Degrees of Separation

The sun is setting on a backyard in Cleveland. A man stands with his arms around the back of his five-year-old son. They are both clutching that same baseball bat.

As they simultaneously trace the slow motion response to an imaginary but wicked fastball, the bat completes its course with four arms fully extended and the "stick" behind the ear of the future slugger.

Across "the pond" in Toronto, a maintenance man shouts to an eleven-year-old girl that the rink will be closing in ten minutes. Time to get off the ice.

He turns half the lights off to emphasize his point. In the shadows she sets her determined jaw and races towards the far end of the ice. Building steam, she takes flight and lofts up high, into an air-borne spin that lands perfectly. She spins out of her landing with Olympian foot placement and with an ear-to-ear grin she scurries off the ice to the front door where her parents' car is waiting.

"Mom, I did it!" she shouts, and her announcement fades as the door slowly closes. The maintenance man, watching from the darkness, draws deep on his cigar and looks to heaven as he exhales. "Stay with her, Lord," he whispers as he punches his time card and shuts off the rest of the lights.

Further north into Alaska, a pickup truck stops in front of a battered home. A dusty young man leaps from the bed of the truck, pounds the tailgate twice and waves a "thank you" to the driver who speeds off and honks.

Weary and tired from a day of landscaping chores, he opens his mailbox and finds an envelope embossed in gold lettering. He tears into it and retrieves the fine, onion skin paper, blinking away tears as he reads that the past six months of studying have finally paid off in outstanding test scores and he has been accepted to law school this fall.

London, England, 7 a.m. in a musty hallway lit only by daybreak and the muted light emanating from a glass-framed classroom door, a middle-aged mother of three sits on a rigid wooden bench in the tiled and echoing lobby. The muffled sounds of the piano stop as Big Ben chimes "seven" and a white-haired man opens the door ushering out his young student.

As the girl clatters down the hall to her waiting parents, he looks at the woman on the bench and recognizes a one-time protégé who chose to have a family instead of making a career of music. He smiles and she explains that she heard he was retiring today and that she came to say good-bye and thank you.

A tear in his eye, he embraces her knowing that the difference he made in her life was everlasting with or without a career in music.

Ten lives making up four stories, all with one common thread… following through. Following through with your swing, following through with where and how you land, following through with your dreams, and following through with those who have made a difference in your life.

This is not an article about the 10 steps necessary to launch a successful project. This will not include the six stages of becoming highly effective and indispensable to your superiors and staff. It's not about managing up or managing down. It's just a simple premise -- successful people are typically those who have developed a lifetime habit of following through.

What it Takes

To follow through -- to really follow through -- is more than just seeing something through from the very beginning to the very end. It's a matter of vision and a matter of knowing what the end result will look like within moments of the original idea being conceived. It's about preparing the path and tending to the accomplishment long after it is done.

Following through is habit forming. It is the habit of multi-taskers who understand the importance of doing something right the first time so that the other tasks can be completed without having to revisit those that should already be done.

Following through adds confidence as you go. It is the reward for recognizing that life has consequences and those are derived from trial and error.

It is what made world-renowned golfer, Tiger Woods, the owner of so many trophies today. It is the factor in medical minds that answer press conference questions with words like "yes" or even "no" instead of, "We are not able to say at this time."

When Ohio State Football Coach Jim Tressel sees success in a play run in practice, it is following through that makes him say, "Run it again."

Consider the most capable of the very youngest or least experienced person on your staff. What sets them apart from the others is largely limited to the lack of experience and results. That person likely has not had a chance to see an initiative through from beginning to end and following through is largely a matter of good habit.

In the parks and rec professions there are a lot of examples of those who did follow through and those who did not. They are easily recognized. Those that followed through likely include:

• Cities and municipalities with new equipment and well manicured fields of play as their levies were continuously passed and budgets annually increased.

• Staffs with a bright and energetic approach as they have been well supervised and feel positive about the job that they do.

• A content and participative public who supports the efforts of the parks and recreation departments by pitching in whenever volunteers are requested, proving their belief in the mission that the professional has established (like parents willing to umpire leagues, garden centers willing to donate seedlings, and so on).

• Return traffic/repeat business –- familiar faces showing up year after year or even week after week, proving their happiness and approval of the direction of the parks and recreation entity.

On the other side of the fence, parks and recreation administrations that don't follow through seem to get a certain "look" to them.

• Their facilities are always either completely rusted or freshly painted. The paint in these instances usually looks like it is whatever was left over from the most recent other project and rarely blends with anything (i.e. marine/pool blue on swing set stanchions). It's usually applied sloppily and hurriedly and there are splatters all over the concrete surrounding the apparatus or building. No plan, no maintenance, just cover up. No follow through, just clearly crisis management.

• The administrations have no theme. There is no master plan in place or mission statement involved. It's not clear to the public who has responsibility for the efforts or places covered under the administration. You hear people say things like, "Oh that pool is run by the city? I didn't know that." No signature, no follow through, just fragmented efforts done with minimal effort, minimal commitment and dismal results

• The employees are an unmotivated bunch. They often blame lack of budget for the system's shortfalls and it is typical to hear them say things to the public while administering programs like, "Well, they never tell me anything," or "I don't ask anymore, I just do what I am told." Without following through and being excited about their role or asking the questions that would enhance their job or better the workplace, they become another part of the problem.

The notions that I often write about tout the beauty of clarity in simplicity. Following through can be a staple of life that makes and keeps things simple for you.

My grandfather often harped on the sheer waste of those who chose to complicate their lives. That same common thread about following through could be seen in every sentence he uttered.

He'd been an iceman (summer) and a coal man (winter) for the same company for 25 years until his shoulder gave out in his forties. He learned a trade as a barber that year and cut his last head about a week before he died at 82.

He'd say, "What's so dang hard about all this? Finish high school and get a job. If they treat you well, stay with that company. Don't hop around; show your loyalty because one day you may need theirs. Find a decent partner, marry up and stay married. Buy a house, live in it and pay it off. Send your kids to school if they want to go and teach them a trade if they don't. Make sure they graduate. If they're not gone by 21, boot them out -- you'll have done enough. Don't retire young or you'll die young. And when you don't know what to do, find work. A good day's work will always make you feel better."

A life of following through made him one of the happiest and wisest people I was ever fortunate enough to know. Is this a New Age theory about to set the world on fire? No, not really. But is it a simple principle that most of us should remember more than now and then? As my uncomplicated grandpa used to say, "Yep."

Ronald D. Ciancutti is the purchasing manager for Cleveland Metroparks, a metropolitan park system that encircles Cuyahoga County and includes more than 20,000 acres of natural land, six golf courses, seven nature centers, a variety of special interest facilities and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Ron can be reached at