Make no small plans…

July 21, 2010 1 comment

Etched into the wall of the executive board room of a fomer employer were these words spoken by the founder of the company in 1929.

“Make no small plans for they have not the power to stir men’s souls.”

Originally spoken by  Niccolo Machiavelli in the 16th century, these words have been repeated thousands of times since.

A few years ago I attended an executive retreat as a participant. The teaching was marvelous and the interaction with other business leaders was priceless. One of the key teachings was that there is a difference between builders and protectors. Organizations need both. Typically the founder/owner/CEO is the builder. They imagine what if and say why not. Likewise, there are protectors, these people are the ones who say it can’t be done and why would we do that. These roles are often found in legal council, finance and human resources. Now before you get all bent out of shape, there can be builders and protectors in every “class” or role in the organization they are just found more commonly in these specific areas.

Depending on the stage of growth your organization is in, depends on the mix or ratio of builders to protectors. If you are in an early stage of growth and innovation then your ratio must favor builders. If you are in a normalizing or standardization phase, the protectors are key. The problem is that many organizations face different stages of growth within different segments of the business and over different time cycles of the year. If that’s the case, how do you manage the protector to builder ratio??

The short answer is that leaders at all levels need to know when to be a builder and when to be a protector. In my experience the world of business is not short of protectors it is however short of builders. Builders imagine the future and put plans, systems and resources in place to make it happen. Builders push through the noise and have a relentless pursuit of making things happen and challenging the status quo.

If you are trying to expand your builder mentality take a look at this list and begin to stretch yourself – and your organization.

1. Builders imagine the future: look into the future 3-7 years and create a picture of what your organization will look like. Who do you serve, what do your customers need that no one else if providing, who are your employees and what is motivating them to perform? Write this down and communicate what is working and why from this point in the future.

2. Builders ask why: when you are working on projects or completing tasks a builder will ask why are we doing this? Why is this the best way to do this? Why am I doing this and is someone else more suited to do this? They will ask why of themselves, and of others and will not stop until a powerful and appropriate answer is received.

3. Builders ask why not: when presented with creative ideas or new solutions to problems instead of saying this can’t be done a builder will ask why not? They will say, tell me why we shouldn’t do this?

4. Builders focus on strengths: builders know that they are not able to change their weaknesses or the weaknesses of others so they focus on the strengths of themselves and their people. They look at the organization and the resources within the company and determine areas that they win at and where there are massive strengths and they work to employ these strengths every single day.

5. Builders don’t look at today (only): builders focus on the future while leading in the present. They don’t keep their eye off of the prize today but they always have an eye on what the future will hold. Builders keep driving for change and improvement while managing successfully today.

6. Builders surround themselves with people who will challenge them: no “yes men” in the builders council of advisors. Builders like to be challenged and to challenge others. They do not accept easy answers and seek to find contrary evidence to what seems to be the right way to go.

7. Builders keep it simple: builders know that complex plans, systems and organizations are too hard to win with. They realize that the simplest laid plan, executed effectively and easily repeatable drives success. 200 page business plans and 40 point goal mechanisms are not a part of the builder tool box.

8. Builders get it done: Procrastination is a friend of failure. Builders like to make decisions and move on. They don’t get held back waiting for perfection but rather are driven by execution. Builders gain facts, analyze options and go for it.

9. Builders know where they win and where they don’t: the sand box is small for builders. They focus as much on where they don’t win as where they do win. They know what drives their economic engine and feeds their people, process and profits. They drive hard AT things they win with and drive hard AWAY from things they don’t.

10. Builders attract builders: this is the law of multiplication and the key to successful leadership. Builders attract other builders and thereby multiply their success with this mindset.

As a builder, you can imagine the feeling I got when I first stepped into the board room of my former organization.

“Make no small plans, they have not the power to stir men’s souls.”

This is the credo of a builder and a should be a mission for all leaders and every organization.

Categories: Leadership, Management

Attitude Reflects Leadership

One of my favorite all-time movies is Remember the Titans staring Denzel Washington. It is a story about a high school football team that is at the center of a racially charged school integration. In the early 70′s, the TC Williams high school, home of the mighty Titans, is facing many challenges. Coach Herman Boone (played by Washington) is hired as the new coach and is bringing a new way, during a new day for this Virgina high school.

Coach Boone is determined to not only help bring his football team together but he has a calling and passion to connect the school and the community. At the center of the racial feud are two captains, Gary Bertier the “white captain” and Julius Campbell the “black captain.” At one point in the film, coach Boone requires each of the kids to meet one another and to learn something about one another. This is intended to force the players to interact and to gain respect for one another. The following clip picks up at Julius and Gary having their interaction after one of their three-a-day practices.

ATTITUDE REFLECTS LEADERSHIP…captain. Three very powerful words but they mean a lot. Attitude does in fact reflect leadership. Whether it is in a fortune 100 global manufacturing company, a privately held architecture firm, a football team of 40 men or your family. Additude reflects leadership!

Our society today wants to place blame and point fingers. A leader of character and a leader of courage is one who steps up and realizes that the attitude of those they lead is a reflection of their leadership of that team. Nothing is more obvious (and sometimes painful) than to hear the way kids speak to one another.

As I hear my kids speaking harshly to one another, I have to wonder…does this attitude reflect my leadership? The painful answer is a resounding YES. No matter how I slice, dice or think about it, I am the leader of my home and much of what I see is a reflection of my own attitude.

As you look at the attitude of those around you, ask yourself some questions. Questions that dig deep into the “why” of people’s  actions vs. the “how” of what they are doing. Questions that look into the mirror and ask what can I do vs. why don’t they. Consider the following questions as you dig deep and examine your culture and attitude:

1. Does the attitude of my team reflect my leadership? How?
2. Is this attitude creating an environment of mutual respect, trust and accountability?
3. Are team members willing to challenge me and other leaders when our attitude or leadership fails to meet the standards and expectations of our team?
4. In order to improve the effectiveness of my team and to improve overall attitude, what must I STOP doing? What must I START doing? What must I CONTINUE doing?

Attitudes are contagious. Make sure your attitude and the attitude of your team is worth catching!


Categories: Uncategorized

If success isn’t a destination then why do I seem lost?

“Success isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.”

Maybe you’ve heard this quote or even uttered it. I have tried to live my life by it but as a hard charging, results oriented person, it is hard to live this whole journey business. Aren’t goals about destinations and aren’t goals supposed to be good? Isn’t it noble and wise to create a picture of what good looks like and to strive to achieve and exceed it? It’s the pursuit of excellence right?

Our world today has many definitions of success. I think it is safe to say that material success (wealth, possessions, positions) are at the top of most peoples list of “success”.  Here is what history’s most wealthy men have had to say about being rich.

Would being rich make you happy?

“The care of $200 million is enough to kill anyone.  There is no pleasure in it.” – W.H. Vanderbilt

“I am the most miserable man on earth.” – John Jacob Astor

“I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.” – John D. Rockefeller

“Millionaires seldom smile.” – Andrew Carnegie

“I was happier when doing a mechanic’s job.” – Henry Ford

Money is not the root of all evil and don’t let anyone tell you it is. It isn’t money that is the root of all evil it is the LOVE OF MONEY that is the root of all kinds of evil. I believe that it is critical to define for yourself what success really is. What are you going to pour your heart into? Where are you going to invest your time? What are your treasures and where are they stored? Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This is a question I personally examine on a regular basis. I’d like to tell you that I have it all figured out and that I am only in the pursuit of meaningful and altruistic success. That’s not the case always and I’d venture it isn’t for you either.

Father’s day is this weekend and for many people doesn’t mean much. For me it represents a great deal of what success looks like and where I hope to store many of my treasures and build many of my successes.

I’d like to share with you what success looks like for me. Success for me is about a legacy. It is about instilling values, beliefs and a way of life into a new generation that will go after me to make a difference. For me, success is significantly about getting it right with Christian, Preston, Jackson and Lincoln. These are the young men I have been entrusted with and with whom I take great care and attention to their lives (today) and future (tomorrow).

If I do one thing right, if I make one impact in the world, if I am given the grace of success in one area of my life, please let it be in raising a generation of men who will go after me in doing great and wonderful things.

There are many other areas that I seek for and hope to achieve success. Without a clear picture of what you want your journey to look like, what your picture of success is or how you will get towards it, we will miss the entire journey. Take time to define what success is for you?

While success may not be a destination, I hope you can see it from here.

Categories: Uncategorized

Standing on the shoulders of giants

June 14, 2010 1 comment

Sir Isaac Newton is most commonly quoted for having said “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” This is a powerful statement for if any of us to craft an effective vision, accomplish great feats, beat odds and overcome obstacles, we must each be standing on the shoulders of giants.

The first time I heard this statement it came from a video of a dad recounting the conversation that he had with his oldest son as he was sending him off to college. He took his son down to their favorite spot and was encouraging him for his new adventure and responsibilities in life. The dad told his son that their heritage and the legacy of their family was possible due to the fact that this father was not on his own, he stood on the shoulders of many men and family giants for generations before him. What a great picture. Men standing on the shoulders of generations after generations of people giving a strong foundation to the next generation.

I was a bit concerned by this statement as I wasn’t sure that in my own family there were strong shoulders for generation after generation to stand on. At least not spiritual giants, business giants, or community giants. Did this mean I had no shoulders to stand on myself? Was I destined to stand only on what footing I could make for myself? The scripture from Matthew 7 about building a house on solid rock vs. sinking sand comes to mind. The wise man builds his house on a strong foundation but only a fool will build his house on the sand.

If we can see further by standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before us then perhaps we can have a say in whose shoulders we are standing on. A wise friend once told me that you can only be as good as the people you surround yourself with, the books you read and all of the information you consume and learn. If this is the case, I feel blessed as I reflect on the people that I have chosen to surround myself with as well as the people who have poured themselves into my life. Who we choose to surround ourselves with and the information we choose to consume and learn have a profound impact on our life and the legacy we leave for future generations.

If I am to have the shoulders of giants to stand on, I must make great efforts to find them, learn from them and to pass along their wisdom and strength to future generations so that they too may be able to see further by standing, in part, on my shoulders.

A speacial thanks to some of the great giants whom I am proud to stand on the shoulders of: my wife, parents, grandmother, uncle, ag teacher, football coach, college professor, boss, colleague, employee, partner, small group leader, pastor, president, philosopher, researcher, motivator, Lord, author, neighbor & friend. Thanks to each of you standing strong so that I may see further, do more and live a life of purpose.

Categories: Uncategorized

Ever have one of “those” days?

On a recent business trip to Minneapolis, MN I had one of “those” days. Nothing seemed to go my way. The first phone call of the day was from United saying that my flight that afternoon was cancelled. I live in Colorado where we had over 2 feet of snow causing delays and cancellations to hundreds of flights. Call number two informed me that I had a new confimred flight – for the next evening. My poor wife was not happy to hear this. After 2 snow days, three roudy boys at home, a room addition going on and one kid seriously sick…needless to say, I was being beckoned home.

After much hard work and three hours of hold music, my trusted right hand back at the office was able to get me secured on a flight that afternoon – from Des Moines, IA (3.5 hours away). I contacted the rental car company to change my drop off location. Now my rental went from $46/day to $205/day – - – nothing like feeling held hostage egh?

The flight was delayed a couple of hours but I was able to log onto the Internet and catch up on some emails and prepare some reports from my trip. After an uneventful flight (unless you count snoring in stereo eventful) we landed safely back in Denver.

In baggage claim I checked my wallet for my parking claim ticket. That’s my routine…park the car, write the location on the ticket and put in the wallet. But this time there was not ticket. As a frequent traveler my several trips over the past two weeks were starting to blend together – where did I park my car? After thinking about my arrival 4 days earlier I remembered that as I arrived was searching for a parking spot, I didn’t find one until I got to the roof. That’s usually not a problem unless it snows…oh man!! I get to the roof top level and begin the search for my car. After searching through several feet of snow for over 30 minutes, dragging my bags through the cold and snow I  couldn’t find my car, no matter how hard I pressed the panic button on the remote!

Finally, I was able to flag down a snow plow and have them radio the parking folks to find out where my car was located. We found my car (20 minutes later) and needless to say, there was a little bit of work to be done to get it off of the roof top.

DIA snow

A bit of snow welcoming me home after a long trip!

After a little scraping, some plowing and some gratitude for finally getting out of the airport I was able to make the treck home to sleep in my own bed.

One of the things that impressed me the most was that the people I encountered out on the rooftop garage this night all had one thing in common. They all had a great sense of humor and a resolve to not let this snow storm bring them down. It was 24 degrees out, there was a ton of snow and everyone had lots of work to do to get their cars out but noone was complaining.

Amidst all of this travel drama, there are some pretty good lessons for all of us when we have one of “those” days.

Lessons learned:

1. When your plans change or things don’t go your way, don’t give up, look for a new solutions
2. Enlist the help of those around you to solve the problem
3. Take advantage of the situation and make the best you can
4. If you keep looking at a problem the same way, you may never solve it (or find your car)
5. Your attitude is contageous
6. Not all good situations are bad nor are all bad situations good but if you are willing to keep pressing on you will find relief, rest and the comfort of those you love

Here’s a funny video that will help give you perspective on this very real, very cold and very funny situation.

Categories: Uncategorized

I want them to work with us because they like us….

Several weeks ago, we got a proof from a marketing firm for a CD label that will go on an audio CD of one of my keynote presentations. The proof wasn’t very good. As a matter of fact it was horrible. I asked Francie, our project manager, to contact the marketing firm and let them know we were dissatisfied and to have them focus on a more professional version…something that would compare to a Harvard Business Review or an Executive Book Summary and at the very least on that DIDN’T resemble a nursery rhyme CD.

duck cd label

Option # 1 for CD Cover











I was able to eavesdrop on Francie’s conversation as she delivered the news. She delivered the message very professionally, directly and honestly. I was proud of her. I let her know how I appreciated her conversation and that she did a good job. She accepted the compliments but she also let me know that it was a bit “foreign” to her and she didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

My response? “You told the truth so don’t be afraid of the truth!!!! Good job.” Sensing she didn’t buy my encouragement, I pushed her a little bit more. “I know,” she said “I was just a bit brisk and still want them to work with us because they like us….”

Holy moly guacamole!! “They will like you because you are honest. It is their job to meet our needs and to challenge you if they disagreee. If we are all so nice to each other that we don’t get the right thing done…that won’t work.”

 I believe that in business we don’t have a good balance around discussions like this. They are either too harsh or not harsh enough. We create what looks like harmony but in reality it is artificial harmony which is a death sentense. It kills creativity and doens’t allow for great problem solving.

Let’s spend time focusing on what the desired results are and get clear about what we need to accomplish and then work together, tirelessly and with focus to make sure we meet the needs of everyone involved.

My fear is that this marketing firm did what we told them to do. Unfortunately, we don’t know the first thing about good marketing, we just know if we see something we like or better yet, that we don’t like.  There are lessons to be learned here and not all have to do with marketing. Remember, in communication, you don’t have success until message sent = message received.

Bottom Line:
1. Set clear expectations and review them often
2. Know who you serve and who your end customers are. Without keeping the end goal in mind it is easy to get caught in the minutia and not stay focused on the desired outcome.
3. Determine the message you are delivering and how will you know when message sent = message received. In essense, determine how you want the conversation to go. Determine what you want as the ideal response to your message.
4. Be willing to challenge the process and thinking (others as well as yours)
5. Drive for results even if it makes you or others uncomfortable

Just today Francie got a card in the mail from this marketing firm thanking her for her help on this project.

Francie, We just wanted to say thinks for helping with all our Peak Solutions projects. You’re a great help in getting things done quickly and correctly, and you do it all in a friendly “superstar” way!

After quite a bit of back and forth efforts, here is what we ended up with for cover for the CD. Much better egh?


CD brown, RF, duck
Final Choice for CD Cover of “The Trust Factor” keynote presentation

 Interested in hearing the presentation? Send an email to and request a free CD!

Categories: Uncategorized

Ask, Shut Up & Listen

September 22, 2009 Leave a comment

This spring someone in one of our training sessions gave me this advice and in turn, I have given it to hundreds since. As a leader, it is your job to ask good questions that get deep and profound responses from your people. You must cultivate a culture of trust and mutual respect. You are smart, we know that. You can give answers and provide direction with the best of them. But…do you have the courage to ask powerful questions? Questions that maybe you don’t know the answers to or worse yet, you don’t want to know the answers to?

Here is the simpe 3-step model for being an effective listner:
1. Ask a question…
2. Shut up (that means don’t talk, even if they say something stupid, wrong or worth arguing)
3. Listen (really listen, hear what they are saying, repeat back their feelings & thoughts)

At first glance this advice seems simple, maybe even too simple. Try it! It is harder than you think. Most of us love a good debate. We like to dialogue and  make our thoughts, ideas and positions known. Do you have the courage to ask a tough question and then shut up and listen to what the other person has to say?

Recently I was in Chicago conducting an Effective Supervisory Skills seminar and explained this 3-step model. One of the guys said he had an ah-ha moment. He said he has been following this model but doing it wrong. He said “When someone asks me a question, I tell them to shut up and listen.” We laughed about his comment but it would be a whole lot funnier if it weren’t true.

Here are some starter questions that may help get you going:
- What seems to be working well right now?
- What seems to not be working so well right now?
- If you were me, what tools, resources or assets would you provide our team to be more productive and successful?
- If you were me, what one change would you make that would best benefit the team?
- What do you think would be the best option, long term? Why?
- Tell me why, why, why, why, why, why? (go 6 degrees deep with this powerful 3 letter question)
- Are you able to best use your strengths in your job currently?
- What should you do more of…less of…to best utilize your strengths?

This is just a sample of the many questions that can drive powerful insight.

Your homework: Go home tonight and ask your spouse, your kids, your neighbor, your friend a powerful personal question, then SHUT UP and LISTEN. You will enjoy hearing their heart and they will enjoy the opportunity to share it with you.


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