Rivers of Thought

Life, Leadership, Business & Technology

#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.”

Just Gene - Rivers of ThoughtFor some, the title of this post will conjure up images of Sean Hayes’ character on the first iteration of Will and Grace, Jack McFarland, throwing both his hands up, palms forward to face-box himself and exclaiming, “Just Jack”. While that moment became iconic in the annals of television, I’d like to share a different moment…a moment I had recently with my dad, Gene. No, face-box, “Just Gene”.

Many of you know, my dad is suffering from a somewhat rare form of dementia: behavioral-variant Frontotemporal Dementia or bvFTD. This evil disease, although in the same family as Alzheimer’s, doesn’t manifest itself in the same way. Dad still recognizes everyone, can recall the minutest detail of something that happened 30 years ago, or 30 minutes ago, and, other than having an 88 year-old body, is in decent physical health. I sometimes describe him as a person with cognitive abilities of a 5 year-old, with the memories of 88 years.

One of the ways in which this disease manifests itself is in the form of delusions. The formal definition according to Dictionary.com is “an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder.” For dad, this means he experiences things around him that are not real, but he firmly believes they are. For example, my mom comes to visit him quite often. Mom passed away five years ago…and he knows this, yet she visited, or they took a trip, or even played golf together. Like a “real memory” he can describe these events in great detail and these details rarely change as he retells the story time and time again.

When he first started experiencing delusions, I would calmly and matter of factly explain to him that they are not real, that he really didn’t go to Chicago last week, or that his ceiling light did not move three feet across the room. As this delusions grew longer, more involved, and more intertwined with reality, his doctors advised us to just go along with the story. Unless he is frightened, endangering himself or others, just go along.

We have had many visits these past few months where he is in midst of a delusion and incorporates us in. On one such visit, he was clearly leading a church meeting. There were twenty people in his room. When we arrived, he interrupted the meeting to introduce us to the group, told us he would be wrapping the meeting up shortly, and then we could visit. As you probably deduced, the room was empty save for me, my wife Carmen, our grandson Jordan, and, of course, dad.

All of which brings us to my story of “Just Gene”. I stopped in to visit with dad a few days ago. When I entered his room, I found him like we find him quite often. Laying on his bed, fully clothed (including shoes), resting. It was about 5:30 in the evening and he had just returned from dinner down the hall. I pulled up his walker, which has a seat as a part of it, and sat down next to the bed for our visit. We talked about his day, we talked about his meal, we talked about his tv not working (uh, I turned the cable box on and wha-la it worked). I changed his clocks, it being the Monday after the fall time change. I crawled on the floor and picked up his phone, knocked there when he had tried to get up at some point in the last few days. We talked about my upcoming trip to LA, we talked about Carmen not feeling well, we talked about little Jordan and Braxton.

“So, Dad, what else have you been doing? Have you been down to activity time?”

“No, I’ve been way too busy.”

“Busy, doing what?”

“Well, I don’t know how these groups find me, but I keep getting asked by these church groups to help them with this problem or that problem. Groups from Chicago, from St. Louis, from all over. I don’t know how they even know who I am.”

“Well, dad, of course they know you. You lead the baptist churches here in Indiana for years. You were a very well respected expert on congregations and church management. Of course, they want insights from the Reverend Doctor.”

“I suppose you are right. But, this last one did not go well.”

“What do you mean?”, I asked.

“They just weren’t getting it. I could not get them to understand. I finally had to give up. I needed to get back here and they just wouldn’t listen.”

“I suppose that would be frustrating, but you had to run into that many times during your career, right?”

“Not often, but sometimes. One of my congregations was especially difficult. It always hurt deeply when I saw them going in the wrong direction, for the wrong reasons. We had a couple of churches leave the Association. They felt that was what was best for them.”

“I have always been proud of being the son of Reverend Ton. I loved to listen to you preach. I loved it when you got into character and acted like you were one of the Apostles, that always got my attention,” I told him. 

“Yes, sometimes you have do something a bit different to get your point across. You just can’t stand up there behind the pulpit week after week. But, you know, here I am not Reverend Ton. Most don’t even know or care. Here I’m just Gene. And, I kind of like that.”

There you have it. Just Gene. And that feels good to him.

I have to admit, it is something I rarely have thought about…the sacrifices. The sacrifices he, and countless others, had to make to follow their calling. The long hours of running the business of a church during the day, rushing home for dinner, only to have to go back to oversee the various meetings of the church at night. The need to always be “on”. Always “special”.

Just Gene.

Dad spoke of missing so much of our lives as kids, instead, having to rely on mom as the primary parent because she was home…and he was not. It occurred to me, even something as simple as visiting someone’s home for dinner, and always being called upon to say the blessing, because, after all, he WAS the Reverend.

Just Gene.

I remembered the times he and I would go to play golf. Invariably, as a twosome, the course would pair us up with another twosome to complete a foursome and off we would go. Dad always introduced himself as Gene. Just Gene. Not Gene Ton, not Reverend Ton, just Gene. After one such round in which we had been paired with a particularly “rowdy” gent, who liked to swear and tell off-color jokes, I asked him why he didn’t tell him who he was or what he did for a living. “Well, because it would make him uncomfortable and he would change the way he was acting. He was here to relax, play golf and blow off steam.”

I have no doubt, knowing my dad, he would do it for the other person. But, the realization was dawning on me, that maybe, just maybe, he was giving himself a break from being the Reverend Doctor Ton. Maybe in some deep recesses of his brain, he needed to be “Just Gene” occasionally. Maybe that is part of the battle going on within his mind today. As the disease takes over more and more of his brain, it is a tug of war between the calling of his lifetime…to lead, to counsel, to challenge, to comfort…and his desire to be…Just Gene.

4,000 Connectionssurpassed a milestone of sorts last month. When one Russell Bush reached out to me on LinkedIn requesting a connection, he became my 4,000th connection. FOUR THOUSAND! There was no balloon drop, no marching band, nothing to mark the occasion, only another cup of Starbucks coffee when me met up a couple weeks later (I did give him a signed copy of my book, Amplify Your Value, however). 4,000 connections.

OK, I can hear you now, “You must accept everyone’s requests” or “You can’t possibly know that many people”. The truth is I do not accept all requests. There have been some doozies over the years, like the guy trying to tell me my long lost relative left me with $10,000,000 in gold bullion, or, the woman from eastern Europe looking for a “friend”. Fortunately, those are few and far between. Mostly, I look for people who want to share insights, are in transition, or just looking to make a professional connection. (I’m not really looking to be sold to, so if that is why you are reaching out, chances are I won’t accept.)

As for knowing 4,000 people. I have to admit, there are some names in there that I do not remember how we connected. Sometimes, looking at the date we made the connection helps jog the memory banks, other times, that doesn’t even help. However, I do try to stay in touch will all of them. Part of my morning ritual (in addition to coffee with my wife and the Today show), is to review the notifications in LinkedIn and send birthday wishes, congratulations on work anniversaries and new jobs, and sometimes just to say “hi”. Sky Caserotti and I get a good laugh every year on his birthday when I send the message, we’ve been dancing that dance a long time!

I started on LinkedIn September of 2006, just a few short years after the platform launched. My first connection? Steve Johnson. Steve and I worked together at Thomson (RCA, now Technicolor). I recruited Steve to relocate his family from California to Indianapolis and join me at Lauth Property Group. During the real estate crash of 2008/2009, I was forced to lay Steve off as the company downsized dramatically. Believe it or not, we are still friends (I think)!

Those first couple of years, most of my connections were with colleagues from my Thomson days. I found LinkedIn a great way to stay connected as we all went our separate ways and our careers grew. Eventually, I started connecting with business partners, CIOs from other organizations and “old” friends. My oldest friend being Andy O’Donnell.

Andy and I worked together at Indiana National Bank (now Regions) a million years ago. We were in the bank’s running club, the Bison Stampeders. Just about every day, we would meet for lunch to go running. Andy was a bank officer and therefore had access to the Officer’s Lounge, complete with showers and lockers. I was Andy’s guest so often, I still get emails about Officer reunions, even though I never was one! We ran when it was hot (once being featured on the news for what NOT to do when it is 97 degrees), we ran when it was cold (weather too bad to be outside, we ran the stairs – 36 flights up, 36 down – twice).

Since Thomson was a global company, my LinkedIn connections were also global. My dear friend Laurent Ricard, jumps off this list. During one my trips to Paris when Carmen joined me, Laurent and his beautiful wife Agnès hosted us for a fabulous holiday dinner of quail and brussel sprouts. We met his two children. As time went by, his son Guillaume and I connected on LinkedIn and Facebook. He once recorded a guitar riff for one of my presentations. He is now contemplating an internship here in the US. Connections. Multi-generational connections.

In 2009, my number of connections jumped. I had left Lauth and was launching my own4,000 Connections business, Confluence Dynamics, a green business consulting firm. I added clients and colleagues in the “green” industry to the list. One of my first clients (perhaps my first) was Kevin McKinney, publisher of Nuvo, an alternative newspaper in Indianapolis. Kevin was gracious enough to take a risk on my business very early on, though he did question me extensively on what an IT guy knew about HVAC systems, plumbing, electrical and industrial cleaning. (For the record I was LEED Accredited!) Kevin would later play a major role in one of my son’s music videos. While that is a story for another day, it did spawn the phrase, “It’s not a rap video until the cops show up”, just sayin’.

To no fault of Kevin’s, my foray into this space was short lived, and in early 2010 I launched a job search. As a result, my LinkedIn connections jumped again. I was amazed at the number of people who met me for coffee. People I hadn’t seen in 20 years, said yes, I would be glad to help (Elaine Bedel). People I didn’t even know, said yes, when can we meet (Geoff Endris). It was humbling. Dozens and dozens. When I landed the CIO role at Goodwill, I was thankful for each and every one who said yes (no one EVER said no). I made a promise to myself, two promises actually. Promise one: I will never let my network go stale (hence the birthday and anniversary greetings, Sky). Promise two: whenever anyone asked me to network because they were in transition, the answer would always be “yes”.

Goodwill enabled me to connect with hundreds of people. Some colleagues at Goodwill of Central Indiana, some colleagues at other Goodwill organization, tied together by a common brand and a common mission. Some, like me, have moved on from Goodwill, but I know I speak for all of them when I say, we carry Goodwill in our hearts. Together we accomplished some amazing things. Together we built an amazing network.

I could go on and on. I am sure there are people in my connections where my memory fails me and I don’t recall the circumstances under which we met, however I’ve scrolled through the first thousand names and I remember each one. I could tell you where we met and under what circumstances. I could write a book…huh…I could write a book! I could write a book from the stories. What an epic story it would be. An amazing group of people. Some I’ve never met face to face, yet we have a shared history. We have touched each other, if only briefly. You are all part of my tribe. Thank you! Thank you for connecting, Thank you for sharing yourself. Thank you for your role in making me who I am.

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