Leadership Skills for Cyclists

What do you get when you combine six men, bicycles and 50+ miles of bike trail? A weekend full of smooth riding, plenty of laughs and yes, LEADERSHIP!

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I recently went on an overnight bike trip with five other gentlemen from my hometown. The weekend started on Friday evening when we met in Xenia, Ohio for dinner. We found ourselves at Nick’s Restaurant, where it also happened to be karaoke night! Although nobody in my group participated, we enjoyed listening to the other brave souls try their best at popular (and some unpopular) songs.


On Saturday morning we departed for our destination, Mariemont, Ohio, a town just four miles from Cincinnati. We spent the night at the Mariemont Inn (Best Western Premier), which turned out to be one of the neatest hotels I’ve ever stayed in (be sure to watch the bonus video at the bottom)! After a satisfying dinner at Dilly and some much-needed rest, we returned back to Xenia on Sunday.

Both days of riding were completed safely, and that’s not by chance. The first few miles of riding were pretty slow as we warmed up on Saturday, but as the day went on and we put more trail behind us, it was easy to see how leadership skills are used while riding in a group!

  1. Communication – Just as good leaders communicate to their team, you must constantly be ready to communicate what your next move is in order to safely ride in a group and/or on a trail with other people. We ended up sharing the trail with a relay event for runners that stretched from Cincinnati to Dayton. The rider in the front would call out “runner up” to inform the others in the group. Others calls were used to inform people that we were passing, or to signal if it was safe to proceed through a road crossing.
  2. Teamwork – Where you position yourself in the group is extremely important for the safety of the other riders. It’s nice to ride close to others for conversational purposes, but it can also be unsafe. Each member of my group was sure not to ride too closely behind another. This made it safer for the rider in front to slow down if needed and also, if riding two abreast, gave riders a chance to move over for oncoming traffic. This type of teamwork is crucial for the prevention crashes!
  3. Expertise – Different leaders can have different skill sets. If you’re going to participate in a sport such as cycling, it helps to know a thing or two about the bike you’re riding. Several members of my group were able to share different kinds of information. For instance, one rider expressed to another that the height of his bike seat was unsafe, which could cause unnecessary strain or injury while a different rider was able to make quick mechanical adjustments to a bike to correct shifting errors.

As the ride came to a close on Sunday, I had ridden nearly 150 miles. Whether you’re a seasoned rider or new to the sport, I strongly suggest venturing to Xenia, Ohio to ride the many trails the town has to offer.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s bike trip. I wonder where we’ll go?


FTL is back!

I started this blog nearly one year ago with the intention of sharing leadership insights and other related information to readers. I stated in my first post that I’m not an expert on the subject, but somewhere along the way I began pressuring myself into coming up with topics and posts that were probably beyond my skill level.

After taking some time off from writing I now realize what I need to do. I’m going back to the basics. Future posts will be more personal and simple. I’ll share information and insights that I gain from time to time. I’ll share stories that highlight leadership, communication or just “how to be a good person” situations. And finally, I’ll continue to post “Leader Spotlights” because I still believe that great people deserve some recognition.

I want to thank everyone who has subscribed to Follow that Leader, anyone who has clicked on my social media posts and anyone who has shown any bit of support whatsoever.

Stop back on Tuesday when I’ll tell you how leadership and communication were tied into a 130+ mile bike trip I recently took!

Have a great day!

3 Reasons you should be watching TED Talks

Technology. Entertainment. Design.

Do those words mean anything to you? If not, they should. The first letter of each of those words creates the acronym that has swept the globe, TED.

TED is a non-profit organization with the tagline: “ideas worth spreading.” Ideas are spread by speakers that are given a platform to deliver a short speech about an idea (typically 18 minutes or less). The speeches are delivered to an audience at a conference or TEDx event, but are also recorded and shared online.

ImageI’ve been watching TED Talks for about a year now, but TED is not new by any means. TED was formed in 1984 and initially covered the three topics that create the name, but now almost all topics are covered. Within the library of 1700+ Ted Talks posted to http://www.ted.com, you will find talks about career advice, scientific research and new entrepreneurial ventures.

Here are 3 reasons you should start watching TED Talks:

  1. You will be inspired. Some talks are delivered so well about topics so deep, that you just might find a spark within yourself. Maybe you’ll be inspired to finally do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. You’ll definitely find inspiration in ‘The difference between winning and succeeding’ by John Wooden.
  2. You will be entertained. The speakers are carefully chosen by TED and are usually among the best at their respective topic. Because of that, they are able to deliver the idea better than anyone else. Some are humorous, some are dramatic and some are powerful. One way or another, you will be entertained. If you’re into social media, you’ll be entertained by ‘Gotta share!’ by Improv Everywhere.
  3. You will be informed. TED Talks are a great way to learn something new. I’ve never had the desire to learn about the magnificence of spider silk, but it was easy to watch the 15-minute speech about it. You’ll find many fascinating topics regardless of what you’re interested in, and odds are you’ll open your mind to other bits of information. Ever wonder why we use “x” in mathematics? Watch ‘Why is ‘x’ the unknown’ by Terry Moore.

There are many easy ways to view the talks. You can watch them on Netflix, YouTube or TED.com. Just remember that any time you see those bold, red letters and have the time to watch a few talks, it will be time worth spending on “ideas worth spreading.” When you do watch some TED Talks (or if you’ve been watching) be sure to let me know if you have any favorites!

Thanks for reading!


Here is a list of my top 5 favorites (in no particular order):

  1. Be passionate. Be creative. Be your best. by Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly
  2. A life lesson from a volunteer firefighter by Mark Bezos
  3. Never, ever give up by Diana Nyad
  4. The art of misdirection by Apollo Robins
  5. Optical illusions show how we see by Beau Lotto

Learning to Speak with Toastmasters International

This past January I joined my local Toastmasters International club. Before then, I had never heard of this organization. I was actually advised to join by a professional speaker that is a role model of mine.

The first meeting I went to was interesting. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I was very pleased with the experience. Of course I arrived early, and was greeted by multiple members of the club. I was there for five minutes and already felt like a member of the group. I took a seat with plans to observe. I viewed the detailed agenda and waited for the meeting to start.  I observed how the meeting was structured and how it followed the agenda exactly. I was impressed. I was happy to see people deliver speeches, as well as the evaluations that were given on their performances. I followed my plan to observe until it was time for the Table Topics section of the meeting.

As a guest of the meeting, I volunteered to participate in the Table Topics by delivering a brief 1 to 2 minute speech about a topic given without notice. I was a bit nervous, but at the end of the meeting I was voted to have the best Table Topic speech! By the time the meeting came to an end, I was hooked. I knew for sure that I would join, and couldn’t wait to officially join at the next meeting.

Just last night I delivered my first speech from the Competent Communication manual, the Ice Breaker. The Ice Breaker is designed to help the speaker become comfortable by allowing them to introduce themselves to the rest of the group. This is the first of ten speeches that qualify a member to earn the Competent Communicator designation. I’m happy to say that I did well! I delivered a solid speech, but of course I have room to improve. That’s why everyone is there!


If you have a desire to improve you speaking skills, I highly suggest you find the nearest Toastmasters club. The organization offers a no-pressure, extremely supportive environment where each member shares similar goals. Other than giving speeches, the club offers numerous ways of being involved, such as evaluating, timing or offering the Thought of the Day.

Do you belong to a Toastmasters International club? Is there something else you do or have done to improve your speaking skills? If so, I would love to hear from you!


3 Ways to Accomplish Goals in 2014

How was your 2013?

It’s time for performance reviews at work, so I’ve been reflecting on my professional accomplishments (and short-comings) that happened in 2013. Performance reviews don’t necessarily have to be for the professional part of your life. It’s just as easy to review personal accomplishments, no matter what they may be.

I’m going to share some of the best parts of my 2013, both personal and professional. Then I’ll share some tips that will help you have a great 2014.

2013 in review:

  • Celebrated one year at my company.
  • Threw a surprise birthday party for my wife.
  • Moved into a new position at work.
  • Celebrated one year of marriage.
  • Started this blog.

I find it to be healthy to think back over the past year. What did you do well? What did you do not so well? Did something amazing happen? Be sure to ask yourself those questions, among others, to figure out how well you’re doing at accomplishing goals.

Here are three things you can do now to make 2014 your best year yet.

  1. Make a list-Think about what goals you want to accomplish and write them down. People also tend to accomplish goals if they make them public, so share your goals with friends and family. You might even find a source of motivation and support.
  2. Prioritize- Make sure you’re spending your time wisely by focusing on things that are most important to you. It’s easy to get distracted by smaller tasks, so stay focused on your priorities.
  3. Set a date- Give yourself a deadline for completing goals. This can be done while you’re prioritizing your goals. Be realistic with your timeline. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Image courtesy of pakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whether you want to accomplish life-long goals or just your New Year’s resolution, it’s not too late cross them off your list. If you find the proper motivation and commit to yourself, you’re bound to have a great year.

Here is one of my favorite quotes about goals:

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what your become by  achieving your goals.” -Henry David Thoreau

How was your 2013? I’d love to hear about some of the great things that happened!

Gift Giving – How do leaders do it?

As the holiday season nears its end, I enjoy taking time to reflect on what makes this time of year so enjoyable. Maybe it’s the snowy Ohio weather. Maybe it’s the holiday music and cheerful people, or maybe it’s the feeling you get when you give gifts to the special people in your life.


Despite the holiday rush and pressure, isn’t it nice to see the look on a loved one’s face when they open the gifts that you gave them? Sometimes a lot of planning goes into a gift, but sometimes you know EXACTLY what you want to give someone. Either way, holiday shopping and gift giving definitely requires people to use some leadership skills. When you find the right gift, you somehow know that it’s perfect for the recipient you’re going to give it to. You have, in some way, used your observational skills to decide what to give.

Good leaders will pay close attention to the people surrounding them. It is extremely important to take a step back to observe what’s going on. He or she will notice how people interact with others, how people handle their responsibilities and how to assign certain tasks to the proper person. The ability to take a step back for observation is equally (and sometimes more) important than the ability to actually lead by taking a step forward.

I’m happy to share that I have some true leaders (or observers) in my life. I don’t ask for much around Christmas, but I usually on the receiving end of many great gifts. My mother hit it out of the park with my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pajamas, which totally makes me feel like I’m a kid again, and my in-laws surprised me with a Cyclocross bicycle that I can use on the many towpath trails in the Summit County Metro Parks (located in/near the Cuyahoga Valley). My wife gave me a home brewing kit, which I’ve been wanting for some time now, along with a Road ID that I can wear while cycling!




How did these people know what to get me? My in-laws thought about past experiences and events. My wife thought about things I might have said recently and my mother thought about my favorite group of turtles from my childhood. No matter how they decided, they used their observational skills, and used them successfully.

Did you give some great gifts this holiday season? How did you decide what to buy? Please share your experiences by leaving a comment!

Leader Spotlight: Jeff Watkins, High School Teacher

A few weeks ago my wife and I attended a wedding for one of her college friends. Aside from the beautiful ceremony, the delicious food and the oh-so-thrilling dancing, the conversation with new people was one of my favorite parts of the night.

I had met Jeff a couple of years ago, but hadn’t talked to him again until the wedding. I was able to sit next to him at the dinner table, which made our game of catch-up easy. We talked about all sorts of things, but it was when he began telling me about his career that I realized he is an amazing leader with a true passion for what he does.

Please read about Jeff’s outlook on leadership and his career as a teacher.

Q: Why did you become a teacher?

A: It was pure happenstance. I had planned to serve at my school via AmeriCorps for a year and then move on to bigger and better things. But, after working closely with my group of students, I fell in love with the school and the kids, and I’ve been here ever since.

Q: Where do you teach? What kind of school is it? What subject?

A: I teach at Pritzker College Prep, a charter high school on the west side of Chicago. Pritzker belongs to the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which is the largest charter network in Chicago. We primarily serve inner city students, some well below the poverty line. The kids who come to us want a selective school education, but can’t afford the cost. Pritzker has a student body made up of about 800 students. We’re 97% Latino, and 95% free or reduced school lunch. We’ve also got one of the highest ACT scores in the city, including selective schools.

I’ve had a different position every year here at Pritzker. First, I was an AmeriCorps aid, then the in-house substitute teacher, then the Senior Reading teacher, and now I teach Public Speaking and Debate. Speech and debate have always been passions of mine, and when there was an opening to start up my own elective, I jumped on it. We’re about at the halfway point for the year, and I’ve had a blast building the curriculum.

Q: Have you always wanted to teach? How long have you been teaching?

A: I had thought about teaching once in college, but was quickly turned off by the idea when I thought about my high school experience. My teachers weren’t bad; they were overworked. Most had been in education for 30+ years, and they had obviously lost the spark. I couldn’t see myself as a middle-aged man who was burnt out by a system that pushed me to my breaking point. But, when I came to work for the Noble Network, I was beyond enthused to see so many energetic people who were passionate about the work they were doing. It completely changed my outlook on the field.

I’ve been teaching in one form or another for four years.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: Aside from the kids, I really enjoy the autonomy that I get as an educator. My admin team trusts me to do the job they hired me for, and they know that I’m going to do my best. It’s such a relief to finally work at a place that has confidence in my abilities and lets me achieve the school and network goals in the best way I see fit.

Q: Which leadership skills do you think you use the most when teaching?

A: I’m an Eagle Scout, and the biggest thing I learned in my time with the BSA is to lead by example. If I want my students to enter my classroom ready to go, then I too have to be ready to go. If I want my advisory to become kind and patient with others, then I have to demonstrate those assets in my actions with them. Whenever I come across a situation that I’m not sure how to handle, I often ask myself what I would want my students to do if they were in my shoes. It’s a rule of thumb that I’ve always tried to live by.

Q: What motivates you to do the best you can at your job?

A: This one’s easy: it’s equal parts the staff I work with and the students I teach. I’m surrounded by faculty that continually put everything they have into their craft. They live and breathe education, and their motivation and energy are contagious.

And my students are what make me get out of bed in the morning. Sure, there are some who grind my gears more than others, but I absolutely love coming to work every day and seeing their progression through life, both as students and people.

Q: Which leadership skills do you think all teachers should have?

A: If I had to boil them down to a few, I would say: patience, fairness, consistency, optimism, and perseverance. I don’t think I could rank them in importance though.

Q: What have you learned as a teacher? Have the students “taught” you anything?

A: Teaching has taught me the importance of having a fully thought out reason for everything I do. When you’re in charge of 200+ kids, it’s vital to have a clear line of logic for your actions. Otherwise, kids will nitpick with you to oblivion.

The students have taught me many things, not the least of which is how to “Dougie” (though I’m still really, really bad at it). In all seriousness, they’ve taught me that any action, no matter how small, can have a tremendous impact on a person’s life.

Q: What do you consider your number one goal as a teacher to be? Do you feel that you’re satisfying that goal? Do you have any long-term goals?

A: My number one goal is to help make good people. I’m a big believer in Auguste Comte’s theory that public schools can make moral students. When I say moral, I don’t mean a particular religion or level of purity. I mean students who are kind, who are respectful of others, who understand the value of human life and that we all deserve basic human decency. Though I haven’t been in education long, I feel like I’m satisfying this goal.

Q: Is there one person in particular whom you look up to as a leader? How has he/she made a difference in your life?

A: I’ve been fortunate enough to live a life that is full of great leaders, and I’ve learned so much from all of them. My mind keeps going back to my scout leader, Keith Mueggenborg. The man was unorthodox, to say the least, but he taught me the importance of taking initiative. If I was cold on a campout, then I had to build a fire. If I wanted a merit badge, it was my responsibility to figure it out. Keith threw us to the wolves when it came to scouting, and I believe that it helped to make me the man I am today.

jeff image

It was easy for me to realize that Jeff is undoubtedly making a difference is his students’ lives, and it will be just as easy for his students to realize it. Jeff is more than a teacher. He’s an influencer. A game-changer. Public education is highly discussed and debated in this country. In my opinion, it’s not just about the education. It’s about the educators.

I was fortunate enough to have a few teachers in school that I consider friends to this day. I would like to use this opportunity to thank them.

  1. Brooke Harman- My 8th and 12th grade English teacher.
  2. Scott Thornberry- Health, Physical Education and my Track & Field/ Cross Country coach.
  3. Merle Russo- Foreign Language (Spanish and French)

All three people above have taught me lessons that I use well beyond the classroom. They showed me (in one way or another) that they cared about my education as well as my future.  I’m lucky to have such role models in my life.

Is there someone who has made a difference in your life? If so, you should let that person know. It’s never to late to thank them, and it just might make their day to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!

Being Thankful

Instead of standing in line in the early evening hours of Thanksgiving day or waking up early to do Christmas shopping, I wanted to spend some time on Black Friday to share why I’m thankful.

The holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year. Who doesn’t love a holiday where you express gratitude followed by a holiday where you give to others? There is one minor detail I would like to change.

People should be thankful at ALL times of the year.

I always notice the increase of social media posts where people share what they’re thankful for. I’m guilty of this as well. But why don’t we do that more often? What’s stopping us from sharing all year long?

My challenge to you is to choose at least one thing you’re thankful for each month of the year (more if possible). Whether it is a person, place or thing, share with others! Setting aside a little bit of time each month to reflect on why you’re thankful has more than one benefit:

It will keep you grounded. It’s easy to get caught up in our daily routine. Sometimes we forget about the good things we have or the good people we know.

It will positively influence others. When people are thankful, they’re also happy. Sharing why we appreciate something can lift the spirit of others, because it will help them realize what they’re thankful for. If we’re lucky, they’ll also share.

It will make the world a better place. Are you familiar with the phrase, “laugher is contagious?” Well, so is happiness. If we share what we’re thankful for, influence others to share, lift hundreds, thousands or millions of spirits, wouldn’t the world be a better place?


I have plenty to be thankful for. I’m living a happy, healthy life. I have a wonderful wife and excellent marriage. I have an unbelievable group of family and friends. And most recently, I have you. I would like to offer a special thanks to everyone who has read this blog and shared with others. Hopefully I can make a positive impact by sharing what I have to say about leadership and every-day leaders.

“Thankfulness creates gratitude which generates contentment that causes peace.”     -Todd Stocker

THANK YOU for reading. 

What’s on your bucket list?

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a speaking event co-hosted by my business fraternity at Kent State University. The speaker was Tim Augustine, a ’94 graduate of KSU and fellow brother of Delta Sigma Pi.

The topic of his speech was not something I had done much research on or even had much interest in, but now it’s a topic I won’t easily forget. Simply put, Tim talked about bucket lists.  Not only did he talk about bucket lists, but he also posed a few very important questions like: What do you REALLY want to do? And what would you do if you had unlimited time, money and resources?

Tim immediately connected with the audience by sharing simple life statistics (did you know 1 in 3 Americans are disabled before the age of 55?) He then went on to share stories about some remarkable people he knows that decided (key word) to do what they truly want to do. Check out Michael Walton at Open Heart Magic.  Michael is the Founder and Executive Director of a non-profit that sends magicians to perform bedside magic for children in hospitals.  Amazing, right?

One part of Tim’s speech that struck me the most was a list of common regrets from senior citizens under Hospice care. It seems that many people casually live with regrets. How many times have you heard a friend say, “I’d like to go to Italy someday” or I’d love to see a Broadway show”? Odds are at some point in the future they just might regret missing out on those hopes. The message Tim delivered was that if there is something you want to do; do it. Don’t wait until later in life. Don’t wait for the “right” time. If you don’t pursue your hopes and dreams you might never reach them. The goal is to live without regrets.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Figure out what you truly want to do. (It can be absolutely anything.)
  2. Add those items to your bucket list.
  3. Start crossing those items off!

If you ever get the opportunity to see Tim Augustine speak, don’t miss it! His presentations are fun, interactive and will definitely make you think. Besides being a motivational speaker, Tim is also a successful entrepreneur and the author of How Hard are You Knocking?, which was named one of the “Best Career Business Books” by Amazon.com. His background includes International Sales, Strategic Marketing, HR, M&A and IT. He is also the co-founder of Succeed Faster, a conference where young professionals are coached, mentored and advised by people who have already achieved their dreams.

What are you waiting for? Let me know what you plan to add to your bucket list!

Fearless: What a 13-year-old girl can teach you about leadership

Something I don’t mention in my “about the blogger” section of Follow that Leader is that I’m a proud uncle. I have three extremely beautiful nieces and three incredibly charming nephews.

Two weeks ago I learned that my oldest niece (Abby, age 13) auditioned for a singing competition held across her entire school district and was chosen out of a total of 60 contestants as one of the ten finalists in the junior division. When we heard the news my wife and I looked at each other, and without having to say a word, we agreed that we wouldn’t miss her performance for the world.

I was 12 years old when Abby was born, but I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was excited because I was going to be an uncle for the first time and was at the hospital the day she joined us.

Watching her grow over the past 13 years has been an amazing experience. I saw her terrible twos, her toddler years and everything else before she became a teenager, but the last few years have probably been the best. I especially enjoy taking her shopping and slipping her a little cash once in a while (also known as spoiling). Up until this year I’ve known her to be a little shy. She was quiet, reserved and often times easily embarrassed. That’s why when I heard she was going to sing in front of an audience of strangers I was beyond impressed.

Abby Owens, age 13.

I wish I could tell you that Abby won the singing competition, but the truth is that she missed a line in her song. What she did, or actually, what she didn’t do after she missed a line is where a valuable lesson is taught: she didn’t quit. She hummed the tune of the song until she could pick right back up on the next line. She could have melted down. She could have run off stage. She could have given up.

Abby knew the risks of performing in front of an audience before she signed up. Despite her small mistake, she was fearless. She might not realize it now, but she displayed remarkable strength and leadership qualities by remaining on that stage. I will forever be proud of her and remember how brave she was the next time I get a little nervous.

Here is a great quote to think about in closing:

“Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them. They make the impossible happen.” ~Dr. Robert Jarvik