It has been said of me that I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I’ve made a living in a variety of ways in my life from working cattle on a ranch to making lumber in a sawmill. I’ve been an oilfield worker, professional photographer, carpenter, minister (20 years), realtor, developer, writer, speaker, founded an organization that empowered 120,000 volunteers to provide 20 million meals for disaster relief in Haiti and spend a great deal of my effort empowering people to feed the hungry.

I’m exactly what I want to be: curious and flexible. I leave very few stones unturned.

Learn More About Rick

Recent Posts

  • Leadership as an Activity, Not a Position
  • Growing Up Country: Things That Could Have Killed Me
  • One Question I’d Ask My Dad If He Were Still Alive
  • The World is Flat After All
  • Angry Bird vs Songbird


Writer and Speaker


Leadership as an Activity, Not a Position


If you have to say you’re in charge, you’re probably not.  -Tammy Duvanel Unruh

I hated choosing teams during recess.  The teacher would choose either the two most popular kids to be the “captains” or, in an occasional move of gratuitous justice, would chose two of the biggest nerds. Although I hated this system, it did assure me I got to be captain every once in a while.  I didn’t mind that charity had chosen me; I was Captain and, by golly, I controlled the fate of the other minions waiting to be picked. It was good to be King.

I was taught that leadership is a position and that position has a Grand Poobah-like title; Captain, President, Chairman, or Chief. The janitor is not a leader unless, of course, he is the “Head Janitor,” and has his own minions to dominate.

However, some time spent recently in some leadership sessions af the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC) has caused me to re-think this. The KLC believes that everyone can exercise leadership at anytime and anywhere.

They believe this because they make a difference between a position (authority) and leadership (activity).   The KLC recognizes the need for a title and a position- they have an amazingly brilliant, passionate, and energetic CEO, Ed O’Malley- but they reason that anyone can exercise leadership without being in a position.

Therefore, leadership has little, if anything, to do with a position or title. Leadership is not a noun- something you are; it’s a verb-something you do.  KLC’s first principle is, “Leadership is an activity; not a position.”

Making that distinction between activity and position is like saying a baseball player is only a baseball player when he’s on the field playing baseball. He is not a baseball player unless he’s actively engaging himself and others in the game of baseball.  So anyone at a meeting who is actively engaged, even if they are sitting clear at the back of the room is just as much a leader as the person standing up front. Conversely, anyone in the room- even the person at the front- who is not actively engaged is not practicing leadership.

The fundamental principle in this model is really quite simple; human dignity.  KLC’s model gives equal value to every voice in the room.  This model assumes that answers to difficult problems will arise when every voice in the room contributes to the common good.

Changing the traditional concept of leadership is about as easy as reversing the laws of gravity. I’ve rewritten this blog several different times; it’s hard to explain because of preconceived notions of leadership.  I’ve been around the KLC model for years and still find my old defaults of leadership equals position getting in the way of productivity.

This all sounds like high-falutin’ theory until you put in practice and then it gets very interesting because the actual practice of this kind of leadership is an activity versus leadership is a position can, as the KLC commonly says, raise the heat in the room.

As you read the 5 leadership principles of KLC and you will go, well, duh, of course, that’s what leadership is. It’s when I get to the, “Yeah, but” that the game changes.

KLC Leadership Principles:

    • Leadership is an activity, not a position.
    • Anyone can lead, anytime, anywhere.
    • It starts with you and must engage others.
    • Your purpose must be clear.
    • It’s risky.

I’m right, aren’t I?  Those make sense and you wonder what is revolutionary about it.

Here’s the Yeah, but; when you really apply the model in a meeting, it’s like the bus driver passed out and all 37 passengers start screaming like little kids in a horror flick trying to grab the wheel and slap the bus driver at the same time.

KLC uses a simple mechanism to change the dynamics; instead of the person facilitating the session (formerly known as the real leader) providing the answers when someone asks a question, they ask a question in return; then another question; then another; then another; then another; then another to the point that someone usually yells “just give us the freaking answer!” This is the point the passengers start slapping the bus driver. 

The response from folks in the meeting from the person in front deliberately not giving answers but asking more questions can be surprisingly adverse.  The KLC folks call this reaction, raising the heat; I call it slapping the bus driver.

The KLC’s model assumes that everyone in an organization or a community can be engaged in leadership regardless of whether or not they have a position.  And if everyone is engaged, then the organization or community will operate at maximum capacity and effectiveness.

Check them out.  www.kansasleadershipcenter.org

Buy Ed’s book (co-written with David Crislip):  For the Common Good: Redefining Civic Leadership

Do whatever you can to go through their training!

The photo on the blog is of their beautiful new facility in Wichita!


Growing Up Country: Things That Could Have Killed Me



The fastest form of transportation is fear - Interview with a 2,000 Year Old Man

It’s no small miracle I made it to my 54th birthday alive. I grew up a largely unsupervised surrounded by 1,280 acres of Kansas prairie full of farm ponds, gullies, dilapidated barns, rattlesnakes, and hitchhiking hippies.  Oh yeah, don’t forget the herd of cows whose favorite form of merrymaking was scaring the daylights out of me. “Chase him, Ethel,” Maude the cow shrieked, “let’s see if he wets himself again!”

An article in the Atlantic Monthly, Hey, Parents! Leave Those Kids Alone!, suggests that parents are over-protective of children and, therefore, impeding their healthy psychological development.  Some suggest that kids should be exposed to more things that could send them to the emergency room.  The basic thesis is that playgrounds and parks are too sterile and foam covered with too many adults hovering so kids don’t develop risk-assessment capacities.

I’m surprised people are just now discovering it’s actually healthy for a kid to have dangerous options for stupidity to be scared out of them.  Most of the owies I got as a kid did not elicit a kiss from Mom and Dad; instead, they would generally remark that I should know better and to wait a few days; the hair on my eyebrows would grow back.

Since I spent most of it as an unsupervised country kid, I made up a list of I made a list of things of relatively dangerous things;

      • Drowning in Hobsons Pond – I lost count of the near misses
      • Midnight diving off the 15’ Stone Arch Bridge into 5’ of water
      • Rattlesnakes that hid under the rocks that we flipped over looking for, of course, snakes
      • Screaming down the flooded ravine n Hobson’s Pasture in the middle of raging Kansas thunderstorm in an inner tube with bolts of lightning lacing the sky
      • Falling through the ice in the middle of Bergen’s 3-acre pond
      • Trusting that my nephew, Leroy, cleaned the shotgun; thankfully, my Dad taught me always to check the gun first. Sure enough, the barrel was hard-caked with foot of dried mud.
      • Jeff Miller- he was another nephew and, even when we were babies, started daring me to do stupid things. After he’d convince me, he’d turn to his sister Colleen and say, “Here, hold our baby-bottles.”
      • The UFO that was coming to get us. Okay, so maybe that one wasn’t real, but Jeff had the rest of us convinced and perception is reality.

As John Wayne would say, “Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.”

The photo on the blog page is of me when I was ten.  It was shortly after I nearly blew my fingers off with a firecracker.  Of course, my mother warned me not to try to throw firecrackers.  Jeff convinced me she was alien life form and, therefore, not to be believed.










One Question I’d Ask My Dad If He Were Still Alive


Some say the most significant life-change in a woman happens when she has her first child. Some say the most significant life-change in a man happens when his father dies.

Last week marked the twenty-seventh year since my Dad died. I was the youngest of six and considered by my siblings to be the boy with the coat of many colors. Odd that they saw it that way; I never felt like I was special.  However, I’ve often told my older five siblings that Mom and Dad were nicer to me because they had given up after raising them. That, and our parents saved the best for last.

For the first twenty-one years of my life, I was not close to my Dad.  His blue-collar job in the oilfield put food on our table, but Dad’s real love was the little country church he pastored. My Dad never had an official education, but was a brilliant man who consumed voluminous books on theology and history like they were novels.

Most of what I learned from him was from listening to him preach. We never had a sit-down-and-let’s-talk-about-this-son kind of relationship, but three times a week I listened to my Dad’s thoughts on life while my feet dangled over the edge of a creaky old wooden pew in a small country church.

At twenty-one, I discovered Dad to be a lot nicer than I remembered.  For the remaining five years of his life, we grew much closer.

However, for as close as we were, there were still things we never talked about that I wished I would have.  If I could have Dad back for a bit, there is one thing I’d ask him about:

What did you like about me? I knew you loved me, but I often wondered what you liked about me.

I can only guess what my Dad liked about me; he showed me but never told me. I like words; I’d like to have heard them.

Even though I can’t ask him, I can tell my kids what I like about them. I don’t want them to have to guess.

Excuse me; I have a few letters to write.








The World is Flat After All


I kicked the red African soil off my shoes as I walked into the classroom of the Gunda Secondary School in Nkungi village, Tanzania.  The school was built by Floyd and Kathy Hammer, founders of Outreach, Inc. Floyd and Kathy traded the mamas in Nkungi grain for their beautiful hand-woven grass baskets, then brought the baskets to the US to sell so they could raise money to build the school.  The student/teacher ratio is one teacher per 77 students. (Floyd and Kathy have purchased over 65,000 baskets in the last ten years! You can buy some here)

The writing on the black board impressed me; a student had written the definition of globalization.  In essence, it said that the world is connected and is one large village.  This same student would pick up a hoe lying by his or her desk later in the day and work in the little farm outside the school where they grew crops to feed themselves. Even though they are years behind the developed world in technology, they understood that we are one big village.Nkungi Classroom

Economist Thomas Friedman uses another word to describe globalization; flat. He argues that technology has truly flattened our world.

In college, I discovered that Christopher Columbus did not sail the ocean blue in fourteen-hundred-and-ninety-two to prove that it was round.  He did it for the typical reasons; greed, national domination, and religious proselytization.  He did not do it to prove it was round. But it turns out the world is flat after all.

My heart spends a lot of time in Africa even though my body doesn’t.  Although the connections are sometimes spotty, I can call, Skype, email, and text pretty easily. I no longer think of Africa as over there. It’s my next-door neighbor- just takes a while to get there.

The world has become much flatter which affords a lot more opportunities:

      • A changing economy offers entrepreneurs new ways to do business
      • Political pressure can happen more easily via social media
      • Financial investments in social impact can be more easily monitored
      • International relationships can be developed (I communicate frequently through Facebook and Twitter to my African partners)
      • Greater accountability is offered (cell phone videos are a powerful tool)

Maybe technology will advance enough so it doesn’t take so long to get to Africa from Kansas. A Star Trek-like teleporter would be a nice.

Beam me up, Scotty.















Angry Bird vs Songbird


I have met the enemy and it is us. – Pogo

At my house, wild songbirds are treated exceptionally well with food, water, medical care, and housing to the point my wife thinks I need psychiatric evaluation.  However, the testosterone laced teenage-in-bird-years male cardinal outside our camper at the lake was itching for a fight and I was ready to punch his lights out.

He had a white t-shirt on with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in a one sleeve and the other sleeve rolled up to expose a tattoo of a scantily clad woman named Betty. He strutted like an avian fight club veteran and kept attacking his reflection in the camper windows simultaneously hurting himself, driving the rest of us crazy and damaging the brand-new window tinting. This little red pugilist had my head turning red, too.

My wife and I finally won the battle by covering our windows with towels. Although our new camper looked like the Beverly Hillbillies on vacation, nonetheless we thwarted his unwarranted aggression.  I now call him Putin.

As the battle between his birdbrain and my birdbrain raged on, I began to wonder about how many times I fight unnecessary battles that are all in my imagination.

Here are conclusions I made about fighting battles against myself:

    • I’m often battling a past failure and assumptions I will fail again
    • My battle is not grounded in reality; I’m making it up
    • I produce negative energy that steals time and productivity
    • I waste a lot of opportunity for creative thinking and imagination
    • I unnecessarily engage innocent bystanders in a battle that has no merit or just cause for them


How to make sure I’m not fighting myself:

    • Take counsel from trusted advisors- my wife is my best counselor; she will quickly tell me whether I’m fighting myself or a real battle worth fighting. My sons are pretty good at pointing out when I’m attacking windows, too.
    • Ask myself if the basis of my battle because of past failures
    • Ask myself if the basis of my battle are my own fears

I took away the little redheaded bandit’s illusion of reality so he’s sitting in the evergreen tree singing his little heart out like it’s Saturday night at the Karaoke Bar. He’ll have a headache in the morning.

But, for now, we’re both much happier.

(photo was purchased from istock because I couldn’t the little bugger to hold still – he wobbled like a drunken sailor)

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