Santa Hat

The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

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Santa HatAs you rush home with your treasures…

…I want to take a moment to say thank you.  I continue to be humbled by the emails and comments I receive from you the readers of this blog/newsletter.  Your comments, thoughts and suggestions are my reward and encouragement to continue sharing this work.

As rewarding as business has been this year, it has also been a tumultuous year personally with the loss of my dear husband, Mike.  He was my love and my business partner. I miss him terribly.  So, my holiday wish for you is that you give someone special a hug, a kiss or simply a word of gratitude. There is nothing more important and nothing more memorable.

Have a happy holiday season cherishing each moment and each person.


oleyellerhelicoptercropThey started with two helicopters, an office crammed into the corner of the hangar filled with beat up furniture. Today, there are eight helicopters, a flight simulator, an office building outside the hangar and services offered in three locations across the country.  This company is Jerry Trimble Helicopters ( based in McMinnville, Oregon.  For full disclosure, the company is owned by Jerry and my sister, Alison. During a recent visit to Oregon I was struck by the growth of their company and the principles behind that growth.  It’s worth taking a look. What they did holds true for other businesses and organizations as they mature into their potential.

Three core elements are the foundation of their growth.

Differentiated Vision. There are many companies that provide flight training services for flight instructors and other helicopter pilots. In this case, Jerry and Alison figured out their differentiated service early on.  Given the extensive flight experience that Jerry has, they provide access to that experience at an attractive rate. And they maintain high standards for themselves and the people working for them. Plus, they understood the circumstances of their customers. People come from all over the world to train with Jerry and they need a place to live.  Jerry Trimble Helicopters has access to housing for long-term clients.  They have been consistent and unwavering to this differentiated vision since starting.

What is it that makes your organization unique?  This is not a trivial question; indeed, it is a hard but central question. Once you figure that out, are you communicating that difference clearly and consistently in everything that you do?

Build over time. I confess that in my business, it’s been easy to fall prey to the shiny object syndrome.  There are so many things that are possible to grow the business it’s hard to focus on just one! And plenty of people are hanging around to tell you that you HAVE to do this, that, and the other.  To Alison and Jerry’s credit, they have steadily and consistently built the business over time. Alison is quick to point out that “growth” isn’t necessarily measured in profit.  They have grown by expanding services geographically across three states; expanding the number of helicopters and simulators available for training; expanding the type of training; and expanding student housing options. They did it a little at a time focusing on the opportunities most advantageous at the time.

How are you prioritizing the investments you make in your organization? What one big thing is your focus for this year? A friend of mine tackles one initiative each quarter to grow her business. Pick one, just one, and focus. Then pick again and repeat.

Be true to your culture. I have to hand it to Jerry and Alison, they have infused their personalities into the company, and no other helicopter flight training company can duplicate it. It is uniquely theirs. They make sure clients feel like family complete with nicknames and celebrations toasted with local beer.  Their equipment has personas – Juanita the airplane, Ole Yeller the helicopter (because it’s yellow, not old), Lola the fuel truck, Jethro the second fuel truck. Dogs roam in and out of the office as they have priority over…well, everything. Alison’s style which she calls hillbilly chic (their Swiss student calls it hillybilly chic) is reflected in the office décor – corrugated tin office dividers, wire mesh fencing, weathered metal chairs and hewn wood tables. This business is theirs and theirs alone.

What makes your business uniquely yours? How does your personality and belief system drive the culture of your organization? Does your organization have a generic or distinctive feel?

Every business and organization is different; however, these three basic principles, vision, uniqueness and focused growth over time, hold valuable insights for growth. And if you find yourself in McMinnville, stop by for a ride in Ole Yeller.


He worked fast and it was mesmerizing to watch.

I was speaking at Asbury Communities on leadership decision-making using infotuition. As I spoke, Bruce drew.  Bruce is an illustrator who graphically records programs as they unfold.  It is remarkable to watch him work. His approach is an artistic metaphor for leaders.  Here’s what Bruce taught me.

Plan Ahead.  Working with huge 4’x8’white boards, Bruce thoughtfully planned ahead before starting to draw.  He studied the content before arriving and had an understanding of the key points and the milestones in my program. He knew what to listen for as he drew. This gave him a feel for how much content would fit on a board and how to space out the work. It’s the same for those who lead.  You don’t have complete clarity about exactly how the future will unfold. Still, you must study enough to have a sense for the major indicators and milestones to watch for.  It’s a plan of what to watch for as you go. That’s how it was for Bruce.  He had a general feel for how the program would unfold and he adapted as he went.  Leaders, too, must adapt as they go. They must make their best guess in the moment, plan ahead and be ready to adapt in the moment.

Listening.  Bruce’s ability to illustrate matched his listening skills.  He wasn’t attending to his own thoughts and judgments; he was listening to me and to the dialog from the audience.  He didn’t impose his interpretation; rather, he reflected what he heard from us. Leaders must also be good listeners.  You have to intently listen to others in order to create a well-balanced picture of a situation or decision. Leaders truly hear what others have to say, and allow diverse perspectives to color their opinion and final decision. Like Bruce’s drawing, the result emerges as a combination of input from the group.

Clear Message. When each segment of the program was complete, Bruce spent a few minutes to refine what he’d captured and enhanced it visually.  This final step aided the viewer to more easily view and appreciate his work. In the many interviews I conducted with leaders, they have a note-worthy ability to simplify a message so that the receiver grasps and relates to the concept.  That’s not so different from Bruce. He had to represent what he heard in a way that others saw themselves in the illustration and they related to it.  A complicated, jumbled message will not resonate, connect or be received well by the observer.  The art of clarity and simplification is a key attribute for a successful leader.  An executive friend once told me, “If I can’t explain it, I can’t sell it.” And so it is for leaders.

On the surface, Bruce’s work looks like art but dig under the surface and you find that he planned, listened and represented a conversation so it would be memorable and relevant to others.  That’s what an artful leader does. Plan ahead, listen to others and skillfully interpret the message. When it’s done well, it’s mesmerizing.

Illustration by  Bruce Van Patter/Crowley & Co.