What Millennials Are Teaching Me About Leadership

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“Good habits formed at youth make all the difference”. – Aristotle

He takes to the platform each week in skinny jeans, his shirt is untucked, and he has a shoe collection that would rival that of Imelda Marcos. But this is no ordinary person and it’s not a comedy club on a Friday night. It’s church on Sunday and he is my late 20’s something pastor. Band members are tatted up, some sporting man buns, but all with one thing in common-serving others the best they know how.

That in this stage in my life I would find myself in a church where the majority of the staff are millennials and I am old enough to be their parent, or in some cases their grandparent, is quite surprising even to me. But I am, and I am loving it.

I recently had lunch with my skinny jean-wearing pastor. We talked leadership over pizza and I must admit, I am more encouraged by what I see and hear from Millennials than I have ever been prior.

To be sure, millennials have had their fair share of criticisms leveled against them. Some of it justified, a lot of it not. But as is the case for all of us in leadership, millennials should be given a fair shake as they earn their leadership stripes.

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I don’t presume to speak about all Millennials in all situations, but only to what I personally know, see, and experience on a regular basis. Here is what I am learning from those skinny jean wearing, man bun styling millennials. I think there’s something here for all of us-regardless of our age.

Millennials are teaching me about authenticity

These millennials are setting a great example about being authentic and transparent. It’s quite refreshing to be around people who understand their learning curves and talk openly about their mistakes and flaws, all while pursuing a higher level of excellence. Authentic leadership is hard to come by and way too many opt for wearing a mask. These millennials are teaching me that they care more about being real than they do about false perceptions.

Millennials are teaching me about the value of community

What I am learning from these millennials is that they are all about community and relationships. “Life wasn’t meant to be done alone” is the mantra often repeated. They have tapped into the power of community and discovering that life, just as in leadership, is better when you are part of a community of people who have each other’s backs and that through a community of strong relationships is how we grow. These millennials are teaching me that there is an up-and-coming generation that gets it and works hard to make it happen.

Millennials are teaching me about serving others

One of the bad wraps millennials get is that they are just a bunch of navel-gazing, narcissistic people who are the “entitled” generation. Look around and cherry-pick, and in some cases, you will find it. But the millennials I know take community and servant leadership to a new level. They are invested in their community and are making in-roads in the local schools. Community and civic pride is not the exception, but rather the rule. Millennials are teaching me they realize it’s not all about them, but that true leadership is about serving others.

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Millennials are teaching me the importance of personal growth and development

As my skinny jean wearing pastor and I talked about leadership, we talked about personal growth and development. I was more than impressed by his vast knowledge and familiarity with leading authors, books, and podcasts. He is a student of leadership and works hard to apply it. So does his team. They are taking leadership seriously and are taking advantage of every opportunity to grow.

On the day of his Inaugural Address, a young 43-year-old President John F. Kennedy declared that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…” It was a time of great uncertainty and many questioned the ability of such a young president to lead our nation with the challenges it faced. But he did.

Millennial leaders are rising to the challenge. They are taking up the torch and mantle of leadership and from my experiences with them, we have reason to be optimistic. Their leadership will be tested. They will not always get it right, nor will we who are older. Our life in leadership is a journey- a marathon, not a dash. But it’s when we sit across from the table, eat pizza, talk, and share life experiences that we find that we really have more in common than we realized. But I draw the line at skinny jeans.

©2017 Doug Dickerson

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Recharging Your Leadership

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“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost

I had a great pleasure recently to spend a week up on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mountains of North Carolina. As a coastal resident, it was a welcome reprieve. The mountains are my ‘happy place’ if you will.

Be it hiking trails to waterfalls, walking across the infamous swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain, or hiking my way to the observation summit at Mt. Mitchell- the highest mountain peek east of the Mississippi, it was a great time. I live by the motto of John Muir, “The mountains are calling and I must go”.

At waterfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Provided by author.

The summer months tend to be markers. It’s the mid-point of the year, a time to look at where we’ve come and tweak goals and action plans for the remainder of the year. How is it looking for you?

But before we kick the can too far down the road, let’s take a moment to consider the benefits of summer. It’s an important time in the year for leaders and you don’t want to miss an opportunity to consider what I call the 4 R’s.

A time to rest

Many leaders I know struggle with the thought of rest. They are constantly on the go. Unfortunately, many leaders have subscribed to the notion that to rest is to violate their work ethic. Consequently, they never slow down, they are the first in, last out, and out-hustle everyone else. Noble characteristics for sure.

But even the best of leaders need to rest. A person can only burn the candle at both ends for so long and still maintain any degree of fresh thinking and energy. Do yourself, and everyone else a favor, and embrace the idea of rest. You will be a better leader for it.

A time to recharge

This is the value-added consequence of taking the time to rest. Your body, soul, and mind, can only run for so long and still be useful to you. Rest affords you the opportunity to recharge mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.

Recharging your leadership through the lost art of rest will do you a world of good. When you are recharged you give yourself a fresh perspective on the issues at hand and it will give you the energy needed going forward. Rested and recharged you will position yourself for a great second half of the year.

A time to reflect

During down time and rest is the perfect time to reflect. It’s a time to look back at the first half of the year to see where you’ve come- to put it all in perspective. It’s a time to look ahead, not in the heat of the moment when there is no time to properly absorb what is taking place – but to do so in a state of mind that gives you the context you need.

In your time of rest and mid-year reflecting it’s also important to be present in the moment. “We always project into the future or reflect in the past,” says Marina Abramovic, “but we are so little in the present.” How much do we miss as leaders – family, children, memories we can never have again – simply because we were too busy and missed living in the moment?

A time to reconnect

The benefits of rest can be substantial. Times of rest is important for us in ways already mentioned. But the good it can do for you as a leader will make you a better one.

A rested leader is a more effective leader. Your thinking is more clear, your instincts are sharper, and your temperament is more balanced. Yet, none of these benefits would be possible without making the conscientious decision to rest. Rid yourself of the stigma that to rest is wrong, and embrace this important area of your leadership.

© 2017 Doug Dickerson


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Five Ways You May Be Killing Employee Morale

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“Everything rises and falls on leadership” – John Maxwell

Addressing the topic of work many years ago, Indira Gandhi said, “My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was less competition there.” While there may not be a shortage of people trying to take the credit for work, many a leader faces the challenge of a strong workplace culture and its accompanying morale.

In my research on the topic of employee morale, much of the focus I’ve seen is employee driven. By that I mean the attention leans toward what can be done to make the employee happy (perks- driven), motivated, etc. I see little on what I consider to be the root of the problem which is leadership driven.

In Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Study, as reported on in RYOT, 70 percent of those who participated described themselves as “disengaged” from their work. Only 30 percent admitted they honestly enjoy their job and bosses. Interestingly, the study revealed that workplace perks which have been popular approaches to boosting workplace morale, “do not compare to the employee enjoying and feeling engaged in their work.” Here’s the takeaway – employees and employers desire the same results, but often have two distinctly different means of getting there.

Strong morale is essential to your success as an organization. Leaders need employees who are engaged on all fronts. Employees need strong leaders to show the way.  The last thing you want to do is kill employee morale by ineffective leadership. Here are five ways it could be happening.

You kill employee morale when you ignore input

A leader who won’t listen to his or her people is a leader who is out of touch with his people. If you are out of touch with the people that make your business work then employee morale will suffer. If your people attempt to be engaged and offer their input only to be ignored then you are killing employee morale. A smart leader will make it a priority to listen and to invite feedback from team members. Buy-in begins when you invite them in.

You kill employee morale when you hoard decisions

Killing morale happens when leaders hoard the decision-making process and by-pass those directly affected by the decision. The most successful teams are those whose people are engaged and invested in the well-being of the organization. They are the ones who have bought in and go all out to be successful. A smart leader won’t hoard decisions but will bring others in to help make them. Employees don’t want a dictator; they want a facilitator. Here’s a simple rule to consider: if a decision affects your people then talk to your people.

You kill employee morale when you keep people in the dark

Communication is the life-blood of any organization, but if you keep your people in the dark; especially with things that directly affect their performance, then you are killing employee morale. This weak leadership style not only builds walls but it destroys trust. If you want your people engaged and enjoying what they do then make open communication a practice and a priority.

You kill employee morale when you play favorites

While responsibilities may differ among departments and personnel, it is important not to play favorites with your people. While not everyone’s role is the same, the way you treat them should be. As a leader, it is important to understand the basics of good social skills. The amount of time you spend with the people in your organization will vary depending on assignments, responsibilities, skills, etc., it’s a variable. But not the way you treat your people. If you are perceived as playing favorites you will kill employee morale. Be nice to everyone.

You kill employee morale when you lead from behind

Successful organizations have strong leaders who are not afraid to lead. Employees respect a leader who will confidently lead his or her team. A leader who is perceived to be weak, indecisive, reactionary, or uncertain of their role will kill morale. How can an employee confidently follow a leader who is unsure of himself? Leaders who lead from behind can’t possibly know what direction they are going, the pitfalls in front of them, or how to stay relevant. Leaders; be out front, lead with confidence and with clarity, and you will have employees who will go the distance with you.

What do you say?


© 2017 Doug Dickerson

*This column was originally published in 2015.

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What Makes You A Strong Leader?

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A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. – Lao Tzu

In an Entrepreneur magazine article last year, the question was posed to numerous people on the topic of what makes a great leader. In a word, here are a few of the responses: focus, confidence, transparency, integrity, inspiration, passion, patience, and generosity, to name a few.

Possessing all of the twenty-two qualities listed in the article might be a stretch for most of us. But it is worth considering. Pause, if you will for a moment, and internalize this question: What makes you a great leader? What thoughts, words, or reactions come to mind? Perhaps you’ve never looked at yourself as a leader, much less a great one.

Would your answers change if I substituted the word “great” for “strong”? I tend to reserve the “great leader” distinction for people like Jesus, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., or in my case, Mrs. Montgomery, my 6th-grade teacher who survived having me as a student.

For now, I will reserve attaining the greatness status for another time, and focus on characteristics of developing strong leadership skills. I want to put it in context, and also put it within our reach. Here are six things I think about when I consider strong leadership.

A strong leader focuses on his responsibilities, not his rights

This is a trap many leaders fall into. They think with their title come certain rights- failing to see that in true leadership it’s just the opposite. A strong leader focuses more on his or her responsibilities which will increase and less on his rights which will decrease. Until you understand this basic leadership principle you will never be a strong leader.

A strong leader gives away power, doesn’t hoard it

With leadership comes a certain degree of power. But your responsibility as a leader is not to be on a “power trip”, abusing it and making everyone else miserable. With the power comes responsibility and a certain amount of humility is in order. The strong leader is secure enough not to hoard power and is willing to give it away.

A strong leader concedes the spotlight by putting others in it

How often have you seen leaders seek the limelight, take credit for the good that is accomplished, and throw others under the bus when things go wrong? A strong leader is just the opposite. He takes a little less than his share of the credit when things go well, and takes on more blame when things go wrong. A strong leader is willing to take a step back and put others in the spotlight and let his people shine.

A strong leader grows more leaders, not more followers

A strong leader is not one who is focused on growing more followers. His focus is on growing more leaders. This is, and will always be, the tipping point for strong leaders. Your success as a leader is not found in adding more followers, it’s found the multiplication of growing more leaders. Do the math and think multiplication, not addition.

A strong leader creates margins for his people, not barriers

Every strong leader understands that raising up leaders is a process. It doesn’t come naturally for everyone. And along the way, there are learning curves that must be taken into account. A strong leader will make room for growth and mistakes, and remove barriers that prevent that growth from happening.

A strong leader will give up the good in order to attain the great

One of the strongest challenges you will face in leadership is learning how to say no to the good in order to have the great. Many good ideas, opportunities, and invitations will compete for your time and energy. But you, as a strong leader, must differentiate between what is simply a good opportunity and see how it aligns with your values, vision, and goals. If those good things do not move you in the direction of the great then you should let them go.

These six things I’ve listed are but a starting point. They are markers on the path to strong leadership. What would you add to the list?

© 2017 Doug Dickerson


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Why Can’t You Retain Top Talent?

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“Being the best at whatever talent you have, that’s what stimulates life.” – Tom Landry

The competitive nature of today’s global economy stipulates that you have and retain the top talent in your organization. We acknowledge that to do so is as great of a challenge as it has ever been.

A recent article in USA Today highlighted how American workers are on the move. They reported that “27 percent of employees switched jobs in the 12 months ending in the first quarter according to payroll processor ADP, the most since the firm began tracking the figure in 2014.”

Courtesy: USA Today

So what is a leader to do in order to retain and recruit top talent for their organizations? We have identified several characteristics that may shed some light on why your top talent may be headed through that revolving door. We believe as you take care of these leadership issues you can build the type of team that people would want to work for and think twice about leaving. But first, why are they leaving?

Lack of clear expectations

Nothing will frustrate your top talent more than a lack of a clear set of expectations and vision. Without it, your organization is adrift and your people struggle to find their way. Employees have to fight extra hard to succeed when they do not clearly understand what is expected of them in the first place. The constant feeling that they are not performing at an acceptable level, even if they don’t know what that level is, will send top talent running for the door.

Lack of investment

Your top talent needs to know that you are totally invested in their success. The buy-in is a two-way street and it needs to be demonstrated in tangible ways that reinforce your commitment to their success. Your investment in them shows that they are valued and that you are confident in their ability to make a meaningful contribution to the organization. When top talent feels that you do not value them enough to invest your time and resources in them, they will begin to seek an employer who will.

Perceived lack of respect

The culture and morale of your organization rest on foundational leadership principles. Namely among them are trust and respect. Top talent is especially attuned to the respect or lack thereof, that you have for them. These employees have devoted much of their lives to developing the skills, knowledge, and experience that make them so valuable. If the people in your organization perceive that you do not respect them, then it only stands to reason that they will be a part of a future exit from your organization.

Lack of a clear path forward

We want to be very clear about this leadership principle. Unless your people have a clear path forward, it will be clear to them that they are in the wrong place. In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell writes, “You can find smart, talented, successful people who are able to go only so far because of the limitations of their leadership.” It could be that the top talent in your organization is leaving, not because of a lack of opportunity, but because of a lack of leadership and a clear vision as to where they are going. It is incumbent upon you as the leader to provide it.

Lack of authentic leadership

Nothing will demoralize your people or your team members more quickly than a phony leader. Besides, too much is at stake for a leader to be anything other than genuine. Authenticity is the foundation for trust. No one wants to work for a leader who cannot be trusted. If you lack authenticity, employees will start to question your motives; they will perceive that you have hidden agendas that are not in their best interests. If the top talent within your organization can’t find authentic leadership where they are, they will look elsewhere for it.

We all have the desire to succeed; we want to know that our contributions are valued and that we are making a difference. Top talent has sacrificed far too much to achieve their level of skill to compromise on the leadership environment they work in. Provide them with the clear expectations they need to be successful. Invest your time and resources in helping them achieve great things. Leave no doubt as to how much you respect and trust them and their abilities. Provide them with a clear path forward and the means to follow that path. And, be an authentic leader, someone that top talent can look up to and emulate.

Your organization can only rise as high as your top talent. Isn’t it time to start retaining those employees who have the potential to add so much value? What adjustments will you make to your leadership today?


© 2017 Doug Dickerson and Liz Stincelli


Liz Stincelli is passionate about recognizing and inspiring the leader in each of us. She is the Founder of Stincelli Advisors where she focuses on helping organizations change attitudes, change communication dynamics, improve collaboration and problem-solving, engage employees, and strengthen organizational culture. Liz holds a Doctor of Management degree with an emphasis on organizational leadership.

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


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Getting Comfortable With Failure

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I have not failed. I have found 10,000 ways that won’t work. – Thomas Edison

As a leader, chances are, you’ve had a run-in or two with failure. If not, be patient. I say that not to be pessimistic or to discourage you. I say that to challenge and prepare you for great adventures that lie before you.

Failure. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that word? Unfortunately, some people make the mistake of applying false labels to people who fail. They see them as failures rather than a success in progress.

In his book, Chase The Lion, author Mark Batterson gives an inspiring description of what it means to fail. He writes:

The cure for the fear of failure isn’t success. The cure for the fear of failure

is failure in small enough doses that we build up an

immunity to it.

God is in the business of helping us overcome our fears, but

He often does it by bringing us face to face with our worst fears.

He graciously brings us back to the place of failure, and then, He

not only helps us pick up the broken pieces but He also puts them

back together again.

That description, especially as it applies to the fear of failure, is an important lesson every leader must learn. As a leader, you will have to face down your failures, and confront them if you want to grow to the next level.

Regardless of where you are in your leadership journey, and wherever that path leads you- be it in business, sales, technology, management, customer service, etc. you must find your cure for failure and build up your immunity to defeat it. Here are a few ways to do it.

Develop a resilient attitude

Developing a resilient attitude is hard work. But most of that battle is won when we change our attitudes.

It reminds me the story of the two shoe salesmen years ago who left for the Caribbean  islands from Chicago. Upon arrival, they discovered that no one wore shoes. One salesman phoned back to the home office and notified them that he was returning to Chicago, “no one here wears shoes,” he said. The other man phoned back to the home office with excitement, “Send more shoes, no one here wears them!” Both men saw the same thing. One through the lens of a negative attitude, the other through a positive one.

The difference between your success and failure will often be determined by your attitude. Develop resilience in this area and you will develop an immunity to failure.

Develop the right perspective

While attitude has to do with how you see yourself in your present circumstances, your perspective is how you see yourself through it. It’s all about thinking long.

Look back on your own history for a moment. Think back to a time when you were going through a challenging or difficult time. Chances are your attitude at the time may not reflect your perspective on it now. The difference is time and distance. It’s much easier to look back at a difficult time you’ve come through than it is to see light at the end of the tunnel when going through it.

Never allow your present fears or failures to cloud your perspective. You will come through your difficult times and with the right perspective you can see them for what they were–stepping stones to your success.

Develop resilient courage

The formula for courage looks like this: A (Attitude) + P (Perspective) = C (Courage). Your ability to face down your fears and recover from failure takes courage. What will set you apart from your colleagues and give you the advantage over your competitors is courage.

“We don’t develop courage by being happy everyday,” writes Barbara De Angelis, “ We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity”. And this is the place on your leadership journey you must arrive at. It’s when you survive difficult times that you grow strong as a leader.

Resilient courage is developed over time. It’s a process. None of us like failure and we all wrestle with our fears. But failure doesn’t have to fatal or forever. It’s simply a marker on our road to success. Don’t give up!


© 2017 Doug Dickerson


Favorite quotes on failure:

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

Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.- Og Mandino

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. – Henry Ford

I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying. – Michael Jordan

Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails toward success. – C.S. Lewis



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Are You a Leader on a Mission?

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My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style. – Maya Angelou

On the morning of September 22, 1989, I got in my car and took about a 20-mile drive to the townhouse where my family and I lived in Charleston, South Carolina. It was the morning after Hugo, a Category 5 hurricane, passed through the night before.We had moved inland the day before so as to hopefully avoid the brunt of the storm. I went to see what, if anything, was left.

To this day, I will never forget what I saw as I approached the front door to our home. It was the rear bumper of a car. It was on our front steps leaning against the door. It had a bumper sticker on it that read, “I’m on a mission from God”.

I’m not sure what the mission or the message was, but I was grateful that we suffered only minor damage and had fared much better than most.

While most people’s experiences in leadership may not resemble a hurricane like Hugo, the bumper sticker does provoke an interesting thought. What is your mission or purpose as a leader? What type of impact are you making?

Your life in leadership is not meant to be lived in a vacuum where you are only in it for yourself. Take a few moments and ponder these questions about your leadership. Discover for yourself what your mission is as a leader.

What am I doing as a leader that adds value?

As a leader, you are either adding or subtracting value to those around you. Are your contributions, however great or small, making a difference in the lives of those whom you work with and for your organization? Think about it and take stock of what you are doing. Are you only in it for what you can receive or for notoriety?

If you are going to be a leader on a mission and make a positive difference in your organization then you must be a leader who is intentional about adding value. If not, you are only subtracting.

What am I doing as a leader that will outlast me?

One of the greatest things you can do as a leader is to devote yourself to causes greater than yourself. It’s when you get your eyes off of yourself and onto causes that can change your world that you begin to feel the impact of your leadership. You can best fulfill your mission as a leader when you make your mission less about you and more about others.

If you are going to be a leader on a mission it’s important that you identify what those causes are and how you can do your part to leave the world a little better than you found it.

What am I doing as a leader that fulfills me?

Your fulfillment as a leader is not found in selfish acts or by embracing a ‘what’s in it for me’, attitude. Your mission in leadership is not a call to self-importance but a call to a life of selfless serving. The reason most people in leadership are unfulfilled is that their focus is inward rather than outward. What direction is your focus?

“The two most important days in your life,” Mark Twain said, “is the day you are born and the day you find out why’. And this is the secret to understanding your mission as a leader.

When you discover your ‘why’ and understand your mission, then your life as a leader will be the most rewarding experience of your life.


© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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