Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How Do I Define Myself? Let Me Count the Ways...

How do you define yourself? With the pressures mounting in our economic meltdown, we struggle to figure out who we are. Who are you? Why do we get so confused thinking that our careers, bank accounts, houses, cars, and stock portfolios provide a view of who we are when none of that truly defines us? I’ve struggled with this tension for quite awhile. As much as I’d like to deny it, my focus has been on defining myself by my role in my career.

Earlier this year I had to make a choice between my wife’s well being and my role within my organization. I was in the “rock star” job where I had an overabundance of autonomy and could virtually make whatever decisions I wanted as I lead my business unit. I love leading and developing people, building teams, and growing business.

At the same time, the medical team caring for my wife, pushed for us to pack up and move to a place that would potentially promote her healing. This began a long process in which I felt like I was in the main event of Monday Night Raw pitted against my identity. I was afraid that if we moved and my role changed, I would lose myself.

In that struggle, I figured out that I had gotten confused and had forgotten who I really was. I had fallen for finding my identity in my role and vision for my career vs. the real things that mattered – my faith and my family. I wanted to be the only husband my wife ever had, and the only dad my boys ever have. At that moment of brutal honestly and self-awareness, my priorities changed and we began the process of moving.

We moved in August. I went backwards in my career but so many other parts of my life went forward. The most important is that my wife is recovering and my long lost love is coming back to me. My boys are experiencing life with a mom that they haven’t seen in almost three years. It’s awesome.

Let’s be clear. I’m not perfect and am still learning about my identity. What makes up who I am? I am learning that there is more to me than I thought. This is just the beginning: I am a child of God, a husband, a dad, a leader, and a salesperson.

I am a people developer, a teacher, a mentor, a writer, a communicator, a team builder, and a business grower. 

I am creative, I am fun, I am crazy, I am not satisfied with being average, I establish positive relationships, I care about others, I am a difference maker, I am not a quitter, and I focus on being a good example to my boys, and train them to be leaders worth following.

I live authentically with no regrets. I am so much more than I thought I was. I love Suzy Welch’s quote: I am not the person I once was, but am not yet the person I will become.

How do you define yourself?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Catching Up with April

A couple weeks ago, my friend Jason Stiger offered to fly me to Michigan and speak at an event for 65 high school students. It was called Ignition and for three days we wrestled with forgiveness, decision making, and choosing to do things that are tough.  It was a moving weekend with some amazing memories. While I was there, Jason and I had the opportunity to meet up with one of my old friends named April, who is now the general manager of a popular restaurant. She and I worked together at a different restaurant in college and had loads of fun together with our customers and co-workers. I want to share some parts of our conversation that night. Enjoy.

What did you learn from opening a new restaurant?

April moved to Texas a couple years ago and opened a new restaurant for her company. She and one other person hand unloaded a 53' truck or two consisting of parts of the restaurant in the sweltering Texas summer heat. They had to set much of the restaurant up themselves – including the kitchen. Next came interviewing and hiring staff. They met with hundreds of people in the matter of a couple days. I asked her how she and her partner were able to churn through so many people. She said, “I had a couple basic questions and that was it. If they answered them right and I had a good feeling, I hired them. If not, it was on to the next person.” April used her gut to decide whether or not someone would fit. But understand, it wasn’t a blind gut feeling, but more of a gut feeling based on years of experience knowing what makes restaurants and servers exceptional.

The restaurant opened and grew. So what did she learn? “Setting up a restaurant is HARD WORK. Nothing is given to you. It is up to you to make it your own. It helped me appreciate where I am now.” What a great lesson! Nothing worth doing is easy. Meaningful accomplishments require hard work and sacrifice. Do I sound like your dad yet? I digress….

How do you connect with your current staff?

After the Texas restaurant opened and grew, she moved back to Michigan to take over a restaurant already established. I noticed that her staff of college-aged students was attentive and friendly, which goes against what most of us are used to. I asked her what she thought of her current staff and she said, “They’re amazing and they work so hard. I needed to get the inside of our restaurant painted, so I was going to come in late a few nights and take care of it. When some of the staff found out, they all wanted to come and help me. They knew it wouldn’t be paid time, but they didn’t care. I am so blessed.” I told her that was ultimately a mark of her leadership and that she has obviously connected with her staff. I asked her how she does that and she commented, “They’re great people and they’re all so busy going to school and working here. I’m amazed at what they get done.” It didn’t take long to see that April had created an environment of fun as we continued to carry on. If I was a betting man, I’d say that April’s staff knows she cares about them and that each one isn’t just an employee, but someone she has the privilege of leading.

Years ago, without knowing it, April and I learned together the power of creating a fun, working environment that promoted connection. It provided meaning and purpose and helped us see beyond our own needs. As we looked back, we shared how fortunate we were to work with the group we did, and how much we learned. Of course the night wasn’t complete without some embarrassing stories accompanied by endless laughter. I think Jason was an entertained fly on the wall.

Jason, thank you for letting us take the time to connect with April, and for letting me serve you and your students.

April, thank you for so many memories, laughs, and lessons. You’re a rock star and I’m a better leader because of you.

If you’re ever in Western Michigan and looking for a place for lunch or dinner, check out Chile’s in Portage and ask for April. She and her staff would love to serve you.