July 17, 2014

On Leadership


xperience is the greatest teacher. And those deep thinkers with hard earned knowledge gained through experience are the best advisors, coaches and consultants.


Bullfight critics, ranked in rows,

Crowd the enormous plaza full.

But only one is there who knows,

And he’s the man that fights the bull. ~ Anonymous


It is said that John F. Kennedy carried the poem above in his wallet and referred to it often. It serves as a reminder of the enormous value of experience, what it is to know, and the gift ofempathy.


The subject of leadership has been written about for millennia, spans thousands of volumes and has received the attention of some of the greatest thinkers in history. But for every great thinker, and every great doer of deeds there is a charlatan masquerading as a consultant, operator, or academic suggesting a “simple, can’t lose multi-step process” to ensure successful leadership. The twitter-verse is filled with links to five, seven, and nine step programs to improve leadership. The great thinkers knew and know better.

This, I believe: too many professionals in positions of authority abdicate their leadership responsibilities to mass-produced “systems” and “processes” concocted by quick fix specialists that are long on rhetoric and short on experience. Having spent a quarter century squarely in the arena of experience, I believe at the core of success rests sound execution guided by principled, empathetic leadership fueled by wisdom.


“It’s a wonderful ecstatic feeling to create something and put it into the pool of human experience and knowledge.” ~ Steve Jobs


Create, Contribute, and Inspire: A true leader has many responsibilities, chief among them is to create, contribute, and inspire. Such a noble charter demands a unique combination of reason’s intellectual rigor and intuition’s knowing, collectively wisdom. I like to think of wisdom as a simply expressed equation:

Wisdom = (Reason + Intuition) * Experience.

Fueled by experience, the combination of reason and intuition results in a measure of wisdom. The key multiplier in my simple formula is experience, particularly experience embraced by its benefactor to inform and advance one’s ability to intelligently and confidently combine reason and intuition to solve problems, overcome challenges, innovate, create, and contribute.

Wisdom + Empathy = Leadership. Unfortunately, leadership is often discussed in the context of “systems”, “organizational structure”, and “processes” that serve to demote people to “FTEs”, “cogs in the machine” or even more dismissive, “bodies”. But if you peek into an organization with great leadership such terms will never be found. In their place you will find empathy – a true appreciation and understanding of people and the unique nature, needs, and perspectives of individuals.

The most successful leaders and coaches have all embraced the fact that each individual is different and the pathway to great success is found by understanding how to fit individuals together to render a whole greater than the sum of the parts. Molding, sculpting, and facilitating human potential is truly a creative endeavor that combines wisdom and empathy. Technologies, organizational structures, processes, and systems are useful tools to facilitate innovation and success. But they are simply tools. Please do not mistake them for the answer. Rather, the answer rests with an understanding of the individuals that comprise your team (empathy) and the wisdom to find and cultivate their collective potential. After all, they are the ones who get the job done.


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