Raising the level of your leadership

A Hard Hat For Everyone

RosieRiveterStampIt is common today for women to work in heavy industry factories. They do all the things men do on assembly lines, in machine shops, in quality labs, and stockrooms. But that hasn’t always been the case. It started during World War II when the men were off fighting, and workers were needed to produce airplanes, tanks, rifles, jeeps, and bullets. Women stepped up and were immortalized in a hit song, “Rosie the Riveter”:

All the day long, whether rain or shine,
She’s part of the assembly line.
She’s making history, working for victory, Rosie the Riveter.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that without thousands of Rosies, the war would have dragged on for years longer than it did. The women had no experience, but they were motivated to get the job done—and they did.

I had my own Rosie the Riveter experience in the late ’80s. While serving as VP of Finance for a midsize aerospace company, we were confronted with a crippling thirteen-week strike. At least it could have been crippling, but it wasn’t. Why? Because accountants, secretaries, engineers, buyers, vice-presidents, and even the lawyers all “went to the factory floor” to keep production going.

Since they didn’t trust me with anything that moved or made noise, I was a wing wiper, meaning I took a rag, squirted Trike (trichloroethylene) on it, and cleaned excess adhesive, oil, dirt, and grime off of aluminum surfaces before they went to the paint shop. We were organized, inspired, and well led by our president, John Kleban. For thirteen weeks, our motley crew, by working hard with enthusiasm, kept the production lines moving and our customers satisfied. That is when the value of a hard hat for everyone was indelibly imprinted into my leadership DNA.

[The above is an excerpt from 16 Stones. Order info at 16 Stones.]

Is there someone in your organization who would love to put on a hard hat and get in the game? Take a chance and give them one—you may discover a Rosie!

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© Copyright 2015 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Shut Up And Listen

ShutUp&ListenItalian entrepreneur coach Ernesto Sirolli gives this advice to leaders: “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen.” That was the title of his 2012 talk at a TEDx conference in New Zealand.

To illustrate, he shared a story about a failed attempt to help Zambian farmers. The farmers were actually shepherds—growing nothing—in a valley with good soil and sufficient rain to grow crops that could upgrade their standard of living significantly.

The locals showed little interest in planting crops, so eventually Sirolli’s team planted and grew tomatoes for them, to demonstrate the potential. The tomatoes did well and the team expected the Zambians to enthusiastically follow suit. They didn’t.

The reason became clear when the hippos from a nearby river decided the tomato plants would make a great salad and made a night raid on the field, leaving nothing but…well, you know what hippos leave behind.

The Zambians were not surprised and probably amused. After all, they knew what would happen to any crops planted in the valley. When Sirolli’s team asked why they had not been warned, the villagers’ response was: “You didn’t ask.”

I think the story makes the point without any amplification on my part. So I think I’ll just shut up and listen to your comments about this post. Maybe I’ll learn something.

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© Copyright 2015 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company.

He Redefined “Finger Pointing”

DeanSmithMJAccording to Merriam-Webster, finger pointing is “the act of blaming someone for a problem instead of trying to fix or solve it.” A great example of this recently occurred in NYC: “Tensions remained high in New York City Monday as lawmakers and other political figures battle over who deserves the blame for the weekend killings of two policemen shot to death indiscriminately as they sat in their patrol car” (The Hill, 12/22/2014).

I like Coach Dean Smith’s definition better. Smith wanted to make sure that the “passer” got as much credit as the “scorer,” so he started the practice of the scorer pointing at the player who made the pass. It was—and is—a combination of “thank you” and “props” that everyone can see: the players, coaches, crowd, and press.

For Smith, it was all about the team, not individuals. On flights, it was the seniors who sat in first class, not the stars; the coaches sat in the back behind all the players. When a player came off the court, Smith had all the players stand in respect whether he had played well or poorly. Smith believed that appreciation was a better motivator than berating.

Coach Smith’s death (2/7/15) prompted an out-pouring of love and respect. His greatest player ever, Michael Jordan, has this to say about him: Players with different backgrounds, different outlooks, different potential: He seemed to be able to reach all of them the same way. If you talk to a guy who never got off the bench, he says the same thing I say. That’s what a father figure is really like—he never put one kid above the other. The love that came from him: the caring, the advice, the education, and the persistence and determination he had in pushing all his players, not just me.”

One of the challenges of leadership is blending stars and mortals into a winning team. Smith had the key: he never put one kid above the other and he appreciated the passer as much as he appreciated the scorer. So what are you going to do differently today? How about finger-pointing one of your mortals?

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© Copyright 2015 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

She Walked Out On Me

SheWalkedOutShe asked to see me, but when she came in I wasn’t really paying attention. I had some papers in my hands and my computer beeped with an email. My eyes went to the screen and the papers sent a “make this quick” message to her. After several minutes, she got up and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?”

“I’ll come back when you’ll pay attention.”

Then she disappeared down the hall.

Sadly, this is a true story—not one of my finest hours as a leader. The lady was one of the two or three best employees I ever had and she deserved a lot more respect than I was giving her that day. So another Hard Lesson went into the file to be remembered.

It has happened at home as well. I have learned—with too frequent relapses—that turning the TV sound off or putting down the paper makes a big difference in whether Dottie feels respected and valued or not. Another important part of respectful listening is eye contact. Roaming eyes give the appearance of inattention even when you are actually listening.

Listening is the most important tool in your communication toolbox. So remember:

  • “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” (M. Scott Peck)
  • “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)

Thanks, Diane, for teaching me a lesson when I needed it. It has been 20 years or so and I still remember.

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© Copyright 2015 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Name Calling Is Good

KnowsYourName?“Does he really know your name?”



“But you’re just a janitor.”

“I know. But he makes me feel like I’m part of the team, too.”

From Gullible’s Travel by Topper Long: On “a good team…. There are no little people nor justa’s as in ‘I’m just a ___________.’ Every person on a good team has a role as important as—but different from—the roles of others.”

Whose job is it to make sure everyone feels important? If you are the leader, it’s your job! Do it!

“As a leader, one of the best ways you can honor and show respect for your followers is to know them by name. It ranks right up there with listening. Want to make the janitor’s day? Walk up and say, “How are you doing, Jim? Thanks for keeping this place so clean.” I guarantee you that Jim will tell his wife, and your workspace will be even cleaner tomorrow. I know that an organization can become so large that it is impossible to know everyone. I’ve been there. I once had 2,000 people working for me. I couldn’t know all their names, but I made an effort to know as many as I could. It was worth it for me, and it will be for you. There are few things you can do that will raise your leadership credibility more than knowing the names of those you are trying to influence and lead.” (Excerpt from 16 Stones, chapter 9)

This is one of the easiest ways to raise your credibility—know the people—even the “justa’s.”

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Gullible’s Travel is a worthwhile read that I recommend. It is not on the open market but contact me and I can get a copy for you.

You can find order information for 16 Stones at I6 STONES ORDER INFO.

© Copyright 2015 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

You Can Only Lead People…

Leadershipand if you can’t handle that, leadership isn’t for you.

In chapter 2 of 16 Stones, I talk about five passions that leaders must have if they want to lead effectively. The third is:

#3—Passion for people. You don’t lead machines, you don’t lead software, and you don’t lead buildings. You lead people. Leading is always about people. So if you are going to lead, you better have passion for people. If you don’t really care much about the people you are trying to lead, they’ll know it and will only follow you kicking and screaming because they have to. You will have to drag them along, and you’ll be worn out long before you get to the finish line.

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership—who I read daily—recently posted some Hard Truths About Leadership which relate primarily to leading people. His punch line is: “If you can’t handle that, leadership isn’t for you.”

It’s worth your time to click on the link and ponder these eight hard truths about leadership. If leadership seems hard now, it could be because of one of the eight. It may be something you can correct; maybe you can’t. If not, then leadership may not be for you. But that’s okay. There are a lot of great ways besides leading that you can contribute to your organization. Leading may not be for you, but something of value is. Find it and be excellent at it.

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© Copyright 2015 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company.

Information about 16 Stones can be found at 16 Stones Book.

Aching Knees And Other Hardwood Lessons

When I go jogging, my knees have a habit of reminding me how many hours I spent pounding around on basketball courts when I was much younger. Basketball was my first love—still is. My coach in high school was A. Z. Johnson. I have no idea what the Z stood for; when he was out of earshot, we called him Coach “Zero.” I now realize that what I learned from him was more about life than basketball; today I would call him Coach “Ten.”

In no particular order, here are some of my hardwood “hard lessons” that still apply to my life—and yours.

Don’t beat yourself. In basketball, too many turnovers and stupid fouls and you’re sure to lose. Life is the same way.

Don’t watch your shot. While the ball is in the air, there are better things to do than just watch it—go for the rebound or get back on defense. Watching is for spectators, not players.

Don’t hog the ball. Unless you are playing one-on-one in the driveway, basketball is a team game. So is life.

Passing is quicker than dribbling. It is a lot easier and faster to move the ball with a pass and there is less chance of bouncing the ball off of your foot (see the lesson on turnovers).

When you are ahead, keep the clock running. Momentum is important in basketball, life, business, wherever. When you have it, don’t relax, ramp it up.

When the clock isn’t running, catch your breath, plan your next play and hit your free throws. In this ever-faster pace we live at, there aren’t many moments when the clock is stopped. Take advantage of them.

There’s no such thing as a long pass. Coach Johnson would go ballistic when we launched a long down-court pass, even if we connected. Two or three short passes are much less risk than one long pass. A long pass is like a “get rich scheme; remember, “Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows over time.” (Proverbs 13:11 NLT)

Don’t eat a lot of popcorn before the game. I won’t give you the backstory, but sufficient to say is a stomach full of greasy, buttery popcorn doesn’t improve your game or your life.

It’s not over until the “fat lady sings.” Oh, wow! The Packers learned that in spades this past Sunday when they squandered a 19-7 lead with less than three minutes to go. My junior year in high school, we began to celebrate a five-point lead over our biggest rivals with one minute to go. I don’t need to tell you the rest of the story, you can guess.

I will go jogging this afternoon and I’m sure my knees will ache a bit tomorrow. I’m going to blame it on basketball, not my age. (Maybe there’s a lesson in denial here.)

Let me know by return comments which of these lessons you have learned—either on a basketball court, or on life’s court.

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© Copyright 2015 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

The Kitchen Is Always Hot

HotKitchenThe kitchen is always hot for leaders. Leadership is not for the thin-skinned who wither every time the critics show up. If you are “in the arena” (as Pres. T. Roosevelt called it), criticism is certain. According to Greek philosopher Aristotle there is only one way to avoid it: “Criticism is something we can avoid easily by…doing nothing.” So since you are certain to be criticized, the real issue is should you respond and how to respond. Laurence J. Peter, author of The Peter Principle, said it this way: “Speak when you are angry, and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” So go slowly and be calm.

Before taking it personally, have you taken time to correctly identify the target of the criticism?

Considering the source of the criticism, is it worth considering at all? Is it from external or internal sources?

What is the motive of the critics? Is it possible they are well-intentioned?

Rather than reject it out of hand, have you honestly examined whether it could be true or not?

If you decide you need to respond, why? Will a response accomplish anything positive, or just inflame the critics?

If you decide to respond, follow these guidelines:

  • The target of your response should be the criticism, not the critic.
  • The purpose of your response should be to elevate truth, not self.
  • The tone of your response should be to build up, not tear down.

Whatever you do, don’t let criticism turn you into a critic.

This post is abbreviated from chapter 10 of 16 Stones. You can find order information at https://hard-lessons.com/16-stones-book/

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© Copyright 2015 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company


RebootIt is only eight days into 2015 and already I need to reboot. I had four items on my “do better in January” agenda. My score after eight days is:
1st item: 8 out of 8 days better = A
2nd item: 2 out of 8 days better = F
3rd item: 7 out of 8 days better = B
4th item: 6 out of 8 days better = C

So, I have a choice to make about #2: throw in the towel and give up, or reboot and finish strong. Sound familiar?

This isn’t the first time I have stumbled at the starting line, and it won’t be the last. I do. You do. We all do. A good start is a good thing, but it doesn’t guarantee a good finish. It is character—especially perseverance and diligence—that determines how we finish.

The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage…. (Proverbs 21:5 NASB95)

There are two keys to this bit of wisdom from Proverbs. First, there must be a plan, and second, there must be diligent adherence to the plan. It takes both to “lead surely to advantage.” What I need is a bit more diligence to my plan. So I am going to reboot my diligence—today. I’ll keep you posted on how I’m doing in future posts.

What about you? Are you not feeling too good about how 2015 has started? Stumbled at the starting line a bit, or a lot? What are you going to do—persevere or give up? There are 20+ days left in January and more than 350 days in 2015. You have plenty of time to (1) develop a plan; (2) adhere to it diligently; and (3) finish “to advantage.” It’s up to you which choice you make. What’s at stake? 2015 is at stake. What’s on display? Your character.

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© Copyright 2015 by Dick Wells, The Hard lessons Company

The Answer Is “Yes”

DangerZoneThe question is: “Are you in the danger zone?”

The feature song of the still popular movie, Top Gun, is Danger Zone. Flying an F-14 fighter, especially in combat, is certainly a venture into the danger zone. It’s also true that organizations and leaders trying to thrive or survive in an ever-changing world live in the danger zone all the time. So whether you like it or not, you’re there.

Zone One is things are going great—your organization (or you personally) is excelling, meeting all your goals, highly successful, maybe even the “big dog” in your business or niche (church, government, blogger or whatever). Are you in the danger zone? Yes. It is easer to get on top than stay on top and what got you there may not keep you there. “Big Dog” McDonald’s is learning this the hard way. After two years of declining sales, McDonald’s U.S.A. President, Mike Andres, has acknowledged that “What has worked for McDonald’s U.S. for the past decade is not sufficient to propel the business forward in the future.”

In Zone Two, you are “doing okay, things are stable, but could be better.” Is that a danger zone? Yes, because things never get better on their own. If nothing changes, nothing will change. Organizations in this zone are in danger of complacency and satisfaction squelching innovation and willingness to change. If you are stay long in this zone, you are in danger of sliding backwards into a rut (Zone Three). Customers and clients will move on; congregations will shrink; governments become bloated and dysfunctional; your health or your family will…. Well, you get the picture.

Zone Three is stuck in a rut—things are not going well, but you aren’t doing anything about it. You are stuck. One thing is sure: if you don’t change direction you’ll end up where you’re headed—deeper in the rut: your business will close; your church will become irrelevant; your health will get worse; your job will become obsolete due to technology; your marriage will end (that’s enough).

So you’re feeling that this isn’t exactly a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year kind of post. It can be. The end of—and beginning of—the year is a great time to decide you are going to do something so you don’t experience two more years of declining sales, more years of declining attendance, another year of gaining weight. You know which zone you’re in and what you need to do. Give yourself a Christmas present. Decide today—“I’m going to do it!” This could be the merriest Christmas and happiest New Year you’ve had in a long time.

By the way, on a personal note, I have found that it feels a lot less dangerous in the danger zone when I am not alone. That is the real meaning of Christmas—Immanuel means “God with us”—we don’t have to lead or live by ourselves. So I really do wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year because God is with us!

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© Copyright 2014 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

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