Are You Certified? 

No, but, I am probably certifiable!

I had a vigorous debate several days ago with a recognized leader for a global organization. He oversees a region of more than 100 local affiliates. He is a “legit” leader. There is much upon which we agree. And there is much upon which we do not agree when it comes to leadership and leadership development.

One topic of debate for us on a recent afternoon was on the value of certification when it comes to some of the tools or methodologies that are prevalent in leadership development today. I am a huge proponent of some of them and consider myself a bit of an expert in one or two of them. I just have never bothered to become “certified.” The leader that I was discussing this was fairly adamant in the necessity and value of certification. That, of course, got me thinking and pondering.

The Wright Brothers

Do you suppose anyone ever asked the Orville and Wilbur Wright if they were certified aeronautical engineers?

History tells us that they were actually tinkerers and small business men with a passion for flight. They gained the mechanical skills and experience necessary for their ultimate success by working for years in their shop with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other gadgets. Some of which they invented or otherwise modified and improved. Their work with bicycles, in particular, influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle like some sort of flying machine could be controlled and balanced by a person with enough natural talent, skill, and practice.

Did you get that? They believed, as do I, that talent, skill, and practice are what really matters when it comes to increasing the potential for success. Not certification!

Thomas Edison

Let’s look at one more guy that was not certified. Consider Thomas Edison for a few moments. Edison, “The Wizard of Menlo Park”, has been called “America’s Greatest Inventor.” Here is a kid who only attended school for a short time and ended up being homeschooled by his mother with much of his education coming from reading rather than formal education. Yet he has given us the phonograph, movie camera, and the lightbulb, just to name a few. And his legacy lives on in the form of General Electric which made the inaugural Fortune 500 list and debuted in the top 10 on that list.

Not bad for an out of work telegraph operator and a seller of candy and newspapers on the railroad.

What made the Wright brothers and Edison successful?

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Watching and Influence 

Someone is always watching you

Even when you don’t think so. Somebody is watching you. Somebody is always watching every little move you make, every step you take, every vow you break. (Wow, I broke into a lyric there for a second.)

Such is the stuff of thrillers and horror movies. But the same is true of the daily and the mundane. Someone is always watching you. That is certainly the case for me today as I sit in a waiting room this morning. As I am waiting, I look up in the corner of the room at the ceiling line and there it is. A little surveillance camera. Someone at a little monitor somewhere in another part of the hospital is watching me. I can’t imagine a more boring job.

This was a gentle reminder that, even when you don’t realize it, someone always has their eyes on us. That fact is also a gentle reminder that folks are influenced by what they see in us.

The Power of Influence

As a leader, do you understand the power of your influence?

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Perception and Clarity 

The importance of clarity over perception

One of my favorite individuals to listen to on the radio when I am driving around is a conservative talk radio host by the name of Dennis Prager. Even if you do not agree with his political persuasion, you have to respect his emphasis on, and value of, clarity over agreement.

This resonates more and more with me the older that I get. There was a time when an argument must lead to agreement, surrender, or acquiescence by my opponent. These days, I am much more willing to accept the possibility of disagreeing agreeably. I just need to ensure that there is clarity and that I am both understanding others and being understood.

All of that aside, I really would like to deal with the issue of clarity and perception. Specifically, it is important to have clarity around our self-perception when we are leaders.

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Sticks and Stones 

What I “think” about it really matters

How many of you remember growing up and playing on the playground? What did you say when someone said something mean or hurtful to you? Maybe you said what many children have said when you repeated a little saying.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Oh, how I wish that were true. As we have gotten older, we have realized that words hurt more than the sticks and the stones. In fact, I heard a person say one time that “it is not what you think about me or even say about me that hurts me. It is what I think about what you think about me or say about me that hurts me.” What they are saying is that it is my perception about something that drives my behaviors.

What does this have to do with leadership?

I am working on some “appendix material” for my upcoming book. And I am working on a leadership development resource for 1-on-1 mentoring. I am working on the issue of self-awareness or self-perception. My focus for that section is on how we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us, and how we perceive that others perceive us. This can almost become a carnival house of mirrors scenario where that loop can become almost infinite. So, let’s not go that far.

Psychologists often use words like self-perception, other perception, and meta-perception. They indicate that we can be good or bad at each the of perception. I love alliteration. It helps me cement a concept in my mind. So, I am modifying their words to help me get a better grip on them and their leadership implications. So, I will use Self-Perception, Social-Perception, and Circular-Perception.

Self-Perception is simply a matter of how you see yourself. Our role as leadership mentors is to help our protégés to help them really see themselves as they are. And not just as they perceive themselves or even as others perceive them to be. Let’s face it. Very few of us are “black belts” at self-awareness. mentors must never come across as having become too much of an expert in this regard.

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I’ve Been Hacked! 

Some thoughts on the recent data breaches

Well, not really. But it has happened before and it will probably happen again.

How many of you got a nice letter or email from a credit reporting agency recently informing you that your information and credit file was possibly one of the ones compromised in the Equifax data breach?

I got one! And I logged on to the new site set up just for this purpose to find out. It didn’t tell me for sure. But, it told me that it was “likely.” Not “definitely” and followed by “And here is what we are going to do about it . . .” All I got was a possibility and some advice to check back again soon and activate the free service that was being provided “for my protection.”

They weren’t able to prevent the breach. So, how were they going to help me on a go forward basis? Never mind. That is probably a subject for another time.

You may be asking, “Why are you discussing this? Is there a leadership angle somewhere?” You better believe that there is.

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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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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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