Leadership Lessons You Still Need to Learn?

imagesCAJ16GVCAre there some leadership lessons you still need to learn?

Take a look at the following from Forbes Magazine. They are lessons we all should have learned (or be in the process of learning) about VISION, INNOVATION, and MOTIVATION.

But let’s remember this:

The most important role of a leader is to enable others and to continuously improve things.

First, let me share this with you from my book, Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off…: 

“At one time, I viewed the police as the mythical Sisyphus—reliably going forth each day to push a heavy rock up a hill only to have it slide back down when the day was finished; never being able to push the rock over the hill—only to begin again the next day doing the same thing.

“I no longer hold that view. I’m convinced that police can take their place among our most respected public officials. They can push that rock over the hill and move forward. As I will relate in the following materials, we did it in Madison and that improvement continues today, years after my retirement. With the right leadership and a progressive government, it can happen in any city. With the right conditions and the right support, it will only take one chief to change a police department…

“What I began to see is that if I change myself—that is, “walk my own talk,” or “practice what I preach”—I teach in a most significant and lasting way. I became the lesson I wanted to teach. In order to do it myself, however, I had to clearly explain, specifically, what I was talking about, why the new approach was necessary for our future, how we would begin to practice it. Then I had to deeply and intently listen to their feedback—how they were understanding what I was trying to communicate.”


Here’s a test: stop reading right now and recite your organization’s vision. If you can’t, you are in good company – 70% of people can’t. Most people either don’t know their organization’s vision, don’t understand it, or feel so disconnected from it that they can’t explain how it relates to their day job. The good news? It doesn’t have to be that way.

I have no doubt that you work in a very sophisticated organization, with sophisticated people, who create sophisticated solutions, solving very complex problems for your customers – AWESOME. The vision for your organization need not be so sophisticated. What’s the ‘golden rule’ when crafting the vision statement? It should require effort to create, but should not require effort to understand – externally (customers) and especially internally (employees).

Here are some additional guardrails for creating a vision that meets the criteria of the golden rule:

  1. Does it describe what you do? If so, it shouldn’t. The vision statement is not an opportunity to use creative, colorful language to describe the operations or activities of the organization. It should describe the resultant experience or outcome. Too many organizations get caught up explaining how they work. Instead, focus on the subsequent outcomes after the work is done.
  2. Has it gone beyond simple? Is it over-engineered? Have you literally beaten all the ‘simple’ out of it with your business acumen? If so, stop. Believe it or not, there is an inverse relationship between the number of business buzzwords you use and the clarity your visions creates – a true example of less being more. Remember the company that had this one: “… a computer on      every desk …”?
  3. Is it easy to recite/explain? Can you explain it to your friend that DOESN’T work in your industry? If not, stop and re-think. For obvious reasons, it is advantageous for the vision to be easily understood by the employees charged with making it a reality. However, you’ve struck gold if those same employees have internalized the vision so much so that they can recite it on call. Even more powerful is the impression left on the friend when the vision is delivered with language they can understand.  Remember, complicated ≠ effective.
  4. Did you sleep on it? Unfortunately, vision crafting is not exempt from the law of diminishing returns. If you think you’ve got the vision statement nailed, stop and sleep on it. When you come back to it, do you quickly re-connect with the same enthusiasm you had when you first read it?

I love Lewis Carroll’s quote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Visions are intended to clarify the pathway forward. When effective, the vision statement has an illuminating quality that allows organizations to move fast and with great precision.

(For more on this CLICK HERE.)


While people have spilled much ink on how to create innovation, I’d like to offer an easier way to get there – by process of elimination. Let’s start with five things you will NOT hear at the most innovative organizations. Be on alert for them; These are clear indicators that your company is losing its innovation “mojo.”

1. “Can we do that?” Permission seekers are the mark of unclear company vision. If your company’s vision is clear enough, and has been communicated constantly and consistently, people do not come to you for permission, they come to show you what they’ve already done.

2. “We can’t do that.” On the flip side of the previous comment, you find the limitations or barriers people have set up in reaction to the punishment they’ve experienced for prior failures. If your people see others try, fail, then get punished, you can guarantee that people will remain in the safe spot. No one is going to try to innovate, much less try anything remotely outside the box ever again.

3. “We have to go through proper channels.” A mark of truly innovative companies is that the employees are well-networked, and they are constantly crossing silo walls to engage other departments, gather knowledge, or just get an outside opinion. Though one person may come up with the idea, nobody creates a great innovation solely on their own.

4. “That’s good enough.” In many companies, once significant progress is made, momentum slows and eventually the project fails. This is one of the key reasons 70% of change efforts fail. Yes, it’s important to celebrate incremental wins, but in innovative companies, people don’t let up – they continue to focus on the final prize. This only comes from a relentless focus on winning.

5. “That’s not my job.” This final phrase is the clearest indicator that people aren’t focused on the future of the company. If employees have a clear understanding of the vision set by leadership, no one will be talking in terms of their box on the org-chart. If you hear “us” and “them” language referring to internal teams, beware. Employees at innovative companies know it is always “our” job – we win together.

Stay on the alert to these dangerous phrases that might sneak into conversations in your organization. A great brand name no longer protects you from losing your edge. Remember Kodak?

(For more on this CLICK HERE.)


If you’re in a leadership position, please pay close attention to the following message recently posted to a social media channel:

Dear Managers, Directors, and CEOs,

After your team hits a company record and pulls off what was previously thought impossible, carefully choose your words. 

Do not go on to list out how we could have done just a bit more, worked just a little harder, or how we’ll achieve more “next time.”  This is the simplest example of Keep It Simple, Stupid!

At a moment like this, simply say “Good job! Thank you.” – and be done.


Your Record-Setting Employee

(For more on this CLICK HERE.)

A good New Year’s Resolution might be to work on being a more effective leader. 

Acting on the above points could be a great start!