How your spouse can be your greatest career coach.

There are many amazing people who have had a significant impact on my career. There have been CEOs I admire. Entrepreneurs that inspired me. Creative Directors who have guided me. And successful marketers of all sorts that have provided me with important lessons and insights.

My Wife

But there is one person who has had the greatest positive influence on my career, by far. My wife, Dawn Albrecht. Dawn and I have a special relationship. I fell in love with her at first sight. Then, just seconds later I realized that she was actually my new coworker. It was a little like the moment Kelly McGillis walked into Tom Cruise’s classroom in Top Gun. #SoYoureTheOne

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My wife Dawn serves up career magic.

The Downside

Initially the fact that we worked together was a negative. It made it awfully hard to ask her out. Because a failed office romance provides a constant reminder of your failed office romance until one of you quits or gets fired.

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The last picture of us before we became BF &GF.

The Upside

But once we became an actual couple, not just a couple in my imagination system, the fact that we worked together became a major advantage. Dawn fully understood my job, my industry and my career path. She understood the workplace dynamics I faced. She saw my untapped potential. And she knew just how to push me forward.

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Dawn always coordinates her shirt with seasonal gourds. #nextlevel  

You know I thought I had it so good.

When we first met I was just 4 years into my career. I thought I had a great title. And I was very proud of my salary. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Dawn, on the other hand, had spent 7 years working for great companies in New York City and Chicago, including the Lifetime Channel (television for women), Times Mirror Publications, Discovery Networks and Cars.com.

Simply put, Dawn knew more than me. She recognized my growth potential and she pushed me to realize it.

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Our wedding day. (You knew it was either that or Halloween, right?)

Here We Go

Over the course of the next 10 years Dawn went from my coworker, to my wife and best friend, to the mother of my 3 children. But she also became my career coach. And my personal motivator. She made me think about whether I was stretching and growing. She made me think about my professional skills and abilities. She taught me about the true value I brought to my clients and employers. And she called me out when she thought I had grown too comfortable. And she was always right.

An Endorsement For Coaching

Dawn taught me the value of having a strong career coach. And over the first 10 years of our relationship my title grew from Senior Writer at Cramer Krasselt to Chief Creative Officer at Engauge, an agency with 4 office locations and 275 people in Atlanta, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Orlando.

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The Agency Takes Off

13 years after Dawn and I met, Halyard Capital, the private investment firm that owned Engauge, decided the agency was on the right trajectory to sell. I was part of the 4-person leadership team that represented Engauge as we met with 15 potential buyers. In August of 2013 the agency was bought by Publicis, the world renowned ad agency holding company in Paris. And I was ready for my next chapter.

Entrepreneurship

I always wanted to start my own business. And just 2 years later I began plans to launch my own advertising agency. Despite the fact that I would be trading in a nice salary, and comfortable benefits, Dawn was 100% behind the plan. She never questioned or doubted that an agency I created would be successful. Her total confidence in me added to my healthy confidence in myself.

The Weaponry

I launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, when I was 42 years old. Today, I am frequently asked what the scariest moment of my entrepreneurial experience has been. But I really haven’t been scared at all. I credit much of that to Dawn. Because she has had full confidence that this would work out exactly as planned. And if Mama’s not worried, nobody’s worried.

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Our tribe at The Weaponry.

Birthday Girl!

Today is Dawn’s birthday (at least it is if you are reading this on October 29th). I will take the day off, just like I do every year. We will spend the day together. And I’ll reflect on how I wouldn’t have made it this far down my path this fast if it wasn’t for her. She has encouraged me, inspired me and challenged me. She has put her complete faith in me (and maybe my life insurance policy).

She has fully supported the decision to walk away from a comfortable life in search of an adventurous and even more rewarding experience. Dawn is like the Jelly of The Month Club. Because she’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year. In friendship. In family. And yes, even in business.

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Key Takeaway

If you want to be do great things, find someone great to go with you. Someone who believes in you. Someone fun and funny. Someone who won’t let you get comfortable. Someone who challenges you to grow and become all that you were supposed to be. If you find someone like that never let them go. Never take them for granted. And if you can take their birthday off every year and spend it with them, do it. You’ll never regret it.

If you liked this I also wrote about the first time ever I saw Dawn’s face in the post It was an ordinary day until I got on that elevator.

How to lean in to team building at work and at home.

I come from a large family. Actually, I come from two large families. My Dad is one of twelve children. My Mom is one of nine. Both sides of my family have made family a priority. Not only have they committed to a lot of procreating, they have committed to a lot of recreating too. Both The Albrechts and The Spraus have made pilgrimages to the Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park, Colorado, which has been rated as the #1 location in America for family reunions. Although how one mountain in Colorado is known as Snow Mountain confounds me. Don’t all of Colorado’s mountains have snow?

Bonding and Building

Family bonding and team building are the focus (or is that foci) of our reunions. We stay in large family cabins that house 40 to 80 people each. We play together, eat together, and enjoy general togetherness together.

On one of the days at each reunion we participate in organized team building exercises. The ranch offers a wide variety of activities that require you to learn how to work with a partner, or an entire team, in order complete a challenge.

One of two 40-person cabins we occupied at the Not-So-Snowy Mountain Ranch

The Cable Walk

One of my favorite challenges is the partner cable walk. In this challenge two partners stand on separate cables suspended 18 inches off the ground. Facing each other, the partners have to move as far along the cable as possible without falling off. The kicker is that the cables are arranged in a V-shape, so they spread farther and farther apart as you walk.

Taking Notes

When we took on this challenge several years ago with my Mom’s family, I sat back and observed the other pairs as they navigated the cables. I studied what worked and what didn’t. The best performance (farthest distance traveled) was from my brother-in-law Uriah, and my cousin Jacci’s husband, Mike. If you laid Uriah and Mike end-to-end (which to my knowledge we have never done) they would be close to 13 feet long. All things being equal, height was a major advantage.

But wait…

But all things were not equal. I quickly spotted what I thought people were doing wrong. All of the pairs who went before me held hands and started inching down the cables. While holding on to each other seemed like a good strategy, I could tell it was not the best strategy. And eventually it became a limiting strategy.

Our Attempt

Finally, using the insights from our observations, my wife Dawn and I took our turn. Unlike everyone else, we didn’t hold on to each other. Instead, we leaned against each other. As we started, we looked as if we were doing standing push ups against each other. Or maybe we looked like we got caught playing Patty Cake with crazy glue on our palms.

As we made our way along the v-shaped cables we became a human hinge, with our hands forming the connection point. As the cables formed a large and expanding V-shape, Dawn and I also formed a V-shape that allowed us to match the angle of the cables. This made all the difference. In fact, our lean-on-me technique enabled Dawn and I to travel twice as far as any other pair. Or pear. Or Pierre.

Dawn and I basking in our glory, while being shot by a very short photographer.

The Difference

It is easy to think we are teaming with others when we are in the same office, or on the same court or field. But proximity and contact are not enough. You have to reorient yourself to rely on your partners or teammates to do their jobs. You have to sacrifice your individual posture in order to create an even stronger team, machine, company or partnership.

Applying This At Work

As we grow the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I know we need to continue building and operating as an interdependent team. In order to thrive we need to create a scalable organization that gets larger and broader and deeper to accommodate the increase in demand. Which means that each of our members must do what is best for the entire team. And each of us must be able to trust our teammates to do their jobs, without handholding. It is the only way to achieve our ambitious goals.

Key Takeaway

In order for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts, we can’t simply hold on to each other. We must lean on each other. We must trust that our teammates will lean back on us. By creating this dynamic, we create a structure of support that can produce much greater results than we could ever create on our own. This is true at work, in athletics and in families. It is certainly true within our marriages. 18 years ago today Dawn and I had our very first date. Ever since then, we have been leaning on each other, and accomplishing more together than we ever could have on our own. Just like we did on the partner cable walk at the family reunion in Colorado.  

 

Don’t lose sight of the WOW!

Do you remember the first time you ever flew in an airplane? It was crazy exciting, right? Remember how the plane began down the runway, slowly at first, then gaining speed until the plane’s nose levitated. Then the rear wheels left contact with the runway and things got quiet, and smooth, and it all blew your mind?

I remember that. Then I started flying so much for work that I would read, work, talk to my seatmate or rearrange my sock drawer during takeoff. I had become immune to the magic.

Then one day about 15 years ago I recognized just how crazy it was that I could yawn through an airplane takeoff. That day I decided to become a born again flying virgin. Every time I have launched to the sky since then, even as a Delta Gold or Platinum Medallion flier, I have stopped what I am doing at takeoff, and experienced the thrust, lift and other-worldliness of the experience as if it were the first time.

Holy David Copperfield!

Today I remind you that the entire world is mind-blowingly magical. Unbelievable things are happening all around you. Look outside. The sunrise, sunset, skies and storms are all sorts are phenomenal.

Watching your garden transform from dirt to sprouts to vegetables and fruit is awe-inspiring. The way the foliage transforms each fall from green to red or yellow or orange is no less miraculous than the caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

That mobile phone that is surely within arms reach of you right now provides access to every bit of information and entertainment ever known And yet it doesn’t have a cord, or pipe or conveyor belt to connect it to anything!  Somehow it all flows through the ether. WTF?

 

Do you realize that the automobile you drive is like a magic carpet that will take you anywhere on the continent that you want to go?!? Imagine time traveling back to any period in time before 150 years ago and seeing the look on people’s faces as you drove by in your car! Even if you drive a Yugo.

Those clothes you are wearing were somehow transformed from plants or animals or chemicals or all of the above into something soft and attractive and shaped just like you! Seriously!?!

Humans

Don’t even get me started on humans. Humans are the most amazing, beautiful and complicated of all machines. And somehow we all stack into a set of our relatives like Russian Nesting Dolls. Which means you were somehow inside both of your parents, and their parents and their parents, and on an on until the beginning of humans! Even if you are not Russian! Nyet. I can’t fathom that.

 

All businesses, teams, organizations, nations are created by humans. Somehow we have figured out how to collect, organize and activate groups of humans to do amazing things together.  From dancing to designing and operating the International Space Station, we have found millions of ways to work together to create things that are totally unnecessary to providing food, shelter and clothing. How cool are we!?!

Dawn

Today is my lovely wife Dawn’s birthday. I have been awed by her since I first saw her. I will never forget that moment. Today we have a wonderful life full of amazing everyday adventures. We have three little miracles named Ava, Johann and Magnus. And I am thankful everyday for the indescribable joy that fills our lives. And it’s all because, on this planet of billions, Dawn’s life-path crossed mine 17 years ago. Thank God.

 

 

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This is what Dawn looks like at dusk in Paris.

So as you go about your day, don’t miss the Wow. It is literally everywhere. Our entire world is full of magic. It is easy to overlook. Because there is just so much of it. Even right next to you, today, at home.

3 rules of marriage I should have told Brad and Angelina.

If you want to do something great, like create the perfect agency, it’s helpful to have a great partner on your side. Like my wife, Dawn. It doesn’t even matter which side of you they are on (just choose one and go with it). But finding a compatible partner for your life-business is really hard.

I reflected on this as I heard about the shocking break up of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Ok, so I wasn’t really shocked. While I am certainly not a pessimist, I am pretty good at spotting trends. And I know that if you are a famous person and you marry another famous person, you’re not likely to end up in the Marriage Hall of Fame.

Despite the fact that we once shopped at Famous Footwear, my wife and I are not famous. And while studying for our marriage (yes, we really studied) we learned some important facts. One was that 50% of marriages die before the people in them do.

Like most couples, Dawn and I celebrate the victories in our marriage. Like anniversaries. Next week we will have been married 14 years. And we celebrate the anniversary of our first kiss. Mostly because it was the day I stopped hopping like a frog.

But there is another thing we do in our marriage that most couples don’t do. We view other couples’ divorces as our wins. I realize this sounds bad. But if 50% of marriages fail, this is a game of survival. And while we are always saddened to hear of a friend, coworker or family member that got voted off Marriage Island, we’re thankful to still be playing the game.  When we hear of a couple splitting up, Dawn and I always high-five (seriously).  It’s as if we just scored a point in the Marriage Sand Volleyball league.  We knew someone was going to lose that point. And it wasn’t us.

There are lots of ways to help ensure your marriage is successful.  But if I was in charge of the Department of Homeland Matrimony, I would create 3 laws to improve the marriage success rate.

  1. No famous people marrying other famous people.
  2. No getting married before you are 30. We change too much during our 20’s and make too many dumb choices.
  3. Everyone must listen to the audio book, Marathon Marriage by David Moore. Dawn and I got this 4 CD series as an engagement gift from my Auntie, Jan Faust. It made us think about and discuss important issue before we signed the contract. It tried to scare us out of running the marathon. And it forced us to think about building a strong marriage that will last. And not just throwing a great party.

Brad and Angelina, if you are reading this, I’m sorry things didn’t work out. I’m sorry you and the six kids have to go through this tough time. I’m sorry it is being talked about in all of the media. But I’m thankful it is you, and not me.