Play Your Loser Card

Play Your Loser Card First - No Graphics

It would be a mistake to assume that you will only get great leadership insights from folks who are much older than you. Sometimes they come from your peers. And sometimes they come from a peer who is as young as you are at the time.

Such has been the case in my life. I have been blessed to have great influences in my life. This is especially true in my early adult years. Like most, those years coincided with my college career. It was there that I met Daren. And it was there that Daren taught me a great leadership lesson.

“Play your loser card.”

Here is the context of that leadership lesson.

Thinkers are Revolutionary Leaders

Revolutionary Thinking - Blog Graphics

Tomorrow is not “The Fourth of July.”  That is a date on a calendar.  It is not the name of the National Holiday that we celebrate tomorrow.  The name of the holiday that we celebrate tomorrow is Independence Day.  It is the day that we celebrate the declaration of our independence from England.

Today I wish to focus on that word – Independence.

Most organizations are looking for people (and leaders) who can think independently and have the necessary leadership qualities to help act upon those thoughts and make their organization successful.

A Leadership Definition

Many people have different definitions for leadership.  Some have boiled it down to just one word – “Influence.”  But in general, leadership is the ability of one person to gain agreement, support, and active participation to accomplish a task or a goal. Perhaps it is at the most basic level an ability to get people to follow you. Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon Bonaparte, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, and Jesus Christ are all leaders in their own unique ways. Some would not be necessarily considered positive leaders.  Nor would we want to emulate their actions.

  • Julius Caesar ushered in the Roman Empire at the cost of the Roman Republic.
  • Abraham Lincoln held the fledgling United States together after the secession of the southern states and the Civil War.
  • Napoleon Bonaparte used his creative military strategies and personal charisma to create and rule a great empire.
  • Jack Welch took over the reigns at General Electric and during his tenure there, the company’s value rose 4,000%.
  • Steve Jobs used his intelligence and passion for computers to “revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.”
  • Michael Jordan became one of the greatest basketball leaders and players of all time because of his desire to continually improve, work hard, and take over in tough situations late in the game.
  • Joe Montana holds Super Bowl career records for most passes without an interception (122 in 4 games) and he has the all-time highest quarterback rating of 127.8.
  • And then there is Jesus Christ.  And, well, if you don’t get Him being on the list, then nothing I can say will change that.

Leadership Skills

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books on leadership. And there are thousands, or maybe even hundreds of thousands of blogs, just like this one,  dedicated to leadership. Many of these books and blogs identify similar traits, attributes, or skills that comprise a good leader. Here are a few of the most common:

Butler to the Great

Butler to the Great

His name was Eduardo.  He told me to call him “Eddie”.  He was from the Philippines but he left after Ferdinand Marcos was deposed in February of 1986.

I met Eddie at a banquet while at a business conference in Las Vegas.  Eddie had been in the personal service of Marcos.  He was what would most likely be considered a butler.  He served Marcos proudly and he served him well.  Eddie was one of the fortunate ones to get out before the downfall of Marcos.

Eddie left and found himself in the service of King Khalid of Saudi Arabia.  He served the King until his death.  Eddie has served other persons of great political prominence and wealth, but we did not discuss them much.

At some point on a visit to family here in the U.S., he found his way to Las Vegas, Nevada.  And then, as Eddie said, “the planes hit the Twin Towers and all that.”  Suddenly he found himself stuck in Vegas with no real plan or the wherewithal to get back to where he had been prior to visiting Las Vegas.  Quickly running out of money he turned to what he knew.  He could serve.  But, there are not many kings or presidents in Vegas.  There are “whales”.  But they come and go and he needed something steady.  So he got a job serving food to business folks like me who come to Vegas for conventions.  And that is just how we met.  We met at the final dinner of a convention that I attended that week.

And here is what impressed me.  He served me like I was a president or a king.  I don’t really know that for absolute surety what it feels like to be a president or a king.  But I know he served me well and with great care.  And I am nobody really.  I am just a guy in a suit who works for some big corporation.  But Eddie treated me with great dignity and respect.

What is the leadership lesson here?

You can lead a horse . . .

You can lead a horse

You can lead a horse to water . . .

How many times have you heard that statement? It is an old bit of country wisdom. You can bring your horse to the water trough. But, if he ain’t thirsty, then he ain’t drinkin’.

Now, consider an update to that piece of rural wisdom.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. However, you can salt his oats!

In days gone by, our forefathers knew that if a horse has been sick and is weak and in danger of going down, you can put a little salt in his oats and that salt will draw it to the watering trough and make it want to drink. This is a great analogy of one of the skills that we need as leaders from time to time.

From time to time we will have reluctant followers. Their reluctance may be the result of factors beyond our control. Nevertheless, we have to lead them even when they are not exactly in the mood to be led.

What is the leadership lesson here?

What Sharpens Iron?

What sharpens iron?

What sharpens iron? Every leadership “junkie” has probably been exposed to the Biblical passage from Proverbs that gives us the answer to that very question.

It is iron that sharpens iron. Or at least it is some other substance that is as hard as iron such as a whetstone or grinding wheel. If that is the case, that iron sharpens iron, then what are the implications for you and I as leaders?

We often only look at ourselves as the ones that will be doing the sharpening. But what (or who) is sharpening you? We need to constantly be in contact with something or someone who sharpens our leadership skills.

The first time I was exposed to this concept was many years ago in 1990 when Steven Covey published The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. “Sharpen your saw” is Habit #7. This habit was encouraged so that we take care of ourselves on physical, mental and emotional levels. Only then would we have the “strength” to remain highly effective.

Only the confident and strong leaders will offer themselves to be sharpened by others. In fact,

How to Know if You’re a Leader or Not

What makes somebody a leader? Is it a position or a title? Is it the nameplate on the door or maybe a spot towards the top of the organizational flow chart? I think I have some answers for those questions. But first, a story.

leader or not

I’ve never been terribly athletic. My parents didn’t push me into sports. My love has always been music. I started band in the 4th grade, but because of my size (I’m 6’4″ – in the top 3 percentile of the entire planet. Really!), by middle school the coaches started pursuing me for football and basketball. Here are the results:

  • I went out for spring training in football and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Guys half my size bulldozed me like I was a feather in the wind. It was painful – physically and emotionally. I decided I better get out while I still had a life. Death was imminent. I was just sure of it.
  • So next, I went out for the basketball team. The coach said I hustled like nobody he had ever seen. He said they could use somebody of my height on the team. But unfortunately, hustle and height weren’t enough. I was cut from the roster.

So fast forward 30+ years. I’ve been training extra hard for triathlons over the last year. When I finished my first half-marathon a few weekends ago, I was thanking my coach for guiding me along. I told him that I’ve always been a band geek and not an athlete and I was grateful to him for helping me with this transformation.

His response to me was, “Dude. You ARE an athlete.” Now wait a minute. I know athletes. They’re those guys that play football or basketball and don’t get cut from the team before the season ever gets started.

Strongest Following – Weakest Followers

Strongest Following - Weakest Followers

Is your strongest following from your weakest followers?

If so, what does that say about your leadership abilities or style?

Well, you say, “I don’t know.” “What do you mean my ‘weakest followers.’”

Take a look around you. Are you surrounded by strong leaders? Are the people that are the closest to you able to think and act independently? Do you trust them? Are they capable?

I get to observe a lot of different and varied organizations. Some are in the very top tier of the Fortune 500. And some are small to medium sized business. Some are very small entrepreneurial ventures. And some are ministry and non-profit organizations. Each organization has leaders with varied skills and varied “amounts” of leadership ability.

One of the defining characteristics of the top tier leaders is the quality of those who are working the closest with them. That may almost seem like a “Duh!” statement. But stick with me for a second.

Leadership Lessons from the Battle of Shiloh

Leadership Lessons from the Battle of Shiloh

What if we just pressed on a little farther?

That is the question that haunted the generals of the Confederate Army after the Battle of Shiloh.

As I noted last week, I am working my way through an historical novel about the Battle of Shiloh. It is also known as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing. The battle took place over two days in early April in 1862.

Early on the morning of April 6th in 1862, 40,000 Confederate soldiers under the command of General Johnston poured out of the nearby woods and attacked a line of Union soldiers occupying ground near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. The overpowering Confederate offensive drove the unprepared Union forces from their camps and threatened to overwhelm General Ulysses S. Grant’s entire army.

Some Union forces made determined stands and by afternoon, they had established a battle line in an area that became known as the “Hornet’s Nest.” Repeated Confederate attacks failed to carry the Hornet’s Nest. But their superior artillery helped to turn the tide as Confederates surrounded the Union troops and captured, killed, or wounded most. Among the first day’s casualties, Confederate General Johnston was mortally wounded and was replaced by General Beauregard.

Fighting continued until after dark, but the Union troops held on precariously.

It was at this point that

Leading in the Midst of Turmoil

Leading in the Midst of Turmoil

What should you do if you find yourself the leader in the midst of turmoil?

There are difficulties in life, in the home, in the workplace, yes, even in society. These difficulties stretch us, and bring out both the worst and best in each of us. In an era of social media, blogging and with the prevalence of cell phone cameras, it is quite easy to play “Monday morning quarterback” and pass judgment and heap praise on leaders whose faces and stories go “viral”. But what do you do when (not if) you come upon tumultuous times in your organization / city / etc.?

In this post I would like look at three crucial components of leading through a crisis.

The first aspect of crisis leadership is actually determined before you ever approach the turmoil. If you want to lead effectively in a crisis you must first lay a firm foundation of personal character development, strong interpersonal communications and healthy team dynamics. C.S. Lewis once said “If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly.  But the suddenness does not create the rats:  it only prevents them from hiding.” (Mere Christianity).  The same is true about leading in a crisis. The crisis will reveal the quality of the foundation that has been laid, but the crisis did not cause the leadership to be as it is. The reality is that in this world we will face difficulties, frustrations, disappointments, turmoil and crisis. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that these times will not come. Instead, let us now prepare ourselves and our teams for the inevitable. I have often found that if I am able to actually create environments (leadership development exercises) where my team has to face a manufactured “mini-crisis” it greater prepares them for the real thing when it comes. There are numerous ways to do this, but think of it as drills, role-play, training, and/or practice for facing what will come. There are some things only learned by actually going through them, but if we can prepare our character, develop our communication skills and develop our team’s effectiveness and productivity now, the trials to come may be more manageable.

The Hike to One Tree Hill

Hike to One Tree Hill

Just having a compass doesn’t really make you a leader.

This realization came to me while watching my oldest grandson on a hike yesterday. We were visiting the beautiful Shelburne Farm on the shores of Lake Champlain in Shelburne, VT. At one point in our visit to the farm, we decided to take a hike up a trail to One Tree Hill and look out onto Lake Champlain.

My wife, the greatest Mimi in the universe, had purchased a little something for each of the grandchildren to take on our hike. She had purchased a little magnifying glass for our granddaughter because she loves to stop and explore along the way. And she had purchased a compass for our grandson because he likes to feel like he is in charge and is a leader. Both were ecstatic to receive these gifts. Both were well suited to their temperaments and personalities.

My grandson was convinced that the compass gave him the right to be the leader. He proudly held the compass out in front of himself and proclaimed that we were to move forward in the direction he pointed. Unfortunately, the trailhead was in the opposite direction.