Lead By Following

“Houston, we have a problem.”  This misquotation of words broadcast from the Apollo 13 spacecraft could be tweaked to sound an alarm about the state of today’s leadership in every sector of life.  “Planet earth, we have a problem.”

The first part of the problem is the common misunderstanding of leadership, which we generally confuse with position, political or otherwise.

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” — Kenneth Blanchard(1939- ), American author, management expert.

Authority is the result of leadership, never the cause.  It’s true that authority sometimes instills confidence.  But, unless the foundations of leadership are present, position alone does not translate into leadership.  (see: Barney clips #1 & #2)

Leadership is Serving

Leading is not the opposite of following, following is the foundation of leadership.  Following a principle, an ideal, and a dream.  When we follow one of these, each which is outside of ourselves, we are serving, which is the highest form of leadership.

“The first step to leadership is servanthood.” — John C. Maxwell

Megan McCallister and I crossed paths at the University of Dayton. As part of a co-ed volleyball team playing in a fundraising tournament for Special Olympics, Megan, a former player on the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team, showed up for our first practice and asked, “What would you like me to do?”  She had the credentials and experience to tell our team of amateurs what to do.  Instead, she asked how she could serve the interests of the team and the event.  That’s servant leadership!

Leadership is Timing

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” — Warren G. Bennis

Days later the same tournament was underway.  At a clutch moment during a tight match, team captain and coach Julie Bowling called time-out.  In the huddle, without being asked, Megan stepped up, took charge and said, “Okay gang, here’s what we’re going to do.”  Real leaders like Megan also have vision and know when to assert themselves.  When action is based on vision, good timing AND serving others, true leadership is exhibited.

Leadership is Conviction

Leadership begins with one’s conviction to a purpose, but becomes measurable only through appropriate action.  Leaders do not hold a finger to the wind before committing and they don’t shy away from taking action.

“A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” — Max Lucado

Like Success, Leadership is Portable

Leadership can be carried over to other areas of life.  That is why superstar athletes run for public office and endorse products.  The perception that they have succeeded in one field is accepted as evidence of leadership that is transferrable to other fields.  Few would know whether or not golf great Phil Mickelson is an expert in financial services.  But, that’s not why he wears the KPMG logo on his golf shirt.  His success credentials, like leadership qualities, are portable.

Leadership is Lagging

In government, families, institutions, and businesses we are in the midst of a leadership drought.  Misunderstanding leadership, leading to preoccupation with achieving so-called “positions of leadership,” have helped create this drought.  The solution begins with clarity of what leadership means.

“The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.” — John C. Maxwell

God bless,

— Clancy

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” — Warren G. Bennis

Too Busy for Opportunity

It may be true or just perception, but the 21st century seems to find people busier than ever.  Human civilization has never known so many choices for passing the time.  Naturally we’ve responded by cramming an extraordinary amount of stuff onto our calendar, which some find pleasing and others find disturbing.

“If you observe a really happy man, you will find… that he is happy in the course of living life twenty-four crowded hours each day.” — W. Beran Wolfe

“Time is that quality of nature which keeps events from happening all at once. Lately it doesn’t seem to be working.” — Anonymous

One of the consequences of our bounty is that we have become experts at using our hectic lives as a shield against change.   “This week is bad for me.”  “I’m swamped.”  “We’re having a minor crisis at work.”

“There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” — Henry Kissinger (1923- )

“A schedule defends from chaos and whim.” — Annie Dillard

Ah yes, little white lies!  That’s what the “lack of time excuse” is.  The truth is, people can always find time to do what matters most. (Remember the parable of the mayonnaise jar.)  So it’s hard to understand why anyone would use this type of worn out excuse, especially in response to an opportunity.  For example, I imagine being offered the chance to play golf with Tiger Woods at Augusta National.  Do I jump at it?  On the surface there would appear to be plenty of reasons not to.   “The timing is bad.”  “I can’t possibly get away from work.”  One thing I do know, if I ever passed up an opportunity this big because of a phony issue with my calendar, my golf buddies would smack me silly.

“Calendars are for careful people, not passionate ones.” — Chuck Sigars, The World According to Chuck weblog, September 8, 2003

The idea of bad timing is totally misunderstood.  People tend to think timing is all about their own situation, when it’s really about the timing of the opportunity.  To capitalize on opportunities, we must understand that we all have some measure of control over our own schedules.  If something is important enough, it is almost always possible to rearrange the calendar for an opportunity.  On the other hand, we have much less control over opportunities, which come and go with or without our prior permission.  Instead of taking bold action, people rationalize that the opportunity requires an empty calendar.  Think of any missed opportunity and see if you can find yourself anywhere in the following depiction:

September:  “I have so much on my plate right now.  The kids just started school and it’s soccer season.  Let’s wait until things settle down.”

October:  “I think Junior’s team is going to make the play-offs.  Can we please wait until those are over in November?”

November:  “I wrecked my car.  As soon as I get that taken care of we’ll talk.”

Two weeks later:  “I’m almost ready.  How about right after Thanksgiving?”

December:  “I forgot about how busy the holidays are.  For sure, first of the year.”

January:  “Lot’s of flu going around.  Call me back when we’re all healthy.”

Three weeks later:  “Can you believe all the snow we’ve had?  I really hate driving in bad weather.  I need to wait until it warms up.”

March:  “You know, Spring Break is almost here and we are taking the family to DisneyWorld. Call me when I return.”

April:  “Sorry, its tax time and I’m swamped at work.  Hopefully next month will be better.”

May:  “Just too many irons in the fire right now.  I’m coordinating the family reunion for Memorial Day weekend.  June for sure, I promise.”

June:  “Well, I know it’s time to get going, but there are a bunch of weddings and graduations on the calendar.  Please be patient just a little bit longer.”

Two weeks later:  “You can’t expect me to start with July the 4th right around the corner.  The rest of July looks wide open.”

July 5th:  “Did I really say that?  I guess I forgot about my two-week vacation and there’s so much to get done before then.”

August: “I’ve absolutely got to get caught up on the yard work and house repairs.  I couldn’t possibly take on something new right now.  Let’s wait until those chores are out of the way.”

September (again):  “I have so much on my plate right now.  The kids just started school and it’s soccer season.  Let’s wait until things settle down later this fall.”

If you always wait for every traffic light to turn green before starting something, you will NEVER start anything.  Go out on a limb – that’s where the fruit is!

God bless,

— CC

Time vs. Timing

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” — Annie Dillard, essayist

Our time IS our life. So, when we waste time, we are wasting life. There is nothing else like time – time is the only resource of its kind. Here are some interesting thoughts about time:

  • Time is a personal resource. No one else can spend our own time.
  • Time is a universal resource. Everyone has equal access to the same minute, hour and day.
  • No one knows the size of their total time allocation.
  • Time does not have a shelf life – you cannot store it in a bottle. It must be spent as it occurs.
  • A unit of time is fixed. A minute can never be stretched into 61 seconds.
  • Time marches on. It never pauses for us to catch up.
  • Our only choice regarding time is how we spend it. We either spend it wisely or we waste it.

Productive people must understand time’s value more than most others because they seem to get more out of every hour.

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”
— Benjamin Franklin

“Timing” and “time” are often used interchangeably, which can lead to confusion.

“Do not wait; the time will never be just right.” — Napoleon Hill, author

Let me attempt to clarify. Time is a resource — timing is a relationship between an opportunity and the resource called time. When faced with an opportunity, some will say, “It’s a great opportunity, but the timing is bad.” To be more precise they should have said, “… the timing is bad for me.” While this is better, it could also be a misstatement. Maybe they meant to say something about their perceived value of the relationship between the opportunity and time. In other words, “I don’t see enough value to make this opportunity a priority in my schedule.” Perhaps they could have said, “I’m not capable of managing my time in order to claim this opportunity.” There’s at least one more possibility — the “lack of time” is simply a convenient excuse to hide their fear.

Maybe I didn’t hit the nail on the head. What I do know for sure is that whether or not timing is good, life’s circumstances intrude on our thoughts and our time. One man’s intrusion is another man’s opportunity.

— CC

© Copyright June 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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