Stuck in 1st gear – is the impediment to progress you?

stuck in 1stIt happens easily enough and usually innocently enough. You start a business or organization then endure what is often a long and expensive learning curve. Along the way you learn…you learn a lot. You discover the competencies and incompetencies of those working with you. You learn how to manage cash flow challenges. You learn the ins and outs, the ups and downs of business in the real world.

In a few years the business or organization begins to prosper. By then your role should change from working in your business to having more time to work on your business.

But too often it doesn’t. The business (I use this term in a very broad sense. Even nonprofits are enterprises with a mission to accomplish and must function in just about every sense as a business. The only differences are that the excess revenues received are not distributable to anyone except in the form of salaries paid for work performed) begins to prosper and could expand to another level but something seems to be holding it back.

Could it be you?

How, you object? Because holding on to authority means letting go of responsibility. Notice I did not say shirking responsibility. I said letting go of responsibility. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn in my early developmental years in leadership is to discover what things, what jobs, what tasks, what responsibilities faced me that only I could do…and giving everything else away.


May I direct your eyes to the banner of this website for just a few seconds? You may have to scroll the page up, especially if you’re reading on a smartphone or tablet. What does it say just under “The Practical Leader?”

It says “Extend Your Reach – Multiply Your Effectiveness – Divide Your Work.”

But too many of us are stuck with limited reach, divided effectiveness and multiplied work…and we’ve done it to ourselves. Like a car stuck in first gear, your journey consumes way too much fuel, makes way too much noise, and takes way to long to get there.


Because one of the key responsibilities resting upon you is the need to empower and release others. To make more leaders. But you won’t be able to do that if you see them as inept and incapable or if you regard them as a threat.

Your role is not to monitor others but to mentor them. This assumes the following:

  1. That you are secure enough in your position as leader that you can share the work and the credit. Insecure leaders seem to be attention hogs.
  2. That you are attentive to who you hire. You have identified your limitations and hire others for their strength to compensate for your weakness.
  3. That you are willing to pass on what you’ve learned to others.
  4. That you will not allow paranoia to stifle the growth of your company or organization.

You can stop right where you are. In fact if you do you are not alone. Thousands of businesses are stymied simply because their owners/leaders cannot or will not shift gears.

Now, by this point I usually get some pushback from leaders who complain that they have no one they can trust, that if they didn’t monitor everything that goes on the whole company would fall into chaos, that every person they’ve ever tried to employ has disappointed them.

They are, of course, quite incorrect. They are either control freaks or they are unable to grow. Will others fail? Yes, but then so do you. Will others disappoint? Yes, but then so will you. Perfection and 100% economy and efficiency is a myth. You don’t meet that standard and no one else will either. It is no reason and cannot be legitimized to excuse oneself from mentoring.

Never forget what your role really is. It is not to make sure everyone does things right. It is to make sure that you… and everyone else… stays focused on the vision and does the right things.

You there, yes you, the leader of your company or organization. Do only those things that only you can do. Mentor others so you can give everything else away.

Do you really want that promotion?

Leaders are change agents. Managers are less so. Leaders steer the ship in new directions or they inspire followers to pursue the company’s vision with renewed energy and enthusiasm. Manager just, well, manage. They keep systems operating smoothly, meet quantifiable targets, and keep things on track.

Most of us expect promotions. We expect to advance into higher levels of authority and responsibility. We don’t always understand what that implies. A skill set and personality that works wonderfully in one spot does not always work very well in another. Let me explain using a focused example.

Kent was the owner of a successful machine shop. He had a from four to six employees depending on the workload who turned out small parts on a relatively short turnaround time. He managed the shop well, kept the processes tight, and turned a profit year after year. He could control his employees with wages and incentive bonuses.

Then, a large non-profit organization hired Kent. There he worked with a larger staff of volunteers. Kent’s new job demanded a different skill set that of being able to articulate visions and inspire volunteers to pursue the vision. It was a completely different dynamic than that of his shop…and it didn’t work too well. A heavier hand might have kept manufacturing processes on track but the new organization demanded a lighter touch. He managed the shop with perfection but the non-profit required a skill set for which he was not very well equipped.

It is not necessarily true that a great manager can become a great leader. In 1969, Laurence J. Peter wrote a book called the Peter Principle. In it he said “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”

He was not being cynical, he was being observant. We tend to believe that people who have performed well at one level can perform just as well at another, that a line manager can become an effective leader.

They might.

But they might not.

Now lest we think that one job is more prestigious and therefore more worthy than another, let me be clear that the best work experiences I have ever had were in companies where the number 2 person knew they were a number two person and were quite content to be there.

Most of us go through a good many positions in our careers but one of the most valuable secrets we will ever learn is to know at what level we function best. Managers who are put into positions of higher responsibility (check again the chart I used last week, reprinted here below), may indeed find conceptual thinking rewarding. But others like to “get their hands dirty” so to speak. They like the pace and activities found in maintaining systems and processing plans.

hersey blanchard chart

Others find it grueling and boring.

Then there are entrepreneurs who love starting businesses but hate running them. They love the challenge of taking a concept and fleshing it out but bristle at the drudgery of day to day management (at least they perceive it as drudgery).

So, let’s look again at the Peter Principle. The prevalent idea is to advance up the ladder until one sits in the highest office. Pressure is usually applied from several directions – spouses, parents, associates, and superiors can exert either subtle or more overt influence to try and get you to move up. Perhaps you should. But maybe not.

How would you know and what should you do? I’ll begin to explain on Thursday.


How to measure confidence

17695242-meter-with-the-words-you-re-in-control-illustration-designConfidence, on the job, is the result of adequate self-esteem and a certainty of one’s ability to fulfill the job requirements. Confidence within an employee or an associate is directly related to their likelihood of fulfilling a task. Therefore, confidence is one of the two components you as a leader will need to be able to evaluate.

In a previous post, I wrote about the two components – competence and confidence, so I won’t repeat what I wrote. I do want to address the necessity to estimate another’s confidence.

It is not a precise science and there are no number scales that I know of to help you do this. Nor are there any tests one can administer that would measure it. But, having said that, it seems obvious that a simple observation of skill will help measure competence. If the skill is there, then confidence should be relatively simple to measure.

Let’s take, for example, the situation I described in the post I made last Friday. An apprentice had been working in a restoration shop for several months before the owner gave him a complete project of his own to manage.

We can assume that the owner and the apprentice’s immediate manager had been watching him and evaluating the work he had turned out. Since they were releasing to him greater responsibility, we can also assume that the apprentice’s work had been up to the standards required and possibly exceeded them.

At no time and in no way I am suggesting that a conscientious and responsible manager or leader simply guess about the ability of an associate, employee, or subordinate. It would be foolhardy to hand off responsibility to an untried, untested, unevaluated person and expect anything more than disaster. Indeed, if the unevaluated subordinate proves to be competent and responsible, then you were just lucky.

No, hand off responsibility, well, responsibly. So for the sake of measuring the second component – confidence – let’s assume that the person in question has been working with you long enough, or has sufficient references and experience from previous jobs that you can assume the best as far as competence goes.

Here’s a hint – in the case of the reluctant and unsure apprentice in the restoration shop, his reluctance and uncertainty could have been alleviated at least somewhat had he been receiving regular feedback. I do not like and do not advocate annual or semi-annual performance appraisals. It may be okay to evaluate progress toward agreed upon goals periodically, but performance appraisals should be done every minute of every day. As soon as you see or discover something being done right, say so. Every minute of every day you should be on the job, in the workplace, looking around catching people doing things right…and then letting them know. This is the number one way to build a positive and thriving work force.

So then, how do you measure one’s confidence:

  1. Rate their enthusiasm for the job they do and their enthusiasm to accept the job you are offering. If you see hesitation, make a value judgment as to whether it is a lack of confidence.
  2. Check out the types of questions they ask. Are they asking for reinforcement and reassurance? Do they seem unsure of their own personal ability to make a decision? If so, confidence is lacking.
  3. What kind of risks are they are willing to take? An unwillingness to take risks is almost always a sign of a lack of confidence. But you need to be honest here. Are they lacking confidence in themselves, in you, in the company, or what?

You can help by doing these 5 things:

  1. Be very explicit about what the job requires.
  2. Be very explicit about what the deadlines and standards are.
  3. Be very explicit about what the budget is.
  4. Be very explicit about what limits there are to the delegate’s authority and power. Remember the case a few years ago when a low level clerk in Singapore brought down an entire international investment company simply because there had been no limits placed on clerks in trading securities.
  5. Be very explicit about what you will do to support them in their responsibility and at the very least imply what you won’t do.

It could go like this:

Here is this project I want your help on. Look over the job, let me know your suggestions and report back to me so I can decide what to do.


Here is this project I want your help on. Look over the job, put together a project plan and let me see it before you act on it. The budget is $XXX, look over the job and let me know if it is enough or too much.


Here is this project I want your help on. Look over the job, let me know in a week how you’re coming along.


Here is this project I want you to handle. Let me know when you think you can get it done , who you will need to help, and how much you think it will cost. After we talk about those things, you can get started.


Here is this project I want you to handle. I need it in 9o days. Can you do it? If you are confident you can, report to me every 2 weeks.

Confidence is different from self-esteem. Confidence is the measure of certainty we have in being able to complete a responsibility. Self- esteem is how we feel about ourselves. Low self-esteem almost always accompanies low confidence. But people with high-self-esteem may lack confidence in a particular task or responsibility. You can fix that by how you relate to them and work with them. Confidence breeds confidence. You confidence in them goes a very long ways in imparting to them the confidence they need to get the job done. Be smart about it, but don’t minimize your role.


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.



The quality of confidence – lessons from Flight 1549


confidenceChesley Burnett Sullenberger, was born January 23, 1951 in Dennison, Texas, to a dentist father and an elementary school teacher mother. An exceptional student with a brilliant mind, he joined Mensa at the age of 12.

After graduating from high school, he entered the US Air Force Academy. Already a competent pilot, he was selected to be a flight instructor by the end of his first year. After a career in the Air Force, he became a commercial pilot for U.S. Airways and its predecessors. Logging more than 20,000 hours flying time, his proven competence yielded a high level of confidence in himself, and a confidence in him by those who flew in his flight crews.

All went reasonably well until January 15, 2009. In command of an Airbus A320 leaving New York’s La Guardia for Charlotte, North Carolina, Flight #1549 hit a flock of birds shortly after take-off. Losing power in both engines it quickly became apparent that a return to La Guardia or a diverted landing to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey was not feasible. Informing the passenger to brace for landing, Captain Sulley flew the Airbus to a water landing in the Hudson River. All passengers and crew survived.

Listening to the flight recording (below) is a graphic example of cool confidence under dire circumstances.


Confidence is the ability to take the information you have right now, make a decision, and take action. Indeed, that perfectly summarizes leadership itself – understand what’s what, know what to do next, then do it.

It comes as the result of self-awareness and experience. In an interview with news anchor Katie Couric, Captain Sulley said, “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

When you have self-confidence, it will manifest itself in the speed and certainty of your decisions. Tentativeness and uncertainty does not inspire confidence in those who look to you for leadership. And if your followers do not have confidence, they will not follow enthusiastically, perhaps not follow at all.

If confidence is “full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing,” then what can you do that will promote that in yourself and your followers?

  1. Celebrate achievements with humility. Bravado and bluster does not inspire confidence. Instead it often provokes others to wonder what you are covering up.
  2. View inexperience with optimism, seeing it as merely things you have not yet had the opportunity to do. Superlative leaders do not view new things with fear, they view them opportunistically.
  3. Surround yourself with experts not sycophants. Find people who will complement you, adding to what you are not or cannot do and be. If your ego is weak and you need people to flatter you, remember that compliments are not the same as complements. The absolute last thing you want is to work yourself into a situation where you’re in way over your head and have few or no resources to get yourself out.
  4. Be aware of how you talk to yourself. Some people are too critical of themselves. Yes, we all have apprehensions. Yes, we all have failures. And that’s the point. The feelings you have are universal. You are not alone nor are you unique. Speak honestly to yourself but not with condemnation.
  5. Look the part. Why do you think airline pilots don’t show up for work in Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and sandals? Because it would not inspire confidence among the crew or the passengers! Leaders need to look like leaders in the context in which they lead. Whatever the socially acceptable standard is in your industry, meet it.
  6. Act the part. Speak with decorum, avoid unsavory jokes, eliminate offensive speech. Don’t qualify every edict or order by sounding tentative. Being “iffy” works against you.
  7. Don’t fall apart. Keep your head about you in times of crisis or challenge. This is where superlative leadership really shines. Thankfully, few of us will ever face what Captain Sully did, but we will face challenges. Keep your head about you. After all, in quietness and confidence is your strength.


Forward focus – handling CAVE people

paperIf there is one competency that separates a leader from a manager, it is this one: the ability to maintain a forward focus and organize change to facilitate it. There are a thousand things that compete for our attention (well, maybe not a thousand but it can seem like it).

And there are a thousand problems that need to be solved, phone calls to be returned, people to see, and agenda items to be completed.

But superlative leaders have one focus, even if it must compete for their attention. They maintain a forward focus and evaluate everything, EVERYTHING, against that.

Managers don’t. It is their job to manage day to day numbers. It is their job to make sure processes run smoothly and productively (according to numbers).

But it is the leader’s job to focus ahead. S/he does not measure progress by conformity to systems and processes. S/he measures progress by how well those systems and processes advance the company or organization forward, propelling everyone and everything towards the future.

Not everyone can do that. Some leaders strangely find it comforting and reassuring to be needed and validate that reassurance by being drawn in to problems.

Focus on those tasks and responsibilities uniquely yours (forward moving items) and give everything else away. EVERYTHING!  Problems, problematic people, or broken things. Superlative leaders don’t get caught in those nets. Issues need to be addressed, problems need to be solved, and people need attention but it is not your responsibility to do all of it. Your focus must remain forward and relatively narrow.

Raise up others who will facilitate you and your vision then trust them to extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work. To do that you need to trust your own instincts and abilities to recruit and empower the right people.

Focus efforts on those tasks and people who will make change real. There are those folks called CAVE people – Constantly Against Virtually Everything. They delight in finding something wrong with just about everything and are not shy about vocalizing their opinion. They can, because they make so much noise and stir things up, draw your attention and pull time and energy away from forward movement. Isolate those folks and treat the disease (either cure it or amputate it), but remain forward focus.

When you’re up to your armpits in alligators, remember that alligators are not the objective, draining the swamp is. Stay motivated yourself. Stay focused yourself. Stay encouraged yourself. You have the upper hand and the higher ambition. Don’t let issues and problems appear bigger than they appear. You are bigger than any of them and you will prevail.


Competence #4 – Ambitious learning

YogiBerraPlaying almost his entire 19 year long career at the New York Yankees, Lawrence Peter Berra, whom we know as Yogi, has become a classic example of colorful management. On the field he was a catcher and an outfielder. Off the field his career as a manager has yielded some of baseball’s and American culture’s most colorful quotes. Many of them directly apply to the field of leadership. Consider:

“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Good advice for decision-making and decision makers.

“If you don’t know where you’re going you might end up someplace else.”  Visionaries know how true that is.

And the one that directly applies to my topic today, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”

I’ve been discussing the personal competencies of a superlative leader. I spent some time on the subject of purpose and drive, on demonstrating ethics and integrity, and on serving as a symbol. This is number 4, ambitious learning.

4 things to know about ambitious learners

Superlative leaders are never content to know what they know, they want to know what they don’t know. Theirs is a forward and outward look, scanning the horizon and the setting for information that can yield insights into the way their associates work, into the forces that shape the marketplace, and how to be ready for tomorrow and the day after that.

They are students of human nature and human motivation. I’ve said before and it bears repeating here, that there is almost never a motivation issue but there is often a leadership issue. Effective, superlative leaders know who they work with and why those people do what they do. Superlative leaders never assume, never classify people too quickly, and always are sensitive to keys and clues about who does what and why they do it.

Possess a keen sense of observation. How quickly do you pick up on things? Can you spot the dynamics that are at play in the group you work with? Are you even looking for them? I am assuming here that you are not emotionally insecure and are not always scanning for reassurance. I am also assuming that you want to maximize your influence without being overbearing and demanding. If you do, then a keen sense of observation is critical. Clues to what’s going on are everywhere if you can spot them. Yogi Berra is correct, you can observe a lot by just watching.

Finally, superlative leaders are big buyers of non-fiction. They know how the game is played, but they want to know what others have learned about how the game is played. They study their field of work and they study general works on leadership and management. They know that learning did not cease when the diploma was bestowed upon them.

Competence is not a state of ignorance. It is the exact opposite. You don’t stumble into positions of responsibility and remain there for long if you are not a learner.

9 characteristics of an effective learner:

  1. Curiosity – you want to know what you don’t know when you become aware that there is something you don’t know and you are often curious to know if there is something else you should know even if you don’t know what it might be. Well, you get the idea.
  2. Diligence – attention to detail and persistent effort mark effective learners. They dig and dig deeply.
  3. Work – they have fun and enjoy their careers, but they know that learning is not always fun. Sometimes it’s just plain work, especially when the learning curve is steep.
  4. Logic – they can put 2 and 2 together and come up with four. They understand implications, usually without explanations. They get it and get it readily.
  5. Persistence – failure happens but superlative leaders who are ambitious learners never go just so far and stop because they were embarrassed or burned by a past experience. They keep going and they keep learning.
  6. Adaptability – one major leader says that “Shift happens.” He knows that what he once knew may not always hold up under what he now knows.
  7. Personalization – they internalize and apply what they learn. They put it into their context. They extract principles from one setting and apply those principles in their setting.
  8. Mentoring – superlative leaders bring others along. They share what they’ve learned with others. The best students are almost always effective teachers.
  9. A listening ear, inquiring mind, and a closed mouth – knowledge comes from seeing and hearing, not by talking. Most leaders love to hear themselves talk, and to be fair, much of leadership manifests itself by what we say, but learners know when to look and listen, too.

I’m halfway through my 64th orbit around the sun and I know less now than I ever. But I also know that I know more than I used to. So do you.

16 Qualities of a Superlative Leader – Taking Leadership Personally – The symbolic side of the leader

Keeping Up Appearances

symbolicCommunication always happens. Even when you are not deliberately sending a text, speaking before a group, speaking with someone, making a call, or any of the other acts we would equate with communicating, leaders are always communicating something.

That is the symbolic nature of the job. Someone somewhere is reading something into what you say and do. Symbols are:

  1. Arbitrary – their meaning is neither fixed nor universal. They gain credence and power based on the setting and the relationship of parties involved.
  2. Ambiguous – they deal in the world of impressions, feelings, reactions, and responses.
  3. Alterative – they change perceptions of reality and therefore change reality itself. They create meaning or, when presented badly or maliciously, they de-mean, detract from meaning.

Superlative leaders understand that they have a part to play in the story that is their life and their company. That there is a job to be done, tasks to complete, ideas to originate, and ground to be gained. But they also understand that it is not a rational, logical, Spock-like position only. They know that they work with and for people who have emotions, think abstractly, and react or respond at times irrationally. But, beyond that, superlative leaders understand that the irrational nature of humans is not completely irrational.

Unscrupulous leaders exploit this. Lacking character and honor, they know they can play the role in such a way to manipulate others to get others to do what the leader wants for himself. They will use their gifts of performance and use of symbols to use others. Superlative leaders won’t even though they could. They do, however, know that what is most important is not what happens but what it means.

A leading role has meaning. It adds something to the story. A leading role is the part of the protagonist, the one who plays the first part. You are the good guy, or at least you should be.

A leading role has entrances…and exits. Yours is not a one man show, let others do that at your funeral. You make appearances and absent yourself. You play a dominant role or a supportive one, but you are always in the wings, always there.

A leading role serves as the one with whom others identify. You become the voice, the face, the persona that is your company or department.

A leading role has relevance. A leader who is irrelevant has moved away from leadership. You know you are effective when who you are, what you believe, what you say, what you indent influences the thinking, attitudes, and actions of those you lead. No influence = no leadership.

A leading role is a mantle taken on. Many of its mannerisms and nuances are learned and assumed for the sake of the performance. Climbing into a higher place of responsibility may certainly mean an alteration of what you do and say.

A leading role is never an act of deception or an attempt to mislead, or at least it shouldn’t be. You are not trying to snooker anyone. You are trying to exert influence without demanding it and so you exploit the devices and actions that will make you even more effective.

Here is my lists of what some of them are:

  1. Symbolic devices – items have power. There are things we use that convey meaning.
      1. Clothing – maybe it’s a suit, a uniform, a vest (different colors mean different things like at Lowes), a cap.
      2. Office – a corner office has more symbolic meaning that a cubicle. How the office is kept conveys meaning too. Is it orderly or messy? It is well-furnished? Well lighted? Some who take the symbolism of devices to an extreme cut down the legs of chairs that sit in front of their desk so that those who come into the office must look up at the person behind the desk. I think this is a bit far, but you get the idea.
      3. Location – Where you stand and where you sit symbolizes something. The head of a group or the head of a table, your role is often played out center stage.
      4. Emblems – a badge, a nametag, epaulets on the shoulders, seals on podiums all symbolize the role.
      5. Accessories – the type of car you drive, the devices you use like a phone, the computer that sits on your desk…or doesn’t.


  2. Communications
    1. Public pronouncements – be presidential, so to speak.
    2. Private correspondence – words have meaning and yours have lots of meaning. Use emails for general and generic stuff. Use the phone or better, a personal face-to-face talk for personal stuff.
  3. Symbolic acts – the power of optics – you are the face of your company, organization, business, department and others are watching
    1. Officiating – ceremonies, official functions, awards events, company picnics and banquets, civic functions, and the like. Be there.
    2. Bestowing awards – act like its important and make it a big deal.
    3. Appearing to be engaged – look like you are paying attention to your job. Superlative leaders understand that personal sacrifices have to be made because of how things appear.
    4. Projecting confidence – speak with authority even if you harbor reservations. Confidence is infectious but doubt is like a raging epidemic.
    5. Taking charge – You’re the one in charge so make the decision, give the directive, speak up.
    6. Maintaining authenticity – In this one I will sound like I am contradicting myself. I said earlier that you put this on like a stage performance but I never am implying duplicity. Be who you are all the time. Talking the talk and walking the walk makes a powerful and influential leader.

Those uncomfortable with the mantle of leadership feel somewhat awkward with this side of things but I want to encourage you to approach it like you would a part in a play. This side of the role of leader really is performance art. Any new skill is awkward at first but soon becomes part of who you are. You are, after all, a superlative leader. Acting like it is completely acceptable.

Qualities of a Superlative Leader – Personal Competencies #2 – Drive and Purpose part 2

Clear-Sense-Of-PurposeBorn Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum in 1905 to a Jewish family in St. Petersburg, Russia, Ayn Rand, as she came to be known in the US, became one of the 20th centuries most controversial and influential authors and philosophers.

After the Russian Revolution, her family’s business was confiscated by the government as the country became a worker’s paradise. She watched individualism and personal ambition be subjugated to statism and collectivism.

Immigrating to the United States in 1925. Arriving in New York on February 25th of that year, she cried what she called “tears of splendor” at the site of the Manhattan skyline. Migrating gradually west, she ended up in Los Angeles becoming a friend of Cecile B. DeMille.

Becoming a US citizen in 1931, Ayn Rand enjoyed her first literary success in 1932 selling a screenplay called The Red Pawn to Universal Studios. She is best remembered these days for her novels “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged.”

She founded what has come to be known as objectivism rejecting faith and mysticism. She also became a strong and fierce advocate of individual responsibility and liberty.  In Atlas Shrugged she wrote that your work is the process of achieving your values, and to lose your ambition for values is to lose your ambition to live,” and “the man who has no purpose is a machine that coasts downhill at the mercy of any boulder to crash in the first chance ditch.” Throughout her life, Ayn Rand was driven by a purpose to leave her mark on the world and she succeeded.

In the previous post I wrote about what goes wrong when you don’t have drive and purpose. In this post I want to address the other side of the coin.  Here are 8 reasons why superlative leaders possess drive and purpose:

  1. When you have drive and purpose, work is not work. It isn’t play either. But it is that wonderful match of values, ambitions, motives, ambitions, skills, talents, and opportunity.
  2. Drive is energy and ambition, purpose is reason and motive. Drive pushes you forward. Purpose draws you forward. Drive is the get up and go. It starts where you start. Purpose is the “got there” side of the trip, it makes you want to endure the challenges of the journey.
  3. Purpose is the sum of all your values and ambitions. What you do, how you do it, and what is realized as a result of those efforts reveals why.
  4. Being busy is good but in the end unfulfilling and unrewarding unless you are busy for the right reasons and towards the right ends. And only you can determine what those reasons are and what the ends should be… and it is never all about you. Superlative leaders become remembered for more than what they did. They are remembered for what they did, how they did it, and how it left a positive impact. Their life counted for something.
  5. The minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years you spend working add up to the sum total of your life’s contribution to human history. Therefore what you live for is the same as what you die for. You give your life for something. Everyone does. The question to be answered is what and why. For some the week is spent so one may enjoy the weekend. Many have nothing more invested in their career than the time between paychecks. Superlative leaders have far more at risk and they know it. Some see their life in two week segments. But you don’t. You see it is its totality.
  6. Purpose and drive put obstacles and setbacks in perspective. No one escapes reversals or challenges. No one. Drive and purpose is the horsepower and the torque to get through them.
  7. Purpose and drive simplifies life. It enables you to make priorities quite readily and set schedules with confidence and without apology. Once values are clarified and ambitions are focused, once talents and skills are understood and motives are identified, the resulting purpose and drive makes life’s choices quite simple. With confidence and ease one makes the decisions that eliminate conflicting opportunities. (Shameless self-promotion here – if you haven’t done so already, my Mastering Your Time mini-course shows you how to do exactly that. Sign up for it here. It’s completely free of charge.)
  8. Superlative leaders understand that as long as they’re breathing, their purpose in life is not complete. Retirement is not a cessation of activity. It is not an end to really important and useful tasks. Superlative leaders keep at it longer, engage life more fully, and accomplish more because they long ago settled that their purpose in life is not to disengage and play golf 5 days a week. It is so much more than that…and it is why so many people of drive and purpose lives life so full for so long.

So I end with a favorite quote from motivational speaker and author Steven Maraboli – “I want to live my life in such a way that when I get out of bed in the morning, the devil says, “aw sh*t, he’s up!”

There are worlds to conquer and some of them have your name on them. Go make them your own.

16 Qualities of a Superlative Leader – Personal Competencies #2 – Drive and Purpose, Part 1

no driveThe son of a British nobleman and an American heiress, Winston Churchill’s role in World War Two has become synonymous with excellence in leadership.

Churchill saw action in Cuba, Egypt, Sudan, and the battles of WWI. His career as a statesman began at the age of 25 when he was elected to the House of Commons. He went on to serve as First Lord of the Admiralty, the Minister of Munitions, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and even a period of political exile before becoming Prime Minister. Not without his failures (who is?) he took over as Prime Minister at perhaps the most crucial time in Britain’s history and went on to lead the country through the war.

Considered by many historians to be the greatest statesman of the 20th century, we must understand why. He possessed a powerful ability to inspire people even in the direst of situations.  Publicly he voiced and demonstrated optimism, enthusiasm, and confidence even if privately potential-winston-churchill-picture-quote[1]he felt differently. Just after he became Prime Minister, one of his private secretaries spoke of his drive saying:

“The effects of Churchill’s zeal was [sic] felt immediately in Whitehall.  Government departments which under Neville Chamberlain had continued to work at much the same speed as in peacetime awoke to the realities of war.  A sense of urgency was created in the course of very few days and respectable civil servants were actually to be seen running along the corridors.  No delays were condoned; telephone switchboards quadrupled their efficiency; the Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Planning Staff were in almost constant session; regular office hours ceased to exist and weekends disappeared with them.” (Geoffrey Best in his book – Churchill and War)

Superlative leaders do not become great accidentally nor do they stumble into greatness. They grow into it, coming to the right place at the right time possessing the right gifts seasoned by the hard challenges that waylay lesser men and women.

Through the ups and downs they possess drive and purpose which does not lose its vibrancy once they attain positions of great potential. They are fired from within by passion that is issue driven not interest driven. Issue driven leaders are motivated by a cause, inspired by a possibility, maintained by a faith in effort that they believe will surely pay off. They know without wavering that there are things worth making sacrifices for and that the hand of the diligent will indeed rule.

Interest driven passion fades as soon as the fun wanes and the work waxes. Like dogs chasing butterflies in a field, they flit from this passion to another, never staying the course long, never accomplishing more than burning fuel and time.

Passion and vision, therefore are joined at the hip. The former without the latter consumes time and burns brightly but leaves little lasting result. Vision with passion just sits there, mocking our words and taunting our well-written plans.

Indeed, there are 4 ways to destroy your life as a leader:

  1. Procrastination – Denis Waitley calls it living on “Someday I’ll.” There is that paradise of the mind located in a sea of fantasy on which all our dreams reside and to which we will attend…soon, no really, we’re going to get to them right away. Procrastinators tend to judge themselves by their intentions and discount their actions. It’s the intent that matters to them.
  2. Do something else – following someone else’s dream has some benefit, but lacks the sense of fulfillment that comes from following a personal passion. Churchill could have settled for a life of exile, making the occasional sage observation from the sidelines, but he engaged his opposition, overcame the obstacles, and to use a phrase he himself use to inspire others , the told himself to KBO – Keep Buggering On.
  3. Do nothing – Otherwise known as laziness, do nothing leaders find a thousand and one excuses why they should not take action. I call it the McClellan Syndrome named after General George McClellan, the commander of Union forces early in our civil war. He was a great organizer, a consummate bureaucrat, and chronically cowardly which manifest itself as laziness. He could plan but he would not fight. Do nothing leaders would substitute the preparations for action for action itself. They validate their lack of action by focusing on their diligence to prepare and their noble intentions (See #1).
  4. Dabbling – I call them piddlers. They piddle with this, monkey around with that, burn through time, money, people, energy, and resources but produce almost nothing. Lacking purpose, they pursue this or that, often with passion, but with neither focus nor fruit.

When I say a superlative leader possesses drive it is implied that s/he is driving somewhere not just here or there. Drive and purpose are two sides of the same argument. Each implies the other.

In 1938, Philadelphia Attorney Robert Abraham saw the approaching war, and paying close attention to the advance of the Imperial Japanese Army in China, he wrote a poem describing a Philadelphia couple as they drove through the countryside to a friend home to play cards. Remembering some of the battles that had been fought there in the nation’s history, Abraham drew comparisons between what had happened and what was happening in too many parts of the world. His poem was published by the Saturday Evening Post and ended like this:

“Tonight Shanghai is burning,

And we are dying too.

What bomb more surely mortal

Than death inside of you?


For some men die by shrapnel,

And some go down in flames,

But most men perish inch by inch,

In play at little games.”

I have briefly described the effects of the lack of drive and purpose, what about the benefits? Well, I’m out of space for today. In Monday’s post I will list them out. See you then.

FYI – you can read the full text of Abraham’s poem here.