When I was a kid in Connecticut I went with my Father to take my sister and her infant son to the train station. My sister had a lot of bags so my Father helped her carry her things on to the train. I was standing on the platform waiting for my Father to get off the train so we could go home. Then all of a sudden the train started moving with my Father still on the train! Here I am, an 8-year-old boy standing on the train platform all by myself while my Father is on the train heading to Washington DC. I remember seeing the train start to pull away, and my Father waving at me through the window to go to the ticketing office so I can tell them what happened. This was in the days where there were no cell phones, so my Father couldn't communicate with me to let me know what was happening. I went into the ticketing office and through sobs told the ticket agent that my Father got stuck on the train and I got left on the platform all by myself. The ticket agent was very reassuring and told me that everything was going to be OK. Fortunately the next stop was only about 30 minutes away so I was reunited with my Father in an couple of hours. It was one of the scariest times of my entire childhood, being left on the train platform all by myself.
In the movie It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey contemplates suicide after his uncle misplaces a deposit which threatens the closure of his bank. Just as George is about to jump off a bridge, his guardian angel Clarence jumps in the water prompting George to jump into the water to rescue him. After the rescue, Clarence takes George on a journey to show him what life would have been like had George never been born. George got to see first-hand how person after person was worse off because each of them didn't have the opportunity to be touched by George in some way. Even George's wife Mary met the politically incorrect fate of being an old maid working in the city library. After George's alternate reality journey, he emerged with a wonderful appreciation for all of the good he did in his life and how he impacted so many people with his kindness, generosity, and empathy.
I used this story to open up my sister Lori's eulogy.
When I was a kid one Christmas I got a Lionel train set from my parents. It was really cool. The locomotive had a smoke stack that actually "smoked" when you put a drop of oil into it. I can still remember the burning oil smell the locomotive would emit as it raced around the tracks. The transformer which governed the speed of the train went all the way up to "90" (I still believe it was in "miles per hour!") and had three rail cars that were all different colors and a caboose. The train set also came with enough track to form a figure-8 that I would push the tracks together using special pins that fit into the ends of the tracks.
Some time back I spent about three hours writing and doing emails at one of our local malls. I love this place because there are lots of tables to sit at and the mall has free wireless access so I can be online all the time. As I was exiting the mall I noticed a woman about 20 feet away from the entrance heading into the mall. As I walked out the door I held the door open for this woman for a few seconds. As she walked by me into the mall she said "WOW!" She was surprised that I actually took three seconds out of my life to hold a door open for a complete stranger. Imagine what I could have done with those three seconds that I wasted :-).
In a prior life I was having a discussion with two of our managers on deciding between which of two food shows we should have a booth. As the discussion went on, one of our managers said, "well, we just need to do more research on what the best food show is for us to attend." While it is true we didn't have enough information to make a good decision, what we were missing was the decision criteria in which to make the right decision. Once we focused the discussion on what our decision criteria was (buyer attendance, breadth of product line which we can show, and cost), our data gathering became much more purposeful and focused and yielded a better-informed decision.
In 2004 I left a career that I loved at Microsoft so Patty and I could team-homeschool our son Trevor. With Trevor being on the autism spectrum, we felt he was going to need more help in his transition from 6th to 7th grade than the school system would provide. I focused on math and science, and Patty focused on arts and languages. We ultimately mainstreamed him back into public school by 9th grade. Today he is a college graduate, living on his own, paying his own bills, and leading a typical life for someone his age. Each time I look at my son I'm reminded of how the decision we made in 2004 was so right.
Fast-forward to today. My career post-Microsoft has been extremely fulfilling as an author, consultant, and publisher. But I deep down wondered what our life would have been like had I stayed at Microsoft. I decided to go through an exercise where I looked at what our life was like today versus what I thought it would be like had I stayed at Microsoft. This is where something I created called The Eight Drivers of Contentment comes into play.
On one of my consulting assignments I worked with one of the client's young rising stars who I'll call Buddy. Buddy was an incredibly hard worker, could take on a number of projects at one time, and managed to deliver results on a very timely basis. Buddy was also brilliant and had a very practical and keen business sense. Great raw materials for a great future leader.
I’m a huge fan of sausages. Whether it be Italian, bratwurst, chorizo, kielbasa, or andouille, I love the seasoning and the snap of the casing when you bite into it. Now I know that the stuff that goes into sausage is of the most undesirable parts of the animal including organs, guts, head, and other parts that I prefer not to think about. I have never had the opportunity to see sausage being made, and as a matter of principle; I don’t want to because I know I’d be grossed out and it would ruin my appetite each time I enjoyed a banger. I choose to remain blissfully ignorant about the sausage making process.
Recently I ran across a situation that reminded me of leaders needing to delegate responsibility while remaining engaged with what the team is doing. At one of my former employers we had a particularly thorny issue which required multiple groups to work together to address. It was important that I delegate resolution of the issue to the team, but it was also important that the team had a glimpse into some of my thinking on the issue. When I delegated the issue to one of my managers for resolution, I also articulated some guiding principles that the team needed to keep in mind while resolving the issue. What this allowed me to do was not only provide some considerations for the team to noodle over while coming up with a resolution to the issue but also empower the team to make the decision as to what to do about the issue.
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