Archive for the 'Leadership' Category

The Unappreciated Leadership Of Moses

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

The Bible tells us that Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt. Their goal was Canaan, but – as it is commonly stated – they wandered in the Wilderness for 40 years before reaching that “land of milk and honey.” (40 is a very popular Biblical number. It also pops up again in the stories of Noah’s Ark and Jesus in the desert.)

But that’s not really what happened. At least – not necessarily.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew. And apparently, the early Hebrews didn’t have much use for terms like “billion” and “trillion.” In fact, they seldom needed anything much bigger than – you guessed it – 40. So, their word for “40″ and their word for “many” (or “lots of”) was the same word. This means that Noah could have endured “many” days and nights of rain, but not necessarily exactly 40. And Moses – who spent 40 years in Egypt, 40 years as a shepherd, and then 40 in the Wilderness – may have had a less symmetrical life than we’ve been told. He could just as easily have spent “lots of” years doing those things.

This may be a case where Biblical scholars gave us an exact translation of the Hebrew, yet failed to convey the actual intent of the Torah writer.

So now the question arises, “Why did Moses wander for so long – however long it actually was?” And the answer is, because he was a good leader. It’s not that he didn’t know the way to Canaan, or that he was too stubborn to ask for directions. His people weren’t ready. (And I don’t mean that only in the Spiritual sense.)

You see, Canaan wasn’t vacant. In fact, it was pretty well full of local tribes who had absolutely no intention of simply handing over the keys to Jericho and Hazor without a fight. Moses needed time to turn a group of freed slaves into an army – a well-trained military force capable of laying siege, of winning pitched battles, and (most importantly) of following orders.

Sam Houston displayed similar leadership, leading up to the Battle of San Jacinto. Like Moses, he had to ignore complaints that sapped group morale, and to resist the temptation of committing his troops before they were ready. It made him extremely unpopular among his men – until they won the battle.

From time to time, you may have to exercise leadership in this same way. It means doing what you know is right, even when it’s unpopular. But real leaders don’t take their troops where they want to go – they take them where they need to go.

Even when it seems like it takes 40 years for them to see the wisdom in your plan.

Want Improved Behavior? Try EXPECTING It.

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

When I was young and irresponsible – but I repeat myself – a teacher of mine found a way to force me to act grown up: she thanked me in advance for being mature.

Huh? How does that work?

It was simple (for her), and – believe me – she played me like a violin.

Somewhere along the way in her career, she had learned that the old “spoonful of sugar” routine works better most of the time with college-aged guys than do heavy-handed tactics. But she had also discovered a secret, insidious, improvement: by letting me know that she trusted me to perform at a higher level, she actually forced me to do so.

The situation was this: in a group project, I had to turn in my part of the work first in order for my partner to do hers. I’m sure that my very responsible partner had seen me in the classroom enough to know how lax my work habits were at this point in my life. She probably went to the teacher, begging for another partner – anybody.

So it was that – at the end of class – our teacher called me up to the desk to ask when my part of the work would be ready. Naturally, I assured her that I would have it finished on schedule. At that point, I expected her to threaten me if I failed to deliver or, perhaps, try to shame me by talking about how much this grade meant to my poor partner.

Instead, once I promised to be on time for a change – she thanked me for being a man of my word.

I know it sounds simple, but it was deadly. She called me a “man” – a term that had rarely (or never) been applied to me. Throwing in the “…of my word” just sealed the deal. Now I had to hold up my end of the bargain. And I did. I was even early!

So, next time your teen, tween, or otherwise uninspired worker has an important job to do, don’t threaten them – just let them know that you expect them to come through with flying colors. Treat them like a functioning adult.

Who knows? They might even behave like one!

Want To See REAL Leadership? Rent Some Gregory Peck Movies!

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Most of what I know today about Leadership, I learned from Gregory Peck – at the movies.

He was not just a Leading Man, he was a Leader. Time and again in his films, he put a human face on The Person In Charge in a way that business schools can’t even hope to match.

His Horatio Hornblower was modest about his own abilities, knew the names of every subordinate, and was as quick to offer praise as he was skeptical about the value of punishment.

He could also teach by showing us what not to do. In “Twelve O’Clock High,” he was too hands on, becoming so personally involved in the lives of his men that sending them out on dangerous missions ultimately cost him both his command and his sanity.

But it was in “The Guns Of Navarone” that he summed up the essence of what it means to be a leader. At a point in that movie where absolutely everything has gone wrong, he says:

“If you think I enjoy this – any of it – you’re out of your mind. (But) someone’s got to take the responsibility if the job’s going to get done. Do you think that’s easy?”

Every self-employed person I know can identify with those words, as can PTA presidents, committee chairs, and mid-level managers the world over.

Of course, those particular lines were written by Carl Foreman (based on Alistair MacLean’s novel.) So you could make the case that Peck was just reciting words. But he was ever so much more than a mere parrot. He was a leader off-screen as well (prominent California Democrats even asked him to run for Governor – against Ronald Reagan), which is no doubt why he conveyed so many facets of Leadership – both good and bad – so convincingly.

And today, as 24/7 TV News gives us perhaps too close a look at what passes for leadership from the local to the national level, you’d better believe that if I see anybody who seems cut from the Peck mold, they’ll have my vote – forever!

Leading By Example – One Way Or Another

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Those of you who are regular visitors to this site – and if you are, God bless you – will notice that I’ve added a new category, as of today: Leadership.

The lovely Gina Tanner, who has started a computer instruction service of her own in recent months, asked me to include some thoughts on this topic from time to time. Perhaps – now that she is in business for herself – all the quotes I am forever collecting will have a more personal relevance for her.

And it is indeed a subject which is dear to my heart. As a bandleader, businessman, and a family guy, I am always looking for a new insight or suggestion that will make me better at my various jobs. There are certainly no shortage of books and websites offering advice. The trouble with most of them is that they seem to all be saying “this is the way,” when the truth is that there are an almost infinite number of ways to lead.

Any quote by General Patton will be pithy and memorable, and he certainly was an amazing leader. But then so was Mother Teresa, and her management style couldn’t have been more different than “Old Blood And Guts.”

In my own life, I have even learned a lot from people whose actions showed me how not to act. These have included both bosses who were of the “my way or the highway” persuasion, as well as others who – in Boone Pickens’ words – tended to say “Ready, Aim… Aim… Aim…” endlessly. Because I remember all too well how both of these extremes made me feel, I make an ongoing effort not to duplicate their mistakes.

So, as a comment worth sharing strikes me, look for more entries dealing with leaders and leadership styles. I’ll warn you up front that – once I get on this topic – one thought tends to lead quickly to another. For instance, one of my favorite quotes (whose origin is unfortunately unknown to me) is:

“A leader leads by example – whether he intends to or not.”

From childhood on, we learn who are – and who are not – real leaders, simply by watching those who would aspire to leadership. If we see them set a good example, we may follow them. If not, we won’t (hopefully.) But – either way, and for better or worse – their actions cause a reaction in us.

Sometimes that reaction is to say, “Even I can do better than that,” and become leaders ourselves. Which fits in neatly with this closing thought from Ralph Nader:

“I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”