Anniversary Lessons

This has been an interesting month for me.  I was diagnosed with Shingles and fought that battle, welcomed a new grandson, assisted with our leadership program in New Zealand and learned a lesson or two.  I’ll save some New Zealand lessons for another day.

As we enter April, I well remember that glorious (and daunting) April 1st 1988, when our company was born.  We now enter our 28th year in business—I guess we beat the odds.

As I think back over the years, I believe the absolute key to any of our success (aside from the blessings of Heaven) is to have a culture of transparency and trust.  Our teams have not always gotten along perfectly, but we have always kept our promises and worked hard to inculcate a culture we believe in.  We have healthy conflict and hold one another accountable.  We succeed as a team and don’t focus on individual recognition.  I once had an experience where one of our officer-associates figuratively banged his fist on the table “don’t you know I’m a [insert official title here], I demand more respect”.  That person is no longer with our company, but the point is, we don’t hang our hats on protocol—we put our value in each other and the patterns of success we have established; which we call our culture.  Folks can actually feel  this culture when they visit our offices; that we really are “real” and we really do “care”.  In other words, this just isn’t me talking—-our success transcends any “one”, and belongs to the entire body—-both now and in the past.

In our dog eat dog world,  many business owners don’t give a hoot about the heart of the people; they care only about how the bottom line can bless them personally.  Their ladder-climber “yes” people mirror the owners as they wield a sword of fear.  This builds nothing long-lasting.    When we shift to the concepts of trust, with an attitude of gratitude and a desire to give back; we feast at the table together, and not in private chambers while the rank and file eats the crumbs outside of the chamber door.

With the new grandson who recently arrived, it is always a hold your breath moment to see how the next older sibling treats the new arrival.


In this case, when Noah was just two days old, Elijah shared his greatest treasures with his new born brother.  He placed his earth moving equipment in the tiny bassinet.   We know the feelings of his heart will not always match his actions—-but he is off to a pretty good start.

In our business culture, we can learn a lot from this example.  Sometimes we don’t always feel like sharing that amazing “secret of success” (not caring who gets the credit), sometimes we go through the actions of trust, but our heart and mind are not completely aligned yet.  Sometimes we have a hard time with change and we react instead of adapt.  One of my favorite authors, Robert Fulghum, wrote a book entitled “All I really needed to know, I learned in Kindergarten”.   Seems like the title of his book is very true.   Developing a successful culture and adopting success principles is a life-long pursuit and it’s never too late to start.  Sometimes it’s a matter of connecting to what we know is right; even though our adult lives have fogged the mirror of truth.

Let’s try to always welcome the newness of change, give willingly of our “treasures” with a focus on team success and not individual glory, and always keep our promises.  Let’s return to our roots and live as adults the lessons we learned in our infancy.  I hope we are never dissuaded by the negative drum beats of the few and continue to partake in the great opportunities available for the many.

Lastly, for those who are near the retirement age; I highly recommend the Shingles Vaccine!  Some things we don’t need to learn by experience.

So Long Old Friend

This morning, while I was traveling on business, Ginger took Cali to the vet.  She had been suffering from cancer for a while and we’ve prolonged her life with treatment.  She is old and has had led a great dog life.  You will recall several entries in my blog featuring this amazing friend.  This is the last entry I will make of her as she entered Dog Heaven.  I received the call from Ginger just about lunch time; the tears in her voice said it all.  Family members who were near, held her in their arms, saying their so long’s, as she painlessly went to sleep.  I’m still numb.  Most everyone who has had a dog understands the sense of loss that accompanies their passing.  I don’t know how to properly pay tribute to a dog you loved and now is gone; I’ll remember her in the fondest of ways.

cali1 cali2

Cali is at peace now.  We are not; but are happy she no longer suffers.  We remember Cali in this light:

New Picture (1) New Picture

She was very obedient but always a dog.  In other words, her nose drove her passions and she had a knack for steeling cookies or other treats she could figure out how to reach.  She learned how to open a cooler with her nose.  Oh, what a nose.  She was the best bird dog I have ever seen, but her athletic season was shortened by an ACL injury.  She loved to hunt and please her master.  When I drove the old bronco, she knew it was time (for a hunt) and jumped in the front seat with me.  She once ate an entire bag of dog food and a pound of chocolate at once.  We had to have her stomach pumped.  She filled our lives with adventure and surprises, some good and some not so good.  Her kind nature, however, made it impossible to be mad at her for too long.  She knew when she had messed up- but she evidentially thought it was worth it as her “time out” punishments never did stop her from following her nose.

When I came home from the trip, I missed the floppy eared chocolate lab running out to greet me.  When I got up the following morning and was doing my readings, I missed her snores and grunts from the laundry room.  I got up a couple of times to let her outside- I already miss the routines.  Even a couple of days later, I found myself saving part of a banana while making my shake as that was my daily treat for her and she looked very forward to it.  I left the banana piece on the counter anyway in remembrance.  It’s pretty quiet now.  I saw a rabbit outside the front door and thought about how the animals and critters will not have to run for their lives for a while; in an odd way they will probably miss it.

I’m sure grateful for ole Cali Dog.  We loved her so much and will miss her greatly.  If you have a pet, give them a good scratch today.

People Over Policy

I’ve talked about this before, but another wonderful reminder has inspired me to write about this again.  I’ve always tried to hire folks who think for themselves and then EMPOWER them to do their job.  I don’t like to micro-manage (though I’ve had to force myself to grow in this area), and I don’t like to say I’m not going to micro-manage and then look over their shoulders, judging their every move.  I have had this experience in other settings in my life, and I just choose not to be involved in those circles anymore.

Policy is written mostly by folks who have never been on the front lines.  The rules are written often to eliminate stupid mistakes of the few and make everyone else jump through hoops because of it.  Of course we need rules and policies; but many are ridiculous when measured against pure intent.

In the end, every business and success in life involves a relationship.  It requires getting out of the mechanical mode (which often accompany policy) and addressing the needs of human beings.  One great challenge of leadership then, is to empower people to make decisions to address the needs of people; even if it requires wise decisions to walk outside of the lines of customary policy.  Their wisdom may not always be wise, but their intent will be and will usually overshadow the imperfections of mistakes in judgment.

On a recent trip, my wife and I had a few hours to kill in Los Angeles on our way to a leadership gig.  We decided to leave the airport and go find an In-N- Out (famous hamburger joint for those who have not been to hamburger mecca).  We started to get a taxi, but the curbside taxi manager said “Hey, you can save $40.00 bucks if you get on “the parkingspot bus”, which takes folks to their cars and is right next to In N Out.  Perfect, and thanks for the tip we said.  Now I bet this curbside taxi cab manager broke a rule in being kind enough to not allow us to be gouged for a ride less than 2 miles away—but he had a better solution to serve a human being and not feed a meter.  We hailed a parkingspot bus.  Upon entry, we announced the truth about our plan—we didn’t have a car parked in their facility but were looking for a free ride to In-N- Out.  The lady said “That’s against policy now, but I’ll be happy to help you out”.


We tipped her kindly as she even instructed us how to exit their facility to walk the twenty feet to In-N -Out, and how to return to watch for her to take us back on her next rounds.  When we arrived to their facility, she also was forthright with her manager about sneaking us to In-N-Out, to which he gave us an understanding “Hang Ten” sign.  I do believe the Hamburger God’s were watching over us.  I thought it was interesting that even though policies were in place to protect their company’s profit, the folks on the front line made decisions that supported the human being first.  Good on them!!

People2 People2b

In this picture we are seated at In-N-Out and looking over at the parking garage.  Remember this principle, People over Policy—it really does work when exercised with wisdom.

On our return trip, we had the same kind lady driver.  The manager smiled and even ran some bottled water from their refrigerator to us—so happy was he that we were happy—and not even a customer of his.  On our trip both to the parking garage and back to the airport, we were the only passengers.  Sometimes when we just do the right thing regardless of policies that were written for the weakest of creatures, the space is made for the experience to be special.

The result of her kindness to us was a high regard for the company she worked for and for her manner of doing business personally; and we haven’t even used their services (at least on a paying basis).  The kindness she extended trumped a policy that would have prevented this kind act.  FYI, we did reward her generously for her genuine care; though she was not doing this deed for money.

Now on to New Zealand—this lesson is going to be taught to a large group of young adults in the leadership seminars we are invited to participate in.  What kind of a thought leader am I to teach that breaking the rules is OK sometimes?  A good one I hope.


Who wouldn’t break a rule or two for this?

Horse Talk

When I was a young man, even as boy, I had a horse.  I enjoyed riding horses with my friend.   In those days, TV shows like Bonanza and Gun Smoke were popular, so riding a horse for me put me in the same league as “Hoss” or “Festus.”

Our family farm is adjacent to a horse boarding business, so I get to see beautiful horses and their caring owners.  This past week, my daughter observed my grandson making friends with a couple of horses.  He is two, and the horses are about 14 hands tall.  He looks up to them, observing them without fear.  They look down to him and are thinking, “I wish they stayed small” or “Is he our owner?”  OK, so I’m no horse whisperer- even though I look an awful lot like Robert Redford!

Horse1 Horse2

It’s amazing to me that bond between children and animals.  I think they speak a secret language and there is a special respect (usually) that the animal affords the little one.

My love of horses is a bit guarded.  My horse growing up would have to be coaxed with a hat full of oats to come near enough to put a bridle on her.  If she put her nose over the hat and found it empty, she would whirl around and try to kick me.  If I didn’t have any oats in my hat I had to move in fast or be kicked.  When riding her, she would sometimes try to rub me off on the fence line.  Any wonder why her name was Spooky.  She was albino white with blue and pink eyes.  Even so, the experience was great and I loved my horse with all her foibles.

What a wonderful world we live in, where the opportunities of communing with nature and its beasts are afforded to those of us with opposable thumbs.  What a fun experience to observe the little ones getting their first glimpses of animals as they try to communicate with them as only a child can.

Now I have to teach my grandchildren all about electric fences.  I’m still pondering how to do this.  If you have any suggestions, let me know.

Severe Turbulence Ahead

“This is your captain speaking. Air traffic control has advised us of severe turbulence ahead.”

This comment brought me out of a nice nap. As a pilot, I know the difference between light, moderate, and severe turbulence. Severe means “momentary loss of control,” something no pilot- and certainly no passenger- wants to hear.

severe turbulence ahead

We all waited for the barn doors to be blown off. Thirty eight thousand feet between my lightly padded seat and the ocean below.

This got me to thinking; how often do we simply put off corrective action- things we ought to do, preparations that are needed- because the skies are pretty smooth sailing at the moment? Yet in the moment we face a time sensitive deadline, perhaps inevitable, we bring to bear all of our faculties to win the battle at hand.

Ironically, I was naturally reading up on raising beef cows when this announcement came (just before I dozed off). The author was talking about all the ills brought on by the “pharmaceutical farm” and asked, “Since when has man been able to fool nature?” This was followed by the warning, “nature always bats last.”

I prayed this was not an omen as I pictured the 777 being swatted out of the sky. I sat tensely for the thirty minutes the captain said we might be hit. A long thirty minutes.

Then with a ding of the bell, the seat belt light went off and we all breathed out a sigh of relief.

There are areas of our lives that we can both prepare for the unexpected and adopt measures of planning that make the coming storms or challenges (the inevitable) a space of peace, not necessarily a moment of terror. I do believe we inherently receive the warnings “severe turbulence ahead.” There is a peace that comes through listening to that voice within and preparing in advance for what lie ahead.

While some turbulence cannot be avoided (nature always bats last), the modicum of Think, Plan, Do (see prior blog), seems better than simply “Fasten your seat belts.”

This experience was a reminder to me to keep focused on things that matter most and to not put off needful preparations.

Pressing Forward

As another year opens, I am reminded about this wonderful process we call “life”. It has a beginning and an end; it consists only of memories, the present, and the future. Our daily journey is marked by time.

For many years, I collected the shoes of our children as they grew. When they retired a pair of shoes, they took their place on a shelf in my office.   During a move from one house to another, the box of shoes went missing, and I only have a couple of the pairs left.

I thought of this over the holidays when I observed another line of shoes of a grandchild, placed on a window ledge by his mother.

PressingForward(2) PressingForward(1)

The shoes pictured in the window seal await action; they will be filled shortly, and depending on the weather and occasion, will mark progress. The pair shown on the stair banister is all I have left of the kids growing up years; these shoes will never be worn again, but hold cherished memories of what was once laughter, action, perhaps even chaos.

Another beautiful consideration of the children’s shoes is the bright eyes and innocence they represent. New steps, every trail is a brand new adventure, the scars on their toes indicate the path was not always rosy, and required a few bumps and bruises to blaze the trail. Still, they bumbled their way forward with faith, and without fear or reservation.

I want to look at 2015 like this. We will enter many pathways; hopefully all pointing in the right direction; though not without some risk. There will be challenges that may leave a scar or two, but in the end, we’ll grow into and even out of our shoes; re-shod our feet and keep moving on. I hope we can find the freshness of innocence as a child as we embark on new frontiers.

Press Forward is a term I love; so let us be about embracing the journey, remembering the lessons of the past, but still seeking new adventures, relationships, meaning and purpose. Happy New Year 2015!

Decisions That Bring Peace

During the Holiday Seasons, I find it a great opportunity to reflect and renew. Taking a little time to ponder life and if our lives are moving in the direction we would like is always a good practice.

This year, I want to share lessons that have come to me as a result of some real life experiences over my lifetime. I hope you find them beneficial.

All of us are engaged in contractual relationships. Work, marriage, investments, you name it. We normally review the contracts, agree to abide by their guidelines, sign them, and simply honor the agreements to the best of our ability. I was reminded recently that one reason we have lawyers and courts is because two sides often believe their cause is just, and even though there are contracts in place, the intent of them varies so widely that lawyers end up fighting to determine whose interpretation is most correct. Pretty sad really, so I have come up with a pattern to determine the right course of action BEFORE entering an agreement.

  1. Do you know the party well enough to know their integrity? I have written before about Jon Huntsman from his book, Winners Never Cheat, wherein he gave up millions of dollars he could have laid claim to but didn’t because he made a promise. Money never did trump integrity in his case, and it’s a good principle to live by. Obtaining this knowledge before entering an agreement is not easy; but extreme due diligence would be worth the time.
    1. Have they broken promises before or tried to re-write history after the agreements are signed? Ask for references of their prior parties in similar agreements and give them a ring.
    2. What does your gut say in their presence? Are you a little weirded out by their mannerisms? Without judging them for their uniqueness, how do you feel in their presence? Are they real or do they live in their own glass castle?
  2. What type of people do they surround themselves with? Do they bow obeisance to the “king” or do they clearly demonstrate loyalty out of respect and not coercion? Usually open dialogue and laughter accompany this group in the presence of the leader IF they are comfortable and secure. This will speak volumes, so observe carefully.
  3. All agreements aside, would you want to just sit down and have a soda with them and talk openly about anything that comes to mind? Or do you find yourself guarded because of an uneasy and unspoken vibe that screams distrust?
  4. What assurance do you have, that if there were a misunderstanding, that they would be as upset at such an event as you; and could thus resolve the differences in a manner that rises above manipulation, greed, and power? A good question might be “have you ever been involved with a contractual misunderstanding that was resolved to the satisfaction of both parties? Would you mind if I spoke to the other party about it?

I know that these guidelines and questions are very difficult to ascertain in the sometimes limited exposure you might have in performing your due diligence, but if they are on your mind in the process, perhaps you can make great decisions that will bless and not distract, build and not demean, bring peace and not division.

I hope that in 2015, the decisions we make will begin with the end in mind, and will bring long-lasting peace and prosperity to everyone.

Something to Crow About

With regards our family sustainable farm (being built by our daughter and son-in-law), it’s been a year of lessons learned and values instilled. One lesson I’ve learned is to know the difference between what you think is great and what really is.


Many of you have witnessed first-hand, life on the farm. As we have watched the “chicken process” I have mussed over the phrases that we often repeat as I have witnessed where they came from:

Running around like a chicken with its head cut off

Looks like they have egg on their face

He’s hen pecked

Building a nest egg

All cooped up

Quit your squaking

Scratching out a living

Fly the coop

Cock ‘o the walk

And so on……….

Truly, without knowing the origination of the phrases, we speak an agrarian talk while living a metropolitan walk.

We have participated in “evisceration day” a few times now. We gather as family and friends, say a prayer of gratitude for the birds we are about to harvest, and put up store for the winter. From raising the chicks, to harvesting the birds, every care is taken to be good stewards of the earth and that which lives upon it. It’s a great feeling to know the animals have been happy during their sojourn, and didn’t live out their lives in a small square, with no life at all, to be artificially prepared for maximum use at the lowest cost.

Before we started this family adventure, I actually thought when I bought a free range bird from the store, that it had a life of freedom and frolicked in the high pasture grass. But did you know that

the USDA’s (and industry standard) definition for “Free Range” is that birds must have “outdoor access”

or “access to the outdoors.” In some cases, this can mean access only through a “pop hole,” with no full-body access to the outdoors and no minimum space requirement. Creating a higher standard,

HFAC’s (HFAC is Human Farm Animal Care—dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals; recognized as the gold standard for certifying animal welfare from birth to slaughter) Certified Humane® “Free Range” requirement is 2 square feet per bird. The hens must be outdoors, weather permitting (seasonal in some areas of the country), and when they are outdoors they must be outdoors for at least 6 hours per day. All other standards must be met.

HFAC’s Certified Humane® “Pasture Raised” requirement is 1000 birds per 2.5 acres (108 square feet per bird) and the fields must be rotated. The hens must be outdoors year-round, with mobile or fixed housing where the hens can go inside at night to protect themselves from predators, or for up to two weeks out of the year- due only to very inclement weather. All additional standards must be met.

The process used on our farm is significantly more liberal than HFAC’s pasture raised standards; but can you imagine actually calling “Free Range” a bird who is limited to two square feet or much less by USDA standards. It pays to scratch below the surface in understanding these things.

In the pasture rotation of the animals, the land itself also is revitalized and enriches the soil and production of pasture. It’s amazing to me how everything is better in farming when you focus on being a good steward of the land and animals and not on the production and profit.

Here is the end result of the pasture raised product. Never had anything better-it’s real and authentic in every way. It’s not better because a label said so; it is better because it really is.


Now that’s something to crow about.


I recently paid a visit to the Henry Ford Museum. It was amazing. What impressed me the most and gave me something to ponder on was this quote from him:

Henry Ford

Coincidentally, I was attending a leadership meeting during this Detroit visit, and was able to ponder the messages with the great quote by Henry (we’re on a first name basis now). The world is paved with good intentions, and so many leadership seminars bring valid fluff, but seldom finish the messaging from the board to the heart. This is exactly what Henry was talking about; our reputations for all good are built upon what we have actually done; what we have inculcated into our daily practices.

The space between our desires and our habits is the gap we need to eliminate or reduce to become who we intend to be. It’s a matter of incorporating our values into our habits. How can this be done. First of all, I would suggest taking time to develop your governing values. For a company or an individual, they usually are not so different; If they are the same; all the better because it will avoid incongruities in one’s life. Sit and ponder key words or phrases—-words or phrases that make up the formula of who you are or in most cases (such as myself), who you want to become. Let me give a personal phrase from my governing values:

Effective Communicator:

I believe in a style of communication that will inspire others. I desire to be transparent in relationships and while inviting healthy debate, to only speak in positive ways, even when disagreeing. I don’t attempt to coerce, manipulate, or control. I seek first to understand, and then to be understood. I speak with respect and a calm that invites sincere dialogue. I am an effective communicator.

I stated the phrase, explained my thoughts behind it, and closed the statement in the affirmative “I am”. This is one part of my personal document of governing values; I review it every week, and it allows myself to take an inventory, to measure how I progressed that week on my value, and see if I’m building my reputation by living it, or if it is just nice fluff.

You can see that putting into action the desire closes the gap between who I am and who I want to become.

Really this principle of striving to grow and live what we know to be right touches all phases of life and relationships. It includes honoring your agreements, being true to your loved ones, establishing patterns of excellence.

With this thought in mind, while at these meetings I found myself next to a board member who I know is highly successful. I asked him to bullet point for me what he believes are the secret to success (we were talking business and entrepreneurial ventures). He said 1) Have an eye level awareness of natural talent. I took this to mean to know your strengths and build upon them. 2) Make following up a habit. This I understood to mean what I call closing the gap between values and habits. My reading of my personal value statement each week is how I do it. And lastly 3) Never stop learning. I loved the simplicity of this and they all consisted of actionable items that build reputation by doing—not just thinking about doing.

You will remember in my last blog I talked about the aspect of continuous learning and being teachable. Those concepts weave into the message of this writing about reputation and being a doer.

Let us all strive to build our reputations by creating our governing values and striving to close the gap between who we are and who we really want to be.

I Didn’t Know That

Of all the things I’ve written or blogged about over the past five years, this message could have the most application in your life. I have always been fascinated with people. Often, I will seek out those of interest to me and dig deeper to discover what made them who they are. One of life’s great rewards is to recognize the genius in others, to see that they are special beyond description; just the way they are.

I do believe we find ourselves categorizing people; putting them into what we feel OUR paradigm of life is all about or what it SHOULD be. We find this slant in the way we hire folks, in the way we interact with them if their ideas are different than ours, in the way we eventually choose who our friends shall be. I remember a time when our company was conducting personality profiles to see whose resume’s fit into what we did. I took the test and failed. In a business I had started and grown for 20 plus years at that time-I was not profiled to succeed at it. We stopped using the test.

When my wife’s father moved in with us a couple of years ago, I was pretty upset with an issue of control that was apparently most meaningful to me; that of having “control” of the remote control. He took over control of the remote control on day one on our main level. Now, burned into the picture tube are things like Hee Haw, Jeopardy, Larry’s Country Dinner, and all other such equivalents that not only burn bad patterns into the TV screen, but also burn holes in my brain!

However, my wife’s dad is the kindest man. He talks to everyone he sees in any circle of his travels. He learns the most amazing things. He gives an outlet to those who do wish to share their voice. He amuses folks and brings a smile to their face. For the family, we’ve seen most of it before, and can usually mouth the words of what he is about to say; nevertheless, he says them anyway, and the folks to whom he is talking with have never heard those lines before. To them, they may each say sincerely in their conversation “I didn’t know that.”

I’ve seen this awful pride, of trying to fit the world into what they believe is the most relevant thought value of our time. If the idea is not the presenters, it’s no idea at all; if it’s different than what the script called for, it is off base; if it goes against the grain, you are labeled; and so on.

I one time asked the head of a company’s HR department if they wanted to hear of anything I had discovered regarding leadership. I do have a long history of this topic an am connected with some folks with pretty powerful ideas; so I thought I would share. “No,” was the immediate reply, “I’m a global expert on leadership, etc.” and so I kept my mouth shut, but my mind was also turned off at this point to listening to what they had to say. If this person had said “I would love to hear your ideas,” how much could we have learned from each other? Perhaps we could even say “I never knew that.”

This reminds me of a most powerful poem I just discovered by Alexandros Evangelou Xenopouloudakis:

They will declare: Every journey has been taken.
You shall respond: I have not been to see myself.
They will insist: Everything has been spoken.
You shall reply: My way is not complete.
You are warned: Any way is too long, any way to hard.
Fear not. You are the gate- you, the gatekeeper.
And you shall go through and on…

From the book Third Wish by Robert Fulghum

For each person on the planet, the journey is going to be different. That is the beauty of humanity. We ought to remember that when we invite those we engage with to tell their stories, share their ideas, expound upon what is in their hearts, and tell THEIR story, we will be so much the better.

I read about a person who withdrew from the cookie cutter world they knew, perhaps in their quest to discover or re-discover themselves. He thought about a couple of lines from the notebooks of Albert Camus:
“I withdrew from the world not because I had enemies, but because I had friends. Not because they did me an ill turn….but because they thought me better than I am. That was a lie I could not endure.”
From the book Third Wish by Robert Fulghum

Our pride can stand a good burial from time to time; we can become humble enough to recognize that what we have to say is not as important as what we’re about to learn through earnest listening and sincere dialogue. Perhaps we can also say, “I didn’t know that.”


Tonight when I get home, I’ll hear the voices of country twanged folks coming out of the TV tube, and as I at first silently mutter a sigh of disgust; as I proceed through the room and see grandpa sitting in his blanket with a smile on his face, I’ll focus on the kindness he shares and invites- he’s just prepping for the next friend he’ll make and learn from. This is an important part of what life is all about, did you know that?