Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category


Buzzwords always abound in businesses. Each year sees new ones come and (if we are lucky) a few worn ones disappear. After all, Buzzword Bingo exists for a reason! Some of the most annoying to me are using verbs as nouns such as in “That’s a good ask.” Why not use the word “question” or “request” as the correct noun in that situation instead of misusing the word “ask”? Who knows how many years I’ve endured hearing people tell someone to “reach out” to someone at work when a simple “contact” will do the trick. You start “reaching out” to me at work and I’m calling HR on you!

So pardon me for a few paragraphs while I go on a somewhat controlled rant about a currently popular phrase that is so grossly overused and abused I feel I must take a stand. The term is “thought leader” or “thought leadership.”

The phrase isn’t new, of course, but it has become so commonly misused that the phrase is, to me, largely meaningless any more. Here are my issues with it and with how it is used:

1. Too many companies and individuals set a goal of becoming a thought leader in some field. They want to start blogging or publishing or public speaking or some combination of public activities with the explicit hope of being considered a thought leader. This seems completely backward to me. Their mistaken focus seems to be on the accolades and reputation they hope to earn because of their actions rather than the quality of the actions and benefit to others that comes as a result of their work. I’ve even heard the ridiculous discussion of whether or not the content for such “thought leadership” articles should be original or contracted out to an agency! What!? If you don’t have the ability to think your own thoughts enough to get them in writing, then you aren’t a thought leader even in your own company (maybe even in your own head), much less in any industry.

2. Any entity that refers to itself as a thought leader isn’t one. If I see “thought leader” in your Twitter or LinkedIn profile, I will not follow or connect with you. I do not care what you have to say because my first impression is that you are simply pompous and full of yourself. On the other hand, if it is others who are calling you a thought leader, then perhaps I’ll be impressed with their assessments and pay attention to what you say, but not if you are the one using it to describe yourself. Humility is a good thing. Learn it.

3. Companies cannot produce thought leaders en masse. For example, a colleague and I have been exploring employee advocacy software options over recent weeks. I can’t count how many times sales reps from the companies have tried to sell their products on the notion that we are helping employee advocates of our company become thought leaders through the use of it. Well, sorry again, but when the advocacy program largely depends on retweeting and reposting content we suggest with perhaps minor personal edits, that doesn’t make anyone a thought leader. Since when does retweeting others make anyone a thought leader? And since when did a single company have thousands of thought leaders as employees? Come on, people. Get real.

Here is my point: “Thought leader” is a title earned and bestowed by others as a result of unique, innovative, exemplary work over time. It is not a goal that anyone concerned with actually doing good work will waste time pursuing. It is never a term you should use for yourself.

Should you be so fortunate as to have others consider you a thought leader and refer to you that way, then accept their compliment with humility, be grateful that you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on others, and go on about the business of doing your very best work. History and others are far more likely to accurately describe you, your work, and its impact than you will yourself.

So go out there and do your best every single day. Only be concerned with that. Let others decide who they consider thought leaders to be. Don’t waste your time (or mine) associating the term with yourself. That’s for others to decide after you’ve earned it.


The Go-GiverOne of the entities I follow on Twitter is @TalentCulture, a source of helpful information across topics such as leadership, talent management, human resources, the social workplace, and HR technology. Between their tweets, tweet chats, radio show, and other web resources, you can find a lot of quality information and interaction with others who share such interests. It is one specific train of thought in a series of recent tweets from @TalentCulture that sparks this blog post.

How many times have you heard of someone positively described as a go-getter? The term is generally used to praise someone who takes initiative, who gets things done, who does more than what is expected, who doesn’t let obstacles stand in the way of achieving some goal, etc. That is why I was a bit surprised earlier this week to see a series of tweets distinguishing a “go-getter” from a “go-giver” with the more positive slant going in favor of the go-giver.

What is the difference between the two? The tweets from the past few days will help distinguish between them.

Some of the characteristics of go-getters according to @TalentCulture tweets on September 1-2 include:

  • people of action;
  • egocentric;
  • get things done;
  • more competitive and inward looking;
  • tend to usurp;
  • most have only one speed and agenda – themselves;
  • goal driven and will not deviate from that;
  • need to know what’s in it for them;
  • the players with the puck/ball and their sight on the goal.

Conversely, go-givers were described in these ways:

  • focus on bringing value to others;
  • seek personal success while benefiting colleagues;
  • tend to be servant leaders;
  • elevate the achievement of others;
  • community-centric;
  • think of the team before themselves;
  • focus on empowering others.

There is a definite difference between the two according to the people who shared the above descriptions.

A few other tweets worth noting include:

  • “Without go-givers, there would be nothing for go-getters to take.”
  • “If I help you ‘go-get’ what you need then I have become a ‘go-giver.'”
  • “It’s completely possible to be a go-getter and still be focused on others.” (Does this view mesh very well with the others above? Do you agree with the claim?)

As someone who has positively identified himself as a go-getter for most of life, I admit it is hard for me to wrap my head around this distinction. It is difficult to see being a go-getter in a more negative light when I know, for example, that I demonstrate daily a concern for others and willingness to give in order to help them achieve their goals while also being very goal oriented and driven to accomplish more than others expect from me. Perhaps I’ll have to read the book and chew on this idea a little more to determine where I stand on the matter. At least the potential distinction is now in mind and I can better analyze my motives and behavior.

What do you think? How does this distinction between a go-getter and a go-giver resonate with you? Which one are you, or do you think you’re a mixture of both? How do you see the distinction playing out among members of your team at work, or even in your household or other organizations you may be a part of? Let me know in a comment.

For more info about the idea of being a go-giver, go to and the #tchat recap. You’ll find the book on Amazon if you’re interested.

Stop Looking BackToday’s post comes from what seems to be an unending series of life lessons learned from my dog, Callie.

A little background: Callie and I are very tight.  It’s a safe bet that if I’m home, she is never too many feet away from me.  If I go to a different room, she is there with me.  If I go outside, she has to be there.  Those times I must go out without her, leaving her at the front door to watch, result in her whining and getting upset.  You’d think the world was ending.  The return home is met with great excitement, even if the absence is just a few minutes.  Callie and I definitely love each other and enjoy each other’s company.  There is one thing, however, that Callie does multiple times a day that really annoys me.

When I start walking in some direction in the house, Callie will inevitably get in front of me and start going where she thinks I’m headed.  However, when she comes to a point where she has to make a choice between turning left or right or going up or down stairs, she stops right in front of me, getting in my way, waiting for me to make the direction known.  Then she takes off in that direction, frequently getting in my way if the journey consists of many such decision points.

I wish she could understand if I said to her, “This would work a lot better if you’d follow instead of trying to lead when you aren’t sure where I’m going.”  Callie might like to think at times that she is the leader of our little pack of two, but we both know she isn’t.  At critical decision points, she keeps looking back because the way forward isn’t clear to her.  I’m really the leader and she would do well to follow or at least stay by my side rather than walk in front of me.

As the above scene repeats itself numerous times daily, I regularly think of some applications to leadership:

  • In order to lead, you need to know where you’re going.  It does nobody any good to be in a position of leadership and still be unclear about the direction you are called upon to lead.  That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that the leader solely makes the decision by himself/herself without input from or regard for others involved.
  • Every time you stop to look back, forward progress stops.  On the grand scale of looking back at one’s life or an organization’s history, there is value is pausing and reflecting on the journey.  Too much time dwelling in the past, however, contributes to a longing for the perceived “good old days” and steals precious time that can be given to moving onward and upward to new achievements.
  • Know who the leaders are.  In an ideal world, it is the people in actual positions of leadership who also provide a major portion of the leadership others look to and willingly follow on a daily basis.  The world and organizations within it, however, aren’t always ideal.  Sometimes the most influential leadership comes from people who don’t have a position of authority, but who have strong connections with others and who have earned the respect of those around them.  It’s nice when these informal and unofficial leaders are positive influences that contribute to the forward movement of the cause or organization.  It can be a source of great conflict when that isn’t the case.  Tough decisions may need to be made about who fills official leadership roles or how to deal with informal leaders acting contrary to the goals of the organization.

These are a few applications that come to mind as Callie and I repeat the scene daily of her trying to lead while constantly looking back at me for direction.  There may be others.  Can you think of some?

Sad FaceMost of us have experienced a variety of leaders and managers in our lives.  If we’ve held several jobs, then we’ve run the gamut of supervisors from those who draw out the best in us to those who micromanage, deride, and suck all the life out of those reporting to them.  Outside of work scenarios, we have experienced varieties of leaders in government, church life and a host of volunteer organizations to which we belong.  Some of us have been in those leadership roles.

While reading the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles a couple of weeks ago, I took note of the story of evil king Jehoram in 2 Chronicles 21:20 which states that “he departed with no one’s regrets.”  Some of the genealogies of such kings are matter-of-fact and absent any color commentary, but not this one.  This king was so awful that for all time it is recorded that when he died “he departed with no one’s regrets.”  Who wants to be a leader remembered that way?  Who wants to be a leader where other people are glad to see you leave?  Not me.

While the focus of leadership should not be getting others to like you, and it is possible that there will always be haters you will not win over for some reason, most people have a willingness to appreciate and follow good leadership.  We appreciate leadership that is visionary, honest, transparent, thoughtful, encouraging, insightful, enabling, and effective.  We do not appreciate leadership that is self-serving, derogatory, controlling, haphazard, unclear, and ineffective.  You can add qualities to each of these lists.

If you are a manager and you have no concern for what others think about you, then you are in the wrong business and you should do something else.  If you are a manager and you do care but you aren’t sure what others think of you, then seek out someone unafraid to tell you the truth and have a conversation.  You might ask the simple question, “If I left this role today, would most people be happy or sad to see me go?”  The answer may be very revealing.  I have lost managers in the past where colleagues were distraught at the change and mourned the loss, wondering how we would function without such a great person at the helm.  And I have lost other leadership where the result is an immediate sigh of relief and rejuvenation of hope within the ranks that we have endured the storm and maybe we can move forward now that the giant blockage has been removed from our path.

Of course, being a leader and a manager are two very different things and I do not use the terms synonymously.  Leaders are not necessarily in supervisory positions and managers are not necessary real leaders.  So whichever of the two fits you for purposes of this discussion, interpret my words accordingly.

I hope that in those leadership roles in my past, present and future, I have been and will continue to be the kind of person who others are sad to see go when the time comes.  I don’t ever want to be that leader who is clueless to the strife he is causing, ever charging forward over the corpses of the good people he is trampling along the way.

Whether you are officially in a management role, or voluntarily in some capacity of leadership, lead in such a way that others are sad to see you go.  That isn’t the goal of good leadership, but it is a reasonable consequence.

Org ChartIn yesterday’s post, I reviewed Seth Godin’s book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.  One point briefly mentioned in the review is the idea of leading from the bottom.  Today I want to explore that idea more.

When Godin first discusses the idea in his book, he tells the story of when he started full-time at Spinnaker at the age of 24.  He was charged with making software games out of science fiction stories.  Nobody reported to him – no programmers, no secretaries, no staff whatsoever.  What did he do?  He started a newsletter and distributed it twice a week throughout the company talking about the opportunities, the challenges, and the successes.  One by one, people voluntarily joined the cause – even on their own free time – to be a part of what was happening.  He led from the bottom and people joined him for the journey to the point of being wildly successful beyond what many thought possible with few resources allocated.

I think back to a couple of times in the past year when there were stories in the news that caused a grassroots reaction from others via social media.  There was the young 20-something lady who started a campaign against a major bank when they announced a jump in fees.  The movement caught on and in a matter of days the national bank reversed its decision.  That lady had no position of authority.  She had passion and a Facebook page.  Just this past week the Kentucky bourbon distillery Maker’s Mark had to change its recent decision to lower the alcohol content in its signature product after the public outcry regarding its plans to do so.  Opponents had no authority over the company other than as fans and customers, but that was enough.  They led from the bottom.

Looking around at people in my life, I see others who voluntarily take on mountains to climb because they care and because they think they can make a difference one day or one person at a time.  They don’t wait for permission.  They don’t sit back and say “I’m only one person; what can I do?”  They don’t get stuck in some endless period of analysis paralysis.  They begin one step at a time doing something, and others join them in the cause because others have been wanting the same thing, but needed a leader to forge the path.

One of the reasons my schedule stays full is due to the fact that I think we are put on this earth to make a difference, and that as long as we have life and breath we can and should be doing what we can to impact others in meaningful ways.  I believe that is true for you as well, although, you’ll have to decide what those ways are for yourself.

At work, I have nobody that reports to me.  I may never have direct reports at my company.  I’m fine with that.  I still know I have the opportunity to make a positive difference.  I can impact individuals and even the entire company regarding how we communicate internally.  Outside of work, I have several personal passions – mostly faith-related – that drive me to do things weekly because I think they are the right thing to do, and because the idea of just living for myself outside of work seems a waste and, in fact, offensive to me.  Nobody “reports” to me outside of work, either (except, perhaps, my dog), but I’m fine with that, too.  I can still live each day faithful to who I am called to be in confidence that it will be a life lived imperfectly, but genuinely for the One who gave it to me.

What passions do you have for change?  Where do you want to make a difference?  Whether you have any positional authority or not, whether anyone reports to you at work or outside of work, your passion and example of doing something to lead can be just the spark that others around you need to join your cause and to make a difference.

Don’t be afraid to lead from the bottom.