Administration ≠ Leadership

You Just Can’t “Administer” an Organization Out of a Mess

My wife has a beautiful singing voice. I do not. Every once in a while, I will ask her if it is “painful” for her to listen to some folks sing when they cannot carry a tune. National Anthem singing seems to bring out the very patriotic. They are just not able to sing.

It is not a perfect analogy, but I sometimes “hurt” when I watch organizations with passionate people. They believe strongly in what the organization stands for. They are just not able to lead.

There are half a dozen or so organizations that are on my radar right now. Some of them are doing very well. But some are not. Those that are not doing well, seem to sense that there is a major problem. They seem to realize that they may be in a big mess. They don’t know how they got here. And they just don’t seem to know what to do. Or, maybe, they know what to do, but they just can’t bring themselves to do it.

What do we tend to do?

What do we tend to do when we find ourselves or our organizations in a mess? One of the first places we like to look is at tools and training. Does the leader of the organization have the right tools and training that are needed to lead the organization that is in a mess? That answer almost always comes back “No.” No one ever feels that they have all of the resources necessary to be successful So, “no” is an easy answer.

The tools or training most often identified as deficient in these situations deal with topics such as personal organization, goal setting, prioritization, and communication. All of which are great skills to have as a leader. This is particularly true in the non-profit space.

Yet all of these tools and training are administrative in nature. They are managerial in nature. And much has been already written about the differences between managing and leading.

What should we do?

We should always look to fill a leaders toolkit with as many tools as they can master. And we should always be “sharpening our ax” with training and ongoing professional development. But is that enough? Is there a deeper question we should ask and is there more that we should do on the fundamental question of leadership ability?

What questions should we be asking?

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Leading Without the Adrenaline Rush

5 Characteristics of Leaders for the Long Haul

Crisis leadership is a 24 hour a day adrenaline rush. It is a crisis and you are leading folks through that crisis. You have led well. The crisis has passed. And now you are coming down from the adrenaline rush that has flowed through your veins for the past few days or weeks.

Now what?

For some, the immediate crisis is over. If you are in the south Texas area, you are in this phase. If you are in Florida, the immediate danger is over, but the crisis remains as the sun is up and you are getting a chance to survey the damage that occurred overnight.

What if there is no adrenaline rush?

What if your situation is fairly stable? What if there is no looming, current, or recent crisis to deal with? How can we be leaders for the long haul where we must get up every day and lead through the mundane?

I would submit to you that this is difficult leadership. There is no crisis to rally around and there is not a tragedy to motivate us. This is where the bulk of leadership takes place.

Consider for a few moments five characteristics of leaders in it for the long haul.

Long Haul Leaders are Committed — It takes real commitment to be a part of something for the long haul. The metaphor of the over the road trucker jumps to my mind. The road is long. And many times the scenery is boring. But the journey is every bit as important and the cargo is every bit as important to those who rely on the trucker to deliver the products we need every day to thrive. Likewise, the Long Haul Leader is committed to the process even though the hours are long and the scenery is repetitive.

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Leadership After the Initial Crisis

When the Cameras Have Found Another Hero to Follow

Thank you to all of you who called, texted, emailed, and reached out to me through various social media channels last week to check on our safety. We came through Hurricane Harvey “high and dry.” But so many in our area cannot say that. Keep praying for them and give anything that you can for the relief and recovery process after Hurricane Harvey.

My most recent article was written in the midst and immediate aftermath of the hurricane. Rescues were still ongoing. And heroes were emerging from all over the city. And I was particularly moved by the exploits of my friend, David. He was a hero. He was a leader.

But he is a warrior. People’s lives were in danger. It is the natural thing for him to rush into dangerous situations and save lives. The TV networks have moved on to the next scandal in Washington and most are headed to Florida for the next hurricane. So, what is David up to?

What does a leader do after the initial crisis has passed?

I don’t know what all leaders do. But let me tell you some more about David. He is an entrepreneur. He is a husband. He is a dad. He is the very picture of a busy person. He is probably too busy for his own good sometimes. He has a business to run and a family to care for.

So, naturally, he is back to business as usual. No! As I follow him today on Facebook, he is actively doing the messy, stinky, filthy, dusty, musty, gross job of cleaning out friends, family, and strangers houses. He is as active today as he was during the search and rescue phase.

What is the leadership Lesson?

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Don’t Wait To Be Called; Mobilize Others; Take Risks

Three Characteristics of How Leaders Respond in a Crisis

I was checking in with a friend of almost 20 years who lives south of the city of Houston. When hurricanes come to Houston, they usually hit him first. So, we were checking on each other. That’s what friends do.

He also mentioned during our conversation that I was probably developing several leadership articles from the events and activities over the last 6 days. He was right. I wrote one before the rain even began to fall. A friend provided a symbiotic article on Monday. And here we go on Thursday night with some of my thoughts so far on leadership lessons from Hurricane Harvey.

What does real leadership look like in a crisis?

I have a friend. His name is David. Actually, he is really an acquaintance. In fact, I haven’t ever actually met him in person. Although I would certainly like to. I would like to shake his hand and tell him what an amazing leader he is. For I have been following his exploits on Facebook for the past 6 days.

Houston is not your typical city. We are deeply independent and we believe in the value of self-reliance and responsibility. So, while many in similar circumstances would sit and wait for the police, fire, or other government entity to come and rescue those in need, folks like David dive in (literally!) and rescue those whose lives are in danger.

Watching David over the last 6 days has shown me a few things about leadership in new and fresh ways. Here are some things that I have watched over the time that Hurricane Harvey was wreaking havoc on Houston.

Leaders don’t wait to be called

The rain was still falling. In fact, we were still in the worst of the storm and David, a former special operations combat veteran, left the comfort of his own home and grabbed his gear and waded out into the water and then swam to trapped folks and began to rescue them.

No one called David. At least not externally. He was called by an inner voice that told him to get up, go out, and use his unique skills for the sake of his fellow Houstonians. Day after day he would perform heroic acts and then report back to his wife via Facebook about his rescues and recount not the heroics, but the humor and craziness that he experienced throughout the day.

No one called him. He just went.

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Hunker Down

Leadership Lessons from a Big Storm

The Texas coast is bracing for a storm that may be of historic scope and size. And if the predicted rainfall amounts are anywhere close to being accurate, we are in for quite a storm and associated flooding. We may have flooding in Houston similar to what we saw in 2001 when Tropical Storm Allison visited Houston, left for a day and then returned and stalled for a day and dropped up to 40 inches of rain on an area of the country that is as flat as a pancake. And more recently, we are bracing for an impact like we experienced from Hurricane Ike in 2008.

One of the public figures that emerged prominently from Hurricane Ike was an elected official named Judge Ed Emmett. I will not bore you with the details of our political system here in Texas, but, trust me, a County Judge holds a prominent position in Houston and he had a great deal of influence as Hurricane Ike was approaching.

Judge Emmett coined a phrase while addressing the local and national media as the storm approached. He said: “We are still saying: Please shelter in place, or to use the Texas expression, ’hunker down.‘ For the vast majority of people who live in our area, stay where you are. The winds will blow and they’ll howl and we’ll get a lot of rain, but if you lose power and need to leave, you can do that later.”

What was he trying to say?

His guidance was a direct result of the disastrous situation 3 years prior when Hurricane Rita came through and folks fled the city in such numbers that the highways gridlocked and many people were stranded on the highway with no way to move forward and no way to turn around. Several died in the ensuing traffic jam. A total of 110 people died during the “exodus”.

He was trying to get people to avoid the mistakes of the recent past where many fled who really did not need to. This resulted in many who did need to evacuate being unable to do so.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

There are several leadership lessons that we can take from these events in the past and the one that is bearing down upon us right now.

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Leadership Lessons from a Total Eclipse

Stuff that was there all along. I just couldn’t see it.

Today was the day that science geeks and all those who love rare occurrences were ecstatic. There was a total solar eclipse that crept across a significant swath of America’s heartland today. And it reminded me of a few things.

I watched some of the television coverage today while eating lunch at my desk. At one point, the nearly breathless reported was able to exclaim that he could see the stars. He could see Venus! Once the moon managed to work itself exactly in the line of sight between our eyes and the sun, it was able to block the rays and turn day into night.

Birds ceased their singing. Crickets began to chirp. And streetlights began to flicker on in the neighborhoods as a result of the near darkness. It must have been strange to be in the path of “totality.” I wish I could have been somewhere along the path that cut an arcing diagonal across the middle of the U.S.

Perhaps I will make it to the next one. Whenever that occurs. But, in the meantime, I am left to ponder a few things from the total eclipse.

Stars

After 20 years in Texas, I can’t help but hear these lyrics inside my head: “The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.” And they are. But, guess what the eclipse revealed? Those same stars are there during the daytime as well. We just don’t see them very well because that other big old star seems to shine so much brighter that it obliterates the light from the more distant stars. So we only think of them at night. But they are still there.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

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My Mount Rushmore of Mentors

The Top Few Who Have Really Influenced Me

I had a text message this morning from a man who has been way more influential in my life than he even knows. We had not been in touch for a while due to his move from TX to LA and because of my crazy schedule for the last few months. He was checking in with me to make sure that the lack of communication was not due to some unidentified or unresolved issue between us. Nothing can be farther from the truth!

In the short text response back to him to let him know I am still alive, I told him that he is on my personal “Mount Rushmore” of guys who have had a major impact on my life. The real Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota is the epitome of public acknowledgment of greatness.

Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four of the United States greatest presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Can you name anyone else who deserves to be on that mountainside? Wait, don’t do that. That is not what this article is about. It is about the four guys who have had a significant impact on my life and my leadership development.

My Mount Rushmore

I want to share with you just who these guys are. But I want to allow them some anonymity out of respect for their time and privacy. Here they are:

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It’s Not “Who’s your Daddy?”

It is “Who’s your Uncle?"

My business travels have taken me far and wide. They have taken me around the world several times over. And I have had the incredible opportunity to observe and interact with many different cultures. One of the interesting aspects of the culture of India is the use of the word, “Uncle.”

Modern vernacular has given us the pejorative question, “Who’s your daddy?”  According to Wikipedia, it is a slang expression that means: “takes the form of a rhetorical question. It is commonly used as a boastful claim of dominance over the intended listener. It is also sometimes used as a derogatory claim of sexual dominance of a man over a woman or another man.” All in all, it is not the most uplifting thing that you can say.

What does this have to do with Indian culture?

Indian culture uses the term “Uncle” in quite the opposite sense. Rather than be a derogatory term as we see here in the U.S., the term “Uncle” is used as a way of showing respect for those that are older or more mature than we are. I was shocked to be referred to in that way on my first trip to India several years ago. I had the great pleasure to meet a family involved in ministry and missionary work. They were locals and were indigenous to that region of India. There were a husband and wife. They had extended family as well. We all went to lunch together on a Sunday afternoon. One of the young adults that I enjoyed dining with was 20-something female, who upon meeting me for the first time referred to me thereafter as “Uncle.” Rest assured, I am not her biological uncle. However, once I understood that it was a term of true endearment and respect, I did get a very warm feeling from being called “Uncle.”

People of India recognize and address those who are older with a familial term as a way of showing respect. It also indicates that they are open to the influence that the “Uncle” may have on their life.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

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Sleepless Nights and Too Much Sunshine

What I learned from trying to teach my children to sleep through the night.

I remember when our children were very young. One woke up laughing, the other, not so much. For those of you who know my family, I will leave you to guess which child responded with laughter and which responded with tears.

And I remember trying to teach them to sleep through the night. (Of course, I also remember setting up a borrowed video camera and recording our first born while he slept. Pretty exciting video, isn’t it?  But we were brand new parents.) But the process of training them to sleep through the night and go back to sleep when their little bodies awoke in the middle of the night was hard. There was a huge part of me that wanted to just pick them up and bring them into our bed and snuggle.  It seemed that between my wife and I, only one of us would have the strength to deal with the crying.  One of us would begin to cave in and the other would be strong.  Then the roles would reverse.  And on it went for days and days until we finally made it through the night.

What is a beleaguered parent to do?

Should I scoop them up and feed them every time they cried? Should I bring them into our bed to sleep? There is a problem with that approach. They were growing bigger, and they no longer needed to eat every two to three hours, and it would ultimately hurt them and be bad for them if we allowed them to never establish a healthy sleep pattern. They needed sleep, I needed sleep. Heaven only knows that their mother needed sleep!

So, what is the beleaguered leader to do?

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I Didn’t Know It Was That Bad

The Power of Perspective

I Didn’t Know It Was That Bad

I got one of those lovely letters from the Homeowners Association that no one likes to receive. It told me that my driveway was too dirty. And it told me that I needed to clean my driveway. No, really. That is what it said. So, I borrowed a pressure washer from my son and set about the task of cleaning my driveway.

What I saw after the first spray of pressurized water hit the concrete was amazing. That first jet of water took off 19 years of accumulated dirt and gunk that had settled on it over the years. That first swath of high-pressure water took off that gunk and revealed concrete as it must have looked 19 years ago when it was poured and cured. To look at the concrete the day before would never have given me the hint that it was that “dirty.” In fact, I thought the HOA folks were a little crazy. But one look at the “clean” concrete next to the areas that I had not pressure washed yet showed that the concrete had indeed become very dark gray and almost black by comparison to the newly washed section.

This certainly gave me an interesting perspective on things. It made me a little self-reflective. What about my own life? Had I let it get dunked up with many years of accumulated dirt and grime? So, as a reference point, I left a little patch of concrete alone. I did not even get it wet. I wanted to leave it alone. That little dark patch on my driveway is a reminder of what the whole driveway looked like before the pressure washer hit it.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

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