Five Tensions of Leadership


The fibers of all things have their tension and are strained like the strings of an instrument. – Henry David Thoreau

Avid movie enthusiasts will recall the Steven Spielberg movie “Hook” from the early 1990’s starring Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, and Julia Roberts. In this adaptation Peter Pan grows up and plays the role of Peter Banning- a self-absorbed, ladder climbing, workaholic baby boomer.

In some of the early scenes Peter promises his son numerous times that he would come to see him play in his baseball game. Time and again Peter tries to make it to the game but allows business to interrupt the plan and he misses the games. One time Peter even sends one of his office assistants to the ball game in his place. The movie goes on to depict the tension this creates between Peter and his son.

Like the character of Peter Banning; leaders know a thing of two about tensions and how at times relations can be strained. It’s an inevitable part of your leadership. Strings of tension can make beautiful music and can also be the source of great stress.  How you handle tensions will set you apart. Here are five common leadership tensions and ways to handle it.

The tension of accountability

Accountability is essential to good leadership and smart leaders will not shy away from it. An old adage says, “Inspect what you expect,” and effective leaders take this to heart. Properly implemented accountability procedures are not meant to be a drag on creativity or productivity, but rather serve to complement it. The tension occurs when team members resist accountability or when leaders take accountability procedures beyond their stated purpose.  Accountability works best when the objectives are clear and everyone takes ownership.

The tension of communication

Communication is the life-blood of your organization both internally and to those you serve. Getting communication right is essential. Yet when you look at any survey regarding employee engagement one of the top negative issues you will consistently see is poor communication. Tension occurs when leaders make assumptions about communication rather than taking responsibility for knowing it is taking place on all levels. Poor communication creates unnecessary tension that is easily avoidable. You can’t hold people accountable for what you failed to communicate.

The tension of values and vision

If your values and vision are not clear to your people (poor communication) then tensions will inevitably arise. The values and vision of your organization are the blueprints not just of where you are going but it also makes the case for why. If your people do not possess this essential information then tensions will regularly occur between those who “get it” and those who don’t. Within your organization will be people butting heads while never truly understanding why. The tension over values and vision will make you or break you. You must get this right.

The tension of relationships

The aptitude of a leader, while important, is secondary to the manner in which the leader relates to his or her team. Your attitude and disposition will carry you further than aptitude alone. Tensions arise when leaders are brash and abusive rather than competent and friendly. Developing strong people skills will endear you to your people, foster good morale, and will promote camaraderie built on trust. The smartest jerk in the room at the end of the day is still a jerk. Cut out the unnecessary tension and change your attitude.

The tension of time

The greatest commodity of any leader is time. Using it wisely is essential to your success. The demands on your time will create tension. Jim Rohn observed, “Either you run the day or the day runs you.” If you don’t take control of your time and schedule someone else will. The tension lies somewhere between your intent to manage your time and giving time to the people around you who need it. Striking a balance is not always easy. Develop a system that works for you then stick to it. Tension over time is less likely to occur when managed properly.

Let me be clear – you will have tensions in your leadership. The key is to be flexible and a willingness to bend when necessary.


© 2015 Doug Dickerson

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Turning Your Fear into Fuel


Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it… that is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear. – Dale Carnegie

I read a story not long ago that Louis Pasteur is reported to have had such an irrational fear of dirt and infection he refused to shake hands. President and Mrs. Benjamin Harrison were so intimidated by the newfangled electricity installed in the White House they didn’t dare touch the switches. If there were no servants around to turn off the lights when the Harrisons went to bed, they slept with them on.

What fear or phobia do you struggle with? I came across a list of the ten most common phobias and as it turns out mine is at the top of the list. Ask my family and they will tell you that my arachnophobia- the fear of spiders, can be rather entertaining at times.

But what’s not amusing or entertaining is when as leaders we allow fear to hold us back and keep us from reaching our full potential. How you address those fears can be defining moments that will either stall you where you are or move you forward. Turning your fear into fuel is the key to your success. Here are four ways you can do it.

Don’t allow fear to define you

A leader who is fearful will never succeed. Be it a fear of failure, other people’s opinion, or fear of the unknown- fear is the chief enemy of your future. If you allow fear to define you then fear will always control you. Every leader struggles with doubts and fears. It’s normal. But struggling with it is not the same as embracing it. Turn your fear into fuel by never surrendering your identity as a leader to fear.

Don’t allow fear to contain you

Fear has a way of boxing you in with wrong beliefs, wrong assumptions, and wrong views of your true worth and ability. Fear not only restricts your growth and development as a leader, but it restricts all the possibilities of your future. Fear is a trap that is hard to escape. You turn your fear into fuel when you hold yourself to a higher view of yourself. You are not the sum of your fears and doubts – you are the product of your Creator and your future has meaning and purpose.

Don’t allow fear to direct you

People who are driven by fear are not in control of their destiny.  They are backseat drivers on a road to nowhere. Fear is a dead-end street that and will always disappoint. The road to success for you as a leader becomes a reality when you rise above your fears, shake off doubts, tune out the critics, and dare to take charge of your destiny. The fuel that drives your success is a passion for knowing who you are and that you have a compelling vision and plan to get there.

Don’t allow fear to confuse you

As a leader it’s important to understand that reservations and doubts at times are a normal part of the growing process. But don’t make the mistake of believing that your gut instincts are fear-driven. As you grow and mature as leader you will develop deeper levels of discernment regarding such things. But don’t confuse discernment and reasonable reservations with fear. So what’s the difference? Fears pander to worse-case scenarios and outcomes. Discernment relies on formulated wisdom- which at times may nix a decision about the future, and at times give the green light, but is always based on best-case scenarios. Turn your fear into fuel by trusting your instincts, trusting your team, and by moving forward with confidence.

Be assured that as you deal with your fears as a leader you are not alone. Fear is no respecter of persons and you will contend with it on your leadership journey. But with every victory over fear you become that much stronger, wiser, and empowered for the future. Face your fears with confidence that there is no fear that can defeat you.


© 2015 Doug Dickerson




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Three Locks That Hold You Back





Life has no limitations except the ones you make. – Les Brown

The story is told of master magician and locksmith Harry Houdini on one of his European tours and how he found himself locked in by his own thinking. After he had been searched and manacled in a Scottish town jail, the old turnkey shut him in a cell and walked away. Houdini quickly freed himself from his shackles and then tackled the cell lock. But despite all his efforts, the lock wouldn’t open.

Finally, ever more desperate but completely exhausted, he leaned against the door–and it swung open so unexpectedly that he nearly fell headlong into the corridor. The turnkey had not locked it.

One difficult lesson for leaders to learn is that it’s not always the big stumbling blocks along the way that will do you in. In fact, just the opposite can be true if you are not careful. From the story we learn that what Houdini thought was locking him in the cell was the very thing that would set him free.  Here’s the lesson: at times what you think is the problem is not the problem and the small things you overlook are the ones that give you the most grief.

So what are some of the locks in leadership that will hold you back and keep you from reaching your potential? There are many, but I will highlight three. If you will pay attention to these little things now it can save you a lot of heartache later.

The lock of low expectations

You will only rise to the level of success that you envision and strive for. Your expectations are the measuring rod of your dreams. If you are locked in by low expectations then high expectations will never occur.

But who or what is the source of your low expectations? You must identify and get to the root of your low expectations if you want to turn things around.  Perhaps it’s a lack of confidence in your abilities. It may have been a bad break that you haven’t recovered from. Maybe you bought-in to someone else’s low expectation they placed on you.

Regardless of the source, you must disqualify it of its place in your vocabulary, your mindset, and your vision going forward. You can unlock your potential to growth and success when you remove low expectations from your playbook.

The lock of improper comparisons

One potentially demoralizing habit a leader can do is to get caught up in is the comparison game. You know the drill, “He has more clients”, “She has more contacts”, “He gets all the breaks”, “Her family name got her where she is,” and on it goes.

It’s all too easy to make improper comparisons and allow that to be a source of discouragement and a setback. You are not called to run anyone else’s race but your own. Improper comparisons are a lock that will always hold back so long as you are consumed by the other person and your perceptions of what is not fair.

As a leader you will ultimately have to look inward and upward if you want to be at peace. So long as you allow someone else to be your measure of success then you will always doubt and second guess yourself. Find peace at the end of the day in knowing that you did your best. Unlock the potential of everything that is great about you – not others.

The lock of a bad attitude

Ultimately, your attitude is your deal-breaker. With a good attitude you can unlock all the potential that is uniquely yours to achieve. A bad attitude will keep you locked up in a cell of your own making that will always hold you back.

Do other people sometimes get the better breaks? Do bad things happen to good and honest people? Of course it does. Life is not always fair. But life is made better or made worse by the way you respond and the attitude that you choose.

As a leader it’s time to pick some locks and set yourself free. It’s time to raise expectations equal to your talent – not equal to your fears. It’s time to quit comparing yourself to others and change your attitude.

It’s time to unlock your potential!


© 2016 Doug Dickerson




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A Grass Hut, a Firetruck, and Cigarettes – The Day I Quit Smoking Cold Turkey




We do not remember days, we remember moments. – Cesare Pavese

It was in the early 1970’s and I was in my early teens. On a hot summer day a friend and I walked up to the local 7 Eleven to buy some cigarettes. I know, I know– but back in that day it was not illegal to buy or sell them.

We were out in the big field behind our homes sitting in a grass hut we had made enjoying the Marlboro’s- when suddenly I felt a swift foot in my back. I turned in time to see flames engulfing the hot dry hut we had built. I got out just in time.

Our futile efforts to stomp out the fire led us to make the only logical decision we could make in our moment of desperation – run!

My friend ran one way, I another. It was not part of any strategic plan- it’s just the way it happened.  As I ran with all my might I recall seeing the blur that was my house. I kept running.  The local fire station that sat next to the 7 Eleven responded with one of their trucks. Our paths crossed briefly as the truck rolled past me. Fortunately, the fire was contained and no injury to property or life ensued.

Life experiences have a way of helping us put leadership lessons in perspective. Here are my three takeaway from the day I quit smoking cold turkey.

With the right motivation you can do anything!

My motivation to stop smoking was brought about not by a fancy ad campaign or regulations that came in later years. It was much more personal. If the motivation is right you can do anything you set your heart and mind to. You can achieve any goal or dream you desire if you don’t give up. You just have to find that tipping point and the right motivation.

If you play with fire you can get burned

The matches and cigarettes on a hot summer day were the perfect ingredients for disaster. As leaders; often it’s the little things that trip us up. Little things like attitude that will make you or break you. It’s the way you relate to and treat people that make a difference. If you are a jerk – you are playing with fire and eventually you’ll get burned.

Not everyone who kicks you in your backside is your enemy

As I sat in that grass hut oblivious to the danger around me, it was a hard kick in the back that got me out in time. Your growth as a leader is up to you. Not everyone who slaps you on the back is necessarily your friend and not everyone who kicks you in the back is your enemy. As you grow as a leader you will learn to figure it out.

In hindsight, I’m glad I quit smoking cold turkey.


© 2015 Doug Dickerson





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Six Reasons Your Employees Don’t Believe a Word You Say


By Doug Dickerson and Elizabeth Stincelli

“Don’t believe what I say. Believe what I do.” —Carlson Ghosn

Two psychiatrists meet at their 20th college reunion. One is vibrant, while the other looks withered and worried. “So what’s your secret?” the older looking psychiatrist asks. “Listening to other people’s problems every day, all day long, for years on end, has made an old man of me.” “So,” replies the younger looking one, “who listens?”

That humorous story reminds us as leaders of not just the necessity of listening but of the importance of how we communicate. It’s not so much what we say that’s important but that we are leaders who understand why our people should listen to us in the first place.

If your people are tuning you out and not believing what you say then your leadership is on life-support. Knowing the symptoms is the first step in turning things around. If your people don’t believe a word you say then here are six reasons why.

You are self-centered

If you are a self-centered leader your people will not believe you because you are only looking out for yourself. When decisions are made based upon what is best for you –what makes you look good- then you are using your people. Self-centered leadership tends to be manipulative and puts what is best for you above what is best for the team. If you are a self-centered leader you’d better wake up before it’s too late. One day you will look around and you’ll discover that not only are your people not believing you – they are not following you either.

You are inconsistent

Inconsistent actions produce inconsistent results. The flow and continuity of your leadership is essential to your success. If you say one thing and do another then those very actions will lead to mistrust and will marginalize your leadership. Flexibility is a must for any team moving forward. Unexpected things happen and your people will have to learn to go with the flow. But if you are inconsistent in terms of what you communicate or how you treat them it will be impossible for them to move forward or have faith in your leadership.

You don’t have their backs

Nothing will empower your team faster than having the backs of your people. A good leader knows this. But your people will not believe you if your message to them says “I have your back” yet you are nowhere to be found when they need you. When you empower your people and have their backs you create a momentum that can take your team to new levels of success. Don’t squander the drive, motivation, and ingenuity of your people by failing at this one critical element of your leadership. If you have the backs of your people they will have yours.

Your ego is front and center

If, as a leader, your ego is front and center, your employees won’t believe a word you say. Your ego can prevent you from seeing the world as it really is; you begin interpreting reality through your own biased lens. When your ego is front and center you send the message that your opinion is the only one that matters. Soon your employees, tired of hearing about how you know everything, will stop listening to you at all.

You lead with fear

If you lead with fear you will never earn the trust of your employees and they won’t believe a word you say. Fear stimulates the fight or flight response. In this state of mind, there is no higher-level cognitive thinking. When you lead with fear your employees disengage and become more focused on protecting themselves than what you are saying. Your attempt to control your employee’s behavior through fear will result in distrust and will undermine your ability to share your message and vision.

They don’t feel valued

Our success is deeply intertwined with our ability to collaborate. When your employees don’t feel valued they lose interest in continuing to try to contribute to the team. They withdraw and you lose the value of their unique skills and knowledge. Your employees need to have a voice and to have their individual contributions recognized and valued. Communication is a two-way street and when your employees don’t feel valued, you lose their respect which has a negative impact your ability to communicate and influence as a leader. When your employees don’t feel valued they won’t believe a word you say.

The key to leadership is trust and influence. If your people don’t believe a word you say, you have lost your ability to lead. It’s time to evaluate your leadership. Is your leadership self-centered or inconsistent? Do you have your employee’s backs? Is your ego front and center? Are you leading with fear? Do your people feel valued? Answer these questions honestly, make a change, and start leading today.



© 2015 Doug Dickerson and Elizabeth Stincelli


Elizabeth Stincelli is passionate about recognizing and inspiring the leader in each of us. She is the CEO of Stincelli Advisors where she focuses on helping organizations engage employees and improve organizational culture. Elizabeth holds a Doctor of Management degree with an emphasis on organizational leadership.

Learn more about Elizabeth by visiting her website, and connect with her on Twitter @infinitestin, Google+, and LinkedIn. You can contact her by email at

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Announcing My New Book


One leadership principle I have learned over the years is quite simple: leaders are readers! In my new book, It Only Takes a Minute: Daily Inspiration for Leaders on the Move, I take you on a 365 day leadership journey.

Each day begins with a quote from a current or past leadership thinker, sports figure, actor, minister, political figure, etc. followed by an inspirational leadership thought by me.

Leaders are busy people – I get it. In this daily reader you will be challenged in your leadership thinking and prodded to grow each day. As the title suggests, It Only Takes a Minute!

Click on the on the link below to order your copy today!


Click Here To Order


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Don’t Let the Crabs Pull You Down


There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether It is positive or negative. – W. Clement Stone

As a coastal resident I’ve enjoyed several opportunities over the years to go crabbing at the beach. A good place to catch crab is along the jetties since they like to hide among the rocks. The rewards of crabbing are delicious as crab can be served up many ways- crab cakes being my favorite. It reminds me of the popular crab bucket story.

One time a man was walking along the beach and saw another man fishing in the surf with a bait bucket beside him. As he drew closer, he saw that the bait bucket had no lid and had live crabs inside.

“Why don’t you cover your bait bucket so the crabs won’t escape?” he said.

“You don’t understand,” the man replied, “If there is one crab in the bucket it would surely crawl out very quickly. However, when there are many crab in the bucket, if one tries to crawl up the side, the others grab hold of it and pull it back down so that it will share the same fate as the rest of them.”

In your desire to grow as a leader, succeed in business, and thrive in your personal life, you will come across the “crabs” in life that would seek to hold you back or pull you down. It’s up to you to get out of the basket if you want to reach your full potential. You have to escape the pull of the crabs. Here are four crab types to avoid on your way up.

The crabs with an attitude

Hang around in the basket with crabs long enough and you will be exposed to unpleasant attitudes. The crabs with the bad attitudes want to share their misery with others and want you to stay down with them. You must guard your thoughts and attitude at all cost – you must get out of the basket. When they are clawing at you with their negative attitudes, talk, and toxic ways – keep climbing. Don’t let those crabs pull you down on your way up.

The jealous crabs

When crabs in your office see your success and the dividends of your hard work it’s not uncommon for some to be jealous. Instead of being happy for your success and the progress you are making they will reach up and try to pull you back down. But remember this: the higher you climb the further out of their reach you will be. Ignore the small, petty, and jealous types. Soon you will be out of their company. Keep climbing.

The crabs with limited thinking

The danger in the crab basket is being around those who are too comfortable where they are. They have no drive, ambition, or desire to move forward. They find comfort in the company of mediocrity and resent anyone who dares to leave.  Don’t be caught off guard when in your desire to move up and achieve a greater level of success that crabs will try to pull down. The best way to rise above small and limited thinking is to get away from small-minded people.

The crabs who have accepted their fate

Being a leader with big dreams and goals is noble. But never underestimate the challenges you will face.  While some crabs have not embraced your destiny; they are resigned to theirs. Crabs are those who will tell you that you are not smart enough, talented or gifted enough, or that you will never make it, etc.

Your climb up and out of the basket begins when you rid yourself of the crab basket mentality and dare to embrace your God-given talents and dreams. Dare to believe that your possibilities are unlimited. Dare to believe that you can reach your full potential regardless of what others say or think. It’s when you begin the climb that you will discover that there is no lid at the top holding you back.

What do you say?


© 2015 Doug Dickerson






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