Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Just because it was a tough year doesn't mean we can't be thankful.

It was a rough year.

Watching my seven year old son awake from eight hours of surgery and anticipating his next three months in a body cast was numbing.

Spending dinner with close family friends and reviewing travel photo albums with their beautiful daughter while her best friends, my daughters, were away visiting their cousins in Florida was delightful. It was devastating five days later when her father called to say she'd fallen into a terminal coma.

To lose the last vestige of someone I referred to as a mother die when my godmother died in December forced me to reflect on the passing of a wonderful generation of our family's WWII era cousins.

To see my mother's cousin's husband die made me wish for happier times, when we'd spend every Christmas Eve together.

To hear my first friend describe how most of the black kids from our NJ neighborhood died young makes me question community in America.

To learn two admired Brown classmates; one a freshman hall mate who evolved into an Ivy basketball star and the other a fraternity brother and football teammate, our star quarterback, diagnosed with MS and advanced lung cancer, respectively, was unbelievable given their devotion to life and health.

Reading about a once great firm, where my father toiled as an honest stockbroker for thirty five years only to leave in disgust when its senior executive mandated selling very suspect investment vehicles responsible for its ultimate demise, was surreal.

To see once vaunted security firms and banks, many with whom I verified and facilitated transactions during my college summer job, topple like dominoes was disheartening, and infuriating.

To see executives prosper under very little government regulation, and then to see them expect a government bailout because their firms' massive sizes, thanks to growth fostered by deregulation, forced no other alternative, makes me very suspect and condemning of the leadership in our country.

To see the CEO's of Chrysler, GM, and Ford, beg for a bailout after pushing gas guzzling products on American markets was a joke.

To hear a governor attempt to sell a senate seat was shocking.

To read a man swindled fifty billion dollars ($50,000,000,000) from his friends, clients, and charitable foundations is unimaginable. To realize the SEC and internal auditors let this perpetuate is reprehensible.

To watch: my son suffer, our friends go into shock over the loss of their daughter, my father shake his head, our family mourn, my hometown wash its hands of its needy, my classmates struggle, our society tailspin from the character flaws of its leaders is painful.

But there is hope.

My son is walking, running, and wrestling. The love and skill his surgeon and therapists, family, teachers, friends, and classmates expressed demonstrated great community, and fostered his resiliency.

Our friends' son is applying to, and qualified to attend, the best universities in the nation. His capacity to function at his high level in the wake of losing his sister is remarkable.

Our extended family added three new babies in the past year, laying groundwork for a new era of cousins.

My classmates are moving forward, exploring possible solutions and committing themselves to being in the moment; appreciating life day to day. The former basketball star's mother in law stated she likes him better now. He empathizes with, rather than critiques, those struggling.

Teammates returned from around the globe to spend time with our quarterback, and to watch the Brown Bears beat Harvard on Brown's march to an Ivy League Football Title.

Related to this, I met with a Japanese college fraternity brother for the first time in twenty five years when our business schedules connected us in San Francisco.

Our nation elected its first African American President. I was in Ireland on business during the election. Before the election, Irish people asked me about the candidates and expressed great fear and concern about Obama. After the election, every Irish person I spoke with was very excited about Obama and wished similar change would bestow Ireland. They stated America is great.

If anything, I hope Obama's election will give future generations of black men, unlike those from my old neighborhood who died young, a sense of direction and inspiration; to become contributors and problem solvers.

Thanks to faulty character and leadership, a slate is cleaned. Opportunity and scrutiny will welcome new leaders, and my hope is entrepreneurship and enterprise will again spark great innovation and opportunity in our nation.

I am inspired by my clients who make great things and provide great services. They spawn new markets and cultivate innovative opportunities.

I am thankful for my beautiful family and wonderful friends. If you are reading this, you fall into one of these two categories.

Grace, hope, faith, and love carried us through some very dark times in 2008. My Christmas and New Years Wish is for these good traits to bless you and your family so we may continue to grow and solve problems.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Where are the Leaders?

Just because someone is in a powerful position doesn't mean he or she is a leader.

Given:

I am very thankful I was born and raised in America. I can't think of a better place to live or a better system wherein to raise my family.

My great grandfather Julius was a Lithuanian immigrant. His first boss assaulted him while pushing Julius to a production record laying railroad tracks. After being stuck with a long pin in his backside, Julius, nicknamed "Bear" for his 18.5 inch neck, arms, and calves, turned and cold-cocked his abusive foreman.

Fearing deportation, or worse, Julius sprinted to his sponsor's apartment (in those days, in order to gain entry to the United States, immigrants had to pass rigorous physical exams and be supported by a family whose innate incentive was to make the new person self sufficient).

Hiding and shaking in his closet, the police arrived and escorted Julius to the courts where his sponsor and interpreter explained to the judge my ancestor's defense. The foreman, with his mangled nose and face, explained his side of the story.

The judge turned to the foreman and reprimanded him for assaulting a good worker, for creating a hostile environment. The judge stated new members of our society should be treated as our country's finest resources.

The judge then turned to Julius and told him his acts were justified. The judge also apologized for the foreman's abusive acts. In response, Julius stated, and repeated throughout his life: "this is a great county!"

Julius became a successful real estate investor and developer.

He raised four children, and became his community's patriarch, building its church, community center, and school.

Why do I share this story?

Doubt:

The collective goodness of our society is under scrutiny these days.

Trials:

Crisis in the financial sector, and the government's bailout, makes us question these leaders' character and competence. How could these firms' leaders be so incompetent? Would it be more prudent for governing bodies to monitor these investment firms and prevent collapse prior to bailing them out? Why bail them out if the firms were allowed to conduct business with little or no regulation?

Major flaws in presidential and vice presidential candidates highlight flaws in their selection process, and the media's integrity.

Even one of my former employers, a venerable football coach who preached humility, is being attacked for putting his ego and inability to step down ahead of the team's well being.

My corporate clients refer their very qualified family members to me for career coaching. We develop creative solutions despite the lack of opportunities stemming from poor leadership.

Few free enterprise opportunities are found in states where the government is the largest employer. Companies do not flock to areas where taxes and utilities are high, where labor is contentious, and where the legislature has a bad reputation.

As a nation, it feels like we are being stuck in our collective backsides by corrupt people in powerful positions. Yet, as in Julius' case, there appears to be no wise and benevolent leader protecting our interests.

In the brief time since my great grandfather came to the United States, its leadership seems to have deteriorated. The good traits trusted institutions taught, and my neighbors practiced, included selflessness, honesty, self criticism, and humility. They are overshadowed by current stories describing corporate greed, narcissism, selfishness, lies, and self promotion. Following suit, these behaviors appear more often in society.

Corporations are not totally at fault. The country's purported best universities teach, and demonstrate, a comparable pattern of short term, selfish acts, but they are not reported. When new university, and other "not for profit", presidents are selected, rather than demonstrate true leadership and be expected to solely influence their new constituents, they bring in henchmen, just like their weak corporate counterparts, to invoke fear and retribution for anyone not toeing the party line.

This is the antithesis of leadership, and I hear about it every week. This practice creates lemmings, and ultimate failure. Real iconoclasts are cast aside. These communities create followers who sound the same, look the same, and think the same. Actually, they don't think, they regurgitate. Crisis, exemplified by disasters in The Space Shuttle, in The Big Dig, and now on Wall Street, ensues.

Transcendence:

So what's the answer?

In Julius' era, there was a clearer sense of truth, or agreement on what was right and wrong. Clear judicial goals, roles, and processes facilitated healthier relationships, and fostered a collectived commitment towards common causes; namely, the country's viability and sustainability.

I witness this collective goodness when people reach outside of themselves to help a cause, or someone in need. It's productive, and it makes them happy.

Leadership, to me, taps a collective truth and inspires people to act in selfless and positive ways, with constructive outcomes. It builds more leaders and good results.

And, the best way to select a leader is to look for these factors in his or her past.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Noah's Recovery

Just because a 7 year old boy is in a body cast for 10 weeks doesn’t mean his life stops.

The good things we learned:


In the beginning, we moved Noah in his cast like prized China. By the end of the ten weeks, he was climbing from his bed to his wheelchair, unassisted, and maneuvering his wheel chair with precision and speed. He also pulled himself around on the floor, building his upper body. His spica cast weighed around sixty pounds, ran from his ribcage to his feet, with a two foot long bar separating his ankles. During the last few weeks in his cast, Noah climbed on my back to wrestle.

Visits are great.

Our first visitor at the hospital, following Noah's surgery, was Reverend Bob MacFarlane from Marion's First Congregational Church. He delivered Noah a hand knitted prayer shawl, created by the church's knitting club. Noah loved the visit and the shawl. He kept it on his lap. He also distinguished Reverend Bob from priests by stating: "Reverend Bob has a wife". This visit and gift helped us feel less alone in the process.

Noah’s grandma and grandpa visited twice. The first visit was during Noah’s first week in his cast when they offered to take Noah to “No Kidding Toys” in Mattapoisett. Before this, he did not want to leave the house. He was self conscious and concerned with being hurt in the transition. As soon as they offered their incentive, Noah was at the door in his wheelchair, asking people to speed up. By chance, one of his classmate’s, Ayana’s, mom was at the store and was very happy to see Noah. This added to his joy.

Noah’s uncle Brett visited twice. He focused on Noah and became a seven year old playmate for these weekends. They played video games, joked, and giggled most of the time. Noah loved this. When he had to, Brett encouraged Noah to take things positive.

A highlight was regular visits to Ned’s Point Lighthouse Park to fly a kite. Noah challenged himself to see how fast he could make the kite airborne. As a result, we learned about Buzzard’s Bay daily wind patterns. We also ate cheeseburgers and fried clams from the Oxford creamery, and fed seagulls.

We attracted close to 100 seagulls one day and opened the van’s side doors to see who could lure a seagull closest to the van. Uncle Brett won. He closed a French fry in the passenger window, and then stuck his finger out the window, like a French fry decoy. As a seagull gnawed on his knuckle, Brett jumped and Noah laughed until he cried.

When Brett arrived on his second visit it was past 11 PM, and I told him Noah had gone to sleep, but he could go in and say good night. As he entered the dark room, Brett was welcomed by Noah imitating Al Pacino in Scarface saying: “Say hello to my little friend.” Then, Noah emptied his new Nerf machine gun’s magazine on his uncle. Noah had waited all night for this surprise. Brett falling in hysterics made the wait worthwhile.

During his fifth week in the cast, I perched Noah on a jetty rock next to the water at low tide, to be close to feeding gulls and ducks. The rock allowed him to lean at about 70 degrees prone, his first resemblance of standing in over a month. He took a deep breath, smiled, and did not want to return to his regular, more horizontal, position.

The day Noah’s cast came off; I asked him what he considered most positive about the experience. He responded: “that’s easy dad; Mrs. Dineen”. Mrs. Dineen was Noah’s tutor. She visited almost daily for a few hours and kept Noah on track with his classmates’ curriculum. Her pleasant smile, kind manner, and calm disposition allowed Noah to focus and thrive.

Mrs. Dineen brought Noah Cherry Garcia ice cream after learning, during Noah’s report on his Lithuanian heritage, Jerry Garcia sponsored the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team with uniforms and tie died warm ups. During his report, Noah wore a tie-died tee shirt I received for supporting this effort.

We learned Lithuania gained its most recent independence from Russia in 1991. Prior to this, Russian Olympic Basketball teams were populated with Lithuanians. The fledging 1992 team needed funds and the Grateful Dead’s front man embraced their cause. In one of its greatest moments, Lithuania beat Russia for the 1992 Olympic Bronze Metal.

Noah was also visited by his teacher Mrs. Villa, his buddy Nick, his cousins Darya and Rachel, his Aunts Gail and Lisa, and classmates with their parents. We were also visited by PBGV breeders and their loving dog Lottie, who we met while investigating their handsome brood in Falmouth. My Brown roommate Arnold Lewis visited with his family, and Noah very much enjoyed playing with his son, Cameron.

We also dog sat for Gail and Darya’s year old Labrador, Reilly, and decided to walk Reilly to visit Nick. This evolved into a carriage ride as Reilly pulled Noah in his wheelchair down the street. Noah wanted to see how fast Reilly could pull him, but we stopped when his wheels vibrated, almost beyond control.

While in his cast, Noah also enjoyed going to the movies. He saw Iron Man and Indiana Jones, twice. He then wheeled around Target searching for respective, licensed toys he learned about while meeting his new Hasbro friends.

Gifts are welcomed.

My good Hasbro clients and friends learned Noah would be laid up for three months. They also learned he loves Star Wars and Indiana Jones. This led to Noah being invited and to visiting their Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Marvel design and selection teams a week prior to his surgery. He selected the next Ewok characters to be developed. He also left with a box full of Star Wars “test” toys.

In addition to his prayer shawl from church, Noah received a knitted blanket from hospital volunteers. These draped over Noah's cast, and comforted him.

My lifelong friend Fred Campbell-Mohn, his wife Celia, and their daughter Emma sent Noah very imaginative dragons and space toys, and the latest activities from Narnia. Another good Madison, NJ friend, Bernie Tiger, who now lives a few minutes from me in MA, also sent Noah very thoughtful space related gifts.

Noah’s uncles Jud and Robert and their families sent Noah fun packages including a squirting ring, fake spider gum, and whoopee cushions. I honestly fell for the spraying ring trick, several times. Robert was able to locate and send a discontinued Lego set Noah searched for and hoped for months to include in his collection.

Noah’s great aunts Jane and Peggy and great uncles Bob and George sent regular care packages including another special Lego set, a servant’s bell, harmonica, and another whoopee cushion – a constant gift from my mom’s side of the family. Noah loved these. My mother’s cousin Iris and her daughter Catherine, who were dealing with the demise of their husband and father, John, also sent Noah several creative play toys. His grandma’s sister Lois and her family also sent Noah a get well present.

Mrs. Villa delivered a signed and framed class picture and a box of gifts from their second grade class.

The head of Brown Alumni Relations sent Noah a Brown baseball cap.

It was amazing watching Noah’s face light up when he received a package. Thanks to so many people, this was his regular experience.

Notes are wonderful.

His grandma sent Noah a card at least every week. Iris, just as she sent me while I was at Brown, sent Noah very thoughtful weekly updates. My cousin Russell, his wife Jamie, and their son Sawyer utilized the internet to connect with Noah.

Nick delivered a box filled with cards from each of Noah’s classmates. These are precious. Ayana wrote; “I’m very worried about you. Call me.”

Even my sister Pam, who, I think, last sent me a note when I was in high school, sent Noah a get well card. I told him he must rank very high.

Noah’s room, our converted living room, included a hospital bed, a laptop computer with internet access, an Xbox, a Game Cube, a TV, DVDs, books, and toys. As the weeks progressed, the fireplace mantle, surrounding book shelves, and entertainment shelves were covered with cards, letters, and notes. These were constant reminders of concern and care.

Share the weight (wait).

When people asked the obligatory: “Hey, how’s it going?” rather than offering the rote response: “Good thanks. How’re you doing?” I trained myself to answer honestly: “It’s rough. My seven year old son Noah had major hip surgery and he’s in a body cast for ten weeks.” The responses were heartwarming and generous. People offered their time and support to help. It was sincere.

My clients are my coworkers, so I don’t have a normal office setting where I can share family updates and regular office chatter. My clients were aware of Noah’s condition. Some offered me more at home creative course design and workbook projects. This allowed me to be near and pitch in at home more readily. I really appreciate this consideration.

To supplement normal office support, I called our Reverend Bob MacFarlane weekly, visited friends like the Frantzes, and spoke to my college line mate and buddy Jeff Trauger on a, if possible, more regular basis. He refused to change his normal teasing and harassing treatment of me. I actually appreciated this.

Noah’s condition and its uncertain outcome – we won’t know if this procedure will prove successful for a few years, added a great deal of stress to our household. We did our best to not to let it destroy our relationships. We looked for opportunities to visit with positive people, to laugh, to learn, and to focus on positive outcomes. It was not easy. Either Linda or I spent every night on the couch next to Noah. It was like having a puppy or infant in the home again. Every basic function needed assistance.

Prayers and Positive Thoughts are Powerful.

Noah’s attitude and giggles kept us upbeat and humble. I kept wondering how I would manage if I was in a similar circumstance, and I could not fathom it. Every day he looked forward to new projects. He did very little whining. He attempted new challenges. He really looked forward to visits and packages. The cast did not victimize him, but made him search for ingenious methods to address his physical obstacles and challenges. We created funny stories, and made up funny voices while reading creative stories.

My sense is the good thoughts and prayers people sent Noah’s way had a very positive impact on his spirit and recovery. Thank you.

Also, it's impossible to write this type of recap without missing a thoughtful person, visit, note, or thought. So I apologize for my inevitable oversight and thank you for your support and help.

What we’d like to change:

Predictable Outcomes

It would have been nice to avoid or prevent the whole circumstance, but this was not in the cards. We waited until the last functional time for Dr. Michael Ehrlich to perform the surgery, hoping and waiting for Noah’s hip to correct itself, as is the case for most Legg – Perthes patients. As mentioned earlier, Noah was monitored, and in traction every night, since infancy. I hope to have more certainty about the surgery’s ultimate success.

Adult Responses

Some parental responses to Noah’s cast were upsetting to Noah. Kids have a hard time hiding their keen curiosity and interest. Their stares and questions are normal and Noah handled them well. However, some parents’ awkward looks and responses surprised me and upset Noah. I will approach kids in special circumstances with kindness while checking boundaries. I hope adults will do the same.

It's better to give than to receive.

After the initial surgery and after the cast was removed, Noah and I stayed in the hospital for several nights. After his cast was removed, we had two roommates. The first was a four year old boy named Brandon who needed a private room because his chemotherapy kept him awake and ill all night.

After Brandon’s bed was changed, a young Chinese boy named Jason was rolled into the room with an entourage including an interpreter. Jason was the only member of his family who could speak English, but his parents needed to consent to his treatment, including a CAT scan. His eye was swollen like a softball. It looked like he was hit by a baseball bat, but the swelling was caused by an infection. He rubbed his eye after touching poison ivy. Doctors worried the rapid spreading infection might affect his brain.

Jason wailed as antibiotics and other medicines were administered intravenously. Noah asked me to give Jason the stuffed animal Noah got at the gift shop to celebrate freedom from his cast. As Jason was wheeled from the room for his scan, we noticed him clutching this animal. Noah shot me an approving glance. I hope the folks who sent Noah gifts realize the satisfaction Noah felt in giving this gift to Jason.

By the time we left, Jason’s eye was just about normal. The same was not the case for Brandon. He was heading to Boston’s Children’s Hospital for more treatments. I hope Brandon and his family, and like suffering kids and their families, won’t have to experience these painful events.

Hope springs eternal.

The first two weeks Noah was freed from his cast were difficult. His tender joints gave him great pain. Anticipating movement made him shake. His therapy helped increase mobility. Every day brought progress. I wish we could have avoided this step, but suffering leads to endurance and endurance leads to character and this leads to hope.

Silver linings

It’s a long process. Noah won’t be sailing this summer. But he’s having a great time playing with his cousins Alex and Gabrielle, visiting Gail and Darya on Cuttyhunk, and swimming in the backyard. I wish we could blink our eyes and be healthy and happy, but these trials helped us appreciate life. They introduced us to new circumstances, and allowed us to see the best in people.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Patience + Persistence = Progress

Expectation: My wife and I, like most parents, do everything possible to protect our children from danger and pain.

Doubt: When he was an infant, we noticed our son's left hip clicked and it was not flexible. It did not open as easily, or as much, as his right hip.

Trials: We took him to an expert Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon named Michael Ehrlich who determined Noah has Legg-Perthes disease. In these patients, proper blood flow does not reach the head of the femur; it dies, and regenerates in about 70% of the cases. The malformed head does not fit well in the hip's socket, thus causing tightness and muscle spasm.

He was placed in traction every night between the ages of one and six, when MRI's showed normal bone formation. Noah was given freedom to participate in physical education and we put away the traction apparatus.

Most recent pictures showed further femur deformation. We consulted with Dr. Ehrlich and our family friend, who trained Dr. Ehrlich during his Mass General residency many years ago. We all agreed surgery was the best option to afford the femur proper space to grow, to improve life quality, and to reduce the likelihood of early hip replacement.

Watching one's child suffer is painful. When I was a child, my mother had extensive cancer surgery requiring over 1000 stitches to mend. Although I felt bad for her in her condition, I also felt she had the strength to beat it. Perhaps this is the perception most children have about their parents. They are heroes.

Anticipating Noah's six hour procedure, and seeing him in post operation, was horrific. Seeing him suffer and feeling little control over improving his condition is my ultimate parental frustration.

Transcendence: He opened his eyes. He did not cry. Dr. Ehrlich credited his "gorilla brain" - high pain threshold. He amazed his nurses and staff in his initial recovery. He ate and slept well, and required minimum pain medications.

The Dr. was very pleased with the surgery, but nothing is certain. He's now in a body cast for ten weeks, but he's home, with a structured day filled with reading, internet communications with friends and family, movies, bird watching out the back window, computer games, Lego building, and writing crazy stories with dad.

Hearty giggles have returned. The pain has further subsided.

We hope the same for all hospitalized and suffering children.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Does the End Justify the Means?

Given: My parents, grandparents, and most adults in my family and immediate community, including my teachers and coaches, were my role models. Based on my memory, they were not cheaters. To my observation and awareness, they did not lie, cheat, or steal to make short term gains or to get ahead. They worked hard. They were honest. They were selfless. They were self critical. They were creative.

Thanks to good leadership, they lived in an area with good opportunities to succeed. People were satisfied with making their lives better than their immediate ancestors. The culture encouraged and rewarded integrity and community. It punished shortcuts and people who broke rules to get ahead. Talent was recognized because standards were clear. Talent outweighed connections, and packaging.

Doubt: In recent weeks purported character flaws have dominated media outlets. A vaulted athlete (Roger Clemens) was accused of taking performance enhancing drugs. To raise its moribund basketball program, the country’s supposed beacon of higher education (Harvard’s athletic department and basketball coaches) was accused of illegally recruiting and admitting great basketball prospects scoring well below Ivy athletic admission standards. An executive with a local company was terminated for bribing a public official to gain business. A national figure was accused of brokering an oil deal for financial gain with a tyrant known to orchestrate horrific human rights violations.

In each case, there is overwhelming evidence that rules and laws were circumvented to gain a competitive advantage and power. Nicolo Machiavelli, in the 15th century, stated: “Politics have no relation to morals”.

Cheating in athletics disappoints me because its Greek origins were designed to test and elevate character, strength, and purity, for participants to gain self awareness and truth from victory or defeat. The goal was to improve participants holistically, to better society.

Trials: I’m not surprised but it is disappointing. Cheating is almost as common as integrity in my experiences. A few of my contemporaries took steroids in the early 1980’s, as did some of my competition. I shook my head reading their profiles prior to these games, ready to spend the afternoon blocking yet another player capable of bench pressing 500 pounds. I found solace knowing these behemoths, if really talented, would be playing in the Big Ten, or at least in the Big East. What they had in size, they lacked in foot speed and technique.

Regular students discussed cheating at every school where I studied or coached. There seemed to be an unwritten:”don’t ask, don’t tell” policy between some players / coaches regarding steroid use, and between some professors / students regarding cheating. Often, cheating signals were ignored.

A chemistry professor I know witnessed a student cheat on his final exam. As the student submitted his exam, the professor asked for the paper. The student asked the professor if he knew the student’s name. The professor did not, so the student lifted the pile of exams, tucked his answers in the middle, and walked out. This reminds me of the question: What do you call a medical student who cheated, or almost failed medical school? Doctor, but I hope not my doctor.

Harvard’s recent run of Ivy Football Titles was accomplished with several players making headlines for their off field criminal behavior. My high school coach always called this smoke screen and mirrors, or creating an illusion while being just as devious or corrupt as anyone else. It looks like the charade continues with Harvard’s basketball program.

To many, Harvard is the beacon of thought and behavior in Higher Education. If high school players and coaches, or competing coaches and players know Harvard cheats, or cuts its corners to maintain its perceived pedestal, some may interpret this as permission to take similar short cuts. Machiavelli also said: “One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived”.

As for Roger Clemens, if, in fact, he took performance enhancing drugs, he did not need them. He had the talent, technique, and the drive to make it to Cooperstown “the right way”, with hard work and good nutrition.

Transcendence: For every person who decides to cheat, there are more people who make good decisions. Good beats evil. Light beats darkness. Positive beats negative. A person cannot experience both of the dichotomies in these pairs at once. Most of my peers decided against taking steroids or cheating in their classes. Everyone has free will and the choice to do right.

Athletics are loved because they give us the opportunity to experience human potential and grace. When someone’s preparation and passion collides with opportunity a miracle can be made. Kirk Gibson's homerun, Franco Harris' immaculate reception, Michael Jordon's game winning shots, Tiger Woods' incredible shots, the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team's Gold Medal, are examples of transcending moments in sports, when sports lifted athletes and fans to a higher plane.

Does the end justify the means? Cheaters may experience short term gains, but are less apt to experience transcending moments because positive and negative forces can't coexist. Cheating undermines focus. For those who are patient and persevere for their opportunity, the end glorifies the means! Dedication to a cause prevails because the person focuses all his or her natural talents to pursue his or her passion. This galvanizes energy. It keeps hope alive. Please enjoy the attached video clip highlighting one such moment.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Giant Victory

Given: The Pats were expected to win the Super Bowl. They are the only team to finish a 16 game NFL regular season undefeated. They entered the 2008 Super Bowl with an 18 – 0 record. Most prognosticators expected them to beat the 10 – 6 Giants, who started their season with two losses, and accumulated six. At the time, fans called for the Giant’s Coach Coughlin to resign, and for their quarterback, Eli Manning, to be benched. A former star, Tiki Barber, criticized Manning for not being a strong leader. The sports betting line hovered around fourteen points in favor of the Pats. In New England, fans were eager to see Brady and Moss carve through the Giant defense.

For the past 17 years, my family and I have lived in New England and I follow the Pats. Yet, I also support the Giants because I am a New Jersey native and was raised a diehard Giants fan. My father’s childhood next door neighbor was Giants’ legend Alex Webster. Alex’s younger brother Jim was my dad’s best friend. Jim and my dad played two on one football against Alex on his knees. Many years after retiring we visited Mr. Webster, or “Big Red” in his Seagirt, NJ home. He owned “The Stadium” restaurant in town. My grandmother lived one town south, in Manasquan. I attended opening day at Giants Stadium with a friend whose stepdad happened to be the Doctor who delivered me, and who had season tickets. My Madison, NJ high school football team played a state championship game at the Meadowlands my junior year. While practicing, we saw some of the Giant players. We beat perennial powerhouse Butler, 35 – 14. A professional soccer team, The Cosmo’s, used the stadium and we were assigned its locker room. I used the star Pele’s locker.

Before an artificial turf practice field was installed on Brown’s campus, we practiced at Foxboro Stadium when preparing for away games against West Point, Cornell, and Penn, teams with artificial turf stadiums. We saw Patriot players. After playing at Brown, I had two failed NFL try-outs; one was with the Giants, the other with the Pats. Last Super Bowl Sunday, I was torn between the teams. My loyalty was with the Giants, but my emotions and hopes were for local Pats’ fans and an undefeated season, to see their joy and to see history made. My high school team never lost a game over three years, and it is special for fans and players to experience a great record.

Doubt: The Giants won. The pregame paparazzi focused on the Pats and their enviable record. The Giants felt snubbed and turned this rejection into tenacity. During the game, Big Blue appeared more driven than the Pats when diving for loose balls and passes, wrestling fumbles from Pats’ hands, and, in the final moments, clinging to an unconventional pass pinned against receiver David Tyree’s helmet.

Trials: The Pats’ fans and players are in shock, searching for reasons to explain their team’s unexpected outcome, for its squandered chance for football immortality. There’s frustration in knowing they came so close to a perfect season, only to let it slip away with 2:39 left to play. On local radio, hosts and callers wonder if inferior play calling, strategy, intensity, or effort explains their team’s inability to capitalize. The once deified Coach Belichick’s play calling is being questioned. He is criticized for leaving the field early. New England fans share a collective sense of loss, and emptiness.

Reports from other regions in the country state their NFL fans were, in general, pulling for the Giants. They were tired of the Pats’ success. They felt coach Belichick and his crew flagrantly cheated with Spy gate and the Super Bowl outcome vindicated those who believe character counts. They feel quarterback Tom Brady is too pretty, Belichick is too distant, and the team is too smug. They celebrated the down to earth Giants’ victory and the Ticker Tape parade up Broadway to City Hall. The Giants and their fans, as opposed to the Pats’ fans, are euphoric. Their last Super Bowl victory was in 1991. Their quarterback, Eli Manning, was the target of NYC’s media’s wrath since starting with the Giants. Vilified for supposedly not having his brother’s brains or brawn, he came into his own with an exceptional performance and uncommon family encore. He copied his brother Peyton, last year’s Super Bowl winning quarterback and MVP. Both Eli and Giants’ Coach Coughlin were on hot seats, with experts expecting them to be gone had their miracle season not unfolded. People were tired of coach’s staid and scornful style.

Transcendence: What turned the Giant’s pumpkin of a season into a first class coach, and the Patriot’s admired coach into a pumpkin? Perhaps it was fate. In an interesting twist, Coach Coughlin and Coach Belichick descend from the same coaching tree, established by Bill Parcells. They worked as his assistants on the same Giants championship staff. This season, it seems Coach Coughlin became more accessible and human to his players after creating a players council, getting feedback, and learning to relax and have fun. The Spy gate episode further separated Coach Belichick from the media and fans. He fueled his players with feelings of being under siege. As coach Coughlin laughed, shook players’ hands and patted their backs while building a record of eleven consecutive road game victories, coach Belichick pushed away reporters, opposing coaches, and fans as he ran from the field. He seemed to push his players with darker motives, to fight against an enemy he created. Towards the end of the season, his team appeared zapped of its energy. Coach Coughlin’s beaming simile suggests the truth of leadership and team energized the Giants. It set them free. Perhaps the Pats can learn something from the champs.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Please Help

Greetings!

It was a good year, and let's hope 2008 brings greater treasures.

With this in mind, I'd very much appreciate your help with four inquires.

Job satisfaction and performance is directly linked to one's relationship with his or her boss.

As a result, my clients want strong working relationships. I offer them one on one coaching programs, team development sessions, seminars, retreats, and very well received Practice of Management Certificate of Completion programs. The certificates are granted to successful graduates by either my corporate clients or to my clients through accredited universities. Below please find the related inquiries.

1. I want to expand all my services in 2008, and in particular, the certificate programs. If you know people at organizations wanting to identify, select, and develop their management and leadership talent, I'd greatly appreciate your contacting me in private.

2. The proven tools, theories, and cases my clients use to influence themselves, others, and their organizations is compiled in a Performance Playbook. This information was collected during my playing and coaching days, while being educated, and while working and consulting. Do you have, or see, a need for this information?

3. Associates and I are transferring this information online, to be delivered as blended (self directed and instructor lead) learning experiences through universities, clients, and perhaps to individuals. Are you and the organizations you know familiar with self directed learning? Do you see a need for this application / service to improve management skills and working relationships?

4. What related or specific topics would you like this blog to present this year?

Your public or private feedback is most appreciated.

Thank you and best wishes for a wonderful 2008!

Best-

Matt

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

From the Lowest Depths there is a Path to the Loftiest Heights

Given: It was the last night on the trails and everyone was looking forward to ice cream at base camp the next day. Fourteen days of hiking fifteen to twenty miles per day with forty pound packs on our backs, and eating rationed, dehydrated food, leaned our bodies. It also helped me get in shape for my sophomore high school football season.

Our goal was to merge with another New Jersey group and greet the sunrise atop the Tooth of Time, a jagged outcropping of rock; its silhouette branded the Philmont Reservation on belt buckles, shirts, and coats. It was a fitting end to an eventful fourteen days where we tested our endurance, courage, and communication skills to help our unit remain together and safe. I was also relieved. My boots started coming apart about half way through the trip. It looked like they would finish the trail.

We woke at midnight and started hiking, to insure seeing the sunrise on the Tooth’s peak. I cut my fingernails before going to bed and my finger tips swelled. This and being dazed from two hours sleep kept me from being able to tie my pack and shoes.

As we started to hike, I had a hard time keeping my eyes open. My sleep was off since the first night on the trail. Every night I woke between two and four and remained awake until about five. The extreme quiet, or distant noises, made my mind and heart race. I could not rest. On one of the expedition’s first nights, I heard a bear near my tent. In the morning, we found bear tracks around camp. This influenced my sleeping patterns.

Doubt: The trek was a testing ground for me. My mom was diagnosed with cancer six years earlier. This, combined with my dad’s related anger and other traumas, caused some problems. My schoolwork was abysmal for five years. I was truant. I hung around with questionable kids. My scouting experience was good for me, but I did not excel like my father. At the time he received the award, he was the youngest Eagle in NJ history.

My lack of sleep put me in a fog as we headed to the tooth. I was hoping to hike and enjoy the scenery while reflecting on the two previous positive weeks. It was very dark. There was no moon. We hiked for a while when our adult leader, John Gruber, and Mr. Ames, the other unit’s leader, started questioning the map. They thought we lost the Tooth’s Trail. Instead of turning back, Mr. Ames recommended we blaze our own trail until we were able to rejoin the path between the Tooth and the smaller mountain facing us, situated east of the Tooth. The stars outlined these mountains, barely.

Trials: With an eager bounce fitting his Teddy Roosevelt looks, replete with his handlebar mustache, Mr. Ames bounded into the rough path causing our initial derailment. It resembled a deer trail. Brush was pushed aside, but there was no established path. Our units dutifully followed until we came to a wall of boulders. One of the other troop’s scouts led our initial ascent up these boulders, but he chose a dangerous path on loose rocks weighing well over several hundred pounds. One slip would be disastrous for the twenty one men and boys behind him.

Mr. Ames and John met in private, but I was within earshot. They felt it was too risky to climb back down the loose boulders with twenty two scouts and no visibility. Yet, they feared what lay ahead. The boulder movement, and their fears, shook me. I offered to lead the expedition. There appeared to be solid faced rock between the walls of boulders. And this sheer rock seemed to have enough hand holds and moss to make a safe climb possible.

Thus, I started ascending this mountain. With some disappointment, we accepted the fact we had missed our initial goal to climb the Tooth Trail. Enthusiasm turned to fear as we realized the seriousness of our predicament. We climbed the boulders and ledge on this mountain in front of the Tooth. We created communication systems to insure everyone was safe, and following secure holdings. It was pitch black. As we climbed, the mood changed. Some scouts started to panic. They screamed about falling rocks. Someone thought he broke his leg. Three quarters up the mountain, I maneuvered around a ledge, to check its stability, and heard Mr. Ames panic. He was saying to himself. “Oh God, what did we do? One slip and we could all die!”

I yelled to Mr. Ames to relax and keep moving forward. As I spoke, I needed my arms to lift myself across a bottomless hole as my legs dangled inside. I could see very little and anticipated being bitten by a bear or snake resting in this crevice. People who followed lifted each other across the hole. No one was injured. We later learned this same boulder field was, in broad daylight a week earlier, the site of a tragic accident when an avalanche critically injured several scouts.

Transcendence: Inside me, there was a peaceful calm. I knew we were going to be OK. I sensed there was a solution, but our adult leaders, and some scouts, did not share my enthusiasm until a formal trail appeared. We followed it and rested on a series of ledges. We marveled at the silver lined clouds framing the sunrise. Directly behind our mountain loomed our initial goal, the majestic Tooth of Time. I was thankful for helping lead 22 people to safety. I figured Grace, will, and luck helped me guide others through this experience, and God would help guide me for the rest of my life. Then, I sat down, cradled my head in my hands between my knees, and I took a nap.

There was a broad, safe, trail leading from these ledges down the other side of this mountain to base camp. The ice cream and naps were most gratifying. And, the positive decision making and outlook I learned on this trip started me on a great high school journey.

After this trip, I decided to forego Scouts and devote my time to varsity football, wrestling, and track and to discipline myself. My grades flourished. Our football team never lost a game over the next three years while I was the sole three year starter. We finished top ranked in NJ my senior year when I was a co captain. Princeton, Brown, Harvard, West Point, and Georgia Tech recruited me. The attitude cultivated on this Philmont Mountain seemed to change my life for good.

My educational and professional journey exposed me to legendary coaches, educators, and exceptional organizations. From these experiences, I created competency profiles highlighting traits shared by outstanding performers. I hope to share these with you in 2008, to help guide you to great outcomes.

Happy New Year!

Great expectations don’t always guarantee anticipated results, but a positive outlook, discipline, and effort can bring uncommon rewards and learning.