Don’t Be Afraid To Look Funny

I am putting the final touches on a manuscript. One of the tasks given to me by my editor is to chase down a quote that I plan to use to drive home a point in one of the chapters toward the end of the book. I have said many times that I truly love a great and pithy little quote. And this one from Adlai Stevenson is no exception.

Adlai Ewing Stevenson II (5 February 1900 – 14 July 1965) was an American politician and statesman. He was known as a skillful orator and debater. He served as a Governor of Illinois and he was twice an unsuccessful candidate for President of the United States. He mounted unsuccessful campaigns running against Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and again in 1956. He did serve the John F. Kennedy administration when he was appointed as United States Ambassador to the United Nations. 

Here is a quote attributed to him:

“It is hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.”

I am struggling to find a direct attribution to Adlai Stevenson although everyone seems to be quoting him. The quote in question has been written about recently in a book by Ron Gaddie entitled, Born to Run: Origins of the Political Career. In that book, Gaddie examines the political careers of nine different individuals who ran for political offices at a variety of local and state levels. I do not intend to review the book here. Rather, I want to look at the quote and explore its implication to us as leaders.

What does the quote say to you from a leadership perspective?

Here is what it says to me. It says that we must look beyond our own real, or imagined, shortcomings in order to be an effective leader. This is especially true when it comes to our self-confidence. Continue reading “Don’t Be Afraid To Look Funny”

20 Things You Need In A New Leader


Perhaps we don’t really “need” a new leader. Maybe we just really “want” it. Do you ever feel that way?

Change is inevitable. I know, that is so cliché. That doesn’t make it any less true. Leadership change is often needed when organizations have plateaued, been through a crisis, or leaders have taken themselves out of the picture for various reasons. In each of those cases, someone must take a hard look at the organization and the needs of all the parties concerned and select another leader.

What are some things that an organization should consider in selecting a new leader? Consider with me the following as a partial list of key skills, abilities, traits, or tendencies. It is not an exhaustive list by any stretch. But it may spur some thoughts and ideas as an organization moves forward with seeking and selecting new leadership.

They must possess Leadership Abilities– This one almost goes without saying. When selecting a leader, make sure they have demonstrated leadership somewhere and some place before you bring them into your organization.

They Must Demonstrate Past Performance / Results – When searching for a new leader, do your research. Check out the leadership candidate. Has he/she demonstrated strong leadership in the past? Do they get results?

They Must Realize That They Are Part of Something Bigger – Each of us is a part of a much larger organization. And we should consider that we are building something that is larger than our local organization and it should fit well with the larger organization.

They Must Show That They Have Learned From Past Mistakes – Everybody makes them. How does the leadership candidate show that they have learned from mistakes made in the past?

They Must Show That They Can Fit Within the System or Personality of the Organization – Does the candidate mesh with the organization’s overall system or personality? If not, you are destined for conflict. Continue reading “20 Things You Need In A New Leader”

Adaptive Leadership


Adaptive Leadership - 1So many of the world’s problems, and the issues that organizations, businesses, and people face every day can seem intractable and unsolvable. Leadership consultants Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky discussed a new way to lead the charge to change in their book in 2009 entitled, “Adaptive Leadership”.

Adaptive Leadership calls for moving beyond outdated approaches and embracing new skills and attitudes to guide your organization in the 21st century. Adaptive leadership combines established ways of leading with new skills and new perspectives for dealing with unprecedented challenges.

But, if it were easy, everyone would be adaptive leaders and everyone would be successful.  Before you begin the process of bringing lasting change to an organization you must Continue reading “Adaptive Leadership”

Listening for the Future


Listening Leaders - 1Great leaders are always “listening for the future” all the while staying grounded in the here and the now.

That sounds impressive and insightful.  But what does it mean?  Simply, it means that our society is evolving into a noisy, chaotic world; characterized by “volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity” (This is what “Futurist” Bob Johansen refers to as “VUCA”).

Elements of the VUCA paradigm have existed throughout history, but never to the extent evident in the early 21st century.  Leaders who make decisions without regard to VUCA realities tend to exhibit various “dysfunctional and dangerous” attitudes and reactions, including fear, disdain, procrastination, frustration, anger and denial.  And I am not exactly sure where the anger is strongest.  Is it on the side of those who loath their leaders?  Or is it on the side of the leaders who loath the burden of leadership?

Nevertheless, there are enduring leadership principles that will hold you in good stead during these VUCA times.  Consider the following:

  • To be on time is to be late. – Get there early.  Get there before your team arrives and be ready to greet them as they arrive for the day or for the meeting.
  • Always start on time.  – Don’t punish those who are on time for the sins of those who are late.  And don’t go back over what you have already covered for those who do arrive late.
  • Mental gymnastics.  – Build leadership skills through leadership thoughts.  Read and study other great leaders.
  • Listening Leaders - 2Actively listen.  – But carefully filter what you hear.  Make sure that in the midst of your listening that you are not swayed by an emotional message that takes you away from your core values.
  • Be ready for action.  – We are living in a fast paced world and in the face of uncertainty, preparedness is a great benefit.
  • Practice “urgent patience”. – Know when to press forward and when to ease up on your team.
  • Be a storyteller. – Use compelling stories to inspire hope in your team.
  • Observe synchronicity. – Nothing occurs in a vacuum.  So explain connections and patterns to help others find the reason for your actions.
  • Stay positive.  – It is easy to succumb to the negativity that surrounds us.  We get a steady diet of it on the news and from the media.  Do not dwell on this.  [I could speak at length here about the importance of being in some type of daily devotional reading, but I will save that for another time and place.]
  • Don’t spread yourself too thin.  – You cannot directly lead a multitude.  So, find a small group of leaders to develop and pour yourself into them and make them into great leaders.  Don’t make them clones.  Make them leaders.

Continue reading “Listening for the Future”

Waiting on the World to Change

Waiting on the World to Change - 1Well, I can honestly say that I don’t think I have ever heard a John Mayer song sung in church before the pastor got up to preach. Tomorrow, I won’t be able to make that statement. The song immediately preceding the message was “Waiting on the World to Change”. And many of you will instantly recall the lyrics.

I will forego evaluating the use of John Mayer music in a worship setting. I will only say that the band in church this morning did an excellent job with the song and played it with heart, soul, and passion.

This song is often misunderstood. Do a little internet research on the song and you will quickly see that it has folks who can be fairly polarized in their views on whether it is a statement, an expectation or a parody. Mayer himself has been somewhat elusive on the meaning behind the lyrics.  That’s some clever writing and marketing right there.

Waiting on the World to Change - 2One stanza says this:

It’s not that we don’t care
We just know that the fight ain’t fair
So we keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change

So what is my point and what is the relevance to Leadership Voices? Continue reading “Waiting on the World to Change”

Coming Attractions: Leadership Language

CA - Language - 1As a leader, am I hanging on to the past or am I grabbing on to the future?

This is an important question to consider because it speaks to our nature, to our ability to change, and to our willingness to adapt in order to become an effective leader. It also speaks to the everchanging landscape of language when it comes to leadership.

In the coming days I will be taking a look at leadership and the language of leadership. Some will call this language “buzzwords” and they would be correct. And although I think that there is more to leadership than language, language is vital as it is the most common medium of communication. And it is the shared language of the communicator and the “communicate-ee” that facilitates the transmission, reception and the all important feedback loop.

CA - Language - 2Are there leadership terms that are standing the test of time? If so, what are they? Are there leadership words that have faded with the whims of pop culture? Continue reading “Coming Attractions: Leadership Language”