Accidental Leadership

Accidental Leadership

There was a famous novel written in 1985 that became an Academy award winning movie in 1988. (The Academy was won in 1989, but who is that picky?) It was called “The Accidental Tourist” and starred one of my favorite actors, William Hurt.

The plot of the story revolves around the dissolving marriage of Macon Leary, played by Hurt in the movie. He is a writer of travel guides. In the story, the logo on the cover of these travel guides is a winged armchair. The visual assumption created by that logo design is that all travel is involuntary, and therefore potentially unpleasant. Macon Leary attempts to spare these poor unsuspecting and involuntary travelers the shock of the unfamiliar by providing keen insights into the locations that will make the traveler more comfortable with their surroundings. For instance, The New York Ties Review said; “Macon Leary will tell you where to find Kentucky Fried Chicken in Stockholm, or whether there’s a restaurant that serves Chef Boy-Ar-Dee ravioli in Rome.”


So, I suppose that the term “accidental” really means “involuntary” in the context of that book and movie.

But that thought raises a few very significant question in my mind. And it is this:

“Is it really leading if I don’t know it is happening?” 

Is it possible to be an accidental leader? Is it possible to be an involuntary leader? Can leadership happen and emanate from us and we be completely unaware of that fact? Continue reading “Accidental Leadership”

Distance and Leadership

Distance and Leadership - 2

There is an old joke that is not all that kind to girls.  And it goes like this: “She was so homely looking that the only thing that improved her looks was distance.”

Do you see? I told you it wasn’t very nice. So, I apologize to all of the women in our audience. That old joke is the set-up for my article.

Maybe I am a little preoccupied with the concept of distance since I am writing this from a hotel room about 7600 miles from home. And I desperately would like to be in much closer proximity to the ones that I love.

Does “distance” affect the way that you are perceived as a leader? In other words, does your leadership look the same up close as it does from a comfortable distance? Or are you afraid that if folks get really close to you they will see the real you? And maybe the real you isn’t the kind of leader that you think you are.

I am not indicating that we should act in any way so that we will gain favor in the eyes of those that we love. That would put us in the camp of the “people pleasers.” People pleasers don’t usually make good leaders. Instead I am asking us to consider whether or not we are genuine and that we look the same up close as well as from a distance where our flaws are not as readily noticeable.

So now we are back to the set-up joke. Am I so flawed and blemished as a leader that I only appear acceptable from a distance?

Continue reading “Distance and Leadership”

Signs That A Leader Is Failing

Leadership Failure - 1I was told by a manager one time, “If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying.” And I am sure that there are many situations in which that statement is true. But, I am not dealing with effort and intentions alone today. Instead, I am dealing with results.  To some this may seem harsh.  Our society often expresses success in terms of trying really, really, really hard.  But for today, let’s look at failure from a results-oriented perspective.

There are certainly tell-tale signs when a leader is failing. And that is true even when the leader himself does not see it. Certainly those around him don’t always it either. And if those that do, don’t always know hot to address it.  But many times, those with discernment will see it.

Consider some of these signs of leadership failure within an organization:

  • A leader is failing when there is a refusal to accept advice or help from other leaders within the organization who are more experienced. Sometimes we think that we must do it all ourselves and we must “gut it out.” Although advice is easy to find. Good and sound advice is a precious commodity. As a leader you must seek it out and give it very careful consideration.
  • Al leader is failing when they lack the support of those around them. Failure is near when you have lost the support of those closest to you and who have real insight into the situation.
  • A leader is failing when new people searching for a an organization with goood leadership continue to pass you by. Among many things, leadership is defined by followship. And when there are folks in need of leadership and yet they choose a different organization, this is a sign of leadership failure and that failure is obvious to those outside of the organization.
  • A leader is failing when they bring embarassment or shame to the organization. It seems that the concept of shame is a distant and bygone concept. But everyone still understands embarassment on a personal level. So, if your organization is the brunt of jokes or is ridiculed publicly, there is leadership failure.
  • A leader is failing when there are financial problems. This one is a little tricky if your organization is a church or non-profit and it depends upon charity or offerings for funding. Fundraising is an unavoidable function of leadership in this setting. And financial problems are most often indicative of the lack of “buy in” by those in the organization. As leaders we must be able to communicate and get buy in.
  • A leader is failing when you continually miss opportunitues. There is a big difference between “seeing” and opportunity and “seizing” it. And these lost opportunities are hard to quantify. But here is where great leaders surround themselves with great teams where there is likely to be someone with the ability to spot opportunities and initiate a strategy to take advantage of that opportunity.
  • A leader is failing when there is desperation. Great leaders do not let the situation degenerate to the point that deperation kicks in.

Continue reading “Signs That A Leader Is Failing”

Leadership is . . . Saying you’re sorry

Saying you are sorry - 1Back in the 1970s there was a very popular little one panel comic that depicted a little male and female cherub-like creatures.  It had “Love is . . .” written in the upper left of the panel.  The couple was in the middle and the bottom was the rest of the sentence that told you what love is.

One of the most famous comic strips of the entire series was  “Love is . . . being able to say you’re sorry” and was published on Feb. 9, 1972.  The beginning of the strip coincided with the very famous film from 1970, “Love Story”.  The signature line from that movie was “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”   What a crock!

So, what is the leadership implication?

It is simply this.  Leadership often involves making mistakes.  I was once told by a CIO that I worked for, that if I wasn’t failing once in a while, then I wasn’t really trying very hard.  Now, I won’t debate that thought today as it is probably worthy of an article or post all on its own.

Saying you are sorry - 2But I firmly believe that leadership involves many things.  Some of those are Continue reading “Leadership is . . . Saying you’re sorry”

Leaders of the Past – Better than Today?

Better than today - 1Sitting at lunch yesterday with one our most prolific authors on and with a new author who is going to be providing some interesting content in the coming days, our conversation was about leadership and the leadership crisis in our culture today. One of my hypotheses is that we are just one generation away from losing our society and our culture due to the lack of leadership skills today. One of my lunch companions had a much more optimistic view that we are several generations away. All I know for sure is that there is a distinct lack of leadership exhibited today. And it “seems” that there were better leaders and more leadership skills in the past.

And it seems that leaders of the past almost always seem more effective than those of today. Perhaps it is a perceptual bias: We long for what we don’t have, and mythologize what we used to have. But even taking this bias into consideration, many of today’s leaders don’t seem to measure up to our expectations.

According to a survey conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School several years ago, 68% of Americans believe that there is a “leadership crisis” in the country; and leaders in only four out of thirteen sectors polled inspire above average confidence. Those sectors were the military, the Supreme Court, non-profit organizations, and medical institutions. Leaders of the news media, Congress, and Wall Street receive the lowest scores. Who is surprised by this?

Better than today - 2My parents used to tell me that the leaders of their day not only inspired confidence, but respect and reverence as well. They talked about Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower, Gandhi, and others of that generation as larger than life figures. Growing up, I had the same impressions of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa, and others. Sure they had their flaws, but they were courageous and decisive, and could communicate in ways that made it clear what they stood for.

But today’s public figures don’t seem to inspire the same confidence. According to recent Gallup figures, only 29% of Americans think that President Obama is doing a good job; and only 7% have a favorable view of Congress.

The irony is it’s likely that more money has been spent on leadership development in the last two decades — in both the public and private sectors — than was probably spent in the previous ten decades combined (admittedly I’m guessing here; no figures seem to be available). All I know for sure is that my personal leadership consulting practice is up this year over last year and that year was up over the previous year. So why are we not turning out better leaders across the board? Let me suggest two possibilities — and perhaps readers will add others: Continue reading “Leaders of the Past – Better than Today?”

Is it really leadership if I don’t know I am doing it?

Is it really leadership if I don't know - 1Is it really leading if I don’t know it is happening?  That is the question that I have begun pondering in the last few days.

For those of you that participated in the Seriously, why do we lead? discussion, I say thanks.  But one of the threads that I seemed to see in the comments on the site and those that happened in facebook and other social medial caused me to ask the fundamental question; “Is it leadership if I am not aware of it or it is happening without my direct knowledge and awareness?”  In other words, must there be intentionality to leadership?

I don’t think that I have time to flesh this thought and idea out fully at this time.  So, on this early Monday morning in June I will just put some questions out there and ask you for some feedback and comments.

  1. Can we be leaders and be unaware of or leadership role?  And if so, what would that look like? Continue reading “Is it really leadership if I don’t know I am doing it?”

Second Chair Leaders

Second Chair Leaders - 1There has been much that has been said recently in the area of “Leading from the Second Chair”. Although I have not yet read Bonem and Patterson’s book by that name, I have seen a lot of that type of leadership in my own life and in those who I admire greatly.

In fact, from a political perspective, one of the political leaders that I admire the most is Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee.  His was the very first Presidential campaign that I worked on was as a volunteer.  Unfortunately I was a part of his unsuccessful attempt to become President in 1979. I admire Sen. Baker on multiple levels. Others admired him as well. Known in Washington, D.C. as the “Great Conciliator”, Baker is often regarded as one of the most successful senators in terms of brokering compromises, enacting legislation, and maintaining civility across the aisle. A story is sometimes told of a reporter telling a senior Democratic senator that privately, a plurality of his Democratic colleagues would vote for Baker for President of the United States. Unfortunately, not enough Americans apparently shared that sentiment.

Second Chair Leaders - 2But the times during his career that I admired him the most were his days as White House Chief of Staff for Ronald Reagan, the man who defeated him early in the primary season and caused him to drop out after the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary.

Baker did not seek re-election in 1984. However, as a testament to Baker’s skill as a negotiator and honest and amiable broker, Reagan tapped him to serve as Chief of Staff during part of Reagan’s second term (1987–1988). Many saw this as a move by Reagan to mend relations with the Senate, which had deteriorated somewhat under the previous chief of staff, Donald Regan. (Baker had complained publicly and privately that Don Regan had become a too-powerful “Prime Minister” inside an increasingly complex imperial presidency.) It is interesting to note that in accepting this appointment, Baker chose to skip another bid for the White House in 1988. Who knows if he would have been successful? I, I for one would have loved to have seen him elected in 1988 over the alternative that year.

Second Chair Leaders - 3So what is the leadership principle that I admire in Sen. Baker? Well, I think it is for these two reasons. One is that he understood the power and responsibility to still lead even though you are not “The” one. He had ambitions to be “The” one. But ambition, skill, and aptitude did not translate into the Oval Office for Sen. Baker. So, he withdrew for the sake of the overall mission of his party and supported the ultimate candidate who went on to become President. He waited patiently for the second term of Ronald Reagan and began to make his own plans for another run for the White House. But “Duty” called and Continue reading “Second Chair Leaders”

Elected Leaders vs. Influential Leaders

Elected vs Influential - 1Here is challenge that you may have to face at some point in your leadership career. You will encounter two types of leaders. Elected leaders and Influential leaders.

Have you ever considered these two types? If not, consider them now.

Elected leaders are the ones that we may be familiar with the most. It is reasonably clear how they became leaders. Someone recognized leadership ability within them. The organization then went on and nominated or appointed them to a position of responsibility and leadership. That is fairly clear cut. Ability was recognized and a position was attained. This is generally a good model and it produces good results.

Elected vs Influential - 2Now consider the second type – the Influential leader. This person generally does not have real leadership skills. Yet they have a position of leadership in spite of it. They generally attain the position through shear force of personality.  That may be just a euphemism for being a bully. But that is not always the case. Sometimes it is because they possess a specialized skill.  Sometimes they attain it through longevity within the organization. Sometime they attain the role of leader through fame, notoriety, family or financial position. These are the leaders that are difficult to work with or work for. Continue reading “Elected Leaders vs. Influential Leaders”

Leadership is like riding a bicycle

Learning to Ride a BicycleI admit it. I fell victim to the “Downton Abbey” craze. I watched an episode one night out of curiosity. The next thing I knew, I had found Seasons 1 and 2 on Amazon Prime and we watched at least 2 episodes a night for the next 2 weeks until we had seen them all. Then we went to start watching Season 3 – only this time it wasn’t free on Amazon Prime. You know you are hooked when you hit the “Buy with 1-Click” button and you shell out the money for the entire 3rd season without even thinking about what it cost. But, I suppose all of that is a subject for another time.

I found the story compelling and the dialog incredible. The characters were fascinating and complex. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it.

But I was captivated by a sentence uttered by a relatively minor character in the last episode of season 3. His name is Shrimpie and he is a husband caught in a loveless marriage and he is the father of a young woman who is rebelling against her parents and society in general. I am paraphrasing a quote from that episode:

“What I want is for her [his daughter] to know that family can be a loving thing. Love is like riding a bicycle or speaking French. If you don’t learn it young, it’s hard to get the trick of it later.”

I am taking this in a direction that you would expect and I am going to modify the quote to suit my purpose. What if Continue reading “Leadership is like riding a bicycle”

The World Lost a Leader Today

Margaret ThatcherSome times we fall into the false belief that leadership is a male only club.  Alas, that is far from the truth. 

Today the world lost a truly great leader.  Margaret Thatcher died of a stroke this morning.  She was 87 years of age.  She had been ill for several years and had rarely been seen in public.  And for her contribution to the United Kingdom and freedom loving democracies everywhere her funeral will be second only to a State funeral for a member of the royal family.  And her funeral will be second only to Sir Winston Churchill’s.

Today is not the time to debate or recite her history.  But it is undeniable that she was a great leader.  Dubbed the “Iron Lady” by political allies and foes alike, she, along with President Ronald Reagan, brought about an end to the Cold War and brought an end to the U.S.S.R.

Not many prime ministers remain in people’s minds long after they have stepped down. Margaret Thatcher was one. She even became a character in plays and films.  Some have been humorous as portrayed in at least one James Bond movie.  Fewer still have given their name to a political philosophy.  To this day, ‘Thatcherism’ is used all over the world to describe a brisk, unsentimental, and a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps approach. It can be viewed by some as political obstinacy. It has also become synonymous with ‘tough’.

She was a true friend and ally to the United States.  History continues to point to her and her working relationship with President Reagan as a model for allied nations to tackle issues on the global stage.

Rest in peace Baroness Margaret Thatcher.