Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Good leaders have many common traits and behaviors.  We’ve explored many of them through this blog.

For example, good leaders often surround themselves with good, smart, effective people; good leaders have a sense of purpose and are able to communicate that purpose with those around them; good leaders have certain values they live by and to which they hold themselves accountable.

I also believe good leaders try to make decisions and take actions that they can be proud of.  In other words, good leaders operate so they can “look themselves in the mirror” every day.

Check out this video clip and short blurb from a 2014 NBA Playoff game between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers.

In the clip, a Pacers player is seen blowing into a Heat players’ face in an apparent attempt to distract the Heat player.  Of course we know ultimately this didn’t work as the Heat won the series and went on to play for the NBA title.  However, I can’t help but wonder how the Pacers player felt the morning after the game when he looked himself in the mirror.  Was he proud of his actions?  or Was he ashamed and embarrassed by his actions?

I guess we’ll never know for sure but I contend that good leaders typically don’t take actions they won’t be proud of and on the occasion they do make a mistake, (because everyone – even good leaders – make them) they address the mistake, apologize for it, take responsibility for it and then move on.  (check out my March 3, 2014 blog post “Hard to Say I’m Sorry and Other Leadership Anthems)

So, if you want to be a good leader – heck even if you just want to be a good person, start thinking about the consequences of your actions before you take them.  Think about what you will see in the mirror tomorrow morning.

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Interesting post recently from the Leadership Freak titled, “32 Things to say to Young Leaders“.  Read the list.  I’m sure you’ll agree with several and disagree with a few; you’ll also probably have more you could add to the list.  One thing should be clear from reading the list, though – Future Leaders are important to your organization and its your job as a current leader to develop them.

Several of the associations we partner with have created “Future Leaders” committees and other networking opportunities.  These give the future leaders of the industry an opportunity to network and learn from each other and to share the issues affecting their professional and sometimes personal lives.  Often the things keeping future leaders up at night are not the same as the things keeping current leaders up.  They definitely have their own needs, their own ways to communicate,  their own beliefs of what is important and what isn’t. We have found these Future Leader committees and other networking opportunities to be very valuable to the future leaders themselves and as a result, the association’s have become more important to the future leaders.

So, the list of things to say to “Young Leaders” was interesting to me.  A few highlights from the list for me are:

  • Tell me what you expect from yourself
  • What’s the next step?
  • What are you learning (from this situation)?
  • What will you do differently next time?
  • Which option feels good to you?  What feels good about it?
  • What did you do today to bring out the best in someone else?

Here are a few more I’ve thought of.  Let me know what you think and start adding to the list.

  • What would you recommend?  Why do you recommend that?
  • That’s a good idea.  Follow it through to its logical conclusion for me.
  • How do you see this situation playing out?
  • Why is this critical?
  • Where do you see this taking us in the next three years?
  • What can we do for you to help you grow in your role with the organization?
  • What three things could we implement to achieve success?
  • Great job.
  • How can we assure the results we expect?
  • If this were your decision to make, what would you do and why?  Then explain your decision and why you are making it.

Bottom line:  People want to feel they play a critical role in the success of their organization.  Future leaders want to learn leadership lessons from current bosses and mentors (the do’s and the don’ts).  Future leaders want to prove themselves and at the same time shape the future of their organization.


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Interesting article in Associations Now today.  The article asks the question, ‘Can a company or organization survive without a CEO’?

Read the article here.

I was confident I knew the answer without reading the article – “NO”!

But I read the article anyway.  I guess I was curious more than anything else.

Turns out my instincts were right.  It seems a few organizations have tried to be run without a leader (where the buck stops) but it doesn’t appear they have been resounding successes.  In fact, my impression from the article is that companies that have tried such a model have increased their middle management numbers, decreased their efficiency and created cultures where accountability is questionable.

That’s not to say that new models for leading businesses cannot be found.  In fact, one of the hallmarks of great leaders, in my opinion, is they are constantly thinking about ways to adjust or change their business model to make it better.  Great leaders are always thinking about the culture of their organization and how to make it better; the efficiency of their organization and how to make it even more efficient; the value their organization is delivering to its customers and how to become even more valuable.

Can a company survive without a CEO – probably on the short-term but for the long-haul organizations need a leader who is developing their culture, refining their vision and LEADING the employees to deliver value to their customers.


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My brother-in-law graduated from the University of Texas.  I’ve often thought fondly of UT.  I remember watching great UT football teams in the 1970’s and again in the 2000’s.  My oldest son has been a HUGE UT fan since he was very young.  One wall of his room is painted burnt orange and the skull of a Texas Longhorn hangs on it.

Recently, my brother-in-law sent me a copy of the text of the University of Texas 2014 Commencement speech given by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, Ninth Commander of US Special Operations Command.  If you watch the entire video of his speech, it will be the most valuable 20 minutes you spend today, and likely this weekClick here to watch the video.

The leadership lessons provided by Adm. McRaven are among the best ever.  If you aren’t willing to invest the twenty minutes it takes to hear it first hand, at least read this excerpt from his speech.  The entire premise is that everyone has the ability to make impactful and positive changes to the world:

Start each day with a task completed.  Find someone to help you through life.  Respect everyone.  Know that life is not fair and you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up…

If you do these things, you will change the world.

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I read several business related blogs.  One of them is called Leadership Freak, written by Dan Rockwell.  Today Leadership Freak had an interesting post about what leaders do to energize (and sometimes de-energize) their teams.

Read the post here.

The theory behind the post is that everyone has energy inside them.  A leader’s job is to exploit that energy and build on it.  In other words, to quote REO Speedwagon, leaders need to “Keep the fire burnin'”.

Of course that’s easier said than done.  What kinds of things can leaders do to ignite fires in their team and keep those fires burning?  Also, what should leaders do to avoid putting out the fires in their team?

In his post today, Dan offers several answers to these questions.  Here are a few of my own:

  • Serve your teammates.  Nothing energizes people more than being served – especially by their leader
  • Use positive words and expressions to get your point across – ALWAYS
  • Smile
  • Ask your teammates about things they’re interested and invested in – their family, their hobbies, etc (Be interested)
  • Even when you don’t feel high energy – fake it until you make it – people you lead will follow your example
  • Find out what energizes (and de-energizes) your teammates

What do you do to “Keep the fire burnin'” among your team?




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Great leaders seem to always have a set of values upon which they rely when making decisions.  These values are a barometer for them – If I make decision A, my company will be more profitable but we will violate one or more of our key values in doing so.  I believe great leaders don’t abandon their values, even when they require more work, less profit or more stress.

These values or guiding principles can also cause leaders to form opinions about certain issues or even people.  Sometimes, it becomes easy for leaders to confuse their opinions (which are based on observations masquerading as facts) with actual facts.  In other words, some leaders are so confident in themselves and their abilities that they may think (or give other people the perception) that they are always “right”.

As a leader and as a person, I suffer from this challenge.

I read an interesting article today about this very subject.

My takeaways –

  • I need to learn to distinguish between facts and opinions or assessments.
  • When communicating opinions or assessments, do more listening than talking.
  • Remember that opinions can’t be true or false, right or wrong.  They are just that, opinion.
  • People don’t like to be told they are wrong – avoid that when communicating opinions or assessments.

I really loved the last sentence of the article, “True humility is, at least in part, being able to see one’s own assessments as assessments, rather than believing them to be truths”.

I want to be a humble and compassionate leader.  Sometimes I am.  I’m going to try to remember these takeaways in my daily life – both personal and business.  Perhaps if I do, I can have better, clearer communications with my employees, customers, friends and family leading to a happier, more productive and successful lives for all.

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Three months ago my wife came to me and said – ‘We aren’t healthy anymore.  We are overweight; our clothes don’t fit right; we are tired all the time; as a result, we aren’t happy’.  I of course reacted by acknowledging the truthfulness of her statements but took no accountability – ‘You’re right but what can we do about it?  We’re too busy with four kids, sports, music, other activities, school and of course running a business.’.

She suggested dieting.  I wasn’t keen on the idea but she said she was going to do it and would appreciate the support of doing it with a partner.  So, we started a five week diet.  In those five weeks, we lost a combined total of 55 pounds!

The diet was great!  Certainly it was great to lose all that weight.  But it also helped by providing us with the discipline to make good, healthy food choices and learn portion control.

Part way through the diet I started working out again.  I’m now exercising five or six days a week.  Sometimes its a quick thirty minute workout; other days I take my lunchtime and play basketball at the local gym.  The working out helps to keep the weight off but it also keeps the rest of my body healthy.

I recently read an article about a 43 year old, once healthy, man who had a heart attack.  He blamed his poor health on the work first, work always lifestyle.  Until three months ago that was my lifestyle.

Don’t get me wrong – work is still one of the most important things in my life but it’s number four now, not number two.  (God, Family and Friends, Me, Work)

Think about how you prioritize your health.  If you move it up on your list, you will be happier – I guarantee it.

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Probably every business leader today has read Jim Collins’ best selling business book Good to Great.  The book explains a study that Collins and several of his business school students did on the attributes of successful companies – not just marginally successful, but industry leading companies who sustained their success over long periods of time.

One of the tenets of these successful companies is they know how to “get the right people on the bus and in the right seats”.  In other words, they know how to find people who are a good fit for their company AND they know how to put them in positions where they can be successful.

I recently read an article that takes this concept a step further – almost.

The article acknowledges the concept of getting the right people on the bus AND acknowledges that sometimes we make mistakes when selecting those people.  Sometimes, though a person may be right for our company in many ways – they are a good producer, they are efficient, etc. – they may not be a good fit for our company’s culture.  Perhaps they aren’t willing to buy-in to the company philosophy; perhaps they don’t treat people in the company the way they should be treated; perhaps they’re just not part of the team.  In those cases, even though they may be a “top performer”, successful leaders recognize the need to get this person “off the bus”.

The article focuses mostly on the ways to document “not being a good fit” for legal protections.  That’s where the article disappointed me.  Don’t get me wrong, legal protection is important for a company.

What I really like about the article is the idea it gave me (and hopefully will give you too) to create a method for measuring through employee evaluations each employees’ contributions (or lack thereof) to the company culture.  You see to me the important point here isn’t the legal protection that can provide the company if you decide to terminate a “top performer” for not fitting in.

To me the important point is if we measure it, it becomes reality.  If our employees know that part of their evaluation relates to how they contribute to the corporate culture we are trying to make and maintain, many will work to meet and even exceed the established goals.  In other words, by measuring individual employee contribution to corporate culture as we measure their contribution toward sales growth, customer service, operational efficiency, etc we can help mold people into the “right” people.

We hired them for a reason.  They met or exceeded our expectations during the hiring process or they wouldn’t be on the bus at all.  So, let’s find ways to get them in the right seat and keep them on the bus.  Perhaps measuring their contribution to your corporate culture is one way to do just that.

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There have been many great military leaders throughout history.  Some of them have gone on to become leaders in other arenas as well – political, business, media, etc.

Being in the association business, we often see professional speakers who talk about management, change, people, leadership, and more.  So when I saw this article today it caught my attention.  The article talks about a few new(er) business consulting firms that have been formed by retired military leaders who are now teaching the military leadership principles they used to succeed on the battlefield to business leaders.

One in particular, the Afterburners, are well known on the association speaking circuit.

After reading the short article, one message stands out.  To succeed on the battlefield and in business you have to follow a consistent and clear process.  The process military leaders recommend is this:  Plan, Brief, Execute, Debrief.

So simple, yet many businesses seem to fail at one or more of the steps regularly.  Each step is critical to the success of the “mission”.  It all starts of course with planning.  We all know how important planning is.  However, sometimes we put more value on the process of planning than in developing the right plan for our circumstances.  Next comes the briefing.  This is where we get the rest of the team involved and bought into the plan.  Every member must understand the big picture – what we are trying to achieve AND must understand the clear objectives (the job) they have and how their job fits with the overall plan.  Execution is next.  Once the planning is done and everyone understands their job, it’s time to get it done.  If the planning and briefing were done well, the execution will be easier.  However, during execution we may encounter issues we didn’t plan on.  Hopefully we have put the right contingencies in place to overcome the challenges.  Finally, when we’re all done, it’s time to debrief.  I love what the military leaders bring to this part of the process – ripping the ranks off at the door.  To debrief successfully, they know every member of the team has to feel free to speak their mind in contributing to bettering the process next time.  If people are worried about repercussions for their statements, they may not speak freely.

There are many leadership lessons we can learn from the military.  The process for successful engagement – Plan, Brief, Execute, Debrief may be my favorite. 

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There are many lessons we can learn from sports – both positive and negative.  Just off the top of my head I am thinking about these – how to build a great team; how to coach, not preach; the virtues of ethical behavior and more.

This weekend as I was participating in the annual ritual we have come to call “March Madness”, I witnessed another lesson, one I am calling “Gracious Losing”.

Now this NCAA basketball tournament has become known as “March Madness” for  a reason.  Fans across the country literally go nuts for their team and even for teams they’ve never heard of before – just because they selected the team to win in their “bracket”.  I have witnessed coaches go nuts too.  They’ll go nuts over winning, they’ll go nuts over losing.

Coaches and players have invested their lives for this one crowning moment – to play in and advance in the NCAA tournament.  So, it’s no surprise when a team loses (and one loses in every game), the fans, players and coaches will be disappointed.  Many players and coaches will even be crushed.  You will witness both players and coaches falling to the ground with their heads in their hands sobbing.  You will witness both players and coaches throwing towels or cups in anger and despair.

These visions are common.  They are also somehow understandable by our society.  They are NOT however good and healthy reactions.  They are NOT examples of “Gracious Losing”.

One of my favorite coaches in the NCAA is Roy Williams.  Roy coached my alma mater the University of Kansas for many years.  I have always thought of him as a ‘class act’.  Yesterday, he proved it to the world.

As his North Carolina Tarheels found themselves down with the clock running out.  They inbounded the ball with just under 2 seconds remaining in the game; Roy was clearly signalling for a timeout but the referees didn’t see him; eventually they saw him and called the timeout.  However, before allowing North Carolina to inbound the ball and try their last desperation play, the referees reviewed “the tape”.

After that review, they determined the clock operators started the clock late allowing more time than they should have AND when the referees eventually recognized Coach Williams was calling a timeout, there shouldn’t have been any time left.  The referees gathered the two head coaches at center court and explained the situation to both.  The game was over, North Carolina lost.

In this intense and emotional situation, I would suggest to you that nine out of ten coaches in Roy Williams position would be seen arguing with the referees, pleading with them for just one more shot, probably throwing their arms in the air in disgust, possibly throwing other things like towels or cups (maybe a chair if you’re an old Indiana University coach), possibly even physically bumping the referees in an attempt to intimidate them.

Not Roy Williams.

Roy clearly asked for clarification.  The expression on his face was not angry.  He turned to the opposing team’s coach, reached out a congratulatory handshake and then hugged him.  We later learned he even wished that coach and his team the ‘best of luck’ going forward in the tournament.

That is the act of “Gracious Losing”.

Roy Williams demonstrated that in life, we win some and we lose some.  In the end, it may not be how many we win that we’re judged on but by how we acted in those occasions where we lost.

I certainly learned something in this experience I can apply in my daily life – both business and personal.  I hope you did too.

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