Why I Do It
Why did I decide to play a bigger game? Two things lead me to this pivotal decision in my life.
I have always been an impactful person. I am results oriented and solving puzzles and problems comes really easily to me. My rise in the corporate world was fairly swift thanks to these gifts. However, in 2006 my wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and in 2010 she lost the battle. It changed my life. It was one puzzle and a giant beast that I just could not solve or control. I felt like someone ripped out my heart, tore off my right arm and flung me into a dark abyss. Ardyth was my best friend and the love of my life. We had 12 beautiful years together. She was the ying to my yang. My tether to the world. The person that showed me the most profound sense of belonging and unconditional love that I have ever experienced. I was terrified of living without her.
Fast forward almost 9 years and I find myself with the unique ability to look at her death as a gift. There were many years that I struggled with the why...why her, why us, whatʼs the bigger picture? Why in the world did we move our family 750 miles to Milwaukee only to be diagnosed with the C word? And ovarian cancer? Of all of the C words, ovarian was one of the worst. This was not in the plan. This happened to other people. This was supposed to be our new beginning, not our end.
Ardyth's death has taught me that being vulnerable allows you to connect at a deeper level, that worrying will only rob you of the precious time we have to really enjoy one another and that love is the thing that binds us when all else is gone. Love is part of the infinite flow of giving and receiving. Love is why we grieve. Why we hurt so much when we have to say goodbye to people that mean so much to us. It is the reason our hearts break with sadness and overflow with joy. The unconditional love that Ardyth and I shared together is not gone. It is very much alive. And that my friends, is a precious gift. Her unconditional love is still living and breathing years after her death. It surrounds me, it comforts me and it makes my world beautiful. It is part of the fabric of my life.
In the years following her death, I dove into my career. I steadily rose through the ranks. I found myself leading a large team of people in a very challenged industry. We had to make very hard decisions that included large budget cuts that resulted in big organizational changes. After identifying the low hanging fruit and creating lots of operational efficiencies, it became really apparent that we needed to work on empowering our people. We implemented a senior leadership program that focused on accountability, transparency and trust-based vulnerability and we disseminated that program down through our direct reports, their direct reports and their direct reports. And do you know what happened? A leadership garden started to grow.
We gave people tools to put in our toolboxes that allowed us to have more meaningful conversations. We encouraged productive conflict, we taught people how to give constructive feedback and how to share ideas more freely. We began to trust one another. Our productivity flourished and instead of focusing on how difficult our circumstances were, we focused on the positive things we could do to move our business forward. People loved coming to work. Despite the fact that we no budget for professional development, very little budget for travel and and even smaller budget for promotions, we flourished. Employee engagement rose and employee satisfaction rose. We proved that taking the time to be a good leader, building a cohesive team and instilling leadership value in your team pays off big time.
These experience have made me realize that the impact I now want to make is with the larger world. I want to help people live connected lives. I want to help them have the ability to love deeply and not to be afraid to leap into the unknown. I want to help companies cultivate their gardens and engage their employees to co-create experiences that will allow them to connect deeper with their customers, innovate new products and launch new businesses of scale.
Change is hard. Implementing change is important, but it's not enough. Teaching people to embrace the change is vital to success.