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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Leadership in Exile

Where have all the leaders gone?

Leadership in Exile

If that title doesn’t grab your attention, then nothing will. Our political and social structure here in the U.S.A. provides little context for the concept of being an exile. The closest thing that many in our society or culture can come to the ethos of being an exile is the practice among some cultures where one is shunned under certain conditions. But, even that does not really comport with our modern sensibilities.

What do I mean by “Exile”?

So, what do I mean when I use the word “exile” in the context of leadership? To be clear, I am not using that word within the context of a forced departure or a violent takeover that leaves the deposed leader nowhere to go but into hiding in a barren land or to the relative safety of a benevolent benefactor. Instead, I think that I really should be using the term – “self-exile.” Because I believe that there are many leaders who have taken themselves “out of the game” when it comes to leadership. They have opted to, in a sense, go underground and not seek to be a visible or vocal leader. 

Why are they Self-Exiled?

Perhaps that is the greater question? Why are they choosing to vacate their responsibility or opportunity to lead? Consider the following as some reasons that leaders have self-exiled.

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Remember These As Well

Some unconventional leaders to consider on Memorial Day

Remember These As Well

I have seen all week on many of the social media sites that I frequent, that it (Memorial Day) is “not about the BBQ.” And that is certainly true. Today is so much more than an excuse to frolic in the pool and eat as much red meat as possible.

It is easy to get caught up in the activities around Memorial Day and to forget exactly why the holiday was created: to honor those American men and women who died during combat. To put it as succinctly as I can, Memorial Day is for the American troops who didn’t get to come back home and drink a cold Coca-Cola at a homecoming party or march in a parade in their little hometown.

There are many out there like me that never wore the uniform of our Nation and never served on the battlefield. And I, like many, do not know with specificity the experiences and feelings that you have had. So, I will simply say “Thank you!” from one member of this grateful nation.

But, remember these as well

But, we would do well to remember some other fine examples of leadership. Two are no longer with us. And one is still alive today. We would do well to reflect on and remember some historic leaders outside of the U.S. Military that have made an impact on this world and on the cause of freedom, liberty, and prosperity. Consider just a few today.

Margaret Thatcher — She was was Britain’s first female prime minister. She was known for her tough uncompromising, conservative political views, and became nicknamed “The Iron Lady” as a term of both reverence and derision. She, along with Ronald Reagan, forged a relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev that brought the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion.

Consider these words from Margaret Thatcher. —

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Leadership Lessons from the Easter Season

The Unavoidable Example of the Ultimate Leader

The Unavoidable Example of the Ultimate Leader

For many, and for Christians in particular, this is Holy Week. Today is Maundy Thursday. Many will attend a Tenebrae Service tonight. Tomorrow is Good Friday. And Sunday will be Easter.

When you are a blogger it can be sometimes difficult to tackle certain topics. When you are a Christian blogger, it is really a daunting task to write on the subject of Jesus Christ and His leadership. It almost makes that aspect of who He was, seem corporate or secular. But, this week, I feel that I must address it if I am to be true to who I am as a writer and as a person.

The Ultimate Leader

There are many aspects of Jesus’ life that I could point out on any given day. And I don’t begin to know how to prioritize a few of them as we approach Easter morning. But, let me point out one or two for our consideration as we approach the darkness of Good Friday, the quiet of Saturday and the joy of Easter morning.

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“Empathy…FUHGETTABOUTIT”

Leadership Lessons from the Shuttle Program

Empathy?

I have been spending a lot of time at work recently helping to implement a project that is dividing those that will be affected by it. Some are very excited about the opportunities that the project will provide, and others are concerned about negative impacts that they fear it will bring. The resistance has gotten political, and the war of words has permeated both conventional media and social media. Although I do not interact directly with those in opposition, I find myself wanting to reach out to them to correct a lot of the misinformation on which they are basing their statements and to chastise them for being so ugly in their choice of words, especially on Facebook and in website comments.

Since positions on this project are so sharply divided, it is obvious that, regardless of the outcome, one side or the other is going to be disappointed, bitter, angry, and even scared. I’ve had the chance to watch the project’s leaders reach out to those who are so critical of them. Those leaders have resisted the temptation to criticize and stifle discussion. Rather they have indicated a willingness to listen and to hear the background and justification for the fears. They have acknowledged that some of the concerns are, in fact, legitimate for some, and have offered ways to mitigate those impacts. In short, they have shown Empathy.

An Obvious Lack of Empathy from History

Now, Empathy does nothing to change the situation itself. The “facts of the case” remain the same. However, Empathy does speak to the heart of the individual. Being understood and having your feelings legitimized has a softening effect and even a healing component. It can be the difference between just experiencing disappointment as opposed to feeling steamrolled…discomfort instead of pain.

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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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Comparing Leaders of the Past and the Present

Should we even try to compare?

Comparing Leaders of the Past and the Present

One of the questions and conversations that arise from time to time in my circle of influence is about leaders today and leaders from the past. Recently, I had a conversation 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.

Some that I speak with on this topic are pessimistic. Some are optimistic. One of my friends opined on this topic and had a much more optimistic view. He felt that we are still 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 romanticize or 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.

Is There a Leadership Crisis?

According to a survey conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government 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?

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The Tough Questions

Leadership Lesson from an Unusual Source

the-toughquestions

This is the time of year when many of us as leaders are “asking the tough questions” about our organizations. It is the time of year when we seek to evaluate and assess how our organization has performed and whether or not we have accomplished our goals in this last year.

I live in two worlds. One is a for-profit entity within the corporate world. That industry has been impacted significantly by the economic downturn and some economic policies that many folks would argue are hurtful and damaging to our opportunities to succeed. These economic times have caused us to reexamine our performance and how we go about our daily business. We have always prided ourselves in being an incredibly efficient organization. Much more so than our competitors. Well, these economic conditions have provided the opportunity to prove that theory. We know how to and we ask tough questions on a daily basis.

My other life is within the non-profit world. I spend as much, if not more energy, working in that world. It is painfully obvious that this world does not know how to ask these kinds of questions. Oh, we give “lip service” to asking them. But we really don’t.

Perhaps that is because these organizations are non-profit and ministry organizations. So, we feel that asking that kind of question would be too business-like, mean, or “un-Christian.” And when we do ask questions, they are usually not the right questions. And they certainly aren’t tough questions. They are usually softball questions or questions that don’t really offer any hope of getting to any root causes or issues.

The Unusual Source

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Thanksgiving and Football

And an Interesting Leadership Example

thanksgiving-and-football

My thoughts today run from family to football and back again. I hope that you are having a great day today and that it is filled with family, food, and fellowship.

Thanksgiving has been known for many traditions. Not the least of which, unfortunately, may be that there is football on Thanksgiving. The Dallas Cowboys have played on Thanksgiving Day since 1966 and that my friend is a tradition.

I grew up and became a Steelers fan in my teen years. They were awesome in the 1970s. I tried to be a Patriots fan in the early 80s. I was a Falcons fan during our time in Atlanta. And when we moved to the DC area, I became a Redskins fan. Those Dallas Cowboys weren’t bad either. Even the most ardent Redskin fan would have to admit that. But one of the best thing to be said of the Cowboys for about 29 years in a row was their coach – Tom Landry.

Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do to achieve what they want to achieve. – Tom Landry

There have been some amazing coaches in pro football, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Don Shula, Chuck Knoll, Joe Gibbs, and Tony Dungy are only a few of the great coaches that have walked the chalk on the sidelines on cold Sunday afternoons. But, beyond their ability to motivate and draw up the Xs and Os, consider for a moment one of the key tasks of the football coach as the leader of the team.

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