Raising the level of your leadership




Slopping Hogs Is No Fun


There aren’t many jobs less fun than slopping hogs. But it has to be done. If someone doesn’t slop the hogs, then calamity will strike: NO BACON! What could be worse than that?

My friend, Leon Drennan (see last post: What Happens When You Don’t Milk The Cows), grew up on a 160 acre Kentucky farm. They raised hogs, cattle, and a few small crops (including tobacco). Leon’s first job on the farm was hog slopping. It was the worst job on the farm. One step up from hog slopping was feeding the calves. It was a big day when his father trusted him enough to move from the pig pen to the calf pen. He had earned that trust by doing a great job at slopping hogs. And that is the same way any of us get out of the pig pen—we earn our way out.

If you or someone you know is stuck in the pig pen, the way out is:

  • Quit complaining. Be grateful you have a job.
  • Be the best hog slopper on the farm. Be so good that they can’t help but notice.
  • Prepare for the calf pen. Learn as much as you can about the care and feeding of calves.
  • Volunteer to feed the calves when the regular calf-feeder is out sick.
  • When the opportunity comes, grab it.

Escaping the pig pen happens at the intersection of opportunity and preparation. When opportunity knocks, be prepared! Leon was ready to feed the calves when the opportunity came. Much later, he was ready to lead a major division of HCA when the opportunity came.

If you are a mediocre hog slopper, why should anyone give you a chance at something else?

Never forget: the most important job you’ll ever have is the job you have now. (Chapter 4 of 16 Stones has a lot more on this subject.)


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© Copyright 2021 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Stinking Up The Workplace


Our current house has a bedroom door that opens directly to our screened porch. When we first moved in, I decided one night to sleep with the door open, looking forward to some cool fresh air as I had sweet dreams. About midnight or so, a passing skunk decided to turn my sweet dreams into a smelly nightmare. After closing up the house, it was back to bed, but the foul odor lingered through the night, spoiling my cool fresh air and sweet dreams.

Per Wikipedia, four-legged skunks stink up the place by squirting a liquid from “two glands, one on each side of the anus. These glands produce a mixture of sulfur-containing chemicals such as thiols, traditionally called mercaptans, which have a highly offensive smell.”

I have seen two-legged skunks do the same thing in conference rooms and offices. For example…

Gossip really stinks. That is why the Dave Ramsey organization has a rigid “no gossip” rule.

Arriving late to meetings really stinks. It is rude, sending a message that your time is more important than others’ time.

Talking too much really stinks. It is arrogant, sending a message that your opinion is more important than others’ opinions. (I am often guilty of this mercaptan.)

Laziness really stinks. If you don’t do your job, someone else will have to.

Self-focus really stinks. Your kids are cute, but they are not the cutest kids on the whole planet (my grandsons are), and not many people really want to hear a minute-by-minute account of your weekend.

______ really stinks. What did I miss?

If you are the leader, it is your job to keep “mercaptans” out of your workplace. Skunks aren’t easy to reform, so you may have to get rid of them.


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© Copyright 2021 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company.

What Stings Worse Than A Yellow Jacket?


The WSJ has a lot more than business news. One of my favorite past editions included features about students building model bridges out of spaghetti, pessimism, toenail fungus, and Alabama coach Nick Saban. (I wonder how he felt sharing space alongside toenail fungus.)

That same edition had an article about “mean bugs”—the stinging kind. Bees, wasps, hornets, and fire ants, all got some space, but yellow jackets are the most aggressive, sometimes chasing their victims out of pure meanness. Having been run down by a mad yellow jacket, I heartily agree. Dottie and I have also been chased by biting flies (in Maine) and have stepped on stinging scorpions (in Texas). According to the article, about “200 people in the U.S. die from stings every year” (Mean Bugs by Sumathi Reddy, WSJ, 7/15/14).

Sadly, a lot more deaths occur every day because of stinging tongues. According to James in the Bible, the tongue is a “restless evil…full of deadly poison” (James 3:8 NASB). The deadly poison of the tongue strikes everywhere: homes, businesses, churches, schools, and _______ (you fill in the blank).

Morale is killed every day by stinging tongues. Initiative is snuffed out every day by critical tongues. Relationships are damaged every day by angry tongues. Lives are destroyed every day by gossiping tongues. I’ve been on the receiving end, and too often—especially at home—I’ve been the mean bug myself.

As a leader, one of your jobs is to set the guidelines—and the example—for the conversation that takes place in your organization. It’s up to you. You can allow an environment that discourages and tears down or promote one that encourages and builds up. You can participate in gossip, or stop it. You can snap at everyone as a bully leader, or you can cut it off and insist on respect for everyone. One of my many hard lessons in leadership was allowing a chainsaw tongue to remain on my staff for too long.

You can spend a lot of money on training, consultants, seminars, or coaching, all trying to improve your work environment. How about trying bug spray that will eradicate stinging tongues? It is cheaper and much more effective. Spray yourself first, then….


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© Copyright 2021 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Leadership Side Effects


I got my 2nd Covid-19 Vaccine shot yesterday, so I’m good to go unless the conspiracy theories about a nano-technology tracking chip in the vaccine are correct. I decided to chance it.

So far, no side effects: no sore arm, no fever, and no tiny chirping sounds from the chip. The same was true for me the 1st shot. (I wonder if I have two tracking chips in me?)

Generally, we think of side effects as bad, or unpleasant at a minimum. But there are exceptions. For example, what we now know as Rogaine was originally an antihypertensive vasodilator drug used to treat high blood pressure. One of its side effects was (and still is) stimulating hair regrowth. So, it was repurposed from the heart to the head and renamed Rogaine.

However, side effects aren’t usually positive. Listen to the fast-speaking part of drug ads and you’ll be scared to death by the “rare but has been known to cause diarrhea or constipation” (take your pick).

Like drugs, organizations have a lot of side effects, usually caused by the leader’s style.

If you lead as a boss, the side effect will be that best and brightest in your organization won’t stay long.

If you use anger as a leadership tool, the side effect will be pervasive fear that buries the truth.

If the leader has favorites, the side effect will be losing the support and respect of the non-favorites.

If command and control is the leadership style, the side effect will be an organization full of “yes” men and women who never question or challenge decisions—even really bad ones.

If the organization is stuck and unwilling to change, the side effect will be obsolescence and eventually, disappearance.

I could give a lot of other examples, but the point is, remember this: everything you do—at work, at home, at church, etc.—will have a side effect. It is up to you whether it will be positive or negative.


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© Copyright 2021 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Get Some Dirt On Your Shirt


It is not unusual when a new leader arrives to sequester him in a conference room with the key senior staff and bombard him with hours of PowerPoint presentations to make sure he has a clear picture of the situation. If the situation is good, the focus is on who gets the credit (the CEO or senior pastor). If the situation is bad, the focus can be on who (China or the worship leader) or what (the economy) should be blamed. The entire view of things is from the perspective of and through the filters of the senior staff who…by the way…have the most to gain and the most to lose.

That was the plan in the mid-’90s when I arrived as the new leader of a small west coast aerospace machining company. Our owners wanted to merge it with our Nashville operation because it was losing money and customers. Machined parts for a Boeing 777 (or any other Boeing or Airbus airplane) are manufactured to tolerances within a few thousandths of an inch in high-tech, clean, organized, and efficient facilities. At least they are supposed to be. After handshakes and a cup of coffee, the executive team was ready with the PowerPoint. However, I scuttled that plan with “let’s take a walk first.” After more than thirty years in the aerospace business, I knew I could learn a lot just by walking around.

We exited the conference room, put on safety glasses, then stepped outside. It looked more like the Sanford and Son junkyard (a 1970’s hit TV comedy starring Redd Foxx; check it out on tvland.com) than an aerospace facility. The first thing I saw was a couple of acres of rusting truck doors, old machines, barrels of who knows what, obsolete tools, and piles of scrapped parts. Inside the buildings, the aisles were so cluttered with half-finished parts that it was hard to walk from one machine to the next. The paperwork for each job was scattered and oil-stained. I fully expected Redd Foxx to rush up at any minute and fake a heart attack (his tactic on the TV show when things were going bad). Because I saw it with my own eyes, I knew it was going to take a total change in management and months of hard work to fix it. I learned more in a thirty-minute walk-around than I would have in eight hours of presentations.

As a leader, you need unfiltered information and a clear perspective. You won’t always get it in a PowerPoint presentation. Get out of your office and take a walk with your eyes open and your ears unplugged. A little dirt on your shirt won’t hurt you.


© Copyright 2021 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

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The Yellow Brick Road


I have seen the movie 127 times, never missing it for about ten years as my two daughters begged, “Daddy, please watch The Wizard of Oz with us. Please. Please.” Because they did not often hear “no” from me as they grew up (they still don’t), I would plop down on the floor with them and pretend to be enthralled by it one more time. Not infrequently I would hear, “Daddy, Daddy, wake up, you’re missing the best part.”

If you have children, you know the Oz plot as well as I do. The four main characters—Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion—all need something which they can get only from the wizard who resides in the Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road. Dorothy wants to go home to Kansas; the Scarecrow needs a brain; the Tin Woodman yearns for a heart; the Cowardly Lion hopes for courage.

After days of perilous travel down the yellow thoroughfare, the four arrive at the Emerald City, excited to see the wizard who they believe will give them everything they ask for. At least, they are all excited except for the Cowardly Lion who has a panic attack as they walk into the wizard’s foyer. The dialog goes like this:

Cowardly Lion: “Wait a minute, Fellows. I was just thinking. I really don’t want to see the Wizard this much. I’d better wait for you outside.”
Scarecrow: “What’s the matter?”
Tin Woodman: “Oh, he’s just scared again.”
Dorothy: “Don’t you know the Wizard’s going to give you some courage?”
Cowardly Lion: “I’d be too scared to ask him for it.”
Dorothy: “Well then, we’ll ask him for you.”
Cowardly Lion: “I’d sooner wait outside.”
Dorothy: “Why? Why?”
Cowardly Lion: “Because I’m still scared.”

Butterflies in the stomach are common. Junior high boys get them when Brittney walks by and smiles. High school seniors get them when The Letter from The College arrives. Few things cause more butterflies than meeting The Parents for the first time. (My future mother-in-law’s reaction was, “At least he doesn’t have long hair.”) “Apple-ites” get them while standing in line waiting for the latest new iWhatever. Athletes get them on game day (even if their name is LeBron or Brady or Tiger). And many leaders have a pack of TUMS in their top drawer to quiet the butterflies they experience before an important meeting with The Board, or a potential big customer, or every pastor’s nightmare—The Deacon Body.

The Cowardly Lion was trapped in a classic catch-22: he needed to see the wizard to gain courage, but he didn’t have enough courage to see the wizard. Until he overcame his fear, he couldn’t get what he wanted and needed. The Cowardly Lion was confused. He thought that if he was afraid, it meant he didn’t have courage. He had to learn that courage means acting in spite of fear, and so do we all—especially when we are in a leadership role. We can pray and plan for months, but when game day comes, so will the flutters. It’s a good time to remember that:

…God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. (2 Timothy 1:7 HCSB)

If you are in the foyer with butterflies in your stomach, breathe a prayer and walk through the door. Not much significant ever happens in the foyer.


This post is an excerpt from my book, 16 Stones.

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© Copyright 2021 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Loose Ends


“I have a few loose ends to tie up and then I’ll be home.” Does that sound like a familiar phone conversation at the end of a long day? Sometimes those loose ends take a few minutes; sometimes an hour or more. It can be cleaning out your inbox, returning a phone call or two, or packing up your briefcase for an early morning flight. Whatever the loose ends are, the trip home will rest easy on your mind if they are done. And if they aren’t, sleep comes hard that night, because a rope, or business, or church, or life with loose ends has a way of coming unraveled.

It is common today for leaders to believe that the details are beneath them: “I leave the details to my staff.” Great leaders don’t buy into that line of thinking and know that the difference between good and great is often attention to detail. In the business world, no one has ever understood this better than Steve Jobs. From the iMac…to the iPod and iTunes…to the iPhone…and finally to the iPad, Jobs was obsessive about personally ensuring that every detail met the standard of excellence he expected in Apple products. General Colin Powell, who served our country ably as both the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as the Secretary of State, had this to say about details:

“Never neglect details. When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant.”

“Never neglect details.” Wow! Never? Really? That’s what he said, and he’s right.

History is full of missed details that brought down nations, companies, individuals, and organizations of all kinds. The Greeks defeated the Trojans because someone forgot to look inside the Trojan Horse. In the late 1990s, a Mars Orbiter Satellite was designed partly in metrics and partly in English units. Guess what? The navigation system malfunctioned and it was lost in space. In 1994, a small detail—a safety valve left off—caused an explosion that killed 167 men on the Piper Alpha oil rig. As the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. I am not saying that the leader has to personally take care of every detail, but the leader does have to be “doubly vigilant” to make sure that every detail is taken care of. Steve Jobs did. Colin Powell did. You have to also.


This is an excerpt from 16 Stones (Raising the Level of Your Leadership, One Stone at a Time).

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© Copyright 2021 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

15 Minutes


In his terrific book, True North, Bill George says: “People today demand personal relationships with their leaders before they will give themselves fully to their jobs.”

If you are the leader, you have a positional relationship with everyone who works for you—you are the boss. However, if you would rather be a leader than a boss—and you should want to—you are going to have to develop personal relationships with you the people you lead.

The starting point for personal relationships in organizations is respect. The building blocks of respect are time…

“How does a person show respect for anything? He gives it time.”

Coach Mike Krzyzewski Leading With The Heart

and listening:

“…listening is probably our greatest opportunity to give attention to others on a daily basis and convey how much we value them.”

James C Hunter The Servant

By the way, M. Scott Peck nailed it when he said, “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” Included in “anything else” are checking email, text messages, and taking phone calls—all of these can wait fifteen minutes. (For me at home, this means putting down the WSJ and turning off CNBC.)

Why fifteen minutes? Because that is about what it takes—on a regular basis—to build a personal relationship with your employees. Fifteen minutes with each one, once a week, listening as they share about their life—kids, hobbies, church, fishing, golf, etc. On their birthdays, make it lunch. And then occasionally, to really show you respect them, ask, “What do you think we should do about _________________?”

Now, some of you are thinking I don’t have time to do this. If you have ten people working for you, it will take 2½ hours per week—about 5% of a 40-50 hour workweek which is typical for leaders. Do you really want to send a message that the people who work for you aren’t worth 5% of your time? What’s at stake here? Only whether your people will “give themselves fully to their jobs,” or not.

Would employees who “give themselves fully to their jobs” make a difference in your organization’s performance, morale, future, etc.? It’s up to you. Get started today…“Hey, Joan, let’s get a cup of coffee.”


© Copyright 2021 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

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Walking With A Limp


“Life is a long lesson in humility.” James M. Barrie (author, Peter Pan).

And for me, a particularly long lesson because I am a slow learner and have too many points of pride.

One of those points is my health: “I’m 76 and never been in a hospital.” (You may have heard me say that.) Usually (especially when with my Christian friends), I follow up with some comment about “God’s grace,” but it is at least 50% pride and exalting myself.

Jesus had a lot to say about this: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled” (Matthew 23:12). It’s a good idea to take note of the “will be” part of Jesus’ words—not “might be,” but “will be.”

Well, “will be” has caught up with me. If you saw me recently, you have noticed me walking with a limp. My 76-year-old-never-been-in-a-hospital left knee is headed for the hospital next month. And even worse, it’s not because of something else for me to be proud about like a sports injury or wrestling with my grandsons, it’s arthritis. I thought only “old people” got arthritis and have obviously been deceived about whether 76 is old or not. When I described this as “the worst day of my life,” I got zilch sympathy from my family.

Like Jacob and Paul, my wrestling match has been with God. In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestled with God all night and told God he wouldn’t let go unless “You bless me.” God did bless him, but part of the blessing was walking with a limp for the rest of his life so he would “not think more highly of himself than he ought to…” (Romans 12:3). Paul also had a wrestling match with God over “surpassing great revelations” he had received. To keep Paul from exalting himself, he was “given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me” (Romans 12:7). Three times he asked God for relief; God said no. I don’t know if Paul’s thorn was arthritis or not, but he had to live with it for the rest of his life.

The surgeon says I’ll be fine after the surgery; I’m going to be grateful, not proud. My “never been a hospital” days are going to be over, and if I slip back, the right knee is waiting its turn, and… I have other points of pride (ask Dottie, she knows what they are) for which God’s “will be humbled” is part of my future unless that is, I learn from this one.

What about you? You are exceptional if you don’t have a few “exalt self” things that God’s “will be humbled” applies to. If you don’t know what they are, ask someone who knows you well, they’ll know. Or if you sincerely ask God, He’ll reveal them. Since this is supposed to be a leadership blog, let me close with this from Mahatma Gandhi:

It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.

Mahatma Gandhi

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© Copyright 2020 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Myths About Change


Failed change is more common than successful change in people and in organizations. Change is hard to initiate and even harder to finish. Why? Change Myths are part of the reason.

Myth #1: People and organizations change when they need to. Really? Why are so many people overweight? I need to lose about ten pounds. I’ve needed to for a long time. But I haven’t made the changes necessary to lose it. Some people need to stop piling up debt—but they don’t. Organizations have a lot of changes they need to make. But for whatever reason, they don’t get around to it, or when they try, it fizzles out. It takes a lot more than need to drive successful change.

Myth #2: People and organizations change when they want to. Not only do I need to lose those ten pounds, but I want to. Enough said?

Myth #3: Fear is an effective means of promoting change. “If you don’t _, you’ll be fired.” What a waste of time. Any change that arises from fear will be short-lived and marginal. It is a sign that bosses and bullies are in charge, not authentic leaders.

Myth #4: A PowerPoint presentation which fully explains the reason will successfully drive change. “If they understand, they’ll be eager to change.” Baloney. Somebody else will be giving reasons for not changing. And what about all the right brain artists out there? They hate PowerPoint presentations.

Myth #5: Casting vision over and over will bring change. This is just hubris on the part of the leader—believing that people will do whatever he/she asks them to do. People and organizations do not change because of somebody else’s vision.

So what will initiate and sustain change? Two things: people and organizations attempt change when they have to, or when they are inspired to. The leader’s job is to inspire it before the “have to” kicks in. Think about it.

It is easier to get married than to stay married. And it is easier to start change than it is to complete it. The leader’s biggest challenge is between the starting point and the finish line, which points to Myth #6: Leaders are not responsible for the execution of change. Once change is initiated, if the leader moves on to something else, it won’t be long before the team does too.

Start to finish—inspire, initiate, and implement—that’s the leader’s job. And that’s not a myth!

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© Copyright 2020 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company


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