Raising the level of your leadership

Where Does The Buck Stop?

Truman_pass-the-buckHarry Truman was famous for his The Buck Stops Here sign on his desk. Sadly, there aren’t many Harry-Truman-like leaders in today’s world.

The CEO of Volkswagen wasn’t—he claimed he didn’t know about the emission test cheating.

The CEO of Pilot isn’t—he claims he isn’t responsible for cheating customers out of their earned rebates. (I guess he takes no responsibility for the culture that permitted it.)

The CEO of Wells Fargo wasn’t—when false accounts were set up without customer knowledge or approval, he loudly testified: “That isn’t the Wells Fargo way of doing business!” (Really? Thousands of employees thought it was.)

A well-known basketball coach claimed he had no idea prostitutes were being used in his recruiting program.

Easy to get discouraged isn’t it?

But all is not lost. Among the hundreds (thousands?) of “I’m not responsible” cries out there, comes one “…ultimately that’s my responsibility” admission from Jason Fried the CEO of Basecamp (project/communication software).

How did he put his words into action? “This year I’ve decided to take Harry Truman’s famous The BUCK STOPS Here sign literally. So in 2017, all refunds requested by Basecamp customers will come out of my paycheck….” In other words, “I’m responsible so I’ll take the hit.” (Most of the others retired with #100M+ packages and are living happily ever after.)

Capitalism is under attack. Why? Because too many leaders claim “I’m not responsible….”

Have you noticed that politicians spend most of their time blaming the other party—or the media—telling the voters “I’m not responsible….”

Then…shaming them all…comes a Harry-Truman-like leader named Jason who says “…ultimately that’s my responsibility. The buck stops with me. I’m not going to pass it down.”

If you are a leader at any level, get a The BUCK STOPS Here sign, put it on your desk, then lead that way—quit passing the buck.

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© Copyright 2017 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company.

Make A Difference

MLK Jr Wash DCThe post offices are closed today—I’m glad. The government offices are closed today—I’m glad. The schools are closed today—I’m glad. I’m glad because it means I get to spend the day with my three grandson buddies, and I’m glad because the day honors Martin Luther King, Jr.

The turbulent 60’s were high school and college years for me. I remember the marches. I remember the cross burnings and lynchings. I remember sit-ins, Rosa Parks and water cannons. I remember Selma, Birmingham and Medgar Evers. I remember working with black laborers who were paid only $1.25 per hour to dig sewer ditches. And, I remember Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the great leaders of the 20th century. If I were an African-American, I would probably say he was the greatest leader of the 20th century.

When we celebrate July 4th, blacks join in, but they remember they were still slaves in 1776. When we celebrate Washington’s birthday, blacks join in, but they remember that he owned slaves. To African Americans, it is Lincoln and MLK, Jr., who led the fight, first for freedom, and then for equality. These two stand alone in black history; there are no rivals to their legacy. They both led with:

  • Purpose
  • Courage
  • Vision
  • Resolve
  • Selflessness

The lives of millions were impacted for good by their leadership. Both died young, brought down by an assassin’s bullet. They believed that…

“The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most of us will not have the opportunity to impact millions by our leadership. However, all of us can impact a few, some hundreds, and some thousands. Whatever the size of your sphere of influence, if you want to make a difference, you will have to lead with purpose, courage, vision, resolve and selflessness. Do that and you will leave footprints that endure long after you are gone. Isn’t that what is really important?

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© Copyright 2017 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Boss Is A Four-Letter Word

Boss Sign“Dick, they hate you.”

“Who hates me?”

“The people who work for you hate you.”

That was a tough day. Someone decided to tell me the truth about how I was doing in my first position as a boss. It was the day I learned that boss is a four-letter word. It was the day that I learned that controlling is not leading. It was the day I learned that leadership is a job, not a position. It was the day I began to transition from “me” to “we.” It was one of the hardest days of my life, but one of the most important.

Have you had a day like that? Do you know if you are a boss or a leader?

If “authority” is a word you use a lot—you’re a boss.

If you believe people work for you, not the organization—you’re a boss.

If you control and approve every action and decision—you’re a boss.

If you believe you have all the answers—you’re a boss.

If you love policies and rules rather than principles and values—you’re a boss.

If those same policies and rules don’t apply to you—you’re a boss.

If the best and brightest don’t stay long—you’re a boss.

If everything comes to a standstill when you’re gone—you’re a boss.

If you use budgets as a hammer—you’re a boss.

Don’t trust yourself to answer these questions objectively. Ask someone. If you are as fortunate as I was, they will tell you the truth about yourself. It may hurt, but you need to know because, “Boss is a four-letter word.”

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© Copyright 2017 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Act Like It’s Already 2017

Dec2016There are 16 days left in 2016; about 10-12 are workdays for most people. The truth is, what you do these last days of 2016 will have a huge impact on how you start 2017. So start 2017 with a clean slate, not bogged down with 2016 carryovers.

#1 Do Five Things You Have Been Putting Off For Weeks There’s a “call back” note on your desk…a garage to clean…a report to write…a visit to the doctor…you know what it is. Don’t let it continue to nag you in 2017.

#2 Spend Time With The Water Boys In Your Organization The water boy goes about his job in anonymity. She cleans the office at night or he opens up the church early on Sunday mornings. Take 15 minutes to sit down and talk. Learn about his hobby and her kids. Listen for that hidden message from the heart. Say “thank you.” It will be a great finish to the water boy’s year…and yours.

#3 Forgive Someone There’s a co-worker, family member, neighbor, or ___?___ you need to forgive—for your sake not theirs.

From the mega-best seller, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand:

“The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them, believing that their release from pain will come only when they make their tormentors suffer. In seeking the Bird’s death to free himself, Louie had chained himself, once again, to his tyrant. During the war, the Bird had been unwilling to let go of Louie; after the war, Louie was unable to let go of the Bird.”

When we don’t forgive, we become a victim twice. First, when we are hurt, and second, when we chain ourselves to the pain. Bitterness and a desire for revenge are heavier weights than the original hurt; carrying them will wear you out emotionally. It’s not easy, but 2017 will be a much better year if you let go.

#4 Clean Out Your Inbox My inbox has 17 items this morning; my goal is zero on 12/31. Zero may seem an impossibility to you, so how about 10? Or 20? Don’t come in on January 2nd with a long list of 2016 carryover emails—get rid of them!

#5 Plan Your First Day Of 2017 How you start 2017 will have a big impact on how you finish 2017. So hit the ground running on Day One. Before you turn out the lights on your last 2016 workday, make a list of five things to do first on the morning of January 2 (or whatever your first workday is). Limit your “holiday small talk” to an hour or so, then pull out your list and get to it. Go home Day One with five ✓ marks instead of “I’m already behind.”

You’ll be glad you did.

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

© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Coach ’em Up

grunge-football-diagramWith only three returning starters, and sophomores playing leading roles, they started 1-5…and some of those losses were really bad. Most teams would have given up and started thinking about next year. They didn’t.

The season was more than half over when they went on 6-1 run which put them in the final four for the state championship. During the 6-1 streak, they beat two teams they had lost to earlier. They lost in the final minutes to an 11-2 team on its home field. What a turn-around!

This story is more about the coach—the leader—than the players. Turnarounds are always about the leader. Teams, churches, businesses, schools, or nations don’t just turnaround on their own—someone leads them. If you are a leader in your organization, it’s your job. And it’s your job today! Don’t fall into the trap of “if I just had better players….” Yes, get better players, but don’t wait for that, make the players you have now better—coach ‘em up.

Some thoughts about coach ‘em up:

  • If you give up, so will your team.
  • Telling them to try harder—work harder—is not coaching ‘em up.
  • Hope is fueled by progress. Look for and celebrate progress, no matter how small.
  • Fun and foxholes are what pull teams together. Find a way to have fun when you are in a 1-5 foxhole.
  • If you don’t change the way you coach, don’t expect them to change the way they play…or work.

Is your organization in a 1-5 slump? Maybe you do need some better players, but in the meantime, coach up the ones you have. That’s what leaders do!

And if you can’t do it, the only solution is to coach yourself up or get a better leader.

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© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Be A Coffee Bean

coffeeIf leadership was easy, anyone could do it. The climate leaders operate in is always changing: sunny one day, stormy the next. All leaders inevitably face hot water—even boiling water. A major customer cancels THE order you need to make this year’s numbers. Three months before you are going to introduce a new and exciting, market-making widget, Apple hits the market with its iWidget. Batteries in cell phones catch on fire or an earthquake shuts off your supply line for six months. A popular staff member leaves and church attendance drops 20% or a popular chef leaves and reservations drop by 20%. (You get the idea.)

In these “boiling hot” times, you get to choose whether you are a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean.

Boiling water changes the carrots. They wilt, turn soft, and end up at the bottom of the stew pot.

Boiling water changes the eggs. The shell looks the same, but inside they are entirely different—hard, even tough, and they get chopped up so they don’t even look like eggs anymore.

Boiling water changes the…opps, I started to say coffee beans. But actually, coffee beans change the boiling water—it becomes coffee—aromatic, strong, flavorful, better. You can’t drink boiling water, but coffee is great.

Whatever climate you are operating in, be a coffee bean, change the climate instead of letting the climate change you. If you don’t know—get help. If you don’t, you’ll end up at the bottom of the stew pot. And you know what happens to stew when there is nothing left but over-cooked carrots.

This post was inspired by a story in Gullible’s Travel by Topper Long. Thanks, Topper.

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© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company.

Whales and People

whalehand2In 2005, a female humpback whale became entangled in the 240-foot-long lines of twelve crab pots, each weighing about 90 pounds. Eventually, the whale was going to lose its struggle to survive and drown. After a fisherman called for help, a four-man rescue team of divers arrived within an hour and began the dangerous hours-long task of cutting her free. According to the rescuers, after she was free, “she swam in what seemed like joyous circles…then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, and nudged them, pushed them gently around, she was thanking them.”

People can be entangled and weighed down by a lot of things that can tire them out and drown them. Jesus once said that the Pharisees “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders”—speaking of religious rules that were man-made, not God given (Matthew 23:4).

It is not just in religion, it also happens in businesses, colleges, or governments—any organization that is composed of people.

Common crab-traps hung on people are:

Criticism (instead of encouragement)
A non-responsive bureaucracy
Outdated policies
Unclear expectations
Bosses (instead of leaders)
I know best; do it my way
_____?_____ (you fill in the blank)

What do crab-traps do? They make people crabby, sink morale, and lower productivity.

If you want to know what makes people feel entangled and weighed down, ask them.

If they won’t tell you, then you are the problem. You have created a culture that buries the truth.

Maybe—if you are lucky—one of your people will tell you the truth. It may hurt (it did me), but in the long run, it will be the best thing that ever happened to you.

By the way, like the whales, if you cut them free, they’ll thank you.

Thanks to my friend, Topper Long, who shared this story with me.

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

© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company.

Excel Your Way To…

Man Sweeping Seattle Street

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’ No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

Our pastor, Darren Whitehead, used this MLK Jr. quote to emphasize the importance of Christians being the best employees—no matter what they do. If we want to have influence in our culture/society, the marketplace where we work is our best opportunity. After all, we are there every day and we are watched every day.

According to Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus….” What is at stake when we work in Christ’s name? Two things: #1 our honor and #2 His honor. That’s two great reasons to be an excellent street sweeper, or hamburger flipper, or accountant, or __________________ (fill in the blank with what you do).

Excellence in the job you have is the path to the job you want. And it is the path to influence in any job you have. How can a street sweeper have influence? By being excellent. How can you have influence? By being excellent.

Excel your way to…influence.

Excel your way to…personal honor and dignity.

Excel your way to…honoring God in everything you do.

Excel your way to…the job you want.

No excuses. Quit complaining. Start today.

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© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Pumpin’ Gas

GasPumpWhile taking Aaron (my oldest grandson) home from cross-country practice, the conversation went something like this:


“How are you doing otherwise?”

“I’m good. School is my biggest challenge right now.”

Sensing a teaching moment, I responded:

“School may be your biggest challenge now, but without it, the rest of your life will be a big challenge. You’ll end up pumpin’ gas for a living.” (Wise and brilliant—don’t you think?)

A puzzled look was followed by 30 seconds of silence, then:

“Papa, what does pumpin’ gas mean?”

Duh. Aaron has grown up in the self-service world. He has never seen a gas station attendant fill your gas tank, clean your windshield, and check your tires and oil, all for 25-50¢ per gallon. He had no idea what I was talking about. Of course, I explained that today all they do is stand behind the counter—hidden by lottery tickets—and take your money. But at $8/hour, it’s a tough life so keep at it in school. He understood that.

Another communication failure added to the list. The purpose of communication is to be understood, not to be brilliant or eloquent. It helps if you speak the same language and use relevant illustrations. The responsibility for this is on the communicator, not the listener. Attention Dick: Aaron did not grow up in the fifties—speak his language, not yours.

If you’ve had a similar experience, share it in the comments block below.

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

© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company.

Keeping It Simple Is Not Simple

KISS stands for “keep it simple, stupid.” But it’s not that simple to keep it simple. Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership has great advice in Simplification Made Simple. Click and read. You’ll be glad you did.

If you have any simplification failures you are willing to share, use the Comment section.

Thanks, Dick.

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  • On Leading Well…

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