So Your Culture is Hospitable to Innovation? Here’s One Simple Test to Be Sure.

the joker

“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.” – John Wooden

Before his deforming encounter with acid, Batman’s Joker (the Jack Nicholson flavor) was preening in front of the mirror and his girlfriend (the Jerry Hall version) says, “You look fine.” He turns, raises an already famously arched eyebrow and says, “I didn’t ask.”

This honest approach would serve many organizations who claim to have a culture that supports innovation, but really don’t. They ask, but don’t change anything. This is frustrating and discouraging to those souls who can’t help themselves and must look for new, fresh ways to grow. And, failure to innovate may lead to a protracted organizational illness (see John Wooden).

There are many moving parts to a creativity engine such as: championing leaders, outside the box listeners, seed time and money, obstacle steamroller, and bureaucracy flattener. These and other parts should be recognized and measured.

But there is one simple test you and I can use to see if we truly are working to bring positive change.

List below the last five intelligent failures you have celebrated.

  1. __________________________________________________
  2. __________________________________________________
  3. __________________________________________________
  4. __________________________________________________
  5. __________________________________________________

Trouble completing the test? Then your organization is probably stuck in some important and potentially disastrous ways.

Here are a few quotes to inspire us to get on with the failures so we can succeed.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy

“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.” – John Wooden

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing. Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill



Read More

15 Things I want my Grandkids to Know about Leadership

True, godly leadership—in any context—is inspiring another person to reach for his or her potential.

  1. Why they must forever study and work to be accomplished leaders and managers.
  2. Why Christ-like servant leadership is always best—period.
  3. How to be creative, bold, visionary.
  4. Why culture is so powerful; how to create and maintain a healthy, nourishing culture.
  5. To understand themselves, other personality types and nationalities to create teamwork.
  6. That their personal example is the most powerful way to influence others so they must demonstrate spiritual and emotional maturity, trustworthiness, and competence.
  7. About the complexities of human motivation; how to tap into their own and help others to become highly self-motivated.
  8. That, as leaders, they hold the precious potential of other people in their hands and have a sacred stewardship responsibility to detect, develop, and deploy the gifts and talents of others.
  9. That they need a variety of leadership tools and should thoughtfully choose how to act in different situations.
  10. That their leadership role should always include coaching to help others grow and succeed over the long haul (and to resolve conflict positively).
  11. How important it is to communicate (write and speak) effectively so their messages are timely, appropriate, powerful, understood, and acted upon.
  12. That humans really learn by doing so they must share opportunities and skillfully delegate to develop others.
  13. That crafting clear, measurable organizational and personal goal statements are a powerful way to ratchet up performance and invoke mature, self-accountability.
  14. They must persevere for their job will never be finished
  15. They don’t need a formal position to lead. True, godly leadership—in any context—is inspiring another person to reach for his or her potential.
Read More

Unleashing Diverse Talent while Working in Glorious Harmony: Key Elements


In the hopes of inspiring further study of a complex topic, here are some keys to engaging and motivating creative people to produce their best work—in unity:

  1. See the future. Build a grand vision and work tirelessly until it is shared.
  2. Get bold. Set crazy-hard-to-reach goals and allow for groundbreaking initiatives.
  3. Paint targets. Negotiate and agree on outcomes and how to measure results.
  4. Share the wealth. Construct and publicize reward systems (it’s not always money) that are based on personal accountability and team success.
  5. Be Radar O’Reilly. Embrace the role of supplying resources and being a resource-on-call.
  6. Party on, Wayne! Celebrate the freedom to fail and try again. If people aren’t making mistakes they’re not trying hard enough.
  7. Sit on the bench. Let the players play the game, but capitalize on the occasional teachable moment by coaching.


Learning to lead effectively is a lifelong commitment. I hope this helps you want to learn and practice more.

Read More

Death of a Level-Five Leader


The world is largely unaware that it lost an important leader this week. 


L. Leroy Neff ended his 90-year race as he deserved—with dignity and surrounded by his devoted children, Larry, Don, and Carol.

I am privileged to know the Neff family because I married into it—sort of. Larry’s wife, Linda, and my wife, Mary, are sisters.

To tell the inspiring tale of Leroy and his wife of over 60 years, Maxine, would take a book. So he wrote an autobiography for his family, which I read with great interest. It is a classic American story of modest beginnings in Oregon, military service, performing as a classically trained cellist, and a life changing call to serve Jesus Christ.

That call led Leroy and Maxine to Southern California where they started a life of service on something less than a shoestring. It wasn’t long before Leroy was ordained a minister and promoted to a series of expanding leadership positions in a fast-growing church organization.

His responsibilities, which ranged from Church Pastor to Treasurer of a worldwide work, took Leroy and Maxine around the globe—several times. They loved to travel almost as much as they loved their family. Leroy was a successful and admired leader.

Why? Was it his flamboyant, charismatic personality? No, Leroy was a quiet leader although he possessed the most beautiful, deep, resonant, and unmistakable speaking voice.  Was it that he was a super-genius, flitting from project to project like a bee on crack? No, Leroy was highly intelligent, but admittedly a plodder who moved in a purposeful straight line until the job was done.

Why? There were, at least, three qualities of character that powered Leroy to continually succeed while many around him blasted off and flamed out.

  1. His integrity, anchored to deep religious convictions, was unimpeachable.
  2. He was utterly faithful, enjoying promotions and suffering setbacks with equanimity.
  3. He was a humble man—period.


I had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time with Mr. Neff after they retired to East Texas and especially after Maxine died some years ago and the lonely times began. Mary and I will miss the great family gatherings at Thanksgiving.

My Dad, Melton, and I will also miss our lunches with him. Just three weeks ago Mary, Carol–then his caregiver, and I shared lunch with Mr. Neff in his home. Although frail, his memory was sharp, his mind was clear, and he still managed a wry riposte to my good-natured teases.

When Lester Leroy Neff died late Tuesday night, the world lost a legitimate level five leader. It was a sad, sad day—the end of an era. Yet, when Christ returns, it will be the beginning of another one; a glorious era for an honest, faithful, humble saint.

Read More

Define irony: most jobs like a proctology exam


Define irony:

There have never been more books, blogs, articles, tweets, white papers, PDFs, posts, columns, videos, Ted talks, keynote speeches, workshops, webinars, podcasts, seminars, retreats, and courses on leadership.

Yet most people are unhappy with their job and even fewer are engaged in their work.

That’s ironic, don’t you think? So much knowledge—such poor results.

There are many fine definitions about what excellence in leadership means, but it’s a pretty safe bet common themes include unity, teamwork, high performance, and happiness or fulfillment.

My definition:

True leadership—in any context—is helping people reach their full potential while accomplishing important work together.

There, I said it.

Leadership is building great people!

So, given that 62,000 bits on leadership are published every moment, knowledge must be all that is needed to build great people. Right?


Otherwise two-thirds of the American workforce would not be going home each night with a ton of left over energy and thankful to be getting away from a job they can’t afford to lose—but either dislike or are ambivalent about. It’s how we all feel about, say—proctology exams.

That’s it. Perfect metaphor:

Nurse: “Did you find your proctology exam to be inspiring, meaningful, and personally fulfilling?”

Patient: “Well, I would say it is something I know I needed, and it was definitely personal, but in all candor—and I don’t want to hurt the Doctor’s feelings because he seemed intent on being so thorough—I would have rather been doing something else.”

THE Core Competency

Unless your business is run by robots and staffed with drones—much like the DMV (with apologies to the thirteen nice, friendly, caring, helpful DMV employees scattered across the US)—you and every other business on the planet have one thing in common—people!

No matter what else you do, if you want to be best in the world at something you better first be best in the world at building great people.

 “We build great people, who then build great products and services.” –Jack Welch

Read More

4 Leadership Lessons Learned from Mom

My Mom is a very special person. Here is a taste of what I learned from her.
The ability to make others laugh is almost as important as the ability to laugh at oneself.
  • There is a personal cost for putting others first.

Other than her faith, there has never been anything more important to Mom than caring for her family. Sometimes that is so difficult that a price has to be paid.

Calling oneself a servant leader without sacrificing for another person is false advertising. We have to put our money (and soul) where our mouth is.

  • Commitment and faithfulness are beautiful virtues that reap bountiful blessings.

57 years of marriage, a gaggle of grandkids, and four great grand children bring Mom and Dad more happiness than anything else in this life could.

Where do our kids see the value of loyalty today? They don’t. It is buried under a pile of personal ambition and lost in the game of hopscotch-resume’-builder.

Now is a great opportunity to be seen as a rare leader, a contrarian who sticks with people to the end.

  • Make your bed before you go to school.

After kidding myself for years that I knew where everything was in the piles of paper on my desk and floor I have embarked on a journey to become OCD organized. You know what? Even for sloppy, creative work being neat and orderly is to be more productive.

And that leaves more time for that precious and underused leadership task—thinking.

  • A sense of humor is a powerful ally.

The ability to make others laugh is almost as important as the ability to laugh at oneself. Mom loves to laugh.

Finding the humor in our daily endeavors helps keep leaders grounded and human. Superman and Batman (except for Micheal Keaton) don’t laugh or make us laugh.

Thank you, Mom! I love you.

Read More

7 Keys Peak Leaders Use to Get Feedback


I just returned from a very positive two-and-a-half day session designed to elicit feedback and generate new ideas. Here are some keys you can use to lead for peak performance:


1. Sharpen your razor before you shave.


If there aren’t some sparks flying your blade is going to remain dull. Purposefully invite people you know have differing opinions, personalities, and perspectives.


2. Location, location, location.


As much as is possible, get people away from the weight of their daily responsibilities. Trying to create and produce at the same time is like trying to bathe a cat. Schedule time to socialize informally. We all love to eat.


3.    Begin with the end.


Manage expectations. Clearly define the purpose and result. Set the ground rules, even when there are none. And remind people that not every idea can be used, but all are welcome.


4.    A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.


Start by asking, “What are we doing well?” The answers are the easiest, create a healthy vibe, and set the positive stage for being able to really listen to the negs. Then buck-up and assume the position.


5.    Laughter is the best medicine.


You’ll know you’re building a closely-knit team when heavy discussions are seasoned with chuckles and the occasional belly laugh. Friends who share mirth aren’t disagreeable—even when they disagree. There will be a wit or two in the group—let them go even if they’re sometimes dim. (I think that describes me.)


6.    Major in the majors.


You’ll get way more input than you can use. If you get one or two big takeaways that can be implemented you have a grand slam.


7.    Celebrate success so you can rinse and repeat.


It is important to thank everyone, but the effect is nothing compared to putting an idea to work. Publicize the effort, connect the dots, and set the stage for future success.


Outstanding leaders seek and use feedback.

Read More

Why Business Leader Circuit Training?

Former world record holder, Dwight Stones

There is a fair question. “I already know this stuff so why do I need leadership training?” The answer lies in our careful choice of a name for this series and can be demonstrated by a true story.

“No, that’s enough,” said Dwight.

A million years ago I played small college basketball in Southern California. (I have the t-shirt saying The older I get the higher I could jump.) On the college’s athletic staff was a well-known trainer named Harry Sneider. One of Harry’s most famous clients, other than me, was Dwight Stones, former world record holder, world champion, and Olympic competitor for the high jump.   I happened to be in the weight room when Harry was putting Dwight through his paces and I heard an exchange that stayed with me.

“That’s it,  great! One More! One More,” exclaimed Harry.

“No, that’s enough,” said Dwight as he abruptly stood up and moved to another machine.

The point: Even though he paid Harry Sneider to train him, Dwight Stones was clearly in charge.   Secondly, even though at this stage in his career Dwight Stones could have come up with his own workout regime, he enlisted the help of a coach who knew fitness, but couldn’t have high-jumped over a hobbyhorse. You see, because of a childhood injury or illness, Harry Sneider—a powerful, muscled, athletic man—walks with a pronounced limp.   Dwight hired a coach to help him do what he knew to do.   We all get so busy that sometimes it is helpful to have a coach help us to focus on what is important, but not urgent. Our job, in presenting Business Leader Circuit Training, is to remind, teach, exhort, encourage, and inspire about high-impact leadership principles.   You remain in charge of what you do.

Read More