Leadership and Canoeing with Theodore Roosevelt

Leadership and Canoeing with Theodore Roosevelt - People Development Network
Jeff Ton

Jeff Ton

EVP of Product & Service Development at Bluelock
Jeff is the Executive Vice President of Product and Service Development for Bluelock. He is responsible for driving the company’s product strategy and service vision and strategy. Jeff focuses on the evolving IT landscape and the changing needs of our customers, together with the Bluelock team, ensures our products and services meet our client's needs and drives value in their organizations now and in the future. Prior to joining Bluelock, Jeff spent 5 years at Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana where he led the development and implementation of the enterprise-wide information technology portfolio, including applications, infrastructure, security and telecommunications across the Goodwill business units. Taking a cloud-first approach, IT transformed into partner with the business untis, providing significant value throughout the organization. He has owned his own management consulting firm and was the CIO for Lauth Property Group. Prior to Lauth, Ton spent 14 years in various technology roles with Thomson Multimedia (RCA). He serves on various boards and advisory councils including: Hoosier Environmental Council board of directors, Indiana Network of Knowledge Governance Committee, Connected World Magazine Board of Advisors, CIT Industrial Advisory Board (IUPUI), SAVI Technical Advisory Committee (The Polis Center) and the Mud Creek Conservancy. Jeff also spends time as a keynote speaker, blogger and writer on a wide variety of topics, including leadership, employee development, technology, and business operations. Away from work, he and his wife enjoy family, canoeing, gardening and travel.
Jeff Ton

@jtonindy

EVP of Product & Service Development, Bluelock: Business & Technology Leader, Entrepreneur, Visionary, Innovator, Explorer
Sometimes, the planets align... https://t.co/NetdR4b9yO - 12 hours ago
Jeff Ton

This post was originally published on the Author’s Blog “Rivers of Thought“. 

Theodore Roosevelt? That Theodore Roosevelt? The one that was president of the United States like a hundred years ago? Yep, THAT Theodore Roosevelt. I spent 10 months canoeing with Teddy Roosevelt, dead about 100 years.

Copyright Grasmere Lodge

Copyright Grasmere Lodge

How is that possible, you ask? Bear with me, and I will explain, and then I will begin to tell you about the adventure! It was late fall 2012, the executive team and spouses were getting together for a dinner prior to the holiday season. There was to be a guest speaker that evening, Dr. Dan Miller of Historical Solutions. Dr. Miller wrote the book on Goodwill, literally, he is the author of “A Life of Goodwill: Three Leaders and Their Impact on an Organization”, a leadership story of Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana. It was one of those coincidences that I love….several people had been telling me I needed to meet Dan because of my love of history (thanks Angelo!). So, after dinner, I introduced myself and we agreed to meet for coffee a few weeks later.

It was at the coffee that I learned in addition to being a prolific author and speaker, he also does executive coaching (he calls it Creative Conversations) and various types of workshops. As he explained Creative Conversations, he meets with the individual, gets to know them, and selects a person from history. Then throughout eight to ten sessions, he maps out that person’s life and looks for correlations to yours. The kicker to me was that he equates the person’s life to a river, an allegory I have always used as well. As many of you know, I am a river rat. I would rather be on a river than just about any place on the planet.  He promised to have my historical figure at our first session; my assignment was to have a competency or trait upon which to focus our development time.

By now you have probably guessed the river I was going to travel was the Theodore Roosevelt River. You are quickerBusiness, Leadership, Management than I, I assumed it would have been either Lewis or Clark, at the very least, one of the men that accompanied them on their adventure. I knew very little about Roosevelt, but I was game. So I threw my canoe in the river and began my journey.

In our first session, he laid out the format that we were to follow. Each session starts with a review of what’s been happening in my life both professionally and personally since our last session. Next is a dive into a specific span of time in Roosevelt’s life (this was done chronologically throughout the 10 sessions). The session concludes with a discussion of three “Paddles” or three questions to ponder. A week or so after each session, Dan provides a copy of the slide deck and a “Guidebook”, or notes of the session, his reflection on our discussion and an assignment for the next session.

To go through each session would take a book…hmmm, I can add THAT to the list of books I am going to write! Instead, let me give you a couple of the highlights of my trip down Roosevelt River. I will explore others in future posts.

Our journey started with looking at Roosevelt in the years 1858 to 1878, ages birth to 19. The first thing that struck me is that Roosevelt was born in 1858, I was born in 1958. As he went through life, our ages would be parallel. He loved to read, was physically active, and had written a book by the time he reached age 19 and entered Harvard. As a child, I also loved to read, played football, baseball and ran track. While I hadn’t written a book, I did want to be a rock star so I had written the lyrics to a couple of hundred songs by the time I was 19. Me? No, I did not go to Harvard, I attended Indiana State and did not fare as well as Roosevelt in my studies.

As would be the norm, Dan challenged me with three paddles. The first would turn out to be somewhat prophetic. Paddle One: A foundational relationship leaves a lasting mark on your approach to communicating with authority. For Roosevelt that foundational relationship was his father Theodore Sr., for me that relationship was my mother (no surprise there). Dan’s analysis would fill pages, but one point stands out.

“There is no question that your mother is a major influence in your approach toward communicating with authority. You learned, and not all that badly, in my view, that you should be modest and unassuming in your communication with authority. You defer in communication. Her experience with and after the fire also opened the way for you to be more expressive in group or audience settings.”

Man, talk about spot on! The assignment based on this paddle, was to write a short paragraph about a step forward taken by my followers. One paragraph about what they did right. Dan stated change was was a gift given to me by my mother through her experience of change and its possibilities.

Believe it or not, the next highlight of my adventure was in the second session. Roosevelt was in his early twenties (age 19 – 25 to be exact). During this time he discovered his love for the west at about the same time he became interested and involved in politics. Because he took to dressing like a cowboy, in Albany he was given the label “the Dude”. Now, this was not meant to be hip and cool like Jeff Bridges’ the Dude in the Big Lebowski, no, this label was a slam.

One of Dan’s paddle went right to the core of a label. “Externally, a label may take control of your communication, for Roosevelt, it, of course, ‘the Dude’. What label applies to you? How does it affect your communication?”

BAM! Another one hits the mark. For me, its the “IT Guy” label. I have been in IT for over 30 years. At times, that label can get in the way. I would rather be seen as a “Business Guy” with an IT expertise. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a meeting and the phone, projector, or microphone doesn’t work. What happens? All eyes turn to me…the IT Guy! Hell, I can’t fix it! When my technology doesn’t work, I call one of our outstanding support technicians!

My assignment was to write two lists. The first was a list of things about me as person that have nothing to do with IT. The second was a list of the things a CIO does beyond being the IT Chief. The next step was to match up the two lists and look for ways in which I, as more than IT, blends with CIO, as more than IT.

OK, I am in danger of getting a DR;TL comment (Did not Read; Too Long)…throughout upcoming posts, I will explore sections of the Roosevelt River and dive deeper into the lessons I learned through this journey. In the mean time, I highly recommend Dr. Miller’s Creative Conversations to anyone that is looking to learn more about themselves and to grow professionally and personally.

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