Here Be Dragons … So What?



“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Neil Gaiman in Coraline

I find this comforting, because I know that dragons exist.

The world is full of dragons, who want to breathe fire on our faces and eat us. 

Some dragons wear power suits or religious attire, while others sport business casual.

Some dragons talk using terms from economics, politics, or academia, while others claim love, even as they act in hate.

Some dragons pretend to be your friends, while others avow their hatred for you publicly and often.

Some dragons live inside our own brains or hearts

All dragons are to be feared, but must be fought and defeated if we are to live in peace and harmony.

Dragons are real, but they are not invincible.  All we need to is call on our resources:  Courage, Thoughtfulness, Critical Thinking, Active Listening, Reflection, Engagement, Empathy, Tolerance, and so on … you know, the usual stuff.

Thinking of dusting off some very old books for the afternoon in the Heartland ….




Sometimes All We Need …



Sometimes all we need is a little push .  . .



… to get moving on a project.

… to go first and apologize.

… to do the right thing for the long haul.

… to be more focused and productive.

… to help someone else.

… to create momentum and power.

… to fix a wrong.

… to show mercy.

… to begin a thing that we need to do.

… to end a thing that we need to let go.

… to start swinging high above the ground.

… to think of something new and different.

I could go on … after all, I have already received my little push today.   I have two questions for you today: 

Who could you ask to give you a little push?

Who do you know who needs a little push?

Well, what are you waiting for? 

Enjoying the feeling of real momentum in the Heartland ….


Letting Some Things Be …

People and Sunsets - Carl Rogers

People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be.

When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.”

I don’t try to control a sunset.

I watch with awe as it unfolds.

                                   ~ Carl R. Rogers


I spend a fair amount of time every day dealing with change in one way or another.  Those of us who believe in the power of  transformational change and transformational leadership emphasis change, because we know that is what brings our better selves into focus and our better futures into reality.

Change is a given in life, whether you welcome it with open arms or cling desperately to a past (which may only exist in your mind).   Change is hard, but worth the pain.  Change is refreshing and gives us energy to do great things.

Of course, not everyone shares these warm and fuzzy feelings about change.

Change is good … You go first.”  

Scott Adams via Dilbert

Some of us automatically look for what could or should change in things.  We are never quietly accepting of what is, because we are always focusing on what could be.  We see ourselves as the great movers of people, organizations, and society.  If it weren’t for us, goodness … we might just sit around and take pleasure in what we already have, such as …

The process that does what it should do adequately …

The system that delivers what it promises without too many glitches…

The colleague who does their job competently, without sharing our dream of being the “World Class Whatever” …

The sunset that takes our breath away and does not ask a penny in return …

Mindfulness includes the idea that sometimes we just become aware of the moment.  We focus on what is, not on what might be or should be, but on what is before us.  The ability to just enjoy a moment or a person has been dented by our modern society … Our sometimes manic emphasis on speed, achievement, and growth has value, but it comes at a cost.

No argument here that some things need desperately to change.  Open your browser or morning paper (depending on your bent) and you will see ample opportunity to improve who we are and how we are.   Sometimes we are impelled to act: 

When things or situations endanger life, liberty, or property, it is time to act . . . 

When your own dissatisfactions affect your ability to get through your day, it is time to act . . .  

When you want a thing so much that you are willing and eager to engage in positive change to achieve that thing, it is time to act . . .

… But sometimes it is time to just sit on the back patio and watch the day come to a gloriously beautiful end.

Forcing myself to take time to just let it be in the Heartland ….


Three Simple Leadership Lessons The Hard Way …

Excitement“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Enthusiasm creates energy and excitement … all great words that happen to start with “E”.  

I remember once when I was leading a group on a path of development and I had high hopes that we could accomplish great things.  Most of the folks in this group were intelligent and thoughtful people who were very interested in doing a good job.  I was a young and energetic leader, with a solid grounding in leadership theories and practice.

So I pulled out all the stops as they say and dove into the Mother of All Training Programs.   Over the course of six months or so, our entire team  …

Listened to lectures, watched videos, and attended seminars . . . Took long contemplative walks and short energetic jogs (mind and body) … Completed not one, but two ROPES courses (team-building) . . . Created scenarios and simulations to prepare us for all manner of possibilities . . . Practiced and debriefed countless situations based on those scenarios … Indulged our creativity with art and song, and even staged a talent show … Analyzed and strategized to create a great vision, mission, and values statement . . . Reviewed, rewrote, and revised policies, procedures, and marketing messages . . . Read great works by famous authors from the past and pondered their meaning for us today . . . Went out to eat together to celebrate personal milestones and group achievements . . . Learned to line dance as a team (team-building) . . .  Had faithful weekly team meetings to share concerns and announce news …

I was doing all the things that I had been told good leaders do to create cohesion, connection, and synergy (love this word Smile)

A bustling time … we were riding the wind and I was exhilarated throughout.  Since I was the One In Charge (OIC), I felt it my duty to lead from the front and became a veritable whirlwind of frenetic energy (redundant?).   I was a sight to see in those days.  I experienced it all as great fun … and I sensed we were becoming a great team in the process.

Until the day, my two most trusted senior team members approached me with a message . . .

“John, you are wearing us out.  We want to do a good job and everyone has the utmost respect for you, but we are overwhelmed by all the activity.   Our daily work is 24/7 in a stressful environment.  We need a respite.”

Yes, that is a direct quote, because those words were burned into my then still young and enthusiastic leadership mind.  Being a reflective type, I immediately went into seclusion for a time to consider this new information.   I had to understand how people who I cared deeply about and was showering with my wisdom, enthusiasm, and energy, could not simply accept and be completely thankful that I was doing so. 

Cutting to the chase, I realized that:

I had failed to understand that my obsession is not another’s obsession …

Sometimes less is more …

Leadership is not just about creating and driving toward goals, but also about taking care of those you serve.

Now, I will take credit for developing two young leaders to the point where they were able to honestly and appropriately approach a somewhat intimidating boss and respectfully kick his butt.

I could mark this off to youthful leadership enthusiasm, but the truth is that I was just swept up by my own ego and desire for achievement and recognition.  Nothing to do with age, but everything to do with not taking the time to reflect on the larger issues … too busy sharing my technical knowledge and creating hoopla.

These were painful, but very useful leadership lessons.   In my enthusiasm, I had failed to consider the needs of others and made some assumptions about their motivation and our work environment that were simply wrong.

Thoughtful Collage“Enthusiasm is a good engine, but it needs intelligence for a driver.”

The Proverb Zone

Thinking about how I can continue to inject intelligence into my service in the Heartland ….



“Make Way” …

This phrase rings in my ears from decades ago … and it is not a pleasant memory.

As a young Army officer, I remember being very uncomfortable when a group of us officers and “noncoms” would enter a mess hall during a basic training cycle.  Someone would loudly announce our presence by yelling “Make Way“.  Recruits, often showing the rigor of becoming soldiers in a compressed and arduous process, would flatten themselves against the wall, as we lordly creatures would make our way to the front of the line.

This did not feel like leadership to me.  This felt like entitlement.

Others would explain to me that our time was valuable, since we were leading the training effort and things like this allow us to continue to do so in a military and effective way.

Reality … we just didn’t want to wait in line.  Leadership fail …

As I continued in my reserve officer military career, I chose to follow other advice, the original source of which has been lost.  The only specific statement I remember is “Leaders eat last“, which has been mentioned by many others over the years as good leadership behavior.   It just felt right to take care of the needs of the people in my unit and then satisfy my own needs.

While I claim no great distinction or accomplishments for my military service, I believe that I had a positive relationship with those I served and I know that they were exemplary in responding to my direction and supporting our missions.  We respected each other and I believe my willingness to not indulge in special privileges due to my rank or title contributed to our positive interactions.

Serving others means clearly understanding and behaving with the idea that leadership is not an attribute for special treatment, but involves helping others accomplish their tasks and grow in their abilities.  The Harvard Business Review has a good post which highlights another spin on this idea of leading by serving, exemplified by George Washington, one of our country’s early leaders.  In part, Washington led not through accepting or insisting on special privileges, but by simply sharing the discomforts of those you lead.  Click the link below to read more:

Great Leadership Isn’t About You – John Michel – Harvard Business Review


The Secret 10th Anniversary EditionThe leadership point in all this …. your primary role is to serve others.

I will be talking more about leadership as service to others next month, as I participate in the launch of “The Secret:  What Great Leaders Know and Do” (Tenth Anniversary edition) by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller. This is an easy and enjoyable read, which contains real-life examples of how to put others first and win.  We do not have to endure Valley Forge in order to put others first.

If you just can’t wait, click The Secret Sample Chapter for a taste of what is coming.    


Looking forward to the coming launch in the Heartland ….