Honoring Women Mentors

They say you become the average of the five people you hang out with the most. While that may be true, I have noticed that a small handful of people have had an outsized influence on my growth and development as a leader – as a person – no matter how much time I have spent with them.  I want to tell you about some of the women mentors I’ve had in my life and how they have influenced me, and invite you to reflect and do the same. At the end of this blog, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in a public art project as a way of honoring your women mentors. We’ll share this on our facebook page after you’ve had a chance to add in yours. 


Mimi Finch

CPT Finch was my TAC officer for my company during my “cow” (junior) and “firstie” (senior) years at West Point. As I was coming to understand my own sexual orientation, in the homophobic environment of the United States Military Academy, Mimi Finch would speak openly about how stupid it was to fire gay people. She was the only person at West Point that I ever heard speak about treating gay people right. We have stayed in touch over the years. Recently I saw on my facebook feed that this retired Lieutenant Colonel knelt Colin-Kaepernick-style when her instructor – inexplicably, might I add, – had her Zumba class recite the pledge of allegiance. Mimi never spoke to me about how to be fearless, she just does it. FEARLESS.

Judy Bramlett 

I met Judy the first day of my firstie (senior) year at West Point. Her husband was the newly instated Commandant of Cadets. She jokingly referred to herself as the “Comtessa.” For those of you who are civilians, the Commandant is #2 in command of the entire post. A friend and I were walking past the Comm’s house on our way back from taking the cadet physical fitness test when Judy beckoned from her porch with a friendly, “Yoohoo, cadets….” We were in our gym clothes and we knew we should not be in the Comm’s house dressed like that, but we also knew that we should be polite to the Comm’s wife, so we obliged. Over a glass of lemonade, Judy initiated a friendship that would last until the day she died, way too early back in 2008. Everything you need to know about Judy – and what I learned from her – is captured in her invitation to lemonade. Every inch of her refrigerator was covered with photographs of friends near and far. On one visit many years later, she was excited to show me that I had “made the fridge!” And that was the day she pulled me aside and said, “I’ll never accomplish anything like David (her husband who was a four star general at the time). But here’s what I do contribute: presence. I am present with people. And that is more than enough.” Judy didn’t teach me how to be present. She just did it. I miss my friend. PRESENCE.

Jan Hicks

I had received so many messages at West Point that leadership required “military bearing” and hiding your true self. Enter LTC Jan Hicks. Jan was my Battalion Commander when I was a Lieutenant stationed at Helemano Military Reservation – part of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Jan defied everything I had been (mis)led to believe about what it takes to be a successful leader. Jan was authentic to the core. If Jan was angry, she’d let you know. If she was sad, she’d let you know that, too. And if she thought something was funny, she would howl with laughter. Jan was this larger-than-life figure in my young adulthood who had an extraordinarily successful career by being true to herself. She went on to attain the rank of Major General. Jan never sat me down for a conversation about authenticity. It’s just who she was – and who she is to this day. AUTHENTICITY

Rosanne Haggerty

I was minding my own business as a stock broker when my college professor, Jay Parker, called me. “Cease work on whatever it is you’re doing and call Rosanne Haggerty right away,” he said. So I did just that. I ended up working for Rosanne from 2003 – 2014. Rosanne is a relentless entrepreneur, single-minded in her determination to disrupt the systems that create homelessness. She and her team are finalists right now for the MacArthur $100 Million & Change award. If they win, they will get $100M to make their big dent in the Universe. What strikes me the most about Rosanne, though, is that there wasn’t anybody she wouldn’t meet for coffee. I’ll be honest – I thought some of those coffee meetings were a waste of her time. But years later, when faced with a new challenge, she’d say, “Remember so and so – I met him for coffee back in Camden? I think he’d be great for this project.” I was always like, “Who is so and so? And how on earth do you remember him and what he’d be great at doing?” But Rosanne never forgets anybody’s genius. She’s just waiting for the opening to appear and she makes the match. She’s never spoken about this with me – I just observed it over the years and benefited tremendously from her willingness to support me in finding my way into my genius, too. Rosanne is the embodiment of endless possibilities. POSSIBILITIES

Sue Fulton

Sue was in the first class of women to graduate from West Point – the famous class of 1980 – so you already know she has ovaries of steel. I was in the 11th year to graduate, so our paths never would have crossed had she not continued to remain involved in the community. Sue was one of the first people that I came out to as I was reckoning with my sexual orientation and we have remained friends for over 30 years. Along with a handful of other amazing people, Sue and I co-founded Knights Out, a nonprofit organization that advocated for the end of the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the military. In the early days of getting this organization up and running, we learned that West Point was holding a diversity conference. We looked at each other, said, “We’re diverse!” took the day off from work and crashed the conference. We thought FOR SURE that as out LGBT people we would be skunks at the party, but we were greeted with enthusiastic, open arms by many people all the way up to the highest ranking General Officers in attendance. Never in 100 years would I have done this alone. Sue has gone on to work on transdender rights and was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Board of Visitors of West Point. Sue didn’t sit me down and talk to me about showing up for one another, she lives it through her example. SOLIDARITY

This list is woefully incomplete. There are so many more women who deserve to be mentioned here – my mom (PRESENCE), my Aunt Sharon Kanis (COMMUNITY), Kathlyn Hendricks (LOVE- WITH-A-SPINE), Jane Holl Lute (HUMILITY), Marie Connor (JOY), and many more – not to mention the many fabulous men who have influenced my life for the better, too. I’d love to continue – and I want to turn my attention back to you, my reader friend. 

I’m hoping these stories get your gears going about the women who have mentored you and how they did it. Did you ask them to mentor you? I never asked these fabulous women to mentor me, I just kind of tagged along and they seemed to tolerate it. I’ve stayed in touch with them over several decades, sometimes going hundreds of miles out of my way to stop in for a visit whenever our paths might cross. Likewise – you might be considered a mentor to someone and not even know it. Our actions speak louder than words. And they’re watching! 

So on to that public art project. I’ve started a Klaxoon board that you can contribute to. We will crowd-source the one word that we learned from our women mentors here. All you do is click here and write in your own word where it says “idea.” If you see someone else has already contributed your word, click on the bottom left where it says “## ideas” and then click on the heart next to the one that matches yours, and that will make the word appear bigger in the word cloud.  We will take a screenshot of this and share on Facebook with you in a few days. 

You can even share it with your mentor and tell them which word they gave you. Let’s all take a minute to appreciate our women mentors. I will, too.


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The Enemy Within

Hi Friends!

We would like to begin this blog, which posts on Martin Luther King Day, sharing an opportunity to sign up for SVP’s “Anti-Racism for White People” course. It is a year-long learning community for people interested in showing up as agents of racial justice.*** Registration closes January 20th, 2021. Enroll today to secure your place! ***

Last week,

We shared our self-assessment quiz with you, to help you face into what is holding you back from making your big dent in the Universe. Depending on your answers, you were prompted to consider one of the four most common toxic dynamics that we’ve encountered when working with change leaders: blame/criticism, overwork/overwhelm, indecision, or micromanagement. By the way, if you haven’t taken the quiz, we encourage you to take a minute and do so now. 

Regardless of which dynamics are holding you and your organization back, though, it is all too easy to come to the conclusion that the problem is “out there.” And you would be correct to do so. There are real problems that need to be solved. 

Today, we confront…

…that’s only part of the story. 

If there is anything toxic in our context – and we’re aware of it in any way – then we are also engaging with it – consciously or unconsciously. 

When we’re consciously engaged with our challenges, we have a much better chance of actually changing something. We are able to step into 100% responsibility for all our choices and actions. 

When we’re unconsciously engaged, despite our best intentions, our problems might morph and shift, but they will persist. The key is to notice when we’re unconsciously reacting and shift ourselves back into presence. 

Shifting from our unconscious reactive mind into conscious presence is easier said than done, and we will be going into more depth about this in our facebook live later today, (10:30 AM Pacific Time), but for now I want to give you a quick overview of the three primary ways leaders avoid responsibility on the Drama Triangle so you can get curious about how these patterns show up in your life. 

When you think about the biggest organizational challenge you’re facing right now – whether or not it was reflected in our quiz results – are any of these postures familiar to you? 

  • I’m at the effect of somebody or something else. 
  • I can’t believe all of this is happening to me.” 
  • This shouldn’t be happening. And it’s not my fault, it’s theirs. 
  • Or – equally problematic – it’s all my fault. 
  • I must do something about this right now. 
  • This isn’t fair! And it’s never going to change. 
  • I need to stick up for the people who can’t stick up for themselves! 

If any of these stances are familiar to you, what they have in common is they’re all coming from the Drama Triangle. And taking action from this place has zero likelihood of making things better. One of the most important things we can do as leaders is notice when we’re on the Drama Triangle and take steps to get back into full creative presence. We’ll be talking about some ways to do that on our facebook live later today, and if you can’t make it, you can catch the replay later. We hope you can join us there!

Want More?

We are also offering a free Webinar ‘The Five Secrets to Becoming a Happy and Effective Change Leaders: How you can do the most good with the least drama, during a global pandemic, and still find time for yourself and your loved ones, too.”

There will be two sessions, the first on Tuesday January 26th @ 10:00AM PT and the second on Wednesday, January 27th @ 8:00AM PT. When you register you can choose which time works best for you. 

I hope to see many of you there! 




How you can do the most good with the least drama, during a global pandemic, and still find time for yourself and your loved ones, too.


What’s Holding You Back from Making Your Big Dent in the Universe?

Hi Friends!

Last week,

We invited you to join us in creating a dream board for 2021 – a visible reminder of your strongest values and your wildest aspirations for this new year. Dreaming and opening up to new possibilities is absolutely essential for creating a new world together. A lot of people don’t even give themselves permission to dream big, so I want to give a shout out to those of you who did just that. If you want to revisit our live session that helps guide you through this process you can check out “Creating A Dream Board That Works” on our Facebook page. 

But there’s a big difference between dreaming and doing. Today we shift gears and square off with our current reality. Today we face into the challenges or obstacles that will stop us from making our big dent in the Universe. 

I dedicated an entire section of my forthcoming book to this notion of facing your challenge because it’s that important. 

As James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” 

We’ve learned from working with hundreds of social change leaders that it’s the seemingly small things that can add up to big things if they’re not addressed with our full attention and care. 


We invite you to bring your attention to those little corners of your world that aren’t quite in alignment with your intentions. Those little wobbles that veer you off course. Those energetic drains that if left unchecked will prevent you from making your big dent in the Universe. 

Just because we thought it would be fun, we created a cosmo-quiz like survey instrument with some of the most common dynamics that can diminish your effectiveness as a leader. It only takes two minutes to complete and you’ll receive a customized report based on your answers. We call it the Organizational Toxicity Quiz and we invite you to give it a spin. Please feel free to share with your colleagues as well. We imagine this could prompt some really good discussions.

Once you have your results, we encourage you to visit “Overview of the Four Most Common Dynamics Which Hold Teams Back” to get some actionable tips on how to get rid of these common types of toxicity.

Next week we will pick up where we left off and turn our attention from what’s wrong “out there” to what’s going on “in here” with you. You can register for our Facebook Live event here where we’ll be diving deep into the drama triangle and personas. This will be the last session of our series “Starting The New Year Right” so be sure to tune in! 

Lastly, if you take the quiz and come to the conclusion that you might need more help than originally thought, I’m offering a FREE MASTER CLASS: The Five Secrets to Being a Happy and Effective Change Leader which addresses organizational toxicity and MUCH more.

We hope you’re enjoying this exploration with us.

Most warmly,


Follow us on Facebook here! We’ll be posting reminders on our page and through our weekly newsletter. 

Setting Yourself Up for an Awesome 2021

Hi Friends!

Last week we invited you to join me in a journaling practice that I’ve done every New Years Eve since the year 2000. Some of you even joined us on our inaugural Facebook Live to complete these questions together. I did this exercise again with my wife, Christine, this New Years Eve, then we took turns sharing some appreciations of one another and all the ways we grew in 2020. 

Today I want to share with you what we do to build upon those reflections and sharpen our commitment to what we want to create in 2021. Starting January 1st, we pull a big piece of flip chart paper into our kitchen counter and plenty of bright markers. Over New Years Day, we co-create our dream board for 2021. As our kids have gotten older, we’ve begun to include them in the process. Here is our dream board for 2020.

Once this feels complete,

We hang it in our kitchen and we refer to it often. We also take a picture and have a catalog of dream boards from years past. I’ve also done this with teams as a way to punctuate our strategic planning retreats. Dream boards are a great way to visualize your commitment, your vision, your values, and your intentions. I invite you to give it a try and share yours on our Facebook page

If you’d like a little extra help clarifying your intentions for the year ahead, I’d like to offer you this checklist on how to “create a dream board that works”, to capture the big dent you want to make in the Universe this year. 

All of us at the Billions Institute wish you a safe and healthy 2021, and may we all shift our attention from surviving to thriving as we step into all the possibilities ahead. 


Follow us on Facebook here! We’ll be posting reminders on our page and through our weekly newsletter. 

I’ve Done this Every New Years Eve Since the Year 2000

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” – the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland

One of the most important things we do as social change leaders is to create reality. Think about it. We see what’s missing and we commit ourselves to filling that gap. We dream up whole new systems and structures and then we bring them to fruition. We craft and pilot innovations that we hope will make the world a better place. Then, we endlessly tinker and improve our approach. Eventually, we attempt to spread them to everyone who could possibly benefit. Indeed, the work of social change leaders is literally to create reality. 

Between you and me, I think it’s the best part of the job. 

When I was a Captain in the Army, I had the good fortune of working for Colonel (Ret) Howie Cohen. Howie is one of those people who never stops learning, even to this day. And way back in 1997 he formed a book club for all the officers in his charge. Most of the books were what you’d expect – analysis of famous military battles and such. But he also kept us on our toes with some books you might not expect. Maximum Achievement: Strategies and Skills that will Unlock Your Hidden Power to Succeed by Brian Tracy was one such surprise. I remember when Howie announced we’d be reading that one, the rest of us made jokes about the “touchy-feely Ranger” book club, but I stopped laughing once I read the book. I underlined, highlighted, and dog-eared darn near half the pages. 

Somewhere in the middle of the book, Brian Tracy includes a handful of questions intended to help the reader get clear on the vision and the purpose for their life. I dog-eared that page and left it on the shelf for a couple of years. But, as the millennia came to a close, and Y2K loomed large, I pulled it back off the shelf and created a worksheet out of those questions. On New Year’s Eve, in the last few hours of 1999, I journaled my answers. Then, I tucked them away and went back to celebrating with my friends. 

The next year I did the same thing. Then again. And again. This year will mark the 21st year of doing this practice on New Year’s Eve. I introduced it to my wife, Christine, when we started dating back in 2010 and now we look forward to this meaningful time of reflection and dreaming up what’s next for our lives each year. 

Here’s the kicker. Every now and then I go back and look at what I answered in previous years. To questions like, “What would you do if you won the lottery?” or “What would you do if you found out you only had six months left to live?” And though I have not won the lottery, I have done most of the things I said I wanted to do. And I have this moving record of who I was, and what mattered to me most, over time. 

Here are some examples of things I wrote down years before they happened: 

Back in 2000, I was a closeted LGBT Captain in the US Army. The question was, “What have you always wanted to do, but been afraid to attempt?” My answer: Get out of the Army. Be completely “out.” Love someone completely. Check. Check. Check. Before the end of the year! 

To the question, “What would you do if you won the lottery?” I wrote: do a NOLS Semester in the Southwest course. So. ok. I didn’t get around to taking a NOLS course until 2012. And it was in the Wind River Range, not Arizona. And it was only two weeks, not a semester. But my instructor happened to be the director of the Southwest Branch of NOLS and remains a friend to this day. So…not too shabby. 

Also in 2000, in response to the question, “What would you dare to dream if you knew you could not fail?” I wrote, “become a teacher of social justice and empowerment/conscious raising.” 

This was in 2000, y’all. When I was a Captain in the Army. 

Here’s another example. In 2003, in answer to the question, “What would you dare to dream if you knew you could not fail?” I wrote, “an international women’s self-determination underground.” 

In 2004, I built on that theme, answering, “start my own kick-ass company with a merry band of followers leading the charge for social change. Eventually, move our headquarters to a mountain town.” I am laughing out loud as I write this because while I’m not 100% sure what a “women’s self-determination underground” is if you attended one of our fellowship meetings – in the shadow of Mt. Baldy here in the mountain-college town of Claremont, California, you might think I knew exactly what I was talking about! 

Bear in mind that in 2003, I was just getting started in my job as the Director of the Street to Home Initiative for Community Solutions in New York City. My answer to the question above was not one or two adjacent moves on the chessboard. It was a leap to a completely different game. And yet, here I am, 17 years later, doing exactly what I had dreamt up in my wildest imagination from my tiny apartment in the West Village on New Year’s Eve.  

So I’m not even sure what that’s about. I wasn’t tempering my answers. I was swinging for the fences. I was really going for it. And then I’d tuck the paper away in some file, and go about my life. And yet…so much of it came true. 

Kind of unbelievable, really. 

Or maybe this is exactly how it works. 

What I appreciate about my willingness to swing for the fences on New Years Eve is that I didn’t constrain myself by what was “realistic” or “responsible” or “mature.” I simply answered the questions with what felt true for me at the time. One important aspect of this seems to be that I answered them from a place of spaciousness versus scarcity. 

Part of doing the work we are all called to do as social change leaders is to envision a better system and then create it. To live in balance, it’s important that we do that for ourselves as well.

And I want to share this practice with you. If you go here (XXXX) you can get a worksheet with the questions written out. Just print this worksheet out, complete it yourself, and go about your business. See what happens. 

If you’d like some company, I will be doing a Facebook live on December 28th at 10:30 AM Pacific Time where we will work through these questions together as a group. If you’d like, you can share some of your reflections as we offer our encouragement and support to one another to create a new reality going into 2021.

Goodness, gracious – yes, please, let’s create a new reality into 2021!

Follow us on Facebook here! We’ll be posting reminders on our page and through our weekly newsletter.