That One

In the early days of this coaching business, I gave a lot of talks: Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, good friend’s buddy’s nephew’s classmate’s daughter’s company. Crafting that skill led to opportunities to speak for pay. After each of those the hiring organization sent out surveys to attendees – and my scores were always at the higher end of the scale.

At one event, I spoke to more than 300 people… and 78 turned in their comments. (That was a good response rate in the pre-Survey Monkey era.) The average score was 4.8 out of 5, which the person who hired me said was their best in at least five years. 

Reading through them, I saw a lot of nice platitudes that suggested I had an impact on the audience. Then I came to that one person who gave me a 1… the lowest possible score. Their comments were brutal: “irrelevant topic”… “not related to our business”… “too much sports”… “need to hire professional speakers.” Ouch!

Rather than celebrate all the kind words, I spent at least a month dwelling on this one person’s critique… and I mean dwelling – like taking up residence in the down in the dumps, embarrassed, I’m totally inept hotel. Finally, Kathy said: “You need to let it go. That’s one opinion. Think about all the others who liked you. Move on.”

Feedback is a gift. When you ask for views about your performance, it’s important to receive it openly – without judgment – and, especially, to avoid attempting to counter the other person’s perspective.

While I’m much more mature now than 15 years ago when that one person got under my skin, it still stings to think I’m not always 100 percent a 5. Why just this week, someone shared a comment that made me lean forward and say, “Well, actually…” before catching myself, nodding, and saying: “Thank you.”

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Risk Takers

Entrepreneurs who become billionaires took a lot of risks, found huge success, and acquired fortunes that should last for generations. Some people take issue with those roughly 800 Americans (0.0000024 of the population) – pointing out how much greater compensated they are than the employees who actually do the work.

They have a point, as the $112 trillion held by billionaires is more than twice the total wealth of the bottom 50 percent of households combined. Ownership of professional sports teams, $200 million yachts and private island playgrounds reinforce the image of the overpaid, spoiled, out of touch, mostly male, 99% white, elite.

Often, though, those same billionaires do plenty of good for the rest of us: giving to the arts, sponsoring university buildings, funding medical research, contributing locally and nationally to those in need.

Many signed The Giving Pledge to contribute a majority of their wealth to charities upon death, including Warren Buffett, who will (eventually) give away 99% of his net worth. Heck, the cofounder of Duty Free Shoppers – now 90-year-old Charles ‘Chuck’ Feeney – took it a step further, giving it all away while living, donating more than $8 billion, which left he and his wife $2 million in their retirement nest egg.

Then there are the three dreamers who envision a new frontier… colonization of faraway places. Richard Branson soared to an altitude of 53 miles on July 11. Jeff Bezos took it further this morning… past the Karman line that divides earth’s atmosphere and space. Elon Musk put down a deposit on Branson’s Virgin Galactic – although he’s said to be staying grounded, focused on reducing space transportation costs.

Exploration is expensive. Columbus’s journey would cost $40 million in today’s dollars. The Mercury-Apollo program totaled $280 billion in 2021 dollars. The U.S. spends $3 billion yearly to support the International Space Station. Yet, exploration may be etched into the core of humanity… dating to the first caveman who decided to cross that flowing stream and see what was on the other side of the hill.

On July 20, 1969 – 52 years ago today – Neil Armstrong took his ‘one giant leap for mankind.’ Years later, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, Walter Schirra, who was seated next to Walter Cronkite on CBS for that historic event, wrote: “Moon and back. We did confirm a round trip from the very beginning. And ‘moonandback’ is one word. No hyphens. No commas.”

I know where I was that Sunday at 9:56 p.m. Texas time. Something tells me my yet-to-be-born great grandchildren will watch even more amazing achievements in space.

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Good Samaritan

There are a few essential, ‘big things’ when it comes to nurturing children into adults. Teach them to love. Help them to learn. Keep them safe. Make them self-sufficient. Accomplish those and you’ll glide joyfully into the empty-nester phase of life.

When the ‘Big Freeze’ hit the Austin area earlier than expected two weeks ago, our youngest – a first-year high school English teacher in a nearby district – texted to let us know she was leaving school early and making the typical 20-minute drive to her apartment. This would be her initial experience navigating icy roads.

About 45-minutes later, she texted to say she came upon a single-car accident near her complex and the young driver and his passenger were sitting in her car – masked-up – to have heat in the 25-degree weather. While police eventually arrived, with so many cars on the road as everyone left work early, an ambulance couldn’t get to them.

One of the occupants had a serious injury, so Kirsten took it upon herself to drive them to a hospital. After some treacherous road navigation, she dropped them off, texted us she was heading back to her apartment and eventually made it home, just as darkness set in – more than two-and-a-half hours after departing the school.

Since a parent’s work is never complete – even when all the kids are grown – I admit to having anxious thoughts during all this of ‘hope she doesn’t get Covid’ and ‘two young men in a car with a young woman.’ Yet, everything turned out fine.

My lasting thought? We raised her well.

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Difference Maker

Once upon a time, I worked in sports television. (Can a quarter century really have passed since my last show?) One of the announcers I worked with – this is about 1986, so it’s 35 years ago! – provided me sage advice. The former college basketball coach said, “Never stray too far from your strengths.”

That’s something I remembered during three subsequent career moves: first into travel, then franchising and finally coaching. While those are different industries, the common thread for me is working with others to maximize what they inherently do best.

At our travel company, that meant motivating employees to pursue our vision. In franchising, ‘better’ involved training new and veteran franchisees how to use their strengths to grow their businesses. As a coach, my role is to ask powerful questions that allow leaders to explore their own thoughts and find answers for their challenges.

Early on during engagements, I ask clients to express their Super Power. “What is your biggest strength?” It’s a wonderful exercise for an individual to pause and identify the one thing that makes them most valuable to their organization and team.

So… what’s your Super Power?

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Begin Again

Every four years, America pauses at Noon ET on January 20 to observe the swearing in of the president:

I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.

Immediately before this, the vice president takes a longer oath:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same: that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

So much of a nation’s unity is tied to imagery: flag, anthem, monuments, buildings. Beyond chosen symbolism, it is how citizens respond during moments in the timeline of history that define a culture. The American Revolution. The Civil War. The Great Depression. World War II. 9/11. 2020.

Every inauguration is historical by definition. Yesterday’s ceremonies for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris seem more significant for many reasons. When those in a future era reflect back on how we addressed the many challenges before us during this, our time, in history, they will judge us on what we do from here. Starting today. Continuing tomorrow. Ending somewhere down the road.

How will you make this a better place for all?

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