Ten Minute Rule: Adopt Habits of Successful People

Ten minutes of daily practice is better than 60 minutes of practice once per week. Photo from pxhere.com. No other photo information available.

“Go play your horn Joseph!”

“Mom I just want to finish this level.”

“Shut the game off and go practice your horn NOW!”

“But Mom I’m almost done.”

Dad steps in, “Hey, you know Joe if you practiced your horn 10 minutes everyday right after school we wouldn’t have to fight like this every Sunday night.”

“Oh yeah Dad, then how come you don’t run a mile everyday after work instead of running three miles on just Saturday and Sunday?”


The story you just read is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty father who told me this tale. The back story is that he has to complete a physical fitness test on a regular basis and struggles to complete the run in the time allotted. However after this confrontation with his son, he changed his habit. Instead of running six miles over two days which was not helping improve his run time, he did what he told his son to do, he started running one mile everyday after work but still ran three miles on Saturdays. On his next fitness test not only did he pass, but he cut five minutes off his run from the previous test. It took Dad less than ten minutes after work to run a mile but the improvement was dramatic.

I unknowingly started to develop the Ten Minute Rule of changing habits several years ago. As I continued my lifelong pursuit of continuous improvement by studying the habits of successful people I noticed that many of them had similar habits and rituals. They did things like exercising regularly, journaling, meditating, making new connections, creating paths for achievement, reading often, learning about new people and places, and taking time away from work to be with family and friends. I recognized that if I adopted some of those habits I would become more successful by accomplishing more and becoming a better leader by extending my influence.

The habit of staying in touch with connections keeps your personal and professional network alive, well, and growing. Keeping connected is an example of a habit that can be done in ten minutes or less and have a great impact on your life.
Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

I started simply enough by writing a card or email at least once each week to someone on my contact list (back then it was an address book) that I had not connected with for a while. I found that I reinvigorated my professional network by reconnecting with people as they responded to my cards. Next I tackled journaling. I had taken a class that talked about how reflective journaling could help leaders find patterns in their behavior and the behaviors of others that were counter productive. I figured I could do that in about 10 minutes a day at the end of each week. I continued to add habits here and there as I found 10 minute activities were easy to add to my schedule and made dramatic improvements. I even added running a mile a day!

Ten minutes a day can make a big difference in many things you do as a person and as a leader. As described above, some of those habits are for personal improvement and fall into the category that Stephen Covey called “Sharpening the Saw.” Other habits expand your influence that allows you to have more resources and power to accomplish things for yourself or your organization. Some of the most important habits as a leader involve investing time to develop others. The best way to change a habit is to replace it with another habit. When you add the ten minute habit of spending time with your followers you make them better employees and set the example of making small behavioral changes.

You may wonder how to begin accumulating a series of new “Ten Minute Habits” when your day is already full from morning until night. Like all journeys, you begin with a single step. Pick one habit you want to add to your day that will make a difference. Examine your day to find ten minutes you can consistently engage in the new practice. You do not have to do it every single day but the more days you do it, the quicker the new habit will take effect. Alternatively, you can find a ten minute period of time and decide to add a few new habits and do one or two each day during the week.

Regardless of how you start, write down in your calendar, your journal, the notes on your phone the days you complete the new ten minute habit. Writing down the days you actually do the habit begins to form accountability to yourself for making that important change.

When you develop a new habit you displace old habits. Charles Duhigg encourages people to identify the cue that starts a bad habit and the reward you receive for any habit you want to change. Once you know the cue and reward, you insert a new response which eventually becomes your new habit. Once you change one habit you will find others that do not serve you as well as they used to and want to change those as well. Taking a few minutes each day helps you make those small changes that make your life better.

Apply this to leadership by helping your employees change their habits. Ken Blanchard tells a story about an executive that is so busy helping her employees solve all their problems she never has time for her own work. As she works with her mentor she learns that she developed the habit of solving employees’ problems for them instead of helping them learn to solve their own problems. As she works with her mentor, she learns to teach employees how to solve their own problem, teaches them their decision making authority, and frees up time during the day to work on the projects she needs to complete. When employees develop the habit of going to the boss every time they have a problem they become dependent on the boss to solve all their problems. That is good for no one.

Spending ten minutes with an employee to teach them a new skill, progress on a project, or to check in on life events sets a powerful example. They learn they can be self reliant and still have your support. They know you care. They learn important habits do not have to be time consuming. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Like teaching employees to set goals, teaching employees how to establish new habits helps them learn to help themselves. As a result every employee becomes more productive, learns things to make them better employees, and begin the process to become leaders in the future. Remember the old saying that you cannot be promoted if you are indispensable in your current position.

Before I wrap up, I want to point out that the ten minute rule is a target. My morning routine is a series of ten minutes habits I developed from learning about other successful people’s routines. Some mornings are shorter because of life and I’ve learned that some of those ten minute routines can be done in one or two or five minutes instead of ten when necessary. Recognize that sometimes a few dumbbell curls is better than not exercising at all in the morning. The next day you can workout for 15 minutes to make up for the short day.

Using the ten minute rule can be a powerful way to develop habits that create success personally and professionally. Leaders adopt habits such as journaling, meditating, reading, etc. to become better leaders. As they learn how to integrate ten minute habits into their own routines, leaders can begin to teach others how to benefit from the the ten minute rule. Not all change is fast like adapting to the new normal of corona virus. Change that sticks takes time as people learn new habits. Using the ten minute rule creates slow, small change that increases the likelihood the change will be lasting. Try the ten minute rule. If it does not work it only costs you ten minutes. When it does work the return on, your ten minute investment is enormous.

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  • Blanchard, Ken. The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do
  • Covey, Stephen. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit

3 Steps Leaders Use to Teach Ethics

We have all been there. In that dreaded conference or classroom for the mandatory training on ethics. People drag themselves in at the last moment with a look of boredom before the instructor has even shown the first slide. We all know what is coming, the boring text based slides, the monotone speech, the guy in the back row who, while leaning back in his chair falls asleep and falls over bringing a few minutes of excitement and humor.

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

Ethics training is important. The only way people in the organization understand its guiding principals is to received both classroom and hands on training. But the training does not have to be like that described in the first paragraph. In fact, there are so many ways to approach ethics training that it is unethical to have bore people during training. Leaders should be prepared to conduct ethics training on three levels. The first demonstrate by training ethically. The next provide ethical training. Finally identify organizational behaviors that require change and train to change that behavior. This post presents a few ideas about how leaders can accomplish each of these goals without having to speak above the din of snoring in the classroom.

The first step, train ethically seems like a no brainer. Well if this statement was true, few of us would know the dread of sitting through one of those classes. Leaders tasked with providing ethics training have an obligation to use time well. Presenting instruction in such a way that students fall asleep and take away nothing to help them do their jobs better just is not ethical. In fact, it may not seem like much learning happens in classed like that buy employees learn their time is not valued and the organization does not value them as people.

If part of the reason organization train ethics is to avoid civil liability, then this kind of training encourages law suits. You can pull out sign in rosters and lesson plans but if students do not take the lessons with them into their workplaces you failed. Leaders should train employees to do the right things the right way for the right reasons. That is the best insurance against torts. Well trained employees help organization avoid liability. Value is added to employees when they understand how to apply guiding principals in their daily work habits and routines.

Good training is valued by employees. When employees know they will receive important lessons taught in an interesting way, they look forward to training. Everyone despises the torture known as Death by PowerPoint. The point of presentation software is to help make critical points powerfully. By showing everything you are going to say on the slide the importance of the points are lost. Be prepared to speak the ideas, not the slides.

Helpful supervisors have greater influence by living organizational values – Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

Now you have demonstrated the ethics of the organization by valuing the time of people and keeping the engaged. That is great but content is still important, teaching ethics. Teach organizational standards, orders, policies or other written documentation governing behavior in your organization. Teaching does not mean reading. Have war stories to share related to when things both went well and when they did not. Such stories show why certain rules and expected behaviors were established. If the training requires students read organizational documents, assign them to read the documents before class. Formulate a series of questions that invites the employees to discuss how those rules apply. Good questions lead to the students sharing their own stories for others to evaluate. As students share their examples others can chime in about the nature of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Facilitated classes are great opportunities to share ethical theory with students and show how their biases effect their reflection of organizational standards.

If the point of training is to change behavior then leaders need to include some exercises employees can execute to learn those new behaviors. Repetition is required for this training to be successful, but do not teach the exact same class to the exact same audience time after time. Both you and your students will become bored quickly. The point of this training is to focus student attention to voluntarily comply with the organizational mission, principals, expectations and norms. Use this time to explain what the mission statement means to their section. Talk about how the organizational principals support the mission. Express your vision for the future of the organization. Even if you are teaching the newest, lowest level employee remember that as some point that person may be selected to lead. Share your vantage point with others so they understand the why doing the right things the right way is important to them as well as the organization.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

As you work through the exercises and activities, employees will become aware of how the behavior of good leaders in the organization aligns with it guiding principals. As a leader people are always watching you. When you are doing the right things the right way for the right reasons employees notice. Every time you engage in desired behavior you are teaching others what is acceptable. The boss that uses the sea gull technique of leading will be shunned as they take about guiding principals.

You never heard of a sea gull boss? He or she is the one that is always hovering around above everyone else waiting for someone to make a mistake. When they see the mistake they swoop in, make lots of noise and then fly away pooping on people as they stream skyward.

On the other hand, the boss that is always around but not into everything also notices when employees make mistakes. He or she may watch the employee struggle a bit to see if she can figure out how to fix the mistake. Just before the employee does something harmful, this boss calmly arrives and coaches her through the process.

One of these two bosses will be listened to in ethics class. The other will be ignored. The one that act respectful receives respect. Employees in ethics class taught by that person begin to understand that the positive behaviors are aligned with the organization’s guiding principals and they try to change their behavior accordingly. They have a positive model to follow.

As you develop training for each of these areas, you will soon find you have far more material to cover than the time available. Newer leaders assigned to train will curse and try to squeeze everything into the allotted time. Experienced trainers recognize the opportunity to provide follow up training without repeating previous classes. This provides those leaders opportunities to improve attention and retention in subsequent classes. Focus on the three areas, ethically train, train ethics and change behavior. When you do, your followers will clamor for more.

Leading others to success in four easy steps

Setting goals is an important personal skill to achieve and measure success. Teaching others to set goals is an important skill for successful leaders to master. Teaching people to set goals ensures their personal and organizations success. Unfortunately, too many people work for bosses who do not know how to set goals, let alone how to teach others to set goals. If you read and put into practice any of the suggestions from my earlier post, you know how to effectively set personal goals. Learning to teach others and helping them along the way is pretty easy when you follow these steps.

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

Once you understand the process for setting goals and achieve a few goals you develop an appreciation for the importance of goal-setting. The process is pretty simple. First assess things you do well, things you can improve, and what you want to accomplish. Next, figure out where you are in life and where you want to be. Third, develop a plan to move closer to your desired end state. It does not have to be a perfect plan. By the time you develop a perfect plan it will be too late, so take your imperfect plan and adapt is as you move along the path to success. Written goals are more effective than those that are not written. Periodically check your progress. You will find that as you change, other things change too. That requires you to make adjustments to stay headed in the correct direction. That is also why perfect plans are rarely effective. This paragraph is intended to be a review. For more on setting personal goals see my earlier blog by clicking here.

You have to set and achieve a couple goals before you begin trying to teach others. If you are in a leadership position you probably have done that. Maybe you never thought about how you go about setting and achieving goals so you do not know how to teach others. That is the point of this post. It is only a little harder to teach others to set their own goals than it is to learn to do it yourself.

Start by sitting down with your employee or protegee and explain the goal setting process described above to them. Share a story of your personal success following the goal setting strategy to motivate them. Explain the SMART model Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals. Share your version of a Goal Setting Worksheet to document their goal. Click here for an example.

When you introduce the goal setting process, take time to explain each step briefly. You will demonstrate each step when you spend time helping him set his first written goal. It helps to have a set of directions even if you do have a tour guide for the first trip. It also communicates credibility.

When you explain SMART goals, explain each term. Help them understand the difference between a specific and non-specific goal statement. There is a difference between saying, “I want to loose weight.”, and, “I want to loose 25 pounds.” It seems obvious on the surface and when the two appear side-by-side. People who have not successfully set and achieved goals think they are the same. Explain different ways to measure success when you talk about a goal being measurable. In the weight example you could measure fat lose by using a scale or waist size. The simplest way I ever heard to explain attainable is to ask the other person if someone has previously done what they want to do. If someone else achieved it then that person can as well. Relevant goals can be relevant. Explain that a work place goal is relevant to the workplace. Personal goals are relevant to their life. Relevance is the “Why” of the goal. When discussing time-bound explain it prevents or reduces procrastination.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Introduce your version of the Goal Setting Worksheet. I learned in the One-Minute Manager that a written goal should fit on one page, be less than 250 words, and reviewed in less than a minute to ensure people review it periodically. The worksheet becomes the map to achieve the goal. In my work, I found a simple set up makes writing down goals easy. Put the name of the goal at the top. Next list the person completing the goal, the start date, and the target completion date. If you have more than one employee, it helps to have their names on the worksheet when you follow up later with them. List the steps necessary to complete the goal. Identify some measurements of success and what the desired end state looks like.

Start to put everything together. Work with the employee to find a goal. Help them conduct her first assessment by asking questions that guild them to find out what they want to achieve. Questions should include answers that provide insight to the SMART elements. Work with them to write out the goal on the worksheet. If you are working on a workplace goal, you, as the leader, must agree the goal is worthy use of her work time. Once the goal is established and written up, make a copy for you. The employee keeps the original.

As part of the goal setting process establish when you will meet again to review the progress. I recommend daily or weekly for small, simple goals with inexperienced employees. Eventually employees will develop bigger goals. You need to meet less often to assess progress and success.

During the periodic review meeting ask for details about the progress of each task step. Inquire about problems he encountered and how they resolved those problems. Review the measurements to help them understand if he is doing what he set out to do. Before you finish the meeting, ask if he needs anything from you to continue. Find out what steps he will take between this meeting and the next. Wrap up by setting the next meeting date and praising his progress.

Learning to set and accomplish goals is an important growth steps for individuals. Learning to teach others how to set and achieve goals is an importation growth step for leaders. Leaders first have to understand the process used to set and achieve goals. You cannot teach what you do not know. When you sit down to teach someone how to set a goal, review the goal setting process of assessing what you want to achieve, identify where you are and where you want to go, develop a plan, establish measures of success, and evaluating and adjusting the plan periodically. Explain why goals are SMART. Introduce the Goal Setting Worksheet because written goals are more likely to be achieved. Take time to walk the employee through the process of setting a goal. Meet periodically to assess progress and provide support. Before long, your protegee will be teaching others how to succeed and you will be known as a successful leader.

Leading During a Crisis: Ensure Your Organization Survives COVID-19

Leadership is the most important thing right now for organizations. It doesn’t matter if you are a leader in a governmental organization, a non-profit, leading in the private sector, health care, or even a volunteer leader in a local club. Leadership during these rapidly changing times will be the difference between the organizations that thrive after COVID-19 runs its course and those that collapse during or shortly after things return to “normal”. 

The Corona Virus Pandemic is forcing leaders to rapidly implement changes in their organizations. Those who lead effective change will have advantages once the virus passes. Credit: Fusion Medical Animation from unsplash.com unsplash license 2020.

Change is inevitable. I have posted several blogs on leading change. Good leaders understand change is always happening and look to the future to ensure those they lead are ready when change happens. Most of the time that means change is gradual and like the hands on a clock, the changes are barely perceptible.  Sometimes, like the events surrounding the COVID-19 response, change is rapid and requires leaders to accelerate their leadership processes.

Joan Sweeney, Ph.D teaches there are five elements that need to be present for change to success fully happen. Those elements are vision, skills, motivation, resources, and plans (Sweeney, 2009). If any of these elements are missing effective change fails to happen. Whether you find yourself leading gradual change, rapid change, or in a crisis, you as a leader need to ensure each of these elements are in place to lead change.


Start by assessing the situation. A SWOT analysis is common method of assessing. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. There are plenty of documents, books, and websites discussing the subtleties of conducting SWOT analysis. If this is the first time you heard this term, head to your favorite search engine. I provide a short answer about what SWOT is here. Divide a sheet of paper into four quadrants.  Label each Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Individually or with your team identify each area. Ask the simple questions of, “What are our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats?” Use these answers to work on the five elements of change.


Most leaders understand the need to have a vision. In times of crisis, the vision is not about the distant future. The vision is about the days, weeks, and months ahead. The vision shares with your stakeholders your view of how the organization navigates the turbulent waters of the crises, in this case getting through the COVID-19 Pandemic. This element is essential so examine your strengths and opportunities so others have hope.

Leaders ensure the organization has people with the necessary skills to implement change and the motivation to use those skills. Credit: Allie Smith from unsplash.com with an upnplash license 2020


Take a look at the skills you listed in your strengths. Determine how you can use them to address the threats posed by the situation to create opportunities. Include this assessment in your vision statement. Doing so provides hope which is the basis of motivation.


I learned on Jocko Podcast 207, that the root of the word motivation means to move (Willink, 2019). When you motivate others, you cause them to begin movement. To sustain movement, it is important for leaders to align resources with action plans. This alignment demonstrates to followers that the proposed action and change is both viable and attainable.


There is an old saying in the Army, “We the willing have done so much for so long we are now qualified to accomplish the impossible with nothing.” In times of crisis resources become scarce. If you have tried to by bathroom tissue or hand sanitizer in the last few days you know that is true in this current crisis. You may not be able to acquire the ideal resources is times of crisis so leaders need to be creative. What resources do you have that can be repurposed safely to accomplish the same thing? What resources can you obtain that come close to doing what you need done? What do you really need?

Leaders need to provide resources to implement change whether it is responding to Corona Virus or any other change in the organization. Photo by author.

In a TEDTalk in 2006, Tony Robbins encountered former Vice President Al Gore while discussing the importance of resourcefulness. He told the former VP that had he been more resourceful during the campaign he would not have needed to have his case heard by the Supreme Court. Rather he would have received an overwhelming number of votes to win the election without having to resort to a Supreme Court case. Leaders always have to figure out how to use the resources available to accomplish their organization’s mission.


Plans in crisis are important. Looking ahead and creating plans before crisis helps move that process along quicker. Even if you lack a plan for dealing with a pandemic, you probably have some emergency plans you can adapt. In the non-profit I run, we have plans to continue operations in the event of a disaster like the building burning down or other cataclysmic events. We did not have one for dealing with COVID-19. As the crisis escalated, I found it easy to re-examine our emergency plans and take relevant parts, piece them together to develop a plan that, so far, ensured we were available and able to continue to provide services to our clients.  Planning occurs rapidly in a crisis. Your plan must support your vision. You need to communicate so everyone remains motivated to apply their skills to overcome the crisis. The plan must include how to use existing resources and how you will find other resources necessary to survive the crisis.  Your plan does not have to be perfect.  Theodore Roosevelt said,

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The next best thing is the wrong thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.


In this current crisis, leadership is critical to meet the changes required for organizations to survive.  Leaders must ensure they communicate a vision, coordinate the skills of stake holders, provide motivation and resources, and create a plan that effectively coordinates the actions of the organization. Leaders everywhere are faced with important decisions during this pandemic. Following the basic principles of change management will ensure your organization prepares and responds effectively to this crisis and emerges ready for the future as things subside.


Robbins, T (2006). Why we do what we do. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/tony_robbins_why_we_do_what_we_do 3/18/2020

Roosevelt, T (n.d.). Unknown publication. retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/theodore_roosevelt_403358 3/18/2020.

Sweeney, J. (2009). Organizational culture and change management. Command Training Series: Executive Development Course. Bristol, RI: New England Asc. of Chiefs of Police, Roger Williams University.

St. Cyr, C. (2019). Leading change. Little Leadership Lessons. Blog. available at https://saintcyrtraining.com/2019/07/

Willink, J (2019). Podcast 207: Live a life worth fighting For. Medal of honor recipient, Kyle Carpenter. Jocko Podcast. retrieved from https://jockopodcast.com/2019/12/11/207-live-a-life-worth-fighting-for-medal-of-honor-recipient-kyle-carpenter/ 3/18/2020.

Learning to Handle Leadership Power

Wise leaders understand and obtain power at many levels. While the opening statement may sound Machiavellian, power is necessary to influence others. Leaders need power to accomplish tasks that grow and improve the organization. Leaders set agendas. Without power, organizations deteriorate or cease to exist. Leaders do not work alone. If you want to lead you need to learn about, acquire, and harness power.

Niccolo Machiavelli has become synonymous with leaders who gain and use power to only benefit themselves. Good leaders learn sources of power and how to use them to benefit others and their organization. Machiavelli by Santi de Tito from Wikipedia.

Power focuses organizational energy. Think of power like a spot light. The leader focuses the light in the direction he wants the followers to go, illuminating the objective. Without a power source there is no light to focus, no objective to achieve.

In an organization leaders often have one or more power sources available to accomplish the goals of the organization. The common power sources include, charismatic, expert, coercive, reward, and positional. A short description of each and their uses follow.

Charismatic power is likability. A synonym d, is referent. This source of power may get you in the door, but rarely lasts long except with those who are weak. Leaders who only use this power must do things in order for others to continue to like them, or at least continue to receive their approval. There is nothing wrong with being likable. If this is your only way to influence others eventually you will find yourself held hostage to the demands of others to remain likable. This source of power does develop resilience if the leader uses his or her charisma like bait and follows through by engaging in behaviors that develop trust and a genuine environment of physical and emotional safety.

Expert power stems from ones ability to do well or have specialized knowledge. This provides power in two ways. The first is like the artillerymen of old who guarded the secrets of their craft so their skills would always be in demand by armies. The second yet potentially fleeting source is through the ability to teach others your skill or knowledge. When you share those secrets that have made you successful, you have the potential to create rivals and replacements. Alternatively, you could also develop collaborators who desire to achieve more than either of you could alone. If you are truly an expert, there will always be a demand for your skills and knowledge. As a result, you will always have power to influence others. Like Charismatic power, you need things to ensure this power lasts. Continue to study changes in your field. Share some of your knowledge with other with no strings attached. Doing so develops trust that you use your knowledge to benefit others rather than just yourself. They only way your skill and knowledge retain power is by sharing it. However when you share it, you enable others to also begin developing expertise. If you fail to keep up with the times and charge too much for what you can do or know, others will surpass you and have more power. Before long your followers will be following them because they trust (hum seen that word before) the other person will treat them fairly

Sources of leadership power include charismatic power, expert power, positional power, reward power, and corrosive power. Each is a tool, neither good nor bad. Image by Thomas Kelly from unsplash.com

Legitimate, reward and coercive often go together but not always. Legitimate power is granted when awarded a ‘leadership’; position with in an organization. Sometimes this source of power is call positional power. CEOs have legitimate power to run their cooperation. They also possesses the ability to dole out rewards such as pay raises, promotions and prime parking spaces. On the coercive side, is employment termination, demotions and selection of another’s pet project. Legitimate power is limited to only those within the organization that agree to follow that person. It weakens when the leader behaves in such a way that followers move onto other organizations because they feel the leader does not have their best interest in mind (they lack trust). Leaders in legitimate positions of power are only effective when they can also use other sources of power to influence people outside their organization. The CEO who runs a company that makes the best product in its class will not lead long if no one buys the product, or he cannot influence suppliers to provide material at a reasonable price. Only when a manager in a position of perceived power develops trusting relationship with those outside an organization does that manager become a leader.

To be clear on this point, this extends down the ladder from the CEO. If a shop foreman in the stamping machine area has a good relation ship with the foreman in the warehouse, he maybe given priority to receive rolls of material and have spaced cleared of finished products sooner that perhaps the foreman in the milling machine area of a factory. As a result of that foreman’s relationship, he secures greater production for his operators. They they receive piece rate bonuses they are happy. If he monopolizes the warehouse’s material handling equipment and other sections cannot get their parts moved, that foreman may find he is out of a job and then his workers suffer. He is the the big kahuna. He cannot demand others who do not work for him do things but he can have influence.

Reward and coercive power does not solely rest with formal leaders. Each of these can be used on their own by providing rewards and punishment to others or together to mold behaviors. Sales representatives can influence behavior by offering a better price to a favor customer. Alternatively, a phone manufacturer may encourage the purchase of new smart phones by withholding software updates to keep older phones operational even if the older phone would still function.

Power is a tool. If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem or opportunity looks like a nail. However the skilled carpenter with a small complement of basic hand tools tools is capable of building beautiful things. Between his experience and tools he can fashion wood into anything he can imagine. Take another person with a workshop full of the latest and greatest power tools but has no skills; he would not be able to build a simple wooden box.

When power is controlled and focus it can be used by leaders to accomplish great things that benefit many. When raw and untamed, power wreaks destruction. Image by Vance Osterhout from unsplash.com

As leaders practice their leadership skills they increase the power options available. Using a variety of tools shapes followers into quality employees, volunteers and future leaders. When they show those future leaders how to use the full spectrum of leadership powers, they prepare the organization for continued success well into the future. New leaders learn to adjust the focus and intensity of the organization’s spotlight so others can see their vision and follow them into the light and out of the darkness. Without power, there is no leadership. Power wielded poorly results in failed leadership. Only when someone masters the power of each tool, develops the necessary skills to use each tool, and develops trust with others does that power contain the potential for leadership.

Leaders need to develop a full complement of power sources to influence others. They must learn how to obtain, develop and use each tool. As they practice they will find that the tool they used to accomplish a task with one piece of wood, will not work so well with another piece. One version of a tool may not be capable of completing every job much like using a framing hammer to drive a tack. A tack hammer is the better choice.


McShane, S., Von Glinow, M. Organizational behavior: Emerging realities for the workplace revolution. 2008. McGraw-Hill

Leading by Training Others

    Leaders, by their position, are trainers. This important task is often overlooked by leaders particularly in larger organizations with training divisions. However, leaders are always responsible for their followers work and on-the-job behaviors, so they better be prepared to train them.  

Even when leaders are not training others, they are. Everything leaders do sets an example for others to follow. People begin to understand what behaviors result in recognition. Your behaviors demonstrate what behaviors are recognized. Photo by Nappy from pexels.com CC attribution.

    The purpose of training to create or change behaviors by influencing people work or behave in ways acceptable to the organization. One of the most basic training events is new employee orientation.  Orientation sets the stage for employees to conduct their activities in accordance with the organization’s documented procedures. In many organizations someone from human resources conducts new employee orientation. While this process serves to ensure all new people understand the company’s culture and expectations, only the leaders in each office, branch, or division can provide those employees with the expectations in their part of the organization. The best definitions of leadership include descriptions of influencing others, providing motivation, sharing a vision or improving the organization. Leaders who take time to train people do all these things.

    Frequently organizations introduce change by providing some sort of training program. The training describes the desired change. The goal is for employees to understand the new philosophy and provide the skills required to complete new processes. Frequently formal leaders are called upon to conduct the training but not always. How the trainer presents the material either improves acceptance and success or results in rejection of ideas by employees. Training presented passionately increases success and the trainer’s profile with senior leaders.

    Some organizations select high performing workers to receive training about changes then train the rest of the organization. Selection as an instructor gives line workers an appreciation for the vision of the organization’s top leaders. Using lower level employees as trainers has additional benefits. Those employees become in-house subject matter experts in the theory and process behind the change. They learn how to present ideas to influence others to change behaviors. They provide an opportunity for an organization to see how potential future leaders perform when given leadership tasks. The other employees view the trainers as leaders.

   Selecting peer trainers is an important task. Employees selected to become trainers take a few steps up the company ladder. This new position improves their view of the internal workings. Employees who learn to successfully influence others in a positive fashion demonstrate they are ready to become leaders. Their actions help implement the change senior leaders seek to implement. 

     Trainers learn more about the organizational culture. They help senior leaders determine if those employees’ knowledge, skills, and abilities align with future leadership position requirements. Smart employees seek ways to open doors like opportunities to teach and train to prepare for greater leadership roles. Employees may be unaware their desire to teach marks them as future leaders. Many managers overlook training ability when leadership positions become available. Do not overlook them.

     Not all organizations rely on in-house assets to provide training and implement change.  Many look outside and hire consultants. There are times consultants and outside trainers are necessary such as when fielding a new piece of equipment or implementing a new leadership program in a growing company without a training office. If you find it necessary to look outside for training, remember those consultants become leaders in your organization. Check their backgrounds before letting them have access to your vital human resources. Make sure they have a track record of doing what they say they do. It amazes me how many organizations hire outsiders to teach leadership. The consultant comes in for a short period of time, presents the material, then leaves and may never be heard from again. This type of training rarely is effective.

Anyone who teaches is a leader. The instructor may be an established organizational leader, an expert with no leadership title in the organization, or an outside consultant. Regardless, trainers influence others to change their behaviors so they are by default leaders. Photo by rawpixel.com from pxhere.com

    If you hire outsiders to teach your people a skill or ability, insist on periodic return visits to reinforce the lessons learned. This is important even if the training is for some sort of new technology or process. When the consultant periodically returns, it provides your people with the chance to improve their skills. If you hired the consultant because they are a real expert, you people receive more and change more with each exposure to that person.

     This principal also applies to trainings you select your people to attend outside the company. A school or consultant should offer some sort of follow up for their training. This enables your employees to reconnect when they run into some sort of problem. Several training models require students to attend training a few days each month and then return to their work place. They return to the school periodically to discuss how what they learned in earlier lessons worked out in the real world. The experts guide and mentor students to be more effective.

     Examples of such training programs include any of the apprentice programs in the building trades. Apprentices work for a master for months and years. The master teaches the apprentice a new skill then allows the student to practice. The master looks over the shoulder of the apprentice making corrections as necessary. As the apprentice improves, the master spends less time checking the work. When the student masters that task, the master teaches a new skill.

     The New England Association of Chiefs of Police offers a series of trainings for police leaders. In this model, students attend a week of training and learn several important leadership lessons. They return to their home agencies and apply what they learned over the course of a few weeks. Students check in with their teachers and each other to learn how to make corrections and improve their skills as they actually apply them to real world problems. The students return to the school after a few months to report successes and learn a new round of skills.  The periodic interaction with experts and application to real world problems allow those student leaders to become expert leaders much the same as the building trades apprentices.

Never stop learning. After three decades of leading others the author is seen here attending a year long training program for children advocacy center leaders. The lessons learned here will be transferred to others using the techniques and methods shared throughout this blog.

   Leaders influence organizational culture and behavior by training. Learning to train others provides junior employees opportunities to show their leaders they possess skills to influence others. They learn to communicate important ideas and concepts. By creating quality training programs, trainers help management introduce organizational changes. Standing in front of the crowd provides the trainer a spotlight to demonstrate their ability to their leaders and for leaders to influence others. As a leader you are a trainer in your organization. Change a life; change your organization; take time to train others and become a leader.

Leading Problem Analysis

Paralysis by analysis is a common phrase used to caution leaders not over analyze a situation before taking action or making a decision. There are many on causes for such paralysis to include fear of moving forward and not understanding how or what to analyze. Leadership analysis should help leaders and their support staff to understand a situation to they can develop a course of action that helps resolve problems, adjust strategic course, and implement change. Conducting a proper analysis reduces fear, provides answers to important questions, and allows leaders to make quality decisions in a timely fashion. Here is a way, but not the only way, to improve leadership analytical skills.

There are several key steps to making a good situational analysis. Analyze key relationships, Figure out what data are available to inform decisions. Use data to identify relevant trends. Identify available resources. Figure out tasks required to implement the decision.

Identify Key Relationships

Key relationships are tied between individuals, positive and negative, as they relate to the problems or issue. Key relationships are those strong ties between people, not just associations. For example a husband and wife work in the same company and one would think they have strong ties. However each works in different parts of the organization and at work, rarely work together. An example of a positive strong tie might be between a particular sales person and a supervisor in the shipping department, or a project manager and a company supply buyer. Take the time to map out these relationships indicating their strength and whether or not they are positive.

During this step, you also want to identify each key players known position on the issue under consideration. Identify whether they against, neutral, or in favor of the position. Determine how likely they are to change their position on the matter. Identify what risks you face and controls you can implement to mitigate the risks. What messages do you want to communicate to internal and external audiences? Develop courses of action and use criteria to reduce options to the top two to four. Select a course of action and execute. Tailor the steps to meet your needs by prioritizing steps and the depth of each step to improve good choices.

What Data Is Available?

Data is important. It helps you identify the current state of affairs, and when things begin to change. You need data to identify trends. You also need to determine if key data is not available but can be produced. If the data cannot be produced, what methods may inferences about data can be made?

Data helps you identify what kind of problem you have. With simple problems you can easily identify the cause and effect. Therefore you can quickly apply best practices with little additional analysis. You categorize events and respond.

With complicated problems, you can distinguish the cause and effect from analyzing data. Once you identify the issue you can determine a set of good practices and apply them accordingly. You analyze complicated problems then respond.

When faced with a complex problem, cause and effect are not readily apparent. Frequently cause and effect are only identified in hindsight. Complex problems require you and your team to probe by asking analytical questions, sense potential courses of actions, then respond.

Cause and effect are not perceived with chaotic problems. To address chaotic problems, take action, step back to sense the results of those actions then respond with the action that appears to provide the greatest result. Develop selection criteria. Develop courses of action.

Identify Relevant Trends (internal & external)

With data in hand, organize it so you can identify trends related to key analytical questions. Such questions may include things like:

  • How do sales projections compare to actual sales?
  • How do production projections compare to actual production?
  • What relationship do interest rates have on other key performance indicators?
  • Where are the biggest buyers?
  • Where are sales non existent?
  • Which products and services are in greatest demand?
  • Who is our target audience?
  • How has our target audience change?
  • When can we expect regulations to change that affect our organization?

This range of questions imply that the team should look at a series of Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why questions related to the issue. Use caution answering Why questions at this stage.

Identify Available Resources

Available resources expand or contract reasonable options available to decision makers. Think about the smart phone in your pocket. How much of the technology was know to computer designers and software engineers in the 1960s and 1970s? The basics have not changed much since the introduction of transistors. What has changed in how to write code better and the manufacturing process required to reduce the size of the components. So why did we not have pocket smart phones before men walked on the moon? Answer, the resources were not yet available. The very things needed had not been figured out, effective code and micro transistors. There is more computing power in your smart phone than was on the entire Saturn V rocket that brought the astronauts to the moon. I would wager there is more computing power in that phone you are reading this on than was in all of mission control! NASA used the available resources to send men to the moon. They did not wail for the days of smart phones.

An example of available resources comes from Apollo 13. When the support module exploded ground and space crews had many problems to work out. It was not possible to introduce more resources to the crew in space. The crew had to work with what they had to return the crew and space vehicle safely to earth. The first steps in solving each of those problems included identifying the available resources.

An important part of analyzing available resources included figuring out resources that other posses that you can leverage. For example a small nonprofit trying to expand their community messaging mission could rely on a friendly ccorporate sponsor to provide staff part time from their marketing department. The nonprofit cold never justify hiring a marketing person but they cold use a corporate sponsors resources.

Identify Tasks required to complete change

Again another simple task. What needs to happen to make the project happen. The steps can be as bask or as involved as time permits. The end result is knowing what needs to be done, in what order, and what can be done concurrently.

Identify risks and controls

Risks imply danger. You can reduce the danger by developing adequate controls. For example in every building there is a risk of fire. To reduce that danger buildings have fire alarms, fire extinguishers, and sprinkler systems. Many workplaces conduct periodic fire drills. None of these controls prevent fires from occurring, but they do reduce the frequency of occurrence, the amount of damage to the building and increase the likelihood of people surviving fires.

Leaders should look at several layers of risk management. The first things risk management should look to do is decrease the likelihood of an occurrence. Using our fire scenerio, leaders would do things like ensure furnaces are maintained regularly and closed within a fire resistant room, or prevent employees from ganging extension cords. Controls should find ways to identify danger early, like those fire alarms. Early notification allows organizational leaders to start responding the the potential danger to reduce the loss. Controls that slow the consequences of danger help leaders develop solutions to stop what ever event is occurring to cause damage. The example from above are sprinklers and fire extinguishers. Neither will likely stop a fire alone, but both slow the spread enough to reduce the damage until professional help arrives. Finally, no controls work unless they are rehearsed. Like a fire drill leaders must make sure everyone knows what to do when things go sideways.

Identify strategic messages for internal and external audiences

Messaging often gets lost in analysis. It is an important part of any plan. Remember you have both internal and external audiences. If you do not plan to tell your story, rumors slowly grow until they become forecasters of the future. Take the time to develop messages for your key stake holders and put them out into the world. Communications plans that are developed and then filed away are about as helpful as an empty fire extinguisher!

Develop screening and evaluation criteria

Screening and selection criteria are important to help leaders make good decisions. We all know stories about low bidders. Be sure to think about what criteria defines success so the course of action achieves what you envision. Screening criteria is used to delete options that won’t work within your given perimeters. Evaluation criteria is weighted in some way so the important things receive more points, or weight, than less important things. If we thing back to the low bidder stories many times they happen because a low price item or process was allowed to be used rather than requiring a more expensive option. Even though chopping wood will eventually dull an ax blade, no one would opt to use wood to wear down steel. You probably want someone to use something like diamonds or carbide which cost more that a cord of wood but will get the job done quicker and better.

Develop courses of action

Charles M. Russell (1864-1926); Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia; 1905; Opaque and transparent watercolor over graphite underdrawing on paper; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas; 1961.195

Use some brain storming or mind mapping or whatever the popular term is when you read this to develop a bunch of ideas about how to solve the problem facing you. Throw them out there. Bad ideas will be caught during the screening process using the criteria set above. Okay ideas will be whined out by the evaluation criteria. The best ideas are likely to receive the highest, or lowest, score (depending on your rating system) and become obvious answers.


Now you have done all the work. You identified the problem and tasks. You developed messages. You created criteria and courses of action. You ran your courses of action against your criteria. Now it is time to decide. While it is appropriate for leaders to use all the time available to make a decision, do not avoid making a decision when the correct answer slaps you in the face. Frequently you may find more than one option has the potential to succeed. You still have to select one. If the path still is not clear, pick one option and start to work it before jumping in with both feet. You may find a few small adjustments result in peak performance, or that the idea was not as good as it appeared. That is okay; just go back and try one of the other options. Putting off a decision is deciding not to do anything and never solves the problem.


Execute means to communicate the ideas and answers you selected to those who will do the work. Assemble the required resources and do it, whatever IT might be. Failing to execute is the same as not deciding. It is still a decision to do nothing. This is often the hardness part as leaders often question if they did a good analysis going back and forth. You must pick one option and go with it.

Analysis often receives bad press because it hold leaders and organizations back from making decisions when faced with problems. Paralysis by Analysis only happens when you fail to follow a formula that ensures you conduct a good analysis that results in good options. Good analysis provides leaders two or more good options to move forward. It is up to the leader to make that decision. When done well, the leader can sit back and watch other execute making a few course corrections here and there. When done poorly leaders languish in the fog of information not sure what questions to ask or how to formulate ideas. Follow this method when faced with your next problem. I will not promise you will always find the perfect solution, but you will find one that probably will work. Avoid paralysis by using good analytical practices and make better decisions.

Photo Credits

All images are open source with CC0 license or in the public domain. Attribution in the caption if available.

Four Ways to View Ethical Behavior

Ethics serve as a compass. Like a compass, there are four points of view for every situation. Photo from pxhere.com, no attribution.

Wall Street struggles with insider trading scandals. Washington drowns in waves of corruption. The military suffers from trust issues inside and outside the force after many high profile sexual assault cases. Everyone of these groups have published values. They have codes of ethics. They investigate allegations of wrong doing daily. In spite of their best efforts the same ethical problems reoccur.

Each group trains their people in their professed values and ethics. Many of us have to sit through classes teaching us what is right and what is wrong based on organizational principles. None of these classes explores the underpinnings of ethical thinking. The result is all the failures reported in the news on a regular basis. It does not have to be that way. My teaching your workforce about the foundation of your guiding principals and their application, your employees will have a better understanding how to apply those principals in daily situations.

In their book, When Generations Collide, Lynne C. Lancaster & David Stilman explore the differences between generations based on the differences of the history that defined the moments each grew up with. The thesis of the book is that understanding the forces that shaped each generation allows the others to understand the motivations behind the behaviors of each group of people. Young people are not lazy, but rather value their free time to associate with friends and family. Of course the Millennials are not the first to receive this criticism. Back in the day, Baby Boomers were also accused of failing to live up the values established by the Traditionalist Generation. Boomers thought globally and acted locally, well until they invented the internet. Understanding the forces that shaped the values of others creates harmonious relationships at work and home.

Ethics are the same. When an organization professes to value loyalty, the committee that established that as an important guiding principle envisioned that everyone will understand what loyalty means. Everyone does, but their understanding may not be the same as the company’s understanding. Each person brings their own history to the definition. One who has strong family ties is loyal to his family. Another employee who values friendships is loyal to her friends. A third employee is a third generation worker at the company. He benefited from many of the past policies that rewarded hard working employees. His loyalty lies with the company. From different points of view come different views of loyalty, each equally valid yet when viewed by the others, bound to create disagreement and tension. A study of ethical theory enables understanding of how others define ethical values such as loyalty, honor or duty.

Four major concepts of ethical thinking include:

  • Seeking to do the Greatest Good for Me,
  • Accomplish My Duties & Safeguard My Rights,
  • Making Choices that are Just and Fair for All,
  • Living Virtuous Life According to a Selected Code of Conduct.

Using a story will help put each theory into perspective. While shopping, a person notices another placing a package of meat into a pocket on the inside of a bulky coat. What is the ethical thing to do?

Every situation is a moment it time. Sometimes, like the flowing water on the right everything is a blur and feels like a decision is need immediately. Other times the water seems to flow slower allowing more time to make a decision. When people make quick decisions they rely on personal values. When there is more time, they can reflect on the values of the organization.
Above from pxhere.com no attribution.
Right by author.

If we view this conduct through the first lens of doing the greatest good, the person realizes that everyone else pays a consequence when people shoplift. It would appear from this point of view that reporting the theft to a store employee or the police is the correct course of action. However, by reporting the theft, the viewer may find he is required to make a written statement at the store. He then has to wait for the police to arrive and possibly testify in court. This may mean missing time for work and not getting paid. He may find he will struggle to buy food for his own family and decide the greatest good in this situation is to go the other way and do nothing.

Viewing the second theory of duties and rights it again appears the shopper has a duty to her fellow shoppers to report the theft to the manager. Her report results in the same sacrifices already described. She has a right to pay the lowest possible prices for the products sold in the store. People stealing food causes prices to rise. She reasons that by reporting she fulfills her duty of being a good citizen and protects her rights to pay lower prices. From her point of view, she must report the theft.

When the conduct is viewed by a person using the Just and Fair outlook, shopper may take into consideration things like the ability of the thief to pay as well as time he will be required to miss work to go to court. He may reason that overall it is not fair for everyone to pay higher prices, but also that the other should be able to purchase food at a reasonable rate which must be more than the thief is able to afford at this point in life. He may choose not to report the theft, but rather approach the thief and offer to buy the meat and perhaps even slip the thief a few dollars for other life essentials..

I the final theory, living virtuously, the shopper decides that virtue requires reporting. She determines everyone must pay for food at the store. If people do not pay then the store goes out of business and no one is able to buy food locally. Stealing is against the law no matter the reason (the selected code of conduct) and must not be tolerated. She would expect her neighbor to report someone stealing something from her home therefore she has a responsibility to report this theft. Reporting is the only virtuous thing to do.

A person’s view also depends on how close they are to the problem. The farther from the problem, the easier it is to see the whole problem. When one is against the wall, all they can see is a giant rock. As they step back they realize there are other ways to view the problem. Photos by author

As the example shows, the lens of one’s ethical view determines how principles such as loyalty, duty, and honor determine actions. Based upon the ethical point of view, none of the answers provided are incorrect. In fact you could use those very same points to argue the reverse outcome in each situation. Likewise in the workplace, when employees make decisions, they select choices based on their ethical lens. In order to maximize mission statements, value selection, guiding principals and visions for the future, leaders must train their employees about the guiding principals of the organization and how the organization expects employees to view behaviors. Failure to recognize employee focal points ensures failure of ethical decision making efforts. Take the time to teach junior leaders and their employees which lens is used by the key leaders. Learning how senior leaders view the world enables those junior leaders to make better choices and prepare for more senior positions. Youngsters are not lazy. Old people do not know everything. Learning how each group in the workplace views the world helps leader develop methods so they all view workplace behaviors with greater similarity and reduces those pesky scandals on the front page of the paper.

Learn to Lead: Join a Club

Learning leadership involves more than study. One only becomes a leader after they apply influence on others in an organization that results in desired action to accomplish a mission and improve the organization.

Leadership is an art requiring practitioners to gain experience by applying known principals to a variety of problems as they arise. People can study about leadership their whole lives. Until they step into a leadership role, they will not know how to lead. Younger people often struggle to gain leadership experience inhibiting workplace promotions. Learning to lead is not a Millennial problem. Youth struggled gaining experience in every generation. So what is a kid, or anyone else who wants to lead others, to do in order to gain experience leading? Join a club! Yes, really join a club.

Leadership is leadership. It doesn’t matter if you are leading a bunch of pre-schoolers to lunch, a Fortune 500 company, or a grass-roots campaign against the latest injustice. Once you learn how to lead, you can lead almost anyone or any type of organization. What matters is understanding what level of leadership you are at and applying the principals required for that level of leadership.

Several years ago I was asked to take a position as a senior leader in the logistics division of my organization. I started my career in the organization as a logistician but found I disliked it and moved into operations. I was counseled by other senior leaders to accept the position because the job required leading other leaders, not directly supervising logistical support.

I accepted the position with a bit of apprehension. I found there was some resistance to my leadership by a few individuals due to my lack of logistics background. Most were receptive to my influence. Those who were resistant left the organization as I began to institute changes to making our division more responsive to the needs of the rest of the organization.

Understand that I am not advocating that the warehouse foreman be assigned to directly supervise bookkeepers in accounting. At lower levels of leadership, front-line supervisors require knowledge of the work being done. What I am saying is that when it comes to supervising other leaders, application of broad leadership principals is required rather than specialized job knowledge or particular tactics for a given situation. That broad leadership knowledge is directly transferable from job to job. You can gain that kind of experience outside the workplace and set yourself up to succeed within your workplace. This win-win tactic not only helps you improve as a leader, but also improves your community, whether geographic, professional, or any other description of community. Run or volunteer for a leadership position in a civic or professional group. After leading a civic group or professional organization you only need explain how you will apply the principals you learned to the specific leadership job you want at your workplace.

Practice leadership by leading a civic or professional group of volunteers.

Many of the civic or professional groups set up their officer positions to teach new officers about the whole organization. The lowest level officer learns the very basics such as how to set up for meetings. In other leadership positions you learn group’s rules, tracking property, running organizational ceremonies, finances, and controls. Each position eventually runs up to the vice presidency and presidency or the equivalent name for that group. The basics of each position happen to coincide with requirements for leadership in the professional world.

Every business, governmental organization, or nonprofit requires someone to track property, They need people to develop, implement, and enforce policies. They also need to comply with reporting requirements. You do not have to be a certified public accountant as a senior leader in any organization, but you must understand restrictions on spending funds, sources of funding, and reporting. Even nonprofits have filings to complete for the IRS.

Ben Franklin believed everyone should belong to at least three clubs. His reasons included having a network of friends, working to improve the community, and developing skills required to become happier in life. Participating in various leadership positions in a club of your choice allows you to develop skills to achieve happiness and success regardless of your measurement of effectiveness. As you build your network through club participation, you encounter people who are senior leaders in the professional world. Those people are always watching for talent. You may be asked to apply for a position before others become aware it exists. As you work within the community served by your club, you also develop connections within that community outside of your workplace. The people helped also know about opportunities and your good work.

Many civic and professional organizations offer leadership training at no cost. They do so to ensure local and higher level chapters and such have leaders who have some understanding of leadership. The application of principals, tactics, provided in these leadership trainings apply specifically to your group. The principals are universal. The tactic of having two people in a civic group sign checks is based on the principal of establishing and enforcing financial controls. The principal of establishing and enforcing financial controls is universal to leadership. Every business, government agency, and nonprofit needs financial controls. The same idea applies to all leadership principals. The application in the club you belong to will be different than the application at your workplace, but the principals are the same in the club and the workplace. You only need to learn how your workplace applies those principals.

As you can see, there are many reasons to join a civic or professional organization and accept leadership challenges. You have the opportunity to learn and execute leadership. You learn how to influence volunteers; you just cannot be bossy as they will leave the club or your committee (that happens in the workplace too). You learn the foundations of financial controls and limitations of spending and sources of income. You learn how other parts of the organization can help provide resources for training and problem solving. You expand your professional network in ways you could not by staying in your bubble at work. You earn the right to add leadership experience to your resume. If you want to gain critical leadership skills and experience, join a club and led it!

Grateful Leaders

This is a week of giving thanks. The tradition memorializes a year of cooperation between the European immigrants and native people who lived in the Plymouth Massachusetts area in the early 1600s. Thanksgiving is frequently celebrated with family and only for events, people, or possessions we perceive as blessings. Leaders must also remember those adverse followers and events that challenged them to grow.

Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1925; Jennie Augusta Brownscombe; National Museum of Women in the Arts. Public Domain

Some of you are wondering how we can be grateful for the bad things that happened. Adverse events and people cause us to grow as people and leaders. Earlier this month I posted an excerpt from a book one of my Soldiers is writing (http://bit.ly/33yL14Q). His book details many of the bad things happened during our deployment. He shares some of the struggles he had upon returning. He makes it clear that those adverse experiences made him stronger. He says that those struggles set a standard for what bad means.

Jocko Willink tells a story of a time one of his SEALs came to his office with some bad news, The SEAL told Jocko he knew what he was going say, “Good.” Jocks has the philosophy that every experience is good (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdTMDpizis8). You just have to figure out why the experience is good. His thinking aligns with the old saying on rainy days, “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

I am not, nor have I ever been a morning person. However after a lifetime of seeing the struggles of others, I know my life is pretty good. I may not have the material wealth of Warren Buffet but I have more than those living in other parts of the world where war, poverty, starvation, and violence thrive. As a result, even on those mornings when my head is foggy and I struggle to make my first coffee I great others with, “Good Morning!” because I know what bad mornings look, sound, and smell like and most mornings are good compared to those bad mornings I and others experienced.

Being grateful is important. Leaders need to speak their gratitude. Effective leaders publicly thank others for their efforts, contributions, ideas, and hard work. They thank employees, volunteers, board members, customers, clients, vendors, and other logisticians for their contributions to the success of the organization. They recognize the sacrifices made by family members so their loved ones can contribute to the organization’s success.

Like the celebration after the harvest of 1621 Plymouth, we should give thanks for our blessings. Gratitude is an important leadership quality. Be grateful for all your blessings, even the ones that you do not currently view as a blessing. Tough life lessons are those that are best remembered. Publicly thank those who contribute to success. Demonstrate gratitude year round not just the fourth Thursday of November. If you are a leader, you have much to be thankful for. Those who follow you could have chosen to follow someone else. Thank your followers so they know they chose well.

In Lieu of MPs

HHS (FWD) 2BN, 197th FA (ILOMP) musters for the first time in Berlin, NH. Photo courtesy MAJ (r) Matthew Boucher

In 2004, I was assigned to be a Platoon Sergeant for 2nd Platoon, Headquarters Battery (Forward) 2nd Battalion, 197th Field Artillery Regiment (In Lieu of Military Police). We were a bunch of highly skilled cannon cockers, fire direction specialists, wrench turners, and clerks. Some of us had experience in law enforcement but none of us ever trained to be MPs or Infantrymen. It did not matter. The Army needed MPs, not artillery, to fight the insurgents in Iraq so we received 10 or 14 days of training and became MPs. The training was squad-centric, nothing for platoon or company leaders. As a result, none of the Platoon Leaders, Platoon Sergeants, the First Sergeant, nor the Company Commander received any training to be or lead MPs. With our little training, we boarded planes and headed to staging areas in Kuwait determined to do our jobs to the best of our humble abilities.

When we arrived in the Middle East, our company was split and served in three locations, Mosul, Tikrit, and Baqubah. The Baqubah mission was to provide 24/7 force protection to the provincial police headquarters building downtown and train Iraqi Police. Everyone knew Mosul and Tirkrit were dangerous. None of us had ever heard of Baqubah. It had to be relatively safe, right? I had the opportunity to visit the newly renovated police training facility in Mosul. It was nice, rivaling the academy police officers in New Hampshire attend. Given the quality of the Mosul police academy, the perceived safety of Baqubah, and the opportunity to complete a mission that would help the locals develop security forces to protect themselves, I volunteered my platoon to execute the Baqubah mission. When we arrived at the Diyala Police Provincial Police Headquarters we all realized that not only were we not in New Hampshire anymore Dorthy, this place looked nothing like the facility in Mosul!

One of the Soldiers in my platoon, Aaron Marshall, is writing a book, Baqubah; Bones and Blood, about his experiences during that deployment. He provided me an advanced copy of his manuscript. He expects it to be ready for publication in 2020. Marshall reminds me of Medal of Honor recipient Maynard Smith who demonstrated exceptional bravery under fire, but always found trouble when the bullets were not flying. Marshall is a very brave person but always had a knack for finding trouble. Still, he was someone I wanted by my side when the shooting started.

Squad members training in the snow at Ft Dix to prepare to fight in the desert of Iraq in 2004. ibid

I have published a veteran based post each Memorial and Veterans Day since starting my blog. After reading Aaron’s manuscript, I thought he did an excellent job of describing many parts of the experiences of combat veterans. I asked permission to publish an excerpt of his book here for Veterans Day. He granted me that permission. What follows is a brief excerpt as written by him with a few edits for clarification. His writing is graphic and may be offensive to some readers. I decided to publish this post using his graphic words because war is both graphic and offensive. I will post when the book is published.

Please read and reflect on the words and experiences of PFC Aaron Marshall.

My call sign in Iraq was “Spoonman”. We were told to come up with our own call signs, and I loved the song by Soundgarden so I went with that. At that point I had never tried heroin and wouldn’t until my second divorce about 7 years later. But that’s a story for another time. An even darker tale of the human experience; loss, tragedy, insanity, and redemption. Now that I think about it, it was sort of a self-induced experience very similar to Iraq; to War. I relived the terror of death on a daily basis with that drug, but I was one of the lucky few who was able to kick it before it took me completely.

I had too many experiences with death. Too many. I’ve felt the breeze created by a snipers bullet gently flow by my face. I’ve been hit with anti-tank rockets so close it made me think the world had ended. I’ve had septic shock, pancreatitis, renal failure, and felt the peaceful calm that comes over you when you die. I’ve overdosed too many times and woken up to people standing over me crying.

Humvee of Platoon Leader, 4th Platoon/293rd MPs. ibid

And I’m still here. I’m still trudging forward, marching on. To what I haven’t the slightest idea. I have no idea why I’m still here. Dumb luck maybe? A purpose I don’t yet know? I would go with dumb luck over fate. Regardless, I give thanks to the people around me. If I gave thanks to a supposed god, I would be squandering an opportunity to make an actual difference in the world. That was one of the original ideas behind me joining the military in the first place. After September 11th 2001, most young men my age were jolted by a sense of duty to do something, anything. But still only a few signed up to voluntarily fight in a War that we all knew was coming. We all wanted it. There was that part of the collective unconscious of the country that needed war; vengeance, justice. The same type of situation occurred in Iraq in 2004 when a Sergeant (SGT) From the 3rd ID and a Lieutenant (LT) ended up both losing one of their arms during an RPG attack on a patrol. We all felt completely helpless immediately after.

Searching within ourselves for the answer to the question why? Why did it happen? Why did the RPG enter the front of the Humvee like it did? Why that road? Why them? Why not me? And every single man and woman at the Police Station wanted vengeance, justice. We knew we would get it but we just didn’t know when. It was part of all our collective unconscious at the station. We would get it. At least that’s how I felt about it.

Diyala Provincial Police HQ, our home for 13 months. Note that we used sand bags in the windows to keep out sunlight for those working the overnight sifts, and what ever projectiles came our way from the city around us. ibid

During one of our QRF (Quick Reaction Force) missions shortly after the SGT and LT were severely wounded, we would get our revenge. We needed to kill one of the enemy, a hundred if we could, to make us all feel like we were doing something good for our wounded family. My team got called out to pick up a soldier that had been wounded by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device, commonly called a roadside bomb) just down the road from us on what was called “RPG Alley”. When we went to pick him up, it was a dangerous feeling, a feeling like something bad was going to happen. I’d get that feeling from time to time, and I learned to trust it. Over time that feeling was correct more often than not, and at the very least that feeling would heighten your senses so you’d be even more ready for an ambush.

You never knew when and if another IED was going to be set off after the first one. But we had to get the wounded out. The soldier was in good spirits. Pretty bloodied but happy to be getting the hell out of there and onto a base with medical care.

A village along RPG Alley. author

Halfway to F.O.B. Warhorse we were ambushed by some AK-47 fire that pinged off the vehicle in front of me then skipped just over our vehicle. I got out of the kill zone by ducking down into the vehicle. When the gunfire stopped hitting our vehicle my SGT yelled, “shoot!” I popped up, unlatched the turret, swung it counterclockwise, locked the turret back in, and looked down the barrel of my M249 SAW. I didn’t even have to aim. I was looking directly at a man slightly crouched beside a wall, exactly where the gunfire was coming from, holding a weapon. I didn’t even think about it. I let loose as many rounds as I could and I’ll never forget how he instantly slumped to the ground when my first bullet hit, and stayed motionless (Marshall said that the gunner in the next Humvee behind him also engaged the insurgent. Karl rarely received credit for his role in that fight. Marshall remembers hearing the gun firing). I ducked back into the Humvee and said the SGT, “Holy shit I got him!”, and we called in the confirmed kill.

When I got back to the Police Station you could see the look of everyone had changed from a somber mood to a look of vindication. None of us ever had a conversation about these feelings. In fact, at least with those I associated with, we didn’t really talk about feelings at all, ever. The way I perceived, it was that we got our revenge for what happened to the SGT and LT. I think that helped us move past the incredible horror of being helpless for them. It helped me move past it and not dwell on the event so much. Of course there was nothing we could have done. But you still feel like, and always feel like, there is something you could have done to prevent it.

It’s still hard to piece everything together; the entire year. Where to start; how to finish telling it. It doesn’t help that I had multiple head traumas while I was there and multiple head traumas when I returned home. But I’m determined to tell my story, our story, the story of the 2/197th FA unit that went to Baqubahh, Iraq in 2004 as hastily trained MP’s. The Army owned us and we would all do our part to make sure every last one of us got home. We would do our best, and that’s exactly what we did, our best. I wasn’t trained to be a machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee but by the end of the tour, I guarantee I was one of the best. That’s not cockiness in the sense that I thought I was better than anyone else, but a sense of confidence in my abilities. A turret gunner needs that confidence to do his or her job. Without it, fear can creep in and take over, rendering you useless. No, I wasn’t better than any other gunner in the war, I was simply one of the best. I hope that now makes sense.

Most of Marshall’s squad training at Butler Range in eastern Iraq. They managed to get an armored Humvee stuck in the only mud hole for a 100 miles! Author
Marshall’s book cover.

To paraphrase one of my favorite schools of Philosophy, the Stoics, and more specifically, Epictetus; there are things in our control like our opinions, desires, and inclinations. There are also things which are not in our control like our body, possessions, honor, and reputation. So why worry about the things that are not in our control? Well, that turret and anyone around it that wanted to do us harm was in my control for that year. I made it my mission to be the baddest motherfucker I could possibly be. It was out of my character. But like an actor that gets stuck in role after making a movie, I became a machine gunner. I became the turret. It was my home. That 2 inch wide strap for a seat was my bed, my home, my church, my religion, and baptism by fire is not an understatement. Some jobs you ask for in the Army, but for the most part you just do what you are told as an enlisted man. And I was told to get in the turret. I did my job and I did it well.

Marshall’s book is now available. You may purchase it at Barnes and Noble in paperback. Hard cover is not available for retail at this time.

Building and Maintaining Trust

If character is the foundation of leadership, trust is the cornerstone of the foundation.

In an earlier post http://bit.ly/2N0pCwi I proposed that the foundation of leadership was character. I still believe that to be true. Character is the sum of your habits that tell others what you value. Leaders should adopt habits so others know they value their organization’s guiding principals. Organizations make a big deal out of their organizational values or guiding principals because those behavior are what they want the world to think the organization represents. Rarely do people talk about the corner stone of the foundation. However, if character is the foundation of leadership, trust is the cornerstone. If trust is so important, you have to wonder how do you develop and maintain trust. Like being a good leader, developing and maintaining trust takes effort.

Trust often exists in new organizations whether a company, team, or partnership. The same principal applies when new people join an organization; for the most part they are trusted. People generally trust each other. In spite of the warnings our parents gave us as children, and we as parents admonish our children, people trust strangers. That is one reason scammers are successful. Even scammers are trusting of others. Just watch any of James Veitch’s Scamalot videos on YouTube or Mashable to see him scam the scammers. The scammers trust him to do what he says he will do, well, until they realize he is jerking them around.

Humans learn to trust early. Trust is an important survival tool learned in families and with friends.

Trusting one another, family, friend, or co-worker is an important human quality. Early humans had to rely on each other to survive. As a result our brains developed to release certain hormones when we trust and cooperate with other people (Sinek, 2014, pp 33-38). Someone had to guard the existing provisions while another group went to hunt. The guards had to trust the hunters to hunt. Hunters had to trust the guards to protect what little they already gathered.

Today we have the same need to rely on others to survive and thrive. Military commanders rely on their higher headquarters to coordinate resources they require to accomplish missions. They also rely on subordinate commanders to execute tasks without direct supervision as well as their peers to their left, right, and above (l mean in the air over the battlefield) them. Each risks potentially life threatening tasks with little but a promise that those around him or her will complete their tasks and the others rely on that commander complete his or hers.

During World War I Major Charles Whittlesey found himself in command of his 1st Battalion of the 308th Infantry Regiment along with attachments from other 77th Division units in a pocket behind enemy lines. The plan was that the division would attack to a phase line with several units on line and in mass to overrun the German trenches. As the attack progressed the units on Whittlesey’s flanks began to break and retreat. Commanders on his flanks warned him they had lost contact with units to the regiment’s left and right. Division headquarters assured Whittlesey several times during the attack his flanks were covered. He reached his objective that day, but was the only American unit to do so. The Germans restored their lines by the end of the next day and surrounded the 1-308th(+). Whittlesey trusted Maj. Gen. Alexander when he continued to press the attack. In spite of that let down, he continued to trust that the General would find a way to relieve them. Alexander had sent for reinforcements, but only a small number reached Whittlesey’s position before they were cut off from the Allied lines.

LTC Whittlesey receives his Medal of Honor. He trusted his senior leaders would relieve him and his Soldiers. He encourages his Soldiers to also have faith in their comrades efforts to come to their aid bolstering their trust.

Whittlesey established a strong defensive position and encouraged his men to fight well and have faith they would be relieved. His phone lines had been cut off by the Germans requiring him to rely on carrier pigeons to communicate with his regiment and division. The Soldiers of the 308th fought through six days of repeated German attacks rather than surrendering. They trusted their fellow Soldiers would fight their way forward to relieve them. In the movie version of this story, Major Whittlesey tells his junior leaders that they will win the battle. He trusted MG Alexander would be determined to relieve them. Whittlesey was right. Alexander trusted that Whittlesey would hold out as long as he could. Alexander used the Lost Battalion to motivate other units to fight hard. He continued to pressure the German lines to reestablish contact with Whittlesey and his men. The Germans could not continue to stand against the pressure on the lines while also trying to dislodge the 308th. The 77th Division broke through and finally relieved Whittlesey and the men of the 308th Infantry (Durr, 2018 & Carabatsos, 2001).

In this example there was lot of reason not to trust, but leaders did trust each other. The leaders passed along their trust to the Soldiers. The result was an Allied victory in the Argonne Forrest that led to the cease fire several weeks later on November 11, 1918.

As Veitch’s Scamalot videos show, sometimes it is easier to trust strangers than people we already know. Strangers have yet to do anything to cause us not to trust them. We know the flaws of those around us which may cause us to not trust them as much a those strangers. This is where leadership happens. Establishing trust is easy. Maintaining trust within existing organizations takes the most work. It would have been easy for Major Whittlesey to surrender and stop trusting his commanders. They had let him down by not telling him the truth about the other units falling to the rear.

Trust, like solid stone, can erode over time. Leaders recognize factors that cause trust to erode. They make small corrections and repairs along to prevent the foundation from collapsing.

Trust erodes as people are unwilling or unable to live up to expectations. Jim is unable to complete a project on time because Pam did not budget enough money to complete her assigned task. Pam did not know the task would cost that much because she relied on a vendor’s quote. The vendor was out of stock so Pam had to order from another supplier and request additional funding. Both took more time than planned and jammed up Jim. Now the manager does not trust either of them, and neither Jim nor Pam trust each other. None of the people in this story intended to behave unethically. The vendor did not predict Pam’s order and ran out of stock. Pam trusted the vendor had a good supply of what she needed. Jim trusted Pam had checked out the vendor. Michael, the manager, trusted Jim could lead the project and complete it on time and within budget.

On the surface keeping trust is simple. As the above example shows it only takes a small mistake to loose trust. However if people live by the organizational principals, difficult situations can be navigated so lessons learned are applied in the future. People have to take responsibility for their mistakes. Leaders have to forgive those mistakes and reestablish trust.

It is easier to make small repairs when trust is breached than to try to rebuild trust after things fall in around you.

Leaders are responsible for building and maintaining trust. They do this in several ways. Leaders define their organization’s guiding principals through regular communication, education, and setting the example. Leaders allow others to make mistakes, analyze what went wrong, and learn how to avoid those mistakes in the future. The final step for leaders is to allow the employee to try again. Doing so shows he still has trust in the employee and has faith he will succeed. Leaders respectfully share employee mistakes so others learn what not to do. You do this by setting them up as the new subject matter expert. Employees rarely act to sabotage you and the organization. If they do, you need to take appropriate disciplinary steps which also establishes that you can be trusted to make hard choices.

There are times when bad things happen out of the leader’s control. When handled poorly, those events destroy trust between key players. Rebuilding trust is difficult. Leaders ensure trust is rebuilt after a crisis. There are several ways to reestablish trust such as using some sort of mediation process to settle disputes between aggrieved parties; reassigning people to new positions to reduce friction; terminating those who willfully violated the organization’s guiding principals; training about roles, responsibilities and shared values; or celebrating victories through teamwork over extreme challenges. Regardless of the reason trust has been lost, it is the leader’s responsibility to regain trust within the organization. The leader takes action allowing others to regain trust.

Trust is the cornerstone of character, the foundation of leadership. Leaders are responsible to establish and maintain trust in their teams and organizations. Often it is easier to trust a stranger than the person you worked with for years because of many large and small transgressions violating trust. Trust however is the force that inspires others to do more than they thought they could do. Leaders consistently communicate organizational guiding principals and live those principals as a model for others to follow. Leaders keep open lines of communication to detect the earliest signs of mistrust to do what is necessary to repair transgressions. Sometimes leaders have to face the fact that someone deliberately did something wrong for selfish reasons and needs to be separated from the organization. While rare, failing to take such action causes increased distrust. Leaders allow honest mistakes by reviewing causes and effects with employees and developing means to correct those mistakes. They treat the mistakes as a learning opportunity for everyone which shows respect and builds trust. Like Soldiers on a battlefield surrounded, without food, water or ammunition, organizations with strong ties developed by trusting relationships can accomplish deeds that seem impossible. Trust is the strong cornerstone of every leadership foundation.


Photo Credits

  • Cornerstone by the author CC attribution no commercial
  • Trusted adult by Liane Metzler from unsplash.com, used with an Unsplash license
  • Award ceremony LTC Whittlesey from the National Archieves
  • Eroded stone by the author CC attribution no commercial
  • Reconstruction by Milivoj Kuhar from unsplash.com used with Unsplash license