Too many appointed leaders sit on the line and wait rather than taking the initiative and stepping up to make things happen. They follow someone else’s lead. Some slip down below the line and wallow in hopelessness and pessimism — which they’ll often call “being realistic.” They may be called “leaders” by their position. But their actions show they aren’t leading.

We all need to be leaders regardless of our organizational, family, or community position. This is a brief review of what living and leading above the line — leadership action — often looks like. It could be part of a year-end R & R (reflection and renewal) or “check-up from the neck up.”


Possibility Thinking: Spreading Hope and Optimism

Leaders make us hopeful. Whether leading ourselves, our families, our teams, organizations, or countries, when times are darkest, true leadership shines brightest. Leaders don’t sugarcoat or avoid facing tough problems head-on (the moose-on-the-table). Strong leaders inspire their co-workers, teams, associates, friends, or loved ones to be hopeful by focusing on what could be a counterbalance to what is.


The Lift Gift: Encouraging, Supporting, and Helping

‘Tis the season of gifts and giving. The warmth and good cheer of the Holiday Season can be a reminder of how giving and helping others can really help us, too. Leaders develop and bring out the best in people.

When our youngest daughter, Vanessa, was 20 years old, she provided some tough love to a friend who helped him get his life on track. The experience gave Vanessa and me a chance to talk about and reflect on the power of encouraging, supporting, and helping others.


Speed Traps: Lead Smarter, Not Faster

I once sat through an author’s frantic, high-energy presentation on knowledge management. He deluged us with a flood of statistics showing how the world’s knowledge was growing at mind-blowing rates. The gist of his presentation was that we need to re-train our brains to absorb more information at faster rates so we can cram even more stuff in our craniums.

Beware of this lethal speed trap! He’s peddling dangerous advice, leading to high stress, reduced effectiveness, and exhaustion. In these times of light-speed change, we must get off the ever-accelerating treadmill before we burn out — or burst a blood vessel! A dangerous speeding trap is taking care of busyness and working overtime.


Three Questions at Our Leadership Core

Our energy force field vibrates from the core of who we are. That core is formed by what we focus on, and the context of our lives, team, or culture. We call this central leadership principle Focus and Context.

I’ve been caught up in lots of debates over the years on definitions of organizational vision, values, and purpose/mission. Whatever they might be called, the key questions forming our Focus and Context are:

  • Where are we going?
  • What do we believe in?
  • Why do we exist?


Smartening Up: Boost Emotional Intelligence

We can improve our EQ at any time in our lives. In one study at Case Western Reserve University, Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) students were given Emotional Intelligence training (not a normal part of most very analytical M.B.A. programs). In follow-up studies for years after the program, some students had raised their EQ scores by 40 percent.


Living in the Leadership Grey Zone

A great deal of destruction and disaster in organizations, relationships, families, religions, and throughout societies comes from the intolerance and inflexibility of immature “leaders” who believe there are clear right and wrong answers to most situations. Their harsh and judgmental positions usually come from a place of fear.

Living in the gray zone between black and white is a sign of maturity.


Play to Your Strengths

Focusing on our weaknesses and what’s missing causes us to hold on to past failures and shortcomings for far too long. The longer we hold on, the heavier those burdens become. As we do, we fantasize and magnify those weaknesses. We make the proverbial mountain out of a molehill. Dwelling on weaknesses and all that we’ve failed to accomplish is deadly to our health, happiness, relationships, performance, and just about everything else in our lives.


Courageous Leadership: Stretching Our Comfort Zone

Courage is the foundation of leadership. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, believed courage was the foundation of all human virtues because it made the others possible. Our progress up the leadership stairway is determined by the extent of our courage. Are we continually stretching our comfort zone? Are we ready to address personal and professional obstacles blocking our growth? To live and lead above the line we must listen to our inner voice and act on the courage of our convictions.


Upward Leadership

It’s much easier to be positive when we have an optimistic, supportive, and highly effective boss. But you may have a boss who needs a surge protector to buffer his or her mouth from emotional outbursts. Or a windsock outside his or her office to gauge abrupt changes in direction. It takes courage, skill, and Emotional Intelligence to practice upward leadership when we have a weak or a bad boss.


Mastering or Mastered by Your Technology?

Electronic tools can enhance connections, build relationships, and improve time effectiveness. Electronic tools can also replace true communication with information overload, damage relationships, and overwhelm our day.

Technology can become vampires sucking our vital time and energy. Are you managing, or managed by, e-mail?


Bouncing Back Above the Line

Life is full of problems, setbacks, and losses. That’s unavoidable. Misery, though, is optional. Failure can be a learning experience, or it can knock us into the swamp where we wallow and waste away. It all depends on how we frame the reality of our situation. Wallowers accentuate the negative and P themselves by making the setback permanent, pervasive, and personal. Bounce-back and resilience are vital to getting through tough times.

Leading means stepping up to rise above difficult challenges. To lead is to move forward with the conviction that “I am going to do something about this.” If it is to be, it’s up to me.