Stop the Negative Talk and Take A Walk

Some say the key to weight loss is reducing calories while others say exercise is the key.  Both are important but for me be the key to weight loss is controlling negative thoughts.  A positive outlook and a can-do attitude works wonders on both your body and your soul.   It has in my case!  In the past three years, I have been able to shed over 170 pounds and a lot of mental baggage by doing three simple things.

1. Stop Negative Talk. The very first thing you should do when striving to lose weight and be a better leader is stop the negative talk.   You need to replace the words can’t do with can do.  Also, you need to stop the practice of “worst casting”.  This is the racing voice inside your head that blows the simplest setback into a full fledge downward spiral.  Here is an example of thoughts in my head before I learned how to tackle it.

“This project is not going well. But I am the only one that can do it.    I need to work to at least 10 PM to pull it out or it will not get done.  I am so tired.  Need some energy.  But if I take a break I will never pull it out.  And then everyone will come after me.  How can I get some energy to keep going?  Grab a cup full of peanut M&M’s and another cup of coffee and I will make it.  I am still too tired but worth a shot”.

This my friends is how I gained over 80 lbs. in less than a year.  I worst casted myself into weight gain!  I reveled in being the Iron Man that could beat Murphy and stop disaster from coming down upon us.  But in truth, Murphy’s law (Everything that may go wrong will go wrong) was not in play.  Instead, I was being both a pessimist and an arrogant leader not trusting of the collective wisdom of the team.   It was only when I had faith in myself, a clear realization of the situation, and the belief in my team that I could break the cycle of worst casting.

So here is how the sound of the voice in my head is now.  “The project is having some problems but we can tackle them.  But I am still so tired.   I will call up my team to see if they have some ideas.  Then I will take a walk and clear my head.  We will then be able to solve this tomorrow. [Don takes a walk].  I came up with three ideas that will solve this by leveraging the ideas from my team.  I am energized.  I write an email, set the plan for tomorrow and go to bed!”

See the difference.  When I let the negative talk dominate, I worst casted myself into eating M&M’s, sitting in a chair, losing sleep, and not engaging my team.  I was still able to overcome Murphy’s Law because it was not really in play!  Also, I did it by force rather than smarts.  When I stepped back and stopped the negative thoughts, I exercised, engaged my team, got some sleep, and came up with a better solution with a cleared head.  First rule to weight loss and leadership – stop the negative thoughts in your head.

2. Take a Walk. I already alluded to this in rule 1.  When your mind is raising and your feeling stressed, don’t reach for a Whataburger – take a walk!  Preferably outside.  It will do three things for you.  First, it will destress you and calm you down.  Especially if you are out in nature and you can hear birds singing and smell the flowers.  Second, it will allow you to catch up with your thoughts and put them together in coherent patterns.  One thing that really helps on this second one.  Listen to a relevant audio book.  I cannot tell you how many times I solved the latest problem or come up with a blog story.  Third, it will allow you to capture ideas in a less rushed manner.  Nearly half my blogs and many of my work solutions start the same way.  I am walking around Town Lake listening to a self-help or sometimes a philosophy book.  An idea or a solution pops in my head.  I press the button on my iPhone and say Siri Take Note.  Then I record the idea and use it when I get home.  It is a great way to solve problems and write great blogs (and often to scare the person walking beside you!).

3. Be Kind. The last thing to defeat negative talk, work inefficiency, and weight gain is KINDNESS.  Be kind to yourself.  You are doing the best you can.  Be kind to others.  Often, they are doing the best they can and if they are not, you need to help them achieve their potential.  I will not lie to you.  Kindness is something I am still working on.  It is hard to tackle 50 some years of being a driver and a bit of curmudgeon.  But more often than not, you can kill the problem with kindness.  And shed the weight by being kind to yourself as you move to a healthier you.

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Getting the Iron Out Door – Lessons from Big D for Developers

This is the first of a series of Father’s day blogs.  The leader that I learned the most from (which is probably similar to a lot of you) was my Dad – Big D.  Yes believe it or not I am Little D or Donnie, Jr. to my family . Here is a picture of Big D and Little D.

big-d

One of my Dad’s favorite sayings was you have to “Get the Iron Out the Door”.  Coincidentally, that is the root of the title of the Quarterly Professional Services newsletter, “Getting the Iron Out the Door”.  Two of the lesson I learned from Big D relates to getting the iron the door.

What is the Iron?  Where is the Door?  The iron refers to large turbines that reside in dams to generate electricity.   Big D was a steelworker/machinist and later the manager of Turbocare in Houston, Texas.  These turbines would come in the “door” of Turbocare from all over the world (Columbia, US, India, etc.) for maintenance or emergency repair.    As soon as the turbine came in the door, it was Big D’s responsibility to drive his team to get the repair done as quickly as possible while fixing the root problem and maintaining quality.  You can imagine the pressure to get these turbines back repaired.  They powered cities like Detroit or Bogota.  Every day that the turbine spent being repaired, part of the electrical capacity powering the city was out.  A brownout could occur or even a blackout.  In addition, they could only be carried by a train or ship and for some of these places the ship or train schedules where tight.

Now “Getting the Iron Out the Door” did not mean rushing around and slapping a fix in, as Big D explained to me.   It was too costly to send a half repaired turbine out the door.  The shipping costs alone are enormous.  You first needed to physically and electronically inspect the turbine to determine the root cause of the problem which was usually a blade bent a fraction of an inch. Then and only then you could precision machine or weld the blade or rotor with the problem.  Lastly and most importantly, you needed to test the balance of the turbine to precise specification.  The whole while the clock was ticking and the ship or train was waiting.  If you made the right decisions on balancing speed with quality, the Iron went Out the Door and did not come back.  See the picture of a turbine going out the door of Turbocare below.

turbine 1

How do I take Big D’s lesson in leadership to my life as in Accenture overseeing IT engagements?  Maybe our systems in Public Service do not power cities but they help feed hungry children (SNAP), keep a family afloat in an emergency (TANF), and help care for people with urgent medical conditions (Medicaid).  Our job each day is to “Get the Program Checked In”, so we can meet the deadlines of our client.  In so doing, we cannot sacrifice quality for speed.  The “shipping costs” using our analogy are families not being served.  How do IT developers like Big D see the clock ticking but not hear it, “Get the Iron Out the Door” without it coming back in.

  1.  Do a careful analysis to find the root cause of the code problem or a careful impact analysis to perform a comprehensive design.  This is analogous to finding the blade bent by a hair or the hair line fracture in the Turbine.
  2. Next follow the design and analysis precisely.  Use precision code and tools to fix the root cause of the problem or make the new functionality first time right!
  3. Lastly, test your application to specification.  A program not to specification will be subject to warranty (come back in the door) or worst yet cause a family to miss the benefits for which they are eligible.

I miss Big D each and every day.  Let us heed his words of leadership well and Get the Iron Out the Door and not allow it back in!

A Mother’s Day Memorial: The Leader of the Family

My site is about weight loss and leadership. And today, midway between the day of my Mother’s passing (May 7th) and the day to honor her (Mother’s Day), I feel called to write about the lessons of leadership and life that I learned from my Mom.

Just as my Dad was known as Big D for his size and hailing from Dallas, my mom was known as Big Pat. I of course was little D or little Donnie.  My Mom’s counterpart was Pat Buckland, one of our great friends who was smaller in height and a member of the club.  (Two side notes.  The club was a group of family friends who all worked at DeLaval  in Jersey and little Pat who barely reached 5 feet could match my Mom’s stature in the 70’s with her boufant hairdo that was at least 5 – 6 inches high!  Little Pat was also a great role model).

My Mom was the secret leader of the family.  Dad was the external leader and I have wrote a few blogs about him already – here Lessons from Leaders – How to Get the Iron Out the Door (and not have it come back in!)  and here Life’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving .   But Mom was the internal leader of the family.  She was the soul and the heart who taught us how to laugh, love and get along in the world.  I learned many lessons from my mom but here are just five with appropriate antidotes.

  1. How not to take myself so seriously!  Anyone who knows me knows that I am an intense guy.  Part of that is from my Dad who always said this or that is the greatest or the best thing ever.  And part of that is just my anal retentive self.  Mom was the opposite.  She used to loosen me and my Dad up.  Here is an anecdote.  My mom went with me to back to school day back in my junior year when we moved to Texas.  Every 15 minutes we would have to switch classes and meet the teacher.  I walked directly to class while people were trying to flag me down and say high.  My Mom in her Jersey accent would say Donn…nie, why didn’t you say hi to those cute girls that were saying hi to you!  I said something like Mom we have to get to class and I do not want us to be late.  As always, I was too focused on the mission and what was next.  My Mom tried to focus me on relationships and what was now.
  2. If Before the Gospel, Everything is OK.  My mom was a Catholic and my Dad a back sliding Baptist (although always supportive of my Mom).   Although she was never intense in her religion, she always took us to Church and had us go to religion school.  She  also taught me that God loves you no matter your sins.  Another anecdote and an additional example of how she calmed my intensive nature).  With three siblings and a host of other activities, we were habitually late to church.   I would be stressing in the car as we drove to our parish (which surprisingly enough had the same name as the church I go to now – St. Vincent De Paul!).  She would say “Donn…ie, if we make it before the Gospel we will be alright!”  And truer words could not be said.  Half the battle in life and with your relationship with Jesus is showing up and making the effort to love and serve.
  3. Do not be a GOM!   Don…nie, Garry, David, Lori don’t be a GOM was a common phrase.  I knew what it meant from context.  Do not be hoodwinked, naive, tricked.  But I did not not know were it originated until I looked it up.  A GOM is Irish slang for a fool.  It was one of my Mom’s favorite terms (believe it or not in an endearing manner).  It must have come from my Grandpop Henry and his Father Charles who came over from Ireland during the potato famine.   Mom would use this term in one of two ways:  1.  Ewe, Don..nie don’t be a GOM.  When I said something humorous or silly. 2.  Donnie, don’t be a GOM they are trying to trick you!.  I liked the former better than the latter, but was appreciative of both.   No one could ever pull one over on my Mom.  She was not so silently shrewd and no one could pull one over on her eyes.
  4. Sing from your heart.  My love of singing and whatever literary skills I have come from my Mom.  She loved Debbie Reynolds and old Irish songs.  I grew up with the songs “Tammy”, Irish tunes, and “Frankie and Johnnie Were Lovers” running in my mind.  She taught me to sing from your soul, from my heart.   She also was quite a writer herself as was my Mother In Law Audrey.  To this day, I can never hear the song Tammy without weeping out loud.  It was the song of my childhood and is cemented on my soul!
  5. Love, love, love to the End!   What is it with Mothers?  They love us always and to the end.  My Mom was the same way (as was the Mother of all, the blessed Mother).  Two anecdotes stand out.  I remember back in Jersey being bullied by some kids.  I was the nerdy kid.  Heck my nickname was Richie Cunningham.  My Mom one day tracked them down and chewed them out.  They never bothered me again!
  6. Last thoughts.  The last memory of my Mom is the most meaningful.   I was sitting in the hospital in Richmond, Texas.  My mom was on a respirator and the Doctor asked me and the rest of the family if we should pull her off the respirator.  Even though she pointed to it to stop, we were struggling to give our OK.  We sat there and finally gave our OK.  But Mom had saved us.  She knew her time and had passed.  I will never forget her final act of love.  How she protected us from that decision.

In closing, there will never, ever, ever be someone as great and more deserving of your respect than your mother.  Love them!  Bless them! And, thank them for what you are and what you will be!

Leading Up Front – Lessons from Leaders

I learned from many leaders as I grew up through the ranks in the 9th Infantry Division, Motorized – whoo-ah (see my graduation photo from Airborne School in Fort Benning, below).  I had the pleasure to talk to General Schwarzkopf as he pumped iron at the gym (he was strong!!!)  and General Shalikashvilli (former Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff) when I was Deputy Division G3, but the best leader hands down in my book was Colonel  Dolan.

Man on Parachute Jump
Picture at Ft. Benning

I first served under Colonel Dolan when he was the Commander of 3/60 Infantry as his Battalion Military Intelligence Officer (oxymoron).  I would like to relate two of the many things I learned from him with some brief stories:

  1. Be confident in your area of expertise.
  2. Lead Up Front

Be Confident, You are the Smartest Person in the Room!

Let me set the stage.  I had just had a successful command as the Platoon Leader of a Tactical Intelligence Platoon.  Although part of an Infantry Division, my platoon of Korean Linguists and military intelligence analysts were more akin to the doctor’s on MASH (the famous TV show), then the gung-ho ground soldier.   They were more Hawkeye Pierce than GI Joe.  I was now moving from being the officer of a platoon of unconventional but brilliant, Military Intelligence soldiers, to being the only non-Infantry Staff Officer for a battalion of battle hardened soldiers that just came back from a tour in the Mid-East.  And the person that I had to provide intelligence on the enemy among other things had the reputation of being the toughest one of all – Colonel Dolan.

I was in Military intelligence reason for two reasons.  The good reason is I had a reputation of being able to analyze intelligence and figure out what the other side was doing.      The not so good reason is I am not as adept with typical military tasks such as firing a weapon, so being in the infantry now was a bit intimidating.

I was about to give my first briefing with the rest of the staff to Colonel Dolan and I was nervous.  I had studied my presentation the night before and could tell you the number of people, the deployment tactics, and the weaponry of the enemy battalion down to the last detail.  I also prepared a detailed briefing book.  But when I got in front of Colonel Dolan, I became nervous and spoke too fast on those few occasions when my dialog was not punctuated by um’s and ah’s.   But worse yet, in my eyes,  I forgot one fact that I wanted to present.  Altogether, not a good start.

Colonel Dolan called me in later the day and now I was scared.  I felt certain that he found out about the one fact I missed.  Instead, he started off by saying he read my briefing packet and thought it was A+.  He then asked me a few questions that I responded to.  Relieved, I was ready to go when the boss told me he had one more thing to say.  “Lt. Grier that briefing book and the content of your briefing were excellent, but the whole time you were speaking you acted like I was going to fire you.  You are the smartest person in the room when it comes to Military Intelligence.  So let me be clear.  The only time I will fire you is if you do not act confident when you are the smartest person in the room.  Now go out and do great things.”

These words are still ingrained in my mind more than 25 years later and I try to remember them each time I need to give an important presentation.  Many of us discount how well prepared we are in our area of expertise when we need to manage up or speak to leadership.  We try to remember every detail instead of being confident in the knowledge ingrained in our mind.  The bottom line is each of us our paid to be an expert in something.  Those things that you are expert in don’t be scared of missing a fact.  Do not hug a tree and miss the forest. Be confident.  You are the smartest person in the room.

Lead Up Front

The commander of a Battalion is sometimes affectionately know as the Old Man or Woman.  That is primarily a term of endearment, believe it or not, and is based on respect for the knowledge and prowess they gained over the years.  Only secondarily is it based on age.

Colonel Dolan was the quintessential Old Man.    He proved his prowess on the battlefield where he was awarded a Silver Star. He was also old in terms of Army standards having just turned 40.  Due to this milestone, the Brigade commander made him get a physical before he could run in the Brigade run.  This did not sit well with the Old Man much to our chagrin as you will see.

The day after he got his physical, we had a report by the equivalent of the battalion HR lead that a bunch of the enlisted guys and an officer or two did not do well on the practice Army Physical Readiness Test.  The APRT is the equivalent of a java certification for a developer.  You had to pass it to do your job.

The day of the Brigade run arrived bright and early.  I liked Brigade runs, normally (this was in the days when I myself was not an old man).  The only hard thing is that being an MI officer and the only non-Infantry officer on the staff I got the duties that the Infantry staff officers did not want.  In this case, I had “fall out” monitoring duty.  This meant I had to circle around the four companies in our battalion (each with about 150 people) the whole time we were running.  I had to report to the Old Man how the companies were hanging.  Usually this was not too hard because I was many pounds lighter then and a great deal faster.  Also, Colonel Dolan kept a steady pace and he usually was not so fast.

But today was a different story.  A perfect storm had hit with Colonel Dolan’s physical and the report of soldiers being out of shape.  The old man was out to prove a point.  He began at a brisk pace and proceeded from there.  On my first lap around the battalion, the Captain  of C Company yelled out, “Hey, Don what is the Old Man doing?”  I said, “I don’t know but let me check”.

As I ran around the battalion, some of the more out of shape soldiers were getting winded.  I myself was breathing hard especially since I was running double the distance.  Back at the front of the battalion, I told the Old Man that several of the company commanders had asked what was going on.  All he said with a face of sheer determination was “The Go Devils (our nickname) are meant  to go fast”.

So on a subsequent lap around the battalion  as I was gasping for breath, I told Captain Gerras that I did not know what the Old Man was doing.  He yelled to me “Tell him to slow down, a quarter of the battalion is falling out”.  I yelled back, “Sir, you are welcome to tell him.  I am just trying to make it back around.”

I made it back up front just as we were nearing the gate of the parade field.  Now custom is you stay in formation behind the battalion in front of you.  Not today.  Colonel Dolan decided to pass the Second Battalion!  He yelled Go Devils Coming Through and he passed Second Battalion in a dead sprint.  Colonel Dolan asked me how the battalion did.  I told him one gasp at a time “Not …..(Gasp) ….all ….made….. it, but ….there …… will…… not……. be………anyone…..failing…… the ……. APRT … any …. time … soon. “

And those gasping words rang true.  The Battalion got the point and for weeks all the soldiers could talk about was how fast the Old Man had sprinted. And he still had it!

The lesson in leadership is that sometimes the Old Man or Woman has to show the team how it is done.  In the Army, being fit is a work necessity.  Colonel Dolan showed the team how it was done.   He led by example.  This does not mean that every time when a team member needs an extra boost to complete a task, the leader has to do it for them.  No! What it means is that at some critical junctures it is important that the Old Man or Woman lead the way and show the prowess that got them to the position in the first place.  It is not enough to manage a spreadsheet.  You need to lead up front and pass the competition.  Go Accenture!  Lead the way!

Honoring Veterans and Leading in the New IT

One of the greatest lessons that I have learned from Weight Watchers is “to keep your Why, nearby!”  I had a very specific “Why” in 2016 that helped to propel me and others to better health and service.  In August of that year, in honor of one of my former Army colleagues,  I and others from Accenture decided to do a walk to raise money for Veterans.  But this was not your normal fun run or walk.  To honor the huge sacrifice of all Veterans lost in battle, the only fitting tribute was a Kennedy Walk.

John F. Kennedy introduced this 50 mile walk in 20 hours.  People still do it every year along the Potomac.  My company Accenture sponsored the walk to support the Merivis Foundation and the young Marines of the Capital Area.  The icon that you see on my blog is me at the end of the first Kennedy Walk.  The picture below is of some of the participants for the most recent walk on Veterans Day, 2017  (this year I switched it up and did 200 pushups instead of 5O miles).

merivis2

Here is the introduction on why we had the walk.  The picture of John Kennedy was given to me on my 20th birthday from my roommate at the Academy.

 

If you are a Veteran or further interested in donating, here is a link to Merivis Foundation that trains Veterans for positions in IT.

http://merivisfoundation.org/

 

 

Ms. Jordan’s Lessons on Civil Discourse

Many of you who pass through Austin have seen the statue of the airport’s namesake, Barbara Jordan shown below. I have on my desk with the same image and her words – “My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total.” The statue captures the essence of Miss Jordan – a towering intellect, the epitome of integrity, and a hero to all Texans. She also encapsulated in one person both the power of diversity and the spark and spirit which binds us together.

Barbara-Jordan-statue-at-airport-photo-by-Joshua-Tang-October-2012

There is no more improbable and meteoric rise in politics as the one accomplished by Barbara Jordan. She was the first African American woman to be elected to Congress in Texas. Later in life, she became disabled and was confined to a wheelchair. Instead of this being an obstacle, this disability allowed her to gain perspective on issues facing those with a disability. Miss Jordan’s diverse background and experiences provided her both an unmatched perspective on issues facing minority groups and a unique ability to bring disparate groups together. Her differences and how she articulated them brought people together instead of driving them apart.

She is known as one of the great orators in American history. She came to prominence during Watergate as a member of the House Judiciary committee where her speech before congress is still cataloged in many lists as one of the top ten speeches in American History. In fact, the first time I came into contact with Miss Jordan was at Speech Class, a mandatory course at West Point. In Speech class, we were required to review a video of her speech along with those of JFK, Martin Luther King and others to learn the art of persuasive argument.
What I noticed in that speech were three elements that define the art of civil discourse, leveraged her unique experiences from disparate groups, and made her an American Icon.

1. She understood all angles of an issue. In particular, she could articulate the opposing views perspective often better than they could themselves.
2. She would then clarify were she agreed with their perspective to emphasize where there was common ground.
3. Only then would she respectfully bring up where she differed from the group or person’s perspective with concise arguments based on her view of the facts.

I became very familiar with this approach and had the opportunity to practice it myself with her while attending graduate school. I had the profound privilege of attending two Ethics in Government classes with Professor Jordan, my favorite teacher of all time. I also had the distinct honor of assisting her from the wheel chair to the table before each class.

We looked a bit like the odd couple if you looked only at the surface. Newly departed from the military, I still sported a buzz cut and was thought to be conservative for the LBJ School at the University of Texas. I reveled in her class, the lessons she taught, and the debates we had. Each week she would give us 500 or more pages to read from a diverse set of opinions.  We then would have class debate following Professor Jordan’s three lessons of civil debate quoted above. Unbeknownst to her, I often agreed with her but took the opposite line of argument just to match wits with her brilliant intellect and learn more. I sometimes exasperated her because I had not yet learned her three rules of civil discourse to find commonalities. Professor Jordan was known to have a deep sonorous voice – I called it the voice of God. On one occasion, when I was making one of my points a bit too spiritedly in the impossible effort to rattle her, she said with a twinkle in her eye “Don Grier, I am not sure I can take you three times a week in my class.”

The last vignette serves to show how Professor Jordan brought people together upon common ground. Each year, West Point awards the Thayer award to the person that best epitomizes its motto – Duty, Honor, and Country. It is usually given to a General or President but in 1995, three months prior to her death, it was given to my hero and mentor Barbara Jordan. An icon, her integrity, dedication to service, and ability to bring others together was honored by one of the most conservative institutions of our country. Here is a link to her remarkable acceptance speech and a picture.

http://www.blackpast.org/1995-barbara-jordan-s-acceptance-speech-sylvanus-thayer-award-united-states-military-academy-west-po
To end, I try to live Miss Jordan’s rules of civil discourse each day even though sometimes I fall short.

1. Know the other side’s view at least as well as they do
2. Seek first commonalities and build on them to establish a relationship
3. Then and only then; civilly and with respect explain any differing viewpoints

Lessons in Leadership and Losing (Weight)!

In 2013 through late 2014, I was in very bad shape. The picture below gives you an idea. Taken at my 50th Birthday, I am seen here with an Elvis impersonator. Elvis is a long time idol of mine and I can do a pretty wicked impersonation , even at my peak weight (unfortunately this picture was taken a little shy of my peak). But I always preferred the young Elvis to the 70’s, too many Peanut Butter and Banana sandwiches Elvis.

oldelvis

I had to do something!  My 30th West Point Reunion was coming and the picture below  represents what my classmates remembered about Don and Elvis.

skinny elvisIndeed, I was on a downward trajectory. The bottom hit in late 2014. I was in Kansas on a business trip and I was trying to keep up with one of my colleagues who had offered me a lift to the hotel. I was trying to keep pace with him as we climbed the stairs. On the third flight as we approached the car, I could not catch my breath in the brisk air. It took more than 5 minutes of deep breathing to get it under control.  This had to end and it did!

In late 2014 and early 2015, I did two things that forever changed my life.  One I got a checkup that told me I had some health issues and two I joined Weight Watchers.  This blog is dedicated to the leadership lessons that I learned in Weight Loss and Life that allowed me to lose 178 lbs,   enjoy my reunion, become a Lifetime member at Weight Watchers, walk 50 miles in one day, and return to Skinny Elvis (see picture below from this October!).  If you are a 50ish guy, stuck in a rut and want to get the fire back and weight off, I will show you how to do it!  And hopefully impart some leadership lessons on the way.  If you want to learn more please subscribe 

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new elvis