One Leader’s Perspective
This morning I woke up about 5:45 AM. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I eventually got up and sat down in my favorite upholstered rocking chair. From the strategic position of this beloved chair I can look out our bedroom windows and see directly east.
During much of the year the sunrise is obscured by the growth of deciduous trees that cover much of our property. However, during the late fall and winter this thicket of bare trees stand tall as a lonely testimony of the coming winter. As I peered out the window this morning deep in meditation I was struck by the beautiful glowing hues of orange and pink light as the morning rays of sun peeked over the horizon. Once again I was reminded that each day is a gift.
For thousands of years poets and bards have written about the power and opportunity that exist within each day. Some sage scribes have wisely observed how a single lifetime is aptly portrayed in a single day. The sunrise begins a new day of life as the world comes to celebrate its fresh start through the sounds of birds, stirring insects and waking of mammals. The day continues on as it peaks in mid-day at full strength and full of brilliance. As the day continues to grow old it slowly wanes into a mellow evening. Finally each day ends quietly at sunset with a certain stillness. There are some lessons we can learn about the power of each new day.
We just simply assume that there will be many tomorrows. We sometimes act as if we are entitled to a long life...as if it is owed to us. This is a false assumption because no one has been given the promise of another tomorrow in this world. In western society we don't even like to discuss death. We want to mask its reality with words like "passed away" or "departed" or "no longer with us". We sanitize the prospect of death by sending many of the dying to hospitals and we use modern embalming methods to make the dead seem like they are still alive...only sleeping. But the reality is that life is short and if we receive the gift of another day...only then will we be here tomorrow. Everyday is a precious endowment and each morning, as the first waking consciousness of thought floods into our minds, we should be thankful for the gift of another day of life. Being a religious person, I personally thank my God for this special gift.
The distinctive impact of every day is that it holds the promise of a fresh new start. It provides the opportunity to do something different, start something new, break a bad habit, or establish a good habit. In other words, it gives us the power to choose a new course or direction. So why don’t we typically appreciate this fact and fresh prospect? Why do we continue to do and “choose” the same old things every day, including some that are detrimental to us? The answer lies in our life style. We are culturally programmed to desire comfort and resist change. We often know we should change things and we promise ourselves we will do it someday. The problem is that “someday” seldom comes and eventually we all run out of someday’s. This self-imposed “comfort zone” convinces us that change is always something we can do tomorrow. But, here is an absolute truth…today is a gift, and tomorrow is promised to none of us! Dr. Roger Birkman encourages self-discovery and reminds us that:
“Some people who have become successful at “hiding behind” socialized behavior are reluctant to consider the truth about who they really are. Most people don’t mind dealing with their strengths, but prefer to close their eyes to any possible weaknesses.”
Leaders are “agents of change”, and if change is to occur at all it must begin somewhere and within someone. The role of leadership is to envision a better future and become the change agent that makes this future possible. This is true of business, community or personal life. But it all starts with an individual choice to begin a process of change. It has been said that we must become the change we wish to see. Many businesses have “closed their doors” because its management waited too long to begin meaningful change. Many others have failed because they were so unaccustomed to change they were unable to motivate others to participate in their final attempt toward survival. In a similar vain, many individuals have self-destructed because they waited too long to change their dysfunctional lifestyles or to ask for needed help. What I am getting at here is one simple point! Whatever you need to change in your life, or in your business, the time to do it is now! Tomorrow may be too late and odds are if another tomorrow does come, you will also be unwilling to do it then.
I have the good fortune to teach management classes at Bellevue University. These are college Online courses particularly oriented for working adults. Most of these students have full-time family and career responsibilities. These classes are not easy. The outcome and expectation of these classes is the same as in a traditional classroom environment. To be successful requires a real personal sacrifice and dedication. Why do these individuals with other full-time responsibilities tackle a demanding and difficult one-year accelerated management program? Because a day came in their lives where they realized they needed to make a change. They also realized they needed to do it now! Like most individuals, each one of them could have come up with a dozen legitimate reasons why they couldn’t go back to school and get their college degree. Instead, they choose to make an important investment in themselves and their futures…and to do it now. You really have to commend and admire these change agents.
How about ourselves, and the changes we need to make? There is no time like the present. To fulfill our role as leaders requires us to “seize the moment” and begin the difficult process of change...right now. Problems and difficulties don’t go away or solve themselves by negligence; they tend to only get worst. Now please don’t get the wrong impression from this article. My intent is not to encourage anyone to plunge forward with a decision that has not been well conceived, thought out or planned. We need to get the facts and analyze the need for change before lurching into the unknown. However, when we are convinced and know that change is necessary, it is time to act and begin the process.
Do you see changes that need to occur in your personal life? Remember that tomorrow is promised to no one. Each day is a gift. Do you see changes that need to occur in your community? Become that advocate of change because tomorrow is promised to no one. Each day is a gift. Do you see changes that need to occur on the job, in your career or in your business? Become a change agent because tomorrow is promised to no one. Each day is a gift. As authors James Waldroop and Timothy Butler remind us:
“If you are alert to the signs and symptoms of the patterns that cause you trouble, if you are willing to recognize them for what they are, and if you are willing to work hard to keep yourself from falling into the old familiar behaviors---then over time your struggle with self-defeating behaviors will become less difficult and you will be increasingly successful in your efforts.”
I would like to conclude with a couple of thoughts...
Begin to look upon the start of each new day as something special. Don't take a single day for granted. Take at least a few moments during each day to walk around and observe the world. Savor the natural beauty and majesty of an occasional sunrise or sunset. Ask yourself, what did I learn today? Did I make a difference in someone else’s life? Did I encourage someone, thank someone, help someone or bring a smile to another person’s face? These are the soft-skills that effective leaders must master!
Learn to separate your work responsibilities from your family life. Don't carry your work and its frustrations home with you at the end of a day. There are many distractions in life and they can consume our minds and limit our happiness. Work is important...but there is more to life than work. Remember that no ones headstone has the following engraving. "I wish I had spent more time...in the office." Some people foolishly think they can achieve immortality through their work. I prefer the comment I heard in a Woody Allen movie. A character states, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying!”
Each day let your loved ones know just how special they are. You may not get another chance in this lifetime. Too many people delay spending time with their loved ones thinking they can do it on vacation...or when we retire...or during the holidays. Like the need for change, it is often put off until it is too late. Especially if you have parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or elderly friends and relatives. Talk to them today…because each day is a gift. If you have a poor relationship with a former friend, coworker or neighbor, talk to them today. Make a serious effort to heal the breach and build a new relationship. Remember people are more important than possessions.
Tomorrow morning another sunrise will occur and a new day will dawn. Billions of individuals will see just another day much like the millions of days that preceded it, and the million more days they expect to follow it. But within this mass of humanity a few individuals will see something more meaningful. Some will be inspired by this unique opportunity to accept leadership roles and become advocates of change. They will realize that this single day is unique and there will never, ever be another one exactly like it. They will understand that they have the power to choose a different outcome in their lives or surroundings. They will make a bold choice to be, or do something different.
I hope that one of these unique individuals is YOU!
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author:
Greg has an extensive thirty-five years experience in public speaking and has spoken to hundreds of audiences worldwide. Greg has a Master of Arts degree in Leadership from Bellevue University, where he also has served as an adjunct professor teaching courses in business management and leadership since 2002. His first book, 52 Leadership Tips (That Will Change How You Lead Others) was published in 2006 by WingSpan Press. His second book, Making Life's Puzzle Pieces Fit was published in March 2009. Both are available at amazon.com. Greg is also the president of Leadership Excellence, Ltd and a Managing Partner of the Leadership Management Institute. Leadership Excellence, Ltd. effectively builds individuals and organizations to reach their highest potential through enhanced productivity and personal development using a number of proven programs. He is also the president and founder of weLEAD Incorporated.
Birkman, Roger. True Colors. Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995
Waldroop, James., Butler, Timothy. Maximum Success. New York: Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., 2000
This morning I woke up about 5:45 AM. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I eventually got up and sat down in my favorite upholstered rocking chair. From the strategic position of this beloved chair I can look out our bedroom windows and see directly east. During much of the year the sunrise is obscured by the growth of deciduous trees that cover much of our property. However, during the laGreg L. Thomas
One Leader's Perspective
I was preparing to present a Sunday morning leadership seminar recently and someone from the audience came up to me and asked a thought-provoking question. He quizzed me by asking abruptly, “Where have all the leaders gone?” At first I was puzzled so I asked him if he could expand on his question. His reply was blunt. “Yes, he said, why don’t we have leaders in the world like we used to?” After a brief discussion, he stated, ”I guess since we don’t have leadership in the world anymore the only thing left is to just talk about it!” His statements are a reflection of what many people believe today. It seems to many that we don’t have the quality or quantity of leaders today as we did in the past. Is this really true?
To answer this question we must first ask and answer another question, “Just what is a leader?” A common myth is that leaders are individuals who are either powerful, prominent, charismatic or have legions of followers. This is simply not true. Yes, it is true that some individuals who have the above mentioned qualities are leaders, but some of the most effective leaders do not have any of them. Frankly, having served in various management positions for over 20 years has taught me that many organizational CEO’s and presidents couldn’t lead a group of people out of a well lit room! The perception of “where have all the leaders gone” exists because the labels of “leader” or “leadership” are so often misused and misapplied. The reality is that most leaders are not in formal positions of power. A loose definition of the word “leader” can delude you about leadership. For example, we might say that a policeman can lead a prisoner to jail. In this case, the policeman is not a leader but a captor. The policeman and prisoner do not share the same goal. The policeman is demonstrating coercion and power, not leadership. Real leaders almost never have a need to coerce or intimidate others in order to accomplish a mission together. Leadership and power are two entirely different terms. Some leaders do have formal positions of power but the majority do not.
So just what is leadership? Here is my own formal definition. Leadership is the ability to articulate a vision, to embrace the values of that vision, and nurture a positive environment whereeveryone can reach the organization’s goals and their own personal needs. This means that leaders effectively combine individuals and resources together to accomplish things that would be virtually impossible to achieve alone! It does not require power, prominence, charisma or dozens of followers to be a leader. Leadership is a value-based philosophy, not a collection of tricks, tips, gestures and the right words during a time of need. Leadership authority James O’Toole reminds us that a leader’s vision becomes the follower’s vision “because it is built on a foundation of their needs and aspirations. They see in the vision what they desire, and they embrace it as their own.” He continues that, “There are no contingencies here; the only course for the leader is to build a vision that followers are able to adopt as their own because it is their own”.
What effect has our modern culture had on leadership? It has had a profound effect especially within our western democracies. Allow me to provide an example in the arena of political leadership. The basic framework of a democratic culture is a pride of individualism and personal independence. Our powerful electronic media also plays a significant role in how we react to or judge those in leadership positions. Before World War II, leaders were primarily respected by the media and were presented with a positive image in spite of their flaws. Today, the reverse is true as the media now often focuses on leaders flaws in order to promote a negative image. As a result, many individuals are now more skeptical and resistant toward anyone who attempts to offer new ideas or a new direction. Because of this deepening rooted culture, leaders are not as respected or even acknowledged as they were in the past. This is true not only in the political arena but in all areas of leadership.
Indeed, our democratic principles and media influence have had a powerful effect on leadership in the last 50 years. In reality, most of us in the western world don’t really seem to want ongoing leadership in our society! We feel threatened or confined by others attempting to lead us to new paths or ideas. If we are honest with ourselves, what we want is “leadership on demand”. We want to be able to call on leaders during times of crisis and then watch them ride off into the sunset when the crisis is over. We appear to want leadership only whenwe want it and on our terms. At our convenience, we now live in a civilization of instant coffee, instant breakfast, and instant communication. We now expect instant leadership, but apparently only at the times we want it.
Perhaps the most profound example of this was at the end of World War II. Winston Churchill had demonstrated an astounding example of leadership for the British people as prime minister. His indomitable spirit and oratory excellence had inspired his people with a vision of endurance and victory over the German empire. For a period of time, before the United State entered the war, Churchill’s leadership galvanized the will of the British people to stand alone against Nazi tyranny. Few would question Churchill’s leadership abilities, especially at a time when they were needed the most. Yet, what happened immediately after the war? In the first post-war election of 1945 Churchill was removed as British prime minister as his Conservative party gained only 213 seats in a Parliament of 640. Churchill was the same leader he had always been! But the British people wanted to put the war and its leader behind them. They no longer wanted his kind of leadership after the war. Instead, they chose to support a Labour platform of economic and social reform.
Another reason there may appear to be a dearth of leadership today is demonstrated by a “bumper sticker” I have seen. It states very clearly…”LEAD… Follow…or get out of the way!” (Actually, it wasn’t put as nicely as I worded it here). In order for anyone to lead, there must be followers. Leaders and followers need each other. If there are no followers, or potential followers don’t care, all the leadership skills that anyone can possibly exhibit, will be in vain. (I will discuss the important qualities of followership in next months weLEAD article entitled, “Where have all the followers gone?”) But, as the “bumper sticker” implies, there is an important third category. It is neither leadership nor followership but that of the uncommittedobserver. This third category is a growing force in our modern culture and makes leadership more difficult than ever before. The observer is typically not interested in a mission or a vision, but in maintaining a distance from leaders and followers. From a leadership perspective, this detachment saps the potential creative resources and ideas available from the observer. Often, their lack of support or commitment may inadvertently create resistance against all efforts at leadership.
I maintain that leadership is as available as ever. The real problem is that followers are fewer and often less committed because our modern western civilization has persuaded many to become uncommitted observers. Some have also become observers because of negative past experiences they witnessed when they attempted to follow a leader! What does this mean for a leader? It means the leader must work harder than ever before to inspire, motivate and encourage larger numbers of observers to make a personal commitment and become followers. This can only be done when a leader demonstrates integrity, self-sacrifice, dedication and respect for the observer as well as their own followers. As author Garry Wills comments, “Followers judge leaders. Only if the leaders pass that test do they have any impact.” More than any time in history, the role of being a leader is more complex and challenging.
Where have all the leaders gone? They haven’t really gone anywhere. Many are still with us and a new generation of leaders has accepted the torch from the past generation. However, the overwhelming majority of them are not prominent individuals and you will not see them on the evening news or read about them in the evening newspaper. But be assured of this, every day a million random acts of leadership are demonstrated in our homes, schools, shop floors, office buildings, government institutions, community projects and religious organizations. Sadly, these accomplishments go unnoticed and under-appreciated because of all the problems that also exist in these same institutions and within our society. Most of these individuals are not in positions of power or great influence. But within their own environments, departments, groups or sectors they are working hard to articulate a vision, and leading others to meet the organization’s needs and their own follower’s needs.
Effective leaders are still with us, facing greater resistance and more challenges than ever. They are not gone, but are attempting to be agents of change in a complex world that usually offers little recognition to them. Next month, we will discuss the essential qualities of followership.
Comments to: email@example.com
About the author:
Greg has over 20 years of sales and marketing experience within the electrical distribution industry. Some of his positions have included being a National Sales Manager, National Marketing Manager and for the past 9 years that of Regional Sales Manager. He also has extensive experience in public speaking and has written articles for various publications. In August of 2000, Greg completed his studies for a Master of Arts degree in Leadership from Bellevue University. He is the founder of weLEAD Incorporated.
O'Toole, James. (1995). Leading Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers
Wills, Garry, (1994). Certain Trumpets – The Call of Leaders. NY: Simon & Schuster
One Leader's Perspective I was preparing to present a Sunday morning leadership seminar recently and someone from the audience came up to me and asked a thought-provoking question. He quizzed me by asking abruptly, “Where have all the leaders gone?” At first I was puzzled so I asked him if he could expand on his question. His reply was blunt. “YeGreg L.Thomas Articles
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