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Saturday, May 28, 2016


Many leaders I know operate with a mindset of "if you're not sweating, you're not working."  It's the tempting misconception that if we are busy (at something), then we must be progressing toward our goals.

Observation, reflection, and thoughtful planning often take a back seat to "gettin' stuff done."  Those don't generally produce much sweat, but they are immensely important components in achieving meaningful goals.

To be sure, infrastructure has to be built, products have to be shipped, schedules have to be coordinated, customers must be taken care of, inventory must be procured.  However, none of that stuff means a thing if we haven't thoughtfully, deliberately, and intentionally processed the following:

  1. WHY - Why are we doing what we are doing - our purpose?
  2.  WHAT - What are we doing (or not doing) that substantively contributes (or not) to achieving our desired long-term goals?
  3. HOW - How might we accomplish our goals with more efficiency and/or more effectiveness?
That intellectual side of our "work," the brain work, often gets put off, or worse, completely neglected, in the interest of "gettin' stuff done."  

Done stuff has very little real meaning if it's not precluded by some well-conceived, well-deployed, and oft-revisited cognitive processing.  Think of it as a different kind of sweat equity.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


We are born with the desire to succeed, to accomplish, to achieve.  It is not in our human nature to aspire to failure.

Having taught, coached, worked with, and employed thousands of folks over a lifetime, I cannot remember an instance in which I thought a player, a member of the organization, or an employee intentionally set out each day to fail.  Fail, some did.  Some even failed with alarming regularity.  But even those, I believe, desired to be successful in their endeavors.

Our job as leaders - parents, teachers, bosses, captains - is first to define what success looks like, in clear and simple terms (and no, it's not always in terms of games won, tests passed, or widgets sold).  Secondly, we should be very aware of the progress of those team members, providing constant support, coaching, and instruction as they seek self-actualization through meaningful accomplishment.  Finally, we should shower them with feedback and affirmation as they achieve their goals (and ours), whether incremental or monumental.

Only for those who demonstrate a persistent unwillingness and/or inability to get better should we be prepared to sever our ties with them.  Even that drastic and painful step, however, does not necessitate our withholding of love and forgiveness toward those non-achievers.  (Clearly, they were in the wrong role, and perhaps we own some of the responsibility for them being there.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


We all have habits.  Habits in our morning routines, habits in the way we eat a meal, habits in the way we dress ourselves, habits in our daily commute.

Habits are the "greasing of the skids" process our brains use to help us accomplish tasks while burning the least amount of energy.

When we were first learning to drive a car, backing up the vehicle took a good bit of concentration and focused coordination - constantly looking in the mirrors, touching the accelerator, pushing the brake, gauging the progress, looking over our shoulder, again and again.  Tons of mental energy got burned in those early episodes of backing up the car, with a fair amount of anxiety to boot.  Yet, as the process became more routine for us, we settled into habits that allowed us to drive in reverse without burning up nearly as much mental energy.

Some habits, like the ones we use brushing our teeth, are adopted with little or no rational thought.  Other habits, however, require us to invest significant effort and commitment until we get them firmly embedded into our psyche and daily routines.  Such habits might include reading a daily devotional, texting/calling a loved one per day, eating the right foods for our health, NOT eating the wrong foods, spending a few minutes in prayer or meditation to calm the mind.  

Those kinds of habits require substantive intentionality on our part, until we get them firmly established.  THEN, we can reap the rewards as those "greased skids" push us toward our better selves.  

What habits are shaping us into who we want to be?  Which of our habits are working to the contrary?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


In the field of conflict resolution there is a concept known as "unfair fighting."  That notion refers to tactics used that tend to turn the conflict into bitter dispute based in nuance, accusation, recrimination, and vagary rather than toward an authentic attempt at resolution.  The cheap shots of unfair fighting are often leveraged in order to skirt the real issues, to divert attention, and/or to center the dispute on personal rather than issue-based data.  The objective of unfair fighting is to ensure that one party wins and the other loses, truth be damned, peaceful resolution be doomed.  

I recently watched a video that was purported to be an academic discussion about the spiritual aspects of our humanity and the implications for our collective future.  The discussion panel included representatives of the agnostic, atheist, religious, spiritual, and mystic perspectives.  All the participants were highly educated, immensely credentialed, and notably respected within their fields.

While the conversation was intriguing and enlightening, I was disappointed to repeatedly hear the cheap shots so often associated with unfair fighting being taken.  Cheap shots, even when subtly couched as compliments, do nothing to contribute to healthy discourse.  Moreover, they usually serve to derail informative debate.  

Almost without exception, the cheap shots of unfair fighting make the shot taker look and sound weak, uninformed, and defensive.  Cheap shots never lead to positive outcomes. 

Wise leaders know better, and practice otherwise.  

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Today's me was okay, but not as good as I wanted to be.  

I think I can improve on several elements that are currently important to me - musical prowess, gardening, land/animal stewardship, writing, communicating, mentoring, etc.  I'm pretty sure those skills won't improve by themselves.  It's gonna take my purposeful attention, a dedication of some time, the expenditure of effort, and, oh yeah, a healthy dose of self discipline.  If history means anything, I'm sure there'll be a few mistakes and fails in the process, too.

It's not just about me, though.  I am very aware that when I make me better, there are healthy benefits for my family.  And, a better me will improve the lives and performance of the teams I participate on, the natural resources I manage, the faculties I teach with, and the customers I serve.

I got a little better today.  Tomorrow will see a better me than we had when this day started. 

But, there's still plenty of room for improvement.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


I recently read The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (2015).

In this biography DM recounts the lives of Wilbur and Orville Wright from birth to death.  Some interesting tidbits of new learning for me from this work:

  • The Wright brothers had tremendous work ethic, combined with what were evidently near-genius minds.
  • The Wright brothers were sons of an itinerant preacher.
  • The French and British governments expressed much more early interest in the Wright flying machine than did the U.S. government. 
  • The shear number of prototypes built and trials conducted during the development of the flying machine is mind boggling.  Few humans have this level of focus or tenacity.
  • Neither of the Wright brothers married.  Wilbur died in his forties and Orville lived into his seventies.
Another excellent work by DM, as expected.  He again took a ton of historical facts and weaved an interesting and coherent story with them.  History buffs will surely want to read this one.   

Monday, May 9, 2016


I once called a supervisor for a reference check on a prospective employee I was considering for hire.  I identified myself, the purpose for the call, and the person about whom I was inquiring.  There was a brief moment of silence on the line, and then the supervisor stated, "Oh yeah, he's average or better."

Huh?  Average or better?  "Tepid" is the best word I could think of to describe that reference.

No, I didn't hire that candidate.  Nor would I hire any candidate that got the same sort of tepid reference.  "Average or better" players are NOT the kind of folks I want to add to my/our team.

To get better, we need better.  Significantly better.  Keep lookin'.

Friday, May 6, 2016


"I am what I am."  "What you see is what you get."  "I'm not gonna try to be something I'm not."  Such statements are often expressed by those in leadership positions who want to pretend that their image doesn't matter.  But it does.  A lot.

The most effective leaders I know pay attention to their image, while not becoming a slave to it.  What others think of us matters.  How others see us matters.  The words others hear come out of our mouths matter.  

Quality leaders score high on all three of the following indices (see Dan Rockwell's thoughts on this topic here):  
  1. Character - our values/beliefs, the stuff that makes us tick.
  2. Substance - the experience, knowledge, skills, and ways of thinking we bring to the table. 
  3. Style - the way we present ourselves and represent our constituents; everything from dress to interpersonal skills to table manners. 
Wise leaders figure out ways to effectively "demonstrate" each in both overt and covert ways, not for self-aggrandizing purposes, but rather, to broaden their influence.  "Polishing up" is not a bad thing.

Sunday, May 1, 2016


Those in leadership roles (e.g., parents, managers, owners, captains, teachers, bosses, etc.) must possess a healthy dose of toughness.  Not meanness, toughness.  Not brutishness, toughness.  Not insensitivity, toughness.  Not harshness, toughness.

What can toughness look like?  Here are some examples:

  • Saying "no" when you'd prefer to say "yes" (and vice versa).
  • Shouldering the blame to protect valued others and their good work.
  • Ignoring a rule/law/protocol and being willing to defend that act.
  • Insisting that people come before structure(s), foibles and all.
  • Sticking to principle even if it means losing friends, employees, jobs.
  • Listening attentively even when it's hard to hear merit in the talk.
  • Letting right-minded others make some (non-fatal) mistakes, even if you know a "better" way.
  • Forgiving, even when it's the last thing you want to do.
Leadership is no job for sissies or the wobbly.  Only the tough need apply.