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

business, leadership, #rooseveltriver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accenting a strength enabled me to overcome a weakness.

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

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

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

Copyright Grasmere Lodge

Copyright Grasmere Lodge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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