Raising the level of your leadership

Hazardous Cargo

HazCargoTrucks carrying hazardous cargo are so commonplace on U.S. highways that most towns have road signs that prohibit the trucks from driving through the heart of the town—no hazardous cargo is permitted. Unfortunately, there are a lot of leaders who let hazardous cargo drive through the heart of their company or church or school or…

In some organizations, the most hazardous cargo is the truth. It is routed around the corner office because the boss doesn’t want to hear it. And woe to the poor soul who dares to ignore the No HC sign on the door.

Rumors are another common form of highly toxic hazardous cargo. They move freely on the main communication highway of the office because the leaders operate with a “they don’t need to know” policy. Leaders need to remember that there will never be a communication gap in their organization. If your followers don’t know what is going on, they’ll make something up, and that can be very hazardous.

Gossip is another form of hazardous cargo. It spills out in the hallways, contaminating everyone. The most destructive gossip originates in the corner office because it has the stamp of approval of the boss. But it’s still gossip. If you aren’t part of the problem or part of the solution—and you’re talking about it—you may be gossiping.

Want to raise the level of your leadership? Get rid of the hazardous cargo in your organization. Find someone who will tell you the truth about yourself and the organization—even when it hurts. Communicate the truth so rumors can’t gain traction. And stamp out gossip—starting with any gossip that originates with you.

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© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company


leafstreamThe leaf lazily fell into Falls Creek. It was in its autumn glory, streaked with gold doing what all leaves do in a creek, drifting with the current. Drifting downstream was easy. The current was doing all the work. All the leaf had to do was ride along enjoying the warm sun and cool water.

After a bit, the current quickened, but the leaf felt no alarm. It was so preoccupied with itself that it didn’t notice the somewhere-downstream sound of falling water. It wasn’t long before the creek narrowed, the ride became turbulent, and there were rocks to dodge. The somewhere-downstream sound of falling water became louder and louder, the rocks became boulders, and then it was too late, the leaf disappeared over the falls in a tumult of crashing-roaring water.

At its next sighting, the leaf was in the shadows below the falls, crumpled and water logged, wedged in a pile of other crumpled-water-logged leaves. Drifting seldom leads to anything good—for leaves or for people.

Most over-the-falls events in life are a result of drifting. We don’t get up one day and decide to jump off the falls; we drift with the current until….

We drift into debt.

We drift into an extra 20 or 50 pounds.

We drift into a dangerous relationship.

We drift into complacency, enjoying the warm sun and cool water, ignoring the somewhere-downstream sound of falling water.

We drift into obsolescence, hanging onto what got us here instead of reaching forward into the future.

We drift into a life without purpose, wondering when the mail will arrive so we can look at the ads.

We drift into _______________________________. (You fill in the blank.)

With respect to our faith, there is an apt warning in the Book of Hebrews (c2, v1): “…pay close attention…so you don’t drift away.”

It’s an apt warning for all of life, not just our relationship with God. Are you drifting with the current? Get on terra firma quickly, before it’s too late.

If this post was challenging to you, forward it to a friend.

© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Is it Monday already?

Monday - FridayFor leaders…and everyone…Monday always comes…followed by Tuesday…Wednesday…you get the idea. One of the seldom discussed challenges of leadership is its daily-ness ( – required by spell check).

So in addition to all the well discussed challenges of leadership—people, unexpected detours, results to deliver, and vision to cast—there is daily-ness. King Solomon described it this way: “there is nothing new under the sun.”

So when there is not a board meeting to get ready for or a customer presentation to make or a trip to London to look forward to, there is daily-ness.

Is there an anecdote for daily-ness? Not a universal one that works for everyone, but these may help:

  • On the daily-ness days, spend some extra time getting to know your employees/co-workers.
  • Find something to laugh at; yourself would be best.
  • Focus on 2-3 things you are making progress on—celebrate the progress. (If you aren’t making progress on anything, this shouldn’t be a daily-ness day. You should be huddled up working hard to gain momentum.)
  • Be grateful! You have a job! You have the privilege/responsibility to lead the most important things on planet earth—PEOPLE!
  • Exercise. Not much thwarts daily-ness better than turning a bunch of endorphins loose in your body.
  • Remember what is at stake—especially your personal honor in how you lead.

Okay. Your turn. What helps you overcome daily-ness? Leave a comment.

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© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company


hazmat.suit_1My friend Carl knows he will need to wear a hazmat suit when I call and ask to meet for breakfast…or lunch…or coffee…TOMORROW! All of us—especially leaders—need a Carl to call when we need to throw up, vent, cry, or just generally get it out of our system.

Who makes a great Carl?

Someone who will listen.

Someone who will keep it confidential.

Someone who will ask good questions.

Someone who will tell you hard truth.

Someone who will offer to help.

Carl always comes through for me as he did last Thursday—especially with encouragement and an amazing offer to help. Thanks, Carl!

If you are a leader, you need a Carl. You cannot drag your toxic stuff to the office or church or school or wherever and dump it on your followers. One of my leadership mantras is NO BAD DAYS FOR LEADERS. So before you contaminate your followers, call Carl. If you don’t have a Carl, get one, but you can’t have mine—he’s taken.

By the way, calling your Carl when you have good news and want to laugh together is okay too. You can set up that kind of meeting with “leave the hazmat suit at home.”

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© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Pigeon Poop

pigeon-in-atticSo how do you get pigeon poop out of your attic? A Wall Street Journal article reported on the futile efforts of the Select Board in a well-known town in Massachusetts (unnamed to protect the guilty). Pigeon poop had piled up in the town hall attic and become a health hazard. The Select Board budgeted $125,000 to clean up the mess, but the lowest contractor bid was more than twice that. A group of citizens volunteered to clean up the mess for nothing, but that idea was nixed by the lawyers (fearing the city would be sued). Finally someone had a brilliant idea: “If we can’t clean it up, why don’t we at least make sure it doesn’t get worse by keeping the pigeons out? We could patch their entry hole in the attic window frame.” Duh.

This true story is a great example of an organization focused on the symptoms, not the problem. There are lots of other examples:

  • Governments (guess who) that believe reducing the deficit is the same as reducing the debt
  • Companies that drive sales by the deep discounting of outdated products instead of introducing innovative new products at a competitive price—and maybe, becoming customer-focused
  • Maintenance managers that are applauded for fixing the HVAC system on a hot summer day, but never change the filters or clean the coils

We make the same mistake as individuals: heart patients go back to cheeseburgers soon after their quadruple bypass relieves the chest pain and golfers try to fix their swing by buying a new set of clubs (quitting would be smarter).

Why do we fall into this trap so often? Fixing symptoms is often easier and quicker than fixing the problem (but only in the short run). Once the symptoms are relieved, we move on to the next set of symptoms. Often we focus on the symptoms because we are in denial about the real problem—this is very common when the leader is the problem. Unidentified problems continue their hidden destructive work until they finally erupt into the open with sometimes fatal consequences.

Tired of relief? Want to actually fix the real problem? Do this:

  • Patch the hole in the attic so the pigeons can’t get in, but don’t stop there
  • Clean up the mess the pigeons left behind
  • Ask someone if you are the pigeon

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

© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, the Hard lessons Company

50% Mortals

NFLHelmetsLast week, football fans all over America were glued to their TV sets watching the NFL draft—especially Round One. The first two choices were quarterbacks (Rams and Eagles); the rest of the round had 18 offensive players and 11 defensive players selected. Rounds Two and Three held a lot of interest, but by the time Round Four started, only the die-hard fans were still tuned in. Why? Round Four and later choices are considered by fans to be long-shots—they are the mortals who fill out the squad so the stars can get a breather every now and then. However, the coaches know better.

What is the truth? Only about 15% of NFL players are Round One selections. Approximately 50% of NFL players are from Round Five and later. In fact, about 25% of them aren’t drafted at all. Imagine that! Half of the players are mortals, or stars that emerged from the ranks of the mortals (for example, Tom Brady was a sixth round choice).

What is true for NFL teams is most likely true for your organization. You have a mix of superstars, stars, and mortals. You need superstars to win championships. You need stars to win games. You need hard-working mortals to field a team. The press and TV shows will spend their time with the superstars. Coaches will spend their time with the mortals because they know how important they are.

“One of the challenges of leadership is to recognize what people can do, turn them loose to do it, and then recognize their contribution no matter how small—or large.”
(16 Stones, chapter 9, page 103)

As a leader, are you making sure your mortals are being recognized and appreciated? Are you “coaching them up” so one or two of them may emerge as a star? Why don’t you—right now—go sit down with one of your mortals and thank them for their hard work and contribution?

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© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Judge Not

MedalOfHonorWho among us is not guilty of judging, ignoring, or slighting people because of their appearance, education, or because they are the janitor…or the man who cleaned my car yesterday…or the…

From On Patrol (Fall, 2010): “William “Bill” Crawford was an unimpressive figure, one you could easily overlook during a hectic day at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Mr. Crawford, as most of us referred to him back in the late 1970s, was our squadron janitor.”

But everything changed—when by accident—the cadets found out who he really was. Click Much More Than A Janitor to hear the full story. This is REQUIRED READING FOR ALL LEADERS. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

I would love to hear your reaction to this story. Are you like me, often guilty? How will it—or should it—change how you lead? Leave a comment.

If this post was interesting and useful, please forward it to a friend. (That’s how I found it.)

© Copyright 2016 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

Worm Fishing Leaders

WormFishingOur neighborhood lake (well…pond might be more accurate) is a good fishing spot. Yesterday, I watched a friend land a five-pound catfish—fun, but he was actually after bass. His way of fishing is with lures, rod-and—reel, casting, moving from one spot to another, etc. It’s more like work.

My way of fishing is worm fishing—a cane pole, bobber, and a few worms. Throw it out there and sit back against a tree while you enjoy a can of _________ (you fill in the blank). When worm fishing, you don’t much care what you catch. Whether a gar, catfish, perch, crappie, or turtle, it is primarily a bother because it interrupts enjoying your can of __________.

Worm fishing is a pastime, not work. There are no professional worm-fishing tournaments. Can you imagine shopping at the PRO CRAPPIE SHOP? (Actually there are some. They are called bait shops: worms, minnows, potato chips and cans of __________.)

So what does worm fishing have to do with leadership? Answer these questions:

  • Are you approaching your leadership role as a pastime or as work?
  • Are you fishing for something specific—like a real vision for the future—or just hoping you’ll get lucky and catch something?
  • If you want to catch a bass, are you fishing in a bass lake or a crappie pond?
  • Are you using the right equipment?
  • Are you not catching anything and wondering why?

Leadership is a job—it’s work—not a pastime. If you aren’t catching anything, get to work! Today!

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

You Can Take Up Space…Or Do Something Useful

ChangingLightBulb (1)“Was that John holding the ladder for you?”

“Yes. He was on his way to a meeting, saw me climbing up, and decided to hold it for me while I changed a light bulb.”

“Why were you up there?”

“I was tired of waiting on maintenance to do it.”

“Doesn’t he have more important things to do?”

“Well, I suppose so, but he always seems to have a couple of minutes to do something useful for us. Last week he helped us rearrange the office furniture and the week before he called maintenance to have our water cooler fixed.”

“Did they?”

“Oh, yeah. They were on the scene within an hour.”

Casting vision is an important part of leadership—so is strategy, communication, developing leaders, planning, mission, values, and a thousand or so other things. Most of your employees can’t relate to those things. Their world is one of making ledger entries, scheduling parts, or trying to satisfy unhappy customers. And unlike the leader, their world is also one of broken water coolers and burned out light bulbs—things that are quickly fixed on the executive hallway.

It is really easy for leaders to get so involved in LEADER things that they forget the PEOPLE things. When the leader is in the accounting department, he can take up space and look important…or do something useful. Employees are on the job everyday. Most are trying to do their best. If you do something—however small—that impacts their workspace, they’ll never forget. Your leadership credibility will rise because they know you care and listen.

For crying out loud, it only takes five minutes! Get to it. Today.

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

He Did What?

WaterCooler4x3“Wasn’t that your department director you were laughing with?”


“What was so funny?”

“He was telling me about backing into his garage door this morning—for the third time!”

“And that was supposed to be funny?”

“Well…he was laughing at himself, so I just joined in.”

“I wish my boss was like that.”

One of the pillars of leadership credibility is to be personable. People want to know you. And they want to be known by you. If the only interaction you have with employees is about the business, if it is all business—all the time, you are falling far short of what employees want and need from you. You don’t have to be their BFF (look it up), but asking about their kids, hobbies, favorite team, etc., will go a long way toward creating a more than a number culture.

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

Relationships take time. Why don’t you start today? Now? Walk down to the water cooler and strike up a conversation—about them!

You can spend time, or invest time. Relationship time is among the most important time you invest.

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

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

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