A life update...

Healy Hall, Georgetown University

Healy Hall, Georgetown University

Friends,

This summer Arielle and I are moving to Washington, DC so I can pursue my MBA at Georgetown University.

When I joined Yodle nearly four years ago, I saw for the first time the impact of great business leadership. Jobs were being created, careers were being built, and a great product was being developed. I realized then that I wanted to spend my life building businesses. 

Taking on that kind of leadership is a moral obligation and when it is done well it helps people thrive and support their families. In an MBA I am pursuing the growth I need to fully uphold that responsibility.

I've been working on my applications for some time and was thrilled to be admitted to Georgetown. The school is a perfect fit for me, and for my beloved Arielle, Washington holds every opportunity imaginable.

Let me add a word about Daddy Read a Book, which many of you supported from the beginning. Our work will continue with the many military families in the DC area and we are already developing connections with the bases there. 

I'm grateful for everything these many years in Arizona have held. The next two years is prescribed but the future beyond that is wide open and for that I can barely wait.

Chris

 

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It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.

J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

Three Things I've Learned as a Manager

Sometimes you get really lucky.

It’s uncommon to work at a company that has incredible growth and extremely competent colleagues and executives. I’ve been luckiest to have great managers.

At the time, I took it for granted. That’s quickly changed in the past few months since I myself became a manager. Everything that goes into being a great manager has become abundantly clear. Here are three things I’ve learned so far (subject to change):

 

Really, Really Give a Damn

Managers have more direct impact on their employees and their daily lives than the federal government. If you’re going to take that kind of responsibility on, you have to care deeply and passionately. You should feel a spiritual, moral drive to be a great manager.

Great managers have to understand what their employees want in their careers, finances and their lives and help get them there. You benefit because your employees will follow you for this care.

 

Manage Yourself

It’s important to work well in the organization and keep a strong relationship with my manager. My ability to build a network and work within the politics of an office will have a direct impact on how my team is treated and if we get what we need. The real issue here is trust. If your people view you as powerless, they won’t trust you.

 

Have, Follow, and Change a Plan

When I came into the role, I wrote out a 90 day plan of action. Many of the items I completed, but many were changed within weeks of the transition as circumstances dictated. It was really important for me to have an agenda of what I would focus on and it allowed me to track it with my manager and show the progress I was making in each area.

 

One of my favorite quotes about management is from former Brigadier General, now professor Tom Kolditz.

"Leadership, in many respects, is exercising a moral obligation. When you put yourself at the head of an organization, or you put yourself in a group of individuals and work to influence them in a certain direction, there are consequences that affect people’s lives.

If you do it right, you help people make their mortgages. You help them send their kids to college. And the organization is stronger because of it. For those willing to take that on, I think there is a reward and satisfaction that comes with the responsibility."

Article from the Arizona Republic

As a participant in SVP Fast Pitch, I was able to meet some great people and ended up with a section cover story in the Arizona Republic.


TEMPE NON-PROFIT IN FAST PITCH FUNDING COMPETITION

Tempe resident Chris Cottrell believes he can get his non-profit to the next level in 180 seconds.

Cottrell, 25, is hoping to take part in the third annual SVP Arizona Fast Pitch, in which eight non-profits get 3 minutes each to make a pitch for more than $35,000 in grants and prizes from Social Venture Partners Arizona. The competition is 6-9 p.m. Wednesday, March 26, at Tempe Center for the Arts.

SVP Arizona Executive Director Terri Wogan said the non-profits also will compete for funds from audience members. Last year’s audience contributed about $142,000, Wogan said.

“We’re at a good stage for resources and money to be invested,” Cottrell said about his non-profit, Daddy Read a Book. “What we could do with $10,000 is very, very different than what a non-profit with a $100,000-a-year budget can do with $10,000. $10,000 is huge to us, whereas with them it might be, ‘Oh, that’s a good gift.’ That would totally change what we are doing. I think there is a lot of potential for us to win.”

Cottrell is in the semifinal stage with 20 others, taking part in a two-month mentoring program to develop their pitches. Each pitch is limited to 3 minutes. Eight finalists will be announced Friday, March 14.

One Arizona State University student non-profit among three competing will be awarded $2,000 and will join presenters at Fast Pitch.

“Messaging is a core element, and that’s what is missing for a lot of non-profits,” said Wogan, noting that the mentoring program and Fast Pitch train non-profits to relay their missions effectively and to improve their storytelling.

Daddy Read a Book is hoping to give storytelling skills to others, particularly families going through separation, by filming parents reading stories to their children.

Cottrell said when he was young, his father, who now teaches missionaries how to raise funds, went to prison for a year. Before leaving, Cottrell’s father filmed himself reading his son’s favorite books, allowing his son to have a connection to him when he was gone. Cottrell believes he can do the same for families broken up by military duties or other obstacles that create parental absence.

“When he got home, I felt like I knew who he was,” Cottrell said of his father. “That’s a big thing, especially for military guys. It’s usually young guys that are gone with young wives and kids. … It breaks my heart seeing those videos on YouTube when the dad comes home, and one kid is like, ‘Dad, it’s so good to see you,’ and the other is, ‘I don’t know who you are. You’ve been gone for three-quarters of my life. Who are you?’ If we can bridge that, that’d be awesome.”

Cottrell graduated from ASU in 2010 with a degree in political science. He began working in 2010 as a consultant for Yodle, which provides businesses with ways to promote their services via Internet marketing, and the company helped him kick start Daddy Read a Book in March. Before working at Yodle, Cottrell worked on former State Treasurer Dean Martin’s 2010 governor’s campaign.

Cottrell had an interest in politics after writing Proposition 103, or “Chris’ Law – Victim’s Protection Act,” when he was 12, he says. The law was passed by Arizona voters in 2002, helping to keep sexual predators from posting bail, keeping them off the streets until they went to trial, while also establishing the first boundary around Arizona schools so convicted offenders could not live in proximity of any school.

Cottrell was not as successful with Martin’s campaign.

“To put in hundreds of thousands of dollars, this huge effort, and to not get anything out of it, if you don’t win … I just felt, ‘What else could be done with that time and resources?’ ” he said.

So, he started the non-profit with which he believes he can make a difference.

Cottrell began by pitching his idea to Scottsdale’s the James Agency, which provided him with $50,000 of pro bono work, including developing his website and logo. The James Agency does pro bono work for one non-profit a year, according to Angie Miller, the agency’s director of public relations. .

“Chris really captured our team with his personal story and his idea was forward thinking,” Miller said.

So far, Cottrell has partnered with Luke Air Force Base in the West Valley and says his group has filmed five families.

Daddy Read a Book sets up about two hours in which a parent will read the child’s favorite books in a mobile studio equipped with professional lighting and sound and a high-definition camera. The film is then edited, put on a DVD and shipped to the family along with a surprise letter from the parent. It costs $100 for the whole process, according to the Daddy Read a Book website, daddyreadabook.com.

What Daddy Read a Book is Teaching Me Pt 2

It’s been almost ten months since my first post on what I’m learning by starting Daddy Read a Book. Since then I’ve learned a lot from successes and failure. Here we go…

 

Scalability

As we’re growing, I’m learning how to build processes and workflows out of nothing. Start at A, end up at B. Since I’m naturally inclined to focus on the big picture and see the end goal, this area takes intentional thought for me. I can see the end product as if I’m holding it my hand. Reverse engineering and thinking of all the steps required to realize the vision just takes more effort.

The biggest takeaway is realizing how much the process matters. To grow, you have to build a good process and continuously improve it.

 

Sustainability: Moving on from the Chief Everything Officer

In part one, I talked about being responsible for everything. In the beginning stages, if you don’t do it, it doesn’t happen. You are the organization/business/start-up.

While that phase is necessary, it won’t last. I found that out firsthand as I reached pretty near 150% of my personal bandwidth.

To do anything well for a long period of time takes support. That’s the key to personal sustainability and, when you’re leading anything (organization, life, business, marriage), your personal sustainability is foundational to your leadership.

 

Collaboration

The most crucial partnership Daddy Read a Book has is with Luke Air Force Base. The dads we’re working with now are all service members affiliated with LAFB and we rely on them to connect and work with these dads.

When we started, we depended on The James Agency for all of our website, branding and PR. We depended on Yodle to sponsor our kickoff fundraiser, on our board members for our first connections, and donors for our budget.

I’m profoundly grateful to these organizations. With an entrepreneurial spirit, it’s too easy to take on challenges alone. I learned more deeply the importance of your partners.

Thoughts on "A Leader's Greatest Things"

This was in a great blog post by John Maxwell on leadership titled A Leader’s Greatest Things. Some of these things surprised me, but, as I thought about them, I realized how very true they all were. More thoughts after the excerpt.

1. The Leader’s Greatest Victory — Victory over Self.
2. The Leader’s Greatest Asset — Confidence.
3. The Leader’s Greatest Weight — Final Responsibility.
4. The Leader’s Greatest Discipline —Taking Time to Think.
5. The Leader’s Greatest Handicap — Pride.
6. The Leader’s Greatest Opportunity — Today.
7. The Leader’s Greatest Loss — Hope.
8. The Leader’s Greatest Mistake — Putting Self before Others.
9. The Leader’s Greatest Prayer — Wisdom.
10. The Leader’s Greatest Joy — Adding Value to Others.

 

These are all iterations of three main pillars: selflessness, discipline and work.

 

Selflessness

The greatest things that fall under selflessness are final responsibility, putting self before others, and adding value to others.

Taking the final responsibility for a project or a product means that you take the blame when something or everything goes wrong. This is the constant belief of a leader that, “It’s my fault.

Putting self before others is the constant err of humans, not just leaders. For leaders, this is a particularly serious mistake because other people’s time, resources, and sometimes lives are placed in your trust.

Adding value to others is similar to putting self after others. It is simply making sure that you are bettering other’s lives instead of just your own. It is making sure you show up for someone before expecting them to show up for you. This is being a servant rather than a tyrant.

 

Discipline

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.

Proverbs 25:28

The victories in the pillar of discipline include victory over self, taking time to think, and wisdom. Discipline is often under-appreciated, though every great leader practiced it. To have self-mastery, you must take time to reflect and understand who you are and what you believe. A leader who has mastered himself will also be far better equipped to grow a team. It takes time and mental energy to know each person on your team and to learn what they need to grow.

Wisdom is gained both in experience and through reflection. There are young men who are much wiser than some old men. This isn’t because of experience, it’s because the young man has taken the time to think and reflect on situations and the courage the think about them honestly.

 

Work

One of the things I say to myself constantly is, “Work hard. Stay humble.” Hard work leads to confidence and today. Work is what stands between you and any dream you have. With work, you can be confident in high-stakes situations, prepared for emerging opportunities and able to make the most of opportunities.

The great opportunity in our lives is what we can do with today. We can relax, sit on the sofa, watch television, and enjoy a day of rest. Of course, rest is vital to a healthy life and I am an absolute believer in the value of true rest.

However, time is so often lost in partial rest, e.g. checking Facebook at work, watching television all weekend, putting off the things that matter for the things that satisfy in the moment. Bottom line: work harder than anyone else you know for your dreams and you will hit them or hit close.

 

Hope

The belief behind every mission statement, motivation and vision of a leader is that there is hope. Without hope, where would we go?

* * *

What did I miss about a leader? Tweet or email me and let me know!

If...

By Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

How a Biography Changed My Life

Writing this post requires some vulnerability and honesty. This is about personal development and how a book changed my thinking about business, revealed some dreams I didn’t know that I had, and affected the course of my life.

In 2011, I was a little bit lost. To properly explain this, I should start in 2010.

This was the year I had been planning on for a long time. In January, I started working for a governor’s campaign in Arizona. This wasn’t just a typical staff or volunteer role on a campaign. The candidate, Dean Martin, was someone I had known for years. He was the Senator who introduced Chris’ Law, and we had stayed in touch until I started interning for him at the Arizona State Treasurer’s office. Any other internship would have been grunt work, but because I was close to Dean, my role was much more involved. I sat in on big meetings, walked the capitol with Dean as he talked politics and policy, helped with everything and anything.

In fact, we were so close that when his wife, Kerry, died in childbirth in 2009, Dean and his family asked me to be a pallbearer. I haven’t been to many funerals, but I don’t think I’ll go to many more heartbreaking than that one.

When Dean decided to run for the Governor’s office, it was a natural transition to working as his right hand and being involved from early core meetings to our statewide bus tour.

We announced his candidacy in January 2010, and I was so passionate and happy to be involved.

In May, I graduated from Arizona State University. That was a big moment. The actual classroom work was never that difficult for me. What was difficult was paying for school, working my way through it, dropping out to take transfer classes at a community college so that I could afford them, and not ever having enough time for everything. On top of that, sometimes I felt a bit of disdain from my dad, not for going to university, but maybe for believing I needed to go. He encouraged me a few times to  decide what I wanted to do and take an internship from an expert and just learn that way, and that some of the world’s most successful people never went to school. This isn’t to say that he wasn’t proud of me when I graduated, just that he thought less of it than I did.

At that same time, I met Arielle through happenstance. As soon as we started dating, I knew she was the one I wanted to marry. (Spoiler: I did marry her. I call that moment the greatest heist in human history.)

Three weeks after I graduated, I bought a home in Tempe, Arizona. Having worked in the Treasurer’s office, I was acutely aware of the financial and housing market, and that this was the perfect time to buy for first time homebuyers. I bought the home to be an investment property, and felt confident that I was making a good decision.

At this point in 2010, to put it lightly, I was pretty pleased with myself. I had a degree, the girl, and a home.

* * *

Fast forward a few months, renovating the house was a much bigger project than I had ever imagined, and blinded me to damage I was doing to my closest friends.  I’ll always regret that more than the financial or time costs.

The great staff position on the campaign which would have lead to a very good job in the Governor’s office collapsed when the numbers turned and the race became out of reach. The only thing that survived was the relationship between Arielle and I. And by the end of the year even that was going through a make or break moment.

So, 2011 started at pretty much the opposite of mid-2010. I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

I think Chris’ Law blinded me to some of the realities of politics. After Chris’ Law, I had always thought that I would run for office and spend my life doing more good things like protecting children.

During the Governor’s campaign, I realized that most people in politics are out for their own gain, not for the good of the community. Every person was looking out for themselves, their own gain and their own good. (There was one person who was the exception to that rule, and so I followed him around until we became friends and now he’s a huge influence on my life and on the board of Daddy Read a Book.)

The deep realization that politics was not just people doing good for their community left a void in the plan of my life. I had always known there were corrupt and selfish people in politics, but this was a very deep recognition that being involved in politics was war, not building.

After the governor’s campaign, I was truly lost as to what I wanted to do with my life, and what career would allow me to do good, build an incredible place and provide a great product and delight customers/constituents. This is what I experienced during Chris’ Law, and what I expected to do politics.

Growing up, I was never exposed to business or entrepreneurship, so maybe it can be forgiven that I missed the very obvious indication that I should have been looking for a career in business, not politics.

This is where the biography comes in. In 2011, a few months into Yodle, I was starting to realize how much I enjoyed the business environment although it was still very new to me. I remember the late fall afternoon, as the day was winding down, the news broke that Steve Jobs had died. As a reader who enjoyed biographies and an Apple fan, I bought the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson.

Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. I blitzed through the book and enjoyed every page. Steve obviously had serious personal flaws and the way he treated people was often unacceptable.

What attracted me was his vision. The unrelenting drive to build an incredible system, to connect the world, to leave his mark on the universe.

I will never forget his words,

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

After Chris’ Law, I believed that great work meant going into politics and helping build a better community, city, state and world. I realized that working in politics was not the way to do this. Running for office is the best way I think to do this, and I think that I will do that someday.

My definition of great work was this: do good, build an incredible place and provide a great product and delight customers/constituents.

I was just looking in the wrong arena.

After reading Steve Jobs, I realized that he was doing in business what I had always wanted to do. He changed the world through his products, created a company where people worked with blood, sweat and tears, created some of the world’s most incredible products and delighted customers to the point of people waiting for eight hours in the cold to be the first to buy a new phone.

Seeing this for the first time changed my life. The business world was where I could do great work. I could do good in my community by giving back and by creating an incredible place to work. I could provide a great product and delight customers. I could actually do everything I had wanted to do in government.

I had found where I could do great work.

* * *

This great unveiling showed me a clear path.

  1. Learn & experience business. This means reading the classic books on business; working at Yodle and reflecting on the executive decisions and strategy; starting valuable things to practice creating culture and leading; and, finally, being formally educated by a top school.
  2. Do business.

So that’s what I’m doing now. Every night I go to bed tired and happy, and wake up with purpose every morning.

I’m on my way to doing great work, and that’s how a biography changed my life.

What Daddy Read a Book is Teaching Me Pt. 1

When I first had the idea to start Daddy Read a Book, I had something of a bad taste in my mouth from volunteering with other nonprofits. The other nonprofits did important work, with good staff, and usually a great story, too.

The problem was always execution. So, I decided that I would start and run Daddy Read a Book like a start-up. I would treat donors like investors and our recipients like customers, and commit myself, the board and our volunteers to doing something that is incredible and also well executed.

I’ve learned a lot in the past few months trying to do that. There’s a lot in store for Daddy Read a Book, so this is the first of a number of reflections on what I’ve learned.

Here’s some more color on the process…

 

Chief Everything Officer

When you are starting and leading something new, you are responsible to do it all. This is true in nonprofits, as well as business, social and school clubs, and political campaigns.

You schedule, edit, plan strategically, email, design, draft, create, and you should love it. You are the engine, tires and the driver. For you, faster means farther.

I enjoy being busy, so this is a good place for me to be. The challenge will be in a few months once Daddy Read a Book hires the first employee and I stop doing everything myself. I’ve been reading about start-up CEOs compared to larger organization CEOs, and I’m well aware that my job starts becoming more and more about empowering the people who work with me and holding them accountable to defined goals.

 

Lead From the Why

There’s a great TED talk from Simon Sinek, where he explains what differentiates great leaders and companies, and how they drive successful products.
He argued that there’s a pattern of communication from great leaders. He titled his codification “The Golden Circle”. Conventional leaders start with the what, move to the how, then maybe get to the why. Better leaders start with the why, then the how, then the what.

His conclusion was the people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. In some conversations, I have failed to start with why I’m doing this; why it’s important for sons and daughters to be connected with their father, why it’s important to support the education of a child.

Overall, though, I have been aware of leading from the why and I think it’s helped in some of our early successes.

 

Motivating a Team

The first time I told my story and my idea for Daddy Read a Book, it was in front of a room of twelve people I had never met and I was asking for their help. So, I thought I would emulate what I had learned from Simon Sinek and the Golden Circle.

We talked about how I felt connected to my dad even though we were separated, and some of them had similar stories. We talked about how important it was for kids to be connected with their dads. I can’t take credit for their incredible generosity, but I do think how I presented the story was helpful in motivating them to donate probably more than $35,000 in company time.

* * *

There’s a lot in store for Daddy Read a Book, so this is only the first of a few posts reflecting on what I’ve learned.

More to follow in the coming months as I absorb everything.