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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! 

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It had been over 20 years since I had been on a hay ride. I daresay, that probably holds true for the majority of the participants at the recent #GWTS2014Summit…but let me start at the beginning. Leadership, Business, Management

A year ago, we put a twist in our annual budget and planning cycle. Many companies and departments conduct offsite planning “summits” and we had always done much the same. In 2012 we added something I had talked about doing for years. We invited some of our vendors to participate. To be invited, the vendor had to be a “strategic partner” (see “Three Keys to a Lasting Relationship“). So, after my management team had spent a day and a half reviewing business plans, trends in the industry, and trends in technology, our vendors arrived. We spent the remainder of the second day reviewing those plans with them, asking for feedback, and asking for general questions.  For the inaugural event, the feedback we received afterward was very positive, enough so to repeat in 2013.

Always looking to improve and listening to the feedback from the that first event, we made some changes to the format.

First of the changes…Twitter and the hashtags. As I talked about in a previous post, Twitter is my new way of taking notes at conferences (see I will never take notes again). I thought…”why not”. So, I created the hashtag and began tweeting first thing in the morning of day one. I encouraged my team to join in (though I must say NO ONE DID, ahem, are you listening?). I also sent a note to the entire department and our vendor partners suggesting they follow along with the activities through Twitter. Our day began in the Roosevelt Room at Fort Harrison State Park (ok, that is significant, but to find out why, you have to read a future post about my journey with Theodore Roosevelt).

Day one was focused on internal discussions with our management team. We reviewed business and infrastructure plans, however, we dedicated the meat of the day to open discussion, about the department, our company, and where we are versus where we want to be. Believe it or not we ran out of time!

As day one of discussions came to a close, it was time for another departure from the prior year. As I mentioned, last year the partners came at the end of day two. While the conversation was good, I believed it could have been better. So, this year, we had the partners join us for dinner at the end of day one (now before anyone reading this panics and thinks we bought dinner for 35 vendors, we did not, we asked that each vendor attending pay for their own meal. There, feel better?). The dinner was catered by the park at one of their shelter houses.

My team and I headed down to the shelter house while our guests began to arrive. Many had met the year before, or had been involved in joint meetings with us. However, there were some new faces to introduce to each other. This was one of the reasons for the shift to the end of day one…to get the introductions out of the way. Keep in mind, some of these vendors represented companies that were competitors of each other (not on our account mind you, but competitors in the market just the same). We had warned them all to put on their big boy and big girl pants for the event; it was after all about transparency and dialogue.

Gradually, the conversation began to shift from introductions into curiosity. Why HAD they been instructed to dress casually and wear outdoor shoes? Where we going to hike? Where we going to have a scavenger hunt? Maybe, a “vendor challenge”? (btw nice tennies, Steve!) Soon the sound of a large tractor could be heard in the distance. Since only two of knew what was happening, no one noticed. Moments later a large John Deere (Dave, picture our John Deere salute here!) tractor pulled into the parking lot next to the shelter house. It was pulling two large wagons filled with hay. Still, not many noticed.

I stood up on one the picnic tables to get everyone’s attention and announced, “Before dinner, we have a surprise for all of you! You may notice the two wagons behind me, everybody…follow me and pile in, we are going on a hayride”. At first the crowd didn’t move, as if they thought I was kidding. Me? Kid? I don’t think so…let’s go folks EVERYBODY IN!  Finally, 40+ of Indianapolis’ finest business people were piled in the two wagons and we headed out for a 45 minute tour of Fort Harrison State Park.

Business, Management, LeadershipAt first there was some awkward chit-chat and bemusement, I don’t think many of them could believe we were actually on a hay ride. The further along the pathways we traveled, the polite chit-chat gave way to laughter, spirited conversation and picture taking.  You could sit and watch the inner child come out. By the time, we were halfway done, there was debate about which wagon was the “cool, more fun wagon”. (Personally, I think the one I was in was the cool wagon!).

After the adventure, the dinner was served. I think the hay ride dominated the conversation at most of the tables.

The next morning as we gathered in the Roosevelt Room, the evenings activities had the exact effect we were looking to achieve. The greetings were boisterous, the conversation lively, and…the ice had been broken. We kicked off the meeting with a special guest and a dear friend of mine, Dr. Dan Miller of Historical Solutions (www.historicalsolutions.com). Dan provides leadership training, team building, and executive coaching, all in the context of exploring history. Those of you who know my passion for Lewis and Clark would think we were twins separated at birth. Dan provided us with an historical perspective of our surroundings, in the Roosevelt room of For Harrison, the relationship between Teddy Roosevelt and Benjamin Harrison and an approach to planning, preparation and execution. There could not have been a more appropriate start to our day.

Next up, we reviewed the business and technology plans and highlighted our discussions of the day before with our partners. We then asked each partner to present their views on the trends they are seeing in their slice of the industry. I am sure it was tough, ask a bunch of business development people to get up in front of a room of 45 people and NOT SELL and only give them FIVE MINUTES, it had to be tough! (Ok, to be honest, next year, I am going to edit their slides beforehand and remove any of those “here is who we are, how much we sell, and who our customers are” slides!) Check out the Twitter hashtag (#GWTS2014Summit) to see some of the highlights from the round-robin presentations.

We spent the remainder of the morning in a group discussion of our projects, the trends, business issues, and our direction. In addition to some great thoughts, I believe there were several business connections made within the group and some ideas for additional areas of partnership with us were formulated.

Our partners left at the end of the morning discussion, we were then joined by our newly formed architecture team. We spent the next couple of hours diving into discussion topics specific to our technology architecture. By mid-afternoon, we were joined by the remainder of the team and we jumped into topics about process, team dynamics, and communication.

Overall, it was a very successful summit. We learned a a lot from each segment, solidified our roadmap, and potentially made some connections for business. We are already planning next year’s event and how to make it even better…hmmmmm, something like “Vendor Wipe Out” comes to mind….

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 +.