The Toughest Person to Lead is __________

How did you fill in the blank? If we were honest, most of us would agree that the toughest person to lead is always yourself. We may think about accomplished leaders and assume they have it all together. But if we really examine their lives we will find that they struggle to lead themselves well.

Self Leadership

When I think of the times when I have struggled as a leader it is because I have failed to lead myself well. I’m sure you have heard the saying, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” When I was a young Army officer leading a unit, several groups within the unit couldn’t get along with each other. I would sit down with each group and listen to their issues but I couldn’t seem to solve the problem as they presented it.

I look back now and realize that I was trying to please each group rather than bringing them together and getting everyone focused on the unit mission. They were all focused more on themselves and I wasn’t doing anything to help change that. I was acting more like a referee than a leader.

In “Leadership Gold,” John C. Maxwell lays out a couple of reasons that we are our own worst enemies. First, We don’t see ourselves as we see others. Human nature seems to endow us with the ability to size up everybody but ourselves. If we don’t understand our weaknesses we won’t be able to lead ourselves effectively. As leaders we can develop good vision and insight when we look at others but we need help in identifying our own blind spots.

Second, we are harder on others than we are on ourselves. We tend to judge others by their actions but tend to judge ourselves by our intentions. If we believe our motives were good even if we did the wrong thing, then it would be hard to ever change. Don’t miss this. We may judge ourselves bases on our intentions but you can bet that those following us are judging us by what we actually do.

Maxwell also lists things to do that will help you lead yourself better.

Learn Followership. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen said, “Civilization is always in danger when those who have never learned to obey are given the right to command.” In other words, you need to know how to follow well before you can lead well. If you have learned to follow well, you understand the world that followers live in and have your pride under control.

Develop Self-Discipline. Learning to lead yourself includes developing and practicing self-control. A leader without self-discipline will find difficulty in consistently making good decisions and taking the right actions.

Practice Patience. I have to work on this one. Leaders have a bias for action and getting things done. However, the goal is to take everyone with you across the finish line. Sometimes to do this, a leader must slow down and be more deliberate. Lead, but don’t get too far ahead of your people.

Seek Accountability. Good leaders know that power can be seductive, and they understand their own fallibility. Accountability can help here and effective accountability begins way before we take action. A good indicator of accountability is the willingness to seek and accept advice. Early advice is better to keep you on track.

These are some practices that will help you lead yourself better. I am sure that you can think of a few more. The question for all of us is, what are we doing about it? Bill Hybels says that “everyone wins when a leader gets better.” What are you doing today to become a better leader for yourself and others?

Don’t Get on the Chicken Chewy Spiral

I was reminded by my daughter of a great business lesson.


She had a favorite restaurant that she liked to visit about once a week. Not long ago she ate there and remarked that the chicken wasn’t as good as usual. She said it had a few chewies in it. Maybe she just got a bad piece of chicken that day.

At the next visit, the chicken was chewy and even worse than the previous time. The same thing happened during the next visit which was my daughter’s last trip to that restaurant.

So what happened? Like many businesses, when times are tough, they tried to cut costs by cutting quality or service or both. They started using lower quality chicken. My daughter didn’t like it. Business went down and they cut quality again. They have lost my daughter as a customer and I don’t know how many others.

This was a good reminder for me that regardless of the business, quality and service are important.

What do you do when business slows down? Quality and service are especially important when customers have choices. Don’t get caught in the Chicken Chewy Spiral that leads to declining business. Insure that you give the best quality and service that you can. Your customers will appreciate it and keep coming back.


What are You Packing for Your Success Journey?

Whether a business trip or a vacation, most of us would not think of departing without packing for the trip. The question I have is what are you packing for your success journey.

To pack for a business trip or vacation, you need to know where you are going. I would pack very differently for a trip to Florida than for Alaska. So, where is your success journey taking you and how do you pack for the trip?

I believe most everyone defines success a little differently. However, most could agree that a component of success would be to reach your full potential. The Army used to say it like this, “Be All You Can Be.”

The success journey equivalent of packing your suitcase for a trip is preparing and pursuing a personal growth plan. Just as what you pack in your suitcase determines what you can accomplish at your destination, your personal growth plan will determine whether you will continue growing toward your maximum potential.

Nothing in your past guarantees that you will continue growing toward your potential in the future. Planning your growth and then following through on it is the only thing that works.

Only you can prepare and pursue your personal growth plan. You must be dedicated to a life of continual growth. Some principles from John Maxwell’s book, The Success Journey, that help with a growth mindset are:

  1. Growth is a choice – Novelist Leo Tolstoy said, “Everybody thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
  1. Start growing today. Napoleon Hill said, “It’s not what you are going to do, but it’s what you are doing now that counts.” Someday is not on the calendar.
  1. Be teachable. John Wooden used to say, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” When you think you know it all, you can become unteachable.
  1. Never stay satisfied with current accomplishments. You have to stay hungry and keep that desire to learn.
  1. Concentrate on a few major themes. John Maxwell narrowed his personal development to these areas:

– Relationships, which determine how well he knows people

– Attitude, which determines how well he relates to people

– Communication, which determines how well he motivates people

– Leadership, which determines how well he influences people

– Personal growth, which determines how long he develops the other areas

What major themes or areas do you need to focus on in your personal development plan?

There are other things you can do to help grow into your potential. One is create a growth environment. If your current circumstances do nothing to help your grow, you are going to have a hard time reaching your potential.

A growth environment should look something like this:

Others are ahead of you. You are more likely to grow when you can learn from those around you.

You are out of your comfort zone. This is where growth occurs.

Your focus is forward. If you are living in the past, your growth is probably stifled.

Others are growing. It is easier to grow when those around you are on a growth journey too.

Growth is modeled and expected. When leaders allow and expect growth and they model it, everyone’s potential goes off the chart.

Now, what does the suitcase for your success journey look like? Will it help you reach your full potential? Are you on a growth journey or just jogging around the block going nowhere?

Answer these questions then start growing. It is not too late to begin the journey and Be All You Can Be.

Be All You Can Be Ginnie

An Example to Follow

Have you ever read about the life of someone you didn’t know but quickly wished that you had known them? I didn’t know “Ginnie” as she was known by family and friends, but I was awed by her amazing life.
We all should strive to be the best we can be with our gifts and talents. Ginnie set a great example for us to follow. She spent her life excelling at whatever she did and continually worked to add value to the lives of others.
Virginia Ann Mocivnik from Rogers, Arkansas was born a coal-miner’s daughter in Walenski, IL. Virginia was a home economics major in high school and was captain and most valuable player of the boys’ basketball team. That’s right, the boys team and they were runner-up in the state championship. After high school, she was a pitcher in a professional fast pitch softball league. Later in Arkansas, she sponsored, coached and played on a women’s softball team at the local, state, regional and national levels, winning the Arkansas state championship. It is safe to say she maximized her natural talents. But she didn’t stop there.
Virginia moved to Chicago and worked as an industrial engineer for the Visking company. After marrying, she joined the family business and became an automotive repair technician. The business relocated to Rogers, Arkansas. Though no longer employed by Visking, she was instrumental in convincing them to build a factory in Rogers to bring jobs to the community. She said that Northwest Arkansas did not choose her, but she chose it. Therefore, she felt obligated to make it a better place than when she arrived.


Virginia was active in the local chamber of commerce and supported Rogers public and private schools. She was inducted into the Public Schools Foundation Wall of Honor. She lobbied to start a girls’ athletic program. She was active in Altrusa International. Virginia held the first public meetings to initiate construction of Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport and later served as director of the airport authority board. She worked for a grant to establish a volunteer fire department, became a certified firefighter instructor and first fire chief. She spearheaded an effort to provide city water and fire hydrants on part of Beaver Lake, serving as first water commissioner.

Virginia also served as director of the Northwest Arkansas Community Care Foundation. She worked to establish the NorthWest Arkansas Community College, serving on the Foundation board and President’s Circle. And she helped a friend create the Single Parent Scholarship Foundation.
These are enough accomplishments to keep several people busy, much less one coal-miner’s daughter. Like salt, Virginia made everything better. If she saw a need, she did what it took to satisfy the need.
Virginia’s philosophy was that what mattered most is not how long you live, but rather how well you live. I believe Virginia lived well. I believe Virginia was all she could be. Now when someone asks me what does it mean to Be All You Can Be, I just tell them about Virginia.

7 Lessons from an Astronaut

I had the pleasure to spend a morning with astronaut Butch Wilmore. Butch just returned from the International Space Station in March. He piloted the Space Shuttle in 2009 and this six-month trip to the space station was his second trip into space.

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During the morning Butch talked about his time on the space station and a little about his career. Here are a few lessons that I got from his session.

  1. Really put your family first. He said he thought his priorities had been God, family, career but if you asked his family before this mission they may have given a different version. This time, during the two and a half years of training and six months in space he tried to change that and make family a priority. He didn’t take work home, he took all the leave allowed, and he took his family with him when he could when he was training in Russia, Germany and other locations. If an astronaut training for a mission can do it, then we should be able to do it too.
  1. Persistence can pay off. When he decided to apply for the astronaut program, his first application was turned down. He kept applying and finally his fourth application was accepted. How many times have you quit after the first time?
  1. Don’t fret over things you can’t control. When asked the question, “What did you miss while in space?” Butch replied, “nothing.” He learned that it didn’t do any good to miss a hamburger, his family, or anything else not available on the space station. He couldn’t control those things. How many things do we fret over that we can’t control?
  1. When you work in close quarters with other people, it is important to get along. Most of us can go home at the end of the workday and get away from our colleagues. On the space station astronauts work and live together for six months in a confined space. They had to work extra hard to make sure they got along. Butch, as station commander, had each person talk one-on-one with each other person once a month. They could tell that person one thing that bothered them about the other person. They other person could only respond that they disagreed or that they agreed and change. He said they also spent a lot of time before going into space going on trips with each other such as canoeing, backpacking, or other activities to develop relationships and teamwork. Relationships and teamwork matter, especially in space.
  1. As a leader, it is important to remember the people supporting your team. There are several ground control stations around the world that operate 24-7-365 to support the space station. These support personnel have to also work on holidays. Butch and his team would try to do something special for the ground support folks that had to work on holidays. On Thanksgiving, the crew had a turkey calling contest in space and let the ground control stations be the judges. Remember the support personnel that are making sacrifices for your team.
  1. Be present all the time. With all the distractions of phones and social media today, it is sometimes hard to be fully present at work, home, and even driving for some. Butch talked about how much work and concentration it took during a space walk. You have to think about every little thing you do. There is no putting yourself on auto-pilot in space. Maybe we need to act more like we are on a space walk and be fully present with others.
  1. The journey is important, enjoy the journey. Butch has been an astronaut for 15 years and only been to space two times. He said the journey has been great. He has met a lot of the people around the world working on the space program. He has seen many of the places that support the program. He couldn’t just focus on the goal of going into space. He has enjoyed the 15-year journey and along the way made it into space twice. I think sometimes we get too focused on the goal and forget to enjoy the journey.

These are not new lessons but it was good to hear them again and from a different context. I hope you will reflect on them and take action where needed. And if you ever go into space, you will be ready.

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What does Persistence have to do with Leadership?

I have been studying the classic book by Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich. The chapter on Persistence highlights just how important persistence is in every area of life where you want to accomplish something.

-The key of persistence will open up any

Hill says, “One thing we all know, if one does not possess persistence, one does not achieve noteworthy success in any calling.” Persistence is defined as: firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition. That sounds like something every leader needs to have.

I don’t usually think of being obstinate as a good thing but in the case of persistence, it fits. This definition led me to wonder how obstinate I have been in following through with a few new daily routines I have started.

I believe I need to have the same persistence in continuing a daily routine as in executing a big plan at work or following a life goal. When was the last time you evaluated how obstinate you were in pursuing a coarse of action at work or home or in doing a daily routine?

Hill also says that persistence is a state of mind and therefore can be cultivated. So that means there is hope for me in getting better at doing those daily routines. How can you cultivate persistence? Hill lists four steps:

  1. A definite purpose backed by burning desire for its fulfillment.
  2. A definite plan, expressed in continuous action.
  3. A mind closed tightly against all negative and discouraging influences, including negative suggestions of relatives, friends and acquaintances.
  4. A friendly alliance with one or more persons who will encourage one to follow through with both plan and purpose.

Summed up that means know what you want to accomplish and really, really want to do it. Have a written plan that keeps you always moving forward. Tune out all the negative influences that say you can’t do it, especially from those who are close to you. And have someone to encourage you and help keep you accountable to your plan.

Sounds easy right? It may not be so easy in the beginning but the more we do it, the more persistent we become. Hill adds that those who have cultivated the habit of persistence seem to enjoy insurance against failure. No matter how many times they are defeated, they finally arrive up toward the top of the ladder.

Babe Ruth said it like this, “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.” There are many times leaders may feel like giving up but those that persist, learn from failures or setbacks and keep going end up achieving success.

Do you have the answer yet to my opening question? What does persistence have to do with leadership – everything. Take a look at areas of your leadership where you are not getting the results you want. It may be that you need to cultivate a little more persistence to get you through.

3 Ways to be More Intentional in 2015

I never had to worry about personal growth and development in the Army. It was spelled out for me with programmed schools and assignments. We even had a reading list. Now I am on my own to figure out how to keep learning, growing and getting better.

With respect to personal growth and development, I have learned that intentional is better and faster than accidental. John C. Maxwell contrasts accidental and intentional growth in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth.

Intentional chart

I found myself not doing enough things on the intentional side. Here are three things I did that you can do to become more intentional.

1. Determine your purpose before doing something.

Before going to an event, before reading a book, before starting a project, take a minute and write down a sentence on why you are doing this. What do you want to get out of it? By doing this you automatically focus on your desired outcome and will end up with better results than just going with the flow.

2. Make a commitment to invest in your growth and development.

Growth doesn’t just happen. We can stay busy leading, working and volunteering but that doesn’t mean we are necessarily growing.

Before you invest in yourself you must know where to invest. A place to start is to discover your unique strengths and gifts. This is the best way to get better and grow.

After making a commitment and discovering where to invest, you need to develop a plan. Just like a budget helps you allocate your money, a growth plan helps you allocate your time and your money into opportunities that give the greatest return.

Now that I know the areas I want to develop, I try to go to seminars and conferences and read books that address those specific areas. I also added coaching and mentoring to my plan. I am being more intentional to insure I get the best return on my investment of resources.

3. Pick several tasks that are critical to your success and do them on a regular basis.

For me to be successful as a coach, trainer and speaker I have to have content to use in seminars and speaking engagements. My list has three things I need to do at least five days a week to get better as a speaker and trainer. I read to find material, write to produce content and practice delivery of that content.

I challenge you to commit to being more intentional in 2015 about learning and growing as a leader.