Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I was honored and humbled to have received an invitation to speak last night at the University of Kansas Edwards Campus in Overland Park, KS. The audience was a Masters in Marketing Communications class on "Leadership and Management." It was a thrill to speak to a group of ambitious, curious, energetic and really, really smart graduate students.

I used the opportunity to talk about my leadership journey and to provide ten tenets which make up the leadership philosophy I have formed as I've advanced in my professional career.

Here are some of the highlights from my discussion with this marketing communications class:

- Phil Johnson, a principal at PJA Advertising, wrote recently in Advertising Age, "Eventually, you learn about leadership as you thrash about in the reality of day-to-day life and encounter the unpredictable, the unexpected and the unpleasant. I've blundered with the best of them. I've stood on the sidelines with my hands in my pockets when I should have taken strong action. I've jumped into the fray when I should have stayed out. It takes experience and instinct to know what works." I couldn't agree more with Johnson's statement--as I read it last week for the first time I thought, "that's me!"

- Two of my favorite authors, or sources, on leadership are Colin Powell and John Wooden. Powell is Retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as former Secretary of State under George W. Bush. The late Wooden was the legendary coach at UCLA, where he won 10 national basketball championships in 12 years. Both know or knew a thing or two about leadership.

- Powell once said, "Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible."

- Wooden, ever the common man in his approach, said, "A leader must make decisions. Making decisions is a tough job. Those under a leader can make suggestions. Making suggestions is an easy job. Everybody has a suggestion--not everybody has a decision. Perhaps that is why there are so few leaders--at least good leaders."

- My ten tenets of my personal leadership philosophy are:

1. Hire good people and get out of their way. That doesn't mean ignore them--it means give them the space and freedom to reach their potential.

2. Always be accessible. MBWA, i.e., "Manage by walking around."

3. Avoid being a "pleaser." Inevitably, as a leader you are going to make someone angry with a decision. A good leader is willing to make the tough decisions; trying to get everyone to like you will result in mediocrity.

4. Be comfortable with who you are. Leaders don't change who they are--they hone their skills.

5. "It's amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit." (John Wooden)

6. It's easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. Commit errors of commission versus errors of omission, or inactivity.

7. Set clear expectations. My two primary expectations of my team are (a) meet deadlines and (b) be on time. It's better to be on time and 80% complete than late and 100%. And, being late (to a meeting or appointment) means "my time is more valuable than yours." Get over it--it isn't.

8. Know the customer--and ensure that they are always the focus.

9. The situation dictates which approach is best. Don't be formulaic in your leadership.

10. Have fun...laugh, have work-life balance, let your team see your "human side." In an environment where 40-50% of one's waking hours are spent at work, it must be a place where team members are comfortable, inspired, and having fun.

- If you Google "leadership," you'll find over 145 million entries. On Amazon, there are over 64,000 books listed for the topic. One can read tons of material on leadership--the key is to ensure that you know what leadership approach suits you best and continue to hone those skills.

- Finally, as a leader, no matter what you say or do...you are always sending a message.

What was most encouraging about last night was the quality of questions asked by the students. This group was engaged and craving insight into leadership and management. They also are rightfully concerned about business right now--about dealing with a glutted personnel market, about how they advance, about how they manage their subordinates.

It was a fun evening which sent me away inspired--inspired to continue to improve as a leader and to help others as they move along their career and leadership path.

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