4 things to consider before dismissing that suggestion or idea

elephant tied with stringIf it didn’t work then, will it work now?

Elephant syndrome is what I call it, the tendency to never forget. But I am not referring to a good memory. I am talking about a faulty forgetter. Like the elephant in the photo, we remain tied with string to obstacles we could readily overcome. That elephant was tied to an object when it was little but does not now understand what happened and what it could do to break out.

Consider this. You are the leader of a company on its way to fulfilling its purpose. One of your associates suggests an idea which you’ve already tried. You’ve tried it before and it did not work.

What would you do?

Most of us would reject it outright. We tend to have elephant syndrome. We remember those things that stymied us before, those tactics that failed, those efforts that fell short. And there well could be a good reason not to pursue them again.

On the other hand, it might be more effective to take another look at it.


  1. Because that was then and this is now. The circumstances, components, and dynamics that stopped you back then may not exist anymore. When the economy crashed here in the US in 2009, it was virtually impossible to get a business loan. Many simply gave up trying. But that was then. The economy has changed and lenders are loaning again. Just because it didn’t work then does not mean one should not try now when things are different. You could be tied with string. What you remember as being insurmountable then is well within your power to do now.
  2. It’s impossible to steer a ship when it is not moving. In organizations beset by inertia and stagnation, the principle effect you want is movement. You want people to think, to project, to create, to propose, to experiment, to act. When the ship moves it can be steered. Your role as a leader is not to stand at the helm looking splendid in your captain’s uniform. No, your role is to guide and steer the ship. Everyone else gets to make it move. Let them do your job while you do yours.
  3. Never stomp on someone’s idea outright. It may indeed be a bad idea but don’t take the mere suggestion of it personal. Those who work for you and with you can either be associates or lackeys. How you respond to their suggestions says a lot about what you think about them, about yourself, and about your authority. People who have an inflated opinion of themselves and their position tend to dismiss others. But remember what I’ve written earlier, that a leader’s circle of concern is greater than their circle of ability. They need, indeed you need others to extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work.
  4. If it is indeed an unworkable idea, the mere suggestion of it suggests a teachable moment. So teach already. Define your objections, analyze and verify their validity, explain your reasons, invite participation and feedback in the discussion and, this is important here, come to the same conclusion together. There’s more to getting things done than just doing things. You are also in the process of developing capable people as well.

There are, of course, some things that will never work. But you need to be fair about discerning what they are. There’s more at stake here than just exercising your authority.

Leadership is not about who you are but about where you’re going

Self-importance seems to go hand in hand with titles. Ascending to a position of power and importance can readily go to one’s head. One leader revealed that within hours of being appointed to a new job, one where he was in charge, he received two phone calls from colleagues encouraging him to show his power, to let people know there was a new sheriff in town.

Admittedly it is a tempting thought. After all, you’ve worked hard, proven yourself, and paid the price for success. Then getting the place of power and authority, it seems a shame not to use it. However, I’ve found that


If you have been reading The Practical Leader for long you may remember that post I wrote last year about restraint. Power brings with is many possibilities for good and for bad. Using power to demonstrate power is almost always counter-productive.

It is critical to remember that the object of power is not power nor the ability to use power unless it is qualified by purpose.

Just what is the motive behind and the intent ahead of the power we wield?

Methods might have to be changed or recharged to refocus the organization on its mission. The mission and vision of a company, if it has been well-considered before implementation, remains fixed and constant. The means to get there do not. Power, and your new position , is a great chance to refocus on the mission, remind everyone (yourself included) of the progress made, and refine methods you’re taking to get there.

Paradigms change, we have to as well. We start out using one map, a projected lay of the land and assumption about routes to be taken. But as our understanding changes with time and experience, so must our “maps.” Changes must be made, but they need to be logical (according to sound thinking and valid argument) and they must be reasonable (according to rational thought and trustworthy information and data). Anything less and confusion will result raising levels of anxiety in everyone working for you.  If they cannot see the reasons why changes are being made and if they cannot understand how they will fit in those changes, their sense of security will plummet.

Finally, employ the power and privilege of your position to clarify and explain what’s being done and why. People of power have earned the right to be heard. Do not squander that right by remaining silent. With the power and the privilege comes the responsibility to treat others with the respect they deserve as individuals and valued participants in the company’s purpose. Explain, explain, explain. And don’t limit your explanation to one announcement, an email, or a notice put on a bulletin board. Keep explaining until everyone gets it.

Simply throwing your weight around puts the spotlight and focus on you which is precisely on the wrong place.  You, the leader, want to be the calalyst for action and advancement, not the point of reaction and resentment.

Using Authority, Capitalizing on Power

vintage woodshopI was in my first year of junior high school. That means the ripe age of 12. I had enrolled in woodshop as one of my permitted elective courses and very excited about learning how to make things.

I don’t really remember the first project we were given to work on. But I do remember the first piece of lumber I had to cut. Skinny and short for my age, I selected a hand saw from the storage rack and a board from the storage bin. Laying it out on the bench, I measured and drew a line.

With saw in one hand, holding the board with the other, I clumsily drew the teeth across the edge. Making a pile of sawdust I cut through the board. But try as I could, I could not keep the saw on the line. As the waste piece fell off, my project board had a crooked edge both across the grain and vertically.

The shop teacher came over, picked up the piece, and laid it back down. “Well,” he said, “I’ve seen better.” Then he walked off. Not more discussion. No instruction. Nothing.

Now, no doubt he was accurate and truthful.  Doubtless he had seen better.

But was that really the point?

Leadership confronts opportunities like this often, usually many times a day. Someone makes an attempt but somehow someway falls short. And leaders really, really need to remember how significantly what they say and how they respond will impact the person.

You can use your authority or capitalize on your power.

That instructor way back in junior high used his authority. He made an accurate and truthful pronouncement that passed judgment on both me and the work I had completed.

But it fixed nothing. I already knew it was not a good cut. How could it have been anything else? I had not used a handsaw before. I had been given no instruction. I tackled the job with as much enthusiasm as I could muster and focused my efforts. To be told that he had seen better remedied not one thing except to let me know that he possessed knowledge that I needed but he was not going to share it and that I had failed to live up to the rest of the human race.

Just about all of us have heard of Douglas McGregor’s X & Y theories of management. X being directive and authoritative. Y being indirect and informative. Well, there is a third not spoken of much but one under which we have all suffered. That is the SOB style, the one used by my shop teacher, is probably more widely in use than we would hope.

The use of authority, as I’ve illustrated, usually makes the one using authority feel better while making the one upon whom it was used feel worse. He could have used his considerable power (defined as the influence one has upon others) to instruct, to place things in perspective (“No problem, this is your first cut and I’ll show you how to make cuts the right way” or something like that), and to move the class along towards its implied goals of developing woodworking skills in young students.

The office of a leader is filled with nuances. There is advice and direction and then there is inspiration and motivation. There is that which is accurate and there is that which is helpful. It is not impossible to be, say, and do both at the same time.

No one is suggesting that standards be lowered or eliminated and no one is suggesting that incompetence be sanctioned. I am suggesting, however, that life and death is in the power of the tongue. We as leaders can either make things better or worse. And it depends on what we say, when it is said, and how we say it.

It does matter…and they will remember.

The difference between an incomplete leader and an incompetent one


Wizard-of-OzThe myth of the superhero leader, a person of unlimited ability, charisma, and strength persists. Indeed, throughout all of history we have forced the illusion of the larger than life figure who is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings at a single bound.

Without doubt extraordinary leaders are people of exceptional competence but they do not rely on the image of flawless perfection nor do they allow their subordinates and associates to perpetuate that myth.

Some people seem to think that they must appear to be capable of every demand made upon them. It is an unfortunate and unsustainable reliance on image. They are typically emotionally insecure individuals who are afraid that their power and authority would somehow disappear if others were to know that they can’t really do everything.

Others are narcissists who are in love with their own image and perceive themselves inaccurately, emperors without clothes, as it were. Their massive self-esteem is rooted in the illusion that they are more competent than they are.

No one as complete as they would like to be. Many are not as complete as they think they are.

I’ve been writing for several months about the qualities of the superlative leader but I cannot sum up the series without qualifying the idea some may get that superlative leaders possess all 18 qualities or that to be truly exceptional one must be flawless.

But great men and women often possess great flaws.

So what?

Their strengths far outweigh their weaknesses because their competence as leaders simply overwhelms. And that brings me to the point today. There is a difference between being incomplete and being incompetent.

Incomplete leaders are humble enough to recognize…and accept…their weaknesses. Here’s the key – because they can see and accept their flaws and weaknesses, they search for others who possess the skills, competencies, and capabilities they do not. Then they employ them to build a leadership and executive team that is complete.

Incompetent leaders do not. Their flaws, because they remain unacknowledged and unattended, eventually overcome them and overwhelm their ability to lead. Why? Because of the wizard syndrome.

What, you ask, is the wizard syndrome?

Most of my readers will be familiar with the 1939 blockbuster movie “The Wizard of Oz.” Dorothy and her dog Toto find themselves ion Munchkin land desperately wanting to get back to Kansas. In the company of a Tin Man (who lacked a heart), a Lion (who lacked courage), and a Scarecrow (who lacked a brain – intelligence), they follow the yellow brick road to the city of Oz wherein dwells the Wizard, a being of incomprehensible power and knowledge. They overcome many obstacles to get to the Wizard because they believe that he can do what no one else can.

Once there, they find the Wizard unapproachable and unwilling to help. In his terrifying presence they cower and lose hope until Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal that the Wizard is no wizard at all. He is a mere man, a human who has built the image of supreme ability and unapproachable strength.

When you encounter a person who doesn’t let anyone know who they really are, who insists on projecting an image, who refuses to acknowledge that they are anything other than the magnificence they appear to be, they are using the wizard syndrome to build and maintain their power.

The problem comes when failures begin to pile up. One can forgive and compensate for the flaws of a humble person. We are less inclined to do so for the failures of those who insist on perpetuating the illusion of flawlessness.

Incomplete leaders know and accept the limitations of their reach so they find others who will enable them to reach farther. Incompetent leaders become angry and belligerent at the suggestion that their reach is somehow someway inadequate.

Incomplete leaders know and accept that they cannot know everything or understand all there is to understand so they gather around them voices that finish the story and complete the picture…and they listen to them. Incompetent leaders simply refuse to acknowledge that anyone else could possibly tell them anything they don’t know already.

Incomplete leaders have patience with others because they understand human nature and human frailties. Incompetent leaders consider themselves to be super-human and expect everyone else to be the same. They tolerate no failings in others which does two things. It promotes deceit and hiding as others cover up their actions lest Mr. Wizard find out. Second, it drives away capable people who simply will not tolerate the double-standard. The result is to attract second-rate people, lackeys and sycophants who tell Mr. Wizard what he wants to hear and promote the illusion Wizard lives under and wants.

So, we strive for excellence and live with failure. We grow into greater measures of ability and learn from our mistakes. We appreciate our innate and cultivated capacities and encourage those of others. We may be incomplete but then, none of us are finished with living yet.

As young leaders we admire and gravitate to the wizards we think will take us where we long to go. It’s only after the illusion dissolves in the cold light of reality do we realize that the heart, courage, and intelligence we long to possess is found in those who travel with us. We ultimately realize that exceptionalism is not so much a destiny as it is the journey.



3 leadership lessons I learned on board the USS Midway

USS-Midway-0-San-DiegoIn mid-January of this year my son and I spent the better part of a day touring the USS Midway, a decommissioned aircraft carrier berthed in San Diego harbor. I’ve been on naval vessels before but none as large as the Midway.

As awe inspiring as the Midway’s war making capabilities were, both Nathaniel and I were particularly interested to learn about the systems for housing the crew and maintaining morale. Accommodations for seamen was Spartan and crowded necessitated by the large number, about 5000, and the crowded confines of the ship.

There were three things that struck me.

First, there were two officers directly in charge of human relations. Those officers’ sole duty was to listen to the crew, answer questions when they could, and be an understanding and reassuring face when they could not. They had to be sensitive enough know when silence was a better response. They spent their days and nights roaming the ship talking to people. There were other officers whose duty it was to make sure the jobs were taken care of. It was their duty to make sure the people were taken care of.

Second, there were chaplains in charge of the spiritual condition of the crew. Their job was not merely a traditional obligation for religious ritual. The long tradition of handling stress in confined duty has proven that people are more than flesh and sinew. There is a spiritual dimension to everyone, even if some are less sensitive to it than others. The chaplain’s role is not conversion but conservation, to preserve the well-being of people whose hard work and difficult circumstances are more than physically draining.

Space is at a premium on board so cabin space is not handed out willy-nilly. The size, location, and amenities of one’s cabin was an indicator of importance and value. Both sets of officers, the morale officers and the chaplains, were granted larger accommodations indicating their significance.

The third thing was procedural. The Captain of the ship had free reign of the ship from bow to stern, above and below. But there was one place he never ventured into without asking permission…and he asked permission of someone below his rank. It was the dining room for the CPO’s, the Chief Petty Officers. Judged by everyone in the know to actually run the Navy, CPO’s had their own dining room into which the Captain never entered without permission. He always waited outside, asked to speak to the ranking chief, and sought permission before entering.

Why do I find this significant? Because more than anything else, this demonstrates a powerful principle – that you never violate the autonomy and sovereignty of people in their appointed role.

When I worked at Lowe’s, the manager of the flooring department showed up in my department, millwork, and began rifling through our file cabinet. With no explanation whatsoever he began removing files. Since I was not in charge, I had no authority to inquire as to what he was doing or to prohibit him from doing it. But it surely did annoy my department manager when she found out.

Why? What he was doing was preparing for a store audit by regional auditors, something that had to be done every year. I checked around and in every department where he went in and rifled the cabinets he was met with the same antagonistic response by the managers of those other departments.

What should have been done? After all, the store manager did have to make sure the store was ready for the audit. Sending a guy in to remove outdated files of dead sales was an efficient way to handle the job.

But it was highly ineffective. And it damaged his standing with the many other managers inside the building. What he should have done was get on the phone and call each one (there are only 5), inform them of the up-coming audit, explain that he was sending a person around to handle the job, and ask for both their assistance and cooperation.

When he did not do that, he proved that he had little respect for the autonomy and sovereignty of those other managers, a stupid mistake. The Captain of the Midway made no such error. He knew the significance of making sure other leaders knew that he knew their role was significant and took the actions necessary to reinforce it.

  • Appreciate the influence morale plays on overall performance. People are not machines.
  • Acknowledge the spiritual dimension of those who work for you, even when they are not religious. It’s part of the set of values that influence how people make decisions.
  • Never violate the autonomy and sovereignty of those you’ve placed in positions of responsibility.

You get 5000 sailors to do their jobs and do them well by paying the price. It is an off-budget expense but it pays unbelievably huge dividends.

NOTE: This article first appeared several weeks ago in The Practical Leader newsletter. If you’re not already a subscriber, it’s sent out free of charge at least twice a month. And, you will receive articles normally never included on this blog. Special content, personally delivered, no charge, what could be better? Simply use the subscription form at the top right of this page and in a few clicks your free subscription will be set up.

The principle of promissory note

broken eggYou see them too if you ever scan the listings. I am talking about the jobs sections of Craigslist. You can make thousands of dollars working for an unnamed company whose application address is a blind one.

This is a common theme of mine.

The setting was a private school. The newly installed headmistress faced a tall pile of unresolved challenges. The school was not a wealthy one but did allow for some reduction in school fees in exchange for volunteer commitments from parents. Therein lay a problem.

The new headmistress was confronted daily with parents who simply did not show up at their scheduled times to shoulder their promised responsibilities. Most didn’t even telephone in to say they weren’t coming. When the headmistress began to hold those parents accountable, one of them said something incredilble.

“We’ve never had anyone who actually expected us to do what we said we would do.”

Keeping promises is critical in every relationship. You cannot build a solid team on unreliable people.

In fact, a national poll released just this week (December 2, 2013) shows that most American do not even trust each other. So bad has it become that we not expect to be misled and let down more than we expect to be told the truth and given promises someone will actually fulfill.

In the first installment of this mini-series, I wrote about the principle of good faith, that law that assures people who work with us that we are worthy of their trust. A relationship, even those on the job, are like banking, loans, and bank accounts. They are built on the unexpressed but nonetheless vital principle of mutual trust.

Whenever I hired people for my businesses I would tell them that I hire people to solve problems not make them. I had no need to pay people to create problems for me because I am more than capable of creating ample quantities on my own. I also warned them that I had a zero tolerance policy for no shows. “If you don’t show up and if you don’t call me, then don’t come back.” If people I hired could not keep that simple requirement then they could not earn wages from me. And I enforced it.

Here’s why.

When you do what you say, others learn that you mean what you say. Never promise what you cannot deliver. Never make rules (like my “don’t show up” rule) and fail to enforce it. If you do, others will learn the very first time that your word in meaningless. Motivation drains away when that happens.

Keeping promises you make and holding others to promises they make synergizes to make a key ingredient that is mandatory for long-term relationships – RESPECT. The esteem and regard held by others towards adds to our line of credit. They grant us greater authority. If there comes a time when you cannot keep your promise, do not simply ignore it. Speak clearly and honestly to those affected and never try to BS your way through. It will only make it worse. When we have respect for those who work for us and with us, we regard them too highly to do anything less than be completely honest.

This principle is called promissory notes because it communicates the image of obligation. Indeed, the fabric of civilization is woven with the threads of personal responsibility and fulfillment of obligations.

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. Dwight Eisenhower

The Principle of Good Faith

handshakeBack when I wrote a series called Power Plays, one of the articles dealt with the practice of authority (read it here). I made the following points within that article:

  1. Authority is both delegated DOWNWARD and awarded UPWARD. You authorize someone for a particular job. They grant you authority to oversee and hold accountable.
  2. When a person accepts a subordinate role, they essentially delegate a portion of their personal AUTHORITY and AUTONOMY to their superior (that’s you). Subordinates do not act in a monarchy. They owe you for the responsibility and authority you have yielded to them.

Accepting the premise that power is not absolute and that the authority that we as leaders possess and wield derives from our position, our responsibility, and our character, we can say the same principle exists when it comes to our capacity to influence others, either positively (motivation) or negatively (demotivation or discouragement).

When someone comes to work for us or with us, there exists a slate of unspoken but nonetheless binding assumptions. Those assumptions are as old as civilization and never seem to vary. Those who work for us and with us grant to use a line of credit. They function within the principle of good faith. They hold the belief that their trust in us and their willingness to yield personal autonomy by granting us authority over them will be worthy of their trust and good faith.

So we can define good faith as honesty and veracity of word and intention. We mean what we say and we can be relied upon to back up what we say, follow through with what we promise, and fulfill our responsibilities to them. The opposite of that has two expressions.

First is duplicity, dishonest behavior meant to trick someone. I see this every time I look at job listings when would-be employers suggest one can make $50,000 a year while stuffing envelopes. The lie is so brazen, so bold I would think no one would be fooled, but apparently many people are.

Why? The principle of good faith. People want to grant others credit. They want to put a positive balance in the bank account of belief and relationship and will readily do so until…but I get ahead of myself. The “until” comes in a few paragraphs.

Second there is pretense, a claim of having a particular quality or ability or condition that really is not true. This usually manifests itself in pretending to be what one is not. Some people are quite schooled in this having been people of pretense all their lives. Other manifestations are the real nature of a business when the proclaimed and professed values do not hold up in real life. Non-profits are more susceptible for this, not because non-profit organizations are deceitful. No, not at all! But those who come to work in non-profits usually hold very high expectations, sometimes expectations that are next to impossible to meet.

The principle of good faith means that people come to work for and with us with little or no other assurance other than what we say or what an employment agreement may contain. Those potential workers grant to us a line of credit. They extend to us the benefit of the doubt. They are willing to invest time and talent for the promise of return and reward.

What should we do? Like applying for a loan, never prevaricate on the loan application. Never promise anything that is not true. Never play on a person’s assumptions. Explain, illustrate, define, and detail what is what. And maintain that line of credit by continuing to do so.

Next up, the principle of deposits – you gotta put something in before  you can take something out. Later this week.


The Power of Example – two reasons why it is imperative that we practice what we preach

good-example-good-advice“He that gives good advice, builds with one hand; he that gives good counsel and example, builds with both; but he that gives good admonition and bad example, builds with one hand and pulls down with the other.” Francis Bacon

You can get to the top of our profession and game by being conniving, ambitious, and ruthless. You really can. And it may be something you can live comfortably with. The name of this website may even suggest that I am willing to take the most direct route to success and accomplishment. After all what is more practical than doing whatever it takes to get whatever you want.

But I have not, and have not ever suggested that the validation of effectiveness is results. There are rules by which effective and principle-centered leaders play.

Most of us have worked for Machiavellian leaders at one time or another, perhaps you are working for one right now? If nothing more, you can learn from the power of a bad example. So I’ll say it again just to be sure I’ve said it clearly, expediency, as defined as the quality of being convenient and practical despite possibly being improper or immoral, is not validated by reaching an objective.

Fundamental to my definition and application of practical leadership is not expediency but a noble, worthy, wholesome, and better future gained by means whereby everyone is benefited and no one must compromise their principles to get there.

The ends do not justify the means…never have…never will.

Therefore, effective leaders do the right things in the right way so that the right outcome is realized in the right time.

Leadership is:

To get people to want what it is that you’ve got because you reflect with your life what it is that you say that you ought to be.


Don’t give it to them but show them how to get it for themselves.

Here it is why we practice what we preach:

To get people to want what it is that you’ve got, people have to be able to see it. Your associates and employees are not blind and they certainly are not stupid (well, most of them aren’t most of the time, anyway). Motivation is like an internal combustion engine. The fuel is applied to the right place at the same time a spark reaches the cylinder to cause the release of energy to make the machine produce. You, the effective good example apply some of the fuel and all of the spark. To internalize this, your associates and employees will gain this from your example because they like what they see, identify with who it is that you are and what it is that you stand for. You, by your example create

  1. Inspiration – a dream comes alive
  2. Motivation – energy is released to move in the direction of the dream
  3. Aspiration – effort is applied when the person determines to reach for and attain the possibilities your example has projected.

To maintain the inspiration, motivation, and aspiration you have to reflect what it is that you say by what it is that you do. Okay, maybe the grammar isn’t the most scholarly, but the principle is. You gotta walk the talk. All the time. The fastest way to kill the engine is to reveal that you are not what you’ve led everyone to believe. How do you avoid that? Not by duplicity! I have never suggested and do not suggest now that we as leaders ever engage in manipulation of the facts or circumstances to mislead. It is commonly done and I think it reveals more than the truth about who someone is, what they’ve said, or what they are doing.

It reveals an ingrained disrespect for the associate and employee.  When a boss tries to mislead or hide the truth s/he has little respect for the intelligence of the one(s) s/he is trying to mislead. When a boss tries to mislead or hide the truth s/he has little respect for the worth of the one(s) s/he is trying to mislead. You see, if we leaders and managers hold those who work for us and with us in high regard, we would never live, work, act, talk in any manner except what the circumstances demand ­­­­­- the best always and ever.

On the obverse, what you do is unmistakable evidence of who you are and what you believe. Anyone can say anything, can espouse the most grand and glorious rhetoric. It is what they do that is the evidence of who they are and what they really believe.

There are bad examples up to wazoo…but there are really good ones too. We tend to remember the bad ones more because they are a like a dark stain on a light garment. When the calling is high, the responsibilities upon the leader are heavy.

Now you may object that your role as a leader or manager is not so grand. Perhaps you do not lead an organization. Perhaps you manage a crew that stamps widgets out of whatzits. Well, history has proven the efficacy and worthiness of products well-made. Regardless of the grandness of the title or the exalted position of the office, it is the attitude and perspective of the person with the mantle of leader or manager.

I’d like to hear about the good ones though and so would your fellow readers. Leave a comment below and I’ll post it for the others. I’ve had to disable automatic posting because of spammers who daily fill my inbox with offers of marriage from Russian women and sure thing investment opportunities. But I do look at them all so I’ll read yours too.

6 Bases of Power – the nine characteristics of a Principle-Centered leader

valuesI raised quite a firestorm a few years ago when I wrote an article called “Cardboard Elvis.” (You can check it out here.)

It discusses the disparity between charismatic leadership and principle-centered leadership. They are not mutually inclusive nor are they mutually exclusive. The article explains that while society in general is attracted to charismatic leaders, it is the principle-centered ones that actually build substantial organizations that last and do the most ethically and morally to serve their communities.

But principle-centered leaders are not always flashy. They are not always the best orators. They don’t always attract much attention. They do, however, tend to attract quality people and, here’s the clincher, they tend to keep those quality people over a long period of time.


Well, let’s look at it from two perspectives. First, from the viewpoint of the associate or employee; Money is not the only reason someone takes a job. There is a large segment of the workforce that looks for companies that embrace the same value system and will work for less as long as the values remain consistent and are proven over time to be core values.

The principle-centered leader attracts them because his/her life reflects what his mouth said we should be. Stated as a principle of motivation it is this:

People want what it is that you’ve got because you reflect with your life what it is that you say with your mouth that you ought to be.

You, the principle-centered leader, are genuine, without wax, solid, certain, true, honest, transparent, upright, fair, just, and balanced. A tall order for sure, but the result is lasting power and influence!

From the perspective of the principle-centered leader, s/he will accept nothing less than a whole person. S/he will tolerate no compromise in principles, will demand that the core values of the organization be maintained even if it costs the organization, and will never excuse any untoward behavior by claiming that the end justifies the means.

I am by no means the first person to ever espouse this. Perhaps the most famous was Steven Covey who contrasted Primary and Secondary greatness. Primary is what I’ve called principle-centered. Secondary is what I call charismatic. (You do understand that I am using the term “charismatic” in its generic sense? I am not referring to that branch of contemporary Evangelical Christianity that is, within the jargon of that genre, called charismatic. However, the principles I am defining here apply graphically there too.)

When I first released Cardboard Elvis most of my consulting and training clients were managers and leaders of several charities with religious affiliations. In the article, I refer to one leader in particular without naming any names. My experience with that particular leader had brought home the sharp contrast between charisma and principle in a way that negatively impacted me and a very large number of others.

Even though that person was unnamed and the organization they affiliated with was not mentioned, I received many, many letters and phone calls telling me that they knew who that person was. Every letter or phone call mentioned someone else, dozens of different leaders that headed up different organizations in different parts of the world.

What does that illustrate? That the condition is widespread and visible.

Principle-centered leaders honor their associates, employees, and followers because they live and work in a manner that never betrays their confidence in him or her. Power is created when the values of the leader overlap and coincide with the values of the associate. It becomes a self-igniting source of energy that will drive the wheels of productivity, creativity, and progress. Control is self-control, internal not external because followers believe deeply in the goals communicated to them. Motivation is intrinsic and the dynamics of work become much simpler to manage.

Covey has his eight characteristics of principle-centered leadership. I have nine. You can read his in one of his books or elsewhere on the net. You can see mine right here:

  1. Consistent – They don’t blow hot and cold, positive and negative, righteous and evil.
  2. Balanced – They live to work and work to live, but that’s not all they do. They have home lives of comfort and security, relationships of affection and respect, and schedules that include work and play.
  3. Honorable – They have motives that speak the best of society and are civilization builders. They plant trees they will never sit under, swear to their own hurt, echo all that is good and decent.
  4. Upright – They never stoop to anything, no dirty tricks, no misleading statements, no questionable tactics.
  5. Fair – They treat everyone the same and live and enforce rules the same.
  6. Just – They have high morals and live by them, they know right from wrong and live on the right side.
  7. Sincere – They are never duplicitous, never misleading, never dishonest.
  8. Truthful – They are determined to tell the truth – that which is correct and accurate, the whole truth – leave nothing out, and nothing but the truth – add nothing to it.
  9. Reliable – They are people of their word, make commitments they will keep, and form a solid basis upon which associates, employees, and followers can build their lives.

Who do you know that you can identify as principle-centered? I hope it is more than only one.

6 Bases of Power – Charismatic

Wizard-of-OzThey stand out, those charismatic leaders.

Larger than life and more enduring than time, their names remain known and their works referred to yet today.  People like Jesus, Caesar Augustus,  and Charlemagne anchor ancient history.  In the more recent past it is Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, Henry Ford, Aimee Semple McPherson, Churchill, Hitler (despicable but charismatic nonetheless), Patton, Walt Disney, and countless more known less well but effective within smaller circles.

Charismatic power has traction because the leader is verbally eloquent and able to articulate a vision of meaning to his/her followers. They are celebrities in their own right even if their field is not entertainment. And in a world where media reigns supreme, charismatic leaders have a lock on power.

Plus it doesn’t even matter if they know what they’re talking about.

The influence of a celebrity is why product endorsements are so lucrative. The product endorsement business is gigantic, many millions of dollars every year. Despite a few failed associations, celebrity endorsements work.

We grant authority to charismatic figures (we cede to them power) because of their supposed status. Indeed, some charismatic leaders are persons of exceptional heroism, character, and ability. Sadly, most are not. They only appear to be. It has more to do with the relationship between the leader and their followers than it does with the leaders exceptional abilities. The charismatic leader who finds a receptive audience has struck a chord within them and they respond. Too many of those charismatic leaders tend to be two dimensional, possessing bigger than life appearance. Often they either lack depth or they simply are not what one supposes and ascribe them to be.

Often manifest in religious groups and politics, both of which require a suspension of credible belief to function. They call on ideals, evoke images of a brighter, better tomorrow, and persuade followers to participate in their pursuit of that tomorrow.

C.S. Lewis defined a celebrity as one who is well known for being well-known. They play on their image behind which there may or may not be any substance. I am not implying deception although I will acknowledge that it does sometimes occur. Like the wizard of Oz, they do not want you to see behind the curtain. Television, radio, the internet facilitate this quite well because of its ability to broadcast an edited performance allowing the leader to control what the followers see and hear.

The farther away and higher up the ladder, the more power we tend to give them.  I call this the prophet from another country syndrome, taken from the words of Jesus in the New Testament when he said that a prophet is not without honor except in his own country. It implies that if you really knew who the person was and understood what they were really like, they would not have nearly the same power.

Charismatic leadership works because it taps into a dynamic of motivation all effective leaders understand. When followers admire what you have to say and how eloquently you can say it, they will follow enthusiastically. Conversely, as I will address in the very next post, there are men and women of exceptional character who lack eloquence and flash. Their possess intelligence, vision, and character, but are handicapped because of a lack of charisma.

Charisma is not a bad thing. It is merely a dynamic. Used by unscrupulous people it is disastrous. Employed by persons of character and honor, magnificent things happen.

Here’s the video: