Wednesday, November 24, 2021

2021 - Leadership and Gratitude


Thank you all for reading and sharing about leadership.


I am particularly thankful this year for having this great opportunity to share via my BLOG. I have had folks in 43 different countries who read and share these words that I have about leadership, servant-hood and the lessons I have gained from so many in my 57 years.

I wanted to share the Top 10 most read BLOG posts from this past year. (A link to each is embedded for your convenience.)

10) Leadership Adding to OthersJosh Greene adds value to all and he is still adding value to his family and those he serves in his community. I met Josh in 2004 and for just over five years he helped determine and support all that I was determined to do and be great as a member of my team.

9) Leadership From VolunteersWhile Blake Walker and I admire the subtly of humor; I also think of Blake Walker as just that in his role as a volunteer. I am so grateful for Blake and those I mentioned earlier. They teach and lead and give and teach others to lead and give.

8) Leadership Lessons from John huges (and my Wife) - Our life has been all these moments of love, leadership and John Hughes movies.

7) Wally Vision and LeadershipAs I've gotten older I've tried to look at things like that more and more with genuine gratitude - I can't think of a single conversation I've had with Wally since we met in 1983 that I have walked away from without a lesson - I try to be that for others as well.

6) Leadership and the Law of the LidThere is always room for forgiveness and redemption. I learned that lesson with Brian Kelly. My first impressions of Brian were that he had a big heart and needed to share that with others.

5) Leadership and Lasting Impact - Kelly Cullen helped define who I am and for helping me figure out my “why.” 

4) Leadership and LearningHaving someone who enjoys learning and applies that enjoyment to helping others learn is Megan Kelly'’s gift to me.

3) Leadership Lessons from the "Real Thing"I am in debt to Bill Gagliardi for all the lessons and the one about faith has been the most enduring.

2) What Gift is This Person Giving Me?John Maxwell says, “Whenever I see my staff, I put an imaginary “10” on the forehead of each individual. This helps me treat each person like a 10, a high performer who makes a difference to me and the organization. Inevitably, they respond as if they are a 10!

1) Thank A Teacher for a Pile of Leadership LessonsI will leave the simple concept and moral of the story here. I thank Bill for the wonderful lesson and the value he helped me to see in myself as I have shoveled my way through these many years. I am forever always, “looking for the pony.” 

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Friday, October 29, 2021

2020 - Leadership and Respect

Amanda (Top L) Kelly Top R) Lisa (Lower L) Alec (Lower R) Circa 1999


(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

I previously mentioned Amanda in my BLOG post from2003. I often tell my own children that Amanda is my oldest daughter, who is not my daughter.            

Amanda and her sister Lisa, entered our lives in 1998 when our family moved to YMCA Camp Edwards in the mountains of Southern California.

Just some perspective, if you have ever flown into Los Angeles on Ontario International airports, chances are that part of the flight approach brought you over the San Bernardino Mountains. As you near San Gorgonio at 11,503 feet, (highest point of the San Bernardino’s) depending on your approach altitude (and if it is night time), you may see a lone light or a few in different areas. Folks may wonder what or who might live there. We did.

San Bernardino Mountains, Southern California

Anyway, Amanda and Lisa grew up with us helping take care of Alec and Kelly (my two oldest children) who were 1.5 and 3.5 years old respectively. The spent most weekends are our home and as we all grew and eventually moved away, they have continued to intertwine in our lives. It was always a lesson in preparation that I got from Amanda. She would prep things and often would tell me about how they went or that perhaps, my daughter would have none of it and she would do something different. They all helped with clean up in and around camp. When a group would leave on Sundays, they would go from cabin to cabin and clean up items that were under bunks. They would help doing dishes with the institutional dish washing machine. Amanda could get them to do things that my wife and I could not.

Amanda joined the Army and for the last 18 plus years has served proudly. In my proud dad (not dad) moment, she was the second woman to be the Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year for the US Army (All of the Army; everywhere in the world US Army). It is quite the accomplishment. She tells lots of stories about making grown men cry as a drill sergeant.

Most of these stories are quite funny and a few years ago, our entire family got to spend Thanksgiving weekend with her listening to story after story of drills, physical training, assignments around the world and more from someone who has built a life serving their country.

In 2020 Lee Anne and I had the opportunity to stop by her home outside of Washington DC where she lives with her husband, Micah (who also serves in the Army) and her two kids, Kaylee Mae and Jameson. It was a great opportunity to catch up and see the life that she has partnered with to create such a great family.

My reason to mention all this is that a short time later we talked on the phone after she had texted about a challenge she was facing. As an accomplished leader in her field, she wanted my opinion about a life matter. Did I mention she often calls me “dad?”

It’s in these moments that I have gained great clarity and respect about who she is, knowing where she came from and how her early life was of conflict and hardship. I am inspired by the person she is and how she inspires so many others who have the opportunity to follow her as well.

John Maxwell’s Law of Respect in his 21 Laws of Irrefutable Leadership states, “When people respect you as a person, they admire you. When they respect you as a friend, they love you. When they respect you as a leader, they follow you.”

I think of those years at camp and how she and Lisa, always had games and activities to help and support our children. Amanda, being the oldest took on great responsibility and at 11 years of age, I knew she would be a leader always. What I did not know, is how thoughtful a leader she is. John Maxwell often quotes Theodore Roosevelt who says that “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

As Amanda and I talked that afternoon, I realized how much anguish she was sharing over a decision and recent life event. Her respect, concern, and care were overwhelming and as noted, the mark of a good leader. Amanda has added value to others and as a result they afford her great respect.

Staff Sgt. Amanda Kokkonen, an advanced individual training platoon sergeant with Alpha Company, 344th Military Intelligence Battalion, Goodfellow Air Force Base, San Angelo, Texas, was named the 2010 Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

I am in awe of how I can learn from so many folks and continue to learn. Amanda is just the one I gained the most this past year, as I have celebrated well over 50 plus years in these United States.

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Friday, October 22, 2021

2018 - Leadership, HOPE, and My Best Friend


Al (L) and Chris (R) circa 1986 "Yeah, its the 80's"

(Fifty Nifty Years in United States Series)

We just had our 43rd anniversary and back in 2018, when we celebrated our 40th, in my quick and hasty online research, the gift is a ruby right? “Ruby is a stone of Divine creativity. It boosts your energy levels and promotes high self-esteem, intuition, and spiritual wisdom. Ruby is a symbol of good fortune, pure love, and loyalty.” Ruby slippers represented HopeAnd if Chris was standing here while I write this, he would insert “because you know, where there’s Hope there’s Crosby.”

Chris has been a trusted and loyal friend for 43 years. (Me, not so much.) Chris has been that friend that shows up when I have moved (17 times since I’ve known him). He was the best man at my wedding taking me and 17 others on a great bachelor party cruise. He is Alec’s godfather and we have laughed our way through baptisms, weddings, births and funerals as well as work trials and tribulations. We have lived together, driven to college together, hiked together, fished together,  traveled near and far (several countries) and camped together (remember backpacking on Catalina or worse “Storage Shed Hell.”

I learned and gained Hope from Chris. He always has a way to look at what I was looking at and see it with a different lens. His lens has not changed. His upbringing made it a clear facet that he would always weigh whatever has come to him and whatever he is up against.

The day Fowler’s (a sporting goods store in Pasadena that he worked while we were in College) burned down in 1985 is always a measure that I use when thinking about how Chris handles life. I was working on a brick laying project in San Gabriel and he showed up and paced the wall to share that day and process all that was going on for him. Four people had just died in that explosion and he was genuinely grieving and yet still hopeful.

Chris had worked there for several years and knew the family and several of the employees who perished in the fire. It was a stunning blow and one of those moments where you question everything. And I was never a part of that part of his life – I just knew that he had been close to something that suddenly was no longer there. I knew in those moments that I would have Chris as a stable force in my life for the rest of my life. It was and has remained a great comfort to know this.

And how I wish to be better like that for Chris and for others. I can go on and on about the different adventures we have had in high school, college, the Civic, camp (s), holidays, hiking trips, backpacking and all of our varied travels. My children know Chris from those countless stories and “Grappa Burps.”  

Al (L) and Chris (R) 2009 Austria - Shortly after this I did my best
Julie Andrews twirl and run on the same field in Austria.

So I mark this year, with my celebration of 43 years on the occurrence of my 50 plus years of life in these United States with my brother I never knew I had and the brother I may have never wanted. Rubies have historically been held in high esteem and have been used as ornaments on nobles and their armaments.  

I look forward to our adventure in the near future and thank you again for sharing your “wisdom” and HOPE with me which Proverbs tell us are more valuable than rubies.

CHRIS - One last thing – 34 years ago, on November 29, 1984, you introduced me to your bit of wisdom. “It’s difficult to soar with eagles, when you have a talon in your beak.”

"It’s difficult to soar with eagles,
when you have a talon in your beak.” C. Straiter

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Thursday, October 21, 2021

October 7, 2021 Dad

Luiz (Dad) circa 1967


Dad – One of my earliest memories was this dinner (pictured above) at a Brazilian Chuhasqueira (BBQ) sometime before we left Brazil for the United States in 1967.

“Joy” is not a word most associate with death and I know it may seem odd. I am comforted in my faith and know that this is what happens.

My dad passed away two weeks ago (October 7, 2021) and I have a joy in my heart that he is with his beloved parents and we will meet again in heaven. Like many families, we did not always see eye to eye on things and I want to share those things that I am grateful for having learned from him.

I am overjoyed at the Sunday brunches we had when I was in high school and college and would just talk about life. I think of the dozen or so midnight mass on Christmas Eve that we attended. I am grateful for the lessons of the dozen or more shows and musicals that he took me to and shared those moments with the intent that life offered greater gifts than the ones that we had seen. I think of the time when we were kicked out of a pool and then the hotel we were staying in Vegas because we were swimming after hours. I think of the times that his favorite uncle and aunt (also his God parents) visited and we played host as they shared stories and songs (It’s a long way to Tipperary – his Godfather would sing in his broken English).

My dad came to this country (United States) because he saw something better for his family. It is one of the greatest gifts of my life. I would not be who I am and the family that I have it if had not been for this one decision. . In 1967 as they have told me, he said “there are jobs in America.” And she said, “I’ll go where you are.” That was the whole conversation. Yes, imagine planning to move your family across town and how that can result in months of complications, fights, agreements, and compromises.

I had the opportunity at a very early age (9 or so) to learn that one could work hard and help serve. My dad owned a gas station in Downey, California and most Saturdays and all of summer I would spend pumping gas at that station. I got a $1 a day and lunch (often times from a hamburger stand behind the gas station owned by a Korean American who also spoke Portuguese).

I recall the workers who passed through as well. Charlie was an Iranian American who had immigrated also and worked at the station. No one spoke of this at that time especially when the hostage crisis occurred. He would say he was from the Middle East and my dad helped him be employing him. There was also Juan who (when I was in high school) worked on a boat that dad had bought form the Scouts and we were rehabbing.

I spent lots of Saturdays (after the gas station was sold) working with my grandparents at a Swap Meet selling toys, clothes, jewelry, games, and other items.  My dad arranged these and my grandparents even bought a van (that I helped find and negotiate price) to carry all the items and portable tent cover as well as tables for displays.

This was another gift from my dad. I have never considered myself a sales person and as I looked over my life these last few years, it was those early moments that I developed a sense of sales and watched my dad charm his way around folks.

I have had lots of folks tell me that my dad was charming. I have never considered myself to have that gift. His broken English; his use of cuss words; his ability to sum up a moment and convince you otherwise; those are a gifts he shared.

My dad also was a huge proponent of education. I consider myself a lifelong learner and he was part of the reason I am. I joke about his get a college education speech and how I know it by heart. The speech always came up around report card time. I was an “A” student with an occasional “B” in junior high and high school. And when those “B’s” showed up it seemed to deflate him and the get a college education speech would unfold. It was difficult to reconcile at times when I was a teen, and it took some time for me to recognize the impact.

Those Sunday brunches, where he would often talk about what he had heard on NPR radio or Paul Harvey on ABC. He had taken an extension course at UCLA and John Saxon (the actor) was in the class. He would come back to that course often almost as a touchstone of his own education. It was very important to him and I know that being a lifelong learner is equally important to me; if not more.

My wife says that she believes that when we die and go to heaven, we have the opportunity to live for eternity as our best selves. That is the relationship I look forward to having. That is why I am joyful.

I am brought back to moments when his parents passed away and how he was isolated from them and he isolated himself. It spoke volumes to me about their relationship. They had a devotion to that tight knit family unit that grew up in rural Brazil and the three of them, together.

This also brings me joy to think of how we will get to see that again.



Monday, October 18, 2021

2017 - Leadership Carves Out A Role


Shawn Tiede

(Fifty Nifty Years in United States Series)

My path has crossed with amazing people. Sometimes the paths lead in a parallel direction for a while. Shawn Tiede was the Executive at the local county 4H and Camp Wyomoco while I was the Executive at YMCA Camp Weona.

The two of us went through a difficult learning and growing process apart and yet together; since it happened at the same time. He became a lifeline during that short game of life experience as I transitioned out of the YMCA and he transitioned from one position to another.

For a while we met weekly for coffee at Tim Hortons (for you west coast folks, Tim Horton not only played hockey, but also established a chain of coffee places in Canada and the North East US as well as establishing a great camp program for under privileged kids.)

Anyway, Shawn and I shared our experiences from our different perspectives and styles. His being the direct leader and mine having a more laissez-faire style.

I did not expect our connection or our friendship. We had been acquaintances through the AmericanCamp Association and the proximity of our camp programs. Often enough we would have packages delivered incorrectly to each other camps since they were both “W” names and about ten miles apart.

He offered grace when I was looking for grace in others who had no time or inclination.

I read once that of the example set to never condemn the weak; never shuffle aside an outcast; never verbally abuse those with less understanding. And the example to never respond aggressively when ridiculed or mocked. These are the things I think of in people of grace and this is what I gained from my friendship with Shawn.

John Maxwell describes the Heart of Servant Leadership as "build the right kinds of relationships with the right people, and you can become the real leader in the organization." Shawn's heart was the relationship I needed. He carved out a role leading the entire state's 4H camps (18 and counting) as the valuable resource that that organization needed.

Shawn also carved out the role I needed in a time where I felt "less than." The recent world term of "impostor syndrome" is really about finding your authentic self. John Maxwell has seven key steps to this in his BLOG as well. I was feeling as John describes, "They think that if they are truly themselves, people won’t accept it.” 

And this was my thinking. Shawn helped me at that time and we still get together for coffee from time to time at the local Tim Hortons.

I am grateful for the grace of his friendship as my family and I have spent over 50 years of having lived in these United States.

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Monday, October 11, 2021

2016 - Leadership; If Not You, Then WHO (Whom?)


Gerry (L) and Joyce (R)

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

Gerry Ignatz “if not you then who else can do this?” I have never been so personally challenged with my faith and church life as I was when Jerry said that to me. He had been the confirmation class catechist for Alec and Kelly and hundreds of others over a 25 year period. He stopped me in church one day after mass and talked about what he loved about working with young people.  He declared his mission and his intent.

Of all things, those if you know me, know that I am inspired by those words and challenges. I have always been a proponent of leadership and this was Gerry with a throw down that I could not have anticipated. In the words of Barney Stinson, “challenge accepted.” What a path that this has provided for myself and my family.

I attended Catholic school up until 6th grade (previous BLOG) and those who attended our wedding (Lee Anne BLOG) know it was a family affair. That is how I feel about my faith life and our church family. Gerry provided a dynamic moment of clarity and I am very grateful. Mark Cole, who leads the John Maxwell Team, says that clarity comes form the best leaders and John is always providing that vision.

I cannot imagine my journey in these United States over the last 50 plus years without a faith component. I am grateful to be in country that allows for that. It is a freedom that I cherish and I am grateful for Gerry to have offered a way to celebrate and share that with so many young people in our parish.

St. Michael's Parish

Gerry clearly understood the Law of Significance that John Maxwell describes. Gerry saw that he needed to step away and help others achieve what they were called to do. He never used a position to define himself or his cause of serving the young people of our Parish.

Gerry continues as a volunteer at the Parish. He is a lector, provides support for the radio ministry, does work projects and repairs, and shows up to help with different opportunities when ever asked.

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Post Script - Who versus Whom or Subject versus object or he/she versus her/him (Confused, read this)

Friday, October 8, 2021

2015 - Leaders and Managers Who Practice "Lord of the Flies"

"Let's go around and share what I just told you to tell me"

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

Un-named Manager (s) – While I have made every attempt to celebrate this year, I have not always learned or gained from amazing and wonderful people. There have been those who along my journey have added to my challenges and created different opportunities to learn. Those who know me well, know how I am a visual learner and sometimes the visual learning has been repeated over and over until the lesson sunk in.

I mentioned before that I had learned how best to NOT be from lowering the bar (previous BLOG Law of the Lid) for a co-worker as well as myself. I’ve also learned how to forgive them and forgive myself. It was only recently that I realized that one of my best coping strategies in life has been my imagination and how I apply it often in difficult situations.

Another lesson from Richard Bach (also a previous BLOG) when he describes taking a journey of how life can play out in his book “The Bridge  Across Forever; A True Love Story.” The quote goes, “That’s what learning is, after all; not whether we lose and how we’ve changed because of it, and what we take away from it that we never had before. To apply to other games. Losing, in a curious way is winning.”

In 2015 I began another creative and imaginative task of looking at those challenging folks who I allowed to push my buttons in a different way. GRATITUDE. (And another BLOG) It was a manager that I had been working with for some time that always seemed to bring back anything that I submitted for a revision and correction. My story on this person was that no matter what I did, there would be a change or different interpretation of what needed to be completed. Every time this person showed up in front of me, I would say to myself, “What gift does this person bring me today?” And not in snarky manner, but in a genuine moment of gratitude and blessing.

They reminded me of others who I allowed to challenge me before and I gave them the power to do so. When I became the official Director for my first camp, an old Y guy told me this about my staff training. Let’s call him Dan. He said, “Make sure you hire someone that you know that you are going to fire during that training week. That way you make a point with the rest of the staff and they will do what you want.” I thought this was great.

Dan, who I greatly admired, was sharing what I thought was a secret bit of knowledge that he thought would make me a better director. (notice I didn’t say leader). So, I did. And during that week, I knew that Gus was that person. He was having a tough time with direction and he was likable. I knew he was going to go in a matter of days. And when the time came, I made it very public and I thought that I orchestrated this so well. We were in the middle of a session and he was getting riled up and I kept prodding him along until he blew up. At that point I told him, ”Gus, you’re done. Thank you very much. I’d like you to go and pack up. Your services here are no longer needed.” I won’t describe what happened from there and it was not pretty, nor am I proud of any of it.

I felt like a real “BOSS” that day (and not the kind I wrote about from 2003). I felt like my staff would now listen to everything I would ask of them and for a short time they did. I can also tell you that later, I threw up. (That seemed to always be the pattern in these situations.)

I can’t tell you that I changed that practice. I thought this is what you do, and you must stomach through it all. Dan would not have told me to do that if it wasn’t something that should happen. And ladies and gentlemen, for several years, I did just that.

And to Gus, and Debbie and Mike and Pete and Simon and Shirley, let me apologize here and now. It took me some time to realize that directing from a place of fear and intimidation was not at all where I wanted to be as a leader. I can’t say that I have had to fire others. But I can say, that for the last 27 years or so, I have never hired someone to be limited in my expectations. I have been their biggest fan.

These manager's who have come into my life in what seemed the most difficult times have taught me that top down leadership does not work. Several times I have sat around a table at regular "leadership" meetings where you quickly learn that when asked for an opinion, it often became repeating back what you had been told. Those managers seldom want new ideas (even though they may ask for that). 

As Suzanne Lucas wrote if her piece, "The Perils of Top Down Management,"You're paying people to do the work; you should listen to their ideas as well. You need to actively encourage their input so that they own the plans and progress." I was amazed when managers who promoted the concepts of listening, seldom did that in their own management system. After a while at the end of meetings when leaders where asked to go around the table and share, it became a series of, "I don;t have anything new today," comments from nearly every leader expect those who where in favor.

.I have personally referred to this style of management as the "Lord of the Flies" school of management and often taking turns in who would play Piggy.

In another management lesson on a series of retreats to grow and build "teamwork" a series of competitions where devised to help the team bond. These retreats (Like many in the United States) also involved consumption of adult beverages. Often times, the senior management would talk about and bet on younger and new team members as to who the lonely gazelle maybe in the group. It was a bold and brazen approach to see who may not be cut out by signaling their inability to stay with the group and this be targeted by the cheetah.

Lonely gazelle attack in managing others.

Richard Bach also said, “Argue for your limitations and they’re yours.” A tough lesson I learned in the most difficult manner. If you limit your team or yourself, they will live down to those exact limitations.

These lessons have been a blessing as well along the way to 50 plus years in these United States. I am grateful now for those difficult leaders that tested who I have become. (Sometimes the gazelle and trying to avoid being the cheetah.)

I sincerely hope that those I have been that difficult leader have grown from my example as well. I cannot imagine being better at leadership without having seen the worst of leadership, myself included.

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2021 - Leadership and Gratitude

  Thank you all for reading and sharing about leadership. GIVING THANKS I am particularly thankful this year for having this great opportuni...