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Can Change renew?

by | Nov 22, 2020 | Change, renew, Santana

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Our offices in Crystal City were magnificent, with my boss having a great view of the city. It was a small team, so we would gather around his desk and he would engage each of us…. only after he finished reading The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.  Completely.  Every Day. After providing the best foundation for the decisions of the day, I knew he was ready to start by the way he would close the last one, and turn to look down the hall.  On this day, however, I was in his office, and he was on the phone.  He had decided to build a house in southern Virginia and wanted a boat to go with it.  He found one and flown to Miami to drive it back up the coast, taking along a new contraption – a suitcase-sized cell-phone.  He had left me in charge, and we were to talk every day on issues. It was our first call, and right after laying out our latest crisis, he started to speak…. and then… 

… nothing. Our finance person looked at me and we were both stunned.  Neither of us were sure that I really had the discipline to actually make the critical decisions, and frankly, we had reasons to be worried. The team member added for the scanner had just recently said to me “You have NO idea what you are doing!”.  I said “Yes… and it took you 2 years to figure that out,” something that only a 30 something could get away with 😉  It is a leadership lesson I use with people now all the time:  imagine you are getting on a plane tonight, you are unreachable – completely – and you will be gone for a year.  Now… what are your priorities? 

It is not any task, or even any project – it is the people around you – equipping them to act when you are not there.  Have you prepared them for what you can, and grown the skills to deal with what you can’t anticipate? And, have you built a team together so that you are not the center of every decision.  While the year may be a stretch, it is enough to get people to realize it is not a temporary stance – if you are not building up the team, providing them with freedom of action and confidence, you are setting everyone up for a big breakdown, including you.  

Santana is now one of the pillars of the music community, and regularly sells out concerts across the globe including Montreaux, House of Blues, and some stadiums.  After Santana III, a number of his core band decided to not follow him on the spiritual/jazz path, and went off on their own – a story for a few weeks from now.  And, being a very loyal collaborator, Carlos with his status, wanted to “get the band back together” for another recording.  Reaching out to the core members of that band, they all readily agreed, and work began on what they would call Santana IV…. even though it would be his 24th album, it was logically the progression from III had he not detoured. 

The band immediately fell back into the old rhythms, and they supported the album with a tour where both Journey and Santana had full sets, and then they blended together to play songs from IV. Watch the video and you will see much the same band from the earlier years – a little grayer, balder, but the same tight rhythms and playing from nearly 50 years before. Michael Shreve on drums – minus the huge fro from when he was 17, Greg Rollie on the Organ, another founding member, and of course Neil Schon… And that is Ernie Isley from the Isley Brothers singing out front… 

… Our project was in a critical phase, with decisions needed on the quantity of hardware to build, where it could be built, how would it be supported, how it would be announced. Oh, and we had to move as they were closing this beautiful office. And while it was a little scary, all of those strange meetings, all of the times we had spent listening to him, we were ready.  I didn’t realize it then, and confidence is something that almost all leaders struggle with.  It is a lonely place where the decisions are made, and a word of encouragement is always helpful as the other voices are already present – even in the most confident looking people.

We used our freedom to work through the decisions, including the move, and he eventually returned, but in those weeks, I recognized that as good as the decisions were, they were only leading me to affirm my decision that Change was what at least I needed.  The picture is of the “awards” of this season of Change, and what is interesting is what is missing is the people – the faces that I remember so vividly and fondly.  And… 

…. One co-worker and I were talking about how to select vendors, and he said “I always look for the fish on the wall somewhere”. I was stunned as he didn’t strike me as a person of faith, and he went on to explain “It is the fact that they publically profess that there are moral and ethical ways to conduct your self and your business, and I have found that makes a difference.”  As I have reflected on that over the years, particularly in my “own” business, have I reflected that foundation effectively?  In writing this week, I have discovered that many of the team are not here any longer.  Ed in 2013, my boss in 2006, and the one that I remember every 9/11…

….the one that talked about the fish – was on the plane that went into the Pentagon.  Having delayed his honeymoon from a recent remarriage, they finally were on their way to LA, along with another person I knew from my small town in Tyler.  After writing about Hope, and now Change, does Faith have a place in your renewal? For me, it is not about the constraints, or about even the challenges:  it is about the confidence that it can provide.. not the cockiness of the 30-year-old, but the freedom to be calm and realize there are ways of choosing differently….which is hard to explain. I hope that like St. Francis said “Preach the Gospel always, use words only when necessary” comes through in each of these.  For me today, I am adding a fish to that wall, along with some of those faces. As you contemplate your own Change – look for the Freedom in Your Mind. 


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