Giving Up On Being a Maverick

January 5, 2009

A few years ago, I was taking a Leadership course where we had to write (and present) a paper about ourselves in ten years.  One of the topics was “how will others see you in ten years?” 

I decided that I wanted people to see me as a bit of a maverick – someone who doesn’t always play by the rules and isn’t overly concerned what people think about me.  I want to be the guy in the back of the room that only speaks up from time to time and says the oddest things… but is usually right!

“Be a maverick” has kind of stuck in my head.

Just in case you’re insanely curious (like me), here’s an interesting Mental Floss post on the origin of the word.

Since last May, I’ve been writing my personal leadership philosophy.  As I was editing it today, I noticed the phrase “strive to be a maverick”.

As I’m sure you are well aware, “maverick” has become a bit overused lately.  In fact, Lake Superior State University has added “maverick” to it’s 2009 list of banned words


So… thanks to John McCain and Sarah Palin, I’m having to revise my leadership philosophy. 

Thanks a lot!!!  Makes me feel even better about voting for the other guy.

It used to be a such good word…


Keeping a Firm Grip on our Character

November 25, 2008

A few days ago, I started reading 1 Timothy.  I’d like to share two verses which have jumped out at me:

“…keeping a firm grip on your faith and on yourself. After all, this is a fight we’re in. There are some, you know, who by relaxing their grip and thinking anything goes have made a thorough mess of their faith.” – 1 Timothy 1:19

Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it.” – 1 Timothy 4:16

I don’t know about you, but I noticed a theme in these two verses.  Keep a firm grip on yourself.  Keep a firm grasp on your character.

I think most of us usually only keep a loose grip on our character. Yes we have rules and values.  But do we set up a forcefield around our character?  Or do we sometimes hide our character from others?

Character is often defined as “moral or ethical strength”.  I think that character has two components – private and public.

My sister gave me a coffee mug when I graduated from college. It reads, “Character is who you are when only God is watching.” Do we do the right thing when no else is around keeping score?

But there’s a public aspect too; it makes up part of our witness to others.  Back to 1 Timothy… the second half of verse 12 in chapter 4 says “Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.”

When we fail to keep a firm grip on our character, it can easily slip away.  We can lose our credibility with others, but more importantly we can hurt our relationship with God.

Courage to Step Up

October 14, 2008

Every month, I get an email newsletter from Patrick Lencioni, who is an incredible author and speaker.  He is the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Death by Meeting, and several others. I own several of his books. All excellent.

Each month, Patrick sends out a newsletter called Pat’s Point of View.  The most recent one focused on the current financial crisis.  He makes a lot of good points about having the courage to stand up and speak out. Even when it’s awkward.

I highly recommend reading his take on things.  Don’t forget to check out the website and subscribe to the emails too.

The Financial Crisis

September 2008

In the midst of the financial crisis going on in America these days, there is a natural tendency to search for a villain we can blame and move on with a sense of tidiness and moral certitude. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is such a villain.

Sure, there’s more than likely a good number of people who made serious mistakes out of carelessness or greed, and they will need to be held accountable for that. But the real culprit here, in my opinion, has nothing to do with economics or regulations or finance. It is about the desire of leaders to avoid interpersonal discomfort.

I realize that this doesn’t sound very sexy, and certainly isn’t going to make for a compelling television movie-of-the-week. It would be better if there were a group of sinister old men out there who sit around in three piece suits smoking stogies and laughing about how rich and powerful they are going to get stealing people’s homes and investments. That would actually be easier because then we could track those guys down, throw them in jail, and achieve a measure of closure. But based on my experience consulting to CEOs and their teams over the past decade, I can say with a high degree of confidence that this just isn’t the case.

The biggest cause of this and other crises is that most leaders operate under the assumption that they should never have to engage in discussions that are awkward, confrontational or career-limiting. As a result, they rarely have the kind of uncomfortable discussions that prevent people from doing stupid and harmful things. Instead, they are polite and guarded and collegial with one another, even when what is called for is passionate disagreement or even outrage.

This is a surprise to people who don’t have a view into corporate America. They are usually shocked when I tell them that I rarely see people passionately argue with one another or take a strong, moral stand. What they don’t realize is that the real world is nothing like what we see in movies where executives routinely pound their fists on the table and announce, “this is just plain wrong and I won’t stand for it!”

Consider the current situation at various banks, some of which no longer exist. Plenty of intelligent and well-intentioned board members and executives must have known that something was wrong with granting a CEO a $20 million bonus in the event that he were fired. And even the least sophisticated executive had to have seen the potential problem with approving home loans to people who would not be able to afford them if and when interest rates changed. So why didn’t they do something?

Because they looked around and saw other intelligent and well-intentioned people who weren’t standing up on their chairs and objecting. And they figured that perhaps what was going on wasn’t so bad after all, especially if so many other executives and banks and boards of directors were doing it. “Who am I to rain on this parade?”

To be fair, some of them probably made a quiet comment during a meeting, or more likely, mentioned something to another board member over lunch. But they weren’t laying down on the railroad tracks and risking their compensation or their friendships or their reputation if no one else would. Of course, plenty of them will come out now and say they saw the problem all along, and they might even be able to convince enough people that they should be considered whistle blowers.

The fact is, too few people in life have the courage and clarity of thinking to stand up at the right time and say what needs to be said. And that’s what makes real leaders different. They are ready and willing to do what is unseemly, uncomfortable, and even personally risky for the sake of what is right.

And so the lesson that comes from all of his, or at least one of the most important ones, has nothing to do with legislation or economic policy or oversight. It is a personal lesson that each of us can learn by honestly and humbly asking ourselves what we would have done had we been a board member or an executive at one of those companies that did something that seems so clearly wrong in hindsight. By considering that question, we will probably shift our emotional energy away from trying to find a legislative, economic or legal explanation for the mess we’re in, and shine the light on the behavioral one that really deserves the attention. And perhaps that will help us avoid the next crisis.

Opportunity to Succeed

October 13, 2008

Do you as a leader give people the opportunity to succeed?

I’ve been thinking about some leadership wisdom that I read yesterday.  It’s from Shane Duffey over at the What Leadership Demands blog.  His recent post titled How Bad Do You Want It is about being aware of your effect on others.

I suggest you go read the post, then come back.

I struggle to prepare effectively. No matter how great my idea is, it may be a flop because I didn’t get others enough time to implement it properly.  I may be causing great discomfort and stress when I procrastinate on a decision.

When I don’t give others the opportunity to succeed, I demotivate them.  That’s bad.

Share-it Saturday, October 11

October 11, 2008

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Customer Service and The Geek Squad

August 19, 2008

I recently heard Brad Anderson, Best Buy CEO, speak at the Leadership Summit.  One of the subjects he mentioned briefly was the Geek Squad.  Brad told how impressed Best Buy had been with the Geek Squad when they were a seperate company in Minneapolis, and how they persued them for quite a while as an acquistion because they thought the culture of the Geek Squad matched Best Buy’s so well.

So obviously this post titled “A Geek’s Guide to Great Service” from the Mavericks at Work blog caught my attention. It’s well worth reading.

I didn’t realize that there was such a rich culture behind the company.  They are fanatical about their culture and fanatical about customer service.

One of the parts of the pledge that they have to take reads:

“Assume every problem is my fault, unless proven otherwise.”

I think customer service everywhere would improve if every company took this to heart.  Instead we get defensive immediately, and start arguing or blaming someone else…

Go read the article.  It’s five minutes well spent.

Leadership Summit – Friday Afternoon

August 9, 2008

Thoughts from Friday afternoon at The Leadership Summit.

Session 8 – Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson is the CEO of Best Buy and one of the coolest leaders that I’ve seen.  He genuinely loves people and wants to see the succeed.  Making money almost seems to be secondary to him.  He started out on the sales floor of one of the electronics stores that later became Best Buy, and worked his way up the ladder.  He had no desire to lead for a long time.

  • Lots of people have gifts, but don’t get the chance to use them
  • Employee engagement is very important to Brad.  Twice a year they survey the engagement of employees, and have been doing this for 10 years.
  • It takes an authentic, caring leader to raise the engagement of an employee
  • True leaders derive joy from the stories of empowered people, not from their own success
  • If things aren’t getting better, they are getting worse and you are destroying your human capital
  • Humans are incredibly complex puzzles
  • Disgruntled or troubled people eventually create problems in the numbers
  • You can discover future business problems by looking in the eyes of your people
  • Curiosity to understand “why things happen” is a key trait for a leader

Session 9 – Bill Hybels

Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, spoke on Mother Teresa and her relentless pursuit of God.

  • Mother Teresa vowed to follow God’s bidding without delay
  • Too often we want God to support carte blanche whatever we’re doing rather than supporting carte blanche whatever God is doing
  • What do you do when God taps you on the shoulder and tells you to step up?
  • There is a direct correlation between complete surrender to God and receving a new assignment
  • We are called to say “yes, without delay” and not to weigh God’s directions against our comforts
  • Some people will misunderstand and misrepresent our calling
  • Callings are precious commodities; they are holy things
  • We have to keep carrying out our calling, even when we can’t feel God’s presence