What another night of heartburn reminded me about leadership

5 lessons learned the hard way

We all have our “things.”

For some, it’s the tweaky back that decides to spasm after a load of wet, heavy snow gathers on the driveway.

For others, it’s the bum shoulder that aches and begs for a handful of Aleve after indulging your son in a marathon football toss in the backyard.

Bad knees, anyone?

For me – it’s heartburn.

Over the last 10 years, I have spent countless nights suffering through the acidic waves of torture that characterize a bout of heartburn.

Tomato sauce (…gravy, for those in that camp), red wine, onionUntitled design-13s, garlic, citrus fruit, chocolate, mint and mixtures of all the above. A partial list of the culinary delights that are sure to ruin my night.

And yet, even armed with a decade of clear evidence, it happened to me again just two weeks ago. Chocolate ice cream before bed.

Dang it.

As I sat down at my kitchen table for a few hours that night, I actually started to piece together a connection between what I’d done to myself with that stupid ice cream and certain behaviors of my leadership over the years.

(I’m a weirdo – I know.)

So here they are, my 5 Leadership Reminders from yet another night of misery caused by heartburn:

  1. It won’t be different this time: I am keenly aware of what food/beverages cause my gastric distress and yet for some reason I can convince myself that it will be different this time. I have done this as a leader, too. A couple of hiring decisions where I ignored clear warning signs come to mind. As a rule – it will NOT be different this time. Lean on what you know.
  2. The best medicine is preventative medicine: Once my heartburn kicks in there is very little I can do, or enough TUMS I can gobble down, to alleviate my symptoms. The only way to fix it is to avoid it in the first place. As a leader, setting clear expectations from Day 1 is a sure way to avoid hard-to-fix problems later. Not doing so = hard problems to fix later. I have done both.
  3. Delayed gratification: This particular ice cream episode was a classic case of wanting the instant gratification of a tasty snack versus the tougher choice of abstaining that would’ve paid off with a good night’s sleep. As a manager, I’ve avoided my share of tough conversations up front for a moment of comfort only to be paid back with weeks (…months) of trouble later. Work now and win later.
  4. Lulled to sleep: When I went to bed I felt fine, proud even, that I had beaten the system with my ice cream…only to wake up 3 hours later in misery. As a leader, more than once I have assumed that no news is good news only to find out later that issues were brewing. Be diligent in asking questions and creating an open culture where folks feel like they can speak their mind.
  5. They’re watching: She didn’t this time, but my wife often replies to my day-after complaints and pleas for sympathy with – “I knew that [insert item here] was going to bother you, I’m surprised you ate it.” As leaders, we often make the mistake of thinking that others don’t see or feel some of the challenges we face on a sales team. They do. In fact, we’re often the last to know. Act early and directly.

So there you are – just some thoughts from a regular guy with a bum LES fascinated with what the world can teach us about leadership.

The lessons are everywhere if you look.

Until next time,


PS: If you see me out and about, please feel free to slap the ice cream out of my hand 🙂







Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *