Ron's Material Leadership Blog

It is my sincerest hope that the stories I share are helpful to others. I have experienced first hand that many people toil in obscurity, searching for answers, ashamed to reach out and ask for help. This blog will contain experiences and wisdom that I have gained over the years that I hope will offer guidance in dealing with some of life's challenges.

Why the name material leadership? If you are curious the answer is on my website.
The link on the side bar.

Lead well


Thursday, June 28, 2007

What's in your Wallet...?


In October of 2003 the Mountains of San Bernardino County were awash in flames. The Grand Prix fire was in its glory burning across the countryside like a fully loaded freight train. Every evening the members of my community would gather on their street and watch as the flames glowed in the distance coming ever closer to our homes.

Rancho Cucamonga is on the edge of the deserts of southern California. It has a hot arid climate that is unforgiving in the dead of summer. Temperatures regularly top 115 degrees. Rain is scarce here. When the old song claimed it never rains in southern California, they were not kidding. A couple inches in January, February, a sprinkle in July and that’s about it for the year. You can imagine that all the brush and scrub is scorched and dry by the time the fall, I mean the fire season approaches. 03 was a particularly active and deadly year in so-Cal. It was a blessing that no one died in the Grand Prix fire but seven fire fighters down toward San Diego were not so lucky later that season in the OLD fire. Remember to say a prayer for those brave fire fighters and their families as they continue coping with their loss.

It was a Friday morning in late October. I remember it clearly because I awoke to a strong smell of smoke. I went outside to see where the fire had progressed to and was shocked. It was less than a mile from my house. (see photo below) Although I lived over a half mile from the fire line with other suburbs directly between my family and the fire, there was still cause for concern. You see there is an electrical right of way cutting down from the mountains running along the back wall of all my neighbors’ houses across the street from my house. The fire could burn up to within 300 feet of my front door. If the fire burns down here I thought all bets are off. It did!

So imagine being faced with an unthinkable situation. Your house and all your worldly possessions could go up in flames any minute.

What do you do?

What do you think about?

Do you panic?

Do you reach out for help?

Moments like these are, as one writer put it, when true character is revealed. I watched with fascination as a few of my neighbors packed everything conceivable into their oversized SUV’s and off to a safe place they scurried. Others casually sought hotel reservations and made a short holiday of the affair. What did I do?

I took stock of the situation and considered my values. Faith Family, Integrity, Learning Teaching. I decided that only the first two were at play here. Everything I “own” is on loan. I am a steward of the possessions God gave me. This made the decision easy. The stuff is irrelevant. It might be a good idea to grab the will, the insurance policies and the photos that could not be replaced, but that’s it. Next take care of the family. We were fortunate to be invited to stay in the home of a dear friend and pastor of our church. Tim welcomed us into his home and allowed us to ride it out. We never did worry about all the stuff. I returned home to see what was going on in the neighborhood that Saturday and saw a scene that only brave firefighters should ever see. Pitch black at 11 am. (Photo below) Air so thick you could cut it with a knife; ash and flaming debris floating down from the sky all around.

That fateful day taught me a lesson about myself and others. We all value something. I have heard it said that if you want to know what a person values study their check book or perhaps their debit card receipts these days. Where people spend their money is a pretty good indication of what they value. So to quote the credit card commercial…

What’s in your wallet?


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Learning from Mistakes

Learning from Mistakes

When my children were young I had the opportunity to watch a number of Disney animated movies. Many of these movies were memorable but a select few stand out. One of these was The Lion King. As children do, they learn through repetition. I must have watched this movie ten times. Remarkably it never gets old. I have been known to watch movies with a different lens than others that I know. I am constantly looking for the moral of the story, for teaching points that would be useful to help others and illustrate a wise point. Well in The Lion King there is a touching scene that illustrates the nature of learning. In the depths of his loss and disillusionment Simba is reunited with Rafiki who ultimately becomes his mentor. Rafiki tries through numerous attempts to convince Simba of his rightful place as King and has significant difficulty getting through to him. The pain which Simba is caught in (his past) is far to great for him to overcome alone and without help. He simply cannot be present in the moment when he is stuck in the anguish of the past, thinking it was his folly that resulted in his fathers death. As Rafiki starts to get through to Simba in one poignant moment he whacks Simba over the head with a wooden staff. Simba exclaims Ouch! Then asks “Why did you do that?” Rafiki responds “It does not matter it is in the past” Rafiki then swings the staff to once again whack Simba on the head but the lesson is learned: The past can offer us learning but we must focus on the present. Simba ducks and avoids the second blow.

This movie clip has stayed with me because it teaches a timeless lesson. When we make a mistake we need to learn from it and grow. How do we do this? For me it is a straight forward process.

Accept my role in what happened

  1. Forgive myself for not being perfect (I still expect to be even though I know this is silly)
  2. Ask myself: what happened and why did it happen?
  3. Seek to understand how my actions adversely impacted others. Seek their forgiveness if necessary.
  4. Ask myself: how can I keep this mistake from happening again?
  5. Resolve to live for the present and impact the future positively through a behavioral change.
  6. Give myself permission to forget the event but not the learning and mean it.


How can we change our behavior if we do not first accept our role in it. This is a fundamental state of maturity that is a necessary condition for growth. If you do not accept this fact then stop reading now. The rest won’t make sense to you anyway.


I read a quote once that I fell in love with:

"Do yourself a favor. Overlook at least two things today" M.J. Ryan

I believe that to overcome our negative mental models we need to learn to transcend them. Forgiving ourselves for making a mistake allows us to both heal our bruised ego and move on to learning what we may from the event.


We need not ask complex or difficult questions to learn. Sometimes the simple questions are the most elegant and thought provoking. What happened, why did it happen. Just start an honest conversation with yourself. Free of the guilt of judgment and condemnation you will find you are wise in identifying the source and cause of the problem.


It is rare that our actions have no impact on others. I believe it is crucial to ask yourself and others how your actions may have caused harm. Please note there is some common sense required here. I am talking about mistakes that may have irritated or hurt someone’s feelings. Listen to their words and emotion and ask their forgiveness. Do not rationalize or explain just apologize.

Learning / Improving

How can I keep this from happening again? With the potential emotional blockages addressed we can now get to the task at hand understanding how we can improve. I have found that the answers to mistakes are not particularly difficult to find. Armchair quarterbacking is not that difficult a sport. The challenge comes in the next step identifying what behaviors need to change to keep the mistake from recurring. This itself is not the difficult part, the discipline to change the behavior is. Make a commitment possibly find a trusted friend to act as an accountability partner and by all means start small. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!


I once listened to a motivational speaker who told a funny skit about negative self talk. He said in a public setting he once yelled for the negative talk to “SHUT UP!” He then described how all those around him stared at him wondering… The point is that once we have moved on, forgiven ourselves, learned, and changed behavior we must stay in the moment. Do not allow yourself to backslide and ruminate over the event again and again by doubting yourself in the present.

Summing Up

Learning is a journey not a destination so keep traveling. I have learned to accept mistakes. I still hate it when I make them but I am at peace with the fact that this is the path to learning and ultimately wisdom. We have to make mistakes to learn. Uncovering our mental models and hidden assumptions without making mistakes is a tall task and not for the faint of heart. Mistakes are a far easier way to learn about yourself and then grow. Keep traveling


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Adversity and Personal Integrity.

The following article was coauthored by myself and Doug Ross. It was posted on his website also. Be sure to check out his work at

Adversity and Personal Integrity.

What is this thing and how does it play upon the human spirit? The dictionary states that adversity comes from the word adverse –to oppose. Adversity is defined as misfortune, calamity, affliction, or distress. It is a general state of unhappiness -comes from the word adverse -to oppose

Early in my professional career I faced some withering criticism that I did not know how to deal with. I was told I did not fit in, that I was unsuited for a role here, that I was cocky and arrogant. At the time I struggled to understand what I was being told and how it applied to me. I simply could not see what they were saying or how I had done anything that could be construed in the way they shared. I was at the time crying out for wisdom to understand and come to terms with this feedback.

My wife got so tired of hearing me talk about it she asked me to stop. To this day I recall this event as a devastating blow and at the same time defining moment. A blow in that my primary source of support had had enough leaving me to navigate this ambiguity alone yet a defining moment in that it helped force me to own the feedback rather then reject it or rationalize it. In the ensuing months and years I have sought strategies to grow my awareness of others feelings and perceptions. This has been a journey of great pain and growth, a journey of facing adversity and living to tell about it

My journey to understand myself and how I interact with others has had many twists and turns. It was filled with adversity and this adversity I have learned to love simply because it has led to growth. So how do you get to a place where you can embrace adversity if not love it? I am sure there are many answers to this but here is what worked for me.

  1. Know who you are
  2. Ask for help
  3. Know who to ask for help
  4. Invest in your own growth and improvement
  5. Seek feedback on your progress

Know who you are:

I took the time to inventory my personal values by conducting a deep search of what was important to me and why it was. With his I was able to identify the five primary values that motivate me; faith, family, integrity, learning and teaching. These values act as guideposts and filters for the feedback I receive. If someone offers an opinion that encourages me to modify my behaviors in ways that contradict a personal value, I can politely thank them for the feedback and either not change my behavior or identify a way of adapting that allows my values to stay intact.

Ask for Help / Know who to Ask

Most of us are blessed with the ability to know who can be trusted for wise feedback. If we want to learn and grow we need to have the courage to ask for their feedback. Make no mistake this is a courageous act. For me I know when I am entering into something personally courageous by the queasy feeling at the pit of my stomach at the moment of entry. Funny thing about asking for feedback doing it actually gets easier over time. I believe that as we do so our ability to discern wise feedback from fluff improves (assuming we know who we are)

Invest in Your Own Growth

It absolutely astounds me that people willingly stop learning and growing. I understand why this may be done but for me it is never an answer. Growth is at the core of so many aspects of life either individual or organizational. One only needs to consider that a muscle atrophies when not used to understand the importance of exercise whether physical, spiritual, emotional intellectual etc. I love the concept that Stephen Covey uses “mind over mattress”. He describes in his work how an individual needs to chose improvement goals that are attainable and will reinforce the new positive behavior. His mind over mattress example relates the story of when he recommended a client simply get up 15 minutes earlier as a starting point for positive behavioral change. So pick a behavior you would like to change and make a small modification to it then slowly change the behavior. Side note here behavioral change is neither easy nor quick. Accept that it will take time to succeed but that the outcome will be well worth the investment

Seek feedback on Your Progress

Are you beginning to see a recurring pattern here? Ask trusted colleagues for feedback on your progress. Be sure to focus on the present rather than the past. Adjust as necessary.

Summing Up Adversity – Integrity

One of the factors that I recognized recently is that my integrity demands that I address issues of adversity. I believe that at the core of integrity is a sense of congruence. Every aspect of your life must be aligned to your values. When a misalignment occurs we get into cognitive dissonance which is in itself a form of personal adversity. Regardless, this must be resolved for personal harmony to be restored. Integrity says this relationship is out of alignment then asks questions that demand answers. What have I done to contribute to the misalignment? What can I do to restore alignment?

In the end adversity is a gift. It represents an opportunity to grow and develop a deeper consciousness of ourselves. It is our choice to address it or ignore it. I am reminded of a wonderful quote by Edwards Deming that should end this discussion nicely.

Learning is not compulsory... neither is survival.


My Favorites

Thoughts on a Recent Read

The Dip by Seth Godin

This was the first of Mr. Godin’s books I have read and I must say it will not be the last. I enjoyed this book and found its message wise and on point for our age. The premise of the book is that there is a time to quit a role, project, effort and a time to stay. When we have the opportunity to be the very best and are willing to pay the price, it is time to stay. When it is clear that staying will result in mediocrity or worse yet (Mr. Godin’s term for a dead end) a cul-de-sac, it is time to move on to something where we can be our best. The dip is the place in between. The place where we face opposition, adversity and discouragement. It is here that many wrongly chose to give up when greatness is not that far away for the brave souls who persevere.

Complexity: Low

Length: Short

Compelling: Very much

Worthwhile: Definitely