Hot Dogs and Gasoline

Close your eyes, go with me now…..

Picture this: A clear, cool, sunny fall Saturday afternoon in Columbus, OH.  Imagine a packed Ohio Stadium full of 100,000+ rabid Ohio State football fans.  A sea of scarlet and gray supporting the Buckeye nation with heart and soul.

I remember it like it was yesterday.  The sights, the sounds, the smells - the electric atmosphere that is powered by the raging passion of OSU fans.  The excitement of game day is accented by the steady crescendo of the band, the fans, and the emotion of the game.    Well, after the game is over, the band has played the final Carmen Ohio, and the stadium is empty, what remains?  I can tell you from personal experience what remains, tons of paper, cups, popcorn, and half eaten hot dogs.

So, what does this have to do with leadership? More than you might imagine.  Read on.

During my days at Ohio State, the young men and women who were part of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program were the ones who had the unique privilege of cleaning up after the Saturday spectacle.  The key leadership lessons that I extracted from the many early Sunday mornings cleaning Ohio Stadium are:

  • Common Goals

  • Teamwork

  • Accountability

  • Attitude

There is nothing better after a full night of collegiate football related celebrations than getting up at 6am to strap on an industrial strength blower to blow trash from one end of the stadium to the other.  Not many things can compare to the combined odors of stadium hot dogs and gasoline.

So what brings a group of  college students to be so excited about picking up other peoples trash after a football game?  Beyond the fact that it was a requirement and a great way to earn money for the organization to pay for special events and activities, it was about common goals and teamwork.


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Just like the Buckeye football team on the field the day before, the cleaning crew acted with the same precision and teamwork.  Everyone there had a common goal – to get Ohio Stadium clean from top to bottom as quickly as possible.

The teamwork was amazing with teams task organized with accountable unit leaders.  Some groups smoked and buzzed with industrial backpack blowers to power the party remnants into manageable piles at designated spots.  Others manned brooms to sweep and assist with bagging all the trash.  Other teams were couriers to haul the bagged goods to a central collection point.

The other key leadership lesson taught and reinforced on those cold, early Sunday mornings was all about accountability.  Every stadium clean up event had an accountable leader.  They were ultimately on the hook with the Athletic Department staff to ensure that the shrine of OSU football was restored to its proper state by the end of the day on Sunday.

That accountability was communicated and shared by all on “the crew” as our common sense of purpose provided a strong drive for the team to be focused and effective.

The final leadership lesson was all about attitude.  You could imagine that cleaning up trash on a cold Sunday morning after a long night of festivities would not be at the top of any college student’s list of priorities.  However, through having common goals, great teamwork, and strong accountability there was always a great attitude among the leaders and the team.

How can you apply these lessons to situations you might be facing as a leader?

The first suggestion is to examine the goals you have set for your team.  Are there central themes or common goals that you can rally your entire team behind?  Think of ways you can modify current goals or simply communicate current goals in a compelling way that will better knit the team together.

The second is creating a culture and framework where accountability is part of your team’s DNA.  Common goals and teamwork are essential building blocks, but the intent and will to make it happen are all about leadership.

The last point it to challenge you to think about how you can turn ordinary events or tasks into something compelling about leadership to share with others.

The next time you attend a football game or other event in a stadium, just remember that someone has to clean up your mess when you leave.

What will your team say about your leadership?  After you lead will people be smelling roses ,or will they be immersed in the smell of hot dogs and gasoline?

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Bryan Stewart is a senior healthcare marketing and sales executive with a global leader in medical technology.
He can be reached at

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Leadership Lessons from the “Gunny”

Semper Fi
I remember it like it was yesterday – the day I met the “Gunny.” His name is Jorge Sosa.

When I was a young Marine infantry officer, I was impacted most by his leadership when he was my Infantry Company Gunnery Sergeant. He was known by all as “Gunny Sosa.”


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A native of Ecuador, he was not a tall man in size, but his personal stature and integrity was legendary.  Even without being tall, he did present a strong physical force as well. As a former gymnast, he had arms the size of many a young Marine’s legs.  He was a decorated Marine with experiences serving and leading in many conflicts and geographies.  He taught us all very clear lessons on leadership that resound within me to this day.

The top two leadership lessons that I learned from serving with him are:

  1. It Is All About Expectations
  2. Accomplish the Mission and Support the Commander


Gunny Sosa was all about expectations.  This was my first lesson in leadership from him. No matter your rank or responsibilities, if you did not measure up, he would always be there to challenge you. As one of the key leaders in our infantry unit (3rd Battalion, 8thMarines), he was the driving force behind the morale, discipline and effectiveness of our team.  He had high expectations for all Marines, but particularly for leaders.

Although he was keen on the responsibilities of all leaders, he was particularly focused on the front line small unit leaders – the Corporals and Sergeants who were truly leading “where the rubber met the road“.  He was very demanding and always led by example, never asking or expecting anyone to do anything that he had not already done or was not able or willing to do himself.  He was always crystal clear in articulating in the most direct and “colorful” language (even with his heavy Ecuadorian accent) what he expected.

As you might imagine, no one, regardless of rank, wanted to fail to measure up to his expectations.  Some out of fear, some out of duty, but all out of respect. The mandates were simple: “Accomplish the mission and take care of the team.”

Mission & Support

The second lesson on leadership I learned from Gunny Sosa’s example was to always, always accomplish the mission and support the commander.  Regardless of the task, you knew that with his leadership and influence at work that the mission would get accomplished, no matter what.  The esteem and respect that he earned came from this unyielding commitment to getting the job done while never sacrificing his integrity and always with the best interest of his men at the top of his mind.  His support of the commander was not a blind loyalty, but a mutual bond based on relationship and commitment.

He unwaveringly supported the military structure and chain of command and acknowledged the special trust and confidence endowed to Marine officers commensurate with the great responsibility of leading Marines.  He was a vicious defender of his leaders and always supported the unit commander.

I still reflect on the lessons I learned from the sterling example of this great leader.  I have not met another leader who truly “walked the talk” in so many ways.

Have you been impacted deeply by a truly outstanding leader? We would love to hear stories of leadership who have been great examples or sources of leadership lessons in your own life.  Are you the “Gunny” in someone else’s life?  Will other leaders remember lessons they learned from you?

Semper Fi -

Bryan Stewart is a senior healthcare marketing and sales executive with a global leader in medical technology.
He can be reached at

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Pride: The Silent Leadership Assasin


Pride is a powerful foe. Even the best leaders can easily fall victim to this silent assassin if they are are not vigilant.

How often have we seen leaders fall from places of significance and influence to places of disgrace? It seems like a regular occurrence that we hear about a leader who comes crashing back to reality after pride has taken over.

Pride & Pain

Pride can cause you pain and damage in a variety of ways. It can be as scant as a simple bruising of the ego in one incidence. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, it can cost you a large portion of your leadership effectiveness and credibility.

Remember, it is very apparent to others, and less apparent to us, when we get our heads and hearts filled with the prideful venom of self-saturation and adulation. It eats our credibility from the inside out.

Like a Ninja, pride can be very stealthy and can quickly disable or eliminate a leader with little warning or fanfare.


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I have found that through every season of my life and throughout my development journey as a leader, that pride has been a consistent, persistent, and worthy adversary.

Consider the Source

For me, protection from pride comes from a variety of sources.

One of the most powerful and meaningful is the unconditional love and support from my wife, Erin.  She is my greatest cheerleader (and was one in real life) and my strongest defense against this leadership assassin.  She keeps me grounded and always brings me back to reality and focused on what is truly important in life and as a leader.

With every individual or team success, the unwary leader can increase their vulnerability to the destructive forces of pride. The same skills, competencies and values that make you successful as a leader can be the very things that can “puff you up” and replace humility in your heart with a lethal dose of venomous pride.

“As a leader, you must be proactive and put defenses in place to protect your heart and status as a leader from the ‘Silent Leadership Assassin’.”

One strong defense against pride is a network of other leaders who can and will be honest with you when they see pride creeping up on you.  Sometimes others can easily see the enemy approaching and can help you thwart an attack and keep your leadership strong and on track.

I challenge you to develop, cultivate and utilize your own defensive team of leaders to keep you accountable and safe.

Please share any experiences in your own leadership journey when pride may have gotten the best of you and the impact it made.  I would also love to hear stories of tools you have used that have been an effective defense against pride.

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Making Every Second Count

Making every second count – that sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? 

How many of you have been in a meeting recently that did not have the following:

  • a defined purpose or objective 
  • an agenda (sent at least 24 hours in advance)
  • specific outcomes
  • or one that either started late, ended late or both

I would be willing to bet that we all have been in a “WOT” meeting lately, maybe even today.  What exactly is a “WOT” meeting?  It is one of those meetings that makes you want to straighten out a paper clip to slit your wrist or to fake a phone call to yourself on your cell phone so you can leave the room and escape the madness.

Or how about this survival tip: Have you ever played Business Buzzword Bingo during a meeting just to remain sane?

WOT: a meeting that is a total Waste Of Time. 

boring-meeting1Do you lead meetings that end with a “WOW!” or a “WOT!” from those attending?  

Organizations invest a great deal of resources into meetings. Collaborative sessions are critical to conducting business, but I believe that we can and must challenge ourselves to do better and be better. As a leader you can set the tone for your team or organization by implementing better planning, communication, accountability and discipline in the conduct of meetings.  I challenge you to critically think about every meeting that you organize, attend or support. 

I would love to hear your best tips, tricks and stories to help us all make every second count.  What is the worst example of a “WOT” meeting you have been to lately?

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Who Has the Flashlight?


So picture this – you are camping with some friends, tents pitched deep in the forest off a little-followed hiking trail, campfire burning, Smores melting, stories flying – ahh, good times.  No moon in the sky, just a cold, clear fall night. 

The next thing you know… here comes the rain. 

Before long, the fire is out and it is so dark you can’t even see the remnants of your last Smore drooping down the front of your own shirt. What was once a nice journey suddenly seems to be changing to something quite different.

As the night progresses, the rain gets worse, the wind picks up and you and your friends decide it may be best to head back to the van to seek shelter from Mother Nature.  One small problem, no one thought to bring a flashlight.  

“What?” you think to yourself, “We brought all this stuff and not one person had the sense to bring a flashlight???”  But alas, there is an ounce of hope: one guy has one of those little convention hall giveaway flashlights filled with 2 AA batteries that might just last until you reach the main road. 

Image that the person with the flashlight is the one expected to be the one to lead the group out of the darkness and into safety. 

So think about your role as a leader.  Are you the one with the flashlight? 

Will those you are entrusted to lead follow you just because you have the flashlight or would they prefer to remain in the dark and in danger?  If you are the one with the flashlight, are you ready, willing and able to lead?  As a leader, there just may be many other campers who are waiting on you, wondering why you don’t turn on the light and lead them to safety.

Have you ever been led when the tides of good fortune began to change by someone unprepared to lead you effectively? How did it make you feel? Have you ever been caught in this type of turmoil as a leader? How did that make you feel? 

How can you use your past experiences and those of others to help prepare you on your next leadership journey?

“Excusages” – Ever Had One?


As a leader, have you requested to be served a portion of “straight talk” from someone and been surprised when you are served an “excusage” instead?  

“What is an excusage,” you might ask.

Think of this: An excuse-filled-sausage. It is usually a tightly wrapped bundle of “stuff” all loaded up and packaged to be a culinary delight. They are like a real sausage in many ways:

  • They can come in many sizes, shapes and flavors
  • They can be served hot or cold, depending on the type
  • They can cause real problems if you try to digest them raw

If you understand what goes into making a real sausage, then I am sure that you can imagine what goes into constructing an “excusage.”

When a leader is served one, sometimes they are required to peel back the skin on the “excusage” to get to the real meat within.  Lots of times issues can be cloaked with all kinds of spices, fillers, and fat; just like real sausage.  The discerning leader can detect when they are being served an “excusage” and can drill down to get to the heart of the matter. Well, what does a leader do when served some of this oh-so-common staple of modern day life? What tools do you need to tackle this beast?

One of the tools that has worked for me in the past is the “5 Layers of Why.”

Here is how it works: When you think someone is trying to serve you up a big plate of “excusages,” just ask them this question: “Why is that”?  When they answer, hit it again with another “Why is that?” Do this again and again until you run the issue to ground. You will inevitably get past all the packaging and get down to the core reason of their explanation.

I remember vividly a key lesson taught to me by a Marine Major when I was a young 2nd Lieutenant. He taught me the difference between giving an excuse and giving a reason.  “Excuses” are what are offered up by those who do not have the intelligence, character or substance to stand and be accountable for something they did or didn’t do. “Reasons” are the core facts that those who are accountable stand on when challenged. 

So – what kind of leader are you? 

Do you spend your day cooking up your own “excusages” for others to consume? Do you find yourself trying to digest “excusages” from others? 

If so, take a look at where you are dining on a regular basis. You may want to start consuming your leadership lunches elsewhere. You may want to step out of the frying pan and into the fire where true leaders want to be. A place where character is king and people have an environment where they can feel comfortable to serve up “straight talk” rather than “excusages.”

What was one of the better “excusages” you have heard? Please share with us and give us all a great chuckle.


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