Is That a Stumbling Block or a Stepping Stone?

No one has ever made life’s journey without encountering obstacles. There will always be unexpected “bumps in the road” and how we deal with them will determine if they are stumbling blocks or stepping stones.

Several months ago, I shared with you the wisdom of an Eagle Scout candidate who stated that leaders inspire you to accomplish things you never thought yourself capable of doing. This morning I read something said by Sir Winston Churchill that gave me another view of inspiration.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficultly.”

I believe the same can be said for inadequate leaders and great leaders. Consider…

The mediocre or poor leader encounters an obstacle and sees a problem. This problem quickly becomes an overwhelming roadblock to success; an impediment that makes it impossible to reach a goal. In other words, a ready-made excuse for failure. While he or she may not accept the excuse from his or her followers, it is expected that superiors will not only accept it from him/her; but, will acknowledge its validity and support the failure to achieve the objective.

Conversely, great leaders see the obstacle for what it is; an opportunity to excel; a chance to do something that lesser men and women have failed to accomplish. The great leader sees the opportunity to demonstrate the “can do” attitude of the team and highlights the contributions of each team member in finding the solution to the difficulty.

Great leaders inspire their followers to closely examine the stumbling block and find ways to convert it into a stepping stone to ongoing success!

Do You Choose to Be a Great Leader or Will You Settle for Mediocrity?

When I first entered the financial services arena a number of years ago, I was encouraged to be on the lookout for people who I felt could become successful sales people. Not sure what to look for, I asked my agency manager, Ray, for some suggestions as to what traits or skills I should be looking for. Rather than list specific “bullet point” characteristics, he offered a two sentence answer. Later in my career, when it became my job to identify such people and recruit them to work for the company I represented, I realized that his initial guidance was, by far, the best advice I would ever get and I believe that truly great leaders follow it to this day. Here is what he said,

“First class people seek out and surround themselves with first class people. Second class people look for third class people.”

Those who are less than great leaders surround themselves with sycophants and “yes men” who will tell them how right they are, how perfect their ideas are, how brilliant their thinking is. They fear those who are more knowledgeable, more creative, than themselves. They fear competition from those who have the abilities to excel and could be promoted ahead of them.

Great leaders are not intimidated by people who know more about a subject than they do. They do not fear competition from their co-workers and team members. Rather, they seek out and recruit the finest minds and best workers available knowing that by forging a team of such individuals, they create a team that has the greatest chance for success, whatever the endeavor.

When he was elected as the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln could easily have nominated lesser men to serve in his cabinet; men who would have told him what he wanted to hear. Instead, he persuaded those who had been his greatest competitors for his party’s nomination to serve in his cabinet; men who were far more educated than him; men who disagreed with him and were not afraid to say so. Together, Lincoln and his cabinet led this nation through its darkest hours and I would contend that this was possible solely because Lincoln surrounded himself with the greatest talent and most knowledgeable people he could find.

As a leader, you have the ability to choose those who will advise you and help lead your team. Do you choose to be a great leader or will you settle for mediocrity?

When It Comes to People, Perhaps You Can Judge the Book by its Cover

In a touch of irony, I read two quotations this week that lead me to believe that some books can be judged by their covers … if the “books” are the people we meet.  I’m not talking about the clothes they wear, the cars they drive, or the titles on their doors.  Rather, I’m talking about the way they treat others.  Consider this …

The Greek Orator, Demosthenes, wrote that a person “cannot have a proud and chivalrous spirit if (his) conduct is mean and paltry; for whatever a man’s actions are, such must be his spirit.”

Think for a moment about the leaders you have known.  How did they treat others.  In all probability, those that you consider to be great leaders are most likely those that you believe treated others fairly.  They played no favorites.  Every person received the same consideration and attention.  The ones for whom you have little regard for their leadership skills are very probably the ones who you believe treated some of their followers unfairly.  They could not be counted on to be impartial.  They only gave favorable treatment to those that they perceived to be in a position to provide some benefit to them.

Great leaders have the unique ability to set aside personal feelings and consider the well-being of ALL those that they lead, not just the favored few.  While we may not always like the decisions that these leaders make, we respect them and are confident that their verdicts are rendered with an eye toward the impact of their decisions on everyone.  Great leaders do not make decisions based on the preferences of “yes men”; the whims of those whose support they seek; the desires of those from whom they wish to curry favor.  Great leaders do what is best for all concerned; what is right.

This leads to the second quotation, attributed to Malcolm S. Forbes, that I read.  “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

Every action each of us takes is viewed by someone and we are judged by it.  Will you be seen as a person of great character or as weak and self-important?