Followers: leaders “see” things other people don’t see, so sometimes you must simply trust your leader and follow

Also...I highly recommend Malcolm Gladwell's podcast (see below)

A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others do. —LeRoy Eims

When Disney World first opened, Mrs. Walt Disney was asked to speak at the grand opening because her husband, Walt, had recently died. She was introduced by a man who said, “Mrs. Disney, I just wish Walt could have seen this.” She stood up and said, “He did,” and sat down.

Leaders “see” the future. Just as Walt Disney “saw” Disney World in his mind, long before it was actually built, leaders have a picture in their minds about what their organization can look like in the future, and, as Warren Bennis says, they are willing to “disturb the present in the service of a better future.”

In this post I want to focus on how this affects followers.

Recently, my daughter, Lauren, started a recycling company called Turn. The catchphrase is farm to table to farm. Part of the business is recycling food scraps and turning them into compost. Families are given a 5-gallon bucket to put their scraps in and Turn picks up the buckets weekly. Then they must be cleaned, which is a yucky job. 

One day, while I was helping clean buckets, I had a vision for a large rack-system that would make cleaning the buckets more efficient. I bought the materials at Home Depot, recruited a helper, and started building. I had a clear picture in my mind of what the structure would look like so I didn’t take the time to draw a diagram. I had difficulty explaining to my helper what it would look like and how it would work. My helper was constantly pushing back on my directives because he couldn’t “see” what I saw. I finally said, “Just do what I ask you to do; I see something you don’t see.” When we finished the project my helper said, “Okay, now I see what you saw.”

It’s a simple, mundane example, but hopefully it illustrates my point: leaders often see things that other people don’t see. So followers often need to just follow.

Let me add balance to this thought. I am not suggesting 

  • that followers adopt mindless obedience to everything a leader dictates. It’s fine for followers to question the leader’s directions and at times, to push back. 
  • that a leader should intentionally keep followers uninformed. Indeed, part of a leader’s job is to thoroughly communicate vision to her constituency.
  • that a leader should craft vision unilaterally. It’s always best to craft vision collaboratively; all of us are smarter than one of us.

I’m simply saying…sometimes a leader sees things that others don’t see. 

Bill Gates saw a computer on every desk; Sam Walton saw a chain of discount retail stores; Steve Jobs saw a handheld device that would function as a phone and a link to the world; President Kennedy visualized an American going to the moon and returning; President Eisenhower saw an interstate highway system, much like the German autobahn that he saw during the war; the apostle Paul saw the church, a spiritual community of believers.  

All these leaders saw something that others did not. We’re glad they did.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers) offers a free podcast that is outstanding. Revisionist History is Gladwell’s journey through the overlooked and the misunderstood. Every episode re-examines something from the past—an event, a person, an idea, even a song—and asks whether we got it right the first time. Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance. One of my favorites (and a good example of what his podcasts are like) is season one, episode 8, titled Blame Game.

Learning from people’s obsessions

As I write this blog, Mary and I are crossing the Atlantic on our way to the Iberian Peninsula. It takes seven days at sea to make it across the pond. We’ve been together 24/7 in a 189 sq. ft. cabin. We’re doing great. But the constant closeness has made we wonder about the pros and cons of obsessive behaviors. 

Mary is obsessed with neatness and cleanliness. The highlight of her day has been when the cabin steward cleans our cabin (twice daily). She doesn’t want me in the room for several hours after it gets cleaned. She enjoys it that much.

I’m obsessed with time management, particularly being punctual. If I had my druthers, we would live our lives within sight of a large clock that organizes our every minute and beeps when we’re late or wasting time. 

Obviously, being neat and clean and being a good steward of time are virtues. Just consider their opposites: being sloppy, unclean, tardy, and wasteful of time.

But there’s a point at which obsessive tendencies become tedious, even unnecessary, inordinate, and bothersome. 

Several days ago we needed to leave our cabin at 6:50 p.m. to be on time for a 7:00 dinner. We missed the deadline and I got upset. I didn’t say anything or do anything that I later had to apologize for, but my  displeasure was apparent. That was unnecessary. Being late to a dinner is not equal to killing someone with a dull knife. I needed to relax and focus on the larger context.

Several days ago Mary challenged me because, while I had put my socks in the closet on the floor, I did not put my socks on top of the appropriate pair of shoes. Oh my. I think she needed to relax and focus on a larger context.

Through the years, our individual strengths have revealed weaknesses in each other. I am not the neatest person on the planet and Mary is prone to disregard her watch. But through the years, our weakness have been tempered by each other’s obsessions. Mary is now more punctual than she’s ever been, and I am more neat (sort of).

The moral of this essay is: be aware of your obsessions (they can be inherently good or bad) and don’t unduly inflict them on other people. And, instead of pushing back on other people’s obsessions, learn from them, and when appropriate, acquiesce to them. 

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Don’t assume that all people have leadership skills

I’ve been a student of leadership for forty years. In 1980 I defended my doctoral dissertation on strategic planning and I’ve continued to study the topic of leadership since then.

One fallacy I constantly see is the assumption that someone can lead well even though he or she has never had any training or experience in leadership.

This approach doesn’t work in other professions: to become a doctor, accountant, or pilot, one must study for years; degrees and certifications must be earned. Sadly, there is no such criteria for leadership. Anyone can call herself a CEO, manager, entrepreneur, or leader and not get arrested for practicing without a license. 

Contrary to popular sentiment, leaders are not “born”; leaders are “made.” There is no “leadership gene” that some people are fortunate to have been born with and others are lacking. Just as it takes years of training to become a commercial pilot, it takes focused training to become a good leader.

Said differently, an effective leader must develop certain skills. For instance, a leader is responsible for formulating the mission, vision, goals, and plans for her organization. But without training, most people don’t even know what these elements are, how they differ, and how they are related. Leaders are also responsible for selecting quality team members (it could be argued that this is the leader’s most important task), but many people who serve in a leadership position have had no training in this area.

We must not even assume that a professional degree qualifies someone to lead in his field. For instance, just because a physician is good at his job doesn’t mean he can lead well in his field. Nor should we assume that because an individual has achieved a professional degree or certification (physician, accountant) in one particular field, that he will lead well in other fields. For instance, the post-nominal M.D. doesn’t automatically qualify someone to be a leader in his church, mosque, or synagogue. Knowing how to read x-rays doesn’t prepare one to make important organizational decisions. Similarly, a degree in theology (learning ancient languages, apologetics, preaching, systematic theology) does not equip one to lead well—leadership requires a separate skill set. 

Many non-profit organizations put people into leadership positions simply because they embrace the organization’s core values or because they have achieved professional status in another field, or both. These qualifications may be necessary but they are not sufficient. To lead well one must possess leadership skills.

Here’s a list of 12 important leadership skills.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Mission, vision, and goals—how they differ and why all three are important 

Every organization needs a mission, vision, and goals. There’s often confusion about these three terms—how they differ and what they mean. Here is a brief description of each. 

  • Mission defines why the organization exists. It seldom changes and is usually never completed. It answers the question, “Why do we exist?”
  • Vision gives the organization direction and defines its uniqueness (how it differs from other organizations with the same mission). It answers the question, “How will we fulfill our mission?” Vision is malleable and doable.
  • Goals describe action, are measurable, and have a short timeframe (one to five years). 

For instance: 

The mission of every hospital is the same—provide healthcare for patients.

But the vision of each hospital may be unique. 

  • Serve as a general, regional hospital.  
  • Specialize in cancer research.
  • Focus on the needs of children.    

Goals for a hospital might include:

  • Become a certified level 3 trauma center in four years.
  • Outsource our ER department in the next 12 months.
  • Remodel the common areas next year.

The mission of every church is usually a blend of the great commission and the great commandment—and this mission hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. 

  • Love God; love others.
  • Exalt God, edify the church, evangelize the lost.
  • Share the gospel of Christ in our city and around the world.

But the vision for each church may be unique.

  • Appeal to a young audience.
  • Establish a strong local church and then create satellite churches.
  • Emphasize local and international missions.  

Goals for a church might include:

  • Debt free in three years.
  • Start a Sr. Adult ministry this year.
  • Sponsor a new church every three years.

Mission gives your organization general direction by defining what business you’re in. Vision provides specific direction and even distinguishes your organization from other, similar organizations. Mission is abstract; vision is concrete. Mission is usually never accomplished; vision is. Goals are “near-sighted”—they describe action that will occur in 3-5 years; they are clear and easy to understand—not ambiguous or imprecise; they are measurable—success or failure will be obvious.

Here is a fictitious example of how these three planning elements might be expressed in an organization.

Organization—Hope for Americans

  • Mission—Assist individuals and families in America whose basic needs are not being met.
  • Vision—Bring relief to homeless families. (This would be one of several vision statements.)
  • Goal — In the next four years, build 100 affordable, green, storm-resistant homes for families living in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. (This would be one of several goals.)

Notice how the progression from mission to goals becomes increasingly more concrete, doable, and engaging.

Having a clear mission is necessary but not sufficient. You must also have viable vision. A vision statements are necessary but not sufficient. You must have doable goals.

Sometimes, organizations get bogged down in the vision-crafting stage. When this happens, skip vision-crafting and move directly to goal setting. Goals will get the organization active and engaged. Goal-setting helps identify current opportunities and immediate needs. Ask “what can we do right now to accomplish our mission?” and the goals you craft will immediately activate resources and give momentum to the organization. Eventually, these goals will help clarify vision. 

Often, when constituents cry out in frustration, “What is the vision of this organization?” they are actually longing for goals; they are wanting to know what the organization is going to do. 

Here’s a summary of how these elements relate to each other and fit into the life of an organization. To succeed, every organization needs to have a clear answer to these questions. 

  • Why do we exist? – Mission
  • How are we going to fulfill our mission? — Vision  
  • Who are we? – Culture
  • What are we going to do to accomplish our vision? – Goals
  • How are we going to accomplish each goal? – Plans 
  • Relative to each goal: When are we going to do it (dates needed here), who is going to do it (names needed here), and how will we know when we are successful (metrics that reveal failure or success). – Every goal should include these elements. 

Question: What are your thought about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Six things you can easily do that will enhance your life (and they don’t cost money)

There are many things in life that we cannot control: other people, the weather, random events…but there are many things we can control and we should focus on those. 

Here are six things we can easily do—every day— that require little time and effort but are beneficial.

Maintain good posture.

Whether you’re sitting or standing, have good posture. You’ll look and feel better.

Here’s a good article on good posture: 

Drink a large glass of water as soon as you get up in the morning.

A survey of 3,003 Americans found that 75% had a net fluid loss, resulting in chronic dehydration. Are you among that 75%? 

Dehydration has dire effects but is easily avoided.

Drink a glass of water when you first get up in the morning. It will begin the hydration process and help keep the issue on your mind throughout the day.

Here’s an article on how much water you should drink per day.

Here’s an article on dehydration.

Strengthen and favor your core muscles.

Your core muscles are so named because of their location and importance. Our center of mass is usually located just below the navel and halfway between the abdomen and lower back, which is midway between the mass of the upper and lower body. When walking, working, bending, or leaning over, I think of my center-point and keep my body balanced over it. Most evenings I do a series of exercises that stretch and strengthen my core muscles.

Here’s an article and video on good exercises to strengthen your core muscles.

Develop a pleasant “resting face.”

Your “resting face” is the way your face looks when you are at ease, with facial muscles relaxed. 

Your “engaged face” is the way your face looks when you are consciously manipulating your face to appear more engaged, approachable, and friendly. I’ve also heard this called a “yes face.”

Most people have an unfriendly looking resting face. At best it’s hard to read, at worst we look sad, unapproachable, unengaged, and even upset.

To display an engaged face, simply raise the eyebrows and forehead, open up the eyes, and smile.

Here’s a post I wrote on this subject. 

Memorize one significant thought a week and meditate on it.

Here’s a mental discipline I enjoy, benefit from, and constantly do: I identify a significant thought, memorize it, meditate on it, apply it to my life, and when possible, discuss it with other people.

This process is a key to personal growth and change.

Here are some thoughts I’ve recently meditated on: 

  • “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” —Einstein
  • It’s amazing how much an organization can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit for progress.
  • “Envy is the most stupid of vices, for there is no single advantage to be gained from it.” Balzac

Here’s a post I wrote on this subject.

Express gratitude daily. 

There are many advantages to expressing gratitude, not just thinking thoughts of gratitude or feeling grateful, but actually expressing it.

    1. It helps develop a positive attitude. 
    2. It’s an antidote for being negative and pessimistic.
    3. It reinforces our remembrance of positive experiences.  
    4. When we express gratitude to people for specific things they have done, they are encouraged and their behavior is affirmed. 

Here’s a post I wrote on this subject. 

In the past few years, I’ve developed a new catchphrase: “There are some things you cannot do; but what you can do, do.”

These are six things everyone can do.

Question: Please contribute to this list of simple things we can do that will be beneficial.  You can leave a comment by clicking here.