Earning Influence

Years ago, I worked with an organization that played a major role in the reconstruction effort in Kosovo. In my role, I chose who would and would not receive homes or reconstruction assistance in 15 communities.

Although I consulted with local leaders, and ultimately all decisions were approved by the governmental housing committee (of which I was a member), for the most part my decisions were the final word. I represented an enormous amount of money. I represented the future for many families and communities. Additionally, I directed other projects including starting schools and a public utility.

As a result, I had incredible influence. I could walk, uninvited, into anyone's office and expect to be seen. I could call meetings with any group of leaders, at any level, and expect that they would be attended. ... READ MORE »

Creating Clarity

A chief responsibility, for any leader, is to create clarity. When I work with organizations that are struggling or not achieving their goals – their struggles are nearly always birthed out of a context of ambiguity. Ambiguity breeds conflict, builds silos, and bleeds strength.

The ability to create clarity is an ability that sets great leaders apart. Specifically this means clarity in:

  • Direction (vision/mission)
  • Values
  • Priorities & Goals
  • Understanding the environment
  • Roles and Responsibilities
  • Authority & Decision making
  • Dispute resolution (how disputes are resolved internally & externally)

The more those you lead are able to see and believe the same things you see, and play by the same set of rules, the more they will accomplish. ... READ MORE »

Five Unconventional Characteristics of Effective Leaders

“Successful leadership is not about being tough or soft, sensitive or assertive, but about a set of attributes. First and foremost is character.” – Warren Bennis

“I don’t have to listen to them – I have final authority.”

As I heard these words recently, my heart sank.  The attitude behind those words, frankly, stunk. I could hear that this leader was driving his organization directly off a cliff. If this were his personal business, his attitude might be okay; but it wasn’t. Other people’s lives, hopes and investments were linked to this endeavor. ... READ MORE »

Anger is an Ugly Leader

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret. - Ambrose Bierce 

Anger is a chameleon. This time quiet, dark and stealthy - slowly growing in strength. Next time bright, hot and explosive. Alternately, anger can be sharp, pointed and painful. Or, it can be elusive, slippery and difficult to pin down.

Anger isn’t wrong. It’s a powerful indicator that something important to us is being threatened – perhaps our own safety, our reputation, our comfort, someone or something we care about, etc. ... READ MORE »

Are You Killing Vision?

Three stone masons in the Middle Ages were hard at work when a visitor came along and asked them what they were doing. The first stone mason was hard at work, sweat beading his brow. “I am cutting this stone,” he grumbled. The second stone mason, though less distraught, responded with a deep sigh, “I’m building a parapet.” The third stone mason replied with a radiant face, “I am building a beautiful cathedral that will glorify God for centuries to come.”  -- Author unknown

Vision. The greatest accomplishments in science, art, business, politics or individual life have all come from vision. Despite this simple, fundamental fact – identifying or clarifying vision often feels elusive, confusing or frustrating for many people. But, it doesn’t have to be.

What is a Clear & Compelling Vision? ... READ MORE »

Fear: A Leader’s Greatest Enemy

Several years ago, I sat down for coffee with the leader of a well-established organization. I’ll call him Mark. As we talked, Mark detailed a genuinely inspiring vision for their future. I asked, “So, what are your next steps to create this vision?”

Unexpectedly, the question deflated him. “I don’t think people are ready for it yet,” Mark replied. He explained how many of their people were “married to the status-quo” and how they might lose engagement if he initiated change. He began to talk about how change is always hard and there is always resistance.

Then he shifted. He began to suggest that it might be worth losing some people. And his voice took on a defiant tone. ... READ MORE »

Investing in Clarity Prevents Conflict

I love road trips. On our honeymoon, my wife and I embarked on a ‘round the island’ tour of Maui. She designated me the driver. That decision won her the role of navigator. Clarity accomplished, roles established, we drove off into an 8-hour argument.


Because we both had different interpretations of what we thought those roles meant. We both expected a different ‘experience’ from the other. I turned out to not be as consistently levelheaded as advertised. She, in turn, would ‘turtle’ if things felt tense. I wanted to accomplish goals! See things! Make schedules! Check-off the places on my list! She wanted to…enjoy the scenic route…stop and smell the flowers…look for serendipity…enjoy nuptial bliss. Aaagh! ... READ MORE »

Creating a Leadership Philosophy

In my role as a consultant, I’m often called upon to help leadership teams relate well and make decisions effectively; and, my first order of business is to interview all the team members. During my interviews, team members most often complain about the leader’s ineffective style or poor approach.

I hear comments like:

  • “He’s too laid back. I can’t tell what he wants.”
  • “She’s micro-managing me.”
  • “I have no idea how they make their decisions – they never ask for our feedback.”
  • “They never make decisions…they seem to be afraid of rocking the boat.”
  • “He only notices me when I make a mistake.”
  • “She won’t coach me or give me real job support. It’s like she wants to be everyone’s friend.”

There is not ‘one way’ to lead. Different people offer different kinds of leadership. Different situations require different approaches. ... READ MORE »

What Servant Leaders Do

“To be a servant leader, you can’t be afraid to help clean the toilets.” I heard this statement from a speaker presenting on leadership some years ago. At the time, it strongly appealed to me – the implied humility, the ‘elbow-greasy-get-down-in-the-trenches’ feel of it.

Reflecting on that presentation, I now realize that the speaker was missing it. In his mind – Servant Leadership was about being willing to do small, dirty or menial tasks. The ideal Servant Leader would never ask someone to do something he or she wouldn’t do herself. And that was all there was to know about servant leadership.

I’ve experienced that kind of leader. The leader that was so willing to ‘get down in the trenches’ that they lost sight of the big picture. They were unable to move the organization, as a whole, forward; and, because of the belief that “I must be willing to do it myself”, they were overwhelmed in their actual responsibility to lead. ... READ MORE »