When The Phone Don’t Ring, It’ll Be Me

Some people don’t want to be left alone.

When the phone doesn't ring it'll be


“Screw you & the horse you rode in on.”  He didn’t actually say it, but he came close.  And this unceremonious resignation came from a senior manager whom I really liked (thought it was mutual) and who had a bright future with the company (thought he understood and was energized by the coming challenges and opportunities).  

Why was he pissed off at me?!?  I was his biggest fan.  

Here’s the ugly truth:

  • I tend to chase after the staff and projects that are going in the WRONG direction.  
  • The people going in the RIGHT direction command my respect and appreciation, and I purposefully steer clear of nitpicking their work.  When their phone doesn’t ring, I’m the one calling.
  • For the managers who value autonomy and need only the proverbial high-fives from me, the system works.  They’re generally self-critical and don’t need me piling on.
  • But for others, the act of interrogating [politely] their projects and challenging their plans conveys interest and engagement.  This is particularly true with managers and staff who don’t report directly to me (because we have a regular status meetings and scheduled food fights).  

It’s all a little perverse to my way of thinking, but it cost us a good head.

So, I’m making a couple changes coming out of this incident:

  • Blocking three hours every other week to follow up with a talk, call or note to staff who are doing good work.  (Ideally it would be in person, but we have operations in multiple cities.)  Just a few “nice job” acknowledgements and/or a simple “How are you dealing with this?”
  • Focusing on fewer problems.  I’m probably not more effective than my direct reports in solving the problem anyway.  And it’s better for my mental health.  

Any other ideas on saving me from myself?



Well, tonight when you lay lonely in your king size bed

With a hunger inside you can’t feed

Well, I’ll be the empty place lying next to you

And when your phone don’t ring, it’ll be me.

~George Jones, “When Your Phone Don’t Ring (It’ll Be Me)”


leadership psychology

How To Lose Your Sanity In 3 Easy Steps

Or One Key Step To KEEP Your Sanity

leadership psychology

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas – Ralph Steadman

I’m like the journalist, Raoul Duke, in Fear and Loathing: I see ALL the bats. Fail to hit budget in one of your markets: there’s a bat. Read a post in our company’s social feed which isn’t very interesting: bat. Walk onto the production floor and notice some poorly organized supplies: bat, bat, bat.

One of those little shits doesn’t bother me. But when 50 of them are wheeling overhead, you’ll quickly find yourself sitting on the corner of Sanity and Madness.

Is hunting and killing bats an essential duty for the CEO/entrepreneur? I’m certain the rest of the team doesn’t see most of them. So if I don’t do it, who will? Some Harvard snot will say the key is to distinguish between those details and shortcomings that matter and those that do not. Well, I’m not smart enough to get in to Harvard, and I’m not smart enough to tell the difference between those two types of details.

I’m lying, at least on one count. But my natural tendency is to see all the bats and worry about every single one of them. It’s the entrepreneur’s blessing and curse. And I’ve seen more than a few commercially successful entrepreneurs who follow this recipe (and go insane):

  1. Focus on the negative/gaps in execution
  2. Do it all the time
  3. Don’t cut anyone, including yourself, any slack

I started out down that path, but with the benefit of hindsight I know this much: you better focus on learning how to happily ignore many of the bats. Don’t even ask one of your managers to see them: like Mr. Duke said, “The poor bastard will see them soon enough.”

Your sanity will thank you.



You see, the Devil haunts a hungry man,
If you don’t want to join him, you got to beat him.
I ain’t sayin’ I beat the Devil, but I drank his beer for nothin’.
Then I stole his song.
~Kris Kristofferson, “To Beat the Devil”

Why I Write

Leadership: Hard-fought Wins, Undeserved Losses, and Vice Versa

I stole the title, “Evangelical Agnostic,” from a middle-aged guy who got into trouble and then wondered, “How do you know when it’s too late to learn?” That’s an interesting question for someone like me who’s had his fair share of hard-fought wins alongside a few undeserved losses, and some undeserved wins and hard-fought losses.  Go figure.


Hard-fought Wins, Undeserved Losses.

As the title suggests, I’m passionate about not knowing, especially when it comes to the right way to lead people and grow a business.  At any given moment, I have ten ideas, and I’m absolutely certain that six of them are correct.  I just don’t know which six.  Evangelically agnostic. Such are the paradoxes of being an entrepreneur.  

Now I’m running a craft brewery, which is an industry full of more challenging paradoxes than any I’ve ever seen.  We must simultaneously be world-class creatives and scientists.  Beyond the brewpub, it’s a capital-intensive industrial business.  Treat it like a factory, and your culture and brand fall apart.  Treat it like a marketing agency, and your beer will be mediocre and you’ll never generate a return on all that capital.  Treating your team like family is a requirement; managing your team like family is a disaster.  And if you juggle all those balls but lose sight of your personal family, friends and health, you’ve lost the only things that matter.


It’s enough to drive a man crazy.  And I’ve been out on that limb a few times.  


P.S. Because I like straying outside the lines, I’ll say here and now: I intend to write about leadership psychology, organizational culture and performance, and navigating the daily shitstorms that come your way as an entrepreneur (what Alex Trebek would call “Potpourri”).  That, and any other issues I can’t deal with in therapy.


A little out of place, a little out of tune

Sorta lost in space, racin’ the moon

Climbing the walls of this hurricane

Still overall, I can’t complain.

~Todd Snider, “Can’t Complain”