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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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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