On June 13, 2o17 I was honored to be the headliner for Sparks Talk’s Fifth Anniversary. The transcript of this timed-talk follows. 

It’s 1780, August. You are a young Shawnee teen. Early in the afternoon you climb up the ridge east of the village and look down across the valley. The summer sun beats down relentlessly on the  village. The air is still, smoke from smoldering cooking fires creates a cloud throughout the clearing and tickles your nostrils as you breathe. Along the base of the hill, several small cabins form a circle. To the east a stockade sits atop the next hill. Fields of corn stretch for miles in each direction along the lazy river.

Some of the younger children play in the dirt near several of the cabins. Mothers keep a watchful eye while they go about their chores in preparation for the evening meal.

A dog wanders between the cabins, its tongue drooping from its mouth as it pants.  It enters the cool shade of a doorway, only to reemerge a second later with a yelp as one of the men inside swats at it so the council meeting is not disturbed.

Inside the cabin, the men are engaged in a great debate. The sound of their voices drift up along with the smoke.

You see motion in the corn…you see the flash before you…Crack! The sound of gunfire shatters the afternoon stillness.  Soon war cries filled the air from the west of the village. The long knives have arrived! The smell of burnt gunpowder mixed with the smoke of the fires and burns your eyes.

Why I was standing in a park in the middle of Ohio reading an historical marker on July 4, 2000 is a story for another day. What we are going to explore today are the connections. The connections that drew me to the past and propelled me into the future.

The sign I was reading was in a park dedicated to the Battle of Piqua. A battle between the Kentucky militia led by George Rogers Clark against a tribe of the Shawnee nation. What boy from Indiana doesn’t feel a connection to George Rogers Clark?

I read more of the markers. One was dedicated in 1976. I graduated high school in 1976. Connection.

A Shawnee boy survived the battle. His name was Tecumseh. I attended Camp Tecumseh YMCA camp as a kid. Connection.

Tecumseh grew up and along with his brother, The Prophet, led the Indian forces in the The Battle of Tippecanoe near Lafayette against the US forces led by William Henry Harrison. In 1976 I graduated from…William Henry Harrison High School…connection. The name of our school newspaper? The Prophet! Connection!

I hated history class in high school…and now I was hooked. Over the next decade, Carmen and I would spend every minute of vacation retracing the Lewis and Clark Expedition. You see, Clark was the younger brother of George Rogers Clark. We discovered dozens and dozens of connections. We discovered a deep love for our country, and we discovered a shared love of history. In a sense, newlyweds when we embarked on these journeys, we discovered each other. Ah, but I’m not here to talk about our love story either, for that, you have to wait until my book “The Lewis and Clark Will Never Die Tour” is published!

All these connections are interesting…and we could talk about them all night…well, for another 6 minutes or so. But, what if I could show you how you could use those connections with the past to live in the present and plan for the future? Now THAT would be really interesting!

For the last five years, did you catch that connection? Five years…same time Sparks was launching. I told you connections with the past are everywhere, anyway, five years ago, I started working with an executive coach. Dr. Dan Miller’s approach to coaching is something he calls Creative Conversations. Through these conversations we study the life, or river as Dan calls them, of an historical figure and discuss points in their lives and how they relate to a problem or a challenge I am wrestling with today.

Over this time span, we have studied Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, William Sherman and Abraham Lincoln, albeit briefly. One of the interesting aspects of immersing yourself in history this way is the number of connections you will discover. Now I know those connections were always there, the study just raised your awareness of them.

When we embarked on our exploration of the Roosevelt River, our theme was Communication, Speaking Truth to Authority and Creating an Environment of Candor. The struggle to speak truth to authority was deeply ingrained. I grew up the son of a baptist minister. Children of the minister were to be seen and not heard, you certainly didn’t speak truth to his authority, especially when his authority was HIS authority!

Roosevelt ALWAYS spoke truth to authority. For him it seemed to come naturally. The lessons over the year were endless. However,, one the stuck out for me was his use of gestures. He was a master at using a gesture to make his point. I realized my dad, was a master of using gestures in his sermons. In some ways I adopted my favorite gesture of his, that of getting out from behind the podium and walking about to engage the audience. However, the key lesson here wasn’t the gesture itself, it was when to NOT use the familiar gesture to make a point. To stop walking around the platform and stop, freeze, and make a point.

As my career progressed and I began to be seen as a leader not just of my team, or even of my company, but in the community, this leadership in a new stage need exploration. Enter Dwight D. Eisenhower and the exploration of adapting to new issues and working with different stakeholders. What better model to use than the military man that rose through the ranks to become the leader of the Allied Forces in WWII and then on to the presidency. Moving from a command and control organization to one of politics and influence.

As Eisenhower established his leadership he saw a connection to two seemingly unrelated advances in warfare. This first was the mechanization of, well, just about everything. The Cavalries of WWI were a thing of the past, but unlike horses, jeeps and trucks need fuel. He leveraged that in his battle plans both for his forces and against the enemy. At the same time aircraft became a strategic part of warfare. Eisenhower was able to see the relationship between the two in a way few others did. For me, as an IT leader, it was about the cloud. But not the cloud alone, it was what it could bring when it was joined with organization agility. Together the two can have a multiplying effect. Look for the relationships in the seemingly unrelated!

Our final example come from the life of William T. Sherman, the civil war general. William Tecumseh Sherman…see how I did that? Connections! The theme we explored is “A Plan is a Contract between the past and the future”. Sherman had a plan. Sherman had a grand plan. His plan didn’t always work. He learned, he adjusted, and ultimately succeeded.

Sherman was involved in two battles near the town of Chickasaw Bluffs. In the first he suffered an embarrassing defeat. Some time later, he and Grant attacked the forces at Chickasaw Bluffs and were successful. Grant had used a strategy Sherman thought would never work. He saw, he learned and he acknowledged. We need to support and observe other leaders and other strategies, and adapt our plans for the future.

These are but a few of the lessons of the last five years. Connections to the past are all around us. Lessons from the past out boundless, and ever changing. Even now as I write this, I see new insights, new lessons, and opportunities to impact the future. As you look back over the last five years, over the last 50 years, 100 years, longer, what connections reveal themselves? What lessons are there to be learned in the present to plan for the future?

Proving once again, I am not above using a shameless pop culture reference with “Back to the Future” to drive traffic! What I really want to talk about is not the great movie trilogy (well, at least the first one was great) but rather, leveraging the past to change the future.

About 100 years ago, George Santayana penned his oft repeated line, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This phrase has been quoted (and misquoted) over the last century. Using three vignettes from history, let’s explore the past for some lessons we can use as leaders to shape our future.

Benjamin Harrison & Theodore Roosevelt: The Center and Edge

leadership, business, history

In 1888 Benjamin Harrison was running for President of the United States. A young up-and-comer, Theodore Roosevelt, was canvassing the midwest, feverishly campaigning for Harrison. After Harrison won the election and became our 23rd President, he appointed Roosevelt to serve on the Civil Service Commission.

A rather ironic appointment, wouldn’t you say? Why ironic, you ask? Well, the mission of the Civil Service Commission was to stamp our cronyism and ensure government employees were hired based on their merits rather than by quid pro quo appointments.

Wanting to prove to the country he was his own man, Roosevelt started his work to clean up the federal government in, of all places, Indianapolis, Indiana, Benjamin Harrison’s own backyard!

Roosevelt continued living on the edge throughout his entire career. Always challenging the status quo, always pushing the envelope. While this did not win many fans with the party bosses, who oft times were targets, it did make him one of the most popular presidents in history.

When you think of living life on the edge, what images come to mind? Bleeding edge? Cutting edge? Edge of the earth? Each of these conjure up the dangers associated with the “edge”.

leadership, business, historyI’d like to give you a new image to consider for living on the edge. Many of you who know me, know I am a river rat. I would rather be canoeing a river than doing just about anything else on the planet. A technique for making your way downstream in turbulent waters is to use the eddies, those calm areas of water that form behind an obstruction. A canoeist or kayaker can enter the eddy, rest, regather, regroup, and scout the river ahead.

Using the eddies is not without its dangers, however. Entering and exiting the eddy can be challenging. The line (eddy line) or edge that forms between the fast flowing water of the main channel and the calm, still waters of the eddy can be difficult to navigate. One has to attack the edge at just the right angle to enter the eddy. When ready to proceed, one again has to attack the edge with confidence to re-enter the river.

Roosevelt knew when he need to recharge and regroup, but he also knew to make progress and to make change, as a leader, you have to attack the edge!

George Marshall & Dwight D. Eisenhower: Train for the Future

leadership, business, history

It was early in the 1940’s and history was about to repeat itself. Europe was already engulfed in war and it was only a matter of time before the U.S. would get involved. Over the last several months, the U.S. built its fighting force. From a peacetime corp, the military ranks swelled to 1.4 million soldiers.

The few remaining veterans were comfortable re-fighting World War I. However, Nazi Germany had done in four months with it’s predecessor had not done in four years…seize all of Europe. Marshall knew these new soldiers would need to be trained before the U.S. entered the fray. To accomplish this training he ordered war games to take place in Louisiana, known to history has the Louisiana Maneuvers.

With that order, more than 500,000 soldiers descended upon Louisiana and some other southern states. But Marshall was doing more than just training the troops. He was looking for leaders. He was looking for leaders that could demonstrate a new approach, not just use the same tired techniques because they “worked in the past”. In short, he was looking for Colonels who could be Generals.

leadership, business, history31 of the 42 Division Commanders were replaced during or after the Louisiana Maneuvers. Among those new leaders? Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Business has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. What worked in the past will not work today. Business is changing at an ever increasing pace. What works today will not work in the future. We need new skills, we need new processes. Will the next generation of leaders be ready? Can we help them see the future? Can we help them see the new skills? Can we help them be ready to lead their teams?

Like Marshall, we have to train for the future!

Lewis and Clark & Thomas Jefferson

leadership, business, history(You knew they’d be in here somewhere, didn’t you?)

It was 1806. The Lewis and Clark Expedition had departed from St. Louis almost three years prior. They had traveled about five or six thousand miles by boat, by foot, by canoe. They had narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Teton Sioux, nearly froze to death in the harsh winters, survived temperatures in excess of 100 degrees, and had to eat their horses to survive starvation in the Rocky Mountains. Now, finally on their way back home to “those United States” they were stuck. The snow on the mountains was too deep to cross. They returned to the Nez Perce villages and waited….almost two months.

During this time they developed a new plan for their return trip.  Over the course of the journey the Captains had learned some facts that Jefferson could not have known. Armed with this new information they had a choice. They could wait…return to civilization…provide the information to Jefferson…ask him what to do, then carry out his instructions. Or, they could take a risk! Based on their knowledge of Jefferson, their knowledge of the new facts, and an understanding of the goals of the mission…they decided to split into four groups.

leadership, business, historyPretty significant risk, wouldn’t you say? Dividing what was already a small Corps into four smaller teams and heading out into the still very much unknown? Call it taking risks, call it taking initiative. To be a leader, we have to know when to take these types of educated risks. History does not tell us about Jefferson’s reaction to this risk, nor do we know the “what ifs”. The decision could have lead to untold catastrophes. How would Jefferson have reacted if their journals had been destroyed, or if they had lost some of the precious discoveries, or if some of them had been killed? As leaders, not only do we have to be willing to take risks, but we have to provide an environment and a culture for our employees, leaders and future leaders, to be able to take risks, to be able to fail, and to be able to succeed.

Progress and Change

The worlds of business and technology are changing at an ever accelerating pace. We as leaders need to understand where we have been, as well as, see where we are going. We must become comfortable living on the edge, or risk being sucked into the whirlpool of the status quo. We must train our teams and our leaders for the future. What worked in the past will not work in the days ahead. We must also know when to take educated risks and provide an environment that empowers our teams to take risks, lest we leave significant “discoveries” on the table.

History can and does repeat itself, regardless of the lessons learned. Armed with your knowledge of the past, how will you make progress by changing the future? Let’s revisit Mr. Santayana and his quote…in context:

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This post is derived from a talk by the same name given for Sparks Tech. View the video here.

 

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Life, Family, Love, Leadership and History:  Rivers of Thought
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family, history, World War I, Veteran's DayHe was exhausted. Just nine short months ago he stood at the train depot in Grand Rapids, Wisconsin. A young man of 19, ready to join the war and give the Kaizer his due. Now he crouched in a trench surrounded by the smell of death just outside Soisson, France. Mortar fire exploded around him. He had already held too many friends as they died. The Germans had taken the city. The Americans were there to take it back.

That afternoon, like so many others the last few weeks, over what passed for a meal, he reached in his knapsack and pulled out a small envelope. Inside the envelope was a book. A handwritten book. A book written by his sweet Mary, the girl back home. In the book were pictures of friends, family and familiar places. His hands shook as he turned the pages remembering secrets shared with his beloved. What’s that? Orders from Command? Advance on the city? Quickly, he kissed the book, slide it carefully back in its envelope and tucked it in his knapsack.

Over the next few days the fighting was intense. The Germans were falling back. This city was ours! With hardly a moment’s rest they took control, pushing the front lines. All this fighting, all this death for a few hundred meters of gain. Finally, a moment of respite. He reached inside his knapsack longing to stare at her face. But wait…where is it? Desperately, he dumped his knapsack on the ground. The meager supplies scattered in the mud. No envelope. No book.
-Summer, 1918
 
A year later, the war was over, the soldiers mustered out and returned home. The postman walks his route. He delivers a lone letter, addressed to young Mary, the school teacher, postmarked New York. Mary was curious. Since her Hal returned six weeks ago from defeating Germany, she rarely received a post. She tore open the envelope to find a letter…and a book…a handwritten book…a book lost somewhere along the front, near Soisson, France.  Tears streamed down her cheeks, she could hardly call Hal’s name. Thinking something was horribly wrong, Hal raced to her side. Seeing the book, her took her in his arms and held her tight.
-Summer, 1919

Eighty five years later, I sat just off the main square of Soisson, waiting. Waiting until my mother would be awake back in the history, leadership, family, world war Istates. Finally, it would be 7AM back home. My dad answered. Hi dad, can I talk to mom? Hello? Hi, mom, can you guess where I am? No….where are you? Mom, I am sitting at a restaurant in Soisson. Like her mother 85 years prior, she started to cry. She could hardly call my dad’s name. Gene, Jeff is in Soisson. Soisson? What’s he doing in Soisson? The book, Gene, the book. Dad’s book from the war.

Dad got on the other phone as I told them about my excursion. I had been traveling back and forth to France for the last several years for my job. This trip required that I stay over a weekend. So, rather than being a tourist around Paris, I rented a car and headed north. I had heard the story of the book for years. My grandfather was a Doughboy in World War I, The Great War. My grandmother had sent him the handmade scrapbook to help get him (and her) through the time apart. Somewhere in battle he lost the book. A Sargeant Doss from New York found the book and carried it all the way home with him. Within days after arriving back in the states he sent it to my grandmother stating “I can write about only hoping to get an answer some time in the future pertaining to young man as I don’t know where he got through this awful worlds (sic) war.” I wanted to follow in his steps.

Soisson Memorial 4 - EditedSo, after getting lost trying to leave Charles DeGaulle Airport, getting stuck while a peloton from a local bike race had the road closed, dropping my cell phone (and my safety net) in the middle of a highway while crossing to a military cemetery and having it hit by a motorcyclist, I was finally in Soisson. I wandered throughout the city. It was a beautiful summer day, a group of men were playing Pétanque in the park, women bustled in and out of the shops. No one gave notice to American snapping photos of the monuments. That afternoon I stood at the Oise-Aisne American Memorial, among its 6,000 crosses, so many crosses. So many names. So many stories.Soisson Memorial 6 - Edited

Later, after getting lost again. Later, back at my hotel. Later, after learning “Ne pas retirer le disque du lecteur” on the dashboard of my rental car meant there was a Nav system (NOW they tell me!). I thought about that young couple, about their love, about their sacrifice. I thought about the thousands of men, the thousands of women who sacrifice. It is not only the dead who sacrifice. Anyone who serves gives of them self. Anyone who loves those that serve give of themselves. We can never repay our debt to those who sacrifice for us. Today is Veteran’s Day…Armistice Day. On the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month there shall be peace. Take some time today to remember those who sacrificed. Take some time to say thank you to those you know who have sacrificed.

Greg Friend, thank you!
Jason Matthews, thank you!
Tommy Brinkman, thank you!
Nick Justice, thank you!

To all who have served or are serving, thank you for your sacrifice!

Author’s Note: The Donut Man was a Doughboy – Many who know me and those that read Rivers of Thought know of my annual “day of remembrance” of my grandfather, who I knew as “The Donut Man”. Through this handwritten book, I have come to know him as a Doughboy, as well.

leadership, family, history, World War I, Veterans Day

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business, history, leadership, #RooseveltRiverIt has been a wild, adventure filled ride down the #RooseveltRiver. There have been many twists and turns; rapids; calm, still waters; fast water and waterfalls. No matter the type of water, there have been lessons to learn. I think one of the most important lessons I learned is, that like a river, the lessons are always changing and never the same. The gift of a great teacher is a lesson that teaches anew as life changes around you and as you change with life.

There is an often misquoted line from George Santayana from his book “Reason in Common Sense” that goes “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” As Dan Miller will remind you, history DOES repeat itself. It is those who do not learn its lessons that are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past. And what worked in the past, may not work this time around.

“Train for the future”. Think about that for a minute. On the surface, it seems to contradict the premise of this whole series. How do you “train for the future” if you are studying the past? Personally, I am a business technologist (ok, I am in IT, but I am not an “IT Guy”, I am a business person that understands technology and how to apply it to business). Our roles are dramatically changing and at lighting fast speed. If we don’t have an eye on the future, we will become irrelevant overnight. If we don’t understand the past and the lessons it provides we will become dinosaurs. If we don’t provide solutions today we will fail. “Train for the Future”…what does that mean for you, in your world?

Lessons from the #RooseveltRiver

2013 –  The Year I Canoed with Theodore Roosevelt – A (somewhat) introduction to my study of Theodore Roosevelt and some of the lessons of leadership I encountered.

6th Grade and my Journey on the #RooseveltRiver Begins – Accenting a strength can help you overcome a weakness.

Lola Takes a Walk on the Wild Side of the #RooseveltRiver – A lesson in persona from my dear brother Mitchell (and Teddy, of course).

Rapids on the #RooseveltRiver – Living Life on the Edge – A leader lives life on the edge, pulling those around her out of the center.

Blue Bloods’ Frank Reagan Paddles the #RooseveltRiver – TV imitates life and teaches us all a lesson in leadership.

Two Keys to Great Leadership – The Rough Riders Join #RooseveltRiver – Lessons from history can reveal the keys to Leadership (sorry, you have to read the post to find the keys…didn’t think I was going to tell here, did you?)

1,000 Words vs. an Image – Snapshots from the #RooseveltRiver – Great leaders know the power of using images to convey ideas.

Dad Paddles the #RooseveltRiver – My REAL hero joins Teddy and I on the river for a lesson in leadership.

Marty McFly Changes History on the #RooseveltRiver – Travel “Back to the Future” to learn about decision points and how great leaders leverage them.

The #RooseveltRiver Flows into the River of Doubt – Poor planning can lead to catastrophe. A great leader plans and organizes before executing.

Death Along the #RooseveltRiver – Relationships formed along the river are vital to us as leaders and as human beings.

business, leadership, history, #RooseveltRiver

www.whitehouse.gov

A river, like life, comes to an end. Some rivers simply disappear into the ground, all of its energy drained away. Some flow into lakes or oceans becoming indistinguishable. Many join with other rivers to create new, even more powerful rivers.

So many lessons…ever changing lessons. I would love to know which of these lessons stand out for you. Please leave a comment or send me a note.  Please share the lessons with your network. Remember, “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”

#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 +.

business, leadership, history, #RooseveltRiverIt was a cold, gray January day. The wind picked up the dusting of snow from the ground and flung it into their faces, stinging like needles. Tears froze to wind burned cheeks.  The casket was slowly lowered into the frozen ground. A lone bugler played taps. Slowly, one by one, the people who had gathered, made their way down the 26 steps, down the long hill, and out of the cemetery until a lone figure remained. He stood motionless. His gaze locked on the hole before him. Tears stained his ruddy cheeks. His long coat flapped in the wind. His lips moved as if talking. Was he saying goodbye? Was he saying a prayer? Was he saying words of forgiveness to his now dead friend?

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, died in the early hours of January 6, 1919. Now, two short days later, William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States, stood over his grave, weeping.  Slowly he gathered himself, blinked away tears, and trudged down the pathway.

Once dear friends and allies, the men had not spoken in the last seven years. Taft served as Roosevelt’s Vice President. Hand-picked by Roosevelt to succeed him as President. During his term of presidency, disagreements arose between the two men. Roosevelt, then out of politics began to counter Taft in the press. Roosevelt, still popular with many, publicly lambasted Taft. The chasm between the two former friends widen as Roosevelt decided to run against Taft for the Republican nomination in 1912. The break became insurmountable when, after losing the nomination to Taft, Roosevelt decided to run as a third party candidate, essentially splitting the vote and giving the Presidency to Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt shut Taft out of his life with hardly a second thought. Had Taft died first, would Roosevelt stood over his grave?

Yet, Taft made his way graveside that cold day in January. Later, in a letter to Edith Roosevelt, he would write, “I loved him always and cherish his memory.” A love and a friendship that survived, at least for Taft, despite the chasm created by words and deeds.

Reflecting on the relationship of Roosevelt and Taft really causes reflection on my own relationships. Is there someone with whom such a rift is present? Will someone be standing over my grave saying their peace to me or their god? Or, will I be standing over someone’s grave doing the same? It’s not hard to imagine in a lifetime of relationships that we have all been Taft and we have all been Roosevelt. What would you say on that cold wintry day? If you were aware of such an injured relationship, would you try to repair it before the end?

When I first heard the story, my mind immediately leapt to my sister. Our relationship had been fractured for many years. Incidents, actions, and words had created schism between us that I saw no hope of ever closing. At times it has felt like the Grand Canyon. However, in the last year we have started, with the help of my wife and my sister’s husband, we have begun to build a bridge. Over time, with continued conversation and understanding, the bridge will be fortified. It isn’t quite a Taft-Roosevelt moment, but it very well could have been.

As I think back over my professional life and reflect on the relationships formed there. Over the years I have had to have many of those “life altering conversations”, either because of downsizing, performance issues, or the dreaded “the company has outgrown you”. I tried to treat each person with respect, dignity and compassion. Some of those conversations were with colleagues that I considered friends. One such friendship survived the downsizing conversation at two different companies (yes the friendship survived, but I am guessing he won’t come work for me again!). Another relocated his family to accept a job offer from me and a year later we had to have the downsizing conversation. Amazingly to me, that friendship survived as well.

The one relationship that comes the closest to a Taft-Roosevelt relationship (and I am mortified to say, I was the “Roosevelt” in this situation) was with a friend. She and I had worked together for almost to a decade. During this time, we had become very close and developed a deep caring for each other. I can honestly say, I loved her (not in a romantic way, mind you). We shared many of life’s trials, tribulations, and celebrations. As my career progressed and I started moving in different circles, we grew apart. Still working for the same company, but no longer interacting on a daily basis. Some of it was the natural outcome of no longer working together on the same projects, but some of it was intentional on my part to “distance the relationship” as I first became her boss, then her boss’ boss, then her…well you get the idea. Years passed. Then…then she got sick. Very sick. Dying sick. The day I went to visit her in the hospital, no one was with her. Her husband, must have stepped out. The nurses were off doing their nursing-thing with other patients. It was just she and I. The only sound in the room came from the machines attached to her. She was in the final stages and was not conscious. I stood by her bed, stroked her hair, and told my friend I loved her. Did she hear me? Did she know? I was too late.

This series is about leadership and the lessons about leadership I learned while traveling with Teddy Roosevelt. What lesson can

business, leadership,history, #RooseveltRiver

AP Photo

be learned from the lone figure alongside the grave? Perhaps the lesson is to value the person, value the relationship, even when delivering bad news, or even when circumstances pull you apart. Lead from a position of empathy for the impact your words and deeds have on those around you. Perhaps the lesson is the old adage “you can be friendly, but you can’t be friends” just isn’t true.

#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 and let me know your thoughts! 

Find me on LinkedIn. Read my Posts on business and business relationships. 

Follow me on Twitter (@jtongici)

Add me to your circles on Google+

Read my Posts on the changing role of the CIO  posts on Intel’s IT Peer Network

 

business, leadership, history, #rooseveltriver

Theodore Roosevelt Collection – Harvard University

The former President of the United States lay near death. His body wracked with fever from a gash on his leg. Starvation leaving him weak and somewhat delirious. Hundreds of miles from any place remotely resembling civilization. Surrounded by rainforest jungles filled with predatory animals, the most dangerous of which were the natives, some of who were known to be cannibals. Those traveling with him, near starvation themselves, wrote in their journals he would not make it through the night. Roosevelt, himself drifting out of consciousness and delirium, contemplated sending the party on its way so he could take a fatal dose of morphine.

How did Theodore Roosevelt find himself in this situation alongside The River of Doubt, a tributary of the Amazon River in the remote Amazonian jungle…just 18 months removed from the election of 1912 (Marty McFly Changes History on the #RooseveltRiver) and five years removed from being President of the most powerful nation in the world? I’ll tell you how…poor planning and lack of organization! Yes, I said poor planning and lack of organization!

In early 1913, fresh off his personally humiliating defeat, Roosevelt was offered an opportunity to deliver a series of speeches in Brazil and Chile. As was his pattern when faced with life crisis, Roosevelt sought adventure and physical challenge. This time was no different. He began contemplating an expedition while visiting South America. Enter Father John Augustine Zahm. Zahm had approached Roosevelt several years earlier regarding the possibility of an Amazon River excursion. Coincidences brought them together again just as each man was formulating ideas for an adventure. Roosevelt agreed to a river expedition and put Zahm in charge of planning. As planning continued, Roosevelt thought of the expedition as a “delightful holiday”. Zahm, in the meantime met a sporting goods store clerk who Zahm immediately invited to join the expedition and put in charge of the procuring the provisions and equipment.

business, leadership, history, #rooseveltriver

Theodore Roosevelt Collection – Harvard University

As the time neared, the expedition hired a guide, Colonel Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon. The hiring of Rondon is probably the main reason Roosevelt survived, however, Rondon assumed Roosevelt was merely on a hunting expedition like the safari in Africa he had written about years before.

The final ingredient in our recipe of disaster came as Roosevelt’s party arrived in Brazil. They decided rather than a wilderness trip through dangerous but known waters, they would explore a river in which no civilized man had ever dipped a paddle, the Rio Da Duvida, the River of Doubt. To help fund the trip, Rondon would map the river from the headwaters to the confluence with the Amazon during the expedition.

So there you have it. An expedition into the unknown, dreamed by a former president who had “checked out” on the planning (and, some would say, on life), planned by a Priest with no experience leading an expedition of this nature, who delegated the supplies to a store clerk, and a member of the Brazilian army whose goal was to map the river. Three leaders with entirely different goals, no plans to speak of, a change of rivers, and woefully inadequate supplies. (For an outstanding recounting of the expedition and it’s trials and tribulations, I highly recommend “The River of Doubt – Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey” by Candice Millard.)

Contrast this with the Lewis and Clark Expedition over one hundred years prior. That expedition had been planned from start to finish, down to the nth degree of detail. The two Captains, were of singular mind, with a singular goal. While by the very nature of an expedition into the unknown, you cannot plan for every occurrence, they had each other and they had the men, all with a singular purpose. When trouble arose, and it did, they relied on their planning and their organization to overcome and proceed on.

As business leaders today, we cannot take our companies on expeditions into the unknown without proper planning and organization. We start with a vision that answers the question “what”, we create a strategy that answers the question “why”, and then develop a plan that answers the question “how”. We cannot divorce ourselves from the planning process. We may not be involved in every detail, but we must stay engaged.

We select qualified and strong leaders and, while we give them autonomy, we do not relieve them of accountability. We put processes in place to help the men and women of the expedition to respond to the challenges day to day. We create an organization that can react and respond to the unknown. We continually review the information before us and adjust the plan when and where necessary, never losing sight of the ultimate vision and goal.

Roosevelt did survive his lack of planning and poor organization. It could have just as easily been an entirely different story, a story of a former President of the United States perishing in the jungle, or disappearing into the unknown never to be seen again. As with Roosevelt, some organizations are able to overcome the lack of vision, strategy or a plan and survive. Most, however, are acquired, bankrupted, or they just plain disappear into the unknown.

#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 +.

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 +.