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


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


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Two New Leadership Books

This past week I finished two books. Engaged Leadership by Clint Swindall and Holy Discontent by Bill Hybels
Engaged Leadership
I met Clint three years ago when he gave a motivational teaching at my companies off site management retreat. Clint is a fabulous speaker very engaging, infectious humor, a down to earth approachable guy who has got it together. He has an ability to convey wisdom that few I have seen can. I was really looking forward to reading his book. Engaged leadership is a wonderful read. Clint took a dual approach providing a leadership fable at the start and a more logical step wise model at the end. In both cases he was able to convey a powerful yet elegantly simple model of leadership. Based on the Q12 model of the Gallop organization Clint conveyed a number of excellent elements how managers can create a team that will outperform their disengaged uninspired counterparts. I found this to be an excellent hands on compliment to the Gallop model. I wonder when the field guide will come out.

Complexity: Low

Length: Medium

Compelling: Very much

Worthwhile: Definitely

Holy Discontent

If you look at the bottom of my Blog you will find a link to the Willow Creek Church leadership development conference. For the past three years this conference has become my most important leadership development activities of the year. If you read "Are you a leader" you will know that Pastor Hybels was a significant inspiration for the content of that post. I earnestly hope to some day meet this world changing giant of a Christian leader. When I heard Holy Discontent was published I was excited. I knew when I heard him give that lecture in 05 "What Comes Before Vision" that he was connected to the deepest angst of leaders everywhere. This book did not disappoint. Since I have read most of his books and was able to hear the original lecture, there was little new in this book for me. But then "it's not about me" to quote another world famous pastor, Rick Warren. Anyone who has not yet found "it", their calling, their passion to lead, their righteous indignation, their "I can't takes no more" attitude needs to read this book. It comes with my highest rating for leadership development.

Complexity: Low

Length: Medium

Compelling: Very much

Worthwhile: Definitely, especially if you are still searching for your rightful place

Monday, July 9, 2007

Are you a leader?

How do you know if you are a leader?

Turn around, if there is someone following, you might be a leader. What a cliché answer. It just does not work for me. As a student of leadership theory and practice I have struggled with this question for many years. In fact I refuse to publicly call myself a leader. Why? I believe leadership is something you do, not talk and boast about. It is something you earnestly strive to become better at day by day. It is a noble pursuit that when done correctly is almost invisible. There is an elegance and beauty in influencing others and helping position them to shine. For me leadership is at its best when you lose track of who will get credit, when you stop caring whether the spotlight will fall on you.

Three years ago I set out to understand the formative stages of leadership development. I asked myself: who becomes a leader? How can we identify them? After all if we could skip the sheep dip and get busy developing those with true potential our efforts at leadership development would be greatly magnified. For an entire year I immersed myself in answering this question. I would like to say that I have a simple six step process for identifying leaders. I do not. I would like to share with you that there is an easy way. There is not.

I learned that leadership is a relationship. It is a trust bond between leader and follower, it is a profound responsibility. Leadership is founded in a number of universal characteristics which are necessary but insufficient in of themselves. It is enhanced by unique combinations of other personal attributes. There are as many combinations of attributes as there are leaders to exhibit them. In other words there is no one recipe for leadership success. There is a seemingly infinite number of combinations that come together at moments in time to create this mystical thing; a leader.

The bedrock, those universal characteristics that underlie most leaders, I found to be integrity, emotional intelligence, confidence and decisiveness. What made each leader studied effective was what made them unique. In some cases charisma, in others attitude, in yet others teaching ability. No two were alike. Yet through all the formal research, all the process and rigor, there was something calling out to me that I struggled to identify. It took weeks to get my head around what I was being told. It was as if everyone I talked to was filling in the parts of the puzzle that surrounded the core of the model. Those gray amorphous regions that tell you what you did not find. Doggedly I filled in the spaces, painted the whole picture. What did I find? I discovered the last universal characteristic that leaders share…passion.

Passion is the fuel that feeds the leaders resilience. You may knock him down but the journey he is on is so important that he cannot help but get back up and find another way past each obstacle. Passion is the fuel that overcomes tiredness at the end of a long hard day. It is the fuel that sustains hope through the darkest of days. Passion. This is the leader’s greatest ally.

I think Pastor Bill Hybels reduced this characteristic to it’s essence in a recent Leadership Summit speech (see link below). He said passion is what comes before a leader’s vision. How does one find their passion? He asked a simple three word question that absolutely haunts me. What wrecks you?

What wrecks YOU?

What is it that tears you apart inside causes you to cry out for justice, for healing, for education? What Holy discontent burns inside of you?

What wrecks you?

For me it is suffering, loneliness, emptiness, and ignorance. When I see these things in the eyes of others I cannot help myself but to get involved.

What wrecks YOU?

Take a step back though. Ever tried to boil the ocean? Not an easy task is it? We need to focus our efforts like a magnifying glass on a hot summer day. Bring it to laser focus on an issue to allow us to be a part of the resolution. But we cannot take on everything; we must find our own way. It is here that a leader’s skill comes into play. In the same way that each leader has a unique set of attributes, so to do they have a unique set of gifts. The challenge becomes how you can leverage your gifts to affect positive change on those things that wreck you that also fit your gifting.

It is for this reason that the gift of leadership is so crucial to our age. Whenever any one of us suppresses their gift to lead we all suffer. Together we must lean into our passions and learn what wrecks us so that together we can emerge in a new world where leaders step into the breech and make the difference that our world craves.

What wrecks you?

What are you going to do about it today?

Ron H

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Welcome to California... Now go home.

“Welcome to California…Now go home!” read the worn bumper sticker on the bumper of an old dusty pickup. It was one of our first days in California. Fresh off the plane and eager to start our new life in southern California, my family and I were filled with anticipation. Even a sentiment like this, while memorable, could not tarnish our excitement.

It was seven years ago, my family and I had just made a huge leap of faith. I resigned from the only company I had ever worked for to take a new position at a company in southern California. I cannot begin to describe the fear that was generated from this destiny altering decision. There were so many questions to be answered that I wanted to give up. But that is not my way.

Never quit…without a good reason anyway

Early in my career, before I had ever spent the time to understand myself and my personal values, a friend had made a comment that resonated deeply within me. He said he never wanted to live in regret. I still remember that fateful day in late August 1993. I was at an offsite “team meeting” on the southern shores of Lake Ontario. It was a beautiful day with a light breeze, low humidity and slightly hazy. The air so perfect a temperature you could not feel it, if not for the breeze. With the best grilled Italian sausage ever in one hand and a Labatt 50 (one of the best kept secrets of Canadian beer) in the other, I forged my own version of my friend’s sentiment. I never want to finish the statement “If only I had…”. In the intervening years I added to this. Those things that frighten me I need to lean into rather than shy away from. In our fears lies growth and opportunity. I am not talking about dumb risks or life endangering activities. I am referring to those moments where your gut says I don’t know about this, may be this is not such a good idea.

Lean into the fear and see what may come.

So we jumped…and landed in southern California. I never imagined living here. Even after seven years every time I see freeway signs to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco even Barstow for petes sake I still get a sense of wonder. I actually live here. This small town boy from Oshawa, blue collar city, (the place where everyone who goes to University knows they need to leave but no one ever leaves) is living in the greater LA area? Wow… I get to go to Pico Ravine, walk along Santa Monica Pier, drive all those famous freeways in “CHiPs”, see the Kings, Ducks, Angels play at their home stadiums and act like I belong there…Wow! I can drive into mountains and visit the snow, drive into the desert and get hot, drive to the beach and be at peace with nature…Wow! I can ride a mountain bike in my extended back yard up the side of a mountain, that shakes from time to time,…and pray and worship the Lord in all these things. Wow. The child in me and he loves all this.

See the world through the eyes of a child…it will never look so bleak again

All of the wonder aside, the growth I have experienced has been immense. I have continued to discover who I am and how I relate to others from their perspective. I have learned about resilience and self efficacy. Large words that reflect your ability to get back up after being knocked down and having the confidence in your own abilities to succeed and prevail. I suppose I would have learned similar or perhaps other valuable lessons had I not taken this leap of faith. What lessons have come are treasured to me and have fueled my desire for further growth and life experience.

For now it is enough to reflect fondly on the fact that we lived our values, overcame our fears and grew as people more confident in our abilities. There was so much more to this wonderful journey, but that is another post...

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