leadership, personal

My UNLV Homecoming Message

I think this year is particularly important that I say a few words about UNLV Homecoming. You see, I was born and raised in Las Vegas and I graduated from UNLV and serve on the Alumni Association Board. And most importantly, I also lead the live entertainment team at MGM Resorts, so homecoming means something special after the tragic events of a few weeks ago. It’s obviously been tragic and traumatic in so many ways, and will continue to be. But it’s also been inspiring to see the amazing acts of kindness, heroism, support and human spirit over the past few weeks, from our entire community, and our University played a big part. I have never been more proud to be born a raised in Las Vegas, and a UNLV graduate. Because I know now what it means to be #VegasStrong.

I start by addressing those who have come back to campus for the first time since graduating. I hope you got a chance to walk around our campus; if you are like a lot of us who strayed away from UNLV for a bit after graduation, the campus has probably changed significantly since you were last here. I remember my first time, thinking aliens had kidnapped our old little library and supersized it with gamma rays or something! The campus is growing, and becoming more modern, and becoming more of a student-focused campus, all great things for us as we stand at our 60th anniversary. Your job as an alumnus is to not let this be the last time you come back.

But the changes don’t stop at the physical changes. Those of us who have now been coming back and gotten used to the physical changes notice the amazing achievements from our students and faculty. Every corner of this campus is excelling in ways large and small. Our solar houses continue to rock the global scene, we compete and win globally in business case competitions, our entrepreneurship program is phenomenal, our design and engineering students regularly make breakthroughs, our robotics program is top notch, our student athletes continue to lead their competition in so many sports; the list goes on. Your job is an alumnus is to find out about these things, celebrate them, and advertise them in your networks.

Finally, there is so much hope for the future if we continue to come back. Top tier initiatives around campus, a new medical school to change healthcare forever in Las Vegas, the new Hospitality building (don’t worry Lee Business School, I hear we are trying to get one too), a new football practice facility. Most importantly, an energized leadership and staff that is focused on connecting your University to you. Community like never before. It’s that connection that will make both the University and Community better than they could be on their own. And you have a big job as an alumnus.

You need to keep coming back and be ENGAGED. Join the alumni association at our events – tailgates, seminars, networking, the arts – and find yourself making serendipitous connections and having timely conversations that lead to advancements in our goals. Connect with your college: help the Dean of your school strategize ways to improve the curriculum and make learning more real for students; become a guest lecturer at classes, or a part-time instructor; attend career fairs and other events where you can share your wisdom with students.

If we do our jobs as alumni, we will continue to welcome back our peers for the next 60 years, and they will continue to be awestruck by the physical changes on campus, the achievements of our students and faculty, and the engagement level of their predecessor alumni. This will be your legacy, one that truly represents the ideals of #VegasStrong.


Book review – Extreme Ownership

“Extreme Ownership, How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win” is a book by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. As you might guess, the two authors are former Navy Seals, and their leadership philosophies are based on their time as Seals. So while they certainly apply lessons from “general” military leadership, their lessons are informed greatly by the practical realities of Seal combat.

If you know me, I like practical leadership lessons. So this book was entirely worth it to me for one lesson: Take ownership of everything that happens under your watch. The story I reflect on most in the book was when a mission went bad and the bosses came in to hear what happened, assign blame, etc. The good soldier Seals tried to take responsibility, but the leader stopped them and took responsibility for the entire scenario.

Certainly that thought alone could lead to some pretty counter-productive micro-managing. But of course the authors, being military, help by emphasizing the tools that allow leaders to trust – communication in the field; processes that are simple, defined and communicated; prioritizing and executing;, and being decisive.

I was lucky enough to be reading this book at around the same time as “MOVE” by Patty Azzarello (which I reviewed in June), which included some great complimentary concepts of how a leader can hold their teams accountable while not micro-managing.

I recommend both of these books for practical tips on being a more responsible leader, with a goal of lowering your overall stress level and being proactive, not reactive. And with “Extreme Ownership” hopefully you find yourself resisting the temptation to blame others when things go wrong.



leadership, personal, Uncategorized

Human Spirit

I saw a post on Twitter earlier today about the flooding in Houston that grabbed my attention. It showed me, once again, how powerful the human spirit is.

I always wish it didn’t take a tragedy for people to come together, and for heroes to emerge. But then I think about it, and the beauty of this gentleman is he is likely this unselfish all the time. This is how he is wired, or we wouldn’t have said it so quickly, so matter-of-factly. And then I just wish we could all be like him. Including me. What could we do in this world if everyone thought like this? We are a giving society generally, but we still see too many times where folks ignore the trials and tribulations of others because their issues would inconvenience us. Let’s all look up to the heroes of Harvey, and learn just a little bit from them.


Explaining the affirmations – part 5

If you follow me on twitter, you’ve noticed a daily post for the last 6-8 weeks (if you want to see them, go to @realrickarpin on twitter). It started with these:

Today is the day that matters. Today I will treat others w/ kindness, respond w/ patience and mercy, and above all clothe myself w/ love.

I will be a positive leader. Adversity will come, lots of it. But it won’t stop me from encouraging, listening to, and appreciating others.

I will build rapport and relationships with others. I will put myself “out there” to the point where I am uncomfortable.

Relationships are what matter. I will learn more about those around me, and share my story with them.

In my last four posts, I explained why I came to do affirmations, and how I came up with the first set of affirmations.

Today I will discuss my fifth (and final at this point) affirmation:

I will ask, not tell: I will ask questions so others learn; I will not give them the answers or do the work myself.

This affirmation is about me becoming a multiplier. I have always been a good teacher, but many times I miss opportunities to teach by taking on work myself, not involving others in “higher level” processes, and missing teaching moments when time seems short. These each are incredible chances to teach others:

  • Not doing the work myself. I got this habit in college, always doing too much of the work in group projects. The better way is through collaboration, proper explanation of the vision of the work, proper project planning, and accountability. Work can take longer, but it gets done better because it is a team process, not an individual process. And for this affirmation, importantly, those involved in the work LEARN.
  • Not involving others in higher level processes. Particularly at the start of a complex initiative, I need to get others up to speed quickly and not take any meetings alone or hold information to myself (confidentiality and other factors of course to be taken into account). If I keep the info close, this one becomes related to the first one – I get so far in by myself that it seems inefficient to get others “up to speed” and I will just keep going on my own.
  • Missing teaching moments when time seems short. It’s “easy” (or at least easier) to ask questions when you know you don’t have any more meetings for the day, or there is a break between meetings. It’s harder to ask questions when time is short. But I have to focus on asking some threshold questions, getting folks going on some work, and then ensuring regular check-ins for more questions. In this way, they get the learning and I don’t give them answers – but I also don’t set them up for failure by sending them off without enough guidance.

I feel like a lot of leaders have issues in this area, because we were once functional “experts” who got promoted because of our speed, quality work and dependability. But we have to give up some of that to be truly better leaders. I also tell newer leaders they will learn this lesson the easy way now or the hard way later, as it only gets harder to delegate effectively when you have more responsibility.


My Personal Leadership Essay

This is my personal leadership essay, for the first exercise in the book, “Leadership Step by Step: Become the Person Others Follow” by Joshua Spodek. This is meant to be 800 words or so of my leadership philosophy, and how I came to that philosophy.

I am following the “instructions” (or advice) in the book to do this before reading any farther. I am intrigued about what is to come. But I am grateful for the stern direction, it is forcing me to document something I have spent a long time reading about, studying, thinking about. Something I’ve tried to put into words several times, but have never felt like I was terribly successful. So hopefully this time will show progress.

I think of leadership first and foremost as a set of skills. That is what captured my attention when I first read Joshua’s material on twitter and otherwise. I feel like they are harder skills to learn in some cases than functional or technical skills, but I balance that view with a realistic perspective on how much time we actually spend learning leadership. We spend 12, 16 or more years in school learning other things; we might spend an hour a month trying to become better leaders.

I admire leaders who can tell stories, who allow their people to flourish, who teach with a seemingly endless reservoir of energy when the task is building others up.

I have always loved to teach. It gives me a sense of worth, worth that I don’t often find in other parts of my life, particularly other parts of work. I generally move quickly from success to the next “thing” – not stopping to enjoy the success. Doubling down on that, I often wallow in losses or setbacks longer than I should.

In the early years of my career, I learned from leaders who had some pretty serious flaws. One yelled at pretty much everyone below him, except those he knew were actually smarter than him. Another was too aloof and never got to really know his teams. Another was socially awkward and way too prone to be the smartest person in the room, intimidating others which often squashed their ideas, dialog, etc.

I had a great, but unconventional, leader for most of my time so far at my current company. He and I are both with the company still, in different roles. He is still a mentor, more important he is a great friend. If I hadn’t of had a great dad he would certainly be a father figure also. He taught me the value of waiting, and of thinking, and of silence, and calm reactions. I still struggle with several of those things based on my nature, but I reflect often on his teachings, which he wouldn’t have even been conscious about.

So now I only have a few hundred words left to summarize my leadership philosophy. Here goes:

  • Teach your team everything you know and give them opportunities to learn way more than that. Work side by side with them so they can “see” the work develop and learn from the process.
  • Give your team exciting work to do, put them in spots where the work they do can make a difference.
  • Acknowledge those around you, and be honest with them.
  • Tell those around you what is going on, and the role they play in the team’s success.

I get in my own way when I do things that inhibit the ability to fulfill this philosophy. Most leaders have a different leadership philosophy and do different things that get in the way of that philosophy. In poker we would call these “leaks” in our game. In golf, we talk about movements that drain power, like a flying elbow or not getting our weight through the swing. My flying elbow in leadership is things like impatience, lack of self-control, and not listening enough. We all have them; will we work on them? I try to prove to myself every day that I will work on them. That I will become a better leader and live up to my own leadership philosophy. I try to ensure those around me know I am working diligently to grow as a leader.

That is why I am reading this book and doing these lessons. Doing a course of exercises like this is valuable because it keeps leadership skills front and center. It reminds us that they are indeed skills. That we have to continually practice, learn new tricks and techniques, study.

I hope to be a better leader because of it.


Explaining the affirmations part 4

If you follow me on twitter, you’ve noticed a daily post for the last 6-8 weeks (if you want to see them, go to @realrickarpin on twitter). It started with these:

Today is the day that matters. Today I will treat others w/ kindness, respond w/ patience and mercy, and above all clothe myself w/ love.

I will be a positive leader. Adversity will come, lots of it. But it won’t stop me from encouraging, listening to, and appreciating others.

I will build rapport and relationships with others. I will put myself “out there” to the point where I am uncomfortable.

In my last three posts, I explained why I came to do affirmations, and how I came up with the first set of affirmations.

Today I will discuss my fourth affirmation:

Relationships are what matter. I will learn more about those around me, and share my story with them.

Obviously this might look similar to the third affirmation above. The third affirmation was all about getting “out there” and building relationships with others and being comfortable in social settings.

This one is about getting deeper with individuals, primarily co-workers (my team members, peers, etc.). It fits with one of our key employee and guest service standards – we strive to “hear their story.” So I want to share my story, tell my “why,” and hear the same from those around me.

This affirmation and the third one played together very well two weeks ago when I went to New York for a work event where I was with totally new people and some folks I knew well (ranging from relatively well to very well). I tried to focus on listening, and asking questions. I also shared my story as it related to the subjects we were discussing throughout the day.

My leadership coach uses the exact phrase “relationships are what matter.” Just the other day I saw an interview with a leader who said the same thing. I didn’t used to think this was the case, but I am seeing it now, and doing my best to learn and grow n this area.



Women leaders

Many of the best leaders I know are women. At all levels within my company and when dealing with other companies, I find that women leaders are doing great things.

I have begun really relying on several female leaders within my company, to help me in all sorts of ways. Sometimes for the simple act of having someone to talk to, bounce ideas off of, blow off some corporate politics steam. I think we call that “mentoring” but maybe we need to change the name to “womentoring” – ok maybe not. Anyway, I have always been a proponent of advancing women as leaders and have spent a decent amount of time developing women that work for me or others looking for some guidance or advice. But this is the first time I consciously remember leveraging female leaders for my own benefit in such a holistic way.

Of course, I’m cherry picking slightly, as I’m currently able to “selectively” work with those leaders I think can have the biggest impact. It’s not always like that, so I certainly recognize there are bad female leaders, just like there are bad men leaders. It’s like the old story where you know a minority group has “made it” when they can be fired from a job just like a white male. But I’ve noticed a few things – nothing groundbreaking if you follow the literature on this subject – that are meaningful to me that these women bring to the table:

  • Reliability. My mentors are very good at doing what they say; sticking to agreements we had, not getting swayed by the mood of others or who they talked to last. And if something does need to change, I more often hear it from them directly and quickly than from my male counterparts; where I often hear third hand and when I ask I get something like, “Oh yeah, sorry about that, we just couldn’t do it the way we thought so we went a different direction.”
  • Empathy. The conversations I have with these leaders often have a more 360 degree view of the situation. We think through and talk through the impacts of our work on more stakeholders than when it’s just the guys figuring it out. This leads to more “win-win” decisions and better plans to actually implement our ideas.
  • Honesty. The women around me give me great feedback. They are not afraid to tell me what I can do to be better, or when I really do a good job. They build trust through the first two items above, and leverage it for what it’s good at, helping others.

Given my earlier statement that I’ve been interested in promoting women leadership, but just realized the power of it, now I’m motivated to get even more engaged. I am lucky that our company (and me) recognizes the need to develop women leaders (we have many of them, host an annual women’s leadership conference, and ensure our policies and practices allow for women to succeed). But there is always more to do, and I am seeing the benefits of involving myself more with women leaders.

A big salute to women leaders, you have a lot of advocates and if we haven’t said it enough, then “thank you” for all you do.