Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sailing with Joe's Kid

There we were, sailing along, having a great time, chatting up a storm when suddenly, the wind dropped out of our sails. Perhaps the wind changed direction, or we strayed a bit off course, but suddenly there was a dramatic loss of momentum and the sails started to flap. This flapping of sails is called “luffing” and it signals that its time to pay attention, to see what’s going on and make some adjustments. Sometimes its only a slight adjustment, other times it means changing course altogether.

As I pulled into my driveway the other day I noticed my neighbor Steve was in his garage. (His name has been changed to protect the guilty!) Steve is an interesting guy. He's got two 1940 Oldsmobiles -- a fully restored two door convertible and a completely disassembled 4 door sedan he tells me his grandfather dated his grandmother in -- and a 1960's Pontiac GTO.

Steve is always "Fabbing" something up. He can take a broken, worn out anything and rebuild and restore it to better than new. Talking to Steve is like talking to Wilson, the faceless neighbor over the fence on the 90’s television show Home Improvement. Always a fount of wisdom, always fixing something, always smoking a cigar and wearing a beat-up, greasy ball cap from the 1950's.
Even before I walk over to his place, I know Steve is working on something in the garage because all the lights in the "hood" as he calls it, dim as he fires up his welder.

Yet Steve is also the Senior VP of Supply Chain Management for a multi-billion dollar international food manufacturer and, given the stories he’s shared about work, they’re a company I think I can help.

Anyway, Steve -- who read my book when it was still in manuscript form and knows that I transform companies for a living -- starts to tell me about how he again used another quote from my book to make a point in one of his meetings.

So there I was, sailing along on a full breeze doing hull speed and feeling pretty good when BAM, in his next breath, Steve goes on to say how he really wants to bring in this other guy to help him "engage his people" in his latest innovation initiative.

"And I even bought 150 of this guy’s books for my people so they can all get on board," he says.

So, never one to be shy, I ask him, "Steve, what keeps you from asking me to come in and work with your group? You know dam well it's what I do."

He doesn't answer me, he just looks down at a piece of metal he's grinding.

Then he says, "That's a good question, Tom, you need to figure that out, don't you?"

Talk about having the wind knocked out of my sails!

Now before you think I was feeling sorry for myself, let me assure you that I wasn’t. Fortunately, I've become quite adept at seeing and benefiting from everything that's previously been invisible to me. In the past I would have felt TOTALLY dejected, but this time I immediately thought to myself "Joe's Kid!"

You see, Steve is a guy I hang out with on Saturday afternoons talking about cars and life. He, no matter how he tries, can only see me as his unshaven neighbor who wears torn jeans and holey t-shirts and complains about his lack of book sales.

To Steve, I'm not the savior consultant on a quest to go global; I'm "Joe's Kid."

Let me explain with a bit of background from my Catholic upbringing. One of the few times in the Bible where Jesus gets really pissed off is when he goes home to Nazareth. In his home town He wasn't revered as the Savior, He was just the carpenter’s son. He was just "Joe's Kid," and no one took him seriously. (He said later that “a prophet has no honor in his own country.”) Jesus got so angry that, when he was leaving town, he shook the dust off his sandals at them. In that part of the world, that's about as serious as a single digit "good by" is here.

If Jesus had listened to his neighbors he might have totally missed his destiny. But he didn't, he left town and worked miracles.

Well guys, just as Jesus left town and went on to fulfill His destiny, we are getting out of dodge by leaving port together, and, hopefully, getting out of our own heads in order to fulfill our own destiny.

My goal this year is to move from a practice to a Global Enterprise. If I listened to Steve, if I thought for just one moment that I “wasn’t good enough”, I wouldn't be able to leave the "hood" much less “go global”.

So, who, or what, is the "Steve" in your life?

And, by the way, who are you treating like "Joe's Kid?" Your spouce, kids, employees, the guy accross the street? We tend to keep people in their little box to the point where they have to leave the relationship to grow. And we miss the real brilliance that they are.

Sail on!

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