The Quintessential Leader

Quintessential Leader

We are currently on a quest. My wife and I are on a quest to find and to photograph the perfect and the “quintessential Saguaro cactus.”

You know the one that I mean. You see it on every Arizona license plate and every Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon. It has the tall central trunk and one arm on each side that bend at a 90 degree angle and point heavenward. One sits only slightly higher than the other an offer perfect and artful symmetrical balance.

We have seen probably 100,000 Saguaro cactuses in the last few days. We have seen big ones, little ones, solitary ones, multi-armed ones, and we have even seen some blooming ones. But we are having a hard time locating that one that we see drawn or painted in nearly every piece of southwestern art. We cannot seem to locate the one that we have pictured in our mind’s eye. The picture perfect Saguaro cactus.

What does this have to do with leadership?

Many of us are looking for the “quintessential leader.” We are looking for the picture perfect leader.  The picture perfect leaders is 39 years old, yet he has 50 years of leadership experience. He is seriously humorous. He is a compassionate tough guy. He is results oriented with a perfect work-life balance. He is perfect.

There is only problem. 

Leadership Inspiration

Leadership Inspiration

I set out preparing this article like many in the past looking for inspiration.  I wanted to think about what actually inspires me and what I do to inspire others.  This got me to really consider that word, Inspiration.

The online dictionary of Merriam-Webster defines inspiration as something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create.  I actually like the second one better, a force or influence that makes someone want to do something.

If your actions inspire others,
To dream more, learn more,
Do more and become more,
You are a Leader.
John Quincy Adams

It seems to me inspiration has two parts, an internal to me and an external to others. 

How to Live on the Edge of Laughter

If you open a container of spoiled yogurt, it really stinks. I found that out the hard way! I was in the third grade, walking home from school. My route took me through the back parking lot of a grocery store. Like most young boys, I played “kick the can” with about anything that came across my path. This day – it was a full container of yogurt. In my home, we had never eaten yogurt, not that I could remember anyway.

Laughing Boy

Intrigued by this unknown substance, I picked it up and opened it. Ever had the dry heaves? Oh my goodness! It had spoiled and rotted inside the container and when I lifted the lid – the most horrendous stench you can imagine over took my entire little third grade body. I threw it as hard as I could and ran all the way home. I was mad and sick all at the same time! Traumatized for life, I couldn’t stand the thought of yogurt for decades.

It occurred to me a few months ago that many of us may have a primary emotion that sits just under the surface. We’re not much different than that spoiled container of yogurt. We’re just waiting for someone to come along and open the lid just a bit to let it out.

7 Traits of Highly Likable Leaders

Likable Leaders

I recently opined on the subject of liability and capability. From some of those thoughts you may have drawn the conclusion that being likable is not something for which you should strive. That is not the case at all.

Likability is a trait that can be developed. Far too many people succumb to the mistaken belief that being likable comes from natural, unteachable traits that belong only to a fortunate few—the good looking, the fiercely social, and the incredibly talented. It’s easy to fall prey to this misconception. In reality, being likable is under your control, and it’s a matter of emotional intelligence (EI/EQ).

Consider the following traits of highly likable leaders:

Likable Leaders Smile

People naturally (and subconsciously) mirror the body language of the person that they are talking to. If you want people to like you, smile at them during a conversation and they will unconsciously return the favor and feel good as a result. But use your real smile. Not the one you used for your school pictures in elementary school!

Paying Attention

Attention Paid

We are all supposed to “pay attention”. And indeed it does cost us something.

We do “pay” for being attentive. But why are we to be attentive? And how are we to do this? And what does being attentive do for a leader? Let’s explore a few of these questions for a moment.

There is a popular saying that bears repeating here: “Take time to stop and smell the roses.” But sometimes we are so busy, distracted, and inattentive that we don’t see the roses or realize that there is actually time to smell them. Paying attention is vital to enjoying life, being productive, building healthy relationships and truly living an abundant life.

So how do we pay attention?

What habits and practices can we incorporate into our lives in order that we might be more attentive?

Are You a Guide or Explorer?

Explorer or Guide

What kind of leader are you?  Are you a Guide? Or are you an Explorer? Are both of these leaders with just different skill sets? What is the difference?

A Guide — A guide is someone who has been down this particular path before. They probably have been this way before many times. They have gotten really good at navigating the simplest, safest, and best route for folks to follow. A guide has specific experience related to the specific journey on which you find yourself. They have been where you want to go. They have returned to where you are. And they are now ready to go again and brave the same dangers and traverse the same rough terrain that beckons you.

Guides carry a huge responsibility. Often they are responsible for the life and welfare of the folks who put their trust in them. But folks are willing to trust them because they have a proven track record in the particular journey that needs to be undertaken.

An Explorer — An explorer is a brave individual to be sure. In fact, they may very well be a

New Beginnings

New Beginnings

Everyone loves to have a new beginning.

To be sure, we all need new beginnings.

Some come everyday.  Some come during certain seasons in life.

A new beginning is the end of what has come before and starting on the path to what is next.

Spring is a season of new beginnings. After the winter when everything has either died or gone dormant, Spring is the time when things are “reborn”, “revitalized” or “reawakened”.

Spring is when Easter is as well. Easter is the time when we remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He died so that we might have new beginnings. He rose again so that we might have new beginnings. Jesus’ death and resurrection are all about us closing the door on the past sins, failures and dead-ends and receiving His free gift of new life!

Since this is Easter weekend it seems fitting to consider the new beginnings available to us.

Beware of the Lure to be Likable

Fishing Lure

I guess I am still not done with the whole “like-ability” discussion.  So, I continue the discussion with a warning to beware of the lure to be likable.

Leaders are often placed under a tremendous amount of pressure to be relatable and to be nice.  Many follow the natural tendency to want to be liked because it feels much easier to be liked than to be viewed as capable and accomplishment driven.

Few leaders want to be the bad guy.  And those that do want to be the “heavy” are not the kind of leader that I am drawn to!

But as leaders we are expected to make the tough decisions that serve the organization or the team’s best interests.  Trying to be too nice can in fact be lazy, inefficient, irresponsible, and harmful to individuals and the organization.

I’ve seen this happen many times in my personal and professional career.  Leaders get almost addicted to a sense of being likable.  They make a mistake in staffing or in a major decision.  This can happen to anyone, and the best way to remedy the situation is to address it quickly. However, despite the obvious solution to the rest of the team, some leaders keep on trying to make it work.

While it is a good thing to follow our instinct to stick to it and be consistent, if you fast forward a few weeks or months, the situation is no better and often worse.

There’s a key lesson here for any leader

Nice is only good when it’s coupled with a rational perspective and the ability to make difficult choices.  

The Genesis Model of Creative Leadership

God and Adam

Creative leaders draw the best thinking out of the individual team members before calling a general brainstorming session.

This is the assertion in Chapter 1 of Tom Harper’s book, Leading from the Lion’s Den.  In his book he presents leadership lessons from every book of the Bible.  Consider this one from Genesis:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” – Gen 1:1

Many organizations today foster creative teamwork through collaborative instant messaging, chat windows, discussion boards, and project groups.  My company uses a myriad of technology tools as well as recently construction an entire corporate campus to foster collaboration.

Though today’s online cooperation might appear to be a new kind of brainstorming, it is actually based on a tried and true model of creativity. The old standard concept is simple: the best creative thinking is done when individuals have a chance to think before they collaborate.

Not everyone thinks well in groups. The rapid-fire atmosphere of some brainstorming methodologies can be very disconcerting to some otherwise highly creative members of your team.