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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Four Leadership Questions You Need to Answer

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question. – Jonas Salk

A friend once asked Isidor I. Rabi, a Nobel prize winner in science, how he became a scientist. Rabi replied that every day after school his mother would talk to him about his school day. She wasn’t so much interested in what he had learned that day, but always inquired, “Did you ask a good question today?” “Asking good questions,” Rabi said, “made me become a scientist.”

One of the lost arts in leadership is asking good questions. It’s a lost art mostly because we are so busy trying to be the answer man/woman that we miss the magical moments of discovery that are right in front of us.

While it’s fine to give answers and provide guidance to those whom you lead, it’s incumbent upon us to never lose our sense of wonderment and curiosity as leaders. A good leader will always listen to his or her people, but a smart leader will ask the right questions.

Part of your growth and development is found in the questions you ask about your own leadership. It’s in your moments of reflection that you can see how far you’ve come, where we are today, and where we are headed tomorrow. Here are four questions for your consideration.

Do I know my ‘why’?

This is perhaps the single greatest question that pertains to your life and your leadership. In his book Intentional Living, John Maxwell writes, “The sooner you know your why, the sooner you can shift your focus from yourself to others.” It’s a wonderful day when you discover your why and come to the realization that it’s not about you.

Am I intentional about my growth?

It’s way too easy to get caught up in the moments of the day tending to so many responsibilities of being the leader that you fail to develop as a leader. Developing as a leader is only achieved by being intentional about your growth. What books are you reading? What about a mentor or coach? If you are not growing as a leader you are in decline as a  leader.

Am I leading by example?

One of the pitfalls of leadership is trying to lead by decree rather than by example. Your value as a leader is demonstrated not so much by what you say but by what you do. Those you lead are looking to you not for lofty words but for a solid example. Be sure what you are modeling is worth imitating.

Is my attitude/heart in the right place?

In Proverbs 4:23 the writer said, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” It’s important not to let the stress and responsibilities of leadership take a negative toll on you mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. A negative mindset or attitude can ruin your effectiveness as a leader. Not only that, but it can cause unwanted issues in your organization. Make this a priority-guard your heart.

In order to grow as a leader you must answer these questions and more. What questions are you asking?

© 2017 Doug Dickerson


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The ‘Yes Men’ Disconnect and How it Hurts Your Leadership

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

Very few big executives want to be surrounded by ‘yes’ men – Burton Bigelow

I heard a somewhat humorous account some years back about the Biblical story of David and Goliath. When the Israelites came up against Goliath all the soldiers thought was, “He’s so big we can never kill him.” When David looked at him he thought, “He’s so big I can’t miss.” It all came down to perspective. And in the end we know, David killed the giant.

One of the blind spots for leaders who have been around a long time in their organization is that they tend to be the ones with the greatest disconnect to what is really happening. And many a good and aspiring leader had rather tell the boss what he or she wants to hear rather than what they need to hear. Sound familiar?

But most credible leaders will tell you that they want the perspective of people they trust. And being a ‘yes man’ is more self-serving than it is helpful. What leaders need to hear is the truth.

But let’s be honest- many find it difficult to speak the truth for fear of negative repercussions, etc. And out of that fear, the truth is sacrificed for the expediency of the moment. As an aspiring leader yourself, what are you to do? Here are a few tips to navigate those treacherous waters.

Build relationships

That you want to speak truth to the leader in your life is noble. But you have to earn that right. And you earn that right not by being “right” all the time but by building a relationship where you earn that person’s trust. Until you recognize this you will always be afraid to speak up.

Be a team player

If you are going to build off that trust you must be a team player. By that I mean you must check your ego at the door and your motives must be genuine. It’s as you build up your leader that you build up your organization. If you have hidden motives eventually it will come to light. You’ll never build trust if your intentions are deceiving.

Stop being the gatekeeper

Leaders need perspective and people around them that will speak the truth. But that can’t happen so long as gatekeepers build walls that prevent all voices and ideas from being heard. If you truly care about your organization then you will welcome input and ideas from a wide range of people who can provide the perspective that is needed. Disarm the body guards and let your leader hear what needs to be said.

Be courageous and humble

Speaking the truth will not always be easy. It will require courage on your part and a dose of humility to say it. To that end, more times than not it is not what you say but how you say it that makes the difference. Most leaders want the truth, but not delivered with an arrogant attitude.

In the end, two things really matter: leaders need to be told the truth and have people surrounding them not afraid to speak it. You are doing a disservice to yourself, the leader you work with, and to your organization as a whole if you don’t. It’s a mark of your maturity as a leader when you learn to do it right and when you do everyone wins.


© 2017 Doug Dickerson


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Up in Flames – Facing the Challenges of Leadership

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

When Thomas Edison’s manufacturing facilities in New Jersey were heavily damaged by fire one night in December 1914, Edison lost almost one million dollars worth of equipment and the record of much of his work.

The next morning, while walking around the charred embers of his hopes and dreams, the 67-year old inventor reportedly said, “There is value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Now we can start anew.”

While the fire that destroyed Edison’s lab can’t be labeled as a “failure”, it was a setback. It was an accident. It was a disaster. But technically it was not a failure per se. Nonetheless, much of his life’s work was consumed in those flames. What would he do next? What would you do?

Life has a way of throwing us curve balls.Things happen that are out of our control and find ourselves in the tension between “what now?” and “why me?”, and life just doesn’t make sense. We look around and all we see are the ashes of a dream and we wonder what the future might look like. (I wrote about facing adversity here).

As leaders, we’ve all had some dark moments. And from the account of Edison’s fire, I’d like to give you some encouragement and hope. I want you to see that you are not alone and that there is life after the fire. Here are three things that your challenges can do for your leadership.

It can give you a fresh perspective

“There is value in disaster,” said Edison, as he stood among the ruins of his work. When things are going well for us as leaders it’s easy to have a positive perspective, and why not? It’s easy to be upbeat and positive when your plans are working.

But like Edison, our response in the rubble is where it counts in our leadership. It’s as we look at our best plans, best ideas, and big investments that have come crashing down around us that we introduced to ourselves. I am amazed at Edison’s response and it’s one we can learn from.

So the next time you face a setback, challenge, or some plan has gone up in smoke, remember this- there is value in it. Because it’s then you can have the perspective you need to go forward with confidence that this failure is not fatal.

It can give you a fresh attitude

Standing in the rubble of his work, Edison said, “All our mistakes are burned up”. I’m not sure about you, but there are times I’d be glad to see all my mistakes go up in flames- talk about a fire! This was a defining moment for Edison. Every fire is.

The truth is- we are creatures of comfort. We don’t like adversity. As leaders, we have to put out fires, but how many of us truly enjoy it? But like Edison, we at times find ourselves in places not of our choosing or making. And in these defining moments, the choice we make with our attitude will keep us in the ashes or bring us out.

I don’t know how Edison did it, but he kept a good attitude. I wish I could tell you how easy it is. This I know; the struggle is real. Joel Osteen said, “ I believe if you keep your faith, you keep your trust, you keep the right attitude, if you’re grateful, you’ll see God open up new doors.” I agree.

It can give you a promising future

In his final thought standing among the ruins, Edison said, “Now we can start anew.” What a powerful statement. What a hopeful outlook.

With the right perspective and the right attitude, I believe that there is no adversity that can keep you from a promising future. The road will not be easy. There will be hurdles to climb, ashes to brush off, and hot spots to deal with. But I am firmly convinced that the challenges you face in leadership are preparing you for your future, not your defeat.

In the midst of your fire, there is still a future.

© 2017 Doug Dickerson


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The Sweet Spot of Encouragement

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

If you are a leader, you should never forget that everyone needs encouragement. And everyone who receives it- young or old, successful or less-than-successful, unknown or famous- is changed by it. – John Maxwell

A story is told of American painter, John Sargent, who once painted a panel of roses that was highly praised by his critics. It was a small picture, but it approached perfection.

Although offered a high price for it on many occasions, Sargent refused to sell it. He considered it his best work and was very proud of it. Whenever he was deeply discouraged and doubtful of his abilities as an artist, he would look at it and remind himself, “I painted that.” Then his confidence and ability would come back to him.

In all of my years in leadership, I have yet to find a leader who didn’t want, need, or appreciate a little encouragement. I believe it’s a universal need and one not just exclusive to leaders. Regardless of your walk in life, who doesn’t appreciate some encouragement along the way?

The above story is a reminder to us of some simple truths about leadership. Let me share three with you.

Every leader has value

John Sargent is considered to be the leading portrait painter of his generation. His mark on the world was made through the arts.

Your gifts or talents may not revolve around being a distinguished artist, but your value exists in other areas. Perhaps you have organizational gifts that keep your business running smooth. You might be the visionary that causes people to see the big picture which creates the necessary momentum to plan for the future. You might be the change agent who speaks the truth about what needs to happen for the sake of your future. (I wrote about how you can add value to your respective organizations here.)

The point here is this: You are a person of value not because of what you do but because of who you are. Your value is more than what you contribute to the bottom line.

Every leader has doubts

Despite his acclaim as an artist, John Sargent still had seasons of discouragement and moments when he called his own abilities into question. Sound familiar?

At some point in time, I think every leader experiences the same struggle. I have. (I wrote about facing your doubts and fears here). We look at heroes in our respective fields of expertise and we say, “If I can only be successful like them, then I will have it made,” not realizing they most likely had the same struggle.

We unfairly compare ourselves to others and think that because we haven’t reached the same level of fame or success then we are a failure – not realizing it may have taken them decades to get there and we want to be there in a fraction of the time. It’s unrealistic and self-defeating. And in the end, discouragement sets in.

The point here is this: You are not the sum of your doubts and fears. And your growth and development as a leader is not a 50-yard dash, it’s a marathon.

Every leader has a sweet spot

John Sargent held on to the prized painting as a reminder of his talents. In moments of self-doubt and discouragement, it motivated him to keep going.

The sweet spot in your leadership comes when you realize that you are not as great as the headlines you write yourself. You are not as bad as the headlines your enemies or critics write. Joy in leadership comes when you discover your why, find fulfillment in the moment, and live for something greater than yourself. (I wrote about finding your purpose in leadership here).

For Sargent, his sweet spot moment came when his focus was on his best work, not his worse. Train yourself to look at the positive. Don’t allow the negative things to define you.

The point here is this: How you rise above self-doubt and discouragement begins with how you see yourself.

Have you found your sweet spot?


© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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Developing a Leadership Mindset

Photo Credit: Google Images

Photo Credit: Google Images

“You can change your mindset” – Carol S. Dweck – Mindset, The New Psychology of Success

In her highly acclaimed and recommended book Mindset , Carol S. Dweck lays out four foundational statements to gauge whether you have a fixed-mindset or a growth mindset.

Here are the statements ( Answer T  or F to each one):

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
  2. You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are,
  3. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
  4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.

Statements 1 and 2 are fixed-mindset statements. Statements 3 and 4 reflect the growth mindset. “Which did you agree with more? You can be a mixture, but most people lean toward one or the other,” states Dweck.

Over the years I have come to know that leaders have a mindset that sets them up for success or failure even before that leadership journey begins. 

The mindset you embrace sets the tone for your leadership style, success, and the influence you will have. What mindsets or characteristics will hold you back? Which ones will cause you to succeed? Here are a few.

The mindset of your attitude

In leadership, your attitude is your best friend or worst enemy. It’s one of the most contagious characteristics of your leadership style. It will cause people to rally around you and your vision or it will turn them away. The attitude mindset of the leader will be the benchmark for the rest of the organization. You can’t expect the attitude of your people to be good if the one you showcase is bad. Eventually, you will have to change your attitude or your people will change their address. (I wrote about attitude in the workplace here).

What kind of attitude are you projecting? Do you only focus on the negative? Do you only see what your people are doing wrong as opposed to what they do well? How does your attitude inspire, encourage, and motivate your colleagues? Is your attitude worthy of emulating?

The mindset of your perceptions

One of the basic foundational leadership lessons I learned many years ago from John Maxwell was in how he sees other people. Maxwell said he always looked at people and saw a “10”. It was his way of helping others get in touch with their potential and set them up for growth and success. Were all of the people he labeled as a  “10” truly a 10? Of course not. But the perception he put into play was one that emphasized unlimited growth and possibility in the people he believed in–even when they may have only been a 4, 5, or a 6 in reality.

What are the perceptions of the people you lead? Do you instill confidence in your people that reflects a 10 even though they may only be a 5? If known by your people would your perceptions give them a reason to be optimistic or discouraged? What changes do you need to make in your perceptions of other people or personal changes that would cause you to be a better leader in general?

The mindset of your personal growth and development

Every successful leader I know has one thing in common- they never stop growing.The older I get the more I realize how much I don’t know which is humbling. (I wrote about the things I wish I had known years ago about leadership here). You can have a fixed-growth mindset that Dweck writes about or you can have a growth mindset that will make all the difference in the world to your leadership. The mindset you choose, feed, and nurture is the one that will win out at the end of the day.

What are you doing on a daily basis that contributes to a growth mindset? As a whole, does your organization have a fixed-mindset or a growth mindset? What fixed-growth mindsets do you struggle with the most? What changes do you need to make to develop a growth mindset?

Developing a growth centered leadership mindset is the beginning of a leadership journey that begins by believing it is possible.


© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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