Lead from the heart

I’m a “novitiate” in the Boy Scouts of America Wood Badge advanced leadership course. Six weeks ago I finished the “practical phase” of the program, which consisted of two separate, very intense, 3-day weekends of training. At the very end of the second weekend, our Course Director Brent Loudin wrapped it up with his message that our success with the boys in our charge came down to one concept: “lead from the heart.”

Three weeks ago I happened across this article, which centers around this premise: “The best way of influencing human beings to excel in their jobs is to intentionally and positively affect their hearts.”

A couple weeks ago I attended diversity and inclusion training at my company. I went in very dubious, since so much that goes by that label is based on the same “in-group” and “out-group” evil that has forever bedeviled mankind (only with different “ins” and “outs” than before). But instead I was treated to a program that, in its essence, delivered the message that it was all about taking great effort to make everyone feel welcome and valued, and it came right down to the same “lead from the heart” concept.

Coincidence? The Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon? Divine providence? (I favor that last one…)

The lesson from the Miracle on Ice: heart

Note: This is a post I originally published on LinkedIn in February 2015. Yesterday I got the news that my old friend Pat Dowd had just died after a long battle with cancer. I’m republishing this here in his honor. My mind is running through a whole bunch of high school memories of Pat, not least of which is the basketball game mentioned here.

 

“Gentlemen, you don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.” – Herb Brooks

Thirty-five years ago today the US Olympic hockey team beat the Soviets in one of the most spectacular upsets in sports history.

A year or two ago I watched a replay of the whole game. What I took away is that, logically, there is no way on earth the US team could have won that game. They were outskated, outmaneuvered, and generally outclassed by the Soviets, who were an obviously better team. But it was the pros from the USSR who were the ones outscored in the end.

The difference was heart. The US players to a man believed they could win and willed themselves to win. The USSR players? Meh.

Heart is a game-changer. I saw it for myself around the same time our Olympians pulled off their famous upset. My Ironwood Catholic Ramblers JV basketball team was playing a school we were used to beating, the Marenisco Milltowners. But we came out flat and they didn’t, and we were completely outclassed in the first half. We found ourselves down by nine and on our way to our own upset, but the other way around. Suddenly we were the underdogs.

My buddy and fellow guard Pat Dowd and I got chatting after the coach chewed us out in the locker room at halftime. We decided there was no way we were going to lose this game, and that we would each personally make a very different showing in the second half than we had in the first.

And we did. We went out there and played like demons possessed. Our fire was contagious, because within a short time the rest of our ICHS team started playing that way too. We roared back and won the game by thirteen points.

It wasn’t by any means the Miracle on Ice. I’m pretty sure it lives on in my memory alone. But man oh man, did that win feel great.

Whatever you’re doing, find that fire. Find that heart. It’ll make all the difference in the world.

“Boys, we went to the well again, and the water was colder and the water was deeper.” – Herb Brooks

PS – Coach Herb Brooks is remembered by his players even today for his many aphorisms. Lest you think I haven’t experienced (oh so many times) the flipside of heart and victory, be aware this “Brooks-ism” hit home for me too: “You’re playing worse every day, and right now you’re playing like the middle of next month.”

Sorry, activist executives – you’re wrong about the Paris Climate Agreement

I started out several times to write a caustic post addressed to America’s business elite about their histrionic reactions over the past two weeks to President Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Agreement. But what’s the point? It’s not like they’re going to listen to little ol’ me.

Perhaps for other folks who’ve been cheering them on, though, a little additional information may be of value.

A quick note up front: this post has nothing to do with the merits of the science regarding climate change. You can be 100% convinced that global warming is a real and immediate threat to humanity, and still fully agree with President Trump’s action.

Next, a dose of harsh marketplace reality: for some of the CEOs in question, their signing a letter urging the President against his action beforehand or issuing an emotional “resistance”-style missive afterward is just marketing, a virtue-signaling means to increase their companies’ appeal to their primarily urban liberal customers. As such, it has absolutely nothing to do with “saving the planet.” Cynical? Sure – but what’s a little cynicism when it comes to making money?

But General Mills? Kellogg? P&G? Staples? For these kinds of companies, whose primary customers are the struggling moms and dads in “flyover country,” it looks like more of the ill-advised hyper-partisan Ivy-League-bubble obtuseness that cloyed so heavily around the many “Letters to My Team” our business elite issued after the President’s election in November or after his Executive Order on immigration some months ago (which looks increasingly sensible, given the spate of recent terror attacks). As I pointed out then, for firms such as these, such pandering to extreme “progressivism” is likely to go over just as well with their customers as it did for the Democratic Party with voters the last couple of election cycles.

Through a less partisan lens, however, I’d like to point out another reason last week’s pronouncements by top executives were so wrongheaded. I didn’t see a single one (and I read a good many) that offered any facts whatsoever. There were lots of admonishing, near-weepy pronouncements about “the global community,” “being in this together,” “taking care of the planet,” “competitiveness,” “efficient technologies,” “setting clear goals,” or loads of other claptrap. Many expressed “disappointment” with the President’s decision, without offering any reason why. A few offered opinions about the Paris accord creating millions of “green” jobs without any evidence to support the notion. Not one made any mention of the downsides of the agreement.

I offer you this thought: when one side of an argument offers only emotion or unsupported opinion, and the other side offers cold, hard reasoning and fact, that’s a telling indicator of the solidity of each position. The folks agreeing with the President, and the President himself, offered the following:

  • Were the US to keep its commitments in the agreement, it would have cost our deeply indebted nation trillions of dollars and an overall loss of jobs – specifically, as documented by the Heritage Foundation:
    • An overall annual average shortfall of nearly 400,000 jobs;
    • An average annual manufacturing shortfall of over 200,000 jobs;
    • A total income loss of more than $20,000 for a family of four;
    • An aggregate gross domestic product (GDP) loss of over $2.5 trillion; and
    • Increases in household electricity expenditures of between 13 percent and 20 percent.
  • The agreement is a treaty, yet ex-President Obama attempted to cement US commitment to it by executive action only, one of his many abrogations of his Constitutional responsibilities. Obama sidestepped his clear duty to  submit it for the advice and consent of the US Senate. Why? Solely because in the Senate, the Paris Agreement would die quickly and ignominiously, since it’s such a patently awful deal for the US.
  • Finally, and most important, even if all nations kept all their commitments (which they won’t, since there’s no enforcement mechanism in the agreement), the Paris accord would theoretically reduce global warming by 0.2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 (as detailed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). This fails the statistical null hypothesis test – the touted “benefit” doesn’t even reach the “background noise” of statistical uncertainty, much less do anything at all to change the planet’s climate.

To summarize: our business elite would have the US abandon proper treaty negotiation and passage, upending centuries of legal and political norms, to force the country and individual citizens to pay trillions of dollars for absolutely no measurable benefit whatsoever. Huh?

This reinforces my belief that there’s a dangerous partisan echo chamber at executive levels of US corporations. To any CEOs who might accidentally be listening: about half of your customers and employees on average, and a sizable majority in America’s heartland, believe that a lot of what you’re outspoken about is pure rubbish. Continuing to ignore or belittle those people, rather than stepping outside your bubble to learn about, value, and address their viewpoints and concerns, is poor leadership indeed.

Ariens: the real deal

Some years ago, when I was working at General Mills headquarters in Minneapolis, I began a new project and had as a Sourcing Department team member a young man named Nick Ariens. At dinner during our first project business trip, I asked him if he was related to THE Arienses, of mower and snowblower fame, and he admitted he was. (He avoided telling me he’s the son of the CEO, Dan Ariens, though.) I asked him what he was doing with General Mills and he explained that no Ariens family member is allowed to go to work for the company until he’s proven his chops elsewhere. I found that awfully impressive. I just discovered this old article recently that spells this philosophy out in more detail.

I’ve stayed in touch with Nick as he left General Mills to get his MBA in Europe, went and helped run a part of the family business in Australia, and finally came home to Wisconsin, where he’s now Director of Product Management. I also had the pleasure of trading some electronic communications with his dad Dan a few years ago on the very important topic of whiskey. Both are salt of the earth types I’d love to have a beer with (or maybe some of that fantastic Bulleit Rye…)

You don’t hear too much about Ariens in the national news. In a world where big companies seem to talk more about “Corporate Social Responsibility” than about actually running a working business, I find this impressive too. All companies talk about their values; from everything I can find about the Ariens family and employees, they actually live them. And rather than trying to save the world, it seems, they’re much more interested in what they can do to strengthen their own communities. The Fab Lab the company supported at the high school there in their headquarters town of Brillion, Wisconsin, looks “fab” indeed.

Here’s a great video of my pal Nick’s dad Dan talking about all of that. Nice work.

 

A hometown manufacturing success story

To those who poo-poo the notion of a manufacturing renaissance in the USA, I give you Bob Jacquart and the Stormy Kromer.

Bob’s dad ran the tiny little local fabric and sewing shop in my hometown of Ironwood, Michigan. Bob took it over many years ago and steadily expanded it into a full-fledged sewing factory.

Meanwhile, the Stormy Kromer, a winter hat invented by a railroad man in Wisconsin, George Kromer, in 1903, had hit its zenith and was declining for many years. In 2001, word came that it would no longer be produced.

Bob saw an opportunity, bought the rights, and restarted production of the hat in his shop. He’s grown the line to include offerings for women and children, clothing, and even luggage. And it’s all made right there in little Ironwood, Michigan, by about 120 people who can’t possibly compete with offshore workers or robots, right?

Except they do compete – seemingly very well.

Hamdi Ulukaya, my new hero

As a former Yoplait guy, I find it a bit strange to have such a liking for someone who beat the snot out of us.

Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani yogurt, did just that – to upstart peers like Fage and industry giants like my erstwhile employer and Dannon alike. Earlier this year Chobani became America’s biggest single yogurt brand, just twelve years after they delivered their first product.

I was in the thick of the battle when it got real. I spent time in Iceland to learn how to make skyr, their version of Greek yogurt, and I was part of the team that put the first Yoplait Greek Yogurt on  store shelves in just six months. So I hate that we got trounced the way we did. But as someone who’s taken other executives to task for their naked contempt for a good portion of their consumers and workers, I find Ulukaya’s personal courage and commitment to his customers and employees alike to be refreshing. And as someone who knows what it takes to deliver a tough-to-make product nationally, I deeply admire how far he and his company have come in such a very short time.

Ulukaya left his native Turkey in 1994 when he was threatened by authorities after he wrote sympathetically of the plight of the Kurds.

He arrived completely alone with next to nothing, went to school, started a small feta cheese plant, then took a gamble on an opportunity to buy Kraft’s old yogurt plant in upstate New York, which was in the process of shutting down at the time. He then proceeded to develop and launch Chobani there – then managed to keep up with skyrocketing demand, which is probably the biggest, most amazing, and most unsung part of his story of all.

Ulukaya has personally developed a company focus on hiring immigrants and refugees, and founded Tent, a non-profit that aids displaced people. He’s pledged most of his fortune for that cause. Meanwhile, last year he gave 10% of his Chobani equity to his employees.

Read more about my newest hero here, here, and here.

Fewer Americans moving – what does it mean?

No, this is not one of those annoying articles about what a lazy computer-bound slug you are and how wonderful it would be for you to buy a hyper-expensive standing desk.

This is about the slew of articles recently waxing philosophical about the decline in Americans relocating. See here, here and here, for example.

As you’ll see if you bother to read those, there are all kinds of theories for this. (There’s lots of gnashing of teeth, too.) I’ve got plenty of theories of my own, but I won’t bore you with them. I will, however, bore you with a couple of stories.

Story #1:

I just finished reading Journal of a Trapper by Osborne Russell. It’s amazing to relive the days of the western territories (several times Russell refers to people traveling east “going back to the States”), when men went into the wilderness to earn their livings hunting, trapping and mining. Eventually they established forts, then towns, brought their families, and built shopping malls and TGI Fridays restaurants (this covers a lot of years, mind you), so that now they look just like the places back east.

To harken back to the trappers, homesteaders and Forty-Niners (not the football team) and bemoan that the current generation lacks interest in adventure because its members aren’t pulling up stakes is really just a non sequitur. Russell lived in the wild once he moved, battling hostile wildlife, humans, and environments alike – adventure indeed! A millennial moving from Pittsburgh to Boise today, though, will find that his immediate living arrangements really haven’t changed at all. But he can find modern adventure in and around either Pittsburgh or Boise. So why move?

Story #2:

My boyhood best friend Don Armata still lives in our hometown of Ironwood, Michigan. His parents and his son and extended family live right there too. Don’s been a loan officer at a local bank for many years, and he and his now-grown “boy” (who owns his own machine shop) also just bought out a local Dairy Queen together. I, meanwhile, went away to college and then worked for several different companies, moving a good ten times all around the eastern US while progressing nicely career-wise in the world of manufacturing. My wife and sons are my only nearby family, though.

Don’s happy and healthy, and so am I. We’ve both led pretty darned productive lives. I’ve gotten to see a lot more of our country than he has, but he’s gotten to see a lot more of his family than I have. So I really don’t see how more people being like Don versus like me means anything bad for the country.

Moral of the stories:

Some statistics just may not tell us much of anything.

Amazing digital resurrection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings

I was stunned to come across a very detailed, modern-looking color image in my web surfing last night – an image I both immediately recognized and knew didn’t exist. It was an interior shot of my favorite Frank Lloyd Wright creation, the Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, New York. And I knew it didn’t exist because the building, completed in 1906, was demolished in 1950, so the only existing photos are almost universally black and white, and of poor image quality compared to today’s standards.

But there it was. A few mouse clicks revealed the secret: the image was real, but only in the virtual world. Spanish architect David Romero created it, along with dozens of others, using a variety of computer programs to “rebuild” not only the Larkin building, but also the Rose Pauson House in Phoenix, Arizona, which burned to the ground just a year after its 1942 completion.

Romero also created images of a Wright building that was never built: the Trinity Chapel he designed for the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

The pictures are simply amazing. See all of Romero’s images at his Hooked on the Past website.

“Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone.”

That headline is a quote from Ken Chlouber, Colorado miner and creator of the Leadville Trail 100 ultramarathon.

You don’t need to run an ultramarathon. You don’t even really need to make pain your friend. Almost all of us, though, could stand to become a bit (or perhaps a lot) more comfortable with discomfort. I wrote about this topic some years ago, and it bears repeating.

This article recently brought the concept back to my mind. As its author says, “We all need to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable. We’re soft!”

I think that’s true. It’s one of the concurrent benefits and drawbacks of our first-world modern life that our day-to-day existence may feature no pain or discomfort unless we go seeking it. But why, you ask, would we go seeking it?

Because NO life, no matter how pampered, has NO pain. Which is just great, until the unexpected pain comes along (and it will come along). As I said in this earlier blog post, “Learning to do things well when you’re in good shape can save your life when you’re in a bad way.” And one of the key things to learn is to handle discomfort.

But there’s constructive and destructive pain or discomfort. I’m not recommending you go out and break a leg, or starve yourself to near death. Probably the most constructive way to get comfortable with discomfort is a fitness program, where no improvement is made without some level of minor suffering. You get the double benefit of better health and an improved ability to handle being uncomfortable. (I count myself blessed that I enjoy bicycling and running.)

There are other constructive ways to learn to handle discomfort. Spending time outdoors, especially in adverse weather, is a good way – so long as you’re well prepared. Fasting is another way – and Lent is upon us, so there’s a ready opportunity for Catholics! Even just trying something new can add to your ability to deal with discomfort.

At the very least, then, find a way to make discomfort your acquaintance. You’ll be better able to handle it when it comes along unexpectedly.

A life to learn from, part 3

It’s been many years since I read We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Lt. General Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway. Yet this passage has stuck with me ever since:

Platoon Sergeant Fred J. Kluge of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry was moving his men into the fighting holes along the old perimeter. “Two of my men called me over and pointed. There was a dead American sergeant in the bottom of the foxhole. I looked at him and couldn’t help thinking: He looks just like me. I told the two troops: ‘Get him by the harness and drag him to the choppers.’ Someone came up behind me and said, ‘No, you won’t do that, Sergeant. He’s one of my troopers and you will show respect. Get two more men and carry him to the landing zone.’ It was Colonel Moore, making a final check of his positions. If we hadn’t found that sergeant he would have. I had cause to remember his words, and repeat them, just two days later.”

This vignette struck me powerfully as the perfect model for how to speak up for what’s right. I’ve always seen myself as a big fat wimp of a pushover, and I guess this gave me a mental picture of how to stand your ground for a critical principle when saying nothing might be easier and more comfortable. For that lesson alone I owe General Moore a perpetual debt of thanks.

I never knew much about General Moore other than his story of the Vietnam War battle of Ia Drang that’s the subject of his book. I made it a point to read more about him this week, after learning he’d passed away on February 10, just three days shy of his 95th birthday. I learned that his life, like the lives I detailed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series, was one of constant service. General Moore had a full career in the US Army, starting at West Point and running through the wars in Korea and Vietnam (where he won the Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts at Ia Drang), and a variety of post-war assignments both domestic and international. He was a master parachutist and an expert at cleaning up drug abuse and racial strife in the Army. Despite being in the bottom 15% of his class at West Point, he went on to graduate from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the Naval War College, George Washington University and Harvard. He also served as an instructor in infantry tactics at West Point.

I’m grateful to General Moore for introducing me to other heroes from the Ia Drang battle, such as:

  • Major Myron Diduryk, who led the iron defense by Bravo Company that saved so many lives in Landing Zone X-Ray. Tragically, he was killed in action on my fifth birthday, during his second tour of duty in Vietnam. Moore described him as “…the finest battlefield company commander I had ever seen, bar none.”
  • Colonel Rick Rescorla (whose photo graces the cover of Moore’s book), one of Diduryk’s men who survived that war and went on to become the Vice President for Corporate Security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. in New York City, where he was laughed at for the evacuation drills he insisted the company conduct. Nobody is laughing now; most of his charges survived the war he didn’t, the one that began in earnest at Ground Zero, the World Trade Center, on Sept. 11, 2001. Morgan Stanley lost just six of their 3,700 WTC employees in that attack; Rescorla was one of them, dying when he went back in for a final check of the company’s floors and Tower #2 came crashing down with him inside. The survivors owe him their lives.
  • Lt. Colonel Bruce Crandall, whose unarmed Airmobile Hueys became both ammo supply and medevac choppers when lesser men refused to fly into the hellhole of LZ X-Ray. He piloted several different ships as one after another suffered too much battle damage to continue, flying continuously for sixteen hours and winning the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day. In 2007 this award was quite rightly upgraded to the Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush.

It is his finest epitaph that Lt. General Hal Moore was the leader of men such as these. Godspeed, General, and thank you.