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Full Steam Ahead: Get Focused, Get Energized, Get Great Results! Unleash the Power of Vision in Your Company and Your Life by Ken Blanchard and Jessie Stoner


Rating: (Mildly Recommended)


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Steady As She Goes

I picked up the latest Ken Blanchard book with glee. I prepared to craft a “DNR” (do not read) rating, as I’ve done with his other recent books. To my surprise, Full Steam Ahead, brought me no seasickness or nausea. Occasionally, I found myself nodding in agreement. There’s no sappy allegory here. There’s an abundance of sensitivity, that can be a bit stifling. Here’s the litmus test: if you can swallow the following sentence, read the book. “This book is about how to make visioning a journey.” Get by that clincher from the introduction, and the rest of the trip is ok.

Here’s an excerpt from the “life” portion of the book (pp. 85-97), Blurry Vision:

I had been working at the agency for over two months, and I was feeling pretty good. I liked work—the sense of accomplishment it gave me. I was also pleased because I was supporting myself and even had a little extra money for some new clothes, a night out at the movies, and a cell phone (my big splurge over the weekend).

I  was   pleased   that  I  had   helped   the   accounting department get focused and energized through the power of a shared vision. I enjoyed the people I worked with and felt that the work we were doing was important. I also liked the company. And most important, my relationship with Jim had added dimension to my life. Jim brought out the best in me. And, he told me I brought out the best in him. I believed that as we figured out this 'vision thing,' the company would begin to sparkle and performance would skyrocket. Certainly, the sparkle was happening in the accounting department.

Early Monday, Jim and I were sitting quietly at the table, sipping coffee. I was sharing my reflections with Jim about how my life had changed for the positive since I had started working at the agency.

In the midst of our conversation, I was startled by the sound of a phone ringing. I looked at Jim, who looked back at me with a surprised expression. I realized there was no phone in the copy room. The sound was from my new cell phone at the bottom of my handbag. I rummaged through my bag, found the phone, and answered. It was my son Alex.

"Morn, don't be mad at me," he began. "I got in a fight with some boys on the way to school. I'm OK. I promise. I'm with a police officer right now. She wants to talk with you."

I caught my breath. What was going on?

"Your son seems OK," the officer said. "But he lost consciousness briefly, and he has a cut on his forehead.

An ambulance is on the way. You can meet us at the hospital. I'd like to talk with you."

I felt a rising panic. I headed quickly out the door. Jim ran after me. "What's going on?" he asked.

"Alex is hurt. I'm going to the hospital."

"I'm coming along," Jim responded. "We'll take my car. You don't look like you should be driving."

He was right.

While Jim drove, I tried to calm down and told him the little I knew. He suggested that I call Doug, which I did. I couldn't reach him but left messages at home and at work. That was the best I could do.

When we arrived at the hospital, Alex and the police officer were already there. Alex was in a room waiting for a doctor. When he turned and looked at me, I gasped. He was holding a bloody rag over his eye.

"Morn," he said, starting to cry. I was so upset, I started to cry, too.

   "What happened?" I asked.

 Alex was too upset to talk. He wasn't making any  sense. At that point the doctor came in and began to examine him. The cut was right above Alex's eye.

   "It's not a bad cut, but it will require stitches," the doctor said calmly. "And because you lost consciousness, Alex, we'll need to observe you overnight."

Stay overnight in the hospital? What was going on?

 The police officer asked me if I could step outside  to speak with her a moment. Alex was being attended  to by the nurse and seemed to have calmed down.

 I looked at Jim, who had been standing there the  whole time, solid as a rock. He accompanied me out  of the room.

The officer said, "Ma'am. From the report by the neighbor who called me—and as much as I can tell at  this point—your son was involved in a fight with three boys. One of them hit him in the face with a rock.

 When he fell to the ground, the boys ran off. The neighbor found him dazed. Alex doesn't seem to remember much about the incident, but he told me that these boys have been harassing him for some time.

I'd like to know what you've done about this situation so far."

I stood looking at her speechless. What had I done about the situation? How could I have done anything about the situation when I didn't even know about the situation?

I told her that this was the first I was hearing about anything. She paused and looked me over. I figured she was appraising me as a mother, and I was coming up short. She said simply, "If you want to file a police report, you can call or come to the police station." She gave me her phone number and left.

I turned and looked at Jim, stunned. He put his arm around my shoulder and said, "One thing at a time, Ellie. Let's see how Alex is doing."

We went back in the room. The rest of the day was a whirlwind. A surgeon stitched and dressed the wound. Alex was moved to a different room. He was put in a hospital gown, and I was handed his bloody clothes. Jim headed back to work while I stayed at the hospital. Doug called. I explained what had happened.

He said he'd stop by the hospital after work. Before I knew it, it was time to get Jen. All during this time, I had no time to talk with Alex about what had happened beyond the details of how his face was cut. I went to pick Jen up at school so she wouldn't come home to an empty house and wonder what was happening.

I told Jen what had happened to her brother. She was upset but, to my amazement, not surprised. Instead she said, "I figured something like this was going to happen sooner than later. Maybe now someone will do something." She sounded angry. I assumed she was angry with the boys who hurt Alex.

Doug said that Jen could sleep at his house so I could stay at the hospital that evening with Alex. I dropped Jen off at Doug's and went back to the hospital to stay with Alex. I tried to talk with him about what had happened, but he was uncommunicative. l thought he might be drowsy from medication or lust exhausted by all the events, so I didn't press for information.


   At bedtime, I headed home to an empty house  feeling confused and overwhelmed. When I got home, there was a message on my answering machine, "Hi, Ellie, it's Jim. Call me at home when you get this message. It doesn't matter how late it is."

    It felt so good to hear Jim's voice. All day I had  focused on Alex and Jen. Doug had done his duty as a father, but he hadn't been there for me. And who would have expected him to be, anyway? He wasn't there when we were married. Why would he be there now? I didn't realize how lonely I was feeling until I heard Jim's kind voice on my machine.


I called the number, and a young woman answered. "I'm sorry, I think I may have dialed the wrong number.


"Are you Ellie?" she asked.


"I'm Kristen, Jim's daughter. Dad told me you'd probably call. I'm sorry to hear about your son."

She handed the phone to her father.

"How's Alex?"

The genuine concern in his voice allowed me to let down my guard. Through my tears I told him what I knew, which wasn't much.

"Ellie," Jim said. "I'm glad Alex is OK. I know this has been a really hard day for him and also for you.

I'm also concerned about Jen."

"Jen?" I asked. "She's fine. She's at her father's place."

Then Jim said something that stopped me dead in my tracks.

"Ellie, you've got to take a look at what is going on at home. It's hard for me to say this, but I'm taking the risk because I care about you. I was watching you talk with Alex and later with the police officer. Clearly you love your children, but you seem out of touch with what they are experiencing. I think you need to have a serious talk with your children."

Hanging up the phone with Jim, I was struck by a blinding headache. I stumbled toward the medicine cabinet. As I glanced in the mirror, my vision blurred, and I could hardly see myself at all.

I spent much of the night awake, thinking about what was really going on at home and what I needed to do as a mother.

Sometimes, it's painful to look at the truth. It's easier to hold onto our illusions of what we want things to be or to hold onto our anger about changes that have been forced onto us. I realized that I had been doing both. I had been telling myself that the children were fine because they weren't complaining.

And I realized that by holding onto my anger with Doug, I could blame him for destroying our family and absolve myself of the responsibility to rebuild a new one. A good look in the mirror can be quite a shock.


I picked up Alex at the hospital early the next morning. I had arranged to take the day off from work. Alex was subdued as we drove home. I didn't say much on the ride, either. Once home, I made him breakfast. As we sat the table, I said, "Alex, I love you a lot. I'm not sure how much I've been showing that to you lately. I want to know what's going on because I care about  you and want to help you. Please tell me anything you  want to—about our family, about me as your mother,  about school, about the boys that you got in the fight with. I want to listen and I'm here."

   Suddenly a flood of words and thoughts and anger filled the room. Alex opened up.

"You don't care about what happens to me anymore! All you care about is work! We're not a family anymore. I'm really, really alone, and you just don't care."


"I'm sorry, Alex. I'm sorry." I took his head in my hands and drew him close. He began to sob.

When he was ready to talk, he said, "Some boys started teasing me a couple of months ago. They made fun of me because I was the only boy in my art class. I stopped taking art lessons, but they didn't stop teasing me. I tried to ignore them. But the more I ignored them, the nastier they got.

Yesterday, I'd had enough. On my way to school, they followed me and called me names again. So instead of ignoring them, I called them names back. I used words you would never let me use, Morn. I thought that would stop them, but the next thing I knew, all three boys were on top of me beating me. I'm not even sure who hit me with the rock. I don't remember much after that. I think a woman ran out of a house, and the boys got scared and ran away. I think she called the police."

"Alex, why haven't you told me all of this was going on?"

He was silent for the longest moment, as if he were trying to avoid answering my question. I just waited, refusing to back down.

He finally said, "I've already told you, Morn.

You're so busy with work all the time. Besides, I know you want me to handle my own problems. You have so many of your own problems that you just don't need any more."

I could have wept when I heard him say that. He was thinking it was his job to protect me. "Does anyone know that this has been going on?" I asked.

"Jen knows, but nobody else."

"That must be why she wasn't surprised when I told her what had happened," I suggested. "In fact, she seemed more angry than upset."

"I think she is angry, Morn."

It was starting to sink in just how badly I had been shirking my responsibilities as a mother.

"We have two problems to solve, Alex. One problem is with these bullies. No one expects you to solve this kind of problem alone. Your father and I need to help with the bullies. We'll file the police report and get the boys' parents involved. We'll also let the school know what happened. We're absolutely not going to allow any taunting or harassment to continue."

    Alex looked relieved.

"The second problem is one that Jen, you, and I need to solve together. We need to talk about our family—about what has been happening to us and how we can make things better."


When Jen came home from school that afternoon, Alex and I were waiting for her with fresh-baked cookies and milk. I had had several hours to think about what was going on and decided that I needed to listen to the children. I announced that we needed to

have a family meeting.

Jen really let me have it. She scorchingly, in no uncertain terms, told me what a rotten mother I had been. I could see that Alex was angry, too, although he hadn't expressed it as openly as Jen.

"Morn, it feels like you don't care about us anymore," Jen accused. "You don't cook meals anymore—you heat up macaroni and cheese from a box or order pizza. You're always gone in the morning before I wake up. You don't put me to bed anymore, tell me stories, or kiss me goodnight!"

I told Jen I hadn't realized how bad things had been for her and Alex and how really sorry I was. I hugged her, wiped her tears, and said, "Sweetheart, things are going to change now."

Jen sniffled, "I miss the stories you used to make up." I had to acknowledge that Jen was right. I had really been blowing things. I had been feeling so much better at work but was ignoring the signals that things weren't better at home at all. My independent, self-reliant children really did need me, and I hadn't been there for them. I felt terrible.

The amazing thing about children is how resilient and forgiving they are. They're not nearly as hard on us as we are on ourselves. After a while, the accusations and tears began to diminish, and Jen let me take her in my arms.


After dinner, I broached the subject again with the children. "I've missed telling you stories. I'd like us to make up one together now—one about what kind of family we want to be. And then I'd like us to make it a true story."

We began to talk about our hopes and dreams for our family. We openly shared what we wanted from each other. We discussed why a family is important and what our purpose as a family is. We listed our most passionate values and explored how we hoped to act and how we wanted to be treated by each other.

We talked about what really pushes our buttons or violates our core values.

Then we each answered the question "What do I care deeply about?" We created a picture of what it would look like if we were really being the kind of family we wanted to be. We talked about what our relationships would look like, how we would feel about each other, how we would feel about ourselves, what we would be doing, what we              would be saying, what our home would look like, what kinds of activities we would do together, and what things we would prefer to do alone. We shared many pictures of what an ideal future would look like.

The more we talked, the more I realized that it was all possible. We didn't need a father in our home to be a family. But we did need to be clear about our vision.

After the children went to bed, I wrote up a statement that summarized what we had discussed. Later, as I prepared for bed, I realized the headache that had plagued me for most of the day was gone. I glanced in the mirror and saw a clear reflection smiling back at me.

At breakfast, I showed the statement to the children. They really liked it. They made a few changes, but the essence remained the same.

Our purpose as a family is to support each others' growth and to contribute to our community. Our values are love, respect, open communication, learning, and fun. We know we are acting on our values when we honor the right of each of us to be who we are, when we speak the truth in a way that others can hear, when we encourage each other to look at things in a new way, and when we play together and laugh. Our morn is a constant force in our lives.

We can depend on her. She is aware of how we are doing in school and expects the best of us. She is a role model for us as a loving mother, a working parent, and someone we can confide in. Jen and Alex contribute to the welfare of our family. We do our chores without being reminded because we depend on each other. We support each other's growth by encouraging each other to be the best we can be. We contribute to worthy causes with donations and volunteer our time. We dance, tell stories, and play cards together. We're not per feet, and we don't want to be. But we learn from our mistakes. Sometimes we argue, but we always make up, because our love is stronger than anything. As we grow older and our lives change, our love will always unite us and our dreams will always guide us.

I put it on our refrigerator to keep it as visible as possible.


We had done it! We had created a family vision—significant purpose, clear values, and pictures of what we wanted to become, what it looks like when our purpose and values are being fulfilled. And because it was a shared vision, I knew we were all on the same boat together, able to move full steam ahead. What a relief!

I was so proud of us. There was just one problem.

One of the key points in the vision was that I was a constant force in their lives. At this still-young age, it meant they needed to see me in the morning before they left for school. And that meant I wouldn't be able to continue meeting Jim in the morning. I really didn't want to give up that special time with him. So that piece wasn't feeling too good.

But I was absolutely certain: My family is—and has to be—the most important thing in my life. Period.

You may not want to create a family or a corporate vision, but you may find another idea or two in Full Steam Ahead that you can use in your work or personal life.

Steve Hopkins, August 22, 2003


ă 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the September 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Steam Ahead.htm


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