Skill Assessment: Doing Leadership Right!

If you want to see how raising emotionally and socially healthly children is done right, look no further than the 18 middle schools surrounding Riverside Middle School in Carson, Iowa (30 minutes east of Omaha, Nebraska.)

I just spent an amazing two days with some of the best 10-14 year olds and some of the best teachers and parents I have ever had the opportunity to know.

These students were ready and willing to listen, to have fun, and to learn about leadership. They were respectful, fun-loving, attentive, creative and hard-workers.

Thanks, Riverside for being one of the best groups I have worked with in a long, long time! And remember what we learned...

1. Leadership is about focusing on others
2. Getting excited about doing leadership will change your life
3. Treat people more like Jeremy and less like Shawn
4. Dead dairy is bad and leadership is not the same as being good
5. Wobblycootins are there to help us have fun, not to keep us from having fun!

Link to newspaper article

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Innovative: Quotes

“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”
Albert Einstein

“Creative thinking may mean simply the realization that there is no particular virtue in doing things the way they have always been done.”
Rudolph Flesch

“The innovation point is the pivotal moment when talented and motivated people seek the opportunity to act on their ideas and dreams.”
W. Arthur Porter

“Since we live in an age of innovation, a practical education must prepare a man for work that does not yet exist and cannot yet be clearly defined.”
Peter Drucker

“You have all the reason in the world to achieve your grandest dreams. Imagination plus innovation equals realization.”
Denis Waitley

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Integrity: Quotes

“With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity.”
Keshavan Nair

“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous, half possession.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Integrity is so perishable in the summer months of success.”
Vanessa Redgrave

“You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
Winston Churchill

“In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you.”
Warren Buffett

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Vision: Quotes

“Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is a nightmare.”
Japanese Proverb

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
Peter Drucker

“A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done.”
Ralph Lauren

“The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.”
John Scully

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible.”
T.E. Lawrence

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Masterful Communication: Get Past Personality to Productivity

I spent a powerful three hours yesterday with the board members of the National Junior Hereford Association. The workshop was How to Communicate Like a Master and it became a session on how the board can effectively make decisions as a group of "big personality" leaders. (The goal of the entire two-day meeting for the board was to plan two big events coming up this summer.) Here are a few of the "group think" guidelines we developed...

  • Have a pre-defined discussion leader. This does not have to be the person with the most authority in the room. It actually works better many times for it not to be.

  • If you find you need more information to make decisions in the room, find it now if you can, assign who will track it down if you can't track it down now or don't make the decision now.

  • Flip chart your ideas and number the sheets and the bullet points.

  • Have a Parking Lot flip chart to capture ideas that you want to revisit, but that will distract from the current conversation.

  • The discussion leader needs to hold their tongue on their opinions. They control too much of the conversation flow energy to self-impose their will on the discussion.

  • Speak in concrete terms. Who exactly will move that forward? What exactly will that look like?

  • Vote first (blindly) on the ideas that have been presented and then offer judgments. You might find that everyone agrees on the same thing and you can save hours of unnecessary banter time.

  • Creating ideas is a totally separate process from making judgments on ideas. If you do both at the same time, it steals the energy away from the creation process and it inadvertently stunts the effectiveness of the judgments.

These systems are designed to help groups make better decisions AND to make the decision making process shorter and more effective (better ideas, more ideas, cleaner ideas, opinions from everyone, parliamentary procedure style discussion, etc.). These systems also help strip away these two meeting crasher dynamics...

"The ideas that get discussed come primarily from the biggest personality in the room..."


"The people with the most prior experience in the room have better ideas than others..."

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Innovative: Disapprovers vs. Improvers

Not long ago I facilitated a six-hour brainstorming session with the student organization leaders of a Missouri high school. Our purpose was to develop a community service project that all the organizations could work on together. It was an awesome experience and a great idea!

After four hours the students voted to re-model and re-open their run down city park. Two seconds after the vote was cast, the negative talk started.

"We've tried this before. We will never get this accomplished while we are in high school. There are too many local and state regulations. The city will never cooperate."

The next hour was filled with a crystal clear picture of what really kills or energizes the enthusiasm in ideas and people - disapprovers and improvers. The students focusing only on the negatives and the reasons why the idea was bad were acting as disapprovers. Those students who chose to view the negatives as challenges and focus more on the positives were acting as improvers.

With a little persistence (and a guiding hand from the facilitator), the improvers outweighed the disapprovers and the disapprovers agreed to get behind the idea and work together to accomplish the common goal. The students were left with two thoughts:

1. The park idea is a good or a bad one based solely on whether they think it is good or bad. Their approach in thinking to the situation defines the situation.

2. The quality of their effort as a school in completing the project will be based in large part on how effectively the disapprovers can get as passionately behind the idea as they were able to get so passionately against it.

When a new idea or project comes your way, even if you do not totally agree with it, make the good choice to agree to disagree and choose to be an improver. Believe me, this world has enough disapprovers already!

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Skill Assessment: Torchbearers

One of our most popular modules for student and professional elected leaders is called Torchbearers. Review the list below to see if you qualify as a Torchbearer...

The Torchbearer Seven Defining Qualities…

  1. Thirsty for personal and professional growth
  2. Strong allegiance to organizations*
  3. Values and fosters relationships within and without their organizations
  4. Self-assure and gains partial or full identity from organizations
  5. Self-aware of how they play a role in moving their organizations forward
  6. Intelligently optimistic about the future
  7. Effective communicator (public and private)

* Organizations are defined as any entity that brings people together for a common cause (family, neighborhood, community, business, professional association, state, nation, religion, etc.)

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Integrity: Where do you come from?

By Rhett Laubach (circa 1991)

Where I come from there is a spot of grass in an open field
The field is a couple of acres in size and the grass soft and friendly
The closest highway is a country mile away
The closest city is thirty city miles away

Not many strangers pass by this field
Course, not many strangers pass by anywhere around there
Where I come from no one is a stranger
Just a friend you have not made yet

Where I come from you can stand in that field and feel safe
The kind of safe you can not get from locks or whistles
That field and grass hold more than security where I come from
They hold a window to a way of life

You can stand in the middle of that field on a clear night
You can see every single star in the sky
You lay down in that soft grass and just stare
The only noise you hear is the distant howl of the coyote
The sound of your thoughts

Where I come from life is simple and clean
Where I come from family, friends and the land are paramount
Taking care of all three is at the very being of who we are
It is where we draw our strength and our values

We understand who we are because we have had time to think about it
That is why we respect that field and that grass so much
When you are lying there in the cool night, just you and the coyotes
The land and the heavens become one

This place of freedom which I hold in such regard
Is right behind the house – the home where I grew up
Where I come from heaven was in my own backyard

If I could have one wish
It would be for everyone to have a backyard like that
Their own little heaven just to think, feel ultimately safe
Appreciate where they come from

I am who I am because of this life building experience called where I come from.

[Download PDF version]

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Masterful Communication: The Visual Anchor

Any time you need and/or want a message you are communicating to stick with your audience, build in one or two strong visual anchors. Anymore than that and they will get lost. Any fewer than that and your message will get lost. Just think Sesame Street. Ten bucks says you are thinking of a large yellow bird right now...

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Emotional Maturity: Attitude Impacts Everything

Your attitude is vital to your leadership effectiveness because it impacts everything you do. It determines your ability to attract others. It dictates your outlook on life. It strengthens or disables your ability to overcome a setback. It guides your words. It is your thoughts. It enables your productivity – whether that be very or nary.

I recently listened to a podcast interview with Joseph Finder and Malcolm Gladwell [MP3, 42.5 MB, 46:25] where Malcolm talks about our explanatory style. This is a psychology term for how we respond to setbacks in our life. People with a pessimistic attitude view setbacks with an "end of the world" view. Optimitic people view setbacks as a temporary condition. (This is just one of many differences between explanatory styles. Google "explanatory styles filetype:pdf" to learn more.)

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Innovative: The Innovation Petri Dishes

We have identified four personal attributes/habits/skills of consistently creative people.

Fluency - When posed with a question/situation/challenge/problem, the consistently creative person seeks out and tries on tons of potential answers.

Flexibility – The consistently creative individual not only thinks out of the box, but attempts to color the box, turn the box into an airplane, finds the box maker, studies the history of boxes, gets back in the box and then back out, etc.

Awareness – There are very, very, very few problems that individuals, companies, communities or organizations face that are brand, spanking new. The creation of something new requires an examination and appreciation of that which is old.

Originality – This may seem like a no brainer, but it is actually exactly the opposite. Your grey matter is totally unique from every other person on earth – 1 in 6 billion. No one has experienced, read, seen, heard, spoken, felt, smelled or touched exactly what you have. That means that you have the opportunity to create authentic output. Don’t be afraid to do it. Exercise that muscle often and it will be one of your greatest strengths!

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Service Minded: Customer Service Insights

Someone explain to me why a business would do these customer service blunders...

1. Not having the hot water turned on in the customer restrooms.

2. Actually saying, "I probably didn't tell you last time that I am bad at calling people back to let them know that their order is ready."

3. Actually saying to a customer when referring to their delivery process of the $1,000 product just sold, "I have no idea when those pictures will be up on the site. I have no idea if they (a 3rd party vendor) will send the same size postcards as we have envelopes. I have no idea if they will send the orders at the same time."

Customer service non-blunders...

1. Have it turned on.

2. Get better at calling your customers back.


Being service-minded is not just a touchy-feely added bonus. It is caring for the customer, caring for the customer, caring for the customer.

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Integrity: The 5 C's of Leadership Effectiveness

Personal Leadership Insight is a framework for leadership development. One or more of the ten PLI Essentials is an area of development need for all leaders. However, PLI is not a framework for leadership effectiveness. That is why we have the 5 C's...


Spend time chasing ambiguity out of your life. Get clear on your strengths, your areas of weakness, your mission in life, your organization's purpose, etc.


Trust is at the heart of a leader's effectivness. Everytime you give your word, keep it. (Especially to yourself.)


Like the old saying goes, "When you're green, you're growing. When you're ripe, you rot!"


Life and leadership are team sports. Strategy, execution, competency, etc. are important, but all are secondary to the human side of leadership.


The only test of leadership that matters is the answer to this question, "What value are you bringing to the table today?"

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Innovative: The Barriers To Creativity

Innovative: The Barriers…

There are three major barriers to individuals not exercising their innate ability to be creative and innovative...

Barrier #1 – Fear of Failure

This one drives the other two and by itself is a creativity killer. The bigger discussion is identifying the true source of this fear. Is it pride? Is it job security? Is it past experiences? Is it simply saving face? More than likely it is a combination of all. However, the truth is, that if you overcome these issues, you will surprise yourself by your creative output!

Barrier #2 – Not My Job

The lack of personal responsibility rears its ugly head everywhere, especially in leadership circles. Many positional leaders lifted to their current status because of a cocktail of taking responsibility (more than likely on things that no one else wanted to do) and of dodging personal responsibility (in order to protect what they have built – career, project, friendship, etc.). It is amazing what gets created that wasn’t there before simply because someone, somewhere said, “That’s not my job, but I will take care of it.”

Barrier #3 – I’m Not Creative

There is a great keynote that was delivered at TED by Sir Ken Robinson [Download video here] last year about the dynamic in America’s school where the system is basically built to serve the student from the neck up and slightly to the right. This is to say that it shouldn’t be a surprise when your people (or you) are not used to being creative or have a self-perception of not being creative. Ever since early in our youth, we have been taught to color in the lines, memorize the correct answers, sit still, etc. All of which are important for creating clones and all of which are horrible at creating creativity.

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Masterful Communication: Note From Boss To Employees

Get ready to hit print after you visit this post at Execupundit.com....

Note From Boss To Employees

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Emotional Maturity; Inside-Out Motivation

All motivation is internal. You and I only do things that we have either passively (out of habit or routine) or actively (out of a thoughtful or emotional process) decided to do. However, every single one of our internally motivated decisions are either passively (via prior experiences) or actively (via what we are experiencing right now) influenced by external motivators. As a leader of others, one of your primary roles is to identify, manage and leverage whatever the external motivators are for your team. You must de-emphasize or erraticate the negative and emphasize the positive. Your ability to do this one thing has a dramatic impact on your company's bottom-line, your association's efforts or your team's success.

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Fostering Relationships: The Effective Teamwork Formula

Click on this image, download it to your hard drive, print it off, study it and do it. It will take about a year to complete the formula, so e-mail me on March 3, 2008 and tell me how it went! Good luck!

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Service Minded: Customer Service Insights

Over the past few weeks, we have had a number of financial institutions contact us regarding communication and customer service training. If you manage customer service professionals or have your hands in customer service, read on. {Jon, thanks for the creation collaboration...}

A quick spattering of some customer service insights we share in our trainings...

1. You Are The Company, Organization, School, Team, etc.

My wife recently visited a health club in our neighborhood. Since we have a one-month old at the house (her nickname is Itsy-Bitsy and our two-year old is Bitsy. I just think that is hilarious), she was really excited about getting back in "pre-baby shape." After five minutes on the treadmill, she felt a knock on her back. One of the personal trainers had literally just walked up to her and started bouncing a training ball off her back - mid-workout! She politely shooed him away, but he was back in five minutes asking un-invited questions and trying to interrupt her workout to gain her business. Needless to say, the strategy didn't work. Not only that, HE is now the reason she will never again patron that gym or any of their other stores.

You are the organization. Everytime a customer talks with you, looks at you, works with you or you handle something actively or passively for a customer, you leave an impression on the customer that is more than just from you - it is from the organization. So, you play a huge role within the organization, no matter how huge your position is!

2. Communicate the Process

I would rather hear why it is taking you five minutes to complete a transaction than to just be kept waiting. Customers need to hear about it when you have to jump through hoops to provide great service for them. But you can't do it in a "this is way harder than it should be" attitude. It has to be with a smile on your face and love in your heart. So, maybe you don't love your customers, maybe you don't even love your work, but hopefully you love putting a smile on your face and your customers' faces. If you don't, you need to slap your career counselor with a paper weight!

3. If it is Worth it, Just do it

During a recent visit to my eye doctor for a routine exam, I was taken into a new room. In this room sat a new piece of equipment I hadn't seen before. The assistant asked if I wanted to spend an extra $32 getting this "additional examination" that tested for a plethora of things that I am sure were important, but that I knew nothing about. I followed her question with, "Will my normal exam be sufficient to check for all the relevant concerns for someone of my age and with my vision?" She sheepishly said yes. Of course, I said no to the additional $32.

If I were my eye doctor, I would take out the step of asking if I want to spend $32 for the additional exam. When I go to somewhere like the eye doctor, I don't expect it to be like the tire and lube place. If my paid professional thinks it is worth it, then don't itemize it out or make it optional. Just do it. By making it optional, she is essentially saying, this is not totally necessary to provide you the best exam possible. So, whatever add-on you are thinking of including, if it is really worth it and totally necessary, then build in the cost and just do it!

4. Know it Before You Show it

In the context of the previous example, that assistant could have sold me on the $32 exam add-on if she had known something and that something is not all the ins and outs of the machine. The training she needed was how to make a personal connection between me (the set of eyes in question) and the benefits of having said eyes examined with the new machine. That is the knowledge piece. The application piece is to get her trained on how to open the discussion in the exam room. She began (and ended) the discussion with listing what the machine does; what it tests for. A better approach would have been to begin with a set of two or three open-ended questions with the end goal of me convincing myself that the additional $32 was necessary. So, she not only needed to know the machine, she needed to know the benefits of the exam to me and the questions dialogue.

5. The Customer Service Secret

Own a genuine sense of caring for the customer. If you can't do that, then at least care for solving the customer's problem. If you can't do that, then at least care for the quality of your work. If you can't do that, then pull that paper weight back out!

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Teaching PLI: What PLI is and What PLI is Not!

Personal Leadership Insight is not only the title and focus of this blog, it is also the monicker we developed to describe what it is we teach and speak/write about at YourNextSpeaker and TRI Leadership Resources. PLI does not encompass everything we do, but it does give us and our clients and potential clients a common language to discuss training and development needs for individuals and organizations. The curriculum itself is framed by the PLI Essentials - the ten leadership capacity areas that everything we teach falls under. Vision, Integrity, etc.

Basically, PLI is a wholistic approach to leadership development. What PLI is not is a wholistic approach to leadership effectiveness. This is to say that to be an effective leader does not require one to be great at all of the ten essentials. Because of the wide swath the essentials take on leadership abilities, this is nearly impossible. What PLI and its unique framework does provide is a roadmap for leaders who need to recognize or have already recognized a development need or a strength need in the realm of leadership. One or more of the PLI essentials speaks to the core ability you need to have as a leader to be productive.

Our goal is to provide you with some insights into how that can happen for you and is happening for others.

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