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 ….



2 thoughts on “Three Simple Leadership Lessons The Hard Way …

  1. Pingback: The Best of Lead With Giants – October 2014

  2. Very interesting story and message John. Leaders must always sense the team — even when the leader is being super positive. I love the story with the quotes because it reminds all leaders and change agents that leading the charge isn’t enough!

    Here’s a post I wrote about a leader’s passion that connects well with your story:

    Thank you for your post!


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