The Value of Loyal Followers

They are great followers. But, what kind of leader are they?

Someone gave me an opportunity to speak at a high school commencement this past weekend. It was an extraordinary honor. Watch in the coming days for some thoughts from that commencement address. 

One of the things that I needed to provide was a short bio for the principal to use when he introduced me. Drafting that reminded me of just how many jobs I have had over the last 39 years. One of the jobs that I had was in sales. And one of the things that became apparent immediately was that the ranks of sales managers were full of the companies greatest salespeople  

So, what’s the problem?

That seems like a logical place to draw from if you need sales managers. Just find your best salespeople and promote them. That ought to work. There is only one problem. It doesn’t always. The skills that make you a great sales professional don’t necessarily make you a great management professional.

Is there a leadership point in there somewhere?

Yes! And it is this. Just like great sales professionals don’t make necessarily make great managers, great and loyal followers don’t necessarily make great leaders. The problem is that many leaders love to be surrounded by loyal followers. And whenever there is a leadership need, leaders often look to those who are deemed to be most loyal. 

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is often manifested in several ways. Let’s consider a few:

Click here to read the rest of the article »

Vision = “What” and Leadership = “How”

Visionary and Tactical Leadership

My own personal journey toward understanding various forms of leadership began many years ago. It began in a medium-sized church in Marietta, Georgia in 1983. I was 22 years of age and I was elected to the church board I was the youngest board member elected that year. 

Prior to that point, I had been an observer. And I had observed some incredible leaders. I would put my own father in that category. His leadership in many areas are an inspiration to me to this very day. But I have observed many different leaders in these past 35 years. I learned as much as I could from men like Bill Searcy, an entrepreneur and small business owner in the Atlanta metropolitan area. He owned a Firestone auto repair shop. I owned a piece of junk Chevy Celebrity that went through 4 sets of brakes in 2 and a half years. It was a “lemon” and I didn’t realize it. So, we were destined to spend time together. He taught me more about leadership than just about anyone else early in the early years of my leadership journey. I owe him, and some others like him, a great debt of gratitude.

I consider myself to be a keen observer. I am an observer of leaders. That kind of observation over the years has shown to me that there are two distinct skill sets that are common among those who would consider themselves to be leaders. There are those that “see” what needs to happen. And there are those who “make” it happen.

Click here to read the rest of the article »

Are You a Visionary Leader?

And is vision alone enough?

I am fortunate to be involved with several non-profit organizations. They range from religious, to academic, to secular. Even those that are not religious know one of the passages in the Bible that deal with vision. Here is that often misquoted or misused scripture 

“Where there is no vision, the people perish”. 

It is found in the Old Testament in Proverbs 29:18. It is used many times from the pulpit to exhort us to catch the vision that the pastor has seen and to press us onward to the destination seen in the vision.

But I submit to you that there is a BIG difference between being a visionary and being a leader. And I ask the larger question: Is having a great vision enough? Beyond having a vision, is having one and being able to communicate it, enough?

What is a “visionary?”

Click here to read the rest of the article »

Leadership Lessons from a Round of Golf

A smart golfer will listen to his caddie

I had a chance to play a round of golf last Friday with a couple of friends. But there was another person to join the round of golf — a caddie. Caddies are not a usual component of my golf game. My skills certainly don’t warrant the use of a caddie. Nevertheless, I had the chance to play 18 holes with the use of a skilled and knowledgeable caddie.

Our caddie’s name was Doug. He didn’t look like a caddie. But, then again, I don’t look like a golfer. But he knew the course as well as Jack Nicklaus himself, the designer of the course. He knew every fairway, water hazard, and bunker. He told us where to aim and what areas to avoid. And he could read the greens with absolute precision. He used his knowledge and did everything that he could to set us up for success. All we had to do was to execute the shot. Simple. Not necessarily easy. But, simple to see once he showed us the way.

My friend that was hosting us on that day was a member of the club and knew the course very well having played it hundreds of times. But even he listened to Doug and followed Doug’s advice when it came to reading the greens and putting. I figured that if my friend was listening to the caddie’s advice, I should probably do the same.

The Leadership Lesson

Is there a leadership lesson in there somewhere? Yes. There are several. And here they are. But before we reveal them, it is important to note that you don’t have to be a great golfer to be a great caddie.

Click here to read the rest of the article »

Proof of Leadership

Is there a “test” for leadership?

It is easy to look like a leader when everything is going well. I think we can make the argument that everything is not going well. We are living in difficult days. I am speaking globally. And I am speaking about our nation. And I am speaking about the great state of Texas. And I am speaking about my own little life.

Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.

Publilius Syrus

Nobody panic. All is well in my home. I just love a great quote and this is one of my favorites. What does it mean? To me, it is about the difference between being a leader and just looking like a leader.

To my friends and family, there is no need for alarm. I am very blessed. But here is the reality of life as I see it.

Globally – We are seeing world events take place that may bring to resolution a conflict that my father was a part of 68 years ago on the Korean Peninsula. The world watches and waits.

Nationally – Our nation is on the verge of cultural and class warfare.

Texas – Here in Texas we are engaged again in a battle to see if we are conservative enough. Is there a “litmus test” for conservatism? I don’t know for sure. And if so, would I pass it? Would you?

Home – Home is where I find joy and contentment and love and acceptance. I am blessed beyond measure with a family that is strong and courageous and loving and caring. But there are still struggles every day that are common to many of you who read these words.

So, is there a test that determines if you are a leader or not?

It is easy to lead when times are easy.

Click here to read the rest of the article »

Don’t Be Afraid To Look Funny

Words of Wisdom from an Unsuccessful Presidential Candidate

I am putting the final touches on a manuscript. One of the tasks given to me by my editor is to chase down a quote that I plan to use to drive home a point in one of the chapters toward the end of the book. I have said many times that I truly love a great and pithy little quote. And this one from Adlai Stevenson is no exception.

Adlai Ewing Stevenson II (5 February 1900 – 14 July 1965) was an American politician and statesman. He was known as a skillful orator and debater. He served as a Governor of Illinois and he was twice an unsuccessful candidate for President of the United States. He mounted unsuccessful campaigns running against Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and again in 1956. He did serve the John F. Kennedy administration when he was appointed as United States Ambassador to the United Nations. 

Here is a quote attributed to him:

“It is hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.”

I am struggling to find a direct attribution to Adlai Stevenson although everyone seems to be quoting him. The quote in question has been written about recently in a book by Ron Gaddie entitled, Born to Run: Origins of the Political Career. In that book, Gaddie examines the political careers of nine different individuals who ran for political offices at a variety of local and state levels. I do not intend to review the book here. Rather, I want to look at the quote and explore its implication to us as leaders.

What does the quote say to you from a leadership perspective?

Here is what it says to me. It says that we must look beyond our own real, or imagined, shortcomings in order to be an effective leader. This is especially true when it comes to our self-confidence.

Click here to read the rest of the article »

What Does a Leader Say?

Insight from a preschooler

What does Mimi always say?

That was the question that we asked our youngest grandchild as we were sitting around the dining room table yesterday afternoon. For those of you who know some of my parenting rules, you will know that I do not like asking a question to which I don’t already know the answer to, or to which I can’t control the answer. And, asking a young child to repeat what his impression is regarding what his grandmother always says was risky. His answer, much to our delight was this: “Jax, do you want Mimi to get you something to eat?”

We went around the table and asked each of our grandchildren the same question about what their individual parents or we the grandparents are always saying to them. Some of the responses were hysterically funny. Some of them tweaked our hearts a little bit. It tweaked a little because when they were asked for something that they hear from our mouths on a regular basis, not everything was as nurturing as Mimi fixing them a little snack of comfort food.

What does that have to do with leadership?

As leaders, we have developed a repertoire of words and statements that we use on a frequent basis. They are our “go to” statements and answers. They are second nature to us and require little if any thought before we respond. 

In a sense, they paint an emotional picture of our leadership. Whenever someone thinks of our leadership style and our leadership efforts, certain words or statements jump to the forefront of their mind just as they did for our three grandchildren. Those words define us. They do so because they are the first words that pop into our brains when someone says our name.

Are you feeling a little “tweaked?”

Boy, I am! What do my followers hear me say all the time? Is it uplifting? Is it encouraging? Is it helpful? Is it instructive? Or, is it snarky, belittling, negative, or childish? 

Click here to read the rest of the article »

Leadership Lessons from a Kid and a Kite

A Valuable Kid and a Cheap Kite

Even as we were engaged in the activity yesterday afternoon, I could feel the inspiration for this article welling up inside of me. And as I stand at my desk today, I am convinced that the value is in the kid and not the kite.

Recently, we went away for the weekend with two of our three grandchildren. My wife, the consummate planner, planned way more activities that we had time for. As a result of that, we had a couple of Dollar Store kites that were not opened and waiting to be tried by the grandkids. So, we walked down to the neighborhood elementary school and we opened the package and took out the kite. We put Rod “A” in Slot “B” and attached String “C” to Ring “D” and we were ready to launch.

There was only one problem. There was not much breeze.

What do you if you are a child and someone hands you a kite? You RUN! You run and pull the kite along as it drifts just a few feet above the ground. You run in giant circles in the parking lot of the school until your little legs are too tired and you collapse onto the ground. Your kite falls to the pavement. No wind = no flying.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

What is the leadership lesson in trying to fly a cheap kite with no wind? It is this.

Click here to read the rest of the article »

What Does Leadership Feel Like?

Is there a leadership “feeling”?

I just couldn’t resist one more article in this series. This last one will deal with how leadership feels — both for the leader and the follower.

Maybe it is more of a “groove” than just a feeling. Maybe it is really nothing more than leadership “mojo.” But, there is an undeniable feeling when you are called to lead and you lead well. So, let’s take a look at how it feels for both the leader and the follower.

How it feels to lead well

Perhaps here is where the word “mojo” fits more than it does for the follower. The feeling that you have when you are leading a team through a project that no one else thought would have a chance of succeeding is almost euphoric. The feeling that you feel when you are communicating clearly and communicating with passion and your team is converting your words into actions is energizing. Perhaps the greatest benefit of those feelings is that they build our confidence and reinforce the sense that we are indeed in the right place at the right time.

However, all of this so far is predicated on the fact that we are leading and succeeding. But, what if we are leading and struggling? What if we are confident in our leadership, but the results are a reason to doubt? How do we deal with those feelings?

It is here that we need to move from feelings, which may be fleeting, and focus on the tried and true leadership principles that have served us well in times past. Focus on the tasks at hand and trust that the “warm” feelings will come with the ultimate success of the project. One of the factors that set great leaders apart is that they do what they know is right and then wait to feel good about the decision. Many wait until they feel good about a decision and then act based on that feeling.

What kinds of feelings do you experience?

Click here to read the rest of the article »

What Does Leadership Sound Like?

Is there a leadership “sound”?

Wow! The feedback that I received from so many of you about the “look” of leadership was amazing. And, even if I had not already planned today’s article as a follow-up, it would be an imperative in light of the interest in the “leadership look.” So, let’s consider if there is a “sound” associated with great leadership.

Leadership has a voice

The site publishing this week’s article is aptly named in my opinion. For, there is indeed a leadership “voice.” Several years ago I wrote an article on whether or not leadership was a quiet or loud activity. The genesis of thought for the article spans from my firstborn’s kindergarten teacher in 1990. If you are interested in that background thought, here is a link to that article.

Communication is the “voice” of leadership

Communication is the voice of leadership. In fact,

Click here to read the rest of the article »