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Cancer-Free and in Control

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Two years ago, you may have seen a heartfelt letter from editor Matt Hudson wishing me well with my health issues. Shortly before that, I got some strange symptoms that made me “uncomfortable” but were not truly bothersome, so I ignored them.  Then out of nowhere, I was laid up in a hospital bed preparing for a gallbladder surgery. Before they cut me open, some tests revealed the true reason for my symptoms. 

A cancer mass developed just inside my stomach where digestive fluids are pumped in. The mass created a blockage that was quickly causing major problems with stomach pains and yellowing eyes. A major surgery, called a “whipple,” took place within a few days. Without it, my life would have been over quickly. 

The stay in two different hospitals lasted about two weeks including two trips to ICU. The upcoming months were some of the most challenging as I had to learn to perform basic functions again. Walking took energy that I no longer had. Food didn’t stay too long in my body. I remember saying that this surgery took everything away from me and I had to relearn how to live.  

A Long Journey

Today is a different story, I can walk, I can eat and I can enjoy everything because of that surgery. A silver lining is that I dropped almost 100 pounds and I eat everything I want at any time. I hit the fat man’s lottery. As things came into perspective, I realized this surgery didn’t take away my life. While it sucked to rebuild and put more effort into doing what I did before. It freed me from pain and impending doom in the long run.  

A few months after my recovery I got the privilege to spend a week in Vermont Quick Lube with John Lyon and Craig Premont. A beautiful four-bay serving preventative maintenance, mechanical, and a carwash on the side.

It sits on the outside of a small-town miles away from the Ben and Jerry’s plant (worth the drive). During my visit, I watched Craig struggle with an assistant manager who had skills and attitude (the latter was more noticeable). The worry of releasing someone who had so much influence and understanding of the shop was crippling Craig, who was himself a new automotive manager, from moving forward. 

While standing on the shop floor and looking at the situation, I looked at Craig and said “You know, I had a cancer in my body, they removed it and it hurt, but I’m better!” 

Craig quickly identified the meaning of the statement and moved to remove his problem quickly.  People in your life (work or personal) that prevent you from reaching your goals are cancers. Cancers do three things: debilitate, spread and kill.    

Critical Lessons

In recent talks with an emerging leader, we talked about a scenario in which feedback, coaching, and communications models were failing to turn a certain person onto the needed path for his goals. I could hear his frustrations as he seemed to blame himself for not being able to control the situation. 

Ownership of your actions is a great characteristic to have.  This problem person had been there for a long time, knew the procedures, and he had personal ties with them. Then you get to throw in the continuing labor shortage.  How in the world could you remove someone from your shop like this in times like this? 

The communications and development methods I constantly talk about is a two-way street. Since communication is the exchange of thoughts and ideas between two or more people, you must have more than one willing participant to make it happen. 

After hearing about the problems, it became apparent that this person was a cancer. They have embedded themselves into the operations and have begun crippling his ability to lead the shop despite his best efforts. My advice? Get the surgery. Do the radiation. Yes, it will hurt and you may have to invest time and energy doing things you didn’t have to earlier, but in the end, you will be better for it. 

My cancer was shutting down my support system to survive. Your cancer is chasing away great employees and great customers. It is essentially the same invasive and crippling thing, just taking a different form. To quote the  great Kevin Davis, you must be willing to “set them free to pursue their true passions and desires.” 

You will find that your team will thank you, respect you, and work harder to pick up the slack.  While you are not going to drop 100 pounds eating whatever you want, you will drop the weight of negativity and productivity failures off your body and away from your goals.  

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