#LeadershipStrong in 2018

Some Incredible Leadership Observations from Hurricane Harvey in 2017

For any who live in or around Houston, TX and the south Texas region, you will be aware that #HoustonStrong became the hashtag that dominated social media in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It came to represent the strength and resilience of folks of the greater Houston metropolitan area.

Texans are made of the same stuff that legends are made of. And Houstonians often feel that they are the caretakers of those legends. And there were some new legends that were created throughout the days of rain and the many days of rescue and recovery that followed.

For a few weeks that started in mid-August of this past year and lasted until the National Weather Service downgraded the hurricane on September 3, 2017, I had a front row seat for some inspiring leadership. Not that I was only an observer. Not at all. But, I watched some folks step up and lead in ways that you may not otherwise see without such a huge humanitarian crisis or catastrophic weather event that unleashes trillions and trillions of gallons of water on your city.

To put this storm in perspective you need to consider just a few numbers. In just a four-day period, many areas in and around Houston received more than 40 inches of rain as the storm system slowly meandered over our city and over southeastern Texas, causing catastrophic flooding. The highest recorded accumulation of 60.58 inches was not far from where my son, his wife, and their young son live. Hurricane Harvey was the wettest tropical storm on record in the United States. The resulting floods inundated hundreds of thousands of homes, displaced more than 30,000 people, and prompted more than 17,000 rescues.

It is against that backdrop that leadership took center stage. #HoustonStrong gave us #LeadershipStrong. And leadership talent was on display for all to see if you were looking for it. I was looking for it and I was not disappointed.

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Strength vs. Toughness

If you could only have one, which one would you choose?

Coaching young leaders, and coaching those who aspire to lead, gives me incredible opportunities to take a look at all of the combinations of skills and traits that make up a great leader. Recently, I was in a conversation with a young leader who has a fair amount of both. But I was postulating on the evidence that would suggest that most leaders are either strong or tough. But, usually not both.

What is the difference between strength and toughness?

Never go to the internet with a question like that unless you want a college level physics explanation! However, my questions on this topic are not addressed from a metallurgical perspective. These two terms, when combined, are most often mentioned in metallurgical discussions on toughness, elasticity, and fracturing.

My thoughts are more physiological. Consider for a moment the strength of the powerlifter and the toughness of the hockey player. Both are incredibly skilled in their particular athletic endeavor. Yet, they are built very differently and could not compete on equal footing if either of them were to cross over into the other’s athletic domain. Perhaps that is the very observation that has sparked the global “CrossFit” craze. But, I digress.

The Value of Strength

Strength is a great attribute to possess. More than one young man has flexed a muscle when a pretty young lady walked by. Strength is universally valued and has applicability to many aspects of life. But go back to the example I used to represent strength. It was a powerlifter. When I think of strength, I am reminded of Vasily Alekseyev, the Olympian from the former U.S.S.R. He was the holder of 80 world records and the April 14, 1975 cover of Sports Illustrated proclaimed him the “World’s Strongest Man.” He weighed over 350 pounds.

I watched him in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics many times walk up to a steel bar with hundreds of pounds of iron plates on each end. He would lean over, get a grip, and then lift it over his head for about a second. He would then drop it and nod to the judges and walk off the stage. In all likelihood it would be a new world or Olympic record. But could he have run a marathon or played ice hockey at an Olympic level? Probably not.

The Value of Toughness

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Leadership Soup

An unusual quote for Thanksgiving Day

I was trying to come up with something memorable and appropriate to say on this Thanksgiving Day of 2017. BrainyQuote.com had serious quotes, funny quotes, thought-provoking quotes, and more than one guilt-inducing quotes. But, then, I came across this little gem.

What a marvelous resource soup is for the thrifty cook – it solves the ham-bone and lamb-bone problems, the everlasting Thanksgiving turkey, the extra vegetables.

Julia Child

Are you kidding me? Is that the best you have for today?

Yes, that is the best that I have for today. Don’t judge it too quickly. I have had the pleasure of sitting at the tables of some of the finest cooks on the planet. My paternal grandmother was an amazing pie and bread baker and all around farmhouse cook. She didn’t really believe that we ever went to the moon. But, man, could she cook!?!

I don’t think she ever used a recipe. It wouldn’t have done any good because living during the great depression, you never really knew for sure what you would have to make a meal out of. Freshly baked loaves of bread and soups were a staple. You just never knew what kind of soup it would be. Sometimes there would be corn, sometimes there would be a few potatoes, and sometimes there was more water than anything. But, one thing was certain. Nothing was wasted.

Are you ready for the Thanksgiving angle on the nature of this soup quote?

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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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The Importance of Values to Leadership

Can one exist without the other?

The Importance of Values to Leadership

Can you have real leadership in a “value vacuum”?

What do I mean by that? By that, I mean a leadership context that is devoid of values or morals. In an article on “Heroic Leadership” earlier I opined the following: “Values are an integral part of good leadership. To be a true leader, you must take a stand on issues. And that stand must be a moral stand. As leaders, we should be mobilizing and motivating our organizations to higher moral ground even when that may not increase the organization’s profit margin or bottom line”. 

What’s goin’ on out there?

Upon further reflection, I am wondering if in addition to a leadership crisis in our society, we just actually be having a moral or values crisis. Could it be that there are just not enough of those who see values that are worthy enough that would make us want to lead others to strive toward reaching those same values? Conversely, could it be that there are not enough of us who see things that have such potential for harm that we will lead others away from those dangerous moral pitfalls?

I would not suggest that only the morally pure would be qualified to lead. For to do so would disqualify all candidates. Nor would I suggest that values-based leadership would be infallible. But, I do believe that leadership is in and of itself a value. Society today would say, “To each his own” or “Live and let live”. Today’s culture does not necessarily see a value in “values-based” leading or in choosing whom they are following based upon a moral assessment of the leader’s character. But, like so many today, I am looking for leaders to rise up with values and morals as their foundation and say “Follow me and I will lead you to higher ground!”

How does this relate to me and my leadership?

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The Truly Humble Don’t Know It

Or, if they do, they are too humble to mention it!

The Truly Humble Don’t Know It

Last week was a blur. I spent the entire week in New Orleans at the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council’s (WBENC) Summit & Salute.

According to their website, “WBENC’s Summit engages participants in a two-day program filled with a focus on the future of various industries, business networking, and development opportunities. The Salute follows the Summit and is a festive evening that highlights America’s Top Corporations for Women Business Enterprises for 2016.

An otherwise typical awards dinner took on special interest to me and to my colleagues when one of our peers was recognized for a life of leadership to various organizations. One of our colleagues had a friend who posted a great description of the award winner. She called her an “iconic and humblest of all souls.” Wow! what a description! Wouldn’t you like to have that said of you?

And the winner is . . . 

The winner of the award was my friend and colleague, Susan Stentz. Susan has spent much of her career supporting women and minority business enterprises. She is a “go to” person on our team. She is a wealth of experience and insight. I, personally, call her on the phone often to answer questions and get her feedback on thoughts and ideas that I have. Everyone on our team recognizes her leadership in this vital area of commercial dealings with potential suppliers.

What is the Leadership Lesson from this?

I think it is simply this. The greatest leaders are great without losing their humility in the process.

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Lincoln – An Uncommon Leader

When the Common Becomes the Uncommon

Lincoln - An Uncommon Leader

There is a lot of renewed interest in former presidents theses days. It has been said that THE greatest job in the world is the job of being the former President. I don’t suppose that I will ever have that job.

Abraham Lincoln and some other great Presidents are the topics of comparison and conversation lately. I heard on the radio today that every great President in history has been associated with a war in one way or another. George Washington – Commander in Chief of the Revolutionary War, Abraham Lincoln – The Civil War, Franklin Roosevelt – World War II, Ronald Reagan – The Cold War. But Lincoln’s name always seems to rise to the top of any list. So, what is the deal with Lincoln? Was he really the greatest president of all time?

A Common Beginning

History tells us that he was born in a log cabin in the frontier area of Kentucky. And that lifestyle was common for so many who were drawn to the frontier in hopes of making a life and owning a piece of land in the expanding federation of states that was the United States of America in the early 1800s. He grew up moving around the Ohio River Valley spending time in the states of Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.

Becoming an Uncommon Leader

Donald T. Phillips wrote a book in 1993 entitled, Lincoln on Leadership. The subtitle was Executive Strategies for Tough Times. In that book, he provides significant insight into leadership principles that Lincoln exhibited and cultivated in others.

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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.”

Accidental

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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How to Recognize True Success

I have had my share of them, also.

True Success

Last week I refreshed an article that I wrote several years ago about leadership failure. And, as promised, here is the follow-up dealing with leadership success. Whenever you write an article like the one on failure last week, there is always a significant amount of trepidation about how it will be received. When you consult with other leaders you always wonder what one of them will think when they read one of your articles. You wonder if they think it is about them.

(Why is there suddenly a Carly Simon song playing in my head)?

Well, today, I hope that all of the leaders that I have worked with over the years think this article is about them much more than some may have wondered about last week’s article.

I have written over 360 articles describing, in some way or another, what it takes to be a superior leader in the home, on the job, in a church or volunteers capacity, and in society. Some researchers and authors claim a superior leader possesses certain traits or abilities innately; others say it is all personality, style, and charisma. Still, others maintain it is the behaviors or actions that I take — if I do this, then my followers will do thus — that are crucial to determining success. Regardless of the how and the why, these are some signs that your followers are indeed following you and that you are succeeding as a leader:

Signs of Leadership Success

There is leadership success when the team catches your Vision. Successful leaders have followers that have a clear understanding of your vision and what it means to them as an individual contributor or follower. You have articulated it to them. And they can now articulate it to others. They see it and they own it. There is no ambiguity. If you ask them on an elevator to describe the vision of the organization, they can express it with clarity and passion.

Ask yourself: Am I surrounded by followers who see the vision that I see? 

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The Persistent Pursuit of Leadership – Baidu

How persistent are you?

Persistent Pursuit of Leadership

There are many things that we take for granted in life. “Google” is probably high on that list. At least it was for me.  That was until I took my first business trip to China several years ago. I also didn’t realize until that trip just how important social networking sites like Facebook and Google’s search engine were to me.

I learned a lot on that first business trip back in 2014. And I learned some stuff in some very unexpected ways.

Most of the people that I spoke to while I was there about this did not really feel a sense of loss. Perhaps that is because they do not know what they are missing. Or, perhaps it is because there is an alternative that provides most of the features and functions of the suite of tools and portals that Google provides. China’s equivalent to Google is “Baidu”. Baidu exists because China has blocked Google’s access to the 1.2 billion people in the country through its state-sponsored filtering software.

Baidu Logo - LargeThe name, Baidu, was inspired by a poem written more than 800 years ago during the Song Dynasty. The poem compares the search for a retreating beauty amid chaotic glamor with the search for one’s dream while confronted by life’s many obstacles. Consider this line from that poem.

“…hundreds and thousands of times, for her I searched in chaos,
suddenly, I turned by chance, to where the lights were waning,
and there she stood.”

What is the leadership lesson here?

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