Raising the level of your leadership

Paid Spear Catcher


“Are you nervous?”

“Yes. I could get fired. We are a month behind schedule, 20% over budget, and since I’m the project leader, they are going to blame me.”

“Well…good luck. I’m glad I don’t have to explain what happened.”


“Did you survive?”

“Yes. I didn’t even have to explain what happened.”

“How did you escape that?”

“As we were walking in, my leader Gary pulled me aside and told me not to worry, he would handle it.”

“Did he blame you?”

“No, he never even mentioned my name. He explained what happened, took responsibility for it, then went over our recovery plan to get back on track. The board’s reaction was “Give us a weekly update via email. We’ll call another meeting if you don’t make progress.”

“So you walked out unscathed?”

“Yes, but I’m more determined than ever to make good because of what Gary did for me. He’s a great leader.”

Want to boost loyalty and sacrifice from your team? Be the paid spear catcher. When someone cries “Incoming,” get between the flak and your team. They’ll never forget.

If this post was interesting and useful, please forward it to a friend.

© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Finding Your Passion

SearchPassion—where do you find it? There is not a pat answer to that question. I have Googled ten pages deep looking for a Passion Roadmap. It doesn’t exist. I have, to no avail, exhausted “Bible Search” looking for God’s Five Steps For Finding Your Passion. I couldn’t even find a one step formula. Why? Because passion is not something you find, rather it finds you, or catches you, or calls out to you—take your pick.

The heart is where passion resides, catches fire, burns hot and leads to action. There is a phrase we often use to encourage people to greater effort: “Put your heart into it!” I’ve heard it a thousand times from coaches, teachers, bosses and preachers. However, where there is passion, it’s not necessary because the heart is already into it.

Although there is no formula for finding passion, there are some things that will help you recognize your passion—that thing you must do:

  • More than it can be done, or would be good to do, passion is something you intensely feel should be done and must be done. Your passion will really matter to you and you won’t be able to escape it.
  • True passion, when in action, will fill your tank, not drain it. You may become physically exhausted, but emotionally and spiritually you will be energized.
  • Do you have a sense that if you don’t act on your passion, you will have deep regrets later in life?
  • The embers of emotion go cold quickly, but the embers of passion stay warm for a long time. One squeeze of the bellows is all it takes to stoke up the fire. How long has this thing you must do had a grip on you?
  • The people who know you the best and love you the most—what are they saying?

I have passion for leadership. How do I know?

  • First, a leadership vacuum drives me crazy. I do not have to be in charge, but put me in a setting where no one is in charge, I can’t stand it, I’ll step in.
  • Second, abusive, self-centered, ineffective leadership drives me up the wall. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” my heart screams.
  • Third, I believe that in organizations, leadership trumps everything. No organization ever rises above the level of its leadership. If leadership is that important—and it is—then leaders better have passion for it.
  • Finally, I love to help a group of people pull it off. It doesn’t much matter to me what the it If they have a mission and a vision, I want to help them get to the finish line.

One thing is certain, if you are in leadership, you better have passion for it. It’s too hard to lead without it.

What’s your passion? If you don’t know, I hope you’ll discover it soon.

[The above is an excerpt from chapter 2 of 16 Stones. 16 Stones Book ]

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© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

What To Do With Herbie?

Where'sHerbie“Where’s Herbie?”

“He can’t keep up with us.”

“Okay, we’ll have to stop and wait for him.”

Herbie is immortalized in The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt (1984; more than 6 million sold in 21 languages). Herbie’s boy scout troop is on a hike—Herbie can’t keep up—it’s stop and wait, stop and wait, stop…. The scout master’s solution? Lighten Herbie’s backpack and move him to the front of the line. Stop and wait is solved, but now the whole troop is moving at a slower pace and there’s a lot of grumbling. Well, maybe boy scouts wouldn’t grumble, but if your organization has a Herbie (you probably do), there’ll be lots of grumbling.

Most every organization has a Herbie who can’t keep up because of…technology or intellect or whatever. Herbie is setting the pace for the organization and the pace is too slow. Competitors are moving faster, technology is passing you by, or customers (or congregation or students or…) are leaving. So most every organization is asking, “What to do with Herbie?”

The boy scout solution (slow down, no scout left behind) is a poor option for most organizations. You’ll have to come up with something else:

  • Lighten Herbie’s load so he can keep up with the desired pace. But be careful. Adding Herbie’s workload to others may spawn resentment in the rest of the organization, especially if it is perceived as a permanent solution or favoritism (“they wouldn’t do that for me”).
  • Help Herbie pick up the pace via a new computer or software, effective training and coaching, etc.
  • Move Herbie to a “non-pace” job that needs to be done, but doesn’t set the pace for everyone else.
  • ________________________________ (Send your recommendation in the comment section.)

The two hardest solutions are:

  • Okay…in the end…Herbie must go.
  • Finding out that you are the organization’s Herbie. You are the one that needs to pick up the pace.

One thing that is not a solution: do nothing.

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© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Ask Your Barber


George Burns, the popular cigar-smoking comedian of the WWII and Baby Boomer generations (yeah, I know, I’m dating myself), had this to say about advice:

Too bad that all the people who really know how to run the country are busy driving taxi cabs and cutting hair.

He’s right. Sit in any barbershop on a busy Saturday morning and you’ll learn how to fix the government, which coach ought to be fired and which quarterback ought to be starting. You will also learn which is better, Chevrolets or Fords, and where to go for the best fried chicken (The Chicken House, New Albany, IN). Preachers can learn how to improve their sermons (shorter is better) and you’ll hear spirited debate about the virtues of John Deere (for real farmers) versus those “foreign” brands like Kubota (hobby farmers). Generally speaking, the barbershop mantra is “If I want your advice, I’ll give it to you.”

Eugene Peterson, paraphrasing Proverbs 15:22, says, “Refuse good advice and watch your plans fail; take good counsel and watch them succeed.” The problem? It’s easy to get advice; not so easy to get good advice.

There are times, lots of times, when we all need advice. We are facing a hurdle, or an opportunity, and we aren’t quite sure what to do. We may have an idea and need confirmation, or we may have no idea at all. In either case, someone asks us, “Have you talked to…?”

An overall principle for seeking counsel is the old adage, consider the source. Here are some questions about the source that I ask:

  • Are they speaking from first-hand experience, not just theoretical or academic knowledge? I want to talk to people who have been on the front lines of leadership.
  • Do they have a personal agenda? Be careful if they have something significant to gain or lose.
  • Have they experienced some failure? The road to humility always has a failure marker or two. The best counsel will come from someone who is genuinely trying to help, not impress.
  • Do I know them personally? If I don’t, I seek input about them from people I do know and trust.
  • Are their values consistent with mine? Do they live and lead their organization in a way I am comfortable with?

A few concluding thoughts:

  • Getting a second—and third—opinion is always a good idea.
  • “Don’t do this” advice is often a lot more valuable than “do this” advice.
  • Don’t act on any advice that gives you a queasy feeling in your stomach.
  • In the end, you are responsible for the outcome. Gather as much input as you can; make the best decision you can; then man-up and accept responsibility for the results.

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© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Hazardous Cargo

HazCargoTrucks carrying hazardous cargo are so commonplace on U.S. highways that most towns have road signs that prohibit the trucks from driving through the heart of the town—no hazardous cargo is permitted. Unfortunately, there are a lot of leaders who let hazardous cargo drive through the heart of their company or church or school or…

In some organizations, the most hazardous cargo is the truth. It is routed around the corner office because the boss doesn’t want to hear it. And woe to the poor soul who dares to ignore the No HC sign on the door.

Rumors are another common form of highly toxic hazardous cargo. They move freely on the main communication highway of the office because the leaders operate with a “they don’t need to know” policy. Leaders need to remember that there will never be a communication gap in their organization. If your followers don’t know what is going on, they’ll make something up, and that can be very hazardous.

Gossip is another form of hazardous cargo. It spills out in the hallways, contaminating everyone. The most destructive gossip originates in the corner office because it has the stamp of approval of the boss. But it’s still gossip. If you aren’t part of the problem or part of the solution—and you’re talking about it—you may be gossiping.

Want to raise the level of your leadership? Get rid of the hazardous cargo in your organization. Find someone who will tell you the truth about yourself and the organization—even when it hurts. Communicate the truth so rumors can’t gain traction. And stamp out gossip—starting with any gossip that originates with you.

If this post was interesting and useful, please forward it to a friend.

© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company


leafstreamThe leaf lazily fell into Falls Creek. It was in its autumn glory, streaked with gold doing what all leaves do in a creek, drifting with the current. Drifting downstream was easy. The current was doing all the work. All the leaf had to do was ride along enjoying the warm sun and cool water.

After a bit, the current quickened, but the leaf felt no alarm. It was so preoccupied with itself that it didn’t notice the somewhere-downstream sound of falling water. It wasn’t long before the creek narrowed, the ride became turbulent, and there were rocks to dodge. The somewhere-downstream sound of falling water became louder and louder, the rocks became boulders, and then it was too late, the leaf disappeared over the falls in a tumult of crashing-roaring water.

At its next sighting, the leaf was in the shadows below the falls, crumpled and water logged, wedged in a pile of other crumpled-water-logged leaves. Drifting seldom leads to anything good—for leaves or for people.

Most over-the-falls events in life are a result of drifting. We don’t get up one day and decide to jump off the falls; we drift with the current until….

We drift into debt.

We drift into an extra 20 or 50 pounds.

We drift into a dangerous relationship.

We drift into complacency, enjoying the warm sun and cool water, ignoring the somewhere-downstream sound of falling water.

We drift into obsolescence, hanging onto what got us here instead of reaching forward into the future.

We drift into a life without purpose, wondering when the mail will arrive so we can look at the ads.

We drift into _______________________________. (You fill in the blank.)

With respect to our faith, there is an apt warning in the Book of Hebrews (c2, v1): “…pay close attention…so you don’t drift away.”

It’s an apt warning for all of life, not just our relationship with God. Are you drifting with the current? Get on terra firma quickly, before it’s too late.

If this post was challenging to you, forward it to a friend.

© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Is it Monday already?

Monday - FridayFor leaders…and everyone…Monday always comes…followed by Tuesday…Wednesday…you get the idea. One of the seldom discussed challenges of leadership is its daily-ness ( – required by spell check).

So in addition to all the well discussed challenges of leadership—people, unexpected detours, results to deliver, and vision to cast—there is daily-ness. King Solomon described it this way: “there is nothing new under the sun.”

So when there is not a board meeting to get ready for or a customer presentation to make or a trip to London to look forward to, there is daily-ness.

Is there an anecdote for daily-ness? Not a universal one that works for everyone, but these may help:

  • On the daily-ness days, spend some extra time getting to know your employees/co-workers.
  • Find something to laugh at; yourself would be best.
  • Focus on 2-3 things you are making progress on—celebrate the progress. (If you aren’t making progress on anything, this shouldn’t be a daily-ness day. You should be huddled up working hard to gain momentum.)
  • Be grateful! You have a job! You have the privilege/responsibility to lead the most important things on planet earth—PEOPLE!
  • Exercise. Not much thwarts daily-ness better than turning a bunch of endorphins loose in your body.
  • Remember what is at stake—especially your personal honor in how you lead.

Okay. Your turn. What helps you overcome daily-ness? Leave a comment.

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© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company


hazmat.suit_1My friend Carl knows he will need to wear a hazmat suit when I call and ask to meet for breakfast…or lunch…or coffee…TOMORROW! All of us—especially leaders—need a Carl to call when we need to throw up, vent, cry, or just generally get it out of our system.

Who makes a great Carl?

Someone who will listen.

Someone who will keep it confidential.

Someone who will ask good questions.

Someone who will tell you hard truth.

Someone who will offer to help.

Carl always comes through for me as he did last Thursday—especially with encouragement and an amazing offer to help. Thanks, Carl!

If you are a leader, you need a Carl. You cannot drag your toxic stuff to the office or church or school or wherever and dump it on your followers. One of my leadership mantras is NO BAD DAYS FOR LEADERS. So before you contaminate your followers, call Carl. If you don’t have a Carl, get one, but you can’t have mine—he’s taken.

By the way, calling your Carl when you have good news and want to laugh together is okay too. You can set up that kind of meeting with “leave the hazmat suit at home.”

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© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Pigeon Poop

pigeon-in-atticSo how do you get pigeon poop out of your attic? A Wall Street Journal article reported on the futile efforts of the Select Board in a well-known town in Massachusetts (unnamed to protect the guilty). Pigeon poop had piled up in the town hall attic and become a health hazard. The Select Board budgeted $125,000 to clean up the mess, but the lowest contractor bid was more than twice that. A group of citizens volunteered to clean up the mess for nothing, but that idea was nixed by the lawyers (fearing the city would be sued). Finally someone had a brilliant idea: “If we can’t clean it up, why don’t we at least make sure it doesn’t get worse by keeping the pigeons out? We could patch their entry hole in the attic window frame.” Duh.

This true story is a great example of an organization focused on the symptoms, not the problem. There are lots of other examples:

  • Governments (guess who) that believe reducing the deficit is the same as reducing the debt
  • Companies that drive sales by the deep discounting of outdated products instead of introducing innovative new products at a competitive price—and maybe, becoming customer-focused
  • Maintenance managers that are applauded for fixing the HVAC system on a hot summer day, but never change the filters or clean the coils

We make the same mistake as individuals: heart patients go back to cheeseburgers soon after their quadruple bypass relieves the chest pain and golfers try to fix their swing by buying a new set of clubs (quitting would be smarter).

Why do we fall into this trap so often? Fixing symptoms is often easier and quicker than fixing the problem (but only in the short run). Once the symptoms are relieved, we move on to the next set of symptoms. Often we focus on the symptoms because we are in denial about the real problem—this is very common when the leader is the problem. Unidentified problems continue their hidden destructive work until they finally erupt into the open with sometimes fatal consequences.

Tired of relief? Want to actually fix the real problem? Do this:

  • Patch the hole in the attic so the pigeons can’t get in, but don’t stop there
  • Clean up the mess the pigeons left behind
  • Ask someone if you are the pigeon

If this post was interesting and useful, please forward it to a friend—or a pigeon.

© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, the Hard lessons Company

50% Mortals

NFLHelmetsLast week, football fans all over America were glued to their TV sets watching the NFL draft—especially Round One. The first two choices were quarterbacks (Rams and Eagles); the rest of the round had 18 offensive players and 11 defensive players selected. Rounds Two and Three held a lot of interest, but by the time Round Four started, only the die-hard fans were still tuned in. Why? Round Four and later choices are considered by fans to be long-shots—they are the mortals who fill out the squad so the stars can get a breather every now and then. However, the coaches know better.

What is the truth? Only about 15% of NFL players are Round One selections. Approximately 50% of NFL players are from Round Five and later. In fact, about 25% of them aren’t drafted at all. Imagine that! Half of the players are mortals, or stars that emerged from the ranks of the mortals (for example, Tom Brady was a sixth round choice).

What is true for NFL teams is most likely true for your organization. You have a mix of superstars, stars, and mortals. You need superstars to win championships. You need stars to win games. You need hard-working mortals to field a team. The press and TV shows will spend their time with the superstars. Coaches will spend their time with the mortals because they know how important they are.

“One of the challenges of leadership is to recognize what people can do, turn them loose to do it, and then recognize their contribution no matter how small—or large.”
(16 Stones, chapter 9, page 103)

As a leader, are you making sure your mortals are being recognized and appreciated? Are you “coaching them up” so one or two of them may emerge as a star? Why don’t you—right now—go sit down with one of your mortals and thank them for their hard work and contribution?

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© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

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  • On Leading Well…

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