Maxwell Friday: The Law of Influence

“If you can’t influence people, then they will not follow you.  And if people won’t follow, you are not a leader.  That’s the Law of Influence.”

–     John C. Maxwell, in his book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”

In our second Maxwell Friday, he comes out strong enough that it probably could have been a really short book.  (Actually, it couldn’t.  The next 19 are all genius, too!)

A couple of my mentors said it differently, but just barely:  “Think you’re a leader?  Turn around.  If no one’s there, you’re not a leader.”

Strong leadership shows itself in good times and bad.  In good times, new ideas are flowing, all energy is focused on pulling the same direction and everyone holds everyone else accountable to a standard of “better” every day.  In bad times, strong leaders are vulnerable and transparent, inviting input from those closest to the action, as well as those who disagree with the boss.  In bad times, strong leaders openly discuss strategies and risks.  In each case, followers will be plenty.

Then there’s the flip side.  Without strong leadership, there aren’t really good times.  And in bad times, lack of leadership is easy to spot.  Closed doors, keeping newcomers at arms length, discouraging (either in word or deed) candor and criticism, honoring structure over strategy and otherwise assuring that no one lines up behind us — well, back to Maxwell’s point.  If people won’t follow you…

In case you didn’t click the link above, I’ll give it to you straight again; The Law of Leadership — “Leadership is influence.  Nothing more, nothing less.”

Editor’s Note:  Buy the book.  It’ll change your life and career.  Just sayin’…


The Perfection Trap

“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”

–     Michael J. Fox (b. 1961), American actor

The past couple weeks, I’ve been tormented by an old habit of mine — trying to get something “perfect.”

The project at hand gives me 3,813 opportunities to get it wrong (not hyperbole, that’s actually a statement of fact!)  The data is probably 70% accurate.

So, why waste time trying to get it perfect?

I like baseball-is-life comparisons.  In baseball, the two greatest claims a pitcher can make for a game are a no-hitter and a perfect game.  There’s a marked difference between the two.  In a no-hitter, the pitcher doesn’t surrender a base hit.  In a perfect game, no one reaches base.  Not only no hits, no walks, no hit batters, no errors.

And therein lies the trap.  In one game, a pitcher might make 85 perfect pitches and give up a couple hits or even a run or two.  In another, that same pitcher might make 27 horrible pitches and be the benefactor of 27 amazing plays by the team.  In the former case, a nearly perfect effort might produce a loss, in the latter, a lucky outing is forever logged as a “perfect” game.

It’s relative.  It’s subjective.  It’s unattainable.

Excellence, though, is more objective.  And it’s attainable every day, if we’re willing to strive to get better every day.

A week ago, I felt like I was at about 50% on the big project.  Today, I’m somewhere in the 90% range.  Considering the odds and the challenge, that might be excellent, and it’s sure as heck good enough.

What’s next?



Inviting Invitations

“If I had $50 for every great meeting I’ve been invited to, I’d have $75!”

–     A buddy of mine, who used to always say out loud what we were thinking inside.  We miss him.

They come in every day.  Obtuse calendar invitations — “Meeting” listed from 10 – 11 AM.  The best ones we see might say “Agenda to Follow,” (it won’t).

Another of my favorites, “Lunch.”  Nothing else.  Just “lunch.” Not sure what we’re having, where we’re having it or why (other than that whole mid-day meal timing…)  And, finally, a third example, a first-cousin to “Meeting” and “Lunch,” “Discussion.”


No.  Not yay.

Difference Makers do it (spoiler alert!) differently.

“Discussion with Executive Team to Recommend New Bonus Plan.”  The purpose is in the description, and then, when we get it right, the agenda is in the invitation, with instructions:  “All participants should be prepared to discuss what’s working best, what we’re missing and what we will want to make sure we include in a new bonus plan, should we roll one out.”  The meeting is set for :40, because that’s how long it should take, instead of just choosing the 1-hour default in the calendar program.  Now I know why.  Now, I can prepare.  Now, I can contribute.

“Lunch @ The Club:  Joe Smith (Client ABC), Pat Jones and Steve Heston to Review Client Experience During Last Week’s Upgrade.”  Followed by sub-bullets, etc.  At the very least I know with whom I’m dining, where and (wait for it) why!

Are there some that can be a little more open-ended?  Perhaps.  “1 x 1:  Steve and Heather” might be a good way to hold the time for a recurring meeting.  Steve and Heather owe it to one another, though, to make the agenda meaningful, the desired outcomes clear and to honor the time.

There are lots of ways to honor our time and those around us’s time.  More inviting invitations.  Clearer expectations. Start on time.  End on time.  Schedule the time you need, not the convenient block of :30, :60, :90 etc.

Let me know if it makes a difference for your team…





Why Clients Leave; 3 Facts

“If you keep doin’ what you’re doin’ you’ll get more of what you’ve got.”

–     Dick Heston  (1933 – 2002) 

“She’s leaving me because she really wants to.  And she’ll be happy when she’s gone…”

–     Lyric from Lyle Lovett’s “She’s Leaving Me Because She Really Wants To

Fact #1:  If your only answer to the problem is to change out the people, either you are the problem or the strategy is, or both.   Another of Dad’s favorites was (summarized) “if you’ve got the same problem with several people, guess whose _____________ problem it really is?” (My dad did love his adjectives!)

So if you’re on your fourth accounting manager or your fifth sales leader or your third attorney or your ninth assistant — guess who the problem it really is!?

Fact #2:  Clients, like Lyle Lovett’s love interest in the song, don’t leave because of price, features, function or whiz-bang gadgets.  They leave because they really want to.  And they’ll be happy when they’re gone.  The time to delight a client or customer is not when they threaten to leave.  It’s now.  Every minute.  Every day.

Oh, sure, they’ll say it’s price or features or functions or whiz-bang gadgets, blah, blah, blah.  But if they leave, it’s because they really want to.  It’s because we didn’t build enough relationship equity to make them want to stay. And that’s our problem.   By the way, the same is true of employees.  Counter-offers never work.  (Really, Heston?  Italics and underline?  Yes!  They.  Never.  Work.)  They simply delay the outcome, not change it.  If one of your best is leaving, it’s because they really want to.

Mirrors are powerful tools for leaders.  Looking into one, and seeing with a critical eye who looks back, can be a powerful gut-check.  And, if the person looking back tells us that it is us who needs to change, we ought to take that counsel pretty seriously.

Oh, that brings us to Fact #3:  Selecting and developing talent is Job #1.  Talent trumps everything else, especially if it’s nurtured over rank, role, tenure and hierarchy.  Patrick Mahomes is only 24 years old.  Guess who the leader of his team is…


Reprised from 2002, 2008, 2012 and 2016, with updates for currency

17.7 Million Reasons to Wonder

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

–     Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011), founder of Apple

According to the witty people in the media this morning, almost 18 million people will call in “sick” today, almost a million more than the Monday after last year’s “Big Game*.”


I wonder what if all leaders focused on creating a culture where the team didn’t want to skip work…

I wonder what if the team has accountability to each other to always be reliable, be present, be “in the game…”

I wonder why so many think it’s ok to leave their teammates holding the bag…

I wonder how much of a difference it would make if we created cultures where our teams “got to” go to work, instead of “have to…”

Here’s hoping you’re in place, ready to go and loving whatever you do.

Here’s hoping if you’re not, that you commit to finding a way, or a place, to love what you do.


*Editor’s Note:  Even as a sales and marketing executive, I think it’s a little dopey that the NFL goes so far over the top to prevent people from using the name of its marquee event in any promotional materials. That said, on advice of counsel, the above mention of the “Big Game” is sufficient to make the connection…  🙂





Maxwell Friday: Cultivating Leaders

“Can your leadership be reproduced in someone else?”

          –     Paraphrase of John C. Maxwell’s litmus test, citing the greatest leader ever

Unapologetically, Faith is at the center of everything good I’ve ever done, and the closer I stay to it, the more good things occur.  Maxwell is a pastor first, and a leadership expert second.  He cites a certain Jewish Carpenter in this lesson on consciously cultivating next-generation leaders.

The opportunity is here every day for us to cultivate our own next-generation.


Great leaders find next-generation leaders in their everyday world.

We probably don’t walk by many people collecting taxes or fishing with nets off wooden boats — yet we are surrounded by people in accounts payable, client services, HR, building maintenance, cashiers and technicians.  Great leaders look at the person, not the role, and they find the elements in every person that should be complimented / rewarded, and that could be cultivated.

Great leaders hand-pick next-generation leaders.

It’s not enough to “hope Jim or Mary understand their leadership potential.”  We owe it to them to call it (and them) out by name, and ask them to follow us.  We owe it to them to help them invest in, develop and learn more about themselves, even if they choose not to pursue formal leadership titles.

Great leaders call others to lead.

They don’t imply.  They don’t dangle suppositions and wonder if the next-generation will pick up on the hint.  They call them to lead.  In 1989, a mentor said to me, “I am sending you to Ft. Dodge, and I need you to fix things there.”  I said, “Roger, how the heck am I supposed to do that?  Where the heck do I start?”  He said, “That’s why I’m sending you.  You’ll figure it out.”  My mission was clear, as was my understanding that he believed I could get it done — and I also knew he was a phone call away at any time.

Great leaders use language next-generation leaders understand.

Great leaders don’t refer to the “synergistic strategy of aggregating data, developing insights and conducting A/B testing on a variety of possible engagement models.”  Great leaders say, “I am sending you to Ft. Dodge, and I need you to fix things there.”  They say, “In order for us to be successful, we need more activity in the market.”  They say, “Our deal volume and win rate are down this quarter.  Figure out why and let’s talk about your ideas to correct it.”

Great leaders take next-generation leaders on a journey and demonstrate their leadership.

Hy-Vee is a legendary retailer in my home state, local grocery stores that promoted a “helpful smile in every aisle.”  You can tell the first-generation Hy-Vee managers.  They don’t answer “Where’s the Maytag Bleu Cheese crumbles,” with words.  They say, “Great choice!  Let me show you!”  And then they walk you to the Maytag Bleu Cheese crumbles.  Great leaders show the way, not by saying “here’s what you do,” but by doing things in a way that invites follower-ship, and by creating an environment where next-generation leaders can be measured by their progress, not punished for their stumbles.

Leadership is influence.  Titles don’t make leaders.  Leaders are consciously cultivated by the leaders that came before them.  Leaders make a difference.







Leadership Is Influence

“Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”

         –    Leadership “proverb”

On a production line, the foreman of Tiger Team yells to “hurry it up,” the parts get made faster, safety suffers, and quality drops off.  The line workers have five or six ideas for how to improve speed without sacrificing quality (or body parts) but the manager says, “No!  Just do what I told you to do faster!  I’m the top-ranked manager in the factory, and we want to stay on top!”

The line is so-well managed, the guys upstairs can’t understand why all the recalls are coming from Tiger Team.  The members of Tiger Team can’t figure out why their manager keeps getting plaques for his wall.  Tiger Team, by some measures might be well-managed, but it’s poorly-led.

RearView Technologies Board of Directors has engaged ReallySmart Consulting to quantify market trends and propose strategies for changes in the market.  Their work is extremely thorough and contains tons of competitive intel that is “sure thing” sourced.

“That’s some OK work,” says the CFO to the consultants, “but there’s no way that competitor could afford to structure the deal that way.  We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing, thank you very much.  Buh-bye.”  In this case, RearView Technologies is both poorly-managed and poorly-led.

Whether we’re tasked with overseeing part of a production line or an entire company, the sooner we understand the connection between leadership and influence, the more fingers our line workers will keep, and the more relevant our company will be.  It’s about personal influence instead of position power, and managing from position power is a race to irrelevance, because good people will leave.

Leading via influence, on the other hand, will make a difference in good markets and bad, large companies and small.  Leading via influence spans blue collar, white collar, multi-national and super-micro-market companies.

Leadership, it turns out, is influence.  (And vice versa!)


The Rule of Empty Boxes

“I don’t want to use the word reorganization.  Reorganization to me is shuffling boxes, moving boxes around.  Transformation means that you’re really fundamentally changing the way the organization thinks, the way it responds, the way it leads.  It’s a lot more than just playing with boxes.”

–     Lou Gerstner (b. 1942), legendary CEO of IBM, leading it’s turnaround in the 1990’s

The Rule of Empty Boxes (REB) is a guiding light for companies trying to decide whether to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic or steer the ship to hazard-free waters.  REB dictates that in a re-org, re-alignment or transformation, senior leaders are required to draw up a functional org chart with empty boxes.  The people that got us here, now, aren’t always the ones to get us there, next.

Most companies, sadly, end up setting their compass for iceberg-infested waters, by putting the same old names in boxes and then aligning functions under those names.

“Well, he’s been here 28 years,” the CEO says.  “It’ll kill him if we change his paradigm.”

“Pat is such a fixture here,” says the HR manager, “why not give Pat a little more responsibility and see how it goes?”

Here’s how REB works:

  1. Resist the temptation to fill the chart from the top down.  Put the “perfect fits” in place first regardless of the tier.  Leave your own boxes blank, too.  Powerful, powerful opportunity to lead by example.
  2. Focus on skills, experiences, leadership qualities and the ability to embrace change — regardless of prior departmental alignment.
  3. Be prepared for names to remain on your draft board and boxes to remain empty.  Even names that have been on the roster for 28 years or names that people really like.
  4. Use the “could-do / can’t do / could learn / can’t learn” filtering system to determine if less-than-perfect fits can be molded to the new role.
  5. Conduct the entire first draft of the exercise with a “Why wouldn’t we…?” mindset, and avoid, at all costs, the mindset that says, “That would never work…”
  6. Blank boxes represent your most compelling opportunity to move the company forward.
  7. Undrafted team-members represent your most compelling opportunities to grow people, or to honor their accomplishments and set them on a different course.

A couple of other considerations:

Know why you’re making the change and be prepared to explain why this approach is your best path forward.  Your best people will want to know why.

Your best people also know who your weakest people are, at every level of the company.  If you’re expecting your best people to work for your weakest people, hang on to the Amazon Prime boxes that come to your house.  They’ll come in handy when you have to cart all your stuff home.  And, your best people will ramp up their loyalty and commitment when you have the courage to cut your weakest people loose.

Your best people will have great ideas on how to build the beast.  Invite them to the conversation early.  But if they see you huddled up with your weakest people, and your “re-org” gets done to them, not with them or for them, those Amazon Prime boxes will come in handy when your best people pack up and leave you.




Winning and Losing

“It’s only in failure that you learn to win.”

–     Unattributed

Not only is it an unattributed quote, I don’t buy it.  Not for a second.

That said, we’re called to learn, win or lose.  And the only way to do that is to assess, honestly, openly, candidly why we won or lost.

The easiest trap for a leader to fall into is, “Well, let’s look back and see why we lost that (game, deal, client, friend…).”  The review is absolutely important when we suffer a loss, and it’s no less important when we get it just right.

How did we get it just right?  What did we do in preparation, in presentation, in follow-up?  Did we listen differently?  Did we ask better questions?

A long-held cornerstone of The Heston Group philosophy is if we don’t know why, we don’t know much.

It’s really not always (often?) about winning and losing.  It’s about understanding why we won or lost, and getting better every day because of the lessons we learn.

Which Makes Which?

“It’s not the position that makes the leader; it’s the leader that makes the position.”

–     Stanley Huffty, as quoted by John C. Maxwell in “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership…”

Mark was holding his newborn daughter, Abbie.  Her mother was watching them, taking in the instant bond between Daddy and Daughter.  Two days later, Mark was holding Abbie again, buckling her car seat in and driving very safely home.  Waving from the hospital carport were the birth ward nurses and interns, who, by all accounts had done a splendid job of managing Mark and his wife through the birth of their child.

As they settled into their home, Mark listened as his wife said, “What did you think of the team at the hospital?” she asked.

Mark replied, “I think they should all be arrested and charged with child neglect!”

Abbie’s mom, perhaps with some hormonal hangover from the birth 48-hours previous, lit into him.  “Mark!  How could you say that?  They were amazing.  They told us what to expect and treated us like we were having the baby at the Four Seasons!  Why, on earth, would you say they should be charged with child neglect?” she finished.

“It’s easy,” Mark replied, calmly, still holding his new daughter.  “They sent this poor, defenseless child home with us and we have no idea what we’re doing!”

Ok, Heston, this is one of those days when we’re dying to say, “What’s the point.”

Just as the birth of a child makes us a mother or a father, it doesn’t make us a parent, a promotion for manager to director doesn’t make us a leader.

The point is leading is what makes us a leader.

Ever work for a title that had no influence?  Ever work for someone who was so giddy to be the boss, they forgot about the work that had to be done for the boss to look remotely in charge. They wanted to “boss” not “lead.”  Even at senior levels, even if we’re the CEO — the best way to determine if we’re leading is how many people are clamoring to get behind us.  I know a place where the “leaders” could walk alone for days, “leading.”  And then, there’s the company wherein 100 or so of the team uses the term “LOL” in many of their communications.  The “boss” probably thinks they’re validating his awesome-boss-ness!  Except “LOL” has become shorthand for “lack-of-leadership!”

Your title means bupkus to anyone that matters.  Your leadership or lack thereof is all that matters to them.  Some ways to gut-check where you fall on the manager – leader spectrum:

Is every meeting you have in “your” office or “your” conference-room?  Position over influence, a yellow-light on a leader’s report card.  You are, at best, being a manager.  Get out of your desk.  Use the calendar to force it, take a “walk-about” get out of the detachedness of an Executive Suite and go build connections with the people doing the work.  Go see them on their field.  Go see them doing what they do, and remind them of how it connects to that thing you’re responsible for doing. Help them feel what they do in the grander context of the outcome.

Lead them to a vision that makes the company’s vision better.


So, just lead, huh?

No, not exactly.  That’s a good set up for Friday’s Daily Difference.  With Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to come in between…