Archives for category: Leadership

I loved Dominick Quartuccio’s other book, Design your Future which I reviewed here. When I was sent the second edition of On Purpose Leadership I had high hopes, and in general those hopes were met – sort of.

The problem, and I’m prepared to be wrong here, is that while Design Your Future felt like a new and fresh bundle of ideas, On Purpose Leadership feels like a second bite of the same apple. That it was written before Design Your Future is an irony not lost on me.  The idea of bringing focus into your leadership world is not by any means unwelcome. As is being those lessons to your team. The issue is that it is not a different enough book for the reader to feel that they actually have read a different book.

The tools in On Purpose Leadership are great in themselves. The “drifting” and dissatisfaction of leaders, even those who have achieved significant success, is a well understood phenomenon. Most of us call this burnout. Anything that helps those in management circles is very welcome. Identifying the problems with burnout or drift is helpful as are identifying the solutions. The idea of putting oneself first, that others want to be led, and creating an environment for success are all excellent principles for addressing the problem.

This is a short and small book, with some interesting case studies, but for me the greater insights are to be gleaned from Mr. Quartuccio’s other book or reading both books in tandem.

The TV show on Apple TV + “Five Days at Memorial” based on the book of the same name (which in turn is based on a Pulitzer Prize winning article) is about three quarters through as I finished the book and I write this. Therefore, my criticism and praise of the show should be seen in this context. I’ll try to keep this review free of major spoilers for the TV show, but it is difficult to discuss the issues of this true story without covering some of the events involved.

“Five Days at Memorial” tells the story of what happened to the doctors and patients at Memorial Hospital during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans when they lost power, were flooded, were abandoned by authorities, and evacuation was difficult to impossible. It is a challenging story that involves issues of disaster preparedness, corporate ownership of hospitals, death, euthanasia, quality of life, triage, race relations, rationing of care, and the potential criminal culpability of doctors for decisions made during emergency situations.

The TV show seems to be told from a particular point of view which in a story like this means taking a particular side. It paints a bleak picture of hospital ownership, which according to the book, are certainly due for criticism; however, the lack of care and forethought shown is disingenuous. It does set a similar tone, but like many “docudramas” it combines characters, invents new ones, and seems to invent situations to fit story arcs and running times. The acrimonious relationship between the staff at Memorial and the staff of the Life Care Hospice hospital, that inhabited the same building, seems to be a fiction made for TV.  It also wholesale moves one situation from a different hospital, Memorial was not the only hospital with major issues during Katrina, to Memorial for dramatic effect.

While I’m painting a picture of the show as being an unreliable narrator that is not to say that it is not entertaining and emotionally engaging. It also shows the importance of disaster preparedness and the dedication of medical professionals. Being in the veterinary profession, the plight of pets and the role they play in the movement of people during emergencies, is of particular interest. While the book does an excellent job of recognizing the issues that looking after pets in an emergency raise, the TV show pays only lip service to this, except for one brutally accurate scene in episode six.

As of episode six, the show is of limited use as a teaching tool about disaster response and medical ethics although it is a show worth watching. It does do an excellent job of showing how rumors start and get out of control but provides no solution for controlling them – unlike the book which forays into comparing how other hospitals, during Katrina, dealt with the same issues as Memorial differently or made the same mistakes.

As a teaching tool for disaster response issues, the book is remarkable. It acts as the crucible for ideas that was never able to be had in public and really needed to be. These are issues that affect us to this day. The book, written in 2013, makes this clear with hindsight as it discusses the withdrawal of ventilators from patients during a potential Influenza pandemic. While Katrina changed many things about disaster response and emergency preparedness, this book shows how much still has to change nine years after its publication and 17 years after Hurricane Katrina.

The book swings wildly between differing points of view on the more contentious issues which buffets the reader much as the characters in the book must have felt. The research is impeccable and paints an impressively detailed picture of both Memorial during Katrina and  that of public opinion, law enforcement, politicians, and the medical community in the aftermath.

It also explores in depth not only moral quandaries faced by doctors and emergency personnel, but also the ethical and legal issues that also arise. It does an extraordinary job of showing how people in decision making positions get trapped by a lack of situational awareness and become prisoners of decisions made with different information at different times.

What Five Days at Memorial shows, both in written form and to a lesser extent its TV cousin, is that heroes can be flawed and that villains can do good. What really needs to be our focus is values. Do emergencies change our values or do our values inform how we respond to emergencies? We need to discuss that, particularly considering COVID 19, and if the TV show helps that happen then it will have done a great service to our society.

However, it will be the book that informs that discussion and that we should use as a foundation. This is what great books do. They focus our minds and give us evidence to think. There are no easy answers in Five days at Memorial and a lot of questions. But what Ms. Fink (more accurately addressed as Dr. Fink since she herself is an M.D.) has done is set us a table for us to dine over and have those discussions. These issues will not go away, and as the book makes clear in the epilogue, we are doomed to make the same mistakes, with the same justifications, or go down potentially dangerous roads, if we do not have frank discussions about how we as a society actually feel about ethical and moral quandaries that often arise in the most trying and difficult of times.

I have a pitch for the reissue or follow up to “The Revenge of Analog” for Mr. Sax. He should call it “The Revenge of the Revenge of Analog.” If two years of a global pandemic have taught us nothing us, and I believe it has taught us a great deal, it is that the primary thesis of Mr. Sax’s excellent 2016 book is even more right than I think even he believed possible.

Real things matter.

Digital has transformed our world and for most people this is a good thing. Digital makes life easier and more productive. It allows easy access to information like never before and it allows for an ease of communication that is straight out of science fiction. The author’s point is not that digital is necessarily a bad thing, but that to live in a solely digital only world is a cold and sterile existence that can be lacking in creativity and positive unintended, consequences.

Using examples such as books, vinyl records, music production, movies, education, paper notebooks, the design process, and games, “The Revenge of Analog” makes the case that with digital it is all to easy to fit ideas to fit processes and so by extension limit those ideas.  There is also a drive, often by those who are older and want to be seen as innovative and “with it,” to focus on the technology and then try to apply it to problems rather than start with the problem and see what solutions might work- technological or otherwise. Indeed, one of the more intriguing facts in the book is that it is often those who have grown up with digital that are the ones that see the most value in analog records, books, and notebooks for example. There is value in inconveniences if the experience is more authentic.

 The wider point is that technology and digital media are just tools. Badly implemented tools, or tools that are adopted without first understanding the problem, are destined to fail. However, what is less well understood is that when tools are easy to use and do solve multiple issues, they can also reduce the value of an experience in the mind of the participant. To embrace analog items in our digital world is not a repudiation of that world – it is an acknowledgment of its shortcomings and a possible solution to them. Digital processes in the creative world can lead to homogeneity – there is nothing more creatively open than a blank piece of paper.

One of the realizations from the pandemic that almost everyone can agree on, was that meetings over zoom, for example, are not a good replacement for meetings in person. That while some people liked working from home, others found it isolating and lacking in comradery. The pandemic almost universally proved that remote education is fraught with difficulties for both students and teachers. A class being together with a teacher has value that far exceeds the delivery of knowledge.

If there was any doubt after reading Mr. Sax’s excellent book, the pandemic removed it all.

So Mr. Sax, The Revenge of the Revenge of Analog?

Just after finishing the first draft of this review, I saw that David Sax has a new book coming out – “The Future is Analog.” So much for “The Revenge of the Revenge of Analog.”

Ever have books that hang around in your book pile for way longer than would seem rational?

The book’s premise was obviously interesting enough to find its way into the pile in the first place, but repeatably fails to be interesting enough to make it the next step and actually be read. I don’t know how long Measure What Matters has been in my possession, but it has been a while.

Of course, as is often the case when finally getting around to reading a long overdue book, one thinks the book is great. I suspect my reticence is to do with the books subject matter: goal setting. I have a complicated relationship with goal setting, or more precisely with goal setting as it is usually described to people in the business world. I’ve often found that systems of formulaic goal setting overly burdensome and lacking in coherent structure. However, how can one not be intrigued by a book that describes Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as soulless numbers!

Measure What Matters touts a system of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) which are used in multiple different formats by companies such as Google, The Gates Foundation, and Bono’s One Charity. What soon becomes clear, however, is that what Mr. Doer is proposing is a culture shift in how companies measure performance and direction. It also has the acceptance that with OKRs there will be failure. In fact, if there is not failure, team members are probably not setting ambitious enough goals. What also resonates is the duality of goals for leaders of teams, but with the teams themselves setting their own goals on how the team can get there. A mix of top down and bottom-up objectives.

The culture shift in Measure What Matters is pervasive, extending into employee reviews and relationships between teams, supervisors, and leaders. The book is also honest about implementation and change management – steps often overlooked in this kind of book. Filled with examples for what works and does not, Measure What Matters is almost a spiritual partner to that most revered of business books (well by me anyway) Traction by Gino Wickman. (I have never reviewed Traction for my site due to being just too intimidated by it.)

A great example of “honest” OKRs rather than the “soulless” KPIs is the example given of an objective of reducing office cleaning costs by 25%. At its most basic, the simple measure of whether the costs went down by 25% could mean that the goal was achieved. However, Mr. Doerr not only suggests ways of measuring the quality of cleaning, but also suggests that to be a true OKR the person responsible for this OKR should have their office in the area being cleaned – thereby being directly affected by the key results of the objective.

This is not a book of cold and soulless analytics. This is a book that reminds us that there is more to business objectives than math. That the way to achieve greatness is to have greatness as the objective. To be motivated by failure as much as by possibility.

For once, I am excited about a book about goal setting and goal setting in general. Having a road map helps, but understanding that emotion and intuition also have their place helps more. Measure what matters is a bible text for the modern manager.

cover "Happy at any cost"

“The Revolutionary Vision and Fatal Quest of Zappos CEO Tony Hsiesh,” is the subtitle.

This book, however, is a tragedy.

Happy at Any Cost is the story of on undoubted visionary leader; their quest for not just their own happiness, but also for the happiness of others. This in turn leads to a lot of good, a lot of success, but ultimately exploitation, substance abuse, and the death of a beloved figure in the world of business and Las Vegas.

Unlike Aimee Groth’s 2017 book “The Kingdom of Happiness” which I reviewed here, and is an inside look at the Las Vegas “Downtown Project” and by extension Zappos, this is the telling of the story of Tony’s last two years as he struggled with mental illness and substance abuse issues put in the wider context of the rest of his life. This is also a cautionary tale for entrepreneurs and for those who can be swept up in vision without dealing with, or caring to deal with, the nuts-and-bolts details that make visions work.

Employing an interesting dual timeline structure, Ms. Grind and Ms. Sayre present an exhaustively researched, and deeply unnerving, tale of Tony Hsieh’s rise and fall. His rise as a tech entrepreneur at Link Exchange, then becoming CEO of what turned into Zappos, his evangelism for company culture with his book Delivering Happiness, and becoming a leading Las Vegas civic figure with the Downtown Project. His fall with the problems with the Downtown Project, issues with Zappos’s adoption of a new company structure called Holocracy, his move to Park City, Utah, his “retirement” from Zappos, and his struggles with alcohol, drugs, and mental illness. It also tells the story of Tony’s last days up to and including his death after a house fire in Connecticut.

Happy at Any Cost very much frames Tony’s life story as a coping mechanism for mental health issues and has the worthy goal of pointing out that if there was not the social stigma long associated with mental health issues perhaps it would have been easier for those around him to help. It is interesting to note, that a reading of Tony’s book Delivering Happiness, particularly in retrospect, leaves the reader with the feeling that the focus on fun and party atmosphere that permeates the book could easily be a coping mechanism for other issues. Where it perhaps most accurately hits the mark is in its exploration that having happiness as a goal in itself as ultimately self-defeating and that happiness should be a by-product of whatever drives you.

I find Tony a fascinating figure to discuss. Someone with gargantuan visions which he often left others to implement. Sometimes that worked and other times it failed. By definition, someone’s legacy is based on what marks they leave behind. Tony was someone who talked about culture and put culture at the front of their business model when nobody, literally nobody, was talking about company culture. For all its flaws, Tony helped rejuvenate Downtown Las Vegas and make it a vibrant hub of new business. However, Tony unbelievably left no will making the unraveling of his estate a legal nightmare for his family and associates. Given his investments in Las Vegas real estate, and businesses, this is likely to be a story with many subsequent chapters and potential consequences.

“A failure of leadership due to a lack of management” was my conclusion to the story told in “The Kingdom of Happiness.” It is hard not to look at “Happy at Any Cost” and come to the same conclusion.

Tony was someone who was in serious trouble near the end of his life. Many of those around him tried to help, some undoubtedly exacerbated the situation, and some just bought into that this was the vision. This book, in some ways, is a celebration of what Tony was able to achieve, which makes the ultimate tragedy even more real and poignant.

It is a haunting tale of what happens someone creates their own world where they no longer hear the world “no.”  

I rarely write book reviews about books I don’t like.

I don’t believe I’ve ever written about a book I despise.

I have never read a more immoral and unethical book than Robert Greene’s “The 48 Laws of Power.” It does not have a luxury of the possible satirical nature of Machiavelli’s “The Prince;” a book that Mr. Greene quotes extensively. It also has no excuse of being from a different age given its original publication date of 1998.

The 48 Laws of Power is a book that argues that we all should lie, cheat, and steal to get what we want and hold on to what we have. It argues that customers and colleagues are marks to be taken advantage of. Friends are to be feared and loyalty is valueless; other than as something to exploit. The book seems to be saying that everyone is out for themselves, and so to do anything other than to be looking out for one’s self makes you a fool.

This outlook, of course, flies in the face of pretty much all current management theory and treats all interactions as a zero-sum game: there must be a winner and a loser in everything. It ignores the work of mathematician John Nash Jr. and the prisoner’s dilemma. In fact, it is interesting that the book does not mention the prisoner’s dilemma and the bias that groups have towards cooperation.

The book is filled with historical examples and examples from myth. However, these examples are cherry picked and contain little historical context and no moral framework. An advisor keeps quiet about their fears of following Napoleon into war, because they ultimately feel they will fail and therefore cause their own downfall – never mind all the people who died at the battle of Waterloo, so long as the advisor keeps their “power.” The book fundamentally misinterprets the failures of the Treaty of Versailles, and by way of repudiation, the success of the Marshall Plan.  It claims Claudius pretended to be a fool to seize power, rather than someone who by happenstance became emperor and, by being highly educated, a highly effective administrator.

This book endorses the worst fears about politicians and managers that are held by those who elect them or follow them. A reading of this book, taking as fact that this is how all those in power do, or should, behave essentially makes the case for revolution and collectivism. If everyone is only out for themselves, and you can’t trust anything anyone says, then what use are leaders? People infected (and I use those words with great care) by the thought processes in this book have no place in the modern workplace.

This book also provides instructions on conning people, in creating a cult (not kidding), and scapegoating the innocent to protect one’s own position. The book endorses narcissistic behavior and manipulation to seduce people and is generally sociopathic.

And it’s a shame.

For this book does contain a lot of good information. Its problems lie in its total lack of a moral framework. The book also has merit for anyone who feels they may be being manipulated, to understand the mindset and tools of the manipulator. But these arguments are a stretch for a book of this length and depth. I think a good barometer for organizations, is upon seeing this book on a bookshelf, to ask those around you what they thought of it. Those that embrace it, rather than act with revulsion at its amorality, should be treated as this book itself would recommend treating them – with distrust and suspicion.

This is not a good book. It puts forward a dangerous point of view because there are people who will, and I’m sure do, use this as a manual to scheme and manipulate those around them – and think that it is okay to do so. This book is almost everything that is wrong with the world today, and everything that is wrong with business – ever.

There way are better explanations of how to view the world and the behaviors of others, and even on how to get ahead in the workplace. It is hard to find one that has such an ugly view of people, society, and history.

Who does not hate networking?

“A Friend of a Friend…” by David Burkus makes the case that we are doing networking all wrong, or not at all, and that there is a better way of thinking about personal networks. With a few caveats, I think there is a lot to learn from Mr. Burkus.

To most people, the purpose of networking is to be able to leverage your network for professional ends. That means reaching out to those people with whom you have “close ties” and seeing what they can do for you or who they can introduce you to. The author suggests, however, that “loose ties,” those that you have fallen out of touch with or never had a terribly close connection with in the first place, are a better way of leveraging your network connections. It is these loose ties that are more likely to bring a diversity of thought to your circle. With some intriguing data, the book put forward the idea that people who have similar thinking, and world view, tend to cluster together. As an example of this clustering of similar thinking patterns, Mr. Burkus uses the example of voting patterns, because voting districts tend to increase in their preference for a particular party over time – even when allowing for jerrymandering!

Trying to increase the diversity of thought to improve your exposure to ideas is not without risks. While most people would agree that they and others are subtly influenced by those around them, what is less well realized is that even the behavior and habits of friends of friends can influence our rates of obesity, smoking and stopping smoking to give just a few examples. Influence is contagious.

While for some it might seem that social media could be an ideal solution to these networking issues, the author urges us to use caution and to treat social media as a potential tool rather than as a panacea. Social Media can exacerbate the very issues highlighted above – a lack of diversity of thought, through the contagious nature of influence.

What has been known in some entrepreneurial circles and at some high-end retreats is that one of the best ways to get to know someone, without all the baggage of status and perceived worth, is to actually complete a task with a stranger – helping to prepare a meal is the most focused on example, but taking a class on almost any subject when collaboration is required works just as well.

In a refreshing change from most personal development and business books is to find the resources that accompany the book freely available from the authors website, with a commitment to keep them there. https://davidburkus.com/resources/

Where the book is lacking is in the assertion that personal friends and connections can also turn into good and productive business connections or partners and vise versa. While this is undoubtedly true, and the book serves up many examples of it working in the real world, it does not explore or even caution of the HR issues and general pitfalls of not having clear boundaries in the workplace for both those involved and those around them. While it is a relatively minor quibble, it does seem to be strange oversight given the book’s otherwise excellent attention to detail and research.

“A Friend of a Friend” is an excellent resource for those who find networking unnatural. It also explains why it looks so easy for some and borderline impossible for others. The success of its promise, and premise, still has a lot to do with personal motivation, but these tools are that are relatable and accessible for all. This book is for the introverted, extroverted, and the closet introverted alike.

One of the many changes wrought by COVID-19 was not the move to working from home and the use of virtual meetings, but the discovery of the shortcomings of these modes of work and the “zoom burnout” which a significant majority of white-collar workers experienced.

Mr. Citrin and Ms. Derosa’s book, Leading at a Distance: Practical Lessons for Virtual Success, is written with these realizations in mind. Written from the perspective of mid-pandemic, the writing was finished in the fall of 2020, it was not aware, however, of how quickly people embraced returning to normal wherever possible. Remote work may be here to stay, as the book suggests, however, the tolerance for it both from employers and employees, is less than may have been expected at the time of the book’s writing.

What is interesting from the research that the authors have conducted is that there have been positive benefits to using virtual tools – particularly when it comes to expensive and complicated travel for meetings which are about getting to know people. What Leading at a Distance stresses is that it is easy to become too focused on the job of work, without allowing time, energy, and opportunity for the personal connections that make work fun and help to build trust. Checking in with teams can create an atmosphere of micromanaging, while managers who worry about micromanaging, can be seen as too distant because it is hard to causally “check-in” over Zoom. Building trust is often about personal relationships and so the authors stress the need to make time for these connections with remote teams and in particular with new remote employees.  

A problem with Leading at a Distance is that it is written with large corporate organizations in mind. This includes its research and its general outlook on company structure. While large corporate organizations are more likely to rely on virtual communication tools as a way for managers to communicate, smaller businesses have had to also embrace these tools and their challenges are often different from that of larger organizations.

What really works in Leading at a Distance, is it focus on results and culture with remote teams rather than whether they are busy at any particular moment. The book suggests that managers need to set goals and be happy that they are being met rather than on the how those goals are being met. What is surprising is the effectiveness of location when meeting with remote employees. There is always the temptation to multitask, or try to, when coaching, or being coached, over zoom while sitting at one’s desk. The authors suggest that having coaching conversations, particularly when it comes to difficult conversations, while on a walk or a calm setting such as a park or beach. This makes sense for anyone who appreciates the benefits of meeting out of the office, but it is rarely adopted virtually.

Having a hybrid team has its own challenges, say the authors. In particular, it is important to ensure that remote workers do not feel isolated or experience unconscious bias due to their remote role. This may require special attention from HR to ensure that there is a level playing field if we are to ensure that remote workers are a success.

Remote working is here to stay in some form. While the pandemic has shown what is possible, it has also shown how the tools are lacking for remote workers and that management will also need additional tools and training to allow remote teams to succeed. Leading at a distance is a good first step in a field that will continue to evolve and grow but is lacking in literature to help it do so.  

Self-Help books, of which Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster, undoubtedly is; seem to fall into the two categories. The overly new age, “everything will be alright as long as you are positive” and the so grounded in psychology and psychiatry that you need a degree in medicine to even begin. Resilience is neither of these; yet bridges both worlds and in such a way as to take value in both approaches.


It is telling the Ms. Graham is a marriage and family therapist. Her ability to speak in plan language but also to explain the scientific underpinnings to what can sound, and I am sure does, sound like hogwash to a lot of people, if it were not for these explanations. This is a book for rational people, willing to embrace change – even of they are a little reluctant. It is worth noting that this book was given to me to read by a colleague who recognized how useful it could be for the workplace – particularly in a profession dogged by mental health issues and suicide; but was unwilling to embrace even the small leap of faith that the book asks.


Resilience is a book of exercises – 133 in all. Some will not be right for you, and undoubtedly, some will. Each chapter deals with a different type of intelligence and general resilience. Each chapter is broken down into different mode of how the brain processes; conditioning, new conditioning, reconditioning, and deconditioning. These modes are then in turn broken down into three levels of need; “barely a wobble,” “glitches and heartaches, sorrows and struggles,” and “too much.”


This is a book to refer to and reference as the reader grows and their needs change. One of the most exciting chapters for managers is on “Practices of Relational Intelligence with Others.” The tools and exercises which are explained in detail, have significant uses in getting third parties to communicate with each other, and for improving with interpersonal communication. I am often someone who talks to others about whatever I am currently reading. Resilience, however, has had me proselytizing to co-workers significantly more than normal.


Its use as a tool to help train our brains, something we often pay scant attention to, cannot be disputed. It is a little long and dense, but as mentioned earlier this is a book to refer back to – not to ingest over a few days like I did. That the book strays into areas more normally associated with meditation and yoga is not says a lot more about the positive nature of those practices, than it does as a criticism of the book. This is a book for cynics, and self-help believers alike.
We all struggle from time to time and as this book’s title suggests, Resilience is about making us better and more adaptable. Being able to adjust and influence our thinking and emotions, rather than allowing them to influence and dominate our lives.


This should be required reading for the veterinary profession, and for anyone who wants to improve how the inside of their head works. I can’t recommend it enough, and it is not hyperbole to suggest that it could save your life.


I am keeping this copy of Resilience; it is on my nightstand.


I will have to buy my colleague another copy.

What allows us to feel like we belong somewhere?

How do we harness belonging to create buy-in for our teams and how do outside influences affect our own sense of belonging in the world? What can damage that sense of belonging? How do we avoid destroying what we seek to create?

In Daniel Coyle’s book , The Culture Code – which I reviewed here, he puts forth the idea that the things that create great culture in groups and teams do so by triggering a sense of belonging. These are things such as uniforms, special phrases or codes, and a shared vision of purpose. By triggering these ‘belonging cues’ we feel safe and part of a collective. We have shared values and a shared identity. This feeling of belonging is even more strongly triggered when there is an outside enemy or outside set of circumstances.

The fear of the outsider being used as a rallying cry for uniting a people has a dark reputation in history, but also has its more positive outcomes as well. The dramatic drop in crime in New York city in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks being an obvious example.

My own personal sense of belonging was also triggered in the shadow of tragedy.

When the 10/1/17 mass shooting happened at the Route 91 Festival in my adoptive hometown of Las Vegas, which killed 58 people (60 at the time of this writing), there was obviously shock and horror from not just people in Las Vegas, but also around the country. People who live in Las Vegas have an odd relationship with its tourist nature, in as much as there is great respect for the people who visit and for the things that draw them to our town, but that does not necessarily mean that we want much do with those people or those parts of the town. However, to attack those things, and those people is very much seen as an attack on the entire city. A city based on welcoming strangers to our town, and hoping that they have a good time during their visit.

The reaction of the city, with people lining up around the block to donate blood, the general feeling of outrage that this could happen, and that someone could abuse our hospitality in such a hideous manner, created a greater sense of ownership of this odd place in the desert where I live than at any other time in previous five years of my residency.

But something else happened at the same time in Las Vegas.

The city got its first professional sports team in the Vegas Golden Knights (VGK).

To the hockey world and the sports pundits, this was less than a joke. A city which had no history of support for major league sports, that has shown little interest in hockey, and where it was 115 degrees in the summer. It seemed like a terrible idea from just about every corner. However, at its darkest hour – or what certainly felt like its darkest hour at the time, the Vegas Golden Knights showed that they wanted to be part of the community, which let’s face it – they were not.

What happened next is the stuff of fairy tales. An unprecedented run for the Stanley Cup, and a city adopting a sport and a team as their own – making Las Vegas one of the best places to experience a hockey game in the country. For the whole story of that first year, I cannot recommend enough the documentary “Valiant” the trailer for which you will find below.

 I should explain at this point explain that I have no time for sports. Apart from the odd summer evening watching baseball, more for the company and enjoying the summer evening in a crowd, than for anything happening on the field, sports was something that other people did.  So, the question becomes, how did I become the owner of three hockey jerseys? What happened that first year of the Vegas Golden Knights, and in successive years, to make mee feel like they were my team, but also to become proud and emotional about my adoptive hometown? How did I come to believe that I belonged as a Vegas Golden Knights fan and that by extension that I felt ownership of a city that is, by definition, a place to be visited?

The Route 91 tragedy was obviously a horrible event for all concerned, but it was also a serious blow to the city and to its self-image. Las Vegas – America’s playground to quote the movie Ocean’s Eleven – a safe place for people to go a little wild. To shatter that image in the eyes of the wider world, also damaged that image in the eyes of the people who live and work here. The Vegas Golden Knights were also a team with an image problem. The players were all cast offs from other teams, and they were expected to be the worst team in the league that year – and possibly for years to come. That alignment of adversity created shared purpose.

And then against all odds the Golden Knights started, and kept, winning. A city which needed something to cheer and be happy about – got it in spades. The Vegas Golden Knights belonged to Las Vegas and Las Vegas belonged to the Vegas Golden Knights.

But there was more than fate at work in this bonding. The Vegas Golden Knights created their own medieval pantomime as a branding exercise; however, they also adopted the symbols and sounds that have come to epitomize Las Vegas. The sounds of coins, the roll of a dice, a mascot named “Chance,” “Viva Las Vegas”, and just the very golden coloring of anything and everything in sight made the Golden Knights feel like Las Vegas, but also to feel that it was okay to embrace the visitor tropes of Las Vegas.

People like to take pride in things, and it was easy to take pride in the Vegas Golden Knights. The fan experience was considered the best in the league, they continued to play well, cleanly, and get involved in the community. It also brought pride to the city because the Golden Knights did not exist for visitors – although all are welcome. They existed for the residents of Las Vegas.

The symbols of Golden Knights became synonymous with the city of Las Vegas, and with #VegasStrong. The uniforms, symbols, the shared experience of adversity, and the games created a whole new culture. A culture that the people of Las Vegas could belong to.

For that first Vegas Golden Knights season in 2017 / 2018 I was not a fan or even really bought into the culture. I was aware of it building all around me; but being aware of how the triggering of belonging cues can feel like manipulation I tried to stay aloof. It was not until the beginning of the 2018 / 2019 season, and going to my first game, that I finally succumbed, and ultimately embraced the sport and the team.

Fast forward to the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The first game of the second round. The Vegas Golden Knights vs. the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado were considered the favorites, of not just the series, but of the entire playoffs. Game one is a disaster for the Golden Knights. A 7-1 loss. Not only do they look out classed on the ice, but they show their frustration by getting into fights and giving up penalties. This culminates in Vegas enforcer Ryan Reeves kneeing on the head of Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves in apparent retaliation for an earlier hit by Graves on Vegas player Janmark. Reeves was tossed from the game and received a two-game suspension. The VGK receive an extraordinary nine-minute penalty, and arguably play their best hocky of the game for the first seven minutes of that penalty, until two Vegas players decide they would rather hit a Colorado player rather than defend, and Colorado scores yet again.

This game caused a great crisis of faith for me. In the game and in the team I had come to love. Vegas is known as a team that plays “heavy, but clean.” Reeves actions, seemed dangerous, petty, and revengeful. In addition, the entire team seemed petulant at the resounding loss. To add to the disappointment, Reeves had been an outspoken advocate for police reform in the light of the George Floyd murder, and yet here he was kneeling on the head of another player. A professional, using excessive force because he could.

Chuck Klosterman in his book “But What If We Are Wrong?,” which I reviewed here, talks about the fall in popularity of boxing, and the potential for the fall of professional football, due to mainstream occasional fans, as opposed to dedicated “my team can do no wrong” kind of fans, being turned off by the serious life threatening injuries than can occur in those sports.

At the end of that game against Colorado, I was ashamed to be a Golden Knights fan. I believed that they had betrayed what they stood for. Other fans had a problem with them losing in such spectacular form – I didn’t. My problem was with them seeming to being petty and vengeful.

Game two of the series, while still a loss for Vegas, began to restore my faith in the team as they acquitted themselves as professionals.

However, just nine games later again my faith would be shaken. Testing my commitment to this sport and to being a fan. This time due to the behavior of the fans themselves.

Round Three, Game four, was not a good game for Vegas. Ultimately a 4-1 loss for the VGK at home. However, seeing your team booed off the ice at the end of the second period and at the end of a power play but their own fans was more than a little disquieting. As was the failure of the two people next to me and the eight people in front of me not returning to their seats for the 3rd period. I did not want to belong to a fan base that only supported a team when they were winning. Near the end of the game, Montreal scored an empty net gold making the score 4-1. There has always been fans who leave near the end of a game when it is obvious that their team is going to lose. This, however, was not a few fans.

This was an exodos.

I estimated 2/3s to 3/4s of the auditorium.         

It was heartbreaking for the players I’m sure. Yes, they did not play well, or it would seem with much heart, but they did not deserve to be treated that way. Vegas has always seemed to have a hospitable fan base. Welcoming opposing fan bases into T-Mobile Arena, making sure they felt welcome in our barn and in our city. It has also forgiven its team for its losses and supported them as they once supported us. Its one of the things that I love about supporting the team – everyone was generally ways positive, friendly to all, and just wanting to have a good time. It the light of this game some fans expressed that the team deserved it as they had not shown up to play, and that far worse happened at other areas with other teams.

But that misses the point. Vegas was supposed to be different.

Cultures are made up of shared beliefs, shared values, and a shared sense of identity. This is reenforced by the sharing of uniforms, language, and customs. Damage to the sense of belonging by upending any of these threatens that fragile culture.

I myself have found myself feeling like an outsider in a culture I helped create in an online community, due to the shifting priorities of those in charge, a lack of inclusiveness, and a feeling that my sense of wanting to contribute was devalued and unappreciated. The feeling that I’m getting far less out than I’m putting in is often why people leave companies.

We mess with shared values and culture at our peril. These are fragile things. Belonging allows us to feel safe. It flips a switch in our cave-person brain and tells us “it’s ok,” “you are among friends,” “the saber tooth tigers are not going to get you today.”

But belonging goes further. Belonging allows us to feel. To connect. To bond. To Think.

All we do as humans is think, feel, and run around.

Cultures have to be fought for, to champion for, but they are not a bottomless well. When that sense of belonging is gone, it is gone for good.

I am still a Golden Knights fan, but there were some ugly moments for our team and the fan base during these playoffs.

Our teams that we lead and belong to, if we are lucky, have the same sense of belonging that fans feel for sports teams. But we can damage them just as easily as sports teams can by our actions and inactions.

Belonging is what we all want. But it can never be taken for granted.

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