Thursday, February 24, 2011

Adoption Trip Number One

Just a couple of days before Paula and I head off to Ethiopia for the first of two trips to adopt our son Feyissa Thomas Spears. On this trip we will go to court to be approved for the adoption, meet the people giving Feyissa up to the orphanage, and visit the region of Ethiopia where Feyissa is from.

And, of course, we get to meet our son for the first time.

I'm excited and nervous both at the same time.

Just adding to the anxiety factor is the fact that this will be the first time both Paula and I have been separated from the twins for more than a few hours. I sure hope they behave themselves for my mother and sister-in-law... Usually, fresh faces get a few days of honeymoon before the girls start to get highly demanding.

Worrying rarely helps anything, but how do you stop?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Running Every Which Way

Step one -- get the taxes done. Check.
Step two -- do three kid tax returns. Check.
Step three -- spend a little time on a business venture doing some problem solving. Check.
Step four -- spend some time with the twins. Check -- sorta. I didn't do to well on this when the taxes were in in process.
Step five -- get in some writing. Uh-oh, does five hundred words over five days count?
Step six -- get a portion of the house cleaned up in preparation for trip. Not even started yet.

Sometimes there's just a lot on your plate, and despite your best efforts, its darned hard to get through all of it. After years of experience with this situation -- usually at work -- I've decided there's no substitute to just putting nose to grindstone and getting started trying to get it done.

So I'm off to do that cleaning momentarily...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ugh. Taxes

And now we come to my least favorite time of the year -- when I spend twenty or more hours of time trying to figure out what I owe to the Federal and State Governments for the prior year. And every year, for reasons too complicated to contemplate, I always seem to owe a sizable sum.

I pine away for the simpler days gone by, when a copy of Turbo-Tax and an hour's worth of time resulted in a completed return. And back then I agonized over every number -- fool that I was. Hey. Wait. I can still have that experience -- I have three returns for kids to fill out as well! At least their returns are simple, and they usually don't owe anything. Why just last year, one of them experienced the thrill of a refund beyond the amount of tax withheld, a courtesy of the federal government's stimulus package.

So if the radio silence over the next few days seems somewhat deafening, you'll at least know why. And probably be happy you can't hear me cursing.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Can Leaders be Normal People?

In the novel I'm currently working on -- Heir Apparent -- I spend a considerable amount of time contemplating a variety of extreme leadership styles. The plot of the story, the killing of four local company CEOs by one of their own (the heir apparent -- hence the name), gives me the opportunity to compare and contrast those extremes. Bear in mind, these are all large organizations being portrayed in the novel -- a technology company, an bank, a manufacturing outfit, and a construction company.

The three of the four extremes are pretty well defined:

Killed first is what I call the screamer. This CEO aggressively challenges anything and everything, and goes into all kinds of near-crazy histrionics. She (yes, in this case I portrayed this leader as a woman) inspires an organization of other screamers, who try to out-challenge each other. The environment is aggressive, unpleasant, but also high energy.

Killed second is the politician. This CEO is nice on the outside, but cold as ice at the core. He creates an environment where he positions other people to take the fall for his own errors and shortcomings. He creates a lot of turnover in the organization, but because he's seen as kinder and gentler, he's able to continuously bring new, top talent into his firm. The new guys take the risks, and the fall if they fail. The politician is there to take the credit when the risks pay off.

Killed third is Mr. Indecisive, who can't seem to make a decision on his own, always delaying or deferring to committees of others. The employees of this company love their leader, even though he drives some of them crazy with his indecisiveness. He also has a bad habit of reconsidering all kinds of decisions, often well after the point where they should have been closed. This profile is giving me the most trouble because it appears to be the lack of some essential ingredient in the leader that makes it what it is.

The last murder victim is the micro-manager, who insists on being a part of every significant decision, and tends to drive off other independent thinking employees. He has surrounded himself by people who blindly support his decisions, and are satisfied to let their own decision-making abilities atrophy. While his firm is successful, his inability to really delegate makes him personally the limiting factor in the company's success.

Notice I said these were extreme personality types, but not unsuccessful. Each of these companies are being successful in their own way -- each growing, gaining influence and position in their markets, showing healthy profitability. In some cases they succeed because of the way the CEO drives the company, and in others (Mr. Indecisive) because the remaining managers have constructed systems to accommodate their leader's weaknesses.

I've personally observed all of these leadership types during my career, and some (but not all) of them to the extremes described in the novel. What I haven't experienced is a leader who is, well...a normal guy (or gal). I have a theory -- that a "normal" person lacks something which is necessary for a person to ascend to the top position. For lack of a better way to describe it, I'd call it drive, but its certainly more than the conventional definition of that word. It's more of an uncontrollable burning need to reach the top. This drive needs to be present in abnormal amounts to allow someone to make it to the top of the ladder, and it drags along other abnormal behaviors as well (like political maneuvering, acting out aggressive roles, or feeling the need to decide everything themselves).

So my question is: does anyone out there know of a CEO who really is just a normal guy. I'm talking the CEO of a publically traded company with at least a thousand employees. And by know, I mean being close enough that you actually can see what's going on behind the curtain, not just the outward veneer. If you know of one, I'd like to hear about it either with a comment or a private email (

I know of one of these, but that person came into the role in a very unusual way. I'm not sure one can actually climb the ladder to the top, and still remain normal in the conventional sense.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011 and

Based on monitoring of my Blog and Website since their recent redesigns, I believe some my readers may be a little confused. To wit, let me make the new structure clear in this post, which I will place in all locations where I’m regularly blogging.

I am currently writing three blogs.

Career Transition – this is my personal blog, and is hosted on Blogspot. The intention of the blog is to chronicle my personal journey from being a high level company executive to my final career destination (whatever that may be). A mid-career transition can be a hard one, and I’ve done quite a lot of research and soul-searching on the subject. My hope is some of the insights I offer will make the process less painful and disorienting for others.

About my Writing – on This is a journal on some of my thoughts about the writing process and how I am learning, growing and maturing as a writer of fiction. There are also occasional comments on current projects I am working on.

Corporate Politics- blog – also on This blog provides expert insights into the world of corporate politics. Several months ago, I wrote a lengthy article on the subject, and the blog is supportive of the concepts presented in the article. The blog was started specifically to support my first novel, LEVERAGE, which revolves around the dynamics of corporate politics and cover-ups.

I offer the following suggestions to readers.

If you like what you read, click on the Follow button. You can then set up the blog to forward posts to whatever reader you’re using (my personal preference is Google Reader – if you’re not using a blog reader now, check it out).

Post comments. Comments make the blog posts more interesting. Comments can be posted anonymously, and even if I can guess your identity, I won’t “out” you. I get a lot of private emails after a post that would often times work better as a comment.

If you are blogging yourself, or have your own website, I offer to exchange links. I feature several links on my website – under the heading Great Links. I pass and receive considerable traffic through these links. Send me an email at to let me know you’re interested.

Happy reading and thank you for your interest in my work.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

And Now for Something Completely Different

I’ve not had a corporate job now for eleven months, and I’m not looking for one. Hopefully, I won’t need to ever again. Some of the things that lead to my firing from Valmont – my risk-taking and my stubbornness, don’t fit very well in the corporate environment. And I’m weary of trying to pound my natural personality into the corporate mold.

I still love manufacturing, and I enjoy business. But I’ve found other activities more satisfying – at least thus far. Right now, my powder is dry, and the world is my oyster. If I decided I wanted to pick up my family and move to Tahiti and teach hula dancing, I could (theoretically) do it.

Don’t worry, Paula – it’s just an example. As one of my friends said – I’m in the fun zone, and I hope to stay there.

So if my taking a position at Lindsay angered some of my former Valmont colleagues, all I can say is – it was a bounce back relationship, I wasn’t forbidden by my agreements with Valmont, I needed a job at the time, and I couldn’t move. And I hope you understand and appreciate the fact I was cast off. Fired by Valmont. Read: Of no further use.

I also hope my blog readers now understand my separation from Lindsay was initiated by me, and it was for my own private reasons – not because there is something wrong with the company, nor with me either, for that matter – it was just a mismatch.

So that’s my tale. If by reading it, I’ve given any further clarity to your thought process about your own future, then it’s been worth the effort.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Not if, but When

By early 2010, I knew I needed a break from the corporate grind. I’d been subjecting myself to it since I was twenty one years old, all in the name of reaching the top. Now, I knew I didn’t even want the job if it was offered to me. It became more and more clear what I should have done, was to take some time off after being fired from Valmont, and set my life on a different course. Hind sight is so easy – in the moment when I took the job at Lindsay I was hurt, confused, and ready to jump right back into what I’d always done -- if for no other reason than it meant I didn’t have to think too hard about my life’s trajectory.

But it wasn’t too late. I hadn’t taken any irreversible steps – if I wanted to take time off to really think through my remaining thirty or forty years, I could still do it.

I met with a few mentors and advisors, including both Mintz and Fransecky, and began preparing myself. I charted a year’s sabbatical. I reflected deeply on my interests and pleasures before business had Shanghai-ed ninety percent of my waking consciousness. I thought about my family, and the legacy I would leave them.

I decided it wasn’t a question of if I would quit, only when. Being good with math, I aimed for November of 2010 -- after bonuses for the year were paid, and options vested.

But the situation at work was deteriorating. I found the management process to be increasingly grating. And there were issues – things I might have once shrugged off, like experiencing a public dressing down, or having to call off a deal multiple times because the CEO got cold feet. Those things were really bothering me.

Then one night, I came home whining about something that happened at the office – I don’t even remember what – and Paula looked at me and said, “I don’t know why you even work there anymore.”

The next Monday I went in and resigned from my position – November payouts be damned.

I offered to keep the resignation quiet for as long as the CEO wanted – through the end of the year, if necessary, so he could recruit a replacement.

But I found myself packing up my things and going home at the end of that day. While I agree it was his prerogative to do what he did, I wouldn’t have handled it the same way.