A Higher Power, Secularism, and Leadership

In some leadership circles there seems to be an intentional exclusion for what some call a higher power or God in their lives. This is usually done in the name of diversity and not wanting to offend anyone.

Consider this example that typifies what this looks like and the lack of foresight, discernment, and wisdom on the part of a mid level manager. A well known local author is brought in to a class of college students to discuss addictions counseling and recovery programs. There are many excellent 12-step programs that address “a higher power” and this individual was no different in the content of his presentation. In fact, he authored a book on his story and subsequent recovery and even had the word, “Jesus,” in the title.

When the professor sent an email blast to staff encouraging students to attend the lecture and hear the author’s subsequent testimony the professor received an email from his dean indicating that a religious slant might be offensive to some students and to refrain from the forwarding of religious points of view. As an aside, the dean never read the speaker’s book. If she had she would have realized that term was part of moniker given to what the author did early on in a sporting career. It had nothing to do with religion. The professor did what all good professors do. He considered what was in the best interest of the students, disregarded the dean’s email, and encouraged the speaker to go full blast with his presentation. Long story short, the speaker was a hit and his personal testimony struck a chord with many of the students who had family members with addictions and some of whom had been struggling for years with destructive addictive tendencies. Needless to say, the speaker came back several times to speak to students at the college and the email to staff always excluded the dean.

There are several important points with this example. First, there was the total lack of understanding of the part of the dean that shone brightly her ignorance and secondly, the second chair leadership exhibited by the professor in advancing a situation that would enhance student learning.

In leadership, especially in second chair leadership positions, there are opportunities to grow not because of the current leadership but in spite of it. This is key. It is equally important to pick and choose the battles one undertakes.

Leadership can be exhibited in many forms at different levels. Sometimes the leadership above lacks ability or vision or both to make good decisions. It is up to those change agents within the organization to assess when and how changes can be effected and still move forward with the goals of the organization.

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Sowing and Reaping in Leadership and in Life

When we hear the phrase, “A man reaps what he sows,” it typically has negative connotations, and rightly so. That’s one way to say that for the behaviors a person practices there are consequences, usually bad. The realm of leadership is no different especially for toxic leaders who feel they can rationalize or justify anything they think, say, or do.

The important concept to remember about sowing and reaping relates to positive change albeit incremental and that is totally contingent on the long term and not a magical overnight turnaround. As such, it is important that the sowing of the good seed needs to be done first and requires patience. Successful people in 12-step programs have this down correctly with focus, restoration, and healing. They learn from the past and don’t live in the past. They are not afraid of the future because they are too busy living in the present. Success is built one day at a time and one challenge at a time. Leadership sowing and reaping is no different.

The best part of positive sowing and reaping is that one will always reap more than is sown. This is called the Law of Multiplication. This same principle holds true for investing and even for something in church world called tithing.

Finally, the best time to plant, no matter what the circumstances, is now, not tomorrow, or the week after, or when circumstances might be perceived or rationalized as more ideal for whatever reason. The most important result for positive sowing and reaping is the legacy one leaves and that legacy can be expanded upon for generations. This all begins with the concept of choice. If people truly reap what is sown then why wouldn’t one want to begin the process and do the work in the beginning to ensure success. This means success in leadership, and more importantly, success in one’s personal life.

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Success Building

The difference between people who are successful and those who are not as successful is that successful people tend to persevere and those who are not as successful yield more easily to challenges and negativity associated with why something possibly cannot be done. Sure, it’s good to anticipate the bumps in the road but that should not stop one from always pursuing a direction to the goal.

When we take a look at past successes of individuals throughout history one can see a pattern. When someone asked Thomas Edison about the 5,000+ non successful attempts at developing the light bulb he merely stated the time was not wasted. He actually discovered 5,000+ ways how not to develop a light bulb. When Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile in 1954 he achieved something that had been tried over a hundred times before in the preceding 10 years in spite of sports physiologists indicating that human physiology had not progressed to the point of breaking that barrier. As an aside, when Bannister broke the 4-minute mile that barrier was broken no less than 16 times in the three years after the record was set. When it appeared the astronauts on Apollo 13 were doomed to run out of filtered air on the way back to Earth engineers at NASA were shown duplicate items in a cardboard box the astronauts had onboard their spacecraft and were told to develop a procedure to filter out the carbon dioxide in their cabin using only those materials. They did.

The whole point to success is not only perseverance, however, but also motivation. Motivation comes in different forms and individuals need to find their personal motivators. In other words, what works for them. No matter what challenges one faces in life and no matter how large or how small, success at anything demands perseverance, motivation, and an attitude that nothing will stand in the way of success. That’s how it’s done. One final word about being successful. Successful people place themselves in the company of other successful people and those who are motivated to be successful. They avoid negative people and the debilitating effects of people who are negative.

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The Most Valuable Leadership Quality

There are characteristics and traits that enhance a leader’s effectiveness but that doesn’t necessarily mean these characteristics are critical for real success. Take all the elements considered for good leadership and there is one that continues to surface for those whom we consider good leaders past and present. That element is humility.

When teaching classes on leadership I have students name those who are considered great leaders both good and bad. The usual suspects show up with past presidents, military commanders, astronauts, and civil rights activists. By the way, typically Jesus of Nazareth shows up between the third and fifth round and at that time students get one of those, “Aha” moments and really start to think about what actually makes a good leader.

The next step in the process of determining good leaders is assessing their characteristics. Certainly, charisma and the ability to positively influence people head the list but when we get right down to it humility is the one attribute that gives good leaders their strength, longevity, and ability to persevere. It is the basis for their character. Upon that base is the foundation for everything else we seek in good leadership.

We need to start looking at our potential leaders with a different set of eyes that seeks first those subliminal character traits especially with regard to humility. When you start seeing these people beginning with their personal humility you begin to get a glimpse about their character and motivations for leadership. Humility is the true north for all great leaders.

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Leaders Who Are Owners and Take Ownership

In progressive management circles and even some staff meetings one seems to frequently hear these terms. They are similar but they are also very different in what they represent. “Being an owner” means behaving as if one is fully and personally invested in a company or organization. “Taking ownership” means accepting responsibility.

Being an owner signifies a full and unfettered commitment to the ideals and philosophy of the organization as if one was there at the start. It means personal decision-making and actions reflect what an actual owner would do. In theory, an owner has unequaled ethics and integrity as his or her actions reflect on the company.

Taking ownership means no matter what happens the buck stops here. Good, bad, or indifferent taking ownership signifies the acceptance of consequences no matter what the outcome. Although it has somewhat of a negative tone it also represents the positive taking of ownership.

In the world of leadership you will know leaders by their deeds. They behave as actual owners and take ownership for the decisions they make. In essence, leaders do what few are able to do. They fully commit and accept personal responsibility.

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Leadership Preparation 101

Many leaders don’t plan on being leaders. They typically have enough to keep themselves busy. The truth be told they live their lives one day after another making intelligent decisions and one day they are called through circumstances or situations to move an organization or an idea forward.

Leaders are usually ordinary people doing extraordinary things. From where then does the strength or power come for leaders who suddenly find themselves in the main arena? History is fraught with people who seemingly came out of nowhere and were thrust into leadership roles.

Leadership is developed everyday with every situation one faces no matter how small. Every decision made is either developing leadership or tearing it down. Also, always remember that for every person who says, I’m going to do this” there is usually someone in the background saying, “No, you can’t, “or “No, you shouldn’t.” Leaders persevere. They overcome negativity.

The bottom line to leading others is knowing how to lead oneself. This is key. Look at those people who are quiet, humble, do not want or require fanfare for the excellent job they do, and influence others in a positive manner and you have the beginning formula for a true leader.

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Leadership Essentials: Good Decision Making While Under Fire

There are hard decisions to be made in organizations that don’t have the luxury of time to assess, plan, implement, and adapt. Typically and ideally, good leaders gather as much information as possible from trusted staff and other sources and choose the best course of action always thinking of a Plan B and even a Plan C. It is one’s training, education, and experience that comes into play and sets one leader apart from another. Results matter. So too, does a leader’s adaptability in the face of temporary setbacks or challenges.

A previous blog post detailed “Speed of the Leader. Speed of the Pack.” Organizations mirror leadership. The pertains to not only general attitude but to critical decision-making. This applies to the decision-making that needs to be done quickly and with only the best available information. Speed in decision-making, especially during critical times, is important. There is no room for laissez-faire leadership or laissez-faire decision-making.

How is critically important decision-making done? Practice. Be good at the small things and when larger issues arise, even with limited information, then decision-making behaviors that have been practiced will be second nature. Rarely, will young leaders exhibit the complete discernment and wisdom necessary for quick and intelligent actions. It is possible but there is no substitute for time and experience.

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