Sunday, December 6, 2009

Growing Your Own

The Colorado Rockies conducted a check presentation with about 10 nonprofits this week. Afterwards I spoke with Keli McGregor, President of the Rockies, and we chatted about their strategy of growing their talent within their organization. His words focused around "patience" to allow the investment to grow and acheive, and balancing "character" with talent. Only by enduring and working through "slumps" do players really demonstrate their resiliency and grow confidence. He doesn't listen to the radio and media talk shows. Other than patience, their biggest challenge seems to be keeping their players when they prove their worth and are tempted by the big money offered by other teams. His words reminded me so of Tom Landry's philosophy of growing your own. Molding young talent to fit the team's needs. Creating a system that supports inexperience and offers opportunities to play through slumps. Of course there's the risk that while the organization and system support the young that same structure may limit the unique talents, experience and maturity of players as they gain experience and confidence. I look forward to hearing Keli's thoughts on this in the future.

Road Trip

Last week I was blessed to enjoy a 5 day Thanksgiving break in my Honda Civic and 1624 miles of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho roads. From Cheyenne to Billings, Bozeman, West Yellowstone (the park was closed), Jackson, Tetons, Lander, Laramie, and home. Alot of pavement and fascinating topography. Mucho meandering brainwaves. I love road trips. Next time I need to go farther north into Montana...toward Kalispell, etc. May have to fly or have more travel time.

Hard Hard Lesson

Four months later. Life choices seem to clarify themselves as time passes. After my letter to Urban Peak their response made it clear that they are too insecure within their leadership and apparently too happy to keep assets that were originally meant for The Spot's population. Can't do much about it due to my single biggest mistake in my business career. Back in 2003 I allowed myself to be convinced that the written agreement did not need to insist on the 2 buildings and other assets always being prioritized for The Spot's population. I should have listened to those Board members and others who stated that Urban Peak's culture was not a fit and that they simply wanted the assets. Hard hard lesson. Never trust unless its in writing and iron clad. Now to focus on new solutions and opportunities.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Choice and Fear

At 53 (soon to be 54) I am perplexed by some of my apparent choices. When I and many street smart youth founded The Spot youth center ( in the early '90s I started a wonderful ride on an entrepreneurial magic carpet. When I joined Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado (BBBSC) ( in 2005 I was unsure of joining an almost 90 yr old organization which was the local affiliate of over 300 nationwide Big Bro Big Sis nonprofits. I can truly say that I have grown and enjoyed both unique experiences. Each has challenged and rewarded me in many ways.

It would appear that I will have a choice in the next few months. Do I invest time, energy and resources to revive services to The Spot's youth? We merged The Spot with another nonprofit in 2004 and unfortunately this organization may soon decide to permanently cease serving The Spot's youth. At my 4 1/2 year anniversary as the President/CEO of BBBSC I can choose to step fully into our next chapter, which may include shrinking further due to economy, creating a "value proposition" focused on educational impact that will vault us to a transformational relevance, asking donors for millions of dollars, envisioning community changing partnerships, and simply walking fast down a path of creating maximum quality with our children, mentors, staff, board, and investors. Both exciting, demanding, and scary choices.

Can I do both? Should I do both? Do I want to do both? Can both be succesful?

Maybe. Not sure. Yes and No. Yes.

At the outset I knew that 2009 was going to be a significant year in my life and the lives of the people I care about the most. While fear of failure, fear of being over extended, fear of holding back one or both organizations must be acknowledged, considered, and worked on, I will not let fear block my decision. Other factors will influence my decision, but not fear.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Authority to Choose & Grow Team

300-500 staff, depending on the time of year. 31 recreation centers scattered throughout Denver. Dozens of pools and programs all meant to serve thousands of kids, families, seniors, etc. Status of the title that says I'm in charge. Couldn't get one damn thing accomplished!

I only lasted 2 yrs in city government. The civil service system stymied most opportunities to choose, promote, reward, discipline, or terminate my team. This was a hard but well learned lesson in leadership. Never accept a leadership position unless I have the authroity to choose and grow my team!

As the leader of a group, if the job and goals are far reaching enough, the leader is only as good as her/his team's exectution. Choosing and growing your team becomes a little more challenging for a leader who has layers of managers who also need the ability to choose and grow their teams. My philosophy is that "As the CEO I retain the right to overrule any personnel decision" (and any other decision, for that matter)...who to hire, promote, reward, discipline, terminate, etc. After all this entire organization is my team. Yet, if I want to grow my team's experience as leaders, I must allow my leaders to exercise their judgement in creating and growing their own teams. Sometimes their mistakes are more powerful learning tools than their successes. As my managers proceed through their hiring process, I make it clear that I will eventually want to know who are their top 3 candidates, the order of priority preferred by that manager, and the specific set of criteria and reasoning the manager is using to recommend their top choice and priorty order. I must use my ability to overrule sparingly, and if used I must thoroughly explain my reasoning. Of course this is only if you want a respectful and healthy work environment for your whole team.

Probably the biggest challenges for this philosophy is that we are often so pressured by our lack of time and patience to allow a more time consuming process, and our risk tolerance for making a mistake.

While choosing and growing your team involves some of the imporant decisions you'll ever make, and the most intense emotions that will swirl in your head and heart night and day, you will also experience some of the most significant joy when your team members and your team acheive at a level that inspires.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


It was amazing how successful Tom Landry was as a coach. In January 1978 we won a Superbowl together, and the next year we were the runner up. Fast forward 6 years, and much water under the bridge, Al Davis and we won big (January 1984 Superbowl victory). Their philosophies were so different, yet they were both winners. Both philosophies work, but which fits best for an individual or at a point in an individual's life?

Tom's system was his priority. He found obscure young players and molded them to fit his system. His system did not change. It was up to the player to change. This can feel pretty restricting after a while.

My first day at the Raiders facility in El Segundo, in the middle of practice, I look to my side and there stands Al Davis. He asked me if I had any thoughts on how the Raider's defense could improve. What? Mr. Hall of Fame player and coach was asking me? Is this a trick? A set-up? No. While on most teams coaches do not ask players questions, everytime we left the field during a Raiders game the coaches would be asking, "What are you feeling out there? What will work? What should we know?" They didn't always implement our reply, but the respect that I felt changed me and my motivation. To this day I would assault a moving Mack truck for Al Davis.

While our society is most often telling our kids what to do, it's the truly effective street leader...the Crip or Blood gang leader...who really listens to that young boy on the block.

The pager on my hip buzzes late at night and the read out includes a phone number and 911. He's in a phone booth near Alameda and the Feds. He's so tired. He's so alone. He so wants, needs to end his pain. He answers yes, he is thinking of killing himself. He answers yes, he has a gun with him in the booth. Am I all the way present at this moment? Can I 100% focus on him? Can I help him tell me why he's so tired...and really hear him? Can I find the right question that will help him identify some hope? Could I ever find a more significant opportunity in life to truly listen? I so don't want him to be in pain, but thank you for allowing me this opportunity for true significance.

It's the hardest skill I've ever tried to master. Distraction. Impatience. Emotionally drained. My own issues.

The most powerful tool of life...of relationship...of management...of leadership.