We’ve got a new blog!

Jim will still publish posts here from time to time, but he’s consolidated THE SENSEI LEADER and the THINK Like a BLACK BELT blogs into one new location…



“Keep It Simple!” A short book that just might change your life!


In the spirit of this book, that could be the whole review! But, I feel compelled to add some thoughts––without losing my focus!

img_2939My dear friend and mentor Joe Calloway punches clean with “Keep It Simple.” This very short, very powerful book teaches you how to engage and improve your focus.

This is not one of those coffee table philosophy books that are nothing more than a collection of pithy jabs that may or may not inspire you. Joe distills the process of focus into a concise series of short examples and tight instructions you will put to work now.

He does give you a few quotes for inspiration. One of my favorites, I wonder why, is “The successful warrior is the average man, with laster-like focus.” That’s Bruce Lee in case you’re wondering. Joe deserves a Black Belt!

Focus is a central theme in martial arts and the true Master knows you can never get complacent about it. Focus is a practice, a discipline––an art in itself.

I’m going to share this book with all the leaders I work with and I’m going to recommend it for everyone in my Art of Focus workshops!

The highest compliment one martial artist can pay to another is to call him “Master.” Joe, you truly are a Master in the art of focus and “Keep It Simple” is a master work!



Something must be done? The Friends of Long Creek are doing it!

ID-100163267“Something must be done!”

How often do we hear that cry as people wail, moan, gnash their teeth and wait for someone, anyone to do anything? Way too often we cry out for government to step in and do something––all the while complaining that our taxes are too high.

One remarkable group in Maine answers the call.

The Friends of Long Creek is small non-profit group that serves a segment of the population that simply doesn’t get a lot of public sympathy when it comes to spending. They provide funding and services for incarcerated youth at the Long Creek Youth Development Center.

Led by James Willey and a corps of dedicated volunteers, the Friends of Long Creek raise funds, coordinate efforts with other groups and provide actives and programs that are amazingly successful in helping these young people prepare to return to life “on the outside” as productive citizens.

The Friends of Long Creek is a model of community leadership…

Here’s just a short list of what the Friends provide:

  • Music lessons and trips to local symphony performances.
  • Support for a College and Career Center.
  • Lunches for kids touring college campuses.
  • On site college courses.
  • Funds to help residents transition to successful community life.
  • Seminars and programs for personal development, culinary and theater arts.
  • Support for athletic programs.

It’s difficult to get more money from the state to fund these programs. Understandably, many citizens feel there are other kids more deserving of funding––kids that haven’t broken the law, abused drugs or otherwise been a problem to the community.

The Friends of Long Creek see these young people through another lens. Instead of casting them aside and hoping for the best, the Friends understand that given the right opportunities, many of these kids will become successful and productive members of society.

They provide front-line community leadership that directly impacts the lives of residents and the lives of all of us as they help young people find a better way. By raising funds directly and working with other organizations like the Portland Rotary Club and Bob Crewe Foundation, this group saves the community valuable resources that can be directed elsewhere.

We too often fail to recognize or appreciate the efforts of people like James Willey and his remarkable organization. They don’t go out of their way to seek public notice. I can tell you from personal contact that they are selfless leaders who couldn’t care less about recognition or praise.

That makes them all the more deserving of just that.

Leadership is, above all else, sharing––a leader shares. This makes everyone involved in this program a genuine leader.

To James Willey and all the remarkable leaders at The Friends of Long Creek––

Thank You for Your Service to our community!

Learn more about The Friends of Long Creek and contribute to support their mission here.

Picture courtesy of sakhorn38 and FreeDigitalPhoto.net

Muhammad Ali––The Greatest of All Time

schulke-flip-1930-usa-muhammad-ali-training-fifth-st-2344594Today is one of those sad days when reality has a punctuation mark.

None of us has time to contemplate mortality every day, but when we lose a hero, our own sense of self––of our limitations and our meaning can stare us hard in the face…

The way The Champ stared down his opponents.

Those of my vintage remember Ali differently than do those younger––and many of those older.

To many of those older than us, Ali might not have been a hero. They might wonder why we held him in such wonder and esteem. This was a time when “he should know his place” wasn’t just a reference to an athlete acting like a spoiled child.

Ali was brash, controversial––puzzling.

To some he was the embodiment of true confidence and a lone ranger fighting against authority gone wrong.

To others he was frightening. He represented a genuine threat to the status quo.

He challenged the American Way as very few had done before. Others had challenged it, but Ali took the challenge to the masses. He danced with the rhythm of pop culture. As he won fight after fight––in the ring and out, he pressed a new style of dialog.

As I said, to many that made him frightening. To others that made him the enemy. To more that made him wonderful.

To many of us that made him The Greatest.

To many younger than us you might not know the real Ali. You probably know him as this quiet, shaking old fighter––a symbol of the terrific and terrible damage from life in the ring.

You may have heard some of his funny quotes––but you might not understand the power of their context. You might not hear the biting sarcasm and the amazingly intelligent wit and the razor sharp purpose. Sure, sometimes he was clowning––but not always.

You might not know who he was really talking about when he said:

“We gonna get it on––‘cause we don’t get along!”

You might not also understand him as a model of transformation. He was a flawed man in many ways––as we all are and especially as our nation was in those times. As he transformed, he transformed us. In many ways he turned “them” into “us.”

He made “Me––We!”

Most of all, Ali was a leader. A great leader.

He never held office. He was never the CEO of a big corporation and he certainly made it clear he had no desire to hold military rank.

He did hold a title. Three times.

But that is not what made Ali a leader. Leadership has nothing to do with rank, position of authority or title.

John Quincy Adams said:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

That’s what Ali did for me––and for many others of my generation.

I feel very mortal today. But I remember a TV clip where Ali answered a question from a young boy in England: “Watcha gonna do when you retire––from boxing?”

As he often did, Ali opened with a joke. He let his head slump to his shoulder and started snoring like a lion in the bush.

When he picked his head up he launched into an amazing sermon. He said that any of us would be luck to live 80 years––that most of us would be dead in 10, 20, 30 or 40. He talked about how much time we spend sleeping. How much we spend walking around unaware.

What would we do with the time we have left?

Would we help others?

Would we stand up for what was right?

What will you do? What will I do?

This is the Ali that inspires me most. The thinker––the philosopher. The man who dared question himself quietly behind the image he portrayed thunderingly. The man who dared us to question ourselves openly behind the preconceptions, prejudices and fears we only whispered.

Muhammad Ali has been a presence throughout my life. I never met the man in person, but there were many times when I thought he was talking only to me. He helped transform a weak, frightened child into a confident fighter. He helped me find my courage––and the courage to acknowledge and share my wisdom.

Now he reminds me once again of humility––of the transience of life and of the importance of using every moment to train––like a champion.

I respect Ali the fighter.

I admire Ali the man.

I will always miss Ali––The Greatest of All Time.

Running for Congress––Seriously!

You may have noticed that I’ve been posting less frequently than usual. I hate to use the “I’ve been busy” excuse––but it’s true!

I was nominated by the Libertarian Party to run for the 1st District congressional seat in Maine. I am honored and humbled––and I’m embracing this adventure enthusiastically.

I teach leadership. I write about leadership. I speak on leadership.

What better opportunity to learn about the full scope of political leadership than to serve?

I’ve been involved in politics for some time. I served as Chair of the Government Liaison Committee for two terms at the Southern Midcoast Chamber here in Maine. Later I worked on Matt Jacobson’s campaign for governor. I’ve stayed active as a constant student of issues and an outspoken critic of government waste and lack of character in elected office.

Jim with Austin Petersen 160515

With Austin Petersen, Libertarian presidential candidate at the Maine Libertarian Party State Convention.

As this adventure continues, I will be focusing on producing content to support the campaign. I will continue to post on leadership and on personal and professional Mastery––but these posts will be less frequent for the next few months.

I will also do my best to separate business and politics on LinkedIn. You enroll in our LinkedIn groups to focus on business leadership and Mastery––not to engage in political fights!

If my political posts speak directly to how politics affect business or leadership above and beyond the political fray, I’ll share them in the groups. As always, I welcome dissent––let’s just debate respectfully and rationally!

I will not campaign or solicit your support on LinkedIn, the THINK Like a BLACK BELT blog, or on THE SENSEI LEADER blog or podcast. I will post about my experiences during the campaign when I feel I can offer genuine on leadership free from partisan or divisive political opinions.

We don’t have to agree on everything to continue to learn and grow as leaders––together.

I do encourage to vote YOUR conscience and support the candidates that best serve YOUR interests and support YOUR values and principles…

Be involved. Participate. Vote.

Thank You for your understanding during this exciting and important journey! I’m already learning a great deal that will give me more to share no matter where this campaign takes me.

Best Thoughts!

If you are interested in my campaign or would like to get involved, please click the banner below… (The last political ad you’ll see on this blog!)

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College grads can’t think, write or speak––and their future employers don’t like it!

dreamstime_xs_12593483Here we go again. For the past several years, studies on the workplace readiness of college grads makes headlines in the business news––and the news ain’t good!

Here’s the latest from the Washington Post:

“In a pair of surveys by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, would-be graduates said college armed them with the skills needed for the job market. But employers disagreed. On a range of nearly 20 skills, employers consistently rated students much lower than they judged themselves. While 57 percent of students said they were creative and innovative, for example, just 25 percent of employers agreed.”

The news doesn’t get much better…

“One study is the result of a test administered to 32,000 students at 169 colleges and universities. It found that 40 percent of college seniors fail to graduate with the complex reasoning skills needed in today’s workplace.”

Oh my!

“The test, the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus, is given to freshmen and seniors and measures the gains made during college in critical thinking, writing and communication, and analytical reasoning.”

Wonderful. Our colleges are graduating young adults who can’t think, write or speak. And it doesn’t seem to matter too much where you send your kids to school…

“The results of the test found little difference between those students who graduated from public colleges and those who went to private schools.”

I won’t devolve into a lament over the damage of the “every-kid-gets-a-trophy” argument, though you could say that has something to do with it. There’s no doubt we’ve pumped up the self-esteem of an entire generation without the substance or capabilities to justify their confidence.

Instead of worrying about who made this mess and how, let’s focus on fixing the problem.

First of all––don’t wait for your college to change!

They’re trying, but they’ve got a long way to go. The needs of the workplace are changing faster than the curricula of higher education. For too long they responded to increasing demands for less practical and marketable courses of study. It will take time for them to adjust.

Fortunately, there is a clear and proven path to develop in each of the key competencies your future employer finds important––


If you want to be prepared for life beyond matriculation––be a leader––now.

There are plenty of opportunities at your school for actual, “on-the-job” training in leadership. You can participate in student government, serve with volunteer organizations and projects or get involved with clubs or social groups.

Holding an office or working as a key staffer is a great way to polish the skills you’ll need after graduation including analytical thinking, writing and speaking.

However––genuine leadership has nothing to do with rank, title or position of authority and sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it has nothing to do with your diploma either. Leadership is stepping up to do what needs to be done. It’s about asking before being asked and acting before being asked.

That’s the type of initiative and drive your future employer is looking for.

Here are 8 simple strategies you can apply right now to become a leader and develop the talents, skills and abilities that position you for success:

#1 Work first on being a good follower…

Great leaders are great followers. Leadership is not a static position––it is a role and great leaders are adept at swapping roles from leader to follower.

#2 Find the right Master…

Find someone who is doing what you aspire to do. Seek out a willing mentor. Don’t expect your school to provide one for you, but be open to the possibility that a terrific mentor might be someone you see every day.

#3 Commit yourself to personal and professional Mastery…

If you didn’t know what would be expected of you when you go for your first job––you know now! Find out what employers are looking for in your chosen field and then read, go to seminars, start an internship––take advantage of every opportunity at your school and beyond.

#4 Ask before you’re asked––Act before you’re asked…

There are plenty of things that need doing around your campus, I’m quite sure. Find something to do and get to it.

#5 Learn to deal with uncertainty…

One of the greatest deficiencies showing up in college grads in their first jobs, and especially in their first leadership roles is the inability to handle themselves when things go to other than planned. And believe me, sooner or later things will go other than planned.

Find opportunities to test yourself under pressure. Get out of your comfort zone.

#6 Learn to talk and write good…

If you didn’t get the joke––you’ve got a lot of work to do!

Find opportunities to develop and cultivate your writing and speaking skills. These skills alone will position you well ahead of the pack.

#7 Focus on experience over rewards…

You know what your employer owes you on the first day of work?


It’s up to you to prove your value through performance. You improve your value by continually improving your performance.

Experience is one of the greatest assets that will lead you to success. As my dear friend and mentor Joe Calloway says, “Don’t step over dollars to get to nickels.” That’s exactly what happens when someone puts money before experience too early in their career.

#8 Lead by sharing––not accumulating…

Leadership is sharing––a leader shares. Don’t worry about what you’re getting––focus on what you’re willing to give.

Your success in life grows in direct proportion to your willingness to share with others. Share your talents, your skills, your knowledge, wisdom, experience––and power.

As a leader, your success will depend on your ability to help others become successful. Period.

So that’s it.

You can wait around for someone to hold your hand, pat your head and tell you what a good job you’ve done––

Or you can get your butt in gear, find out what it takes to make your dreams come true and do it.

That’s what leaders do. Why wait?

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These 8 STRATEGIES for ASPIRING LEADERS are the focus of our SENSEI LEADER Aspiring Leader Workshops.

You might be a college student preparing for your career or you might be in the workforce and ready to go to the next level…

You may even be a seasoned veteran of the workforce who now wants to take your life and career to a new dimension.

Book an event for your college, business or association! I’ll help you develop your next generation of leaders!

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Character is not an accident––it’s a discipline

Let’s bust the myth of the infallible leader…

Character is not an accident––it’s a discipline. You’ve got to work to develop leaders with character––and leaders have to work hard to keep it.

Even the best of us lie, cheat and steal. The most compassionate of us are still sometimes callous, insensitive and cruel. It’s only a matter of degree and frequency.

Alarmed? Insulted? Depressed? Don’t be. It’s just science.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely has studied the problem extensively. He sums up years of research and numerous experiments quite succinctly in the very first line of The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty:

“Let me come right out and say it. They cheat. You cheat. And yes, I also cheat from time to time.”

We’re all human. We’re all subject to the same failings from time to time. It may sound counter-intuitive or at least undesirable, but some of what we consider character flaws are actually survival mechanisms and can at times be an extraordinary advantage––in the wilderness or in the office.

Business Man Devil AngelI’ll attempt to be succinct too. You can get ahead by lying, cheating and abusing people. You can become quite successful by being a complete d!(k! (And many people do.)

That sometimes makes it harder for the rest of us. It’s not easy being righteous when you see other people do wrong and still get all the rewards.

You have to make a choice. How do you want to live your life? How do you want people to think of you? Would YOU truly enjoy the rewards of ill-gotten gains?

No matter what the immediate gratification, choosing to be a jerk does not usually pay in the long run. Studies by John P. Kotter and others show that organizations that emphasize character outperform those that don’t by a wide margin. Leaders with character more often enjoy longer careers, healthier lives, more stability and they enjoy the loyalty and trust of the people they serve.

You can choose the right way––the way that will pay much larger dividends over time.

But as I said, that’s not always easy. Don’t leave character to chance.

It’s not wrong to expect good character––from others or yourself. It is, however, naive to expect that good character just happens.

First it needs to be developed. Granted, if you’re running a business it’s much more efficient to screen people for character rather than trying to rehabilitate liars, tramps and thieves. Still, as Ariely and other researchers clearly show, honesty and integrity are somewhat subjective. You’ll want to develop the character of the people in your organization in harmony with your culture, values and expectations.

However developed, character needs constant care and feeding. You need to continually cultivate, nourish and support good character, clearly communicate expectations and provide opportunities to model and share positive character through social interaction, formal training and mentoring.

And this starts at the top.

If you want to sustain a culture of character at all levels––you’ve got to walk the walk. You’ve got to model the behavior you expect from others.

As the leader––this starts with you.

When others see that you’re committed to the continual process of character development, they will be much more willing to embrace it too. People follow examples much more enthusiastically than they do orders. Posting your Code of Ethics means nothing if you’re not living by the same code.

Fortunately, science demonstrates that improving character is not complicated. It does, however, require a dedicated effort––

Areily’s experiments show that “our willingness and tendency to cheat could be diminished if we are given reminders of ethical standards.” His work indicated that “merely trying to recall moral standards was enough to improve moral behavior.”

As I said to start this piece, good character is no accident––it’s a discipline.

Through my life as a martial artist I learned a powerful and practical definition of discipline:

“The cultivation and practice of meaningful and purposeful habits.”

  • What are you doing every day to remind yourself of your personal and organizational ethics?
  • What habits have you developed that help you maintain your good character?
  • Can you share these habits with others? If so––how?

Of course in the absence of positive disciplines, negative habits are all too willing to take their place. Another useful question is:

  • What bad habits have you fallen into that challenge your integrity, threaten your trustworthiness or make you susceptible to temptation?

We all have bad habits. We seldom if ever adopt these negative habits intentionally or thoughtfully. They just happen––when you don’t practice the discipline of cultivating your character.

Ariely talks about effectiveness of hitting some kind of ethical reset button from time to time. He adds, “Interestingly, we already have many social mechanisms in place designed specifically for resetting our moral compass…such resetting rituals…present us with the opportunities to collect ourselves, stop the deterioration and turn a new page.”

One of the most effective “rituals” for an organization is the workshop…

That’s what our SENSEI LEADER workshops are all about––a laser beam focus on the mindset, attitude and strategies of character based leadership––at all levels.

Cb-3G7YVAAU_-naA dedicated schedule of even annual or bi-annual workshops will reinforce your values and ethics. The workshop allows us to showcase positive role models. Most important, this is a powerful opportunity to hit that reset button––discuss challenges and concerns, talk openly about temptations and why they exist and to identify grey areas that all like the proverbial crack in the dyke, can expand and destroy your culture and even your organization.

However––and this is a big however––don’t expect a workshop to substitute for your commitment to ongoing discipline. If you don’t implement what I share––if you don’t give honest consideration to the opinions, concerns and good ideas your people share at your workshop––you just wasted your time and money.

It’s up to you to take positive ideas, strategies and tactics and embrace them as an ongoing process and practice. Make these your organizational and personal habits.

It would be nice, I suppose, if we were all perfectly honest by default. Ariely does leave us with some hope. He points out that “human beings are, by and large, more moral than standard economic theory predicts.”

Our job as leaders is to help them stay that way––and help ourselves stay that way too!

And that requires discipline.

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Angel & devil graphics courtesy of digitalart and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

SPECIAL SERIES: CHOOSING LEADERS––We still don’t like them, we still don’t trust them––but we’re still going to vote for them!


We don’t trust them, we don’t like them––but we’re still going to vote for them!

A remarkable set of polls came out in December that showed that at the time Americans considered the top candidates for each major party the most dishonest and least trustworthy of any in the field.

Trump-Hillary-Clinton-Reuters-640x480_501_356_c1Still––both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were gaining support and widening their margins over their more honest and trustworthy opponents.

Little has changed in our perceptions since December––but we have forced nearly every trustworthy candidate out of the race––except one: Bernie Sanders.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I oppose every major policy position Sanders has put forward. I’m just pointing out that he’s the only candidate left in the race that Americans on a whole seem to trust––and he’s still running behind Clinton. It’s also obvious that utilizing the “super-delegate” system, establishment Democrats are doing their level best to nominate the candidate we least trust. In perceived mendacity anyway, Clinton is leading the pack.

For the first time since we’ve tracked such things, both leading candidates are also dead last in favorability polling. In this category, it’s Donald Trump with the clear advantage––and it certainly doesn’t seem to be a hindrance to his campaign.

USNews.com reports:

“The Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, which measured whether voters had a favorable or unfavorable view of a candidate, found that Trump has a -39 net favorability rating – the largest margin in the current field and down 8 points from just a month ago to set a record low in the poll’s history for a major presidential hopeful.

“At the same time, Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ front-runner, has an unfavorability rating of -13, a third of Trump’s but well below the positive rating of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, her opponent for the party’s nomination.”

(Read the USNews post here…)

Sanders, by the way, is the only remaining candidate with a positive favorability rating––but at a mere +7, it’s not by much.

Now things really get weird.

Gallup reports that “Two in three Americans (66%) believe there is at least one presidential candidate in this year’s field who would make a good president.”

This is insanity––we don’t trust them and we don’t like them, but we still think one of them would be a good president?

A Pew study highlighted in Newsweek revealed some interesting details:

“Of those polled, almost a quarter said Hillary Clinton would be a great president, but 28 percent said she’d be terrible. Donald Trump fared even worse: 38 percent of those polled said he would be a terrible president and 14 percent said he would be a poor president.”

(Newsweek article on the Pew report…)

So we have some faith that there’s still a good president in the field, but when we’re pressed for who that might be, we can’t come up with an answer?

Once again, Sanders is the only remaining candidate who polls favorably in these terms, but he still doesn’t get us too excited. According to Pew, 9% say he’d make a “great” president 21% say he’d be “good” for a total of 30% favorable while 18% percent say he’d be a “poor” president and 17% say he’d suck––OK the term they used was “terrible.”

That’s 30% fer and 35% agin if you’re keeping score.

Have absolutely lost our collective minds?

Business leaders are not faring much better. The Edelman Trust Barometer, while at least showing a positive trend in trustworthiness compared to recent years still shows business leaders and CEOs earning surprisingly low levels of trust, particularly when compared to academic and technical experts and peers.

We’re choosing leaders we don’t trust, don’t like and dare I say––don’t respect. As ridiculous as this sounds, we’re choosing leaders, working for leaders and hiring leaders that we just don’t consider to be good leaders.


We are obviously placing a lot of emphasis on charisma and material achievement. Even though we might hate them, we still gravitate toward people who are more exciting and let’s be blunt–-people who are richer than we are.

It may be that we think that despite their flaws, these are the people who get things done. We are sick and tired of inertia and failure.

Are we willing to completely sacrifice any semblance of good character just to break up the log jam? Have we reached the point where personal convenience and comfort have completely subverted our willingness to sacrifice and do the right thing?

The benefits of Character Based Leadership in both business and government are well-documented…

Over the long run, leaders with character produce better and longer lasting results––but it does take time to do the right thing and it is sometimes expensive in the short term.

We’ve got to make a decision and I fear we’ve got to make it quickly. We’ve got to decide if we’re going to choose people with character to lead us––or if we’re going to continue to choose our most influential leaders the same way we picked our high school prom court.

If we continue to choose leaders we don’t trust and don’t respect, the results will be disastrous. There is already the great possibility that our next sitting president will serve his or her first term under indictment. I’m not picking sides in this one––both Clinton and Trump are facing criminal charges even as they lead this race.

Still, I’m hopeful.

I’m optimistic because of the tremendous leaders I meet and work with in business and in the community. I still meet good people serving in local, state and national government.

I’m keeping my faith because I see how hard these people are working––without notice and without fanfare. Most of these people are committed to doing things the right way. They’re dedicated to building better lives for the people they serve and the people who work for them.

As I said, I’m optimistic––but I’m a realistic optimist!

I know we can do better. I’m not at all certain that we will.

Let’s start now.

I know I threw a lot of information at you today. Please take some time to think about it…

I’m going to stick my neck out and also ask you look deeper––follow the links I provided and study some of the data for yourself.

Let’s start choosing leaders with character again. Let’s start supporting leaders we trust, leaders we can count on.

Can we do this? Only time will tell.

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Leadership: You don’t have to be a jerk

160401 Jerk

Let’s get one thing on the table from the start: Being a jerk can make you successful––very successful.

Angry Business ManIt’s naive to say that only the virtuous become truly great leaders. I agree with critics of the leadership industry when they say it’s childish and often foolish to think that good character is the only path to wealth and power––or more to the point, the most efficient path.

I don’t preach rainbows and puppy dogs. Let’s be blunt––

Leadership is about power. You can amass a lot of power by being a complete jerk––by stomping on people, by being ruthless and heartless, selfish and greedy. You can rise to the highest ranks by lying and cheating. You can be be a complete fraud and yet become a competent and effective leader.

And you can make yourself rich doing it.

The ugly truth is that you don’t have to be a good person to be an effective leader and lousy people have the same opportunity at fame and fortune that you do.

So why bother to be a good person?

Critics and skeptics of character based leadership training cite many examples to support their negative view.

Steve Jobs was obsessive, myopic and often very abusive––yet he enjoyed a level of loyalty envied by nicer guys in leadership positions.

Bill Gates was ruthless and far less than transparent––yet he went on to become one of the most respected and revered business and philanthropic leaders of our time.

Edison and the Wright brothers were obsessively proprietary, jealous and maybe even paranoid. Yet they changed the world with their achievements.

Even Walt Disney has been exposed as having been tyrannical, bigoted and horribly vindictive to those who stood in his way. Yet he’s still seen as an iconic symbol of visionary, creative leadership and was revered by many who worked for him.

Although critics often understate their eventual downfalls, they will even cite Bernie Madoff and even the Enron gang, Fastow, Lay and Skillings as examples of leaders who rose to great levels of success as liars, cheats and frauds.

It’s true––these guys made a lot of money and enjoyed a great deal of power and control before their fall––but fall they did.

There is a world of difference, ethically, between a Kenneth Lay and a Steve Jobs. Lay was a crook. At worst, Jobs was an a-hole. Still, leadership training skeptics have a valid point––how can we continue, with a straight face, to preach that compassion and empathy are the keys to becoming a great leader?

How can we, in good conscience, earn our livings telling aspiring leaders that the way to the top is through honesty, transparency and building the trust of the people around you?

How can we say that selfless service is the highest calling of the authentic leader?

How can we insist that doing the right thing is the right thing to do––when so many get over doing the exact opposite?

Because it is.

At some point, you’ve got to decide what you want to do with your most precious commodity––the time you have in this life. You’ve got to decide how you want to live with the people around you and most of all, you’ve got to decide exactly who it is you want to see in your bathroom mirror every morning.

Leadership is about power.

Power is simply your ability or capacity to act or perform effectively. Power is your ability to get things done––and that’s the most important factor when it comes to leadership performance.

The problem is––lousy people have just as much access to power as you do. Sometimes more.

Lousy people, as critics of character based leadership love to point out, are very often more politically savvy. They can have a well developed ability to focus and look past negative consequences to see the net profit. They are often more ambitious and even more charismatic than leaders who cling to arcane values and principles.

Another key area where the critics get is right is in measurement.

They justifiably say that leadership experts do a poor job of relating character development and interpersonal skills to production outcomes. There are three problems in this area:

Jim B Workshop 001First, it is difficult to directly correlate character and soft skill mastery to production output. There are simply too many other factors that affect outcome. The relationship between what Covey called “Principle Centered Leadership” and the short term bottom-line is not direct––it’s patently indirect.

Second is that most measures of leadership effectiveness depend on perception. Is your boss more receptive to your ideas? Do you feel you’re being treated fairly? Do you feel cared for?

These are subjective measures and may not relate at all to the effectiveness, or even to the character of a leader, particularly in difficult times. They may be useful in assessing character development or behavioral change, but are virtually useless when it comes to correlating those changes to production performance.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the success of character based leadership is often only tangible when compared to its absence. Research shows clearly that over time, leaders with good character produce better and more consistent results than do crooks, liars, tyrants and manipulators––over time. It’s nearly impossible to see a direct cause and effect relationship between character and the bottom line––especially when disconnected, cruel or despotic leaders can produce the same, or sometimes even better results.

What can be measured––and I agree with the critics, what should be measured are some of the most tangible benefits of character based leadership. The results of these factors do immediately impact the profit and loss statement:

  • Are people staying longer?
  • Are they creating better ideas and more innovations?
  • Do people feel comfortable communicating problems?
  • Do they participate in solutions?
  • Is there open and productive communication between organization levels?
  • What is the degree of lost and sick time due to stress, bullying and harassment?
  • How much does the organization spend on litigation, internally and externally?
  • What is the level of engagement on the job?
  • Are people are willing to sacrifice and stay during tough times?

For every example of ruthless, dictatorial, abusive, dishonest leadership, we can cite another example of someone who is successful doing it the right way.

And when you look deeper at some of the actions of even some of the ethically questionable leaders like Jobs and Gates, you’ll find that they also express, at least to some degree, the qualities and values we stubbornly cling to.

Leaders with character produce remarkable benefits in the positive areas and dramatic reductions in costs by mitigating the negative.

Look at Sam Walton of Wal-Mart and George Zimmer of Men’s Wearhouse. These leaders built tremendous companies with a high degree of character and principle. They focused on service to their employees and customers as well as the shareholders. They practiced courageous, compassionate leadership and insisted on honesty, transparency and personal connections with the people they served.

Look at how each of those organizations changed after they were gone.

Of course, both companies are still successful––but how much more successful were they before they deviated from the character based leadership embodied in their founders? How many problems could have been avoided had they honored those principles?

Look at Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Gary Hirshberg of Stoneyfield Farms, Don Amos of Aflac and Jim Skinner of McDonald’s. These leaders were all included in OnlineMBA.com’s Top 15 Ethical CEOs of 2015. All are highly successful personally, and all have increased the profitability of their organizations…

Without being jerks!

All these leaders placed a great emphasis on character, service, and ethics. I particularly like the story of Dan Amos:

“Profits have grown nearly tenfold since Dan Amos took the helm at Aflac way back in 1990. Ninety-nine out of 100 CEOs would use that as justification to raise their salaries tenfold as well. Not Dan Amos: he volunteered to allow shareholders to vote on the executive compensation plan, the first major U.S. corporation to ever do so.”

His commitment to character based leadership makes Aflac “one of the best American companies to work for” according to MBAOnline.

Can you really succeed without being a jerk?

Absolutely. But we’ve got a fight on our hands.

Ironically, as I write this article we’re in the throes on one of the most unusual, contentious and calling it as I see it, petulant political campaigns in history. For the first time since we’ve measured these things, our two Presidential front-runners have the highest disapproval ratings of any of the candidates who started the race. Polls show that we consider Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump untrustworthy, selfish and dishonest.

We’re about to elect someone we don’t trust, can’t stand and who places their interests above ours.

Should we just throw in the towel?

No. Quite the opposite.

It’s past time to insist that our leaders are decent people––and to hold ourselves, as leaders, to the highest standards.

It’s not time to quit on character based leadership. It’s time to restore the core values of genuine courage, compassion and service to leadership. It’s time to embed these values in our aspiring leaders and replace, not reward leaders who somehow succeed while abusing us.

Liars, cheats and manipulators can produce results in the short term. These results are not sustainable. We live in a moment where a final decision is unavoidable.

We can continue to promote and reward leaders who lie, cheat and steal and just do our best to grab whatever we can for me and mine. We can simply train people how best to attain and manipulate power, maximize short-term profits and prioritize material success above human cost.

Or, we can start a revival. We can restore character based leadership in our businesses, in our communities and in our society. We can recognize, support and reward leaders who do the right thing––for others as well as for themselves. We can decide that the time we share with one another is worth more than a few dollars––that our time together is the reward and how we use that time determines the value of that reward.

The skeptics are right––we need to do a better job. But that doesn’t mean abandoning character.

I will continue to help leaders become better people. That’s how we’re going to get better leaders.

And that’s how we’re going to build better businesses, better communities, better nations––

Better lives.

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What I learned from leaders at the CU Reality Check Conference

160317 CU Leaders

One of the great benefits of my work is that I get to meet and learn from tremendously effective leaders whenever I present at events and workshops.

At the risk of alerting the cliché police––I really do learn as much from the people I work with as they do from me.

Jim B Workshop 001Not only do I always learn a lot about leadership challenges and solutions from people in the Credit Union world, but every time I do a CU event, I come away renewed, re-energized and with a refreshed sense of hope and confidence in the future of our society and our communities.

CU leaders are a very special group of people. Of course they’re focused on the success of their organizations––and that means taking care of business. Underlying and guiding that focus is an intense dedication to providing exceptional financial services to their constituents and their communities.

They are passionately dedicated to improving the lives of the people they serve.

Yvette Segarra and Barbara Agin provided me with a wonderful opportunity at the CU Reality Check Conference this week in Atlantic City. In addition to THE SENSEI LEADER keynote, I did a mini-workshop session with all the attendees focusing on the 8 STRATEGIES for EFFECTIVE LEADERS. Here’s what I learned from them:

#1 CU leaders understand that to serve their customers, they must serve the people who serve their customers.

CU leaders are dedicated to developing the people who work in their organizations––at all levels. They recognize the value of all employees and staff in every role, and they embrace the importance of providing opportunity for those who want to further develop as leaders.

#2 CU leaders are devoted to service on a deeply emotional and spiritual level that transcends any material benefits.

Workshop Group Small NJCULThey’re not naive––they understand that any financial institution must be successful materially to survive and serve their members. Far beyond that, they express a deep sense of commitment, service and compassion for the people they serve. They know that a checking account is more than a way to move money around, it’s a way to truly make a person’s life easier. They know that a mortgage is not just a way to buy a house––it’s a way to make dreams come true.

#3 CU leaders are committed to improving communication and bridging any divides.

One of the strongest areas of interest in our short workshop was the desire to improve and continually update communication skills and processes.

Effective communication is an essential skill for effective leadership. The CU leaders at this event really dug into this issue and committed to specific action steps to upgrade and expand communication internally and with the public.

#4 CU leaders are committed to being effective mentors.

Yvette and Barbara with Jim CU Reality CheckThe leaders at CU Reality Check understood and appreciated the powerful symbolism of THE SENSEI LEADER in regard to a leader’s role as teacher, coach and mentor.

These people are committed to developing the next generation of leaders who will impact and support the growth and success of our communities and our nation. They are highly devoted to becoming effective mentors and continually improving their ability to train emerging and aspiring leaders––understanding that sharing their experience and wisdom with others does not threaten or diminish their own positions, but rather increases their own power and ability to serve.

My workshops are not a one-way information delivery system. By sharing my philosophy, I hope to instigate discussion and stimulate thought. Through the workshop, we together understand both common and specific challenges and opportunities and develop powerful strategies to improve and grow as leaders.

These CU leaders provided me with new insights, new inspiration to develop greater ways to serve and new ideas that will benefit other leaders in the future…

For those of you who attended the Reality Check Conference I can say with sincerity and confidence…


NJCUL Reality Check Jim Wide

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