Category Archives: Distinctions

Distinctions are ideas the help us understand our world or operating environment, different than we may have done before

French Horn + Lacrosse

Key Decision – Deciding to Play the French Horn in Fourth Grade
Key Belief – I wasn’t competitive in the mainstream; I needed to find a unique niche where I would achieve my own success
Tags: Key Decisions, Limiting Beliefs, Ownership & Dependence, Memoir

Best French Horns for Marching Band » American Songwriter
Not me – but it could have been!

Yup – I can draw a line from playing the French Horn to flying jets in Europe.

The background begins with my mother. My mom is German. She was born and grew up in a traditional German home where classical music was considered “pop” just as lederhosen was considered chic. Growing up, I rarely heard any other music than that. Occasionally, on a family trip, we dad might squeeze in some Johnny Cash or perhaps John Denver; but mostly Ludwig Beethoven or Wolfgang Amadeus. So, in fourth grade, it was time to pick an instrument; and I was steered toward a more orchestral leaning, and the “French Horn” was picked.

While writing this, I asked my mom how this happened. She said when it was time to pick an instrument, I didn’t know what I wanted to play. She said a cousin in Germany was a famous French Horn player and maybe I’d want to do that… so I did (I guess)?!

Frankly, I don’t remember the choice; but I believe I participated in it and I consider it a “Key Decision” that influenced my extracurricular activities, it influenced how I was seen by others and most importantly, how I was seen by myself.

In that decision, I took on the persona of someone who chooses to be outside of the norm. My decision wasn’t the traditional, more expected orientation of my male peers to play drums or front-line brass (like a trumpet, trombone, or even saxophone) and certainly not the more classical expectations around woodwinds or strings. I found the French Horn to be in a unique niche; and I’ve continued to find success outside of the traditional, always looking for these niche opportunities. This cemented a belief that if I follow traditional strategies, I will end up average, normal or typical. I created a “key (or limiting) belief that the way to distinguish myself was to compete outside of what is expected.”

This thread can be pulled throughout my career and shows up in almost every key decision. And, as I am writing this, I realize this “key decision” of niche activity or “to rebel from the norm” resonates with me continuously.

I enjoyed playing “into” the French Horn as my personality, and was successful both in band and orchestra; being recognized and selected for Centennial (metro) and State Championships. My only high school “letter” came from playing the horn (adding insult to industry, it wasn’t the standard letter, it was a fluffy one ensuring it wouldn’t be confused with the Jock-oriented symbol. Similarly, I competed and was selected to tour Europe and compete internationally (third place worldwide) with another school’s orchestra.

But as I started to recognize this decision was not mine, I became dissatisfied. Who was I as a “French Horn Player?” The person I was (or wanted to be) did not play French Horn or play Piano but wanted to play team sports and compete physically.

However, because I was a late “bloomer,” in early high school I couldn’t compete in my age group. They were growing beards while I was growing up. So, in alignment with my niche strategy, I looked for alternative strategies. Luckily, my best friend (key-influencer) introduced me to Lacrosse in our Junior Year. Lacrosse in public high schools was a niche sport. At Littleton High School, the Hockey team played in the Lacrosse “Club” to stay fit off-season. We were not a school-sanctioned sport, so we played as a club and trained anywhere we could find an empty field.

I joined the club and ultimately was satisfied because I owned this decision. I continued playing in the band; but dumped the horn in my senior year and have never picked it up since. Do I regret this decision? Occasionally I think ingratitude of this decision, the orchestra, the travel, the recognition; but mainly acknowledging my mom’s kind heart to support me in her dreams.

But it wasn’t me, nor was it my true choice. A better choice was third-string middy and getting hit and beat up as a beginning Lacrosse player. It was a decision that I made on my own; and although my parents supported the decision, weren’t really connected to it. Stepping into my own influence allowed me to begin to own my future set forth my military adventure. Well, that is until choosing a college.

Mirroring Distinction


I have noticed, that when participating in group activities, I often reflect or mirror the emotional state of the group in my own body.   I have also seen when I am in a group that is interacting with another group, our group can take on the emotions of that other group.  
This happens in team sports; but I have seen this show up in military and business units, and often not in a positive way.
For a leader (authority), this is really important data.    But before getting practical, what is really (scientifically) going on?   I have recently read about mirror neurons that exist in our ventral pre-motor cortex that actually relates or mirrors inputs and activity happening to someone else and matching them through physical stimuli to ourselves.


Studies about these mirroring neurons show that our brains are actually capable of mirroring complex emotional states in others.    These mirror neurons will activate physical responses in us that are often the precursors of emotions within us.  If we are caught unaware, these physical changes create the same emotional state within ourselves that we saw in another, thus creating the mirror.

I should note that the psychology & biology communities are in debate about of the true science here… but it makes sense to me; like why visualization is so effective when learning a new skill or mastering a sport.

As an experiment, next time you feel an emotional shift (like being tired, upset, sad or happy) do a quick gauge of the emotional state of the people around you and see if this shift isn’t an emotional contagion impacting you from the group.   Or worse, is it your emotional shift causing the same reflection to others.

Back to leadership…

So,  when a leader takes on an emotional or physical state, his group or team will often mirror and reflect that energy.    So a leader has a great responsibility to provide safe space for the group to work.   I can just imagine General MacArthur strongly leading his troops into battle at Inchon (see picture above) and how that committed state provided reassurance and comfort to the landing troops.

But, if the leader lets his emotions get away from him, it can quickly spread throughout the team and then, potentially, to other groups. For example, a leader’s anger about an issue spreads to the group; which then engages the next group, causing some type of physical or emotional brawl.

However, a conscious leader can use this mirroring to judge the emotional state of his team by examining his emotions and feelings while interacting with it.  I am most often aware of this when I see my group acting in confusion.   The mirror of confusion is then typically a reflection of the project or activity we are working on.

Through this awareness, the leader can modify the emotional state of the group by modifying his own emotional state and then transmitting it with intention.   In the same example, a leader feeling confusion can stop the group, ask clarifying questions, set a new plan of action and eliminate the members disorientation, creating harmony and comfort.

Finally, as a side note, I have seen this phenomenon happen in many military units.  We always say the personality of the unit or squadron is reflective of the personally of its commander; or  how a pet often reflects the personality of its owner.

In summary, physical and emotional mirroring is real.  Being a leader, we need to use awareness of our emotional states as data to determine the state of our group.   When the group engages in inappropriate emotional activity, a leader should sense those changes within himself, and then use the appropriate interventions to reorient the group back toward  the mission.

With blessings – Pierre

Fester and Die


Have you ever hiked through a forest and come upon a stagnant pond or bog?   You know, the kind which it is filled with water and there is no exit.   It is dark, disgusting, and smells of rot and decay; with unhealthy bacteria and algae growing in it; and maybe dead animals floating that even the vultures avoid.   Can you see it?

This metaphor represents what happens in our homes, our businesses and with our well-being when we let things fester.   It is a leadership distinction delineating the difference between expansion and atrophy.   In every moment of every day, we are either growing or dying.    Growth requires activity, action, and “flow”.   Dying occurs when we avoid, escape, profess ignorance or just allow things to fester…


Think of our physical bodies.  Sitting on the couch eating bon-bons is a sure path towards death.   Physical activity supports function in the body, circulates blood and moves toxins out of our muscles, fat, and joints.   Recently, I have been “voodoo” wrapping my ankle, which is a tight band wrapped around it for about 2 minutes to restrict all the fluids (blood and inflammation).   Then, when loosened, fresh blood rushes into the area, providing accelerated healing.   The metaphor could extend to the importance of fiber in our bowels, but I think you get the idea.      We all understand the importance of movement and activity in the health of our bodies.

How about materialism.   I’ve seen a cultural shift from the post-depression post WW II desire to obtain things and then protect them to a millennial desire for downsizing, decluttering, and simplicity.   I believe this plays into our societies climb up the hierarchy of needs.   As we begin toward actualizing, we determine the need to hold on to “things” causes us stress, frustration, responsibility and becomes unnecessary.  I am often shocked at the amount of food that goes bad in my refrigerator after shopping at COSTCO.   Stuff requires management.   Hoarding kills flow.  Think of all that junk in the trunk (attic).   As it sits, its usefulness devalues.   The longer it remains untouched, the less chance it will be useful to me or anyone.  Its purpose disappears.   Do we hold on to it because we love it, or do we hold on to it because we are scared to lose it or waste it.   It served a purpose in our life, it had meaning, but now it is our fear that if we let it go we are losing something of ourselves that is (vs was) important.    Unfortunately, like many of our paradoxes, by holding on to it, we are stagnating the opportunity to repurpose it and repurpose ourselves.

I can see this play with money.   If we live in fear and caution (and I believe there is a place for this) money in the mattress devalues in terms of utility and inflation.   Money reinvested creates flow in the economy.   An old commander used to say, you need to give something sunlight for it to grow.   (Of course he was talking about measurement and accountability, but the shoe fits).   Think of how the passing of money from one business to another grows our economy.

OK, lets move to a psychological bent.   I am often stuck when I reflect on my AF career.   I grieve and morn and hold it tight to my heart.   Often I can’t let it go and it holds power over who I am  and who I might be in the future.   When I hold onto my past success and past wounds, I allow them to fester within me.   And as they get covered with bacteria and algae (bs stories that I believe define me), they contribute to my decay.   Acknowledging “what happened” and accepting the natural flow of our lives allows me to grow into all of who I am and who I can be.

I hope that works as a leadership distinction.    Growth requires change and change requires activity or flow.   Change is critical as a natural rhythm of the environment and the natural evolution of our lives.   Those places, whether physically, intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually that we allow to stagnate or fester will lay hold on the speed of our growth or the speed of our death.   Love to hear your thoughts!

In Truth – Pierre