The Law does work!

Water damage

Back in February, I wrote to my Congressman concerning the increase in my flood insurance for UFUO #2.  The cost of insurance had increased almost 400%.  According to the law, that was illegal.  I wasn’t sure how to proceed, so I emailed my insurance carrier and my congressman.  No one had any answers for me except “well, it looks like the insurance company is correct”.

Well, without any warning, I received a check and a letter explaining that the law (which was in effect when I paid my premium) restricted the premium to only 18% over my previous premium.  The check was for the difference (with the full 18% increase in place).

I’m not sure why it took so long for me to receive the money, why the only answer to my emails was “it is what it is”, but it all ended up working out in the end.

I still have to figure out if they can again increase the insurance 18% again this year, or if I’m spared that increase.

(Photo credit:

Waxing Philosophic about Leadership


The above picture is not me.  The guy in the picture is long dead.  His views influenced Thomas Jefferson, according to the “Top 10 Greatest Philosophers in History”, was a great liberal (he just doesn’t have the beard to prove it).

This is John Locke.

So, you ask “why am I going to read about a dead philosopher today?”  Good question.  You’re not.  I’m simply going to touch on some philosophy that’s been rattling around in my head for a few years.

I’ve held a philosophy about people for some time now.  I was unable to articulate my views, but I had these very closely held beliefs about how people operate, the environments in which people thrive and 99% of humanity’s desires.  I can not point to one specific book I read, one pivotal moment in my life or anything like that.  I simply attribute my views to a keen observation of people, self-awareness (still working on this one), my formative years and my non-formative years (eg: work years).  Finally, in one of my classes, we discussed and expanded on my views; not because I decided to talk about my philosophy, but rather because the professor teaches leadership and this is his philosophy, and mostly, because it appears to work in most situations.

I’ve felt the following:
– People need honest feedback and feedforward, both good and bad as long as it’s honest
– People respond positively in environments in which they are able to make their own choices
– Honest listening is not simply nodding and agreeing while formulating my rebuttal (or addition) to the conversation, but rather is clearing your mind of all other distractions while learning from the other person (and everyone has something to teach, however small)
– People need a framework from which to work, but near full autonomy within that framework (don’t micromanage)
– Rewards work (punishments work as well, just not as intended)
– People need to know that they are not just a number or a cog to be replaced at ease.  Each person is an individual and that person adds to humanity’s greater good

In class, my professor listed a bunch of points for Leadership.  These points are:
– Develop a vision
– Simplify the message
– Trust your subordinates
– Be an expert (and know when to ask questions)
– Encourage risk (Go easy on failure)
– Invite dissent (have the ability to listen to different points of view)
– Keep your cool

In addition, my professor hammered into us that true leaders are “Servant Leaders” and what he termed “SuperLeaders”.  Servant Leaders include some of the best leaders we can remember: Gandhi, Lincoln, MLK Jr, the list goes on.  The first (roughly) two minutes of this clip from Gandhi (1982) sort-of demonstrates what I’m talking about:  This isn’t the best example, but it’s along the lines of what a Servant/SuperLeader does.  A SuperLeader is a leader that leads others to lead themselves.  Think Demi Moore’s character in A Few Good Men (an exceedingly good movie about leadership).

While I was unable to articulate what a leader is or does, I knew what it meant to be a leader.  This class was finally able to explain it to me in a way that I can attempt to explain to others.  This class taught me why some people are ‘leaders’ but they have trouble leading without ‘authority’.  Think Kim Jong Un, Col Jessup (Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men), the Mob Boss, maybe your personal boss.  They say “Do this because I say so”.

There is a middle category of leaders who allow processes and procedures to guide their interactions.  Think Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men), many many many bosses.  They may say “I got here by following these rules, so everyone will follow these rules.”  Or, “If I develop these policies and procedures, the company will function better.”

The third category of leaders establishes a value system and leads simply by living the his/her value system.  Lt. Cmd Galloway (Demi Moore in A Few Good Men), Lincoln, Gandhi, MLK, maybe you even add religious leaders to the bunch: Jesus, Muhammad, Gautama Buddha, etc.  Some of these leaders were extremely vocal, others not so much, but look at what they all accomplished: freedom from tyranny in the US, non-violent resistance to oppression in India and the US, any of the major religions.  While these leaders have died, their ability to lead continues to this day.  They are able to lead today through their value system.

This class allowed me to elevate my thinking regarding the definition of true Leadership.  I learned that when someone messes up, even if it costs your company $30k, you don’t demote the guy and reduce his pay.  If you’re a true leader, you would pull the guy aside, review what went wrong, determine a path forward, and simply say “I know you’ll do better in the future.”

I was there when we demoted the individual for causing a mistake which cost our company $30k.  The boss knew that I didn’t have the guts/cajones/?? to do the demotion myself, so he sent our business consultant to do the dirty work.  I couldn’t look the demotee in the eyes for a while.  I felt that it was a sign of my weakness as a leader.  I have since learned that it was a sign of weakness on my part – that I didn’t stand up for the demotee and say “there is a better way to do this, one which will build this guy as an employee.  We don’t need to tear him down.”

The goal of demoting the employee was to make our company stronger by removing ‘weak links’.  Perversely, this action actually had the exact opposite effect.  By demoting the employee, we weakened our company while if we had worked with the employee, we would have strengthened our company.  Remember: rewards and punishments work, just not always as intended.

Through this class, I have learned that true Leadership (SuperLeadership / Servant Leadership) takes tremendous guts, more than any other style of leadership.  Put yourself in Lincoln/MLK/Gandhi/[Name your religious leader’s shoes] and imagine the crystal clear vision they must have had in order to stand up to session/dogs, fire hoses/the British Army/[Name your oppressor].

I know that I am principled, I just need to be brave enough to stand up for my convictions.


(Photo Credit:

Hello from the Depths of an MBA Program

I know I should focus this blog, but if you ever flip through my idea journal, you’ll see that focus is not my strong point (which is how HBS came about in the first place).  I’ve learned that I need to expend enough energy to at least decide if an idea may have legs.  Then I need to find additional people to run with the idea (with me), so the idea can go somewhere.  Well, I’m not going to talk about ideas in this post (that’s for later), this is simply a recap of the past seven or eight weeks.

I have enough material for 10 posts, but I’m tired and time is short (bedtime was about 45 minutes ago…).  Life has been busy since I wrote my last post.  I can very quickly recap:

1) Friday before classes started, I got a phone call from one of my residents to inform me that a van drove into the living room.  I received this phone call at 11.59pm; I had been asleep for about two hours, so I was really groggy and trying to make sense of what my tenant really meant by “a van is in the living room”.  Believe me, it’s just not worth speeding 60MPH while 3x over the legal limit to try to get to the bottle shop before it closes at midnight (see when I got the call from my tenant…).  There are about 1000 complications to this crash…the driver was violating parole, the driver was drunk, the insured (van owner) has not spoken with either insurance company yet (???)

I received a quote for construction and the repairs have started (ever ponder how to suspend an entire story of brick?):

Really nothing more to report on this one.  Questionable tenants moved out, so I can renovate their side (with the help of my brother!) and get that rerented.  Hopefully generate a little more cash flow, but again the renovations were REALLY unintended, so there may be a near term cash crunch.

2) I’m going to brag here a little, so if you don’t like bravado, move to ‘3’ below.  School is going well.  Received grades for the first Mod (essentially a quarter; 4 mods per year, two year program).  Grades are A, A-, A-, B-.  Overall a 3.53.  One of my professors took the time to write me about my contributions in class.  Here is what he had to say “As you well know, I enjoyed working with you this fall.  In fact, I looked forward to our class time together with some anticipation, which is a really good sign for someone who has been teaching MBA’s for more than 25 years now.  I thought we created a good experience together this year. Thank you”.  I realized that I haven’t received feedback like that from any superior (boss or otherwise) for probably eight years.  It honestly felt really good to read that email.

3) The Flip….well, it hasn’t sold yet.  I’ll have to make some tough decisions about it (eg keep as a rental, drop the prices, or ????).  Back to running some numbers.

4) Because “idle hands make the devil’s business” (or something like that), my wife asked that I finish remodeling our 2nd floor.  Destruction is complete and I’ve started installing bits and pieces.  My brother helped with sanding this weekend and left looking like a coal miner.  There was a random dead animal that fell from the ceiling.  Looks bigger than a mouse and was surrounded by a bunch of nuts…maybe a chipmunk?  I also found two carefully folded $10 bills from 1950 (worth $200 after inflation).  Also, found one potentially unrequited love note.:

My help is a TON of fun to have around (this was right before my helper strapped on her tape measure, grabbed her hammer and started rolling carpeting to be thrown in the dumpster)

IMG_20141009_074628812 (1)

5) Odds and ends:
– Drive to 5 is still moving forward, albeit slowly
– I’m biking to school most days now, so gas consumption is significantly lower.  Should have details at the end of the year.
– I’ve been reading “Lincoln” by David Herbert Donald.  It is so packed with information that it is a slow read, but entirely worth it.  Look for a book report, probably in 2015.