The Most Important Decision Of Your Life

Choose your partner well. It's the most important decision of your life.

Choose your partner well. It’s the most important decision of your life.

Love and marriage, love and marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage
This, I tell you brother
You can’t have one without the other

The most important decision of your life is who you choose as a partner. I have many friends who have chosen well. Their partners are supportive, assertive and tend to be have the same career orientation. I’m not saying that both members of the partnership need to be career oriented. Rather, successful people tend to have partners that share their values and ambitions. They are two people in the boat, rowing in the same direction. Well-chosen partnerships tend to serve as a force multiplier for future successes.

At the same time, I have other friends who chose poorly. They are in the same rowboat, but rowing in opposite directions. Poor choices can lead to domestic rancor and dissolution of the partnership. To me, the bad choices that lead to life complacency are even more frightening.

I always wanted a partner who would make me better. I’m pretty sure I did what I came to do.

Back in 2007, I sang “Love and Marriage” at a 400+ person Chinese wedding. I didn’t know a single person at the wedding ceremony – aside from my roommate. My roommate only knew one person there, the father of the bride – and only tangentially. As the foreign guests of honor, we sat at the family table up front near the brides brothers and sisters. As an aside, due to the one child policy, the brothers and sisters are technically cousins. The language is a term of endearment, rather than a technical familial designation.

About midway through the ceremony, my roommate and I headed to the stage for the talent show part of the wedding (don’t ask). Blind from the baijiu, we warbled about two topics – love and marriage – that neither of us much understood at the time. Arm in arm, we steadied one another in an absurd situation. In that moment, she was the perfect partner.

I often face unsteady moments with family, employees, bosses, and friends. In those times, I recognize how fortunate I am to have a partner to help steady me.


Seven years hence and now married myself, I admit that I still know little about love or marriage. In fact, I cannot profess expertise on many of the big things in life.  But I am convinced that the most important decision a person makes is who s/he chooses in a partner.

Sorry To See You Go And Glad You Are Gone


Turnover means goodbye. Then it means hello. And that’s a great thing.

Turnover stinks. Every single employee departure hurts. Each turnover is a disappointment. Every time someone decides to leave our company, I ask myself what I could have done better to keep them. Every time someone leaves, I wonder where my leadership let them – let us – down.

Each goodbye is an epic fail. Every turnover is a punch in the face. I find myself reeling every few weeks from that punch, doubled over wondering how we could have done better.

When a senior manager left earlier this year, I felt sucker punched. When our head of training left, I wondered how I failed her. When a longtime manager left for a lesser opportunity, I wondered how I let him down.

Could I have called more to check in with them? Could I have mentored them more? Did I support them enough? Should I have had a closer hand in their training? Did I mismanage expectations? Was I too demanding? Was I too direct? What did I do wrong?

Every time, I turn the scenario over again and again. I beat myself up for days. I scream in silence. I vow to never lose another employee to involuntary turnover. This is an impossible promise, I realize, but one made in earnest in time.

I take each separation to heart. I’ve always hewed to the maxim that people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. As the (co) head of this company, I am the chief boss. So, people aren’t leaving the company, they are leaving me. Every month on average, someone votes with their feet and leaves me. And it hurts.

I do realize that the company we have built is not for everyone. We lead a fast changing company with strong growth objectives. Our company culture is relentless and aggressive.We are demanding and exacting. We are tireless. We are low ego, desperate to succeed and desperate to win.I know that we – and our culture are not for everyone. They leave, and I’m bummed. But, then something odd often happens.

We start searching for the replacement for the departed. Sometimes it’s an internal candidate, other times it’s an external candidate. We find our new someone…and then magic…

The new team member adds something to the role that we had not foreseen or even considered. Some unexpected skill transforms my conception of what the role can be. I learn where I had made compromises to the last inhabitant of the office. I see what I was missing the whole time.

Our new accounting leader is a great example. I adored her predecessor and felt devastated when she left. Shortly thereafter, our new accounting leader arrived. And I can’t imagine my life without her. I love her clarity and focus. I admire her ability to push back in a respectful manner. I like how she develops her team. She makes us better and I am grateful that she’s a part of our team.

I’m sure there is another departure coming soon. Turnover is natural. Someone on my team is going to leave and break my heart. And then, someone will step in to fill that role. They will expand the description of the job. They are going to become irreplaceable and do the work of ten people. They will light the world on fire and drive performance to new heights. And then, I am going to fall in love all over again.

I’m sure there is a movie or song reference that I could call upon to describe this phenomenon. Perhaps every new beginning leads to some other beginning’s end (h/t to Semisonic and Seneca the younger). Or maybe I could crib from Maria von Trapp, “When god closes the door, he opens a window.”

Instead, I’ll use my own words. I’m so sorry to see you go, but I’m so glad that you’re gone.

Iceberg Hiring

Iceberg hiring

Iceberg hiring helps us win a bit more than lose.

We use “Iceberg Hiring” to select winning team members. In small organizations, every role is key and every hire is critical. Cisco or Apple can tolerate someone not pulling their weight; we cannot. We need small organization men and women, not big company ones. To that end, we carefully consider how each new hire fits with the team we have in place.

Iceberg Hiring gets its name from the large floating blocks of ice that dot the North and South Seas. Due to the density differential between ice and water, about ten percent of an iceberg’s mass lies above the surface. The bulk of an iceberg is underwater, hidden from view. In the same vein, in an interview, about ten percent of an interviewee’s characteristics are visible. 90% of the characteristics are beyond view.

Iceberg Hiring attempts to shift focus to the 90% invisible. We ask a series of probing questions designed to get at more than typical trite answers. During the interview, if we observe a single hint of jerkiness, lack of horsepower, or inattention to detail, we pull the plug.

The tip of the iceberg forebodes what lies below. We would rather save ourselves the trouble of a whirlwind courtship and messy divorce. Iceberg Hiring is our prenup.

After the interview, we pause to discuss all candidates and assess the energy. If the interview was a slog, the working relationship is likely to be one as well. If we didn’t feel 100% comfortable with the candidate’s answers, we won’t likely feel comfortable with the employee’s work. Hand wavy answers suggest lack of substance.

Our total on site interview is brief, maybe 20-40 minutes, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Afterward, we spend time checking references and validating facts and dates on the resume. Our conversations with former bosses, peers, and direct reports add color to the data we’ve gathered. Then we try to connect with coaches, teachers, and advisors. Talking with these folks adds more than we can discover in a quick chat with an employee.

We mix blind and provided reference checks, but weight the blind about 10x more than the provided. Social networking, particularly LinkedIn has made this much easier (and I’ve direct messaged more than a few candidate’s Twitter followers).

Once we’ve uncovered what’s below the surface, we make a decision – fast. We often see star potential in candidates, but as Shania said, “That don’t impress me much.”  Demonstrated character, deep commitment, track records, competitive spirit and desire to win do.

I don’t think we always get it right, but using Iceberg Hiring gives ourselves less of a chance to get it wrong.

What To Do If You Can’t Learn To Code


The Silicon Valley driven learn to code movement is now mainstream. The White House joined the wave with the National Day of Code. Granted there is some backlash. Then backlash to the backlash. I have whiplash trying to keep up with it all.

I jumped into the wave headfirst a few years ago. In 2012, I progressed through the vast majority of Codecademy and Rails for Zombies. I took CS50 via David Malan’s excellent online course. I can Fizzbuzz in both Ruby and Python, but no one is going to bring me on as their in house hacker.

While I enjoyed learning to code, I was terrible at it. I screamed at my screen for hours looking for the errant comma or colon that rendered my code crippled). I have some god-given talents, but coding is not one of them. I’ve come to terms with knowing I’m not going to be the 10x developer. I’m not even going to be the 1x developer. Perhaps with work, I could have developed into the 1/10x developer.

In my first job, I worked with successful, middling and unsuccessful General Managers. I tried to identify what separated the haves from the havenots. Goal being, of course, to make myself one of the success ones.

I saw two things that successful general managers had in common. First, most successful General Managers had a strong sales background. Second, most of the successful General Managers had other talented people supporting their efforts. The rest of this post will discuss the former item as the latter may be a bit of a chicken and egg situation.

If you want to be successful, and you can’t code, then you should learn how to sell. Sales is a foundational skill useful across all industries or a functions. Nothing happens until someone sells something to someone else. When interviewing for a job, you are selling yourself. When negotiating salary, you are selling yourself. When dating, you are selling yourself. When recruiting talent, you are selling yourself and your company.

Contrary to popular opinion, I am not a natural born sales person. I had negative associations with sales before my experience at Cintas. I thought asking for what I wanted was crass or beneath me. I was the kid that refused to go door to door selling candy bars or pizzas or whatever item the school fundraiser was hawking to parents. But, I also lived a life wherein I got little of what I wanted.

I took the role in sales while holding my nose at the prospect of asking people for money. It was like eating vegetables or taking my vitamins. Unpleasant, but necessary.

I had excellent mentors that helped me hone my sales craft. I had the benefit of learning from ninjas like Kevin Russo, Ryan Parker, Robb Kleinmann, and Michael Servello. I watched rock stars like John Kopasidas, John Rumcik, and Forrest Belcher. I worked alongside young guns like Bill Greenway, Geoff McBurroughs and Angelico Obedoza.  Most of the folks mentioned are still lights out sales people, 8-10 years later. Many are selling different products or services than they were in 2005. All have a valuable skill set that every company in America covets.

I think everyone should learn how to sell. Perhaps it won’t be their chosen career, but it will be a valuable skill that helps them for the rest their lives.

Those who can code, code. Those who can’t, sell the product. Every product and every company in the world needs both. You should figure out which one of those two skill sets you will learn.

And all the beans were counted

We had a very well paid former employee. The very well paid former employee wrote us this week.

On my pay stubs since November 1, my “Rate” is correct/consistent at $x,xxx.39, but the “This Period” amount is $0.10 less…only $x,xxx.29.  That means it has been off for the last 7 periods.  Please make this correction…. Thanks.

Some people…

Please note the double signature

Please note the double signature

A Man Without Honor

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. The rest throw in the towel and tender their resignation. They say that they aren’t having fun anymore and then they inquire about when their 47.94 hours of accrued vacation will be paid out. They regret any inconvenience that this will cause.

Spoiler alert: Here’s what life is like when you’re older

Lonely Old Alone Man Sitting

James Gray, an 85 year old retired British butler placed an ad in a newspaper looking for companionship on Christmas Day. After nine Christmases eating smoked salmon alone, he’d had enough. News of his bold actions (and the subsequent media coverage) swept the Internet this week. The story appeared in the heartwarming section, the splendid section and the news of the weird sections of major media outlets.

I’m struck by how common this likely is. The world hasn’t been very kind to our seniors. We live in a world where we can 3D print pizzas, get tacos delivered by drone, or call black cars on demand. We’ve built great technology for the privilaged (and I’m including myself in that cohort), but we haven’t figured out a noble way to care for the men and women who built the world we inherit.

I am haunted by the thought of nine Christmases eating smoked salmon alone. It’s a short hop from reading about Mr Gray to thinking about the solitary evenings of my own parents and grandparents. And then it’s a baby step to thinking about a future where I’m opening the capers for a Christmas breakfast made for one. 

Five years from now, ten years from now or maybe fifty years from now, it will happen to you and me. You will be old. I will be old. Senior citizen. Retiree. Elderly.

Let’s expect more from the world of tomorrow than we have today. Let’s build a life where my parents and yours (and you and me) have companionship, dignity, independence and safety. Let’s do more than we’re doing today. Yes, I realize it is going to take more than medical alert systems to get there. And I’m ready for the challenge.

My dear Ms Laney

My dearest Ms Laney –

You never told me your middle name was Kelorah! And, well – I suppose I never asked. I wish I had asked you sooner, because it appears we’re out of time for now.

Every time I saw you, I felt the full strength of your love. Your signature strong-hug/thump-on-the-back softened over the last few years, but I just thought it would be there for me forever. Sure, you probably hugged everyone like that, but you reserved an especially warm hug for me.

I was your favorite. You were mine.

We saw each other yearly, or was it every other year or every third year recently? I had so many opportunities to learn more about you and then those became fewer and farther as my life sped up and your life slowed down.

I spent so much time catching you up on my life and the latest comings and goings. I realize now that in doing so, I never got the full sense of yours. What do you do when you’re not reading that bible and listening to my exploits? What did you do when you were my age? What was life like for young Elaine Kelorah Mullins? What were my father’s flaws as a young man? What was your youth like? How did you raise such difficult children like my father? Like me. Where did you draw your strength from?

Despite your pain these last few years, you always managed to be strong and beautiful. Always with your smart earrings, always presentable and always ready.

I put off seeing you for so long that I missed our best window. Now we have to delay our next meeting a bit longer.

One month ago, you left us. You are heading to find a better and more peaceful place to share your love and warmth.

I love you. I miss you. See you soon.