Posts Tagged ‘story’

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:

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.


How to Turn Compliance into Commitment

September 28, 2011 8 comments

leadership “Webb, What’s going on in the world?”

Sounds like an innocent question, right? Not when it’s your first summer at West Point and the person asking is your Squad Leader. That simple question is code for: “Summarize for me an article from the front page of today’s New York Times.”

My response should have started something like, “Sir, today in the New York Times it was reported that…” Only one problem—I hadn’t read the paper that morning. A myriad of excuses flashed through my mind—Physical Training ran late, no one else has read the paper, We didn’t have enough time—but no upperclassman wanted excuses. There was only one appropriate response.

“Sir, I do not know.”

Here it comes, I thought. I prepared for the requisite shellacking.

But it never came. Instead of fury I found something quite different in Cadet Sarabia’s eyes that morning: disappointment.

As he moved on, I was left to deal with my own lack, silently soaking up his disappointment.

What I discovered during those few minutes amazed me. I felt I had let him down. I felt an intense desire to redouble my efforts, to not mess up again, to do whatever it took. I was surprised by what he had created in me: For the first time that summer I wanted to live up to someone’s belief in me, not just avoid punishment.

For weeks, undetected by me, John Sarabia had been sowing the seeds of trust. In that moment, he reaped the harvest. He had gained something from me that all the rules and regulations, all the pressure and stress couldn’t pry out of me: My Trust. I knew he believed in me. I knew he was on my side.

John had moved me from being merely compliant to being truly committed. And he did it by earning my trust.

How are you earning the trust of those you lead? How have leaders earned your trust in the past?

The Servant Dictator

September 26, 2011 8 comments
servant leader


600 years before the Roman Empire ruled from the moors of Britain to the sands of Egypt, it’s predecessor, the Roman Republic, was almost destroyed. In 458 B.C. The neighboring Aequians attacked Rome—and the army sent to defend the fledgling city-state quickly found itself surrounded.

The city panicked. The Senate decided to appoint a strong leader with absolute power—a dictator—for a 6-month term. They chose Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus—a disgraced, bankrupted ex-politician who was forced to work his own farm west of the city.

Cincinnatus accepted the dictatorship and sprang into action. In a single day he raised, outfitted, and organized an army consisting of every able-bodied man in the city. He marched the army out of the city, rescued the besieged Romans, and defeated the Aequians at the Battle of Mons Algidus. Then, after returning to Rome in triumph, he did the most unexpected thing.

He resigned as dictator and returned to his farm.

Think of all Cincinnatus could have done with absolute power. Exacting revenge on his opponents in the Senate. Advancing this political agendas and causes. Regaining his social and economic status. But Cincinnatus saw his position as a service, not an opportunity.

All too often Servant Leadership is associated with being meek, democratic, or soft. Cincinnatus, the Servant Dictator, the reluctant—but ruthless—warrior, shatters all such notions. Servant Leadership is deeper than a style or approach—it’s a belief, a different way of looking at the whole concept of authority.

What does “servant leadership” mean to you?

4 Ways to Set Your People Free

September 19, 2011 7 comments

Freedom Leadership

I was 21 years old the first time I handed my passport to an armed guard at a checkpoint and entered what the UN calls an Occupied Territory. It was the summer of ’95 and I was driving into the Gaza Strip.

Over the next few weeks, oppression and I became good friends.

Old Kahlid, after treating me to lunch in his house made from scrap and rubble, showed me the deed for his home in Tel Aviv—a document that meant nothing the day the soldiers came and forced him out. Yet he still clings to it.

8-year-old Mohammed, a bright, young soccer player, reminded me of myself at his age. Except, of course, I had just completed my engineering degree and was 6,000 miles from home while he was prohibited from studying engineering or traveling more than 30 miles from where he was born.

Last week I shared my 3 core values as a leader, the first of which is Freedom. I believe it’s my job to free people & organizations to be their best. My experiences in Gaza kindled my hatred of oppression as well as my passion for helping set others free.

What I’ve learned since then: You don’t have to go to Gaza to find oppressed people. They’re everywhere. Sometimes the oppression is on the surface, other times the shackles are deep inside.

Here are 4 types of freedom you can fight for in those you lead. As you go down the list, the oppression grows stronger, but the potential freedom grows more powerful as well.

1. Physical Freedom. Are your followers free to work where, when and how they want? Do they have a degree of autonomy that corresponds to their abilities and responsibility?

2. Intellectual Freedom. Do your constituents have permission to think outside the conventional way of doing things? Are you encouraging them to stretch themselves mentally?

3. Emotional Freedom. Are those you lead comfortable telling you how they really feel? Are they operating free of fear, listening to their intuition, and managing their emotions well?

4. Spiritual Freedom. Do they see and believe the truth about themselves, their leaders, and their organization—or are they bound up by lies? Do they have hope? Can they see a better future?

We were made to be free. And the more you free someone, the more alive they become. Which, by the way, is exactly what our organization needs!

Have you ever been set free by a leader? How do you set your people free?

What Darth Vader Taught me about People

August 15, 2011 23 comments

leadership peopleI was four years old when I first saw Darth Vader.

I didn’t even know what evil was at the time—but the Dark Lord of the Sith soon remedied that. Darth Vader would define and, ultimately, personify evil for me as a child. And as my understanding of evil deepened, my appreciation for good grew.

I was six years old when I heard Darth Vader tell Luke Skywalker that he was his father. “Liar,” I thought—along with every other young boy in the world. But—in true Star Wars fashion—I had a bad feeling about it. “Vader isn’t tricky,” I thought. “He’s in your face. He doesn’t play mind games, he just strangles you from across the room.”

I remember watching the last movie as a nine-year-old. In the opening scene, Darth Vader walks out of a ship with The Imperial March pounding away in the background—I was literally squirming in my seat.

I remember feeling sorry for Luke because he spent most of the movie believing that Darth Vader could be saved. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, Dude, he’s Darth Vader for crying out loud. Give it a rest. He’s evil. He can’t turn.

In the end, Vader did turn. He changed. He came back. Darth Vader found his good.

At nine years old I watched the most evil person I knew—the one who personified the word for me—discover a hidden good buried deep within him. And that good was enough to change everything.

Looking back, the redemption of Darth Vader was a watershed moment in my life. I began to regard people differently. After all, if there was good hiding in Darth Vader, there might be good hiding in anyone. And if Darth Vader could change, then maybe anyone could change.

Needless to say, I’ve found these principles validated time and again over the last few decades.

What events in your life helped form the way you see people?

How to Position Yourself for Success

August 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Leader strategyAre you deliberately placing yourself as a leader throughout your day—or is your schedule at the whim of circumstance? All too often I find my schedule filling up with urgent appointments to the detriment of truly important things I’m trying to accomplish.

There are any number of good places you could be at any moment: At your desk responding to emails, visiting with people at their workstations, cheering your child on at a soccer game, having dinner with a client, reading a book, going on a date.

One of the most important (and least discussed) decisions leaders make is choosing where and when they should position themselves. While every situation is different, here are a few factors to consider, so you can make an informed decision about where and when you place yourself:

  • Where is your Main Effort? You can talk all you want about what your priorities are, but nothing speaks louder than your presence. Where you position yourself communicates what you think is important. Your main effort should be aligned with your key decision points, so co-locating with the main effort should provide you the information to make better choices.
  • Where can you get the best view? Good information is the fuel of sound decision-making. Where do you need to be to see what’s going on? General John Buford spent most of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg up in a seminary cupola because that gave him the best view of the battlefield. From there he maneuvered his units to thwart multiple Confederate attacks while keeping an eye out for his reinforcements.
  • Where can others see you the best? Sometimes what’s most important isn’t what you can see, but who can see you. I remember as a company commander spending time with the mechanics on the night shift every once in a while. Honestly, I enjoyed the chance to get my hands dirty, turn some wrenches, and learn from them. Only as I was leaving did they share with me how important those visits were to them.
  • Where do you not want to be? Other times the opposite is true—there are times and places where your absence can make a positive statement as well. Deciding not to visit an event can be seen as a vote of confidence in a subordinate leader. Don’t assume that’s the case, however. Make sure that leader knows that you trust them, that you’re available for them, but that you believe they can handle it just fine on their own.

What other factors influence where you place yourself? Where will you position yourself today?

A Leader’s Perspective

August 5, 2011 3 comments

Leadership Tom Watson Jr. was, by all accounts, a visionary leader.

As President of IBM from 1952 to 1971, he was instrumental in the information revolution and the development of the modern computer. He also served as the president of the Boy Scouts of America and as the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union. He was an avid pilot and sailor as well.

His remarkable vision, however, extended beyond the spheres of business, politics, and adventure. He also had vision when it came to people:

As the story goes, A young executive was once summoned to Watson’s office after making multiple poor decisions that had cost IBM millions of dollars. As he entered Watson’s office, the young executive said, “I suppose after that set of mistakes you will want to fire me.”

“Not at all,” Watson replied, “we have just spent a couple of million dollars educating you!”

We often hear of great leaders who look into a situation, an industry, or a market and see something that no one else sees—then forge a way to bring it about. Exceptional leaders apply that vision to their people as well, peering into them, seeing what’s possible, and finding a way to realize it.

How have you been affected by a leader?