Leadership Lessons from Gilligan’s Island

Gilligan's Island - 1If you were stranded on a deserted island…

Have your children ever asked you this? I think that they think it is some sort of a riddle.

“Daddy what are the three things you would take with you if you had to be stranded on a desert island?”

They are always surprised when I tell them that it would be a boat, fuel and food.  What I find interesting is that they are always surprised at my way of thinking.  My daughters would apparently have the best wardrobe and electronics stores on this uninhabited inhabited island, but who knows.  So as I ponder this, this weekend, I think true leadership is sometimes like being on an island.  Sometimes you are the only one with the plan, you are the only one who knows the mission and at some point you may be the only one committed to the journey.

So growing up in the era I did, the only “real” deserted island I ever had any knowledge of was Gilligan’s Island. Now as you think of the players on this award winning “documentary” you realize that there could not have been a better team assembled to deal with the rigors of being stranded on an island. This is really not where this was headed, but lets go with it for a minute, I only want to address the two obvious leaders from the island, The Skipper and The Professor.

Gilligan's Island - 2As the captain of the SS Minnow when the group set sail on the infamous 3-hour tour out of Honolulu, it would stand to reason that the Skipper would emerge as the group’s leader. After all, the captain of any ship should serve as the positional leader of the team.  However in this case, I don’t believe he wanted to be the leader.  I do think he felt responsible for their “predicament”.  When truly he was the one that saved them from dying in the storm. And a feeling of responsibility is a great place to start.

Gilligan's Island - 4The Professor turns out to be the cerebral member of the group with an advanced education and an overall serious-natured intelligence. The Professor might be perceived as a likely leadership candidate for the group. However, book smarts and leadership savvy are not one in the same.  Just because he used his intelligence to make their life on the island easier, he was not necessarily the leader.  But he was a great resource to the team and the leader.

The problem with much of what happened on Gilligan’s Island is

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A Leadership Formula

A Leadership Formula - 2I often wonder what makes a good leader. I think back to some of the leaders I have experienced in my life and try to remember what they had in common. What I remember is, externally they were all different, there was a teacher, there was a coach, there was a boss, and there were a couple of commanding officers. However internally, or spiritually, I think they were very much alike.

I realized much later in life that someone would have to really want to teach or coach, and really love it, because there was no one getting rich from teaching or coaching on the local level. Secondly there was a boss at my first job, he really helped set the work ethic and began laying the ground work for how a leader should treat their team members, and was a great example of how to treat others. Lastly there were some officers in charge while I was in the military. These men taught me about a chain of command, and respect, and how important being a member of a team really was.A Leadership Formula - 3

So what is the formula that makes these people great leaders? I think they all shared some similar spiritual traits, if you will. Consider these:

  • They wanted to lead
  • They had the ability to lead
  • They felt a need to lead
  • They just had to lead

So I would like to discuss each of these things briefly to see the “make up” of a leader.

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Leaders and Quitters

Quitters - 1I hate quitters, and it really doesn’t matter what they are quitting, I just don’t like it.

Now, I am not special, I have quit a few things in my life, I have quit a job or two, I have quit smoking, and I have quit working out and eating right more times than I can remember. That is not really what I want to talk about, I want to discuss, quitting things that matter, marriages, families, life, and I am sure there will be more things we come up with. Lastly I want to compare leaders quitting a team, versus team mates quitting a team.

Has anyone ever thought about what it means to give up? No I am not talking about the kind of giving up that can be positive….surrendering your life to Christ, giving up your old ways for a special woman, giving up some extras in life for a new child. I am talking about the, its too tough or hard, I will just stop trying kind of giving up. What have we done is society to make quitting acceptable? Why has is it become okay to decide either someone else will do it for me, or it just cant be done?

Quitters - 2Have we ever stopped to think about where we would be in the world if there were more quitters? What would the Declaration Of Independence look like if those guys said this revolution is too difficult, where would we be if Noah had built a smaller boat because it was easier, and what would have happened to us if Christ had said, I cant put up with this any longer? So I ask you, why is divorce acceptable? How is leaving children to be raised without ok?

Quitting only seems easy from the outside, ask anyone that has ever quit a job, how hard finding a new one can be. Ask me how hard getting back in the gym is after being out of it for a month or more. Find a divorced guy and ask how much he misses his family. How about people who cant quit what they are doing? Ever consider asking someone in the military if they would like to quit what they are doing? You might hear someone say sometime, it takes guts to quit, I dare say it might, but it takes real heart not to.

So I did a quick internet search and perused a few sites and I found 5 common threads about why Leaders quit:

  1. Burnout — So lead, but find some time for you,
  2. Unrealistic Expectations —  Start with attainable goals, use other leaders to bounce your goals off of,
  3. Criticism —  No one critic, or supporter gets to alter how you feel, you don’t have to respond to critics,
  4. Discouragement — Surround your self with people that care about you, people who will tell you what you need to hear, not what you might want to hear. And lastly
  5. Focus — Don’t lose focus on the goal, what ever it may be, make sure you speak with your team regularly about the goal.

I am going to make an assumption quickly, that our teams are teams because we share the idea that something is worthy of our focus. So saying that, here are

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A Committed Team

A Committed Team - 1I would like to discuss commitment.

An online dictionary I checked out has no less than seven (7) different definitions for commitment, all the way from …The act or an instance of committing, putting in charge, keeping, or trust….” to “the act of being locked away, or the act of perpetration in a negative manner such as a crime.” As equally interesting are the synonyms they list, such as allegiance, dedication, duty, loyalty, obligation and vow. Now I am sure we have discussed commitment in this forum before but I am going to try a different spin on it. Please be patient. I would like to discuss what is a more important commitment, the leader to the team, or the team to the leader?

A Committed Team - 2The quality of a persons life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.
Vince Lombardi

I know this sounds a little strange, everyone would say “Isn’t it inherent that all Leaders are committed to their cause?” I would say, not always. Lets spend a minute discussing commitment and how it pertains to leadership. I would say most people focus only on one side of the leadership equation, what is important to the team. They pose questions to themselves, such as “What’s the minimum I must do to satisfy my commitment?” I propose a committed leader needs to focus more on the other side of the equation, themselves. They need to think about “What can I do to make the most of this opportunity?, How can I leverage my position to make a positive impact?”  After all who are you really committed to? Your followers right? Now many of you know my background is the military, so commitment means something special to me, I was committed to a team, a special team, a team of men who would stop at nothing to “solve a problem”. I propose that commitment means something different to different people, but I also propose nothing great can be accomplished without commitment.

I would argue that being a committed follower may be harder than being a committed leader. I say that because a follower doesn’t always know the whole picture, a follower doesn’t always know the end game. He knows what is required of him or her, and knows the best way to accomplish the goal. I think being a committed follower, or team member, means being whole heartedly engaged in all aspects of the team.

A Committed Team - 3Compare a bacon and egg breakfast to commitment, to be a part of the meal, the chicken is just participating, but the pig, he is committed.

So leaders, be committed to your team, look into your heart and figure out what your team needs. Followers, team mates, be committed to each other and your leader, keep your eyes up and your feet on the ground. Be prepared to carry a team mate, be prepared to support your leader, stay focused on your tasks.

What is your life committed to, I challenge you to ask your wives, husbands, kids and friends, what they think about your commitment.

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A Leader’s Role in Their Team’s Performance

A Leader's Role in Their Team's Success - 1It may be obvious to most people that a leader’s performance is directly proportionate to their teams success or lack thereof. But it occurs to me that there are teams that have succeeded in spite of their leader and surely there are teams that have failed even with quality leadership. So I set out to discover if there are any connections or similarities that we could find, to determine just how much of a team’s success or failure is because of the leader.

It occurs to me that a leaders specific role may change slightly depending on the team or the goal of the team, but surely there are things a leader does or doesn’t do that helps or hurts a team. These are some of the things I found:

Aggressor: I think this happens when a team leader is directly compensated for his team’s performance. He or she has the ability to block the introduction of new ideas and concepts by minimizing and deflating the status of other team members and creating a sense of intimidation. If this behavior and role is not checked it will tend to decrease the team’s overall motivation and subsequent member involvement.

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Repairing the Damage of a Past Leader

Repairing the Damage of a Past Leader - 1In my circle of friends and peers, there is a lot of discussion about who the Republican Party will get to challenge for President in the next election. The conversation is almost always who is strong enough and conservative enough to try and undo all of the damage that has been done. I don’t claim to know enough about politics to have a good argument, so I want to bring this a little closer to home.

Repairing the Damage of a Past Leader - 2Some of you know and some of you don’t know, that I am a senior part of a competitive BBQ cook off team, and we are in the midst of our busiest season. We are coming off a fall and winter of several small cook offs and preparing for our biggest of the year. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo BBQ Cook-off is a big deal for us. I have been a large part of this Team since my father died in 1999. Being a salesman, I have used it as employee appreciation and a customer appreciation opportunity on more than one occasion. This year the leadership of this team has begun to take it a little more serious than I think they should.

The two guys that are really “in charge” of this team, are not strong leaders, and are causing some strife among the, what I will call part time members of our team. The budget has gotten tight as we have lost a sponsor for Thursday night, and instead of closing ranks, shrinking expenses and “chiving on” the stress has run some friends off. The leaders are saying, “no free entry for friends”, “only a couple of spare entries per member” and we are raising prices. So as I deal with some folk who are saying, “This isn’t fun anymore” it occurs to me that this must have happened in the Leadership arena before.

Repairing the Damage of a Past Leader - 3So I ask you, how does a new leader repair the damage caused by a past leader? How do you go about undoing something that was done, maybe incorrectly, by a previous leader, without causing them any embarrassment? Especially when there is a chance, the former leader is still involved? Surely there has been a new CEO take over only to have his predecessor become a board member or consultant.

I have exercised my leadership to the extent I can, but I don’t own the large pit we use, and the spaces are not in my name. Other than ask for forgiveness not permission, I am struggling to maintain the fun, which is why people come hang out with us. I am afraid if I just put my head down and try to solve the problems as they arise, I will end up by myself. Do I assert myself, and take a chance on hurting my relationship with these guys that were my father’s best friends? Do I get some of the other members together and form a mutiny? Or a hostile takeover? Surely there is a way to obtain new leadership without causing an implosion.

I am looking for your thoughts and feedback on this leadership question.  Let’s use the collective wisdom of the 1,000 folks who are reading what we are publishing.  Be courageous and leave a comment.

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Where have all the good (young) men gone?

Where have all the good men gone - 1

– Herman Melville, Moby Dick

I have had a few instances in the past few weeks where I have had to think to myself, what would your father think about that? Not only your earthly father but your heavenly father as well. Sometimes I get the idea that some young men (not all) don’t think they will ever have to be accountable for their actions. Back to that in a minute…..

First of all I want to thank a few of you fathers out there that are raising God fearing young men. I think it will save me a lot of time with a shovel, when my girls start to date. I ask you though, where did you learn the lessons you are sharing with your sons? I bet it was your father and grandfather. I am confident my parents would still be married today if my father was still alive, and I watched my grandfather sit beside my grandmother’s hospital bed as leukemia took her.

Where have all the good men gone - 2Please don’t get me wrong, I am not the perfect father, Lord knows, I ask for help. But sometimes I see or hear of something some young man has done or said, and my first thought is not, What would Jesus Christ think…..It is what does your father think? Is no one accountable anymore? Are we a soft enough society that a village no longer raises a child? I am pretty sure all of my neighbors had “Beat on sight when necessary” instructions for me when I was a kid.

We spend a lot of time on this blog discussing leadership, and I have come to think as leaders we are responsible to not only each other, but those without a good example. I said to someone, “…that really isn’t any of my business…” and their response to me was “Why isn’t it?” It has taken me all week to figure out that, maybe I should make it my business. Maybe we should all start making a few more injustices our business.

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Leadership and Sacrifice

Leadership and Sacrifice - 1I recently spent an afternoon with some other former, retired military men, and we went to see the Lone Survivor movie. I guess it never occurred to me before the sacrifice made by Lt. Michael Murphy. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I won’t spoil it for you, but in a nutshell, he made the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of his team. Couldn’t he have commanded another to do what he wanted? Surely he wasn’t the only member of the team capable of making that call. It occurs to me that maybe sacrifice is the most important piece of leadership. I am sure we have heard this before, but I think it bears repeating.

We have all heard and read great pieces by our members about servant leadership, and covenant leadership, leading by example and I am sure sacrificial leadership as well, so if I repeat anything in these ramblings I apologize up front.

I started doing some research on this topic, during the football games, and here are some of the things I discovered.

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A Gift and a Leader

gift boxWhat is the best gift you can give as a leader?

So, I was sitting around on the couch Wednesday trying to keep glitter out of my coffee cup and avoiding an ever growing cloud of wrapping paper and ribbon flying though the air, and it occurred to me what is the best give I could give? So as I sit in my office on the day after Christmas, I have decided to do an internet search on Leadership and gifts, and I would like to share what my research has taught me.

As much as I don’t want to admit it, it seems as though honest feedback is the consensus best gift a leader can give their team. Everyone wants to know the truth, no matter how difficult it is to hear. But even though we want to hear honest and direct feedback, we generally don’t look on those occasions with much joy or pleasure.

A Gift and a Leader - 2Most people can come up with several traumatic stories from their pasts where they have given or received negative feedback. These negative experiences embed themselves into our psyche and become a source of anxiety. On the other hand, most people can also come up with an experience where a person gave them helpful feedback that contributed to a marked improvement in their effectiveness and influenced their success. So as leaders how do we help people see that whether the feedback is critical or positive it is a gift?

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Team Leaders and Judgment

Team Leaders and Judgement - 1Team Leaders – Do we judge ourselves too harshly or not harshly enough?

The art of self-awareness is absolutely key to being a successful leader. Why? Because we always judge ourselves based on our intentions. And others judge us on our behavior.

My leadership experience allowed for some briefing and debriefing, I wonder if there is not some good business and life advice there.

We might think we are being focused, empowering, direct, authoritative, in control and motivational but we might actually be being seen as too controlling, too direct, too “over the top” or even coming across as a bully. But, sometimes these traits are necessary to lead, aren’t they?

Team Leaders and Judgement - 2I think team leaders need to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and then build a team around themselves to make sure that a particular weakness is overcome by someone with strengths in this area. As a leader you must work with your hand-picked dream team so that you’ve got the whole picture of your objective covered – by the right people.

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