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Are You Strong Enough to Be a ‘Voice of One’?

You’re sitting in a meeting with your colleagues. They all agree on a course of action you sense is wrong. It’s not illegal, but it certainly doesn’t feel right. Do you speak up?   You Will Be Tested No matter what field you work in, you will be tested with ethical challenges or dilemmas. You’ll see something disturbing. Or you’ll be asked or pressured to do something you sense is wrong. Do you speak up and refuse or go along? Bob had that happen early in his career. He was a new General Manager of a division of a large

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body chalk outline

Taking Casualties–No Jerks Allowed

What do you do when one of your star performers, the best salesperson, or the brilliant technical expert is a jerk? Even worse, more than a jerk, your star performer is a dirtbag who lies, abuses others verbally, or worse? Or cheats to land a bonus? What do you do? We’ve seen this too many times. Too often, we fear making a mistake because we feel so much past, current, and future success is directly due to the “star.” We tolerate it; we rationalize their behavior; we try to persuade the person to change. All to no avail.   Only

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Why Leaders Must Protect Mavericks

Tom Cruise’s 2022 reprise of his 1986 hit movie, Top Gun, has been a box office smash. Top Gun: Maverick has Cruise again playing Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a cocky, rule-breaking Navy test pilot. The elite naval aviation academy recruits Mitchell (Cruise) to train a group of younger top guns for a harrowing and almost-impossible aeronautical mission. It’s a great film. How does this relate to leadership? It raises a critical but poorly understood aspect of organizations: How to deal with mavericks? The mavericks in your organization deserve your attention and protection even if they’re not top gun superstars. They can

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steel and velvet

Steel and Velvet Leadership

In our book, Triple Crown Leadership, based on extensive research and interviews with leaders in 61 outstanding organizations in 11 countries, we identified five advanced leadership practices for building an organization or team that’s excellent, ethical, and enduring. One of these practices has most intrigued the leaders we work with. Here we elaborate on how you can “flex” your leadership style between the hard and soft edges of leadership, between what we call “steel and velvet.”   Steel Steel is the hard edge of leadership, demanding excellent results and insisting upon ethical and sustainable practices. Steel leadership uses the power

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Don’t Retire, Reawaken and Refire

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” -author unknown I have a new take to share on retirement. Search online about retirement and much advice will pop up. You’ll find advice about celebration, financial planning, hobbies, exercise, courses, bucket lists, disenchantment, and more. In 2015, Ken Blanchard co-authored the book, Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life. I agree that many people need to go beyond golf and playing cards at the club. They need to “refire.” I’ve failed at retirement several

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Why Are We Talking about Ethics?

There I was, giving a guest lecture on leadership at a European business school, when I got an intriguing question from a student in the back of the room: “Excuse me, why are we talking about ethics? This is a course about leadership.” I came to realize what a gift this question was. His question was so revealing about how we perceive business and leadership today. So revealing about the chasm between how people think about and practice leadership. And so revealing about things we can take for granted and miss if we’re not careful. The question created a teachable

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Bob Vanourek with weaknesses quote

Be Vulnerable: Turn Your Weaknesses into Something Good

Most of us are adept at hiding our weaknesses. I know I am. I’m getting better though. I’ve learned that being vulnerable by admitting my weaknesses often turns the situation around to something good.   People Already Know I discovered that many people already knew my weaknesses. It was obvious to them, even while I was working feverishly at hiding and self-deception. I was often the leader of many of these people, but they weren’t really sure if they could talk about my weaknesses to me directly. So, like me, they pretended to me that my flaws weren’t there. We

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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.” Since I had done well in college and grad school that way, 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. Leaders can’t be loners. Since I was a loner, all the work I did fell on

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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. As young MBAs, we were doing things I

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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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