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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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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Shake It Up and Find Capacity

A Lesson from the Sandbox


He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. — Muhammad Ali

As you saw on Monday, it was a great weekend at my house. What made it so great was getting to spend some quality time with my youngest grandchild.

In the article that I published on Monday, there were several things that I observed while playing with him in the sandbox. While playing, I saw a couple of leadership lessons emerge as we played together in the sand. They are worth expanding on a little more and that is the intent of this article today.

Remember, our little sandbox is set up for the grandkids to play in when they are around. it is a typical sandbox and the filling, flowing, emptying of sand from container to strainer to container caused me to think about leadership in ways that I was not expecting.

Shake it up to get more in it

My youngest grandson was diligently trying to fill a red plastic duck with sand. The duck is actually a watering pitcher for a window garden. But on Saturday, it was an integral component of a major sand filling production. He would take a little shovel and try to get the sand into a round hole on the top of the duck’s head. After many little shovelfuls, he had it completely full. Or so he thought. All it took was a gentle shake and the sand began to settle and fill in a few air pockets. Seconds later there was now more room in the duck and it was not even close to being full. So, we filled it up again. And I jiggled it again. And the sand settled again. And we filled it one more time.

What is the leadership lesson?

Sometimes we think we have reached our limit or come to full capacity. But, if we just shake ourselves up a little bit and establish some new habits, we will be able to take on a little more load and increase our individual capacity. I don’t advocate this approach to all aspects of life all the time. But we rarely reach our true capacity the first time that we think we do.

Chuck Norris, of Walker, Texas Ranger fame, says this.

I’ve always found that anything worth achieving will always have obstacles in the way and you’ve got to have that drive and determination to overcome those obstacles on route to whatever it is that you want to accomplish.

One of the biggest obstacles that we face is the obstacle of “capacity.” We often think that we have reached our limit and that we have no more capacity to do anything. We are exhausted. We are done. We feel that we just can’t go on.

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The Business of Ethics

MM - Ethics

I am sure there has been much written about ethics in leadership but I wanted to share some insights recently revealed to me.

I had a visit with some dear friends who have been in leadership positions and one is currently writing a book on “ethics in the university”. He is a retired professor and is a dear friend so, jokingly, I asked him if he had discovered any, to which there was a resounding NO.

The chats usually go with the state of our country then circles around to business models and ethics.

First, I’m not sure why we call it “business ethics”.

Is the place we learn business ethics, in business, or is it too late then?  Our conversation had me asking that question, “Where do we learn” ethics?

Well, I got the standard business answer we all should expect and the one you are thinking. We teach them in college and have training classes and seminars. Which isn’t bad, I might add!

As you may guess at this point in the conversation, I still had plenty of questions. So, one immediate question was; at what age do we start to teach ethics?

Where and when do “we” learn ethics?

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Can You Have Success In Leadership Without Struggle?

Success and Struggles - 1

Can you?  I am really asking this question.  And I am of the opinion that you do not.  Notice that I didn’t say “cannot.”  Because I suppose it is mathematically possible.  But I think struggle is certainly the norm.

I understand that this is an unpopular stance. Societally, we think of struggle as being a negative thing. At the very least society assumes you are doing it wrong if you are struggling. There’s a cultural stigma attached to struggling.

Real leaders know that it’s not all smiley faces. Struggle and leadership go hand in hand. But we don’t talk about it enough. Most folks want to hear about the success and the gain. They want to celebrate the success and, to be honest, many folks covet the benefits and gains of success.

Leadership books are not written from the midst of the struggle–even though leadership is based on the art of struggle. These books are written after the point of success and the pain of the struggle is long passed. We look at these success stories but unfortunately we draw the wrong conclusions.

What are some of the wrong conclusions that we draw?

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Failure is a Reality



“There’s nothing funnier than someone else getting hurt,” I heard a comedian say.  “As long as you know they are not hurt permanently,” he continued.  “And as long as you know it hurts a lot.”  He concluded by adding: “Like when someone cracks their shin on the coffee table.”

In some ways that’s true.  On YouTube an entire channel entitled FAILARMY is devoted to showing clips of individuals failing in some task, stunt, or activity.  Usually, it comes at the expense of the individual and the cost is usually broken bones, face plants, and lots of dental work.  I can waste many hours just mindlessly watching, laughing, and grimacing at the many unfortunate souls in the videos.  I’m mostly laughing.

In society, we shun failure.  We heard it said-“Failure is not an option.”  It is usually said in some action movie or when your boss failed to plan and you are assigned the clean-up and the fire drill is on you.  I argue that failure is reality.  Failure is needed in life to set the standard for success.   Or we can just mindlessly accept participation awards and live vicariously unchallenged lives.  Failure is needed.  Failure allows us to enjoy the successes in life.

Failure is a great teaching tool.  Learning from one’s mistakes is the best pathway to future success.  As leaders, we must find ways to teach others how to succeed after failure.

I know a father whose child became so distraught because he received a 98 instead of a perfect 100 for making a capitalization error on a worksheet.  Okay.  The child failed.  The child is in second grade.  The father was alerted of this major setback through a text from his wife begging him to be easy on their child.    It was a humorous text but the underlying inexcusable error was devastating to the child.  The text served another simple but ominous request to the father to be sensitive. (NOTE-the Father complied.  He’s a good father.)

I argued that it was a teachable moment to the Father.  I explained the grade was a small failure that can easily be brushed off.  Because the error the error was made not out of ignorance or on purpose.  I advised the parent that this was a way for his child to not put so much emphasis on what others thought and understand that mistakes are very real and are a part of everyday life.

Instead, the father argued with me that he and his family strive for excellence in all that they do.  Harvard and West Point only seek the best and most excellent.  I argued that maybe the standard has shifted in recent years and that a grade of 98 if his son did everything he could to get a perfect grade was more than sufficient and adequate in the second grade and that should be celebrated.  Instead of trying to talk the boy off the ledge every time he makes a grammatical error.

With my boys-I’m okay with good grades as long as you can say to yourself you did everything you could possibly do to get that grade and that is the best you could do.  Every time my boys realize they could have done more to earn a great grade instead of settling for a good one.  Their grades are inevitably better the next time around.  (Aside-Harvard is begging for my High School Senior to visit.)

I challenged the Father to let his child fail and brush it off based on the severity of the failure.  Let the boy understand to accept short comings and not be devastated when things don’t go his way. But then I realized I failed at one major point-Never tell others how to raise their children.

I failed.  Epic Fail.


What in the World?



Who do you trust?  Who do you believe anymore?

Ebola has come to the United States of America. Our President, the leader of the free world said it would not. He was wrong. Maybe the open border policy is not a good one.

The Center for Disease Control says we should not panic and this is an isolated case. This new plague can be easily contained and there is no issue. Nothing to see here.  Purchase your Starbucks and watch your Netflix.  Just remember to wash your hands.  Maybe this disease is weapon-ized and we should be wondering what religion Patient Zero subscribes.

Okay, let’s calm down for a moment. 

My point — A track record of double speak, political correctness, and failed leadership breeds distrust and hostility towards authority.

As a leader of a small team, project or a free republic, our words have consequences. Our credibility can shape the morale and effectiveness of our team or the direction of a nation.

It started with- “You like your healthcare…you can keep it.” To “Read my lips…No new taxes.” Don’t forget — “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

What we are witnessing today in our country and communities is failed leadership.  From the top down in every aspect of execution…this crosses political and ideological lines.

I will never be on television managing a crisis but as a leader in my home, my church, my job, and my marriage I can subscribe to the following:

Be slow to speak and quick to listen.

Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Be truthful.

Just my two cents.  Excuse me.  I’m going to wash my hands.

Run Dry

I don’t know about you, but every so often, I start to feel a lack of enthusiasm for my leadership roles. I simply lose that spark of excitement in the midst of life’s craziest of times. I just feel, well, dry. It’s as if the stream of excitement that started flowing when I began this journey has not had enough rain to sustain it. Leadership then becomes a habit, a thing I do instead of a part of my life I purposefully invest in.


I’m guessing you can relate.

So, here’s what I’ve decided:

 Sometimes when the enthusiasm has run dry it is a sign that the time has come to move on. Maybe it is someone else’s turn to step up and lead. Maybe you are filling shoes that are no longer meant for you to fill. It could be that it is time for God to empower someone else`s leadership in this area. Even if no one seems to be gunning for the job, I would encourage you not to continue in a place you don’t feel lead to lead. Seek council, pray intently, and leave if the answer is go.


 Or perhaps you just need a break. We’re all human, we all need a vacation from time to time. Similarly, our leadership roles must also be carefully attended to. In fact, it`s not healthy for your leadership, those in whom you lead or your very person to constantly be on the go. So maybe the answer is: you need a chance for some distance to gain perspective. Now, a break from your leadership as an executive would look much different than a break from mine, as full-time mommy, but regardless of the logistics, maybe the answer is time away for renewal.

Maybe it`s time to get creative. There was a time in my life that I prayed and prayed for direction. I thought in order to truly be effective, I needed to be removed from my position. However, God’s answer was the exact opposite: I needed to grow in the midst of the uncertain relationship. In fact, I still am nearly ten years later. Sometimes, we don’t need to quit, sometimes we don’t even need a break, we just need a bit of creativity in the middle of it. So, how do we recharge, re-excite, and re-motivate ourselves to move forward from our stagnant place?


Evaluate the tools. What tools do you have at your fingertips that can help your leadership? Maybe there are some that need to be disposed of, others that need adopted. If you are really in need of some redirection, let me challenge you to evaluate every tool. Don’t simply go along with what has worked, but figure out what is the best for your leadership and take advantage of those tools. Find something new! Reach out to others and build relationships in the field (heaven-forbid, network!) to see what is working for them.

Adopt new strategies, to approach your leadership. Jump out of your comfort zone of the mundane and attempt to approach leadership differently. Maybe it is your morning routine, or your afternoon schedule that needs to be shaken up a bit. Maybe it is the way your prioritize your to-do list, or maybe it is as simple as adding your favorite aspect of leadership into your daily routine. Whatever it is, see if a bit of variety works for you. If not, all well! You now know that one has been tried and you can move on to something else.

Finally, reevaluate your goals. Revist the reasons why you started what you have and see if those reasons still hold true. Maybe you have finished those goals and been blindly aiming ever since. Or perhaps the goals just need revamped to match where you are today verses where you started. Wherever you are striving to attain, do so with purpose. Make it evident to those around why you have chosen this moment in time to attack this challenge. Maybe it is going so far as to write them down or post them on the walls. Whatever it is for you, keeping those in front of you to set your mark high will only improve your aim. Without a place to go, you are simply moving in place doing the mundane, the ritual. I can assure you, going through the motions won’t make your leadership successful. You need a place to go in order to make a difference.


It is inevitable at some point or another: the excitement that spurred you into this place of leadership will run dry. Enthusiasm for the position wears off and the overwhelming struggles take precedence. We are human people, imperfect beings. However, there is One who always understands. If you’re really struggling with what or where to go from here, seek the Lord who knows all things. Change your perspective from the temporary to the eternal. Switch your gaze from the problem to the Solution. Seek Him, do the work and watch your leadership reignite in whichever direction it is meant to.

Loneliness in Leadership

Lonely Leadership - 1In February of 2012, Harvard Business Review featured a story acknowledging that it is lonely being the CEO. The article noted that it’s isolating at the top.  Now, if you are at all like me it is a little hard to feel sorry for CEOs on a regular basis.  What with their power, prestige, influence, and wealth — the common man’s perception is that they have it all. They must be the happiest people on the planet.

All those trappings of success notwithstanding, business leaders face some genuine troubles, not least of which is loneliness.

The author of that article cited survey findings from the CEO Snapshot Survey that “half of CEOs report experiencing feelings of loneliness in their role.  And 61 percent believe that it hinders their performance. This was particularly acute with first-time CEOs and young leaders.

Lonely Leadership - 2Maybe you are also like me in that you don’t really care if billionaires like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos aren’t reaching the pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy!

So why am I writing about this?

I would suggest that any leader’s isolation and feelings of loneliness have negative implications on their personal performance, and perhaps more importantly, on how they interact with others. Because it is not just big corporate CEOs who experience this kind of loneliness.   It is team leaders, entrepreneurs, pastors, and community leaders also. And this impacts the bottom-line for organizations.

This loneliness springs from a feeling that they have no one “at their level” to talk to.  They have no “peers” in their view.  They have no one to confide in.  They have no one to bounce ideas off of and no one to turn to for advice.  They also have no one holding them accountable for their actions and deeds.  This isn’t good for decision-making, culture, performance, or the long-term health of the organization.

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