#TBT: No Real Leader “Phones It In”

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Leadership by Experience, Throwback Thursday

Paperback Cover - FrontMy book, Leading Leaders, is filled with stories about leaders and personal stories from my own life since leadership is inherently a personal experience. Leadership is not the application of skills as much as it’s the focused attention on human interaction. Humans are complex beings that are the amalgamation of their own experiences, learned and innate behaviors, and the situations leaders and teams find themselves in over the course of the job at hand. We can learn a lot from our own experiences, and others’, so long as we’re open to the lesson. That’s the real secret of effective leaders: they care enough about the team and the job at hand to invest themselves in the effort.  Leaders have to be present and engaged.  No effective leader ever “phones it in.”

A great story to illustrate my point: I once accompanied an Army 2-star general to the signing ceremony of an agreement on enhancing military spouse employment between four military bases in the Rocky Mountain Front Range.  It was a typical ceremonial military function, with local officials, base officials from two military Services, and a host of military spouses.  As the Army major general made his way through the crowded corridor, staff in tow, toward the ball room to get ready to start the event, he found himself shaking hands with a volunteer who was also the wife of one of his deployed soldiers.   The general could have shaken her hand, smiled perfunctorily, and moved on.  No one would have blamed him, since he commanded thousands of soldiers and certainly had a full schedule.

But that’s not what he did.

He stopped and gave that young woman his full attention.  He asked her how she was doing with specific questions, and after listening to her intently, assured her of his support by making certain his aide had her name and her husband’s unit.  I have no doubt that he checked on her and her husband later, probably personally.  It made a huge impression on me to see such focus and presence by a senior leader!

That’s presence…that’s leadership…and it’s applicable to leadership in any situation.

“Leading Leaders” Book Preview: Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Practical Leadership

In life and in business neatness counts, and attention to detail is important.  Its both an indicator of the quality of the work the team is doing, and the quality of the team members themselves. In any case, the leader can tell a lot by the little things, and little things that may require his attention. Work area cleanliness is sometimes a good indicator whether the staff is organized and motivated. When you walk into a place of business or an office of some sort, no matter what your personality type, you make judgments about the effectiveness and productivity of an organization by what the area looks like. Of course there are the practical considerations of health and safety, but teammates and customers are certainly judging you by your workspace! A personal story about workplace cleanliness comes to mind. 

Back in the 1990’s (when computers were much simpler), I did a lot of the work on my own machine, fixing problems and upgrading the hardware was a hobby. Occasionally, there would be a problem I couldn’t fix myself, so I had to go to a professional to make the repairs. I was always looking for a bargain repair shop as opposed to taking my machine to one of the “big box” electronic stores for the repairs, which in those days meant small one or two person repair shops. I found a small shop that was recommended by a friend, and walked in with my home-built 386sx computer. The shop was a mess, with computers in various states of disassembly amid papers, coke cans, chip bags, electronic components, and empty boxes. There was no one at the unfinished wooden counter, so I waited for a moment to see if I’d be helped.

I was about to leave the shop when the young man working there that day came around the corner and beckoned me back to the counter. Reluctantly, I placed my machine on the counter and explained what was wrong, he looked at me with little interest, then handed me a form to fill out. At the bottom of the form was a damage waiver.  “What’s this for?” I asked. The bored young man replied that it was a “standard form” and that it covered the company in case they did cosmetic damage to my computer while it was in their shop. “Like what?” I asked. “Oh, like scratches or dents to the case,” he added hastily, “but that never happens,” I looked around the shop again. It was a disaster area. Making up my mind quickly, I said, “Uh, I don’t think so,” then gathered my machine up and left. 

Would the shop personnel have taken care of my property? Perhaps. Maybe it was just a bad day in the shop, maybe the young man who waited on me was tired or had some other personal issue that prevented him from being more customer oriented. The net result of all those “little things” however, was that in the space of just a few minutes I had lost confidence that this shop was capable or qualified. In fact, I was pretty sure they were going to give my computer back to me with scratches and dents. They lost my business because of the little things. Additionally, they not only lost my business, they also lost the business of all the people to whom I subsequently relayed the story. It had nothing to do with their actual professional or technical ability, training, or certifications. It didn’t matter to me that they were not the most expensive shop in town or came highly recommended by peers.

My negative opinion was based on a single employee and a single policy for the potential that my property would not be respected.  Is that unreasonable?  Was I applying “military” appearance standards inappropriately?  Maybe, but my experience taught me that when a person is unwilling to do the little things like keeping their work area in order, they were probably unwilling to take care in other facets of their work.  The “standard form” just put an exclamation point on the matter for me.

Tom Landry, Air Force Officer and Dallas Cowboys Head Coach on Leadership

Posted 1 CommentPosted in Books, Practical Leadership
Dallas Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, right, shares a shovel with coach Tom Landry at the ground breaking of the Cowboys practice facility in Irving, Tex., In this Nov. 30, 1983 file photo. (AP Photo/File) 

One of my heroes, the late Tom Landry, former Dallas Cowboys’ head coach, once said, the art of leadership is “to get people to do what they don’t want to do to achieve what they want to achieve.”

What Coach Landry understood was that the basic leadership dilemma: how to motivate people to accomplish some task, or mission, and to do that in such a way that they get some value out of the deal.  That requires leaders who can move people without breaking them in the process.

An effective leader has integrity and models it.  He respects his boss, the institution, and his subordinates.  He exercises the authority his organization had vested in him, stepping up to lead.  He requires teamwork, and actively seeks out teammates.  And he knows that little things matter, and add up to big things.

Ronald Reagan on Character & Leadership

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Conferences, Practical Leadership, Speaking

President Ronald Reagan sums up the idea of the fundamental nature of character and what it takes to make good decisions as a leader.  In a May 1993 speech to the cadets at The Citadel in South Carolina, Reagan said:

The character that takes command in moments of crucial choices has already been determined. It has been determined by a thousand other choices made earlier in seemingly unimportant moments. It has been determined by all the little choices of years past…by all those times when the voice of conscience was at war with the voice of temptation…whispering the lie that it really doesn’t matter. It has been determined by all the day-to-day decisions made when life seemed easy and crises seemed far away…the decisions that, piece by piece, bit by bit, developed habits of discipline or of laziness, habits of self-sacrifice or of self-indulgence, habits of duty and honor and integrity-or dishonor and shame.

In reflecting on this statement from President Reagan, it’s important to recognize that he wasn’t necessarily speaking about heroes or larger than life figures, although those words could certainly fit the heroes in our midst.  He was talking about the common person, and the idea that people rarely “rise to the occasion;” rather most people fall into habits and thought patterns where they’re comfortable.  That’s why seemingly unimportant decisions can become the building blocks of character, for good or bad. We have to remember that as leaders we are always “out front.”

Leading Leaders Book Preview: No Real Leader “Phones It In”

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Leadership by Experience, Practical Leadership

My upcoming book, Leading Leaders, is filled with stories about leaders and personal stories from my own life since leadership is inherently a personal experience. Leadership is not the application of skills as much as it’s the focused attention on human interaction. Humans are complex beings that are the amalgamation of their own experiences, learned and innate behaviors, and the situations leaders and teams find themselves in over the course of the job at hand. We can learn a lot from our own experiences, and others’, so long as we’re open to the lesson. That’s the real secret of effective leaders: they care enough about the team and the job at hand to invest themselves in the effort.  Leaders have to be present and engaged.  No effective leader ever “phones it in.”

A great story to illustrate my point: I once accompanied an Army 2-star general to the signing ceremony of an agreement on enhancing military spouse employment between four military bases in the Rocky Mountain Front Range.  It was a typical ceremonial military function, with local officials, base officials from two military Services, and a host of military spouses.  As the Army major general made his way through the crowded corridor, staff in tow, toward the ball room to get ready to start the event, he found himself shaking hands with a volunteer who was also the wife of one of his deployed soldiers.   The general could have shaken her hand, smiled perfunctorily, and moved on.  No one would have blamed him, since he commanded thousands of soldiers and certainly had a full schedule.

But that’s not what he did.

He stopped and gave that young woman his full attention.  He asked her how she was doing with specific questions, and after listening to her intently, assured her of his support by making certain his aide had her name and her husband’s unit.  I have no doubt that he checked on her and her husband later, probably personally.  It made a huge impression on me to see such focus and presence by a senior leader!

That’s presence…that’s leadership…and it’s applicable to leadership in any situation.

Looking for Reviewers…

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books

Are you interested in reviewing Leading Leaders, or the second editions of For God and Country or Saturday Morning Catechism? Would you like Editingto have your “blurb” published in the book? If so, please comment below (and include your email address) or email me directly!!

At present, I’m working with Blue Mantle Publishing (thanks Maria!) and expect Leading Leaders to be published this March or April.  Of course if a large publisher decides to take me on those timelines could change!  The second editions of  For God and Country and Saturday Morning Catechism will be released by October of this year.

Thanks in advance!