Leading the Middle – Powerful Lessons from the Bloody Knuckles Garage
Earlier this year, my friend and former colleague Aaron told me he was sick. He never said the word cancer, but his treatment and prognosis revealed the battle he was fighting. He said Miracle Max would have to pull off a big one. COVID complicated visits, so his family and friends had to support him from a distance. He was finally released from the hospital and is now at home but with regular trips for treatments and check-ups. As you might imagine, he received offers of help and support. I want to share what I learned from his response to his prognosis, acceptance of help, and the gifts he shares.
Aaron and I got to know each other through the shared experience of building a new Team in a new organization, creating processes, and contending with toxic leadership. He is retired Air Force; I am retired Army. He likes hard rock; I prefer classic R & B and Latin music. He studied electrical engineering; I studied behavioral sciences. Our oppositeness became our strength. We leveraged each other’s ideas. We got to know what makes each other tick, and we built the best Team in the organization.
We often talked about him selling his big house, but there were a few projects that he wanted to complete before putting it up for sale. His prognosis changed his priorities. He sent an email to family and friends with things he wanted to be done to the house. Each task was in prioritized order with dimensions, materials on hand, and colors. Section two of the email was tool availability, section three was material acquisition, four was visitor plans, and finally, accommodations. It was typical Aaron, organized and detailed enough to know what was needed to get the job done.
I responded to the email telling him when I planned to come over to work on the house. He kindly declined. You see, Aaron is a car guy owning a 1972 AMC Javelin, 1973 Pontiac Firebird, and a 2007 Pontiac Solstice, all with car covers, along with a late-model ninja motorcycle and a newer truck. I claim to be a shade tree mechanic, so we often shared our car-oriented escapades. When I offered to work on the house, his priority, he said “Nah, I need your help with the cars.”
For the past month, I have spent every Monday working on the cars in what I now call the Bloody Knuckles Garage (BKG). On my drive home after the first Monday, I thought, here is a man fighting cancer yet showing humanness (trust, respect, and empathy) and sharing his grace by wanting me to do something he knows I enjoy. I cherish walking into the dark garage, opening the garage door so that the sunlight comes in, putting on my music, removing the car cover, and starting the job of the day. The tasks are clear with what to do, but not how to do it. The timeline is mine, and I have discovered a new level of patience. I have found myself in uncomfortable positions like being wedged between the floorboard and the dash. I am doing repairs I have never done before. When he is home, and I go into the house, I give him an update and tell him what is next. He nods and tells me, “go for it, I trust you.” I treasure our conversations and experiences.
Whether you are a Mid-Leader, a CEO or senior executive, or an early career professional, here are lessons from my friend Aaron and my time, so far, at the BKG:
· Trust is bonding
· Perspective and patience are revealing
· The diversity of people, thought, and experiences of your Team is a superpower
· Give them the tools, tell them what to do but not how to do it & watch them shine
· Learning & development can happen anywhere when you allow them to happen
· Multiply your experiences and create the same for your Team
· Being uncomfortable is when growth happens
· Do it afraid
· People matter more than anything
Please extend good wishes, positive vibes, and prayers for my friend Aaron. The more, the better. He is a stand-up guy. Trust me, we are better because he is among us.