Saturday, February 27, 2010

Are You a Grateful Leader?

It is said that on his retreat from Greece after his great military expedition there, King Xerxes boarded a Phoenician ship along with a number of his Persian troops. But a fearful storm came up, and the captain told Xerxes there was no hope unless the ship’s load was substantially lightened.

The king turned to his fellow Persians on deck and said, “It is on you that my safety depends. Now let some of you show your regard for your king.” A number of the men bowed to Xerxes and threw themselves overboard.

Lightened of its load, the ship made it safely to harbor. Xerxes immediately ordered that a golden crown be given to the pilot for preserving the king’s life—then ordered the man beheaded for causing the loss of so many Persian lives.

One of the most important characteristics a leader must possess is gratitude. While team members may look to you for vision as to where the organization is headed, the climate you create in getting there is equally important.

In the 1980 hit movie 9 to 5, there is a scene in which three co-workers, played by Dolly Parton, Lili Tomlin, and Jane Fonda each share fantasies as to how they would like to kill off their boss, Mr. Hart (Dabney Coleman).The three have wised up to the shenanigans of Mr. Hart and are out to bring him down. (

One day by mistake, the plan concocted by Violet (Tomlin) happens. Rat poison is accidentally placed in the coffee of Mr. Hart. In the initial aftermath of the accident the three are having a conversation.

Violet: Oh, God. They know about the rat poison. I might as well just turn myself in.
Doralee: Violet, it was an accident.
Violet: I’m a murderer.
Judy: No, you’re not.
Violet: I’m a murderess. I’m gonna go to the pen. My poor kids. I’m gonna lose my job.
Judy: Stop this.
Violet: I’m no fool. I’ve killed the boss, you think they’re not gonna fire me for a thing like that?

While the story-line of the movie is funny and entertaining, there is nothing funny about working under conditions that evoke such strong negative emotions. Leadership needs to understand that the road from cast vision to reality is paved by good, hard working, loyal people. Here are some characteristics of a grateful leader.

A grateful leader inspires his team. When the captain of the ship told Xerxes that the load needed to be lightened, he called upon Persians to make the ultimate sacrifice. Men willing to make that type of sacrifice for the life of the King obviously were devoted to him.

Famed football coach Lou Holtz said, “Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” A grateful leader will inspire his team to become the best they can be, and have a great attitude.

If you want to know how inspiring you are as a leader, look at how many are jumping ship for you (positively doing whatever it takes for success) verses how many are jumping ship in spite of you. A smart leader not only inspires his team, he genuinely appreciates them.

A grateful leader rewards his team. When the ship arrived safely in the harbor, the King ordered that a golden crown be given to the pilot for preserving his life. A grateful leader understands that without his team working hard and making sacrifices, there would not be the level of success now enjoyed.

Rewarding team members can take on a variety of looks. While it is common to think of monetary rewards, you might want to consider rewards that money cannot buy. Team members genuinely appreciate simple things like hand-written notes expressing appreciation for a job well done.

A grateful leader builds the morale of his team. After arriving in port, Xerxes ordered the pilot beheaded for the loss of so many Persian lives. How ironic it was that the man responsible for saving the life of the King now has his taken away by him.

A grateful leader remembers where he came from and who is responsible for helping him get there. Charles E. Jefferson said, “Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count up past mercies.” It is important as a leader to show heart-felt gratitude for past mercies by your team. In doing so, you inspire them - now reward them and build their morale.

Are you a grateful leader?

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Management Moment Leadership Services prouldly supports Water Missions International. WMI provides safe water to people in developing countries and disaster areas through a variety of technologies. To learn more and to donate visit their web site

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Legacy of Leadership

From a story in Bits and Pieces some years back comes an inspiring story. Years ago a John Hopkins professor gave a group of graduate students this assignment: Go to the slums. Take 200 boys, between the ages of 12 and 16, and investigate their background and environment. Then predict their chances for the future.

The students, after consulting social statistics, talking to the boys, and compiling much data, concluded that 90 percent of the boys would spend some time in jail.

Twenty-five years later another group of graduate students was given the job of testing the prediction. They went back to the same area. Some of the boys - by then men - were still there, a few had died, some had moved away, but they got in touch with 180 of the original 200. They found that only four of the group had ever been sent to jail.

Why was it that these men, who had lived in a breeding place of crime, had such a surprisingly good record? The researchers were continually told: "Well, there was a teacher..."

They pressed further, and found that in 75 percent of the cases it was the same woman. The researchers went to this teacher, now living in a home for retired teachers. How had she exerted this remarkable influence over that group of children? Could she give them any reason why these boys should have remembered her?

"No," she said, "no I really couldn't." And then, thinking back over the years, she said amusingly, more to herself than to her questioners: "I loved those boys..."

How fortunate the men had a teacher who loved them and because of her influence now live productive lives. If you think for a moment I am sure you can recall a teacher, coach, or mentor that had an impact on your life that helped guide you to where you are today.

Tim Elmore said, “Mentoring is a relational experience through which one person empowers another by sharing their wisdom and resources.” The sharing of resources, much like that of the above mentioned teacher, is built through relationship with those you lead. Consider these simple but powerful characteristics of her leadership and how she left her legacy.

The teacher accepted her students. In Life 101, Peter McWilliams said, “Acceptance is such an important commodity; some have called it “the first law of personal growth’”. No doubt her students had already been labeled by others as underachievers or trouble makers, with few seeing any potential in them.

The teacher disregarded the stereo-types about the boys and accepted them not only for who they were but what they could become.

As you mentor those in your organization it is important that you do so with an expectation that the best is yet to come. Where a person has come from is not nearly as important as where you are leading them. Accepting the people you mentor is the first step in impacting their lives.

The teacher believed in her students. Chosen out of the slums and placed in a statistical category of perceived outcomes; these boys faced insurmountable obstacles. Yet their destiny was changed, not by perceptions, but because a teacher believed in them.

Mark Twain said, “Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” As a leader, your success as a mentor comes as you instill hope in the hearts of those you lead. When you believe in those you mentor, they will know it and will respond to it.

It’s hard to say where the boys would have ended up without a teacher who believed in them, but as John A. Shedd said, “Opportunities are seldom labeled.’ You will leave your legacy as a leader when you have faith in those you lead.

The teacher cared for her students. When approached about the boys she had taught in those early years, she simply recalled that she loved them. It was just that simple.

John Maxwell said, “Loving people precedes leading them. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” While tempting to measure success by the bottom line, true leaders understand it is defined differently.

Aesop said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Your legacy as a leader is marked by the time, wisdom, passion, and kindness that you invested into the lives you touched.

How will your legacy be defined?

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Leaders Who Handle The Truth

In the 1992 blockbuster film, A Few Good Men, Navy lawyer Daniel Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise, and Lt. Commander JoAnne Galloway, played by Demi Moore, are assigned to defend two Marines accused of killing a fellow soldier.

Kaffee is inclined to plea out the case but Galloway pushes him to investigate deeper. He begins a process of questioning fellow officers to get to the truth. The quest eventually leads them to base commander Colonel Nathan Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson.

The courtroom confrontation between Kaffee and Jessep is one of big screen legend. Kaffee insists that he is entitled to the truth about the case. In the memorable response Jessep says, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Truthfulness is an essential ingredient through which leadership flows and how all other relationships within your organization exist. This concept sounds primal but is one of which we need to be reminded.

Winston Churchill said, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” If your organization is going to thrive, the truth must always win out. Here are a few suggestions for leaders and for making honesty your best policy.

Leaders must speak the truth. Mark Twain said, “Truth is more of a stranger than fiction.” Whether it is casting vision for the future of the organization, evaluating the performance of the team or a team member, leaders must speak the truth.

When a leader is speaking honestly with those around him, trust is established. While it is easy to speak the truth when the news is good, it is equally as important to do so when times are tough. Though it may be tempting to fudge the numbers or hold back information, your team should never be left in the dark- always speak the truth.

Leaders must hear the truth. Burton Bigelow said, “Very few big executives want to be surrounded by ‘yes’ men. Their greatest weakness often is the fact that ‘yes’ men build up around the executive a wall of fiction, when what the executive wants most of all is plain facts.” A wise leader does not want to be shielded from the truth, but exposed to it.

Speaking the truth to the leader must be done constructively and with respect. John Maxwell said, “If you’ve never spoken up to your leaders and told them what they need to hear, then it will take courage. But if you are willing to speak up, you can help your leader and yourself.” Examine your motives when speaking to your leader. Be sure that you are not just about promoting your own agenda but the best interests of the team.

Leaders must act on the truth. Decisions leaders make today have consequences for the organization tomorrow. A sharp leader has the intuition to see what is going on around him and is surrounded by honest advisors to help chart the right course.

The climatic conclusion of A Few Good Men resulted in the arrest of Colonel Jessep and a courtroom victory for the young Daniel Kaffee. While your team or organization may experience tough challenges, never let it be said that in doing so you ever shied away from the truth.

Acting on the truth is the benchmark to which all leaders must be pledged. In doing so, not only can you handle the truth, but you welcome it.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Visit my website at

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Go Along to Get Along? Building Team Morale

In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy demanded that Linus change TV channels, threatening him with her fist if he didn’t.

“What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asks Linus. “These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.”

“Which channel do you want?” asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why don’t you guys get organized like that?”

Perhaps you have asked that question with regard to your organization. Nothing can be more frustrating than a non-cohesive organizational structure that is being lead by an unorganized individual or team.

In the illustration above, Lucy epitomizes an old-school mentality of leadership. The leader, Lucy in this instance, demands a change. When her authority is questioned she squashes the challenge with the threat of force.

Linus in this case represents team members who too often go along to get along. Organizational structure and camaraderie does not have to be elusive, strive to achieve it and see the difference it can make.

Team morale is important if you want to succeed. Andy PacPhail said, “You have to walk the walk. You have a responsibility to your system to be out there and understand the conditions your players are playing in. You have to take an interest in the players in your organization.”

Morale in your organization can be your greatest asset if it is strong or your greatest liability if you lack it. Good leaders understand why it is important and are proactive in building it. Here are a few suggestions on how to build and sustain morale in your organization; it’s what I call the 3 B’s of building morale.

Be open to new ideas. One of the greatest challenges to any organization is staying fresh with new ideas and ways of thinking. When members of an organization feel that their ideas are falling on deaf ears, poor morale will soon follow.

The greater the distance between the one who casts the vision and the ones who execute the vision, the greater the chance for poor morale, don’t let this happen. Strong morale is built and maintained by a leader who understands that fresh ideas are the lifeblood of the organization. He also understands that those closest to the execution of the vision have much to offer.

Be transparent with your team. Good morale is not something you can artificially manufacture. Team morale is built on a foundation of trust. Team members know they are being dealt with honestly and when leadership is being phony.

Transparency is a partnership between the leader and the team. Ken Blanchard said, “In the past a leader was a boss. Today’s leaders must be partners with their people…they no longer can lead solely based on positional power.” A leader will do more to build team morale by being transparent than he could ever hope to accomplish by positional power alone.

Be generous with praise. Fred Rogers said, “As humans, our job is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has-or ever will have-something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”

Developing the expression of praise for your team will go a long way in building morale that will see you through good times and bad. When facing challenging times, half the battle is won when morale is strong.

Team members who know they are appreciated and subsequently rewarded for their efforts are an invaluable asset to your organization. Wise leaders will as George Colman said, “Praise the bridge that carried you over.’

Strong morale is built when leaders are open to new ideas, transparent with your team, and generous with praise. How is your morale?

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Visit my website at