Monday, January 17, 2022

2007 - Leadership and Fire Drills


Jackie Pask and members of her fire department

(40 Summers 40 Lessons Series)

One of the best Aquatics leaders I have had the good fortune to work with was Jackie Pask. We were both with the YMCA in Tallahassee, Florida and our time at that YMCA was always one where we had deep financial issues and moving from crisis to crisis. (I wrote about some of this in another BLOG featuring Peggy Conklin’s leadership and those lessons as well.)

Jackie had a differing management or leadership style (Can you guess hers?) that has served her well and she incorporates a tenant of the Scout motto to “be prepared.”

“Treat everyday like a fire drill,” she said to me at one of our first meetings. Her theory was that it seemed things happened and went askew every day and followed what Bear Bryant (former coach of Alabama football) said, “In a crisis, don’t hide behind anything or anybody. They’re going to find you anyway.”

I recently touched bases with Jackie and she is still following that tried and true method in her life at home and at work. In the current world of crisis after crisis, it seems that Jackie’s methodology has solid backing.

Eric J McNulty and Leonard Marcus on Crisis Management (Harvard Business Review, March 25, 2020) wrote, You need to make immediate choices and allocate resources. The pace is fast, and actions are decisive.”  To Jackie’s perspective, it is about resiliency and the ability to get thru any crisis.

While McNulty and Marcus did point out, to my opinion and leadership style, that there was an inherent “risk and ambiguity during a crisis because so much is uncertain and volatile,” they also focused on the fact that the order meant subordinates knew what they were expected to do as well as what was expected of others. Jackie’s team gets what they always get from her management and leadership. There is no wavering.

Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I believe that resiliency is a skill that most young people display and that often times, it is driven out of by some of the mundane tasks of life. If we repeat often enough, there again is that danger of ambiguity.

“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” Bob Feller, Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians said and practiced this in his leadership as well.

My thinking on this always brings up the Bill Murray movie, Ground Hog Day. Murray wakes up each morning to Sonny and Cher singing on the alarm radio and he learns to expect the same results even when he goes off and tries to alter every situation. It is a conundrum to consider. I have felt somewhat like that character many times in the recent past.

The past two years has been a demonstration of a fire drill every day. (Or even more so) It has been an actual fire in different places and in so many different areas of our lives.

Jackie continues her good work and does two things exceptionally well. She has a great way to prioritize issues quickly. She sees the crisis and can change and (yes I am using the P word) and pivot to new priorities. The second thing is she communicates this to her team and those she serves with a great deal of clarity.

I am grateful for my time and work with Jackie and I look forward to hearing from her as she maintains the steadfast motto.

I know that whatever comes up, she will be consistent in her approach. For me, I continue to learn and grow in my own leadership style with her influence. And as former Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield said, “The crisis you have to worry about most is the one you don’t see coming.”

A reminder from Jackie that she has in her home and work.

In this New Year, let’s hope for fewer crisis that we don’t see coming.

Follow me here or at:
Facebook Page for daily "Essential Thoughts" 

Sunday, January 16, 2022

STEPS to RENEWAL - 2021 Lessons


2021 has come and gone and yes, it is already over two weeks into the New Year. I have been slow to reflect on the past year and I am approaching an anniversary date in a few days, that stepped me into a different year; more so than I ever expected. (Sample run on sentence)

My word for this past year was “steps.” As 2020 ended and I reflected on all the things; I choose steps as it was my intention to take many of those different things in moving forward.

In the fall of 2020 I had lost 40 lbs over the past two years and was walking some 2 miles each day. I wanted to step into 2021 like everyone else with so much behind. I intended to walk more and take more steps in a healthy life.

Then January 20 happened and the car accident. It led to diagnosis of Hairy Cell Leukemia (or as I like to call it Harry Styles Leukemia – because he’s my favorite because of his attitude on kindness).

I spent over 300 hours with doctors and nurses for the treatments, tests, and infusions. Not too mention all the chiropractic, physical therapy, neurologist, and follow up visits for the car accident.

As I think back on the year, it was all about the steps.

At the time of the car accident (which I have very little memory) I recall being in the snow bank inside the car and want to step out of the car. My next memory was that of step forward and leaning on the front end of the car. And then my next memory was stepping into the front door of the house across the street from the accident. The person who lives in that house, happened to be a paramedic and wanted me to get warm and sit on his couch.

The next month or so was the steps to get a diagnosis. For example, the bone marrow biopsy has a series of steps that the nurse walked me through. He was very kind and explained everything as it happened.

The entire year has been small steps to every situation that has been laid out in front of me. There were so many steps to everything. As I look back on those days, I have learned a great deal about control.

There is a Jewish proverb, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” It seems that is my great lesson for 2021. No matter what I planned, the Grand Old Designer had a different direction.

It brings me to this NEW YEAR. I am getting ever so slowly better and I have a desire to find this year's word of focus.

My counselor, Ryan, suggested that I consider focus on what I have the energy to do instead of focusing on what has not been done. What am I showing up for? At the start or end of each day to ask, "Today, I have the energy for..."

He said it in his suggesting manner. Give your self time to renew. As, I wrote that down, it jumped out like their it was all the time.

I look to this to direct and influence myself and a new affection.

And with that, I wish you all a Happy New Year! (yes, I know its already the 16th of January.

Ezikiel 11:19

 Follow me here or at:

Facebook Page for daily "Essential Thoughts" 

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Christmas 2021 - Not A Christmas Story (Ferreira Family Stories Series)


Gas Truck (Circa 1930s Brazil)

Gas Truck - "Cascavel"

That’s what my grandfather (Jose) called his gas truck that he drove throughout the interior of Brazil dung the 1930s. That was his work. He delivered gas in a truck similar to the one pictured here.

At the end of 1930 (during the world wide depression) Getulio Vargas had lost a presidential election and several months later took over the government in Brazil (holding power off and on up until 1954). Power in Brazil was brutal and the economic devastation led many to find what they could in their lives and scour out an existence.

This is what my grandfather came to find as a young man of 30. He was able to obtain a used truck that he nicknamed “Cascavel.” (Means rattle snake in Portuguese)

I also thought, “if I named my car, would it be rattle snake?” What was the insinuation of the name. I wanted to think it meant it was something one should not mess with. In those later days of his life, he had found a rubber faux coiled rattle snake and he glued it to the rear deck of his car with a row of penny’s circling the snake.

When he told us stories about that truck when he was 70 years and older, they seemed to hearken to gone by days and a sentimentality that made us all think he truly missed that truck.

Perhaps this was emblematic of his state of mind. After all, the states in Brazil were vying with the federal government for power and control. There were violent bloody outbursts in bigger cities of those states that ultimately led Vargas to total control in the mid 30s resulting in a powerful central government. By the end of the 30s, that “New State” had worn away all trappings of any local power and shifted more power to the federal level.

Or perhaps it was symbolic of the Masons (my grandfather was a 33 degree Mason). Years later, I found that George Washington had inaugural buttons with a coiled snake with what appeared to be little round penny like circles surrounding it. I am told that it was a timeless design.

The truck (here on after I will refer to that as Cascavel) was his livelihood and he lived out of it for the long stretches that he would take in to the “mato” or interior of the country delivering fuel to service stations that ranchers used as a life line for equipment, supplies and of course, fuel.

I imagine two lane dirt roads that he described with long stretches of tropical growth that was often swamped with rain and wash outs. Sleeping in the cab of the truck with some gun he always alluded to but never wanted to say to the children. I remember him as strong and vibrant well into his 60s often picking my sister and me up with one arm as we dangled with our hands to hold as he lifted his arm into a brace.

This is what I believe the symbol of Cascavel meant to him. He was strong and survived on his own and carved out a rough hewn life in the central parts of Brazil. Just him and his Cascavel. Did I mention my grandmother?

Jose and "Santina"

After their married, she often travelled with him. My grandmother (Geralda) who was petite and somewhat demur. She had come out of a school convent that often prepared graduates to be a nun. In fact, my grandmother was nick named, “Santina.” Meaning little Saint. As newlyweds, they talked about traveling at night when the weather was tolerable. They would stop at service station for long periods during the day napping, playing cards or just chatting with the service station’s attendant. My grandfather liked to chat and tell stories.

The road to Mato Grosso was two lane and flat. In fact the rancher who had laid out the road some 70 plus years earlier had apprenticed with an engineer prior to acquiring the land and he worked diligently to have as straight a line to his property. The railway had only been available the last 20 years however; ranchers had settled portions since the late 1700s.

This particular stretch of road also had an average rain fall of over 50 inches a year. I believe that the term “Mato Grosso” means thick and wooded. The road was narrower than today’s roads and since it was late in the summer season, my grandparents were driving mostly from dusk till dawn.

They had been on the road for about 3.5 hours and my grandmother had fallen asleep with a rosary in her left hand. She said the rosary numerous times per day and as she was a passenger on the road, the time seemed well invested for her and my grandfather’s souls.

In driving hours at a time, my grandfather often talked and told stories of his encounters and mostly of his 16 brothers and sister growing up on his father’s ranch near Tres Rios, Brazil. He spoke most fondly of his brother, Alvaro, who had died tragically swimming in a river while in his teens.

He pulled his hair in a front to back motion that he had since adolescences. He had shared that he combed his hair in this manner so his parents couldn’t tell if he had been off swimming during the day when he was supposed to be working or at school. He thought again to his childhood and how he would swim. His older brother had taught him and was always thinking of ways to shorten the work day and head for the river. It was one of those days that his brother had drowned.

Having heard some stories multiple times; often times as he told those stories, my grandmother nodded off. The heat of that day had not yet worn out of the night and the sweat was just enough that he swept his hair back in his calming fashion.

Back on that road and in that truck, he would drive with a bit of intensity in his body. The angle of the steering wheel had him leaning forwards towards the wheel. It gave him a look of ferocity as he held on with both hands to control the truck and manage the dirt and gravel roads.

 He was watching the straight and narrow of the road and his head lights on Cascavel lit up the darkness directly ahead and the glow bounced a bit off the red hewn dirt and onto the thick growth on the sides of the road. It had been just a few days since a solar eclipse and the waxing moon had already shown its thin crescent before midnight.

1934 roads in that part of Brazil had no road lights and only had rancher’s rail borders in areas that had been cleared near the roads. The growth on either side often looked thick with no lights for hours at a time unless another truck heading in the opposite direction shown from some 20 miles out and until they passed.

When the glow of the light first appeared, my grandfather had to think if there was a full moon or not. He had not seen any truck lights approaching from behind that would have such a startling glow so directly near to his Cascavel.

He drove on with the light shining at the top of his rear mirrors on both sides of the truck. The small round mirror on the passenger side was high up above the door and there were moments when the light hit it just right that it seemed to flash back on the door window and into the truck on my grandmother.

Continuing on, he was beginning to be annoyed at the other trucker following so close behind and he knew it must be a new truck from the brightness of his head lamps. Perhaps it had come out of the previous ranch driveway that was some 50 kilometers back and my grandfather had just not noticed the trucker. My grandfather also knew that there were times he had succumbed to a bit of road hypnosis or what is commonly known in the United States as “white line fever.”

This form of hypnotic dissociation happens to many folks driving on long stretches of road or familiar parts that sometimes one suddenly realizes that they are nearly home and have little recollection of passing or even turning on roads. He knew that the 179 kilometers he wanted to travel to the next station would put him there just before 4:00 that morning. It was just after 2:25 am and he thought there was no way he would want this other truck traveling that close for that long.

His trusted Cascavel traveled well doing 45 kilometers per hour and he would often run it up over 60 kilometers when he felt a burst of energy. So, he did. As his odograph showed he had marched up past 60 as he thought about that metron in trucks. He knew that the word meant path in Greek and how silly that the speed was really a path as he moved on through the thick overgrowth on the sides of the road. He thought how it did look path like and as such he glanced up towards the sky that he could see to determine stars or if there was rain coming.

The sky above had a glow that he thought was unusual and he was having a tough time judging if he could in fact see any stars. He realized at the moment that the truck lights must somehow be beaming up higher than normal. The light seemed to be near the top of his Cascavel and obscuring his vision more than he wanted.

He did not notice that the road was heading downward on the road grade that allowed the truck and his lights to beam in such a manner. He had travelled this road several times in prior years and he was confident about the location of the service station ahead where he would deliver the fuel load. He thought about the drive back in the other direction and how they would stop at his sister’s home to have supper with her and her family that coming Sunday. He thought if he could make good time, they could be there so his “Santina” could attend mass and how pleased she would be with him.

“Santina” and Cascavel were his life. He would take care of both and wanted to make sure they were both tended for by his work. He knew that if he established these runs with Cascavel, eventually he would have a mapped pattern of service stations that would count on his deliveries and he would be able to save up to purchase their own property that he could also have some small harvest and animals that would sustain a family.

It was somewhere in these deep thoughts that he realized the truck lights behind him had not curtailed in the least bit. He swerved the steering wheel a bit to see if he could tell how close the other trucker was to him. The dually rear tires hit a patch of sandy dirt road and made the truck swerve enough to startle my grandmother awake.

He slowed by lifting his foot off the accelerator and was preparing to downshift if need be. He regained control quickly and glanced towards his wife with a smirking smile as if to say. “I got this.” My grandmother made an “hhmmpph” sound and closed her eyes again while crossing her arms and clutching her rosary just a bit more.

He paced down below 60 kilometers and once again tried to look back into the other truck lights. He thought if I slow enough, they would be able to perhaps pass him. For the next few kilometers, the other truck slowed their pace as well.

My grandmother at this point had closed her eyes and was wide awake from the shaking of the truck on the rough road. She kept her eyes closed since her brief awakening; she had the glow from the mirror right in her face. She peered he eyes in a squint and looked at my grandfather asking about the lights. He told her that he had been following from at least 15 minutes or longer and he did know when they had turned onto the road to follow so close.

As they slowed a bit more, my grandfather decided that he would in fact try and slow enough to allow for the other truck to pass. My grandmother started to look to her right on the passenger side and she told him that the light was very bright and she could see how close they were on the side of the road where the growth was extremely thick. She mentioned that she could see the curving branches of the thick overgrowth almost like it was early morning day light.

As Cascavel slowed, so did the truck lights behind them. My grandmother sensing that my grandfather was slowing to a stop said to him, “Jose, don’t stop, you need to keep moving.” As she said these words, she tightened her clutch and began a new decade on her rosary.

Those words were highly uncharacteristic of her and my grandfather knew it. He sensed a worrisome tone that alerted him in a way that he had felt when his brother was struggling in the middle of the river and sank below and was not seen again until hours later and the body was found several kilometers downstream.

It was a nervousness that he was not going to ignore and he decided to get back to his 45 kilometers an hour pace.

My grandmother at this point had rolled the window down a bit to try and catch a look behind her. The dust from the road made the light look disturbing and she noted that the glow came from well above Cascavel. The dust also began to come in waves through the window making her cough slightly and she quickly rolled up the window again.

As she thought about what she could see, she noted that the water containers that were strapped to the back right rear of Cascavel were covered in dust and she noted the ring near the top had a glow as well. The more she thought about the light, the harder she clutched her rosary. “Jose, how far until the next service station?” Her voice had a decisive and yet shaken tone that made him look at her again.

He shared that they were still just less than 100 kilometers away. “We could be there well before 4:00.” His anxiety rose again and he recalled how he felt that morning his brother had drown. It was the waiting that made him anxious and not the actual event itself. Knowing made it almost give him a sense of relief. It was the not knowing and the light from the truck behind them gave him that same feeling.

His foot also rested with a greater heaviness on the accelerator.

Some 10 kilometers passed in silence. And Santina had already completed the additional decade on her rosary. As the road pressed on, there was less dust from a recent rain in the area. My grandmother slowly rolled the window and noticed the light seemed to be on top as well as behind them.

My grandfather decided that he would slow down again and as he double clutched into a lower gear he stalled the engine. My grandmother immediately started another decade. “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. Hail Mary…”

“We’re not going to die!” He shouted at her. The Cascavel continued to slow and my grandmother once again rolled her window down and looked back…and up.

It was this time as Cascavel began to slow to a stop that she noticed the light nearly above them. She also noticed for the first time in between Jose’ attempts to restart the engine a low thrumming noise. It seemed to be all around them. “Hail Mary…”

Cascavel came to a near stop when on his 7th time trying to restart the engine that the engine caught and he slipped Cascavel into gear again and had a sudden lurch forward at the slowest pace. He moved on and began the shifting to the fourth gear where he could try and maximize Cascavel’s speed.

The light continued on them and they both realized that there was no other truck behind them. My grandfather said, “We will be at the service station soon.” My grandmother had already raised the door’s window for the last time that evening.

When they were about seven kilometers away from the station they were able to see the light in the distance. “…fruit of thy…” My grandmother prayed on. On any other moonless night, they would have seen the light over 15 kilometers away. With the light above them that seemed to glow at the same rate, the station lights were a bit obscured.

The closer to the station the increasing anxiety continued to grow and the more she prayed. My grandmother told me years later that she thought it was some sort of message from God. She had read about these in her bible. It was a Erich von Daniken book and subsequent movie that led to the conversations and re-telling of the story.

As they pulled closer and closer to the station, my grandfather said that he would pull in and they needed to hurry into the station building.

The road curved out slightly wider as they approached the service station. There were two lights on the outside wall facing the road and a faint light coming from inside the station. The back of the service station were the station attendant lived in these rural stations. Some had an entire home for a family of an attendant. The road expanded and a driveway of sorts went to the storage tank and the roll up door for vehicle repair. As was the case with many of these stations in Mato Grosso, the overgrowth was thicker than usual.

My grandfather had been planning in his head that he would pull Cascavel right up to the side of the building where the door had a light. He intended on pushing Santina out her door which would be closer to the entrance.

He thought through the motions of stopping, taking it out of gear, pulling the brake and then opening the passenger door from across the middle of the bench seat. The light above and behind never wavered other than the time sit hit his rear mirrors. He counted off time in his head as he got closer to his plan. He had hidden under the driver seat a wooden mallet that he carried if he encountered trouble. The trouble he anticipated was from those meaning to do him harm and perhaps take away one of his prized items.

Thinking each step and how many seconds that it would take. He would reach 42 seconds of time elapsed as each variable or in case Santina was slow or perhaps even tripped as they would emerge from Cascavel.

With less than two kilometers, the time seemed to slow to a crawl. Jose kept thinking he was not thinking clearly. He was sweating and pulling back on his hair in that calming front to rear manner. The lights on the building seemed softer and further as it juxtaposed form the light above and behind Cascavel. He felt himself drifting towards the side of the road a bit anticipating that the road would be widening. Again, he hit some dirt that mounded on the rut and Cascavel wavered on its rear duallies.

My grandmother looked at him again and he could tell she was still praying.

“When we pull up, I will open your door and we are both getting out and heading into the station door, okay?” She nodded enthusiastically glancing back and up over her right shoulder at the light.

The road finally opened up more than he anticipated and with a few hundred yards to go, he down shifted and applied the brake. There was some dust that started to come up behind them indicating that there had been no rain during the warmest part of the day in this area. The dust cloud lit up from the light and he shifted Cascavel towards the building in an attempt to judge how far the door would be. He came to a complete stop about 6 feet past the door.

He stopped and looked back with the dust lit up from above and how he had miscalculated the stop all while wiping his head in that familiar motion.

Reaching across Santina, he opened the door and said in a commanding voice, “Move now!”

Santina spilled out of the truck, rosary in hand and he was right behind her. He started to yell, “SERVICE” as was the custom at the rural stations for the attendant to come out. “Service, service!” He shoved Santina towards the door trying to see through the dust cloud. He reached for the door knob and it turned and he had sighed with relief that it was not locked. “Service!”

He closed the door quickly behind them and yelled into the hall of the station again saying, “Service.”

He heard a door open in the back and a young voice as if peering from a corner saying, “I’m up.”

My grandfather turned back towards the door and the transom window above the door was dark. No light at all.

“I’m up. I had dosed off for a bit.” The attendant looked like he had been sleeping a great deal with his wrinkled shirt and hair askew. My grandfather and grandmother must have had a crazed and fearful look in their faces. The attendant looked at them and relaxing his face, said, “come in, you look a fright.”

As they entered, further into the hall of the station my grandfather asked, “Did you see the light?” The attendant said, I told you I dozed off, I heard you knocking and shouting. They looked at each other and felt a small sense of relief that the light was gone. The attendant made coffee and slowly they eased up on their anxieties of the situation.

What I know now about the entire occurrence is what they told me and I imposed the emotion I would have felt into the situation. The historical context is from research of the era. As I grew and heard and reheard  this story told over and again, I was always amazed that they ventured out after that night; never to see those lights again.

Service Station Brazil (Circa 1930s)

POST SCRIPT: My father passed away this year, and I have been collecting stories about our family - this is just one of those stories. MERRY CHRISTMAS

Thursday, December 16, 2021

That Time I Flew Like Peter Pan (and Ward Kimball)


Ward Kimball flying as Peter Pan (Circa 1985)

I have written several times about my teens and early twenties and the work I had at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse. (In fact that's where I met my wife, Lee Anne; another story).

I always think fondly of those times and the lessons I gained from Bill Shaw, Steve Wilkinson, Lisa Russel, Neil Malm, Jon Howie, Maria Farago, Ron Mascis, Ann Lauppe, and so many others. While these stories and folks appear to be unrelated, please bear with the author as I connect these moments and mentors.

in 1976, my family and I moved to Temple City, California from near by South Pasadena. I spent a great deal of the last two months of 6th grade in the library at my new school and had a tough time getting to know folks. I did however, spend a great deal of time that Spring and Summer riding my bike all over the new neighborhoods. 

It was on one of those rides not far from my home that I looked down a driveway and saw a railroad station and train. Yes, our little neighborhood had a turn of the last century (1900 Grizzly Flats Railroad). 

Ward and his Grizzly Flats Railroad in San Gabriel, California

For those who may not know Ward Kimball; he was one of the nine old men of Disney. A group that helped create some of the most famous Disney features and cartoons. Most famously, he created Jiminy Cricket for Pinocchio in 1940.

Ward Kimball pictured bottom row, 3rd from left

Ward also had a passion for trains and helped influence Disney's own passion project, Disneyland and the railroad that travels around the park in Anaheim, California.

Nearly 8 years later while working at the theatre, I had numerous conversations with Bill Shaw, the general manager and my former high school drama teacher. (I wrote about Bill in a previous BLOG "Thank A Teacher For A Pile of Leadership") It was one of those conversations where I talked about my work at summer camp and the high ropes course. Several of the staff at the theatre had recently climbed to the top of the roof via an outside covered ladder. I mentioned that I had a great fear of heights and that climb and those ropes courses at summer camp where quite intimidating. 

Bill asked me why I did it and my reply was what I paraphrased from W. Clement Stone who said, “When thinking won’t cure fear, action will.” There was also a Nke advertising campaign at the time that invoked, "Just Do It." 

It was a couple of years after that that Peter Pan came to the theatre in 1985. Suzy Starr  would be appearing in the title role. 

Program from that show (1985)

It is well known that historically that role has been played by female performers for vocal range, size as well as what author and theatre writer Riese called "eternal youth and rascally, androgyne qualities."

Whenever a show moved in the theatre, it was an all hands on deck affair to move and set up the pieces, show scrims, and sets. Late into that night, the rigging for Peter to fly had been set. I recall that it was almost one o'clock in the morning. Bill Shaw approached me. (I'll note that I have always been of slight stature and at that time weighed about 142 pounds and just over 5 feet 5 inches tall.)

Bill recalled that conversation about heights and said, we need someone to test the rigging before Suzy arrives tomorrow. It was not only a question, but a huge nudge to try something new. Within minutes I was being straddled into the harness (which is another explanation why Peter if so often played by a female). 

Now, I want you to imagine (Or if you have seen the show) that there is a scene where Peter flies out and above into the audience. At the time of this particular show, nearly all the flying whenever the show was performed was conducted by an organization called Flying by Foy.  They were and are, the standard in the industry for flying effects in shows and musicals presented on stage.

The scene were Peter flies out and over the s=audience is basically a 260 pound man jumping off a ten foot ladder at the other end of the rigging from Peter and that sends the performer out and up over the audience.

Peter flying just before Wendy, Michael and John take flight as well

I had the opportunity to fly like Peter and Ward early that morning and help concur a fear of heights. Later that summer I would free climb trees to set up rigging at a camp for the high ropes course as well. John Maxwell suggests that, "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face."

I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given in my work and life to encounter such amazing teachers and mentors. As I look back, I see how each played a part that helped define my character in what seemed to be unrelated incidents. I have often "failed forward" from these moments.

POST SCRIPT: Just for the record, in late Spring of 2019, I climbed a ropes course at a camp in the Adirondacks. My legs shook and I was still anxious as I looked fear in the face.

Follow me here or at:

Facebook Page for daily "Essential Thoughts" 

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.” 

Follow me here or at:

Facebook Page for daily "Essential Thoughts" 

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.

Follow me here or at:

Facebook Page for daily "Essential Thoughts" 

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

Follow me here or at:

Facebook Page for daily "Essential Thoughts" 

2007 - Leadership and Fire Drills

  Jackie Pask and members of her fire department (40 Summers 40 Lessons Series) One of the best Aquatics leaders I have had the good fortune...