Category Archives: Blog

I Wondered What Our Founding Fathers Would Say…So I Asked Them!

Given the plethora of issues we are facing as a country right now (the list seems to be increasing daily, if not hourly), as part of my daily self reflection, I wondered what America’s Founding Fathers would say about what is going on. So, in my attempt to figure this out, and to “seek to understand before I am understood”, I decided to ask them. “How??!”, you ask? Well, believe it our not, I happened to run into several of them at the Salt Lake City airport two weeks ago. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the picture below 😉

The first topic I wanted to discuss with them given the recent events in Charlottesville was the First Amendment, which, of course, protects our freedom of speech.  I think I understand the concept that in a true democracy an individual should have the opportunity and the right to say what he/she believes, regardless of what others may believe. The fact that others may strongly disagree shouldn’t censor that individual’s view.

George Washington stated:

“If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

Ben Franklin opined:

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government: When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved.”

I firmly believe that people have the right to say what they want, which is maybe why this quote from Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s The Friends of Voltaire (which she wrote under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre) resonates so deeply with me:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

But, on a practical level, I draw a clear line between speech and action: My belief is, okay, you can say it, and even march if you want. However, do not in any way threaten or physically harm another human being. “Free Speech” does not permit “Free Action” under any circumstances.

Personally, I believe that even though people have the right to say anything, the world would be a much better place if people took the time to first really think about how their words will affect others (there’s that “self reflection” again!). Yes, you have the right to say anything, but do you really need to say it? Are you accomplishing something positive or productive, or are you simply alienating or hurting others for no real benefit? Yes, I do realize my point of view may appear unrealistic and impractical, and I can definitely be accused of being both idealistic and naïve. Nonetheless, being a die-hard optimist, I intend to continue trying to raise this awareness and keep asking people: “Yes, you can say that, but do you really need to say it? What are you trying to accomplish?”

I also raised another emotional topic with the Founding Fathers: the Second Amendment — the right to bear arms — but I will save that discussion for another blog post 😉

Here’s wishing everyone a great week!

Summer Vacation: When the Children Take Control

After 25 years of family vacations, Julie and I have gotten used to being in control of our annual summer trips. Yes, we solicit input from each of our five children, but ultimately, we decide where we go and when. I just assumed this was the way it would always be 🙂

Our trips over the past 25 years have become known as our “Wallyworld” trips. Similar to the Griswalds (see Chevy Chase and the “Vacation” movies), we would load all seven of us (Julie, myself, and our five children) and our luggage into a minivan and head off to the East Coast, West Coast, the National Parks, or Canada. Believe it or not, we usually made no reservations since we wanted to be flexible for whatever came our way. If the children wanted to spend an extra day at Disneyworld or Glacier Park, no problem, we just figured out how that would impact the number of miles we needed to drive the following days in order to make it back home in time for work and the start of the school year.

Well, that process worked well until a few months ago. Maybe I should have realized that since the ages of the children are now 29, 26, 23, 19 and 15, things were due for a change. When I told the children of a few possible “driving trips” for this summer’s vacation, I was told: “Dad, we are not going on a driving trip in the minivan this year. We are going on a rafting trip.” When I inquired “where,” I was told: “Dad, just pack a sleeping bag and a bathing suit. We have arranged everything.”

This was not easy for me to comprehend: I am not involved in the planning???? And rafting sounded a little ominous since I have never done it, and I am not a great swimmer.

Well, it turned out to be an amazing week! We all flew to Denver where, ironically, the kids rented a minivan so we could drive across the state of Colorado to Grand Junction. From there we took a small propeller plane to the Green River in Utah. We then boarded three rafts with two other families and took a 90-mile rafting trip over five days down the canyons of the Green River toward Moab, Utah.

The scenery was gorgeous, and the stars at night were magnificent. In addition to the three rafts, the guides had inflatable “ducky boats”, which were two-man kayaks. The rapids were just crazy enough for Dad to get very nervous about flipping over…just another example of not being in control.

It was a wonderful family time for swimming, rafting, camp fires and story-telling. I am already looking forward to what surprise the children have in mind for next year!!

A Little Self Reflection: Five Days at Camp Makajawan

Who said you couldn’t have fun at a Boy Scout camp with 200 scouts in 55 degree weather in the rain? 😉

First of all, a little background: Camp Makajawan, or as the camp sign says “Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan”, is a Boy Scout camp in northern Wisconsin, about 300 miles north of Chicago, up in “God’s Country” (no, it isn’t all the way to Canada). My youngest son, Daniel, and I have had the opportunity to spend a week there with 200 other Boy Scouts the first week of August for the past four years.

Even though it rained several days, and the temperature was in the 50’s (yes I said 50’s in August! 😉 ), we had a fantastic time with our Wilmette Troop 5. It is a great time to bond with one another and truly enjoy nature: walks in the woods, participating in numerous merit badges, canoeing, and building fires. Daniel also went on a “wilderness survival night” in which the troop heads out into the woods with a knife and three matches and is expected to make it back to camp in the morning (Dad took a pass on this adventure and stayed at camp reading one of his world history books in the tent 😉 ). Daniel and the troop did make it back in one piece.

Some of the gang around one of our campfires

Even though I never had the opportunity to be a Boy Scout myself, I really admire the Boy Scout experience. Camp Makajawan is run by 50 Scout leaders, mostly young men between 16 and 22 years old. The process starts at 7:30am sharp with the raising of the American flag and an announcement to “prepare for prayer according to your custom”. All 200 Scouts, mostly between the ages of 12 and 17 are respectful, diligent, and pay close attention to the direction of the Scout leaders. The troops that are most attentive, dressed in their “Class A Outfits”, and lined up appropriately have the opportunity to eat first. Each day is filled with activities to obtain merit badges and enjoy nature activities. The day ends with the lowering of the flag, “prayers according to your custom,” and dinner, followed by camp fires.

In a world that often questions the next generation, you have to see what occurs with these young people to believe it. The boys helped one another through the exercises and merit badges, listened to one another as they shared experiences and learnings, all in a very respectful manner. I reflected on the fact that many of us adults could learn a lot about listening from these young men, taking the time to truly understand the perspectives of others rather than wasting so much time giving our opinions on what is right and wrong with the world. Spending these five days at Camp Makajawan gives me great hope for the next generation — and maybe some of them will run for office someday!

Here’s wishing you a great weekend!

A Lesson from Children on Values-Based Leadership and Spirituality

I often reflect on how unfortunate it is that people in many situations focus on the differences in our spiritual beliefs rather than focusing on the many things the great majority of us share in common: Treating one another the way we want to be treated (the “golden rule”), giving one another the benefit of the doubt, forgiving one another when we make mistakes, making the world a better place for our children, etc.

However, being an optimist, I believe firmly that we have the capacity to do better, and I believe that heart-warming stories like the following one attest to this fact:

As you may know, today Muslims worldwide celebrated “Eid-ul-Fitr”, the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. During the past month, Muslims fasted during the whole day (as they do every Ramadan) — which means no food or drinks (including water!) between sunrise and sunset — as a way to purify themselves and achieve a higher level of spirituality. For Muslims, Ramadan is intended to help teach self-discipline, self-restraint, and generosity and serves as a reminder of the suffering of the poor, who may rarely get to eat well. Each evening, Muslims break their fast with a meal called “Iftar”, which is a time to give thanks and celebrate with family and friends. Typically, neighbors also share Iftar dishes with each other. The following photo shows the children of a Muslim friend of mine making such an “Iftar delivery” a week or so ago to one of their neighbors in Philadelphia.

But here’s the fantastic part of the story: These neighbors aren’t even Muslim — they’re Jewish!

Notice that there is a poster on the neighbor’s gate that says “Hate has no home here.” The statement is repeated in several languages, including Urdu, Arabic, Spanish, and Hebrew.

My Muslim friend said it best: “My family and I felt it was so nice of our Jewish neighbors to publicly condemn hate that we stopped by and introduced ourselves earlier this year and decided to share an Iftar platter with them this Ramadan. I feel the picture of our children delivering Iftar to this neighbor is so powerful: Two Muslim children delivering Iftar to Jewish neighbors who have made a poignant, public declaration in support of love and humanity.”

I get excited to think of how different the world could be for all of us and our children if we all acted in this way, focusing on what we all share in common rather than exaggerating the differences. We clearly can learn much from such acts of generosity and kindness.

College Reunion Weekend

I had the opportunity this past weekend to attend my Lawrence University college reunion in Appleton, Wisconsin. It was a fantastic opportunity to spend time with classmates and professors that I had not seen in many years. It was a wonderful experience!!!!

One impact of the experience was to cause me to SELF REFLECT (yes, I know you are thinking: “What else is new with Harry?” 😀). But this experience really did cause me to self reflect…..40TH COLLEGE REUNION!!!! How could it possibly be my 40th college reunion if I am only 39 years old????? Hmmmm… I guess graduating from Lawrence in 1977 as well as having a daughter who is almost 30 and a son who was also at Lawrence this weekend celebrating his 5th college reunion may be possible evidence that I am no longer 39 years old…! 💡

Freshman Roommates

I had the opportunity on Friday evening to get together with several of the guys I roomed with on the 4th floor of our Colman Hall dormitory when we were 18-year-old freshman in the Fall of 1973!! Walking by the field where we played touch football 🏈 the day we arrived on campus in September 1973, we found the “field” is now full of 50-foot-tall trees. As we all stared at the “field”, one of my classmates declared, “Well, guys, it was 44 years ago!!” Wow!

While we were having dinner that evening several folks mentioned that they really didn’t feel any different than when they really were 39 years old. Nonetheless, we discussed the importance of being thankful for every day we are given. This thought was reinforced when we attended the reception that evening for our 40th reunion class. At the entrance to the room was a large white board with pictures of 26 classmates (out of our class of 320) who are no longer with us…great people including roommates and teammates whom I hope to meet again at the “end of the story”.

Please don’t think I look at these things in a negative or pessimistic way. I don’t. Rather, it reminds me that we all have limited time to make a difference in the world, so let’s get going!! As I have mentioned in earlier blog posts, we can talk about all of the challenges in the world and assume some magical group of people called “THOSE GUYS” will solve them, or we can realize that WE are “THOSE GUYS”…the men and women who can make a difference.

Okay, one final thought on “self reflection”. A student asked me how one would feel if they were “truly self reflective.” (I love this question!!) I asked him to consider the following: You feel completely healthy, but your doctor walks up to you and informs you that you have three days left to live (and no chance to change the diagnosis). How do you react? Do you go crazy, running around, shocked, surprised 😳😢? Or, in a calm, reflective manner do you realize the obvious, which is: We all eventually have three days left — we just don’t know when that three-day countdown begins. So why wouldn’t we live our lives and treat every person with whom we come in contact as if it really was “our last three days?”😀👍

Well, that’s all for now. Have a great (self reflective) week!! 😀

Top 12 ‘End of Quarter’ Thoughts

I always get a little (or maybe a lot) SELF REFLECTIVE at the end of each academic quarter of my Northwestern Kellogg classes. The ten weeks of my Values-Based Leadership and Leading a Global Company classes always seem to fly by.

Last week, one of my students asked if I would compile some “words of wisdom” for the last class. I wasn’t sure if I had any “wisdom”, but I did compile some thoughts and some of my favorite quotes and stories. I hope you enjoy them!

Congratulations to all of the graduates, and have a great summer!

Warm regards,

Harry

TOP 12 FINAL THOUGHTS FOR THE QUARTER

  1. Take the time for self reflection (this is where your values are established and your leadership starts)
  2. Never forget or postpone LIFE BALANCE (this is not “work/life balance” but “life balance”…This is the key to a life worth living)
  3. Make sure you get from the ROOTS to the TREES to the FOREST…..put everything in perspective….think globally and holistically)
  4. Build (and constantly revise) your Leadership Action Plan (we can improve every day we are given on this earth)
  5. Read, read, read…..as many different topics and perspectives as possible (never stop learning)
  6. Build and develop an amazing network…..be a GIVER, not a TAKER
  7. Always “pay it forward”
  8. Read the poem “The Dash” by Linda Ellis (a great way to start the self reflection process)
  9. Read the speech “The Man in the Arena” by Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the U.S. Here’s my favorite part of the speech that he presented at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910:
    The Man in the Arena
    Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910:
     
    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
  10. Read the poem “IF” by Rudyard Kipling. Here it is:
    If
    by Rudyard Kipling
     
    If you can keep your head when all about you
        Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
        But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
        Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
        And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
     
    If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
        If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
        And treat those two impostors just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
        Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
        And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
     
    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
        And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
        And never breathe a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
        To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
        Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
     
    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
        Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
        If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
        With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
        And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
     
    Source: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)
  11. Read the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote:
    To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
     
    Ralph Waldo Emerson
    Philosopher, Poet, Author, Essayist
  12. Read the story “Rocks, Pebbles, Sand” (anonymous)

    “Rocks, Pebbles, Sand”

    A philosophy professor stood before his class and picked up a large, empty mayonnaise jar which he proceeded to fill with rocks. He asked his students if the jar was full.

     

    They agreed that it was, so the professor picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar.

    He shook the jar lightly and the pebbles rolled into open areas between the rocks. He asked again if the jar was full.

     

    They agreed it was. The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it in and the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.

     

    The students responded with a unanimous yes.

     

    “Now,” said the professor, “This jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children–things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

    The pebbles are the other things that matter…like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else, the really small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks.

    The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important.

    Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get checkups. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the rocks first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

    AND A FINAL THOUGHT…the professor produced two cans of beer and poured them into the jar, filling the empty space between the sand. The Professor then said, “No matter how full your life is, there is always room for a few beers.” 😉

Values-Based Leadership in Action!

One thing I enjoy tremendously is seeing values-based leadership in action. Over the years I have had the opportunity to witness many such instances, and I frequently share these “Real World” examples with my students and executives who attend my leadership talks and seminars. Often, I hear some great examples from my friends, colleagues, and students…and now I have an amazing example to share!!!

I received the below note, a true story, from one of my former Kellogg students. As you read the note, I would like to ask you to focus on a few questions:

  • Am I self reflective enough to even consider doing what this person did? (What are my values and what kind of impact do I want to make in the world during my life?)
  • Do I let the actions of others determine how I will react, or do I have a balanced perspective that enables me to determine how I will respond? (Am I proactive or reactive?)
  • Do I have the TRUE self confidence of this individual, enabling myself to be an example to others of what it really means to be a values-based leader? (Or am I overly concerned of what others would think of my actions?)
  • What does this story teach me about the power of GENUINE humility? (Isn’t it amazing the impact we can have on others when it is not “all about me”?)

I have read this story several times today…and I am more impacted by the words and message each time I read it!!!! To my student, thanks so much for sharing!!!


Defusing Anger with Kindness

The man stepped into the line for coffee right in front of me.

“Excuse me,” I said, “the line is behind me.” He didn’t turn or respond. I noticed that he was wearing headphones; he must not have heard me. I tapped him on his arm and repeated, “Excuse me, the line is behind me.”

“I know there is a line!” he turned and snapped angrily.

“Just making sure you knew,” I replied calmly.

“I know what a line is, you F**K!” he yelled, loudly enough for everyone in the cafe to hear.

“No need to cuss,” I chided gently.

Seething, the man got in the line two spots behind me, and we waited for our turn to order. After several minutes of waiting, my turn came. I ordered my usual latte. The baristas took the orders for the woman behind me, as well as the man who I had the confrontation with. By the time my turn to pay came, I had made up my mind:

“Yes, one latte,” I declared. “And I’m going to cover my friend there as well,” I added, pointing at the man. I paid for both of us. As I turned to walk away, I glanced at the man, and he said to me rather tersely,

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know,” I said, “but it seemed like you were having a bad day.”

We shook hands, and I walked over to the side to wait for my latte. I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the guy who had been in line right in front of me. “That was classy, man,” he said. I nodded my thanks.

********

I share this story, professor, not to make myself appear noble or to win accolades. Rather, my intent is to use it as a portal to get into the mindset, the internal deliberations, that led to this outcome, and share my takeaways regarding the importance of cultivating certain attributes.

As I see it, this was essentially all about genuine humility and true self-confidence. I ask myself: Why did I not fly off the handle when the man swore at me? Alternatively, why did I not shrink into myself, embarrassed at being berated in public in such a manner? My answer is genuine humility and true self-confidence. A lack of humility can make people’s sense of pride overly sensitive to injury.  A large ego gets wounded easily: How DARE he swear at me?! This can lead quickly to anger and potentially an uncontrolled reaction. At the same time, I have to be truly self-confident to realize that the angry statements of a complete stranger cannot hurt or embarrass me. I remain calm and collected, recognizing that the issue is not with me, but with the gentleman who has decided to yell out abusive language in a public setting at a complete stranger. Therefore, I am able to remain in control of myself, and consequently, I am able to control the situation.

Staying calm and recognizing that I am in control then allows me to think beyond myself. Why did this man have an outburst? Is he having a bad morning? Is he simply a jerk? Or is he racist, his anger sparked by the sight of my brown skin? (This may seem like a ludicrous possibility to those who haven’t experienced racism, but I have.) Probably a multitude of other possibilities, but I am able to quickly get to an answer for myself: Regardless of the man’s motive, I have an opportunity to defuse his hate/anger with an act of generosity, of kindness, by buying his coffee for him. Not only is it a “nice thing to do”, it’s also extremely empowering. It leaves me feeling strong and grounded in the “courage of my convictions.”

It is my core belief that it’s the small actions that build one’s character. Pay attention to yourself — how you think, how you behave — when dealing with the seemingly small and insignificant events of daily life, and push yourself to do the “right thing” and be a change agent, no matter how uncomfortable it is.  Inevitably, you will find yourself muscled up and more prepared to do the heavy lifting when the big events occur. And if I can do it, anyone can do it.


Have a great weekend, all!

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