The Power of Unseen Leadership

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Once you have a burning yes inside you about what’s truly important, it’s very easy to say no to the unimportant. – Stephen R. Covey

I’ve always had a fascination with learning the back stories of successful people.Be they entrepreneurs, authors, musicians, sports icons, etc. How they attained their level of success has always been a source of curiosity for me.

I read once where Plato wrote the first sentence of his famous Republic nine different ways before he was satisfied. Cicero practiced speaking before friends every day for thirty years to perfect his elocution. Noah Webster labored 36 years writing his dictionary, crossing the Atlantic twice to gather material. Milton rose at 4:00 a.m. every day in order to have enough hours for his Paradise Lost. Gibbon spent 26 years on his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Bryant rewrote one of his poetic masterpieces 99 times before publication, and it became a classic.

Your success as a leader hinges on making discipline a core component of your leadership. It’s a choice that’s really not negotiable. In the book, No Limits, John Maxwell writes:

Successful people are highly disciplined in doing their important work. They are self-disciplined. They guide and encourage themselves to do the work they ought to do, not just the things they want to do. And that’s why the rewards in this world are usually reserved for those who are willing to do what the majority of people are unwilling to do.

Your capacity to achieve is tied to your ability to lead a disciplined life. As a leader, it’s not always easy. Life happens. So here are a few things that tend to get in the way of living and leading a disciplined life.

The tyranny of the urgent

Some years ago I came across this saying and it stuck with me. How many times in your leadership have you dealt with the “tyranny of the urgent”? It’s important for you as a leader to distinguish between what is an “urgent” matter that requires your time right in that moment and what can wait.

So long as you are reacting to every “urgent” matter that comes across your path, you will never carve out for yourself a disciplined life as a leader. You will simply another member of the bucket brigade putting out fires. Maxwell states in that segment that you are the boss of you-  start acting lt. Discipline is an inside job.

The acceptance of excuses

How many times have you or someone you know embraced excuses that diminished their leadership potential? It’s when you entertain negative thoughts and attitudes that it thwarts your growth and potential as a leader.

Pursuing a disciplined life as a leader will be next to impossible so long as you entertain negative thoughts and embrace excuses. Your potential will never be realized. Living a disciplined life as a leader requires a disciplined mindset, attitude, and belief in your God-given abilities.

“I hated every minute of training,” said Muhammad Ali, “But I said, ‘Don’t quit’. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion”. His words reflect the value of a man who committed himself to a disciplined life – a life of a champion.

The applause of the crowd

Call it human nature- call it what you will, but a leadership trap many fall for is the applause of the crowd. The reason it’s a trap is that we tend to believe our own headlines and fail to keep our focus on what’s important. We thrive on the applause and think we can simply phone it in going forward.

Living and maintaining a disciplined life as a leader requires the countless unseen hours of work, sacrifice, learning, failures, and frustrations that go into being a ‘successful leader”.  

But yesterday’s victories do not automatically translate into tomorrow’s wins. Discipline creates momentum. With it, you can be unstoppable. Without it, you’re stuck.

The power of unseen leadership has many ingredients, but namely among them is a disciplined life. Don’t be distracted by the tyranny of the urgent, the acceptance of excuses, or the applause of the crowd. It’s your discipline as a leader that will lead you to success.

© 2017 Doug Dickerson


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Five Ways To Lift Your Leader

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Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitudes and in actions. – Harold S. Geneen

In his book the 360° Leader, John Maxwell shares a story about President Harry S. Truman speaking at the National War College. In the speech, Truman said, “You know, it’s easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done after the game is over. But when the decision is up before you-and on my desk I have a motto which says ‘The Buck Stops Here’- the decision has to be made.”

On another occasion, Truman said, “The president-whoever he is- has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.” For the leader, the weight of responsibility can be a heavy burden to carry. Seldom do others see behind the scenes the struggles many leaders deal with on a regular basis.

Regardless of your present station in your organizational structure, there are things you can do to lift your leader. Why is this important? When you commit yourself to lifting your leader you are creating the kind of culture within your organization that can have residual effects that ripple through your organization in a positive way. Consider these five for starters.

Lighten your leader’s load. When you lighten the load of your leader you are freeing up his or her ability to focus on larger and more consequential things for your organization. Lightening the load happens as you look past just what is good for you and look at what is good for the team. When you lighten the leader’s load you increase his capacity to grow.

Listen to your leader’s concerns. The “Buck Stops Here” responsibility weighs heavily on your leader. You can lighten a load of your leader as you listen to the verbal and pay attention to the non-verbal communications. When you know what is on the mind of your leader you can do your part to put his or her mind at ease.

Leverage your leader’s strengths. You always want your leader in a position of strength in any given situation. Leveraging the strength of your leader can also include finding creative ways of assisting in his weaker areas. When you are contentious of this it can be a real boost to your leader and can give your company extra leverage it may need. Strong leaders make for strong teams. Lift up the strengths of your leader and everyone benefits.

Learn from your leader. You can lift, encourage, and empower your leader when you commit yourself to learn from him. The investment he or she has made in you should be cause for enough consideration that they feel you have some potential. Succession in leadership is not a birthright, it’s earned. You can lift your leader by showing respect and learning from their experiences and expertise.

Laugh with your leader. Leadership is a journey filled with many surprises. It’s filled with joys and heartache and a little bit of everything else in between. Charles M. Schultz said, “If I were given the opportunity to present a gift to the next generation, it would be the ability for each individual to learn to laugh at himself.” Never underestimate the power of laughter in leadership.  You can lift your leader when you laugh with your leader.

Lifting your leader is a matter of strong intuition, being a little less selfish, and realizing that one day you may be a position where you’d like to call upon these acts of kindness. When you lift your leader you are growing as a leader.


© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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Leadership Tested By Fire

Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
-Provided by the author.

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows your true colors”. – James 1:2-3 (The Message)

In November 2016, terrible fires raged through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Fires ripped through popular destinations such as Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in Tennessee. It was reported that roughly 10,000 acres of land were burned.

Many thought at the time that the recovery of the forests would be years in the making. But to the amazement of many, life is returning sooner than many predicted.

In a local CBS news story, the headline reads, “New Life Sprouting In The Smokies”. Highlights of the story are given by Dr. Andrew Miller, a mycologist from the University of Illinois working in conjunction with the University of Tennessee and Savannah State University to study the effects of the fire. 

Dr. Miller states, “It’s only been a few months, but we can already see fungi are growing back again”. He added with this incredible observation, “They’ve basically been sitting in the soil as spores waiting for the fires to come along, and as soon as that happens they fruit in abundance and they’re basically all over the place”.

If you hang around in leadership long enough, you will go through the fire and times of testing. It comes with the territory. So the greater question I’d like to explore with you is this: How do you plan to come through it? Your leadership can, like the fungi, rise from the ashes stronger, or it’s the place where it will die.

After 30 plus years of leadership, here are a few things I’ve learned and some encouragement I’d like to pass along.

It’s in the fire you are pruned

Dr. Miller stated, “These fungi are the first to come in, they decompose all the other stuff until the rest of the growth comes in”. What a powerful statement.

The fires you go through in your leadership are the necessary times of pruning you need for future growth. Just as the fungi decompose all the other stuff in order for the rest of the growth to come in, so too, are the times of testing that comes your way. Growth will not occur until all the things that don’t belong like bitterness, jealousy, and unforgiveness- things that you need to let go of, are gone.

Right now you may not like going through the fire, but it could the best thing to happen to you in the long run.

It’s in the fire you are prepared

Another highlight from the story is that the tiny pyro-nema fungi that they’ve discovered only grow after a fire. It’s job? The tiny particles are the food for the plants and trees to grow again.

When you go through the fire, you will learn and discover new things about your leadership that you may not have known before. The fire can expose things that may not have otherwise surfaced had you not gone through it

It’s after we come through the fire we can be more empathetic, more understanding, and more mindful of growing and developing the leaders around us. How do we get new growth and new skills? By going through the fire.

It’s in the fire you are proven

I’ll be honest with you – I don’t like going through the fire any more than the next person. It’s painful and it hurts. But it’s in the fire that your leadership is proven.

Dr. Andy Methven, a biologist at Savannah State said, “It was a high-intensity burn and pretty much everything was burned down to the ground, and to see things coming up in that area just a few months after the fires is impressive,” He added, “I’ve been impressed with how quickly the plants have sprouted, even in the last month, it’s amazing how quickly it’s recovering.”  

How will you recover after going through the fire in leadership? What will be the observations others make about you and your growth? What differences will they see in you? It’s in the fire that your leadership is proven and will shine.

It’s in the fire that you are productive

It’s when we’ve successfully come through the fires in leadership that we have new growth, a  new perspective, a new outlook. Your leadership will take an incredible turn for the good if you keep the right attitude.

Regarding the fires, Dr. Miller made one last remarkable statement, “Probably this time next year you’re going to have a hard time telling a fire even came through this area. The soil is going to be pretty much back to the way it was before”.

I don’t know what fires and testing you are going through right now – but I do know this much- it’s a time of great challenge to your leadership. There will be times you will want to walk away, throw in the towel, and move on to something else.

But if you will keep your heart right, your faith strong, and see it for what it is – a season in your leadership when you are being pruned, prepared, proven, and productive – God will bring you through, and you will come through it stronger than ever before.

Let the fire, as painful as it is, do its work and don’t let the ashes bury you. Your destiny as a leader depends on it.


© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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Being Present: Why It Matters To Your Leadership

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“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment” – Henry David Thoreau

One of the great challenges in leadership today is having leaders who are present in the moment. It’s a struggle for many leaders. In fact, when was the last time with intentionality you set aside even a small amount of time just appreciate the moment and reflect?

Healthy leadership is essential to your success. But what happens when the pace of your leadership is greater than your ability to be present in the moment? What is the tipping point between activity and action that does more harm than good? Why does being present matter? Here are a few reasons why being present matters to your leadership.

You can put your past in perspective

In order to effectively know where you are and where you are going, it helps to put your past in perspective. What knowledge and skills have you picked up along the way is working? What do you need to let go of? What changes do you need to make today to make for a better tomorrow?

Only being present in the moment allows you the opportunity to reflect in such a way as to appreciate the moment and put your past in perspective.

You can put your priorities in order

It’s when you are present in the moment that you can evaluate your priorities and put them in order.No leader intentionally sets out to mess up their priorities but it happens. Being present in the moment is as much of a priority for you as a leader as anything else you do. If your priorities are out of balance then the decisions you make will have consequences you hadn’t planned for.

Only being present in the moment can you see what corrections you need to make with your priorities. It’s when you are present you can make adjustments.

You can reconnect with your people

A leader not present in the moment is not the leader his or her people need. The unintended consequences can be irreparable if not careful. The graph below highlights the communication issues employees have with their leaders. Take a look at how many complaints there are on the list that could be avoided if only the leader were present in the moment among his or her people.

Being present in the moment puts you where your people need you. Being in the moment is all about leadership at the moment.

You can lead more effectively

Ultimately, being present in the moment is about more effective leadership. It’s about giving of yourself without all the distractions that come with priorities that are out of order and by being disconnected from your people.

Being present in the moment can be a challenge. Our minds are racing and thinking of a dozen other things that need our time and attention. I get it. But all you have is this moment. And in this moment, you can do something that will impact your leadership in a positive way. Be present.


© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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Why People Fire Their Leaders- And How to Stop It

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People quit people, not companies – John Maxwell

I remember my first job out of college. I was excited and filled with great enthusiasm. But it played out like A Tale of Two Cities, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. I was surrounded by people I genuinely liked with many friends. With a great team in place, we made great strides in the community we served. But I had “the boss from hell” who made life hell. So, I fired him.

I had flashbacks to those early days after reading the findings in a study in Inc. that highlighted the worst boss behaviors. The Top 5 characteristics that caused employees to leave their jobs were:

  • Management style — 37 percent
  • Condescending attitude — 30 percent
  • Mean or bad temper — 30 percent
  • Inappropriate behavior — 26 percent
  • Harassed employees — 24 percent

Speaking of bad boss behavior, here is a sampling of what respondents called unacceptable or deal breakers: Your boss takes credit for your work 63%, your boss doesn’t trust or empower you 62%; your boss doesn’t care if you’re overworked 58%, your boss doesn’t advocate for you when it comes to compensation 57%, your boss hires and/or promotes the wrong people 56%, your boss doesn’t provide proper direction on assignments/roles 54%, your boss micromanages and doesn’t allow you “freedom to work” 53%, etc.

“Everything rises and falls on leadership,” has been a mantra of John Maxwell for years. And as it relates to employee engagement, bad bosses, company morale, and corporate culture, he is spot on. A boss without strong leadership skills will drive his or he people away.

I’ve said it in this space before: Building the type of organization that your people would never dream of leaving begins by being the type of leader everyone wants to follow. Let’s explore three basic ways in which you can build that type of culture.

Serve your people

The higher you ascend in your organization the more responsibilities you take on – not more rights. This is where many a boss drops the leadership ball. Think of a pyramid. The old way of thinking is that at the bottom you have many rights and at the top, few responsibilities. Now flip it- when you do, the opposite becomes true. You now have more responsibilities as the leader/boss and fewer rights. Now, start acting like it.

You will build the type of organization people would never dream of leaving when you develop the mindset of servant leadership and by empowering your people at every opportunity.

Empower your people

Employee engagement is directly tied to empowered employees. The cited survey, along with many others drive this point home. If your people are micromanaged, underappreciated, and not given credit for their ideas and work, is it any wonder they are firing their bosses?

Billy Hornsby said, “ It’s okay to let those you lead outshine you, for if they shine brightly enough, they reflect positively on you”. The boss who makes for a good leader understands that when his or her people are empowered it makes them look good. You will build the type of organization they would never dream of leaving when you empower them to reach their full potential.

Engage your people

Employee engagement is only as meaningful and effective as the leader who engages on this level. The boss who only sees employee engagement as something “they do” may have the work of his employees’ hands, but will never have their hearts. If you want to stop your people from walking out the door, then you must open yours. You must be among your people, know your people, and serve them.

Building the type of organization people would never dream of leaving begins when you understand that they are the most appreciable asset you have. Simply put, employee engagement begins at the top.


© 2017 Doug Dickerson


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Embracing The Leadership Process

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Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. – Jack Welch

For the baseball fan, everyone is familiar with the great Ted Williams, the Hall of Famer from the Boston Red Sox. Known as “the slugger”, he was once asked about his ‘natural ability” to hit the ball. He’s said to have replied, “There is no such thing as a natural born hitter. I became a good hitter because I paid the price of constant practice, constant practice.”

For the leader, Williams’ answer is an accurate summation of what good leadership looks like. It’s about stepping up to the plate, it’s about the daily grind of practice. In short, it’s about commitment. It’s all about embracing the process.

But for many aspiring leaders and even for those who’ve been around a while, the process is the pitfall.

Writing in the book Rooted – The Hidden Places Where God Develops Us, author Banning Liebscher makes this observation:

“God always develops us before He develops our vision. If we don’t understand this, we will resist Him, get frustrated, and ultimately end up disappointed and disillusioned. But if we expect and embrace God’s root-building process in our lives, guess what? We will not only set ourselves up for success, but we will set ourselves up to thrive in that process. So let’s embrace the process.”

While specifically addressing the development of your faith, this principle is transferable and speaks volumes about the leadership process.

When we short-circuit the leadership process we cause harm to ourselves, and to those we are trying to lead. We want to avoid, rush past, or skirt the teachable moments – moments that could be unpleasant perhaps, but in doing so, we fail to properly develop the leadership skills that come with it. The result? We tend to move up as leaders with deficiencies in key leadership skills we need. So what’s the solution? Embrace the leadership process.

Here are a few leadership skills that you will not want to rush in their development. In fact, most of these will be ongoing over the long haul of your leadership. Here are just a few of them.

Embrace the process of reflection and reading

The truth be told, this is a skillset in leadership that you will always carry with you. Developing this skill in the formative years will serve you well in the latter years. Make the time to read, reflect, and expand your horizons. The old adage is true, “leaders are readers”, and leaders are always learning. I will add that prayer is an essential ingredient to the development of this skill set. Mark Batterson summed it up this way, “One God idea is worth more than a thousand good ideas’. 

Embrace the process of time management

Jim Rohn was spot on when he said, “Either you run the day, or the day runs you,” and you must embrace the process of learning this skill. There are many tools and technologies to help you with the implementation of this skill, but ultimately it’s a discipline you have to master and I don’t think there’s an app for that. It’s on you. Time management is too crucial to your success as a leader so embrace it quick.

Embrace the process of conflict resolution

Most people I know avoid conflict. They avoid it at all costs. But if you are going to succeed as a leader, you must learn and develop this delicate but essential leadership skill. You will have to dig deep to pull off sharp conflict resolution skills such as its timing, knowing what to say, what not to say, tone, and moving toward your desired outcomes. As a leader, you will need this skill. Embrace it and learn it.

Embrace the process of people skills

It’s been said in many ways and by numerous people – people are your most appreciable asset. Simply put, no shortcuts are allowed in the process of developing your people skills. It will make you or break you as a leader. If you don’t fully embrace the process of learning and developing your people skills, you are setting yourself up for failure. How smart and talented you are mean little if you don’t know how to treat your people and if they don’t respect or trust you.

Embrace the process of personal growth and development

All of these skills that I have presented, and more, all about your personal growth development as a leader. But know this, first and foremost leadership is an inside job. You must learn to lead yourself before attempting to lead others. This is why the process must be embraced.

Leaders are not grown overnight. It takes time. It’s a lifelong commitment to learning and growing. School is always in session for the leader. Embrace the process! 


©2017 Doug Dickerson


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Start With Low Fences

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“I work on the same principle as people who train horses. You start with low fences, easily achievable goals, and work up. – Ian McGregor

Developing your skill sets as a leader is not an overnight process. It’s something that takes time and commitment. It’s a process.

I liken the process to one of my favorite hobbies – photography. Back in the day of first learning my photography skills things were much different from today. It was all manual. Various photography classes back then taught me the fine art of things like shutter speeds, f/stops, dark rooms, lighting, composition and more.  You had to learn the skill in order to be good.

Nowadays with a few hundred dollars, you can purchase a fully automatic camera that takes all the guess work out of it. Ask the owner to switch to manual mode- not to mention the rule of thirds, negative space in composition, etc.  and take a picture, most would be at a loss on where to begin.

Here’s the problem. With that expensive fully automatic camera in your hands, it can make you look better than you are. You can have the fancy equipment, but without the training on how to use it, you are creating a false impression.

One of the dangers in leadership is bypassing the learning process and securing the foundational principles needed for growth and maturity. This is why many an aspiring leader never reach their full potential. They rush the process. But with an open mind coupled with the attitude of a student, your leadership skills can be developed and you can rise to the next level.

It’s when you start with the low fences that you earn your leadership stripes. Here are a few low fence concepts worth considering as you think about your future and growth as a leader.

The low fence of humility

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Aspiring leaders can blur the lines when they think their degree conveys wisdom. Your formal education is your right of passage to your real education. A strong dose of humility is in order starting out and is well worth remembering when you are older. There’s always something new to learn.

The low fence of dependability

There are no shortcuts on the path to proven leadership. It takes men and women who are willing to roll up their sleeves and earn their stripes. If you can’t be counted on in the low fence things of your leadership how can people raise their expectations of you for greater things? It’s in the daily grind that you show yourself dependable.

The low fence of flexibility

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Sometimes in leadership, you have to throw out the script. Your growth and sanity as a leader will be tested with this low fence skill in more ways than you can imagine. If you can learn this low fence skill early it will save you a lot of grief later.

The low fence of loyalty

Loyalty is one of the pillars of leadership. All the creative powers in your arsenal of skills will not amount to much if loyalty is an afterthought. Faithfully striving to represent the values, mission, and vision of your organization should be the focal point of all that you do.

The low fence of service

The heartbeat of leadership is service. It’s about adding value. It’s about lifting others up, not tearing down. It’s servant leadership. The beauty of this skill set is that you never outgrow it. But with your growth and development as a leader comes the opportunity to have a greater impact. Develop this skill early while the fence is low. But never forsake it. The more you give and the more you serve, the greater the influence you can have.

Just as low fences are the starting points for training horses, it’s where you begin as a leader. But you are not designed nor destined to stay at that level. You have a higher destiny that you need to walk in. Low fences are where you start, but they are not where you should stay. You must raise the bar.


©2017 Doug Dickerson


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