It is virtually impossible for you to outwardly reflect today the person you desire to be tomorrow, yet your internal reflection today determines who you will be tomorrow. –mwgrigs
Not many years ago, the ubiquity of small, silicone wristbands and their WWJD mnemonic, encouraged all who read it to contemplate, “What Would Jesus Do?” The premise being to consider your actions in comparison with how he might have acted. Taking nothing away from the Man from Nazareth, sometimes the distance and differences of culture and religion, as well as the pressures of perfection, obscure simpler, more tangible principles. In this case, understanding the power of your choices and actions today for how they influence and shape your life tomorrow.
Do you know who you want to be 5 years from now? How about 10 years? What about 20 years from now? With any hope, everyone reading this post will have envisioned a “better version” of themselves in a future that is, in all reality, just around the corner. My question for you is this: What are you choosing and doing today that will be the raw materials out of which you will fashion that “better version” of yourself? Maybe WWJD is too fanatical. Maybe it’s not the religion you ascribe to. Regardless, ask yourself, “What would my ‘better self’ do in this situation?” Then act at once and be your better self!
We have little difficulty planning ahead for the purchase of a home, charting a vacation, or anticipating the newest iPhone release. However, when it comes to planning our life we grossly underestimate the power of cause and effect and subsequently have to play catch-up, all the while lamenting, “If I had only known.” Our chief error in this line of thinking is that we believe we can cheat time, forgetting that every oak tree is a testament of the acorn “acting like the mighty oak” all of its many, many, many days.
Plan ahead. Begin to think and act today as if you were already your “better self,” and lo, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years from now, you will be that person. If you knew twenty years ago where you’d be today, how different would your decisions have been?
Several years ago I attended a seminar hosted by Dr. Kevin Gilmartin called, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement. As you can imagine, several of my law enforcement peers opted not to attend because they got hung up on the word “emotional.” For them, it was too mushy and gooey a word to provide any real substance. Turns out, it was one of the most informative seminars I’ve ever attended; I truly believe everyone, not just law enforcement, can benefit from his teaching.
The English language has trigger words, like emotional, that get hijacked by our pop-culture filter, leaving us with a very narrow understanding of their meaning. The word love is another such word. We steer away from its use because of its mushy, ushy, gooeyness and end up with only a cursory understanding of its meaning and, more importantly, its power.
If you’ve read my blog posts for any length of time, you’ll know that I strongly believe leaders can be found at every level within an organization, not just within positions of authority and title. While I believe this message is beneficial for every leader in every circumstance, for the moment, allow me to direct my thoughts to those leaders who are actually in positions of authority and title, having subordinates or employees, and say: You must love your staff!
All too often we think of love in terms of emotional endearment and affection (mushy, ushy, gooeyness); a liking if you will. Therefore the statement, “Love your staff,” runs contrary to our contextual comprehension of the business environment. This is especially true when we realize that we don’t necessarily like all of our employees; and we certainly don’t like all of them all of the time. So what does it mean?
I define love, in this context, as the ability to deliberately choose right and positive actions toward a person or thing. It is a word of action, not feeling. Choosing to love, then, gives one the opportunity to supersede personal feelings and agendas and rightly relate themselves to any circumstance.
Let me explain by way of example. You have an employee who is habitually tardy. You give them a pass the first two or even three times, then they stop even attempting to get to work on time and certainly show no remorse for their tardiness. This brings their reliability into question, is unfair to their coworkers, and compromises the organizational mission—to say nothing of taking advantage of your benevolence!
There are generally two reactions to this type of behavior. The first is one of heavy-handedness, which seeks to punish the employee for flagrant policy violations—an example must be made! That reaction likely comes from bravado or false courage and does not reflect authentic leadership. The second is one of continued permissiveness, never addressing the matter directly. That reaction likely stems from fear or uncertainty and again, does not reflect authentic leadership. There is a third option, motivated by love, which is one of right action. This response points to authentic leadership, whose genesis flows from a desire to see the employee’s behavior modified in such a manner that they rightly relate themselves to policy, coworkers, and mission. In other words, it comes from a desire to see the employee do right.
Loving our employees—rightly relating to them—is easy when things are going well. When things are “broken,” however, there’s a tremendous temptation to react negatively and inject our own feelings and agendas. Authentic leaders are those who seek always to encourage others to strive to attain higher and better ways of being and doing.
Loving your staff is not about emotional feelings; rather, it is about desiring their greatest good.
4:30 a.m. comes very early in the morning! The alarm sounds off breaking the warm, cozy silence and dares me to hit the snooze button. Time to get up! What follows is an amazing volley of justifications and excuses for why I should stay in bed. You don’t really need to go to the gym. Who are you trying to impress anyway? It’s not like you’re training for the Olympics!
Raise your hand if you’ve had that conversation with yourself…okay, put your hands down. This is an all too common dialogue we have with ourselves, whether trying to quit smoking, learn to play the ukulele, or implementing any program aimed at tighter abdominal muscles.
One of my oldest friends is a volunteer strength and conditioning coach for a high school football team on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. While the players may think that he’s there to help them get stronger, run faster, and play harder, the real conditioning those kids are getting is one of leadership and success.
He tells his players that before they can win the battle on the field, they must win the battle between their ears—not just today, but every day. He knows that late in the fourth quarter, the mind will fabricate all kinds of reasoning and justification for quitting. Too tired. Not strong enough. They’re a better team. You can’t win. He knows the mind will spew vile thoughts of defeat, just to test your resolve and see how determined you are in achieving your goals. A few will overcome; most will succumb.
The reality of life is that the biggest challenges we face are not external, but internal. It’s overcoming the obstacles of our own thoughts. Most people’s financial problems have nothing to do with math. The majority of relationship challenges are not about Mr. or Mrs. Right. And nearly every leadership problem has the mind at its root, not lack of skill.
Winning the battle between the ears is what Steven Pressfield calls “doing the work,” in his book The War of Art. It is settling the argument in your mind and doing what needs to be done. Not just today, but every day.
“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habit.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
― Lao Tse
After a long and relatively successful career in the marketing and design industries, I stepped away and took a gamble on something I had always wanted to do and became a police officer!
I faired well in the academy, excelling in the mechanics of being a police officer, but once I hit the streets I quickly realized that I knew very little about actually being a good cop. It took a great deal of time and patience with myself to learn the ways of being a good cop. I gained all the tools I needed in the six-month academy course, but learning the why’s, when’s, and how’s of using those tools was something the academy couldn’t teach me; I had to develop it in myself.
That’s the real essence of being a leader: learning the why’s, when’s, and how’s of using all of the tools on your belt. Having advanced skills in team dynamics or conflict resolution means little unless you can rightly recognize when those skills are needed and appropriately apply them. Using the wrong skill at the wrong time can be as devastating, even more so, as having no skill at all.
The chief discipline I employed to help me become a good cop, is the same discipline anyone can use to become a great leader, namely developing a positive mental attitude that accepts nothing less than excellence. Developing that attitude helped me move past all of my cadet failures—and achievements—and strive to be the best I could be. That same attitude can transform anyone—regardless of position or title—into a formidable leader capable of accomplishing whatever they set their mind to do.
Cultivating an attitude of leadership is necessary for accomplishing any good and positive endeavor in life. What type of attitude are you cultivating?
I like country music.
I don’t listen to country music, but I like it.
I grew up in a musical family. My mother and father both played the piano. My siblings and I each played a musical instrument. My brother, the youngest of the bunch, was even a finalist on American Idol! And while I learned how to play the trumpet in the 4th grade band at St. Mary’s, my contribution to the world of music is being the great appreciator!
I can keep time with the best of them, but I have the dickens of a time hearing and understanding the lyrics of most songs. Sure, who hasn’t butchered the lyrics to Dan Seals, I Really Wanna See You Tonight? But my wife almost choked when she first heard me proudly belt out, “…move out to the alps…” in lieu of the correct lyrics of Zapp and Roger’s, More Bounce to the Ounce. (I always wondered what the draw was to the Swiss mountainside!?)
There are three reasons why I like country music and many leaders would do well to adopt these principles:
- Easy lyrics
- Simple harmonies
- Learnable rhythms
Can people understand what you’re saying? I worked for a manager once who had uncanny business acumen; however, his communication was unrefined, brash, and crude. He had difficulty clearly communicating to the team where we were headed, why we were going there, and what we were going to do when we got there. Needless to say, no one liked the song he sang and certainly no one wanted to “buy the album.”
Few things are more aurally appealing than a tightly harmonized vocal group. Harmonizing is about blending differences in a unique way so that while each individual note supports the whole, no one note can be distinguished apart from another. Leadership invariably finds ways to blend the group into a single, harmonious unit, while maximizing its diversity. Success is birthed in simplicity, not in complexity. Intricate, abstract plans rarely provide enough “surface area” for people to grab onto and hang on. Simple, well-defined plans can help everyone stay in step and in tune.
Life is more than motion, it is rhythm. There is a choreography to our day to day existence, even in business. The ebb and flow of communication, the give and take of teamwork, the wins and losses of sales, all contribute to the rhythms of the organization. Leaders who establish a learning environment create better outcomes for both their people and the organization. What is a learning environment? One in which mistakes and errors are not treated as failures, but as opportunities to grow and evolve.
Whether you’re a fan of country music or not, it’s hard to deny that the insights it offers on leadership are worth exploring. So grab your boots, tune up the ol’ slide guitar, and go make some music. Yee haw!
I’m reminded of a touching story a good friend once shared with me. Embedded in the story is a profound leadership principle.
The story took place while my friend was at his bank making some lunchtime financial transactions. Ahead of him in line stood a young man who looked as if life had not been so kind to him. His clothes were a bit soiled, with trousers that were worn at the cuff. The young man was not much to behold and would have easily gone unnoticed if he had not been standing right in front of my friend.
As the young man stepped to the counter, he greeted the teller with an unexpected enthusiasm and authenticity; seeming genuinely interested in her and the kind of day she was having. He requested his account balance. The teller scribbled the balance on a piece of notepaper and slid it face down across the counter. My friend then overheard the young man say, “So, if I withdraw $3.15, my account will stay open?”
It was the way the young man inquired about the withdrawal’s impact that really struck my friend. He could sense that it was a humbling moment for the young man, yet he asked with tenderness and invitation, as if he were drawing the teller into the decision‐making process with him.
The teller confirmed the withdrawal amount would indeed keep his account solvent. The young man nodded approval and the teller counted out three one‐dollar bills, one dime and one nickel. The man received his money, and again with genuineness, graciously thanked the teller, spoke a blessing over her day, and bid her goodbye.
My friend was so moved by what he had witnessed that he stepped out of line and contacted the man. He told him how he had overheard the transaction and he wanted to do something for him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two twenty‐dollar bills, handed them to the young man and said, “Today, lunch is on me.”
The young man gratefully received the money, thanked my friend, then said, “This is amazing! I have a buddy who hasn’t had barbecue in a long time. I’m going to go find him and today we’re having barbecue!”
As he was sharing the story with me, my friend spoke of how it was an emotional and touching moment for him. He had been standing in line, thinking of a number of different things—everything from pressing work issues, to how his DVR had messed up recording one of his favorite shows. He said in light of what that young man was facing, all of his troubles seemed inconsequential and made him very appreciative of the blessings he had in his life.
While this is most decidedly a story about generosity, and brotherly kindness, and even focusing on what truly matters, there is also a hidden lesson about leadership tucked inside this story.
I submit to you that young man, regardless of his appearance or outward state of affairs, is more of a leader than the majority of men and women in positions of authority in corporate America.
His humility was striking. His invitation to joint decision‐making was admirable. His appreciation of received blessings was laudable. But most of all, his desire to bring someone with him is an enviable leadership characteristic.
Too many leaders are preoccupied with their own accolades, accomplishments, and agendas. This young man, while not in control of any boardroom or P&L statement, displayed incredible leadership by way of his immediate response to bring someone with him.
I ask, do you for one minute think that his friend will NOT go have barbecue with him? And don’t deceive yourself, lest you think his friend would go just for a free meal. His friend will go because he has likely followed that young man before and because that young man is mindful of him.
The story of this young man is a great lesson on the intrinsic character of real leaders: Leaders always bring someone with them.
Remember, the old saying: If a leader turns around and finds no one following them, they’re not a leader; they’re just a person out taking a walk.