Great Leaders Carry the Right Keys

“I’ll tell you what the key is,” an elderly gentleman said to me, tugging downward on my coat sleeve to incline me a little closer to the message he wanted to speak up into my ear. “I always hired people a lot smarter than me!” There was a satisfied twinkle in his eye. He was summing up, in his words and experience, the talk I had just given to the 100 men who gathered very early this past Friday morning at the Tap House Grill in Palatine, IL.

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I was in the middle of speaking to four leadership groups over two days in the greater Chicago area, groups that were pulled together by my friends, Ace and Marge Mokry of Cru, Scott Beilke and Donna Brighton of Brighton Leadership Group, and Bob Schuldt of the Moody Business Network Distinguished Speaker’s Series. After each talk, there were quite a lot of sidebar conversations, and I paid very careful attention to what was on each leader’s mind.

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Blazing the Trail: Why Teaching and Removing Obstacles Matter in the Workplace

Many organizations struggle with identifying their “secret” to success. Often, founders are insufficiently clear about their own unique approach. They can do the job themselves, but they don’t know how to describe what makes them successful. Great organizations have identified their success factors and can teach others to replicate what has taken them to their current level of success.

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Be Clear About Your Success Factors
Identifying what the customer values requires great listening and questioning skills. The customers and the non-customers (those who are doing business with your competitors) can identify the Critical-to-Success factors that they value in your organization. Critical-to-Success factors are the product features, customer-supplier interactions, and other intangibles that cause customer loyalty and new customer acquisitions. Once the Critical-to-Success factors have been identified, they guide your business to increased revenue and profits.

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Three of Life’s Biggest Little Commands

On Saturday evening, 300 men and women gathered in the landmark Grand Ballroom on the 17th floor of the Omni William Penn (built a century ago by Henry Clay Frick) to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of The Pittsburgh Experiment. The Pittsburgh Experiment was founded by the late Samuel Moor Shoemaker, an Episcopal Priest of renown who made an indelible impact on the world, not least of which when he guided Bill W. and Dr. Bob to sobriety and gave them the principles that they turned into the “12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

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There’s a great deal that I’d like to say about Sam Shoemaker – and a book I’m working on titled For: A True Story has much about Sam in it – but today I’m thinking about his life-long call to action. Wherever Sam went, he admonished the men and women he served to “Get Changed, Get Together, Get Going!” This admonition is well known in the “recovery community,” but it isn’t guidance for a drunk or a workaholic only. These three little commands have profound leverage in them for all of us, and are worthy of daily consideration.

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Upending the Pyramid: Why Serving Others Matters in the Workplace

While certainly not the author of the idea (or the practice, for that matter) of servant leadership, Robert K. Greenleaf catalyzed a modern “servant leadership movement” in management philosophy over the last 35 years. His famous question about the impact of a leader was this: “Do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

This is the right question to ask ourselves, whatever theory of leadership we hold. Do the people we lead—do the people we serve—become stronger, gain sharpness, grow in excellence and initiative, develop their own deep sense of worth and purpose as a result of our leadership? And just why is this the right question? It’s really quite simple: the people we lead (serve) do all the work. The more awesome they become, the more awesome their work—period. End of story.

Serve Others First

When Jim Collins went searching for the secret to company greatness, he told his researchers not to discover that the secret was leadership. He knew—and he was dead right about this—that greatness had to be the result of many people doing great things. There weren’t enough leaders in an enterprise to account for greatness. But Collins also discovered that he was dead wrong; leaders create the conditions for people to reach for greatness, or they create the opposite. Depending on your leadership, people will choose to give their all or they will choose to be miserly with their gifts.

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3 Reasons Why Failure is a Gift

Last Thursday I was visiting with a client in Indianapolis, a young business owner who founded his company in his 20s and has grown it to include 30 or so skilled staff and a geographic reach of several states. We were talking about failures and setbacks, and about the fact that neither of us knew – when we were children and when we were in our teens – that life would be filled with such trips, falls, setbacks, and, yes, “failures.” I put “failures” in quotes, not because a failure isn’t a failure, but because a failure is also a gift. It is, if we do the right things when we fail.

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My client had just read Ten Thousand Horses, and he started the conversation by quoting a line from the book.

Innovate! Try the untried. Do the thing that ‘can’t be done.’ The worst that’ll happen is you’ll stumble and fall. While you’re down there, why don’t you roll over onto your back and look up at the mind-boggling stars for a minute. Then get back up!” - Mike Wilson, Graduation Address 2006, High Summit Ranch

Being a brand new grandfather, I’m thinking quite a lot about the growing up process. More to the point, I’m thinking about my grandson, and also about his new parents. I’m remembering my boyhood, and also my young venture into parenthood a quarter of a century back. “Failure” was unthinkable back then – when I was a young boy and a young dad. “Failure” was judgment, condemnation, no-second-chances, embarrassment, shame. I knew then that I had to get it right, or at least pretend that I had.

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Raising the Bar: Why Values Matter in the Workplace

Values are the foundation of an organization’s culture. Where Great Purpose provides the source of energy and the answer to why we work, values guide how we work and make decisions. This guidance will be intentional, or it will be unintentional, because every organization has values. The question is: “Will we choose the values that will guide us, or will we allow ourselves to be pushed around by the riptides of opportunity and crisis?”

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Identify and Define Your Values

The enterprise that says – “We don’t waste our time on things like values. We’ve got a business to run!” – is showing us their underlying values. Examine the pattern of decisions and you’ll know what their “values statement” would say.

The business that says it values integrity, but rewards the salesperson who brings in the most business (while cutting ethical corners), is displaying its true values. The stated values are not real, of course, but the company still has values. By their fruit, you will know!

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Grandpa Reflects On The Growing-Up Process

I’ve had the privilege of holding many titles over a lifetime, and each title has brought me insights, opportunities, and, as is true about everything in life, challenges.

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I was, first of all, “son,” and then became “student” and in my early teens, “believer.” Soon enough I added “graduate,” and in due course, “employee.” At 22 years of age, I added “husband” to the list of titles, this one being of an entirely different magnitude than most. I could fill a library on the learning that has accompanied being “husband” over the past 35 years.

Soon after becoming “husband,” I added “pastor,” and then “founder,” “entrepreneur,” “author,” and then – oh my – “daddy.” With “daddy” would come a second library of discovery, learning, and growth.

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My New Adventure

Dear friends and colleagues,

As part of my commitment to grow in service to you, I am proud and excited to share that I recently joined longstanding companions at Newton Consulting and that Serving Ventures has become the heart of Newton Institute’s Center for Serving Leadership. Allow me to share a few of the specifics, and then say a word about what this means for us all.

On January 6, 2015, I was named President of the Newton Institute (a subsidiary of Newton Consulting) and Director of the Center for Serving Leadership. Newton Consulting is a global consulting company that has systematically embedded The Serving Leader into its core operating principles, sharing our focus on values and on serving people and customers. I have felt deeply aligned with the company and with its founder Rick Newton, and recognized that together, we could do greater things. In this new role, I will continue to give leadership to our vision to spread the message and practice of Serving Leadership worldwide. The key impact of this change is the immense strength and deep values alignment we gain through the extraordinary team we have joined.

Our primary work – leading Serving Leader Cohorts in cities around the world, embedding Serving Leader Practices inside great companies, hosting the Annual Serving Leader Conference in Pittsburgh, Pa., and certifying Serving Leader Trainers – will be carried forward by the Center for Serving Leadership without interruption. In addition to these historical practices, the Center for Serving Leadership is now prepared to reach more cities with Serving Leader resources and to invest ourselves in more partners who share our passion for building a world-wide community of Serving Leader practitioners.

I look forward to hearing from you and to continuing our work together. Thank you so very much for the privilege of being your colleague!


Video image by Joe Shannon / Newton Consulting

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Little White Lies

On Saturday I spent half a day with 100 resident advisers and resident directors at Grove City College, a Christian college located in western Pennsylvania. I work with this group each year as part of their leadership development program, offering stories and some teaching to encourage their growth and development in leadership (and life).

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As I have written on this subject before, it strikes me as borderline unconscionable that our education system, from high school through college and into graduate school, aspires to produce top performers in various professions but does not prepare their students for the guaranteed result, namely, that graduates who distinguish themselves in their chosen profession will be promoted to leadership. And leadership is not what the school prepared them to know how to do.

You can read a bit more on this, if you like, in prior blogs such as THIS .

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Want to Win Some Gold Stars?

At the end of this year, Milonica and I will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary. I’ve been reflecting on the learning experience these 35 years have been, and I notice that there are some parallels to our learning experience as members of organizational teams. Marriage is, obviously, a one-of-a-kind human institution – a sacrament – and it has unique dimensions that stand all on their own. But marriage also contains a treasure trove of learning that is directly useful to reflect upon for other areas of life.

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One of the things that I’ve learned from my marriage to Milonica over these decades is that, well, people change. I am not writing today for the purpose of giving marriage counsel (or, for that matter, to address the subject of divorce) but I will say that perhaps the most lame excuse I have heard over the years for divorce is precisely this point. “I guess we just changed,” couples have said to me, to which I have replied, “well of course you did!” To be alive and aware and interesting – to merely be conscious – is to change. Blaming a broken marriage on change would be roughly analogous to explaining that you quit your job because it involved work.

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