Archives For responsibility

“Why?” can be a challenging question. Do you use it as an excuse for the past or as a reason for the future? Does the answer to your “Why?” hold you back or launch you?

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9572961_sThere are words that grab my attention. Some are opportunity words like success, excitement, future. Others are inspirational words like honor, loyalty, integrity. Still others are warnings. As a leader, I want to always hear these 4 words to keep me from slipping in the quality and the energy associated with leadership. Continue Reading…

I’m looking forward to the US election. Well, actually, I’m looking forward to its passing. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for my right to vote; thankful for the chance to live in a free nation and participate in the greatest experiment of self-government in the history of the world.

But recently Vicky and I cancelled our land telephone line. We don’t want the automated recordings and the unsolicited spam. Fortunately, we’re intelligent enough to make up our mind without the surreal, unbelievable amount of money and energy spent by both parties to try to convince us to vote for them.

In fact, the more each candidate does to try to sell me on voting for them, the less inclined I am to do just that. The reason has little to do with what either stands for. In fact, they spend so little time talking about their own ideas, if we were to choose based simply on what we could find in mainstream media, we should end up depressed, if not suicidal. According to each, the other is the single worst person to vote for, ever. If the other is elected, the world may come to an end, or at least America will cease to exist as a free nation.

I’m reminded of a quote by a politician from 100 years ago.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt, April 23, 1910

Personally (and officially on the Lead Change Group blog, too!) I’m not going to join the criticism party. Leadership requires that we not simply point out the problem. No one wins when every comparison is designed to negate the other. Leadership demands that we bring ideas and solutions instead of criticism and discord. We must argue for our ideas, rather than against the others. Nothing is gained by criticizing the other people or ideas, but by visualizing, collaborating and moving toward the future.

I’ll vote in this election, but my energy and my support will have to be reserved for a future election; one where each candidate talks only about themselves and their ideas.  My ideal candidate is the one with the courage to lobby for their future without criticizing their competition, be it a candidate, an idea or a vision.

Leadership is about the future. Use the past to create the future, not to criticize your competition. Remember, it’s not the critic who counts.

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We the People

July 4, 2012

On July 4, 1776, a revolution formally began that had been brewing for years. Prior to that time, leadership was a class. You were born into it or you weren’t. You either ruled or you didn’t. On that day, We, the People chose to stop being victims of a government outside of our control and start being responsible to create a govenrment of, by and for the very people being governed.

We the people still have ultimate responsibility, but we appear to be delegating more and more responsibility to the entity we created, almost as if it is something other than ourselves. We don’t seem to want responsibility when it becomes routine or difficult, so we offload it.  “Let the government do it.” For 236 years, we in the U.S. have given more and more of our responsibility to a group of people called the government. In fact, sometimes it’s difficult to know if we’re giving the responsibility or if those in the group we created are taking that responsibility from us.

We the people have stopped being the solution to our own problems. We find too many solutions in laws and programs managed by the government, an organization that over time seems to become something other than what it was created to be.

Have We, the People created the very class of leaders that we declared our independence from those 236 years ago?

We the People need to return to being the solution. The health care crisis is borne out of fear of sickness and death. We’re the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, living longer and enjoying more leisure than ever before and we’re willing to create a bureaucracy that will eventually decide who lives and who dies, which sick people are worth treating and which are not.

And it’s not just health care. In the U.S. we’ve been making government bigger since it was created. Most recently the economic crisis, which arose out of our own greed, or unemployment, or homelessness or CEO compensation; each becomes another problem to give to the government. There seems to be no problem too big for the U.S. Government.  But each problem we look to “the government” to solve is another lost opportunity to be “We the People.”

Do I love my TV and my air conditioning and my lifestyle too much to take responsibility for things like the health care of my neighbors? In my community, a church has started a free medical clinic. I wonder what challenges it will face as they attempt to provide free health care to people in our community. We the people must take responsibility for those who can’t afford medical care or housing or those who don’t have jobs. If we continue to relinquish our ability to self govern, we’ll lose our ability to self govern.

Photo © Dana S. Rothstein

My dad’s name is Jack Henry. Born the 3rd of 4 to a couple in western Pensylvania, his dad worked in the coal mines when he could but he was sick so much that everyone in their family had to pitch in. His older brother by 7 years moved away when Jack was pretty young so Dad threw papers and ran errands and had other odd jobs that helped support the family.

They ended up in Akron, OH and at age 17, he faked his age and got a job with a trucking company. For reasons we never fully knew, he joined the military in 1948 and spent a couple of years in Germany right before the Korean War. After the army, back at the trucking company, he started to move up in the union, which was a career strategy of sorts in the mid 1950’s in northeast Ohio.

In 1957, he married Shirley Henry after dating a few years, and shortly thereafter, I came into the picture. My father has always done what needed to be done and he worked 2 and 3 jobs at the same time he went to Akron U at night for 7 years to complete his degree. He was also quite a driver. I remember 5 different trophies we had from different truck driving rodeo’s in the late 1950’s. As kids, we broke a couple of these during pillow fights in the den.

He also became the secretary of the Akron Teamsters Union, and around 1960 he tells a story of attending a union dinner and looking critically at the people who held the positions of leadership in the union. He decided that night that he didn’t want to end up like them. He didn’t respect their leadership or their lifestyle. His future wouldn’t be in the union. Risking ridicule, he pursued a management position at the trucking company and became a safety supervisor. About a year later, a $5 per week promotion moved us from Akron, OH to Chattanooga, TN, which was culture shock in the early 1960’s. But Dad did what he had to do. Promotions required transfers and if he was going to move the family ahead, he had to move the family ahead.

We moved again in a year to Nashville and less than 4 years later to Louisville, KY. In 1969, we moved to Atlanta, GA in June and to Memphis, TN in August, right before I started 7th grade. Mom made Dad promise that we’d stop moving when I started high school and he kept his promise by 3 days. He had to keep it again, passing up an opportunity or two in the early 70’s.

Dad built a great business in Memphis in the 1970’s. He was VP of a small trucking company that prospered throughout the decade. People both enjoyed working there and worked hard. Everyone had stories about working for “Mr. Henry.” Everyone called him Mr. Henry. To this day, if anyone calls me Mr. Henry, I simply ask, “Where?”

Working around the company throughout high school, he would assign me to supervisors, each with the freedom to make sure I worked. There would be no special treatment for the boss’s kid. About the time I turned 18, his company voted to go union and he made a deal with another Terminal Manager in town. That man’s son would go to work at Dad’s company and I’d go to work at the other company. It became a great lesson for me. My father’s standard was pretty high and I found it easy to do a good job for the new company.

At age 55, he took his life savings and invested it in a trucking company of his own which has been in business and profitable for 25 years. His greatest pride has been building a self-supporting organization that gave people an opportunity to earn a living. Profit is necessary for that. So is quality. My Dad had a career that helped others feed their families, send kids to school, build houses, fund charities, and do other great works. Every life is part of this bigger picture, creating value for future generations. My dad taught me to be responsible about my contribution, making sure I give more than I take so there is room for society to prosper.

He went out on a limb with that company and moved my family, and his first grandchild back to Memphis to work for the family business. Dad shouldered a lot of responsibility in those early days that I never gave him enough credit. We tried twice for me to work for his company, the first time it lasted 6 and a half years and the second time only 2 years. It’s hard for oldest sons and dads or oldest daughters and moms. So I’ve been out of the business since 1996 and the business is now under different ownership.

As I look back I see the one overriding principle my father taught me: who you are matters. It’s much more important than what you say or what you intend. It’s much more important than who you know or how much stuff you have. Jack Henry always did what he had to do. He sat at the hospital for hours never leaving my side in the hours after a bad car accident in 1979. He fought me all throughout my teen years and my early adult years. He took his responsibility to raise his children and provide for his family seriously. He took seriously his responsibility to have a profitable business so that people could grow. He lived his life doing what he believed he owed society; taking care of his family and making sure they were productive members of society. My brothers and I have all been pretty successful, but the sheer force of who Dad is has forged us to be who we are.

Your who-you-are is the only message you have. It’s the only story anyone will remember of your life. My father set the standard in our family. His “who-you-are” wasn’t what I thought it should be so I spent several years in rebellion. Dad isn’t perfect – no one is – but he is who he is. I didn’t understand until recently, but his life has shown me that who you are matters. Bring the best “who-you-are” to the world and make an impact that will last. My life is shaped by his life.

Thanks Dad. I appreciate your generous spirit, your loyalty and your commitment to fairness and responsibility. You blessed me and my family with your life. I love you.