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, 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…


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