Hello Old Friends

Sorry for the poor pic. Best I can do.

When you get to be my age you find yourself having lived a few lives.

There’s childhood. The teen years. College. Early adulthood. The parenting years and now the (mostly) empty nester years.
It flies by in an instant.
But the blur of years leaves you with perspective, a few scars and several buckets of friends from the various eras and roles we play in life.
I have friends from my years in the newspaper business, and friends from my time spent volunteering in Delray. I have friends at the office, business friends, college friends and friends from my time in Leadership Florida.
I cherish them all and feel extremely fortunate to have had good friends at every step of the journey.
I am so grateful.
This pandemic has made me even more appreciative because I miss seeing my friends and being able to make plans to get together.
I’m sure you do too.
For me, it’s one of the worst things about this miserable, exhausting and scary year.
But every two weeks at 9 pm I pour a drink and pull up a chair and tap into a cross section of friends that span my childhood, teen, college, early adult and now middle age years.
As we log onto Zoom, I see all these old, familiar faces populate my screen and for an hour or so, I’m transported to a better world. It’s a world of jokes and conversation, a world of memories and future plans, a world that’s familiar and not as uncertain.
I’m on the Zoom with guys I’ve known since I was 6 and 8. We know each other’s parents and siblings, we played Little League together, took the Long Island Rail Road to “the city” to explore and fondly remember each other’s first cars.
I knew their teenage crushes and heartbreaks, what teams they root for and which teachers they loved. We can complete each other’s sentences.
Together, we fill gaps in our collective memories but there are some sacred stories that none of us will ever forget.
Over the months we’ve been doing these calls we’ve added some guys who drifted away—never gone—because the bond is too strong —but drifted nonetheless.
As I mentioned, time flies. And our once daily connection slipped as we moved, married, had kids, went into business, changed jobs and lost our hair while also losing  the ability to see each other regularly. But we never let go of the basic friendship we shared. And now that we are comfortably in our 50s, I believe we will be friends for the rest of the ride.
Still, time is an interesting thing we grapple with.
I can still see the young men in the visages of middle age guys who populate my screen.
I can still see their youthful essence.
There’s Dave’s curiosity, Dewey’s kindness, Joe’s enthusiasm, Steve’s quick wit, Scott’s ever present grin and Brian’s ability to frame an issue.  Ben’s still a rascal and Howie has the same laugh he had as a kid. Greg is still the broad shouldered body builder he became as a teenager.
I’m proud of these guys. Every last one has been successful in their careers. They all have nice families and good lives.
We are spread out now—from California and Arizona to North Carolina, Virginia, New York, South Carolina, Wisconsin and New Jersey.
Combined we have seen a lot of the world and covered a whole lot of ground—kids, grandkids, businesses, hobbies, marriage, love, loss and adventure.
Some of the guys have been there every step of the way. Others drifted for periods, but were always there in our memories.
But thanks to the pandemic and the efforts of my friend Dave, we are all together again every other Wednesday on a screen for 90 minutes of laughs and friendship during a hard, hard time.
I’m over this miserable year. But when we get past this—and we will most certainly will—I will remember this as the year that my oldest friends came together to help each other through the storm.
I always knew I could count on these guys—for a lifetime.
I hope this inspires you to reach out to an old friend.

Boca Lead Is A Revelation

Pastor Bill Mitchell traded a successful career in real estate for a spiritual mission. Boca is benefitting from his wisdom.

I’ve become a huge fan of Boca Lead, the monthly speaker series hosted by Pastor Bill Mitchell at Boca Raton Community Church.

Every month, 400 plus people gather to hear a positive message designed to help them live a better life, run a better business and build a better Boca. The demand is so strong that Boca Lead added a dinner series with a debut last week that attracted more than 200 people.

It’s an inclusive group—all faiths are made to feel welcome—and the message is not only smart it’s extremely relevant. My good friend Karen Granger turned me onto the series when she invited me to sit with her colleagues at 4 Kids. I owe her a debt of gratitude, because Boca Lead has become an important part of my month.

As a result of Karen’s intro, our company is buying a table most months so we can be inspired to lead, mentor and build a better community. We all have a role in making that happen.

In its 5 year existence, Boca Lead has attracted over 5,500 different people to the monthly talks and now with dinner sessions the audience is sure to grow and deservedly so, because in a word it’s awesome. And we desperately need to apply the lessons being taught every month.

I’ve gotten to know Pastor Mitchell since attending my first Boca Lead and I’m incredibly impressed by his insights, devotion to the community and his work across the globe. He and his wife, Elizabeth, are remarkable people and talented communicators. The ability to command a room month after month—to inspire, motivate and get us to stop our busy lives so that we may focus on what’s really important is truly something special to witness.

Every month, I don’t think he can top the prior month, but he seems to do so.

This month was no exception.

The title of the talk was “Drifting” which will soon be an e-book. I just finished “Shifting” another e-book by Pastor Mitchell that I found riveting. Again, the message is universal and this Jewish guy from New York can relate to the insights and better yet, can apply the principles to my life and business.

Drifting talked about how distractions, a lack of integrity and another assorted noise lead us astray.

The talk ended with four suggestions for building community—a subject I have been passionate about for as long as I can remember. A sense of community attracted me to Delray Beach, pushed me into a stint in public service and has kept me engaged since moving to Florida in 1987.

Pastor Mitchell posited that in order to build community you need four elements:

Proximity—you can’t build community from afar, people need to be brought together. But that’s just a start. We can all live in the same neighborhood, work at the same company or attend the same school but if we don’t mix we can’t build community. So proximity is a must, but it’s just a start.

Hospitality—is necessary to build community. We need to break bread with people, extend them courtesies, and invite them into our homes and lives if we are to grow close.

Relationship—we need to work on building relationships with our neighbors in order to build community. It’s not enough to just wave hello, we need to work on forging real relationships.

Peacemaking—this one fascinating. It’s not peacekeeping, it’s the ability to make peace not the ability to keep people from hurting each other. This is so important in a community. It struck me that we are lacking peacemakers in our world today and in our local communities too.

As Pastor Mitchell walked us through the list, a thought crossed my mind.

Social media—which pretends to build community does not possess any of the four community building blocks.

It’s not proximate, you can sit in your pajamas and spew venom on Twitter without ever having to face the target of your wrath, there’s no means of providing real hospitality other than maybe sending an emoji, social media doesn’t really foster real relationships beyond a post here and a reply there and finally social media does not seem to have any mechanism for peacemaking. People start a lot of wars on Facebook, but I have yet to see them make peace.

Now admittedly, I am a social media user. I enjoy Facebook for allowing me to share photos of my dogs and stay in touch with old friends and classmates. But I don’t enjoy seeing the posts about my town that seek to divide, label and malign. There are a whole lot of them, entire pages devoted to ripping the town apart.

Truth be told, I think it has harmed our sense of community and nearly destroyed civic pride. That’s a lot of damage to overcome.

We are not the only city that has suffered this fate and the fact is America is incredibly and maybe hopelessly divided at this point in our history. It’s a sad time, it really is.

I don’t see how this ends or how we can magically unwind some of the abhorrent behavior we’ve all witnessed.

But there was a time, it now seems so long ago, when I and many others viewed Delray Beach as an oasis in a desert. A place where you always felt the best was yet to come and that every problem could be solved.

Please don’t tell me it didn’t exist, because I experienced it and so have others. I have witnesses and these days most of them shake their heads when you mention the current state of affairs.

That doesn’t mean that we were conflict free, we surely weren’t.

Worthing Place, Atlantic Plaza part 1, the Jerrod Miller shooting—and on and on the list goes. There was a time when African Americans could not safely cross Swinton and couldn’t use the public beach but….despite those serious challenges there was this feeling that we could work things out, that we could and would somehow find a way forward even in the face of tragedy.

When I think back on how past controversies resolved themselves, I see Pastor Mitchell’s four pillars of community building come to life. Differences were solved because people got together, built relationships, extended hospitality and made peace.

C. Spencer Pompey was a peacemaker extraordinaire.

He knew the power of relationships and hospitality and so he got people together and eventually we opened up our beaches.

We were bitterly divided over development after Worthing Place so we got together and worked on a Downtown Master Plan.

When a developer wanted to put 10 pounds of you know what in a five pound bag on Atlantic Plaza, the city commission brought in designers and the community to try and find a plan that everyone could embrace.

Sometimes the efforts produce solutions (Mr. Pompey succeeded) and sometimes they fall short (the developer walked away from the plan the designers and community produced) but the effort always seemed to matter. You were extended credit for trying. You built relationships by coming to the table and working on issues large and small.

This kind of peacemaking doesn’t seem to be happening online and it’s destroying us—rapidly.

I’ve been going through old files in a sometimes futile effort to de-clutter my life.

I recently stumbled across a flier called the Atlantic Gazette that absolutely ripped me and some of my friends to shreds. It was anonymous and really ugly. You get these things when you are in public life or even if you just venture an opinion or an idea. I guess it comes with the territory.

When I was young and new to the game, I would cringe at this stuff. But I learned that despite the best efforts of critics, most people never saw the fliers, email blasts or in one case the banner flown over the beach.

Life went on, the people who know you laugh it off, the critics tell their friends “see, I told you so” and soon it’s on to the next subject.

But today, social media is ubiquitous. It’s hard to avoid the toxicity.

Joni Mitchell urged us to get “back to the garden” in her classic song Woodstock.

Pastor Mitchell reminds us that we need to get back to proximity, relationships, hospitality and peacemaking before it is too late.

Can we?
Will we?
What if we don’t?

For more information on Boca Lead. To view past talks (highly recommended) and for ticket information please visit http://www.bocalead.com

Old Friends

Scott, Ben and yours truly.

My old friend, I apologize

For the years that have passed

Since the last time you and I

Dusted off those memories

The running and the races

The people and the places

There was always somewhere else I had to be

And time gets thin, my old friend

Don’t know why…Tim McGraw, My Old Friend

 

There’s something comforting about old friends.

Something so easy that within moments of seeing them you pick up where you left off regardless of the time and the miles, the running and the races, the people and the places.

My childhood friend Ben was in town last week, passing through on his way to see his father in Port St. Lucie. So I rang up Scott–another old friend—and we found a cozy bar in Boca to reconnect. It took about 30 seconds and we were lost in laughs and good conversation.

We will all be 55 this year.

Ben and Scott go back to the third grade. I met Ben in junior high and I’ve known Scott since I was 8 or 9.

That’s a long, long time.

We’ve covered a lot of miles in life—a lot together (school, first loves, neighborhoods, first cars, road trips, youthful adventures) and a whole lot apart.

Frankly, the last thirty years were a blur for all of us.

Marriage, kids, careers, businesses, travel—deadlines and commitments as Bob Seger sings —what to leave in, what to leave out.

And then one day you’re 54 and you walk into a bar to meet two of the best friends you’ve ever had or ever will have and time melts away instantly.

Ben still has his boyish face and Scott still has the sense of a humor of a 12 year-old so the years seem to dissolve as if by magic.

We didn’t talk about the glory days (oh, maybe a little) but we do talk easily about our lives today and our hopes for the future. There’s always a lot to catch up on because we don’t see each other like we used to. We used to spend every single day together, but those days are long past.

Still,  there may be even more to talk about now because when we ran together as kids I knew everything about these guys—where they had travelled, what they were thinking (girls, cars, sports, music that was pretty much it) and what was happening in school.

But these days, they are full of mystery to me. They’ve been lots of places, seen lots of things and when we talk I hang on every word because it’s fresh, it’s interesting and I really, really care for these guys.

I didn’t have brothers growing up —so they are it. Something beyond friends.

I know that regardless of where life takes us—Park City, Utah, Red Bank, N.J. Raleigh, Asheville, Coral Springs or to Mr. W’s house in Port St. Lucie—there will always be a reunion. If life were a cruise with various ports of call, these guys and a few others would be my muster station. We will find a way to stay in touch and if emergencies strike we will surely be there for each other.

We can talk in a comfortable shorthand of sorts, because when these guys talk about their parents and siblings or I talk about mine, I have a picture in my mind. I know all of these people.

Same with our other friends.

We are well aware that we have been given a gift—each other’s friendship. We appreciate it, we enjoy it and we are grateful for the laughs, the talks and the experiences that we did share.

I’ve made a lot of friends over the years. Lost a few too and that can rattle a guy because I certainly wasn’t used to that.

But these guys…well let’s just say I know that they will always be there.

And for that I am eternally grateful.

 

 

 

 

Key Traits of Exceptional Leaders

leadershipimage

Harvard Business School just released an exhaustive 10 year study on leadership.

The study– which included interviews with 2,700 leaders and analytical data crunching courtesy of IBM’s Watson– came up with the following key traits of exceptional leaders:

They Know the Whole Business—exceptional executives and leaders have deep knowledge of how their organizations work and how the pieces fit together to create value and deliver results.

Great leaders understand the big picture and the different disciplines that make an enterprise hum. They strengthen the “seams” to minimize weaknesses and make sure silos don’t exist.

 

They are great decision-makers—Exemplary leaders have the ability to declare their views, engage others’ ideas, analyze data for insights, weigh alternatives, own the final call and communicate the decision clearly. No hand-wringing, no waffling, no blaming others. Because they are great decision-makers, they are also exceptional at setting priorities. They know what’s important and avoid overwhelming the system with competing goals. They tend to balance instinct with analytics; trusting their gut but getting and trusting the facts too.

 

They know the industry—they study their fields and understand the ever changing world they work in. They know they have competition and they mind the landscape and don’t make decisions in a vacuum. They have innate curiosity.

 

They form deep, trusting relationships—they meet the needs of key stakeholders, they communicate in compelling ways and reach beyond superficial transactions to form mutually beneficial relationships. Their legacy becomes a positive reputation for delivering results while genuinely caring for those they serve.

Of the four traits, relational failures often tripped up even those who scored high on the other three attributes.

The best executives develop trust and invest in developing their own emotional intelligence and actively seek feedback on how others experience them.

Do these traits correspond to political and community leadership? My guess is that they do.

Certainly, we want our mayors and council members to know the whole community, be great decision-makers, know the industry they are involved in (building competitive, sustainable and happy cities/communities) and we would all benefit if they form deep, trusting relationships with the people they serve.

So the next time you think about your elected leadership on the local, county, state and federal levels ask yourself if they have these traits. It’s hard on a federal level to develop close relationships—unless of course you write big checks (sigh), but on a local level it’s not too much to ask for…it’s the beauty of local government.