What About Additional Characteristics of an Admired Leader?

James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge, have been surveying followers for over the past thirty years on what are the top seven characteristics out of twenty of an admired leader. Look at the latest results from the 2017 survey on the left. The top four characteristics of an admired leader are honesty, competence, inspiring, and forward-looking. These four characteristics have been consistent over the past thirty years. The first three characteristics – honesty, competency, and inspiring are in line with the currency of leadership, credibility. The pillars of credibility rest upon trust, expertise, and dynamism. Do you agree with Kouzes and Posner’s findings? Do you see the parallel with these characteristics and credibility? How is your credibility? How are you on being forward-looking? Do you have a vision for the future? Is it strategic? Is it viable? Is it inspiring?

While I think these four characteristics are essential for a leader to live into, I believe three components are missing from these twenty: humility, hope, and gratitude. I look for these three characteristics in leaders I choose to follow (and vote for!)

Humility. Humility is an essential topic in the Bible and written about in seventy-three verses. Prayer is a pillar of the Muslim faith. Everyone in prayer is equal. Thus prayer is founded on piety. Humility is piety. In the Jewish tradition, humility is among the greatest of the virtues – greatness is humility. While humility is a cornerstone in the world religions, it turns out to be essential in leadership in the secular world. Jim Collins, Good to Great, discovered leaders in the eleven great organizations had two critical behaviors: personal humility and indomitable will. How is your humility? If you are not sure, take an emotional intelligence 360 assessment. It will give you insight into where you stand as well as develop action steps to become more humble.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis

Hope. Sometimes people need hope more than food to stay alive! Hope is not wishful thinking, optimism, or a positive attitude. Hope is a call to action. Hope is the anticipation of something better coming, a blessing in the offing, a new, brighter tomorrow that you can have a hand in creating. Leaders with hope, who speak strongly about hope, who make hope come alive will have followers who will exceed expectations.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”  – John Lennon

Gratitude. We are bound up in consumerism, competition, and individualism. These behaviors cause us to compare ourselves to others and feeling sorry for ourselves when we see what we don’t have. Happiness is contingent upon that next shiny object, a new job title, a bigger office, a higher salary, a new car, a bigger home, and the latest tech. We continuously fail at being mindful of how we are, what we have, and who has helped us. Gratitude causes us to appreciate what we take for granted, especially the people in our lives. Leaders who live into gratitude are some of the most joyful people I know. Their joy is infectious, inspiring, and cherished. How do you measure your gratitude? When do you take inventory for what you are grateful? How often do you show your gratitude? How do you share your gratitude? Sheldon Yellen, CEO of the property-restoration company BELFOR Holdings, Inc., hand-writes birthday cards to each of his 9,200 employees as well as thank-you notes, anniversary cards, holiday cards, and even to his employees’ kids when they are sick. He has created a culture of compassion through the whole company.

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” – Karl Barth

My leadership challenge to you is to nurture your humility, hope, and gratitude!


What Do You and Your Cohorts Need to Escape?

Whale Watch: Group trying to “escape” being out of balance!

I recently read Rachel Sugar’s, Vox, The Great Escape post.

She writes there are over 2,300 escape rooms in the United States. TripAdvisor says there are seven escape rooms in the Asheville area. If you are not aware of these places, they are rooms where you gather with up to 7 other people and try to beat the clock and “escape” a challenge. Sugar says escape rooms feed “the desire to escape whatever reality you’re in.”

As I read this article, I realized this is the foundation of my work. I’ve been facilitating groups and teams since 1996 and took a big leap in 2001 going to Camp Joy to be the Director of the Venture Out!, corporate organizational development.

Blind Cube: Group trying to “escape” mindlessness and fast thinking!

I help groups and teams “escape their reality” for one to three days. I’ve facilitated these “escapes from reality” at all kinds of venues including cruise ships, MLB ballparks, zoos, fine dining restaurants and Disney World! During that time, I create opportunities for groups to experience a series of “escapes” to energize, discover and learn new skills. Some of my favorite “escapes” include Blind Cube, Whale Watch, Spider Web, Searching for a Black Cat in a Black Room, Survivor and the Pamper Pole! Even MBTI or EQ workshops are a form of “escape” and open doors to learning.

Sugar says the best escape rooms create a “WOW” moment where you and your teammates overcome a shared challenge. My goal with “escape” initiatives is to create “AHA” moments. This is when participants have a breakthrough and see the possibility of transformation to becoming a better team. I’ve had participants share they’ve gotten to better know and understand their cohorts in two-days than the five-plus years they have been working together! That is some serious connection!

I agree with Sugar, “…in escape rooms (as with experience-based workshops), it all matters. There is a beautiful elegance to it: You crack the code, it unlocks the lock. It’s not only surrender, but communal surrender.”

Do you feel the need, the sense of urgency to escape some work reality with your team?


Leader As Mentor: Do you?

I’ll begin with what I know for sure: Experience trumps knowledge.

Mentors have experience.

The mentors in my life have had a significant role in where I am and what I am doing today. They gave and still give me the gift of their time and their wisdom.

My mentors help me be a better person, a better leader. They help me grow, especially when it is necessary and uncomfortable. They are pure grace in my life.

While mentoring focuses on behavior and skills, good mentoring helps develop people from the inside out. Mentoring deals with values and priorities. It becomes a spiritual exercise going beyond the mental and physical. Mentoring requires being vulnerable. Mentoring begins with the heart.

My first mentor was my father. As a freshly minted college graduate, not sure whether to purse a master’s degree, my father invited me to join him in business. It was one of the best decisions I could have made. What I learned about business trumped any master’s degree. What I learned about my father, the courage to leave the corporate world and to go into business on his own, fostered my courage to pursue my passion. As a mentor, my father modeled the way. He offered advice and counsel when asked. My favorite mentoring sessions were long lunches at our favorite restaurant or in his office after a trying day. As a new salesperson on his staff, I remember throwing up in the shower, worried about how I was going be successful. I remember sharing this with my father and his response with a warm smile, “Me too, when I first started!” That piece of sharing was a game-changer for me.

My second mentor was Craig Rider, The Rider Group. I enjoyed the facilitation and education part of my work in the corporate world, but I quickly realized death by PowerPoint was not effective. Craig mentored me in experience-based learning. It changed the way I facilitated and educated others. He shared resources including books and magazines and allowed me to shadow him with clients. We attended AEE regional conferences together. He introduced me to gurus in experienced-based learning like Tom Leahy and Jim Cain. The game changer with Craig was the confidence he gave me when he trusted me to work with his clients. Most of all, Craig was responsible for connecting me with a head hunter that lead to my dream-job at Joy Outdoor Education Center, Clarkville, Ohio as Venture Out! Director.

Effective mentoring has a lasting impact on the mentee as well as the mentor. While mentoring is usually most effective male to male and female to female, I currently have a mentor who is female. Her gift to me has been to help me understand my white male privilege. Lynn Watts helps me be more self-aware. While she is 400 miles away, and perhaps we only see each other once or twice a year, we talk by phone at least monthly.

The other mentor currently active in my life is Scott Steel. Scott has an incredible heart for leadership. He challenges me to bring compassion and empathy beyond work. Like Lynn, I do not see him enough, but we are in contact by phone at least monthly.

Here is another what I know for sure.” I need to pay it forward. The mentoring my father, Craig, Lynn and Scott gave me, I need to give to others. Mentoring is a part of my leadership journey.

Is mentoring a part of your leadership journey?

I Before Team Except After…

Once again, my Cincinnati Reds are cellar-dwellers for 2019. On an average home game, the Reds’ fans fill just over a third of Great American Ballpark’s 42,319 seats, reflecting the Reds’ ability to lose more than win. There are still gripes about Dick Williams, the general manager, and how he manages.  Six-time MLB All-Star Joey Votto is ageing and hot-hitting second baseman, Scooter Gennett, is out with health issues. Bottom line, sports forecasters say the Reds will be lucky to win half their 162 games this season. The Reds’ teamwork is sub-par. So why do we point to sports teams as the pinnacle of teamwork? Yet at all levels of sports, we tend to focus on individuals, not teams.

There is an “i” in team, and we see it every day. “i” is ego. We see the “i” in team from:

  • Jerry Jones, NFL Dallas Cowboy owner, who has proclaimed it to be an honor to play for him.
  • Danica Patrick, NASCAR, demonstrated her “i” in her expletive-laden rant at her crew in 2017.
  • Former NFL Cleveland Brown QB Johnny Manziel’s ego prevented him from being committed and accountable to football and gave him a disregard for authority – essential to being on a team.
  • Women’s professional soccer goalie, Hope Solo’s ego has gotten her into trouble numerous times including when she said, “We played a bunch of cowards” (no respect for the other team).

I still recall attending a seminar in 2002 featuring Tom Peters. Peters criticized Jim Collins, Good to Great, on 5th level leadership. Peters asked the audience, “Who wants to follow a humble leader?” Immediately Jesus Christ, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa came to mind. I thought, “Wait a minute. I’m embracing their leadership!”

Who you are is a collection of choices, decisions and experiences you make and have. When you consciously decide to become a member of a team, those decisions and experiences get magnified and minimized at the same time. Google’s Project Aristotle discovered successful cohesion within the team only occurs when team members become interdependent. They need one another to get work done! Team members feel safe sharing not only ideas but opinions. The four parts of Charles Feltman’s Thin Book of Trust – sincerity, reliability, competence and compassion – are fully engaged with each member of the team. Emotional intelligence is at the forefront of each team member’s interaction.

When you let the idealized image of yourself become your focus, you fail to collaborate and cooperate with others, the essential behavior of being on a team. Trust, the lynch-pin to any and every relationship, fails because it’s all about you rather than the team. If you fail at trust, your “i” is showing and thus you fail at being a part of a team.

” The bigger a man’s head gets, the easier it is to fill his shoes.” — Henry A. Courtney


What Are the Implications of…

A young man came to me recently. He has just experienced his fourth department leadership change in three years. He was a mix of anger, frustration, and disappointment. He was losing hope in the organization and its leadership. The future concerns him because he wants stability. He asked for answers or at least my advice. What would you say?

I’ve been down this road before including the death of my business partner in the late 80s as well as the experience of having six different directors in a former position in three years! I did survive and learned from each of those experiences. I am better for those experiences.

Whenever I encounter these situations, my first focus goes to gratitude. What am I grateful for? What do I have rather than what do I want? I am richly blessed. On the back of my office door are many thank you notes, accolades and certificates of appreciation. They remind me of the relationships in my life. They tell me I am not alone. They are evidence of the significance I have made in people’s lives as well as the significance they have made in my life. They remind me life is good. They are a source of comfort and fortification when facing Ezekiel’s Valley of Bones.

One tool I pull out when the VUCA‘s are high (Volatility, Uncertainty, Chaos/Complexity, Ambiguity) is Joel Barker’s Implication Wheel. I begin by asking a thoughtful, challenging question, ‘what are the implications and potential consequences of the situation I am facing?’ I suspend emotion and engage in rational, constructive thinking. I have found over and over the Implication Wheel will not predict the future but will yield a guide toward a possibly better future. The Implication Wheel asks powerful questions leading to more questions and possible answers. It creates a way out of the swampland of despair.

If you were faced with this young man’s situation, you might ask, “What are the implications of having a new department director?” Use a big piece of butcher block paper or several flipchart sheets and write out complete, understandable responses on 3M Post-it Notes. This should generate at least five possibilities such as: There will be a search for a new director including having an interim director; I get the opportunity to learn and grow from a new leader; My department could reorganize, rightsize or even downsize; I may gain/lose resources that impact my work; There will be stress and uncertainty in this transition. Each of these implcations should generate another set of implications, possibilities and consequences in each of these five. You may find there are futher implications recognized off each of those implications. What you end up with is a kind of mind-map.

After you complete this, go back and look at each statement and begin the process of asking important questions like: Who controls this? Who has the power to impact this implication? What is the possible timeline for this to evolve? What are the inside and outside influences upon this implication? At this point it might be good to share this Implication Wheel with others to get their perspective. Ultimately, you are looking for and rating the desirability and likelihood of each implication you have generated.  It will reveal the choices and commitments you need to make. The outcome of this exercise can strenghten your hope for a better future as well as a call to action. Additionally, this exercise will dial down fear.

FEAR could be an acronym for Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise. The choice is yours. Choose courageously.

The Wall

A wall is a door. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the most powerful experience-based initiatives in my toolbox is the Group Wall. Its a good initiative to do with groups when they have reached a plateau of either thinking “we’re good,” when egos are still at play or the group is still not collaborating well. Done well, it demonstrates the need for humility, understanding, communication, critical thinking, patience and ultimately, the need for one another.

“If you hit a wall, climb over it, crawl under it, or dance on top of it.” – Unknown

The challenge is to get everyone over the wall safely before the tsunami arrives! Spotting is paramount! You have to give support to get support. A key to success is begin with the end in mind. In other words, there will be one person left who needs to come over the wall and the way the group approaches getting the final person over will have to be different than the first person over!

What gets you to the dance doesn’t keep you at the dance. – Unknown

Usually the debrief is powerful. We discuss the assumptions approaching the wall, including the negative thinking as in “there is no way we are going to open this door!” We discuss the experience – what was working and what was not working. We talk about what was learned and how what was learned could be applied back in the work setting. I like to ask three questions; How is the wall a door? How is the wall an opportunity? Explain how this wall you just faced could be your door to a better future?

I’d appreciate the opportunity to facilitate this initiative with POTUS and Congress. I believe we could move the conversation to getting everyone on board with a compromise that works and gets government back to work. Perhaps it would change the conversation from wall building to bridge building?!

We build too many walls and not enough bridges. – Sir Issac Newton



Got New Year Resolution(s) for 2019?

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. While my intentions may be good, I find that if the resolution is not specific, clear, focused, relevant and has a deadline for achievement, it is not going to happen. In other words, making New Year’s solutions is like bacon and eggs. I have found I make resolutions from the position of the chicken, involved, and not the pig, committed. I know that I need to shed about 15 pounds (drink less beer!), that I need to unplug from screens more (set timers, stay off screens one day a week and perhaps go on a week long retreat minus screens!) and increase my education by auditing a college course or two.

The last several years, I have been picking a word or letting a word pick me for focus and guidance. I find THE WORD for the year helps me to connect with my purpose, especially in how I wish to be experienced. THE WORD touches my mental – as in how can I grow; my physical – as in how can I take better care of myself; my emotional as in how can I be more relational with others; and spiritual as in how can I have a better affair of the heart and soul. THE WORD guides me in my work, in my relationships, my well-being and getting out my comfort zone. Bottom line, it helps me to seize the day!

THE WORD that has my attention for 2019 is community. Community is the capacity to give one’s self away for the sake of the other. As I have gotten more involved in the work of inclusion and equity and how this intersects white privilege and white supremacy, being in community is generous connectedness to others. Community asks to transcend differences and be generous to others. If we continue acting without creating community and not being merciful to one another, I believe we’ll continue this hell on earth. I believe to live into community will cause me to more attentive to others rather than myself. Who knows, perhaps my joy will move to a higher level. Stay tuned. I’ll keep you updated on how community impacts me in 2019.

How about you? What word is reaching out to you in 2019?