How to soar with your strengths... and land on both feet.

Taking Flight
June 13, 2013

Tonight, my son Rafael will graduate from high school, and as I am experiencing this for the first time, I notice myself wanting to hold on to earlier times - when he was two, or six, or even eleven – and keep him there. However, he’s ready to take flight and I am heeding the advice of a dear friend and wise parent who told me to, “let him go. Make sure, though, that you help him find some safe places to land.”

My experience with Rafael reminds me of a time many years ago when I embarked on a major life journey of my own.  It was March, 1996 and Rafael was two years old.  I had just left my job in California and moved to Seattle.  Other than being a father, I didn’t have a clear fix on my life’s purpose, vision or direction.  I got a major assist through my Kellogg Fellowship, which provided me with five days in Lincoln, Nebraska at the Gallup Leadership Institute. It was there that Don Clifton, CEO of the institute and author of “Soar with your Strengths,” handed me a blank piece of paper and gave me a challenge: “Imagine this is your own personal board room,” he said, “and write down the names of five to seven people you would like to serve on your Life Board of Directors.”
I found the concept hard to embrace at first, but Don convinced me that if traditional board members can invest time, energy and resources into the success of an organization, why can’t we apply the same fundamentals to individuals? I wrote down the names of six mentors and friends. Meanwhile, Don sat next to me as I picked up the phone and invited them to be on my board.  They all said yes, with some of them adding how pleased they were to be asked. They had been watching me flounder, but didn’t know how to help.
Three months later, my life board of directors gathered in San Francisco for two days to focus on me.  Some of them traveled thousands of miles at their own expense.   I was honored, humbled and overwhelmed.  By the end of our meeting, we had established a vision and plan that transformed my direction for the next seventeen years and beyond.  I attribute much of my personal and professional success to that meeting, and to the continued guidance of my board members.

Last week, I had the privilege of witnessing a similar transformation with the board members of Presence Health, as they worked to articulate the cultural tenets for their organization.  Members felt the weight of their responsibility as these tenets would inform and unify the behaviors and beliefs for an organization of 22,000 employees in 150 locations throughout the state of Illinois.  They worked through the language as well as their differences and managed to develop a set of tenets that fulfilled their charge.

In Rafael, I can see that he has already developed skills to access his own life board of directors.  He calls his grandparents weekly to provide updates, and he doesn’t hesitate to reach out to his counselors, teachers, godparents, honorary aunts and uncles and even his parents when he needs some advice.  While I’m going to shed a tear or two as he crosses the stage, I can also relax in the knowledge that if ever Rafael loses his way, he can call upon plenty of helpful people who will remind him to soar with his strengths and, if needed, guide him to a safe landing.



Elemental Partners cultivates healthy and prosperous organizations through clarity of purpose, alignment of principles, and integration of systems.

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Elemental Partners contracted with the San Francisco Japantown Foundation to facilitate a strategic planning process.

Kevin will be facilitating a staff retreat for ZeroDivide in Half Moon Bay, CA on June 11-12th.

Kevin and Greg will be facilitating a strategic visioning session with The Little School in Bellevue, WA on June 21st.


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