Two Leadership Lessons from Iraq 2011

In 2011 the US withdrew troops from Iraq and, initially, things looked good. In terms of security, military and civilian deaths had dropped to an all-time low. In terms of economy, Iraq’s GDP was roaring up the charts.

Now, only three years later, things appear to be unraveling. What happened? And what we can we learn, as it applies to leadership, here are home?

Simply put – Prime Minister (at that time) Nouri al-Maliki and his government neglected two enormously important leadership responsibilities. ... READ MORE »

The Opportunity in Mistakes

Not long ago I was playing with my 2 year old son. I discovered two important things: First, the little guy has a powerful head-butt. Second, I needed to repair my now broken eyeglass frames.

An eyeglass shop referred me to a local jeweler for the repair. As I entered his store, I noticed a large sign on the wall saying, “Your satisfaction is guaranteed!” Feeling confident that this little inconvenience would soon be resolved, I left my glasses with them and went on my way.

A week later, I returned to pick them up. To my initial delight, they had fixed the broken frame perfectly. However, as I tried them on, I quickly noticed a long, deep scratch across the front of one of the lenses. I pointed this out. The store manager was working in the back. He looked up and said, “It couldn’t have happened here.” ... READ MORE »

Building Teamwork When People Don’t Get Along

Consider Ken.

It’s Monday morning. As Ken struggles to wake up, he feels a familiar sense of dread. The Monday morning blech.

He wishes there was some way to avoid going into work. His job would be great if it weren’t for his ‘team'. They don't act like a team; they act like competitors. It just doesn’t make sense. Individually, they all seem like decent people; but put them around a conference table, and it feels more like managing a group of middle-schoolers. ... READ MORE »

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 »