Variables and Constants…Leading in the 21st Century

Reading time: 1 minute. Video time: 10 minutes.


Would King David’s, General Patton’s, Vince Lombardi’s, or Theodore Roosevelt’s leadership been as effective today as it was during their time?


They led in a different environment, different people, had different obstacles, and different resources.

When we think about producing great leaders today, we often look back on the great male and female leaders of their time and try to match or emulate their skills. By wholly doing so, however, we might be putting ourselves at a disadvantage. There are certainly leadership constants that will withstand the test of time, but it is the leadership variables that will separate and elevate a great leader from his peers. On the surface, I would argue that none of the aforementioned leaders possessed the variables necessary to succeed as a leader today, however, whether or not they would have adapted and developed them is a different story (I’d like to think they would have). They were too Wise, Rugged, and Brave, and in our time, those qualities are becoming less valued and quickly transitioning into the more desired attributes of being Learned, Alluring, and Careful. In turn, creating leaders who lack what it takes to continually move forward and make challenging decisions regardless of how much it might hurt. Focusing on the constants and refining the variables will help any 21st century leader produce a greater good not only in the environment in which they operate, but also the ones that surround it. Once we (collectively) begin to realize we are in a leadership drought, due to our own valuation of infirm attributes, we can begin to work towards developing our current and next generation of leaders to carry us through some challenging times ahead.

Check out this spot-on TED talk on what variables are necessary for a 21st century leader.

TED Talk on Leadership – Click HERE

Be Wise. Rugged. Brave.


Photo Source: Time Magazine Online.


trombones build character.


Reading Time: 2 minutes. 

As I am sure it is hard for many of you to believe, I was bullied as a grade schooler…as a middle schooler…as high schooler…and even as a Cadet at the United States Air Force Academy. I can remember as far back as 3rd grade when my closest “friends” would wait for me, and my trusty duct taped bungee corded trombone case, with rocks in hand. The last 100 yards to the entrance of General Billy Mitchell Elementary were my equivalent to the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. With my trusty trombone in one hand and my hand-me-down Nikes strapped to my feet I would dodge left and right, up and down as a heavy barrage of incoming rocks flew directly towards me. The goal of the Germans…I mean my friends, was to hit my trombone case and knock it out of the clutch of my hands, however, more often than not they hit me. Once I was able to successfully (on some days) or unsuccessfully (on most days) navigate my way to the entrance, I was met by an eager group of soldiers/boys (the ones that had most likely missed me with the rocks) ready to push me into a large pricker bush, which was conveniently placed right next to the entrance. I would proceed to bounce in and out of that bush until the bell rang and we were all let inside; that bell was a godsend.  Over time, I was able to adapt to these hellfire mornings by timing my arrival to about 30 seconds before the bell rang and than proceeding to sprint to doors in an effort to make it to class in time (I got real fast). Nevertheless, that dash was also a challenge, because more often than not my trusty trombone would find a way to break free from the duct tape and bungee cords and end up sprawled out onto the concrete. I often wonder if I would have been safer or “cooler” without that trombone…

My “friends” and I could tell you countless stories, about how I was bullied and picked on throughout my entire life, some of it maliciously and other times out of “good fun,” although I very rarely found it fun. It went even as far as sacrificing my two front teeth one rainy morning due to some “inadvertent” bullying. You can imagine how heart broken I was not having to carry my trombone to school until they were fixed.

Although getting picked on or bullied has its negative consequences, the positive that is born from it is often overlooked.

I truly believe I would not be where I am today without the help of my bullies and trombone. At a young age I was forced to learn to think critically, make wise choices, and be brave because my life, and the life of the trombone (what little was left), depended on it. My goal, then, was to find a way to be accepted. So instead of giving up and cowering in a corner, I did everything I could to stand out academically and physically amongst my peers. I worked harder and longer to ensure I could develop what limited talent (compared to my peers) I had, into something at least above average. Survival of the fittest, right? When I failed or succeeded, and people proceeded to tell me what I can’t do, or that I “sucked,” it made me work harder, and eventually achieve more.

It was not until very recently that the amount of positive feedback I receive began to out weigh the negative. And frankly, I am worried about how I am going to handle that shift. I thrive off of negative energy, because it is always my goal to find a way to turn it into positive energy; It truly has been the catalyst to all of what I consider to be my successes.

Although my goal to become “accepted” has long since past (result = unsuccessful), as I found it to be an idea (at an early age) which was truly unbounded, I have come to realize that it had a purpose during its time. Without bullies there is no acceptance goal, because everyone is equally cool, and everyone is safe. But the world does not work that way, there will always be someone faster, stronger, smarter, wiser, or richer than you, and because of that there will always be negative energy (it’s science i.e., protons and neutrons); it’s the balance. Bullies are a part of that balance, and will be to the end of time, so instead of investing time in finding ways to stop bullying let’s start investing our time in ways to overcome, grow, and thrive from it. Otherwise, we may find ourselves unprepared or unseasoned which could lead to getting beat up in a really bad way.

Life’s not about being safe or cool, its about taking risks, pushing your limits, making a difference, and carrying a trombone.

Be Wise.Rigged.Brave.


give & get?


Reading Time: 2 minutes.

I have come full circle on the art of giving over the last few years. In my mind everything is very calculated, especially when it comes to the money that I have earned. In all that I do, I like to feel confident that I have received the most bang for my buck! Of course, having this mindset easily transfers to how I decided to help others in need.

I wanted to see IMPACT. Unless your organization could show me results, and a direct link to my dollar, I was not interested. Otherwise, how would I know that my hard earned money was being spent wisely?

One of the most difficult challenges for NPOs today is the ability to publish sound metrics that prove the value of their organization. If you are a school in Uganda, how many children are served, what percent of children move on to secondary education, how many meals and uniforms have been provided, what subjects are being taught, was there an exponential increase in the cognitive abilities of the children, is the faculty qualified (i.e., have valid degrees from accredited institutions of higher learning), and would my money be better spent going to an inner-city school in Montgomery, Alabama? If an organization is fighting to stay afloat, usually the more marketing accomplished and metrics produced the better chance it will have at survival.

More marketing and more metrics take more time and cost more money, taking away from the focus of the organization’s mission.


In our society, it is apparent we have become selfish consumers instead of selfless givers. Which makes me ask, when did consumption become a part of giving? And more importantly, when did the money that I choose to give become mine?

One of the most challenging things I have had to do, as a giver, is decouple my giving (i.e., time and/or money) from any expectations whatsoever. With that decoupling came a massive increase in faith. Faith that the money and/or time I give would be used appropriately regardless of the presence of the associated impact.

That being said, it is never wise to blindly give to any old organization. I do believe, in most cases, some form of calculation should exist when choosing where to invest valued resources and time.

2 Corinthians 9:7 states, Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

When you do give, which I encourage all of you to do in some form or fashion, give without consuming anything. We have to remember we are not paying for a product, service, or even a calculated result when we give. If you expect a product, service, phone call, letter etc. you could inadvertently be taking away from the true purpose of your donation.

This does not mean organizations, family members, and charities alike are free from providing results to their benefactors. On the contrary, hopefully the beneficiary will provide some results, as it will usually encourage more giving. However, in most cases, impact can take a long time to come to fruition and even compile / properly quantify, and for this reason alone it should never be “expected.”

It is your choice to give, and it will be solely your decision to stop giving. But I encourage you never to stop because your expectations were not met. Instead make the decision to give or stop giving based on faith. No matter what you decide to give to (e.g., family, a charity, the homeless, or an organization), give quietly and walk away cheerfully without an expectation to receive (consume) anything in return. This is not easy, and it will be a challenge. But it is the challenges that help us to grow.

Let’s remove the idea of give & get, and progress to give & go.

Be Wise.Rugged.Brave.


picture used from



Reading time: 2 minutes.

Whenever there is a massive catastrophe, there will be a ground zero. Merriam Webster describes ground zero as the central point in an area of fast change or intense activity or the point on the earth’s surface directly above, below, or at which an explosion (especially a nuclear explosion) occurs. 

At the moment, or moments, of impact there is nothing anyone can do, only hope that you, and whoever is around you, is not completely destroyed by the power of what is coming. I think it is fair to stay that most try to keep themselves at a distance from places that may be likely to be the future location of ruin. Even after a catastrophe has hit, we purposefully distance ourselves in an effort to avoid any emotional attachment to what was once there. I am guilty. Even after 9-11, I purposefully keep myself from watching the news and all of the replays of the aircraft slamming into the twin towers. I did not know anyone who died that day, but it did not matter. Human beings died. For a large number of us, 9-11 was the first time we experienced a ground zero of such significant magnitude and it has yet to be the last. Over the past 13 years, ground zeros have been popping up all over the world; tsunamis, massive earthquakes, hurricanes, bombings, shootings, and airline crashes.

As there is exponential growth in catastrophe, inversely, there is an exponential decay of our reality. 

Ideally we would like to believe that none of these events are truly happening, but the media and the internet makes it almost impossible to distance ourselves from them. Because we are brought so “close” to each event, with nowhere to run (except away from the remote), I believe our minds naturally become numb to it, in an effort to protect us from the reality. As we continue to watch shows on television like Walking Dead or reality series similar to Survivor or even play video games like Call of Duty, it becomes hard for us to differentiate what is real and what is not. You may disagree, but the market is a direct reflection of our reality, and each day more and more people are purchasing Apocalypse Survival Kits or Dooms Day prepping to some extent. Whether it is financially, through the purchase of supplies, guns, gold, or even bunkers people are getting ready (for something?).

What do we do with the knowledge of the reality that more catastrophes are likely to come? Prepare to help those in need. I say this because it seems as if the more inherent thing to do is help ourselves prepare for an “apocalypse” rather than to save up to support those who have gone, are currently going, or will go through one.

This became real to me in December of 2004, after Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Over 200,000 people died as a result of the largest earthquake ever recorded (a magnitude of over 9.0). To be honest, immediately after seeing it on television, I felt numb to it. I could not comprehend the magnitude of the event or even how large “ground zero” really was. My mind used its good ole’ self-defense system and protected me from truth. Even after I arrived in Kao Lok Thailand, only two short months after the event occurred, the reality failed to set in. I could see, feel, and even smell ground zero. Crumbled homes, new plywood and tin shacks to replace them; the ground was burnt, dried up and scattered with trash and what used to be people’s belongings; the smell of rot, and makeshift fires filled the air. A true wasteland, something straight out of everyone’s favorite show…but the difference was, it was real. Then, about 5 days into the trip, it hit me. I do not know why it took my mind so long to realize what had happened in Kao Lok. I had been working endlessly trying to help as much as I could; cleaning and building to help those in need get back on their feet. They had lost so much, and been through even more emotionally, physically, and mentally. I was so focused on the mission, I became desensitized to everything around me, or maybe I was even before I got there. I would talk to people who had lost their who families, and see the remains of children’s clothes and shoes scatter all over, but nothing was triggered inside of me until I walked into Pub 54.

Although it was 9 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. I was walking down one of the main streets of Kao Lok, the building had a sign that read pub 54 restaurant. The building was cleaned out, and there was a British women on the inside cleaning up and remodeling what was once a very popular bar. The building was two stories tall, and from the outside you could see where the water mark from the tsunami had left its relentless impression. The women had purchased the building shortly after the tsunami had hit and was working tirelessly to create an english education center to help the displaced Thai people to learn how to use computers and speak english. It was her way of helping those in need create opportunity and generate hope of a new life after the terrible tragedy they faced.

For the first few hours I was at pub 54 I did as I usually did, helped clean, build, salvage, and remodel something that was destroyed from the flood. After about an hour, the women ask me if I would like to look upstairs, above the pub, at an apartment of a family that was never found after the tsunami. It was an odd offer, but I was curious. Plus, it was getting pretty hot, nearing lunch, and I needed a break from all the work, so I readily accepted. As I walked to the back of the pub, I met some stairs leading up to the apartment. About halfway up the first set of stairs I looked down at the stair railing and spotted some dried up blood. At first I did not think much of it, and continued up the stairs. Reaching the second set of stairs I noticed a dirty faint line on the wall, it was the water line, similar to the one on the outside of the building, where the flood waters from the tsunami had reached. From what I can remember, it was about 15 feet above ground level and the pub was over 200 yards from the shoreline. Immediately above that faint line was a dry and dirty red smear of blood across the wall taking the shape of someone’s hand reaching upwards above the water line towards the apartment door less than 5 feet away. Frozen in time, that moment changed my life. Hundreds of thoughts rushed through my mind, and instantly I could feel the panic, I understood the intensity of the water, I could hear the screams, and I could taste the fear…it was as if I was at ground zero as it was all happening. My mind was in shock and my heart was broken. As I continued up the stairs, through the door and into the apartment, I went back into time to before the tsunami hit. The apartment remained untouched; the turbulent waters never reached it. Family photos on the walls, newspapers on the side table, and dishes in the sink, the only thing that was out of place was the family that once occupied it.  That family, and hundreds of thousands of other families, found themselves at a central point in an area of fast change or intense activity; ground zero. They had no chance, and all the preparation in the world would not have saved them.  I found myself finally realizing it was all real; the people, the homes, the burnt ground, and the disaster, it was not just some facade fabricated by the media or hollywood.  I had woken up, and for the first time what I was seeing was less than 1% of the destruction. There were no actors or random beings  (dehumanized by the distance between us) living off in some foreign land (as seen on TV), but instead the real people were my brothers, my sisters, my mother, my father, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my grandparents, and my friends.

People just like you and me.

Be Wise.Rugged.Brave.