Raising the level of your leadership

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Outdated policies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.

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© 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.

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© 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.

When You’ve Finally Had Enough…

Fired“…taking care of your people does not mean protecting them from the consequences of their own behavior. That’s the path to irresponsibility.” (L. David Marquet, Turn The Ship Around)

When he is late to work two or three times a week…

When she complains about the new software instead of learning how to use it…

When he spends his first two hours on Monday morning talking about football or his golf game…

When she loves to gossip…

When he answers text messages in the middle of meetings…

When she starts packing up to leave 30 minutes before closing…

I wouldn’t use a sticky note, but I know what I would do. What about you?

Jack Welch says, “If you like to fire people, you don’t belong in leadership. But if you are unwilling to fire people, you also don’t belong in leadership.”

Share a story in the comments block—I’d like to hear from you.

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© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Hardy Boys vs Harry Potter

HardyBoysHarryPotterMy youngest grandson, Seth, was at our place last night doing his homework: reading a book, The City Of Ember. According to Amazon: “The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race.” But, woe is me, the lights in Ember are flickering so an “ancient message” must be found that will the save the city and the entire human race.

When I was Seth’s age (a long time ago), my favorite reading was the Hardy Boys: two brothers who “sleuthed around” catching the town burglar. Not exactly “save the human race” kind of stuff. A few years back, I was sure that my oldest grandson, Aaron, would love the Hardy Boys so I bought him one book which a couple of weeks later I found discarded—unread—under his bed. However, put a Harry Potter book in front of him, he won’t put it down until finished. So, Harry Potter, Lord Voldemort and Draco Malfoy win out (450M copies in 20 years) over Frank and Joe, the teenage-amateur detectives from Bayport. Imagine that. What is this world coming to?

One of the major challenges—especially if you are my age—of 21st century life and leadership is letting go of the 20th century. Everything has changed: culture, technology, values, preferences, demographics, social media and so on. Even if you don’t like some of these changes, you better understand them and know how they will affect your life, business, church, community and family. Otherwise, like the Hardy Boys, you may wind up discarded under the bed.

What are you having a hard time letting go of? Let me know in the comments section.

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Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Story

15 August 2016

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.

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© 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

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