Terry Starbucker

10 Critical Leadership Battles (And How You Can Win Them All)

Posted by on Apr 2, 2014 in Terry Starbucker | 0 comments

j0400346-300x199There are some moments in your career that leave an indelible imprint – moments that end up defining WHO you are.

They are moments where you literally plant a flag and say “This is it!  This is where I’m going!!”

And sometimes, you get to ask a brave follow up question, to those who have witnessed the moment.

“Will you follow me??”

That happened to me 10 years ago, in a conference room in Billings, Montana.

There, at an annual budget meeting with the entire operations management group in attendance, an important decision was made.

I decided to NOT make my keynote talk a discussion of the numbers.   I wanted to talk about leadership.  It would be the first time I’d ever try to articulate what “leading” meant to me.

I framed it that day as group of 10 leadership battles that leaders will constantly face, in any quest to be great.

And I chose my side of the battle, and asked the team to follow my lead.

These were the 10, and the way to “win” them:

  1. People vs. Process –  It’s as simple as this: a process is only as good as the people executing it.  Focus on the people first, and while you’re at it, make sure your charges truly understand the context and purpose behind the processes.
  2. Filtering vs. Push Down – Good leaders know that they need to function as a contextual “filter” for their team when directives and messages come from above.  In trying times or in stressful situations, these messages can be harsh and while that’s something leaders should handle, oftentimes if it is just “pushed down” to the rank and file in the same manner, or worse yet, with a compounded harshness, the messages will be met with anxiety and fear – not exactly the emotions needed to execute well.
  3. Trust vs. Fear – Leading by instilling fear, while it can get things done in the short term, simply doesn’t work over the long haul.  Building trust is the much better approach, although it takes a heck of a lot more effort. That’s why the “fear card” tends to stay in the deck even though we know it shouldn’t.  Keep it at the bottom by always thinking of the Golden Rule as you go about your day – it will never lead you astray.
  4. Humility vs. Ego – It has to be about THEM, not YOU. It’s the knack of giving the credit to everybody else and blaming yourself.    Channel all of that ambition towards your team, and watch it blossom.
  5. Will To Succeed vs. Hope to Survive – It’s all about tone and the words you use when it comes to inspiring your team to get results – one of the biggest distinctions you can make is how you speak and act about the challenges in front of you.  Do you simply “hope” to succeed?  Or do you project a quiet determination that clearly shows you will do whatever it takes to get the job done?  As Sun Tzu said long ago in the Art of War, “An army destined for defeat fights in the hope of winning“.
  6. Empathy vs. Detachment – The “old school” of leadership used to warn us that it was a bad thing to get emotionally attached to our teammates and their welfare.  That school is now closed.   We have to understand what’s going on in their hearts and minds  – the better to pinpoint and address performance issues, as well as properly match skills AND personalities to key responsibilities.
  7. Big Picture vs. Lost in the Details – A leader needs to frequently step back from the day-to-day details and paint the “big picture”-putting each teammate’s job in the context of the business, and its contribution to overall success.  Teammates need to understand that what they do matters – once they see how they “fit”, they will more easily take ownership of what they do and how they do it.  This makes a huge difference in the overall attitude and energy of the entire group.
  8. We vs. They – This may sound overly simplistic, but pronouns matter.   If you use “I” or “they” (meaning your bosses) too much, your team will use “they” or “you” in return.  This sets up a wall between management and the rank-and-file that is very, very hard to knock down.   If you ever want everyone marching to the same drum, put “we” consistently in your vocabulary.
  9. Engagement vs. The Ivory Tower –  It’s all too easy to stay behind a desk all day dealing with all the paper, phone calls, and e-mails.  DON’T be held hostage in the Ivory Tower!   Get out in the field – engage with your teammates, roll up your sleeves, talk to customers – especially if there’s distance between you and your actual operations.  If you lose that vital contact with what’s “really going on out there“, your ability to make good decisions will be severely compromised.
  10. Leading vs. Managing – This is the big one- the ultimate battle.   The easiest way to make the distinction is just open a dictionary and read the definitions of “manage” and “lead”. Which person do you want to be?   Do you want to “direct and control“, or “show the way“?  Once we realize that it’s much more effective to guide than to control, it really becomes no contest.  We’ve won.  Game over.

Once those battles were defined,  and asked them to follow me, I posed one more question:

“It boils down to this – do you want to manage, or do you want to LEAD”?

I have to admit, at that point I couldn’t help thinking about that scene in the classic comedy Animal House, where the character played by John Belushi makes this long (and factually inaccurate) speech to fire up his fraternity brothers, and asks the question, “Who’s with me?”.

I wish I could tell you that the whole team stood up and yelled, at the top of their lungs, “we want to lead!”, and then charged out the door with me, like the fraternity charged behind Belushi.  Only in Hollywood, I’m afraid.

It turned out to be just a seed I planted – one that wouldn’t bear fruit until a few years later.  But it was an important start.

The stakes had to be defined.

Which side are you on?

Let’s be leaders.

Will you follow me?

(Note: To my long-time readers, you’ve seen the core of this post before  – the 10 battles originally appeared here in 2009, without context. Now you know the the rest of the story…)

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The Life-Changing Leadership Secrets of The Trappist Monks

Posted by on Mar 12, 2014 in Terry Starbucker | 0 comments

more-human-podcastOn the latest edition of The More Human Podcast,  my guest is August Turak, a successful entrepreneur, corporate executive, and award winning author of the recent book: Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks – One CEO’s Quest for Meaning and Authenticity”.

August has a fascinating story to tell – he discovered these secrets while living and working alongside the Trappist monks of Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina for 17 years.  As a frequent monastic guest, he learned firsthand from the monks as they grew an incredibly successful portfolio of businesses.

AugustTurakAt its heart, the book is about an ancient, but still immensely relevant,  “more human” economic model that the monks have been practicing for 1,500 years –  service and selflessness, coming from the Rule of St. Benedict (written in 540 AD).

It’s a transformative model, one that holds many extraordinary leadership secrets  – lessons we talk about in the podcast.

More than anything else, it’s about the joy that can be found in the journey itself.  One of my favorite quotes in the book is by Confucius:

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.

Other Highlights:

  • Why August drove through the gates of the Mepkin Abbey in 1996
  • How his observations of service and selflessness led to a popular Forbes article, and then the book
  • How to “aim past the target” to a higher purpose
  • The big difference between having a mission and having a plan
  • Why having a coach and mentor is so important to your mission
  • Why leadership has to be about something “worth doing”
  • The essential task of leadership 
  • What really made Darth Vader evil
  • How leadership success relies on keeping promises- even the smallest ones.
  • What the Monks and Warren Buffet have in common

trappist monksIf you are looking for ways to move your leadership to the next level, and go for greatness, don’t miss this podcast, and then read August’s book.

My continuing thanks to the folks at Pagatim in Portland for a great recording session at their studio, and for the upload services. (Here’s a link to the podcast if you can’t see or use the embed below)

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Chris Guillebeau and The World-Changing Value of Helping People

Posted by on Mar 6, 2014 in Terry Starbucker | 0 comments

more-human-podcastOn the latest More Human Podcast,  my guest is Chris Guillebeau, writer, entrepreneur, world traveler, and author of the recent NY Times Best selling book: The $100 Startup: Reinvent the way you make a living, do what you love, and create a new future”.

Chris recently completed his quest to visit every single country in the world – all 193 of them – when he landed in Oslo Norway in April of 2013.   He has a huge online following on his “Art of Non-Conformity” site, and is the architect of an event called the “World Domination Summit”, which attracts over 3,000 people to a 2-day event in Portland, OR that changes lives, and occasionally even sets world records (we talk about that on the podcast).

(He’s also started a new small business event this spring called Pioneer Nation, to be held in Portland from March 26-28)

chrisgHis personal philosophy is undeniably and unabashedly More Human, with his writing and work centering around the convergence between highly personal goals and service to others.  He created the metaphor of “world domination” (ruling and changing the world at the same time) to highlight all the things that can be achieved in a live filled with gratitude and purpose.

He’s also a person who has fully embraced humility, never glossing over his failures and graciously ceding the spotlight, and credit, to those who have stepped boldly with him into World Domination.

On the podcast we talk about Chris’ life, his travel, his work, his quest – and lots more.   Highlights:

  • How his non-conformist bug took root
  • The reason he’s been to all 193 countries
  • The benefit of converging our passions with the desire to help others
  • Why the World Domination Summit really is changing the world
  • How leaders should be amplifiers of the greater cause
  • Breaking down business into a simple formula: Passion or skill + usefulness
  • The value of helping people
  • Why a fish is so important in the “$100 Startup”
  • How being a “Hustler” isn’t such a bad thing (if you do it with style and substance)

100-start-up-coverDon’t miss this discussion – please enjoy our chat, and check out Chris’ books – I highly recommend them both.

My continuing thanks to the folks at Pagatim in Portland for a great recording session at their studio, and for the upload services. (Here’s a link to the podcast if you can’t see or use the embed below)

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25 Timeless Leadership Lessons That Just Plain Work: Lessons 16 to 20

Posted by on Mar 5, 2014 in Terry Starbucker | 0 comments

25cHi fellow leaders, it’s the fourth week of my five-week series outlining 25 timeless leadership lessons that just plain work.

If you missed the first three installments, here is Part 1, ,here is Part 2 , and here is Part 3).

All 25 are listed below, and the lessons discussed today are in bold (past lessons are underlined and linked).  There are 5 more lessons coming a week from today.  Lead well!

  1. Practice Full Spectrum Management 
  2. Teach Instead of Tell
  3. Be an Enabler, Not a Disabler
  4. Develop a Zen-Like Mantra
  5. Avoid Inertia (and Push Forward)
  6. Trust the Facts
  7. Words Alone Don’t Make the Leader
  8. Blend Will and Humility
  9. Know “The Secrets of Work”
  10. Do the Unexpected
  11. Think Like an Interior Designer
  12. “It is Solved by Walking”
  13. Take the Leadership Litmus Test
  14. Bad News Can Be Good News
  15. Don’t Do Second Things First
  16. Avoid Nightmares in the Ivory Tower
  17. Pause and Refresh
  18. Shore Up the House of Cards
  19. Get a Life (If You Don’t Have One)
  20. Beware of the Accountability Trap
  21. Do Some Den Mothering
  22. Be Ever the Statesman
  23. Use The Seven Most Important Words
  24. Stay Away From the “Buts”
  25. No Square Pegs in Round Holes

16. Avoid Nightmares in the Ivory Tower

In my staff meetings I often talked about staying out of the “Ivory Tower”. As defined in the dictionary, it means: “A place or attitude of retreat, especially preoccupation with lofty, remote, or intellectual considerations rather than practical everyday life”. In business terms, it means spending too much time behind our desks and computers, and not enough with their teammates and customers.

If you spend too much time in the ivory tower, it can become a real nightmare trying to effectively lead – you spend a considerable amount of time simply trying to find out what is really going on out there. Worse, you make far too many important decisions based on only partial information, and worse yet, on pure hearsay.  Hearsay can kill a business dead in its tracks.

Granted, a leader cannot be in the field and talking to customers all the time, but even a modest amount of “hands on” involvement can make a huge difference.   You can see how corporate directives actually affect those who have to carry them out – going beyond the pure dollars and cents seen on the spreadsheets that typically drive those directives (yes, there a lot of spreadsheets in the ivory tower).

I know the money stuff is important (after all, I majored in accounting), but that is only part of the complete picture that needs to be drawn.  Avoid the nightmare, and get out of the tower.

17. Pause and Refresh

Those of us in the business world are quite accustomed to the compartmentalization of our trek into 365 day chunks, otherwise known as the “fiscal year”.  We gear up our teams to hit annual budgets and goals, do our utmost to execute throughout the subsequent months, and fret, cajole, push, and do whatever else we deem necessary to get to the end of the year categorized as a success.

Then on January 1, you get back to work and you do it all over again, and the clock and the scoreboard are set back to zero.  Momentum is a fickle thing, and I have found it difficult to maintain after the decks have been cleared and a new set of goals get put in place, especially if you do not take at least a little time for reflection. Just jumping back into a new year without a pause to look behind and celebrate success (or perish the thought, learn from failures) is a recipe for a sluggish start.

As leaders we must fight the impulse to plow ahead without much regard to what happened in the previous 12 months.  By stopping and looking back, perhaps in the form of a day-long management retreat, and making sure that team and individual successes are praised and recognized in the process, we stand a much better chance to have energized teammates ready to take on the challenges of a new year.

18. Shore Up the House of Cards

There is a delicate balance necessary to get a group of people working together harmoniously, with purpose, and with great mutual satisfaction (I call that “Business Utopia“). The tricky part, as I have come to find out over my career, is how precarious the whole thing can be as you try your best to achieve it.

It is what I call “leading from within the house of cards“. Like any house of cards, it really does not take much of a vibration to damage Utopia, or break it down entirely. That can be a tough thing to swallow – why is Utopia so hard to build up but so darn easy to knock down?  Sometimes all it takes is one hour of the disruptive force of a single individual to destroy months or even years of trust and confidence building.

The more a leader realizes that there is such a delicate balance in building a Business Utopia, and knows there will always be some “shoring up” necessary along the way (rather than falling into a sense of complacency as the goal is within reach or achieved), the less actual repair work will be necessary. The house will slowly but surely get a better foundation.  It can be a difficult journey, to be sure, but the benefits of that Business Utopia are too good to pass up.

19. Get a Life (If You Don’t Have One)

Not long ago I read this quote from Richard Parsons, former CEO of media powerhouse Time Warner and former Chairman of Citigroup:

“I think of myself as a professional manager. I am not trying to build a dynasty or create a monument. I know this comment will upset some people, but this is my job. It’s not my life. I don’t define myself by this.”

Whoa.  A high-profile CEO not defining himself by his career?  No 16 hour days and 80 hour weeks?  No obsession with success at all costs to a private life?

It is a pretty brave thing to say, because in this go-go world it can easily be misinterpreted as “disrespect for the job”, and thus linked to any inkling of sub-par performance.   “Well, his heart just wasn’t in it”, the critics might say.

In actual fact, I believe this is absolutely the correct point of view, and it has nothing to do with heart.  It has to do with going beyond the office suite and into the great expanse of the journey of life, in which our career should only play a supporting role.

We need this balance – we can be passionate about our work AND the other joys of our life.  An over-reliance on any one of them is dangerous.  So the next time you are in the midst of one of those 80 hour weeks, stop and smell the roses – you will be a better leader because of it.

20. Beware of the Accountability Trap 

There is no question that having a high level of accountability in the workplace is a good thing -the trick is getting your teammates to that point of clarity without tipping the scale over too far.  That is, how do you avoid what I call the “accountability trap“, where teammates are so focused on what happens if they run afoul of their responsibilities that they go into a kind of paralysis, unwilling to take any risks to drive the company forward.

The trap comes into play when accountability focuses more on a “procedure based” approach that puts great emphasis on volumes of detailed and explicit rules and regulations that generally need to be followed to the letter, “or else”. The trap is set when these rules are then integrated by middle level supervisors who never get a full explanation of the context and common sense behind all those policies.

The net result is a staff that are being held accountable to, quite literally, a two inch binder and a promise of retribution if everything in that binder is not adhered to.   There is no risk taking out there – no deviations, no creativity, just a fear of that binder. The trap door is closed. How do you avoid this trap?  By using an approach based on trust, common sense and self-accountability. You spend more time talking about the “whys” than the “whats”. You allow teammates to develop their own internal barometer on what is right or wrong within the context of their jobs, using formal policy only as a guideline.

The post 25 Timeless Leadership Lessons That Just Plain Work: Lessons 16 to 20 appeared first on Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie.

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My 5 Craziest Leadership Moments (and How a Little Crazy Can Work For You)

Posted by on Mar 4, 2014 in Terry Starbucker | 0 comments

smiley face 3I’ve done some crazy leadership things, and nearly all of them dovetailed with another love of mine – music.

I’ve put on an Elvis costume and belted out “Suspicious Minds” at a management dinner (complete with the sideburns and cape).

I did a call and response sing-along to “Bennie and the Jets” at a field staff meeting (at 8AM – a great way to wake up).

I ended a PowerPoint on the state of the business with a re-written chorus of “Your Song” (with apologies to Bernie Taupin).

and you can tell everybody, these were your slides

they may be quite simple but, now that I’m done.

I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind, that I put down in words

How wonderful the business is, with you in our world”

I celebrated a sales milestone by breaking out in Barry Manilow’s  ”Looks Like We Made It” on a conference call (note to self- I can’t hit those higher notes).

And, I field tested our on-demand karaoke channel in front of field staff with a rousing rendition of “Rhinestone Cowboy” (wish I had a cowboy hat and boots on when I did it, but alas, it wasn’t possible).

This isn’t even close to the full list, but I think you get the idea.

I wanted to shake things up.  I wanted to do something a little different.

I wanted to grab the audience’s attention – to break up any monotony that existed. I hate monotony, and I knew my teammates did too.

I wanted to have a little fun – a balance with the hard work of executing a business plan.

But above all else, I wanted smiles. Big ones.

Why did I think smiles in the workplace were so important?

Smiles open hearts and minds.

Now I bet you really think I’m crazy.  But there’s lots of evidence out there that suggests I’m on the right track. Consider this, from a Forbes piece by Ron Gutman:

Smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms in a way that even chocolate, a well-regarded pleasure-inducer, cannot match. In a study conducted in the UK (using an electromagnetic brain scan machine and heart-rate monitor to create “mood-boosting values” for various stimuli), British researchers found that one smile can provide the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 chocolate bars

Better than chocolate? (2,000 bars no less!)  Indeed.

I can tell you that in EVERY instance of my workplace craziness, it generated enough smiles to raise the energy level by tenfold, and because of that energy, my subsequent business messages and talking points resonated much more effectively – and they stuck.

Because in addition to the smile value, they also create a valuable “memory connection” marker.

So every time they hear “Bennie and The Jets”, they’ll remember that song, AND the “5 target metric goals for the next quarter” on the PowerPoint.

I realize that you may not be musically inclined, and would be aghast at the prospect of singing at work. That’s OK, because there are many other ways to inject that sense of fun, and make those smiles work for you.

Devise a game (we did “Cable TV Jeopardy” once, and it was a bit hit).

Recite Shakespeare (I wish I had tried that myself).

Play funny videos (so someone else sings or acts for you).

Have mascots to support metric goals & incentive programs (if you can’t smile when a bunny rattles off contest rules, you just can’t smile)

That’s just a few more examples of the “crazy” I’m talking about.

And one more thing…..

It’s also a big part of being a more human leader.   It’s just you being YOU.

I’ll close by virtually “singing” a line from that Seal song..

“But we’re never gonna survive unless, we get a little crazy….”

Indeed. :-)

Lead well!

 

 

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(5 More Of The) 25 Timeless Leadership Lessons That Just Plain Work

Posted by on Feb 21, 2014 in Terry Starbucker | 0 comments

images25cIt’s the third week of my 5-week series outlining 25 timeless leadership lessons.

I hope you’ve already seen the first two installments (if you missed them, here is Part 1, and here is Part 2).

Here’s a summary of all 25, and the lessons discussed today are in bold (past lessons are underlined and linked).  There are 10 more lessons arriving over the next 2 weeks.  Lead well!

  1. Practice Full Spectrum Management 
  2. Teach Instead of Tell
  3. Be an Enabler, Not a Disabler
  4. Develop a Zen-Like Mantra
  5. Avoid Inertia (and Push Forward)
  6. Trust the Facts
  7. Words Alone Don’t Make the Leader
  8. Blend Will and Humility
  9. Know “The Secrets of Work”
  10. Do the Unexpected
  11. Think Like an Interior Designer
  12. “It is Solved by Walking”
  13. Take the Leadership Litmus Test
  14. Bad News Can Be Good News
  15. Don’t Do Second Things First
  16. Avoid Nightmares in the Ivory Tower
  17. Pause and Refresh
  18. Shore Up the House of Cards
  19. Get a Life (If You Don’t Have One)
  20. Beware of the Accountability Trap
  21. Do Some Den Mothering
  22. Be Ever the Statesman
  23. Use The Seven Most Important Words
  24. Stay Away From the “Buts”
  25. No Square Pegs in Round Holes

11. Think Like an Interior Designer

I am a big fan of those home improvement shows on TV, and I have found a great piece of leadership advice by watching interior decorators work with their clients.  Good decorators always use the process of elimination in making color and design choices – that is, they find out what their clients DO NOT want before they figure out what they want.

They typically start with a very wide range of choices, and then ask a simple question – “tell me what you don’t like”. Before too long everything is narrowed down to just a few selections, and the end game becomes much easier.  Effective business decision-making ideally should follow the same process – laying out all the alternatives, and systematically eliminating the unacceptable ones.

It is amazing how in practice I have seen it handled much differently in the boardroom – more of “which one do you like best”? This approach typically results in a much longer discussion, since it is much harder to get a fast consensus on what is best, versus what is worst.

So the next time you are faced with a decision with many choices, think like those designers on TV and use the process of elimination– who knows, you might end up repainting your office or boardroom too!

12. “It is Solved by Walking”

Sometimes just showing up is great leadership.  That’s right – just hopping on a plane, renting a car, driving up to a branch or regional office, and walking through the door.  If you are a manager that has staff in other places, even a couple of thousand miles away, you need to go to those places once in a while.  Even once a year will do.

And what do you do once you get there?  Just chat folks up.  Listen.  Laugh.  Buy them breakfast or lunch.   Maybe even sing a karaoke song or two.  The net result can make a huge difference -I have lost count of how many times I have heard my teammates tell me “I really appreciate you being here – we NEVER used to see corporate people under previous owners“.

That is music to my ears – I have made a huge difference just by my physical presence. There’s a Latin expression that sums it all up for me – “solvitur ambulando”.  It means, “it is solved by walking”.  Out of the office and into the field.

13. Take the Leadership Litmus Test

Once I was speaking at a training session for a group of our newer teammates, and I was asked this question:

“How do you know if you are a good leader?”

I replied by saying that good leaders should be able to lead their teams up any hill without looking back.  They get to the top confident that when they turn around, the whole team is standing right there behind them at the summit.  Over-confident leaders can also get to the top without looking back, but they will see people still at the base of the hill when they turn around.  Doubtful leaders may get everyone to the top, but not without turning around often and zig-zagging up and down exhorting their teammates, perhaps even dragging some people with them.

The real litmus test of great leadership is that mutual trust – when the chips are down and the battle must be joined, can you trust your team to execute, and will they trust you to lead?

You will really never know until that first real crisis – but in any business, it ultimately happens.   So the next time it does, step up, gather the team, issue the call, and then take the test by climbing that hill.   When you get to the top you will know if you passed. Good luck!

14. Bad News Can Be Good News

There are always going to be problems out there – nobody, and no business, is perfect.  If you are not hearing about them from your teammates, not only are you failing as a leader, you are being lulled into a false sense of security about what is really happening – a real double whammy.

We must inspire trust and confidence as leaders, and the best evidence of this is a stream of bad news coming your way.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but it really is not. The upshot of getting bad news on a timely basis is that we oftentimes can take speedy action to fix it, thus minimizing any damage to the business.  Sometimes, the action can even have a net positive impact – really making “lemonade out of the lemons“.

Making sure we get our share of bad news is an excellent “gut check” we can periodically make to be sure we are on the right track as leaders.

Colin Powell summed it up when he spoke about military leadership:

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

15. Don’t Do Second Things First 

I am a big list maker – I have a yellow legal pad with me at all times, and I am always jotting down my “to dos“.  I keep all these pads, because I like to look back and see whether the priorities I set were correct – and, more importantly, whether I went after the right ones first.

How often do we come up with a list but avoid the first thing we write down, because it is probably the most difficult one?  I think it is human nature to want to do the easier things first, but good leaders need to resist that temptation and have the courage to take on the big and hairy stuff.

A classic example is diving into a spreadsheet or another “depersonalized” project instead of dealing with a critical teammate who is not performing and needs to be held accountable. That really is the hard stuff, and typically are the “first things” we need to do to keep our goals on track. I know that has happened to me now and then – the evidence is apparent when I look back at my yellow pads.   Doing so redoubles my resolve going forward to keep my courage up when those tough tests of leadership happen.

Don’t do second things first – trust your instincts, go to the top of the list, and get ‘er done!

Don’t miss lessons 16-25 over the next two weeks – if you haven’t already, sign up below for email delivery of my posts.  Thanks!

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