Leadership Lessons from Washington

The President, not the State!

Leadership Lessons from Washington

I am enjoying a little respite from the hazy, hot, and humid Summer in Houston, TX. And my beloved bride found an inexpensive getaway to Oregon and Washington. Besides Lewis and Clark, we have seen a lot of profiles of George Washington’s face on many road and highway markers. And that reminded me of some thoughts I had a few years ago on leadership lessons we could learn from General, and later, President George Washington.

We, who live in the United States, have studied George Washington since first grade.  We think we know a lot about him. But I am not sure that what we think we know is really historically accurate. I hope that there is more to George Washington than that silver dollar and that cherry tree.

Washington was many things. And most of all he was indeed a leader. He was the ideal man to lead the newly formed American Continental Army and then later to lead the newly formed United States as the nation’s first president. He developed his leadership skills from an early age and he had a distinguished military career. He further honed them as a businessman and entrepreneur. Those leadership skills and abilities made him the wealthiest man in America by many calculations. And his leadership was ultimately tested in his later military career as he took a rag-tag militia and forced the greatest military in the world into surrender. But his testing and trials were not over as the nation elected him to be the very first president.

What can we learn from George Washington?

What can we learn from Washington’s leadership style and skills? Several things come to mind for me today. Consider the following.

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Blunders, Struggles, and Regrets

Two out of three are unavoidable.

Blunders, Struggles, and Regrets

Such are the words of Benjamin Disraeli. His actual and full quote is as follows:

“Youth is a blunder; Manhood a struggle, Old age a regret.” 

For those who are unfamiliar, Benjamin Disraeli was one of the Prime Ministers of Great Britain. Actually, he served as PM twice in his long career in Bri sh Parliament and politics. He was a key figure in creating what became the modern Conservative Party. There is much debate on his overall role in the pantheon of conservative thought. But, he was quite the literary figure as well.

The quote above is taken from a political novel, Coningsby. This novel set in the 1830s follows the life and times of Henry Coningsby, an orphan grandson of Lord Monmouth, a wealthy marquess. Or, if you prefer the more French version, he was a marquis. Lord Monmouth initially disapproved of Coningsby’s parents’ marriage, but on their death he relents, and he decides to provide for the boy. In so doing, he sends young Coningsby to be educated at Eton College. At Eton, Coningsby meets and befriends Oswald Millbank, the son of a rich cotton manufacturer who, as it turns out, is a bitter enemy of his benefactor, Lord Monmouth. The two older men represent old and new wealth in British society.

As Coningsby grows up he begins to develop his own liberal political views and he falls in love with Oswald’s sister, Edith. When Lord Monmouth discovers these developments he is furious and secretly disinherits his Coningsby. On his benefactor’s death, Coningsby is left penniless and is forced to work for his living. He decides to study law and to become a barrister. This endeavor speaks to his character and that in turn impresses Edith’s father (who had previously also been hostile to their relationship) and he consents to their marriage at last. By the end of the novel, Coningsby is elected to Parliament representing his new father-in-law’s constituency and his fortune is restored.

If you decide to dive into this book, you will find the quote above. But don’t bother. You have the summary and the quote above is the best part.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

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Waiting on the “Word”

What are you waiting to hear?

Waiting on the Word

As I arrived at the office today, parking spaces were plentiful. You could even find one close to the elevators in the parking garage. That can only mean one thing — Today is the day before a national holiday and many of the folks that are actually in the office today are just waiting on the “word.”

What “Word”?

We are waiting on the word “leave” from senior management that will say something like this: “Unless business reasons would make it otherwise imprudent, feel free to leave early this afternoon and begin to enjoy the July 4th holiday.” Those are the words everyone is waiting to hear. Days like today are the kinds of days that, unless you have something specific planned or are going to be out of town on vacation, it just doesn’t make sense to take the day off as a vacation today since it will be a short day anyway. Plus, you can be really productive in the time that you are there because there are only a handful of folks here and there are very few meetings that show up on your calendar. So, it is really a good day to get stuff done and get caught up on email or other administrative tasks that have slipped to the back burner lately. Like many others, I am just waiting for the word to come from our leader and I will exit with all due haste.

What is the Leadership Lesson here?

The leadership lesson is that from time to time we need to be asking ourselves about what message our followers may be waiting for. We need to ask ourself this question: “What ‘words’ are our followers waiting to hear from us?”

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Would you rather . . .

. . . have some of something or all of nothing?

Would you rather . . .

There is a game going around. It is been popularized in a movie from 2012 by the same name. It is called, “Would you rather”. And it has been spread throughout the culture via its popularity on social media sites such as “Reddit” and “BuzzFeed.” It is also available in an on-line version on http://either.io.

The question that seems to be the most fitting for the events in Washington, DC is this: “Would you rather have some of something or all of nothing?”

I am watching this health care legislation work its way through the U.S. Congress. And it is providing incredible insight into what leaders do when faced with two fiercely opposing positions. Now, I do not, for one second, care about your political affiliation or the direction to which you lean. My concern today is about the leadership implications of each of the options — some of something, or all of nothing.

If you are a leader, you will have to face a similar (albeit a smaller scale) scenario where you will be in a situation where there are two competing interests. You will face a situation where neither side seems initially willing to negotiate or to compromise. What is the role of a leader in this situation? What is the “right” thing to do?

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When to Charge Ahead

And When to Leave it Alone

When to Charge Ahead

How do we determine when we are to charge ahead as leaders or leave it alone and deal with it another day?

Never put off until tomorrow . . . 

We have all been taught in elementary school that we should not put off until tomorrow a kindness that we can do today. But what about a tough decision that we must make as a leader? Is there ever a situation where we would want to put that off for another time down the road? 

When? That is the question!

When is it right to charge ahead and take the bull by the horns and lead in the midst of a difficult situation? And when is it right to stand back and leave the issue alone and take a more relaxed and non-confrontational approach? These are legitimate questions that I have wrestled with in my own mind for many years. I have been guilty of rushing in too hard, too fast, or too soon. And I have been equally guilty of ignoring or turning away from a situation that had a whole lot of downside and very little upside that would drain all of my mental or emotional energy.

The problem is in knowing when to charge ahead and seize the moment. And knowing when to relax and take a more measured approach to the issue that faces us.

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More Than Goal Setting

One of the Myths of Leadership

More Than Goal Setting

I was walking back to my hotel room today to check out from a weeklong conference that I have been attending. And I overheard two people walking directly in front of me. One said to the other, “You know, the key to great leadership is goal setting.”

I wanted to stop them in their tracks and open a conversation with them. But, I am tired. And I am sure they are tired from this conference. I wanted to tell them that leadership is so much more.

So much more?

Yes! If it was as simple as just setting goals, then we could just boil the process down to a mathematical formula. Assign a numerical value to each of an organization’s objectives and put them in order. That will give you your organization’s goals in a ranked priority. Simple. But, leadership is not about “goal setting” as much as it is about “goal planning”, then “goal execution”, and finally “goal achievement.”

So, what is a leader to do?

Leadership has a lot of responsibilities regarding goal setting. Consider these:

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Is It Still Worth A Try?

Coming Back from Exile

Is It Still Worth A Try?

Is it still worth a try? I believe that it is still worth it. At least I think so. What is the “it” in this statement? The “it” is the desire to return from exile.

Two weeks ago I looked at the issue of Leadership in Exile. We discussed the fact that many leaders are self-exiled. And that they are such by their own choice based on their own experience or circumstance. And I concluded that article with some example of some leaders who were self-exiled and some examples of what they did during that period of their lives.

Why were you in “exile” in the first place?

It is worth a quick look back at some of the reasons some have been in exile.

  • Exhaustion — You got really tired. Have you gotten some rest?
  • Frustration — You got really frustrated with your situation. Has it changed at all?
  • Lack of Followship — You looked around and no one was following? Have you figured out why that was the case?
  • Lack of Support — You had no support from your leader. Is there new leadership above you? Or have they gotten better as a leader?
  • Viewed as a Threat — You were viewed as a threat to existing leadership or the status quo. Has the situation changed or has your leader gotten more confident in themselves or in your ability to lead without feeling threatened?

Is it time to return from exile?

If we have self-exiled, then we have the power to re-enter the leadership arena, right? The question we constantly ask ourselves serves as the title of this article — “Is it still worth a try?”

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The Lost Art of the Handshake

And why it really matters.

The Lost Art of the Handshake

You wouldn’t think this sort of article would be necessary, would you?  Unfortunately, it is.  It seems that men shaking hands is a bit of a lost art.

Consider the handshake.  Historical customs indicate that the handshake is commonly done upon meeting, greeting, parting, offering congratulations, expressing gratitude, or completing an agreement. In sports or other competitive activities, it is also done as a sign of good sportsmanship. Its purpose is to convey trust, balance, and equality.

Let’s Start With the Basics

Handshake 1This is a handshake.

Handshake 2This is not.

Handshake 3Neither is this.

Handshake 5I don’t even know what this is!

Why does a handshake matter?

The importance of a good, strong, firm handshake cannot be overstated. When you shake hands with a leader you figure out pretty quickly what kind of person that you’re dealing with. If you are dealing with a confident person, a serious person, and a person not to be “trifled” with you will receive a solid, firm and strong handshake and you will receive direct eye-contact. If you experience something other than that, you may have doubts about the person you are greeting.

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Leadership in Exile

Where have all the leaders gone?

Leadership in Exile

If that title doesn’t grab your attention, then nothing will. Our political and social structure here in the U.S.A. provides little context for the concept of being an exile. The closest thing that many in our society or culture can come to the ethos of being an exile is the practice among some cultures where one is shunned under certain conditions. But, even that does not really comport with our modern sensibilities.

What do I mean by “Exile”?

So, what do I mean when I use the word “exile” in the context of leadership? To be clear, I am not using that word within the context of a forced departure or a violent takeover that leaves the deposed leader nowhere to go but into hiding in a barren land or to the relative safety of a benevolent benefactor. Instead, I think that I really should be using the term – “self-exile.” Because I believe that there are many leaders who have taken themselves “out of the game” when it comes to leadership. They have opted to, in a sense, go underground and not seek to be a visible or vocal leader. 

Why are they Self-Exiled?

Perhaps that is the greater question? Why are they choosing to vacate their responsibility or opportunity to lead? Consider the following as some reasons that leaders have self-exiled.

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