Steve Farber photo

When Was the Last Time You Wrote One of These?

When it comes to strumming the heart strings at work (or anywhere else), nothing beats a personal, hand-written note of thanks, praise, or gratitude–especially in these hyper-digital days of texts and email.

Maybe it’s because of the manifest, tactile, 3-dimensional nature of ink and paper; maybe it’s because of the subtle presence of the writer’s DNA. You can hold the paper. Feel the fibers. Keep it as tangible evidence of your positive influence on others. Whatever the reason, there’s no denying the impact of the literal pen on the human heart.

When was the last time you received a note like that?

More important, when was the last time you wrote one?

As I write this post, I have on my desk a beautiful letter from a participant in a leadership workshop I was facilitating. He handed it to me on the last morning of an intensive, 4-day offsite at an executive retreat deep in the wilds of Michigan. But I’m just the letter’s custodian because he wrote it to my son:

 To: Steve’s Son

I understand that you are curious about what your dad does when his job takes him away from home. I’ll bet it’s tough on you, sometimes, to have him away when you’d like to have him home more than he is.

As one of his students this past week, I thought you might like to know what he did to help me and others in the class which he taught. Your dad has a lot of valuable knowledge about how businesses work and how to make them work better. Even more importantly, he helps people to make their lives better and happier. And he teaches all of this in a fun way so that the time we spend with him in class is really enjoyable.

I just wanted you to know that we really appreciate your sharing him with us this week. And, if he’s anywhere near as good or as fun as a father as he is as a teacher, you’ve got yourself one fine dad.

Carl English

One of Your Dad’s Students

That note is still sitting on my desk on this 24th day of September, 2014.

Carl English wrote and handed it to me at the end of a Leadership Challenge Workshop for the senior executives of Consumer’s Energy on April 17th, 1997.

17 years ago.

And I will keep it forever–that’s the power of this simple yet profound human gesture.

Who’s holding on to your notes?


Unless, of course, you write one.

Carl English Note

The Love Assessment

“Love is the ultimate motivation of the Extreme Leader: love of something or someone, love of a cause, love of a principal, love of the people you work with and the customers you serve, love of the future you and yours can create together, love of the business you conduct together every day.” —  From The Radical Leap

How would you rate your own ability to Cultivate Love in the way you lead and work? Almost by definition, your self-assessment will be biased, but it’s a great way to begin to hold up a mirror and reflect on where you excel, and where you may need some work.

So…consider the following 8 statements, and then rate yourself on a scale of 1 – 5:

1 = Strongly Disagree; 2 = Disagree; 3 = Neither Agree nor Disagree; 4 = Agree; 5 = Strongly Agree

  • I consistently demonstrate I am doing the work I love.
  • I am passionate about the work and the people I lead.
  • I am highly motivated by the work and the people who support this work.
  • Through my actions and words, I inspire others to love the organization, the team, and the work.
  • I help people see how they can do something significant and meaningful.
  • I spend time to help others develop as leaders.
  • I show a genuine caring and interest in employees and customers.
  • I form teams of individuals who share the love for the work, the team, the organization and the organization’s customers.

Now, total up your scores (that will give you a range of 8 on the lowest end to 40 on the highest) and, for now, just begin to consider what leadership lessons the individual and combined numbers may hold for you.

Does anything – either positive or negative – jump out at you?

[Note: this assessment is excerpted from the full Leap Assessment available in the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership,]

When I First Met Pops

In anticipation of the release of the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Radical Leap, here’s another entry from my hand-written notes on the original manuscript. (Read the previous post here).

This became the scene where I first meet the character, Pops Maritime, and he lectures me on the importance of Love as a business principle. And since these are my original notes, it’s not only the scene where I first met him, it’s when I actually first met him–in the world of my imagination, that is.

Said another way, this really is my first encounter with Pops (a character many readers have told me is their favorite).

I’ve typed the text, along with the image of my notebook pages, because even though you can click the jpg below to enlarge it, I don’t expect you to be able to read my chicken scratch.




We have to get more comfortable talking about love in the context of our businesses.

Edg: “This is not some California touchy-feeley whoo ha garbage. Saying that love has no place at work is just like saying human beings have no place at work. It’s absurd. The Extreme Leader will bring her heart to work and try to express it in everything she does. You already bring your heart to work. It’s not like you arrive at your office, pluck your heart out of your chest, and leave it throbbing on the sidewalk awaiting your return. So use it, dude. If you’re only using your heart to perform its anatomical function, you are wasting one mighty fine organ.”

Pops: “If you’re not careful, you’re going to miss the chance to let people know how much you care for them. The irony is that we often take for granted the very people that mean the most to us. It’s like the old story of the couple that had been married for 30 years. They’re sitting around the breakfast table, yet another morning, she with her coffee and he hidden away behind his newspaper. She says to him ‘Honey, how come you never tell me you love me anymore?’ And he, from behind his paper, says, ‘What do you mean? I told you I loved you when we got married. If anything changes I’ll let you know.'”




I chuckled–not only at the story, but at Pops’ ability to tell it. He had great delivery.

“That’s the way it is at work, too.” Pops continued. “When someone does great work we may give a pat on the back and say, ‘nice job,’ but we don’t take the time to stop, focus, and tell them how much we appreciate them. Then we wonder why they leave or run out of steam. There’s a very simple way to avoid the tragedy of a missed opportunity to express gratitude: do it now, right now, don’t wait another minute, because you never know when that next minute will be your last. Someday it will.”

“So make sure you give timely and sincere recognition to the people you work with,” I said. “With all due respect, Pops,” (I was still having trouble calling him that), “that’s the oldest management technique in the book.”

He looked at me, and I got an immediate hit of the man’s power. That gaze just about blew the back of my head out and I realized that I was being lulled into thinking that W H Macintosh was just garden-loving, water-sipping, trailer-living, mellow and retiring Pops. He wasn’t. He was an empire builder. And you don’t build empires by doing a bunch of namby-pamby management techniques.

He pushed his chair back and stood over me, never once taking his eyes off of mine.

“Once again, Mr. Farber,” said W H Macintosh, Empire Builder, “you have missed the point.”

He turned away and disappeared into the trailer.

“What just happened there?”  I asked Edg.

“He’ll be back.”

“Did I piss him off?”

“Just pushed a proverbial button, I think.”

He smiled, and I felt a little better – but not by much.  We sat and sipped our water in silence and a few minutes later, Pops stepped into the garden carrying a pad of paper and a book whose title I couldn’t quite make out.

Band of Brothers,” said Pops as he settled back into his chair. “I want to read you something.” He leafed through the book.

“This is a letter written by Sgt. Floyd Talbert to his Major, Dick Winters, in 1945. Talbert had been wounded in the front lines of the war with Germany and was confined to his hospital bed when he wrote, ‘Dick, you are loved and will never be forgotten by any soldier that ever served under you or I should say with you because that is the way you lead… I would follow you into hell.’

“Now I want you to tell me, Steve,” he locked his eyes back on mine, “if that sounds like a ‘management technique’?”

“Well, no. But…”

“Let’s be clear about this. When Talbert said I would follow you into hell, he was not speaking metaphorically. He had already followed Winters into hell. Literally. And he would do it again. ”

He stopped, and the silence rushed in around us.

“By writing this letter, was he practicing a ‘technique’ to get in good with his boss? Was he trying to kiss up, to manipulate the situation to his own future benefit? Is that what he was doing, Steve?”


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