took a minute for me to realize who the other good samaritan was. We both seemed to realize it at the same time. He is…my wife’s, aunt’s, brother-in-law’s, daughter’s boyfriend that I had met once at a Christmas party last year. Clearly no blood relation, but he is also a Marine, so that makes him my brother.

Sorry, I got away from the story of that man’s life. He seemed to stay in a confused state, I suspect maybe medication or blood sugar. Anyway, help arrived very quickly and I didn’t stick around for the rest. I’m sure he will be fine. Plus, by now I was really late for that meeting!

As I am driving away, I realize how many cars there were in front of me in that snarled traffic, it really weighed on me then, and throughout the day, that they all went by at slow speed, not noticing or not caring.

There were easily a couple hundred cars in front of me.

Nobody stopped.

If you were driving north on I-65, approaching Indianapolis this morning around 7:30-8:00 and drove by that white car holding everyone up, shame on you!

It really doesn’t take a couple Marines to chase down a car moving at idle speed on the interstate. It just takes a single shred of decency and an ounce of compassion for your fellow man. So what if you get wet and late for work?!

On the bright side, emergency services were quick to arrive after that lady contacted them, my bosses were understanding of my tardiness to the meeting, and I know my brothers will always have my back!

Jason, I’ve got nothing to add, except respect. You already had my respect as a colleague, but on that day, you earned respect at a whole new level.

Mr. Fisher is an IT professional with over 20 years of experience consulting and supporting infrastructure systems.  He is the Infrastructure Manager and Senior Systems Architect for Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, which includes 57 retail locations, Commercial Services (contract manufacturing, packaging, and janitorial services), 12 charter high schools for youths and adults, as well as the Nurse-Family Partnership; all together over 80 locations in a variety of industry verticals.

He came to Goodwill in 2012, inheriting an aging, overcapacity and critically failing infrastructure.  Together with Goodwill’s leadership, he embarked on an infrastructure transformation, utilizing cloud architecture and leveraging the expertise of critical business partners.

Jason is an Indianapolis native and served in the United States Marine Corps. Outside of the office, he also enjoys hiking and camping with his wife and two children, coaching youth athletic teams, and practicing wilderness survival.

 

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business, leadership, education

Copyright Warner Bros.

Scarecrow: You promised us real things — a real…brain!

Tin Man: A real heart!

Lion: Real courage. That’s what we want.

Wizard: You do? boys, you’re aiming low. You not only surprise, but you grieve me.

Why, anybody can have a brain.  That’s a very mediocre commodity.  Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the earth — or slinks through slimy seas has a brain!

From the rock-bound coast of Maine to the Sun…. oh – oh, no — — ah – Well, be that as it may. Back where I come from we have universities, seats of great learning — where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts — and with no more brains than you have…. But!  They have one thing you haven’t got!  A diploma!

Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitatus Committeeatum e plurbis unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of Th.D.

Scarecrow: Th.D.?

Wizard: Yeah — that…that’s Dr. of Thinkology!

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum; Copyright Warner Bros.

 

I have a confession. I do not have a Master’s Degree…I don’t even have a Bachelor’s Degree. There I said it. I feel better! I am glad to get that off my chest! While it has never really been a secret, it is something that I have kept close to the vest for ages. It’s amazing to me how often it comes up in conversation. “I graduated from IU” or “I graduated from Purdue”, or “I graduated from Notre Dame”, or UCLA, UK, BSU, Wisconsin, THE Ohio State University, or countless others…and then…”Where is your Alma Mater?” How do I answer THAT? I usually reply, rather self-consciously, “I went to Indiana State”, or “I went to Judson”, (which is true, I attended both), being very careful NOT to say I graduated from…

You see, I was going to be a rock star! Hey, it was the 70’s, it’s all I ever wanted to do from my the age of 10 or 11. I left for college at Indiana State to major in Music Theory and Composition. I discovered very quickly…you have to have talent! I did not. Over the next couple of years, I got married, transferred schools, and my first son was born. To provide for my family, I put my college studies on hold and began to work one, two and sometimes three jobs.

Honestly, the hold was never removed. By the time my wife finished her degree and we were in a position for me to go back to school, I was teaching college level computer classes. Say what? Yep, I was teaching night classes at a local university in computer programming, word processing and data processing. How that happened is really the story of how I have achieved all that I have achieved in my professional life. Its really a story of lifelong learning.

While I was working collections for Visa in Chicago, I had the opportunity to be assigned to the project team working on their new computer system. I was the end-user helping to define the requirements for the collections modules. A couple years later, after a move to Indianapolis, I found myself in the same position. We were gathering requirements for a new computer system and I was assigned to be the user representative. But, something was different this time. IBM had released what they called the Personal Computer. Microsoft and CPM were in a battle for supremacy of the Operating system and I had purchased a Commodore 64. I had found my calling! I was in LOVE!

At the time, I was riding a bus about an hour each way to work. I was driven. I was going to move from the user department to the IT department come hell or high water. During those long bus rides I devoured every college level computer textbook I could get my hands on…System Development Life Cycle, Relational Database Theory, PL/I, IMS (hey that’s what the new system was using) and countless others.

I received my first break when a job opened up running the print room in the IT department. My job? Pull the green-bar printouts off the printer and deliver them to the programmers. It was REALLY glamorous. A few months later, Joan gave me my first big break and hired me onto the development team writing the software for…the credit card collections department.

To say I taught myself everything I know about software development would not be fair to the countless professionals who coached, guided, and taught me along the way. I owe a huge thanks to Lynda, Bob, Steve, Jerry, Glenn, Beth and dozens of others.

I did the same when it was time (past time) to move into a “management position”. Again, I devoured every book I could get my hands on. I read so many, I could not even do the authors justice by trying to list them here. The point is…my devotion to lifelong learning continued.

Over the span of several years, I progressed from supervisor, to manager, to director. At that point, I was managing a team of about 50 internal employees and an additional 100 contract employees on several continents. The majority of my staff were split between the US and France. It became very obvious to me that there were communication issues among the team. So what did I do? I hired a tutor and began to learn French! I learned very quickly, it goes a long way if you try to learn the culture, try to learn the language, try to meet the people where they are…not expect them to meet you where you are!

As my career progressed, I felt I was ready for my first IT leadership position. I was given the CIO role at a small but fast growing company. There my study changed from management to leadership. The first step was to examine myself without any of the guises of self-deception and identity strengths, weaknesses and my personal brand. Again, I dove into book, after book, after book. Again, I learned from peers and mentors (thanks Ron, Christine, Lori, Rick and others) I learned about creating a culture of excellence, developing leaders in your teams and servant leadership. I realized, I had been educated in leadership from a very young age. My dad is the definition of a servant leader. What a great example to follow.

The next step on my continuing journey came about five years ago. I attended the CIO Symposium at MIT. To say it was a life changing event does not even do it justice. The work they are doing in IT, technology, and business through the Sloan Business school struck a deep chord in me. I picked up a pamphlet on the MIT Sloan Executive Education Certificate Program. The course in the catalogue were compelling. But, I thought, I could never get in. I don’t have a degree. After all, this was MIT! After a few weeks of internal struggle, I applied. Several days later, much to my surprise…I was accepted! That’s right..I was going to study at MI-freaking-T!

Which brings us to today. This past April I completed the final class in the Certificate Program in business, leadership, negotiationManagement and Leadership. I am very proud of where I am. I am not satisfied with where I am. I will continue to learn, I will continue to grow. The path I chose (I DID choose it, didn’t I?) was not easy. It is not a path I recommend to anyone. I will counsel my kids, my grandkids, and anyone who seeks my guidance, to get their degree. However, I will also counsel them that learning does not stop with graduation. To succeed, you have to continue to study, learn, and grow, through books, family, co-workers, bosses, employees, peers and mentors.

Perhaps my journey is the reason why Scarecrow was always my favorite Oz character.

Scarecrow: The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side.  Oh joy, rapture!  I’ve got a brain!

 

Who knew Oz was in Boston (Cambridge, actually)!??!

 

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Now before you think I am calling Professor Jared Curhan a pirate, let me explain. First of all, if he was a pirate, he would be the lovable, friendly kind like Johnny Depp or Keith Richards. Of all the classes, seminars, and workshops I have ever attended, I have to rank Professor Curhan near the top when it comes to educators who can captivate, entertain, and educate, even a very difficult subject like Negotiation for Executives.  In doing his closing remarks for the MIT Sloan Executive Education course, Professor Curhan, confessed he struggled to summarize such an intense couple of days, he wanted the class to have a take-away with all the salient points, but it was too big to put into a single page, even a large page, even a poster-sized page. With that confession, he unfurled a beach towel..a huge beach towel. The beach towel was printed with a very detailed drawing of a pirate ship, buried treasure, mermaids and other sea creatures, each one depicting a point from the class. So, while Professor Curhan is not a pirate, we really did have Lessons in Negotiations from a Pirate! But, I am ahead of myself…

As in my previous posts about the classes I have attend at MIT Sloan Executive Education, I don’t want give away the content of the course (you should ATTEND ONE…or two…or three), but I do want to talk about the experience. I have to admit, of all the courses I have taken, I was most nervous about this one. I was not sure what to expect. Were we going to learn how to be cut-throat negotiators? Were we going to learn tricks and tactics to help us win at all costs? Was I going to learn my entire approach to negotiations was wrong?

My mind flashed back to one of the first major negotiations I was involved in. I was sitting in the “business chair”, alongside our corporate counsel. We were negotiating a deal that was in the tens of millions of dollars. We were under a deadline to seal the deal. We scheduled our final negotiations for a Friday in June, with the message to the others, we were not leaving until we had a deal.

Friday came and our vendor and their high priced Washington, D.C. attorney arrived from the airport. Everyone was suited-up and ready to get down to business. After a long day of negotiating, (and frankly, not making much progress), the vendor’s attorney announced he had a plane to catch and got up to leave. I felt our attorney bristle. He calmly looked across the table and said, “I told you, we were here to make a deal and we were not leaving until we had it closed. If you walk now, the deal is over and we will call your competitor.” Grumbling something about taking a later flight, they sat back down.

About midnight, our attorney looked around the table and announced we would halt for the evening, but we would reconvene at 8 AM Saturday. Now, remember, this was a group of five or six guys from out of town, who had not expected to be there overnight. Also, remember this was June. Have you ever been in an office building after hours, in June…after the HVAC shuts off for the unoccupied schedule? To say the conference room had gotten, well, close was an understatement.business, leadership, negotiation

The next morning we all gathered in the same hot stuffy conference room (hey, who knows how to override the HVAC? Evidently, nobody). We sat down for another long day across the table was the high-priced Washington D.C. attorney, no longer in his three-piece suit from the day before. Today he was sporting his suit pants, paired with a Grateful Dead t-shirt he’d purchased at the 24 hour Walmart down the street! By midnight Saturday (our deadline), we closed the deal.

What an introduction to negotiation! As the day of the class approached, it had me looking around for an old Grateful Dead t-shirt!

Class was NOTHING like I expected, in fact, I learned the approach just described would be considered a barrier to successful negotiation, especially when a long lasting relationship was one of the desired outcomes of the negotiation!

Over the course of the class, I sold a house in Cambridge (including a breeding pair of Moluccan Cockatoos), bought a car on behalf of my niece, hired a freelance consultant to help with a big project and negotiated an exclusive deal for my middle eastern beverage company to distribute Bepsico products. Of course, these were all in class exercises as we learned to handle various negotiations. Again, I don’t want to give away too much of the class, but I did have several “aha” moments.

After each one of the negotiations, we wrote some notes about what went well and what didn’t go so well. As I looked back over my notes a couple of common themes jumped out at me. First, in each case, I wrote the relationship with the other party was good, amicable, and set a good foundation for future negotiations. On the other side of the ledger, I wrote that I felt like I left money on the table. I started to worry that I was being “too nice”. Here was the interesting part. In each case, I had negotiated a deal that was above my reservation value and in most cases was close to my aspiration value. As the days progressed, I came to understand, I was evaluating myself with the filters of my initial lesson in negotiation…win at all costs. The course validated that relationship building was, in fact, a significant part of negotiation and I was doing it well. On the flip side, I will paraphrase Professor Curhan, “I give them as much as I can and ask for no more than I need. They do the same. If not? Then I don’t.” Meaning, if I set my reservation value and aspiration value fairly, and I negotiate a deal in that range, and I build a strong relationship for working together in the future then, I shouldn’t feel like I am “leaving money on the table.”

In his book, “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah”, Richard Bach writes, “Teachers do not teach, they remind us of things we already know.” That sums up the second lesson I took away from the class: “Proper preparation for negotiation takes the nervousness out of negotiation.” Duh! One of the most valuable pieces of collateral we received in the class was a framework. The framework outlined the Seven Elements to preparation for negotiation. Even when pressed for time, keeping the framework in mind can help you think through all of the elements you need to consider. I know I will be using the framework for every negotiation in the future!

Very much a part of  the framework is the mantra, “Don’t lose sight of your purpose.” Many times when faced with barriers to a successful negotiation (like sweating the suits off of people) or tactics meant to “win at all costs”, we tend to lose sight of our purpose. Your purpose should be clear and concise so that it is easy to fall back on during the negotiation process. For example, if preserving a long term relationship is part of your purpose, it may make sense for you not to be involved in the negotiations at all.

Finally, was the concept of value claiming versus value creation. Value claiming assumes a fixed size pie. As you claim value, the other side loses value. While this is ok for some negotiations (give them as much as I can, take only what I need), there are some negotiations that can increase the size of the pie, in other words, create value. Professor Curhan liked to call it the post-settlement settlement. Once an agreement is reached, explore ways in which the pie can be enlarged and value can be created for all parties.

I am only scratching the surface of the lessons I took away from the class. In addition to these lessons, I took away some very valuable relationships with others in the class. To me, that is the way MIT “enlarges the pie”…students gain tremendous insights and have access to some of the greatest minds in business, with the added bonus of meeting and forming relationships with professionals from across the globe.  So, if you are sitting across the table from me in a negotiation and you see my Jolly Roger with Skull and Crossbones, never fear it’s only a reminder for me to make sure that we build a solid relationship and that we both walk away satisfied with the conclusion.


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