Monday, December 21, 2020

Jane's Yum Yum Yams!


Over the past 11+ years since I started posting essays on this blog, I have often shared favorite family recipes as we head into the holiday season.  If you dig around, you will find recipes for MaMa's buttermilk yeast biscuits, her "Corn Oysters," Aunt Lorraine's Jelly Tarts and my grandmother "Kuni's Chocolate Cake."  This December, with 2020 coming to an anxious, painful, challenging ( and maybe with a touch of emerging hope for vaccinations in early 2021,) I wanted to keep tradition alive with a favorite recipe from Jennie's mother Jane.... the famous "Yum Yum Yams!"

Jane passed away almost 10 years ago, and we all miss her dearly.  I enjoyed cooking with Jane, and specifically enjoyed the Christmas dinners we made for the family over the years.  This year, I plan on replicating all of her dishes/recipes for our Christmas dinner and went looking for the old "Yum Yum Yam" recipe.  After a little digging I found the original, food stained recipe card ( the messy splatter on the card is a sign of well-used love for sure!) and I share it for all to try.

I wish for you a safe and healthy holiday, looking to better days ahead in 2021.  Enjoy Jane's Yum Yum Yams and I hope it can become a tradition for you and your family for years to come!

While the recipe card above is awesome, the following is a typed out version for possibly easier/cleaner translation:

Jane's Yum Yum Yams

Ingredients (Yams):

·       1 ½ cup sweet potatoes (canned)

·       1 cup sugar

·       2 small eggs

·       ½ teaspoon cinnamon

·       ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

·       1/4  teaspoon salt

·       ½ cup scalded milk

Mix well in electric mixer, pour into battered baking dish, mix topping ingredients and spread over potato mixture.

 Bake at 325 degrees for 35 min.


Ingredients (Topping):

·       1 cup broken pecans

·       1 cup brown sugar

·       ¾ stick of butter (oleo)

·       1/3 cup four (preferably self rising)

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The trail back from Yellow Mountain…. A lesson for a new year with Covid !




The Yellow Mountain Hike in the mountains just north of Highlands N.C. is a real “ass kicker!”  It’s an out and back hike, with the halfway point being a fire tower built by the C.C.C in the 1930’s on the top of Yellow Mountain (not quite 6000 ft. above sea level.)  The hike is about 10 miles in total, with more than 7000 ft. of elevation change (up and down several mountains from the trailhead to the fire tower,) and is at the edge of my physical capability. It typically takes me close to seven hours to accomplish the feat…. and for me it is truly no small feat to achieve!


The picture above is of one of the trail signs that are about ½ way out to the fire tower, at a crossing in the trail.  Since it’s an out and back hike, we pass this sign early in the day and then again on our way back, about when we have done ¾ of the hike with only ¼ to go!!  The problem with the sign’s specific location is that its on Goat’s Knob, one of the most challenging parts of the hike and on the return route the sign hits as you are making your way UP Goat’s Knob in a steep and difficult stretch.  Every time I have done this hike, I know that while I am getting close to making it back to the trailhead, with only ¼ of the trail to endure, the path ahead will be steep, challenging and very difficult…. the end was near but challenging miles lay ahead.


It’s with that spirit that I see us today, as we are facing the end of 2020 and the “trail” ahead for vaccinations in 2021.  We can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel… with hopefully millions vaccinated by April or May, and a wide percentage of the population covered by the end of summer.  The hope and excitement is palatable but still difficult “miles” lie ahead in our path.  The next few weeks and months are extremely dangerous and challenging and we are not “out of the woods” by any means, we are merely about at the Yellow Mtn. sign on our way back home.


I learned on my second Yellow Mountain hike (the first was successful but pretty messy…. more on that another time) that by taking frequent breaks, having enough water and food to sustain myself, I could make it back feeling winded and tired, but healthy and successful.  In that same spirit, I am looking for ways right now to apply those lessons to our current challenges with Covid.  How can I slow down, use good planning, focus on health and safety protocols and most importantly remember that there are really challenging miles ahead and to ensure to prepare well for those challenges.


As much as I desperately want this to be over, and to get back to travelling and seeing family and friends like we did before March 2020, those days aren’t here yet!  We all need to stay patient, vigilant and as careful as we can be… with plenty of water and food for the rest of the proverbial hike, so we can all find our way back from the Fire Tower on Yellow Mountain and back to our homes safely with our families and friends in 2021…. we are at the “sign” on the way back but not finished the hard journey yet!  

Stay safe and healthy over the next few months and we all can find our way to vaccinations in 2021 and a return to more normal times with our families, friends and communities.



Tuesday, November 24, 2020

It's very hard this year, but "start with Gratitude"

This is a note I sent out to my team at Bolthouse Farms, and I wanted to share it more broadly....

I just wanted to send out a note before the Thanksgiving holiday this week.  This year is unlike all others for me ( and I think for all of us) as we head toward this day of thanksgiving….. this year has been so hard, so challenging, so painful, and so long, that I for one am having a hard time being very thankful; it’s in that spirit, not in some “hallmark card” moment, but in the midst of all of our challenges and pain that  I share these thoughts and reflections.  


Maybe 10-15 years ago I had the chance to see The Dalai Lama live at Canon chapel  on the campus of Emory University.  The setting matters since it was where Jennie and I were married ( by her Father,) where both Bryson and Marie were baptized and where we attended the funerals for both Jennie’s mom and sister… certainly a sacred space for our family!  It was there that the Dalai Lama, with a number of monks, held a “service” of sorts that included all sorts of Tibetan Buddhist rituals and comments from The Dalai Lama.   While I was struck by how “cheery and jovial” he was ( often chuckling/laughing) one comment he shared has stuck with me over the years…. that being to “always start with gratitude.” 

 He encouraged the crowd to 


·     “start every day…” 

·     “start every meal…”

·     “start every conversation…”

·     “start every walk…”

·     etc.

o  “with gratitude.”


I think back to that moment, so many years ago and find strength and inspiration thinking about this note today.  In the midst of rising covid cases and so many challenges facing our world, I am very thankful for my family, my sweet Jennie and our two wonderful kids, Bryson and Marie.  I am thankful to have the chance to work at Bolthouse Farms, and to work in a business that is trying hard to find ways to get more fruits and vegetables (go carrots!!) on family’s tables, and to work with a team of hardworking “Bolthouse People” that care so much and are so committed to our mission.  I am thankful to be healthy and capable to find ways to try to make tomorrow a bit better than yesterday…. and the list literally could go on for paragraphs….. I am actually thankful for so much!!


I wish all of you a very happy, healthy, safe and “grateful” thanksgiving holiday and I do sincerely hope that you can enjoy some well deserved time off this week with your family and friends as safely as possible!


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The accelerating “Trajectory” of talent




The simplest way to start this essay is an old lesson, one that I learned years ago from some un-named boss or mentor, that is captured in the simple line….“Yesterday’s A+ is tomorrow’s B-!”  the idea being that in a business that is growing, thriving, and dynamically responding to a changing competitive landscape the exceptional performance that drove exceptional results last year will actually look pretty “un-exceptional” when faced with the expanded and accelerated results expected in years to come.


It’s always good to remind us what this “looks” like mathematically on the chart to the right. Y=mX+b is the age-old formula for the line and when “m” or the slope of the line is positive, we have a line showing positive growth….. whether it’s depicting net revenue, gross margin, or EBITDA, the “m” being positive and in growth mode is what’s key!


At the center of this concept is a belief that an organization, and the key individuals that make up that organization, needs to keep learning and growing their individual and team skills/capacities in order to generate expanding results expected in future fiscal quarters/years.  It also assumes that a stagnant organization, a group of individuals not building their skills and capacities over time won’t be able to generate and create growth oriented results for very long.


This “lesson” is very present for me in my current role at Bolthouse Farms.  As I mentioned in earlier essays, coming back to Bolthouse Farms has been an incredible opportunity to have a “2ndchance to work on your legacy” and I am trying to take full advantage of that chance. In that spirit we have rebuilt the team and have accelerated the business dramatically over the past 16 months since we bought the company back from Campbell’s.  It is in this context that I am thinking so much about this idea about “trajectory.”


As our business grows and changes, so do the needs and demands that are required from our team. Getting the business stabilized and back on its feet was job #1 ….LAST YEAR …. but now our focus is on building a platform for growth for the years to come and to build an organizational strength and depth to drive and sustain that growth for years to come as well!


This is the crux of the idea that as a business changes and grows, so the demands on and the expectations of its key executives change and grow correspondingly. What’s really interesting ( and very challenging) is when the growth itself accelerates….. e.g., when a business grew 10% last quarter, 15% this quarter and is planning on growing 25 % next quarter the reality is that the business is not just growing, but the growth rate is actually growing.  For those math nerds reading this essay, we are talking about a curve with a positive derivative as seen in this chart ….


In these business circumstances, it is very important to work to stay active in building the skills and capacities of your team.  Insure that you have a team ( and that you are modeling) which is focused on delivering the required results today AND in building their abilities to drive much greater results in the future.  Being a leader who is both an active learner and an active teacher is a key element of this “equation” working well.  As a leader be open to show all the new things that you are learning and working on…. Be open with what you have to learn to be great next quarter/next year/ etc. Too many leaders think about this as some sort of weakness…. nothing could be further from the truth! Equally have a “teachable point of view” and be active and patient as a teacher to your direct reports and your team.  Leaders that can combine both of these traits ( active learner and active teacher)  are positioned well to build organizations that can accelerate their capabilities and thus drive accelerating growth!


Thursday, September 24, 2020

"Hope", a dream and a wish!

It is rare for me to reference a dream in one of my posts, but with 200+ essays posted on this blog it was bound to happen. As I have referenced, Jennie and I have two wonderful, bright, generous and beautiful children ... Bryson and Marie. Bryson recently graduated from UCLA ( Go Bruins!!) and Marie is a second year at UCSB ( Go Gauchos!!) The dream I reference today featured Marie and the UCSB campus. In this very vivid dream, I was visiting Marie at school and we were walking up to an overlook to catch the sunset. For those of you who have never been on the University of California, Santa Barbara campus, it is set on the bluffs above the pacific and faces due west and has STUNNING sunsets from a number of spots across the campus. In my dream, we walked to a specific spot to watch the sunset, along with a large crowd of people, all heading to the same vista. As we got to the top of the bluff, Marie and I talked about how incredible it felt to be able to share the moment with a large group of "strangers," and not feel uncomfortable or unsafe because in my dream, the vaccine had been discovered and the world was vaccinated... the fear of covid was a memory! 

It was an incredible sensation to feel the openness, the freedom, the optimism and the communal "beauty," newly freed from the fear and trauma of Covid-19! As I awoke from the dream, the sunset image clearly in my "minds-eye," I was deeply struck by the truth that someday (and hopefully/prayerfully "someday" soon) we WILL confirm a vaccine, we WILL work to have the world broadly vaccinated, and we WILL mix and mingle with others without the fear of today. We WILL have a bright tomorrow, not without its challenges, but without some of our most pressing CURRENT challenges. 

When I reference "Hope" in my title, it is the "hope" of that sunset moment in my dream, the "hope" of a brighter healthier tomorrow, the "hope" of a more peaceful world that we need to find a way to find in the dark days of today. No one knows when the vaccine will be discovered and scientifically validated, or when 7+ billion doses will be manufactured and successfully delivered to all citizens across the globe, but we do know that those days will come!

 In closing, I "wish" for all of you a chance to find your own UCSB "sunset moment!" I "wish" for all of you to have a chance to dream/see the future "post-covid" and imagine just a few of the blessing and beautiful gifts that future will offer to all of us!

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Building "Community" Together

Building “Community” Together It was almost 20 years ago that I first got involved in the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB) as a board member. I had volunteered with the organization before that time, and had gathered canned goods as part of food drives at work and at church, but in 2002 I was asked to join the board for the first time. ( I recently finished serving my second 6-year term on the board, and continue to be a big fan and supporter!) Back in 2002, I was asked to be part of a marketing committee by Bill Bolling, founder and long running Executive Director of the ACFB. Bill and I continue to work together today, as he has now retired from the Food Bank and I work with him as a board member of The Food Well Alliance, a non-profit focused on strengthening the local food system in metro Atlanta by supporting urban farmers, community gardens, farmers markets and other organizations involved in the local food movement. If interested, see more at

Back to the marketing committee! At that time, the ACFB was expanding its footprint and was involved in numerous side projects/initiatives and the marketing committee was asked to work on how to capture all the projects under a common “food bank umbrella” and develop a re-branding/re-naming approach that might help all of the initiatives make more sense to the supporters of the food bank. We dove into the project, worked with a local agency, and came up with a number of branding/naming/graphic ideas that would simplify the communication challenges and one of the recommendations that we came forward with was to drop the word “Community” from the organization’s name as a way to streamline/simplify things. I still remember the immediate and dramatic reaction from Bill Bolling when we showed him our ideas, with him exclaiming that the word “Community” was the ONLY word that could NEVER be dropped….. that we were at the food bank, using food as a tool to help our community…. especially the members of the community most in need….. that the food was not the objective, a stronger healthier community was the objective…. Community was the whole thing!

Community: noun,
• a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
o "the scientific community"
• a group of people living together in one place, especially one practicing common ownership.
o "a community of nuns"
• a particular area or place considered together with its inhabitants.
o "a rural community"

While the marketing committee project didn't go too far , the lesson from that review has stayed with me for decades and has been growing on my mind over the past few months with the challenges and struggles facing so many of us across so many communities. Consider the challenges the entire world is facing from the Covid crisis, the struggle for racial justice and equality, the growing pervasive issues from accelerating climate change, the nightmare of gun violence in our country, and the list goes on! WE are facing an incredible set of challenges across the board and before we try to dive in and “fix” one of them we have to come back to the fundamental truth that WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER! We are part of one large COMMUNITY!

If we have learned anything in 2020 it is that our actions affect those around us and vice versa…. Whether it is someone not wearing a mask in a grocery store ( not good!) or one town/country spewing toxic emissions into the air and water that flows downstream to the neighboring town/country, we don't live in small isolated units…. we live in a world incredibly interconnected and what we do (or don't do) doesn’t just affect ourselves, it ALWAYS affects each other! Maybe its overly simplistic, but I am thinking back to Bill Bolling’s admonition a lot these days ( “Community: is the indispensible word!) and am thinking about how we can take action and work on “Building Community Together.”

Where ever you are, urban or rural and regardless of country (or political party) we can all chip in and find ways to help support and strengthen our communities broadly. Partly driven by the covid crisis, our food banks have never faced a time of greater need, our local support organizations have never been more stretched, look around you and find ways that you can help/support/strengthen ‘community” wherever you live….. the need is great and as a “community” we can accomplish great and needed things for OUR COMMUNITY, but only if we act as a “community!”

Monday, July 27, 2020

Through the lens of Gratitude

It seems difficult to think about the idea of looking at our world and our lives through a "lens of gratitude," but that challenge is what I want to focus on today. Surrounded by a still growing global pandemic, expanding civil unrest over systemic racial injustice, and mounting global geopolitical pressures and strife, it almost feels misplaced to even suggest that "gratitude" could or possibly SHOULD be the filter/screen or "lens" for our complicated world today.

Recently our son had a terrible accident and had to have emergency surgery.  I won't go into any details here, but he is recovering well and getting stronger everyday.  His accident caused a significant amount of internal bleeding, and his surgeon shared how lucky he was to have gotten to the hospital as quickly as he did (via a 911 ambulance call),  since his internal bleeding was so severe.  I was shocked, and terrified about our son's "close call" and was so deeply appreciative that he had come through surgery so well and was going to have a full recovery.  I was deeply grateful, full stop!

That realization of deep gratitude pushed me to think about gratitude more deeply, and how hard it seems to have as a constant filter for life, and how especially hard it seems to apply today!  With all the pain/loss/tragedy in our world in the summer of 2020, "gratitude" does not seem like the first place to start in approaching our world.  As a counterpoint, I want to suggest in this essay that we might all benefit if we try to apply our "gratitude glasses" to the challenges we all face today across our landscape.

Gratitude: noun; the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

A few quotes from a breadth of voices help amplify the definition above:

Marcus Tullius Cicero
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

Maya Angelou 
“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.”

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

“Wear gratitude like a cloak, and it will feed every corner of your life.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life 
becomes rich.”

Mother Teresa
"The best way to show gratitude is to accept everything, even my problems, with joy.

Now that we have refreshed ourselves on the core definition of "gratitude," and have been nudged by a number of voices from across the centuries, lets think about how to apply this seemly simple idea to our lives this summer:

  • "Leading" through a lens of gratitude:
    • Many business leaders find it tempting to start conversations or business reviews with a summary of what has NOT gone well, or a discussion of the gaps or mis-steps of the organization.  Try starting with the greatest successes of the year, the biggest wins, the loudest moments .... THE GRATITUDE LIST ...what are we grateful for as we begin this conversation??  there will be plenty of time to review the negatives.... lets ALWAYS start with the positives (even after a bad quarter/year!)

  • "Parenting" through a lens of gratitude: 
    • Like many families, we have had an experience over the past few months "during Covid" where we have had a lot of time with our college aged kids, much more than normal!  Rather than myopically focus on the clothes on the floor, or the forgotten coffee cups left around the house, I am working on realizing that this moment will actually be over MUCH TO SOON and I will miss having this "regular time" with Marie and Bryson kicking around the house... a time that might never be replicated!  

  • "Marriage" through a lens of gratitude:
    • This coming week, Jennie and I celebrate our 33rd anniversary.  After three + decades of marriage, a kind and wonderful life partner, two smart beautiful healthy kids, a lovely home, and the list goes on ...  there are tons to be appreciative of and grateful for and I am thinking this year about how to centered on those truths!
While I won't "fill in" the following few thought starters, this idea continues on in the same direction.... take the items of our current day-to-day life and work to "look" at them through the "lens of gratitude!"

  • "Volunteering " through a lens of gratitude: 

  • "Friendship" through a lens of gratitude:

  • "Politics" through a lens of gratitude: 

  • We all have a lot to be grateful for, lets not forget it as we lead our busy lives!  Lets turn these attitudes into actions and SHOW our appreciation to those who touch our lives.... through the "lens of gratitude!"

    Monday, June 29, 2020

    "Storm the Breach".... but come well prepared!

    As many of you know, I am a bit of a history nut and enjoy looking back at history to look for clues or advice about how to face the challenges of today.  In past essays I have turned to many voices across time, including Plutarch, Ghandi, Dr. MLK jr, and many others to help illuminate and inspire; today I am turning to Wellington... the British general most well known as the leader who defeated Napolean at Waterloo.

    While famous for that final battle in 1815, a few years before he lead the British forces in Spain in what was known as the Peninsula Campaign, driving French forces across Spain ( the Iberian "Peninsula") ultimately ending in the final battle in Waterloo Belgium.  As Wellington drove across Spain, the French forces would take up defensive positions in various small "cities" that were defended by ancient stone walls and attempt to stop Wellington's advance.  In many off those situations, none more famous than the "Siege of Badajoz," the British artillery would fire upon the walls until there was an opening, or a "Breach," where one part of the wall had collapsed and was opened, the British infantry would "storm" into the "breach" and fight their way into the city, ultimately routing the defenders into a panicked retreat.

    The notes above are taken from Wellington's dispatches from that time, and are incredibly detailed in the plans and preparations for the soldiers preparing to "storm the breach!"  This wasn't some sort of wild, unplanned assault but instead a highly coordinated, and well prepared plan to take advantage of an opportunity and to drive it to its maximum impact. ( the fact that he highlights the number of ladders and that the troops should bring "light materials" to be thrown into the ditch is an incredible level of detailed planning!)

    I have reflected back on Wellington this past week because of a competitive opportunity facing our company.  We have owned Bolthouse Farms for just over a year, and late last week we received word  that a long standing competitor had announced their plans to close operations in the next 30-45 days!  What an incredible opportunity and in appropriate fashion we gathered our teams and within a few hours were having calls with key retail buyers to maximize our ability to capture the opportunity.... we were "storming the breach!"  The reality that this competitive news came a year after buying the company back from Campbell's, not a few weeks after closing last summer, is so key because it gave us the chance to "come well prepared" to this moment! We had rebuilt the team broadly ( still more work to go of course but we are in good shape with a great group of people).  We have rebuilt our operational capabilities and our quality system, allowing us to run the plant at efficiency levels well above a year ago and has expanded our capacity levels to allow us to take on more business AND do so profitably..... and literally the list goes on!  We are "storming the breach" and have "come well prepared!"

    While success is never assured, and we will have some ups and downs in "storming this breach," this moment has reminded me of an important lesson; in business and in life you never know when an unexpected opportunity will present itself, but you are always able to build capabilities and become "well prepared" when the opportunity breaks to "storm the breach!"

    Monday, June 1, 2020

    Where to find hope today.....

    It is with an incredibly sad and full heart that I write this essay today.  Our country and our communities are broken and in need of a tremendous amount of work and reconciliation.  In communities large and small, in the north and south, in the east and west, so many are wondering today where is the hope for tomorrow and what should they as individuals think/feel & do today??

      I share these same feelings and struggle today to find a "guiding star" to help remind me of the path forward.  Its is in that spirit that I share two quotes that have helped me today and I hope they can both be helpful to you.

     The first is a from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech from December of 1964... a message from almost fifty six years ago that sadly rings true today:

    "I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality."

    The second is from a message that President Obama posted today.

    "Let's not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it. If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves," Obama wrote in an essay on Medium.
    He added, "The bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn't between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform."

    These two quotes give me a sightline on the need to turn our feelings and thoughts into actions in our communities.  I hope that you can find a path today, for you, your families and your communities to stay focused on the "oughtness" for all of humanity.  Stand up for what is right, stand up with moral courage and stand against racist injustice in our country;  find ways that we can all work to "model" a higher ethical code as a nation.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2020

    It has been a beautiful spring ...

    It seems strange and uncomfortable to write that headline.... "It has been a beautiful spring..."  The tone feels somehow "off" as we are surrounded by a world fighting a virus with no known cure. The headlines this morning literally are bombarding us all with messages of "red states escalating the push to open", and "white house officials point the finger at the CDC..." among a plethora of news stories focused on the concern and seriousness of the disease that we are all facing.  With that said, and deeply internalized, last Sunday afternoon I was a bit floored when the words of this essay's title came out of my mouth as I was sitting by myself in our backyard.

    The truth of the matter is that in the midst of this virus induced terror, it actually HAS been a beautiful spring in Atlanta.  The weather has been temperate so far, with lovely spring rains helping along the blooming of incredible spring flowers across the garden.  I have included a few photos to bring this to life, not highlighting a specific plant or flower, but just to share the casual beauty that actually IS blossoming right now in our back garden.

    On top of the incredible weather and flowers, it has been ( so far!!) an incredible spring for my heirloom tomato plants!  I raise two tomato varieties that have been passed down in my family, one a old orange tomato variety that my grandmother raised for many decades before her passing in the late 90's and another that my childhood friend Dave Carfang's family has raised since the early 70's.  They are flourishing with the sunny days, cool nights, and steady moderate rainfall this year and have already started to put off a large quantity of blooms that is an early record for me!

    While "off tone," and possibly "off message" to comment on this dynamic, I actually find it encouraging and "needed" (at least for me) to find a "little ray of sunshine in the midst of all the darkness.  I find these moments so helpful; where I can step out of the tempo of the work of the day, or the worries about the virus, our society, my family and those dear that I love and take a quiet breath and take in the beauty that surrounds us.

    A month or so ago, I was leading a department wide zoom "call" at work,  and shared a similar story that seemed to ring home to number of others.  It was early April, the fear of Covid-19 and the "quarantine activities" we as a family and as a nation were taking to "flatten the curve" were in full gear.  Work challenges were very intense, and I had decided to take a quick walk,( to get in some steps as my friend Cathy would say) and as I went down the block I was actually startled by a power bed filled with huge blossoming irises.  It was incredible, the blues/whites and purples all in full bloom and I literally stopped for moment on the sidewalk and just took in the beauty.  as I shared that story to my team, I encouraged all of them to take a moment to get away from their screens, to take a walk or "get some air" and to pay attention to flowers or trees that they might find in their neighborhoods.... hoping that they might have a moment of beauty amidst the challenges like I did!

    That dynamic is the same that I comment on today.... we will never forget the spring of 2020 with so much tragedy and so many deaths.... but that will not be the only definition of this spring!  Equally true will be the beauty of the irises, the snapdragons and the pansies and maybe, just maybe, the best tomato crop ever!

    Tuesday, April 28, 2020

    Leadership with a Growth Mindset: Reconsidered

    Here as we close out April of 2020, it’s hard to even reflect on a time that the Covid-19 crisis wasn't the center of all issues and concerns. While it seems hard to remember back to November or December of last year, when this virus was nothing more than an emerging news report from the distant city of Wuhan China.   In the midst of this very nowfocused time, I was nudged by a good friend and work partner Angie as she read and commented on one of my essays from 10+ years ago.  Her comments pushed me to re-look and re-consider some of my thoughts/essays and as I was digging through some of the old essays, I came upon the one below from late April of 2011.  The essay, titled Leadership with a Growth Mindsetis one of the most read of my essays, hitting the #6 ranking out of 200+ published.  Additionally I published it as we were coming out of the very challenging Great Recession,and it helped me (and hopefully hundreds of others) reorient ourselves for the growth path coming out of that tough period.

    As I look back on the essay, I find a number of things still ringing very true, but I think there are a few ideas/ comments that I want to reconsider:

    ·      Where I sit now, I would put #6 as job #1!  Thinking that I put Take care of yourself /your teamas the last item on my list, rather than the first seems really off track today.  We need to really work hard on insuring that we are being proactive with our own health, and that we are good role models for our teams as well! 
    ·      The ideas I put into #5 I want to make more important today.  I didnt emphasize enough the importance of an outside orientationwhen I wrote that our opportunity as leaders is to work on ways to improve our organizations ability to listen to/learn from the marketplace.  Think how much has changed, not just from April 2011, but also from January of 2020!! We can never be outside orientedenough and we as leaders need to work on modeling that orientation more today than I even considered nine years ago.
    ·      It’s interesting when you read your own writing and realize you are falling into a trap that you described!  In #1, I asked the reader if they ever heard someone say, with everything we are dealing with our performance is actually not that bad.Here I was warning of this headset nine years ago and I was on a Zoom call just this week when that comment was exactly shared and I nodded along; not strongly objecting to the notion in the midst of our current challenges.  I (maybe along with others) need to take my own advice on this one for sure.

    Take a moment when you can, and re-read the essay below and consider it in the context of our reality today.  See what themes hold true for you and what ideas that you might want to edit, correct, or emphasize in your world today!

    Leadership with a Growth Mindset: April 29, 2011

    The landscape is changing and while nothing is ever certain, I am a deep believer that “change is certain, progress is not”. The economy has come a long way from the heights of 2007, the collapse of 2008 and the low lows of 2009. Certainly the recovery is tepid, with job growth (and in fact gdp) growing slower than anyone would like; yet the trends are still positive. In this “new” landscape of growth, I believe that we as leaders need to refresh our thinking, our priorities and our skills in order to be successful leaders with a growth mindset. Just a few years ago, I remember being in a meeting with a customer who was describing their overall flat revenue trends as “you know Bill, flat is the new up.” It’s hard to say whether that perspective was appropriate for that moment; what is not certain is that for today’s business environment, “up is the new up!”

    In thinking about this dynamic, I want to share a few ideas that might be productive as we lead with an increasing “growth mindset.”

    1) Raise Expectations. As leaders, we need to raise our own expectations for accelerating results in the business, capabilities across our organizations, along with our own skill sets. The last few years have been tough, really tough! With that reality there comes an understanding and possibly a tolerance for average performance. Ask yourself whether you have ever heard yourself (or other leaders) say, “with everything we’re dealing with, that performance is actually not that bad.” While tinged with compassion, I actually think it’s a disabler for an organization. We need to be vocal about raising our expectations for accelerating results AND our work performance. Think of it as the “what” and the “how”. We need to accelerate the results in the business (the “what”) and we need to improve our business practices (the”how”) across organizations. It’s my experience that if the leader doesn’t “raise the bar”, it often never gets raised.

    2) Improve Talent. Over the past few years, the job market has been very tight. As business trends improve, the job markets should/will follow. In this changing landscape, we need to insure that our best, highest performing people are engaged/challenged in their roles and excited/energized to come to work every day. What is equally true is that we need to take action to remove underperformers quickly. Nothing is more de-moralizing to a high performer than a tolerated/accepted low performer. Every job opening should be thought of as an opportunity to raise the talent “bar” for the organization as a whole. I use the acronym of PTI (Progressive Talent Improvement) to remind myself that every new hire should have the capabilities/experience above the average level of the current organization. By utilizing PTI over time, you can (and should) be continually improving the organizations capabilities and potential.

    3) Increase Speed, NOW! This improving business landscape is not only occurring for you and your company. It’s occurring for your competitors and their executive teams. When working on innovating new products or services, improving customer service, building new skills, or even filling open positions, do it faster. It’s dangerous to assume that you have the time to wait, time is a luxury that few businesses have!

    4) Be Paranoid, competitively. I learned early on in business that competition never sleeps nor takes vacations; they’re always trying to take your business. Now I am a complete proponent of work/life balance, taking your vacation days, and getting a break from the business as an individual. My council is to be careful/paranoid as an organization. Never under assume an adversary’s capabilities and intent. If you operate with a constant “nervous itch”, you will be more likely to compete and win in any competitive landscape.

    5) Increase your organizational listening and learning. As markets improve, there WILL be more innovation competitively. New products, new packaging, new technologies, etc. have all been on the rise over the past few quarters. An improving business landscape will allow companies to take more risks than they have over the past few years. This reality is happening. Our opportunity as leaders is to work on ways to improve our organization’s ability to listen to, and learn from, the market place. Work to reinforce that all departments/functions could and should be more “outward” oriented; more tuned into the competitive landscape, hungrier at all times to capture and share insights and learnings from the marketplace.

    6) Take care of yourself/take care of your team. As you can tell from the above topics, I clearly have the sense that the tempo and demands of business will be accelerating in the days/quarters ahead. As such, it is critical to insure that we are also taking care of our own health and the health of our teams. We all need to keep up with our sleep, our exercise, our physicals, etc. Keep an eye on your team members that are starting to work weekends and late nights regularly. Sure there will be moments when a key need/deadline requires extra-long hours, but week after week this behavior wears down an organization and ultimately reduces performance. 

    In closing, I want to reinforce the idea that growth is not inevitable! Certainly improving business trends are welcome (very welcome), but without a more growth oriented leadership approach, the “change” that is happening across our economy will not be translated into “progress” for you, your team, and your organization.