Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Tools of Great Leaders: People

Here are some of my favorite quotes about Leaders and the people that follow them.

You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world…but it requires people to make the dream a reality. - Walt Disney

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. - Isaac Newton

It is better to have one person working with you, than three working for you. - Unknown

It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead -- and find no one there. Franklin D. Roosevelt 

A leader is someone who has at least one voluntary follower. - Author unknown

Fail to honor people; they fail to honor you - Lao Tzu

Trust is the emotional glue that binds followers and leaders together. - Warren Bennis and Bert Nanus

Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it. - Thoreau

Pull the string, and it will follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all - Dwight D. Eisenhower

If your imagination leads you to understand how quickly people grant your requests when those requests appeal to their self-interest, you can have practically anything you go after.  Napoleon Hill

The best inheritance a parent can give to his children is a few minutes of their time each day. -. - M. Grundler

If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his true friend. Next, probe to discover what he wants to accomplish. - Abraham Lincoln

Monday, March 28, 2011

Walking the Walk

When my oldest son Matt was six years old, we enrolled him in a private school in Atlanta. We chose the school for its impressive curriculum including an early intervention drug and alcohol awareness program. By the age of seven my son could identify every type of illegal drug on the street. He was also equipped with 50 ways to say ‘no’ to drinking. Although no parent can feel safe from the risk of teenage drug or alcohol abuse, we, as his parents, felt that we were doing the best we could to make our values known

One day, as I was returning from my evening run, I opened the refrigerator and reached for an ice cold beer. Forward thinking had caused me to place that beer in the freezer before setting out. The 100-degree Atlanta heat had me dreaming of that beer all the way home.

Just as I was taking my first gulp, I heard my son ask “Mom, isn’t that a drug?” This was our moment of truth. It became clear at that instant that whatever I said or did would communicate more about drugs and alcohol usage than program.

Everyday, we as leaders are faced with similar moments of truth.. We want our employees to be capable and enabled to work on their own. We want them to make the right decisions and to do the right things for our customers and our business. Books and detailed procedures manuals help. Posted value statements futher clarify. But neither provide solutions to every situation. In order to be independent and trustworthy, our employees need to know what to do in our absence. So they move beyond our words, and they watch what we do.

Leaders take action. We make decisions. It is through these actions and decisions that we show our people the way. And, it is at these moments where we will ultimately determine our credibility as leaders.

“You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?” – Full Metal Jacket

The Race

This story was told by a participant in one of my leadership workshops. Although I have forgotten her name, I have never forgotten her story:

When I was in High school, I ran the 100-meter tack and field event. I was the fastest runner in my school. In fact, I was the best in our league. But, I was not the best in the State. For three years in a row I finished second at our State Championship Event, loosing each time to a girl named Lori Anne Bozeman. Now at the end of my senior year, I was facing her again.

I knew that this was my last chance to come home with the first place trophy. I was scared, but determined not to be intimidated by my previous performance against this awesome competitor.

I hated Lori Anne Bozeman. I am sure she was a nice enough person off of the track. But she had a menacing way of glancing over at me at the start on the race and making me loose my confidence.

My father, who had always been my greatest fan and unofficial mentor, coached me on how to keep calm and not let Lori Anne dampen my confidence. He traveled internationally as part of his job so most of his support came via the telephone. Still, I loved my father’s advice and, though I missed his presence at my meets, I always knew he was thinking about me.

This year’s State Championship was no different. On a business trip to England, my father called me daily to give me pep talks. We reviewed how I would focus on my own race and not look over at Lori Anne. I told him I would think of him and try my best not to get rattled.

But I was rattled. As I sat on the bleachers on that hot May afternoon, waiting for my event to be called, I was afraid of freezing up, afraid of disappointing my coach, afraid of disappointing myself.

At 6:30 my event was called. I slowly walked to the start and after a brief warm-up, positioned myself against the starting blocks. This was it! - just Lori Anne and me. I never missed my dad more.

The starter told us to take our marks. I took a deep breath and ------looked over at Lori Anne. That did it. My confidence started to fall. I suddenly remembered every past state championship and knew I was doomed for second place again.

Then, as the starter raised the gun, I looked over into the stands. There, standing against the chain link fence just behind the starter, was my dad.

I won the state championship that day and took home my 1st place trophy. My Dad had found a way to be there with me, and so I in turn, found a way to push myself beyond my fears and self-doubt.

My father had a hundred valid reasons for not being at that race. He had contracts to negotiate, meetings to conduct and dinners with clients to attend. But he knew this was my day and that in order for me to be successful, he needed to be there for support. Now that I manage a staff of my own, I try to remember that lesson. Because I know that the most important part of my job is often the simple act of showing up.

“The best inheritance a leader can give to his followers is a few minutes of his time each day.” -M. Grundler

Monday, November 16, 2009

A View From the Cheap Seats

One of my favorite movies is “Eddie,” a comedy staring Whoopi Goldberg. The movie is not deep. It won no Academy Awards. It’s just funny and makes me laugh. It also offers some important lessons on leadership. Eddie is a Knicks fan. No, actually, she’s a Knicks fanatic. A limo driver by profession, she can barely afford the price of admission to a single game. But each night Eddie heads to Madison Square Garden, where she and her friends have season tickets in the “cheap seats.” A loud and obnoxious bunch, they support their team by hurling free advice and coaching from 200 rows above center court.

One day, as only could happen in the movies, Eddie makes a chance basket in a free throw contest and finds herself on the bench as the new head coach. From her front row seat, Eddie learns what it really takes to win the game. Finding herself seated side by side with real players with real problems, she is forced to give up her preconceived notion of the ease of their luxurious lives and listen to their travails. She learns what they really face each time they go out on the court, the physical and emotional injuries they must overcome, and the personal problems that they experience as young men thrown into the limelight. As she gets to know her team they get to know her too. And, as they do, she becomes more and more credible.

As for the rest of the story, you’ll have to rent the movie. But I often wonder, when I walk through the extravagantly decorated offices of our executive floors, if, regardless of their luxury, these aren’t in fact, like the cheap seats. Sitting in these offices, far removed from the day-to-day travails of our employees, can we ever truly see the issues that limit their success or understand the challenges they face each day in getting work done? Are we able to really appreciate what it takes to achieve things without the benefit of executive assistants and other services aimed at making everyday obstacles disappear? If we can’t, how can we ever assume to be credible? And how can we ever tap into the opportunities hidden in roadblocks we never knew existed?

So, here is the challenge to those of us willing to take it. For one full week, let’s move out of our seats in the nosebleed section and come down to the field and play. Let’s give up the support and luxuries typically awarded us and walk a while in our employee’s shoes. At a minimum, our people will love us for it. At best we may never lead the same way again.

“A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world” – John LeCarre

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"This is no time for ease and comfort...

It is a time to dare and endure." I am too young to have met Winston Churchill but I would have liked the man. His famous quote has been a mantra to me throughout most of my life and has given me the courage to take on the injustices of the world, when the thought of a comfy office and six figure income would have me seduced into silence.

The quotes below are among my favorites and are dedicated to those who are willing to forego poularity, personal wealth and the less complicated life in order to leave a legacy of something great.

Let me know which one resonates most with you.

1. "Above all we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today’s world do not have.” - Ronald Reagan

2. "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win victories and triumph, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows no victory, nor defeat.” - Theodore Roosevelt

3. "As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people the permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”- Nelson Mandella

4. “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those, who in times of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.” - Dante

5. "Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Morale courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. Each time a person stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, she/he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” - Robert Kennedy

6. “We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers” - Carl Sagan

7. “He who loses wealth, loses much; He who loses a friend, loses more; He who loses courage, loses all.” - Cervantes

8. “The opposite of courage is not fear but conformity.” - Rollo May

9. "Courage is acting in spite of fear." - Howard W. Hunter

10. “It is a blessed thing that in every age some one has had the individuality enough and the courage enough to stand by his own convictions.” - Robert G. Ingersoll

11. “Courage is a quality so necessary for maintaining virtue that it is always respected, even when it is associated with vice.” - Samuel Johnson

12. “When you get into a tight place, and everything goes against you, ‘til it seems as if you couldn’t hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that’s just the place and time that the tide will turn.” - Harriet Beecher Stowe

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

Every day, Tom Holmes makes it a point to personally greet each of his 30 employees and say “thanks for coming in today”. No employee can leave at night without stopping by Tom’s office so that he can look them in the eye and say “Thanks for your hard work today, it really meant a lot.”

Every Friday, Tom places a personalized note in each employee’s paycheck. “Thanks for sticking around the extra 30 minutes on Tuesday, Dave.” Thanks for taking care of that customer who spilled his soup, Linda.” Thanks for offering to help out on the drive-thru this week, Carlos.”

The practice of saying thanks doesn’t stop with Tom. Every week the current holder of the “Thanks” trophy selects a co-worker who has helped out in an extraordinary way. In a small ceremony over ice cream, the current holder, tells the story of help offered and presents the trophy to the new recipient.

These are no ordinary practices. But then Tom is no ordinary leader. A manager of a fast food restaurant,, he leads his people through a practice he calls “Giving Thanks” His people love him for it. As his peers stuggle with 250% staff turnover each year, Tom’s annual turnover hovers just under 80%. Not perfect, as he is the first to tell you, but incredible in an industry where employees are imposible to find, average tenure is less than six months and teen workers quit unexpectedly because of last minute tickets to a rock concert.

But, having worked in the restaurant as a crew member himself, Tom knows that working on the front line is tough. Employees take the heat of day to day customer problems and concerns. They do so while feeling invisible and replacable. Tom knows that he can’t expect them to stick around if he can’t find ways of making them feel appreciated and special. He also know that if they don’t stick around, he can’t grow his business.

So even in touch economic conditions, Tom finds ways to appreciate the small things. He finds ways to say “Thanks” a lot, to celebrate and have fun, and to recognize his employee’s achievements and efforts, no matter how small.

His efforts may not equal concert tickets, but they are a start.

“The rare individual, who honestly satisfies this heart-hunger, will hold people in the palm of his hand, and even the undertaker will be sorry when he dies.” - Dale Carnegie

Saturday, October 3, 2009


The most difficult thing I ever had to do in my life was to tell my two sons that their father and I were divorcing. They were devastated. I tried to let them know that they would be okay, but they had learned a lesson no parent wants a child to learn at such an early age: few things in life can be counted on to stay the same. Friends move, favorite teachers change jobs, loved ones die, and homes can be destroyed with a bolt of lightning. What could I possibly say or do that would help them feel grounded and secure enough to move on with their lives?

A number of years have passed since those early days of my divorce. Through a little luck, a lot of work and the support of a loving extended family, my sons have grown into competent young men. But I am still haunted by the look on their faces that day as the world they had known and believed would never change, was shaken at its very roots.

I have seen that same devastated look over the years in the eyes of my employees. I have seen the dizzying effect of management changes that have uprooted long-term relationships. I have experienced the confusion and fear associated with changes to what had long been accepted as company norms. And I have witnessed the panic of employees as they learned that, through downsizing, mergers, acquisitions or economic hard times, the job they had come to believe would always be theirs, was gone.

I have asked myself more than once over the years the following question. If I as a leader cannot offer my employees basic job security, what can I give them to make their hard work and loyalty worthwhile? It has taken me a while but here is my answer.

I can make sure that their resumes stay current both in terms of responsibilities and skill sets. I can provide them with exposure to the outside world so that they experience other ways of seeing and doing things. I can teach them coping skills and the capacity for dealing with change. I can help them develop the values of hard work, honesty, integrity, courage and teamwork that will make them marketable and successful anywhere they go. And most importantly, I can let them know, day in and day out, how valuable they are and how lucky I am that they work for me.

Yes, I risk losing a few to bigger and better things, but I also create a workforce of people who are not afraid of the future and who are able to speak out and take risks. And if the time comes that I can no longer give them employment, I know that I have given them a tomorrow. What more could a leader hope to leave behind?

“The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind in others the conviction and will to carry on.” – Walter Lipman