Are You Leading?

The simplest definition of the word “leader” is “one who leads”. But what does it mean, then, to “lead”? The word “lead” is derived from an Old English word laedan meaning “cause to go with”.  Based on this early meaning, we can classify two types of leaders.

The first type is one who falsely thinks they are leading but in reality they have no followers, i.e. the leader hasn’t caused anybody to go with them. When I do leadership workshops, I like to say, “If you’re having difficulty getting people to follow you, then you’re not leading.”

The second type of leader is one who is actually leading, i.e. they have caused people to go with them. This type of leader falls into one of myriad categories each defined by their own distinctive style of causing people to go with them. These numerous styles are the subject of countless observations, analyses, writings and teachings about what it takes to be an effective leader. But regardless how sound any of this wisdom may be, it is all but footnotes to what Lao-Tzu wrote nearly 2500 years ago in Chapter 17 of the Tao Te Ching about the various ways and degrees of effectiveness there are in causing people to go with you:

“The best of all leaders is the one who helps people so that, eventually, they don’t need him.

Then comes the one they love and admire.

Then comes the one they fear.

The worst is the one who lets people push him around.

Where there is no trust, people will act in bad faith.[1]

The best leader doesn’t say much, but what he says carries weight.

When he is finished with his work, the people say, “It happened naturally.”

In what ways do you cause people to go with you?


[1] Interesting comment. Lao-Tzu seems to indicate that the more you trust people, the more trustworthy they become.

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A Job to Love

Which was your favorite job?

A few weeks ago, my daughter asked me which of the two jobs from my younger days I liked more: selling audio equipment at an electronics store or cooking at a Howard Johnsons. After reflecting on the question for a bit I finally decided I couldn’t decide. I loved them both.

Why did I love them both? Because both jobs provided three of the most important reasons why you, me or anybody else would love their job:

  1. I was using my strengths, i.e. doings things I do best.
  2. I was appreciated and validated for my strengths.
  3. I was working with people I liked, not just at work but socially, too.

Why does using your strengths matter? People working in their area of strengths feel they are being authentic to who they already are rather than who their role requires them to be. Using your strengths means you will feel more expert in what you are doing, and more engaged and energized when you are doing it.

The strengths-based engagement is more than just about making people happy. It also means they get more work done. A Gallup survey[1] found that employees using their strengths were more productive, stayed in jobs longer, and produced greater customer satisfaction.

This leads to my second point. Because I was highly productive and I created satisfied customers, I got constant positive feedback. Research has consistently shown that people “flourish” – function at their best – in environments and relationships where positive comments of support, encouragement, appreciation are heard three times more often than negative comments (disapproval, sarcasm, cynicism). And in a study of 60 business units, the highest performing teams were those where positive comments were experienced five times more often than negative ones.[2]

Finally, because I was working with people I liked, I worked with great emotional safety and freedom in communication. That meant constructive feedback could be received knowing it was for my improvement. It also meant people expressed interest in each other. Research by Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy showed that the highest performing teams talked about themselves (individually or their group) less and advocated for other peoples’ or groups’ positions more frequently than their own.

What my daughter’s question proved to me – and I think should prove to you – is that our job satisfaction and performance isn’t based on what we are doing, or even how much we are paid to do it. It’s all about doing things we’re best at, receiving more support than criticism, and being around people who have your back.


[1] Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton

[2] The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams: A Nonlinear Dynamics Model, Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy. American Behavioral Scientist 2004; 47; 740

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The Five Bottom Line Truths About Work

  1. Every human being is majestically and wonderfully made and therefore has untold worth, dignity and potential.
  2. You are most satisfied when you place yourself in environments and associate with people that allow you to be the person you were made to be.
  3. What people want from work is to respect themselves and the job that they do, and to earn the respect of others.
  4. It is possible and desirable to clearly define what about our work gives us self-respect, and it is possible and desirable to find this out about others.
  5. When people are working at their best, they have greater pride and ownership in their work, and better communication and teamwork, resulting in better performance, productivity and profitability.
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What’s Your Brand? – Part III

In 25 words or less, what is a brand? It is a promise of a consistent, unique and meaningful experience.

Each of these words is a crucial component of your brand:

Promise – what someone has the assurance that they can expect from you.

Consistent – implicit in your promise is that it can be relied upon, i.e. you repeatedly deliver what others expect.

Meaningful – a brand brings something valuable to the user of the brand.

Unique – what is that you want to be known for that few others could be known for?

Experience – ultimately, being your brand is what people can consistently expect to feel about having an encounter with you.

What do you want to be known for? Who needs to know that? How will you let them know?

So closing this topic in 25 words or less: Don’t be oblivious to who you are. Don’t let your identity be completely defined by other people. Do take control of your personal brand.

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What’s Your Brand? – Part II

In the marketplace of myriad product choices, it’s a product or company’s brand that has one of the strongest influences on your purchase decisions. In the world of interpersonal relationships and interactions of all kinds – personal, business, leader, follower, peer, server or served – the strength and clarity of your personal brand will determine your influence in those relationships and interactions. USA Today small business columnist Rhonda Abrams suggests four reasons for a small business to consider their brand. I believe that these reasons are just as applicable to you if you want to have greater influence and interpersonal effectiveness. Here are four self-reflection questions to help you consider how to manage your personal brand.

  • Your brand will help people to remember you. What is it that you want people to remember about you?
  • Your brand will build loyalty. What is it that will cause people to want to be connected to you? What is that people should keep returning to you for?
  • Your brand tells people what they can expect from you. If someone knows they are going to talk to you, what are they thinking and feeling about you before the interaction? Are they anticipating a positive or negative experience? And if they’re not expecting anything, why not?
  • Your brand makes you more valuable. How useful are you to others? In what ways do you make others lives better?

I believe that every person already has within them the power to be special in their own way and can create positive experiences that others will continually want. I also know that most people don’t know what those powers are because they don’t think about them.[1] Or if they have some idea about their powers, they haven’t been intentional about using them.

These questions above require introspection and self-awareness to answer. And the point of those answers is to manage your thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions in such a way that you can bring all of your gifts – your unique personal brand – with you to each and every interpersonal encounter. When you do that, you will begin to achieve the full impact and influence on others you are capable of having.


[1] Only about one third of people can meaningfully identify their strengths. Alex Linley, Average to A+: Realising Strengths In Yourself and Others (Coventry, England: CAPP Press, 2008), 92.

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What’s Your Brand?

If you’re old like me, when you think of the word “brand” you might think of cattle in a Western movie or TV show. The original meaning from the 1500s (pre-Western movies!) was “an identifying mark made by a hot iron”.  It’s current understanding of “a particular make of goods” didn’t come about until the 1800’s and “brand name” until the 1900s. But the current thinking still harkens back to the old meaning popularized by the Western cattle owner, whose brand said, in effect, “These are MY assets. They belong only to me.”

I bring this up because recently I’ve spent time talking with a client about personal brands, i.e. the unique qualities, attributes, skills, etc. that consistently distinguish a relationship with you from a relationship with other people. Your brand is essentially YOUR particular set of assets that you use to make an “identifying mark” on other people – a mark nobody else can make.

One way to think about your identifying mark, i.e. your brand, is to ask yourself the question, “What is it I want to be known for?” Usually the answer to that question comes from things you already know about yourself that matter most to you.

But think even deeper than that. What is it you want to be known for that is unique to you? Your impact on others will be greater when there are few people that can share your assets and how you deploy them. What are those things people get from you that they can’t get from anybody else? Those qualities that are unique to you are your brand.

Too often, people ask others, “What do you want from me?” That’s letting them put their mark on you. Instead, spend some introspective time defining what matters most to you in terms of the impact you are able to have on others. And then keep defining it until your brand looks like nobody else’s. It could be what you and you alone can do. It could be a special and memorable way of doing something that sets you apart. It might be a unique combination of things about you.

When you are able to know exactly what your brand is and begin relating to others with it, you will be pleasantly surprised by the increased level of influence you have on them. You will discover how much more purposeful and fulfilling your relationships are. And you will find how deeply satisfying it is when you live according to the brand that makes you uniquely you.

How are you leaving your mark?

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Coming Soon

This blog/website is quickly coming together and will be full of great content soon. Feel free to keep returning and follow my progress!

In the meantime, enjoy these thoughts:

All high tech gurus are smart. The best have the ability to listen, to influence, to collaborate, and to get people motivated and working well together (Susan Ennis, Working with Emotional Intelligence, p. 29)

I find that empathy mixed with a dose of pragmatism can reframe and help so many situations. (from my friend Jennifer Tucker’s Twitter @4tuckertalk.

Ultimately, understanding diversity isn’t about learning what makes one group of people different from another. It’s really about understanding what makes one person different from everybody else.

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