This Month We Celebrate Michael J. Olsen

Written By: Michelle Kommer

He walked in, with a casual saunter, a warm smile hidden partially beneath his mustache, and a discernable twinkle in his eye.  Technically, it was a job interview, but as we sat and visited, it quickly became a pleasant conversation, and ultimately, the beginning of a decades-plus-long friendship, and a reminder that any given day can present a wonderful gift, disguised as a recovered-hippie-turned-communications-executive (complete with a Mickey Mouse watch). 

As the years passed, Michael gave me the gift of his friendship and these important lessons in leadership and life:

  • Generous Mentor:  Over a long career, Michael has defined generosity with the time he has spent helping others learn and grow, and become their best selves.  I had been amazed by the time he spent pushing and challenging and supporting me over the years that I have known him.  Imagine my surprise when Michael was speaking on a panel about mentorship which I proudly attended, as his mentee.  Because of his dedication to our mentor/mentee relationship, I had been sure I could be “the only one”.  When the moderator asked the people in the audience to stand if they had benefitted from Michael’s mentorship I was proud to stand…only to peer around the room at the dozens of other women who stood around me, equally as proud to call him a friend. 
  • Velvet Hammer:  Have you ever been told to get your head out of you’re a*# and felt loved at the same time?  Michael has a unique knack for this type of encouragement.  One of these moments plays out in my mind almost daily, even years later.  In a very difficult meeting during the 2007-08 recession, stakes were high, and tempers flared.  I felt attacked and defensive.  Michael leaned over and quietly wrote on my notebook these words “what am I learning from this?”.  With only 6 words, he changed my mindset and my future, transforming moments of fear and discomfort into opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Principled leader:  Most people have been in a situation where you possess a viewpoint, but are afraid to express it.  Maybe you know it will be unpopular, seen as disloyal to the boss, or costly in other ways.  You see the elephant in the room but are afraid to call it out.  Over the years, I’ve seen Michael at these crossroads, and unfailingly take the harder path.  Not the one that will win him the favor of the boss or office popularity, but the one that acknowledges the reality being faced.  Michael can always be relied upon to speak the unspoken, ask the hard questions, even when it did not serve him personally.  And from this example, I’ve learned the importance of being true to the truth and oneself above all. 

Michael, we celebrate you, and the lessons you teach us all in the way you tackle life.  You demonstrate daily the meaning of true friendship, that life is truly a team sport, and that the view is better from the high road.