Monday, October 28, 2013

Cut, Copy and Paste

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Two weeks ago, in The Preamble, I continued writing about the process I used to create my association's values statement, despite some misgivings about the value of values statements I've previously shared and still hold.

From the flipchart paper on which we had recorded the output of a staff retreat on the subject, I had created an initial draft of a full values statement. I incorporated both concepts that seemed to address dysfunctional elements of our current culture and those that represented more aspirational aspects of the future organization we wanted to create. And I added some of my own ideas, including a preamble that tied the values statement to the mission and strategic priorities of our association and introduced an overall frame of systemic leadership.

The next step was to share the draft values statement with my staff. I had consciously taken an inclusive approach to the draft, working hard to include every idea that had come out of our group discussion and adding a few of my own. As we had worked together to come up with all the ideas, now I wanted to work together to whittle it down to something that would be memorable and functional within the organization.

Here's how I tried to position the challenge when I emailed the draft statement to my staff:

Attached is the draft values statement I’ve put together based on our discussions.

I came up with 9 core values with 3-4 behaviors aligned with each one, with admittedly some overlap across the board. For our next discussion, I’d like to look at ways to combine/refine the concepts so that we have no more than 6 core values (and perhaps less) with however many behaviors are necessary to fully describe each one.

I would ask everyone to take a stab at creating that revised document, and return that attempt to me so we can review and discuss multiple concepts. Don’t feel bound to include everything on this draft in the draft you create, and feel free to add new ideas if you think they are important.

Four of my nine staff members took me up on this challenge, returning a revised draft incorporating their thoughts on how to condense the statement down. They all edited and re-arranged the behaviors (the bullet-points that are listed under each value that describe how we can observe a person demonstrating the value) to one degree or another, but what I was really looking for was the concepts each person emphasized by observing what they kept, what the combined, and what they deleted to get the list down to the requested six or less values.

Here's a summary of what each staff person did:

A. Cut Clarity, Poise and Service, redistributing some of their behaviors, but left Growth, Innovation, Integrity, Passion, Respect and Teamwork as our six core values.

B. Combined Respect, Integrity and Poise into one new value--Professionalism--and left Clarity, Growth, Innovation, Passion, Teamwork and Service for a total of seven core values.

C. Rearranged all the values and behaviors into five new core values, each with a short phrase instead of a single word to capture its essence: (1) Clear, honest and accountable; (2) Innovative and open-minded; (3) Passionate and motivated; (4) Respectful and team-oriented; and (5) Service-oriented.

D. Nested and combined the nine draft values and behaviors into three broad categories: (1) Growth and innovation; (2) Teamwork with clarity, integrity, poise, respect and passion; and (3) Service.

I found the exercise very illuminating. I saw both the personalities of each staff person shining through in their decisions, as well as some common needs that would need to be incorporated into the final document.

Stay tuned. I'll continue this story in future posts. Up next: Discussing those common needs and preparing the final draft.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, October 21, 2013

How Long Does It Have to Be?

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If you follow me on Twitter, you've seen a number of tweets lately from the Corner Office series in The New York Times. Adam Bryant interviews CEOs from a bunch of different industries and publishes a short summary of one each week.

I've found a lot of wisdom in these summaries, and reading one each morning before I start my busy day is a ritual I've come to look forward to. The wisdom, however, is often hard to capture completely in 140 characters. Here's one of the latest examples:

This comes from Tim Bucher, Founder and CEO of Here's the full context:

I just hired a new senior vice president of marketing. I sat her down and I said, “You need to know I’m a terrible manager, but I will lead you, and we will do great things together.” That’s not a normal management style, but if you set that expectation with folks, it works. I told her, I will challenge you. I will challenge you beyond the breaking point. And it’s up to you to push back. But you need to understand I’m challenging you not to make your life miserable. I’m challenging you to make the impossible possible, which is what you do in start-ups.

This resonates strongly with me. Bucher is putting front and center what is often the unrecognized and misunderstood role of the leader--to push and motivate people to accomplish more than even they think is possible.

Indulge me for a moment. I don't often think about my years in high school, but when I do, one of the strongest memories I have is of the reactions that different students had to difficult assignments. In English class, for example, the assignment would be to read a short story by a famous author and to write an essay, exploring its theme, or its use of symbolism, or its relevance to our own societal context. And inevitably, more than one student's hand would go up, all with the same question on their minds.

"How long does it have to be?"

With the benefit of adult hindsight, I can now sympathize with the frustrated sigh with which the teacher answered that question. I'll bet Bucher can, too. I don't remember one of my teachers ever using these exact words, but they certainly would have been appropriate.

"I'm giving you this assignment not to make your life miserable. I'm giving you this assignment to make the impossible possible."

We leaders face the same challenges in our organizations. There are certainly tasks that need doing. Tasks that keep the organization running and profitable. People often recognize this themselves, and they're able to motivate themselves enough to get the necessary jobs done.

But in addition to these tasks, there are also difficult assignments. Assignments that we give out to people on our teams not because they have to be done to keep the lights on, but because, if they are done successfully, they will radically advance or transform our understanding of what is possible. Sometimes we have an expanding organizational scope in mind. Other times we want to see the person stretch themselves or exercise some newly-developing skill.

And when we're met with the equivalent of "How long does it have to be?" we wonder if we have the right person on our team. Or if we've been clear enough about where we think the organization is going. Or both. Just like my high school English teacher, we're not handing out difficult assignments to make anyone's life miserable. Sometimes were just dying to see if anyone is willing to take up the charge and create something new.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Professor's House by Willa Cather

This is a novel that contains two distinct stories--one about Godfrey St. Peter, an aging history professor entering the downward slope of his life, and the other about Tom Outland, a young man lost at the peak of his potential. And like most novels that contain two main characters, the interesting parts come from when and how those two lives intersect.

Of course they intersect as a matter of plot, Tom Outland being a kind of protege of Godfrey St. Peter--a young man who achieves more fame and fortune in a life cut short that the Professor does in one of interminable length. But more interesting to me is how they intersect as a matter of theme.

It’s difficult to know where to start. This is not Cather’s best novel, and I’m not convinced it hangs together as well as she intended. But let’s start here.

When I had gone up this canyon for a mile or so, I came upon another, opening out to the north--a box canyon, very different in character. No gentle slope there. The walls were perpendicular, where they weren’t actually overhanging, and they were anywhere from eight hundred to a thousand feet high, as we afterward found by measurement. The floor of it was a mass of huge boulders, great pieces of rock that had fallen from above ages back, and had been worn round and smooth as pebbles by the long action of water. Many of them were as big as haystacks, yet they lay piled on one another like a load of gravel. There was no footing for my horse among those smooth stones, so I hobbled him and went on alone a little way, just to see what it was like. My eyes were steadily on the ground--a slip of the foot there might cripple one.

This is from Tom Outland’s Story, the long middle section of the book, a first-person narrative that describes Tom’s life as an explorer in the American Southwest before coming east to study under St. Peter.

It was such rough scrambling that I was soon in a warm sweat under my damp clothes. In stopping to take breath, I happened to glance up at the canyon wall. I wish I could tell you what I saw there, just as I saw it, on that first morning, through a veil of lightly falling snow. Far up above me, a thousand feet or so, set in a great cavern in the face of the cliff, I saw a little city of stone, asleep. It was as still as sculpture--and something like that. It all hung together, seemed to have a kind of composition: pale little houses of stone nestling close to one another, perched on top of each other, with flat roofs, narrow windows, straight walls, and in the middle of the group, a round tower.

It was beautifully proportioned, that tower, swelling out to a larger girth a little above the base, then growing slender again. There was something symmetrical and powerful about the swell of the masonry. The tower was the fine thing that held all the jumble of houses together and made them mean something. It was red in colour, even on that grey day. In sunlight it was the colour of winter oak-leaves. A fringe of cedars grew along the edge of the cavern, like a garden. They were the only living things. Such silence and stillness and repose--immortal repose. That village sat looking down into the canyon with the calmness of eternity. The falling snow-flakes, sprinkling the pinons, gave it a special kind of solemnity. I can’t describe it. It was more like sculpture than anything else. I knew at once that I had come upon the city of some extinct civilization, hidden away in the inaccessible mesa for centuries, preserved in the dry air and almost perpetual sunlight like a fly in amber, guarded by the cliffs and the river and the desert.

The tower is a celestial observatory--and it is significant that Tom calls it “the fine thing that held all the jumble of houses together and made them mean something.” Later, when Tom brings some of his comrades to the site, they encourage him to go to the Smithsonian in Washington with news of his find and bring their professional archaeologists out to study it properly. One of them says:

“Like you, I feel a reverence for this place. Wherever humanity has made that hardest of all starts and lifted itself out of mere brutality, is a sacred spot. Your people were cut off here without the influence of example or emulation, with no incentive but some natural yearning for order and security. They built themselves into this mesa and humanized it.”

Tom, in fact, does this. But the professional archaeologists don’t see the hidden city and the mysteries it contains the same way Tom does. In many ways, they seem insensitive to the potential of the place for a deep understanding of what makes us human and the insistent drive our species has for taming the wild around us.

For Tom, it is indeed a sacred place.

When I pulled out on top of the mesa, the rays of sunlight fell slantingly through the little twisted pinons--the light was all in between them, as red as a daylight fire, they fairly swam in it. Once again I had the glorious feeling of being on the mesa, in a world above the world. And the air, my God, what air!--Soft, tingling, gold, hot with an edge of chill on it, full of the smell of pinons--it was like breathing the sun, breathing the color of the sky. Down there behind me was the plain, already streaked with shadow, violet and purple and burnt orange until it met the horizon. Before me was the flat mesa top, thinly sprinkled with old cedars there were not much taller than I, though their twisted trunks were almost as thick as my body. I struck off across it, my long black shadow going ahead.

A place for human refinement and elucidation. Tom spends much of his time up there reading Virgil, committing long passages of the Aeneid to memory. And when he thinks of the Aeneid later, when he is far removed from that magical place…

I can always see two pictures: the one on the page, and another behind that: blue and purple rocks and yellow-green pinons with flat tops, little clustered houses clinging together for protection, a rude tower rising in their midst, rising strong, with calmness and courage--behind it a dark grotto, in its depths a crystal spring.

In essence, the ancient civilization is an achievement on par with that of Virgil’s. Tom Outland’s story is rich with these comparisons, reminding the reader of the deep and fathomless mysteries that have challenged the human mind for millennia, and the myriad ways that civilizations have tried to respond.

But what does anything of this have to do with the novel’s titular professor and his house?

To answer that, let’s start here.

“Godfrey,” she said slowly and sadly. “I wonder what it is that makes you draw away from your family. Or who it is.”

“My dear, are you going to be jealous?”

“I wish I were going to be. I’d much rather see you foolish about some woman than becoming lonely and inhuman.”

“Well, the habit of living with ideas grows on one, I suppose, just as inevitably as the more cheerful habit of living with various ladies. There’s something to be said for both.”

This is a conversation between the Professor and his wife--she chiding him for wanting to spend all his time and attention on his work.

“I think your ideas were best when you were your most human self.”

St. Peter sighed. “I can’t contradict you there. But I must go on as I can. It is not always May.”

“You are not old enough for the pose you take. That’s what puzzles me. For so many years you never seemed to grow at all older, though I did. Two years ago you were an impetuous young man. Now you save yourself in everything. You’re naturally warm and affectionate; all at once you begin shutting yourself away from everybody. I don’t think you’ll be happier for it.” Up to this point she had been lecturing him. Now she suddenly crossed the room and sat down on the arm of his chair, looking into his face and twisting up the ends of his military eyebrows with her thumb and middle finger. “Why is it, Godfrey? I can’t see any change in your face, though I watch you so closely. It’s in your mind, in your mood. Something has come over you. Is it merely that you know too much, I wonder? Too much to be happy? You were always the wisest person in the world. What is it, can’t you tell me?”

Get ready. Here it comes.

“I can’t altogether tell myself, Lillian. It’s not wholly a matter of the calendar. It’s the feeling that I’ve put a great deal behind me, where I can’t go back to it again--and I really don’t wish to go back. The way would be too long and too fatiguing. Perhaps, for a home-staying man, I’ve lived pretty hard. I wasn’t willing to slight anything--you, or my desk, or my students. And now I seem to be tremendously tired. One pays, coming and going, A man has got only just so much in him; when it’s gone he slumps.”

This is part of the last narrative arc of the novel. The Professor is feeling restless, drawn both by the excitement of his intellectual pursuits and by the obligations and rewards of familial love, but realizing that his days are growing increasingly numbered, and that he has not yet accomplished something of the significance of his young student, Tom Outland. His family is planning a trip to Europe--sailing on a ship called the Berengaria--but he begs off, deciding to stay home and make use of the time alone to advance his scholarship.

And stays home he does--except not in the new house they have recently moved into, but in his old house--the house of the book’s title--the house with the Professor’s old study at the top of the stairs. A study with drafty windows and a gas-burning stove and a dressmaker’s dummy that his wife’s seamstress still uses to block and shape her dresses.

There, and only there--like the tower standing tall among the houses in Tom Outland’s forgotten city--does St. Peter feel that he can scale the mountains of human achievement, if not in an ancient civilization of the desert Southwest, than in the pages of the books he reads and writes about the history of Spanish America. Tom’s discovery fuels his work and fuels his imagination, and as he reflects on his position late in life, he longs for a return to the region that Tom so richly revealed to him.

His family wrote constantly about their plans for next summer, when they were going to take him over with them. Next summer? The Professor wondered… Sometimes he thought he would like to drive up in front of Notre Dame, in Paris, again, and see it standing there like the Rock of Ages, with the frail generations breaking about its base. He hadn’t seen it since the war.

But if he went anywhere next summer, he thought it would be down into Outland’s country, to watch the sunrise break on sculptured peaks and impassable mountain passes--to look off at those long, rugged, untamed vistas dear to the American heart. Dear to all hearts, probably--at least, calling to all.

In many ways, I wish the novel ended there, with those words, the Professor looking west towards some mythic understanding of the American soul. But Cather doesn’t end it there. It goes on for twelve more pages, enough to allow the Professor to have a brush with death in his beloved study.

He falls asleep with the gas on, and the breeze blows the windows shut. Only the arrival of the seamstress saves him from asphyxiation, and when he recovers he has an unfortunate and somewhat forced realization.

Here’s what I mean. Before this episode, these are his thoughts about his family:

He loved his family, he would make any sacrifice for them, but just now he couldn’t live with them. He must be alone. That was more necessary to him than anything had ever been, more necessary, even, than his marriage had been in his vehement youth. He could not live with his family again--not even with Lillian. Especially not with Lillian! Her nature was intense and positive; it was like a chiselled surface, a die, a stamp upon which he could be be beaten out any longer. If her character were reduced to an heraldic device, it would be a hand (a beautiful hand) holding flaming arrows--the shafts of her violent loves and hates, her clear-cut ambitions.

And after:

His temporary release from consciousness seemed to have been beneficial. He had let something go--and it was gone: something very precious, that he could not consciously have relinquished, probably. He doubted whether his family would ever realize that he was not the same man they had said good-bye to; they would be too happily preoccupied with their own affairs. If his apathy hurt them, they could not possibly be so much hurt as he had been already. At least, he felt the ground under his feet. He thought he knew where he was, and that he could face with fortitude the Berengaria and the future.

Ask Charles Strickland why I call this realization unfortunate. As Maugham so wonderfully explored in The Moon and Sixpence, the quest for pure aestheticism too often comes at the price of domestic comfort and relations. And I’ve grown to a position in my own life where I much prefer fictional characters who attempt to scale those heights to those that settle for happily ever after.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Preamble

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Two weeks ago, in From Flipcharts to Initial Draft, I continued writing about the process I used to create my association's values statement, despite some misgivings about the value of values statements I've previously shared and still hold.

From the flipchart paper on which we had recorded the output of a staff retreat on the subject, I had created an initial draft of a full values statement. I incorporated both concepts that seemed to address dysfunctional elements of our current culture and those that represented more aspirational aspects of the future organization we wanted to create. And I added some of my own ideas, including a preamble meant to convey two essential ideas.

1. Tie the values statement to the mission and strategic priorities of our association.

The preamble begins:

The mission and strategic priorities of the National Fluid Power Association (NFPA) are to strengthen the fluid power industry and its members by:
- Building and connecting its members to an educated fluid power workforce;
- Promoting the technological advancement of fluid power; and
- Serving as a forum where all fluid power channel partners work together.

NFPA staff play a key role in helping to create this positive vision of the fluid power industry, coalescing members and other stakeholders around these objectives and our supporting activities and initiatives.

This was important because I had intentionally focused the discussion on the values we needed to embody as a group of staff members which, in my mind, were not necessarily values that would apply to the organization as a whole.

It was a question that had come up early in the formative discussions around this initiative. Should we invite association members into the discussion? Would the Board approve the final document? It was not my intention to keep our statement a secret, but it was very much my intention to make it an internal document--more of an agreement that we negotiated with each other than a policy document handed down from on high.

In other words, the question the values statement had to answer was this: What do we, the staff of the National Fluid Power Association, have to commit ourselves to if the association is to achieve the success our leadership has described in the mission and strategic priorities of the organization? Not what will the leadership do. Not what will the members do. What will we do, the staff, to help "create this positive vision for the fluid power industry"?

There would be many things that different people would think were important, but if they didn't move the organization in this direction, they didn't belong in our values statement.

2. Introduce an overall frame of systemic leadership.

The preamble concludes:

This role requires leadership, not from a single individual, but as a fundamental competency that is exercised consistently across the organization. To help ensure this level of success, NFPA will seek, develop, and reward staff members who exhibit the following values and behaviors.

In my view, this single value--systemic leadership--transcended all others, and needed to be brought into a position of prominence over whatever followed. Too often, I had seen projects and initiatives fail because someone deferred leadership to someone else--to another staff person, to me, to a committee chair, to the Board--instead up stepping up and doing what needed to be done to make the advancement that was needed.

The latter concept--that every individual was responsible for demonstrating leadership within the organization--was a critical part of what we needed to strive for, but it would only become systemic leadership when everyone did it, when no one got their feelings hurt because of it, and when we proactively began to leverage it as an organizational competency in pursuit of our strategic priorities.

I knew this would be one of the most challenging areas of change we would face, and that the values statement would need to define these requirements in much greater detail. Calling it out in the preamble was just the first step in demonstrating its importance.

Stay tuned. I'll continue this story in future posts. Up next: Unveiling the draft values statement to the staff and the conversation that followed.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, October 7, 2013

Burn Your Own Box

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It's no longer enough to "think outside the box." The latest catch phrase I'm hearing in the innovation circles I run in is "burn the box." Having exhausted all the creative and wonderful ideas that came from climbing out of the box, we're are evidently ready to finally destroy the damn thing and venture out totally on our own.

Wait. Are you sure? Which box, exactly, are we burning?

Not the one I've spent the last seven years building? The one I built from scratch out of the broken pieces I found scattered on the floor when I first walked in this place? The one that is just starting to provide a clear and consistent direction for everything we do? Not that one.

What about that other box? The one that keeps our members engaged with one another and with our association? The one that keeps them paying their dues and coming to our meetings and paying for our services? You know, the box they built years before any of us staff were even here. The one they might miss if we got rid of it, and would probably douse with water if we tried to set it on fire. Not that one.

And what about that third one? The one that pays you a salary and gives you health insurance and a 401(k) plan and every other Friday off? You're really going to take a match to that one? I don't think so.

You know what, Sparky? You go right ahead and burn your boxes. But keep your hands off mine. I'll still think outside of them when I need an innovative idea, but I'm going to keep them. Most of the time, they come in pretty handy.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Floyd by Eric Lanke

A little while ago, I made my novel, Columbia, available for download from this blog.

Columbia is the story of Theodore Lomax, a nineteen-year-old Union solider in the American Civil War, and as committed as any to the ideal of human freedom. After being assigned to the army of William Tecumseh Sherman, shortly after the general’s infamous March to the Sea, he willingly participates in the destruction of civilian property in Columbia, South Carolina, believing his acts are justified by Southern resistance to the Northern cause of emancipation. But when the destruction escalates into violence against the civilians themselves, he becomes disillusioned, and feels compelled to strike out in opposition to his own countrymen.

The novel is told from Lomax's point of view, but there are ten other supporting characters, each with a story of his or her own. "Floyd" is one of these stories, centering on the character of William Floyd, and describing his time as a Union artilleryman and the siege that hardened his heart against the Southern people.

There was a time when I thought these stories should alternate with the chapters in Columbia, presenting a richer but perhaps more tangled tapestry of the lives that painfully converge in the novel's climactic scenes. But Columbia is clearly a more coherent narrative without them. Still, they were valuable to me as an author, and I hope you find them useful and enjoyable as a reader.

Floyd by Eric Lanke - $3

Clicking the "Add to Cart" button will take you through a short payment process and provide you with a PDF download of the story that you can read on your computer or tablet, or which you can print at your convenience. The story is about 9,300 words and the document is 31 pages long. Given its theme and historical setting, the work reflects the racism of the time, and includes episodes of violence and strong language.

Want a sample? Here's are the first thousand or so words.

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Before the war, William Floyd worked in a butcher shop in Chicago. He himself was not the butcher. That distinction went to the owner of the shop, a fat Irishman named Slattery who taught Floyd everything he knew about the business. Slattery taught Floyd so much that in the last few years before the war, he seldom even visited his butcher shop, relying on Floyd to do all the work and deal directly with the suppliers and customers. Day in and day out for three years, customers could find Floyd behind Slattery’s long wooden table, wearing Slattery’s bloody apron and cutting up meat with Slattery’s long knives, and every day someone would ask Floyd if the butcher was coming in that day.

“Is the butcher coming in today?”

“If you mean Mister Slattery, no, I don’t think so.”

“Oh. Well, in that case, just give me half a roasting chicken.”

For the first month or so, that daily conversation didn’t bother Floyd. He knew the customers were used to dealing with Slattery and were probably a little surprised to see him where Slattery was supposed to be. But after a while he began to resent the question.

“Is the butcher coming in today?”

“I don’t think so. Can I help you instead?”

“Oh. Well, in that case, just give me four of the pork chops.”

It’s not like he was seeing new people every day. With few exceptions, Slattery’s business was founded upon forty or fifty extremely loyal customers who lived in the neighborhood, people who came in every day or every other day. After a year of no contact with Slattery, Floyd would have thought they would have stopped asking for him.

“Is the butcher coming in today?

“No. But I can help you with whatever you need.”

“Oh. Well, in that case, just give me two pounds of hamburger.”

It was almost as if they would have ordered something else if Slattery had been there to serve them. Floyd decided to test this theory one day during his second year of independent service.

“Is the butcher coming in today?”

“No. What can I get for you?”

“Oh. Well, in that case, just give me one of the five-pound beef roasts.”

“What would you have ordered if Mister Slattery had been here?”

“Excuse me?”

“I said, what would you have ordered if Mister Slattery had been here? You seemed to change your mind after I told you he wasn’t coming in today.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Just give me one of the five-pound beef roasts, please.”

It seemed clear to Floyd that was the wrong approach. There was evidently some kind of secret relationship between Slattery and his customers that Floyd had no business stepping on. He never dared do that again, but the question about the butcher’s whereabouts still aggravated him with its frequency. One day during his third year, Floyd decided to try something radically different.

“Is the butcher coming in today?”

“I am the butcher.”

The customer he had tried that on looked at him in silence for a few moments, and then quietly left the shop without saying another word. Floyd never saw that particular customer again, but it was also the last time anyone ever asked him if the butcher was coming in today.

Floyd was one of the first to volunteer for service after the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter. He hated the Rebels for doing that as much as any other patriotic American, but more than anything else he saw it as an opportunity to get out of Slattery’s butcher shop. As one of the first volunteers, he was allowed to choose from among the different service branches, so he and his best friend Adam McClintock enrolled themselves in the artillery together. They were quickly assigned to a unit attached to one of the newly-formed Illinois regiments and taught how to load, fire, and care for one of the thousands of cannon being forged in support of the Union war effort.

Throughout their training and the early months of the war, Floyd and McClintock were inseparable, much as they had been before the war at the tavern down the street from Slattery’s butcher shop. McClintock was a pipefitter’s assistant, but the two men had known each other since they were children attending the same grammar school together. Neither of them were educated beyond the third grade level, but that was more than most kids in their neighborhood. Following their academic careers, they were apprenticed to their respective tradesmen in order to learn something more practical than reading and writing. From the start they both did well for themselves, Floyd taking to meat cutting and McClintock taking to pipefitting as though it was second nature to them. They both earned enough money to keep roofs over their heads and food in their bellies, and they both had enough left over to spend Saturday evenings out entertaining whichever pair of ladies they were currently seeing. They spent every other night in the tavern down the street from Slattery’s butcher shop drinking beer and throwing darts. At the time of their induction into the army, both men were unmarried and thirty-two years old.

They were careful to get themselves assigned to the same gun crew, which wasn’t too hard for two men as determined as they were. Their first assignment was as part of a four-gun battery commanded by a likeable captain from Skokie. They both serviced the third gun in the battery, a twelve-pound Napoleon which the captain had named Annabel after his youngest daughter. McClintock was charged with dropping the ammunition into Annabel’s barrel and Floyd’s job was to ram it home with the plunger. These tasks, combined with others performed by four other men in Annabel’s crew, allowed her to belch forth the fire and death both Floyd and McClintock hoped to soon rain down upon the heads of unsuspecting Rebel sons of bitches.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at