Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

A Father’s Gift

Dad, his long time friend Harold Ramsey, and myself at a Carolina Baseball game.  Baseball is one of dad's passions!

Dad, his long time friend Harold Ramsey, and myself at a Carolina Baseball game. Baseball is one of dad’s passions!

Pope John XXII once said, “It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.” A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at the induction of the National Honor Society at Lake Norman Charter School.  I spoke to many of the parents there, who beamed at the success of their sons and daughters.  Having parents that are involved with their children, serving as mentors, and showering them with love are the greatest gifts you can give a child.

My brother, sister and I had parents who did just that.  Father’s Day is a chance to say thank you – thank you for picking me up when I was down.   That no matter what crushing blow I felt, I would always get past it.

A dad shakes his head at your mistakes, hoping you learn, as he takes your hand, and pulls you up.  He’s there to teach you life’s lessons…and in my case, sometimes over and over again.

Billy on board dynamite - 1965

Billy on board dynamite – 1965

I was born and raised in Rock Hill (SC) and my father’s family owned a farm where he still lives.  When I was five, my parents purchased me a black and white pony that I appropriately named – “Dynamite.”  That little fellow lived up to his billing as he seemed to take great delight in throwing me time and time again.  Dad, simply picked me up and put me back on the horse, sternly counseling me, “You have to show him you’re not afraid.  You have to show him who’s the real boss.”

Between sniffles I pointed out I was afraid and there was no doubt…he was the real boss.  But dad simply sat me back up in the saddle, put the reigns tightly in my little hands and off we went. In truth, just about anywhere that pony really wanted to go which was usually to the barn!   Many including mom and Grandmamma Russell were not real happy with dad’s insistence.

Looking back though, I’m not sure who suffered more – my backside or dad’s ears.  Mama really took dad to task and to this day, none of us have forgotten those Sunday afternoons with “Billy breaking Dynamite.”   “But at the end of the day, it was an important lesson.  Life will throw you time and time again, but you have to get back up in the saddle, hold on tight, and ride the  rough out of it.  It’s okay to be a little afraid but never, ever give up.

Dad was there when I lost my first election running for president of my college fraternity.  He shared the first time he too had lost an election, but the next time out, he won his race.  He pointed out that in retrospect, he was perhaps a better leader learning from the earlier setback.  And once again, he was right.

Dad was there to help with my homework. He tried so hard to help me master the ground ball.  He tied my first tie and walked down the aisle with me the first time I said “I do.”  Mom and dad both were there to hold me when my world seemed dark and stood on stage years later when the world was so right.

Former North Carolina State Coach Jim Valvano, a life lesson himself, said of his dad, “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”

And perhaps the greatest gift a child can give to his or her parents is simply to say, “l love you both!  Happy Father’s Day, Dad.”  And while I’m at it – I love you too mom, both of you!!!

Bill Jr.

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Leadership Lessons, Personal | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Great leaders know when to follow

Russell Press compressedSince 1997, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce has facilitated a leadership program which has graduated just over 300 alumni. While many of those who participate in the group may already be emerging as business and community leaders, Leadership Lake Norman further cultivates their business and professional skills as well as enhances their community awareness.

During an overnight retreat held at Bethelwoods (York County, SC) last fall, the group participated in team building exercises which required creative solutions to the challenges facing the group. For the last 16 years, I have been fortunate to serve as an observer as Class XVI took part in an exercise called the “Helium Stick.”

The task seemed deceptively simple as our group lined up in two rows facing each other and had to work together to lower a stick to the ground.  In this case a thin tent pole using only their fingers.  The catch was each person’s finger had to be in contact with the “helium stick” at all times.Leadership Team Building compressed

All this sounds very easy, but particularly in the early stages of the exercise, the stick has the strange habit of mysteriously rising up rather than the intended task of be lowered.

After the exercise is over, the participants are asked to share their experience and observations, specifically what happened? Why did it happen?  What changes did the group have to make to accomplish the task, and what was the take away from the activity?

I listened in as our leadership participants talked about the factors which led their eventual success: focus, patience, adjusting to each other’s strengths, heights, and most of all communicating with each other.  In this particular exercise, the group quickly learned that even the most concise and simple tasks can quickly go awry. In the workplace (and life!) great leaders must understand the proper place and time to step aside and let others lead.

I listened intently as members of last year’s program discussed what they were feeling and their own realization that, “the best leaders know when to follow and they never give up.  Perhaps most importantly, they encourage those in the group to develop their skills and lead. “Our facilitator pointed out that sometimes, the end results of our own personal and business relationships are the opposite of what we were intending.

Helium 2 cThe key is to find the balance in common goals.  The fact that everyone on your team has a clear vision of the objective is not enough, you must be able to react to a situation, using each other’s strengths, and in some cases step back and let others lead to achieve your goal.

Rev. Halford E. Luccock reminded us, “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.”

Applications for the 20013-2014 session of Leadership Lake Norman will be available via the Chamber’s website and by calling the Lake Norman Chamber at 704-892-1922 June 15.

June 5, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Lessons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maintaining healthy relationships – at home and the workplace

Russell play (Ray Bans)Since the beginning of time, people have wrestled with their ability to create and maintain healthy relationships.  Some of us have great personal relationships but have difficulty building strong ties in our professional lives.  Others are champions in their professional field but struggle with balancing their affairs at home with family or close personal friends.  Regardless of who we are or what we do, the one constant is we all have to deal with other people and to be truly successful in any endeavor we must be masters at the ability to manage and maintain healthy relationships.

Not long ago, I heard a preacher telling the story of a castaway who was stranded on an island all by himself for two decades.  As the old man gathered up his belongings he had collected over his long stay, the captain of the rescuing vessel remarked at the three buildings on the island.  “If you were the only one on the island all these years, why are there three different structures?” inquired the ship captain.  “Well,” began the old man.  “The first hut was the house I built for myself.  Then I realized I must build a church to thank the Lord for my deliverance from the sea.”

The ship captain waited patiently for the explanation for the third building.  Seeing none forthcoming, he asked, “What’s the purpose of the third structure?”  The old man looked dejected, shrugged his shoulders a bit, and said, “To be completely honest, things were going great for a while.  But one day the congregation had a fight and I just left and built a new place.”

Everyone in the church howled with laughter at the preacher’s story but deep down many of us knew his point.  We see strife in relationships played out every day in athletics, politics, offices, and our home.  Someone usually comes out on top and someone else loses.  Usually the issue is not so much the loss, but how they feel they were treated in losing.

In business or any other field, the single most important element of success is learning how to get along with people.  Outstanding leaders learn to develop great relationships.  We are all treated well on the way up but how will we be treated on the way down?  That is the true measurement of how good we are in dealing with people.shore

James MacGreggor Burns once said, “In real life, the most practical advice for leaders is not to treat pawns like pawns, or princes like princes, but all persons like persons.”

Like the old castaway, we can move from relationship to relationship, turning our back and burning bridges, or we can recruit and nurture our associations with others.  At the end of the day, it is not the machinery, the facility, or the strategy that will allow for our success – it is the people who make it possible.

June 4, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Lessons | , , , , , , | Leave a comment