Ron's Material Leadership Blog

It is my sincerest hope that the stories I share are helpful to others. I have experienced first hand that many people toil in obscurity, searching for answers, ashamed to reach out and ask for help. This blog will contain experiences and wisdom that I have gained over the years that I hope will offer guidance in dealing with some of life's challenges.

Why the name material leadership? If you are curious the answer is on my website.
The link on the side bar.

Lead well


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Just a minute: Tangent!

Last week as the days to Christmas wound down I found myself yet again wondering where the time had gone. In such moments I find myself to be quite reflective of the value I place on the relationships I have throughout the world. Of course I also realize how little I have done to nurture them. So I wrote a letter to each and every person I could think of that was either a longtime friend or a new one that year. I even included a few that had unfortunately fallen out of the friend category.

My hope was that by reaching out to each one I might be able to brighten their day in some small way, encourage them, or simply say hello you matter to me.

As always when I do this I am warmly surprised by the number and heartfelt responses I receive. It is almost as if they too are sensing the season and the need to connect and my note stirs something in them.

Say Thank You Leader

Well in a leadership capacity it is important to nurture the relationships of those around you. This is not a manipulative act but rather a loving act. A leaders connection with their team, with their friends, with their relatives, with their community is certainly critical. I liken this to the question of the chicken versus egg. Which came first? Did the person nurture the relationships and subsequently become a leader or did the leader look to develop relationships with the community. Perhaps the question is moot. What is not though is the importance of ensuring those that trust you to lead understand that you know they matter. So say thank you, with them well wish them a Merry Christmas.

As a small but growing community of people who read this blog, while I do not know you all I do thank you for making my efforts worthwhile. I would sincerely like to know you.

I leave you with the note I sent my friends in hope that you too will find yourself on it next year.

All the best, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year

Lead well



I find myself sitting here reflecting on what has been a particularly interesting and full year. So much has happened in our world and lives this past twelve months. So much that is hard to take stock of all the events, milestones, successes along the way.

What I have learned and treasured most this year is the knowledge that relationships form the glue that holds together a life. In sending a holiday note, I wish to honor these relationships that we share. It is my sincere hope that each will be strengthened, clarified, rekindled enjoyed and or renewed in the coming year.

I am honored to be counted amongst your friends. I am excited for what the future may bring our way. I look forward to continuing to build a solid relationship that will stand the test of time.

I wish you all the best this holiday season, may you find rest and renewal, peace and joy, friendship and love

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Hang Tight Everyone

Hey everyone

Workin It

A quick note to say that I am working it. It has been a while since I had to coordinate interviews with busy people. This is taking a while. I am certain my persistence will pay off in some valuable insights to share with you. I have four interviews in the works currently. Two with very talented bloggers, another with a professor and the fourth with a well known author. Each of these individuals I respect greatly and am hopeful to start posting the interviews within the week.

I can envision a number of others beyond this but lets stay in the moment.

I am as constant as the northern star...

Did you see Star trek IV? This is my favorite quote from that movie. I suppose Shakespeare and Julius Cesar should also get credit for it. I love the metaphor. Every time I think of the importance of consistency in purpose, I think of this quote. Luckily I do not consider the ill fated gentlemen who uttered it . The quote gets a bad egotistical wrap. Regardless, constancy of purpose is critical to a leader.

Constancy of Purpose

As I dig in and work toward realizing these important interviews, I am reminded of some wisdom around this concept of constancy of purpose.

What's todays Vision?

I once followed a leader in a volunteer capacity who had a new vision every couple of weeks. This used to drive me nuts. Just pick one I often exclaimed in frustration. The people who want to follow you need to know where you want to go. They don't want a new constantly changing vision.

If you think about communication and how remarkably difficult leadership communication is in the first place, you will see the impossibility of this position. They have not even understood the last vision and now you are painting a new one. MAKE UP YOUR MIND! Decide upon a clear direction and immerse yourself in it.

Communicate Communicate Communicate!

Once a leader has a relatively clear sense of purpose, of vision, of process they should communicate it. They should communicate it often, repetitively and in many forms, with pictures, in stories, in metaphors, in simple understandable language. Just when you are getting sick and tired of saying it, they will start hearing and understanding.

Scope Creep

No, not weirdo in need of mouth wash, the inevitable growth of a purpose as peripheral good intentions are added onto the purpose until it is unrecognizable. A leader must stay true to their leadership purpose and learn to respectfully and empathetically say no to those things outside the scope of their purpose.

The Never Ending Story...

All good things must come to an end. Unfortunately many things just die a horrible death of neglect and guilt. The next time you lead a group to achieve a purpose, when you have achieved your desired end, celebrate the achievement and at the same time the funeral of the team that achieved it. Dignified endings are in! It is the only way out of the never ending story...

Well thats it! I am back to investing in the process, you to your own leadership purpose.

See you soon with a great interview...

Lead well


Monday, December 3, 2007

Published in NPR

Hey everyone!

A few weeks back I submitted a version of a previous post to National Public Radio for there series of essays called This I believe. The post was a leadership lesson on respecting differences and seeing the possibility in people rather than the stereotype and first impression. I am happy to share that my essay was accepted to be a part of their collection. Very cool some of my words published!

If you want to check the post out or some of the other works there check the link below out.

NPR's This I believe

Lead well


Monday, November 26, 2007

Finding Purpose in Life

Over the next few weeks I a going to bring to you the stories of some people who have had a significant impact on me as a person and a leader. In each case their story was compelling and what stood out was a clear sense of purpose. I hope you like them. I hope you will join me in a discussion about them.

If there is a specific question that you think I should ask an interviewee let me know and I will try to include it. Although you would never know it from this blog, I love interviewing people. I have found that most people are pretty open about sharing of themselves when you want to listen. I have also found that just about everyone has a compelling story to share.

I hope you get as much value from this as I do. Later this week the first of these leadership interviews will be posted.

Lead well


Friday, November 23, 2007

Finding your Leadership Purpose

Have you ever thought about why you are here on this earth?

What is it that you were destined to do?

Do you even consider that you have a destiny and a purpose?

I think it would be incredibly difficult to be a leader without a clear sense of purpose. In my case I have found that for the majority of my life I had a diffuse sense of purpose. It has been kind of like someone who needs corrective lenses, while not wearing their glasses. You can see things but they are fuzzy and indistinct. You want to rub your eyes and clear things up, but it does not work.

My corrective lenses as it turns out were prescribed in the late 90’s. In my case it was my Christian faith coming to life. My purpose has been honed and clarified in the past 10 years and I can now say clearly:

To make a difference in the life’s of those I meet through my faith in our Lord Jesus Christ

I live this purpose in this blog and my other two, in my professional life as a general manager and in my volunteer activities. I joyfully serve the poor, lead in the men’s ministry and consult as a leadership coach at my church. So that’s me. What about you? What is your purpose?

Have you considered how you might find out what it is?

There are many paths to discovery of the answer of what your purpose is.

Here is what I recommend…


First get in touch with your personal values. These will allow you a clearer sense of what matters to you and hence where your focus would be best placed. There is a remarkably deep well of energy and motivation available to any leader who aligns their actions with a purpose congruent with their values. I am regularly astounded at how much I am willing to sacrifice for a cause I am committed to. I believe that this is true for everyone. We are made for a purpose; the challenge is finding it.

I wrote about values several posts ago. I recommend you go back and review that post for a more in depth approach to this aspect of finding your purpose.

Your values, your sense of self, integrity and adversity


The most complicated aspect of finding your purpose is to be aware of those things that you are passionate about. Like most I struggle to be fully present in the moment. Awareness of your emotional state is not always easy but is definitely powerful. As I discussed in the post on emotional intelligence a while back, awareness of your emotions is the first step to managing them. The other important aspect of emotional awareness is the opportunity to discover the events, issues, topics that you are passionate about. Those things we are passionate about offer us clues as to what our purpose is. You can learn more about emotional awareness and emotional intelligence by clicking here

Purpose Exercise

  • As you go through the next 30 days pay attention to those things that cause emotional spikes then right them down.
  • After compiling at least five events engage in the following process for each event.
    Ask why the first event caused an emotional reaction. Write your response.
    Ask why the explanation of your emotional reaction was the case. Write your
    Ask why at least twice more until you reach a point where you cannot reasonably ask
    why again. Write your response again.
  • Capture the key theme of this event on the left side of the page in block letters.
  • Repeat the process for all other events.
  • Compare the key themes and look for trends. Circle the most obvious key themes.
  • Ask yourself where these key themes are played out in your life?
  • Look for a volunteer activity in an organization engaged in addressing this type of theme.


Early in my career I met a guy who was amazingly talented. He was a hobby plumber, electrician, and carpenter. He was president of the lodge he attended. Yet at work he moved heavy steel plate from one location to another. He had an important job, but one that used almost none of his talent. He asked one day to take computer software courses. His manager refused telling him the courses were unnecessary for his role. This angered me.

Why was I angry?

His manager failed to see that this guy wanted to learn.

Why would this bother me?

I knew this man to be far more capable than his current position required. By refusing him the opportunity to learn, his manager was de-motivating a talented individual.

Why did it matter that the individual was being de-motivated

This man had more potential than the manager in question could ever realize. Her ignorance angered me because the organization would suffer and not benefiting from this individuals unrealized potential.

Why did this bother me?

This story bothered me because the manager and the organization for that matter, were demonstrating poor leadership, wasting talent, and under performing.

I am about developing leaders. Even fifteen years ago the deliberate waste of human capital angered me. I need to develop leaders, this is central to my purpose.

From this exercise the theme of leadership, high performance, employee development, and continuous learning can all be identified. From this and other similar experiences I arrived at my own life purpose.

Your Turn

If you enter into this exercise you may find multiple passions. Some may burn brightly while others are a slow simmer, perhaps others still on defrost in the microwave. The point here is to become aware of them and then ask the right questions about them to discover your purpose(s). Take the time and discover your purpose.

When you have identified a key theme that may be your purpose take action. Find a way to learn about the theme and discover if it ignites your internal passion

If you want to learn more about this or other leadership development topics, visit my leadership coaching blog Developing Leaders or contact me at

Lead well


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving Leader

Today is a day for reflection and thanksgiving. I wish all my readers a peaceful day filled with family and friends. May your celebrations be all that you desire. May you find many reasons to be thankful. I hope you take the opportunity to thank those who have been a blessing in your life.

This is my 10th American thanksgiving celebration after over 30 of them in Canada. It is a fascinating thing to consider the differences between the two. Today however I can only focus on the common theme of gratitude and thanks.

To all my family, friends, and acquaintances I thank you for the influence you have had in my life. To my work team I thank you for your hard work and the opportunity to serve you. May we have many successful days together. To my school chums, sports team mates over the years I hope to enjoy your company again in the future.

Happy thanksgiving


Monday, November 12, 2007

To those who lead (Read)

I am so humbled. The internet is a fascinating thing. In the past six months I have learned much about how to create and maintain Blogs. Only a couple of years ago I did not even know what this term meant.

For four months now I have been sharing stories and lessons that I have learned into an electronic void. All the while I wondered would anyone read this stuff? How would they find it? Would it be valuable to them?

With all these questions I forged ahead knowing that what I had to offer was hard fought for. Someone would value it. Someone would find value in it.

Leadership is a calling. It is a calling that must be shared with others, for it is at its core about relationship. So I share and share and share.

Again I say I am humbled. Why because in the four months of writing, this blog is now read by many people from all over the world. On average it is read 2-3 times a day. Many return regularly and read for up to ten minutes. I do not write in this blog in sound bites (the language of the day) as you know; I write in stories. I always earnestly attempt to speak the language of leadership.

So those of you who read this I would like to ask you to,
say hello,
share your story.

I want to meet you

I want to know who is reading this blog. Leadership is after all a relationship

“To those who lead, with diligence”


Monday, November 5, 2007

A New set of Links: Blogs I like

Hey everyone

Over the past 6 months as I have entered the Blogging world, I have been exposed to a number of excellent blogs. Some are written by friends others by new acquaintances who I want to introduce to you.

Management by God

By Dan King

This is a great Blog that explores management and leadership from a wholly biblical perspective. It is very well written and has the added benefit of getting a solid Bible study in as you read. I have always been a fan of the "two fur". The world would be far better off by learning from this blog. I highly recommend this blog.

Results Through Integrity

By Doug Ross

Doug and I met through Linked In and have been friends since. He has a unique way of crafting stories that make learnings come easily. He and I share many core values not the least of which are faith and integrity. Integrity as the name suggests is the central topic of his blog. The world would do well to learn from this one also.

Develop a Leader

By Myself ;-)

So I write it. I have pretty high standards; I wont write it and publish it if I don't think it is good.
This blog is targeted at those who have not yet begun to be coached into leading. The younger generations. It has more of an edge than this blog. I really wanted to cut the crap and deal with the reality of leadership development without coddling people.

Lead Quietly

By Don Fredricksen

I just found this one and like it a lot. I am a big fan and student of servant leadership. This blog speaks to that and actually mentions Robert Greenleaf. For those who do not know Mr. Greenleaf is credited as one of the early modern writers of this leadership genre. Don covers a lot of important ground in his blog and I find it complimentary to my own thoughts on leadership and leadership development. Check it out!

The Engaging Brand

By Anna Farmery

Anna has a great podcast by the same name. I really love the podcast as I find her to be a highly skilled interviewer. She asks the type of questions I want to know the answers to. The people she interviews are very interesting to me. Her blog and her facebook group, are similarly intriguing. I have to confess though it was her blog and the facebook group that made me mention her blog on this list. I just like her approach to community.

So that is it. The list is top left in the sidebar.

Happy reading and

lead well


Thursday, November 1, 2007



A while back I mentioned that I was planning to transition the focus of this blog from the internal nature of a leader toward the purpose of a leader. In other words moving from self leadership to other leadership. As we make this transition I am compelled to comment on why I spent so long on self leadership.

Frankly the main reason is I have seen leadership lived out poorly in others as well as myself. We must learn to lead ourselves well before we ever consider leading others. To do otherwise sets you up for failure. In some cases very public failure.

My early leadership experiences were BAD. Yes bad with a capital B. I want to share two of them with you as a testament to what can happen to those willing to do the work to learn to lead.

When I was starting my senior year in college, I attempted to take on a significant leadership role…

Super Plumber!!!

This story was instrumental as a case of BAD leadership for me. Our engineering school had a special welcome for incoming frosh into the program. This is the stuff that makes college reminiscing worthwhile. We did pub crawls (literally after the fifth pub some were crawling) we did parades, we sang terrible songs, we introduced the frosh to our uniquely brash and arrogant culture. During this week were led by a fictitious character we named super plumber. I have no idea where the name came from it was one of those things, a legend that emerged from graduating classes of decades gone by. Super plumber was always a senior who best personified the engineering spirit. He was voted upon by all the other seniors who led frosh week. It was a great and prestigious role that allowed the senior to play the ham, have a lot of fun, and drink a lot of free beer.

So at our organizing meeting I made my pitch. I donned a cape and acted mysterious. Sharing stories of greatness of our school, our program. I explained how I had helped organize the raid on a rival engineering school, made the lives of all the campus arts students very uncomfortable during homecoming, how I had organize the bathtub races, how I had led activities in our icy January beach party the year before (Brrrr I still get the chills to my bones when I think of that icy lake). As I walked through my accomplishments I was heckled by a few fellow seniors but overall I thought it went well. When it came to the vote I lost handily to a friend. I was devastated. Did I mention I hate losing? I have not forgotten that bitter taste of loss. I tried to soldier on and be a good loser but that is not my style. I hate losing. I did not handle it well, I sulked and became somewhat detached.

You Don’t Even Want to Work Here

Unfortunately this same engineering culture led to another early leadership failure. When I left college I went to work in the steel industry. My first job was in a training program where you worked in various departments seeking a place where you would ultimately fit and stay. In my first placement I worked in one of the toughest parts of the steel industry, the blast furnaces. It was a place where men dealt with life and death every day and it showed on their faces. They had seen much and did not suffer fools, or young engineers, well. Just like the name of the area suggests this was a place that could make or break you. In many ways it broke me. I tried my best to fit in but it was a struggle. I loved the guys working on the furnaces, but the staff, I could not figure them out. I did not fit in at all; I just could not get over my engineer attitude and connect with the other salaried folks. In my exit interview I was told that “you don’t even want to work here”. I was dumbfounded; I had said nothing of the sort. Sure, I was struggling with the shift pattern, with the work, with the salaried folks, but I had never said anything to anyone about not wanting to be there.

Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions

For the longest time I struggled with this placement. A negative performance review and a feeling of rejection, again. What an opportunity! I sulked and whined for some time; in fact my attitude adversely impacted my performance at my next placement. They did not want me either. Only thing was that I was slowly starting to process what was going on and accept the feedback I was given as my own. I learned that I came across as cocky and aloof. I appeared as a know it all, insensitive to others. I was in it for myself and did not care about the bodies I left in my wake. None of it was true to me, I cared deeply about those around me! I may have had no life experience in showing it, but I cared! This feedback cut deeply, it hurt. I resolved to change. I took it upon myself to befriend people who could tech me about the area I was weak. Ironically in 1989 I was laser focused on improving my emotional intelligence; of course Daniel Goleman and others had not yet coined that phrase. I connected with admin assistants and female colleagues, those I reasoned had this interpersonal stuff figured out. It was a slow process but I grew. Since I had sooooo far to go even growing quickly it took time to get decent at this.

I Quit

By the time I left that organization twelve years later, I had made life long friends, been a part of awesome high performance teams, had a respected list of accomplishments that the teams I was apart of had won. Most importantly I had learned the basics of being a leader and finding purpose in leading. It was ironic that the reason I resigned was because of an interpersonal challenge that had become untenable. It was not performance, it was not the lure of more money, it was a poor manager who cared only about himself and how he was perceived by the organization. Irony irony…

I sit here 19 year later reflecting on emotional intelligence and purpose. My most recent opportunity offered in the largest sense because of my ability to connect with people, to have a clear sense of purpose and align a team to achieve it. Irony irony…

What is leadership development about?

Hard painful self assessing, self breaking work. It is anguish and uncertainty, suffering and second guessing, it is discomfort. Leadership development; is it worth it?

You bet your life it is.

For me there is no greater calling, no more fulfilling activity than to lead well. It warms my heart to see others grow and flourish in an environment of healthy leadership. I smile inwardly like a proud father when one of my team steps into the breach and leads. The thought that I had an influence on their life and leadership is a great altruistic treasure.

This is not for the feint of heart, it is for the courageous. It is for those willing to seek their purpose, their leadership mantle.

Lead well


Monday, October 29, 2007

Leadership Development Training

Last week I traveled to San Diego CA to attend a leadership development training conference hosted by the Center for Creative Leadership and listen to a talk by Jim Kouzes. He and Barry Posner are the authors of the book The Leadership Challenge. This book as you know is in my top five leadership books and will not soon be dislodged because it is the most comprehensive leadership development book available. All the others in my top five appeal to me for numerous reasons, but none are as complete as this book. I am sure you can appreciate how excited I was to meet one of the people who have significantly influenced my leadership style. Not to mention the chance to have my book signed now by both authors!

The chance to hear Jim speak was fantastic. It got even better though since one of my grad school Profs was also there and she and Jim are friends. I had an opportunity to talk with him after the presentation on leadership development. Very cool to interact with some one with this degree of influence on the practice of leadership development. During his presentation Jim waged in on the age old leadership development debate of born versus made. Clearly this was a home town audience; a crowd full of leadership development zealots. I have never heard it put as well as he did this afternoon. His argument made me chuckle at the thought of updating the argument on this topic on this blog.

Leadership development is hard work. It demands sacrifice. It demands that the leader have the best interests of the institution as their priority rather than their own. However, when someone claims that leadership is a born condition or genetic endowment, this implies that working at it is relatively pointless since you either have it or you don’t. By extension those who believe that leadership is solely a born condition must be inherently lazy. After all there is no value in developing it so why bother…

So is leadership made or are you Lazy!?

What a deliciously provocative question!

Lead well


Friday, October 26, 2007

Don’t just go where the coffee is warm

Don’t just go where the coffee is warm

For several years now I have interacted with a gentleman that I just could not figure out. When he makes sales calls he takes on the role of technical support, sales, marketing you name it he can do it. He is ruthlessly consistent. He stops by to say hello every visit. If I am not there he leaves his business card on my seat. (He knows I cannot help but see it there). He always has a friendly smile and an engaging demeanor. And he is exceptionally good at what he does.

I cannot help but like this guy even though I have yet to figure him out.

The other day he was congratulating me on a recent promotion and shared with me in a solemn voice, "don’t just go where the coffee is warm." As he explained what he meant I realized that this guy was giving me a present that was as timeless as it was invaluable. Do not fall into the pattern of dealing with only those people who like and accept you. Continue to reach out to those who you know do not like you. Don’t give up on them.

What a valuable life lesson and so in keeping with the importance of building effective relationships in leadership.

Do not stop reaching out to others, they matter

Don’t just go where the coffee is warm

Where is the coffee cold in your leadership world?

Lead well


Monday, October 15, 2007


So fresh in a new position I find myself reflecting on transitions and what brings them about. With that here is one topic in this area


Have you ever noticed that the amount of energy and focus you have for a specific activity or role changes? I am not talking about the daily variations that seem to follow our moods, fitness levels, or attitude. I am talking about a long term trend. You may start out in a role excited fresh energetic and after several months perhaps a few years you slowly lose your passion.

This is definitely my pattern. There are two reasons why this happens for me.


Most people want to know they are following a solid leader. Whenever I get to a point where I know that the leadership capacity of the leaders ahead of me is waning or has peaked, I struggle. I want to follow a dynamic leader that will challenge me to be my best. I want them to capture my imagination and my heart for the enterprise. If they can do this I will lose myself in the effort of organizational goals. If they cannot I will find my own leadership vision and live it out until I have completed the vision or until I stop…


For me learning is almost on par with eating. Not the rank of breathing but definitely close to eating. I can go without that for days. I once fasted for four days so I know I can do it. Same with learning. I need to learn, to figure things out and improve them. When I reach the point of diminishing returns, that is when the investment in learning does not outweigh the benefit, I start to disengage. My cycle lasts 3-4 years at most and seems to be shortening.

So how about you? Do you follow this pattern? Are you capable of sustaining your performance in a role for an elongated period of time? If yes I would love to hear from you. I confess I don’t get you if you do. I respect you but do not understand. If you are open to it and this is you email me or leave a comment. I would love to learn from you :-)

Lead well


Saturday, October 6, 2007

Relating to Others

As a leader we must have the ability to relate to any number of people. This weekend I had a unique experience that I would like to share with you. I met a biker.

Larry was a biker. Not your forty something midlife yuppy trying to redefine his manhood on a Harley. No Larry was a biker. He carried a carved bone handled knife in a leather sheath. He wore road cured chaps over well worn levis and a broken-in leather jacket that clearly was the cure for serious bouts of road rash. A black bandana covered thinning hair; sunglasses protecting eyes that have seen more of life than many ever will. A hand rolled a cigarette dangled from his lips. No filters, no conforming to the ways of civilized man here. A guy that cussed as easily as he breathed. Rough and tough a guy who has seen things you don't ask about.

He should have scared us. He should have had us quaking in our shoes. Two middle aged guys meeting on a Saturday morning to discuss the bible; two men who admittedly have seen little of the violence and tragedy of this world. But there was no fear, we were firmly rooted in our faith and open to what may happen.

My friend and I talked to Larry for over half an hour. Two disparate worlds met this morning on a patio. We learned much from Larry. Most of all we learned that he was just a man who like any other was interested in connecting, in discussing life over a cup of coffee.

We learned about his occupation, his hopes, his frustrations, his leisure pursuits. We asked him questions we answered his. We shared openly and offered him friendship. We withheld judgment and met him as another man interested in sipping coffee on a wonderful Saturday morning in the California fall.

The real lesson here relates to respect, dignity and seeing others as worthwhile human beings we just might learn something from. What opportunity might we have missed had we been closed off to Larry fearing what he represented?

As a leader this same lesson holds true. We need to respect others and realize that they can teach us a lesson we may not see coming at first. If we remain open to their perspective, open to their influence we will gain the opportunity to also influence them

Lead well


Thursday, September 27, 2007

A funny thing happened on the way to the office...

Earlier this week I had the most stunning thing happen. I got promoted...


I have not talked about my current role in this blog and frankly I will not. Out of respect for my current employer I prefer to discuss the principles of leadership rather than the details of a specific role. In fact all of the examples I talk about deal with either my personal life, volunteer leadership roles or events that occurred well in the past. Stories I have found are powerful teaching tools and I love them. Ethics and integrity trump tools every time. So this post is unique. Today I share a detail of my current professional life. However I will not say what my previous role was or my new current role is. I will say it is a humbling responsibility that impacts the lives of numerous families. The weight of this responsibility is only now starting to hit me.


For the past year I have poured myself into others working on their development sharing all that I know in strategic increments to those who were open to growing. I stepped into the gap within my work site and provided leadership where it was obvious it was needed. I facilitated meetings. I influenced decision making to achieve what I believed to be right outcomes.

All these things I did without consideration of consequence beyond the potential consequence of inaction or not leading. I was not seeking to be promoted although admittedly I was getting a bit bored with my current role.

I was stunned Monday when I was offered a leadership position I did not know was available. Nor did I think I was a possible candidate. Its funny you know when I think about all the talk I have shared about self awareness. How dopey do I look now. Good thing I believe strongly in learning from my mistakes ;-)

So now I play at a higher level, higher stakes higher consequences. I am proud to say that my core values of faith and integrity came running to the front and center of my mind as I considered this new role. As a Christian I recognize the awesome responsibility of effective servant leadership. This is the platform no towel from which I will serve my team, lift them up, teach them to achieve higher levels of performance. My integrity demands straight forward honesty and candor, no monkey business no manipulation.

This is going to be a taxing and fun journey. I am sure I will learn many new lessons. I am sure I will find a way to keep teaching others how to lead well


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Leading from a Different Chair

In the past few weeks I have began to think that there are a few questions about leadership that should be addressed, prior to moving on to the purpose of a leader. We have spent a lot of time talking about what a leader knows about them self, what a leader thinks, and how they act. So before we go to purpose lets talk about these questions.

1. Do you have to be in charge to lead?

So, you have probably heard the old cliche that you don’t need authority to lead. No matter what position you hold in an organization, a leader can function in a leadership capacity regardless.

What do you think?

Do you believe this? Can a person in a clerical position for instance be a leader? Do they instead have to strive for the CEO job in order to make a difference?

See the need, collaborate on a plan, mobilize a team, see the future happen

No. You do not have to be the "#1" to lead. In fact if you think about it philosophically you always are following someone anyway. So in a sense the question is moot. Leaders lead from where they are now. They identify something that needs to be done, something that needs to change and they mobilize a group to make the change to better future. This could be something as simple as changing the type of coffee supplied in an office facility or something as complicated as creating am independent ministry to serve the poor in a community. See the need, collaborate on a plan, mobilize a team see the future happen

The “Grant” of Leadership

So if you can lead from “another” chair, what does that look like? Leadership is an activity that can be practiced by anyone. It is a sad state of affairs that so few people choose to. Obviously the degree to which you can exercise leadership changes with your position in the organization. An important point to make here is that leadership does not always have a clear power component. That is, often power is bestowed on the leader by the followers. This is not the case with management where power is a requisite part of the role.

Given this, we need to ask ourselves under what conditions will others grant us, either consciously or unconsciously the right to lead them. Remember there is no moment where they stop and grandly say “Sir will you lead us”. No it is subtle. Followers look to those who are a leader to answer tough questions, provide guidance under stress, to create a comfortable atmosphere.

What are the attributes that followers instinctively look for in a leader? Well that would be another post now wouldn’t it ;-)

Lead well

Ron H

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Do you have a web presence?

One of the fascinating aspects of Blogging is the concept of creating a web presence and correspondingly how to increase readership. Unlike the topic of this blog, leadership development, increasing readership is a relatively foreign subject to me. It is kind of like learning a foreign language. For instance, here in Southern California I have been attempting to learn to speak Spanish. I can speak like a two year old; a few words here and their, wrong tense, wrong emphasis, limited word choice. I love to try and am learning and am excited as I pick up more and more. All the while it is frustrating to not know how to communicate.

How do you increase your web presence? How do you get the word out about a blog that seeks to teach leadership lessons? How do you measure success?

There are many strategies I am aware of. Some of these are social websites, letters and comments to other bloggers, the old favorite friends and family. I am sure there are many other ways and I will continue to explore what they are.

Measuring progress is relatively straight forward. Google. Google analytics allows a blogger to track statistics on visits to a site. You don’t know who visited but you know what they viewed, what city they came from and how they found your site. Fascinating stuff.

I think the ultimate measure is the Google search engine. If you type your name in where is the first reference to you? Unfortunately for me there is a famous hockey player and rock drummer both named Ron Hurst. I am on page three of the google search. Not high enough. I am happy though that if you type in Ron Hurst Leadership, I am the first eight hits on the first page of results! Progress!

Why am I sharing this? Because I found a neat post on leadership, integrity and self awareness that I wanted to comment about. When I first read it I wanted to post a comment on this blog saying I DISAGREE! Then I realized as I wrote my comments that I actually agreed with the author. So Instead of trying to pick a “conversation” I will share my thoughts on this topic here. I have also linked to the post should you want to read the original.

The topic of the blog post I found related to the interconnectedness of integrity, self awareness and leadership capacity. Here is the comment I wrote in response…

I am intrigued by your argument that in a leadership context an unresolved internal conflict will lead to indecision, inconsistency etc. That can certainly be true as decisiveness is a critical leadership attribute. Certainly value conflicts provide a more risky stage where leadership can be potentially destroyed. Value conflicts must be resolved as you state.

You present a logical and sensible progression from value conflict to ineffective leadership. Does this progression though not imply that a leader will be unable to recognize the importance of their decision making ability and its role in the effectiveness of their leadership ability? Leaders regularly make decisions on less than complete information and must defend the logic of their choice. As a leader matures the ability to explain their decisions becomes an important skill in their communication and persuasion arsenal. A “leader” who makes a decision half heartedly and is relatively ambivalent about them is not much of a leader at all. Perhaps it is also the case that a person with unresolved value conflicts will not rise to leadership in the first place…but then that is your argument isn’t it J

The post in question was particularly well written by a consultant from England named Andy Smith. I encourage you to go have a read.

Lead well


Are you Linked In? and Quoted on another Blog

Hey everyone

Have you heard of Linked In?

This is one of my favorite web sites where Web 2.0 comes alive for me. Last January I set a goal to overcome a condition that affects far too many professionals the "not networked beyond your company doors" condition. The goal was to develop a deep and broad professional network where I not only stayed in contact with past colleagues but that I would meet new professionals and build new relationships.

In March a colleague introduced me to linked in and I have since nurtured relationships across the United States and the world. I have added over 140 professionals from four continents to my network in the past six months. It is truly a fascinating process, one I highly recommend to all professionals who cannot get beyond a couple dozen contacts beyond the company front door.

Below is a short endorsement I would like to share related to questions asked on Linked In that I responded to.

In the first I was recently given the honor of being quoted. Susan Bernstein, a life and career coach, found my answer to her question on Linked In compelling enough to be included on her blog. She wrote a wonderful article on the concept of self motivation. What inspires you? Sounds like a question I would ask ;-)

Check out her blog and practice at her blog site work from within

Lead well


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Enhancing Emotional Intelligence

Recently on Linked In, a question was asked regarding emotional intelligence and how to enhance it. I was taken by this question as I am a student of this concept and have spent considerable time in my career learning (often the hard way) how to improve my emotional intelligence abilities. This also is one of a number of critical aspects of effective leadership. In my research of emerging leadership attributes I found that decisiveness, integrity, emotional intelligence and communication skill. We discussed integrity a few times already (756 Homeruns and Adversity and Integrity) . In future posts we will talk about communication (one form of which is this blog) as well as decisiveness. In the meantime emotional intelligence...

There are a few things that I recommend to enhance emotional intelligence when coaching others. My focus is primarily on improving self management and awareness of interactions with others.

On interacting with others

1. I recommend that you find someone who can provide trusted candid feedback. There is no better way to gain an understanding of how you interact with others than to get a trusted external perspective.

2. I recommend that you pay attention to body language. Take an introductory course in Neuro Linguistic Programming, or read a book on the subject so you can be more aware of others reactions and their potential meaning. Then, with those you have a good working relationship with, when you see an unfamiliar physical reaction stop. Consider what you have just said. Did you say something that could have been misinterpreted, something insensitive, something callous? If so apologize. I am sorry that did not come out right what I meant was...

3. Ask people you know to be more emotionally intelligent for feedback and help in understanding others reactions.

4. Lead a volunteer group and pay attention to how group members react to your behaviors. They best part of volunteers is they can vote with their feet. They are not paid to be there or to follow you. You have to learn how to lead in a way that meets their needs of a leader or they will leave. This is a great arena to hone your skills.

Self Management

The most important aspect of self management is to be aware of your own behaviors in the moment. Pay attention to your own emotions; learn to recognize the signs of an approaching emotional state and what triggers it. For instance when I am about to get angry I can feel my head getting warmer as the blood rushes to my brain. When I sense this coming I look for the trigger and then force myself to breathe. Breathing gives me a moment to think and gain control of myself before an unwanted reflexive reaction can take over

The other practice I recommend is to play back your interactions with others paying attention to how you behaved and how you felt. Again the intent here is to understand your normal reaction patterns and see the signs of their approach. I then ask what could I have done differently in that situation that would have achieved a different better outcome.

Lead well

Ron H

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Leadership in an Airport

This past week I traveled to Canada to take care of family business. As I considered might happen there was not enough time to do all that needed to, including posting on this blog. Traveling is a fascinating activity and as I did so I considered; How can the concept of leadership be integrated into this time?

Is there an opportunity to lead in the presence of a large group of strangers?

I suppose there is always an opportunity to lead despite the context. Have you ever spent time in an airport though? As you sit and watch the people roll past you can see many states of being.

I love to people watch; despite a strong type A personality and an overwhelming urge to work as a hobby, to work in my quiet time. Heck if I could find a better way, I would probably work in my sleep. So far all I have gotten out of this time is to give my subconscious mind some things to think about. You can imagine that while I wait patiently in an airport for a connecting flight, I am looking for something to do. This is where I engage in the activity of people watching. I believe to be an effective leader you need a healthy ability to read emotional states in others. So while watching has no feedback mechanism to check assumptions, it is a really fun way to learn. One time I will start interviewing the crowd to see how close I am in my assessments. Here are the people I would check in with.

The Lost

There are those who are searching. I do not mean spiritually, they are lost, looking for the next gate, like a Mennonite navigating Times Square. You can tell who is out of their element. It might be fun to try an experiment and just come alongside a lost person and offer to help them find their way. I can see a number of responses. The spectrum ranges from a stiff but polite get away from me to a relieved YES I really need help.


I have lived here myself. Business travelers who frequent airports know how to get through the crowd with minimal delay. They find the short cuts, the fast lanes, the speed amenities. As they briskly walk through, they pay scant attention to their environment other than to ensure of their path. Approaching one of this group requires some skill. Finding a commonality would be best, even then you are likely to get a polite smile or a quizzical glance as they breeze past.

The Frazzled Mom

It’s bad enough that little Billy cried through most of the last flight, but now he is trying to climb onto the furniture in the departure lounge (this actually happened on the trip home!). The flight is delayed and the last nerve departed on Flight 306 a half hour ago for all of the other travelers. You have seen them, with a Herculean effort they try to keep the kids in line, keep them out of trouble but it is not working. Talking to a mom in this state would be akin to discussing the flora and fauna with a mother bear while her cubs were behind you. Not a good idea.

Grandpa Joe

His first flight since World War II, Grandpa is moving not much faster than a glacier. I really think slow moving vehicle triangles should be standard issue for the elderly in airports. No one wants to bump into them or cause them to stumble. No one wants to disrespect their elders, they are just almost in the way of this little short cut I need right NOW. Oops sorry sir! It would be fascinating to talk to this person, oh the stories he could tell, the life lived, yes as long as my layover was at least 2 more hours this is a person I would talk to. What would their impressions be? They are a horse drawn buggy in the middle lane of an interstate, cars blurring past at a dizzying pace.

The Newlyweds

Their focus so enthralled on each other that there is literally no one else in the airport. Naw, lets leave them alone. The honeymoon is just starting, no need to interrupt it.


This group is always fun to watch. They have this look of invincibility, they belong here they are treated better, this is their turf. Do you think they realize that they are like a high tech version of a Grey Coach bus driver? They will be helpful and polite as long as they have the time.

Panic Attack

Their first flight was delayed 35 minutes and they only had 40 to catch their connection (this too happened on the flight home!). They could have pulled it off if their connection had not been in the next county. You will see this group either in a slow boil in a customer service line or playing the role of a charging Rhino headed to their next gate. You might even hear them say “I can still make it!” You can’t catch them and you wouldn’t want to if you could. Remember the sign on the back of the fire trucks in New York. “Keep back 200 feet” You would be well served to keep this in mind.


Yes these are generalizations; each person is a unique creation and acts as such. I believe though that under stress a person becomes more of who they already are. Our base personalities are not that different. Leadership under stressful conditions is one of the most challenging of life’s endeavors. It requires decisive action, visible confidence, and strong nerves. To lead in such a context can seriously tax relationships.

Relationships are the core of effective leadership. Not at a corporate level perhaps but certainly when we consider the leaders first line of contact. There is an intimacy here with effective leaders. In the airport, unless you bring your family or your leadership team, leadership is an elusive concept. Unless there is an emergency where your skill as a leader is needed (in a fictional Bruce Willis Die Hard sort of way) I argue you are better off just learning about human nature. Sit back, ensure your seatbelt is fastened and enjoy your late crowded flight.

Lead well


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hello Everyone!

Hey thanks for reading my blog. This is a really important outlet for me to be able to share many thoughts and passions I have related to leadership and leadership development. Over the past three months I have spent time on what is on the inside of a leader. What is their character, their behaviors. I firmly believe we must lead ourselves with competence before we can ever do so for others.

I intend to transition toward the concept of purpose in the near future and spend time reflecting on the role of a leader in organizations and society. I am still relatively new at this blogging thing so you will see the site slowly evolve as I learn about all the tools the big guys have.

One thing I am interested in is living one of the fundamental premises of leadership; leadership is a relationship. If you have comments I want to hear them, questions I would like to attempt to answer them. For now feel free to post a comment. As I get better at this thing I hope to have a discussion forum but right nor that is beyond my web skills.

If you have a question you would like to discuss in a less public forum, please email me at I promise to get back to you as quickly as I can.

I am off to Canada to see about helping my mother get well (See Have you ever wanted to roar). I hope to post while away so hopefully there will be no delays, but we shall see.

All my best to you

Lead well



What are you afraid of?

Everyone is afraid of something aren’t they?

I once listened to a motivational speaker who addressed the issue of fear. He said that most of what we are afraid of will never happen, so why be afraid? Great logical argument, I even agreed with him. Only thing is how many of our fears stem from a rational logical understanding of our environment? They are fears for the simple reason that they are not always rational and originate in our emotions.

I HATE snakes!

In 1998 I was doing some yard work at my home in Michigan. I was going to get the hose and water the garden when I looked down and saw a snake curled into a coil staring back at me. I must have jumped three feet in the air and backward at the same time. I hate snakes! Yes I am afraid of them. This one was about 5 feet long and looked pretty menacing. It could have been a rattlesnake, a boa constrictor... okay, okay it was probably a gartner snake! Who knew though, it scared me all the same.

So what did I do? I knew the only person in my family to handle this was me. My wife, if she knew about the snake, would have pierced my eardrum with her scream and my 8 year old son might have wanted to make the ugly thing into a pet so I was on my own.

So what did I do?

I had the upper hand on this reptile. I knew he was cold blooded. He might have known I was afraid but there was little he could do with that knowledge, especially when I came back armed with my garden hose and my top secret weapon. I had my hockey stick. Remind me to tell you about the many uses of the hockey stick. There are easily over a hundred. Use number 101 flinging sleepy soggy scary garner snakes back into the swamp from whence they came. First of course cool down the snake with cold water so he can’t move fast anymore. Problem solved.

What are you afraid of?

Are you afraid of failing? Boy do I have the book for you!

Are you afraid of projects?

Are you afraid of letting someone down?

Are you afraid of losing a family member a friend?

There are many reasons a person could find themselves afraid. I have found that in a leadership capacity it is helpful first to understand your fears. Lean into them and understand why you have them.

I HATE dealing with money!

Four months ago I took a class in finance. For those of you who do not know me I really don’t like money. I can’t seem to make enough of it each month to keep it from draining out of the bank account before the back account runs out of month. Taking finance was like confronting a dreaded enemy.

At the start of the term, I had the most amusing self talk going on in my head. I can’t do this. I am going to fail. What will people think? Won’t you look silly, stupid even? This was followed shortly thereafter by this doesn’t look so bad I bet I can do this. I just have to dig in and learn hard! This was followed by: Crap! Look at all the work I have to do! How will I keep up? I’m gonna fail for sure. There’s no way I can learn all this new stuff and still get all this work done. I’m a gonner!

Well, at about this point I started to listen in on my self talk and chuckle. Listen to all this fear and doubt. Where did that come from? Maybe I can do this may be I cannot, but I will not allow the single grade of this course to define whether I am a success or a failure. Let’s get to work.

Want to know how I did? "A", enough said.

What Defines You?

The lesson here for me was having the presence of mind to recognize what was going on inside my head. I had to see the old negative script playing and turn off the projector. I long ago decided who I was and what I was about. I am not my grades, I am my character. I am the gifts and talents that have been bestowed upon me. I am an encouraging father, a loving husband, a dependable friend, a trustworthy coach, an honorable son, a successful manager and a growing Christian. I am not my fears.

I had to identify where my hope was, where my strengths lied, commit to a life of learning, growing and forgiveness. I also had to recognize that most of my fears would never come to pass; they were irrational extensions of a nervous reality that I chose to momentarily indulge.

Who are you?

Lead well


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Special report: LEAD: from where you are

The 2007 Leadership Summit (click the link)

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the 12th annual Leadership Summit hosted by Willow Creek Church in Illinois. I attended via a satellite site in Alta Loma CA. This is my third summit and as always I came away a better leader for attending. In 2005 when I first attended I was taken by the thought that over 25,000 Christian leaders were getting together worshiping and learning how to lead better. My previous post “Are you a leader?” was birthed at the 05 summit when Pastor Hybels asked that haunting question, “What wrecks you?”

The 06 summit was good but I was not fully engaged, I was distracted the entire summit by work concerns. The speakers were awesome the interviews great. Bono from U2 (my favorite band) made a guest appearance and challenged the church to pick up its game on famine in Africa. Over 50,000 leaders took part in that summit.

This year nearly 100,000 Christian leaders from all over the globe took part in the summit. Going into this event I resolved to be present and undistracted. I wanted to ensure I extracted every ounce of value from this excellent line up of speakers. Marcus Buckingham was stunning. His humor was understated and hilarious his content meaningful. Jimmy Carter was poignant and reflective of his career and leadership record. He enjoyed laughing at the way in which people try to honor him for what he did after the presidency. He of course thought he did a good job as president. Carly Fiorina was elegant and candid, and she oozed integrity. I would really like to work for her if she takes on another corporate role.

I found myself in many other talks focusing in on delivery and presentation style. Bill Hybels second talk on inspirational leadership hit the mark throughout. A couple of others left me irritated and quietly wishing the next break would arrive a little bit earlier. Pastor Hybels first talk on vision casting also hit the mark for me. He described in detail the steps he uses to build consensus and broad based support. This was a wonderful follow up to his 05 talk on what wrecks you.

I love these summits because they cross two of my most important values faith and learning (not to mention leadership development). There just are not enough events like this one where you can praise your creator, pray for direction and learn how to engage your followers all in the same day.

Take Aways

Pastor Hybels talk on inspiration left me feeling tingly. He challenged us that if we did not know what our leadership Kingdom purpose was, we should clear our calendars and spend significant time in prayer seeking the Lord’s will and our calling. I had been doing this for the past several weeks so the advice resonated with me. In the coming weeks I had planned to transition the content of my Material Leadership blog from leadership values toward leadership purpose. Don’t you love it when “coincidences” happen?

There were many moments during the conference when something I had written in this blog or a topic I had recently prayed about was stressed by a presenter. It was as if where I had been the past few months was being played back for me, almost an affirmation of the journey. Keep it up you are on the right track.

Ya I love it when God is in the details working his plan showing the way.

Lead well


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Going, Going, Gone! 756 Homeruns!

How can I resist the opportunity to talk about leadership and 756 homeruns?

Barry Bonds….

Steroids yes or no?

Does it matter?

Regardless of your opinion on this debate these questions matter. They matter for the theme underlying the questions as much as the questions themselves.

What is really being asked is Can we trust Barry? Did he achieve this record with integrity?

That is the underlying theme, integrity. It is not my intent to take a position on how Barry achieved the homerun record. I don’t believe it is any of my affair. I am a hockey fan anyway. Talk about beating Gretzky’s scoring records then I might get interested. What I want to address is the importance of integrity in the life of a leader. I mentioned in “Are you a leader” that integrity is one of the foundational bedrock qualities of a leader. It is upon this rock that trust, respect and even faith are forged. Undermine your integrity and you will find it an uphill battle to just return to the height you fell from.


One of the most elegant aspects of integrity is the concept of transparency. I once tried an experiment at a social event during my masters program. Instead of wearing one name tag, I wore two. The first was on my chest reading “Ron” The other was in the exact same spot on my back reading “NOR”. People would ask what on earth are you doing? I would respond “I am working on being transparent. What you see is what you get.” I am a little peculiar like that. For me there is always room for a lesson. In a room full of aspiring leadership experts, I sought to teach a simple lesson, be transparent.

What does this really mean? For me transparency is the congruence of thought and action, of intent and behavior. When I say I will do something, I do it or explain why I cannot and apologize. When I have something to say I say it with respectful intent and dignity in the delivery. When someone is not present I chose not to speak about them. When I am tempted to stretch the truth, I stop take a breath and say no, and tell the truth. I have always loved the fact that telling the truth greatly uncomplicates life. You simply don’t have to remember everything you say since it won’t change anyway.


Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. Shakespeare

I think Shakespeare’s Macbeth was dead wrong on this point and a bit too morbid. A leader is always on stage and their actions are very important. Those who forget or chose not to acknowledge this simple truth can undermine their own credibility. Leadership is a responsibility not an entitlement and must be honored as such. In January 2006 I attended a University of San Diego leadership course taught in the Tavistock tradition. This thing was bizarre. The faculty talked but did not interact. The 200 students interacted with each other but only partially with the faculty. Faculty would interject comments about the process how we were not doing the work of the event. This course made brainwashing sound like a welcome escape. The deeper we went in the weekend long event, the more my brain felt like Gumby on a blistering hot day. I am being melted and stretched in ways a brain just does not want to be stretched.

In the end what astounded me was not the weirdness factor but rather the students. How sobering was it when a faculty member interjected an emotion charged accusation complete with a choice expletive and the whole crowd, the herd per Nietzsche, immediately degraded their vocabulary to a learned cussing match. I could not believe my eyes and ears! Had 200 graduate students and professionals been led to cuss because of one comment? Amazing! They had. Throughout the rest of the course I took charge to change the context of every space I was a part of. I gathered a group who instinctively had an affinity toward me and we led sections of the course. Our outcomes were amazing and incredibly insightful, we changed the context because we chose to be present in the moment and own our influence on the larger group.

A leader’s presence is bigger than he realizes. This is our opportunity, this is our challenge. Leadership is born in the space of our influence. Every interaction, every moment is precious to a leader. Use them well.


People need to know how much you care before they care how much you know.

Someone very close to me once shared a frustration they were dealing with. They had recently gotten into a community group that was somewhat disorganized. This person made numerous attempts to offer their assessment and their help solve the problem. At first as this story unfolded I first considered maybe the group was so disorganized that they could not see that they had a problem and looked at the advice as unnecessary criticism. Then I realized, this person was new to the group and had not yet proven their commitment to the effort or demonstrated any value. So efforts to help were politely and at times not so politely rebuffed. The challenge, this person was not an equal member in the enterprise, they were an outsider.

Until we physically demonstrate that we care about others and care about the cause people will not chose to follow us. We must through our words and deeds clearly demonstrate our values and our commitment to the shared purpose.

In the end integrity for me is very closely allied with authenticity.

How authentic was Barry in his quest to break the homerun record?

How authentic are you in your leadership role?

Lead well


Monday, August 6, 2007

“Ogres are like Onions”

By now you have probably noted that I love to use metaphors from movies to illustrate important lessons of leadership. Well not to disappoint here is another “animated” lesson.

One of my favorite animated movies is Shrek. I love the music video at the end, the wonderful humorous exchanges between Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers and one powerfully metaphoric scene.

Donkey has been harassing Shrek for some time at the start of their noble quest to slay the dragon and rescue Princess Fiona from the fiery keep. In one conversation Shrek is trying to explain to Donkey what it is like to be an Ogre. “Like an onion, Ogres have layers”

Shrek: Ogres are like onions.

Donkey: They stink?

Shrek: Yes...NO!

Donkey: They make you cry.

Shrek: NO! LAYERS! Onions have layers. OGRES have layers. Onions have layers... you get it. We both have layers.

Donkey: Oh, you both have layers. You know, not everybody likes onions.


These layers are a not so subtle metaphor to the way we live our lives.

Leader Know Thyself

Warren Bennis in his seminal book On Becoming a Leader states that a leader must first know himself. To do this requires that we look in the mirror and see what is truly there. This is not what we see initially, we see what we choose to. We see our self perception, our story of who we are. The story is a mixture of our experiences, prejudices, fears, joys, loves, all the stories of our youth. Inevitably this self perception is a layer of our own personal onion. To know ourselves we must peel this back and see what lies within. As we get to the core we will find the layers more and more tender, more and more vulnerable. You see the outer layers are built up toughened to protect us from the pain and disappointment that comes our way. They are like a skin of leather, the back of a crocodile. We must protect ourselves.

Personal Mastery

I am not here to say peel it all away and expose yourself to the trauma of life. Frankly that would be stupid. Much of the protections we use are there for a valid reason. Rather, I argue that spending time exploring who you are at the most intimate of levels is a life changing process. It allows you to see yourself for who you truly are. It helps you to reveal the shadow beliefs that you harbor, the ones that cause you to react in ways that seem unpredictable and surprising at the time. Kevin Cashman’s book Leadership from the Inside Out describes the process of achieving personal mastery. It contains a wonderful set of tools that can guide a would be leader through this process of self discovery.

What resides in the subconscious mind has a profound effect on our conscious behaviors. Trouble is we do not see it or know it. Cashman challenges his reader to attain a state of meditation that will allow you to connect more directly to your subconscious mind. When I did this I found the revelation profound. I was able to see the link between many of my less preferred behaviors and who I was at my core. Armed with this knowledge I was able to begin to accept who I was and look at each behavior objectively for the first time. I chose to change some, accept others and reinforce yet others. Simply, this process made me whole, more authentic.

WIFM Everyone’s favorite radio station, what’s in it for me?!

Why is this so important? It is more than the derailing behaviors that make this journey a necessity. It is the fact that our leadership angst comes from deep within us. To attempt to lead without understanding why you want to lacks integrity and authenticity. There is nothing more powerful than a leader who has faced the fear and pain that resides within and can be at peace with who they are. In fact they can use their own story to engage followers in a noble quest. I am convinced that we all want authenticity in others, especially our leaders. I often think that our cultures fascination with the fall of the debutantes is more about finding out who they are authentically than gawking at their misdeeds. Although voyeurism is alive and well it is a vice that does not honor our noble nature.

This is why this journey is so important; our followers need to know that they are following someone they can trust someone they can identify with someone they can emulate. They deserve to know who they are following.

Lead well…


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Have You Ever Wanted to... Roar?

Have you ever wanted to roar?!

A couple of weeks ago I posted an article called Are you a Leader? This was a deeply personal post as the practice of leadership development resonates at the core of who I am. I believe this to be my calling. I find no greater joy in life than giving of my gifts to others. This article and the one following it, Sacrifice, were written shortly after I discovered my mother has been diagnosed with cancer. This is round two for my mom. She beat it the first time, this time round the stakes are much higher.

This is a troubling time in my life. My parents raised me to be fiercely independent and self reliant. They taught me to have a tireless work ethic and uncompromising integrity. Ironically all these behaviors, now well set, led me (and two of my sisters) to live thousands of miles from home in successful professional roles. In a time of great need this wonderful matriarch now finds her children scattered around the globe. When she needs them most, her children are not there.

My last two posts were driven by the internal conflict I face as my core values fight for rank order. How can my values of teaching and integrity (the foundation of my own desire to lead) measure up against my values of family and faith. I wrestle with these daily. What price am I willing to pay to lead? How much is too much? How can I live a leader’s life and care for my parents in their time of need?

I don’t know the answer here. I just recognize the conflict. I believe that faith and family will win the day but how and when. I have put in God’s hands.

After writing these two posts I have prayed much and talked to many wise friends. In these conversations a clear theme came forth. It is characterized by a question. Have you ever wanted to roar? I do not yet understand why it came forth with such peculiar timing just that it did. I believe it will connect to the story I am living but I as of yet do not understand how.

Have you ever wanted to roar?

Did you see the Movie The Lion King? Do you remember Simba climbing Pride rock after defeating Scar? What a poignant moment as Simba lets out a kingly roar. It is immediately answered by the roar of his pride, his loyal subjects. He again lets out a roar. Simba has come of age. The boy who struggled to roar early in life when he needed it most has now matured.

Do you remember Braveheart? After the battle of Sterling Bridge standing victorious, exhausted and blood stained, William Wallace lets out a tremendous scream of victory. His scream is met with a roar of screams from his men. Again he screams out in victory. The Scottish rebellion has now come of age.

Have you ever wanted to roar?

I believe there is a lion deep within every would be leader. I believe that each of us is called to a noble purpose and if we chose the brave path, one day the opportunity to roar will be upon us. Perhaps in the moment it will be instinctual, perhaps natural, perhaps forced. Regardless, one day a leader will have the chance to roar. I suppose this is where the story connects to the struggle I face. I know that I am here for a purpose, I do not believe I have yet found it. So each day I prepare, make choices that keep me distant from my family, leading the life of a learning leader. Honing my craft, improving my capacity, living my life in preparation. This for me is leadership development up close and personal. It is a commitment to a promise. A promise that one day I too will roar for a great cause.

Thanks for listening.

Lead well


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Self Serving or Self Sacrificing?


This is a word that most of us know, but how many embrace its true meaning in a leadership context. Throughout my life I have witnessed many people who aspire to leadership positions. Doesn't it seem though when they achieve the role sought after for so long, they take on an attitude of "I've arrived"? I have certainly seen this more than I care to elaborate on.

On the simplest level they have arrived, they have achieved their goal. Is this enough? Does the pursuit of a goal justify relaxing, coasting when achieved. Imagine if this was the way it worked with marriage. We go through the courtship, pursuing our love's every need, desire, hope. We listen intently to their heart make promises of a life time of love. Then after the wedding the husband promptly sits in an arm chair, turns on the football game and announces "alright that's over now, back to the game”. Hopefully this does not hit too close to home...

In many respects leading others and living in a marriage relationship are very similar. At the core of both is the concept of sacrifice. In the nature of relationships how can effectiveness be achieved if both parties are most concerned with their own agenda? Such a relationship would be transactional at best and certainly short lived. No, an authentic relationship involves elevating the needs of the other person to a place higher than your own. This is the meaning of the act of sacrifice. defines it this way.

The surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.

Can a man subordinate his own needs to those of his wife? In the case of leadership can the individual surrender their needs for the sake of a greater purpose? Often the needs are complimentary. This is the case in business where the individual is compensated for their efforts of achieving organizational objectives. Those who chose not to sacrifice cannot understand the joy that comes from a deep marriage bond or the sense of purpose of achieving a significant objective. They simply have "no skin in the game".

So what of the leader? A true leader recognizes that their position is a trust bond with the follower. They have a duty, a responsibility to provide guidance and direction to their team. They are counted upon, they are emulated. They cannot separate their position from their followers. It is their example that reinforces the behaviors of the team. If they chose to act with a sense of entitlement "I have arrived, they work for me" then the risk disenfranchising their followers creating an unengaged workforce. If on the other hand they embrace the concept of sacrifice, throwing away any sense of entitlement, they can engage their followers in pursuing the goals of the organization.

How do we get there from here?

If you are in a leadership position and say; "what you are talking about makes sense but how do I develop a sense of sacrifice, responsibility for my team?"

Develop deep relationships

There are no easy answers to this and I am sure some would argue you either have it or you don't. I believe that we can cultivate a sense of responsibility and sacrifice for our followers. You are not likely to make your own needs secondary to those of a total stranger. You will though for a close friend or loved one wouldn't you? Part of the solution lies in a leader’s ability to develop deep meaningful relationships. If you love someone (I am talking brotherly love here) you are far more willing to sacrifice for them.

Take responsibility for things sometimes when they are NOT your fault

Another aspect of developing the ability to sacrifice is the management of one's ego. There is a part in all of us that screams; Me! Me! Me! This part of us holds us back from authentically loving others. Several years ago I developed an exercise to begin to overcome this powerful tendency. I challenge those that I am coaching to find small events where they can take responsibility for a mistake or problem that is not completely theirs. What do I mean? There are always circumstances in life where something happens and it is unclear of who is truly responsible. The root cause is ambiguous and unclear. Perhaps several people are responsible collectively; maybe it is a situation where there is a miscommunication. So pick one of these events (one that has very little potential consequence) and take responsibility for it. Your ego will revolt. The experience will help you see what it means to lead others where you are responsible for their actions. This exercise will prepare you for the responsibility of leadership. Of course if you know you are responsible for something, own it! You cannot lead if you do not have the courage to own your actions and their consequences.

Give away credit to your team freely often and authentically

When your team achieves a goal or objective, be quick to highlight your team’s roles in it. Push them into the spotlight rather than yourself. On the flip side, when things go wrong own the consequences yourself. Protect your team from unfair or harsh scrutiny. This will enhance their level of trust in you. Before you write me off as an idealist lets recognize that there are consequences when you take responsibility for others. I make it clear to my teams that I will back them up (translation take the heat for them) as long as they can provide me a clear and reasonable explanation of their decision making process.

Share your leadership mantle with the leaders on your team and develop them

Finally, the highest level of leadership is when a leader begins to replicate and develop leaders around him. Putting your team in the spot light allows them to begin to understand the joy that is leading others in a noble purpose. Sharing leadership responsibility with them demonstrates your trust in their abilities. Giving them a share of your power helps them to see they too can lead others and creates a legacy of effective authentic leadership. Do not share your mantle in a Pollyanna way. Chose wisely who you will trust to represent your team. Trust team members in small things so they can demonstrate their competence and character before you trust them in large things.

Lets not forget we can neither live a marriage nor lead a team from an armchair. They are for Monday morning quarterbacks…

Lead well


My Favorites

Thoughts on a Recent Read

The Dip by Seth Godin

This was the first of Mr. Godin’s books I have read and I must say it will not be the last. I enjoyed this book and found its message wise and on point for our age. The premise of the book is that there is a time to quit a role, project, effort and a time to stay. When we have the opportunity to be the very best and are willing to pay the price, it is time to stay. When it is clear that staying will result in mediocrity or worse yet (Mr. Godin’s term for a dead end) a cul-de-sac, it is time to move on to something where we can be our best. The dip is the place in between. The place where we face opposition, adversity and discouragement. It is here that many wrongly chose to give up when greatness is not that far away for the brave souls who persevere.

Complexity: Low

Length: Short

Compelling: Very much

Worthwhile: Definitely