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Culture, Diversity, Leadership, Running, Uncategorized, Volunteering

How they let me be me

June 14, 2012

I recently finished coaching my spring Let Me Run team when my boys all ran a 5K together. They sure are incredible kids, and I learned so much from them over the last seven weeks. It was really one the greatest experiences in my life. So what did I learn from them?

I learned the importance of having some fun. At our last practice, we had a competition to see who could do the best soccer goal celebration.  Ja’Wan clearly won this contest below. It was a “laughcry” for me. That is my term for when you laugh so hard you cry.

I learned about the excitement of a big race through the eyes of a group of young people. It was a great reminder to me about keeping life simple and treasuring each precious moment.

I learned the real meaning of unity and doing something together. After most of the boys finished on Saturday, we realized our last runner, Ja’Wan, was still out on the course. The boys wanted to find Ja’Wan and finish with him so we could all do it together. Several people at the race noticed what was happening including the Charlotte Observer. They wrote a really nice article about the story in Sunday’s paper. Most importantly, what do you think it meant to Ja’Wan to have his teammates come back and support him in such a positive way? And it clearly impacted all the people watching.

I learned the importance of giving people the space to open up. At some of our practices, many of our boys shared stories of losing loved ones and other difficult events that no person should have to deal with. After some of these conversations, you could see the boys feeling lighter after having the space to express their emotions. The great thing is now they have some tools to continue this practice. And they created some wonderful friendships to keep this going.

I learned what it feels like to have someone run up and hug you for no other reason than to just say hello. Many of the kids did this before each practice and it always re-centered me on the real purpose of being with these kids.

I learned that young kids can completely energize you. They run around without a care in the world and many times only care about when they can “play” again. I was reminded how it important it is to have plenty of time to “play” in my own life.

I learned that friendships can happen between two people at any age. My other coach was a 64 year old man, and we couldn’t have connected more as friends. He was a major part of making this such a great experience. Joe is also incredibly passionate about giving back and being with our youth.

I learned what it means to be a team and achieve goals together. It sure was special to see all of our runners complete the race. Seven weeks ago they all set a goal to finish the race, and they all did it together. I am very excited to stay connected with these kids and watch them grow over the years.

I learned how enjoyable it can be to surprise someone with a little gift. I surprised my boys on their last day of school with framed pictures of them at the race. Thanks to my friend Caitlin for the idea! However, most of them just wanted to know if I had any extra medals. It was amazing to hear that “Coach Jon is here” and see them come running.

Most importantly, I learned that when you find the courage to just be yourself, many times you invite others to do the same. I know my boys sure did this for me, and it really allowed me to open up and be authentic with them.

What extraordinary lessons from an amazing group of nine and ten year old boys. My Nations Ford team sure personifies the meaning of co-creating a culture where one plus one is more than two. And they let me be me.  Have a great week.


Leadership, Volunteering

Let Me Be…Real

May 6, 2012

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I was starting to coach a Let Me Run team at Nation’s Ford Elementary. I ended up with 16 amazing 4th and 5th graders who are just wonderful boys. A major component of the program are the concepts we discuss at each practice about being yourself and creating healthier relationships. One recent discussion was pretty unbelievable, and I still get a little choked up thinking about it.

This particular day’s subject was about the importance of openly expressing our emotions and feelings. This was very new to them at first. They said “only girls do that!” So Coach Joe (my right hand man) and I began to share the importance of opening up and sharing your emotions. I wasn’t sure if our message was working, so I decided to be a little vulnerable with them. I shared a very personal story about my family and a time when I was really sad. I told them how I hadn’t dealt with the pain, and this affected my relationships with others. I then told them how I finally called my mom and cried on the phone to get out my feelings. It is difficult to get the attention of these young boys sometimes, but they were completely silent at this point.

Then I asked if anyone else wanted to share a similar story. One boy spoke about a tragic death in his family, but he never knew how to share his feelings about it. Several told stories about family members being really sick in the hospital, and the emotion in their faces and words just really touched me. The boys were being so real that it was contagious. Each of them said they had never shared these types of emotions with others, and you could see it was so helpful for them to open up. After each boy told their story, I asked the team if they would be willing to support that boy if he ever needed someone to talk to. They all raised their hands immediately to show how much they would embrace their teammates. It was awesome.

The best part was I never had to tell the other boys to quiet down during this discussion. And most of the time they sit several feet from each other. However, I watched them inch closer to the person sharing because they connected so deeply to the vulnerability coming through in these stories. I wish we could have kept it going all day! As we closed the discussion, we talked about how sharing our emotions is not only healthy but creates closer relationships. And it also creates the space to allow others to not feel so alone and release the pain they had been carrying around with them. I know I sure felt so much closer to them after this experience.

Of course, we then got to our running drills and did some relay races. Not only did we really have a breakthrough as a team on the serious side, but we started having some more fun too. Sometimes I can be a little too serious, and these kids sure remind me about the simple joys about having fun and the beauty of “play.” Ever see a young person’s face when they come up and say “hey, can we play dodgeball or soccer.” They are so full of excitement, and it inspires me.

So at the end of practice they asked if they could race Coach Davis. And if one of them beat me they got to dump water on both Coach Joe and me. Of course my boy Dreflian beat me, and they all sprayed us with water. And then we got a lot of big bear hugs from them!

It was such an incredible day to be apart of that experience both with Coach Joe and the boys. That is Coach Joe in the background below. He has become one of my favorite people in town and a dear friend. We are both so passionate about working with these boys, so it is fantastic to share the coaching experience with him.


One thing I noticed was that I left practice that day with a level of presence and happiness that I hadn’t felt in a few days. And I am I just a better person when I feel this way.

So my challenge today is can you identify someone in your life that could use the space to open up? It may take building some trust with them and then finding the right time to open up about yourself. Or maybe it means opening up that next time when someone is being vulnerable with you. I have found sharing authentically creates the deepest type of bond that cultivates a new context in our relationships. A group of elementary school kids being real were a great reminder for me. Have a great week.

Leadership, Running, Volunteering

Could a running program change the lives of kids?

April 8, 2012

A few months ago I connected with the founder of Let Me Run here in Charlotte. If you haven’t heard of them, they are the boys equivalent of Girls on the Run which has been wildly successful. The founder’s name is Ashley Armistead, and she is an amazing person. Every time we have a conversation over coffee I leave feeling incredibly energized like I am witnessing someone change the world. So what is it about her and her organization that makes such an impact on me?


As stated on the website, “Let Me Run is a non-profit prevention program aimed at strengthening boys in body and spirit. Our mission is to encourage boys to stay on track to living into their full potential by inspiring healthy friend, family and community relationships.” Essentially they use the power of running as a tool to inspire young boys to embrace their own authenticity, lead for positive change, learn self-awareness and really connect to other people. And all the while they are teaching simple ways to live healthy with exercise and nutrition. One of the first training sessions is an exercise where they ask each of the boys to share a weakness to show that when we are real with each other, we are more connected. As you might imagine, I was completely hooked after my first conversation with Ashley.


What I described in that last paragraph was Ashley’s vision along with many other amazing people involved in the organization. She once told me that the main reason she started Let Me Run was that she had two young boys and wanted them to grow up in a different world. She took action where she saw a huge need in our society and is out there driving transformational change. Isn’t that amazing? And how do you think this passion to make a difference affects her family? What an example she is for her boys.

And you may ask, why did she pick running? I think this quote from her coaches manual says it all.  “Running levels the playing field. It demands that you bring your best attitude and a positive spirit. Running does not care what car you showed up in or what labels are on your clothes. Running shows your vulnerable side. It brings a dose of humility, which opens you up to new ideas and friendships. Running creates a spirit of hope that what you honestly put in you will get out. It helps us feel connected to others and nature.” Just beautiful.

Check out Let Me Run Alaska!


The program continues to grow and has been nationally recognized as a leading boys education program by a Harvard Medical School professor named William Pollock. Dr. Pollock is an internationally recognized authority on boys and men and the Founder & Director of the REAL BOYS© Educational Programs.

So let me share quick story I heard recently about the program. The boys spend seven weeks training for a 5K and then all run the race together. At one race recently, half the participants from one school finished before their other teammates. The first thing they wanted to do was run back and finish with their other teammates. So they could all do it together. The amazing thing about this story is imagine how that affected the other kids and parents watching. That is the core of what I mean by 1 + 1 > 2. By these kids just being themselves and showing compassion, they impacted all the people around them. I just love it!


So when I heard that Let Me Run had a need for coaches this spring, I jumped at the opportunity. I will be coaching a team of 4th graders at Nations Ford Elementary. And the old football guy in me is incredibly excited. I will try not to wear the old Bike coaching shorts and high striped socks but can’t promise anything.


Charlotte sure has some amazing people that really want to make a difference. Ashley and her staff at Let Me Run are a prime example of that. They have such a vision for the future of our children, and it is so inspiring to be around. Sometimes I think about what kind of legacy we are leaving in our world. Ashley Armistead and Let Me Run feel that “upon leaving the program we watch for our boys to take responsibility for all aspects of their health and confidently lead for positive change around them.” I sure feel aligned with leaving that kind of legacy. Have a great week.

Culture, Leadership, Volunteering

Letting my voice be heard

March 25, 2012

So I just left a radio show for WBT with host Bobby DeMuro. Don’t worry, I will be sure to post the transcript when it comes out :). We talked about mixing business with social impact and the positive effects of volunteering. Pretty much everything I love, and it was an amazing show. Bobby and I have become really good friends over the last few months. This guy is so passionate about making a difference that when we get together, I think the world is going to explode. I plan to introduce him more on a future post when I start profiling people who take risks to follow something they love. And Bobby, thank you for embracing my passion and continuing to give me the forum to share it. Bobby is the epitome of a 1 + 1 > 2 person. By just being himself, he continues to inspire me and many others in the Charlotte community.

So I did want to share what I experienced tonight during the show. I was in the studio, and it felt like time was standing still. I was able to talk about making a difference in the community, the impact of an amazing company called the Center for Intentional Leadership, mixing profits with purpose and ways our generation can create a new culture of responsibility. I was in that state of flow where I could have talked about this stuff all night.

I am sharing this experience, because I didn’t start having feelings like this until I really opened up about what I loved and started letting my voice be heard. It began with this blog and continues to develop. So I just wanted everyone I know and love to continue to let their voice be heard and create time for something they love doing. I really want you to have this same feeling I had tonight. Because when we let our voice be heard, we open the world up to our authenticity. Our creative spirit begins to emerge and we just become happier people. I want our world to be a culture of people who all share this feeling. Like my friends at LaL say in their noble goal, we can co-create a context for humanity. Have a great week.

Leadership, Volunteering

The Amazing Kids at KIPP

March 18, 2012

KIPP Charlotte has been one of my favorite schools in town for about a year and a half now. My good friend Donnie invited me to come see what they were doing at KIPP at a breakfast last spring. I witnessed a really special moment that day, and it is something I will never forget. To this day I get a little choked up when I think about it.


As stated on their website, “KIPP Charlotte is a free, open-enrollment, college preparatory public school serving 360 students in grades five through eight. 94 percent of KIPP Charlotte students are African American, 5 percent Latino/Hispanic, and over 70 percent qualify for the free and reduced meal program.” Their mission is to prepare all of our students to excel in the nation’s finest high schools and colleges by cultivating the habits of mind, character skills, and knowledge necessary for their success.

So what was the special moment I witnessed that morning? I was observing an English classroom, and my tour guide was a wonderful little 7th grader. The teacher asked a question and called on a specific student who paused, was a little stuck and struggled to find the answer. At many schools or even in our workplaces, this is when most people would start laughing, make a snide comment or take advantage of another kid’s struggles. However, this doesn’t happen at KIPP and instead, something amazing happened. Every other kid in the classroom extended their arm straight out and started waiving their hands at the student. My little tour guide pulled on my shirt and said, “that is the other students sending love…to encourage him to find the answer.” Wow. When I heard that I was pretty sure someone was cutting onions or there was a lot of dust in the room. It was a special moment. Here was a young kid struggling to find an answer, and his classmates wanted so badly to send love and support him. And you know what, he ended up finding the correct answer.

The atmosphere in a KIPP classroom is incredible. You can tell the teachers and administration do an extraordinary job at getting these kids excited for learning. And deep down, don’t we all love learning something new? If you are looking for a little inspiration, contact the school about taking a tour.

Now I go back to KIPP for their Mock Interview Days. These kids are so focused and helping them practice interviews for high school and jobs always brings a smile to my face.


The school has the interviewers ask some great questions like, “if you knew someone was doing something wrong, how would you handle it?” The kids talk about what they want to be when they grow up which can be anything from an astronomer, a lawyer, a scientist or a doctor. One young girl specifically wanted “to go to Davidson and study medicine to be a pediatrician because she loves helping kids.” Again this was a 7th grader. They are more focused in 7th and 8th grade then I was in college. And to see the sense of wonder, love of learning and excitement coming from them energizes me. Kids sure can do that to us can’t they?


But in my eyes, something bigger is going on with those kids. They are learning at a young age that they can do anything when they focus on their goals, live a life of purpose, love other people and understand they can be an example for others. What a model for life they are learning at such a young age.

So, thank you KIPP and thank you especially to the students, because we can can all learn a lot just by watching you. I really hope you achieve all your amazing hopes and dreams. You sure inspire me to go after mine! I feel very aligned with what I saw on your walls that morning: Service. Excellence. Integrity. Passion. Courage. Leadership.  Or as I call it…the Elements2Lead.

Culture, Family, Leadership, Volunteering

The Ripple Effect of Compassion

November 21, 2011

Have you ever had a moment when your connection to a total stranger made a meaningful impact and you didn’t even realize it was happening? One of my favorite examples comes from a story I heard from Tim Sanders this past summer. Tim is an amazing speaker, and he spoke about how a sales conference at Timberland gave rise to one of the most incredible acts of compassion and courage.

In December 2006, Timberland had 200 sales reps down in New Orleans for their annual sales conference. One afternoon they broke away from the conference to help rebuild a local restaurant. Meeting organizers also took the sales reps to see the ninth ward to feel and experience the worst of the devastation. Soon after arriving to the ninth ward by bus, one sales rep noticed a local volunteer trying to get a community center back up and running. He approached the man about why it was still closed. The volunteer told the sales rep that they couldn’t get people to help cleanup because no one had shoes. The ground was covered with debris, nails and screws and even this man’s shoes were so beat up that they exposed his toes. This is the moment where one man’s act of kindness changed a company, changed a community and maybe changed the world that day.

The sales rep was so moved by the volunteer’s struggles that he bent down, unlaced his shoes and gave them to the man. He walked barefoot back over the glass and debris and got back on the bus. His coworker looked at him and said, “where are your shoes?” The sales rep responded while pointing at the volunteer, “that man there told me they needed shoes, so I gave him mine.” So the coworker got up off the bus, took off his shoes and also gave them to the local volunteer. Several others overheard the conversation and within a few minutes, all 200 sales reps got off the bus and gave their shoes to the man. The volunteer was completely overwhelmed and couldn’t say thank you enough.


A senior manager sent the above picture back to a coworker at the hotel.  Soon the picture and story spread around to the hotel staff and many of the guests at the hotel. The bus with the 200 sales reps arrived back at the hotel to people clapping, crying and asking what they could do to help. The local hotel staff had been devastated by the hurricane, and this story helped lift up their spirits. Other Timberland employees also heard about the story, and it inspired them to get involved with the effort to rebuild New Orleans. How about those sales reps? Do you think they will ever forget the experience they had together that day? As Tim says in his book Saving the World at Work, “in the Timberland culture this is called a ripple: a single act that creates a chain reaction for good.” And it all started with one man giving another man his shoes.

What I took from this story is that connection, compassion and giving back can make an impact in ways we never thought possible. On a smaller scale, I felt something similar one day at Levine Children’s Hospital. I volunteer for a group called the Starlight Society that coordinates entertainment events for the kids. We help the children have some fun away from their rooms and get their mind off being in a hospital. It is really special feeling when you get a child to smile or laugh just by helping them make lion’s heads out of paper plates, poster board guitars, or dolphin sticker laden beach buckets at our Beach Bash. And yes, temporary tattoos are still their favorite!

However, I didn’t realize the impact we had on the parents of the children. One parent pulled me aside one day and spoke with real emotion about how we helped make life normal for their family. By coming out to help these kids, we were actually helping the parents too. And for some reason, this meant the world to me. I gained a real sense of purpose from connecting with these families. It also showed me that the benefits of giving back can be endless. I stumbled upon my own little ripple effect, and it made feel like a more complete person.

Over time, I started to bring friends and co-workers to the events to share in this experience. And we always left a little closer from it. Kids really are special people, even if they beat me in a doctor relay race! Now I am not sure who gets more out of these events…the families…or me.

So have you had a similar moment where an act of your compassion created your own little ripple effect? You may not even have realized it happened at the time so give it some thought. If you haven’t, I am sure there are plenty of ways to get involved in your community. Connection and compassion work in so many extraordinary ways, and that makes one plus one more than two for me!

Culture, Family, Leadership, Volunteering

Happiness Delivered

October 30, 2011

Ever heard of Zappos? Just an online shoe company right? As Lee Corso would say, “not so fast my friend.” In 2009, I read “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose, ” and it changed my life. The book is written by their CEO, Tony Hsieh, who stumbled upon an incredible 1 + 1 > 2 vision while building an online shoe company. So what was in this book that had such an impact on me?



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