Memory Lane

Memory Lane

I had a long phone call with a friend this afternoon. My former boss, actually.

For about five years while I was with Verizon, I had the privilege of working for Nita Awatramani, a woman whom I consider to be one of the three most intelligent people I’ve ever met. Although it took some time to find the rhythm of being on her team, it was an excellent working experience once I figured out the often frenetic pace of the job.

The two things I admire most about Nita is that she’s both fair and uncompromising. On the surface that may seem like a contradiction, but I think it’s commonplace for anyone who has a mastery of seeing beyond the surface and understanding the nuance of a situation. It’s what made her an effective manager and what, I am sure, makes her excel in her role as a thought leader in the area of Information Security.

Fair in that she would always set the expectations of the goal or deliverable, provide the resources needed to achieve the expectations, and then give me the bandwidth to go do my job. Sometimes that bandwidth would stretch outside the typical nine-to-five, Monday through Friday, but working additional hours was part of the job and was folded into the expectations.

Uncompromising in that when I failed, I knew in no uncertain terms I had failed. There were occasions where the directness of the conversation took me aback or caught me off guard, but I learned so much from those moments and it drove me to be better. And as time passed, I did get better and those moments deserving reprimand for my performance became almost non-existent.

Through it all, our relationship only grew stronger. What started as strictly an employee-boss relationship became a friendship, one that allowed us to pick up the phone after not having had direct contact in over three years and have an hour-long chat.

In speaking with Nita, we talked about our time together at Verizon, how some things have changed, and how most, unfortunately, have not. We also discussed our individual perspectives of where the average work environment is, she providing aspects into the familiar IT sector, me providing my experiences with a religious non-profit and a church. Although the operational aspects of these are varied and different, it turns out there are some similarities, those being the dynamics of good and bad management.

In the end, she concluded it’s sad to see what she perceives as the celebration of mediocrity. The good and average is so accepted, it’s rare to see managers push for the great and the excellent. My summary statement was more along the lines of managing to incompetence. Rather than raising the bar and challenging employees to do better, management avoids the uncomfortable conversation and settles for an unspectacular status quo. I think we were both saying the same thing but from two different perspectives.

This takes me back to Nita’s sense of being uncompromising. I know the skill sets I developed and the work ethic I provide would not be what they are today if not for Nita challenging me to not settle for good enough with my work. Nita always drove me to work beyond acceptable and strive for exceptional. It was hard and I didn’t always like it, but it was always worth it. Time and time again our team was the one best positioned to provide the necessary analysis, anticipate the upcoming requirements, and we were never – I mean NEVER – over budget.

I miss working in an environment like that, one where I am constantly challenged to learn and grow, and one where I need to sprint in order to keep up with the intellect and smartness of the other people in the room. We fostered relationship and friendship because we strove for excellence. Put another way, we did not operate at such a high level simply because we focused on our friendship. It was ironing sharpening iron. We made time, on occasion, to talk about family. We shared with each other what was going on in our respective lives. But first and foremost, we were there to work, and work we did.

I know not every organization is the same, and office/corporate culture varies so much across the spectrum of management. Still, it’s my experience that unless you strive for the best AND allow your people to work to do their best, the end result is always going to be second-best. You may have some fun in the process, but fun is no substitute for fantastic.

In speaking with Nita, it was nice to remember what fantastic feels like.

You’ve Got Mail

You’ve Got Mail

One of the luxuries of being in-between careers is having the time to go through and clean up emails. If you’re like me, you’ve probably subscribed to a slew of blogs and newsletters for which you receive emails daily. I always think I’ll make the time to stay on top of all these mailings, but the truth is that never happens.

Unless, of course, you don’t have a job to go to.

So as I was persuing my increasingly-cluttered inbox, I came across an email from Carey Niewhof entitled, “So You Want to Quit…” The title of the message caught my eye, and I dove into the accompanying post for the email.

In it, Niewhof is speaking primarily to individuals in pastoral roles looking to make a change in their work lives. Although not exactly 100% applicable to my situation, there are several parallels to what Carey outlines and what I experienced. What really stuck out to me was this comment:

Running Toward Your Future Is Better Than Running Away From Your Past

Here’s an excerpt of what Carey says about that.

So maybe you are called to leave. Maybe your season is legitimately coming to an end.

If you can—and in a carefully discerned departure you usually have time to do this before you go— ask yourself what you’re called to next.

Find some wise counsel around you who can help you discern what’s next before you leave what’s now.

Running toward your future is a much better move than running away from your past.

Included in this verbiage was a link to a previous post entitled 7 Signs It’s Time to Leave. Talk about a serendipitous find! I won’t bore you with the details, but my reaction to items outlined by Niewhof definitely made me feel even more confident about my decision to make a change. There was one point in particular that resonated with me.

You Feel Like a Fish Out of Water

Maybe you’re largely the same but the organization shifts, not in terms of vision, but in terms of style, culture, and feel.

That’s the best way I can explain the genesis of my departure. There was a cultural shift in the brief year I was with my previous employer, and it was clear I was no longer a good fit within that organization. Working with my volunteers was still great. The horizontal relationships I shared with my peers were amazing (and I miss that so much). But the vertical relationship within the organization just didn’t feel the same, and I knew that leaving when I did was the prudent solution to that situation.

I firmly believe coincidence is God showing off, and it’s no coincidence the Holy Spirit directed me to these emails today.

Now … if I can only focus on the remaining five-hundred seventy-three unread messages.

Birthday Girl

Birthday Girl

Today is an extra special day here in Hahira, Georgia, as we celebrate the birthday of our friend (and current house-host) Lindsey Smith.

I’ve known Lindsey for over a decade, and to say we’ve done life together is an incredible understatement. When I think about some of the best, most fun, and amazing moments in my life, Lindsey is a part of them. In most recent years, the friendship and fellowship Lee and I have shared with her and her husband Jeff have been life-changing.

I could go on for pages and pages about how wonderful and special Lindsey is, but instead, I want to focus on a specific attribute of Lindsey’s: her faith. Lindsey is a spiritual leader who is moved and driven by the Holy Spirit. I greatly admire the relationship she shares with Christ, and not only has Lindsey made me a better person throughout the years, she’s also helped make me a better Christian.

So I think it fitting to share this picture of us from 2007 when we both jumped out of a plane for a good cause. There was a lot of excitement and frivolity leading up to the jump, but when it came time to suit up and get on the plane, Lindsey huddled us together and lead us in prayer. At that time in my life, I was still far away from God, and having her boldly pray out loud for us without hesitation or reservation really left an imprint in my heart.


I know her friendship will continue to leave an imprint on my heart for decades to come.


Project Gratitude – Servant Leader

Project Gratitude – Servant Leader

I was once in a management training program at work. The class was asked the question, “What is the difference between a manager and a leader?” The class was silent. I raised my hand and said with a half-chuckle, “a leader will take you to the top of the mountain. A manager will take the credit for getting there.” The instructor was amused – I think – and asked me where I learned that. Without hesitation I replied, “here.”

I’ve been in the corporate world since I graduated from college in 1994. In those 20+ years I’ve seen and worked with a wide variety of bosses, managers, and leaders. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that the person who is an effective manager and also a natural leader is the exception to the norm. More rare than that are the servant leaders, those who are in positions of leadership and authority who also have no problem rolling up their sleeves and getting dirty with the people she or he leads.

Boss vs Leader

Today I am thankful for the Paul Wirth, the pastor of Relevant Church. Paul is a servant leader. Paul is not only willing, he is eager to get in and ‘do’ with the other members of the congregation. Paul leads by example. Paul is MY pastor.

I had an assignment for school regarding evangelism and discipleship, and how much of the annual budget is designated for such programs. Paul was willing to meet me this evening to discuss the assignment. We met at a Starbucks – Paul and I share an affinity for lattes – and after initial chit chat and mutual coffee sipping, we tackled the assignment.

I thought the discussion would be mostly in the realm of finances, with me perusing spreadsheets and other planning documents used by Relevant. Instead, Paul took a deep breath and proceeded to explain. “Everything a church does has something to do with evangelism and discipleship, because that is why the church exists,” he said. He went on to further outline how every ministry within Relevant is aligned with evangelism and discipleship in some shape, way, or form. Everything Relevant Church does has to do with sharing the Gospel and having people take their next steps in relationship with Christ.

Paul Wirth
Paul Wirth – Lead Pastor at Relevant Church

Having been a member of Relevant since 2009, I can attest how true his words are. Relevant, in all it does, is aligned with Paul’s vision of teaching every person to love Christ with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Not only am I thankful for Paul and his willingness to take time out of his day to meet with me, I am so grateful for being able to be a part of Relevant Church. Relevant is my spiritual home, and the people with whom I get to share my Jesus journey are my family. It truly is a blessing to do life with them.

Follow Me

I am on work stoppage assignment in New York as the unionized Verizon employees in the northeast have called for a strike. This post is not about who is right or wrong, nor is it about the politics of unions, etc.

This post is about my experience so far working with one of the managers in my garage. Kevin is a great manager and a great employee. More importantly, he’s an amazing human being.

In the course of preparing us for what to expect, he did not lose sight of the human aspect of this work impasse. Not only does he have empathy for those of us having to be away from our families, he also is aware of the human aspect of those on strike.

“Have ZERO engagement with the picketers,” he told us. “Even if they wave at you, do NOT wave back. Although you may think you’re being polite, they may interpret it as condescending or ‘in your face'”. He added, “These people aren’t getting paid right now. They don’t have the money they’d normally have to buy food, entertain their kids, etc. Remember, at the end of the day, they’re human beings, too.”

They’re human beings, too.

It was the reminder I needed. Behind the F bombs and verbal suggestions I check my prostate with the airhose used to inflate tires (yes, that actually happened), they’re human beings, too.

Some would say Kevin is being a humanist. Having seen him in action with the team and spoken to him one on one, it’s not that he’s a humanist but rather that he’s a Christian.

“Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” – Luke 6:28

Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and our current situation is one of well defined enemies; people on the other side of a line, all actively hoping for us to fail. They literally curse me. They emotionally hurt me.

But Kevin sees above the noise and through the crap that is this work stoppage.

“Remember. They’re human beings, too.”

A manager or executive is someone who stands tall and says, “follow me.” A leader is someone who through their actions and examples makes you want to follow them.

Kevin is a leader, and he is the reason this assignment has not been as miserable as it could be. Yay God for Kevin.

It Is Fleeting

Inertia can be a powerful thing. As we learned in school, objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Life has its parallels to inertia. Once we get busy or lost in the routine of day to day, we tend to keep on moving with the same ‘ol, same ‘ol.

Until something makes it all stop.

The Tampa Bay community lost a remarkable and talented person last Friday. Susie Steiner was CEO of ExecuTran Services Inc., as well as co-founder of StartUp Weekend Tampa Bay. Not only was she an influential and dynamic business leader, she was also a warm, fun loving woman who had the ability to light up a room. I had the pleasure of working with Susie in the past, but more importantly, I have the honor of being able to have called her a friend.

As with most things in life, however, the opportunities for us to interact became fewer and fewer as time passed by.

The news of her passing was like a ton of bricks. Instantly, shockingly, and inexplicably she was gone. That next time for us to get together will never be. The reality that I won’t see her again still hasn’t set in. The surreal feeling about her no longer being with us is like a fog in my brain.

Susie loved enjoying life. Be it her business, her entrepreneurial endeavors, or game night at her house, there was a vivacious spirit about everything she did. She was electrifying and beautiful both inside and out. Interacting with her on Twitter and Facebook always brought a smile to my face, and I will forever cherish the fun memories we shared on Rock Boat XI. Susie’s work and determination will always be an inspiration to me. Her spirit will live on in the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who had the pleasure of knowing her. Her passing is saddening, but there’s no doubt her life will be celebrated and remembered for years to come.

Still, I can’t help but wish there was one more opportunity to hang out with Susie. One more evening of telling stories, sharing laughs, and just watching her enjoy life to the fullest. How I wish this past weekend was not a reminder of how fleeting life can be, and how we all must make the time to create the moments that really matter.

As we remember Susie and say goodbye to radiant person she was, I can’t help but think of the lyrics from a Billy Joel song. “So many faces in and out of my life, some will last, some will just be now and then. Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes, I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again.”


Image via FB/KimRandall
Image via FB/KimRandall


Rest in Peace, Susie. May your beauty remain forever emblazoned in our memories, and your brilliance shine forever in our hearts.

037/365 The 4:8 Principle

Tonight we had leader orientation for the growth groups at our church. Lee and I are so very blessed and honored to be able to head up a group this semester. We’ll be reviewing The 4:8 Principle, a book in which author Tommy Newberry takes a single biblical principle and teaches us how one simple truth can magnify the joy we experience in our marriage, with our parenting, and in our life as a whole.

Philippians 4:8 New International Version (NIV)

 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.