Responsibility and Your Leadership Legacy

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I saw a quote recently that said “honesty without compassion = brutality” and another one that said “compassion without honesty = enabling”. These two statements got me thinking about our journey as leaders.

Honesty and Compassion.

We have a responsibility to those we lead to provide both.

Without compassion, an honesty-only style of leadership will create an environment where we are surrounded only by order takers. This style of leadership kills creativity and initiative, everyone becomes gun-shy, and no one feels comfortable making decisions because of the “honesty” that may come their way.

Without honesty, we create an environment of “rainbow puking unicorns” (thank you Clay Scroggins for that one). Not every idea is a good one and not every action is good for the organization. Being too worried about feelings to be honest and hold people accountable leads to an enabling environment. No progress happens because the leader can’t keep everyone moving toward the same mission/vision.

Again, we have a responsibility to those we lead to provide both.

And that thinking brings me back to what leadership is all about. There are 2.7 billion (yes, billion) results when you search Google for “leadership”. There is 1 Google result on leadership for every 3 people on our planet. It’s weird to think about it that way, huh?

But I tend to gravitate toward the idea that leadership is not a position, it’s a responsibility.

For me, that shifts the focus away from me and onto those I lead. Away from me having some big cool title, and onto how I can help others. It also reminds me that I am partly responsible for their success.

So back to honesty and compassion.

How do we provide both?

First, let’s start with our people. If we have good people…

-they want to be held accountable

-they want to be told the truth

-they want to be empowered

-they want to show us they are worthy of our trust

So, we have to make sure we are developing the kind of people who buy into the values we hold as leaders. Your core values are your filter for this. Shape your team around the values you stand for.

Now that you have the kind of people you want on your team…

  1. Paint a clear picture of where the organization is headed and show your emerging leaders how they fit into that picture. Hint: use their strengths as a guide.
  2. Set boundaries that keep them from sinking the ship but that also give them the freedom to flex what only they bring to the table. (I can help on this one if needed)
  3. Be honest with them when/where they fall short, using their defined boundaries and your mission/core values as the guard rails (always correct in private, there are few things more deflating than being publicly embarrassed)
  4. Praise the results you desire, every time someone on your team hits them (always praise publicly, there are few things more rewarding than public praise in front of peers)
  5. Do everything you can between #s 1 and 4 to support them and ensure their success (performance reviews, coaching/mentoring sessions, invest in their training and development, do fun stuff when goals are met, etc.)
  6. Repaint the picture daily/weekly/monthly so everyone has a constant reminder of the destination
  7. Let your people know how much you appreciate them. They give up their days and nights to work hard for you. You cannot take that for granted.

In my 20+ years of leadership, I have tried to focus on these steps above. I’ve enjoyed success in leadership throughout my career. But even more rewarding for me is seeing the successes of those who have sought out my guidance/mentoring and gone on to do great things. I cannot possibly fill the cup of everyone I lead, but I can always empty all of my cup into theirs.


Own it.

Here’s to your legacy as a leader.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Max Dupree…

“The first responsibility of leadership is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

Four Questions to Ask Before Moving On

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I got asked this question recently by someone thinking about leaving a job…”How can I be sure it’s time to move on?”. I directed him to an article I read two years ago written by leadership guru John Maxwell. In case this is where you’re at in your leadership journey right now, here is what Maxwell has to offer on this topic, and I couldn’t have said it better myself…

John Maxwell Blog – May 27, 2016

Have you ever felt like you were out of place? That where you are, isn’t where you’re supposed to be?

I was talking with someone the other day, and he made a statement that really connected with me. He’s got a successful and fulfilling career. But that day he confessed that lately he’d had the sense that something was missing. He said to me, “I just feel like there’s something more for me to do. Not exactly that I’m meant for more, but like I’ve got more to give.” Then he asked, “How do I know when it’s time for me to move on?”

That’s such an important question. Looking back over my four decades of leadership, I can see that my sense of having more to give played a key role in many of my career choices. Every career transition was triggered by a desire to give more. And the new position that followed definitely offered the opportunity to grow and expand my impact.

But – and this is a big but – not every impulse to give more, or do more, or be more, was followed by a career transition. Many times, what followed instead was a passion for increased impact where I already was. How did I know when to stay, and when to move on?

I believe that one question can be answered by asking yourself a few others. Questions that force you to look inward. After all, if what you’re feeling is that you don’t fit your current role, then the first step is to examine yourself, not the role. That’s what I told my friend. And if you’re in a similar situation, that’s what I want to share with you. Here are the four questions I encouraged my friend to answer:


This may seem like a strange question to start with, but it’s actually the most crucial. Before you start looking for other places to give more, make sure you’re more than meeting the standard where you’re at! If you are already consistently exceeding expectations as an employee and/or leader, then you might need to look for other opportunities to contribute. But that leads to the next question:


You’re probably thinking, John, if I’m exceeding expectations, then I’m definitely giving 100% effort! You might think so, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s possible to give less than our best and still exceed the expectations placed on us by our positions.

Resist the coaster’s mentality—that’s when you settle for less than your best simply because it’s better than what’s expected! If you’re not giving your 100% to where you are, then chances are that you would transfer that same attitude to a new position. Find a way to re-engage with your position and challenge yourself to be completely focused on giving your best work.


You may not realize it, but growth opportunities exist all around you. It’s easy to see your current discontentment as a sign that you need to leave. But in reality, it might be a sign that you need to level up. Don’t let your restlessness blind you to the opportunities to grow that may be present right where you are. Search hard for them, and don’t move on until you’re certain that you’ve made the most of every opportunity.


As I wrote in a recent blog post, whenever you leave a position, you take your influence, vision and momentum with you—unless you’ve spent time developing someone to take your place. The mentoring question is the last question to ask, because doing so always leaves things better than they were when you arrived. Plus, if you’re not giving to the people who are already in your life, then you’re not prepared to give to those you haven’t met!

The theme for all four of these questions is to be all that you can be where you are. Grow and give until you’ve filled the space that you’re in. When you know you’ve done that, it might be time to move on.

No matter where you are now, if you’re committed to growth, you will eventually feel like you have more to give than your current situation allows. And the good news is, there are always places for people who are pushing the limits of their potential. But before you make any big decisions, ask yourself these four questions. They might reveal more for you to do where you are. You’ll never regret taking stock before you take flight—no matter which direction you choose to soar.

Play Your Role

This one will be a short one, but I think the lesson is big. I heard an interview with Luke Walton recently, where he was describing the mindset of a talented athlete. Athletes who make it to the professional level in any sport, and end up playing on an international stage, have to manage the ego that success creates. And I can equate some of this dilemma to the journey of an emerging leader.

As success is achieved, the star athlete (and the emerging leader) has two choices…

“I’m the greatest thing there is, and it’s all about me”, or…

“I have talent, but I’m surrounded by others who also have talent. Wow, if we work together we can be unstoppable.”

Walton was an All-American at Arizona, and was a huge part of Arizona’s success in the early 2000s. Bleacher Report calls him “the most versatile player in Wildcats history”. That success led him to the NBA. Walton played with the Lakers during two National Championship seasons (2009 and 2010) playing next to some other incredible athletes, including Kobe Bryant.


He’s in the team picture as part of the championship group. But do an image search for “2009-2010 Lakers” and you won’t see him in many of the pictures that show up. He wasn’t one of the main guys to get a lot of the glory.

Yet, he and his coaches attribute the success of that team to each of the players committing to play the role the team needed them to play. Several guys on that team had the individual talent to make it all about themselves. But by playing together, they won championships.

And every year, another round of athletes joins the pro ranks with the same two choices.

The leader has the same opportunity. Collaborate with other leaders around you, play off each others’ strengths, and together you can accomplish much greater results than any of you could alone.

The one thing I’ll add that Luke Walton didn’t is this. When you experience success, make sure you push other people on your team, especially those who were a part of the supporting cast, into the spotlight to share in the credit. That’s one thing that business and sports don’t always get right. But you will get massive joy from sharing the credit with others, and they’ll join you in any adventure you come up with down the road because of it.


Be Approachable…


I realized that most of the advice I’ve passed along through my experiences has come from the positive stories, for the most part. So today’s Simple Advice comes from a recent experience I may not have been able to change, but one where I could have done things differently as a leader in the past, for sure. So I hope you can learn from my mistake on this one.

As you grow in your leadership role, it won’t take long until you’re faced with someone putting in their notice to leave the company. This month, we lost two team members who had been with us for over 3 years. As a leader, you hate losing anyone, but it’s especially painful to lose someone who you’ve invested in for several years.

Multiply that by two for this story.

Today’s advice is this…

Do everything you can to ensure your followers know you are always approachable and will allow them to be honest with you about anything in their professional situation.

Back to the story…

These guys resigned to go into business for themselves and build a company. This fact alone brings a few different emotions. As a leader, I hope I had some impact on their development that will prepare them for success as business owners.

That’s the positive emotion.


As I thought about it later the day they resigned, I asked myself what could I have done differently to make them feel they could have come to me earlier, without fear of consequence, and let me know this was in their plans.

Because the rough part of losing someone (much less two people) is the time it takes to hire and train a replacement. And a two week notice just doesn’t give you the time.

So what can you do day to day, to create this environment of trust?

First, that trust goes both ways so your team has to know you trust them. If you’ve demonstrated a lack of trust in any of them, you can forget about them being honest with you in a situation like this.

Second, tell them it’s OK.


Tell them you want them to come to you if they’re ever thinking about leaving.

If it’s to go into business for themselves, you have an opportunity to do what few leaders will do…help them transition for success. And they just might help you find and train their replacement.

If it’s that they’re unhappy in their current position, or that they don’t see a clear path to the next opportunity, the fact that they can come to you and be honest gives you the chance to help solve that problem for them. If you can help them be successful within the organization, everyone wins. They get a role that fits them better, and you don’t have to lose someone who has value in the organization.

Now, some more honesty. It’s a little naive to believe that everyone in your care will be willing to come to you and open up, even if you’ve done all this well. Some people will never be comfortable taking a risk and opening up about a possible career move.

But this Simple Advice isn’t for them, it’s for you. Whether or not everyone on your team will take you up on it, it’s still important for you to provide that environment. And to let them know it’s real. You can control that, even if they don’t take you up on it.

I hope you never have to experience losing a high quality team member, especially if there’s something you could have done differently to prevent it. But as you advance as a leader it will be likely to happen. So before you’re faced with that situation, extend trust to your team, and be trustworthy with the little things so they’ll know you can be trusted with something much bigger.

The Person You Want to Be – Part 2: Alan Mulally – CEO of Ford Motor Company


If part 1 of The Person You Want to Be had a theme, it was servant leadership. Ray Conner modeled the traits of a servant leader as well as anyone I’ve studied. And his successes prove that serving others, having compassion for those in your care, and working hard to provide each of them an opportunity to grow can help a leader climb to the top of even the largest organizations.

Part 2 is an epic turn-around story. And at the center of the story is the theme for today’s Simple Advice: Positive leadership. Alan Mulally led Ford Motor Company through what many analysts call the most impressive turn around in business history. And he did it in the middle of the worst economy since the Great Depression. How? With laser focus and clarity, and with a positivity that was contagious.

Alan Mulally was well-known for leading the turn-around at Boeing in the early 2000s. It’s what put him at the top of the list when Ford was looking for the right leader to do the same thing. When Ford brought Mulally in as the new CEO, the company was losing billions of dollars a year. Most people close to the situation, both inside and outside the organization, felt like he was the only option, and the last hope the Ford family had to save the company and their legacy as an American icon.

To make a 400 page story very short, Mulally was hired and given the reigns along with the full support of the board of directors and the Ford family. Basically the message was “you did it at Boeing, do it here too please”.

And he did it.

Full turn around in 3 years.

From losing billions of dollars a year (I believe the low point was $13Billion in one year) to a nearly $3Billion profit.

In 3 years.

Thousands of employees, a team of leaders entrenched in old habits, and a failing company with all the world’s eyes looking in on every financial detail.

And one shot to get it right.

Let that all sink in, and then add in the mix that he did this as the country and the automotive industry entered the worst economy since the Great Depression. Sales of new cars dropped off the face of the earth. Consumer confidence was at rock bottom. And he led the leadership and team members at Ford through it all with a positivity that had to be inspiring to everyone around him. It was for me, just following the story.

The simple advice extracted from this story is that a positive leadership style can help you lead your organization through change, uncertainty, or sheer chaos. For Mulally, there were a few things he brought to the table that helped him lead Ford through this tough time…

a clear vision,

a detailed plan,

a very necessary and effective meeting rhythm,

and the focus to stick to it all, no matter what was thrown at him,

…but positivity is what held it together. And that’s key for any new leader as you guide your team through a tough situation.

The other thing he did well that was sort of glossed over in the book was something that I also believe is crucial during times of change. He remained visible and accessible to the people. Times were tough for shareholders and the Ford family, but they were even tougher for the working class employees of Ford. There were layoffs and union negotiations and major restructuring. Ford dropped everything from the automobile lineup but Ford and Lincoln, cutting entire divisions and closing entire facilities. But he remained accessible and was never too important or too busy to talk to the people who continued to work hard for him through the changes. And that takes an entirely different level of positivity and courage.

I recommend the book (click the link above), because my little short story here doesn’t do it justice, but there’s enough here to lean on in times of change, as you lead your team with positivity and clarity that will help them want to follow you.