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about jane at the jewelry store and being a linchpin

things i’m learning about jane at the jewelry store and being a linchpin:

Every day, we go through the motions. We all have some version of our own routines and habits, goals and to-do lists, commitments, obligations, hobbies, and other activities. The reality is that the moments that become our memories, journal entries, and instagram posts don’t happen every day. Most days are simply average.

That’s not to say that we can’t find joy in the activities that an ordinary day requires. We can. But that’s not what I’m writing about today. The fact is that if you’re anything like me, things like running to the grocery store, returning something at Target for my wife, or sneaking enough time to swing through Chipotle between meetings are rarely events that any of us would describe as inspiring or enjoyable.

But, why not?


I had an incredibly hard working team member named Darren who worked for my custom apparel company. He worked in our Nashville screen printing production facility, where the long Tennessee summers made our shop (and subsequently, many of our team members) miserably hot and understandably uncomfortable. On the very hottest summer days that the 615 area code threw our way, it wasn’t uncommon for some to publicly announce their feelings, call in sick, or otherwise make it known that they weren’t excited to be at work. In stark contrast, Darren remained a steadfast example of humility, hard work, and kindness no matter the temperature the mercury climbed to on the barometer.

Darren taught me a lot. While my position on the company org chart technically meant our team members looked up to my position, in fact it was me who looked up to him with tremendous respect. I learned a lot from Darren as he taught all of us many lessons in leadership; perhaps my favorite of all of them was a casual phrase that he used regularly, not only in conversation, but his actions. It was almost as if it were a compass that guides his life and decision making: “Do it with excellence.”


Before my wife said “yes” when I presented her with a tiny, shiny circle housed inside a recognizably blue cardboard box, I had the experience of visiting countless jewelry stores in search of “the perfect one.” Anyone who’s ever gone jewelry shopping can likely relate to the miserable process such a task requires one to endure. (If you’ve never bought an engagement ring, then just imagine the last time you went furniture shopping and you’ll know what I mean). Like vultures to a catch, the sales people were unanimously overwhelming and overbearing from my first step inside the door. They didn’t listen. They didn’t ask meaningful questions. They didn’t care about me, my elaborate plan to propose in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or any details I tried to share about what I was looking for. They simply were after a sale.

And then there was Jane.

Like an angel appearing in the middle of a chain store in Green Hills, TN, her entrance will forever be etched in my memory as a heavenly experience, not visibly, but emotionally so. As circumstance would have it, I had already found the perfect ring at another store. Communicating that up front, I expected her to move along and help another customer who might actually be purchasing something expensive enough to merit a big sales commission. It seemed to prompt the opposite - she asked meaningful and sincere questions with genuine curiosity, wanting to know all about the special girl who had me running all over town, where we met, the plan for the proposal, and even the ring.. that I bought somewhere else. Upon discovering I had it with me in the car, she begged me to run and grab it so she could see how beautiful it was. A quick round trip to the parking lot and back led to another unexpected moment, when she inspected it carefully and asked to excuse herself for a couple minutes so she could professionally clean and polish until the presentation would sparkle to her high standard of excellence when exposed for the first time under the lights of Paris.

Jane never asked for anything. She didn’t even try to give me a business card for future purchases. She took every opportunity to add value at every turn, offering delight and surprise, selflessly.


Seth Godin, a brilliant writer + thinker, has a name for the kind of people who do their work and live their lives this way - _Linchpin_ (in his book of the same name). He challenges us to become “indispensable” - to make ourselves more valuable by consistently finding ways to add value to the lives of others.

I was reminded of my positive experience with Jane at the jewelry store yesterday while ordering lunch in Utah. At a fast casual restaurant concept called Costa Vida, I was pleasantly surprised by a friendly greeting from behind the counter. This was more than just an enthusiastic “hi!” - there was a sincerity and intention in his voice that I heard echo throughout the cafe as each new person stepped forward to place their order. Watching the man with “Arturo” on his name tag proceed through the lunch rush, preparing food for customers, jumping in to support his teammates, and never missing a beat. His moves were quick, but calculated. Full of both vigor and craftsmanship, quality and excellence.

After eating my lunch, the rush had dissipated, so on my way out I stopped to pay a compliment to Arturo, to let him know I appreciated the way he did his job with excellence and care for both the customers and teammates. I thanked him for such a positive experience and reflected on the way that he was able to transform such an ordinary experience in to an extraordinary one.


Therein lies the opportunity that we all have - the secret that Jane and Seth Godin and Arturo have already figured out is that we can _choose_ to sell jewelry, print t-shirts, write books, or prepare taco salads - with excellence. We can choose to follow the status quo, or we can choose to redefine it. And the best part is that we can start now. And if we screw it up today, we can choose to try again tomorrow. We can be ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

about shawn kemp and gary payton

about shawn kemp

Things I’m learning about Shawn Kemp: that he’s awesome, obviously. I’ve clearly known that since the early 90's.

believe it or not, i still have that seattle supersonics jersey.

But beyond that, I’m learning that his teammate, Gary Payton, made him better.

If you’re not a Sonics fan, how about John Stockton and Karl Malone? Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny?

I loved basketball when I was a kid. We had a CD-Rom with stats and facts of all the key players in the league that I studied and memorized until I knew most of them by heart. I had the shoes, the jersey, the swagger (reference 1st picture in this post for proof). I was certain that I was going to grow up to become an NBA basketball player.

Study that photo of my friends and I at my 7th birthday party one more time and you might notice that most of them are a full head taller than me. As fate would have it, that trend continued with time, until I was cut from the team and told I was too short to be an asset.

So, what’s the lesson to learn here? Never give up, refuse to take no for an answer, don’t stop until you achieve your dreams? As much as I loved the movie Rudy as a kid, that’s not how my story ended. I did give up. Because sometimes our dreams just aren’t realistic. Sometimes they’re the wrong dreams, sometimes we change, and sometimes they’re just plain silly. It’s ok to change our dreams as we grow and change ourselves. Heck, before I wanted to play in the NBA, I thought I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle, and that one didn’t exactly work out either.

The lesson here is a case study in teamwork and in partnerships. We’ll look at one of the most remarkable duos of all time. They filled headlines and highlight reels throughout the 90’s, and they gave kids like me a reason to wear their jerseys with pride.

Shawn Kemp was one of the most exciting basketball players to set foot on the hardwood. He was a star in high school, breaking both single game and season-long scoring records. He was a High School All-American, playing for the class of ’88 (arguably one of the best All-American classes of all time), and then became a first-round draft pick in the ’89 draft without playing in college, which was very uncommon at the time. Nicknamed the “Reign Man,” he played with a level of intensity, power, and excitement that made his presence known in every game.

Enter: “The Glove.” Gary Payton was the 2nd overall draft pick in 1990. Many consider him one of the greatest point guards of all time. His quick hands earned him the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, the only point guard in history to do so. His abilities and playing style (+ his indisputable gift for trash talking) were the perfect complement to the aggressive, powerful Shawn Kemp. Together, they were dubbed the Sonic Boom.

A quick youtube search illustrates this well.

As individuals, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton were great players. Together, they were extraordinary.

Their complimentary talents made the other better. It turns out that sometimes 1+1=3. The sum is greater than the individual parts.

I’m learning that these same principles apply off the court as well.

I’ve experienced the magic that happens when you get this right, and I’ve experienced the absolutely disasterous consequences that come as a result of getting this wrong. I’ve felt the natural chemistry of a great team, where the projects and the people are in alignment and elevate one another, to grow in ways they never could alone. I’ve also felt the friction and frustration that can cause things to fall apart.

Through analysis and reflection of my experiences, I’ve learned how powerful it is to first know yourself, very very well. Your strengths, and your weaknesses. Your desired outcomes. Your shoulds and your musts. Your own mission, your own values, your own principles, by which you will conduct your own behavior, make decisions and treat people. Your definition of success. Your good, better, and best, as well as your not-acceptable.

Then, be that person. With a renewed vision and understanding of the kind of team you want to be a part of, you can lead and act and communicate and treat people and make decisions the way you expect of yourself and your team. In my experience, this can naturally attract the kind of people/clients/friends/partners/bosses/employees/etc that you will be in alignment with.

As I’ve worked to figure that out, my result has been clarity. As I’ve identified and defined these things about myself, I’ve seen how much easier it becomes to know where I’m going, how I’m going to get there, and who I want along for the ride.

I’ve learned the importance of having the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.

about asking lots of questions

Things I’m learning about asking lots of questions:

I’ve found it’s a pretty good way to live life.

Becoming excellent at asking the right questions can be a powerful tool, used to learn, communicate ideas, connect with others, and build relationships.

Asking questions provides an opportunity to understand your: peers, customers, bosses, employees, parents, children, friends, enemies, competition, partners, and more.

I’ve learned that asking questions with an authentic and intentional purpose of understanding and clarity is important enough to me to merit practicing regularly.

With flawless execution, asking questions can even be an opportunity to help others understand themselves.

about a michael jordan rookie card.

things i’m learning about a michael jordan rookie card: don’t forget to flip it over.

Let me explain.

As a kid, I collected trading cards. I loved looking at the pictures of my favorite players, with their names printed on the front and all their stats printed on the back. I’d study and memorize the player’s details, from their birthday and hometown to where they played in college, along with key stats about their performance in the league.

My friends displayed their most valuable cards in protective cases, showcasing the pictures on the front but I was always more excited about what was on the back.

Arguably the single most important basketball card among the collector community is the 1986–1987 Fleer Michael Jordan Rookie Card.

The photograph captures the essence of MJ in his signature pose. The timeless Fleer logo overlay is complemented by the player’s name, his position, and the team he plays for. Here’s what you’ll see when you flip it over:

On the front is a familiar picture, but when we flip it over, we find more information: specific statistics that can help us learn what kind of player they are. In basketball, a great team needs a mix of players with different strengths: the top scorers need a teammate with vision to orchestrate the perfect pass, taking in to account timing and placement of the ball (that stat is called an “assist”); also essential are those players who play great defense (“steals”), rebound aggressively, and block shots.

In life, we have different kinds of teams to consider. At home, our families. At work, internal teams of co-workers and external teams of partners, clients, and other stakeholders. In our communities, teams come together in neighborhoods, church congregations, sports teams, and around other activities we participate in.

When working with our team members, how often do we flip the card over?

How much do we really know about each other? How often are we looking holistically at our team’s combined mix of strengths? Can we expect to play and win together when we don’t know who’s playing on our team?

As a solution to this problem in my own life, I dreamed up a way to dig deeper to really understand my teammates. I started with myself. As I found ways to identify and communicate my own strengths and style, I was able to create a framework to implement this with other teams I’m a part of.

I call it, appropriately, The Fleer Framework. I like using a kanban tool such as Trello, but you can use other tools/apps to implement this concept as well. Analog (ie: post-it notes) works well too.

Depending on the kind of team you’re trying to manage, you can choose to include different stats for each player.

A photo with name, title, general contact info is standard. I like including the results from the Gallup StrengthsFinder test (top 5 strengths), as well as the Kolbe A Index, which is used to identify an individual’s natural talents and the instinctive method of operation (M.O.) that enable a person to be productive (ie: HOW we work and solve problems).

Including a personal mission statement and core values helps promote alignment, and including a “currently working on” can be great to keep track of priorities and initiatives. A fun fact keeps it playful and reminds us that we’re humans :)

I intentionally designed a place for each person to list the areas/projects/roles they’re an expert in, starting with the phrase: “I can help you with.”

For larger or more hectic teams, you can utilize Trello’s “labels” feature to code your card with a color: green for available to help, yellow when you’re available for quick questions or feedback, and red when you’re fully committed to a project or initiative.

about knowing what you want.

Things I’m learning about knowing what you want:

There’s a lot of people in life who don’t.

That can be dangerous.

Beyond ourselves, consider: clients, partners, friends, stakeholders, team members. Have you ever met or worked with someone who seemed impossible to please? An unhappy customer, boss, or significant other?

Were expectations communicated clearly, or were there assumptions made, details ambiguous? If the former, we may be in the wrong. If the latter, well, we may also be wrong.

How can you hope to please someone who doesn’t know what they’re after?

I’ve learned that it’s far easier to lean in to that problem, to anticipate it. I’d much prefer to expect and plan for it than the alternative.

As I’ve done so, it’s been a rewarding experience to work on clarifying my processes and to think strategically regarding this optimization problem.

Know what you want (and what you don’t). Communicate this clearly and frequently. Anticipate that other’s won’t. I believe this is an essential skill; a prerequisite to becoming a truly extraordinary leader. As such, that means it can be learned and can be practiced. Like many things, practice makes perfect.