Rivers of Thought

Life, Leadership, Business & Technology

After posing that question, the executive I was having lunch with went on to explain he had always tried to create a family-like environment at his company. “You know, having fun, hanging out, being one of the gang.”

Now he was faced with some of his staff not performing. When he tried to address it they pushed back saying “You’ve changed”, or “You’re overreacting”, or worse. 

It’s a tough question and one that many managers and leaders struggle to answer.

It doesn’t matter if you are new to a management role or, like my friend, someone who has been leading people for several decades.

Can you be friends with the people that work for you? 

The old adage is you can be friendly but not friends.

As a new manager back in a decade that started with a “9”, I took that advice. Many of my friends were now my employees. I all but stopped socializing with them. There were no more parties, no more weekend trips on the houseboat, and no grabbing a drink after work.

Oh sure, we still did team happy hours occasionally (hey, it was the 90’s) but for the most part, I became “management”. 

It took me a long time to realize that old adage was, well… BS.

I think the reason our managers and mentors espoused that adage was because it makes the tough times easier.

It is far easier to have those tough conversations about performance or layoffs if you don’t know what is going on in their personal life.

They may be going through a divorce, or have elderly parents who are in failing health, or have kids that are struggling in school…you know, all the real stuff that doesn’t make it to Facebook. 

Do you know them?

I now believe you have to know those in your office on a personal level.

How else are you going to lead them?

  • Knowing them helps you to celebrate with them when their kid enters kindergartner or gets accepted into college.
  • Knowing them helps you connect, we all (even leaders) crave connection, we are human after all!
  • Knowing them helps you to lead with empathy and compassion.

Yes, those tough conversations are tougher…on us, they were always tough on the other person. If those types of conversations are ever easy…you are in the wrong job! 

But, it is a two-way street.

Do they know you?

To form those relationships you have to let your employees see you for who you are.

Tell them about the joy of a new grandchild, or the pain of the death of a parent. To form those relationships you have to be vulnerable. 

For the leader who asked the question… be vulnerable.

  • Tell them about the sleepless nights worrying about making payroll.
  • Tell them how you feel the weight of 200 individuals and their 200 families.
  • Tell them about the gnawing in the pit of your stomach every day as you care for your business almost like your child.

If they don’t respond with empathy and compassion towards you, if they don’t see you as a friend, but also a leader who has to have tough conversations, if they don’t rally to the mission at hand, perhaps you don’t have the relationship you thought you had. 

I would love to hear your thoughts! Please comment (or email) on this topic. Have a leadership question you would like to ask? Send me a note. I am happy to share my thoughts and have others chime in as well! 

Yes, tis the season.

Thanksgiving is behind us, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa preparations and celebrations are in full swing. With those come the new year: 2020, a new year and a new decade. Time for everyone everywhere to make their predictions for the new year. Not to be left out, I will join the leagues of prognosticators and offer up a few of my own. 


The leadership word for 2020 is vulnerability.

Leaders who are able to own their stories, show up as themselves, and be vulnerable will excel. Their followers will achieve more, give more of themselves, and be more engaged. Leaders, who want to grow, will focus on being more vulnerable and bring empathy and compassion to their roles. 

Information Technology Leadership 

The IT Leadership word for 2020 is verticalization.

Our businesses are demanding more from IT. We must bring business acumen and domain knowledge to solve the complex problems of business today. We must show up first as businesspersons and second as technologists.

For this reason, in 2020 transitioning from one vertical or industry to another will become more difficult, especially for directors, vice presidents, and CIOs. (Of course, we will also have to combine verticalization with the leadership word of vulnerability.)

The face of IT is changing!


Technology’s rapid evolution will continue. OK, that is a ‘no-brainer’ prediction, but here is what I think that means for 2020:

We are going to see the confluence of three game-changing technologies: Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and Fifth Generation Wireless (5G). Our worlds will become more connected and more intelligent.

This will impact our lives at home and at work as “smart devices” become more prevalent. Leaders will have to have a vision for how these technologies will change their businesses, their lives, and the lives of their followers. 

There you have it…my 2020 predictions.

What are yours?

What is your vision for the future

Do you know your vision?

I’ve spoken about connections to the past quite often. Vision plays a role.

Call them connections, call them reminders, call them divine coincidences, sometimes the universe ties events of the past with things transpiring today. Sometimes they are “huh, that was interesting” moments and sometimes they hold powerful lessons if we choose to look. 

I subscribe to the newsletter series by Jason Barnaby of Fire Starters (if you don’t subscribe, you should). Jason sends out quick thoughts three times a week. In his Monday blast (aptly titled M3 – Monday Morning Motivation), a few weeks ago Jason spoke of vision, but not just vision. Repeated here, with permission, Jason said:

“If you are a leader, whose permission are you waiting for to lead?”

“If you serve a magnificent God, do you have a magnificent vision to match?”

“These are two quotes by T.D. Jakes from the Global Leadership Summit several years ago that I think about at least once a week. They had a PROFOUND effect on my life’s direction and what I am doing now with Fire Starters Inc.”

Even if you aren’t a person of faith, the question of magnificent vision still applies.

So how is your vision for what you are currently doing and hope to do in the future?

      • Are you happening to it or is it happening to you?
      • Are you being proactive or reactive?
      • Worse yet, are you living someone else’s vision for your life? 

You have gifts, talents, abilities, experience, wisdom, and insight that the world is waiting on and desperately needs.

As many of Jason’s posts do…it got me thinking.

I talk to Information Technology departments (and HR and Marketing departments, too) a lot about vision.

We discuss how to create one, how to communicate it and how to define and execute strategies to achieve it.


What about my own vision?

Is it a magnificent vision?

And, what of leadership?

What of my leadership? 

Wow, pretty heady stuff for a Monday morning! But this post is about connections, right?

Then it happened.

My son, Brad, was dropping off his son, Jordan, for another fabulous day with grandma. When he arrived, he handed me a folder. “Mom found this as she and Randy were packing for their move. She thought you might want it.” 

In the folder was a picture. The picture was taken about 34 years ago. A picture of my dad, holding on to my two sons, Jeremy and Brad.

A vision I could follow

Having just visited my dad the day before lying in bed at the nursing home, seeing the fifty-five-year-old version of my dad was a bit shocking, to say the least.

The man in that picture is six years younger than I am today. Yet in a 35-year blink of an eye, he is nearing the end of his journey. 

The folder also contained an old newspaper. A copy of the Indiana Baptist Observer from December 1995. There on page one was a letter from my dad to the American Baptist Churches of Indiana reflecting upon his pending retirement on the 31st of that month. In it, he reflects back on his 40 years in the ministry with the realization that his calling, the calling he had been following his entire career (and perhaps his entire life), was a call to lead.

Dad was a great preacher, teacher, coach, and counselor, yet, his calling was to lead…and lead he did! 

Though he never used the words “magnificent vision” (or, even vision for that matter), what jumped off the page to me was his magnificent vision for the churches he served and for the denomination organizations he led. He had a vision for what they could be and what they could accomplish.

Others followed too 

He also wrote of his vision for the future of the church, the challenges ahead, and the need for a new generation of leaders to help the church navigate that future.

Jason’s quote of T.D. Jakes rang in my ears.

“If you are a leader, whose permission are you waiting for to lead?”

Gene Ton would say,

“If you are being called to lead, why aren’t you listening to that call to lead?”

Whether it is for a church, a business, or your family, friends, and organizations…quit sitting back waiting on others: lead, my friend, lead!

You might be surprised how many others believe in your vision, too. 

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