Monday, May 10, 2021

1999 - Leadership and the Law of the Lid


Brian (L) Megan (R)

(Fifty Nifty Years in United States Series)

There is always room for forgiveness and redemption. I learned that lesson with Brian. My first impressions of Brian were that he had a big heart and needed to share that with others.

I recall having him meet Alec at the YMCA in late 1998. Alec was 4 or 5 years old and Brian was towering behind the stomach height front desk counter at the Y. He did something that I did not expect. He came around and got down to Alec’s height and introduced himself. I found it astounding. I knew that we would work together at camp.

Brian brought along several of his friends, Katie, Trey and Phil. (All amazing young people that brought leadership in their own rights) Together he helped usher in more children who otherwise would not have been able to come to camp.

We spent many hours’ playing cards (Palace) and late night talks and games of HORSE. At the end of our 2nd year together at camp, I fell to pressure and Brian and I parted ways. It was one of those situations where I allowed many outside voices to enact what I felt I should absolutely NOT do.

It has been one of those recurring lessons for me. I have always said, “Camp is about beginnings and endings.” (Thanks Brian Crater) and this was one of those endings that I applied my three questions of “What went right, what went wrong, and how do I do it better next time?”

As it were, my tie with that Y ended as well and Lee Anne and I relocated to a Camp in Florida. By the third spring we were there, I needed a strong leader to help drive program culture and Brian showed up having the summer off between his graduate programs. He came in like a whirlwind and help shove the entire camp forward to focus on camper interactions and relationship building. 

We were even featured in the Outdoor Network cable series about YMCA camps as a unique program – you can still find it in three parts on YouTube. Brian was eloquent, and I stuttered my way through. (Watch those videos here)

During our time that summer, Brian brought to my attention a simple concept that I would later learn John Maxwell called “the Law of the Lid.” I had given a staff member the opportunity to lower the bar, so to speak, on his performance. One of our cabin leaders needed some time and space to re-evaluate their circumstances (some life issues happening during work). Being that staff lived and worked at the site, I made accommodations for them. Other staff were upset by my actions and Brian brought it to my attention.

Brian pointed out to me that every time I lowered the bar, this individual would drop the same amount in their performance. He even coined the phrase of “Al Ferreira’s camp for wayward leaders.” 

I have often told individuals that I am their biggest fan. It is a blind spot that as a leader, I now have named (and had a reputation) thanks to Brian. I am grateful for that lesson. I am even more grateful to Brian his ability to forgive and provide redemption. 

Our previous camp interaction had not ended well at all. He found room in his world to want to give me another opportunity to step up my leadership game. Like that moment where he came around the counter to greet Alec, he came around again to give me a chance to work with him.

In my 50 plus years in these United States, I have come across some amazing young people and Brian has lead the way in his work and how he treats people. Thank you for your continued example.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

1997 - Leadership and Druckeresque Lessons


Robin and Ken Stein - YMCA Mentors

(Fifty Nifty Years in United States Series)

Ken Stein – I wrote most of this upon Ken’s retirement in 2012 (I've made several edits and updates as well)

I had the pleasure of working for Ken Stein from February 1998 to end of 2003 - primarily as the Camp Director for YMCA Camp Edwards. I also served for nearly two years as an operations person for an aquatics branch, three day camps, 63 after school sites, and a rural Y center that operated in schools and fields as well as and helping open a large community center (built in collaboration with a local municipality). It was one of the most complex times of learning as a leader and set me up for future success on the lessons learned (cue Sabre Dance music as a theme).

At the time I obtained the position in 1998, I had just left another YMCA Camp and I recall my conversation with Ken. He indicated this may not be where I wanted to be ultimately, but he had a need for a camp director right now and I was available. I felt wanted and needed and agreed to come and work for Ken Stein. 

As a younger version of my current self, I thought I knew a great deal about camp (the older I get, the less I know). But the lessons and opportunities that emerged over that almost 6 year period were tremendous.

I had the opportunity to watch Ken (and Robin Stein) transform the YMCA. I had the opportunity during most of each school year (summers being what they were) to have lunch with Ken almost every week.

With well over 150 hours of mini-Druckeresque (Peter Drucker link) lunch meetings; this was his way to coach and direct as I worked to learn more about being a leader and transforming a culture. I am so grateful for the amount of time and investment that Ken provided. It was like a mini course of non-profit management right down to the values and culture an organization must have to move forward. 

Ken let me stretch and grow and even fail. He provided leadership and knowledge and a kick in the right direction when needed. I learned about the Y, our mission, camping and the financial and budget considerations of “innies and outies” (a term Ken used as well as Howard Pease at a previous YMCA) as well as a hundred other things. I recall that while serving as a branch director one of the things he asked me to do was always go throw the front doors as if I was a member. I had been using a side door entrance close to where I was parking and he wanted me to have the same view that participants would have and an appreciation for what they would see. It was also a way to have access to members who might be walking through at the same time. Creating opportunities to interact with customers. Simple, profound, and essential.

In my years of work at the Y, I had worked for at least 13 different CEOs and I have to say that I learned the greatest amount of what it is to be a true leader in my time with Ken Stein. 

To this day, when faced with a choice or difficult situation - I often think about what would Ken Stein do? Peter Drucker stated, “Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves - their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.” Ken Stein clearly taught me this concept. He was clear about what he knew and he wanted to help me be clear as well.

For this I am extremely grateful as I have spent these last 50 plus years in these United States.

Monday, April 26, 2021

1996 - Leadership and Determination to Learn (And Teach)


Kelly (Circa 2019 - Somewhere in Scotland)

(Fifty Nifty Year in United States Series)

Kelly – 2 of 3 and the one and only.

“I’m not talking to you…I’m talking to mom.” That was always the response whenever she would ask a question and I would respond. (Of course she was two years old at the time)

The best of the stories is that of the infamous head butting incident of 2001. Kelly was five and I had a rare Sunday morning that I did not have to be at camp. I was still in bed and Lee Anne asked Kelly to wake me up to see if I wanted pancakes.

As the goofy father (there is a guidebook and decoder ring), I was obliged to pretend to be asleep and snoring. Kelly came in the room and began her best efforts in rousting. She insisted and I went on.

Soon it deteriorated into her grabbing the collars of my pajama shirt and shaking me with all her five year old might. And as I recall the words were. “I said, you need to wake up.” At this point she had brought my upper body up just enough that my head rolled forward and she proceeded to head butt me with her head as she uttered the words “…wake up.”

There was pain and tears; mostly mine. I could not decide if I was in too much pain from the head butt or too much hilarity from the situation or pride that I would never ever have to worry about this child who could handle herself at five. 

It is this story (and several others) that defines Kelly for me. That and perhaps the appreciation of words, play on words and puns. (Just what kind of food do Lebanese (sp?) eat? An entire other story only to be told in close personal company) 

Kelly has evolved into the classic only girl, middle child, over achiever. Maybe not evolved since it seems she was always that way. Whatever she has done, she strives to do her best. It is her determination and how she applies it to everything she sets her mind on doing. And she has set her mind on so much.

I have learned and gained from that zest for accomplishment. Kelly wants to play the ukulele and she teaches herself to do so and then she writes and sings her own songs. Kelly wants to sew, so she teaches herself. Kelly wants to go to college and she gets grants, scholarships and a trustee scholarship that pays for just about everything.

I admire people of discipline and this is the big lesson that my daughter has brought to me. John Maxwell talks about the law of consistency and says “Motivation gets you going, but discipline keeps you growing.” She has pursued her educational goals and obtained a Master's degree in Library Science. I know that she will use that in her goals to share and teach others and the she will be of significance to those she serves in what ever capacity comes along. 

I continue to learn from her about what discipline to persevere and grow looks like. Proud dad and proud to just know her as a fellow human.

I admire her motivation to grown and learn and I am grateful for the example set by Kelly as part of my journey over the last 50 plus years in these United States.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

1995 - Leadership and Bringing Others Along


Jack Tillman

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

Back in the late 80's, Jack Tillman used to drive up and down the streets of Altadena, California with a YMCA van during the summer to recruit kids to attend camp (more to come on that).

He inspired hundreds with his folksy charm and good nature and like Will Rogers; I don’t believe Jack ever met a man he didn’t like.

To say that I worked with Jack is perhaps misleading. I was at the YMCA in Pasadena at the same time and I was always appreciative of how dedicated he was and how much support he always gave to whatever I was doing. It was Jack’s determination that inspired me.

We had campership (financial assitance) dollars every year from a local grant and fund raising efforts and if we didn’t spend it, it would be reduced the following funding cycle. This is the determination part. Not once, but several times I saw Jack do this.

On the morning of a session of camp when the bus would pick campers up at the YMCA at 11 am; he would drive up and down the hillside streets in a YMCA van and wherever he saw kids playing in their yard or on the street he would stop them. “Is this your house, is your mom home, you want to spend a week at camp?”

If they were home, he would get the parent (s) to fill out the health form, pack up their kid and Jack would drive them to the Y to hop on the bus. Bear in mind that this was the 80’s and not only did children play outside, but a man in a Y van could drive up and down the streets and ask kids if they wanted to go to camp. (And no cell phones – he would just say, “Don’t let the bus leave until I get back.”)

Determination! That is what Jack taught me. In 1995 when there was another regime change at that Y, Jack told me that he would do what it took to serve the community. And sometimes, it took a great deal of determination to stand up and continue to serve when you were left exhausted and told that whatever you did would have no consequence.

Jack was always about the business of bringing others along. His determination to include others that might not have access was an inspiration to me. It is in that model that later at my next camp, I reached out in non traditional ways to recruit kids from that California county, San Bernardino. That county, happens to be the largest county in the contiguous US at 21,105 square miles.

We were a small camp and partnered with other local agencies to recruit children in the foster system. This led to a 300% increase in our summer camp numbers that expanded our programming to two other camps as well as travel camp sessions.

That image of Jack driving up and down the streets and recruiting kids; it is seared into my memory. He was never going to leave anyone behind if he could help it. I am so grateful for that lesson as I celebrate 50 plus years of living in these United States.

Monday, April 12, 2021

1994 - Leadership and Learning Service From My Son


Alec (2020)

(Fifty Nifty years in the United States Series)

He was first so he is first. I remember the day Lee Anne called and I was at work. She said that she couldn't wait to tell me that we were having a baby. I said, "Thank you, I have to go back to work now."

I immediately got off the phone with her and called my friend and mentor, Wally. I stuttered through telling him what just happened. He was joyful and exuberant and I felt I should be the same way. If fear is a great motivator, consider me motivated.

In an earlier BLOG (Great Customer Service and My First Child) I had written about Bob Telleen and how he called on the day after Alec was born to congratulate and challenge my leadership at the same time.

Alec was due on September 30 and arrived nearly three weeks later. After going to the hospital and 37 hours of labor (more ice chips – that was my role) after being induced, Alec made us wait. Alec has been and continues to be a huge motivator in my life.

I have fond memories of carrying him for two summers in a back pack at camp. We (and by we, I mean me carrying him)  hiked all over camp and he would take naps. It amazes me how (to this day) he can nap anywhere and in a matter of minutes.

The winters at Wilfong Lodge (Camp Bluff Lake, California) with Sports Chalet Tours with him standing on the front of my cross-country skis. Our first trip to go fishing in Vancouver. Watching him at age 11, catch his first halibut which is essentially like catching a piece of plywood from 300 feet below the water surface. 

And it is his grace and generosity that always motivates me the most. He gave a kid in first grade his $10 that Alec got for his birthday because the kid had never gotten money for his birthday. Helping an older woman in line at the grocery store to lift things from her cart and then help her take it all out to her car. He drives one of his roommates to and from work on a regular basis because they do not drive themselves.

These and hundreds of other moments like this are an inspiration. Alec helps and supports.

My lesson from my oldest son is that of helping others without consideration to self.

I see him do these things and while some may consider his impulsiveness a sign of not thinking things through. It is that in itself that I want to know how to do more in my life. Throw caution to the wind and serve others. That is a spirit that I learn and grow from having a son along my journey in these United States.

Monday, April 5, 2021

1993 - Leadership and 3 Questions


"Stop! Who approacheth the Bridge of Death must answer
me these questions three, ere the other side he see."

Bridgekeeper Monty Python and the Holy Grail

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

Aside from the Monty Python reference, it was lasting lesson I gained from my work with Don Olson who was the General Director (that's what they called YMCA CEOs back then) at the YMCA in Pasadena, California.

Don always gave me his full attention and was always genuinely interested in me. I have tried to model this (successfully and unsuccessfully) and know that he is a master of making someone feel like they are his number one priority.

Don was the general director at the Y that brought me back to the Y. I had left the Y for a short period and did some work for the Boys and Girls Club and I was working full time at a local newspaper.

When Kelly Cullen (See Blog post Leadership and Lasting Impact)  passed away, I got a call from a board member at the Y asking if I’d be interested in returning to Bluff Lake. She informed me that there was a new leader as the General Director and he was a “true” mission focused YMCA person. I have been and always will be motivated by the mission. (I serve others who lead and serve others.)

As things line up I went in and had a great first meeting with Don. I recall him asking three questions that ultimately where, “what went right? What went wrong? And how would you do it better next time?”

Those three questions (and various versions) became my way of looking at every experience I would have for the last few decades. I worked with Don for a about a year and the impact of those three questions have a made a huge difference in my life.

Upon leaving that Y and going to another, I used those questions as a way in how I approached work, leadership, programming, volunteer development, relationships and the list goes on.

It is amazing how three short, little questions change your perspective and allow for growth. It gives you an opportunity to celebrate the success. It gives you the option to lie to rest the mistakes. And it gives you the opportunity to grow by learning from both. Don retired from the Y in order to run the family business at the Oakhurst Lodge in Oakhurst, CA – gateway to Yosemite Park.

I am grateful to so many in my work with the YMCA and other agencies and organizations over these last 50 plus years in these United States. Don made an impression in how I lead by being the great leader and mentor that modeled a path that is somewhat less tread upon. For that and for those 3 simple questions, I am blessed.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

1992 - Leadership and Lasting Impact


Kelly pictured just above his name with various other camp staff.

(Fifty Nifty in the United States Series)

In memory of Kelly Cullen – I drove to the store in Brea, California that Lee Anne (my wife) was managing that afternoon; and had to tell Lee Anne that “Kelly’s dead.” It was a sad, difficult day and a tough one. I had gotten a call from Kelly’s mom and I knew I needed to be with Lee.

Lee Anne had known Kelly since kindergarten and I had Kelly at the Temple City YMCA and then at overnight camp. In fact, he ended up working a summer at camp with us in 1989.

Kelly was one of those Y kids that I worked with at Temple City that always seemed to be there in my memory of those early days. He was dedicated and determined. It seemed like life was always going to put struggles in his way. He had several health related issues that he always seemed to dismiss as just a thing that might be an inconvenience.

He was one of those young people that when he went to day camp, he wanted to be an LIT or Leader. And then when he went to overnight camp, he wanted to be on staff there as well.  I know a lot of folks in the camping movement know those kids and can often spot them at around 10 or 11 years of age.

My first memory of Kelly at Bluff Lake was when I was the Association Program Director. We had Y kids from the Pasadena are attend camp with different guest groups. This happened to be the Orange YMCA. I had a handful of kids from the Temple City branch and Kelly was one of them. He struggled physically through the week and on the closing night campfire, I recall that each of the kids from TC had a nickname.

We cheered as each received recognition and even more when Kelly was acknowledged. There was a candle light procession to the lake and each group stood on the dam as the director read a story and doused the torch a series of flashlights lit the shape of a cross on the island. I stood near those two groups that came from Temple City. Kelly came up and told me he wanted to “be here always.”

Closing night ceremony at Camp Bluff Lake

Several years went by and Kelly eventually worked in the kitchen at Bluff Lake. Kelly was off to college and I would hear from him on occasion. When Lee Anne and I got married, Kelly was there.

After Kelly passed, we knew we would have a Kelly. I also knew that I had been a part of something that created a special place for a kid. Not just any kid, but for Kelly. I knew I had to get back to that full time work and it became part of my mission of the why I was here.

I often consider John Maxwell's Law of Legacy from his 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. John talks about not abdicating leadership.  Kelly had a brief but lasting impact on my life that it seems he always exercised. I am grateful for that and for all those kids who like Kelly needed a place that can just “be here always.” 

Thanks for helping define who I am and for helping me figure out my “why.” As I have lived in these United States for 50 plus years, I am grateful for all those who impacted me and I am grateful just to “be here always.”

1999 - Leadership and the Law of the Lid

  Brian (L) Megan (R) (Fifty Nifty Years in United States Series) There is always room for forgiveness and redemption. I learned that lesson...