Herb Brooks, head coach of the gold medal-winning 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, was as famous for his colorful language as he was for his coaching. His players eventually compiled a list of what is known as “Brooksisms” a collection of sayings Coach Brooks would recite to motivate his young players.
While I certainly remember watching and rooting for the U.S. Hockey Team, way back on February 22nd in 1980, I only learned of Herb Brooks and his “Brooksisms” later in life. As a young leader working at New York’s JFK Airport as a front-line air cargo manager, it was a struggle. Somehow, I became interested in how Coach Brooks accomplished such a historic victory over the Soviet Union. I began reading his biography and learned a lesson that changed the course of my leadership. One of Herbs’ “Brooksisms” was: “Write your own book instead of reading someone else’s book about success”. I reflected on the challenges I was having being an effective leader and looked at my own little library of leadership books, written by others, I might add. Let’s just say it was a watershed moment and I cleared the shelf of those books to make room for my own.
From that day on, I began writing my own success book. I learned that my own thoughts were far better suited for me than anyone else. Sure, I could gain inspiration from others; however, the execution of my leadership had to be my own, I had to be my own person. This was not easy, it took courage. Often, I was forced to stand alone, committed to my own leadership principles; however, it was empowering and most important of all, my leadership went through a paradigm shift.
I learned that people respect and follow leaders who are of independent thought and stand up for their beliefs. It did not mean I was not a team player, I was actually more engaged than ever before. This new-found thought process forced me to really understand my company’s values, mission, and goals. What I learned is that after reading and reflecting about my companies’ values, I agreed with them. This allowed me to make an independent decision to be the embodiment of those values, difference being is “I” made the decision. This allowed me to maintain my independence while also being a team player in the organization.
With my own personal brand of leadership, it yielded tremendous results. I was quickly promoted and moved into positions of more responsibility across the country. However, along the way, I observed a marked change in the culture of corporate America, a culture which I did not agree with. Policy went away from being a guideline, with room for independent thought and latitude in decision making to being non-negotiable. Everything was driven from the “home office” in the form of checklists and audits. Hardly an environment for the leader in which I had become. In retrospect, I could not blame these organizations. Fewer and fewer people were making good decisions on their own, leading to bad outcomes. My personal brand of leadership, while adopted by many of the people I led, was not enough to fill the void of empty leaders, heck, many of these new “managers” needed to be told what to do. Independent thought had become passé.
This began a path of challenging times for me, as I did not adjust well to this new culture. I began to get a reputation as a difficult person, no longer seen as a person who was a “company man”. Difference being, I never was a company person, I was my own person. I simply made the decision that the company’s values I worked for were my own and led accordingly.
The most difficult reality of this new culture which I could not accept is results no longer mattered, it only mattered that you were passing compliance audits. The teams I led outperformed other teams, we had fewer accidents and injuries; however, I failed these corporate compliance audits. Eventually I was determined to be “non-compliant” myself, just as my formal audits reflected. No matter, being labeled non-compliant was a badge of honor for me because I knew who I was, I was my own person.
So be it, I would deal with this reality on my own terms. I reflected deeply on not only my character, also our own country’s character. In that reflection I read over and over the words of our unalienable rights, that of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. With that, I made a decision. As a veteran, I protected these rights for all, it was high time I exercised these rights myself and started my own company, Columbia Leadership & Efficiencies Inc.
At Columbia we facilitate leadership reviews the only way we know how. We do not tell or even teach, we simply share and inspire individual thought. The kind of thought to allow others to write their own personal success book! Complemented with that leadership, we teach tremendous efficiencies learned and developed from 30 years in the Transportation & Logistics Industry. Many of these efficiencies forgotten, ready to be taught to a new generation of operators.