Liner Notes

July 27, 2015 — 1 Comment


Growing up I was never an athlete, I wasn’t very popular, I didn’t have a of friends, and I always seemed to struggle. But I loved music and music as it turns out is for everyone! Even a socially awkward kid from Kansas City, Missouri. You don’t have to be cool to like a certain song, and you don’t have to justify your choices to anyone when it comes to the music you listen to. Music is one of the great equalizers in our society, and I see that more and more today as Millennials, Hipsters, Senior Citizens, Teenagers, and Parents can love the exact same song.

For me listening to music was an escape. I can remember laying in my bed with the turntable in my room spinning Christmas music in the middle of summer and I loved it! I remember how free that made me feel. Even earlier in my life when I was very young riding in the car with my mom, I can remember hearing such classic artists as Jim Croce, Elvis, and the Manhattan Transfer and just soaking it all it and loving every minute of it.

Back then it was 8-tracks, LP’s and 45’s. The cassette really didn’t come on the scene until the late 70’s. And then the LP lost some of it’s appeal as the cassette was certainly more portable and Sony made a killing with the Walkman and for the better part of a decade you could listen to the music you wanted to in the palm of your hand for the first time.

But in 1983 when the Compact Disc arrived on the scene was the game changer for me. Then Dire Straits became the first artist to sell a million copies of an album on CD and it was game on. I won’t argue the case that CD quality is better than an LP (it isn’t!) but it provided an analog to digital experience that erased the pops and hisses of your LP collections, and had the perception of better quality, and the world of digital music arrived.

But the arrival of the optical disc did something else too. As the 80’s and 90’s unfolded more and more titles were re-released on CD and of course anything new was released in this format, sometimes only in the CD format, and record companies figured out that the CD jacket was valuable real estate. Over time artists began to use the CD jacket to communicate to the listener about the recording process as well as the stories behind the songs. Regardless of how audiophiles feel about the CD and the lesser sound quality of the medium, the CD provided a better experience from a liner note standpoint than could have ever been achieved on the album jacket for an LP.

As I mentioned earlier, I love music. And I own a lot of it. My daughter Jamisyn has been helping me with the rather large project of taking my 1000+ CD collection and taking them out of the jewel cases and putting them into some nice leather binders. Each binder holds 80 CD’s but I’ve opted to put the CD jacket in the slot next to the actual CD so that I have the liner notes. So each binder has 40 actual CD’s and we are 14 leather binders into the project, so we’re halfway there!

This has been a fun way for me to introduce my music to my daughter. We have an inside joke in the family that my music is “crusty” and I cannot disagree. I definitely bend the genre spectrum and listen to about every kind of music out there, except rap! Rock, Gospel, Blues, Pop, Jazz, New Age, Country, R&B, and Americana genres are all in my collection. So that has made for some interesting conversation as we’ve worked on the project together.

For me, it has also held special meaning because I am revisiting music that I have forgotten I even owned! But the liner notes of all those CD’s are what has me really remembering why I love all the music that I do. The opportunity for me to hear directly from the artist was such a thrill. I have read and re-read the words dozens of times, in hopes of gaining a glimpse into their lives and into the recording process of particular project I held in my hands, an extension of their lives at a moment in time.

And so the journey started for me in learning more about the artists that I respected and that inspired me. Over the years a couple of my favorite artists have actually become friends and my knowledge of them from their liner notes gave me the feeling that I knew them a little bit before we even met. I think that’s what liner notes are for!

So, back to my little project. I’ve been reading through liner notes that I haven’t read in years and re-engaging with the stories behind the music and it sparked a thought.

Our lives have liner notes too, and they are being written every day of our lives. I have been thinking a lot about what my liner notes will say and if someone picked up the CD of my life in 50 years, what would they read about? What part of my story would resonate with them? What would inspire them? What would make them laugh?

Sometimes classic albums are re-released with expanded deluxe editions and extra liner notes from the artist or producer, and that’s a real treat for music lovers. Sometimes our lives have the same thing happen to them. We get an updated version, a remastered version of our lives and the chance to communicate again what is important to us. What a privilege we have everyday to live our lives in such a way that someone would want to read our “liner notes” and hear our story.

I am committed to living my life in such a way that even if no one reads the liner notes of my life, I will be proud of the legacy I leave.

What do the liner notes of your life say today? What would you change? What will you do differently to tell a story you will be proud of?

superman cape

Leadership can be lonely and you have to protect yourself against the isolation that you can sometimes feel as a leader. As a leader you spend so much time pouring into others that you can very easily run out of gas because no one is pouring into you.

Every leader needs another person, or group of people, to invest in them so that they can continue delivering results and developing their team. This is one of the biggest opportunities I see today in the marketplace.

Leaders are encouraged and recognized for accomplishing so much at whatever the cost, that sometimes a leader finds that they are standing alone on the road of progress all by themselves with no one to share the success with.

Here are five things a leader can do to ensure that they are maximizing their personal brand of leadership:

  1. Have a mentor. A mentor is described as an experienced and trusted advisor. Sometimes leaders, especially those in charge of an organization or department, feel like they don’t need a mentor. They are the expert, the resource, and the encourager. And that is the problem. They are so valuable they don’t take the time to seek someone out to help them process their own situation and objectively assess their surroundings and shortcomings. Every leader needs a sanity check that a good mentor will provide.
  2. Schedule blank space. As leaders we are all driven to go non-stop all day, everyday. The problem is if we manage to a full schedule, we will overcommit and burn out. I have learned this the hard way and am beginning the process of scheduling blank space in my calendar to think, write, and process my ideas. After just a few sessions of nothing on my calendar but time, it has allowed me to think about my business and my family with a great deal more clarity than at any other time in my career.
  3. Read books. All kinds of books; business books, fiction, biographies, special interests…whatever you are passionate about, read about it. If you not a reader, I highly encourage you to get an Audible subscription and listen to your favorites. Reading (or listening) allows us to explore ideas and passions in a way that allows us to really process them versus drinking from a fire hydrant. Taking the time to digest different concepts and how they might apply to you and your organization is a powerful catalyst for change.
  4. Take notes. I always take notes when I am in a meeting, even if I know the content inside out. Taking notes does a couple of things for me as a leader. First, it sets a great example for my team. When my team sees me taking notes it reinforces that what I am hearing is important and I want to capture it. Seeing me take notes makes them want to as well. Secondly, it helps me process ideas further and think about other things we can do as an organization to move forward. I also remember content better from physically writing it down and that helps me in telling the story of our brand and our journey.
  5. Be a mentor. When you mentor someone it brings your leadership full circle. Sometimes when you are pouring into someone else and you hear the words coming out of your mouth, it causes you to realize “I need to hear this as much as this person does” and it creates the opportunity for you to lead by example. When I send a team in to open a restaurant, I send talented folks that I know will take the opportunity to teach and learn from it, and then come back and apply the standards in their own restaurant. Most importantly there is nothing more satisfying as a leader than seeing someone you are investing in start to “get it”.

Leadership can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s only lonely because we make it that way by carrying the weight of the organization on our shoulders instead of leading in such a way that it involves those around us to help carry the load.

So leaders make sure that you are being developed as much as you develop those leaders around you. Take time to invest in yourself, and to allow others to invest in you.

Neil Peart

Neil Peart

Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unlikely places…

Anyone who knows me knows how important music and leadership development is to me. I find inspiration in both places. Through the years music has always been important to me and I have found much comfort in it through difficult times and also during my growth as a leader.

Learning about leadership is something I have been doing for 3 decades, from my first leadership position as a swing manager for Art Phillips at his 7 Highway McDonald’s restaurant back in 1985 through today as Chief Operating Officer of Freebirds.

Trends come and go, different musical styles have their day, and a lot bands get their 15 minutes of fame. Through the years I have had a few constant companions when it comes to music. And one of those musical companions has been the band RUSH. The music has always been great, but it’s when I dug into the lyrics written by drummer Neil Peart that I really developed a massive appreciation for the band.

Through the years the lyrics to RUSH songs always represented a very intellectual approach to rock and roll, which I really enjoyed. There was just something different about it that I could not put my finger on. But in 1996, right before the release of the band’s sixteenth album Test For Echo, I listened to a radio interview with the band talking about their new album. This radio interview included conversations with all three members of the band, which was rare then, and even more so now. It was in this interview listening to the conversations with the band, but particularly with Neil Peart, that I received several valuable leadership lessons that I have hung onto, and actually taught in the years since.

Rooted in this conversation was the idea that after playing the instrument for 30 years, 20 of those in RUSH, Neil Peart felt like it was time to take drum lessons! Hearing him describe that process of working with Master Teacher Freddie Gruber and doing everything differently than he had before was inspiring. He changed the way he set the drums up, he changed the way he sat at the drums, he changed the way he held the drumsticks, and even changed which end of the drumsticks he held! Everything he did was completely rebuilt. He sat down in his basement and practiced everyday, just like when he was a kid. He started all over. He describes it as just taking 30 years and throwing it all away, and starting over. One of the big ideas here for me was that he took everything he knew and had been good at and approached it from a different foundation so that even things he had known and had learned, he was coming at them from a different point of view and applying them in different ways.

Leadership Lessons

  • No matter how good you are, there is always room to improve
  • Everyone needs a coach
  • Just because you’ve done it a certain way for years, doesn’t mean it’s the best way

When asked if after the lessons and relearning his craft if he was a better drummer, Neil Peart said “I certainly came to understand a lot of things that I didn’t understand before, and I certainly feel as if I knew nothing before, so I guess that’s some element of progress.” The interviewer Jo Robinson told Peart that it must be very discouraging for drummers that he would say that he knew nothing before taking these lessons from Freddie Gruber.

He said that is the way it should be really, and that is how we should all define ourselves. If we gain a certain level of control over our instrument (in our case leadership) after 10 years then we might be good. To try and be great is something that you have to earn every day, it’s not something to be attained, and not likely to be a laurel we can rest on.

Leadership Lessons

  • Humility is essential in the life of a leader
  • Greatness is something we have to earn everyday, with every conversation we have

While I am not a drummer in one of the most successful rock bands in history, I am a leader. And you are too. And as such I think that there are some very important lessons we can all apply to our style. I have been leading and developing other leaders for a long time, but I look for opportunities everyday to get better and hearing one of my musical heroes talk about how he reset after 20 years gives me the encouragement to reinvent myself on an ongoing basis to make sure I am leading well, and always learning.

And from Neil Peart’s most recent blog post…“What is a master but a master student? And if that’s true, then there’s a responsibility on you to keep getting better and to explore avenues of your profession.”



In 1519 Hernán Cortés landed in Veracruz and as legend has it he issued the decree for his men to burn the ships to keep anyone from thinking about running back to the life they knew before. History has since said that the ships weren’t burned, but rather sunk…either way you look at it Cortés wanted to make sure that no one got any ideas about leaving. I don’t believe that qualifies as sustainable leadership!

There are 6 leadership lessons in this story that apply to anyone leading an organization.

  1. Start with building the right team first. A great idea is only a great idea if there are great people (other than you) alongside you to make it a reality. If you start with having all the right people on board you may choose to burn the ships but may not have to.
  2. Remove low performers. If someone does not have the ability to elevate those around them and you want your organization to thrive, you must remove them from your team. Keeping a low performer on your team will keep you from attracting top talent and will cause top performers to leave.
  3. When you lead even one person it’s not about you anymore. It’s about them and their ability to get on board with the vision you have and that requires you to stay committed as a leader.
  4. Your personal transparency as a leader is crucial to leading well. If you hide your fear, excitement, questions, or doubt you won’t be able to lead very far and take anyone along the journey with you.
  5. Clearly articulate your vision. You can rally the troops but you have to know what it is you are going after and include them in the process. People want to be a part of something special! They want to know what they are working for matters, and that who they are working for is clear on where they are headed.
  6. You have to remove all the obstacles. Your job as a leader is to clear the way for your team so that they are able to move swiftly toward the goals that have been set. Sometimes these are physical obstacles and sometimes they are emotional. Either way it’s up to you as the leader to remove those obstacles.

I have a friend named Paige Chenault who is Founder and CEO of The Birthday Party Project, a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring joy to homeless children through the magic of birthdays. I met Paige last year on a flight following a conference we both attended and it became clear to me after one two hour conversation that she was totally committed to her idea of building an organization that served homeless children in the Dallas Forth Worth metropolitan area.

Over this last year I have seen her vision grow beyond DFW to Detroit, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. Along the way she has had her share of challenges in building the organization but failure for her was not an option. She has built a team around her that shares her vision and is surrounding herself with leaders who challenge her to be better. There is a culture of accountability that keeps everyone honest about where the organization is headed. She doesn’t have to burn the ships because she is assembling a team of people who share the vision, and want to be a part of it.

I love the story of Cortés and his edict to burn (or sink) the ships. There is a lot of passion in that story and a certain Braveheart-esque swagger that makes everyone feel good. But in the reality of today’s world that really doesn’t work. The trick is to build a culture where everyone wants to stay and be a part of something amazing. And the way to do that is to build a team of top performers that creates a way to drive results and develops more great people that will carry your vision beyond yourself to the next generation of leaders in your organization.

So if you decide to burn the ships, do it because you want to, not because you have to.


 When you are leading a team through a time of transition it can be difficult to cast the vision, shoulder the message, and carry the weight of the uncertainty on your shoulders. There are days that turn into weeks that turn into months where you wonder if what you are doing really matters. You may ask yourself is anyone really listening? Does anyone really care? 

As a leader you know all the right things to say. You know the boiler plate language used to describe your company. You know what the organization stands for. You can recite the mission and vision. You want to believe that what you know in your head is actually true in your heart. 

And then there is the moment you believe it. That is the most powerful moment in the life of a leader and in the life of a company. 

The moment you believe what you’re saying is the moment that the mission and vision of your organization come alive and the people around you can FEEL what you are saying, not just hearing the words come out of your mouth. This is the moment where you hear the words that you are saying turn into the vision that your heart aches to accomplish. This is the moment that you can actually see the future of your organization accomplishing your goals. This is the moment where you can’t turn back because the desire to lead your team to greatness is stronger than the pain of getting there. 

That moment, when regardless of the circumstances and challenges you may be facing, you know as a leader that what you believe is true and nothing can change that. Embrace the moment. It’s in that moment that Leadership becomes Art and can change the world.


Leadership takes a little bit of art, a little bit of science, and a lot of courage. As leaders we are called to wade into uncharted territory, and sometimes we are called to jump first into the ocean of challenge. Even the most seasoned leader faces times of uncertainty and change and it is in those times that our skills are most tested.

You have two choices as a leader. You can sit back, delegate, and quarterback the situation from behind the scenes. You might be successful in that approach for awhile. Over time though you will develop a reputation as a hands off leader who doesn’t roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. You will be viewed as someone who doesn’t have any real skin in the game and you will begin to lose influence and looked at as someone who doesn’t really understand the challenges in the field.

Or you can choose to surround yourself with the best leaders you can, get organized, do your homework, and face the challenge head on by leading through it. You leap first. You take the first step. You face the uncertainty, the hostile environment, the unstable economy, or the brutal reality of the situation. And you do it first. You might fail. You might not recover. You might prevail. But regardless of the outcome you will create a culture of leading first and that will change the world.


Influence. We all have it even if we think we don’t. Influence is defined by Webster as impact, control, sway, power, authority, direction, and pressure. As leaders we all have some sort of influence on the people we work with, our families, and our friends. So the question isn’t whether or not we have influence, it’s what kind of influence we have, and how are we using that influence.

One of my favorite authors and leadership experts, John Maxwell, defines Leadership as having influence. Nothing more and nothing less. I think John is right. Think about it. If you have some sort of control in a situation, or you set direction and have the authority to create change then you are exerting influence.

I once heard someone say that as leaders our words weigh 1000 pounds and that we need to be careful with the words we choose to say around young leaders. We all have had those times where the moment the words left our mouths we knew we had either overshot our reach, said something without being compassionate, or let our pride get in the way of delivering the right message.

But the beauty of leadership is that we learn from those moments and when we respond in humility and take ownership for our words and action we are able to lead more authentically than ever. That’s certainly been my experience as a leader and I would bet it has been your experience too.

As leaders we are in a position to influence those around us, even those who may not be in our circles of influence, in huge ways. Having influence is a huge responsibility and can also be very satisfying as you help other leaders grow through your leadership.

If your leadership is intentional, your influence will be felt far beyond your circle of influence. That’s leadership…influence beyond yourself. You never know how far your leadership will reach. I believe that every leadership moment leads beyond you to another person who might not even be in the conversation. That type of influence can be hugely positive if the message is delivered in the right context and delivered with compassion, grace, and candor.

As leaders we get a lot of questions. Sometimes it’s a request for advice, and sometimes its a request for specific direction to fix a problem.

One of the best things about leadership is when you as a leader are able to plant an idea in someone’s mind, without giving them the answer to the question they have. What ends up happening, with the right encouragement and influence, is that the person you’re working with comes back to you and tells you what they want to do to solve a problem or fix a situation.

I had a leader like this once in my career, and his name was Matt. He was masterful at turning my question into an opportunity. He wasn’t being evasive. He was leading. It took me awhile to figure out what he was doing but once I did I knew how brilliant it was. I began to anticipate the conversation with Matt, but before I actually had it I ran through the various scenarios and outcomes in my mind and that exercise resulted many times in Matt saying “nice job”.

As a leader when we use our influence in such a way that we develop the leaders and team around us then everybody wins! Influence. We all have it. How will you use yours today?