To be the best, Invest more than the rest. Are you investing in yourself? Are you continuously growing in knowledge and wisdom?

As a leader, you owe it to your team to run the race just as fast, if not faster, than they are.

I attend conferences all over the country to hear from the best.  I recently attended a conference in San Diego where I had the pleasure of hearing great leaders fill me with their wisdom. Leaders like Les Brown, Sharon Lechter, Gene Landrum, Frank Shankwitz, and others, all spoke from their experience.

We were in a packed room sitting close enough that I could see each of these special teachers in their seats before and after their time to speak.  As I was busy taking pages of notes, I could see out of the corner of my eye that each of them was taking just as many notes as I was.  At one point Gene Landrum asked the people at my table if anyone had more paper so he could continue taking notes.

Along with the knowledge I gained from each leader, I learned a life lesson that day:

No matter how much you know; there is always room to grow!

Denis Waitley said, “All of the top achievers are life-long learners…Looking for new skills, insights, and ideas.  If they’re not learning, they’re not growing…not moving toward excellence.”

As a leader, you owe it to your team to run the race just as fast, if not faster, than they are.

What have you done today to invest in yourself?  What will you do tomorrow, the next day…How are you continuously growing in knowledge and wisdom?

Do you want to have the best team working for you? Good leaders look at people’s strength and make use of it, while great leaders look at people’s potential and make the best of it.

A leader’s job is to see where others can go and open the right doors for them to pass through.  A leader’s job is to focus on what is there – strengths – and remove the focus from weakness – that which is not there.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”

Michelangelo said, “A great statue already exists inside a block of stone. The sculptor’s role is to uncover it.”

If you want the best team, you have to intentionally focus your leadership efforts on unleashing the greatness inside of everyone you influence.

Do you remember who recognized greatness in you?  Who told you that you could be anything you set your mind to? Was it a parent, grandparent, teacher, coach, pastor, boss?

To Everything Turn, Turn, Turn


In 1965 the American folk rock band The Byrds recorded the song Turn! Turn! Turn!  The message of the song is, to quote from one line, “There is a time to every purpose under heaven.”

We can all think of examples of this timing:

  • The seasons always come in order – spring, summer, fall, and winter
  • The phases of the moon always move in the same order from new moon to new moon.
  • The farmer has to till before planting and water before harvesting.

I have found that leadership also has a time to its purpose.  I call it the Three Phases of Leadership Development:

  • Relationship – Through the forming of a trusting relationship, the team will follow as the leader shows them how to be successful.
  • Understanding – By modeling after the leader’s example, the team will understand how to achieve their own success.
  • Knowledge – Through mentoring, the team will gain the knowledge of when to apply what is understood.

For your leadership journey to be successful, follow the Three Phases of Leadership Development with every new team.

Whenever Possible Follow the Road More Traveled

“Keep on the outlook for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully. Your idea has to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are currently working on.”

I was surprised when I first read this quote from Thomas Edison. Yes the same Thomas Edison that is the holder of 1,093 United States patents and the inventor of the phonograph and the incandescent light bulb among many other inventions.  Leaders are many times told to blaze their own trail; which is sometimes the right answer, but sometimes not.

In my many years of business I discovered that most people are genuinely convinced that their situations are so unique and so difficult that no one has faced quite the same circumstances before, let alone found a way to solve them.  In some way I think it is a bit of pride in the human condition that makes people want a difficult solution for their difficult problems.  But it doesn’t need to be difficult.  Often, eighty percent of a problem has been solved before, the other twenty percent is taking the initiative to accept the solution given to you and implement it.

Sometimes, we don’t need a better mousetrap; we just need to understand how to use the ones that are already out there.

Listen While You Work

“Leadership is influence, nothing more nothing less.”  I learned this from John Maxwell and I teach it to everyone I mentor.  The beginning of influence is trust, and trying to influence another person without first eliciting trust is as futile as trying to boil water outside of a kettle.  Trust, like the kettle, is the vessel in which all things work together to generate powerful action.

Developing trust comes from understanding one another.  Ralph Nichols, an expert in the field of listening, says, “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”

If you think about the command and control leadership style, you can picture the leader in front of a room filled with their employees and a microphone in their hand. They talk from the beginning of the meeting to the end of the meeting; telling their team what they need to hear.  That style of leader doesn’t understand their team, won’t develop trust with their team, and can’t influence their team.

Kevin Turner, the COO of Microsoft and former CEO of Sam’s Club once described the secret to Sam Walton’s success.  He said, “Walton didn’t have an open door policy; he had an open ear policy.”

The Anam Cara – Friend of the Soul

My family and I went to an Irish goods store over the weekend.  As I skimmed through limerick books, I was reminded of the many stories my Irish Grandmother told.  I bought a book titled Anam Cara, a Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue.  The name comes from the early Celtic tradition of a person who acts as a teacher and guide; that person was called the Anam Cara, or friend of the soul.  The book has many fables that teach Celtic lessons on various aspects of life.  One fable called “The King and the Beggar’s Gift” taught that difficult situations are often disguised opportunities for growth.

As I am reading Anam Cara, I am reminded of one of American History’s most famous leaders, Abraham Lincoln.  It is said that among his favorite books growing up were the Bible, Aesop’s Fables and The Pilgrim’s Progress.  Each one of these great books taught its lessons through parables, fables and allegories.

We know that Abraham Lincoln was a great story-teller. He often disarmed a crowd or an adversary with a folksy tale in which they could see themselves and understand his point of view.

As a leader, you are your team’s teacher and guide.  If you want to be their friend of the soul, their Anam Cara, you have to connect with them personally.   Following the path of great leaders before us, I recommend using parables, fables, or allegories to teach and guide.  Nothing gets to the heart like a well told story.

The Journey of Successful Leadership

Early in my career I thought there would be a point where I could officially call myself a successful leader.  Read one more book, attend one more seminar, or learn from one more mentor and I would know everything.  If I could develop one more team I would have experienced everything.  I have long since realized that leadership is not a destination but a life long journey.

One of my current mentors says, “From this point forward you will go so far, it will take binoculars to see where you started.”  Imagine that, after twenty five years I still have exciting journeys in front of me.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery a French aviator and the author said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

On your Journey of Successful Leadership, don’t settle for just what you learned today; long for the endless pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.

If You Want To Love What You Do, Then Do What You Love

In a team mentoring session I was asked this question, “You have been leading teams and mentoring people for over twenty five years.  How do you keep it fresh and exciting, how do you stay engaged?”

I answered the question with a sales strategy; focus on the benefit, not the feature.  Here’s how it works: If I were selling picture hooks, the features could be the weight each hook can support, or the number of hooks in the package.  But as a customer when you go to the hardware store to buy a picture hook, you are not just buying a picture hook.  You are actually buying the feeling you will get each time you pass the picture of your children hanging on the wall in your family room; that’s the benefit.

I view leadership the same way.  I focus each day on the benefits not the features.  Here’s how this works:  Some may view leadership as successfully completing projects using people’s strengths; that’s the feature.  I view leadership as successfully developing people who use their strengths to complete projects, and that’s the benefit.

The successful completion of projects brings short-term rewards, but when you build people, you have an everlasting accomplishment.  Each day in everything I do I am not just completing projects, I am changing lives.  I love what I do.

Do The Right Thing

When I was in the fifth grade my school decided to experiment with different styles of teaching.  My class was selected to receive cardboard boxes to store their books instead of desks.  Since we didn’t have desks, we could sit anywhere in the room we wanted.  This was all pretty fun until about halfway through the year, when everyone’s boxes began to wear out.  The tops fell off and there were tears in the sides.  This experiment was not going well at all.

One day our teacher announced that the students would have to pay to replace their boxes since they didn’t last.  Looking back, this wasn’t an extraordinary cost, but still, I didn’t attend a rich school.  Many of the kids in my class said they didn’t have extra money to support this type of cost.  The fact of the matter was we didn’t have a say in adopting this new teaching style, so we shouldn’t have to pay for new boxes.

Before I finish my story of the fifth grade boxes, let me tell you about Edmund Burke, one of the many historical leaders I studied while living in Virginia.  For more information on that topic see my blog from last week

Burke was a member of the British Parliament before and during the American Revolution.   Known for his staunch support for the British Parliament, he nonetheless sided with the American colonies on the right of fair representation on taxation.  When the stamp act and then the tea act were passed causing the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, Burke saw that someone needed to take action to avert what were soon to be larger issues.  In April 1774, he gave a speech to Parliament in which he argued that Britain should maintain peace and end these unfair taxes.  Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

As a leader, you are responsible for your team and must take action when negative situations arise within it.  Furthermore, like Burke, who sided with a potential foe because of his principles, a true leader will take action to guard the rights of anyone who is in harm’s way.

Now back to fifth grade.  I can proudly tell you I did do something.  I talked to the principal and explained that this experiment had not worked and the additional cost to the students in my class was not fair.  The principal ended the experiment and brought the desks back into the room.

I would like to finish this blog telling you that I have been heroic and successful in every situation like the fifth grade box story; but that wouldn’t be true.  I do stand up for the rights of others, but just like Burke’s speech didn’t avert the Revolutionary War, my actions haven’t always proven successful.  But that doesn’t keep me from doing something; don’t let it stop you either.

Think Big; Plan Big; Achieve Big

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work…Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us…Think big.”

I first heard this quote from Daniel Burnham on an Architectural tour of Chicago.  Shortly after moving to The Windy City, my family and I boarded a small boat to learn the history of downtown Chicago.  The tour guide mentioned Burnham’s name many times when describing the classical buildings we admired.

He then described the man who changed the face of architecture in Chicago and cities across America because he accepted the challenge to Think Big.  

Daniel Burnham was one of the most sought after architects in America in the early 20th century.  He designed one of the first American skyscrapers: the Masonic Temple Building in Chicago, and was influential in shaping the design of the National Mall of Washington D.C. under the McMillan plan.  He and his company designed over forty well known buildings across America.

His best known work was his design of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.  The World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893 celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World in 1492. It also demonstrated to the world that Chicago had risen again from the great fire which destroyed much of the city in 1871.

Over 27 million people attended the fair during its six month run.   It covered more than 600 acres, and featured 200 new buildings of neoclassical architecture and people and cultures from around the world.  Its scale exceeded any other world fair before it, and it was the first world fair to have international pavilions for forty-six nations.  It was the prototype of what Burnham thought a city should be; the first example of city planning.

The Big Plans of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 left quite an impression on the world.  The design brought international prominence to Daniel Burnham, and is said to have inspired the Emerald City of the Land of Oz and Walt Disney’s theme parks.

In his book Built to Last, Jim Collins highlights great successful companies that Achieved Big.  Most had what Collins calls Big Harry Audacious Goals or BHAGS.  Like Jack Welch and General Electric whose BHAG was, “To become #1 or #2 in every market we serve and revolutionize this company to have the speed and agility of a small enterprise.”

In leadership you need to inspire your teams to achieve greatness.  For your vision to be successful you must Think Big; Plan Big and you will Achieve Big.

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