The quality of your leadership is defined more by what happens in your absence than in your presence.

Stories on the Power of Optimism 

For most of us, it’s possible to identify individuals who have significantly impacted our lives. These are people who have the ability to rise above their circumstances and not “let the turkeys get them down”, as my father used to say. Along the same lines, we also know people who always seem to see the worst in every situation, the “half-empty” crowd. My wife and I were in Disney World several years ago and saw a T-shirt that says it all for the “half-empty” people in our lives, "I’m Grumpy Because You’re Dopey."

I would like to identify three individuals who could proudly wear a “Be the Beans” T-shirt. It's easy to talk about being a positive influence on the world and what it should look like, but the real challenge is to do it. What makes the three following individuals so unique is that in a real sense they are different because they have chosen to be different. Like the negative person who can choose to be happy, the optimist can choose to be a pessimist. 

As you read about the three following individuals, consider two items. First, who are the individuals in your life who have had the greatest impact on you and maintained that uncommon sense of optimism, regardless of their circumstances? 

Secondly, as you think about your life, would those around you describe you as someone who has impacted their life in a positive way? If the answer is “yes”, consider what you are doing correctly, and keep on keeping on! If you struggle to answer this second question, what are some specific steps you can take to be more intentional in impacting those around you? If all else fails, ask those around you what you can do to improve. 

Joe Fowler, President of Stress Engineering Services, Inc.

I first met Joe in March 1993 during my interview with Stress Engineering Services, Inc. (my current employer) in Houston, Texas. Over the past 20 years I have witnessed this engineering consulting company grow from roughly 40 people to more than 400 people, serving almost 1,000 clients around the world. Stress Engineering is a wonderful company with one of the greatest positive cultures in the world, built on technical excellence combined with a spirit of service and cooperation. 

The very heartbeat of this culture is company president and co-founder, Joe Fowler. For more than 40 years, Joe has been the driving force in the growth of Stress Engineering. He literally lights up a room when he walks in and is recognized around the world for his gracious spirit, generosity, and commitment to helping people achieve their dreams. 

It has been my observation that great companies have great leaders who inspire their employees to achieve great things. For the past four decades, Joe has been doing this by inspiring others to make the most of opportunities. 

One of the most profound observations I have made about Joe is his ability to see the best in others, regardless of the circumstances or what they might have done. The same could be true in his ability to observe the best in “less than ideal” situations. A lot of people struggle with this particular issue in terms of seeing the best in others and situations. Ultimately, it limits their success and ability to impact others. 

Some people are great leaders, while others go the next step in developing great leaders. From my perspective, leaders who develop leaders are those individuals who leave a lasting mark on the world around them. I once heard it said that the quality of your leadership is defined more by what happens in your absence than in your presence. Joe Fowler is the embodiment of this principle, as reflected in his being a leader of leaders. 

Fred Wilson, President of Armor Plate, Inc.

I met Fred Wilson in January of 1998. Over the past 15 years I have had the unique privilege of serving Fred as a consultant and also traveling with him around the world (I recently coined these excursions Field Trips with Fred). The bottom line is that Fred Wilson is just plain funny, always keeps you laughing, and has an undying sense of optimism. 

While in China in 2005, I witnessed on multiple occasions Fred making an entire room of Chinese engineers laugh, even though Fred spoke no Chinese and most of the people in the room did not speak English (now that’s just plain incredible!). He has a story for every occasion and probably has 100 or more witty quotes he can throw into any conversation on the fly. 

Two of my favorite quotes from Fred’s are: It all depends on whose ox is getting gored and Opportunity never looks nearly as big as it does in the rearview mirror. Fred runs a small business that employs 25-30 people. What many Americans do not understand is that to run a business, especially in today’s anti-business climate that imposes high taxes and excessive regulations, is patently tough. 

Business owners like Fred are under a lot of pressure and responsibility to serve not only their employees, but the families of their employees. Owners like Fred will pay their employees before they pay themselves. Yet through all of these challenges, Fred always has an upbeat spirit. 

Fred has impacted me in so many ways, but there are two specific ways that come to mind. The first is his positive outlook on life (the obvious reason he is mentioned in this section of the book). He has the ability to see the best in situations and maintain a positive outlook towards the future, regardless of the circumstances

The second way Fred has impacted me is by instilling in me a love for business and being an entrepreneur. The ‘Be the beans’ barometer “maxes out” when others seek what we do because of the positive impact that we have on their lives. Fred has this quality in spades. If you have others around you, especially those you lead, who want to emulate what you do, you are having a meaningful impact on the world around you. 

Tanya Alexander, My Wife

I wonder how many husbands would put their wives down as a Be the Beans kind of person? Marriage has a way of being the true crucible for bringing out the best and the worst in all of us. My wife, Tanya, has for the past 20 years not only put up with me, but also demonstrated to me how much fun one can have in leading others. 

When we first met, I described Tanya as a beautiful, bubbly, blonde cheerleader. However, as I fell in love with her I realized there was something very unique about her; primarily, her ability to always see the best in others and the best in the situations of life. 

While Tanya and I were dating, my parents fell in love with her (confirmation for me that I needed to marry her!). She and I started dating my junior year in college. Because in college I lived in the same town where I grew up, my parents had hundreds of opportunities to spend time with Tanya before we were even engaged. 

There are at least two stories that remind me of how my parents loved Tanya. Like all good parents, they wanted the best for me. I decided to ask Tanya to marry me during the fall of my senior year. I remember discussing this with my parents as I planned to go to graduate school the following year. This meant that Tanya and I would be married while we were both in school (my being in graduate school while Tanya completed her Bachelor’s degree). 

There were the usual discussions with my parents about money and responsibility, but the comment I remember most came from my father. “Bubba (yes, I’m from Texas, and that’s my nickname at home), you better hope Tanya says ‘yes’, because if she says ‘no’ you better look for another family. We’re going to keep her!” I have no doubt that he was serious in making this statement. Fortunately for me, she said “yes”. 

The second story came the next January before I proposed to Tanya. She went snow skiing with my family during the Christmas break. My father and I were riding up one of the chair lifts at Keystone in Colorado. I will never forget one of the conversations that we had. 

He looked over at me and said, “Bubba, don’t you ruin her; don’t you make her like you.” We both laughed, but I knew exactly what he meant. Although I am happy most of the time, like a lot of folks, I can be a grump when things don’t go my way. Tanya is not this way and frankly, it’s difficult for me to understand. She is the most even-keeled person I have ever known. She does not let things get her down, but always seems to find joy, even in the midst of the storms of life.

I have done my best to heed my father’s advice, although I know my influence on Tanya has at times been less than stellar. In all honesty, for the past 20 years I have tried to be less like me and more like Tanya in terms of how I view the world and how I treat those around me. I am not sure there is a better compliment one could make about another person, especially someone to whom they are married!