What is Leadership?

What is leadership?  Somebody asked me this the other day, and, as usual, I had some trouble answering it as a definition.

You see, I put answering this question in a similar bucket as answering the “what is love?” question.  How do you answer, “What is love?”  When a young teen going through the drama of first-love pangs asks it, what do you say?  I usually answer with something rather lame like, “Hum, that’s hard to answer.  Let’s just say, you know it when you see it or feel it.”  Well, I have the same problem with the leadership question and my answers are usually about as lame.  So, what is leadership?

  • It’s a child who confesses to breaking something when everyone fully thought the cat did it.
  • It’s a boy who stops on their way to practice to help a woman carry bottled waters across school campus.
  • It’s a young man who gives up his aisle seat on the plane and takes a less comfortable middle seat so a young woman on crutches can be more comfortable.
  • It’s a famous COO who expresses her vulnerability by sharing her grief with the world to inspire and help others feel okay about their own grief.
  • It’s a young man who continues to play even though in pain so he doesn’t let down his team.
  • It’s an employee who comes in for 21 straight days (yes, even weekends) to help out a fellow employee who is injured and can’t fulfill all of their duties.
  • It’s a teenage girl who goes to prom with an autistic boy who is shunned by the crowd because she knows it is a once in a lifetime event and she doesn’t want him to miss out.
  • It’s a CEO who sells his company but shares the profit from the sale with his employees because they were the ones who got him where he is.
  • It’s a mom who spends her life savings to the point of bankruptcy to pay for a cancer drug for her daughter.
  • It’s a community that raises money to help the children of a fallen police officer go to college.
  • It’s firefighters who yearly go to the great southwest to fight brush fires in the tremendous heat.
  • It’s a company that understands when they’ve done wrong by customers and admits it even if it means a PR nightmare.

I could go on and on but I think – and hope – you get the picture.  Leadership is not about 50 habits or laws, it’s not something we can put on a matrix or whittle down to an acronym, it’s about stepping up to do what is right, even when it is hard or might make us look bad.  It is inspiring those around us to be better than we thought we could be.  It’s not a title, a position, an age, a race, a gender or a level of education.  Much like love, you know it when you see it or feel it and it makes you a better person.  Join me in my quest, what’s on your list?  Let me know, what is leadership?


Jedi Mind Tricks for Better Service

If you’ve watched any Star Wars, I am sure you remember Jedi mind tricks.  You know, when Obi Wan Kenobi said, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” and the evil Storm Troopers walked away all fuzzy and bamboozled.  Was this just the mind-musing of George Lucas or are there any Jedi mind tricks?  Well…sort of.

I was listening to the radio the other day while I working away in my office and heard a program where a psychologist was talking about the difficult life of tipped employees, how their livable wages have decreased and ways they might work to get higher tips.  Here are some of the things he listed:

  1. Introduce yourself.
  2. Squat down at the table to make eye contact.
  3. Stand within at least 2 feet of customers.
  4. Show friendliness with a discreet touch on the arm or shoulder.
  5. Smile wide.
  6. Compliment your customer’s choices.
  7. Repeat customer orders or requests.
  8. Be entertaining and friendly.
  9. Say “thank you” or write it on their check at the end of the experience.
  10. Call customers by name.

As I looked at this list, I was struck by the logic when I thought about it in the context of brain science.  You see, the most primitive part of our brain, the so-called lizard brain, has the sole function of determining what things are threatening to us and what things are not.  It’s there to keep us alive.  However, there’s a major challenge, this primitive core cannot tell the difference between a waiter with a bad attitude and a thief with a gun, both are equally worrying and hazardous to the lizard and it will quickly move into a defensive posture and potentially hijack the ability to reason out an intelligent response.  This is not only true when physically threatened; it is also true when socially threatened.  Thus, the way to counter the struggle with the lizard is to appeal to the most critical things it sees as socially threatening, and thankfully, due to neuro-science, we have some answers as to what these things are. Recent brain research has shown that we actually feel less socially threatened when we perceive being welcome, respected, listened to, included in decisions and made confident that things will go well.  By doing things that are welcoming, respectful, etc., we literally relax the lizard and make others more open and willing to collaborate. This may seem obvious and something your momma taught you, but here is the science behind it.

Anyway, take a look at the list again and think about this lesson in brain science.  Many of the actions on the list seek to appeal directly to the lizard.  If you go down the list, you can easily place these actions as being welcoming, respectful, attentive or confidence-building, and by practicing these types of behaviors, you may not only get better tips but you might also deliver a better, more memorable experience and build more customer loyalty.  Heck, practicing these things might even help you in your personal relationships and help break down a few walls.  So I guess there really are a few Jedi mind tricks available to all of us, and without having to go on a trip to see a Jedi master in a galaxy far, far away.

Honor My Time


Do you get angry when you go to the doctor and your appointment is at 10:00 yet the doctor doesn’t see you until 10:40?  In addition, if you miss it, they charge you.  Wow, they can hold you up but charge you if you make a mistake.

Whenever I mention this to people, they make excuses about how busy doctors are and how they have a lot of things out of their control so appointments have to be flexible.  I don’t buy it.  I think it’s just bad business.  If you make an appointment, it is a promise and keeping it shows respect to the patient.  I mean, my time is important to me and I have things to do too, why should doctors have some sort of monopoly over people’s time?

I am not trying to come down on doctors here because they’re not the only ones, dentists, auto shops, and the biggest offenders, telephone, electric and cable companies…you know, “you have to be home between 12 and 5.”  Why is it that disrespecting people’s time has become okay?  Why do these folks get a pass?

Is your business an offender?  What can you do to honor your appointments and be there on time?  What can you do to either take less appointments or staff up to handle people on their time not yours?  Service is about helping people and great service is about doing it in ways that honor people’s time.

Much like the famous Seinfeld episode where he makes a reservation to rent a car only to find out that the car rental company has no cars when he shows up.  In his words, “Anyone can take a reservation; the secret is in holding the reservation.”  Funny, yes, but so true; make my appointment and be reasonable in keeping it, is that so much to ask?

The Best Tool at Your Disposal

What is one tool that will grow your leadership, make you a better employee, parent, or spouse?  This is a simple one, it’s your ears…or to be more accurate, listening.  I know you’ve heard it before but the more time I spend living and breathing, the more it becomes clear that listening is one of the best tools we have for just being better human beings.  While your mouth can say so much, it can also get you into a lot of trouble.  Your ears on the other hand never get you in trouble.

The problem with listening is that most of us worry that we will not get our point across, we will seem weak, or we will not have a voice.  What I have found though is that when we listen, we are usually more respected, and often get across many things without saying a word…and…when we do speak, we have taken time to think out something that doesn’t get us in trouble and will probably be a more cogent and valuable contribution.

So, how is it done?  First, just shut up!  It’s that easy.  Second, not so easy, you must really pay attention, leave distractions behind (put down your phone!!!) and hear what people are saying.  This means not judging, not reading anything into their words, not taking a stand for your agenda, and being willing to see another point of view.  The act of listening means hearing without preconceived notions and without worry about what you will say in return.

In addition, I have found listening to be possibly the best leadership tool of all.  It builds a following and demonstrates the service attitude necessary for great leadership.  Ironic though since most people think leaders are the talkers.  But ironic as it may sound, great leaders are listeners.

I am also finding listening to be a great parenting and relationship tool.  It has made me a better father and husband.  It has made me a better friend.  This is in direct opposition to my mouth.  It has given me more problems by a long shot.

Listening.  Try it.  Put down your phone and open your ears.  Show someone you care.  Turn off your own wants, needs, and thoughts.  Just listen.  You might be amazed at the gifts you receive.