Monday Quick Tip: Do it Well!

Glass Blowing

Image courtesy of worradmu/

“If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” ~ English proverb

This past weekend, I got to attend my first Renaissance Festival (  There were jousting demonstrations, comedy and danger shows and lots of opportunities for shopping.  One of the highlights for me was watching a glassblowing demonstration.

The glassblower formed a beautiful tumbler using a few simple elements: air, heat, a metal pipe, water, and molten glass. What was not simple was the amount of skill he used to accomplish his art.

He made it look easy, but it took him countless hours to perfect his craft. He mentioned during the demonstration that he started glassblowing in 1968.  He was poetry in motion as he combined the right amount of air, timing and centrifugal force to create his masterpiece.  He explained that the incorrect temperature or the wrong timing could shatter the glass.

Developing our craft as leaders takes time.  There is an art to leadership that can’t be acquired in a book.  It is learned through years of well-focused practice.  Leadership as art is not accomplished by the quick fix.

This week, focus on doing leadership well by getting better at just one thing.

What is it for you?

What is the one thing that you could get better at this week with a little focused practice?

A lot has been made about the 10,000 hour rule. That is overwhelming.

Masterpieces are formed an hour at a time here and there. We can do that.

Do it well. It’s worth it.

Do it with excellence, because “good enough” only leads to shattered glass.


What will you get better at doing this week? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How to Lead Followers Who are Different from You

Image courtesy of mack2happy/

Image courtesy of mack2happy/ 

Leadership is about people. If we’ve led people well, they will follow us and feel good about it. They will sing our praises as a leader.

I’ve become a regular listener of actor, Alec Baldwin’s entertaining and fascinating podcast, Here’s the Thing,  ( in which he interviews musicians, actors, celebrities, sports figures, authors and community activists.  Alec does a great job getting to the heart of the matter with his interviewees.

In a recent episode, Alec interviewed, Martin Horn, former New York City Commissioner of Correction and Probation.  Horn talks about what it was like to work for 7 years with Tom Ridge when he was governor of Pennsylvania.  Horn admits that they don’t agree politically on many issues, but they were able to build a great relationship in spite of those differences.

In the interview, Mr. Horn said he thinks the world of Tom Ridge and says he was the best boss a person could have.  He knew how to be a leader.

Here are some tips for leading others who are different  from us, gleaned from their experience:

Back up your people

Standing behind our staff or team members shows that we respect them as people and fellow leaders. We treat them as a valued member of our team. The fact that we support them shows that what they do matters.

Hold people accountable

When we hold them accountable it shows that we care about their performance and affirms their value to our team.

Accountability benefits the whole team because the weakest length is not allowed to stay the weakest link for long.

The entire team benefits when each person is held accountable.

Try to be the world’s best listener

We seek to understand where our team members are coming from. The only way to do that is to listen, really listen to their concerns, hurts, fears, joys and events of their lives.

Listening is hard work because we want to jump in and push our ideas and agenda.  Being willing and able to hear our people out demonstrates that we care about them.

Have good values

There is much to be said for doing the right thing.  We won’t follow people we can’t trust to do the right thing. Our integrity as leaders is on display in the decisions we make and in the ways we treat people. Character counts.

Leaders lead with integrity can be trusted to do the right thing for the organizations they lead.

Thankfully we are not all the same. The world would be boring if we were. Life is interesting and leadership is fun because we don’t all agree on everything all the time.

The secret of great leaders is knowing how to navigate the differences and still accomplish the mission of the organization.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you lead people who are different from you. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday Quick Tip: Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

This seems like common sense, but sometimes leaders get a “big head” and forget that there is no such thing as a solo leader.

These types of bosses are “glory hogs” who act as if their team’s contributions don’t matter.

When it comes time for praise or evaluations, they take credit for the good things the team has accomplished. They are selfish and insecure. They practice “3D Leadership” that demotivates, demoralizes and demeans their team members.

Not surprisingly, their followers don’t stick around. Who wants to be on a team where our contributions are ignored or where credit is taken by the leader as if it was their own?

This week, pay attention to the people you lead.

How are they doing?

What contributions have they made that you are overlooking?

Thank them for being a part of your team. Reward them for their contributions.

Don’t be a glory hog. Instead, do what your mother taught you: give credit where credit is due.

Be a Leader Worth Following

Image courtesy of Archipoch/

Image courtesy of Archipoch/

“Focus on getting better, before getting bigger.” – S.Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A restaurants.

“If I stop learning, I stop leading.” – Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller in Great Leaders Grow: Becoming a Leader for Life

Leadership titles don’t mean very much if the leader isn’t worth following.

As leaders, we have a bias toward action and we want to see our organizations grow. We want to charge the next hill and accomplish the next goal.

However, like the proverbial dog that chases cars, what are we going to do with it when we catch it?  Do we have the character that can handle the growth we desire?

When our focus is on getting better as a leader, the growth will take care of itself.

Why get better?

We respect leaders who grow.

No leader can be perfect, but we want those who lead us to be trying to grow.  We want them to be constantly improving their character.  As Adam Grant points out in his fantastic book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, the motivation to become better precedes the development of the skills themselves.  Leaders are motivated learners.  Respected leaders are those who know they don’t have it all together and are willing to put in the time and effort required to grow.

We have a harder time following leaders we consider to be “takers” who are only in a position of leadership for themselves.  We expect our leaders to be humble enough to see that they can’t do it on their own but need the help of others and are willing to give to others.

One way we help others is by growing ourselves.

Superman, Iron Man and Captain Kirk are great for comic books and summer blockbusters and it turns out they have something to teach us about leadership when they exemplify honesty and courage. (See  These are issues related to our leadership character rather than skills.

How to grow

Growing leaders feed themselves a steady diet of leadership books, podcasts, blogs, conferences and workshops.  Some leaders find coaches or mastermind groups to give them personal attention to areas that need to be strengthened.

We are blessed to live in a time of abundance of information that can help us grow in our leadership character. We can be mentored from a distance by people we’ve never met through books and online resources.

If we are serious about becoming better before bigger we, as author Bill Hybels suggests in Leadership Axioms: Powerful Leadership Proverbs, will do whatever we have to do to increase our leadership input, because we know it will make us better.

We become leaders worth following by making ourselves better before we get bigger.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on ways you are trying to get better as a leader.

Book It!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
― Groucho Marx, The Essential Groucho: Writings For By And About Groucho Marx

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” ― Ernest Hemingway

We’ve heard it said too many times to count that “leaders are readers.” It’s one of the lessons they teach in Leadership 101. Read, read, read. As an introvert, this advice has been easy to take to heart and put into practice. I have friends and family members who don’t like to read and will never pick up a book to mine its wisdom. That’s okay for them. They can grow in their leadership in other ways. For the readers among us, we’ve found some benefits in reading books that we don’t get anywhere else. Here are a few of my favorites.

Reading books helps us stay current.

With the advent of the Internet, books are the slow turtle in the race for fresh information. The turnaround time from the submission of a manuscript to a publisher to when it is available for sale can take up to a year.  Quick information is available 24/7 on the World Wide Web. However, when we want to dig deeper into a subject, we rely on books to help us sort through the weight of research. When we read Jim Collins’ classic, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t  or Chip and Dan Heath’s, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work or Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, we have hours of the most relevant and best research on the topic at our fingertips. We have food for thought rather than a snack for skimming.

Reading books helps us observe different leadership styles.

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes and styles. The way John Maxwell leads and writes is not the same way Jack Welch leads and writes. (I have an amazing grasp of the obvious.) Through their words, we get a sense of who they are as leaders and how they approach the various leadership challenges that we all face. There is room for a variety of styles at the leadership trough. The diamonds are there for our choosing.

Reading books is fun.

This one varies in degree according to our personal taste. I find reading pleasurable while some of my extroverted friends find reading a chore. There is a joy in discovering new insights as I pore over the latest Malcolm Gladwell offering (David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants). Fresh wisdom is mashed with existing wisdom in our heart and mind to give us a new creative edge.

Reading books gives us perspective into our situation.

One of my favorite authors is psychologist and leadership consultant Henry Cloud (Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships and Being Ridiculously in Charge; Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses and Relationships That All of us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward; 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life).  When I read some of the composite stories of clients from his counseling practice or business consultations, I sometimes say to myself, “Thank God, I’m not that messed up.” Other times I say, “God, help me to be more like that person.”  Reading gives us perspective into our situation by helping us meet people we would not have encountered in daily life.  We would have missed out on some much needed perspective for our own situation.

Reading books affirms who we are.

This benefit is related to the one above. A couple years ago, Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs was a bestseller.  With any individual we read about, there are things we relate to and things we don’t relate to in their story.  I’ll never be Steve Jobs and neither will you. There was only one.  In the same way, there is only one you and only one me.  Reading helps to affirm who we are and who we are not.  It reminds us to celebrate our unique contribution to the world.

Reading books gives us practical ideas.

When we read great books like Todd Henry’s, The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice or Peter Bregman’s, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distractions and Get the Right Things Done, we’re taken to the toolbox of the author and shown what has worked for them. Because we share the human condition, their ideas may help us to be more effective in our leadership.  Even if we don’t use the same idea in the way it is presented in the book, it may spark a thought in our mind as to how we can handle a challenge we are facing.

We take the books that we’ve read, mix in our experience, combine it with our personality, add it all together with our skills and talents to be the creative leaders we are meant to be. Those that make a difference in the lives of those we lead.

What books have had the most impact on your leadership? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Action Steps:

Check out my reading list and add your suggestions below.

To go the extra mile see:

The Colors of Leadership

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of 


What’s your favorite color? One of the blessings of being human is the ability (unless you are color blind) to see things in color rather than in shades of gray. Our leadership styles display a kind of color to those we lead. Our leadership often has the characteristics of certain colors and it is those colors that our followers pick up on as we lead them. They don’t necessarily hear the words we say. Here are a few descriptions of leaders from my color palate.

The Blue leader – Those who study the psychology behind certain colors say that blue is the color of confidence and peace.  At their best, blue leaders instill confidence in the organization and in the direction we are moving.  We feel peaceful around this leader. The leader’s confidence in the organization and us help move the entire team forward.

Blue can also be the color of depression, discouragement or sadness. When someone is down we say they are feeling blue. At their worse, blue leaders are discouraged and that sense of disappointment leaks to followers. A feeling of doom and gloom spreads rapidly when it begins with the leader. I’ve worked with organizations whose atmosphere was greatly improved once the discouraged leader was no longer around.

The Yellow Leader – Yellow is the color of warmth and friendliness. Yellow leaders who are kind and approachable build great relationships with their followers. Rapport and likeability are key traits of this leader. It’s easier to follow a leader we like and who likes us.

On the downside, we use the term yellow to refer to someone who is a coward or afraid. Yellow leaders used in this negative sense are those who can’t make a tough decision because they are afraid of the consequences.  So no decision is made.  The irony is, of course, that making no decision is in itself a decision.  It’s tough to follow a leader who is so afraid of offending people their leadership stalls at every turn.

The Red Leader – Red leaders at their best have energy and excitement. Red is the color of passion and enthusiasm. I’ve owned a gray bicycle and a red bicycle. I was more motivated to ride the red one. To follow a red leader is to be on a journey that moves from place to place with speed and power. The red leader always has energy to charge the next hill and achieve the next goal.

The negative aspect of red is that it is often used to symbolize anger.  Writers sometimes describe characters as “becoming red with rage.” Ever try to respect an angry leader? I worked for a manager who was continually angry. He went around the office banging on stuff and hitting things when he got angry.  As followers, we never knew what was going to set him off.  This led to a sense of instability and tentativeness on the part of the followers.

The Green Leader – Growth is the key quality of the positive green leader. This leader has not arrived and is continually learning how to lead better. Leadership doesn’t demand perfection, it demands growth from failure. A green leader can get back up after a mistake, learn from it and do better the next time.

The adverse use of green refers to a person who is too new to leadership to have much of an impact. When we use the term “greenhorn” to refer to this leader, we mean this person is inexperienced, immature or easily led in the wrong direction. New leaders can be difficult to follow as they try to find their way around an organization. Patience and grace on the part of followers is required. Greenhorn leaders don’t need to be greenhorns for long, but they do need to stay green and learn from their mistakes.

The Orange Leader – Orange used in its most influential way conveys innovation, creativity and fresh ideas. Orange leaders are able to spot a new direction or come up with a new way of doing things that moves the organization forward. Orange leaders are open to new ideas that will help take the organization to the next level.

On the other hand, I’m thinking of the shade of orange from the 1960’s and 70’s. The kind of orange we see on Mad Men. Growing up, our kitchen counters were this color. Some say this color will make a comeback, but for most of us alive in the 1960’s and 70’s this is the color that reminds us of our past.  This undesirable color in a leader symbolizes that this leader is trying to lead in ways that have gone out of style. They are trying to use methods such as “command and control” that no longer work with today’s followers.  An ever shrinking tribe is the result.

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes and colors. These are just a small sample of the ones I’ve seen in action. I welcome your thoughts on some of the colorful leaders you have experienced.

Little Things Make a Big Difference

Image courtesy of [nattavut] /

Image courtesy of nattavut /

Over a decade ago, Malcolm Gladwell in his fantastic book, The Tipping Point, reminded us of this basic life truth. In almost every area of life, little things do make a big difference. We are fortunate to have people in our life who tell us, “I’m easy to please.”  Blessed is the person who has a significant other who says, “It doesn’t take much to make me happy.” Blessed are the leaders who pay attention to the little things that make followers want to follow them. We only get to lead people as far as they choose.

I was on a commercial flight when a man and his companion, who I assume was his wife, sat in the two seats next to me. I always try to get a window seat and make it a habit to “unintentionally” eavesdrop on my seat mates. (This gives me great inspiration for blog posts.) It turns out that he was in the medical field. He said to his wife, “The other day one of my employees, Bob, asked me for a pair of disposable gloves. It was no big deal. I gave him a pair of new disposable gloves. The next day, he came back asking for another pair. I gave him the whole box. Do you know he was thrilled?  It’s amazing how doing the little things can make people happy.” My seatmate is right about that.

We can get caught up on the idea that leadership is all about the big things. The huge event. The vision casting.  The ramping people up to charge the hill. The motivating them to direct their energy to achieve our goals. Yes, leadership involves those things but sometimes it’s the little things that go a long way.

Suppose the man on the plane said to Bob, “I’m going to put in a standing order for gloves for you. You’ll never have to worry about being without gloves again.” It would have made even more of a difference in Bob’s attitude and his ability to do his job.

This is where we have the opportunity to be creative. Every follower is unique. One test of leadership is figuring out what small act we can do to make a difference for our team members. Sometimes it’s just calling a person by name. Sometimes it’s just asking how their weekend was. Sometimes it’s just sharing a cup of coffee with them. Sometimes it’s just a snack break. Sometimes it’s just a fun diversion that breaks the routine. Sometimes it’s just a hand-written thank you note. Whatever the “just a…” is for our followers, once we find it, they will be more willing to follow us.

Make it easier for people to follow us so that we can lead them where we want them to go.

How easy is it for people to follow us?

Are we missing the little things because we’re too focused on the big things?

What simple solutions are right in front of us?

What’s our box of gloves?

A Tale of Two Bosses

hot-air-balloon-compressedA couple summers ago, the movie Horrible Bosses was a financial and critical success at the box office. It was a dark comedy that portrayed three bosses who took their “boss-ness” to the extreme. It exceeded financial expectations in part because so many people could relate to it. Most of us have had a boss that has “reached the level of their incompetence” (The Peter Principle).  We’ve had our moments when we’ve thought, “My life would be easier if my boss was not in it.” I’ve had a few of those bosses and I’ve also been fortunate to work with some excellent bosses. I’ve noticed one big difference between the two.

I’ve worked in entry level jobs where both bosses were micro managers who watched over my work and knew exactly what I was doing and when I was doing it. One boss I enjoyed working with, the other I didn’t. What was the difference, since both were micro managers?

My horrible boss had been with the company for over two decades and wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. One day a fellow employee stopped by my office to drop off a file folder for me to work on. The second he stepped in the door, the boss appears  looking over his shoulder saying, “What is that file and what are you doing with it?” I was tempted to say at that moment, “It’s the nuclear bomb codes and we’re plotting to set one off at noon.” But I refrained.  By that time, I admit, my attitude was pretty poor.

Lurking and readiness to pounce was my horrible boss’ way of life. So were the lack of clear expectations. I never knew what my target was except when I didn’t reach it. I was chastised for not reaching a goal I didn’t know existed. My one on one meetings with the boss were a laundry list of the areas I was falling short in my performance. I’ve since realized that this approach was part of the boss’ strategy to keep employees off balance so that their days are marked by fear, in the hope that they will fall in line. And for those that did, they became the boss’ favorites.  The day I left the job and the boss was a relief. This boss’ leadership philosophy was, “Your success is my threat.”

My excellent boss was a striking contrast. This boss met with me regularly. My first meeting was a “get to know you” session in which I was listened to as I told my story and background. The boss did the same. We met regularly and sometimes, just met for the purpose of having fun. We played video games and talked life in general. Other times we went over my target and expectations of where I needed to be in my performance. The boss regularly said, “I will do whatever I can to help you get there.” I was publically praised when my goals were met. In that environment, team members willingly helped each other and none were considered favorites. This boss supported me to the next level bosses. The day I left, the boss was visibly sad but wished me well. This boss’ leadership philosophy was, “Your success is my success.”

What was the difference? The emotional security of the leader. Horrible boss was emotionally insecure and ruled by fear. Excellent boss was secure and not afraid of each team member’s success and encouraged it.

Leadership expert, John Maxwell, in his now classic, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership talks about “The Law of Empowerment” in which he says that only secure leaders are able to give power away. “Leading well is not about enriching yourself – it’s about empowering others.” (Page 146). It’s a true counter-intuitive principle that when we give power away and others succeed, we become indispensable to the organization.

As leaders, what is it like to be on our team? If we could hear the thoughts of our team members, what would we find them saying to themselves about our leadership?

Some bosses are horrible because they are so insecure they can’t give power away or stand it when others succeed. The empowering leaders among us give us a boost and help us do our jobs with excellence. That’s the kind of creative leader that makes a positive difference in our lives and in the world. I want to be that kind of leader. And so do you.

What did your empowering bosses do to ensure your success?