Death By A Thousand Titles

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Success is not a function of the size of your title but the richness of your contribution. – Robin S. Sharma

I’m sure if you’ve been in leadership circles long enough you’ve heard the adage, “People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers”. And it happens for good reason. A person with a title gets a position and then suddenly they think they know it all. Instead of growing into their leadership potential they fall back on their title to push their agenda and ideas.

A must-read for all leaders is John Maxwell’s book The Five Levels of Leadership. It should be required reading for all organizations and their leaders.

In the book, Maxwell walks the reader through the five levels beginning with level one, the lowest level – position. While it is a starting place for leaders it’s not where you want to stay. One of the main problems, as Maxwell points out, with positional leaders is that they want to “focus on control instead contribution.” And this is why people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.

Positional thinking for any organization is like death by a thousand cuts (titles). It’s not necessarily one thing that is the deal breaker for people, but the culmination of bad leadership behaviors over time that seals the deal. It’s management by decree in place of leadership by example. It’s painful to watch, and horrible to experience. But what do those mindsets and thinking sound like? I will highlight a few that Maxwell describes.

Top down – “I’m over you”

The person with a title can either be humble or arrogant. They can take advantage of the opportunity they now have to learn, mature, grow, and develop into a good leader. Or they can be arrogant and think they are important because they have a title. When a leader relies on a position rather than influence to get things done it’s death by a thousand titles.

Power – “I determine your future”

Positional leaders on power trips will kill your organization. This mindset is counterproductive to any that wants to move forward. Sadly, the good people working for this type of positional leader will soon move on. Leaders who like to wield this kind of power soon find that there’s no one left to control. It’s death by a thousand titles.

Selfishness – “You’re here to help me”

For the positional leader, it’s all about them. You will fall into their good graces of leadership so long as you understand that is your role. Not the other way around.The antithesis of this, of course, is servant leadership. As you mature as a leader you learn that it is not about you and that the best way to lead is by serving others. A selfish leader is only thinking about his or her self-preservation. Everything else and everyone else is subservient to that end. Organizationally, it’s death by a thousand titles.

Rules – “The manual says”

Positional leaders are big fans of the rule book and the manual. This, of course, kills morale, stifles creativity, and otherwise makes life unbearable for those actually trying to make a difference. Howard Behar described it best when he said that what organizations need is not a rulebook but a playbook. Unfortunately, the positional leader doesn’t yet have the skill and foresight to lead any other way than by the book, not realizing that much of leadership is by the heart. Organizationally, it’s death by a thousand titles.

Having a title doesn’t make you a leader. It simply means as Maxwell points out, that you have leadership potential. Your growth as a leader will be accelerated as you stop relying on your title and use your people skills. This begins by practicing servant leadership. As a leader you must come to know, it’s not about you.


© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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On The Other Side Of Fear

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We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In his book Intentional Living, John Maxwell describes the faith factor as it relates to connecting us with like-minded people. In a more personal way, he relates the role fear plays in preventing us from reaching our goals and dreams. Maxwell states, “Fear is the most prevalent reason why people stop. Faith is what makes people start.” Over the years I’ve had my fill of fears. I reckon it’s possible you have as well.

If you’re like me, you possess no shortage of ideas or goals you’d like to achieve. I’ll admit some ideas were perhaps conceived too soon, some a little too late, while others just died a slow death due to the restraints of time. Can you relate?

Yet there are some dreams and goals that died a slow death for another reason- fear. We’ve all wrestled with fears. I remember in Little Leagues it was always the fear of striking out. In school, I had test anxiety. Fear would get the best of me that I would fail. Even today I struggle with another fear- arachnophobia- the fear of spiders. What are yours?

Thankfully, Maxwell’s depiction of fear and the struggles we all face didn’t stop there. He went on to point how faith makes up for our fear and when applied in our lives can turn the tide in our favor. Maxwell said, “Faith does not make things easy, but it makes things possible because it puts everything, including fear, into the right perspective. So, if you want to learn, to grow, to achieve your dreams of significance to make a difference, have faith”.

How different would your life look if the decisions you made, whether those decisions are personal or professional, look if they were made through the lens of faith rather than through the lens of fear? How would things look on the other side of fear? Here’s my challenge to you.

Lead on the other side of fear

Imagine the kind of influence you could have as a leader if you opted for faith over fear? Fear will paralyze you as a leader and hinder you from becoming all God created you to be. When you lead with faith it will bury your fears and you will lead on a new level. Living on the other side of fear doesn’t mean you don’t have doubts or have questions, it just means that it’s a burden that doesn’t rest entirely on your shoulders anymore. Faith takes the weight off, fear puts it on.

Dream on the other side of fear

I know all too well what happens to dreams when fear sets in. They die. How many dreams of yours have suffered an untimely death because of fear? Fear will keep your dreams small. But I’d rather fail on the other side of fear with a God-inspired dream than succeed knowing I didn’t need God’s help. As Mark Batterson says, “If your dream doesn’t scare you, it’s too small.”

Serve on the other side of fear

When you live your life free from fear you live a life that is a peace. You are at peace knowing that you don’t have to worry about what other people think about you, say about you, or otherwise interfere with your life’s purpose. You are free to lead with your heart and serve causes greater than yourself. Fear is a speed-bump on the road to being a blessing to others. Get rid of the fear.

Grow on the other side of fear

Fear stunts your growth on many levels. It can rob you of your dreams, goals, creativity, and productivity to name a few. But when you feed your faith and starve your fears you position yourself for unprecedented personal and professional growth.

I am in no way suggesting here to throw caution to the wind and chase your dreams on blind faith. It pays to be prudent and listen to wise counsel. But well-meaning people along the way will fuel your faith or they will fuel your fears. You must not allow fear to win. Faith is hard because of the unknown. But with fear, the unseen and unattained dreams and goals will always be that–unseen and unfulfilled.

A wonderful life in leadership awaits you. It’s on the other side of fear.

© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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Growing Big, Staying Small

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Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it. – Henry Ford

In his book, It’s Not About the Coffee, Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks International, recounts a fascinating story about attaining the kind of culture every company wants. Behar says one concept that he learned and developed from Howard Schultz was, “The fundamental task is to achieve smallness while growing big”.

It almost sounds like a contradiction upon first glance. How does one actually go about achieving smallness? What does it look and how can it improve the culture of any company? How could it improve yours?

Behar relates one custom that became part of Starbucks culture. The writing of cards. Each month he would write birthday and anniversary cards to everyone in the organization. It started with about sixty cards a month. Behar says that by the time he retired he was sending out more than five hundred a month.

In a time when company culture and employee engagement are the buzzwords and people are trying to figure out what it means, is it possible that we are simply over thinking it?

Maybe it has nothing to do with how big we are thinking and the grand schemes and plans of making improvements. Is it possible that employee engagement and company culture is not working as it should because we are not thinking small enough?

At the end of the day here is what we must remember: it’s all about people. Call it company culture, employee engagement, call it whatever you wish- but it all boils down to people and how you make them feel. Do they feel appreciated? Do they feel valued? How are you showing it?

An article in Talent Culture revealed that employees who “feel valued by their employer are significantly more likely to be motivated to do their very best (93 percent vs. 33 percent).” In addition, it said that “those who do not feel valued are significantly more likely to seek new employment within 12 months (50 percent vs. 21 percent)”. Look within your organization. How many people are motivated to perform at their very best? How many people do you suppose are looking for new jobs?

Growing big and thinking small is not a mutually exclusive goal. But it will require intentional thinking and action on your part as a leader. Here are a few ways you will have to do it.

Think small relationally

It makes no difference if your vision or goals are big or small, it only comes into existence through the dedication and hard work of your people. Every leader should take the advice of John Maxwell who said, “Always touch a person’s heart before you ask for a hand.” You must connect relationally before you can ask people to help you reach your goals.They must first buy-in to you before you can expect them to buy-in to your vision.

Think small serving

It was a brilliant quote I still remember from the late Sam Walton who said, “The bigger we get the smaller we have to think, customers still walk in one at a time”. Whether it’s your employees whom you are serving or the customer base your organization caters to, the way you treat each individual makes a world of difference. Too often we worry about pleasing the masses and forget we still serve our employees and customers one at a time. If you do right by one, you will do right with many.

Think small growing

Intentional smallness is what Behar modeled by writing hundreds of cards a month. It happens with random acts of kindness in recognizing your people. It’s being intentional about building relationships. It’s about ensuring that your people feel valued, respected, empowered, and trusted. It’s about writing that card.

Growth begins to happens when you take care of building a powerful culture of smallness that gives you the momentum to become a big organization that held true to its most sacred values along the way.

Are you thinking small enough?


© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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Taking ‘No’ Out of Your Playbook and Why it Matters

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome – Samuel Johnson

Leaders understand that obstacles are a part of the landscape on the road to success. But how many leaders are self-aware enough to realize that some of the obstacles blocking their desired success are self-inflicted?

When what stands between your employees or volunteers and potential success is a constant drumbeat of “no” or the good ole standby of, “We’ve never done it this way before,” then you are capping your talent and are hindering your chances of success.

In his book, It’s Not About the Coffee, past Starbucks International president Howard Behar writes of the necessity of taking ‘no’ out of your playbook. His thought was that we can grow so accustomed to saying no to our customers or employees that soon these roadblocks take on a life of their own and become the unspoken rules, the No Book, that stands between you and your potential success.

One example Behar shared about Starbucks turning an everyday ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ was by opening the door early in the morning. Customers would come by ten minutes before the store opened and were routinely turned away. The message the prospective customer would get was, “No, we’re not open yet.” When they realized they could say yes they began to open ten minutes before the posted opening to serve their customers.

To be sure, not every yes will guarantee success and not every no will deny it. But what you must realize is that until you release the power of possibilities in your people they will never have a chance to find out. Taking ‘no’ out of your playbook will unlock their potential and give them much-needed freedom to grow. That is critical to your success. Here is why taking ‘no’ out of your playbook matters to you as a leader.

It empowers your people.

There is no better way to empower your people than to release their creative ingenuity with a ‘yes’ attitude. It signals that you believe in them and want them to reach their full potential. Empowered people are driven people and are more invested in the product and outcomes. When you remove ‘no’ from the playbook and replace it with a yes then you elevate everyone to a new level.

It puts the focus where it belongs.

When ‘no’ is replaced with a ‘yes’ then the playbook becomes a different document. The paradigm shifts. You go from playing defense to playing offense. Now, instead of the focus being inward it’s outward. Where once it was all about you, now it’s about those you serve. When your purpose revolves around a “yes we can” mentality then there is no room for “no we can’t” detractors. When your people are free to focus on what they can do instead of what they can’t do it will make a world of difference.

It creates momentum.

Some leaders exert a lot of energy and waste a lot of time trying to figure out the secret to creating a culture of momentum. Sadly, what some do not realize is that they are the reason why it’s lacking. Why? They haven’t taken ‘no’ out of their playbooks and consequently their much-needed momentum lies dormant.

What would it take to motivate you? Former Miami Dolphin’s great Bob Kuechenberg shares how he got his. He tells the story of his father and uncle who were human cannonballs in carnivals. His father told him, “go to college or be a cannonball,” said Kuechenberg. Then one day his uncle came out of the cannon and missed the net and hit the Ferris wheel. It was then that Kuechenberg decided to go to college.

As a leader, you can either take ‘no’ out of your playbook and put in a resounding ‘yes’, or be shot out of a cannon. Why not release the potential of your people, focus on those you serve, and generate the momentum you need? Say yes!


© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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It’s Your Time to Soar

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

Eagles don’t flock, you have to find them one at a time. – Ross Perot

“While walking through the forest one day, a man found a young eagle who had fallen out of its nest. He took it home and put it in his barnyard where it soon learned to eat and behave like the chickens.

One day a naturalist passed by the farm and asked why it was that the king of all birds should be confined to live in a barnyard with the chickens. The farmer replied that since he had given it chicken feed and trained it to be a chicken, it had never learned to fly. Since it now behaved as the chickens, it was no longer an eagle.

“Still it has the heart of an eagle,” replied the naturalist, “and can surely be taught to fly.” He lifted the eagle toward the sky and said, “You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly.” The eagle, however, was confused. He did not know who he was, and seeing the chickens eating their feed, he jumped down to be with them again.

The naturalists took the bird to the roof of the house and urged him again, saying, “You are an eagle. Stretch forth your wings and fly.” but the eagle was afraid of his unknown world and jumped down once more for the chicken feed.

Finally, the naturalist took the eagle out of the barnyard to a high mountain. There he held the king of the birds high above him and encouraged him again, saying, “You are an eagle, you belong to the sky. Stretch forth your wings and fly.” The eagle looked around, back towards the barnyard and up to the sky. Then the naturalist lifted him straight towards the sun and it happened that eagle began to tremble. Slowly he stretched his wings, and with a triumphant cry, soared away into the heavens. ” (Source)

In leadership, as in life, you will have competing voices that will cause you to walk with the chickens or soar with the eagles. Here are a  few truths worth remembering.

Not everyone who picks you up will lift you up

The man who found the young eagle might have meant well in bringing the young eagle to his barn. But over time, his good deed turned the majestic bird, full of so much potential, into a common barnyard chicken.

If you want to soar as a leader you must break free from the good intentions of people who do not bring out the best in you.

Your worth is not defined by those holding you back

As the young eagle grew its identity was shaped by the company that it kept. Instead of realizing its full potential to soar the heavens, it was grounded with the chickens. The eagle was being labeled as something it wasn’t. His future was being cast. And the man could not be more wrong.

If you want to soar as a leader you must never let the people who are holding you back to define your worth. When you have the heart of an eagle, don’t allow the mindset of a chicken hold you back.

You can only soar like an eagle when you start acting like one

Over time, the young eagle was persuaded by the naturalist that he was more than a chicken as led to believe. It was when the eagle embraced everything that was great about him that he took his rightful place soaring to the heavens.

If you want to soar as a leader you will have to shake off the labels of your critics and stop hanging out with the chickens. Surround yourself with those who bring out the best in you.

Those who believe in you the most will insist that you fly

The naturalist saw the eagle for the grand and majestic bird that it was. He knew that as long as it was confined to the barnyard it would never live up to its potential. He saw the eagles’ potential and he didn’t give up until it flew.

If you want to soar as a leader you will need people in your life who believe in you, people who will call out the best in you, and people who will never rest until you fly.

This is your time to soar!


© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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Four Ruts That Will Sink Your Leadership

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

Years ago when the western U.S. was being settled, roads were often just wagon tracks. These rough trails posed serious problems for those who journeyed them. On one of these winding paths was posted a sign which read: ”Avoid this rut or you’ll be in it for the next 25 miles!”

Just as the settlers of the old West faced serious problems when traveling roads with ruts, so too will you experience ruts on your leadership journey if not careful.

Ruts. Why is it so hard to break free from them? Intuitively we know that they are not healthy for us. As leaders we ought to know better but too often we fall back on “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality, not realizing it’s our death-nail.

I believe it’s not so much that we purposefully stay in ruts for the sake of a path of least resistance, but it’s because we settle. Here are four ways you might be in a rut (settling) without even realizing it.

You settle for small victories instead of big failures

I am not suggesting here that it’s an either-or, that you will have small wins or big failures, but ruts prevent us from even daring to do big things. Accepting the same results over and over again without attempting large wins will always keep you down.

When settling on this level you have opted for the path of predictability that stifles productivity. Those who live in this rut will seldom venture off the paths of normal work much less an adventure off the beaten path where fresh ideas are welcomed and productivity flourishes. What are you settling for?

You settle for popularity instead of principles

One way in which your culture suffers is when you get caught up in popularity contests and the appeasement of opposing voices. At the end of the day either your values and principles mean something or not. As a leader you must give a compelling reason to follow a compelling vision. Those who belong will stay and those that leave will be doing you a favor in the long run.

This rut is about low expectations and the type of culture you will settle for instead of the one you create that raises the bar and benefits everyone. 

You settle for a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset

The fixed mindset is all about staying on the same path like the wagon for the next 25 miles. It embodies the “we’ve never done it this way before” mentality that stunts growth.

This rut is about mediocrity being acceptable instead of embracing a growth mindset that taps into the potential and skills of everyone and daring to believe that the next  25 miles will be unlike anything ever experienced before.  The growth mindset rejects the status quo and puts everyone on a new and challenging path toward success.

You settle for followers instead of leaders

Anytime you settle for a culture of followers instead of a culture of leaders you will always be behind the curve and in a rut. Your goal should never be to develop a tribe of loyal followers but rather an army of engaged leaders who are all-in with the vision, values, goals, and purpose of your organization.

Ruts are harmful because too often we are in them without realizing it. We’ve grown so comfortable with the ruts and how we have adapted to them that any deviation from it becomes unfamiliar territory.

Here’s the bottom line– unless you get out of your rut the view will never change, nor will your future.

℗ 2017 Doug Dickerson

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The Headwinds of Leadership

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

When everything seems to be going against you, remember the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it. – Henry Ford

I came across a humorous story about a captain and three sailors who were left on a sinking ship. The captain spoke first, “Men, this business about a captain going down with the ship is nonsense. There’s a three-man life raft on board and I’m going to be on it. To see who will come with me, I will ask you each one question. The one who can’t answer it will stay behind.”

The captain asked the first question: “What unsinkable ship went down when it hit an iceberg?” The first sailor answered, “The Titanic, sir.” On to the next question, the captain asked, “How many people perished?” The second sailor said, “One thousand five hundred and seventeen, sir.” “Now for the third question,” the captain turned to sailor number three. “What were their names?”

There are times in leadership that you might identify with the captain- asking all the questions. Some days you might feel like the third sailor in the story- up against impossible odds- facing those inevitable headwinds of leadership.

If you hang around in leadership long enough you will encounter headwinds- challenges to your leadership that may at times cause you to second guess yourself. Don’t worry, most all of us have been there at one time or another.

Instead of making the focus here about specific headwinds that we face- and we could make a long list of adversities, I’d rather focus on our responses to them because it’s in our responses that we earn our leadership stripes.(I wrote here about specific threats leaders face). Here are three self-evaluations worth considering when you face the headwinds in your leadership.

What does my response say about my values?

When facing your headwinds in leadership how you respond makes all the difference. What’s foremost on your mind when going through a struggle? Is your reputation? Is it your pride? Could it be you are trying to protect your own interests? As much as I hate to admit it, I can look back at times early on in my leadership when I was out to protect my own image and it was detrimental in many ways.

When uppermost in your response to adversity is the protection of your values over your ego then what you go through won’t be a waste of time. Your values- your core beliefs, will be what sustains you long after the storm has passed.

What does my response say about my attitude?

I’ve yet to meet a leader who enjoys the headwinds of adversity and challenges. But make no mistake – we all go through it. We may not choose the adversity, but we do choose our response. So what is the tipping point between a headwind that stops us or one that causes us to take flight like the airplane? In a word- attitude.

Your attitude will lift you up or tear you down. It will inspire those around you or it will be a source of discouragement. It’s your lifeline when the headwinds are strong, and it’s the the predictor of how you will respond when the chips are down. (I wrote here about hope for discouraged leaders). It won’t always be easy to have a good attitude. Life happens and circumstances can wear you down, but developing a strong attitude will carry you further than you could go otherwise.

What does my response say about my future?

You are never more than one response away from a headwind of adversity that is going to shape the future of your leadership. Be it the wrong decision about your ego over your values, or a bad attitude that does more harm than good in your organizational structure- attitudes are contagious after all- your response to headwinds is a game changer.

It’s in the daily decisions of your leadership and the headwinds you face that your future is being decided. Be clear about your values and be mindful of your attitude because it’s in these things that your future is being shaped.

Your adversity will last but for a while but you will carry with you the consequence of your response for a long time. Choose wisely.

© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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