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.


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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, 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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leadership, education, business, transformationNo, this post is not about a 2015 version of the 80’s band, Flock of Seagulls. Nor, is it really about a flock of geese (lovingly referred to as Sky Carp by my friend Lance). This post is really about the lessons I learned while attending “Transforming Your Leadership Strategy” conducted by MIT Sloan Executive Education. I often joke that I feel smarter just by stepping on campus here in Cambridge. But, it really is no joke, I really do gain new insights each and every time I attend one of the classes here.

I believe what makes these courses unique and extremely valuable are the students themselves. The diversity of the participants is incredible. The countries and therefore the cultures represented included Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Kingdom, Greece, Spain, Ghana, France, Nigeria, Canada, Denmark, Brazil, and, of course, the United States. The industries represented ranged from NGO’s, government agencies, banking, retail, financial, Army, and education (and many others).  To be able to gather with these 60 professionals and discuss leadership was indeed a privilege.

Professor Deborah Ancona led the group through a series of interactive lectures and exercises over the course of two days. She use an unique approach by varying the sizes of the small group activities from two to five, with the stipulation that for each new exercise you had to group with different people. The goal was to meet and speak with everyone in the class. I lost track, but I think I came pretty close to achieving that goal (a pretty amazing feat for an introvert!).business, leadership, education, transformation

I don’t plan to recount all of the sessions from the last two days (to get that level of detail, you need to attend the class!). However, the goal of taking any course like this is to learn something (or be reminded of something) and to take action. After all, you can’t transform your leadership strategy if you don’t take action. Professor Ancona actually gave me a leg up on writing this blog with the last activity of the course. We were to review our notes and list three things we wanted to remember and three actions we wanted to take. Then, in groups of five, we were to share those things. Honestly, the hard part was keeping it to only three! But, here goes:

Lesson Number 1: Leadership is Personal – this was the first notation in my journal, but it probably struck me the most. You can take dozens of leadership classes, you can read thousands of books, you can spend hundreds of hours with mentors, but when it comes right down to it, Leadership is Personal…there are no best practices. Sure, there are techniques, but just as every person is unique, every leader is unique. You have your own strengths and your own weakness. Harness them to lead. Our CEO, Jim McClelland, often says “Accentuate your strengths and make your Weaknesses irrelevant”.

Lesson Number 2: The Bystander helps put things in context – Professor Ancona led us through the four roles of a team: The Mover – the person that suggests an action; The Follower – the person that supports the action; The Opposer – the person that pushes back on the idea for action; and The Bystander – the person that provides context, the big picture and perspective. (Li, I now know what you meant when I asked “Why do I need to be in every meeting” and you responded “You help put things in context and provide the big picture”).

Lesson Number 3: Don’t brick in your teams – teams that are internally focused on norms, team dynamics, and tasks are are only half right. X-Teams (if you don’t take the class, at least read the book) are teams that are networked to others within the organization and outside the organization. By reaching outside the team, the resulting product (whatever the product the team is tasked with producing) is better. Leveraging expertise outside the group when sensemaking (again…take THE CLASS) provides a richer context. Reaching up within the organization and engaging in the politics of the organization is essential for success, as is task coordination across all of the players in the project.

Now, for the actions:

Action Number 1: When in meetings, assess the dynamics of the conversation and make sure that all four roles are represented. If one or more of the roles are not equally represented, I will step in and assume that role, or encourage others to assume that role. For example, if no one is The Opposer, I will suggest to the team that we spend some time discussing why the idea for action WON’T work.

Action Number 2: Encourage everyone on our team to “get out”, go “be in the business”, walk a mile in our mission partners’ shoes (I hate the term end-user, I prefer business partner, or mission partner). Not only will that help with sensemaking, it will enable others in the group to play the Bystander role and set context and perspective.

Action Number 3: Review our previous and on-going projects and identify areas where we may have struggled. Map them against the 4 Capabilities of a Leader (Visioning, Relating, Inventing, and Sensemaking) to see the areas for improvement. Was the vision not clear? Did we not engage the stakeholders? Did the actions not match up with the goal? Did we not spend enough time sensemaking?

There you have it! As I mentioned in one of my LinkedIn posts, you are all now my accountability partners. Follow up! Make sure I am executing the actions!

Now, about those Sky Carp, er, uh, I mean geese. What leadership lessons CAN you learn from a flock of geese? Leadership is Distributed…to lead, sometimes you follow and let others lead. Watch a flock of geese fly over and you will see the goose out front, drop out of formation, a new goose take the lead, the former leader fall back into the formation. Distributed decision making means sometimes the leader becomes the follower.

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It was mid-November. It was a day of firsts. First time to ever attend a Catholic Funeral Mass. First time to be given an Easter Egg at a funeral service of any kind. First time ever seeing someone hand out money at a funeral. First time seeing someone deliver a eulogy while wearing rabbit ears. And, first time taking a photo during a funeral service (hey, if you saw someone delivering a eulogy while wearing rabbit ears, you would have taken a photo too!).

I knew the service was going to be different before I even arrived. This was, after all the funeral for my my dear friend’s mother…just 15 months after my own mother’s passing. I wasn’t confident I would even be able to make it through. But, I had to make it through…for him.

As the service began, I was initially struck by how little I knew about my friend of twenty years. Were these things I knew and and forgotten? Were these things that went in one ear and out the other? Or were these things I never knew in the first place? I seemed to remember he had siblings. Did I remember there was one brother and one sister? I seemed to remember his father had passed many years before. Did I remember he was paraplegic?  Some friend I was.

One by one family members and friends made their way to the front of the church. As they spoke a picture was painted, a picture of a mother, a friend, a teacher, a devoted parishioner. There was the daughter who spoke of a mother who taught her what it means to be a lady; the son who read the story of his mother’s life in her own words from a letter discovered among her belongings; the lifelong friend who spoke of schoolmates who had been best friends and co-workers for a lifetime. And then…and then there was my friend.

family, friendship, Dennis Cuffel“OK, everyone we are going to play a game! Everyone has to listen, and there are going to be rules!,” he shouted as he approached the microphone…wearing pink rabbit ears. He then told the story of the infamous “Cuffel Easter Egg Hunt”. He started by asking who had even heard of the Egg Hunt. Of the 90+ people there, most everyone raised their hand. “Who has participated in the Easter Egg Hunt?” Very few hands were lowered.

He went on to explain the rules of the Hunt. There were 92 eggs hidden (90 this year and 2 left over from last year that were never found). Inside each egg was, not candy, but a number. After all the eggs had been found, his mom would call out numbers.

“Number 1, who has number 1? You get a nickle.”

“Number 2, who has number 2? You get a dollar.”

“Number 3, who has number 3? You get a ‘Happy Easter’.”

This would continue until all 92 numbers had been called. Prizes ranged from 5 cents to twenty dollars to a “Happy Easter” greeting.

“Ok,” my friend continued, “when you came in you were given an egg. Everyone stand up and open your egg. Ok, if you have numbers 1 – 3, sit down and have a Happy Easter. If you have 5 – 39, sit down and…Happy Easter.” He continued until three people remained standing. “Who has number 40 (her year of birth)? You get five dollars.” He walked out into the church and handed the woman a five dollar bill. “Who has number 74 (her age at death)?” You get ten dollars.” Finally, “who has number 4 (her treasured grandchildren)? You get $20.”

He then went on to talk of his mother. The lessons he learned from her, her love of games. He talked of her spirituality, her unconditional love,  her compassion for others, her selflessness. As I sat there, I realized I knew more about my friend’s family than I thought.

Mrs. Cuffel, I never knew you, we never met. I have known your son for over twenty years. After having attended the celebration of your life,  after hearing the stories, sharing in the laughs, the smiles and the tears, I realized, through your son, I DO know you. You raised a wonderful family. You raised a wonderful man. Spiritual, compassionate, a great friend. You should be proud.

Dennis, I love you brother. Have a Happy Easter!

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business, history, leadership, #RooseveltRiverIt has been a wild, adventure filled ride down the #RooseveltRiver. There have been many twists and turns; rapids; calm, still waters; fast water and waterfalls. No matter the type of water, there have been lessons to learn. I think one of the most important lessons I learned is, that like a river, the lessons are always changing and never the same. The gift of a great teacher is a lesson that teaches anew as life changes around you and as you change with life.

There is an often misquoted line from George Santayana from his book “Reason in Common Sense” that goes “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” As Dan Miller will remind you, history DOES repeat itself. It is those who do not learn its lessons that are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past. And what worked in the past, may not work this time around.

“Train for the future”. Think about that for a minute. On the surface, it seems to contradict the premise of this whole series. How do you “train for the future” if you are studying the past? Personally, I am a business technologist (ok, I am in IT, but I am not an “IT Guy”, I am a business person that understands technology and how to apply it to business). Our roles are dramatically changing and at lighting fast speed. If we don’t have an eye on the future, we will become irrelevant overnight. If we don’t understand the past and the lessons it provides we will become dinosaurs. If we don’t provide solutions today we will fail. “Train for the Future”…what does that mean for you, in your world?

Lessons from the #RooseveltRiver

2013 –  The Year I Canoed with Theodore Roosevelt – A (somewhat) introduction to my study of Theodore Roosevelt and some of the lessons of leadership I encountered.

6th Grade and my Journey on the #RooseveltRiver Begins – Accenting a strength can help you overcome a weakness.

Lola Takes a Walk on the Wild Side of the #RooseveltRiver – A lesson in persona from my dear brother Mitchell (and Teddy, of course).

Rapids on the #RooseveltRiver – Living Life on the Edge – A leader lives life on the edge, pulling those around her out of the center.

Blue Bloods’ Frank Reagan Paddles the #RooseveltRiver – TV imitates life and teaches us all a lesson in leadership.

Two Keys to Great Leadership – The Rough Riders Join #RooseveltRiver – Lessons from history can reveal the keys to Leadership (sorry, you have to read the post to find the keys…didn’t think I was going to tell here, did you?)

1,000 Words vs. an Image – Snapshots from the #RooseveltRiver – Great leaders know the power of using images to convey ideas.

Dad Paddles the #RooseveltRiver – My REAL hero joins Teddy and I on the river for a lesson in leadership.

Marty McFly Changes History on the #RooseveltRiver – Travel “Back to the Future” to learn about decision points and how great leaders leverage them.

The #RooseveltRiver Flows into the River of Doubt – Poor planning can lead to catastrophe. A great leader plans and organizes before executing.

Death Along the #RooseveltRiver – Relationships formed along the river are vital to us as leaders and as human beings.

business, leadership, history, #RooseveltRiver

A river, like life, comes to an end. Some rivers simply disappear into the ground, all of its energy drained away. Some flow into lakes or oceans becoming indistinguishable. Many join with other rivers to create new, even more powerful rivers.

So many lessons…ever changing lessons. I would love to know which of these lessons stand out for you. Please leave a comment or send me a note.  Please share the lessons with your network. Remember, “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”

#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 +.

business, leadership, history, #RooseveltRiverIt was a cold, gray January day. The wind picked up the dusting of snow from the ground and flung it into their faces, stinging like needles. Tears froze to wind burned cheeks.  The casket was slowly lowered into the frozen ground. A lone bugler played taps. Slowly, one by one, the people who had gathered, made their way down the 26 steps, down the long hill, and out of the cemetery until a lone figure remained. He stood motionless. His gaze locked on the hole before him. Tears stained his ruddy cheeks. His long coat flapped in the wind. His lips moved as if talking. Was he saying goodbye? Was he saying a prayer? Was he saying words of forgiveness to his now dead friend?

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, died in the early hours of January 6, 1919. Now, two short days later, William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States, stood over his grave, weeping.  Slowly he gathered himself, blinked away tears, and trudged down the pathway.

Once dear friends and allies, the men had not spoken in the last seven years. Taft served as Roosevelt’s Vice President. Hand-picked by Roosevelt to succeed him as President. During his term of presidency, disagreements arose between the two men. Roosevelt, then out of politics began to counter Taft in the press. Roosevelt, still popular with many, publicly lambasted Taft. The chasm between the two former friends widen as Roosevelt decided to run against Taft for the Republican nomination in 1912. The break became insurmountable when, after losing the nomination to Taft, Roosevelt decided to run as a third party candidate, essentially splitting the vote and giving the Presidency to Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt shut Taft out of his life with hardly a second thought. Had Taft died first, would Roosevelt stood over his grave?

Yet, Taft made his way graveside that cold day in January. Later, in a letter to Edith Roosevelt, he would write, “I loved him always and cherish his memory.” A love and a friendship that survived, at least for Taft, despite the chasm created by words and deeds.

Reflecting on the relationship of Roosevelt and Taft really causes reflection on my own relationships. Is there someone with whom such a rift is present? Will someone be standing over my grave saying their peace to me or their god? Or, will I be standing over someone’s grave doing the same? It’s not hard to imagine in a lifetime of relationships that we have all been Taft and we have all been Roosevelt. What would you say on that cold wintry day? If you were aware of such an injured relationship, would you try to repair it before the end?

When I first heard the story, my mind immediately leapt to my sister. Our relationship had been fractured for many years. Incidents, actions, and words had created schism between us that I saw no hope of ever closing. At times it has felt like the Grand Canyon. However, in the last year we have started, with the help of my wife and my sister’s husband, we have begun to build a bridge. Over time, with continued conversation and understanding, the bridge will be fortified. It isn’t quite a Taft-Roosevelt moment, but it very well could have been.

As I think back over my professional life and reflect on the relationships formed there. Over the years I have had to have many of those “life altering conversations”, either because of downsizing, performance issues, or the dreaded “the company has outgrown you”. I tried to treat each person with respect, dignity and compassion. Some of those conversations were with colleagues that I considered friends. One such friendship survived the downsizing conversation at two different companies (yes the friendship survived, but I am guessing he won’t come work for me again!). Another relocated his family to accept a job offer from me and a year later we had to have the downsizing conversation. Amazingly to me, that friendship survived as well.

The one relationship that comes the closest to a Taft-Roosevelt relationship (and I am mortified to say, I was the “Roosevelt” in this situation) was with a friend. She and I had worked together for almost to a decade. During this time, we had become very close and developed a deep caring for each other. I can honestly say, I loved her (not in a romantic way, mind you). We shared many of life’s trials, tribulations, and celebrations. As my career progressed and I started moving in different circles, we grew apart. Still working for the same company, but no longer interacting on a daily basis. Some of it was the natural outcome of no longer working together on the same projects, but some of it was intentional on my part to “distance the relationship” as I first became her boss, then her boss’ boss, then her…well you get the idea. Years passed. Then…then she got sick. Very sick. Dying sick. The day I went to visit her in the hospital, no one was with her. Her husband, must have stepped out. The nurses were off doing their nursing-thing with other patients. It was just she and I. The only sound in the room came from the machines attached to her. She was in the final stages and was not conscious. I stood by her bed, stroked her hair, and told my friend I loved her. Did she hear me? Did she know? I was too late.

This series is about leadership and the lessons about leadership I learned while traveling with Teddy Roosevelt. What lesson can

business, leadership,history, #RooseveltRiver

AP Photo

be learned from the lone figure alongside the grave? Perhaps the lesson is to value the person, value the relationship, even when delivering bad news, or even when circumstances pull you apart. Lead from a position of empathy for the impact your words and deeds have on those around you. Perhaps the lesson is the old adage “you can be friendly, but you can’t be friends” just isn’t true.

#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 and let me know your thoughts! 

Find me on LinkedIn. Read my Posts on business and business relationships. 

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business, leadership, history, #rooseveltriver

Theodore Roosevelt Collection – Harvard University

The former President of the United States lay near death. His body wracked with fever from a gash on his leg. Starvation leaving him weak and somewhat delirious. Hundreds of miles from any place remotely resembling civilization. Surrounded by rainforest jungles filled with predatory animals, the most dangerous of which were the natives, some of who were known to be cannibals. Those traveling with him, near starvation themselves, wrote in their journals he would not make it through the night. Roosevelt, himself drifting out of consciousness and delirium, contemplated sending the party on its way so he could take a fatal dose of morphine.

How did Theodore Roosevelt find himself in this situation alongside The River of Doubt, a tributary of the Amazon River in the remote Amazonian jungle…just 18 months removed from the election of 1912 (Marty McFly Changes History on the #RooseveltRiver) and five years removed from being President of the most powerful nation in the world? I’ll tell you how…poor planning and lack of organization! Yes, I said poor planning and lack of organization!

In early 1913, fresh off his personally humiliating defeat, Roosevelt was offered an opportunity to deliver a series of speeches in Brazil and Chile. As was his pattern when faced with life crisis, Roosevelt sought adventure and physical challenge. This time was no different. He began contemplating an expedition while visiting South America. Enter Father John Augustine Zahm. Zahm had approached Roosevelt several years earlier regarding the possibility of an Amazon River excursion. Coincidences brought them together again just as each man was formulating ideas for an adventure. Roosevelt agreed to a river expedition and put Zahm in charge of planning. As planning continued, Roosevelt thought of the expedition as a “delightful holiday”. Zahm, in the meantime met a sporting goods store clerk who Zahm immediately invited to join the expedition and put in charge of the procuring the provisions and equipment.

business, leadership, history, #rooseveltriver

Theodore Roosevelt Collection – Harvard University

As the time neared, the expedition hired a guide, Colonel Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon. The hiring of Rondon is probably the main reason Roosevelt survived, however, Rondon assumed Roosevelt was merely on a hunting expedition like the safari in Africa he had written about years before.

The final ingredient in our recipe of disaster came as Roosevelt’s party arrived in Brazil. They decided rather than a wilderness trip through dangerous but known waters, they would explore a river in which no civilized man had ever dipped a paddle, the Rio Da Duvida, the River of Doubt. To help fund the trip, Rondon would map the river from the headwaters to the confluence with the Amazon during the expedition.

So there you have it. An expedition into the unknown, dreamed by a former president who had “checked out” on the planning (and, some would say, on life), planned by a Priest with no experience leading an expedition of this nature, who delegated the supplies to a store clerk, and a member of the Brazilian army whose goal was to map the river. Three leaders with entirely different goals, no plans to speak of, a change of rivers, and woefully inadequate supplies. (For an outstanding recounting of the expedition and it’s trials and tribulations, I highly recommend “The River of Doubt – Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey” by Candice Millard.)

Contrast this with the Lewis and Clark Expedition over one hundred years prior. That expedition had been planned from start to finish, down to the nth degree of detail. The two Captains, were of singular mind, with a singular goal. While by the very nature of an expedition into the unknown, you cannot plan for every occurrence, they had each other and they had the men, all with a singular purpose. When trouble arose, and it did, they relied on their planning and their organization to overcome and proceed on.

As business leaders today, we cannot take our companies on expeditions into the unknown without proper planning and organization. We start with a vision that answers the question “what”, we create a strategy that answers the question “why”, and then develop a plan that answers the question “how”. We cannot divorce ourselves from the planning process. We may not be involved in every detail, but we must stay engaged.

We select qualified and strong leaders and, while we give them autonomy, we do not relieve them of accountability. We put processes in place to help the men and women of the expedition to respond to the challenges day to day. We create an organization that can react and respond to the unknown. We continually review the information before us and adjust the plan when and where necessary, never losing sight of the ultimate vision and goal.

Roosevelt did survive his lack of planning and poor organization. It could have just as easily been an entirely different story, a story of a former President of the United States perishing in the jungle, or disappearing into the unknown never to be seen again. As with Roosevelt, some organizations are able to overcome the lack of vision, strategy or a plan and survive. Most, however, are acquired, bankrupted, or they just plain disappear into the unknown.

#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 +.