Raising the level of your leadership

70% Benchwarmers

According to the Gallup organization only about 30% of employees in a typical American workplace are actively engaged in their job. The rest—70%—are benchwarmers taking up space, doing only what they are told to do and waiting for payday and Friday (my words, not Gallup’s).

Interestingly, the percentages don’t change much because of age, education, gender or even income. People making more than $90,000 per year are no more engaged than people making less than $36,000 per year. Imagine that. Gallup has proved once again that pay is not a long-term motivator for most people.

Is there something leaders can do to raise the engagement level? Yes. Employees will engage with their jobs when leaders engage with their employees. It’s that simple.

So if you are the leader, it’s up to you. Try this: sit down with one of your unengaged employees, ask how you can help him, listen (really listen), ask questions, act like you owe her as much as she owes you. Do it with somebody else tomorrow…and the day after…and the day after…. Is it worth the effort? Yes! Imagine your competitive advantage and improved productivity if you can increase your engagement level to 40% or even 50%. Why don’t you get started today?

© Copyright 2017 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

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

Leaders Are Pickers Too

The stars of the TV show—American Pickers—are Mike and Frank. Their vehicle is a white van labeled Antique Archaeology; their arena is the back roads of America; their passion is Americana artifacts and collectibles—things that are buried under piles of stuff, waiting to be discovered and put on display in one of their stores. They crawl around in attics, old barns, junkyards, and weed-and-snake-infested fields—looking for…well…the kinds of things you find in attics, old barns, junkyards, and weed-and-snake-infested fields. (Actually, they aren’t looking for snakes.) For example, a battery-powered, guitar-playing, mechanical monkey in a country-western outfit was a “big find” on one show. One of their heroes is Hobo Jack, located in Litchfield, Illinois. He has acres of junk waiting to be discovered, but is not an easy mark; he drives a hard bargain.

[BTW…Mike is also great a picking a place to live as he now lives in my hometown of Franklin, TN.]

Wondering what this has to do with leadership?

Most every organization, large or small, has one or more people waiting to be discovered. They, for reasons now forgotten, are buried on a hallway the leader rarely visits, hidden in the last of a row of 20 cubicles, sitting near the back of a large-church worship center, or working in a field office that is on the other side of town. They are a bit dirty and dusty; maybe dinged up some. But they could be worth a lot if discovered and encouraged or trained or challenged.

As a leader, you have a lot to do. You can’t spend all day rummaging around in the attics of your organization, but you can spend a few hours every now and then. Decide now you will become a “picker,” looking for hidden value in your company, or church, or even your family. You may be surprised who you find—someone just waiting for a chance to shine again (or shine for the first time). Imagine the satisfaction you’ll feel as you’re driving home that day!

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

© Copyright 2017 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Different And Escape Are Not The Same Thing

Having just returned from a week on the Maine coast, I thought reading this reminder from Chapter 6 of 16 Stones would be worth your time:

I have found, at least for me, fully restorative rest only comes with escape. My body, soul, and spirit all need occasional escape from the everyday world. For years my escape has been either the North Georgia mountains or the coast of Downeast Maine—a week of nothing but coffee, a good book or two, eating catfish or lobster, and listening to the creek or watching the waves. There is no doubt in my mind that without escape, the stress of running a $400+M company or later serving a large church would have produced what Bill Hybels calls “many broken pieces rattling around inside me.”

One mistake we often make is equating different with escape. Let me clarify: taking your office to a different place is not escape. An open briefcase and ringing cellphone at the beach is different, but it is not escape. Senior pastor, you can round up a couple of pastor buddies, play eighteen holes and then have dinner, all the while talking about your church problems. That is different, but it’s not escape. Business leader, you can take your team to the Willow Creek Leadership Summit (which I highly recommend) to be inspired and challenged. That is different and worthwhile, but it is not escape. Escape is leaving it all behind, emptying your mind of your ordinary work as Exodus 20:9 calls it, and letting God repair and refresh you from head to foot. In my own experience, I have found that I can get physical rest in a couple of days; however, mental and emotional rest usually takes a week or more.

You need to escape, but who you escape with is also important. My wife, Dottie, is wired much like I am. She doesn’t need to be entertained; she doesn’t have to be sightseeing all the time; she doesn’t need to be talking all the time; a day of nothing but sitting on the porch with a good book or working a puzzle is fine with her. She is a great escape partner. My point is, choose your escape partner carefully. Remember, the purpose of escape is to detox from the stresses of your ordinary life, not just drag them to a different place.

Okay…it’s your turn…hit the road!

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

© Copyright 2017 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Honorable Leadership

“…leadership implies duty, and honorable leadership occurs only when we live up to that duty.”

From Honorable Leadership by Bill Barnett. Read it all at http://www.barnetttalks.com/2017/07/honorable-leadership.html

This is a great reminder and worth your time.

(This article found on Three Star Leadership by Wally Post)



Are You Feeding The Hippos?

Ernesto Sirolli—dubbed The Entrepreneurship Coach by strategy+business—tells this story about one of his early failures:

[We] decided to teach Zambians how to grow food in the beautiful fertile valley where they had always lived as pastoralists, shepherding animals but planting nothing. The team imported seeds from Italy—tomatoes and zucchini—but the locals didn’t seem interested. The team tried to pay them money, but there was little in the valley available to buy. Finally, the NGO started importing whiskey and beer in order to coax the men into the fields. “We kept thinking, what is wrong with these people?”

It soon became apparent. The tomatoes appeared on the vines, huge bursting fruits that put the most bountiful Italian crops to shame. The team members were joyful, but the next morning they awoke to find every single one of the plants gone. Hippos had swarmed up from the river and begun gorging. The Italians ran to tell the Zambians what had happened. “Of course,” said the people. “That’s why we don’t plant in the valley.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” asked the Italians.

“Because you never asked,” came the response.1

I have made the same mistake many times. One of my notable failures was when I decided I could run a shipyard without knowing anything about building ships. FAIL.

The primary advice Sirolli gives business leaders is “Shut up and listen.”

That reminds me of one of my favorite, but too often ignored proverbs: “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent….” (Proverbs 17:28 NIV)

Effective communication has a pattern:
Listen first;
Then ask questions;
Talk little.

I need to learn to take my own advice.

Dick, repeat after me:
Listen first;
Then ask questions;
Talk little.

Dick, repeat after me:
Listen first;
Then ask….

Dick, repeat after me:

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

© Copyright 2017 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

1 strategy+business, The Entrepreneurship Coach by Sally Helgesen, 1 August 2014

The Big Reveal Was A Big Flop

If anyone understands how to do a Big Reveal, it’s Apple. Steve Jobs started it and current CEO Tim Cook has kept it going. I’m not sure who is involved in planning the Apple rollouts, but they know what they are doing. Each one creates a lot of advance anticipation; most don’t disappoint.

Big Reveals have not always been so successful. Before the days of brand experts, event professionals, and everything-sends-a-message consultants, rollouts were planned by a secretary in the marketing department, or the CEO’s golf buddy. That is what Ford must have done when they rolled out the Edsel in August 1957.

After months of buildup and anticipation, Ford invited 250 auto industry reporters (and their wives) to the Edsel Big Reveal in Detroit. So what happened?

  • The guests were put up in the Sheraton Cadillac Yes, really, a hotel named for their competitor.
  • The star model in a fashion show for the wives turned out to be a female impersonator. Now that may not be too shocking today, but in 1957….
  • The dance band at the big evening gala, a Glenn Miller look-alike band, had GM in large bold letters on the music stands. Yes, really, GM. Can you imagine Apple having an event with the Samsung logo prominently on display?

Now I am not saying that the Edsel was a failure because of these faux pas, but the reporters and wives must have been laughing all the way home. If Facebook and Twitter had existed then, the whole nation would have been laughing by midnight. (Okay, you can stop laughing now.)

What is the leadership lesson in this? The everything-sends-a-message principle is correct. Details matter and it is easy. It is true that the difference between good and great is attention to details. Get help and have more than one set of eyes looking at every detail. Make sure that one of the “one set of eyes” is someone who was not involved in the planning and has a critical eye—someone who loves to point out goof-ups.

If the best hotel in town was the Cadillac, what was the message?

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

© Copyright 2017 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Dear Aaron…

You are starting your first job this week—bagging groceries at your Kroger. That is how I got started 60 years ago—bagging groceries at the Big Apple in Rome, Georgia.

Here is “some stuff you need to know”:

  • This is a lot more than just your first job; it is the beginning of a life-long journey of contributing to society (now) and providing for your family (someday). Start your journey well!
  • Be on time—every time! (On time means 5 minutes early.)
  • Arrive ready to WORK. You are not there to take up space or look good or talk about football.
  • Become the best grocery bagger in the store. The path to a better job is being the best in the job you have.
  • Volunteer to do the jobs no one else wants to do. Your manager will notice and appreciate.
  • Don’t join the complainer clique—avoid them or ignore them. Complaining becomes a habit; there a lot of good habits—develop them.
  • Especially don’t complain about pay. You have agreed to work for a certain amount—fulfill your obligation.
  • NEVER complain or say anything negative about your store/job/managers to customers.
  • You will be working for people. That means they won’t be perfect. You will NEVER work for a perfect manager/leader, so get used to it.
  • Take pride in your store. As you walk around, pick up trash on the floor, put away buggies—whatever helps create a great experience for customers.
  • As far as the customers are concerned, your job is the MOST IMPORTANT JOB IN THE STORE. The last experience customers have is with the grocery bagger. Send them out the door with a smile on their face. Smile, say “hello” and “thanks for shopping here.”
  • Be grateful you have a job.

Aaron, just be at Kroger who you are at home, school, and church—kind, responsible, a volunteer, and team player—and you’ll do great. Who knows; you may be the CEO of Kroger someday. I love you and am proud of you!


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

© Copyright 2017 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Take It On Early—Before It Escalates

Google “conflict resolution” and more than 50,000,000 possibilities come up. There are mountains of books, blogs, seminars, and so on, about sources of conflict and how to resolve them. The thinking is that every leader needs a level of competency in conflict resolution because if more than one person is involved—conflict is inevitable. True? The answer is “yes, but….”

“Yes” is true when the conflict arises because of personalities, competition, or values. Leaders have to step in early and sometimes hard to resolve conflict before it escalates and causes damage to the organization.

The “but….” is true when conflict arises because of a disagreement about facts, perceptions, solutions, and so on. The leader’s job at that point is to resolve disagreement before it escalates to discord, which can lead to division, which can result in damage to the organization.

It is a lot easier to do disagreement control than damage control.

Here are a few questions that will help:

  • What are we actually disagreeing about?
  • What is the actual problem?
  • What are the true facts about the problem?
  • What are our different perceptions about the facts?
  • What do we need to do to come to agreement about the facts?
  • What are some solution options based on agreement about the facts?
  • What is the best solution?
  • What communication would have helped to resolve/prevent this?

Understanding the “what and why” of a disagreement will often keep it from escalating to discord in which careless, personal words often make resolution much harder.

I’m no Albert Einstein, but he once put it this way:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I knew the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

Disagreement is easier to resolve then discord.

Discord is easier to resolve than division.

Division is easier to resolve than damage.

Okay leader, the sooner you take it on, the easier it will be!

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

If you would like to respond/comment, do it on the “contact” like.

© Copyright 2017 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Gibbs Isn’t Real

Most of us don’t get Leroy Jethro Gibbs as our leader—we get a mortal. In a recent episode of NCIS, Gibbs added the role of Horse Whisperer to his resume. (The horse had lost its will to live when its mounted-police rider was gunned down. Yes, Gibbs saved the horse.) Not only is he a Horse Whisperer, he was Marine sniper (like Chuck Norris, he can kill two stones with one bird), builds boats by hand without power tools, knows sign language and Russian, and drinks strong-strong-strong coffee and bourbon out of a mason jar (which may or may not be clean). Maybe that is why he never gets sick.

However, His greatest skill is knowing how to lead a diverse team of people to “get stuff done”—hard stuff like saving the world:

  • He is decisive
  • Always there when you need him
  • Leads from the front when it’s dangerous
  • Is charismatic without being narcissistic
  • Doesn’t play office politics
  • Is both intuitive and factual
  • Extends and expects loyalty
  • Is intelligent without being condescending
  • Works harder than anyone on the team
  • Never throws his team under the bus
  • Gives care and comfort by presence, not words
  • Expects his team to “do your job” and won’t do it for you
  • Leads people as both team members—and as individuals—because they are both

Of course, he has a few faults (as do we all), but somehow they get lost in the list above. If you want to be coddled and crowed over, Gibbs is not for you. But if you want to be part of a high performance team, Gibbs would be a good choice for leader.

And, if you want to be a high performance leader, take a look at the list. Maybe there is something there for you to work on. You’ll probably—like me—still be a mortal leader, but don’t despair, remember, Gibbs isn’t real.

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

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


My baseball/fast-pitch softball career was slow developing. The Peter, Paul and Mary song describes my early years perfectly:

Saturday summers, when I was a kid
We’d run to the schoolyard and here’s what we did
We’d pick out the captains and we’d choose up the teams
It was always a measure of my self esteem
Cuz the fastest, the strongest, played shortstop and first
The last ones they picked were the worst
I never needed to ask, it was sealed,
I just took up my place in right field.

Right field, it’s easy, you know.
You can be awkward and you can be slow
That’s why I’m here in right field
Just watching the dandelions grow

Off in the distance, the game’s dragging on,
There’s strikes on the batter, some runners are on.
I don’t know the inning, I’ve forgotten the score.
The whole team is yelling and I don’t know what for.
Then suddenly everyone’s looking at me
My mind has been wandering; what could it be?
They point at the sky and I look up above
And a baseball falls into my glove!

Here in right field, it’s important you know.
You gotta know how to catch, you gotta know how to throw,
That’s why I’m here in right field,  just watching the dandelions grow!

Baseball is a nine-position game and right field is one of those positions. No team would ever play a game with eight players, leaving right field empty.

Your organization has right fielders and their job is a lot more important than “just watching the dandelions grow.” The right fielder sweeps the floors at night, stocks the shelves, delivers the mail, changes the diapers (church nursery), mows the grass, brings in the buggies from the parking lot, etc., etc., etc. Try to operate without them and the dandelions will take over.

If you are the leader, LOVE YOUR RIGHT FIELDERS—you need them—their work is honorable and important. If you thank them, encourage them, and develop them, they’ll keep the weeds from taking over and may—like me—eventually move to center field and hit in the #3 position.

Another reason to love your right fielders? They are in good company out there. That’s where Michael Jordan played during his baseball adventure.

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

© Copyright 2017 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

1 2 3 4 5 13
  • On Leading Well…

    "The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."

    Kouzes & Posner


    The Hard Lessons Company
    © 2014-2020
    All rights reserved.

    337 Whitewater Way
    Franklin, TN 37064