A Real-life Amazing Race

January 24, 2012 3 comments

Leadership Example AdventureHow have you spent the past 50 days?

Take a moment to think about where you were on December 5th of last year. How did you spend the weeks leading up to the holidays? Where were you for Christmas? What did you do for New Years? How have the first few weeks of 2012 treated you?

While you and I have been going about our daily routines, one of my coworkers, Alex Mackenzie, has spent every day of the last seven weeks rowing across the Atlantic Ocean in a small boat.

Yes, you read that right. The Atlantic Ocean.

Alex and his team knew they would have to endure unpredictable weather conditions, cold nights, and 24-hour operations—long hours of rowing (punctuated by brief two-hour rest spells). Since leaving the coast of Africa, however, they’ve also had to contend with malfunctioning navigation equipment, broken water desalinators, and a shattered rudder.

Oh, and did I mention that most of the team members don’t have all their limbs?

That’s where the story gets interesting—and inspiring. The Row2Recovery team is made up of two able-bodied and four injured British servicemembers. Their goal isn’t just to reach Barbados, they’re leading by example to inspire injured soldiers and their families to achieve the extraordinary. They’re also out to raise £1 million for injured service personnel and their families.

Tune into their progress here or follow them on twitter. They’re just hours away from the shores of Barbados and the end of their epic journey. You can learn more about the campaign or contribute to the cause at their website: www.row2recovery.com

Your turn.

Row2Recovery was born in the mind of Alex and two of his Army buddies, one of whom lost his leg to an improvised bomb in Afghanistan. What vision is gnawing at your soul, trying to get out?

What’s your dream? Sign up for the Leap Challenge and make 2012 the year you turn your ambition into action.


Replace your Resolutions with a Plan

January 23, 2012 12 comments

Leadership Leap ChallengeI’m not a fan of New Year resolutions. Why? Three reasons:

  1. I stink at them.
  2. I feel compelled to think them up on the last day of the year, in a post-holiday coma, with no clear plan of how I’m actually going to accomplish them. (Is it any wonder that 88% of New Year resolutions fail?)
  3. They promise hope but deliver guilt.

So we’re 23 days into 2012—how are you doing on your New Year resolutions? Odds are you’ve slipped up a little here and there. That’s assuming you haven’t tossed the whole idea after temptation tackled your willpower in a moment of weakness and beat you back into submission.

The good news is you can start all over today (if you want to). Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year. Don’t worry though, if you need more time, you could wait until April and celebrate the Hindu New Year. After that, you’ve got Rosh Hashanah in September or even Hijri New Year in November.

You see, what you know as January 1st is actually an arbitrary date that was set by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. That’s the year he introduced the Gregorian calendar to correct astronomical inaccuracies in the Julian calendar the Romans used. It took over 300 years for most of the world to adopt the Gregorian Calendar, but today we don’t give it a second thought.

The truth is, every day is the start of a new year.

That’s what gave me the idea for The Leap Challenge. If January 1st is essentially a random start date, then why not take January to recover from the holidays and get used to writing 2012 on everything. Starting February 1st, we could take an entire month to set ourselves up for success—refining our vision, gathering support, developing a plan, and preparing to execute it. Then on Leap Day, February 29—arguably the most astronomically arbitrary date in our calendar—we could take the leap on accomplishing not just a resolution but one of our biggest dreams.

If you’re interested, then join us for The Leap Challenge and trade in your hasty resolutions for a fighting chance at accomplishing one of your biggest dreams.

How do you feel about New Year resolutions?

Announcing “The Leap Challenge”

January 9, 2012 2 comments


I’m willing to bet you’ve got stuff you want to do—important stuff, stuff that matters. Call it whatever you like—your dreams, your goals, your bucket list—but it’s always there: inspiring, goading, even taunting you toward something higher, something bigger, something better.

Maybe you’ve got an idea for a non-profit or a vision for expanding your business. Maybe you want to learn to play the piano or to write that book. Maybe it’s saving for that trip to Antarctica, getting in shape, or buying your own home.

Whatever it is, if you’re like many people I know, those dreams aren’t even on the back burner, they’re stuffed somewhere safe, in some cold, dark cabinet. They’re just waiting for you win the lottery. And you aren’t even buying tickets.

A small group of colleagues and I want to change that this year. 2012 is a leap year, but we want to make 2012 your leap year—the year you take a leap on a big dream. To make that happen we’re offering The Leap Challenge on this blog to help catapult you toward one of your biggest dreams this year.

The Challenge

The concept is simple: Do one task a day, every day, for the month of February, 2012 (Leap Month) in order to prepare yourself to achieve one of your biggest dreams. On February 29, 2012—Leap Day—you’ll start the journey toward your goal, having acquired the tools, the plan and the network needed to finally turn your ambitions into action.

Here’s how it’ll work:

1. Before February 1, 2012:

  • Sign up for the Challenge by filling out the form below.
  • Choose one big dream you want to go after. (Don’t worry about refining it too much, we’ll work on that in February. However, you do need to narrow it down to just one dream)
  • Invite others to join!

2. Leap Month (February 1–28, 2012):

  • Each day you’ll receive a short task via a blog post. Over the course of the month, these tasks will collectively guide you through the process of refining your dream, gathering expertise & support, developing a step-by-step plan, and preparing to execute with discipline & agility.
  • Leverage the knowledge of others, gather encouragement, and find accountability by sharing and interacting with other participants via Twitter (using the hashtag #Leap), Pages on both Facebook & Google+, or in the comments on each blog post.

3. Leap Day (February 29, 2012): All participants begin their plans, taking the leap and accelerating toward their dreams.

4. Beyond (March – December 2012): For the rest of the year you’ll use the established networks to give and receive encouragement, hold yourself and others accountable, and celebrate individual achievements.

In addition to accelerating you toward one of your biggest dreams, the concepts you’ll learn during The Leap Challenge will help you personally apply many of the leadership principles that I blog about.

We’re excited about helping people take an extraordinary leap in 2012. Sign up today!



2011’s Top Ten Posts

December 30, 2011 3 comments

Leadership 2011To say 2011 has been a big year for me and my family would be a gross understatement. I left my old job and started a new one, moved from New York City to Northwest Arkansas, and welcomed a new baby into our family. In addition to these huge life changes, this blog has seen its traffic grow ten-fold.

As I did last year, I decided to collect the year’s ten best blog posts all in one place. I defined “best” based on page views, number of comments, and my own completely biased opinions. With 80 posts to choose from this year, selecting the top ten was tough—here they are:

Leadership or Manipulation? This February post deals with the thin line between leading others and manipulating them.

5 Tips for Knowing When to Stop I love when I can write a post that applies to leadership, relationships and creativity. I think I achieved that in this post from February.

Leveraging your Fear as a Leader This March post was the result of Michael Hyatt encouraging me to expand a comment I had made about the misunderstood nature of fear.

Leading with your “Yes”  A fun night with my family turned into this popular post in March about fighting our tendency to resist others’ ideas.

How to Share Credit without Losing Any This post from April shares a mistake I made when I when I was 20 that has shaped my view of sharing credit ever since.

3 Tips for Displacing False Beliefs I think this post from June is fundamental to understanding how to lead anyone in the world—including yourself.

The Power of Listening I’ve been thinking a lot about listening this year and this post in July tried to put into words how powerful I think it is.

What Darth Vader Taught me about People This post from August about a seminal moment in my life is now far and away the most popular post on my blog.

My 3 Core Values as a Leader This September post was the result of my good friend Doug Crandall asking the question (he’s good at asking great questions).

5 Things You Could Learn from Military Leaders This popular November post came after a conversation with a coworker who was preparing for a speech in Japan.

It’s been an amazing year for me, both personally and professionally—thanks for sharing it with me! I’ve so enjoyed the conversations we’ve had and I’m looking forward to even bigger things in 2012.

Which of the top ten were your favorites? If I missed your favorite post, what was it?

Categories: Leadership Tags:

Putting Things in Perspective

December 19, 2011 15 comments


I’ve spent the past three weeks sleep-deprived and perpetually behind in just about every area of my life. My routines have been shredded, my energy sapped, my patience eroded, and my disciplines decimated. My home office is a mess, I can’t seem to get into a groove at work, and I haven’t written a new blog post in weeks.

You know how that makes me feel?

Just fine.

Why? Because on Sunday evening, November 27th, my wife gave birth to our third child—a healthy baby girl we named Elena Grace. You might think by #3 this would become old hat. Not even a little. This tiny miracle overwhelmed Sarah and I just as much as her older brother and sister did when they arrived.

We experienced anew that dizzying transformation that occurs when you see your baby born and hold that fragile new life in your arms. In an instant, football games, parking spots, and what you have planned for lunch become meaningless. How much money you make, what kind of car you drive and whomever you’re trying to impress all fade into futility. In that moment, what’s truly valuable becomes pristinely clear.

Perspective has a way of changing how you see things.

So, despite drowning in diapers and snatching naps when we can get them, Sarah and I wouldn’t trade one second from the past few weeks. We’ve so enjoyed getting to know little Lena and watching Luke and Lucy welcome her into their confidence. It hasn’t been neat or easy, but we’ve been able to put first things first—to care for a newborn while helping Sarah recover—all thanks to the great company I work for and the support of our family and friends.

Thanks for all your well wishes—I look forward to the stories Lena is bound to inspire…

Where could you use a bigger perspective today?

Top Ten Posts for November 2011

December 1, 2011 4 comments


November was another banner month for the Leading on Purpose blog. We’re growing by leaps and bounds and will have some big news to reveal this month, so stay tuned. To give you an idea of what’s buzzing, here were the most popular posts from the last thirty days:

1. What Darth Vader Taught me about People

2. 5 Things You Could Learn from Military Leaders

3. Leadership or Manipulation?

4. 10 Things I Learned from Boy Scouts

5. Why Every Leader Should Take an Improv Class

6. Leading like Michelangelo

7. Leadership Lessons from Watching Football

8. My 3 Core Values as a Leader

9. How to Turn Compliance into Commitment

10. 5 Things I Learned Flying a Desk

What was your favorite blog post from the past 30 days (from any blog)?

Categories: Leadership Tags: ,

5 Things I Learned Flying a Desk

November 22, 2011 9 comments

Leadership staffMy first real job as an Army Aviator was as a junior staff officer in an Attack Helicopter Battalion. Instead of helicopters and soldiers I was given projects and paperwork. Instead of employing combat power, I was employing PowerPoint.

My turn in the cockpit would come—and it would go—but the lessons I learned in that first staff job have stuck with me to this day. Here are 5 things I learned early on:

1. The BLUF Principle. BLUF stands for “Bottom Line Up Front.” Every communication (e.g. memo, report, message, etc.) should start with what’s most important. Forget the structure they taught you in English class, get to the point, then—once you have their attention—share the pertinent background, analysis, and exposition.

2. Execution trumps planning. A poor plan executed brilliantly is always better than a brilliant plan executed poorly. As a planner, don’t go for a brilliant plan. Instead, set people up for brilliant execution. Often that means creating a simple, elegant plan that’s easy to understand, easy to communicate and easy to believe in.

3. Leaders are everywhere. Your best leaders aren’t necessarily the ones getting the most out of people on the front line. They may be the ones in the back room helping part-timers understand how the mundane and seemingly inconsequential tasks they perform everyday help ensure the success of the entire organization.

4. Don’t sit on information. The longer you take to process and pass on information—any information—the less time everyone down the line has to think, plan and act. Information is the fuel of informed decisions, do everything you can to maximize the time decision makers have with critical data.

5. Those bastards at Squad HQ. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at in an organization, the folks at the next higher level will seem like incompetent idiots who only exist to make your job—and life—miserable. Get over it. Assume positive intent and give them the benefit of the doubt. Make time with them face to face on a regular basis to have open and honest discussions.

What did you learn from working on a staff?

3 Modern Leadership Myths

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

mythbustingTen or twenty years ago, debunking leadership myths was easy. In every other corner office you could find an overconfident boss barking orders to masses of underperforming employees. However, over the last decade there has been a shift in the prevailing management winds.

Most of the changes have been good—though none revolutionary. People are getting more respect. Collaboration, engagement, and performance are all on the rise. More and more companies are doing well by doing good. None of it is “new,” successful leaders have been doing this stuff for years. It’s just becoming more acceptable.

However, there are some questionable tenants in this growing “new” leadership doctrine that haven’t been fully thought out. They sound good and leaders are assimilating them as founding principles, but after further inspection, you’ll see many of their premises are flawed.

I offer the following examples and ask for your feedback:

Myth #1: There’s no place for harsh or domineering leadership styles. In this new era of individual respect, the idea of a leader issuing unilateral orders without asking for opinions from others seems utterly barbaric. As a result, the autocratic leadership style is snubbed and reserved for dictators and half-wits. In fact there a number of situations where a strong autocratic leadership style is called for—so we should learn how to use it, not ignore it. What would you think of an EMT that arrived at the scene of an accident and promptly gathered everyone around to hear their opinions on what to do first—CPR, call for more help, or tend to other wounds?

Myth #2: Experience is the best teacher for a leader. It’s etched in every big company’s fast-mover career timeline—get the right jobs to get the right experience. You do that and you’ll be better qualified for leadership positions at the top. I have nothing against experience. In fact, it’s an absolutely essential part of learning—but it’s not always the best teacher. Yesterday’s experience may be totally irrelevant to tomorrow’s challenges. If you’re not careful it could pigeonhole your view of the world and lock you into an antiquated perspective. For experience to make you better, you must reflect on it.

Myth #3: You have to be an optimist to be a great leader. There’s no room for pessimism among great leaders—they’re always hopeful, always positive, and always believing that good will triumph in the end. Yeah, well, you could say the same about the couch potato who sits at home all day watching motivational speakers on YouTube. The fact is, you need some pessimism as a leader. You need to be able to envision the worst possible scenario—and really believe it could happen—if you’re ever going to successfully defend against it. And honestly, without pessimism, there would be no real change. All change starts with a discontentment.

What do you think are the big myths in leadership today? 

5 Things You Could Learn from Military Leaders

November 14, 2011 18 comments

VeteransI was stunned to learn that the unemployment rate among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is up to 12.1%. That’s more than 3% higher than the national average. The more I looked into it, the more misconceptions I discovered employers had about military experience.

A few weeks ago, Mark Norton, my friend and coworker at McKinney Rogers, asked me a great question. He was preparing a speech to a group of Japanese businessmen in Tokyo and asked me which aspects of military leadership I thought were most applicable to business leaders.

I came up with four things on the spot that I learned in the Army that I’ve seen lacking in the corporate and non-profit worlds. I’ve since added one more. Here they are:

1. Develop Junior Leaders. Junior officers and NCOs win today’s battles. Developing their judgment and empowering them to take initiative enables decentralized execution—which gives organizations the agility needed to operate in highly complex, rapidly changing environments (sound familiar?).

2. Leverage “Commanders Intent.” As Ike said, “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” Understanding the leader’s intent—her purpose, key outcomes, and defined endstate—empowers individuals and teams to adapt, improvise, and succeed.

3. Task Organize. Missions and teams are not all created equal. Form specific teams to achieve specific outcomes. Establish universal standards and train people to operate globally in different multifunctional teams.

4. Use your Operators as Trainers. In the military, training falls under operations—not HR. Operators understand what skills the field needs, and they’re the natural choice to teach those skills. Human Resources tracks and records individual progress, but never delivers or resources training.

5. Focus on “Mission first, People always.” The forced choice between making your numbers or caring for your direct reports is a false dichotomy. Taking care of your people is taking care of business. Likewise, taking care of business is taking care of people.

Don’t assume that a veteran’s experience is void of business relevance. There are exceptions of course, but the vast majority of veterans have learned to get results by working hard, thinking creatively, and taking care of people.

I don’t know about you, but I’d take someone like that on my team any day.

What other aspects of military leadership do you think would benefit business leaders?

Top Ten Posts for October 2011

November 4, 2011 Leave a comment

LeadershipOctober was the best month ever on the Leading on Purpose blog. Thanks for passing on the news and telling your friends! Here were the month’s top performers:

1. What Darth Vader Taught me about People

2. 7 Reasons Why No One is Following You

3. The Power of Authentic Questions

4. The 7 Elements of Surprise

5. Leading with your “Yes”

6. The Snare of “Good Enough”

7. 3 Things You Need to Burn

8. Leadership or Manipulation?

9. 3 Ways to Make Yourself Easy to Follow

10. How to Push through “Good Enough”

What was your favorite blog post from the past 30 days (from any blog)?

Categories: Leadership Tags: ,