A sociologist was researching the long-term effects of family violence. He interviewed two sons of an alcoholic and highly abusive father. Both brothers were now in their sixties. One son looked back on a life of alcoholism, violence, failed marriages, joblessness, prison terms, suicide attempts, and poverty. The other son was a very successful lawyer. He had a close, loving family. He was a teetotleer who kept himself in top physical shape. In separate interviews, the researcher asked each son how they explained the direction their lives had taken. They both gave essentially the same answer, “You’d turn out this way too if you had a father like mine.”

Anyone who refuses to succumb to the highly contagious Victimitis Virus and takes initiative to improve their organization, family, community, or life is a leader. Successful leaders face the same confusing and changing circumstances as everyone else. But a leader doesn’t just follow the crowd that drifts down the road of discouragement and mediocrity. Leaders choose where they want to go and then blaze a trail to get there. This is something I’ve come to call “self-determination.” The thousands of choices and daily decisions of our yesterdays have accumulated and determined where we are today. If we want to change where we’ll be tomorrow, we’ll have to make different choices today.

Is Your Luck Running Amok?

“People who want milk should not seat themselves in the middle of a field in hope that a cow will back up to them.” — Elbert Hubbard

Some people and organizations get lucky. They happen to be in the right place at the right time. Just showing up made them successful. The rising tide of economic growth or their industry’s expansion raised their boats high in the water. Or they developed a technology, product, or expertise that has the world beating a path to their door (at least until other mouse traps become available). Many of these one dimensional organizations succeed (for awhile) despite themselves. The people heading these organizations then go on to confuse their good luck with good leadership.

Uncontrolled luck does play a part. The kind of luck effective leaders depend upon was well described by Stephen Leacock; “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it. ” I find that the harder I work at developing people, the luckier I get at finding a committed, motivated team. The harder we work at serving our Clients, the luckier we get with repeat business and referrals. The harder I work at loving Heather, the luckier I am in falling into a great marriage. The harder I work at growing up with our kids, the luckier I am at getting their respect and trust. The harder I work at defining and working toward my life vision, principles, and purpose, the more lucky breaks come my way. The harder I work at community involvement, the luckier I am in happening into a great city. The harder I work to enrich and develop myself, the luckier I am in having a fulfilling life. The more I look after my body with good food, exercise, and rest, the luckier my health seems to be.

Every effective leader became so through luck. All he or she had to do was work long hours, pay attention to customers, set and maintain a strong personal and organizational vision and purpose, get passionate about their work, build partnerships with people and treated them like trusted adults, set and follow an aggressive personal and organization improvement plan, align systems and processes, keep developing their skills, set clear priorities and use their time well, discipline themselves to follow through, stay flexible and look for innovative new breakthroughs, celebrate and reward success along the way, make the rules rather than play by them, and learn how to communicate. After that, success was just luck.