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Joe Lueken: The Grocer With Something To Teach CEOs About Leadership

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Joe Knew Where His Success Came From

Are you one of those poor souls who does not read the obituaries?08012014-ows_140676680423001

Pity: so many memorable stories.

Like the story of Joe Lueken. A couple years ago Mr. Lueken turned down the opportunity to make buckets of cash by selling his Bemidji-based grocery store chain. Instead, as he retired, he set up an employee stock ownership program and transferred the company to his workers.

 “My employees are largely responsible for any success I’ve had, and they deserve to get some benefit from that,” Lueken told the Star Tribune in 2012….

He was a philanthropist who stocked shelves and took his break with the other workers in the break room. And—most telling for me—the people who worked for him had great respect for him. He was a guy whose work ethic and his caring demeanor touched lives. And it seems—at least from my reading of a couple of articles—he did so with joy.

Mr. Lueken died on July 20 after a long battle with cancer.


As we watch the explosion of CEO salaries and look with wonder on the board members who agree to these ridiculous payouts, it’s hard not to wish many of the current batch of muckety-mucks had worked for Joe. Maybe his humanity would have rubbed off.


Image credit: StarTribune

What was that all about?

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Despite our pat answers, life is full of mystery.



Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

July 31, 2014 at 5:00 am

Posted in curiosities

…The…Slow…Talker…. So Boring.

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What can you learn from the slow guy?

Q: My colleague is the slowest talker in the world.

Each sentence he forms takes forever and we can all see where he’s going long before he gets there. I’m tempted to take up knitting whenever he makes a point in a meeting. We all finish his sentences.

Is that so wrong?

Not every conversation is electric quick.

Not every conversation is electric quick.

A: Some people want to be sure of what they are saying. For some people the internal editor stands with a bullwhip as words cower by the tongue. It could also be your colleague is intimidated by your work team. Do you or your team tend to jump in to argue or quickly quibble about word choice?

Consider counting to ten (or 50) when your colleague speaks.

And consider not finishing his sentences.

Being heard is a basic courtesy we offer each other. When we slow our listening to the pace of our conversation partner, we extend a bit of tangible grace and we demonstrate this person has value—no matter how boring they are. Maybe waiting in expectant silence will begin to change our slow-talking colleague. Maybe he will begin to feel more confident and less like he’ll be mugged for his word choices.

But even more importantly, waiting and expectantly listening trains us to listen for more than words, with more than our ears, to more of what might be going on. We’re used to instant, but not all of what we have for each other lends itself to instant. People need to process words and experiences and thoughts. If we rush them to the end, we likely speak for them, with our words, not theirs.

If your slow-talking colleague drains you with his long pauses and predictable boring comments, consider limiting time with him, just to save you both hassle. But when with him, give him time.

You may be surprised.



Image credit: Kirk Livingston

But Can You Outsource Imagination?

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Consider cultivating time to consider

One persistent problem in today’s workplace: no time to think.

Frank Lloyd Wright re-imagined this windmill in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Frank Lloyd Wright re-imagined this windmill in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Open floor plans contribute to constant interruptions, as do the barrage of meetings we file into and out of most days. Projects have fast timelines, which do not lend themselves to fully consider ramifications—so we default to action.

And as Curtis White might say: our deep involvement in (what seem to be) sacred institutional processes precludes us from using our imagination. The way we get things done—all those guidelines and guardrails—also serve as blinders, shuttling us down the same paths again and again. We stop seeing other ways to do things. Maybe we stop seeing that there are other things worthy of our attention.

As freelance copywriter, I see this all the time: friends and colleagues embroiled in their system so deeply they forget to imagine the larger issues having just as much impact. One of the great privileges of my work is to come alongside friends and colleagues to think through an issue from a different perspective. Of course, no one hires me to think (thought that sounds like the perfect job). They hire me to write stuff. But in the process of systematically going through their marketing campaign or explaining how a product works or working through the medical literature, new perspectives pop up. Things my client has not yet considered. Small tweaks to a product or presentation that make a huge difference in the outcome.

Though your workday may seem too tight to think through an opportunity or problem, isn’t it in your best interest to carve out the time to do just that? You can off-load many project tasks, but it takes fresh imagination—possibly sparked by an hour away from your desk—to see things differently. A fresh take can make all the difference in the world.



Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

July 29, 2014 at 10:13 am

Monday: Pitch Forward

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That’s the point of Monday, isn’t it?



Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

July 28, 2014 at 8:53 am

Did this guy jump to his death?

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Maybe. Maybe not. But I saw somebody jump.

The High Bridge in Saint Paul is…high. High over the Mississippi.

And the High Bridge is long. Very long.


I was at the high end of the High Bridge at sunset—taking photos (as one does).


I saw a guy near the middle of the bridge on the rail.


My slow shutter experiment captured a car as well as a person way off in the distance. Was this the last photo of the guy?

Should I call the cops? I wondered.

Then he was on the other side of the rail.

I dialed 911.

I told the dispatcher where I was and that there was a guy on the outside of the rail in the middle of the bridge and he looked like he was going to jump.

“And he jumped. He just jumped, ” I told the dispatcher as I walked to where he wasn’t.

Two or three people had stopped their cars toward the middle of the bridge when they saw him outside the rail. They were also on the phone with 911. And now we all stood looking into the water.

Three of us standing there said a prayer. I could only think to ask for mercy. That’s pretty much what I’m praying most every day, so it seemed even more fitting right here.

Right now.

Maybe somebody saw him surface. Maybe his face was bloody. Maybe he was pulled down deep into the full, wet chaos of the river channel—that’s what the St. Paul police officer I talked with said.

That’s it. Life. Then death.

I was not thinking about life and death when I set out to make photos on a warm Thursday evening.

I’ve not stopped thinking about life and death since.

I am reminded that a family is involved—others who loved this guy. Friends will be broken when they find him missing. What problems he jumped from…well who can say any more than that?

How little we know about what is going on deep in each others’ soul.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

July 25, 2014 at 7:39 am

Loose Lips Link Scripts

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Open(ish) access for tight-lipped companies

Technical people can learn something from advertising people.

My creative director friend presented advertising concepts by first showing how his agency team came up with the idea. His presentations took a bit more time, but along the way he restated the problem, showed visuals of how competitors attempted to solve the problem and then revealed stumps of ideas that never really worked. Then he got to the solutions he hoped the client would pay for.

My friend’s process placed his solution in a context that helped those around the conference table understand why the solution made sense. As he spun out his process, he verbally brought these people with him so they were nodding “Yes” long before they signed off on the solution.

The boardwalk protects fragile land while providing access.

The boardwalk protects fragile land while providing access.

Many of my clients guard their proprietary information with fierce protections. And rightly so: their processes keep things running and bring in the coin that satisfies employees, stakeholders and shareholders. But in a search and share economy where like-minded people find each other more and more often, is a firewall surrounding all information really the best way forward?

The right information presented at the right time (that is, just when someone needs it, which typically coincides with a search for that information) affects buying decisions and brand loyalty. Interestingly, your technical people are right now busy working through the context that, if properly presented, would draw others to your product.

People are searching for your information.

If only they could find you.

My more innovative clients are finding ways to help their problem-definers and solution-makers talk more publicly. And as these discussions move outside the corporate walls, they best ones are finding ways to combat the PR department temptation to suck meaning from the words. Because sharing useful information happens person-to-person. And useful information will always have something of an unfiltered quality to it.

How is your organization preparing to share details with those who can help you move forward?



Image credit: Kirk Livingston


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