Remembering and Honoring Tracy Austin

One year ago this week my friend Tracy Austin passed away from pancreatic cancer. Shortly before his death I posted a tribute to him. To mark the anniversary of his passing I want to share that tribute again. Tracy was a wonderful human being who is missed by many every single day. I still take heart in the fact that we can multiply Tracy’s impact on the world by implementing what he taught us. This week I will be wearing a name tag each day in his honor. I hope you enjoy this post.

This post is different. It’s not so much about influence as it is a tribute to a good friend – Tracy Austin – who is battling pancreatic cancer. The cancer is winning the battle against Tracy’s flesh but not his spirit. It seems as though cancer may take his life soon but cancer is not the victor because Tracy’s spirit cannot be destroyed. His life will go on because of the thousands of people he’s impacted. In turn, those people will impact tens of thousands more, and so on. It occurs to me that in the same way that cancer spreads and takes lives, Tracy’s impact will spread and inspire richer, fuller lives!

I met Tracy Austin in 2004 through Robert Cialdini. Dr. Cialdini was a keynote speaker at several State Auto Insurance events that summer and Tracy came to hear him. He was the guest of the late Dr. Paul Otte, State Auto board member and past president of Franklin University.

Tracy’s association with Franklin University began in the early 1990s as a student. His experience was so good he wanted to give back and ended up working there. In his 20+ years with the university he impacted thousands upon thousands of students and faculty members.

If you know Tracy then you’re his friend, because he’s one of those rare people for whom it cannot be any other way. You can’t know Tracy and not like him. And I’m sure he never met anyone whom he didn’t consider a friend. That’s just who he is.

Our friendship began with that initial meeting in the summer of 2004 and manifested itself over lunches every two or three months from that point forward. We were both creatures of habit so nearly every lunch was on a barstool at Club 185 in the German Village section of Columbus, Ohio. During those meals we talked about leadership, training, public speaking, coaching and family.

Tracy was well known around town because he would wear a nametag with a random word each day. Actually, the words were never random. Rather, they were carefully chosen because each word was a public statement of Tracy’s attitude for the day. As you might imagine, they were often conversation starters, too. Nametags were his thing and everyone knew that.

Tracy retired from Franklin a year ago and because he was no longer working downtown, we missed a few lunches. Near the end of October Tracy posted on Facebook that he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.

I’ve had other friends go through cancer, but for whatever reason felt compelled to do something more for Tracy. I immediately went to the store, and bought 100 nametags. I sat down with my daughter, Abigail, and together we came up with 50 positive words. I filled out one set for me and one set for Tracy which I mailed to him. Each day I texted him in the early morning to let him know the word for that day and we’d both wear that nametag. We also posted to Facebook and people started to follow his journey in the fight against cancer.

Wearing the nametags has been interesting. I was often surprised at how few people would comment when I was wearing a word like Prayerful, Embrace, Joyful, etc. When the conversations did happen they were always encouraging and I would simply ask, “If you think of Tracy please say a prayer for him.”

Beyond our direct friendship a series of wonderful things happened for me because of Tracy. After meeting him, I met Marcy Depew at a coaching event Tracy led. Marcy and I struck up a friendship that’s included many coffee and lunch conversations.

Marcy introduced me to Merri Bame. Merri and I hit it off because we both train in the field of communication. As you might imagine a friendship ensued and we’ve enjoyed many coffee and lunches together, too.

Merri introduced me to Amanda Thomas McMeans. Amanda asked me to speak at a quarterly networking event she hosted. After speaking I attended one of her events as a guest and met a young man named Dan Stover.

Dan and I struck up a deep friendship that has included Dan spending some holidays with my family. Eventually Dan introduced me to Steve Anderson, the founder of Integrated Leadership Systems (ILS), the company Dan works for. Meeting Steve led to a sales consulting opportunity for me but more importantly, ILS ended up hiring my wife, Jane, to help secure speaking engagements. Working there has truly been life-changing for Jane.

It’s very likely that none of those good things and friendships would have happened had I not met Tracy. I have no doubt that hundreds, if not thousands, of people could share similar stories about Tracy’s impact on their life.

We would all be fortunate not only to have the kind of impact Tracy has had but to be as loved as he is. Whenever the day comes and he passes, it will indeed be sad for all of us who will not see his smile, hear his laugh or be lifted up by his word of the day. But, if we take what Tracy has given us and pass it along we will multiply his goodness and cancer will be the only loser.

I opened by saying this wasn’t so much about influence as it was a tribute. As I conclude I know it’s actually both, because as I’ve written and you’ve read there’s no doubt about Tracy’s influence on so many of us. The best tribute we can give Tracy and his wife, Karen, is to take the lessons of his life and pay them forward.

PEOPLE – The Hope and Hurdle of Leaders

Last month I had a wonderful opportunity to address a group of people at Franklin University’s monthly Hall Leadership Lessons breakfast gathering. What made the experience extra special for me was the fact that my mom, wife and daughter were all in attendance. As if that were not enough, I had about two dozen friends show up along with many co-workers from State Auto Insurance.

My talk centered on using scientifically proven ways to be a more effective leader. If you think about leadership it implies having people to lead — followers, if you will. As wonderful as it might look on the surface to be a leader, leading people is hard work! There are ups and downs, good and bad, positive and negative when it comes to being a leader because of the people.

I think you’d agree that no leader goes it alone and everyone who’s had a major impact on the world did so by leading others. Jack Welsh, former CEO of General Electric, said, “Nearly everything I’ve done in my life has been accomplished with other people.” Some of you reading this might be thinking, sure Jack Welch can say that because he ran GE and could simply tell people what to do or fire them. Not so fast!

Despite what people might think, very few leaders just tell people what to do. Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president of the United States once said, “The only real power available to the leader is the power of persuasion.” Some people say the President is the most powerful person on earth and yet even the president has to win over voters, congressmen and senators.

So leadership happens through people and the best leaders are often the best persuaders. It all sounds good until we confront this reality, “Dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you face, especially if you’re in business.” That statement was made more than 75 years ago by Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People. Don’t think this applies just to leading followers. While leaders primarily lead those who report directly to them, quite often they have to also get their bosses and peers to buy in to ideas. Now it’s getting complicated.

So when it comes to leadership people are our hope and our hurdle, our blessing and curse. Leaders will never accomplish great things without a strong supporting cast and getting that same supporting cast to buy into the vision and properly execute it is the ultimate challenge for the leader.

I like to say influence is all about PEOPLEPowerful EverydayOpportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical. Understanding Robert Cialdini’s six principles of influence will allow you to ethically leverage human psychology and make it much more likely to hear that word all leaders want to hear when they make a request of others — “Yes!

The same day as the Franklin presentation I was interviewed by Audley Stephenson for his weekly blog, Hard Court Leadership Lessons. The focus of that conversation was also influence and leadership so if you’d like to learn more click here to listen to that interview.

Thanks for reading and a special thanks to those of you who took time to come down to Franklin University at 7:30 a.m. last month. I thank you for sacrificing a little sleep in order to learn how to ethically influence in order to be a more effective leader.

Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.