Leadership

What Vanilla Ice Taught Me About Tackling Tough Situations

Last week I was having quite a week. Things were not going well. And the longer I dwelled on the situation, the madder I got. My prayers that day turned into to a confessional of the thoughts I had and even the things I said. It was not healthy. 

I was desperate, so I desperately prayed. But no epiphany came — at least not immediately. I struggled to sleep, then got up, and lived another day. Rinse and repeat. 

Another day dawned — and like most mornings, I hit the gym. And as I was working out, the funniest thought came to my mind — these five words:

“Alright stop, collaborate and listen.”

If you recognize those words as the lyrical stylings of one of the 1990s most marvelously-coiffed rappers, Vanilla Ice, give yourself a bonus point! And don’t hold it against me. It was what my brain brought to me during that early-morning workout.

Believe it or not, this simple phrase hit me like a ton of bricks. 

Here’s what Rob Van Winkle —  aka Vanilla Ice — taught me about tough situations and leadership.

Stop

The first thing I needed to do was slow down to a full stop. 

Stopping allows you to gain valuable perspective. 

And I did. After stopping, I could clearly see that world was not falling. My situation was in no way pleasant — but it was also not life or death. 

Collaborate

I’ll admit that this isn’t the first time I’ve had to ask myself which is more important: being right or collaborating with my sisters on the change we were collectively experiencing? What about the rest of the team — did I value their input? Was I willing to work with them? Or was this about me? And if I didn’t get my way, would I run away and pout like a three-year-old? 

These were hard questions to ask — and would’ve been impossible to effectively answer without taking a moment to stop. But after pausing for a moment, I could easily see that my relationships mattered more than getting my way. This situation was easily resolvable. 

Listen
Ah, listening. It’s so important! After all, is there any way to collaborate other than through listening? Don’t collaboration and listening go hand in hand? Of course they do! 

I have to remind myself to be open to not just hearing other people’s positions and opinions but also to being influenced or changed by what I hear. The latter is authentic listening. 

When All Else Fails, Laugh

When all else fails, find something to laugh at. 

The notion that Vanilla Ice was teaching me about leadership made me laugh in between exercises at the gym. The thought that I could share this experience with others via my blog made me chuckle all the more. They say that laughter is the best medicine — and laughing at myself and my wacky brain that morning was the medicine I needed to get through that challenging situation. 

So I blasted my headphones (definitely not Vanilla Ice!) and finished my workout. I went to the office and connected with people throughout the day. 

My advice to you? When you find yourself facing a tough situation at work or in life, follow the wise words of Mr. Ice. Stop, collaborate and listen. And don’t forget to laugh!

Choosing Love

I was planning on writing a totally different post — but I just found out about a big change occurring inside our business. Two of our leaders are leaving together to pursue another opportunity. 

In other words, what I thought was the plan and what the plan actually is are two different things. 

Enter Change

Change is always hard. Our “plan” was going just fine — in fact, the company had its best month ever in March! But now, things are interrupted. 

Interruption always brings change. And change is rarely fun. 

As I told my dad when we were texting last night, I have to bring positive energy to the office tomorrow morning. Writing these words on the ‘morrow morning, I don’t feel positive. So where do I go from here? 

The Feeling of Grief 

It would be easier if the two people leaving were not good at their jobs. It would be easier if they were people I did not respect or like. It would be easier, but still not easy. 

The question I find myself pondering is whether I am mad or sad? As a man, it is more socially acceptable to be the former than the latter. But honestly, I am the latter. 

Businesswise, we will be fine. And please note that by saying that, I am not knocking our two departing employees — their loss is enormous. I just serve a bigger God who has countlessly provided for our company and me, over and over again. I have faith in Him. 

Further, I realize we are all replaceable. This starts with ME. I am easily replaceable in so many respects it is not even funny. I am fallible, I get things wrong, and I know other people could do my job just as well or better than I do. I really think this — and I also think (and know!) that in Jesus’ eyes, my value is so great that even the cross was bearable. 

Both realities are true. 

So I am just sad. I am mostly sad that I won’t have the relational connection that I have had with them. Change sucks in this regard. 

Living Out the Emotion 

The next question I ask myself is what emotion am I going to live out? Is it anger? Sadness? Or something else? 

Is it love? 

If love is defined in terms of feelings, it cannot be. 

I don’t feel loving at all. 

I don’t feel hatred either. 

I don’t feel much at all. I just feel numb. 

But, I choose love. I choose the sacrificial kind of love. The kind that does not feel good to give. The kind that costs something. 

I know this might sound crazy, but last night — when I found out the second person was joining the first person to run another organization, I prayed.

I prayed that God would bless both of them. 

I prayed that their new business would experience radical success. 

I prayed that their families would be blessed by the fruits of their labor. 

I prayed that they would both flourish. 

What’s Next

I have a business to lead. Change is not fun, not what I would choose, and not what I want. 

But it is reality. 

Now I end this post with a renewed sense of purpose. My energy is positive. It will take faith, and gratitude, to keep it positive. 

As I pray regularly, I will pray to close now…

Let Your will be done, Lord. 

Even when it hurts. 

Even when I would prefer otherwise. 

Help me choose love nevertheless. 

Help me be for people and not against them. 

Even when it hurts. 

Especially when it hurts. 

Thank you that it does hurt, Lord. 

I love these people. 

I want the best for them. 

Amen. 

What Mom Taught Me About Life and Leadership

I’m filled with happy thoughts when I think back to my childhood. We lived in a typical 1980s neighborhood that felt more like The Wonder Years than current reality. My memories are of driveway hockey games, backyard football games, and more fun than I can fully remember. Life was good and we were blessed. 

We had two main rules in my family: first, my mom better know where I was — and second, I better be home for dinner by 5:30. Going home was never a problem because I was happy there. Don’t get me wrong, it was not perfect, just joyful. And as I find myself striving for some unattainable kind of perfection in my own home, I try to remind myself that what’s most important is creating a joyful environment. 

My mom was the one who set the joyful tone at home. As the third child, I reaped the benefit of her parenting experience. Looking back, especially at my adolescent years, I can see that my mom did three things that distinguished her from other parents and taught me vitally important lessons that apply to life and now leadership. 

Be Hospitable 

My mom realized that teenagers craved community, so she created an environment that was welcoming to all. I hosted sleepovers for various big events like the Final Four, pay-per-view boxing matches, and other sporting events. This often led to teenage boys acting out what they saw on TV in our family basement — and my mom rolled with it all! Of course, my dad reined things in from time to time (a role I see myself playing in a few short years) but my friends knew that we could push things a little more with my mom. It was fun and welcoming, and they all wanted to come back. Therefore, my social credit rose. Thanks, Mom! 

What did my mom get out of it? She knew exactly where we were and what we were doing — and also, what we were NOT doing. Well played, Mom! 

Have a Product 

Sleepovers at my house always ended with something my friends looked forward to: breakfast. After every sleepover, my mom made piles and piles of bacon. And as everyone knows, if you want to touch the heart of a teenage boy, give them lots of bacon! 

My mom was known for her bacon. Looking back, I realize (and I mean this with no disrespect) that there was nothing extraordinary about her bacon. She just delivered it time and time again, which made it special. 

How special? I am now 40 and recently traveled with my best friend, who had been at just about every one of my sleepovers back in the day. While eating breakfast at the Napa Valley Inn— including bacon — he began shaking his head. Puzzled, I look at him. He responded, “It’s still not as good as your mom’s.”

The point is that hospitality, and having a product worth coming back for, led to one last thing. 

No Judgment Conversation 

If my mom had a personal motto, it would have been, “You can tell me anything.” Maybe it was because everyone had a good time (or that they were stuffed with bacon) but my friends told my mom everything. It was literally the no-spin zone. 

In return, my mom did not judge. She most assuredly used her influence to nudge us in certain directions, but at the time, it did not feel like a lecture. It was leadership!  Even as a junior and senior in high school, I could tell my mom everything. This is probably why I learned to share what is (really) going on inside me and not hide it. I owe all that to my mom! 

When I think about my home life and the kind of leader I want to be, I think about the instructive lessons I learned from my mom. I want our home to be the place where kids want to come. I want to create a “gotta have” product — probably hamburgers! And I want my kids and their friends to feel safe enough to tell me everything. 

Similarly, at work, I want my office to be a safe place. I want my “product” to be the gift of listening. And I want others to feel secure enough to share what is on their mind. In short, I want to be like my mom.

“I Felt Big There”

This month, I want to talk about the importance of a leader’s ability to pay it forward. Now, I realize that paying it forward can happen in a variety of ways, but for the purposes of our discussion, I want to explore four specific things that leaders can pass on: dignity, love, opportunity, and purpose. When a leader pays these things forward, new life develops in others. And while this may not be the leader’s intent, it goes a long way toward their transformation into someone that others find worth following. 

What I’ve Learned About Leadership From Abraham Lincoln 

One ritual I have developed over the years is reading about Abraham Lincoln. Other than the Bible, reading about Lincoln has been some of the most significant reading I have done in my leadership development journey because he is someone I want to emulate. This year, I chose to reread Doris Kearns Goodwin’s classic, Team of Rivals. The stories about Lincoln in today’s post come from this book. 

While there are so many attributes of Abraham Lincoln that I appreciate — his ability to use humor, the way he prioritized meeting with people in person, and his willingness to change his mind based on the input of trusted advisers, to name just a few — I want to focus today on his ability to bring dignity to others. 

Obviously, Lincoln found himself in arguably one of the most difficult leadership positions in modern history shortly after he was elected President. With states seceding from the Union and, shortly after, the onset of a Civil War, Lincoln’s task was monumental. 

As time went by and his thinking about race relations evolved, Lincoln opened up to the idea of meeting with former slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglass. As Goodwin recounts, Douglass was actually a critic of Lincoln, believing Lincoln had not gone far enough in pursuing an end to slavery. So when Douglass showed up at the White House in August of 1863 without an appointment, he expected to wait for hours before seeing the President. However, two minutes later he was ushered in to see him. 

The Power of Feeling Heard

To gain the intended insight here we have to mentally travel back to 1863. No sitting President had ever met with a black abolitionist leader inside the White House, let alone listened to him. But not only did Lincoln do these things, he did more. As Douglass later recalled, “I felt as though I could put my hand on his shoulder.” 

Lincoln listened to Douglass’ concerns about how black soldiers were being treated as prisoners and their need for equal pay. And while Lincoln did not commit to changing federal policy on the pay issue, his voice “quivered” when describing the lengths he would go to protect all prisoners of war, regardless of color. 

At a later speaking event, Douglass said that while he was not entirely satisfied with how the conversation went, he felt heard. He went on to tell the crowd, “I tell you, I felt big there!” 

Think about that for a moment. Wouldn’t our leadership be better if others could say they felt “big” after talking with us? 

Dignifying Others is Leadership

In typical Lincoln fashion, this was not the last time he and Douglass met. In fact, they met several times the remaining two-plus years of Lincoln’s life. Lincoln even personally invited Douglass to his second inauguration. 

Afterward, Douglass was barred from entering the White House for the post-inaugural reception. When word reached Lincoln that this was happening, he stopped what he was doing and made sure Douglass gained entrance. Then he immediately talked with Douglass, setting to the side two Senators he was previously conversing with. 

Feeling a little embarrassed, Douglass reminded Lincoln of all the people he needed to see — according to Goodwin, Lincoln shook approximately 5,000 hands at that reception. But Lincoln persisted. “No, no,” Lincoln said, “you must stop a little, Douglass; there is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours. I want to know what you think of it?” referring to the inaugural address he’d delivered earlier that day. 

Douglass replied, “Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort.”

Knowing Douglass was one of the few that would courageously tell the President the truth, Lincoln was now the man feeling “big.” 

Dignifying others is leadership. It is one of the best things we can pay forward. So, let’s follow Lincoln’s, and Douglass’, example. 

Let’s make others feel big this week. 

How Does Shared Leadership Work?

Like many of my posts, this post was born early one morning at the gym — I suspect it’s because, with my body engaged, my mind can wander while I’m working out. And over the past several years, my mind has often wandered to the topic of shared leadership. 

Admittedly, when my two sisters and I began telling others that we were going to share leadership of Hoffer Plastics, it was awkward — despite the fact that we thought it was the best way to move forward. Many people did not understand how it would work. What would happen when two of us wanted to take the business in a particular direction, and the third did not? What decisions would be made by all three of us, and which could be made autonomously? 

Not only were these questions worthy of our time, but they were instructive. We realized that if we wanted our shared leadership model to succeed, we had to gain clarity on our answers. We began the process of doing the work and clarifying expectations — and then the pandemic happened. 

As Mike Tyson allegedly said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” And boy, did COVID punch us square in the face! But it also helped us prioritize, rendering secondary issues unimportant and reinforcing the early bonds of our alliance. COVID also legitimized our shared leadership model in the eyes of internal and external stakeholders. After all, the biggest question for any leader (or leadership model) is how they will perform under stress. When our company began turning a profit in July of 2020 — thanks to the hard work of our team — the three of us had demonstrated we could weather the onslaught of COVID-19 stress. 

While it is true that our business has continued to succeed in the months (and now years) after the initial stresses of the pandemic — and while it is also true that the shared leadership model we originally created has worked — I still find myself thinking back on its creation. This is especially true at times when I am alone with my thoughts. 

Do You Want to Be CEO?

In last week’s post, I mentioned the leadership coach who regularly works with my sisters and me. And in late 2021, he asked all three of us, “Do you want to be the CEO?” I raised my hand and said that I did. 

As I told the group, being CEO had nothing to do with power. Instead, I think it is the culmination of leadership. It is the ultimate test, with nowhere to hide and no one to blame — if it’s done well. 

I also affirmed that each of my sisters was more than smart enough to hold the CEO role. One of them is blessed with immense financial wisdom, the other with creativity and communication skills necessary for a CEO to succeed. This, I said, was not about having authority over them. It was about my inner desire to lead. 

What’s Driving Your CEO Desire?

As I reflected on my desire to become CEO, I realized a few things. First, I had to ask myself whether my ego was driving that desire. As my executive coach would remind me, one’s ego isn’t inherently bad — it can actually be good. And upon reflection, I discovered that my ego was absolutely driving some of my desire to be CEO. After all, the title has meaning and worth in business culture. 

I asked myself, “Do I really need a title to feel good about myself?” And my answer was this: as I’ve shared many times, my identity is built on my faith in Jesus. He died for me, and His love is the ultimate sign of my worthiness and identity. I am worthy because He says I am, not because of what I do or don’t do. My identity is therefore His and not wrapped in some earthly achievement. 

If the above paragraph doesn’t resonate with you or your specific situation, that’s cool. But, for me, knowing that I am worthy in Jesus’ eyes is the most freeing truth in the world. I don’t need a title to be content. I need Jesus —only Jesus. 

Leadership is Influence

Freed of the negative side of my ego, I also realized something. I suppose I already knew it, but I saw with renewed clarity. It’s one of those things that is so elementary that it’s easy to miss its significance— so lean in. Here it is:

The only kind of leadership is shared leadership. 

Let that sink in. 

What is leadership? To quote John Maxwell, leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less. 

This morning at the gym, this is what I realized. True leadership is always shared leadership. Spending time with my sisters to explore different leadership models is a waste of time. It takes leadership (i.e., influence) to effectively move any initiative forward. What ISN’T leadership is jamming an initiative down people’s throats. Family or not, that’s not leadership — it’s a dictatorship. 

The success of every board and company rely on shared leadership. It is dependent on human beings using their influence to move organizations from point A to point B. The moment that shared leadership dies, so does the organization. That is unless a dictator emerges, which brings an onslaught of its own problems with it — too many to address here. The point is that leadership always requires compromise, sacrifice, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to work with others. 

Outsiders have occasionally criticized our shared leadership model by saying that our dad could not decide who to put “in charge,” nor could we, so we just took the safe route. There is probably some truth to that. But what they miss, and what I have come to realize, is that the model we created was the foundation for the executive leadership development we needed. I’m proud to say that the three of us siblings have spent two years leading a business together, increasing sales and profitability without damaging our personal relationships. 

Influence, compromise, and candor is the only way it happens.

alex gretchen and charlotte

What I’ve Learned from Working with My Sisters

One common question people ask me is, “What is it like to work with your siblings?” Over the next two weeks, I will use this blog to attempt to answer that question. Next week, I’ll talk about our shared leadership model, but for now, I want to share some lessons I have learned about relationships. 

Before I get started, let me clarify a few things. First, I do not think of myself as an expert in relationships in general or sibling work relationships. The lessons I’m sharing are simply observations made from my own experience. My sisters and I have worked together since 2008, and our path has been mostly smooth because we have engaged outside help. As far as I’m concerned, our leadership coach is the expert! 

Second, while our work relationships are constantly evolving, we have so far maintained healthy relationships outside of work. Our families travel together, and I often find myself at sporting events with my two brothers-in-law. Together, we have agreed that what would cause us to “walk away” from the business would be if our relationships began deteriorating. This is why we have sought out the professional help I mentioned above. 

With all that out of the way, here are the three main lessons I have learned working with my sisters. 

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Most people have heard this lesson repeated since their early school years. That said, not judging a book by its cover is hard to always implement in real life. In fact, it is even harder to implement when it involves something (or someone) you know extremely well.  Especially when working with family, it’s tempting to think that you already know the story. But you may not. 

At work, since I know things about my sisters’ personal lives, I can be tempted to think I know the “book.” And while it may be true that I’m privy to a large proportion of what is going on in their lives, it doesn’t mean that I know everything. I must start from a place of knowing I don’t know everything before proceeding. 

Be Curious 

Curiosity moves me from judgment. The only way to discover what is in the “book” is to ask questions. I realize that I am at my best when I ask questions instead of making statements. Also, questions allow my sisters to open up, share what is happening in their lives with me, and ensure they feel heard.  

I must confess: this is difficult for me to do when I’m task-focused. When I’m focused on “getting it done” I assume that I know what my sisters will think, do, or say — and as a result, fail to ask clarifying questions. I am at my worst when I do this. 

Life is complex. The only way to develop a clear understanding of a situation is by asking questions and maintaining genuine curiosity. When I do that, I often discover that there is much more to the “book” than I first thought. 

Affirm Often 

One of my sisters recently shared her need for positive affirmation. It was brave of her to admit it, and it reminded me how much I, too, need it. Affirmation is an acknowledgment of one’s personhood. It says, “I see you, and I value you.” After all, what sibling doesn’t need that from their siblings? Better yet, what human doesn’t need that? 

Just like when I’m asking questions, I feel similarly at my best when I affirm others. This takes some guts because I have to overcome the feeling that what I am about to do or say will be viewed as “cheesy.” Sure, my high school friends from twenty-five years ago may have given me grief for being so sappy, but aren’t I past that? In my heart of hearts, I know that validating others helps me be my best. 

Cultivating Skills that Advance Relationships

Working with my sisters has helped me learn and develop necessary leadership skills. And it’s not a coincidence that the three lessons mentioned above — not judging a book by its cover, being curious, and affirming often — are all things that leaders worth following do regularly. 

Working with my sisters has allowed me to cultivate my leadership skills while nurturing our relationships. For our business to advance, we had to have hard conversations — otherwise, the company would suffer. The same can be said of any executive leadership team…it just so happens that our leadership team members are siblings. The three of us work hard to ensure that our relationships stay healthy. 

While no sibling dynamic is ever perfect, I end this post with the renewed perspective that the three of us are in a good place. I am thankful for this reality. I am also proud of it. Praise to the Lord for guiding us to this point!

Lessons Learned from Self-Inflicted Adversity

It was late in the day, three days before Christmas. I left the office to run an errand for Sarah and then go home to pack for our trip the next day to see her parents. 2021 had been a challenging year, so I was relieved to have made it to the finish line. 

Then my phone rang. Our Director of Operations, Jim, wanted me to visit one of our future leaders the next day. Jim had offered this person an exciting new opportunity inside our business, so he wanted me to meet them and see if I could close the deal before Christmas. 

Admittedly, this “ask” excited me. It made me feel needed and matched my strengths. The only issue, however, was that I was going to be on the road early the next morning. I asked Jim if I could email the person instead? Jim replied that while a face-to-face conversation would be preferred, an email may be enough to push this over the finish line. I agreed and assured Jim that I would craft the email as soon as I got home that day — late in the day of what turned out to be my last official workday of 2021. 

After getting home, I told Sarah and the kids that I needed a little alone time in my home office. Closing the door, I could still hear my kids running around as they were excited to be leaving for Christmas the following morning! I told myself that I just needed to compose a quick email and be done. After all, I reminded myself, I am good at this. 

So I began writing. I was rather direct. This person is an upcoming leader in our company, and I felt strongly that this move would be positive. I encouraged them to distinguish themselves over others at their level by taking this opportunity. I told them that it would position them as a future leader in the company. After reviewing my email a few times and softening the tone, I hit send. It was time to pack. 

I did not hear back from my email until the first Sunday of the New Year. The response I received was a rather direct reply and did not offer much hope of the person taking the opportunity. The following day, they turned it down.

Adversity Lessons Learned

At this point in the post, you might be wondering why I am sharing this story? There are several reasons. 

First, in the context of this month’s theme of adversity, there is arguably no worse adversity than the kind you bring on yourself. Upon reflection, I wrote that email in a state of fatigue and emotional exhaustion. I was also prideful. I felt that I could “close the deal,” and that ego had come through in the email. And so we are clear, I am responsible for choosing to write the email. I own this mistake. 

Second, email was a terrible choice for this communication; I should have opted for the face-to-face discussion Jim requested. The situation could have easily waited until January 3rd. This was another poor decision on my part. 

Third, I am sharing this story because of the very direct response I got back. As Jim said when I shared it with him, it was a gutsy response. And it really was! It ticked me off. But turnabout is fair play. In hindsight, I’m sure that my email ticked them off — so, what did I expect in return? But there’s more to it than that. Do I want a team that feels like they can lay it all out to me? Or do I want a team that complies with what I say, no matter what? The answer is that I want a team that tells me EVERYTHING. Period. 

Finally, I am sharing this because regardless of everything — that I came off too strongly, that email was a poor form of communication, and that I want our team members to feel comfortable being open and honest with me —  I still think the person should have taken the opportunity! 

Avoiding Adversity ≠ Avoiding Disagreement

The point I am trying to make here is that two people can disagree about a new idea and still be together. In other words, there are no repercussions for disagreement. Dog houses are reserved for the backyard and the National Football League. They do not belong on a cohesive team. 

Admittedly, this was a humbling lesson for me to end 2021 with. I share it with you here in the hopes that you can learn from my missteps and avoid your own self-inflicted adversity.

The Way to Win the “Blame Game”? Don’t Play

There is something magical about playoff atmospheres in professional sports. Every play matters. Every shift of momentum can be the difference between winning and losing. With everything on the line, every integral detail matters. That is, until the game is decided. Only one team wins their last game in the end. So for most, the season ends with a humbling defeat. All the dreams, hopes, and energy put forth are gone. 

Having experienced this kind of failure, I can attest it is painful to its core. But, it is part of the process. 

While I would like to say that business and life are different from professional sports, they are not in this regard: Failure and adversity happen. 

February may be the most appropriate month of the year to take a deeper look at adversity. Here in Illinois, February (and the cold winter weather that accompanies it) can seem like it will last forever; it almost feels permanent. Adversity can often feel like that too — like it’s permanent, with no end in sight. 

During the next few weeks, I’ll offer some thoughts on overcoming adversity, but for now, let me start by saying this: to overcome adversity, we must first accept it. 

This may sound elementary, but it is not. 

Leaders Take Responsibility

When a football team loses a hard-fought playoff game, its coaches (or leaders) need to take responsibility for the loss, regardless of others factors. Looking for outside sources to blame leaves one in denial and opens the door to an unproductive, never-ending game of “what if.” 

“What if the referee had made the right call?”

“What if it didn’t rain during the 4th quarter?”

“What if the other team’s star player hadn’t recovered in time?”

Some fan bases have grown comfortable with this kind of reasoning. And let’s be honest — sometimes referees make bad calls, the weather doesn’t cooperate, or the lineup is different than anticipated. 

But, all of this “what if” misses the point that winners don’t blame others. Winners only become winners by accepting the loss and overcoming the adversity the loss brings with it. 

In my observation, many business leaders can easily see when professional athletes fall into the “blame game” mindset. But what happens when the shoe is on the other foot — their own? Who gets the blame when their company’s performance is abysmal? And what about when their company’s sales and profits are a fraction of what they used to be — whose fault is that? 

In the last two years, I have heard leaders point to Trump, Biden, COVID-19, and numerous other factors, from bad salespeople to unmotivated millennials, as the reason for their business’ decline. These excuses lead to denial and the “what if” game. It’s not productive, nor the kind of approach a winner takes. 

Accept the Loss

With that in mind, let me be clear: any lack of success at Hoffer Plastics has been MY doing. And because I share leadership with my sisters, it’s their doing as well. The point is that I will not blame our salespeople, our operations people, or anyone else I have the pleasure of leading. I will blame the bald guy I look at in the mirror each morning. 

I own it. 

Accepting adversity is the only way one can deal with adversity. Like a frigid February morning, it is not pleasant, but it is reality. 

The good news is that accepting the loss helps you take the first step to overcome it. You are no longer in denial because you are acknowledging that it exists. You can take stock, reflect, and make countless changes to come back better. 

But only if you take ownership of it.

Greeting 2022 With New Hope

When I think of a new year, I think of fresh snow in a nature preserve. There are no footprints in the snow. Standing at the edge of the trail, the options of where you can head are endless. The surrounding area is still, and oddly peaceful. Hope is felt deep within, despite winter’s fury. 

Taking the first step takes some courage. But you step out nonetheless. The feeling of your boot disappearing into the snow travels up your spine. As you step forward, you hear the crunching of the snow. Off you go…But, where to? 

That is the question, isn’t it? 

Where to in ‘22? 

Intentional living can easily be defeated by daily obligations. The buzz of the phone can even tempt the hiker to abandon the trail and head back home. A bummer it might be, but they will have time for a hike some other snowy morning — so they think. But soon spring will come, then summer, and then winter. 

Another year. 

What happened to ‘22? 

This is why we start back at the beginning, before any interruptions and demands. We have to be intentional about where we are going in ‘22.

Intentionality is different than “resolution.” Resolutions often revolve around the cessation of some activity. For example, I “resolve” to stop eating sweets. Intentionality is grander. In the example above, it is the desire to live healthily and the actions required to do so. A “resolution” to stop eating sweets might be a tactic, but it isn’t the foundation. The point is that a grand destination is needed for the “hike” to be worthwhile. 

Similarly, I have found year-long goals difficult to maintain. Instead, I have used Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner for the past several years. It has helped me create 90-day goals that I review weekly. 90-day goals are akin to signposts along the “hike.” They let me know if I am headed in the right direction. They also help me get back on course when I stray. 

Yet, 90-day goals are only good when used to measure how they position you for some ultimate destination.

So, we have come full circle back to intentionality. What guiding question can we use to chart out our course?   

I propose the following: 

What is the one thing you want to be known for by year’s end? 

Admittedly, there are variations to this question that you can use. But, I am using the one above and encourage you to do the same. Whatever you come up with needs to be simple enough for you to write on a small index card so that you can carry it around all year. Simplicity will drive action. 

Since this is my post, I will show you how this is done by answering the question myself. 

“In 2022 I want to be known as someone that brings LIGHT where darkness exists.” 

I know that sounds lofty. 

Some of you may have even rolled your eyes. 

I am okay if you did. 

Here is how this works: 

I want to bring light to my marriage. 

I want to bring light to my kids’ lives. 

I want to bring light to those I lead at work. 

I want to bring light to my sibling relationships at work. 

I want to bring light to my local church. 

I want to bring light to my friendships. 

The 90-day goal possibilities are endless. 

Don’t think this applies to leadership in manufacturing? Here are some potential examples of how this can translate to work: 

Goal Idea: Help my direct reports identify their Working Genius and help them organize their tasks so that they operate inside their genius. 

Goal Idea: Continue to meet with members of the leadership development team to coach, encourage, and equip them for future opportunities. 

Goal Idea: Meet with Senior Leaders at customers to build relationships, share best practices, and express gratitude. 

All three of these goal ideas are work-related and inspired by my intention stated above.  

In conclusion, I have arrived here after traveling two years’ worth of trails that have been too dark. They have weighed me down, at times even tempting me to give up. 

But, as I take the first step in ‘22, I want to take it with renewed hope. 

I will bring light to darkness wherever I go in ‘22. 

To that end, I will be intentional about bringing encouragement and hope to these posts. 

Now, go decide where you are headed in ‘22. 

It is the only way to ensure you will get there. 

The Alarming Trend of Distrust

There is an alarming trend that has taken root in our society. It is the distrust of pretty much everything. 

Think about how prevalent the lack of trust has become: 

Collectively we…

Do not trust the news. 

Do not trust medical authorities. 

Do not trust businesses. 

Do not trust churches. 

Do not trust government organizations. 

Do not trust Hollywood. 

Do not trust Facebook or other social media. 

Do not trust Wall Street, Silicon Valley, or any foreign power. 

We simply do not trust. 

Of course, there are some exceptions to what I listed above. I may trust a certain news site, a certain medical authority, etc., but this is largely based on my preferences and beliefs not based on authority. 

The overall trend can be summed as questioning just about everything about everything and everyone. 

I am not immune to this either. I recently slipped into an unhealthy questioning of an event going on at our local church. This was silly because I know the leaders there well and have served as a Trustee in the past (I only mention because the experience allowed me to see behind the “curtain”). My questions were basic and not unhealthy in themselves—let’s be clear that questioning can often be healthy. What was not healthy was that my questions came with cynicism. A cynic is someone who has negative opinions about other people and the things other people do. So, my questions came with an expectation that something negative was going on at church. The event came and went, and it was fantastic. None of my fears (cynicism) were realized. So, the only thing that went through my head walking to the car was that I should have trusted the church a little more prior to the event. 

This thought is worth sharing because I talk with a lot of leaders and most indicate that they are struggling with trust these days. Not only are they questioning everything mentioned in the list above, they are also questioning the motives of their people. After two years of anything but normal, there is almost a collective expectation that other people will let them down. 

None of this is healthy. Questioning everything is not sustainable in practice. The cost to relationships are probably higher than most expect. The return on the energy spent being cynical is almost always negative and what does the cynicism produce in the end? 

As we turn towards the end of 2021, I am starting to think that the greatest gift leaders can give others is the gift of positivity and perspective. At our core, leaders have to see out and up, meaning they have to look out on the horizon. In addition to this, leaders have to cast vision as to why going from where we are today, to where we need to go tomorrow, is both worthwhile and meaningful. The last two years have conditioned us to be sedentary and wait for normal to return, and ??? We don’t know, so we wait and often we get cynical (as I did above). Many are irritated, or so it seems. Therefore, it will take leaders to pull us out of the pit we are in. Yes, real, gutsy, vulnerable, leaders. Not the positional ones and definitely not the weak ones because this is hard work.  Only the ones that can clarify the difference between what REALLY matters, and what is only noise. The ones that do not react to everyone else, but rather have an inner-compass that keeps them grounded and moving forward. The ones that DO trust because they know the person, or organization’s track record. And, because they also realize that without trusting, there is no leading. No one follows someone that does not trust them in return. It is too simplistic to say that the problem we have can be characterized by a lack of leadership, but, a society filled with distrustful noise is exactly that, a society with no leadership. 

While I cannot speak for you, I am going to look into the mirror, take ownership for my piece, and work on leading others better in 2022 than I did in 2021. 

With a little more trust, a little more grace, perhaps, we can find a little more peace in the year to come.