Steve Farber photo

A WUP Upside The Head: Part 1.2

Chapter 3WUP Pt. 1.2

Closer, dealmaker, phone demon, top producer, Cameron Summerfield is a sales god. He came to work at ILGI fresh out of state college where he’d graduated unceremoniously with a liberal arts degree. Armed with a diploma on the wall and the money bug up his butt, he finagled an interview at the exploding mortgage company and, of course, nailed it. He raced through training and attacked the phone with the enthusiasm and compassion of a taunted pit bull, setting a record for new loans in a single month in the first month of his career. His third month on the phone yielded a commission check of $80,000. That’s not a misprint, and it was no fluke. Cam was golden week in and week out. He bought a loft in downtown San Diego, a Blaupunkt sound system, and a Porsche Carrera. He was 26 years old.

Now he was the youngest senior vice president in the history of the company. His promotion, it was beginning to seem, being Rich Delacroix’s big mistake. The problem, apparently, was really pretty simple: the salespeople, who all ultimately reported to Cam, hated his guts with a steaming passion. Turnover, which was already high in the mortgage industry, was through the roof, and ILGI’s best sales talent was bailing at an alarming rate.

“Why? What’s he doing that’s so despicable?”

“Look,” Rich said. “Don’t misunderstand, I happen to like Cam very much, and there’s no doubt that he’s an extraordinary salesman, but leadership doesn’t come as naturally to him as closing deals. I want him to make this work, but he’s flat out brutal with the sales team. I’m a believer in incentives and disincentives, too; I like a little friendly competition among the team. But he takes it all too far.”

“I’m going to need you to be more specific, Rich. I could interpret that in all kinds of ways. I mean, brutal is a pretty strong word. He’s not, like, jamming wood splints into the soles of people’s feet, right? So what does Cam’s brutality look like?”

“I’m not going to tell you that right now.”

“Really? Why?”

Rich pointed over my shoulder and I looked back as the door swung slowly open. “Okay to come in?” called a voice from the hallway.

“Give us a few more minutes, Cam. Be right with you.” The door shut with a quiet click.

“Oh. So you just want me to dive right in, huh?” I paused for a second before continuing. “Tell you what, Rich. I don’t really know if I can help or not, but I’ll make you a deal. Starting tomorrow morning let me hang out with Cam for a day or so, get to know him a bit. If we hit it off you can start paying me. If we don’t get along, we’ll part ways and I won’t send you a bill.”

“Sorry,” he replied. “I’m a little confused. You want to hang out with him? What does that have to do with coaching?”

“Do me a favor,” I said. “Go over to your computer and Google executive coach.” He remained seated, staring at me. “C’mon. Humor me.”

Rich walked over to his desk, typed the words on his keyboard, and hit return.

“How many hits?” I asked.

He raised his eyebrows. “3,520,000.”

“Add another 700,000 or so for leadership coach and 130 grand for management coach and you get the picture, right? Listen, Rich, there are a lot of great coaches out there and some very fine coaching associations and curricula available to those who want to learn how to coach. But anyone can hang out a shingle on the Web and spend an hour a week on the phone with a client, and any one of them would be more than happy to work with Cam.”


“I won’t, though, unless…”

“Unless what?” Rich interrupted.

I shrugged. Unless I like him.”

Chapter 4

I was flying once from New York to San Francisco after conducting a workshop in which I’d talked nonstop for two straight days. Now I’m not saying it was two days of sparkling verbal gems, mind you, but talk takes energy and mine was gone. Cashing in my first-class upgrades and relaxing in total, blissful silence with a good novel was what I desired the most. Golden ticket in hand, I stood in the boarding line and watched as they loaded up the families traveling with small children contingent. Inching toward the Jetway, a young woman dragged her squirming little boy by the hand. He wailed and howled at the top of his lungs as though she were tearing off his little digits one by one.

Having traveled with my own kids when they were little, I know how stressful a fussy child can be for the parent. Just as I was thinking how difficult this flight was going to be for the young mom, this guy standing in front of me yelled, “I knew it! I knew it! I heard that kid screaming in the terminal and I said, ‘that kid’s gonna be on my flight!’ I knew it. It never fails!”

What a jerk, I remember thinking. That poor woman was feeling bad enough already. She needed this jerk’s vociferous commentary as much as she needed a rabid hyena strapped to her leg.

A few minutes later I walked on the plane and to my horror I realized who my seatmate was: The jerk. I felt like screaming I knew it! Every time there’s a jerk on the plane they end up next to me! But I didn’t. Instead, I sat down, buckled up, pulled out my book, and locked my eyes on the pages. I sent out megatons of don’t talk to me vibes and felt confident there was no way he would dare to reach through my pulsating, death star force field. He couldn’t possibly have the gall to…

“Hey! Waddaya reading? Oh! I read that book! I’ve read everything by that guy! Do you live in Frisco or are you go- ing there to work? Man, am I glad I’m not sitting next to that kid. Did you hear that kid screamin’? Hey! Waddaya wanna drink?” He waved a hand in the air. “Waitress! They hate that, har-har-har! We are ready to start drinkin’!”

This situation is what’s known in behavioral psychology circles as a lost cause, so I closed my book, accepted the drink, resigned myself to several hours of pressurized cabin torture, and threw myself at the mercy of the verbose and soon to be plastered Jerk Man. Funny thing is, I had a great time. Sure, Jerk Man was a bit over the top. He was too loud, and, yeah, he had the emotional intelligence of a bottle nose fly, and I don’t mean that in a judgmental way, but he was interesting, eccentric, and a gifted raconteur. In short, by the time we landed in San Francisco, I was glad I’d met him.

“Pretty funny,” said Rich. “I assume you’re telling me this for a reason?”

“Yeah. Of course. Let me ask you a question with a ridiculously obvious answer. Why was Jerk Man talking to me?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean why was he talking to me and not the guy sitting back in 10C?”

Rich furrowed his eyebrows. “Ummm… because he was sitting next to you?”

“Right. I was strapped in next to him and not going anywhere for several hours. We talked and got to know each other for one simple, profoundly obvious reason: I was there.”

“Okay,” mumbled Rich, still not seeing my point.

“Proximity. Physical nearness. Face to face and shoulder to shoulder, Rich. That’s the only way to really connect with another human being because that’s the only way we really get to know each other.”

“And that’s why you want to hang out with Cam.”

“And that’s why I want to hang out with Cam.”

“Okay, I get it, Steve. One question, though: after hanging out with Cam, talking with him, getting to know him, what if you don’t like him? Does that really mean that you won’t work with him?”

“I wouldn’t worry about that.”


I grinned. “Because I like everybody.”


[Note: I’m excited to share my second book, The Radical Edge, in serial fashion here on! We’ll post one installment a week until the very end of the book. You can go back and read from the beginning here. If you ever get impatient and want to scarf the whole thing down at once, you can always just pop over to Amazon and satiate yourself.]

A WUP Upside The Head: Part 1.1

Chapter 1

Radical Edge 2 (5)

I live in the Mission Beach area of San Diego, California. It’s a bit different from Michigan, especially in the wintertime, and I was desperately trying to get back there after my conference with the Jims. There are no direct flights from Grand Rapids to San Diego International Airport, unless you had enough cake to hire your own personal jet, which, of course, I didn’t. I was prowling the sleek metal and glass halls of O’Hare and killing time as I waited for my connection, which was delayed for an unspecified amount of time. I had ignored the gate agent’s admonishment to “remain comfortably seated in the boarding area” in case the weather gods suddenly changed their game plan. The airline was having enough trouble negotiating their pilot contracts let alone getting cooperation from the supreme powers that be, so I bugged out to wander the concourse and pump a little blood into my travel weary brain cells.

I had a lot to think about. The meeting had gone okay, I guess. They had all left thinking much bigger thoughts than what they’d come in with, and I felt really good about that. A shift in perspective is no small thing, to be sure, but I was feeling the dull ache of regret—or was it discontent?—that I used to get after teaching the canned, scripted workshops that were the staples of my earlier days in the leadership development business. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the idea of changing the world as the core business and leadership proposition, but I still found myself doubting my ability to actually get it done. I didn’t want people to mention the names of Don Quixote
and Steve Farber in the same breath. Tilting unabashedly at windmills is one thing; slaying dragons is a whole ’nother smoke.

I turned a corner and found myself face to face with a large and very odd billboard advertisement. It was a picture of a blue Oxford button-down shirt with a red power necktie, and it would have been the classic image of clean, conservative business, if not for one bizarre detail: the tie was on fire. Accompanying it was a big, bold headline that read, “Burn Your Boss” and a tagline at the bottom that said, “Report the use of unlicensed software.” This was, essentially, an invitation—no, a challenge—for a person to spy on and rat out their management, and it was punctuated with an 800 number hotline for people to call right now and strike the sparkling, gratifying match of revenge.

Now I have as much respect for intellectual property rights as the next guy. Probably more. I’m not a fan of pirating or plagiarism. I sided with Metallica over the early Napster debates and will gladly pop for a buck a song to download to my iPod as opposed to trolling the web for free sources. Software’s in the same category, especially on an enterprise level. However, “Burn Your Boss?” Have things really gotten that bad? Did these people honestly expect to tap into some unexpressed reservoir of rage trembling under the surface of other business travelers like myself? More importantly, was this ad working? There was one way to find out. I called the number.

I was hoping to get a live person on the line so I could simply ask the question. What I got, though, was a recorded message saying something about their organization and their office hours followed by an invitation to leave your information—about that evil boss, I assumed—after the tone. As to the question of whether their ad was working, I got my answer right away. Before I could say anything, their machine spoke to me. It said, “You cannot leave a message because the mailbox is full.”

Chapter 2

I shoveled the gobs of mail from my box, punched in the security code on the front door, and climbed the two flights of stairs to my apartment overlooking Mission Bay. It was always strange to return home to an empty perch and see how much dust had managed to accumulate on the kitchen counters in just one week. The sea air mixed with fine sand always found its way in with or without the security code.

Like scratching for gems in a litter box, I sifted through the mail—junk, bills, a belated birthday card from my dentist, a check from a recent client project—and threw the whole pile on the round oak kitchen table. There was one item that looked a bit more personal, so I picked it up for closer inspection. I tore open the envelope to find a delicate, handcrafted note card from my friend, Janice, who was a grand high muckity-muck at a local bio-tech company. Janice and I were old friends, and I had recently helped her out of a sticky career jam. The hand-written words inside the card offered a friendly thinking-of-you kind of sentiment followed by a postscript reading,

“I’ve given your name to my friend, Rich Delacroix, CEO of Independence Lending Group. He may be calling you for a coaching engagement. He’s a nice man. Please don’t hurt him.”

She followed it with one of those endearing little emoticons to indicate that she was smiling about that last part. I rooted around in my empty kitchen but no amount of persistence was going to uncover anything resembling food. As I headed back out the door for a Jack in the Box run, my cell jangled a funky electronic tune. “Steve Farber?” inquired the voice on the other end of the line. “This is Rich Delacroix. Janice gave me your number. I know this is short notice, but do you, by chance, have time for a quick visit to my office?”

Here in the 21st century, the archetypal call to action mostly comes via the digital phone. Jack, I thought wistfully, would have to wait in his box a little bit longer.


Independence Lending Group, Inc.’s (ILGI) snappy commercials promising the best mortgage rates and fastest service on the planet were plastered all over the television and radio airwaves. Maybe they were true; all I knew was that the company had grown like gangbusters during the nuclear boom in the real estate market and the feverish refi activity fueled by subterranean interest rates. I’m usually not impressed by people who make fortunes in bull markets, even though, come to think of it, I never have, but this was one of the few mortgage companies that also managed to survive the subsequent economic meltdown. And that was noteworthy.

ILGI’s corporate offices were in La Jolla’s University Town Center (UTC) neighborhood. UTC is a cement and glass amalgam of apartments, office buildings, malls, restaurants, and a Mormon temple that keeps an impressive and watchful eye over the endless traffic on Interstate 5. I parked my Mustang in the visitor’s parking structure and took the elevator up to the 18th floor. The receptionist announced my name into the phone, and before I had a chance to settle into a plush leather chair, Rich Delacroix came bounding through the door on the far end of the waiting area. He was young—mid 30s, I guessed—tan, fit, blond, energetic and, although his attire was casual, exceedingly well dressed. Despite all that, I liked him immediately.

He gripped my hand with an unsurprising firmness and ushered me into his corner office with a view of the Mormon temple that overlooks the endless traffic on Interstate 5. I got lost for a moment in the symbolic possibilities. “Steve,” he said. “Thanks so much for taking the time to come over. I know you’re a busy man with a lot on your plate. So let’s get down to it, okay?” He walked me over to a small conference area in the corner of his corner office, and this time I did sink down into a beautiful, rich, brown leather chair. “Happy to help if I can, Rich,” I said. “What is it that you need?”

“Me, personally? Nothing.” I raised my eyebrows, and he hesitated for a moment. “I don’t mean it to sound that way, I’m not perfect… that’s not what I mean. But I have a very weak link in my management team, and he’s the one that really needs help—or that I need help with.”

It was really rather endearing to see this supremely self-possessed individual squirm as if he had a tapeworm.

This was not a dude who was used to asking anyone for help, let alone a virtual stranger.

“Okay, lay it on me,” I said taking out my yellow legal pad. “Give me the whole story.”


[Note: I’m excited to share my second book, The Radical Edge, in serial fashion here on! We’ll post one installment a week until the very end of the book. You can go back and read from the beginning here. If you ever get impatient and want to scarf the whole thing down at once, you can always just pop over to Amazon and satiate yourself.]

5 Words You’ll (Still) Never Hear on the Campaign Trail

5 Words Blog Cover



[Note to my readers: I first wrote and published this post four years ago in our last US presidential election cycle. Just out of curiosity, I flipped back into my blog archives to see if what I’d written then would still apply.

Well, what do you know? Seems to me that, given this particularly unusual and contentious election contest, it’s even more relevant today.

Whether you’re leaning left, right, or other–politically speaking–whether you’re pulling for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, or Jill Stein, consider these words and, perhaps, take the opportunity to apply the lesson to your own leadership approach.]

In this (and every) election year, I find myself amazed all over again at the phenomenal effort our elected and would-be elected officials put into the denial of their own mistakes. They don’t ever want to fess up to anything, it seems.

5 words you’ll never hear on the campaign trail:

“Here’s How I Screwed Up.”

I get it; I understand their motives.  They want to get nominated, elected, or re-elected, and they don’t want to give any more grist to their competitors’ meat-grinding mill than absolutely necessary. They want to look perfect.  They want to look invulnerable.  They want us to love them. Or, at least, tolerate them just enough.

I understand that leadership in the political arena is, in many ways, different from the day-to-day, up-close-and-personal leadership you and I practice in our places of work.  But, still, I think our politicos are missing the main point:

There’s no such thing as a perfect human being, and the minute one tries to appear to be perfect, he or she is automatically suspect.

So, how about we all stop trying so hard to market ourselves as flawless?

In fact, how’s about we boldly talk about our mistakes and share what we learned from the experience of falling and failing and flailing?

Again, many people—most, in fact—in positional authority are afraid that if they publicly cop to their mistakes (and fears, too), others will see them as incompetent.  (Competence is an important part of the game, certainly. Let’s agree right now that if you’re incompetent you should just get out of the way).  But there is a difference between mistakes of incompetence and mistakes associated with boldness, innovation or experimentation.

Here’s the question: How bold and public are you willing to be with your own valuable screw-ups?  In other words, how willing are you to let us learn from your mistakes? Whether you’re running for office or not.

How have you screwed up?

Care to go first?

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