Lead Big or Lead Small

Leadership Lessons from an Afternoon at Monster Jam

Sometimes leading small is really leading big.

It is human nature for most folks, when given a choice, to choose the big piece of pie instead of the smaller piece. Leaders are no different. There are some really great books out there that talk about servant leadership and one with the title, Leaders Eat Last. It was inspired by an interview between Simon Sinek and Lt. Gen. George Flynn, USMC Ret.

In that interview, Sinek asked Flynn to try and summarize what made the Marine Corps leadership style unique among the various branches of the military. Flynn said it was quite simple; it was because “Officers eat last”. This concept is both fundamental and intentional. And it exemplifies what makes the Marine Corps such an extraordinarily tight-knit unit. In chow-halls all across the globe Marines line up for their food each day with the most junior ranking Marines getting their food and eating first. Their officers eat last.

Just like in the pivotal courtroom seen in the movie, “A Few Good Men”, you will not find this procedure in the Marine Corps handbook. Nor is it communicated at roll call. It’s just the way that Marine leadership teaches responsibility from recruit class to recruit class and into the rank and file of the Marine Corps.

So what does this have to do with leading big or small?

We go back to human nature. And we go back to some of the common personality traits of leaders. They are usually not shy and reclusive. And they have no problem standing up for themselves or their people. And they usually have substantial egos. And they are generally motivated to succeed. Those are not bad traits. But they also tend to want to grow and leader bigger and bigger teams and seek to influence on a larger scale when offered the chance.

I am still not sure what this has to do with leading big or small!

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Emotional Intelligence

A Primer or a Refresher? 

I have not always been a “reader”. Most of my reading over the years has been to my children and grandchildren. It is only in the last several years that I acquired any taste for books. And my tastes in reading material vary widely. But several years ago, I had a book suggested to me by a fellow leadership coach. He recommended the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. Immediately I started using this book with many of my leadership coaching clients and I think it is worthy to provide a primer to the uninitiated or a refresher with the broader Leadership Voices audience.

The book has a foreword by Patrick Lencioni. Many of you will recognize him as the author of Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Death by Meeting. If you are into great titles, those are a couple of great ones. As Lencioni proclaims in the foreword, he’s no expert in this field, but he sees everyday how critical a skill it is to have and he’s so enthusiastic about this book because it’s the first he’s read that actually shows you how to increase your EQ and apply it in your personal and professional life.

The opening chapter deals with Emotional Intelligence (EI) and your Emotional Quotient (EQ) and compares and contrasts it with the more well-known IQ. The chapter describes what EQ is and what it isn’t. For example, a lot of people mistakenly think that EQ is a part of your personality. To the contrary, EQ is separate from your personality, just as it is separate from your intellect, or IQ. It begins to build your understanding of emotions by showing what the five core emotions look like in varying degrees of intensity. Next, the team of Bradberry and Greaves explain research studies that illustrate how important EQ is in daily living. They show how your EQ impacts things like your tolerance for change, how you manage stress, and even how much money you make.

What Emotional Intelligence Looks Like: Understanding the Four Skills

The book introduces and explains Daniel Goleman’s four EQ skills: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management. Beyond a conceptual description of the skills, the book provides detailed vignettes showing examples of real people who are high or low in each of the skills.

To truly improve your ability in the four emotional intelligence skills, you need to better understand each skill and what it looks like in action.

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Are You a House Cut or a Chair Cut?

Leadership Lessons from the Barber Shop

I got a haircut today. Are you excited to hear that news? At this stage of my life it takes about 3 minutes and, according to the pair of Vietnamese that cut my hair, I am “easy money.” They laugh and say that every time I come by for a haircut. They tease with one another about who will get to cut my hair because I am so easy to do and they think I am a big tipper.

Several years ago I gave up on dealing with my hair. What hair that I had left was not, nor had ever been, very cooperative. On calm days it tended to want to go wherever it wanted despite the lotions and potions that I piled on it to keep it down. And on a windy day, it went wherever the wind blew. So, one day, I asked my barber to make a suggestion. She suggested that I just go to a “#1 razor guard, cut it really short and be done with it. I did it and I loved it.

You can’t imagine the freedom came with that decision. I no longer had to wait in line for my particular barber that remembered how to cut my hair. I now was no longer what barbers call a ”Chair Cut”. I was now a “House Cut”. All I needed to tell whoever cut my hair was “#1 all over” and they would take it from there.

It is now simple.

It is now easy.

There is zero stress involved.

In fact, it has been liberating to some degree.

Now for the Leadership Application

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It Is Never Too Late To Be Encouraging Leaders

There Are Two Ways To Read That!

The English language can be a little tricky, can’t it? You can read the title of today’s article in two ways. You can read it as an admonition to us as followers that we should encourage our leaders. And that would be a great admonition and that would be a great article.

However, my purpose today is to view it from the obverse perspective. I want to admonish the leaders among us that we should be “encouragers” to those around us. And who doesn’t need a little encouragement?

Am I supposed to do that?

One of the most important tasks of a leader is to encourage his followers. Leaders often have to lead in the midst of difficult times and through tough circumstances. These times and circumstances weigh heavily on our team. And one of the things to which they will look to their leaders for is some form of encouragement.

Are you an encourager? 

Do you build your team up? Do you take pro-active steps to speak positive words to your team as they struggle with the tasks that you have given them? Or are you demeaning and demanding? When your team sees you approaching are they looking forward to what you are about to say? Or do they feel a sense of dread and foreboding in your presence and turn the other way and suddenly look too busy to speak to you?

If I were to make a list of those who need encouragement from me, as a father, I need to look no farther than my own home. It seems to me that daily life today is an assault on one’s self-esteem and confidence. Our kids’ schools are not very affirming to those who are not part of the “In” crowd. And, unfortunately, many of our churches are not much better. Many churches have the same “caste society” that the world employs. And if you are not part of the Worship Team or friends with the pastoral staff then you can go largely unnoticed. And our jobs have become so competitive in this still struggling economy that you may not find much encouragement there.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

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Leadership Culture

5 Signs That There is Not a Culture that Produces Leaders in Your Organization

The purpose of leadership in any organization is to advance the mission, vision, scope, or provide a return on an investment. It is the strong leaders in an organization who can take your mission farther, faster than trying to do it alone. Unfortunately, some organizations or senior managers (leaders) do not foster a leadership culture.

When this takes place, everyone and everything loses. The organization loses. The senior manager loses. The community loses. The investors lose. People lose. Everyone and everything loses.

There are many reasons for this. And I will not take time to deal with all of them here. But fear plays a huge role. Fear that they will get cast aside by the new leaders. Fear that they will not be able to compete against a younger and often a more energetic crowd.

But a leadership culture works both ways. Older leaders mentoring young leaders. And young leaders honoring and respecting older leaders who have paved the way to make their success possible.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to an organization about a particular leadership topic. Clearly, they are building a leadership culture. And I applaud them for doing so. But, what about your organization? Do you have a strong leadership culture? If not, consider the following signs and see if you recognize any of them in your organization.

The following are 5 Signs Your Organization Does Not Have A Strong Leadership Culture:

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#LeadershipStrong in 2018

Some Incredible Leadership Observations from Hurricane Harvey in 2017

For any who live in or around Houston, TX and the south Texas region, you will be aware that #HoustonStrong became the hashtag that dominated social media in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It came to represent the strength and resilience of folks of the greater Houston metropolitan area.

Texans are made of the same stuff that legends are made of. And Houstonians often feel that they are the caretakers of those legends. And there were some new legends that were created throughout the days of rain and the many days of rescue and recovery that followed.

For a few weeks that started in mid-August of this past year and lasted until the National Weather Service downgraded the hurricane on September 3, 2017, I had a front row seat for some inspiring leadership. Not that I was only an observer. Not at all. But, I watched some folks step up and lead in ways that you may not otherwise see without such a huge humanitarian crisis or catastrophic weather event that unleashes trillions and trillions of gallons of water on your city.

To put this storm in perspective you need to consider just a few numbers. In just a four-day period, many areas in and around Houston received more than 40 inches of rain as the storm system slowly meandered over our city and over southeastern Texas, causing catastrophic flooding. The highest recorded accumulation of 60.58 inches was not far from where my son, his wife, and their young son live. Hurricane Harvey was the wettest tropical storm on record in the United States. The resulting floods inundated hundreds of thousands of homes, displaced more than 30,000 people, and prompted more than 17,000 rescues.

It is against that backdrop that leadership took center stage. #HoustonStrong gave us #LeadershipStrong. And leadership talent was on display for all to see if you were looking for it. I was looking for it and I was not disappointed.

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Strength vs. Toughness

If you could only have one, which one would you choose?

Coaching young leaders, and coaching those who aspire to lead, gives me incredible opportunities to take a look at all of the combinations of skills and traits that make up a great leader. Recently, I was in a conversation with a young leader who has a fair amount of both. But I was postulating on the evidence that would suggest that most leaders are either strong or tough. But, usually not both.

What is the difference between strength and toughness?

Never go to the internet with a question like that unless you want a college level physics explanation! However, my questions on this topic are not addressed from a metallurgical perspective. These two terms, when combined, are most often mentioned in metallurgical discussions on toughness, elasticity, and fracturing.

My thoughts are more physiological. Consider for a moment the strength of the powerlifter and the toughness of the hockey player. Both are incredibly skilled in their particular athletic endeavor. Yet, they are built very differently and could not compete on equal footing if either of them were to cross over into the other’s athletic domain. Perhaps that is the very observation that has sparked the global “CrossFit” craze. But, I digress.

The Value of Strength

Strength is a great attribute to possess. More than one young man has flexed a muscle when a pretty young lady walked by. Strength is universally valued and has applicability to many aspects of life. But go back to the example I used to represent strength. It was a powerlifter. When I think of strength, I am reminded of Vasily Alekseyev, the Olympian from the former U.S.S.R. He was the holder of 80 world records and the April 14, 1975 cover of Sports Illustrated proclaimed him the “World’s Strongest Man.” He weighed over 350 pounds.

I watched him in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics many times walk up to a steel bar with hundreds of pounds of iron plates on each end. He would lean over, get a grip, and then lift it over his head for about a second. He would then drop it and nod to the judges and walk off the stage. In all likelihood it would be a new world or Olympic record. But could he have run a marathon or played ice hockey at an Olympic level? Probably not.

The Value of Toughness

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Is “Inspiration” Enough?

Some leadership thoughts from a funeral service

My family’s schedule was impacted this week by the death of my mother-in-law. You can insert all of the standard mother-in-law jokes here if you want to. But, none of them were true in our case. My wife’s mother was an incredible woman. And I loved her dearly.

It is at times like these that we pause and look at a life well lived. And it is altogether fitting that we do so. Mom led a life that by all measures was well-lived. For a skinny girl with glasses that preferred books to boys, she had an incredible life and an incredible impact on so many.

But, merely reading her obituary does not really give you the true sense of the impact that she had on the lives of her family, her church, and her friends. She was an amazing woman. I was blessed to know her for almost 43 years. She was an inspiration to multiple generations who knew her as “Mom”, Aunt Jo Ann, “Grandmama”, and “Greatmama”, except that title was already taken by another extraordinary woman that is walking the streets of Glory today as well, so she just became Grandmama to a new generation.

Is there a leadership angle here?

This is just an observation on my part. But, it seems that we are willing to be inspired by Jo Ann and folks like her. But, are we willing to be instructed and to do the work in our own lives to have these virtues and values instilled in ourselves?

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Is Your Organization Off Pitch?

When Leaders are Tone Deaf

Tis the season for our children and our grandchildren to perform for us in their school and church musical concerts. I have already been to several programs and I loved every one of them. Maybe it was because my grandchildren were in them and they are just so adorable. I didn’t care about the music. I was there to see them perform and do the motions dressed in their finest Christmas outfits.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying an impromptu lunch with my friend, Dan, a guy that I met when we moved to Houston almost 20 years ago. We developed a relationship and have been very good friends for all these many years. He is a man of many talents. He is a financial genius who has offered his talents to churches and other non-profit organizations for as long as I have known him. He is extremely organized and has plied his abilities for regional and global organizations with ever-increasing levels of responsibility. Oh, and he can sing. Beautifully. In fact, he traveled the world with a famous choir.

So what?

What do these two seemingly disparate sets of facts have to do with one another? The answer is simple if you know either of us at all. Any meeting between us will inevitably end up focusing on leadership, or the lack thereof, in the various organizations that we are a part of outside of our regular work. As I was describing a leadership challenge that I am watching from a very short distance he clarified the point that I was trying to make. He said, “It is as though they are organizationally off pitch.” That was exactly the point I was struggling to make. And he clarified and summarized it in just a few words. Genius!

Although I can’t really sing all that well, I can definitely tell when someone else is singing off key or off pitch. It hurts my ears. I can only imagine what it must feel like or sound like to a guy like Dan. And I wonder, do the folks who are trying to sing really able to tell that they are off pitch? Or are they just making a joyful noise?

What is the leadership lesson?

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Leadership In Action or Inaction

Maintaining the space between the two words

I have been contemplating the examples of leadership that are so prevalent today. And, instead of being shining examples of Leadership In Action, with a space between “In” and “Action”, I seem to find that they are pitiful examples of Leadership Inaction, without a space between “In” and “action”. Is it a little bit hokey and a play on words? Yes, it is absolutely. But, unfortunately, it captures the state of leadership in our nation and in our culture today.

Inaction is Silence

Many of us who are working for a living and trying to be productive members of society are observing ample instances of inaction by our elected leaders. When it seems obvious that taking a stand is necessary and the appropriate thing to do, instead of for the most part we hear the sound of crickets from our elected political leaders.

But as much as I want to blame these elected political leaders, I can’t. It seems that what “sells” is that which is most pleasing to the ears of the listener. And, as a free market capitalist, I can’t blame them for selling a product that so many appear to want to purchase. The sad truth appears to be that “Inaction sells.”

Action Conquers Fear

But inaction has a tremendous downside. It has the effect of sucking life and courage from those of us who would lead. Consider what the great businessman and philanthropist Dale Carnegie once said:

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