Developing Leaders Through the Lessons Life Gives Us

Stray Voltage

Networks and bad decisions

Posted by on Apr 5, 2017 in Stray Voltage | 3 comments

Let me tell you a story. It’s not long. It is a story about a Veteran, about bad decisions, about hope, and about coming together. Last Friday an email went out to a group of folks who try to find ways to help out our Veterans. The Veteran Services Coordinator at a local college – name withheld to protect the identities of those involved – had a student come in to his office and ask for assistance. I’ll just say that this schools is lucky to have someone so dedicated in their Veteran Services office – he is a great guy and a great friend. This guy, we will call him John, was living in a storage unit, walking the two miles or so back and forth to school, and living off of a very small stipend his education provided (not GI Bill eligible). A couple of emails and phone calls later and I had an appointment with John at the Veterans Services office for 830 Monday morning. John wasn’t there. We finally got in touch with him about 845, he was a mile or so away at a McDonalds and wouldn’t make it on time. That didn’t seem a good enough reason to cancel the meeting, so I drove to McDonalds and we talked for about 45 minutes. John left the Army in 2011. Things didn’t go well as a civilian. His first arrest was for assault stemming from a family disagreement over money. His life spiraled down and he got desperate. An opportunity presented itself and he tried to steal a truck. John isn’t a thief, he failed miserably, but ended up serving 90 days in the county jail. That cost him his job. It took a few months, but he found another one – working at a Waffle House. He couldn’t afford an apartment and was staying at a cheap motel for about $200/week. His job earned him less than 300. He was spiraling further down, could see that the minimum wage job would not sustain him, so he walked off that job to try and find another. A year went by and he couldn’t find anything. By this time he had lost his driving license due to an unpaid ticket, lost a place to live, lost his family, and lost hope. Most of us have been through job search and can relate to how demoralizing all of the rejections can be. Once you lose hope there is no reason to continue. Drugs are a palliative, nothing more than a temporary respite. Addiction follows, and the spiral continues. John has managed to avoid addiction, but he is balanced on a razors edge. He needs hope, he needs to believe that he can become the man he wants to be. That first email came out on a Thursday. Within hours the network had offered up around $300. That money was never collected, because by Tuesday John had a bed at a local shelter and a bus pass...

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What happens when dreams are realized?

Posted by on Mar 22, 2017 in Stray Voltage | 6 comments

We had dreams, my wife and I. After a lifetime of  moving every three years or so we wanted a home, our home, with all the bells and whistles that mattered to us. We found a house with the right bones and set to work making it ours. New floors, countertops, bathroom, paint, fireplace mantle, swimming pool, garden, we spent a lot of time making it perfect, and we succeeded. At 50 years old (my age, not hers) we had everything we had dreamed of – financial security thanks to a military career, good friends and a strong social network, the home of  our dreams – we had it all. It’s not that it wasn’t enough. Neither of us are “things” kind of people, we don’t need toys and expensive stuff. We need a challenge and we need an objective, and the life we had built didn’t really provide either. What do you do once your goals are achieved? Set new goals, learn new things, try something new. So that’s what we’re doing. Over the next few months we will sell our dream home, buy a boat and live on it for the foreseeable future. We have always loved the water but never really thought a dream of living on a boat was realistic. Well, now it is. We know nothing about boats that I didn’t learn with a rubber ducky in the bathtub, but that’s ok. Everybody learned somewhere. Shopping for boats is difficult, mostly because we know nothing about them. We have looked at bunches of them and are finally settling into what we think we want. Right now our eye is on a 50 foot Viking, two staterooms, two heads, really nice salon, a cockpit out back to enjoy the weather and to occasionally drown some bait, and a good mechanical/maintenance background. She wants a boat that is big enough to be comfortable, I want a boat that one day, three years or so from now, we can push off from the dock in Seabrook, go to Galveston, take a right then straight on till morning with our next decision maybe at the Florida Keyes. Before our goals were building something for us to enjoy and to attract family like honey attracts flies. When you raise good kids, though, they have good jobs and good lives and they are young enough to be pushing towards their own dreams. Visiting mom and dad is a vacation, and you only get that opportunity once or twice a year. It doesn’t make sense to build our lives around once or twice a year. Maybe our dreams and goals were self-limiting. Maybe they were set too low. Maybe we’re just not very good at that whole adult thing and we want to go play some more. One day maybe I’ll think enough about it to be able to answer those questions. For now, though, we’re chasing a new adventure, diving (no pun intended) into something completely new and unknown. It’s...

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Back in the saddle!

Posted by on Jan 11, 2017 in Stray Voltage | 0 comments

Alright, its been a while since I published anything here. Until today, at least. There’s a good reason; I took time off from writing here to write a book.  It’s published now, so its time to get back to thinking too much, reading too much, and generally pursuing my heretical dreams of teaching people how to be a leader, instead of teaching them what leaders do. Focus on the roots, and the fruit will take care of itself. It’s good to be back! I’m working on a second book that compiles and clarifies a lot of the ideas espoused here – trying to find a way to make a difference in the world around me using the talents God provided.  Enjoy, and as always, comments, curses, and compliments are equally welcome. By the way, the book is called “Not Quite Home” and it is published under the name of James Morgan. Because I like saying “nom de plume”. It is about the paradox Soldiers face, loving our job and country enough to deploy but loving our family more than anything. Cheapest on lulu, available anywhere online. Share this:FacebookLinkedInTwitterPrintEmailLike this:Like...

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3 types: leaders and followers

Posted by on Jan 11, 2017 in Stray Voltage | 0 comments

There are three kinds of people in this world: those who are good at math and those who aren’t. There are three kinds of people in this world: leaders and followers. The first of these doesn’t make sense to me, even after my lovely math teacher wife explained it. The second makes perfect sense. We all know that there are leaders and follows and in our binary microwave world if you are not one you must be the other.  I have come to believe life is a bit more complicated. There are three kinds of people in this world; leaders, followers and independents. The definitions of each might be a bit simplified. There are not three distinct colors, it’s more like a gradual shading from one to the others. The current role of an individual does not define who he is; a follower today may be the greatest leader tomorrow, just as a leader may become an independent. I would love to hear your comments and opinions. Followers are the backbone of business, those nameless, faceless minions who work their tails off until five minutes before shift change. The reason they work is to pay the bills – no dreams of changing the world, no fantasies of becoming a CEO. They work in order to have time and money for their families and for their hobbies. It is these folks who make industry happen, without them nothing gets done. As a  group they are the living, breathing engine of  everything. Followers require structure to be efficient and effective. Leaders steer the ship. They point to an unknown future and show a clear path and a clear definition of success in that future. They love the chase, the challenge of achieving great things. A leader may lack any number of so called essential skills, but he never lacks passion. Leaders define what but often are not too concerned with how. Managers are a subset of leaders, not their own category. They are the organizational minds behind the big dreams, the ones who are less concerned with what than how. Many people are leaders and managers at the same time, and arguably some traits of each are evident in everyone who has a supervisory position. Leaders provide the structure that allows great things to happen. This brings us to independents. Not everyone likes structure and not everyone likes working with groups of people. They turn their back or corporate America and become entrepreneurs because like leaders they have a dream. Unlike leaders, they don’t care to share it with more than a few because implementing processes and dealing with personalities takes away from their dreams. The ever growing pile of administrivia that consumes their day is an onerous chore instead of the necessary underpinning of success. They build great businesses that grow fast then fail because they lack the structure to support that growth. Sometimes they micromanage their employees until they reach the limit of their micromanaging capability. They burn out...

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Live and Learn

Posted by on Dec 9, 2015 in Stray Voltage | 0 comments

We live and we learn, right? A while back I wrote about what I had learned after just a few months out of the Army.  Now I’ve been retired from military life for 14 months and, after three jobs, back on the job search train. It has been a fun year, I’ve learned a lot, and I remain grateful for each opportunity that has come my way. Along the way there have been some egregious mistakes, some surprising successes, and a lot of good lessons that will serve me well going forward. Here are a few that stand out. 1.       Office politics. Just like in the Army, you want to work hard and avoid office politics at all costs. Do your job, do it well, and everything will sort itself out.  That’s nice. It is also stupidly naïve. I lost my last two positions due in part to being oblivious to politics. One due to reorganization; I was blissfully unaware that my position was being gerrymandered out of existence. I was not politically connected.  Another again due to reorganization; leadership changed, and I was part of the wrong cabal. When we deployed we studied the environment, local politics included. Nothing has changed. Know the environment and be prepared to survive. Ignore office politics and maybe I can give you some tips on finding a new job. 2.       Leadership. I don’t mean the military kind, where there is a clear chain of command and generally understood objectives. I’m talking about making sense out of chaos, leading up and down at the same time without being obvious about it. We have all heard that leadership is the biggest shortage in corporate America. It is worse than that; I would be satisfied with a clear direction and something like right and left range limits. So far I’ve had to define success for myself, have written every job description I’ve held and almost all that I’ve hired for, and just hoped it was right. We have leadership training, but only within the parameters of a structured military. Lack of structure for how to address problems – lack of a clear chain of command, lack of defined processes – make leadership in the civilian world a different animal. Civilian leadership if and when it exists is much more about people than process. That was kind of an epiphany to me. 3.       Stability. No job is permanent. There is a sense of security in the military in knowing that as long as you don’t commit a felony there will be a paycheck next month. There is no such thing in the civilian world. The implications affect personal finances, relationships, and how you play the game – see #1. 4.       Job search.  Finding a job is hard.  Finding the right job is really, really hard. I’ve been successful in finding work, not so much in finding the right work that can provide at least a modicum of stability. My biggest error has been in not seeing...

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Things I’ve learned while becoming a civilian

Posted by on Dec 15, 2014 in Stray Voltage | 4 comments

Four months ago I took off an Army uniform and put on a suit and tie. There was a two week lag between retiring and starting my next career, but now I’ve been officially a civilian for going on four months and there are some things I’ve learned along the way. You may be reading this as a Veteran transitioning out of the service; it will help you set expectations. You may be reading this as a hiring agent considering Veteran candidates; it will help you understand their culture. It is, after all, a different culture, not unlike transitioning from working in the US to working in Mexico or Japan or Germany – new rules, new expectations, new almost everything. The fundamentals are the same, things like work hard, do your job, work and play well with others, but how those things are accomplished is different. There is more to learn, but so far this is what stands out. The F-bomb is no longer an appropriate form of punctuation. I know, some habits are hard to break, but it’s gotta be done. The same goes for the dark humor of a deployment or the scatological humor of barracks life. There is little to no validation. Remember the rule of never completing a memo or presentation without another set of eyes looking it over first? Yea, forget that one. Everybody else is busy too. To be successful you have to believe in yourself, in your work product whatever it is, without a second opinion. People respect your service but they don’t want to hear about it. Sure, you managed million dollar contracts, led great big groups of people, did great things. Now one million is huge and a five person team is a pretty good size. When asked to work on a project, instinct will say “this is easy, I’ve done much harder stuff”. Keep it to yourself. Let your job performance speak to your experience. Bragging – and folks will see it as bragging – about what you did in the military is not a great way to win friends and influence people. Decisions are hard to come by. People are generally slow to take responsibility, it’s part of being human. In the military it is trained out of us, not so much in the civilian world. Often when decisions do happen they happen in a vacuum, with no plan, no collaboration, no substance. You will be expected to be decisive. Do it, without being arrogant about it, and let the chips fall where they may. Demonstrate that you can accept responsibility and make things happen and you will become indispensable. Leadership is like gold – hard to find and incredibly valuable. Leadership has a different connotation as well; in the military it is all about taking care of each other. In the civilian world it is more about taking care of the company. I’m not saying there aren’t great leaders wearing a tie every day, just that we...

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