Accidental Leadership

Is that even possible?

Accidental Leadership

There was a famous novel written in 1985 that became an Academy award winning movie in 1988. (The Academy was won in 1989, but who is that picky?) It was called “The Accidental Tourist” and starred one of my favorite actors, William Hurt.

The plot of the story revolves around the dissolving marriage of Macon Leary, played by Hurt in the movie. He is a writer of travel guides. In the story, the logo on the cover of these travel guides is a winged armchair. The visual assumption created by that logo design is that all travel is involuntary, and therefore potentially unpleasant. Macon Leary attempts to spare these poor unsuspecting and involuntary travelers the shock of the unfamiliar by providing keen insights into the locations that will make the traveler more comfortable with their surroundings. For instance, The New York Ties Review said; “Macon Leary will tell you where to find Kentucky Fried Chicken in Stockholm, or whether there’s a restaurant that serves Chef Boy-Ar-Dee ravioli in Rome.”


So, I suppose that the term “accidental” really means “involuntary” in the context of that book and movie.

But that thought raises a few very significant question in my mind. And it is this:

“Is it really leading if I don’t know it is happening?” 

Is it possible to be an accidental leader? Is it possible to be an involuntary leader? Can leadership happen and emanate from us and we be completely unaware of that fact?

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Distance and Leadership

Distance and Leadership - 2

There is an old joke that is not all that kind to girls.  And it goes like this: “She was so homely looking that the only thing that improved her looks was distance.”

Do you see? I told you it wasn’t very nice. So, I apologize to all of the women in our audience. That old joke is the set-up for my article.

Maybe I am a little preoccupied with the concept of distance since I am writing this from a hotel room about 7600 miles from home. And I desperately would like to be in much closer proximity to the ones that I love.

Does “distance” affect the way that you are perceived as a leader? In other words, does your leadership look the same up close as it does from a comfortable distance? Or are you afraid that if folks get really close to you they will see the real you? And maybe the real you isn’t the kind of leader that you think you are.

I am not indicating that we should act in any way so that we will gain favor in the eyes of those that we love. That would put us in the camp of the “people pleasers.” People pleasers don’t usually make good leaders. Instead I am asking us to consider whether or not we are genuine and that we look the same up close as well as from a distance where our flaws are not as readily noticeable.

So now we are back to the set-up joke. Am I so flawed and blemished as a leader that I only appear acceptable from a distance?

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Talkative Leadership


Talkative Leadership - 1This past Sunday I stood up in front of a large group of people and talked.  And talked, and talked, and talked.  I ended up talking for 10 minutes.  I was trying to encourage people, and to lead them.  I was trying to be the leader I thought I was hired to be.  I really did.

The problem is that I wasn’t hired to be “that” type of leader.  I wasn’t hired to talk a lot.  I was hired to lead, but in a completely different manner.

So what’s the problem you ask?  If I was trying to do something positive then all is well, right?  Well yes and no actually.  Trying to do something positive is good, but when it is done at the expense of something better it’s less good.  By taking so much time talking, I stole time from the person who was hired to lead by talking, and therefore robbed the audience of more leadership from him.

Talkative Leadership - 2Which leads me to my point.  

Sometimes good leadership means

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The NFL: Major Leadership Fail


I was on Facebook the other day and I saw this post-“Wanted: an obedience school that trains puppies AND sweet little 2 year old girls.” Of course, I couldn’t resist and I threw my comment into the fray: ” I hear the NFL may have some Subject Matter Experts. They can even help with Spousal issues as well.”

Let’s face it the NFL is having a bad public relations year. They are a very easy target to bash. I believe this was a long time coming. Now…I’m not going to argue that old tired argument about men getting paid millions and millions of dollars to play a child’s game. You have never turned down a paycheck. Get over it. That’s capitalism. And if someone is willing to pay what you think you are worth. Amen. If you don’t think Sports is profitable-Johnny Manziel built the new Kyle Field. But I digress.

I believe the NFL failed when it stopped doing what it does best. Football.

Howard Cosell was fired for describing the amazing elusiveness of a black player similar to a little monkey getting loose. It started. The NFL began worrying about social issues and racial sensitivities. Now everyone was on edge. Ironically, the black player played on the Washington REDSKINS. (In reality, ABC fired Cosell not the NFL.)

The NFL eliminated celebrations after touchdowns. Unfortunately, one of my football heroes lead the crusade-Tom Landry. In other words, the NFL began punishing success. We didn’t want to rub it in. We don’t want to offend the players, coaches, and fans who we just scored on. Thus was born participation medals.

Vince Lombardi stated-“When you get to the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.” That’s why I loved Barry Sanders. He would score, lay the ball down, and sprint out of the end zone. The NFL took away the players’ discretion on how to celebrate a score. Remember running back Ickey Woods celebrating on the sidelines after a touchdown because he was banned from the end zone? At the end of the day, it didn’t matter. Now players can’t dunk a football over the goal post. It might offend basketball players.

Hablas Espanol? Then the NFL tried to reach our friends who love Futbol by patronizing them with Spanish translations painted on the football field. Suddenly, the National Football League became ambassadors to assist with our illegal immigration issue. Nu’ff said. I’m just shaking my head.

Breast Cancer Awareness. The Pink on the field is enough. I have cancer survivors in my family. I am not being callous. There may be a Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Purple will dominate the football field. (Isn’t purple made up of black and blue?)  Ridiculous isn’t it.  Where does it stop? All this takes the focus off of what NFL does best-Football.

Now, a lot of good may have come from all this. But to me it is a perfect example of failed leadership and losing sight of what you do best.

What will save the NFL? Fantasy Football. Men and women tired of the politics of the teams, commercialism, and stupid rules have now turned to building their own teams and just reading Stat sheets on Sunday evening instead of actually watching the game.

Sadly, I can remember wanting to watch every down of every game.

Signs That A Leader Is Failing

Leadership Failure - 1I was told by a manager one time, “If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying.” And I am sure that there are many situations in which that statement is true. But, I am not dealing with effort and intentions alone today. Instead, I am dealing with results.  To some this may seem harsh.  Our society often expresses success in terms of trying really, really, really hard.  But for today, let’s look at failure from a results-oriented perspective.

There are certainly tell-tale signs when a leader is failing. And that is true even when the leader himself does not see it. Certainly those around him don’t always it either. And if those that do, don’t always know hot to address it.  But many times, those with discernment will see it.

Consider some of these signs of leadership failure within an organization:

  • A leader is failing when there is a refusal to accept advice or help from other leaders within the organization who are more experienced. Sometimes we think that we must do it all ourselves and we must “gut it out.” Although advice is easy to find. Good and sound advice is a precious commodity. As a leader you must seek it out and give it very careful consideration.
  • Al leader is failing when they lack the support of those around them. Failure is near when you have lost the support of those closest to you and who have real insight into the situation.
  • A leader is failing when new people searching for a an organization with goood leadership continue to pass you by. Among many things, leadership is defined by followship. And when there are folks in need of leadership and yet they choose a different organization, this is a sign of leadership failure and that failure is obvious to those outside of the organization.
  • A leader is failing when they bring embarassment or shame to the organization. It seems that the concept of shame is a distant and bygone concept. But everyone still understands embarassment on a personal level. So, if your organization is the brunt of jokes or is ridiculed publicly, there is leadership failure.
  • A leader is failing when there are financial problems. This one is a little tricky if your organization is a church or non-profit and it depends upon charity or offerings for funding. Fundraising is an unavoidable function of leadership in this setting. And financial problems are most often indicative of the lack of “buy in” by those in the organization. As leaders we must be able to communicate and get buy in.
  • A leader is failing when you continually miss opportunitues. There is a big difference between “seeing” and opportunity and “seizing” it. And these lost opportunities are hard to quantify. But here is where great leaders surround themselves with great teams where there is likely to be someone with the ability to spot opportunities and initiate a strategy to take advantage of that opportunity.
  • A leader is failing when there is desperation. Great leaders do not let the situation degenerate to the point that deperation kicks in.

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Leadership is . . . Saying you’re sorry

Saying you are sorry - 1Back in the 1970s there was a very popular little one panel comic that depicted a little male and female cherub-like creatures.  It had “Love is . . .” written in the upper left of the panel.  The couple was in the middle and the bottom was the rest of the sentence that told you what love is.

One of the most famous comic strips of the entire series was  “Love is . . . being able to say you’re sorry” and was published on Feb. 9, 1972.  The beginning of the strip coincided with the very famous film from 1970, “Love Story”.  The signature line from that movie was “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”   What a crock!

So, what is the leadership implication?

It is simply this.  Leadership often involves making mistakes.  I was once told by a CIO that I worked for, that if I wasn’t failing once in a while, then I wasn’t really trying very hard.  Now, I won’t debate that thought today as it is probably worthy of an article or post all on its own.

Saying you are sorry - 2But I firmly believe that leadership involves many things.  Some of those are

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Shared Leadership

Sharing - 1It seems to me that the very meaning of leadership is someone that leads. So how could it be possible to share leadership? I am thinking shared leadership is “one too many cooks in the kitchen”. So, is sharing leadership an acceptable model. Could it work?

I don’t know, but let’s talk about it.

The all-knowing Wikipedia says “Shared leadership is leadership that is broadly distributed, such that people within a team and organization lead each other”. I guess what I am thinking is a little closer to home. As I came up with the thoughts that generated the start to this piece, I realized there are lots of things that I discuss with my wife, but leadership has never been one of them. Why not? Aren’t we really sharing the role of leader in our family?

Shared leadership involves maximizing all of you resources in an organization, team, family, group by empowering individuals and giving them an opportunity to take leadership positions in their areas of expertise. With more complex problems, issues and markets increasing the demands on leadership, the job in many cases is simply too large for one individual.

Sharing - 2Sharing leadership isn’t easy, but it’s definitely possible, and in many cases, highly successful. For instance,

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Leaders of the Past – Better than Today?

Better than today - 1Sitting at lunch yesterday with one our most prolific authors on and with a new author who is going to be providing some interesting content in the coming days, our conversation was about leadership and the leadership crisis in our culture today. One of my hypotheses is that we are just one generation away from losing our society and our culture due to the lack of leadership skills today. One of my lunch companions had a much more optimistic view that we are several generations away. All I know for sure is that there is a distinct lack of leadership exhibited today. And it “seems” that there were better leaders and more leadership skills in the past.

And it seems that leaders of the past almost always seem more effective than those of today. Perhaps it is a perceptual bias: We long for what we don’t have, and mythologize what we used to have. But even taking this bias into consideration, many of today’s leaders don’t seem to measure up to our expectations.

According to a survey conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School several years ago, 68% of Americans believe that there is a “leadership crisis” in the country; and leaders in only four out of thirteen sectors polled inspire above average confidence. Those sectors were the military, the Supreme Court, non-profit organizations, and medical institutions. Leaders of the news media, Congress, and Wall Street receive the lowest scores. Who is surprised by this?

Better than today - 2My parents used to tell me that the leaders of their day not only inspired confidence, but respect and reverence as well. They talked about Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower, Gandhi, and others of that generation as larger than life figures. Growing up, I had the same impressions of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa, and others. Sure they had their flaws, but they were courageous and decisive, and could communicate in ways that made it clear what they stood for.

But today’s public figures don’t seem to inspire the same confidence. According to recent Gallup figures, only 29% of Americans think that President Obama is doing a good job; and only 7% have a favorable view of Congress.

The irony is it’s likely that more money has been spent on leadership development in the last two decades — in both the public and private sectors — than was probably spent in the previous ten decades combined (admittedly I’m guessing here; no figures seem to be available). All I know for sure is that my personal leadership consulting practice is up this year over last year and that year was up over the previous year. So why are we not turning out better leaders across the board? Let me suggest two possibilities — and perhaps readers will add others:

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Authority and Leadership

Authority - 1Imposing your authority does not make you a leader.

I was recently engaged in a conversation with another leader here at Leadership Voices about the differences between authority and leadership. I made the point that having authority does not necessarily make a person a good leader. Likewise, you do not have to have authority in order to be a good leader.

That sounded like a good topic for our discussion here. So, what are the differences and similarities between authority and leadership?

The wonderful internet, primarily the free Merriam Webster dictionary, describes authority as the power to give orders, make decisions and or the power or right to direct or control someone or something. They define leadership as a position as a leader of a group or organization, or the power or ability to lead other people.

I think we would all agree that true leaders have some authority and that there is some inherent leadership that comes with authority. However I would like to talk about the other group that is people with authority that are definitely not leaders.

In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, author John Maxwell writes “Leadership is influence – Nothing more, nothing less.” I didn’t necessarily buy that in the beginning, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized this:

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Is it really leadership if I don’t know I am doing it?

Is it really leadership if I don't know - 1Is it really leading if I don’t know it is happening?  That is the question that I have begun pondering in the last few days.

For those of you that participated in the Seriously, why do we lead? discussion, I say thanks.  But one of the threads that I seemed to see in the comments on the site and those that happened in facebook and other social medial caused me to ask the fundamental question; “Is it leadership if I am not aware of it or it is happening without my direct knowledge and awareness?”  In other words, must there be intentionality to leadership?

I don’t think that I have time to flesh this thought and idea out fully at this time.  So, on this early Monday morning in June I will just put some questions out there and ask you for some feedback and comments.

  1. Can we be leaders and be unaware of or leadership role?  And if so, what would that look like?

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