“Leadership ability is always the lid on personal and organizational effectiveness.  If a person’s leadership is strong, the organization’s lid is high.  But if it’s not, then the organization is limited.”

–     John C. Maxwell (b. 1947) in “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:  Follow Them and People Will Follow You

Every Friday morning, I have the great privilege of gathering with a handful of other leaders in Ed’s Basement. We’re spending 2020 diving deeply into this book, and the principles upon which it is based.

OK, so why is the title of this post “Lids?”

“The Law of The Lid” is the first of Maxwell’s 21 laws.

We all have lids, and Maxwell’s point isn’t that they are ceilings, glass or otherwise.  His point is that our lids can be raised — by completely dedicating ourselves to the study and practice of leadership.  Long-time subscribers know that I’m not a big fan of “management.”  It’s not that managing doesn’t have a place (it does, of course), it’s just that it’s a relatively finite pursuit.  For example, in “The Infinite Game,” Simon Sinek describes a “just cause” as the true north of infinite businesses.  In other words, simple terms like growth, profits, earnings, winning — they’re all finite in nature.  In the infinite game, and in Maxwell’s land of leadership, getting better every day is the point. (Editor’s Note:  Getting better every day tends to drag growth, profits, earnings, etc along with it….)

So, what to do with our lids?

First, we have to identify them.  Maxwell has excellent tools in his book, but I’m not trying to sell his book.  (You really should buy it, though.  Just sayin’…)  Conducting a self-inventory of the areas we’re strong and the areas we need to develop, and then asking some of those closest to us to measure us on the same topics is one way of beginning to identify our lids.  Be ready, though, because they change.  As we grow, as we regress, as we gain experience or encounter difficult situations (and even great success), our lids ebb and flow.  That’s reason enough to invest time in identifying them, right there!

Second, we have to develop leadership ability more consistently and more quickly than we do our “success dedication.”  For me, this is the “Why?” and the “Why?” is almost all that matters to me.  Yet, it’s still easy to struggle in our effort to keep our eye on the bigger picture — our legacy as leaders.

Finally (and there are 20 more laws, so “finally” is a relative term) we have to expose ourselves and commit ourselves to be near and learn from great leaders.  I’ve been blessed to work for some of the best, and, regrettably, a couple who occupy the opposite end of the spectrum.  There are wisdom, knowledge, and growth to be gleaned from both — the former kind is just a lot more fun to model than the latter are to overcome.

Is that it?

When the Tallest of The Three was almost three years old, we attended a very cool but very long 4th of July drum and bugle core performance.  He liked it a lot.  For about an hour.  (C’mon!  Cut him some slack, he was three!)  After each song, he’d look at his Grammy Pat and he’d say, “Is that it?”  Grammy Pat would say, “Just one more, I think, Buddy…”  He’d take a deep breath, settle back in and say, “One more, and then that’s it!”  It happened about 11 times before even the three-year-old figured out he was being messed with!

Of course the Law of The Lid isn’t “it.”  If it was, leadership would be easy, and everyone would be really good at it.  (Ok, wait a second….technically, I know a couple dudes that wouldn’t be good at it even if it were easy, but you get my point.)

Influence, Process, Navigation, Addition….aw, heck, just buy the book — there is a great deal of education, self-study, Faith, focus, effort and dedication that goes into being an infinite leader.  Here’s to hoping the payback is as cool as we think it’s gonna be.

Make it a great day.



Put Some PIT in The Calendar

“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much can be done if we are always doing.”

          –     Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826), 3rd President of The United States

“Don’t just do something!  Stand there!”

–     Dick Heston (1933 – 2002), my dad, a farmer, factory-worker and brilliant business leadership mind

Wow.  Turns out Dad was smarter than Thomas Jefferson.

I like most of what Jefferson said and I’m forever thankful for the impact he had on our country — as much as you can be in an election year where stupid runs rampant at every TV timeout in whatever game I’m watching….but I digress…

A quick check of the calendar today shows only two meetings, one of which is ten minutes long.  This is an absolute gift.  I’ll be able to leverage effectiveness instead of getting my butt kicked by busy-ness today!  Busy-ness is a dangerous addiction, and it’s one of those things that snowballs on us, in a not-building-a-snowman-with-the-kids sort of way.

Getting Time in The PIT

See, Dad knew that it’s not idle time that hamstrings us, it’s an idle mind.  Difference makers set aside time in The PIT.  To focus.  To figure out what to do next, and to reflect on what we’ve done prior.  Even during harvest and planting, Dad would make time to lean on the gate, watch the calves eat their feed and willingly step into “The PIT.”

“The PIT” is the key to a productive calendar.  Purposeful time to Plan, Ideate and Think will make a difference for us, for those with whom we work, and especially for those who count on us for leadership.


Plans are the maps that let us know if we’re on track, if we’re moving and in what direction.

Ideas are the currency of Difference Makers.  Ideas begin with “what if…”, “I wonder why…” and “if I had a magic wand…”

Thinking might seem the simplest of the three, yet context matters, or we can be susceptible to analysis paralysis.  Thinking is spending time in consideration, assessing, projecting and self-challenging.  Thinking is not reacting.  Reacting is superimposing the sum of our experiences and biases in a hair-trigger flash and jumping, based on the way we’ve always jumped before.

Thinking takes time to go a couple layers deeper than a packed calendar permits.  Thinking may well involve a blank piece of paper (ideally Levenger paper), a “feels-right-in-our-hand” pen or pencil and a willingness to shut off the phone, kill the computer and, one topic at a time — go deeper in our brain.

Finding Time To Lean on The Gate

To Jefferson’s credit, idle hands might well be the devil’s workshop, and to Dad’s credit, we can keep the devil at bay if we’re occasionally leaning on the gate, focused on the right things for the future.  I’d combine the two approaches and state my claim; an idle mind might be worth avoiding, but calming our hands and feet so our mind can engage with focus — that’s a calling worth heeding.

Today, I’m gonna do some gate-leaning in Dad’s name.  Got my Levenger paper and my comfy pen and pencil, and a whole lotta things that deserve my PIT time…

Make it a great day…


Teamwork, Teamwork

“What’s gonna work?  Teamwork!”

–     Lyric from a song in the Wonderpets kids’ show

No, I don’t know if Wonderpets is still on, but it’s like the Disney movies that came out between 1999 – 2007.  I may not have seen them, but I heard them over and over again on the DVD player in our SUV, as we did early training on electronic screen fixation with our kids…

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, teamwork.

I saw it play out twice yesterday.

First, I spent 7 hours on a spreadsheet — a really important one that will help completely revamp a B2B Sales Coverage model.  It.  Was. A. Thing o’ Beauty!  I saved it every 4-5 minutes.  I showed it to three stakeholders, who were almost as giddy as was I.  I completed it about 40 minutes before I needed to head out to The Tallest of The Three’s basketball game.  I clicked “save” yet again.

And then…it was gone.  Dead.  Not there.  Had there been bourbon and sharp objects near my computer, both would have been in play.  And then, suddenly, teamwork broke out.  In a modest panic, (controlled, mature, extremely professional panic, of course…) I checked with the smart people; the tech-help team.  43 minutes later, 75% of the work was restored.  Instead of killing another day, I’ll chug through a couple hours – and we’re back on track.  The guys who were good at the thing they’re supposed to be good at got me back to being good at the thing I’m supposed to be good at.

So, off to the game we go.  Not just the game.  The game.  Against a rival that I have disliked deeply for 41 years.  (Holding a grudge is a very ugly thing, and I should be over it, but I’m not, so deal with it…)  The Tallest’s team is quite good.  Ranked #1 in the state, with two ginormous studly D1 prospects leading the way.  Except that last night, The Tallest stepped up.  3.  Another 3.  A traditional 2 & 1 three…  9 of our first 14 and 15 of our first 24.  Then, The Freshman stepped up.  Then The Sole Senior.  Only then did the two ginormous studs need to chip in, because the other team was clueless as to who was going to hit them next.  It ended well, our most complete team victory of our 11-straight to start the season.  The two ginormous studs had 25 and 19.  The Tallest of the Three had those 15.  The Freshman, 14.  Teamwork.  The competition knew what hit them, they just couldn’t do anything about it.

In both cases, and in most cases when teamwork works its’ best — everyone does what they do best in concert with the rest of the team, most of whom are, intentionally, good at other things.

What’s gonna work?  Teamwork.  In the gym.  In the Boardroom.  At the client.  With the vendor.

Excuse me now.  I have to do the 25% of the work remaining on top of the 75% that was saved from the ashes by my teammates.  By teamwork.

Make it a great day.


“A jug fills drop-by-drop.”

–     Buddha 

Two disclaimers.

One, I’m not sure hyphens were a thing in Buddah’s day, but Grammarly says so.  Two, yes, I know I don’t often quote Buddah, but bear with me, please.

Consistency matters.

I had a boss once who was a wacky dude.  A short-trigger and a quick tongue, high intellect and low patience.  He was also extraordinarily committed and consistent.  We literally knew when something was hitting him wrong and we’d re-direct.  We loved him and he loved us.  He’d have taken a bullet for any of us, and we for him.  Because he was consistent.  Consistently excellent, sure, but consistent first.

“No surprises” is a decent way to approach a business day.  When we set high expectations with our clients and meet them, consistently, relationships deepen and commerce grows.  When we show up every day, our co-worker across the hall or across the country begins to know that they can count on us, and when we see / talk to them every day, we grow into the trust that we can count on them.  If our boss keeps giving us more to do, or asking our input on different topics, consistency is probably at play.  She knows she can count on us to think, weigh in and not succumb to the allure of emotion or be reactive or irrational.

Consistency isn’t perfection, it’s predictability.  It’s establishing credibility in a way that combines experience, empathy, EQ and curiosity.

How consistent can we be today and every day?  How much of a difference will that make?




Holding Back The Flood of Fear

“We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”

–     The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968)

It’s probably the most cited concept in The Daily Difference.  Change will only occur when the fear of change is overcome by the pain of remaining the same. (Dr. Tom Graff)

Monday of this week is a day set aside to honor Dr. King.  A theologian by training, King spoke often about fear and pain, about change and hope.  All are topics worthy of our attention, and all of them are worth committing energy and concerted effort, as well.

If fear is the flood, and the analogy works on so many levels — a flood can start as a trickle and then relentlessly rise until it swamps everything around us — it is, ultimately, a decision we make, at least in business.  We acknowledge the challenges and have to decide if we’re going to be afraid and defensive, or whether we’re going to build something that holds back the flood.  Courage is what makes us build the dike, and hope is what sees us through the construction.  It’s a conscious process that moves us away from the paralysis of fear and uncertainty.  It’s a concrete attempt to create a better outcome.

What is it that we’re afraid of today?  What is the tomorrow to which we aspire, and what is keeping us from building it?  Spending time on these questions and their answers will help us build difference-making plans and will spread our influence to those around us that refuse to be overtaken by the waters.


Under The Influence

“A person can wield influence in many ways…  By force, intimidation, manipulation, exchange, persuasion, motivation and honor…”

–     John C. Maxwell (b. 1947), in “The Maxwell Leadership Bible (NIV)

Consider the way a Difference Maker wields influence.  Candidly, as a leader, several of the methods described by Maxwell have to be in the leaders’ toolkit, but intimidation has no place and force ought to be used as sparingly as possible.

Look at the other options, though!  Exchange, the art of giving before getting.  Motivation, the act of energizing others.  And honor.  Wow, does that one jump off the screen or what?

Wielding force by honor is the modern definition of servant leadership.  Servant leaders leave legacies.  And, they grow leadership communities that last for generations.  Servant leadership is the lifeblood of sustainable growth and it’s sometimes very difficult to keep it primary.

Until it isn’t.

Once one has it, they have it, but it’s not a lifetime guarantee.  As leaders, we have to breathe into and nurture the best of who we are and what we’ve learned to stay viable, engaged and worth following.  When it slips away from us, it’s harder to get back, but not impossible.  It is very much worth striving for at every station along the way of our careers and lives.

A friend recently introduced me to this, Maxwell’s most compelling work.  I’d been exposed to the theory before, but something makes this time around different.  It’s not a theory.  It’s difference-making stuff.  Dad always said that some experiences are experienced differently after you have more experience.  Like Maxwell, Dad was right.

Make it a great day.



The Outcome vs An Outcome

“Accountability breeds response-ability.”

–    Stephen R. Covey (1932 – 2012), American author, educator and business philosopher

Today, we’ll likely encounter a couple dozen outcomes.  Some will affect us directly, others, not at all, or so it might seem.

The difference maker owns the outcome as opposed to experiencing an outcome.

Leaders own negative outcomes and deflect credit for wins by their team.

Thinking in absolute terms can be a slippery slope, yet when it comes to outcomes, I like the idea of owning them as a means of taking control of whatever we do next.

Covey “got it” on so many levels, and in this case, the simplicity of his point is 2×4-to-the-noggin beautiful.  Especially from a clients’ perspective.  “Hi, Pat, I’m calling today to respond… ”  To that thing that happened.  To that thing that was supposed to happen but didn’t.  To that thing that might have happened.  To your request to have proactive contact when anything seemed a little out of the ordinary.

When we own the outcomes, we dictate how response-ive we can be.  (Yes, I took Covey-like liberties with the laws of punctuation, spelling and word-creation there…).

Difference makers are in the moment responding and leading, not on the outside, watching and wondering what just happened.

Swagger – Warmth With Confidence

“If I wasn’t me, I’d want to be around me all the time.”

–    my dear friend, mentor and confidante, Randy Watson, tongue completely in cheek


It’s a word I like a lot and believe in completely.  Swagger is what defines many of the most appealing characters in history; from politics to sports, entertainment to education, business and even theology.  One could argue that Jesus carried some serious swagger, for example.  You don’t clear the temple meekly, right?

Obviously, swagger is steeped in belief and commitment, but there’s another ingredient that makes it special.  Warmth.

Without warmth, swagger can become the stuff of bullies.  It can become arrogance, over-confidence.  Without warmth, swagger precludes listening and even curiosity, two of the most important elements to success.

Randy is one of the most humble people I know, and will ever know.  But on a stage, in a board-room, leading a team, counseling an employee or peer, and being a parent or spouse, he’s got serious swagger.

What makes his kind of swagger different than the “empty suits” we all know?


Intentional, compelling and genuine warmth, the kind that invites people to come closer and stay is a difference-maker for leaders.

Make a list of the people who’ve been most impactful in your life and career, and run them through the warmth test.  I bet 90% or more of them pass.  Even many of the toughest SOB’s I’ve worked for or coaches I’ve admired are, at their core, warm.

It’s a choice, and it’s a skill, one worth making the other worth learning.

Swagger, developed from warmth is the stuff of difference-making leadership.

Editor’s Note:  Those of us that aren’t Randy, want to be around him all the time…

Getting The Work Done

“One boy is a boy.  Two boys is half a boy.  Three boys is no boy at all.”

–     Loren F. Stark (1899 – 1985), my grandfather

Sometimes, when you’re a kid, it “makes sense” to invite a friend to help with some work on the farm.  Think Tom Sawyer, only without the whole delegation theme.

Grandpa’s theory was simple.  With one kid, the work might get done.  With two, the odds dropped to 50%, and with three, the whole plan went out the window.

In the corporate world, it can work the same way.  We team when we need to team.  We partner when 1+1= > 2.  Most of the time though, we just have to get our stuff done.

In times of great change, a few other bodies around us can bring comfort.  Unless they also speed up results and drive to outcomes, though, we ought to heed “Starky’s” warning.  Larry the Cable Guy might be a good voice to consider, too.  “Git’r done!”


Great Teachers

“Wax on, wax off.”

–     Mr. Miyagi in “Karate Kid” 

Experience can be a great teacher, but great teaching usually comes from a more direct source.  An actual great teacher.  As in another person.

Great teachers not only teach lessons that make a difference, they teach them in a way that reduces the friction that most students naturally apply to the learning process.

“Wax on, wax off,” seems stupid until the big kid in the tournament  takes a punch or a kick at your noggin, and you “wax it off,” right?

The same is true of lessons that apply to our business.  They’re often learned outside the boardroom, and outside the classroom, and they almost always involve a great teacher.

Some lessons great teachers taught me:

  1. “Get your a** around behind you!”  (Dick Heston)  I was about nine years old, wrestling with a scoop shovel in one of our grain bins, when Dad repeatedly barked this directive at me.  As a nine-year-old, I thought he’d lost his mind.  After all, where else could my a** possibly be?  Sometime about three years later, I figured out that there was a right way to use a scoop shovel — and about ten years later I realized that what he taught me was that there is a right way to do most things, and it’s usually easier and more effective.
  2. “You’re a shooter.  Shooter’s shoot.”  (Herb Justmann)  Herb was my high school basketball coach, and he’s still a dear friend.  His point was, play to your strengths.  Defense and rebounding were not things that I was awful at — ok, rebounding was not something I was awful at, but my role on the team was to shoot the basketball, and he’d get much more upset when I passed on open shots than when I forced or rushed one.  In business, almost 40 years later, if I feel like I am “playing out of position,” I hear Herb’s voice, and I settle back in to where I know my gifts lie.  (Our son plays some of his best ball when Herb comes to watch — and Friday night Herb will be in attendance…can’t wait!)
  3. “YOU have to strike THIS man out!”  (Jim Peterson, my high school baseball coach, and a scary, grumpy guy, by most assessments.)  The reason to this day that I feel most comfortable when the stakes are high is because every time I faced a runner at third and less than two outs, he would, in front of my parents, grandparents, girlfriend, etc, bark out this command.  Twice.  (No, seriously, two times. He would not let me throw a pitch to the kid without saying it, at the top of his lungs, twice!  Because evidently someone three counties over didn’t hear him the first time!)  It was his way of focusing me on the piece that I could most directly impact.  The batter, not the kid that was already at third base.  Great teachers help us focus when the stakes are high.
  4. “Most things in life are neither good nor bad, right nor wrong.  Most things just are”  (Tom Graff, PhD)  Dr. Graff uses a series of “pictures” to illustrate this one.  “You win Powerball!  Good news?  Bad news?”  “GOOD NEWS!” everyone shouts out!  “Ok,” he would continue, “every member of your family and your closest friends disown you because they don’t think you give them enough money.  Good news?  Bad news?”  You’re doing it right now, aren’t you?  “Well, Steve, that would be BAD news…”  He goes on, and within about three minutes, everyone in the room realizes first hand that “good” and “bad” are labels that aren’t really productive.  When we realize that most things just “are,” it helps us deal with them in more practical terms.  It helps us separate the important from the urgent.  It helps us do our best, right now.

There are at least eleven or twelve others that come up for me almost daily, because I’ve been blessed with great teachers.  I’ve also been blessed with a career in which I regularly get to act on the lessons they taught.

What are the lessons we’ve learned that we either forgot, resist, or don’t seem applicable when we’re wearing a tie or staring at a computer?  Who were the teachers that taught those lessons?  What would they do, say, push for or remind us of that would make a difference here — now?

Editor’s Note:  Reprised from 2008, 2012, 2016