Denis G. McLaughlin

Instead of questioning intentions, review outcomes.

When plans are not working out, assume others have good intentions and work on helping them achieve the right outcomes through questions, suggestions, and solutions. In the end, you are going to get what you focus on. Invest your time achieving the results in this way and you’ll find success while also teaching someone something new.

Actions, not intentions, lead to results. Why spend your time thinking about other people’s intentions when it’s actions and outcomes that bring success? Paint the picture of the future and build a plan to get there.

“Better to inspire into action then to inquire as to intentions.”– Denis G. McLaughlin

Sharing knowledge makes for good discussion. Facts are universal and non-judgmental. Intentions are personal and internal. Gain alignment with the facts and you’ll gain alignment with the plan.

“Never question another’s motive. Their wisdom, yes, but not their motives.”– Dwight D. Eisenhower

Don’t focus on faults. It’s too easy to assign the cause of mistakes to a lack of concern when in reality it could be just a lack of understanding. Correct the understanding and not the person.

“The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything they do becomes tainted.”– Mahatma Ghandi


The Commitment of Leadership

commitment LombardiLeadership is not for the faint of heart. If you want to succeed, plan on making the commitment to being in it for the long haul. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Commitment is what transforms a promise into a reality.”

There is no overnight successes in leadership, but there are steps you can take in the right direction towards success if you are committed to the climb. For every person who climbs the ladder of success, there are a dozen waiting for the elevator.

Now here are the challenges that many face when they look to make the commitment of leadership:

What if I don’t have a complete plan for success? Here is the thing about plans – they always change. If you wait for the perfect plan before you will make the commitment, you will never commit. As long as you have a clear picture of what success looks like when you achieve it, you can start moving in that general direction and modify your plan as you learn more.

“You need to make a commitment, and once you make it, then life will give you some answers.” – Les Brown

What if I don’t have time for a commitment? Here is what I have found in my life. I do lots of things throughout the day, week, month, or year. When I choose to make a commitment to something I free up time to fit it in by not doing other things that don’t lead to success.

“I have the time for anything I am committed to.”

I am not sure I’m up for a long-term commitment. Actually a long-term commitment is nothing more than a set of daily activities that leads to long-term success. Take this one day at a time, one action at a time.

The only way saying ‘ I will’ leads to ‘I did’ is through the daily practice of ‘I do’” – Denis G. McLaughlin

Lead with no distractions

No distractions robin sharmaSuccessful leaders know that their toughest leadership assignment is themselves. They are keenly focused on the needs of their teams, their company, and their customers. What do successful leaders need to focus on to lead themselves?   They need to eliminate distractions – if they want to remain successful.

Distractions that are the most difficult to conquer are subtle and internally driven. Anything that keeps us from focusing on the ultimate goals and the path that leads there is a distraction. Distractions can derail our ability to grow and be the best we can be if we let them.

Robin Sharma said, “We are so deep into daily distractions and ‘being busy’ that we miss out on those moments that – if jumped on – would get our careers and personal lives to a whole new level of wow.”

Three internal distractions that leaders need to eliminate take place in their thinking, speaking and doing.

Distractions in thinking, speaking, and doing

Thinking. All leaders have to think; they key is what you think about. The easiest way to be distracted in your thinking is to focus on things other than that which will help you achieve your goals. Don’t think about the great assignments, or titles, or anything else that other people have. You may want to achieve the same stature someday, but you won’t get there by thinking about what they have; you get there by focusing on what you have – your goals.

“If you think the grass is greener on the other side then water your lawn.”– John Maxwell

Speaking. Verbal communication is very important in leadership. Don’t let your conversations become a distraction. Choose your words, think before you speak, and speak succinctly. Don’t over explain or under explain. Don’t over talk or under talk. Look for a balance in your speaking.

“The conversation should be about what you say, not how you say it.” – Denis G. McLaughlin

Doing. Make it real, this is where it all comes together. If you lead without distractions you will think about your goals, talk about your goals and execute your goals.

“By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.” – Christopher Columbus

What’s Next Leadership

next chapterLeadership is always looking forward. It doesn’t matter if you are just coming off a big success, or you think things couldn’t be worse. Leaders don’t chase what’s now, they create what’s next.

Completed a project – What’s next? You and your team have just completed a big project, it was thoroughly successful. Is it time to kick back, look back and revel in your success? The answer is yes, for about ten minutes, then you turn your focus to what’s next.

Get your team and yourself ready for what’s next. The next project, next goal, next team. Go where the people are that need leadership. Don’t relax, don’t take it easy.

“Leadership isn’t about your comfort, it’s about your commitment.” – Denis G. McLaughlin

Made a mistake – What’s next?  You and your team just dropped the ball, made a poor choice, or missed the issue entirely. Is it time to drop your shoulders, look down and remember all that went wrong?   The answer is sure, it’s ok to be frustrated, for a bit, and you should analyze the cause of the situation, but defeat only happens when you stop trying. Take stock in the mistake, learn from it and get onto what’s next.

John Maxwell says there only two positions that leaders are ever in: Up and Getting Up.

“Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next. Spend your energies on moving forward toward finding the answer.” – Dennis Waitley

Leadership is not about what is…it’s about what’s next. – Denis G. McLaughlin

Building something to last – focus on the fundamentals

built to lastIn Jim Collins 1994 book Built to Last, he analyzed companies that were successful over the long term.  Not one hit wonders, not those that are remembered for a product, but those that transcended changes in technology, customer needs and wants, and changes in leadership. The basic tenant of building something to last is to focus on the fundamentals.

“In a world of constant change, the fundamentals are more important than ever” – Jim Collins

Listed below are five main themes from Built to Last.  Let’s see how each of those applies to leadership today.

“Make the company itself the ultimate product—be a clock builder, not a time teller”

This is the difference between fulfilling one need one time, or building a company, process, or person that can fulfill many needs many times.   

“Having a great idea or being a charismatic visionary leader is time telling; building a company that can prosper far beyond the tenure of any single leader and through multiple product life cycles is clock building.” – Jim Collins

Here is how you can use this theme in your leadership practices:

Companies – “We don’t have products we sell to customers, we have customers that we sell products to.” – Denis G. McLaughlin

Processes – “We don’t use people to complete projects, we use projects to complete people.” – Denis G. McLaughlin 

People – “Don’t strive to earn a million dollars, instead strive to become a person capable of earning a million dollars.” – Paul Martinelli

“Build your company around a core ideology”

Change is the only thing that will consistently happen.  The economy changes, regulations change, customer needs change, and leadership changes.  To be successful over the long term, you must adapt to these changes.  According to Collins, the only way that this can work is for a company to “be prepared to change everything about itself except its basic beliefs as it moves through corporate life.”

Here are a few examples from the book:

-3M’s dedication to innovation

-P&G’s commitment to product excellence

-Nordstrom’s ideal of heroic customer service

Other leaders have viewed this theme in their leadership practices:

We succeed only as we identify in life, or in war, or in anything else, a single overriding objective, and make all other considerations bend to that one objective.” – Dwight Eisenhower

Success demands singleness of purpose.Vince Lombardi

You have to know where you’re going. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never know if you’ve arrived.” – Denis G. McLaughlin

“Build a cult-like culture”

Having a strong core ideology, or purpose, is foundational. But unless that ideology is lived out it is just words. You have to have a plan for establishing a culture that supports the ideology.  Leaders are responsible for defining the purpose, articulating the purpose, and rewarding achievement of the purpose.

Once you establish your vision, you must clearly articulate it, over and over, to maintain focus.

Theodore Hesburgh said, The very essence of leadership is that you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” 

People will naturally repeat the very things that they are rewarded for achieving. First, set goals that when successful completed, lead to achieving the purpose. Second, reward the employees who participated in the successful goals.  This is more than money.  Rewards come in many forms, all which should be used with regularity, as earned:  Public and private praise, increased responsibility, new challenges, more training,

“The only way to get people to like working hard is to motivate them. Today, people must understand why they’re working hard. Every individual in an organization is motivated by something different.”  – Rick Pitino

 “Homegrow your management”

I view succession planning with equal importance as setting the vision and strategy for the company or team.  I fact everything that I do is about succession planning, including setting the vision and strategy.  Leaders should use every opportunity to teach and grow leaders in the organization. 

One of the things we often miss in succession planning is that it should be gradual and thoughtful, with lots of sharing of information and knowledge and perspective, so that it’s almost a non-event when it happens.” – Anne Mulcahy

If you aren’t teaching someone else how you do what you do, you are letting opportunity pass you by. Your main role as the leader is to prepare a successor while you lead the team. It shouldn’t be something that is part of your long term plan to get to when you are near the end of your season – that’s too late.

“From now on, choosing my successor is the most important decision I’ll make.  It occupies a considerable amount of my thought almost every day.” – Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, nine years before he retired.

Are homegrown managers effective?  Don’t we need new ideas from outside of the organization?  Collins summarizes the success in developing CEO’s in house with some examples from his book:

“Consider that the founders of Ford, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Marriott, Merck, Motorola, Nordstrom, Philip Morris, Procter & Gamble, Sony, Wal-Mart, and Disney remained in the role of chief executive for an average of 37 years each. They were founder-entrepreneur types and manager-builder types. Not only that, their immediate successors—all homegrown insiders—remained in office for 24 years on average. 

“Stimulate progress through experimentation and continuous improvement”

Throughout this article we have stated that companies that were built to last were those that transcended changes in technology, customer needs and wants, and changes in leadership.  To survive change, one must be willing to change.  However, the willingness to change does not bring with it the perfect ability to successfully change.   

The secret to success in a changing environment is to allow for continuous improvement through small experiments that yield small successes in finding ways to take small steps forward. 

“The way to simulate the drive for progress is to create an environment that encourages people to experiment and learn—to try a lot of stuff and keep what works.” – Jim Collins

Companies that are built to last do not rest upon their current state of achievement.  Instead they are always looking forward to the next change, challenge, and championship.

“Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change.” – Tom Peters

Should you be the boss or the leader?

boss adds to load leader lessens the loadYou’re in charge.  You are responsible for delivering the results.  Does it matter if you are called the Boss or the Leader? As long as your team performs and hits the bottom line should you be concerned with such trivial matters?

If you are new to this area of being in charge, you will quickly find that,

How you achieve the results matters as much as if you achieve the results.”  – Denis G. McLaughlin

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Leadership is purpose, plan, people, and priorities

Leadership is purpose, plan, people, and prioritiesWhether you are leading a team of thousands, hundreds, tens, or just yourself:

Purpose, Plan, People and Priorities are essential for success.

Without these four P’s of Leadership you and your team are like a boat without a rudder, drifting on the sea in an unknown direction.

Leadership is about choosing the destination and navigating the ship on the right course.



Before you begin to lead a team you need to clearly understand where you and the team will be when success comes.  Only then can you articulate the greater good to your team members so they understand where they will be when the team is successful.

“There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose” – Napoleon Hill.


Once you are clear on your purpose, you must plan a course to reach that purpose.  Great leadership requires that the leader navigate the team to success.  Sailors understand that the wind and waves can shift in a moment.  Successful sailors know how to adjust their sails and sometimes their direction to make use of any wind conditions to achieve their purpose.

 “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”  – Pablo Picasso


You brought your team where they are today, but you can’t bring them any further on your own.  No matter how clear your purpose is, no matter the strength of your plan, if you want to extend the positive results beyond what you are accomplishing now, you will need to make room for others to share in the success of your leadership journey.  You must surround yourself with the right people.

“Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and the thinkers” – Denis G. McLaughlin


I summarize the first three P’s of leadership like this: Achieve your purpose by executing your plan through your people.

In order to get started finding that solution, boil down the activities to the smallest step you can imagine.  What do I know my team and I can do tomorrow? 

Prioritize – deciding between AND & OR

PrioritizeIt’s a new year. Time to dream big dreams and never settle for easy. What do you want to accomplish this year? Picture next December 31st – What do you want to have accomplished?

Some people have trouble with this exercise. Is it a matter of “This And That?” Is it “This Or That?” So much is running around your head, it’s hard to decide – so you just don’t start.

Here is the secret to achieving big goals:

First, don’t limit your scope and don’t decide what to do yet. Think of big ideas and set big goals. Then take a look and decide what’s first – Prioritize. Out of your list, if you could only accomplish one thing, what would it be? Then out of the remaining list, if you could only accomplish one thing what would that be? Complete this exercise until your list is empty. That is how you prioritize.

There is no reason to sell yourself short on this year’s goals. But step two is to focus on the best ideas. Remember, if everything is a priority, nothing can truly be a priority.

“Sometimes you have to pass on good to focus on great” – Denis G. McLaughlin

Prioritize your goals. A major part of success lies in the ability to put things first. The reason major goals are not achieved is that we spend our time doing second things first.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” — Stephen Covey

Whenever Possible, Follow the Road More Traveled

GPS and MentorI have traveled quite a bit in my adult life.  Some for family vacation and a lot for business.  I have also moved often over my career.  I am telling you this to explain why I rarely get into a car (mine or a rental) without having the GPS on.  I am in so many different cities over the span of a few years, that it just isn’t possible for me to memorize every street and every set of directions I need to navigate to appointments, hotels, or in some cases my new home when I have recently moved.

What I really like about the GPS systems is that I don’t a have to memorize all of the directions – I don’t have to figure it all out on my own.  Someone already mapped out all the possible ways to get from where I am to where I want to go, and programmed them into my GPS.

“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 that this quote came from Thomas Edison. Yes the same Thomas Edison that is the holder of 1,093 United States patents.  It gave me comfort in my use of the GPS when I drive because it explained what I was doing – using someone else’s ideas and adapting them to my current situation.

As an executive leader, I applied the thought of the GPS to leadership. So many times leaders feel they need to blaze their own trail; which is sometimes the right answer, but sometimes not. “Why couldn’t I simply follow the path of successful leaders who traveled before me?” I thought.  Well I did, and it brought me great success.  So much so that I wrote a book titled The Leadership GPS to share what I had learned.

In my book, Michael Tennyson is mentoring his grandson Brian Alden, a new leader.  He says “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.  Eighty percent of most problems have been solved before; the other twenty percent is taking the initiative to accept the solution given to you and implement it.”

If you want to learn more about the many leaders who traveled across history and built successful teams and how you can follow this same path, The Leadership GPS is the answer.


The prodigal employee – it’s all about the right goals.

20130619-170211.jpgMany people mistakenly believe prodigal means lost, wayward, or not achieving up to one’s potential. This notion comes from the Bible story named the Prodigal Son in which a son leaves the family and is welcomed back upon his return. The word prodigal actually means extravagant, extremely generous and overly free in giving away valuables. If you further study the Prodigal Son parable, you will see that it is about a son who asks his living father for his inheritance so he can leave the family and spend lavishly on himself and his friends. He does return, but only when he has spent all of his riches and has nothing to show for it.

How does that lead us to a prodigal employee?
All employees are given resources like money, training, equipment, and sometimes a team of their own to lead. These resources are an investment from their owner intended to fulfill the goals of the company. A prodigal employee therefore is not one that is lost, or wayward, or not living up to their potential. No, like the parable, a prodigal employee is spending the resources that were provided in areas that don’t generate the expected return for the team or the company.

How do you handle the prodigal employee?
If you find that one of your team members is fully using every resource that you have provided but not generating the success that was expected, they are focused on the wrong goals. From the surface it often appears that they ignored the goals that you had for them and pursued other goals that achieved individual success but did not accomplish the purpose of your team.

Before you settle on the easy conclusion that the prodigals only care about themselves, I suggest you follow the advice from Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. In essence he said, “In times of success great leaders look out the window to credit others, and in times of trouble great leaders look in the mirror to evaluate what they could have done better.”

You see, prodigals are very capable of generating success when provided adequate resources. Your job as the leader is to focus your team’s strengths on successfully accomplishing the vision of the team.

Here are four questions to review with a prodigal employee:
Once you review these four questions with the prodigal employee, then it is up to them to turn their focus to the right goals.

1) Does the prodigal employee understand the purpose of the team?

If you have not fully defined the purpose of the team, your team has two choices; operate with no purpose or define their own purpose. Absent a clear purpose, the prodigal employee, who is geared to success, will have chosen their own purpose. You are responsible for defining the purpose of the team so each employee will seek to accomplish the same end.

“You have to know where you’re going. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never know if you’ve arrived.” – Denis G. McLaughlin, The Leadership GPS

2) Does the prodigal employee understand how your vision achieves the purpose?

Even if you have a clearly defined purpose for your team, there are many ways to achieve it. Your vision sets the route your team will take to reach its purpose. If you don’t over communicate how your team will achieve it’s purpose than you aren’t communicating enough. Left undefined, the prodigal employee will define their own vision.

“The very essence of leadership is that you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”
– Theodore Hesburgh, as quoted in The Leadership GPS

3) Does the prodigal employee understand how what they do fits into the vision?

Ok, so you have a clearly defined purpose and vision for your team. There is one more level of understanding you must focus on: taking the vision down to the employee level. The prodigal employee may struggle in seeing the connection between their individual goals and the larger vision and purpose of the team. Remember, the prodigal employee is success driven, without this connection they will instead focus on what they think will help achieve the teams goals.

“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who…offer a solution everybody can understand.”
– Colin Powell, as quoted in The Leadership GPS

4) Does the prodigal employee obtain personal success in accomplishing the success of the team?

Each person is looking for personal satisfaction in their life and in their job, the prodigal employee is no exception. For your vision to be effective you have to set it in motion and it must have an immediate impact on your team members. With each success, they need to feel that their job satisfaction is improving, along with the purpose of the team being accomplished.

“Successfully achieving your team’s purpose comes through a vision that consistently delivers small successes for each team member.” – Denis G. McLaughlin, The Leadership GPS.

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