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business, leadership, education

Copyright Warner Bros.

Scarecrow: You promised us real things — a real…brain!

Tin Man: A real heart!

Lion: Real courage. That’s what we want.

Wizard: You do? boys, you’re aiming low. You not only surprise, but you grieve me.

Why, anybody can have a brain.  That’s a very mediocre commodity.  Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the earth — or slinks through slimy seas has a brain!

From the rock-bound coast of Maine to the Sun…. oh – oh, no — — ah – Well, be that as it may. Back where I come from we have universities, seats of great learning — where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts — and with no more brains than you have…. But!  They have one thing you haven’t got!  A diploma!

Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitatus Committeeatum e plurbis unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of Th.D.

Scarecrow: Th.D.?

Wizard: Yeah — that…that’s Dr. of Thinkology!

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum; Copyright Warner Bros.

 

I have a confession. I do not have a Master’s Degree…I don’t even have a Bachelor’s Degree. There I said it. I feel better! I am glad to get that off my chest! While it has never really been a secret, it is something that I have kept close to the vest for ages. It’s amazing to me how often it comes up in conversation. “I graduated from IU” or “I graduated from Purdue”, or “I graduated from Notre Dame”, or UCLA, UK, BSU, Wisconsin, THE Ohio State University, or countless others…and then…”Where is your Alma Mater?” How do I answer THAT? I usually reply, rather self-consciously, “I went to Indiana State”, or “I went to Judson”, (which is true, I attended both), being very careful NOT to say I graduated from…

You see, I was going to be a rock star! Hey, it was the 70’s, it’s all I ever wanted to do from my the age of 10 or 11. I left for college at Indiana State to major in Music Theory and Composition. I discovered very quickly…you have to have talent! I did not. Over the next couple of years, I got married, transferred schools, and my first son was born. To provide for my family, I put my college studies on hold and began to work one, two and sometimes three jobs.

Honestly, the hold was never removed. By the time my wife finished her degree and we were in a position for me to go back to school, I was teaching college level computer classes. Say what? Yep, I was teaching night classes at a local university in computer programming, word processing and data processing. How that happened is really the story of how I have achieved all that I have achieved in my professional life. Its really a story of lifelong learning.

While I was working collections for Visa in Chicago, I had the opportunity to be assigned to the project team working on their new computer system. I was the end-user helping to define the requirements for the collections modules. A couple years later, after a move to Indianapolis, I found myself in the same position. We were gathering requirements for a new computer system and I was assigned to be the user representative. But, something was different this time. IBM had released what they called the Personal Computer. Microsoft and CPM were in a battle for supremacy of the Operating system and I had purchased a Commodore 64. I had found my calling! I was in LOVE!

At the time, I was riding a bus about an hour each way to work. I was driven. I was going to move from the user department to the IT department come hell or high water. During those long bus rides I devoured every college level computer textbook I could get my hands on…System Development Life Cycle, Relational Database Theory, PL/I, IMS (hey that’s what the new system was using) and countless others.

I received my first break when a job opened up running the print room in the IT department. My job? Pull the green-bar printouts off the printer and deliver them to the programmers. It was REALLY glamorous. A few months later, Joan gave me my first big break and hired me onto the development team writing the software for…the credit card collections department.

To say I taught myself everything I know about software development would not be fair to the countless professionals who coached, guided, and taught me along the way. I owe a huge thanks to Lynda, Bob, Steve, Jerry, Glenn, Beth and dozens of others.

I did the same when it was time (past time) to move into a “management position”. Again, I devoured every book I could get my hands on. I read so many, I could not even do the authors justice by trying to list them here. The point is…my devotion to lifelong learning continued.

Over the span of several years, I progressed from supervisor, to manager, to director. At that point, I was managing a team of about 50 internal employees and an additional 100 contract employees on several continents. The majority of my staff were split between the US and France. It became very obvious to me that there were communication issues among the team. So what did I do? I hired a tutor and began to learn French! I learned very quickly, it goes a long way if you try to learn the culture, try to learn the language, try to meet the people where they are…not expect them to meet you where you are!

As my career progressed, I felt I was ready for my first IT leadership position. I was given the CIO role at a small but fast growing company. There my study changed from management to leadership. The first step was to examine myself without any of the guises of self-deception and identity strengths, weaknesses and my personal brand. Again, I dove into book, after book, after book. Again, I learned from peers and mentors (thanks Ron, Christine, Lori, Rick and others) I learned about creating a culture of excellence, developing leaders in your teams and servant leadership. I realized, I had been educated in leadership from a very young age. My dad is the definition of a servant leader. What a great example to follow.

The next step on my continuing journey came about five years ago. I attended the CIO Symposium at MIT. To say it was a life changing event does not even do it justice. The work they are doing in IT, technology, and business through the Sloan Business school struck a deep chord in me. I picked up a pamphlet on the MIT Sloan Executive Education Certificate Program. The course in the catalogue were compelling. But, I thought, I could never get in. I don’t have a degree. After all, this was MIT! After a few weeks of internal struggle, I applied. Several days later, much to my surprise…I was accepted! That’s right..I was going to study at MI-freaking-T!

Which brings us to today. This past April I completed the final class in the Certificate Program in business, leadership, negotiationManagement and Leadership. I am very proud of where I am. I am not satisfied with where I am. I will continue to learn, I will continue to grow. The path I chose (I DID choose it, didn’t I?) was not easy. It is not a path I recommend to anyone. I will counsel my kids, my grandkids, and anyone who seeks my guidance, to get their degree. However, I will also counsel them that learning does not stop with graduation. To succeed, you have to continue to study, learn, and grow, through books, family, co-workers, bosses, employees, peers and mentors.

Perhaps my journey is the reason why Scarecrow was always my favorite Oz character.

Scarecrow: The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side.  Oh joy, rapture!  I’ve got a brain!

 

Who knew Oz was in Boston (Cambridge, actually)!??!

 

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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 +.

Last week I had the honor of sitting in on the Expository Writing class at one of our high schools (What? you didn’t know Goodwill operates high schools? Check out http://www.indianapolismet.org/ and http://www.excelcenter.org/. Yep, that’s us!). This class, taught by Eric Nentrup (Mr. Eric to the students), is either an English Core 40 requirement or general elective for Juniors and Seniors. I can tell you this…this was NOT your father’s writing class, nor was it anything like I experienced in high school!ipad

So, why was the CIO sitting in a high school writing class, anyway? Mr. Eric has always been a bit of a rogue, pushing the envelope of the digital boundaries of a typical corporation. To someone that has worked in Corporate IT for three and half decades, he tends to trigger my “command and control” reflexes. I realized several years ago, when that happens I need to seek to understand, because there is absolutely a learning moment for me around the corner.

What I witnessed was far more than a writing class. Was he teaching an approach for writing?  Absolutely, but he was also teaching current events, critical thinking, and something he calls “digital citizenship”.  Not only that but through his energy, enthusiasm and interactions, he was teaching them about relationships and the importance of bridging generations (at one point, one of the students even remarked, “I like how you talk to us. You talk to us like people, smart people.”).

We tend to think of this generation as very technologically advanced. Are they always connected and always on? Yes. Can they pick up most any device and figure out how to use it? Yes. Do they expect and demand immediate access to our connected world? Yes. But do they understand how to use technology to learn, grow and better their lives? Maybe not. That is where Mr. Eric (and others like him) come in. He teaches them responsible use of technology, how to leverage the connectivity of technology to understand the world around them and enhance their lives, and he teaches them respect for the technology (this goes as far as, how to leave the computer lab so the next class can start right up).

On the day I visited, the class was working on their thesis statements for their final paper, a six to eight page opinion paper on gun culture in the United States. Using a facilitated learning process, he guided them through a deep discussion on they topic and through the steps of taking their feelings and thoughts and developing a thesis statement.

From a pure technology perspective, the students sat down at the lab’s HP All-in-Ones and fired up their Chrome browsers. Once all the students were logged in to the Canvas Learning Management System, they followed the link Mr. Eric had placed in that day’s lesson plan, taking them to Mural.ly, where he had created the process map for them to follow, complete with research papers, websites, and news reports regarding gun violence, gun culture and the gun control debate. The students used Diigo.com to highlight and comment the citations that supported their views on the topic.

As they discussed the topic, one of the students asked how close in proximity was Sandy Hook to La Salle High School, sites of two recent episodes of school violence. Rather than answering the question, Mr. Eric suggested, “why don’t you jump on Google Maps and tells us?”. Within moments the class had the answer.

Mr. Eric brought up one of the student’s worksheets using Google Drive and Google Docs (using his iPad connected to a ceiling mounted Epson projector) so the class could edit the document collaboratively. Using her position statement, “I believe US citizens are not obsessed with guns, they are obsessed with the power that comes from guns.” (pretty insightful position coming from a teenager, wouldn’t you say?) The class worked together to develop the thesis for the paper, before being turned loose to develop their own positions and thesis. Even when Google Drive experienced a brief hiccup they didn’t miss a beat and learned a lesson in the Google Docs search capabilities.

I walked away from the class with an even deeper respect for the work our teachers do, day in and day out…the energy…the preparation…simply amazing. I met a dozen or so students, who treated their teacher with respect, were truly engaged in the topic, and who had some fascinating views on the topic. There were even a couple of students who had interest in IT as a career someday. I saw first hand how technology can be used to teach and, frankly, how it fades into the background so the students could focus on the message not the medium. I have always felt the responsibility that comes with a career in IT: the technology must work, and it must work well. Disruptions of services can have a significant impact on our partners. I walked away with a renewed sense of the awesomeness of our responsibilities. Bet you didn’t know you were teaching all THAT, Eric!

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 +.