Veterans’ Day: It’s about the Others…


Some served out of patriotism.  Some served for education.  Some served to get themselves out of bad situations, or simply for the job opportunities. And some served because it was just “what you did.”

Some served in peacetime.  Some served in wartime.  Some served in wartime, but it peaceful settings.  Some served on the battlefield, while others served well behind battle lines in support of those under fire.

All are veterans.  All are worthy of our praise and respect.  But will we always receive that?  No, and that too is why we served.

ES-3A_CAG_bird_VQ-5_over_CVN-72_1998As a military veteran, I often pause on Veterans’ Day to think of my service, my comrades who have slogged through the jungle, flown the long flights, and stood in the freezing cold beside me, those who have faced hardship and sacrificed with me.  They were ordinary people, mostly asked to do ordinary things, but always willing and ready for the extraordinary.  They were my brothers and sisters, and will always be part of my family.

They weren’t all heroes, and that’s okay.

They weren’t all flawless, and that’s to be expected.

They weren’t all like-minded, and that was a good thing.

And they weren’t all even good at their jobs, and that’s real life.

As we reflect on yet another holiday dedicated to all those who have served, voluntarily or not, with the discounts and special deals offered by so many businesses and establishments in our communities, I all too often hear veterans themselves deride those who protest, those who do not openly thank them for their service.  And I become angry also…but not at the protesters, not at the business that do NOT offer veteran discounts, or those for whom this is simply another day.  I grow angry at the veterans themselves.

A solution to the impending Talent WarWe did not serve for the accolades.  We did not serve for glory.  And we did not serve to become entitled.  Those may come from our service, but those weren’t the reason for it.

We served because we valued selflessness.  We served because we valued the bonds of shared sacrifice.  And we served because others could not or would not.  We served for the ideals of free speech and equality, even when our society hindered it.  We served for those unable to protect themselves and without a voice, in hopes that they would someday.

We didn’t serve so that we would have a platform on which to criticize those who didn’t.  We didn’t serve so we could preach our superiority over those who choose not to.  And we didn’t serve to get free dinners, haircuts, or tickets to a ball game.

So, take advantage of those rewards that come from your military service.  Get that free haircut.  Watch that free meal.  Fly your flag proudly.  But don’t do those things because you’ve “earned” them, and don’t criticize those that do not offer either accolades or discounts.  Do what you’ve always done.  Stand tall and be proud of your service.  Remember your own past sacrifices and the ongoing sacrifices of those still serving and still deployed.  But don’t expect the praise and don’t deride others who you feel disrespect you and your sacrifice, for that’s the right that led you to serve in the first place.

This Veterans’ Day, don’t look for praise for your service.  Look to the reasons FOR your service.  And celebrate those reasons.  Commend the expressions of those who disagree with you or perhaps even who look down on your service, for those who protest and even for those who burn the flag.  For that’s what your service was all about.  It was about those others.

At its core, our service is about the other people, whether or not they know it.  Our service was not about us.  It was about and for them.



Developing Others: The Gauge of True Leadership


Many of you likely know that in addition to teaching, running a graduate program, and consulting, I am passionate about coaching.  Executive coaching.  Transition coaching.  Career Coaching. (Even athletic coaching…but that’s another story.)

While the settings and goals between these types of coaching may differ, a focus in each is always on leadership…how to identify the path one has already taken as a leader (more challenging for most than you might imagine) and how to further one’s development as a good leader.  It can be general leadership development, but most often is targeted to a particular career goal or specific leadership challenge in a current assignment.

When asked, most people can talk at length about what they’ve done to become stronger leaders.  They talk about their management approach.  They describe the leadership development courses they’ve attended, and the books they’ve read.  Most times these days, they describe themselves as “true servant leaders,” dedicated to taking care of their followers (a description that is often less bounded by actual evidence than the belief that they should be servant leaders).

But when asked for a few stories about how they have actively developed the leadership qualities of those they lead, a staccato hesitancy pervades the conversation.  Most will then launch into a description of those activities they provide their followers, a list that pretty much mirrors that which they used to describe their own leadership development.  A leadership training course here.  Books read there.  Theories and models published in the latest Harvard Business Review.  Oh, yes, and lots of language around empowerment!

73551-women-leadership-quotes-great-leaderThe point here is not that most people are poor leaders.  They are not!  In fact, the vast majority of leadership I coach, I would characterize as strong leaders.  They have high emotional intelligence (measured).  They understand and value their people (measured).  They are effective managers and strategists (measured).  They simply find it harder to articulate the specific things they do to develop their followers.

While not a coaching client, my daughter is burgeoning leader.  She may not yet fully understand the extent to which she effectively influences those around her, and her vision of leadership may be primarily as a manager, a delegator, and a decision maker.  She’s lead numerous 5-day backpacking trips each of the past several summers up and around the Porcupine Mountains State Park along the Lake Superior shoreline in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  As a 19-year-old, she was solely responsible for the safety of younger campers trekking through some of the most rugged mountains between the Appalachians and the Rockies.  She determined the route, oversaw the pack-out of vital food and gear, was challenged with ensuring the hydration of the group when water sources grew scarce.  She even had to problem-solve when their planned extraction fell through on one trip.  Along the way, she’s certainly grown stronger and more confident in her own leadership abilities.

But in a recent conversation, she too found it a bit challenging to speak to the growth of leaders among the campers on her trips.  Because this is a challenge to anyone who views leadership as authority.  And she’s a strong leader, growing stronger everyday.

You see, leadership isn’t simply about having the responsibility for making decisions.  That’s part of leadership.  It’s not about delegating and managing workflow.  That’s a part of it.  It’s not even about influencing others toward a directed purpose or vision.  And that’s an important part of leadership.

jack_welch_quoteNo, the real value in leadership is in developing the potential in others to be good people and good leaders (and yes, good followers, too).  The most important role a leader can have is to create a sense of confidence and awe in followers, not of the leader, but in themselves.  When we do that, we have sown the seeds of leadership in those under our wing.  We have begun to ripen the capacity for confidence and self-efficacy that allows for the development of humble, thoughtful, and transformational leaders.

And most importantly, when we as leaders focus on developing and nurturing the core leadership qualities of those looking to us as leaders, we begin to teach through modeling that leadership isn’t about ourselves and our capabilities.  Leadership is about the others and THEIR capabilities.

Tom Peters summed this idea up with perfection here.  It’s so simple, yet in action it is often one of the biggest challenges for emerging leaders.  Enacting this principle of leadership takes faith…Faith in one’s own ability to both lead and follow.  It takes trust…Trust that you can reduce you’re own need to influence if so doing enhances others’ experiences.  And it takes confidence…Confidence that it’s the right thing to do.

So, when you look back on your experiences and evaluate yourself as a leader, ask one simple question.

“What am I doing to grow more leaders?”

For in doing so, you’ll become a far stronger leader yourself, but more important…You’ll become a far stronger leader for others.  And that’s the whole point.


Political Discourse in the Workplace: Embrace the Authenticity

Leaders should avoid influencing voting behavior of employees

We live in strange, and some would say scary, times.  Political rhetoric, commonplace in Presidential campaign years, has been far more polarizing that usual.  And the vitriol between major party candidates has egged on and perhaps revealed diametric beliefs and prejudices in our society.  As a former political science major in college, with follow-up graduate study in public administration, public policy, and eventually organizational psychology, I don’t shy away from the debate, in person or on social media.  And many can attest to my penchant for acting as provocateur in many of these forums.  I enjoy pushing the boundaries and questioning beliefs…I’ll admit it.

But people do take offense, and sometimes that’s okay, I’d argue.  And I’ve written in the past that when one sees articles, memes, or just plain bizarre (in our opinions) pictures posted on social media, we always have a choice to respond, either with comments or by simply removing that person from our feed or contacts.  It’s a fairly easy solution.

pulitzerfacepalm-e1334711507124And, as I’ve said, the passion that accompanies (in increasing fashion) various “debates” on social media sites is ramping up in direct relation to the temporal proximity of election day.  Even that’s quickly spread from its haunts on Facebook and Twitter to infect more professional sites like LinkedIn.  Again, there’s an easy fix, if we find ourselves offended by political diatribes.

Earlier today, I read an interesting (if somewhat simplistic) article about how the current political battlefield is creating discomfort within the locker rooms of the National Football League.  In and of itself, this should surprise no one, particularly in light of the protests certain high-profile players have enacted in recent months.  Tension and ill will are creeping into environments that have long been paragons of communal bonds, causing some to question the motives, thoughts, and ingrained beliefs of their coworkers.


And I’ve asked people in a variety of industries and work environments if they’re seeing the same things playing out in their organizations.  The responses have been predictable, if not troubling:

  • “I’m sure they are, but we don’t talk about things like that here.”
  • “Yeah, it’s tough to know you’re working with people who could believe that way, so we don’t address it.”
  • “Better to keep one’s personal beliefs to oneself, I always say.”
  • “Politics and religion are out-of-bounds at our company.”

Is anyone surprised by these statements?  This is the way we’ve been trained, similar to those family gatherings or early morning lumberjack breakfasts, where silence was the only way to avoid confrontation and potential brawls!

But is it healthy?  Is it ultimately productive, or strategically oriented to the long-term sustainability of one’s workforce?  I would argue it is neither of these…Ignoring the deep-seated beliefs of one’s workers, coworkers, bosses, or even customers does not breed healthy environments.  It does not promote effective teamwork or effective productivity.  And it does not make one a function, viable organization (in either a family or work setting) for long!

TrustRelationships are all about trust.  And where we ignore the diversity of thought that exists between ourselves and others around us, we don’t nurture an atmosphere of trust, but rather of fear and uncertainty.  When we aren’t enabled to respectfully disagree with those with whom we are sharing a life (personally or professionally), or even worse, we don’t even acknowledge that we disagree on fundamental beliefs and values, we aren’t developing stronger relationships, we’re merely hollowing out relationships built on smoke and mirrors.

When we talk about organizational effectiveness and employee engagement, a natural link is made to the “right fit.” And we know that when individuals feel more closely aligned with the values of the organization and their coworkers, their engagement numbers soar.  And yet, when we stifle honest, respectful exchanges around closely held belief systems, we’re setting our organizations and our employees up for a fall.  At some point, someone will figure out that how we’re acting or the beliefs they believe we espouse are not, in fact, the true “us.”  At that point, more than likely, the damage is irreparable.  When people realize their presumed understanding of others’ beliefs was based on falsities, it’s tough to get past the sense of betrayal.

So, wouldn’t we all be better off openly and honestly discussing with our work teams our beliefs on politics, religion, and anything else that speaks to someone’s individual values?  If we preach “goodness of fit,” shouldn’t we look at how our own personal values truly do match with those of our organization or our team?

images (15)The key is in practicing (and teaching) respect for alternative perspectives.  You may hold strong beliefs in a particular political candidate with whom I strongly disagree.  You might have religious preferences that I don’t share.  Heck, you might believe in raising your kids with completely different ideas around discipline, tv watching, or myriad other issues that conflict with my own choices.  But none of those may mean we can’t work together….or conversely, perhaps they all mean we shouldn’t work together!  But that’s an individual choice that can only be made if we actually share our perspectives, beliefs, and values with those with whom we work.

That’s the point here.  Just as we probably wouldn’t date someone for long without wanting to know their beliefs on religion, politics, or simply treating others, why do we accept those areas as “off limits” in many professional settings?  Why do we object so fervently to posts on LinkedIn (or any social media) that reveal the true nature of those with whom we’re connected?

So, next time you find yourself objecting to content others post, view it as an opportunity to contemplate whether the values such content espouses (and that your contact clearly supports) reflect the type of values you want in personal or professional relationships.  If the value of the relationship outweighs the moral conundrum, then stick with it and accept what they’ve posted.  If the ethical or moral elements are too onerous, then terminate the relationship.

Remember, it’s not the quantity of contacts or “friends” you have that matters.  What counts is the quality of the relationships and the people with whom you surround yourself.  It really doesn’t have to be harder than that!

 People Puzzle

From Risk-Tolerance to Risk-Ignorance: A Tale in Humility & Decision Making

11262220_10153430877586421_804774130152018682_oIn hindsight, I knew something felt just a bit off as I pulled the shoulder straps up and over my sweatshirt and reached down to tighten my leg straps.  A mishap three weeks prior, in which the wind had grabbed my parachute and briefly dragged me across the tarmac had resulted in brand new leg straps and buckles.  I’d picked up my repaired rig that morning, and had jumped it once already.  Yet, as I hurried down the sidewalk toward the waiting plane, fifteen other skydivers impatiently waiting for me, my leg straps seemed several inches too short.  Oh, I could still tighten them, and they posed no danger.  But they just seemed…off.  I shrugged to myself and broke into a trot, high-fiving my fellow jumpers as I squeezed past them and climbed the ladder onto the Twin Otter.

11894483_10153476648861421_2635937477671306457_oI’d be jumping in a two-way after three larger groups of angle and free-fliers.  So, I strapped in at the forward-most position, with my back to the pilot’s seat.  It would be a quick 14-minute climb to 14,000 feet, a ride I’d taken hundreds of times in the past.


As the plane rotated and began its ascent, I instinctively ran my hands over my gear, the first of three such checks that I habitually make before the door opens.  Helmet strap….Check.  Strapped and tightened (although I’ll remove the helmet for most of the ride before restrapping it 3-4 minutes prior to our exit).  I double-check my altimeter, comparing its changing readings with those on the wrists of jumpers squeezed in next to me, tapping the dial lightly to ensure accuracy.  Eyes out the window now, scanning the horizon and orienting myself to the direction of flight.  In the case of an emergency bail-out, this would be valuable information.

11390222_10153285192221421_6458347126434683879_nSimultaneously, I make mental note of any clouds, not so much their position in the sky (which obviously changes with the air currents), but more for their altitude.  Knowing that a cloud base ends at, say, 6,000 feet can be a great visual reference during a skydive that freefall is nearing its completion (when jumping in groups, we usually break off from one another at about 4,500 feet….about 7 seconds after passing through the 6,000 feet mark).  On this day, only wisps of cirrus clouds dotted the blue.  Check.

Reaching back with my right hand, I grasped my deployment handle and ran my fingers over the elastic opening from whence my pilot chute would emerge when I pulled on it at 3,500 feet.  As it enters the airstream at deployment, the pilot chute fills with air and its bridle (the inch-wide material that stretches about ten feet back to the rest of the rig on one’s back) pulls the curved pin that opens one’s container and releases the parachute.  My handle looks much like a hackysack.  And a hackysack my fingers felt…..Yet, something still didn’t feel right.  Again, I shrugged it off, looking down at the familiar black and purple riser covers on my shoulders.

dsc_3066In sequence, every check I made begins with my main deployment handle and progresses, in order, to my cut-away handle and then my reserve handle.  The order is deliberate, as it’s the order in which, should it be necessary to initiate emergency procedures, one would use each.  The cutaway handle rests tucked into a velcroed slot in the harness just beneath one’s right nipple, and mine is a solid, foam gripper, black in color.  Alternatively, the reserve handle is a D-shaped metal handle that similarly protrudes from a Velcro pocket, but on one’s left side.  Either a one-handed or a two-handed (my preference) pulling of these handles in order from right to left releases one’s malfunctioning main parachute and begins the deployment sequence of one’s reserve or back-up parachute.  It’s a process that is practiced each and every time one jumps, and in my case, on three separate occasions during the climb to altitude.

Looking down and deliberately watching my hands reach up and simulate pulling first my right handle and then my left handle, I went through the motions.  Check….and check!

Twice more on the flight to 14,000 feet I would go through this three-step handles check.  And three times, my fingers paused longer than usual on my deployment hacky, but moved on.  Check….Check….Check.

At about 11,000 feet, I begin my final preparations for the dive.  My GoPro camera gets turned on.  My helmet goes on my head, sunglasses cleaned and on, chin strap tightened once again.  I check my chest strap, both for tightness and to ensure it’s routed correctly through the buckle.  Check.

I reach down to make last minute adjustments to my leg straps.  Check.

And last but certainly not least, I visually scan my three-ring connections, the point where my main parachute risers connect to my rig.  The must be in a particular order, and although this wouldn’t change unless one were to completely disconnect one’s main parachute for some reason, I always check them.  In simple parlance, they should look like a snowman…a large ring, with two sequentially smaller rings, each routed up through its larger neighbor.  Check….and Check.

rslAt this point, I also glance down at a small connection that is tucked up against my right shoulder three-rings.  This is my Reserve Static Line, or RSL, and its purpose is to facilitate a quicker deployment of the reserve parachute once the cutaway handle has been pulled.  Essentially, as one’s main parachute risers are releasing from the harness, the RSL begins the deployment of the reserve chute even before you can reach and pull your reserve handle.  And having cutaway twice in my skydiving career, I can attest to the fact that my reserve was already inflating over my head as I pulled my reserve handle each time.  At 2,000 feet (or lower), every second counts and could save your life.

Dipping my head to the right, and my hand running across my three-rings, I stared at my shoulder.  Where was my red RSL?  I pushed the three-rings, convinced it had perhaps gotten lodged under them.  No red RSL.  What the hell?!?!

My eyes shot to my left shoulder.  There it was, only it was yellow.  What the holy hell?!?!  My vision remained fixated on the little yellow strap that seemed to wave and laugh at the perplexed expression on my face.  And honestly I panicked a little, my eyes now running wildly over the front of my rig, from the black material to the purple piping.  And the realization flowed into my consciousness like honey in the winter, and my eyes met the skydiver’s across from me.

This isn’t my rig,” I shouted over the din of the aircraft’s twin propellers, made even louder by the opening of the door at the back of the plane and the excited murmuring of jumpers preparing to launch themselves into the crisp air.

What?!?” he yelled back.

This is NOT my rig!” I repeated, shaking my head as it all sank in.  In my rush to board the plane, I’d somehow grabbed someone else’s parachute, one that look remarkably identical to mine, except for a few minor details….and on potentially HUGE detail.  I had no idea what size or type canopy was in this rig!

In the end, I chose not to jump, instead riding the plane back down to the ground for the first time in my skydiving career.  I was embarrassed at my blunder.  I was confused as to how it happened.  And I was determined to figure it all out!

As it turned out, we pieced together the sequence of events that led to my predicament at 14,000 feet.  But at least the mental pieces all fit together while still in the plane…In freefall or at parachute deployment altitude (3,000 ft, screaming toward the Earth at 120+ mph would not have been the ideal time for “discovery”).


So, let’s recap….

Mistake #1:  Immediately after completing my pre-flight inspection of my gear, I had decided to run to the restroom with only 3 minutes to spare before the plane’s scheduled departure.  I could have waited until I was back on the ground, but decided I’d have time.

Mistake #2:  Upon returning and seeing everyone waiting near the plane’s ladder, I’d run over the rack on which I’d hung my rig, and grabbed it….or thought I’d grabbed it.  By sheer chance, I’d hung it directly below an almost identical rig, and in my rush to get out to the plane, I hadn’t realized there were two black and purple rigs within a foot of each other.

Mistake #3:  When my gut told me something was wrong with first the leg straps and later the deployment handle, I pushed back on that instinct, brushing it off as simply being flustered by the rush of things or the excitement of getting back in the air.  Your gut feelings mean something….Pay attention to them!

In spite of all these mistakes, I could have made one more, even larger mistake that day.  I could have, once I realized I had the wrong rig, simply decided to risk it and jump anyways, confident in my own skills as a skydiver and my ability to land safely.  And, in eventually finding out what sized parachute was in that rig, it would have likely turned out alright.  But I didn’t know that at the time.  For all I knew, there was a 100 sq. ft. canopy on my back (I normally jump a 170 sq. ft chute…considerably more docile and forgiving).  But I swallowed my pride, ignored my ego, and opted for the safer option.

Because as I’ve said before, risk-taking involves not only understanding where to draw the line between acceptable and intolerable levels of risk.  It requires admitting when you’ve neared or crossed that line, and open and transparent evaluation of the chain of events that led you to that point.  Failure to that changes educated risk tolerance to plain ol’ risk ignorance, and in the world of skydiving or organizational leadership, that’s never the route to go!

Acknowledge your mistake…Learn from your mistake…And live to jump another day!