Leadership: “After Me!”

After MeThe world was stunned on July 4, 1976 at the news of the incredible rescue of over one hundred Israeli hostages by members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at Entebbe, Uganda.

The hostages, mostly Israelis, and therefore Jewish, had been traveling from Tel Aviv to Athens aboard an Air France jetliner when their plane was hijacked by terrorists.  The flight was then diverted to Uganda where the terrorists were given haven by dictator Idi Amin.

A plan was put into action immediately in Israel to bring the hostages home safely.  At the head of the team to lead this effort was a 30-year-old soldier, Lt. Col. Yonatan (Jonathan) Netanyahu–“Yoni” to family and friends.

A mockup of the Entebbe airport was assembled in the desert based on Mossad intelligence.  The raid—dubbed Operation Thunderbolt—was practiced over and over and over.  The clock was ticking.  And time was not on the side of the hostages.

In the IDF, the motto for military leaders is “After me!”  Leaders are the first to lead the way into danger and put themselves in harm’s way.  It was no different for the raid at Entebbe.

The operation was a resounding military success.  The terrorists holding the Israelis were killed and all but four of the 102 hostages survived.

But there was one other casualty.  Col. Netanyahu died leading the raid.  He took fire during the rescue.  This was not wholly unexpected.  He had at other times put himself in the jaws of death to care for his men and his people.  Netanyahu’s story is eloquently recounted in the book Self-Portrait of A Hero.

It is the nature of a leader that at times he (or she) will face danger.  Will stand alone.  Will lose approval or popularity.  But a leader does this because human beings matter and the stakes are very high, even eternal.  A leader doesn’t wait to have someone point the way.  He is the beacon.  True north.  The bedrock that people can stand on.

Stand up and lead.  More people are counting on you than you can possibly imagine.

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Taking the Wheel (As A Young Skipper)

young skipperI had been married all of one month in the spring of 1988.  It was then that I hired in as the manager of a full-line bakery here in northern New York.  I was fairly green at the young age of twenty-four.

That first year of reorganizing the bakery was trying and fatiguing.  I learned many lessons and made plenty of mistakes.  I was the sole man in charge and my boss, the owner of a chain of bakeries, lived a hundred miles away in the Mohawk Valley.  I saw him rarely.  I was on my own.

One of the early challenges I faced was leading a crew of employees, many of whom were at least ten years older than me.  It was intimidating.  There was plenty of “we didn’t do that when [insert a previous manager] ran this place.”  It goes with the territory.

I was faced with the difficulties of leading with heart, fairness, and a strong hand.  I did well some times; other times I blew it.  I would do things differently today, of course, but hindsight is always clearer than the path before you.

Some time ago, I met with a friend who is a young business leader with quite an executive load on his plate.  We discussed the challenges of being a young leader who has to grasp the nettle and lead—and yes, fire—employees old enough to be our parents.  It is never easy.

What to do then?

  • Lead by example.  You must be an example to those you lead by the way you live your life, both in public and out.  You must be the first to do the heavy lifting.  The motto for Israeli officers today is “After me!”  People buy into you and your leadership when you get into the trenches and sweat.  It’s much easier to take directives from a leader with his sleeves rolled up and perspiration on his brow.
  • Avoid arrogance like the plague.  Giving people the back of the hand—harsh remarks, constant criticisms with no commendations, sarcasm—will sink the ship and demoralize the troops.  Be humble.
  • Treat people old enough to be your parents with deference befitting their age.  Treat your elders like fathers and mothers.  That makes it much easier when you have to make tough executive choices.
  • Don’t apologize for being young.  You got hired to do your job because you demonstrated some level of leadership acumen.  Even if you feel “all at sea” with intimidation, you need not show it.  People respect a man or woman who can make a decision and abide by it.
  • Be optimistic and avoid petty shop gossip.  As one of my supervisors counseled me, “In everything you do, be a class act.”

You have the wheel of the ship.  Sail on and prosper!

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“Remember Who You Are….”

Rafiki-Simba-(The_Lion_King)This world has always needed leaders.  Men and women aware of both the time and need into which they were born and live.  The grace to lead well is given to some more than others.  Today, in some ways like no other time that has preceded it, the world is looking for leaders.  Individuals who will show the way.  Who will stand up, even while feeling afraid, and give direction, security, competence and solace.

As I have grown older, I find that I am given strength and grace to lead.  I don’t, however,  have grace to cower, shrink away, idle away the hours and live for me.  My agenda.  My plans for a content life without taking those who know me into account.  “My World and Welcome to It” is a fine motto for a ‘60’s TV sitcom.  But it ill becomes a leader, who is supposed to embody–to one degree or another–selflessness.  Sacrifice.  It’s not about me.  Nor about you.

I’ve been struck over and over again by the children’s movie The Lion King.  One scene in particular.  Simba, heir to Mufasa and kingship of the Pride Lands, has run away from his home and sphere after the death of his father.  Afraid.  He takes up a worry-less, footloose-and-fancy-free existence.  Hakuna Matata.  No worries.

But the call of leadership niggles at him.  His father appears to him in a dream and says, “Simba, remember who you are!”  Simba is afraid.  His dad is dead.  His uncle Scar, who killed Mufasa and is now ruling the deteriorating Pride Lands, intimidates him.

With the help of Rafiki, the sage mandrill, Simba gets his mojo back.  He is a leader and has royal blood in him.  He cannot escape the role of destiny except at the peril of those counting on him.

So he returns to the Pride Lands.  There he overthrows the illegitimate ruler, corrupt Uncle Scar.  And assumes his rightful throne upon Pride Rock.

People are counting on you.  And you have what it takes to bring order, peace, direction and security to those who are watching you.  And looking to you.  Remember who you are….

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Guys and Traditional Maleness

frank_sinatra_2Some time ago, my wife and I had a compelling conversation over eggplant parmigiana:

Alpha males.

The term alpha male is a recent innovation, but the idea is well-known.  Like Justice Potter Stewart’s answer when asked to describe obscenity, he answered, “I can’t tell you what obscenity is but I know it when I see it.”  You know an alpha male when you see him.

Popular culture has given us worthy exemplars of the alpha male.  Steve McQueen.  John Wayne.  Clint Eastwood.  Frank Sinatra (pictured above).  All are established icons of time-honored maleness.  They were guys.   More recently, Liam Neeson and Russell Crowe.

When I asked Kath what defines an alpha male more than anything, she answered, “Confidence.  He’s comfortable with himself and owns his space.”

That really got my attention, coming from someone I know better than anyone on earth, a gal who doesn’t fail to speak her mind candidly.

An alpha male:

  • Is confident in his own abilities.  One proof is he doesn’t need to announce it.  He knows what he can and cannot do.
  • Is decisive.  He makes a decision, usually with dispatch, and then sticks with it.
  • Has drive and a spine–testosterone and iron will.
  • Doesn’t run for shelter and sympathy when the going gets tough.
  • Is not given to self-pity, especially displays of it.  Corollary to that is he doesn’t shift blame and takes a beating if he’s earned it.
  • Can defend himself intellectually or physically.  This makes women feel very safe and is quite a turn-on.
  • Will mask his fears even when afraid.  It’s Leadership 101.  Combat veterans understand this well.
  • Is not a poser.  Nor is he arrogant (an advertisement saying “I’m insecure”).
  • Walks into a room and leads.  He’s not looking for a leader.  He is one.  Frank Sinatra was king here.  It’s no wonder one of his nicknames was “Chairman of the Board.”
  • Aren’t desperately seeking people’s approval or permission to live life and forge ahead.
  • Is not metrosexual, though he dresses well and smells nice.  The idea of effeminacy makes him recoil.
  • Knows exactly what he wants and goes after it, come hell or high water.

The world awaits a tidal wave of return to traditional maleness–leadership, passion, decisiveness, direction and purpose.

So does your family.

And so does your woman.

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Remember Who You Are….

This world has always needed leaders.  Men and women aware of both the time and need into which they were born and live.  The grace to lead well is given to some more than others.  Today, in some ways like no other time that has preceded it, the world is looking for leaders.  Individuals who will show the way.  Who will stand up, even while feeling afraid, and give direction, security, competence and solace.

As I have grown older, I find that I am given strength and grace to lead.  I don’t, however, have grace to cower, shrink away, idle away the hours and live for me.  My agenda.  My plans for a content life without taking those who know me into account.  “My World and Welcome to It” is a fine motto for a ‘60’s TV sitcom.  But it ill becomes a leader, who is supposed to embody–to one degree or another–selflessness.  Sacrifice.  It’s not about me.  Nor about you.

I’ve been struck over and over again by the children’s movie The Lion King.  One scene in particular.  Simba, heir to Mufasa and kingship of the Pride Lands, has run away from his home and sphere after the death of his father.  Afraid.  He takes up a worry-less, footloose-and-fancy-free existence.  Hakuna Matata.  No worries.

But the call of leadership niggles at him.  His father appears to him in a dream and says, “Simba, remember who you are!”  Simba is afraid.  His dad is dead.  His uncle Scar, who killed Mufasa and is now ruling the deteriorating Pride Lands, intimidates him.

With the help of Rafiki, the sage mandrill, Simba gets his mojo back.  He is a leader and has royal blood in him.  He cannot escape the role of destiny except at the peril of those counting on him.

So he returns to the Pride Lands.  There he overthrows the illegitimate ruler, corrupt Uncle Scar.  And assumes his rightful throne upon Pride Rock.

People are counting on you.  And you have what it takes to bring order, peace, direction and security to those who are watching you.  And looking to you.  Remember who you are….

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I LIKE Bill Hybels. Here’s Why.

“Leadership in church is one of the biggest challenges that the Church is facing because without strong leadership, the church rarely lives out its redemptive potentials.” (Bill Hybels)

I have been a student and disciple of Bill Hybels for many years.  There’s a reason for this.  To be sure, Bill has been the brunt of a lot of criticism for his church—Willow Creek Community Church of North Barrington, IL—and their “seeker sensitive” approach to guiding irreligious people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.  At times I criticized Bill for what I thought his approach to seeker-sensitivity meant.  I was way off mark.  I regret that now.

Here are some things I’ve learned from Bill:

  • It was Bill who turned me on to the concept of delayed gratification and the writings of M. Scott Peck, chiefly The Road Less Traveled.
  • Bill has exemplified, year in and year out, the concept of the disciplined life.  He runs religiously, now in his mid fifties.  He applies the same discipline to journaling, sermon preparation, budgeting and time management.
  • He is a man of heart.  You only have to watch or listen to him but a little to realize that, though he doesn’t take himself too seriously, he takes lost and hurting people very seriously.
  • Bill, more than any evangelical leader of his stature (his church numbers north of 20K), realizes it is not about him and really eschews the whole self-promotion toxin that comprises so much of American public life.
  • Bill is intensely practical, a man’s man and down-to-earth.  I like that.  A lot.
  • He has a summer residence in South Haven, MI–a town I lived in from 1967-69.  He has that same kinship for the eastern shore of Lake Michigan as did my family.

Check out his books.  They are down-to-earth and well-written.  Among my favorites are Courageous Leadership and Honest to God?

Don’t waste your time with the critics.  Go to the source.  Read Bill.  You’ll be all the better for it.

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