OK, before you movie buffs tell me “Marty McFly never met Theodore Roosevelt, much less paddle a river with anyone!” Keep your pants on for a minute, I can explain.

#rooseveltriver, history, leadershipFor those of you who have lived in a cave for the last 25 years, Marty McFly is the lead character in the movie trilogy “Back to the Future”.  Marty is transported back in time in a Delorean from 1985 to 1955. (Holy crap, do you realize in Back to the Future II, Marty travels 30 years into the future to 2015, that, my friends, is less than six months away!) While in 1955, Marty changes the course of history and his life, by inadvertently preventing his mom and dad from having their first kiss, and interrupting their density (sic). He then spends the rest of the movie trying to fix history before (his) time runs out.

That moment, that kiss, was an “event angle”, a moment in time where you and you alone stand at a crossroads, faced with a decision, life will be dramatically different depending on the choice you make at that moment. Even without Marty’s intercession, George could have chickened out and never kissed Lorraine. Lorraine could have slapped him for an unwanted advance. We are all faced with these “event angles” in our lives, major decision points that present themselves to us. This might be a marriage, a divorce, birth of a child, death of spouse, a new job, or perhaps a termination from a job. The decisions we make at these times say a lot about who we are as people, and who we are as leaders.

Teddy Roosevelt was faced with such an “event angle” in 1912 (no it did not involve a kiss!). He had just lost the presidential election to Woodrow Wilson (by a large margin I might add). He was quoted as saying that defeat was either Bull Run or Waterloo, only time would tell. Interesting choice of words. Bull Run one of the earliest battles of the Civil War and Waterloo, the war that brought an end to Napoleon’s rein. Two diverging meanings. The beginning of a long struggle, or the end of power. I think the most telling part of Roosevelt’s quote, was “only time will tell”. He was giving up, he was leaving it up to fate. Gone was the bravado he was so famous for exhibiting, he was…defeated.

Like so many “event angles” in life, Roosevelt had put himself in this position by conscious decisions. He had left the presidency

#rooseveltriver, history, leadership

Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, 1912 Credit: Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

in 1908. Taft, his chosen successor, had won the election. Roosevelt, now an international rock star went on an extended tour of Europe. Taft, however, was not Roosevelt. Roosevelt began to disagree publicly with Taft’s policies. As election time drew near, he began to contemplate another presidential run, eventually throwing his hat in the ring for the Republican Nomination and destroying his friendship with Taft in the process. Taft prevailed. Roosevelt could have seen the signs, instead he chose to run as a 3rd party candidate, in essence splitting the vote and giving the election to Wilson. Couldn’t he see this coming? Didn’t he see his popularity had waned during his European Tour? Was he so filled with hubris that he felt he could not be beat? And, what of his relationship with Taft. They had been very close. They would never speak again.

What can we learn from Roosevelt? What can learn from McFly? Many times in life, we will find ourselves at a crossroads, at an “event angle”. Rarely does life put us there at random. Usually we are there because of decisions and actions we made previously. While we cannot predict the future, we should consider the future consequences when plotting our courses. Had Marty not gone to meet Doc in 1985, he would not have been transported back to 1955 and changed the course of history. Had Roosevelt not decided to run for another term, he would not have destroyed his friendship, Wilson might not have won the election, and who knows the impact Roosevelt could have had in Europe as the world plummeted towards war.

We must also recognize “event angles” for what they are, major decisions that will change the course of our businesses and even our lives. We cannot do as Roosevelt did and “let time tell”. What if Roosevelt had seen this loss as an opportunity, dare I say, a victory? When we are faced with “event angles”, we can choose the way those decisions impact us. Even if the “event angle” is forced up us by life (divorce, death of a loved one, termination of a job), we can choose how we react to those events. We can take the path of Roosevelt and give up in the face of defeat, or we can choose to live on, lead on, and to make an impact.

Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to grab some popcorn, my best gal and watch “Back to the Future”…again!

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

OK, before you movie buffs tell me “Marty McFly never met Theodore Roosevelt, much less paddle a river with anyone!” Keep your pants on for a minute, I can explain.

#rooseveltriver, history, leadershipFor those of you who have lived in a cave for the last 25 years, Marty McFly is the lead character in the movie trilogy “Back to the Future”.  Marty is transported back in time in a Delorean from 1985 to 1955. (Holy crap, do you realize in Back to the Future II, Marty travels 30 years into the future to 2015, that, my friends, is less than six months away!) While in 1955, Marty changes the course of history and his life, by inadvertently preventing his mom and dad from having their first kiss, and interrupting their density (sic). He then spends the rest of the movie trying to fix history before (his) time runs out.

That moment, that kiss, was an “event angle”, a moment in time where you and you alone stand at a crossroads, faced with a decision, life will be dramatically different depending on the choice you make at that moment. Even without Marty’s intercession, George could have chickened out and never kissed Lorraine. Lorraine could have slapped him for an unwanted advance. We are all faced with these “event angles” in our lives, major decision points that present themselves to us. This might be a marriage, a divorce, birth of a child, death of spouse, a new job, or perhaps a termination from a job. The decisions we make at these times say a lot about who we are as people, and who we are as leaders.

Teddy Roosevelt was faced with such an “event angle” in 1912 (no it did not involve a kiss!). He had just lost the presidential election to Woodrow Wilson (by a large margin I might add). He was quoted as saying that defeat was either Bull Run or Waterloo, only time would tell. Interesting choice of words. Bull Run one of the earliest battles of the Civil War and Waterloo, the war that brought an end to Napoleon’s rein. Two diverging meanings. The beginning of a long struggle, or the end of power. I think the most telling part of Roosevelt’s quote, was “only time will tell”. He was giving up, he was leaving it up to fate. Gone was the bravado he was so famous for exhibiting, he was…defeated.

Like so many “event angles” in life, Roosevelt had put himself in this position by conscious decisions. He had left the presidency

#rooseveltriver, history, leadership

Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, 1912 Credit: Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

in 1908. Taft, his chosen successor, had won the election. Roosevelt, now an international rock star went on an extended tour of Europe. Taft, however, was not Roosevelt. Roosevelt began to disagree publicly with Taft’s policies. As election time drew near, he began to contemplate another presidential run, eventually throwing his hat in the ring for the Republican Nomination and destroying his friendship with Taft in the process. Taft prevailed. Roosevelt could have seen the signs, instead he chose to run as a 3rd party candidate, in essence splitting the vote and giving the election to Wilson. Couldn’t he see this coming? Didn’t he see his popularity had waned during his European Tour? Was he so filled with hubris that he felt he could not be beat? And, what of his relationship with Taft. They had been very close. They would never speak again.

What can we learn from Roosevelt? What can learn from McFly? Many times in life, we will find ourselves at a crossroads, at an “event angle”. Rarely does life put us there at random. Usually we are there because of decisions and actions we made previously. While we cannot predict the future, we should consider the future consequences when plotting our courses. Had Marty not gone to meet Doc in 1985, he would not have been transported back to 1955 and changed the course of history. Had Roosevelt not decided to run for another term, he would not have destroyed his friendship, Wilson might not have won the election, and who knows the impact Roosevelt could have had in Europe as the world plummeted towards war.

We must also recognize “event angles” for what they are, major decisions that will change the course of our businesses and even our lives. We cannot do as Roosevelt did and “let time tell”. What if Roosevelt had seen this loss as an opportunity, dare I say, a victory? When we are faced with “event angles”, we can choose the way those decisions impact us. Even if the “event angle” is forced up us by life (divorce, death of a loved one, termination of a job), we can choose how we react to those events. We can take the path of Roosevelt and give up in the face of defeat, or we can choose to live on, lead on, and to make an impact.

Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to grab some popcorn, my best gal and watch “Back to the Future”…again!

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

leadership, history, business, L. Eugene Ton, #RooseveltRiverA couple years ago I wrote a short eBook titled “Everything I Learned about Leadership…I Learned from Lewis and Clark“. Well, guess what? It was a lie! As the dedication in the book declares, I really learned about leadership from my dad! Dad spent the majority of his career as an American Baptist minister, later taking roles in denomination leadership. What this meant was, that as a kid, I spent a LOT of time in church and a LOT of time listening to him preach. Think about it…18 years, give or take…Sunday morning service, Sunday night service, Wednesday service…and all the special services like Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Christmas Eve. A conservative estimate says it was over 2,000 sermons!

Today, almost 40 years since he was last my pastor and probably 10 to 15 years since I have heard him preach, I can remember many (ok not all 2,000, but many) of them. Why? or better yet, how? I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I can remember the time he had one of the drollest members of the congregation walk up and eat an apple, leaving the core on the alter during “pledge” Sunday, or when some of the youth stood up and questioned him in the middle of a sermon (planned as a part of youth Sunday of course), or the many times, he would take on a persona of a character from the bible…Peter and Paul being the most memorable or the old lady who proclaimed “You ain’t e’er gonna shroud that light, eer ya?” as an adult lesson of the children’s song “This Little Light of Mine”, or , or even the time he stopped mid-sentence and asked my mother to go to his office and get the copy of his sermon because he’d lost his train of thought and his notes weren’t helping (he STILL says this was not planned).

Why do I remember them? I can hear you saying, “Oh sure, you remember those, they had memorable moments, something that set them apart”. Of course they did, I guess that’s the point. He was (is) a master at creating a visualization through a gesture or an action, some way of saying “This is important! Pay attention!” When he got out from behind the podium, I would (the whole congregation would) sit up and take notice. It was the energy and forcefulness (not in a hell-fire and brimstone sort of way, mind you), but in a way to capture all of our senses. It might have been as simple as pacing across the front of the church, or as in the examples above something even more captivating. As I reflect on this now, my guess is many of the gestures just became a natural part of his delivery when he wanted to make a point, still others were very rehearsed and planned.

Like my dad, Roosevelt was a master at making a point through a gesture. Do an image search on Google for theodore leadership, history, business, #rooseveltriverroosevelt speaking and you will find hundreds of pictures but you would be very hard pressed to find any of him standing still behind a lectern. You will see him teeth bared, leaning forward, fist pounding in hand, or arms spread wide. Some of these were very much thought out, others were as natural to him as speaking itself. The audience was captivated, he was talking with them (not TO them), he was their voice. Roosevelt once declared “I’m am not public opinion, I am the public”, a bold statement certainly, but at the height of his presidency he was absolutely correct.

For me, I inherited my dad’s propensity to wander away from the lectern to make a point, to engage with my listeners. Even during my monthly staff meetings I stand so I can move around. During my exploration of #RooseveltRiver, Dan challenged me to think about times or messages when I should break from the natural, instinctive gestures to make the point even more impactful. Recently, I had the distinct privilege to speak at a high school graduation (future post alert!) as I thought about my words and my delivery, I realized this was one of the times Dan was referring to. What I said was irrelevant. It was not about the message. It was about the graduates, their families and their celebration. I delivered my short remarks passionately, yet standing still behind the lectern. Think about your own delivery. How do you emphasize your points? When you are presenting to your team, the board or a larger audience is your point made by some instinctive gesture? Do you rehearse and plan your gestures? Sometimes the natural, instinctive gestures are the most powerful, however, there are other times that may call for a more intentional, rehearsed gesture, or even times when no gesture at all is the course of the day.

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

The room fell silent as I walked in. I got the feeling I had interrupted a joke or a story. It was my first time at the table. The proverbial table. The table at which we all talk about being seated. The table of power. Here were gathered, the ten most powerful people in our company, sans the owner himself. It was intimidating, to say the least. I was nervous. Nervous? Hell, I was scared shitless. I had 20 minutes to lay out the IT Strategic Plan. 20 minutes to convince them to invest a boatload of cash. THEIR cash. 20 minutes to convince the strategy was the RIGHT strategy. Clutching my notes in one hand and the “clicker” in the other, I went through the slides. There were a few clarifying questions, but mostly there was silence. As I closed with my summary and stopped, all eyes were focused, not on my slides, but on me. Was this going to be the nightmare from my childhood all over again? That terrified sixth grader wanted to scream and run. Breathe. Breathe deep. Then…then it happened…

The President of our company, leaned back in his chair, clasped his hands behind his head and said, more to me, than the business, leadership, history, #rooseveltriverroom, “THAT is the first time I have EVER understood technology!” Suddenly that petrified sixth grader wanted to jump for joy, wanted to slap high five with someone, anyone. Even now as I write this, I get chills. How did it happen? How did we get our point across? An image…permit me to go back in time a bit.

One of my first duties as the new CIO (my first CIO role, by the way), was to develop a three year technology strategic plan. Work on this had started before I even joined the company with me working behind the scenes to select the 3rd Party consulting firm as a partner in developing the plan. Once I officially started, work began in earnest. Weeks went by. The consultant did a yeoman’s job of gathering data, meeting with me and other stakeholders, working with the team to flush out the details. Weeks turned into months. We had a lot of great stuff, but nothing was coming together. The document being produced had a lot of words…much more than 1,000 trust me. It just wasn’t conveying the message. We needed something…but what? Something to pull it all together. An idea began to form. We needed a way to convey some very complex messages to an audience that was, by their own admission, not technical. (I knew I was in trouble when one SVP looked at me during a discussion and said “Technology? We don’t need technology, we used to design buildings with pencils and drawing paper, we can do it again.”)

business, leadership, history, #rooseveltriverThis was a company that made multi-million dollar decisions every day. How did they get comfortable with the risk versus the reward? They used a very tried and true process. The development group would envision a project, do their research and thenbusiness, leadership, history, #rooseveltriver build what was called internally “an Investment Memo”. The Investment Memo had 20 or 21 distinct sections, The Executive Summary, the elevation drawings, market surveys, risks, financial proforma and others. What if we put the strategic plan in the form of an Investment Memo? We could use the analogy that building IT systems are like building a building. But…no one on my team, myself included, had ever written an Investment Memo, we didn’t even know all the sections or the lingo. I reached out to a coworker who worked in the construction department. He had an interest in IT, was young and passionate. Would he help me?

I flebusiness, leadership, history, #rooseveltriverw to his hometown of Charlotte. He and I literally locked ourselves in my hotel room for three days. The result? An image! The image of a building, complete with elevation drawings and a proforma. An image that everyone in the room would understand. (Thanks to Matt Cashatt, for working his day job and burning the midnight oil with me for three days…and thanks to his wife for letting me impinge on their family time!)business, leadership, history, #rooseveltriver

It is true, an image IS worth a 1,000 words (or, in this case, several thousand words).  A few years after the strategic plan presentation, as I explored the #RooseveltRiver, time and time again I discovered Theodore Roosevelt understood this, as well. Sometimes he created the images, sometimes others created them, but he always leveraged them. On a hunting trip, he and his group came upon a small bear chained to a tree. Even at the urging of some around him, he would not shoot the bear. Within days the image of the Teddy Bear was all over the press. During a speech he quoted an African proverb about “walk softly but carry a big stick”. The next day hundreds of people turned out at a speech carrying baseball bats and clubs. Later as he introduced the “Square Deal”, held up scales to convey he wanted all people to have fair deal and make a fair wage. These images were burned in the minds of his constituents.

business,leadership,history, #rooseveltriver

Washington Post

Images can be a powerful tool. They can be intentional, as in the case of the scales, or unintentional like the Teddy Bear.  What images are emblazoned on your mind? What images can you use to communicate to your team? to your peers? to your management? What intentional images can you create? What un-intentional ones can you leverage to get your point across?

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

leadership, history, business, #rooseveltriverWhat makes great leaders great? Is there a moment, an event, that you can point to and say “this is when they became great”, or “this is when they made history”, or even “this is when they became presidential”? Is there a catalyst, an event, where they stand up and lead? Meriwether Lewis was Thomas Jefferson’s secretary, William Clark was hanging out in a cabin in the southern Indiana territory (sorry, I HAVE to throw my heroes in the mix, I know they weren’t presidents), Lincoln was a no-named lawyer from Illinois, Benjamin Harrison played ostrich and stuck his head in the sand for the first two years of the civil war, Roosevelt was considered for the head of street cleaning in New York, and Eisenhower was a mid-level officer primarily known for being a good football coach. What happened? How did they end up in history books? Why are we (read “me”) still talking about them 50, 100, and 200 years later?

Over the last several years, I have studied all of the above to one degree or another. Two keys stand out for me: First, the ability to see things in a grander scale, let’s call that vision, though its more than that, as we will see. Second, the ability to engage with people at an individual level, while at the same time engaging with people en masse and to obtain buy-in.

Vision: Great leaders see things that others don’t see.  They see order, where others see chaos. They see patterns and correlations where others see unrelated events. They are more comfortable with a blank slate, than with the status quo. Let’s use Roosevelt as an example (Hey! It IS the Roosevelt River after all!). Here is a man who struggled with the decision to enter public office as the head of the street cleaners in New York (hardly a presidential role), yet in a few short years he became, Chief of Police, then Governor, and then Assistant Secretary of the Navy (and eventually a Vice Presidential Candidate and, as we know through history, President of the United States).

The Navy Roosevelt inherited was not even a foreshadow of the elite force we know today. All of the Armed Services were still decimated from the Civil War just a few decades removed. Yet, instead of following the status quo, Roosevelt saw the opportunity as a blank slate. Instead of focusing inward on our own shores, Roosevelt saw the United States as a rising world power and the Navy as a key component of that rise. Roosevelt developed the Large Policy, policy that defined plans for a canal to allow traffic from the Atlantic to the Pacific, fueling stations scattered throughout the world for new battleships, and the relationships with foreign powers that would have to be built to support this grand strategy.

Yet with this grand strategy, this grand vision, Roosevelt would struggle against the, dare I say, the politics of the status quo. (Parenthetically, I wonder now if it was this struggle against the status quo that many leaders face had a hand in Meriwether Lewis’ untimely death, be it murder or suicide?) Roosevelt continually butted heads with those who wanted to protect the status quo, or who didn’t see the patterns that he saw. This leads us to the second key of a great leader…

Buy-in: That innate ability to engage with some people on a very personal, a very intimate level, to develop a team and have that team follow them anywhere, even to face death (oops, getting ahead of myself here), while at the same time, engaging the masses (if not the powers-at-be) all to achieve the vision, the grand strategy, the Large Policy. canoes

Roosevelt’s America found itself at odds with Spain. Cuba would become the battleground. Roosevelt volunteered. He volunteered to help form the first United States Cavalry…a fighting force of volunteers known to history as the Rough Riders. Roosevelt helped to raise a regiment, not from soldiers and sailors, but from cowboys, ranchers, hunters, and gold miners…his friends from the Bad Lands in South Dakota. Friends that would come when he called, friends that would follow him any where, not because they believed in the Large Policy, or the grand vision, but because the believed in Roosevelt. (It is interesting to note, at the beginning of the conflict Roosevelt was a Lieutenant Colonel, Leonard Wood was appointed Colonel, yet the image of Roosevelt and the Rough Riders is emblazoned on history.)

As Roosevelt’s political career blossomed after the war, he was able to engage the populous. Through imagery (like the Rough Riders, the Teddy Bear, the “big stick”) he engaged with the common man. It enabled him to gain the presidency and it enabled him to implement parts of his Large Policy even against some very powerful political adversaries. Did they see the vision of Roosevelt? Did they see the correlations and trends? I seriously doubt it. Again, they believed in Roosevelt, believed he cared about them, believed he spoke for them.

Great leaders today have these same two traits: vision and the ability to achieve buy-in on a personal level and on a large scale. Where do you spend your time? Do you have a great vision, but struggle to achieve it?…look to achieve buy-in. Do you have a great team, but no place to lead them?…seek a vision, a strategy, a Large Policy. (Again, parenthetically, I believe that is what made Lewis and Clark successful. The names are inseparable in history. Why? Because Lewis had a vision and Clark had buy-in. Together they achieved the un-achievable.)

So is it a point in time? Is it a single event? Is it a catalyst that catapults some to greatness? No…it is having the vision and the buy-in so that the point in time, the single event, the catalyst is recognized for what it is (or created) and leveraged.

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

My wife, Carmen, and I love cop shows, from the iconic Hill Street Blues and Law and Order to our favorite today, Blue Bloods. We get engaged with the characters, always trying to solve the crime before they do, sometimes wondering why they don’t see the obvious killer right in front of them. Blue Bloods is great because it goes beyond the typical crime drama by following the lives of the New York’s first family of crime fighting the Reagans. We do not miss an episode.

As I explore #RooseveltRiver, I am struck by two things. The first, the countless ways that Roosevelt pops up in my life. Shortly after embarking on the #RooseveltRiver exploration, I was in a meeting regarding the implementation of our new HR system. Each participant in the meeting was given a profile of a new employee to enter to help test the functionality. Me? I was given the new employee Theodore Roosevelt. Hmmmm…several months later, I was at an offsite meeting…sitting in a conference room…the name of the room? The Roosevelt Room, of course. I can’t count the number of times this happens.

business, leadership, history, #RooseveltRiverPresident_Theodore_Roosevelt,_1904So, have you seen it? Blue Bloods’ Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) and his striking resemblance to Teddy Roosevelt? His look, his mannerisms? His trait of always trying to do the “right” thing? The picture of Roosevelt hanging in his office? Honestly, I don’t know if I would have seen it, if it weren’t for my exploration (hey there is a reason I am a CIO and not a detective!). So what is the strong relationship between the fictional Frank Reagan and the very real Theodore Roosevelt? If you aren’t familiar with the show, Selleck’s character is the New York City Police Commissioner, an office once held by Roosevelt himself.

In a recent episode, Reagan feared he was losing touch with the officer on the beat, to help connect, he left his office and his security detail behind and hit the streets to observe, connect and yes, even hold some of the beat cops accountable to the standards of the New York City Police Department. It was an excellent episode.

Do you want to know where Reagan (or at least the writers) got the idea? Ok, you guessed it…from Roosevelt. When Roosevelt became Police Commissioner, he wanted to clean up the department and to hold the officers accountable to a higher standard. How did he do it? He hit the streets. (In fact, Roosevelt was known for trying to clean up things…like politics. His first appointment, by President Benjamin Harrison, was to help clean up civil service. His first step? Clean up civil service in Indianapolis, Harrison’s backyard!)

The second thing that strikes me on the #Roosevelt River, is how I gain new insights and perspectives every time I review Dan’s Guidebooks and my notes. The words jumped of the page, “Your direct presence sends a message”. Roosevelt could have commanded new expectations of behaviors with a stroke of the pen. He then could have relied on the chain of command to implement the changes and hold the officers accountable. Instead, he hit the streets. He knew the mere presence of the Police Commissioner would send a message to the rank and file that a memorandum could never send. His presence said “this is serious”, “he means business”, “you better toe the line”, perhaps even, “I care enough about this message and about you to deliver it myself”.

As a leader, it is important to remember this lesson and how to use it. “Your direct presence sends a message.” It does change the dynamic in the room, the mere presence of the boss or leader does change the dialogue and the tone…and that’s OK…in fact, sometimes it is not only desired, it is necessary to affect the change needed to meet the goals and objectives.

Copyright Terri Heisele

Copyright Terri Heisele

Think about the last time you assumed a new role. What were the first steps you took? Did you use the lesson of Roosevelt and have a direct presence? Would you do it differently the next time? If so, what steps would you change?

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

His journal entry was simple.

           X

the light has gone out of my life

What event would evoke such a dismal comment from a future President of the United States? It was February 14, 1884,  Theodore Roosevelt was hard at work in Albany, miles away from home, when word reached him about the deaths of his mother and his wife just hours apart. The day brought this section of the #RooseveltRiver to a close, the culmination of six crucial years in the life of Roosevelt.business, leadership, history #rooseveltriver

These six years saw Roosevelt deal with the death of his father (his foundational relationship), drop out of Harvard, re-enroll and then graduate from Harvard, become engaged to and marry his wife Alice, finish his critically acclaimed book on the Navy in the War 1812, receive word from doctors that his health would severely limit his life, discover his life’s calling in politics, find his soul in the Dakotas and the Badlands, and experience the birth of his first child. The lessons he learned in these years would help him deal with the darkest day of his life and develop into leader we remember today.

When I think back on those years in my life, they were quite a whirlwind as well, though I didn’t face anything as dark as the death of both parents and a spouse. During those same years (19 – 25), I got married, had two kids, started college, transferred schools (twice), got a job, discovered computers, moved to Chicago, moved to Indianapolis, moved to Lebanon (the city in Indiana, not the country in the Middle East), started a spiritual journey with a seagull and a barnstormer (that’s for you Jay), and watched my mom deal with the recovery from a near fatal fire.

Some people like to live on the edge, challenging life at every turn. Roosevelt did enjoy a physical challenge like dude ranching out west in the Dakotas or canoeing in the Amazon. In fact he would rely on these adventures to get him through tough times in life. But more than these extreme adventures, Roosevelt found him self on the edge in every day life, challenging himself and others not to be pulled into the center, not to accept the status quo. Roosevelt exemplified this living on the edge style early in his career by focusing on “cleaning up” politics and government.

After spending 30 years in IT, I can’t think of another career I could have chosen that would have been more on the edge…and the edge continues to move outward at an every increasing pace, yet even in IT there is a center, a status quo. The old days of being able to lock everything behind closed doors are gone. No longer can we “command and control”, block Facebook and employees will just use their phones. Instead, we must embrace but protect. Today the edge is cloud, mobile, gamification, crowdsourcing, the internet of things, and much more.

business, leadership, history, #rooseveltriverIsn’t that the definition of being a leader, though? Living on the edge, continually pulling those around you out of the center? It is difficult, like being caught in a whirlpool above a rapids (hey this is a series about a RIVER), the closer to the center you are the harder and harder it pulls you in. The further and further away from the center, the swimming gets easier, but you can’t pull anyone with you. If you get too far on the edge you run the risk of being thrashed about in the rapids.

Where do you spend your time? In the center? On the edge? Beyond the edge?

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

With sincerest apologies to The Kinks and the great Lou Reed (RIP) sometimes lessons on the #RooseveltRiver come from the most unusual places.

business, leadership, #rooseveltriver

My brother “came out” over 30 years ago. It was a much different time and being the son of the Baptist minister in Southern Indiana could not have made an incredibly difficult announcement any easier. I have to admit (and I think he would too) my brother and I had a rocky relationship for most of our childhood and young adulthood. He was (much 😉 ) older than me, liked to tease me incessantly, and sometimes would beat the crap out of me. I can, however, remember two occasions that made a huge impression on me. The first was when he filed as a Conscientious Objector for the Vietnam War draft. What an incredible stand for what you believe in. The pressure he was put under from the interviews, the filings, the name calling. I gained an incredible amount of respect for him during that year or so.

The second was when he announced he was gay and occasionally dressed in drag. I think the pressure of the CO filing was nothing compared to making this announcement. I am sure I was not supportive at the time (I had a lot of growing up to do) however, I was secretly very proud of him again…for making a stand for what he felt and what he believed.  My wife and three year old son went to visit him a few months after, I can remember touring his house and my son tugging on my hand and looking up at me and asking “Why does Uncle Jack have dresses in his closet?” and later my wife admiring the photos of beautiful women on his mantel (uh…they weren’t).

As our rivers flowed on and the decades passed, he and I met up for beers one evening last year. Our conversation turned to our jobs. I was now an executive and he had made is living in front-line retail. I remarked how good he was at his job. Everyone loved walking into the store and being waited on by him. There were times, that customers would ask for him and if he wasn’t in, they would leave. Everyone in the area knew him, from the office secretaries, to the politicians and business leaders. I likened his skill to that of my dad, the now retired minister that still “works the room” every chance he gets. He laughed and said, “but you get up in front of large groups all the time and speak, talking one-on-one is easy”.

I told him I was serious and was very impressed. I asked how he does it, how is he that comfortable with meeting newbusiness, leadership, #rooseveltriver people all the time. “Its not me,” was his reply, “its my persona. Just like when I was a dancer, I put on my persona and hide myself inside it”. BAM! Another lesson on the #RooseveltRiver hits me like a rock in the rapids. Sometimes the more obvious the lesson, the harder it smacks you. Its like the preparation my son does before he gets on stage, the preparation my dad did prior to a sermon, its like the preparation I do before a big presentation. We may not have described it as a persona…but its a perfect  way of looking at it. THAT’s how you work a room…prepare and put on your persona.

So next time you see me at a networking event, if I have a strange smile on my face, I am not being rude, I’m just singing “Lola, L-O-L-A, Lola” or “Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo” to myself.

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

I don’t know what made me do it. I don’t know what I was thinking. Chalk it up to a 6th grader wanting to get attention. Boy, did THAT happen! It was nearing the end of my 6th Grade Year. Soon, I would be heading off to Junior High. My sixth grade teacher was the first male teacher I had ever leadership, change, businesshad, he ruled with authority. He WAS authority in my school. Weeks before he had announced the Science Fair Competition. Everyone had to submit a project and everyone had to present their project to the whole 6th grade class. Today was the day!

Honestly, my project was kind of lame. It was something about perpetual motion and lighting a candle on both ends or something like earth shattering like that. After waiting through several of my classmate’s presentations, it was time for me to present. I did fine enough I suppose…until the end…until I decided to tell some outlandish story about how I had been working with my chemistry set the night before, gotten sick, had to go the hospital, was still in constant pain…and THAT is why I did the candle project. It was a doozy of a story and all B.S. Maybe I told it to impress my girl friend(s), who knows…but it gets better (or worse actually).

Business, leadership, changeAfter all the presentations were done, our teacher announced that he was selecting the top three projects and we would present to the entire school. Guess what? My project was selected. Man was I stoked! Too Cool! That afternoon, the whole school was gathered together including the principal. The first kid presented his project, I think it was on nuclear fission or something. The second kid’s project about the space-time continuum or some bogus thing like that. THEN, then it was my turn, me with my perpetual motion candle. When my presentation was done, my teacher spoke up from the back of the room, and told me to tell my chemistry set-hospital visit story. So, very hesitantly, I did. By the time I was done, the teacher and the principal were both in tears laughing at me so much.

Years later as I was exploring the #RooseveltRiver (2013 – The Year I Canoed with Theodore Roosevelt) from birth to age 19, some parallels and themes emerged. During these years, Roosevelt became fascinated with science and history. He was an avid reader, but not only a reader; he was a writer as well. He completed his first book by the age of 16. His father was the dominate figure in his life helping him to develop into a man. His personality set him apart and despite having very poor eyesight he excelled in boxing and outdoor activities. Toward the end of this time frame Theodore’s father passed away and had a profound impact on him. Many of the lessons of his youth and the impact on his life were evident in later years.

While our lives are not parallel, I too was an avid reader. As a teen and on into my twenties I read book after book on programming, systems design, database structures, and application life cycles. Ask my sons, I used to hold them on my lap and read to them. They are probably still scarred!  I wasn’t the writer Roosevelt was, I wrote song lyrics instead of books (you see, I was going to be a rock star!). However, it was still a way to release my creative passions as did he.

The discoveries during this portion of my exploration were many and deep. Two lessons came from these discoveries. The first was related to change: my ability to embrace change, but also my ability TO change. For years I was petrified of public speaking, I could not even imagine getting up in front of a group and presenting a topic. If I were in a meeting, I would not speak up until I had time to digest everything and very methodically process what I heard. I hated that moment in a meeting when all eyes turned my way. I felt like that very embarrassed 11 year-old kid ready to crawl into a hole. As I developed in my career, I knew this was something I would have to overcome. I did this through preparation. The reason my science project was so lame was because I failed to prepare.

Roosevelt was a larger than life individual, fueled by traits like exuberance, passion, and enthusiasm. What of your traits the strongest impact on those to whom you are communicating? Think about that for awhile. Put yourself in the shoes of the “communicatee”, what comes through your from your communication style? What traits are strongest when you are communicating well? I asked several people to describe the traits that come through with me. Modesty, humility, and empathy were recurring themes. However, one jumped off the page: passion. The realization that I communicate best when I am passionate about the subject AND I let that passion show through was lesson number two for me.

Several years ago, my wife suggested I tell our Lewis and Clark story to her mom’s Rotary Club. At first, all I could see was that 11 year-old all over leadership, business, changeagain, but the more she nudged the more I warmed to the idea (this was not the only time in our relationship that she nudged me over what I thought was a cliff, only for me to learn I could fly). However, to be successful, I had to prepare. I wrote my presentation out long hand. I rehearsed, and rehearsed and rehearsed. I combined my passion with preparation and have now lost track of the number of times I have spoken in front of groups.

Accenting a strength enabled me to overcome a weakness.

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

Theodore Roosevelt? That Theodore Roosevelt? The one that was president like a hundred years ago? Yep, THAT Theodore Roosevelt. I spent 10 months canoeing with Teddy Roosevelt, dead about 100 years.

Copyright Grasmere Lodge

Copyright Grasmere Lodge

How is that possible, you ask? Bear with me, and I will explain, and then I will begin to tell you about the adventure! It was late fall 2012, the executive team and spouses were getting together for a dinner prior to the holiday season. There was to be a guest speaker that evening, Dr. Dan Miller of Historical Solutions. Dr. Miller wrote the book on Goodwill, literally, he is the author of “A Life of Goodwill: Three Leaders and Their Impact on an Organization”, a leadership story of Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana. It was one of those coincidences that I love….several people had been telling me I needed to meet Dan because of my love of history (thanks Angelo!). So, after dinner, I introduced myself and we agreed to meet for coffee a few weeks later.

It was at the coffee that I learned in addition to being a prolific author and speaker, he also does executive coaching (he calls it Creative Conversations) and various types of workshops. As he explained Creative Conversations, he meets with the individual, gets to know them, and selects a person from history. Then throughout eight to ten sessions, he maps out that person’s life and looks for correlations to yours. The kicker to me was that he equates the person’s life to a river, an allegory I have always used as well. As many of you know, I am a river rat. I would rather be on a river than just about any place on the planet.  He promised to have my historical figure at our first session; my assignment was to have a competency or trait upon which to focus our development time.

By now you have probably guessed the river I was going to travel was the Theodore Roosevelt River. You are quickerBusiness, Leadership, Management than I, I assumed it would have been either Lewis or Clark, at the very least, one of the men that accompanied them on their adventure. I knew very little about Roosevelt, but I was game. So I threw my canoe in the river and began my journey.

In our first session, he laid out the format that we were to follow. Each session starts with a review of what’s been happening in my life both professionally and personally since our last session. Next is a dive into a specific span of time in Roosevelt’s life (this was done chronologically throughout the 10 sessions). The session concludes with a discussion of three “Paddles” or three questions to ponder. A week or so after each session, Dan provides a copy of the slide deck and a “Guidebook”, or notes of the session, his reflection on our discussion and an assignment for the next session.

To go through each session would take a book…hmmm, I can add THAT to the list of books I am going to write! Instead, let me give you a couple of the highlights of my trip down Roosevelt River. I will explore others in future posts.

Our journey started with looking at Roosevelt in the years 1858 to 1878, ages birth to 19. The first thing that struck me is that Roosevelt was born in 1858, I was born in 1958. As he went through life, our ages would be parallel. He loved to read, was physically active, and had written a book by the time he reached age 19 and entered Harvard. As a child, I also loved to read, played football, baseball and ran track. While I hadn’t written a book, I did want to be a rock star so I had written the lyrics to a couple of hundred songs by the time I was 19. Me? No, I did not go to Harvard, I attended Indiana State and did not fare as well as Roosevelt in my studies.

As would be the norm, Dan challenged me with three paddles. The first would turn out to be somewhat prophetic. Paddle One: A foundational relationship leaves a lasting mark on your approach to communicating with authority. For Roosevelt that foundational relationship was his father Theodore Sr., for me that relationship was my mother (no surprise there). Dan’s analysis would fill pages, but one point stands out.

“There is no question that your mother is a major influence in your approach toward communicating with authority. You learned, and not all that badly, in my view, that you should be modest and unassuming in your communication with authority. You defer in communication. Her experience with and after the fire also opened the way for you to be more expressive in group or audience settings.”

Man, talk about spot on! The assignment based on this paddle, was to write a short paragraph about a step forward taken by my followers. One paragraph about what they did right. Dan stated change was was a gift given to me by my mother through her experience of change and its possibilities.

Believe it or not, the next highlight of my adventure was in the second session. Roosevelt was in his early twenties (age 19 – 25 to be exact). During this time he discovered his love for the west at about the same time he became interested and involved in politics. Because he took to dressing like a cowboy, in Albany he was given the label “the Dude”. Now, this was not meant to be hip and cool like Jeff Bridges’ the Dude in the Big Lebowski, no, this label was a slam.

One of Dan’s paddle went right to the core of a label. “Externally, a label may take control of your communication, for Roosevelt, it, of course, ‘the Dude’. What label applies to you? How does it affect your communication?”

BAM! Another one hits the mark. For me, its the “IT Guy” label. I have been in IT for over 30 years. At times, that label can get in the way. I would rather be seen as a “Business Guy” with an IT expertise. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a meeting and the phone, projector, or microphone doesn’t work. What happens? All eyes turn to me…the IT Guy! Hell, I can’t fix it! When my technology doesn’t work, I call one of our outstanding support technicians!

My assignment was to write two lists. The first was a list of things about me as person that have nothing to do with IT. The second was a list of the things a CIO does beyond being the IT Chief. The next step was to match up the two lists and look for ways in which I, as more than IT, blends with CIO, as more than IT.

OK, I am in danger of getting a DR;TL comment (Did not Read; Too Long)…throughout upcoming posts, I will explore sections of the Roosevelt River and dive deeper into the lessons I learned through this journey. In the mean time, I highly recommend Dr. Miller’s Creative Conversations to anyone that is looking to learn more about themselves and to grow professionally and personally.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.