Look what you’ll miss if you’re not on my Twitter feed

Twitter_logoAre you on my Twitter feed? If not, here’s just some of the things you’ll be missing in the next week:

  • Painful lessons in effective leadership
  • How to turn insults into motivation to succeed
  • 5 Visionary CEOs and Their Key Traits That Every Leader Should Master
  • Getting to know and understand your leadership philosophy
  • Leadership communication = talk less, listen more
  • Store important info about your team, company, clients, customers, & key leaders, Where to get a free knowledge management template
  • What leadership is & what it is not
  • Where to get a free online course in Contract management & building relationships in business
  • Managing reinvention of work when mobile is new office

There’s a lot more to The Practical Leader than what you get on this blog . The free newsletter contains information and articles not shared here. Sign up using the subscription form in the upper right corner.

And then there’s Twitter where I send out links to really important and useful articles like the ones I’ve listed above and free downloads for leaders and managers everywhere. Follow me @jackdunigan

Seeds of Greatness

Like most of you, I am a collector and reader of books. My Kindle is filling up with downloaded editions. My bookshelves are full and getting fuller. But with over 400,000 books being published every year in every genre, it is impossible to keep up. On Amazon as of this morning, a search for books using the keyword “leadership” turned up over 130,000 books.

Some leadership books are more enduring than others. I must admit I am challenged to keep up, trying to select among the many new ones that compete for my attention. But there are some classics that have remained on my bookshelf for decades, volumes to which I refer and reread because their message is not so faddish and trendy. After all, great leadership has been around forever (for that matter so has really bad leadership), therefore the principles that are helpful keep re-emerging.

It is one such book I refer to today. This 30 year old book is as fresh today as it was when it first appeared in 1983. Not surprisingly, I like it because it resonates with me and what I propose makes for greatness – competence, character, confidence, clarity.

Finding its roots in the venerable perspectives of Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie, Denis Waitley’s approach brought him to the US Olympic team where he was able to give them the mental edge that creates winning athletes out of the ranks of the world’s best athletes.

So, you ask, what book is it?

Seeds of Greatness – The Ten Best Kept Secrets of Total Success

Not mere fluff piece, Waitley’s advice is rooted first in discovering your natural abilities then developing the right mental attitude to capitalize on who you are so that you do what you do better than ever.

I especially liked Seed #10 – Perspective. I won’t reveal the others. The book will probably be available at your local lending library or you can buy it by clicking on the link below.


The Spirit of Christmas – great quotes from the world’s greatest leaders


Spirit-of-ChristmasWhether you are religious or not, Christmas is a special time. The spirit of the holiday can be voiced in verses from the Bible and from the mouths of deep thinkers. Here are some of my favorites collected through the years:

“Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection.” — Winston Churchill

“Christmas is not a time nor a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” — Calvin Coolidge

“Don’t let the past steal your present. This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.” — Taylor Caldwell

“It’s true, Christmas can feel like a lot of work, particularly for mothers. But when you look back on all the Christmases in your life, you’ll find you’ve created family traditions and lasting memories. Those memories, good and bad, are really what help to keep a family together over the long haul.” — Caroline Kennedy

“Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.” — Washington Irving

“Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.” — Charles M. Schulz

“Christmas is the day that holds all time together.” — Alexander Smith

“The thing about Christmas is that it almost doesn’t matter what mood you’re in or what kind of a year you’ve had; it’s a fresh start.” — Kelly Clarkson

“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.” — Mary Ellen Chase

“Christmas gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on the important things around us — a time when we can look back on the year that has passed and prepare for the year ahead.” — David Cameron

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more.”  – Dr. Seuss


Choosing Effectiveness over Efficiency


Does your organizational structure look like this?

top_down_approachIn most places it probably does. At least that is the way the typical leader and almost every manager would diagram it. I did some contract work for an organization that looked like it. The person at the top, in that case a man, monitored and controlled everything. Everything.

The organization did run efficiently. He made sure that every effort, every decision, every project carried through with precise movements.  But it wasn’t very effective.

Curiously, the purpose of the organization was to develop and implement leadership seminars in countries outside North America that would teach leaders how to develop and release other leaders. The organization stated that they wanted to show others how to create capable people.

The problem was it did not do it in its home offices. No one was trained to do anything except follow orders. And no one was ever allowed independent thought or decision-making power. Everything was determined by a manual or a policy.

Efficiency was valued over effectiveness.

Take a look at the tagline at the top of this website. It says that you can “Extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work.” But I will be the first to tell you that this is neither simple nor easy for some people.

Developing capable people means letting go.

Letting go of power. Some of us just have to be in charge. We like being the man (or woman) in command. It makes us feel validated, fulfilled, and successful when we’re the central focus of the company. It may cut down on errors, at least for a time, but it also restricts productivity and seriously stifles creativity and innovation because all ideas must originate from and be connected to the person in charge.

Letting go of authority. This really troubles some leaders. They are fearful of releasing decision-making authority to others. Many don’t want to permit others to spend the company’s money or offer discounts to get a sale. But with proper training and by imparting an understanding of the big picture, leaders can and must learn to allow others the autonomy to carry on business without requiring them to find you before they make a decision. No, I am not suggesting we abdicate and a search of this blog will turn up several articles about this subject. However, I am suggesting that control easily morphs into over-control.

Letting go of control. This is a biggy. For whatever reasons, many leaders are terrified of letting go of control. But the process of growing up as children into teenagers and then adults is the process of appropriating more and more control. Parents learn to train their children and release more autonomy as the kids mature. At least the effective ones do. You simply cannot extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work if you insist on maintaining control.

More effective organizational structures look like the one below. I used this diagram to help a local consulting organization reorganize for greater effectiveness in their market. The teams in the large rings are the assemblies of people who take on the responsibility of making the organization more effective. In the tiny little intersection of the three rings sits the administrative board. They serve as coordinators and facilitators not managers or monitors.

new structureLeaders and managers function and coordinators and facilitators rather than controllers and directors. Ideas come from all over the place. Motivation rises because co-workers have autonomy and can enjoy the consequences of their responsible behavior. Thinking becomes more we and less me. The focus is on the overall mission and vision rather than personal task lists.

Yes, it is a bit less efficient, at least in the beginning. And it can seem chaotic. But to remain viable in today’s fast-paced marketplace, organizations must be nimble and agile. Higher degrees of responsiveness demand higher participation of independent thinkers who can come up with ideas and manifest the energy to bring them about.

Here is a list of my suggestions for building agility into your company, organization, or agency.

  1. Optimize processes – Streamline the way things have to work everywhere you can. Eliminate duplicate efforts. Increase customer satisfaction (thus cutting down on the time and effort it takes to solve customer complaints and issues). This implies a thorough examination of the way things are done.
  2. Enable “plug and play” as a company attitude. Make changes easier. Require fewer signatures to get authorization to do things. Integrate processes more efficiently and make it simpler to integrate new technologies.
  3. Make flexibility and agility a key requirement of any and all systems, methods, processes, and products. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Beware the people who make things more complicated. Reward and encourage straight-line efforts, discourage cluttering up things with many steps when fewer will do.

If any company or organization is going to remain relevant in the world’s marketplaces, it must learn to use all its resources. Too many leaders are very good at using tools and equipment but not so good at using the human resources around them. You’ve got good people with you. Let them do their job and stay out of the way.


Why do we work so hard for things we don’t really want?



It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the US. Perhaps the biggest holiday of the year, it is marked with feasts, football, and shopping. Tomorrow, Friday, is known as Black Friday for business. Many stores open tonight, many more open very, very early tomorrow morning.

The holiday used to be observed almost entirely in homes. It has become a major commercial enterprise these days. While it once was that our appetites were stimulated for sumptuous meals of roast turkey, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, and pumpkin pie, these days the major appetite stimulated is for things. Shopping is the object.

If I may, I am going to borrow from a piece I wrote for my personal blog – www.JackDunigan.com. It goes like this:


mad magazineSome of us remember Mad Magazine (actually it is still in publication after 60 years) and its resident mascot Alfred E. Newman. He is most famous for his “What, me worry?” line, but he had another epithet that is less well-known but revealing nonetheless. He said:

“Most people don’t know what they want, but they’re pretty sure they haven’t got it.”

Some years ago a survey was taken in Los Angeles asking people how much money they would really like to make per year. Nearly everyone said they would really like to earn 20% more. Whether one was a minimum wage earner or in the top 1%, they all wanted 20% more.

It is a condition of human nature to want more. The very biological nature of life is growth and it affects our thinking too. When we look at our own personal state and compare it to others, we almost always compare it to those whom we perceive as doing better than we are, who have more than we do.

Now, accumulation of things and earning more money is certainly not evil unless and until it becomes obsessive and establishes itself as the focus of living. But, to shamelessly borrow from Jesus’ admonitions, Life does not consist of the abundance of one’s possessions.

It is no wonder that, having been there and done that, so many seniors downsize, get rid of things, change the focus of life. I used to find it odd that seniors bought aluminum siding and lived in mobile home parks or condos. I thought they were just getting tired and lazy, but then as I approached that stage of life myself, I discovered why. With less to have to do we can do more of what we want to do. So we move into communities where someone else mows the lawn and we buy homes requiring a good deal less maintenance.

Now please do not think I am slamming an ambitious and full-tilt lifestyle. I am not. There is nothing wrong with wanting a better standard of living, more comfort, more money, greater success. You will discover though, that the new thing you want so badly is soon the old thing. A discontentment with the present can easily impel us to wish we had just a little bit more than we have.

If there is one benefit to an economic downturn is that it forces us to refocus our standards and revalue our life. If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, the next time you feel tempted to measure your life and living against someone, why not measure it against someone who has just a little bit less than you do? I mean, what could it hurt? You just might not feel so bad about that cell phone you carry, that tv you have to watch, that car you have to drive.

You see, the advertising people know the four components of sale are AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. If they can get your attention, provoke interest in their product or service, and PROVOKE DESIRE, they can usually motivate you to action resulting in a sale.

Contentment is a rare virtue these days. But your life is much more that what you have and way much more than what you don’t have.

Don’t be so sure you don’t already have what you really want.

Have a great Thanksgiving! It’s a holiday weekend and I’m taking the time off. Hope you can too.




The non-answer answer


BlarneyCastleI’m Irish so I have an affinity for Irish tradition even if it has given rise to all sorts of stereotypes. But perhaps my favorite is the oh-so Irish gift of gab, the ability to tell stories and turn a phrase.

There is even a word for that. It is Blarney. When someone can speak for several minutes and never really say anything, never really answer a question, never really come to a conclusion, we say that person has the gift of Blarney.

The word “blarney” has a royal pedigree and its roots in Blarney, County Cork, Ireland. Queen Elizabeth wanted to deal with the problem of the Irish with diplomacy if she could, prefering not to employ a military solution. So, she frequently met her Irish subjects face to face.

As the current lord of Blarney Castle, Cormac McCarthy tried to keep his independence. They wanted his castle but he didn’t really want to yield to the Crown. So the Queen’s demands were met by extensive elaborations on why it could not be done, at least not immediately or without modification. In short – Cormac tried to talk and bluff his way out of it.

One day Elizabeth cracked and screamed, “This is all blarney, what he says he never means.” With this the Virgin Queen had given birth to a new phrase in the English language.

We’ve just finished our latest election cycle here in the US and I am constantly amazed at the ability of candidates to speak for several minutes and say absolutely nothing at all. On Tuesday morning, Election day, I watched an early morning news program on which several candidates from both political parties were interviewed. Nearly none of them, from either party, could take the interviewer’s question, but they did look right at the camera and proceed to dance all around the point. Seems that they have the gift of Blarney, too.

It is a tactic not limited to political candidates, however. Many leaders are gifted with the skill to bluster and bluff their way through the day. I am not talking about baloney which is much too easily seen through. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen explained it this way – “Baloney is flattery laid on so thick it cannot be true and blarney is flattery so thin we love it.”

It goes like this as explained by an unknown Irishman – An unknown Irishman explained, “Baloney is when you tell a 50-year old woman that she looks 18. Blarney is when you ask a woman how old she is, because you want to know at what age women are most beautiful.”

In most cases it is a harmless pursuit and can make the exchange of ideas entertaining at least, and downright fun at most.

But, in serious issues, it can get in the way. It can pave the way for pandering, for misleading, for avoiding unpleasantness. Everyone blarnishes the truth once in a while and usually it is not a problem. And blarney in normal human exchange is entertaining. But if you do it so much that no one ever really knows who you are or what you stand for, well then, blarney has gone too far.

Flattery is inherently manipulative, ingratiating, and by definition, insincere. Blarney is a bit better…and by my definition at least, a bit more fun. While flattery is an attempt to gain advantage over another, blarney can be a tactic to avoid revealing what you think or feel or to postpone agreeing or disagreeing, as demonstrated by blarney’s original user.

This is not the forum for a discussion of ethics and it is not my intent to draw too fine a point on this. My intent is to highlight the all too prevalent art of the non-answer answer and to further the case for being forthright.

Why? When those politicians gave non-answer answers most everyone drew their own conclusions anyway and it wasn’t particularly in the candidate’s favor. Your associates will do the same.

The vacuum left by a lack of information will quickly be filled by rumor, speculation, and gossip. If you resort to flattery, it almost always provokes the thinking that you want something. If you resort to blarney it almost always provokes the thinking that you’re hiding something. Flattery and blarney, like gum, should never be swallowed.

Answer inquiries if you can. If you cannot answer or prudence suggests you shouldn’t, then say so and explain why. Never resort to manipulative techniques and never dissemble. Say what you mean. Mean what you say.


7 characteristics of an independent leader

john-adams-original-1024x576His was a politically unpopular act. The tension between the American colonies, particularly Massachusetts, and Great Britain had heightened. The resentment against the crown had grown and the mere presence of British troops only made feelings more bitter.

A small platoon of British soldiers stood sentry on King Street in Boston. Their job? To protect representatives of the crown as those representatives enforced legislation passed in Parliament. On March 5, 1770, a mob formed around one of the sentries and began to harass him with threats. Eight more soldiers soon joined him. Someone threw more than an insult and in the ensuing tumult the soldiers fired into the crowd killing three citizens instantly. Two more would die soon after from their wounds.

The Governor promised an inquiry and the crowd dispersed but re-formed the next day. To avoid further conflict the troops withdrew to Castle Island. Eight soldiers, one officer, and four civilians were arrested and charged with murder. In the trials that followed, the soldiers were represented by an American lawyer who secured acquittal for 6 of the soldiers.

The lawyer took an unpopular stand not for the fee he would earn. He certainly had little to gain politically. He was a colonist who chose to represent the hated crown. He did so because he was an independent man, a man of principle who did what is right because it is right. His name? John Adams. Son of a farmer, shoemaker, local government leader, and church deacon, his reputation for being strong on personal opinion and an independent thinker soon earned him the nickname “Atlas of Independence.”

But the label came about long before John Adam’s role as a key player in the rebellion of the colonies from England. A Harvard graduate, he began his career as a teacher but then moved into the practice of law where he became an icon for honesty, outspokenness, and independence. His life and accomplishments validate his role as a superlative leader.

Independence is not easy to find. The pressures to conform, to comply, to go along are usually easy and harmless. But there are times when one must decide whether to compromise principle for the sake of expedience. Independent leaders won’t.

I am not suggesting that compromise is to be avoided. Indeed, the ability to keep one’s eye on the prize and elicit the cooperation of others even while cooperating with them is a critical leadership behavior. There is an inevitable and necessary give and take in our transactions with others that can mark us as reasonable. A hard-nosed approach soon earns us the reputation for being difficult to get along with.

No, independence in this context means to be sufficiently self-contained so that one can do what is right when the pressures are there to do what is wrong.

Adams wouldn’t. Superlative leaders won’t either.

So, what are some of the characteristics of an independent person?

  1. Doesn’t work for the money alone, but for the match with values and a mutually attractive objective. I worked once for a company led by a man who is a sociopath. Under his persuasive words and charm he would say and do anything to get what he wanted and knew very well how to abuse the gullibility of good people. When I confided in a colleague that I was going to end my contract with that company, my friend asked couldn’t I just do the job for the money. Doing things you feel to be morally wrong for the money is prostitution. You do lots of things for love and relationship you would never do for anything so base as financial reward or self-promotion. Independent people just don’t, even at personal expense.
  2. Able to detect and neutralize the manipulative devices of bosses and subordinates. Dependent people need adulation and approval from others which necessarily affects everything they do. If one is playing to the crowd, one will do what gets the applause. Independent people do not thumb their noses at the crowd but they do what they do because they do what they do, not because of strokes.
  3. Not subject to the seductive power of flattery, either receiving or giving. This goes along with #2. Flattery is insincere praise designed to impress or manipulate. Manipulative people know how to use flattery. Many more are used by flatterers. Independent people have a radar system that sounds the alarm when flattery approaches. But they won’t use it either. They may be generous with their comments of approval and acknowledge another’s abilities or achievements without flattery.
  4. Always has a reserve of “go to hell” money. On the practical side, an independent person never spends everything s/he earns. They build and maintain a reserve so that they are never caught in a squeeze forcing them to do things or compromise integrity because they need the money.
  5. Thinks for themselves. Independence goes hand in hand with emotional security. An independent person can think for him/herself, does not crave validation from others, but does not reject advice, suggestions, ideas, or comments from others either. To do so indicates arrogance or insecurity, not independence.
  6. Has a strong sense of personal capability, significance, power, and influence. Personal assurance of their own self-worth and the value of their contribution to the advancement of their company, organization, or department facilitates an ability to function without being propped up. An independent leader is not a diva, not a prima donna. Neither the workplace nor the workflow revolves around them.
  7. Can work, well…, independently. They can take a job, resource the pieces and people needed, and get something done without needing to be attended to. They extend our reach, multiply our effectiveness, and divide our work.