4 Leadership Lessons Learned from my Son on Angel’s Landing

Our destination, Angel's Landing in Zion National Park
Our destination, Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park

For the past several years, I have taken my boys on road trips throughout the United States to experience hiking in national parks, swimming in the oceans and cheering on my beloved Irish (Notre Dame Football.) We have been fortunate enough to visit both coasts, the Southwest, New York, Las Vegas, Chicago, Dallas, San Diego, Orlando, Myrtle Beach, the Rockies, the Appalachians, and have had countless #selfies near so many famous (and not so famous) sights. 🙂 The time we have spent together during these adventures have been the most precious moments in my life.

While I would like to say it has all been done selflessly and in the spirit of fun, I have planned these trips with some specific goals in mind. I want to provide my boys with experiences and knowledge that will help them in their careers and lives as men. And of course I wanted to be the one to furnish them with the knowledge and memories. I love being a dad, and I feel I can impart values and skills that just cannot be gained via traditional means.

Jack and Evan taking in the view on our ascent up to Angel's Landing in Zion National Park. -June 17, 2014
Jack and Evan taking in the view on our ascent up to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. -June 17, 2014

We all have egos and I am no exception. On this particular adventure up the side of a canyon with my son Evan, I learned more about myself and leadership than any book, personality profile, or coach could ever possibly provide. And I learned it not from my intellect, expertise and skills. It was from the courage and council of a 14 year old boy.


Since 2004, six people have died falling from the cliffs on this route. (Don't feed the squirrels either)
Since 2004, six people have died falling from the cliffs on this route. (Don’t feed the squirrels either)

Angel’s Landing is a two and a half mile trek to the top of a 1488 foot tall rock formation, providing outstanding views of Zion Canyon in Utah. It is not for the feint of heart.

I really do not have any phobias (except spiders, small spaces, germs, and masked psychos with butcher knives) but heights sometimes gives me a sense of vertigo. I remember my dad tying me to the chimney of my childhood two story house so I could clean the gutters, but I digress…

After a two-mile trek and quarter mile ascent with breathtaking views, you reach this sign that reads “Since 2004, six people have died falling from the cliffs on this route.”

All that is between you and a 1400+ foot fall is a death grip on a chain that the park nicely pounded into the rock decades ago.

My heart was racing. Not from the climb thus far but the adrenaline pumping through my veins after reading the sign. Doubt and excuses crept into my mind in the form of rationalizations:

What if I fall? If I fall, will the boys know what to do? OMG, what if the boys fall? What will their mother think? Could she call Child Protective Services and have them taken away? What if we get up there and cannot get down? The wind is really gusting today… maybe we should try another time. What if we get injured and cannot get back down? We have already come far enough… the view is amazing from RIGHT HERE.

Are those chains really gonna support my weight? Ugh!

It was at this point Jack decided he was not going to continue up to the landing. I was so relieved.  My rationalizations were confirmed. I would not have to face the fear of heights that lay before me, child protective services, or more importantly, voice the fact that I was terrified. Whew.

So with a smile on my heart, feeling confident and relieved, I turn to Evan and say, “Well? What do you think? Should we head back down?”

Evan took a drink from his new Camelback water sleeve, looked up at the chains stretching out in front of him and said, “We have come this far, let’s see what is over the next set of rocks ahead. Think that would be okay, Dad?”

Confidence and Positivity

Evan had just put me into a place I did not expect. These events and life teaching moments are supposed to proceed according to my plan. The rationalizations and problem-solving processes immediately sprung into action in my mind:

I mean, I could not just leave Jack here at the trailhead. That would not be responsible. And, I am the Dad after all. Isn’t his safety more important? Kids do just do not understand. They are naturally fearless because they do not have experience. Untouchable. Darn teenagers. I can still work this out…

I turned to Jack and said, “Evan wants to continue. Are you sure you do not want to go with us? How would that make you feel? Perhaps we should try another time?”

Jack looked at me straight in the eye and said, “I have Chex mix. I’ll sit on this rock and wait. Have fun.”

So much for the lifeline. I was faced with a decision. A decision that could be rationalized from either side. I am still processing the thoughts and motivations that occurred in that moment, but I am almost certain that a combination of ‘saving face’ and not wanting to disappoint Evan combined. We waved at Jack and grabbed onto the chains…

One can lead from the back too…

Dad instinct fired:

Always hang on to the chains. Watch your footing. I am here, you can always grab my hand for a lift. Never look down. One step at a time. For God’s sake be careful. That rock is slippery, take this path instead. Take your time.

LOL. That advice was more for me than him. Evan was smiling. He made jokes. He took his time and stopped and looked out at the canyons all around us. He pointed out wildlife, colors, and commented on the wind, the day, the experience.

IMG_2613Never once did he take my hand. He nodded at all of my badgering and commands. He kept smiling and kept reassuring me he was fine.

He was grateful. He thanked me for the hiking boots we had purchased the week before and told me how they made the climb easier. He was relaxed and comfortable. He was in the moment. His confidence and quiet reassurance gave me strength. He was leading me.

I am kicking myself and am ashamed now, because at every turn I put doubt into his mind. I always gave him the option to turn back. I made it easy for him to quit, to fail. I put my own fears above his experience. Where was my training from the book Good to Great? Personal humility? Selflessness? I had taken a once in a lifetime experience and reduced it to anxiety, fear and a task to look good in front of my son. What was I thinking?


After 40 minutes holding on to the chains, negotiating the top of sheer cliff faces and enduring the endless worries I vocalized, we reached the top. I watched Evan make the final steps and had such a rush of emotion: pride, accomplishment, exhilaration and shame.

He had led me to the top.

View from Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park

On all fours, we gazed at the majesty around us. It was indeed a landing for angels. We looked at each other and could not stop smiling. We sat up top and felt the gusts of wind blow through our hair. We gazed down on from where we had come and tried to pick out where Jack must be sitting.

We reflected on the climb and some of the dangerous parts. He let me know that he was scared at some points, but was focused on making it to the top. He had never once let that show during our assent.

We shared many moments in silence, just sitting next to each other enjoying the view and relishing the journey we had shared.

And then Evan hugged and thanked me. I guess he did not think I had failed him. I still tear up thinking about that moment. I remember thinking that Evan was not any longer a boy, but a man.

Selfie on Angel's Landing! Woohoo!
Selfie on Angel’s Landing! Woohoo!

My soul renewed, and fresh insights about myself to ponder and explore, all that was left to do was take a #selfie and begin our descent.

His actions and traits on that day: courage, confidence and positivity, inspires me still today. Evan helped me overcome the negative speak that haunts all of us, and I look forward to another experience when I can follow him.



2014 Elkhart Truth 11th Annual Awards Banquet Recap

Invitation to the 2014 Elkhart Truth Awards Banquet
Invitation to the 2014 Elkhart Truth Awards Banquet

Each year, we take time to recognize the hard work of our talented staff here at The Elkhart Truth. What follows is a recap of a fabulous evening at The Lerner Ballroom in downtown Elkhart, Ind on Thursday, March 13th, 2014.

We serve dinner after an hour of cocktails and mingling. The food was fantastic. I had salmon with the most wonderful glaze. We were fortunate to have a wonderful MC, our own managing editor, Marshall King. He started with a joke and a selfie reenactment inspired by Ellen.

Marshall King, recreating a pop-culture event made popular by Ellen the week prior.
Marshall King, recreating a pop-culture event made popular by Ellen the week prior.

Marshall then introduced Truth TV, a video created in-house every year that has become feared by some, but loved by many.

The video stars the talented employees of The Elkhart Truth, and contains various parodies of popular TV shows, movies, music videos, viral media and commercials. This year’s edition included:

  • Stills of our staff mimicking the actors in Duck Dynasty, Mad Men, Real Housewives and the The Hunger Games
  • “Truth Honors” –  Several parodies of the Sprint TV Commercial with James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell from late 2013
  • “Priceless” – A parody of the popular MasterCard commercials from the mid 2000’s
  • Lip syncing to “What Does the Fox Say”, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “What Makes you Beautiful”
  • A parody of  “LIVE with Kelly and Michael”
  • A “Top Ten” list done in the style of Dave Letterman, poking fun at the pain we have gone through recently installing a new content management system named Libercus.

After the video, Greg Halling, editor, took the stage. Here are a few things he said:

“I was talking to someone in the industry — I need to be a bit circumspect here — and he told me that the leaders of a major newspaper in the upper Midwest were frustrated because they were looking for a hybrid CMS.”

“They want a content management system that starts with print content and repurposes it for digital.”

“I was stunned. Here at The Elkhart Truth, we grasp a basic truth about journalism, business and community that the Chicago Sun Times fails to understand — there is no such thing as a hybrid. There is only journalism in the service of those who need you.”

“Everything else flows from that.”

“If you understand your community, if you connect with it and care desperately about its welfare, you cover it with a sense of urgency.”

“You deliver news as quickly and effectively as you can, in as many forms as possible. Then you develop new products and business models to support that mission.”

“Essentially, you do what we have done over the last year.”

Greg went on to recognize all departments of our organization, having them stand, and thanking them for their contributions to our mission.

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Brandon Erlacher, publisher (me) then took the stage. Here is what was said:

“Now, let’s take a look into the story telling of the past year.”

“We have tried to break into video for almost 8 years now. At one point, we created daily video updates akin to what one would see on the evening news on TV. Bill Beck had a fantastic wardrobe, and I think he even wore make-up daily.”

“But we have evolved. We have learned. The videos we produce now provide depth and insight into the stories impacting our community. It just is not a roundup of the latest headlines. There is no talking head. It is about the content and the connection to the viewer. We need to be proud… journalists have always done this correctly, especially those that are part of The Elkhart Truth family, and they put the spotlight on what is important, not themselves.”

“So please take a moment to watch these pieces we produced. Our community has watched, engaged and shared them too.”

These four videos were then played for the crowd:

I then continued, “We also tell stories through photos. Here is a tribute to our talented staff relating the stories of our community through pictures and video…”

We then cued this powerful video highlighting our visual work as journalists in the Elkhart community:

The three videos featured in the above “Home” video are:

I then had a few more words to say, and our gracious Marshall was more infatuated with the cupcakes than what I was saying…

Cupcakes or a speech? Marshall's FB post during the banquet.
Cupcakes or a speech? Marshall’s FB post during the banquet.

I finished with the following:

“Damn it, we have been publishing for 125 years! Remember those videos we just watched. Who will document life? Google? WSBT? Fox28? Who will be the independent voice for those who have none? Who will hold government accountable? Who will champion a great life here in Elkhart County? I need you all.”

“I have never felt more excited about our future and the amazing people we have with passion, ideas, intelligence and endless energy. Our path to success is in your hands. Every one of us must continue taking steps forward and enlighten not only ourselves, but also our community with the enormous opportunities that are ahead.”

“Thank you all for your dedication to our great mission and company. I am honored and proud to work with each and every one of you.”

Next came the awards portion of the program. We present seven company awards every year. This year, a special one time eighth award was added labeled “Above and Beyond.”

Following, you will see a description of each award, the nominees for the award, and the introduction of each award recipient.

Above and Beyond (special award for 2014):

Becky Fain- Winner of the 2014 Above and Beyond Award
Becky Fain- Winner of the 2014 Above and Beyond Award

“This is a special award. One that is not given every year. The recipient this year has deserved it every year they have been employed. She has always been kind and helpful. No is not in her vocabulary. She is one of those people that is always busy, always approached by others for help, and yet she always finds a way to succeed. Some of her additional traits are:

  • a calm and positive attitude even through difficult times
  • a determination to get things done accurately and on time
  • always willing to assist where needed and take on new responsibilities
  • often stepping in to work with customers when the primary contact is unavailable
  • taking the lead in long range planning and scheduling
  • a go to source of information for practically every element of our business
  • assumed the duties of other positions during a year of extensive volatility”

“During the past year, she emerged as not only our safety net, but as a leader, trainer and inspirer.”

“It gives me great pleasure to present this special Above and Beyond Award to Becky Fain!”

Customer Service Award:

Mishanna Cramer- winner of the 2014 Customer Service Award
Mishanna Cramer- winner of the 2014 Customer Service Award

The winner of this award makes serving others a first priority and practices the golden rule.  This is a person that consistently sets high standards and lives by them.  This person will do whatever it takes to help the other members of the team and is a positive influence.

Nominees-  Mishanna Cramer, Joe Kuharic, Carol Reid

“This year’s customer service award winner demonstrated leadership and consistency during a very difficult year of change.”

“She continually identified areas of need and stepped up to make things happen. She is extremely competitive and makes the extra effort, whatever it takes to meet goal. She is fiercely dedicated to customer results and return on investment, and will stop at nothing to make sure obstacles are removed for success. She mentors her team members to develop and instills in them the same work ethic necessary to achieve outstanding results.  This year’s Customer Service award goes to – Mishanna Cramer.”

Leading Change Award:

The winner of this award develops a vision, communicates, establishes a sense of urgency, and empowers employees to achieve a change in major process in culture.  He or she builds on short term wins to provide a foundation for a permanent organizational change.

Nominees-  Anne Christnovich, Lydia Sheaks, Natasha Tucker

Anne Christnovich, winner of the 2014 Leading Change Award
Anne Christnovich, winner of the 2014 Leading Change Award

“To effectively lead change requires more than simply doing things differently on an individual level. It requires scrapping the old systems entirely so you can approach your job — and your mission — in an entirely new way. Even more important than that? It requires working across disciplines and across departments to help others change just as quickly.”

“This newsroom staffer does all of that. She collaborated with the advertising department to build new engagement opportunities on elkharttruth dot com. She worked with other newsroom staffers to use new forms of storytelling. She even built a new way of covering news that’s happening in real time, which is the blueprint that was used for coverage of the Martin’s shooting, Lami-Plast fire and other major news events of the past several months.”

“And she started making an impact on her first day. Given what she’s accomplished in her short time at the Elkhart Truth, it’ll be exciting to see what will come next for the recipient of this year’s Leading Change award  — congratulations, Anne Christnovich.  

Newsroom Staffer of the Year:

Dan Spalding- Winner of the 2014 Newsroom Staffer of the Year
Dan Spalding- Winner of the 2014 Newsroom Staffer of the Year

The winner of this award is the top Newsroom performer.

Nominees-  Amanda Mitchell, Dan Spalding, Rachel Terlep

“This journalist is a leader in every way. He writes deep, well-reported stories that inform our readers and make an impact on policies and life in our community.”

“He’s one of the newsroom’s most prolific bloggers and has gotten national attention for a blog post in 2013.”

“He live-tweets meetings.”

He holds city officials accountable, but has established good relationships with them so that they keep working with him even when he’s shined a light where they wish he wouldn’t.”

“But he also works with others to add layers to his stories online. His collaboration makes this hard-working journalist an even better one. He has developed the tools a modern journalist needs and wields them wisely.”

“This year’s Newsroom Staffer of the Year is Dan Spalding.”

Outstanding Achievement Award:

Natasha Tucker- Winner of the 2014 Outstanding Achievement Award
Natasha Tucker- Winner of the 2014 Outstanding Achievement Award

The winner of this award demonstrates ingenuity, determination and innovation.  He or she seeks results using their drive and passion while breaking down barriers to achieve success.

Nominees-  Rachel Terlep, Natasha Tucker, Sarah Welliver

“With very little training, this person was given the task of almost single-handedly forging the way toward a new digital opportunity. She spent countless hours researching, testing, and experimenting, while juggling her everyday duties. As the year progressed, she started to teach her co-workers the tips she had learned along the way.”

“The digital publications she has developed have become an integral part of the company’s future, opening many doors and ideas for new exciting products. She keeps calm and carries on no matter what is happening around her – and she does it with great creative flair.:

“That’s why this year’s Outstanding Achievement award winner is Natasha Tucker.”

Outstanding Sales Performance:

The winner of this award is our top sales performer.

Nominees-  Kelli Bienz, Mishanna Cramer, Minnie Hutch

“Kelli Bienz had an outstanding sales year in 2013 exceeding goal for the year. Kelli is a strategic thinker and develops integrated marketing solutions to deliver business-building results for her clients. Internally, she manages her account base with advanced planning, always working several months ahead. She has developed great working relationships with her accounts and is dedicated to being on time for every appointment. Kelli is a true role model for sales success. We are grateful for her continued success. Once again, this year’s Outstanding Sales Performance award goes to Kelli Bienz.”

Positive Mental Attitude Award:

Amanda Kolarich- Winner of the 2014 Positive Mental Attitude Award
Amanda Kolarich- Winner of the 2014 Positive Mental Attitude Award

The winner of this award encourages and coaches others to overcome obstacles.  He or she sees the “glass half full” and focuses on solutions, not problems.  Above all, he or she embraces change with enthusiasm and a smile and makes The Elkhart Truth a better place to work.

Nominees-  Amanda Kolarich, Christine Larson, Jen Price

“Even as a newcomer to the newspaper industry, this reward recipient has managed to hit the ground running. From her initial interview to her contributions on various committees and projects, she has exhibited a liveliness and enthusiasm that has helped energize many departments.  Determined to take customer service to new heights at the Truth, she focuses on solutions rather than problems, offers to help opposed to complain, and personifies service with a smile.”

“In her short tenure as the Customer Service Supervisor, she endured a most difficult winter, maintaining a professional and positive demeanor, while encouraging others to view the glass as half full when many times it was painfully obvious that it was completely empty.”

In the words of Winston Churchill: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

“And despite her small stature, she has made a big difference for us.”

“Congratulations, Amanda Kolarich.”

Newsboy (Employee of the Year):

Rather than a written description, we show a video:

Nominees-  Angelle Barbazon, Mishanna Cramer, Becky Fain

“We respond to breaking news more instinctively; we provide context and analysis more immediately; we use multimedia to illustrate our stories more extensively.”

“That helped create the largest audience in our history — and with it, new opportunities for financial growth.”

“Our newsboy led the way.”

“When we required staff to blog and promote their work on social media, she became an expert.”

Angelle Barbazon- 2014 Newsboy (Employee of the Year)
Angelle Barbazon- 2014 Newsboy (Employee of the Year)

“When we went digital first, she broke stories on a national crisis — the fungal meningitis outbreak — and used every tool at her disposal to provide valuable context.”

“She connected deeply with Sarah Crane and gently told a devastating tale of loss that helped unite an entire community.”

“If our newsboy had not gone first, no one would have followed — and we would not be poised today for the great things ahead of us in 2014.”

Our Newsboy for 2014 is Angelle Barbazon.