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What Are Your Leadership Derailers?

Here’s the thing: we all want to be better leaders. But too often we focus on what to do as leaders while neglecting what not to do. That’s where leadership derailers come in—the things that take us off track and inhibit our leadership effectiveness. If we want to be good leaders, we must be aware of our derailers and begin working on them. “Most books about leadership tell us what a person ought to do to become effective and powerful. Few tell us what to avoid. But the latter may be even more valuable because many people on the road to

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Why Leaders Can’t Be Loners

Early in my business career, I was a loner. I worked hard and was polite to others, but I never connected with colleagues. I never opened up to reveal what I was feeling. It was all business. I kept my head down and “nose to the grindstone.” I had done well in college and grad school that way, so I just carried it on. I never gave much thought about why I should relate more deeply to other people. That approach was a failure. As a loner, all the work I did fell on me. As a classic overachiever, I

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Ethical Leadership: Our Gamechanger

(This presentation was given on April 27, 2022, by Bob Vanourek at the University of Denver’s Elevate Ethics 2022 Event, hosted by the Daniels College of Business and the Institute for Enterprise Ethics.) “Elevate Ethics.” What a wonderful title. I want to speak tonight about ethical leadership, my passion. How can we be more ethical in today’s world? Why are ethics important? Whose ethics? And just what are ethics anyway? I hope to encourage all of us to strengthen our ethical foundations. My interest in ethical leadership started in my first job. We young MBAs were doing things I felt

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Five Letters You Should Write

In his book, The Five Letters Every Christian Should Write: Reflections on Life, Death, and Spirit in the Age of Covid, a close family friend, Rev. David E. Gray, Senior Pastor of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, recommended readers write a letter to their parents, God, a significant person, a future generation, and oneself. With my son Gregg’s encouragement, I wrote those letters over the course of a year to my parents, who died too early in the 1960s; to God; to my dear wife, June; to the next generations; and to myself. I was deeply moved by this and found

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Lead by Leading

  (Guest article by Bill Thompson.) Leadership occupies the vast space between that which is clearly right and clearly wrong. The result often is indecision and inaction at the highest levels of organizations. This failure of leadership can be catastrophic, and often is. While most are familiar with the high failure rate of businesses during the early years (nearly 80% by the second year), many do not know that established businesses, even those with ten years of operating history still have a greater than one in three chance of failure. Businesses that have operated for 20 years remain at a

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How to Become a Better Servant Leader

Decades ago, Robert Greenleaf articulated one of the most important leadership frameworks in history: “servant leadership.” Greenleaf described the essence of this counterintuitive approach here: “The servant leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.” -Robert Greenleaf According to this framework, the only people who can determine if you’re a leader are those who freely and knowingly choose to

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Boards and Servant Leadership

Writing a half-century ago, Robert Greenleaf already saw a new and more active role for board members.* In his groundbreaking book, Servant Leadership, Greenleaf had a chapter on “Trustees as Servants.” He wrote: “This chapter is an argument in support of trustees choosing to be servants.” Greenleaf felt organizations (and their boards) were underperforming: “… the best of our institutions is too far below what is reasonable and possible.… The conventional trustee role may be described as a reacting role. In such a reacting role, trustees usually do not initiate or shape the character of the institution, nor do they

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Why Maximizing Shareholder Value is Wrong

A big debate has been raging about the purpose of business for decades. Two opposing theories dominate the discussion: shareholder primacy theory and stakeholder theory. How does Robert Greenleaf’s servant leadership framework fit with these models?   Shareholder Primacy Theory In 1970, Milton Friedman (a noted conservative economist at the University of Chicago) wrote an influential New York Times Magazine essay, “A Friedman Doctrine: The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.” He argued that a company’s only responsibility is to its shareholders who “own the business.” Friedman wrote: “The stockholders or the customers or the employees could

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Unleashing Leaders in Your Organization

In his classic essay, “The Servant as Leader,” Robert Greenleaf (creator of the servant leadership framework), wrote the following: “Anyone can lead…. There is a problem of getting used to the idea of no single chief, but the passage of time will allay that.” -Robert Greenleaf  This short statement has profound implications.   Empowerment Historically, the person at the top of the organizational hierarchy was the boss whose word was virtually absolute. Over time, as management and leadership practices evolved, “empowerment” of others became a trend. “Collaboration” gained prominence. But a boss who collaborates may still be the boss, kindly

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The Paradoxes of Servant Leadership

Leadership is rife with paradoxes, seemingly self-contradictory statements that may nonetheless be true. We see this in the servant leadership framework as well as other approaches.   The Servant-as-Leader Paradox In his biography of Robert Greenleaf (originator of servant leadership), author Don Frick said: “Servant and leader are two nouns which usually describe two quite different roles. The hyphen holds them together in paradox, creating a Zen-like koan which stops the reader as he or she considers how two such dissimilar words could go together. Greenleaf was fully aware of this effect and wanted the reader to complete the meaning.

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