I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble. (Helen Keller)

What a profound statement. While it’s great to dream about where we want to be and what we want to accomplish, how are we living everyday life? How are we handling the simple (and not so simple) day-to-day tasks? That can tell a lot about our character; our integrity.

Our values are important, because our behavior follows. Our values and beliefs comprise our critical core. If we don’t handle the mundane, little things in a competent manner, how are we supposed to handle the grander, more visible issues?

My youngest daughter wrote this verse for me in calligraphy when she was just ten. It still hangs in my office: Jeremiah 12:5- If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?

Take pride in what you do; be fair and honest; do things well. This reflects the proverbial “walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.” You can’t present yourself as a competent leader if those closest to you view you as a bag of hot air that won’t follow through on the simplest of tasks.

A life lived with integrity, even if it lacks the trappings of fame and fortune, is a shining star in whose light others may follow in the years to come (Denis Waitley). Do all things well – even the simplest task – and you will never have regrets, you will leave a generational legacy, and you will be great and noble.

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Hearing versus Learning

“Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” So says author and educator, John Holt.

This is so very true. We may convey a given message clearly and with great enthusiasm. That message may even be well received and applauded. But will it be enough to motivate your audience to learn; to make significant and lasting changes in their lives?

Think about your own experiences with speakers, educators, books. How many times have you been “fired up” by what you’ve heard or read? Now, let’s be honest; how many times have you been inspired to apply what you’ve learned? What about the people in a group where you are considered to be the leader? How motivated are they to apply your words of wisdom?

If you are a leader, you must certainly make every effort to educate yourself and to make meaningful improvements. And you should be willing to share this knowledge with others in your group. But you cannot control what your people will do with this education. Their “learning” is the product of their activity, and no matter how hard you try you cannot force them to “produce” (in a voluntary organization such as network marketing, anyways).

If you are not seeing leaders develop within your organization, you need to take a good hard look at yourself. But you also need to assess the activity level of your people and determine who is saying with actions, not words, “I’m your next leader.”

Ultimately, growth in an organization is still the leader’s responsibility. If your group is not growing and you’ve done some honest self-assessment (see especially my April 23 blog you need to make a change. Either you need to change your class material, or you need to find new students.

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The Hidden Enemy

What’s holding you back from success? From making that phone call? From seeking that promotion or pay raise? Walt Kelly, the comic strip artist for Pogo, once quipped “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Yep, it’s probably that little voice inside your head that says “I can’t do it” or “What if I fail?” I’ve heard that voice too! But let’s think about this for a moment. What is the worst that can happen if we try and then “fail?” Maybe we’ll feel foolish; maybe others will tease us a bit. But so what? Don’t take yourself so seriously! Dust yourself off, see if there’s anything you can learn from the experience, and try again when the next opportunity presents itself.

Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard observed, “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” Instead of asking yourself, “What if I fail?” perhaps you should be asking yourself, “What if I succeed?”

Don’t become your own worst enemy. Don’t “lose yourself” or your opportunity. Conquer your self-doubt, formulate a rational plan of action, and…execute it! Perhaps Dale Carnegie summarizes it best:

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear…go out and get busy.”

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Leadership Mentality

Good leadership results in good followers who produce good results. The most important influence you have on people is the example you set. Leadership is really an exercise in “example-ship.” Here are a few guidelines to cultivate and maintain a leadership mentality:

• Cure Your Destination Disease – Some think that if you accomplish a goal, you no longer have to grow. “As long as you’re green, you are growing. As soon as you’re ripe, you start to rot” (Ray Kroc). Similarly,

• Overcome Your Successes – Success often hinders one from being teachable, but good leaders know that what got them “there” does not keep them “there.” If what you did yesterday still looks big to you, you haven’t done much today!

• Swear Off Shortcuts –Nancy Dornan says, “The longest distance between two points is a shortcut.” Figure out what it really takes to get the job done and determine to pay the price. If you are going to keep on learning, it will cost you something. Pay it; the dividends are worth it!

• Never Pay Twice for the Same Mistake – “He who makes no mistakes, makes no progress” (Teddy Roosevelt). But, the leader who keeps making the same mistakes also makes no progress!

Just because we try, does not mean it will always work out the way we had planned. We should always examine the experience and outcomes, and see if we can figure out where to make changes in our efforts that will produce the results desired. As we make sincere efforts to try real hard, we will win some battles and lose others. Therefore, if we try real hard to do the right things for the right reasons and it does not go as expected, we should still retain hope and have a reason to press on and try again.

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It’s Time to Act!

“Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions” (Harold S. Geneen).

Application, or doing, is the essence of leadership. All the character and knowledge in the world aren’t going to make you a leader until you actually do something with these skills. Leaders act. They bring together everything they are, everything they believe, and everything they know how to do, in order to provide purpose, direction, motivation, and results. Developing the right values, attributes, and skills is only the preparation to lead; leadership does not begin until you act!

Actions for leaders fall into three main categories:

Influencing – the power to affect others, measurable only by its effects. Your actions say more about what kind of leader you are than anything else. It’s not good enough to talk the talk; you have to walk the walk. Influencing actions include: communicating, decision making, and motivating.

Operating – acting to achieve the immediate objective; working to get the job done. These actions include: planning and preparing, executing, and assessing results. Sometimes these are part of a cycle, but sometimes they happen simultaneously. Often you must handle multiple tasks requiring different skills, all at the same time.

Improving – enhancing in value or quality; making better. The actions of improving include: developing, building, and learning. These apply to your entire organization as well as to yourself. Leaders never stop learning!

Stay tuned for some final thoughts on this series about leadership.

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Fueling Leadership

Let’s examine the second property a leader needs to possess: knowledge. If character (being) is the engine that drives everything then knowledge, or skill, is the gas that fuels the engine. A leader must have a certain level of knowledge to be competent. Competence links character (knowing the right thing to do) and leadership (doing or influencing your people to do the right thing). Leaders are responsible for being personally competent, but even that isn’t enough. As a leader, you are responsible for your subordinates’ competence as well.

There are four categories of competence-containing skills a leader must know:

Interpersonal skills – how to deal with people (communicating, transmitting information so it is clearly understood, etc).

Conceptual Skills – how to think and reason using: critical reasoning (solving problems by looking at them from several points of view); creative thinking (thinking outside of the box); and reflective thinking (assessing results).

Technical Skills – skill or ability with objects; knowing about things and what they do.

Tactical Skills – employing available means (capabilities, techniques, etc) to accomplish various tasks.

The degree to which you, as a leader, use your knowledge to do any strategic thinking, planning, and executing, sets you apart from other people. Most people are looking for short-term results (gratification). Strategic knowledge allows you to do long-range planning and continually reap rewards, not just today but also in the future. Don’t just set short-term objectives, set long-term objectives and then assess how you are doing against them.

We’ve got the engine (character) and the fuel (knowledge); now let’s start our engine and get going (application)!


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Be, Know, Do

Leaders require the interaction of three properties – character, knowledge, and application. This can be summarized as be, know, and do.

Character: leadership begins with what a leader must be. What are the values and attributes that shape the leader’s character?

Knowledge: a leader’s skills are those things he or she already knows. It includes the leader’s competence in everything from technical skills to people skills.

Application: Character and knowledge, while absolutely necessary, are not enough. One cannot be a leader until you apply what you know; until you act and do what you must.

Let’s examine these attributes further, one at a time.

Character in this case is defined as moral constitution or moral strength. It is made up of two interacting parts: values and attributes. The root meaning of value is to be strong, to be worth something. When applied to personal values, it refers to the principles, goals, and standards held or accepted by an individual. Therefore, being a good leader starts with being good, which means having good character reflected by good values which produce good works. Attributes are people’s fundamental qualities and characteristics. We are born with some, and others can be learned or modified. There are many attributes a good leader should possess including honesty, initiative, good judgment, self-control, and so on.

Character, or being, is fundamentally required. It is the engine that drives everything. Leadership begins at the top with the character of the leader, with your character. My next blogs will discuss the other two properties: knowledge and application.

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The Leader’s Vision

“Leadership is not magnetic personality – that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’ – that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” (Peter F. Drucker)

A vision gives the sense of the differences between the present and the future state. If we can’t visualize our goals, we’ll have trouble achieving them. People need to see and understand (vision) what they should do and become. A leader makes this happen, both for himself and for others.

One of the duties of a leader is to clearly communicate a vision that sees through the impediments and the lies, and which gives a clear statement of where to go so that others can follow. A leader communicates a vision that presents an objective, and then uses factually-based evidence to persuade others to overcome their doubts, fears, emotions, and hardships to do what needs to be done for the cause at hand.

People often set lower standards for themselves because they are easier to achieve, and because the consequences of not achieving them is minimal. A leader recognizes this and lifts or raises those standards. As noted coach Tom Landry once observed, “Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.”

So how do we achieve the characteristics of a Leader? Stay tuned!

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On Leadership

My next several blogs will contain a series of messages about developing into a leader, and I am indebted to my friend, Jim R. from Detroit, for many of these ideas.

There are two types of leadership. Most of us will think of the collective form, where we lead others, but there is also the individual type…where we must learn to lead ourselves. This is perhaps the more difficult of the two, as it requires a great deal of self-discipline and a willingness to search our inner core and make effective changes in our behavior.

All of us are leaders to some extent. So how can we become a more effective leader? It begins with making changes within and is a lifelong, ongoing process of growth and development. Do not expect to become an effective leader of others unless and until you can become an effective leader of yourself.

What you are and what you do define you: child, parent, spouse, employee, your interests, your habits –all together they delineate you. A concentration on any one or more of these forms a predominant character type which people subsequently associate with you. Are you known to be the kind of person and leader that you want to be? If you are, great. But can you become even better? Of course! And if you’re not, well…perhaps it’s time to start making changes. More on this to come.

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Birthday Reflections

I recently celebrated another birthday and I find that the older I get, the more birthdays give me cause to reflect. I became a first-time dad ten days after my 25th birthday. We lost two boys at birth; our oldest son was born two days before my 27th birthday. So I have lots to reflect on at this time of year.

It can be easy enough to get caught up in life’s regrets; to dwell on the losses and heartaches that we’ve suffered. But that only leads to a cycle of self-pity and inaction. It does not help us to grow and to move on.

It is exceedingly more productive to use our life experiences to formulate a proactive plan. Ask yourself questions such as: Am I where I want to be, where I thought I’d be, at this age? Am I happy with what I’ve accomplished? Am I the husband (wife)/father (mother)/leader that I want to be and that people need me to be? What do I need to change in my life to become the person I want to be, to actualize my God-given abilities?

Painful experiences are…well, painful. But if we reflect on them and use them to modify our plans and behaviours, they can be truly beneficial. I once heard it said that “It’s not what happens to you that’s important; it’s what you do with what happens to you that makes the difference.” So remember the old adage, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” The squeezing may be stressful, but the outcome can be oh-so-satisfying!

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