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Leadership Excellence: Attract and Retain Great People Part 2

So, talented people are breaking down your door. What do you do next? Back to basics. Forget about what other people say your applicants can do (their degrees and references) and forget about what they can persuade you they can do (their interview skills). What can they show you that they’ve done? What are the basic skills they actually need for their job? Tip: in a lot of cases, skills such as writing, reading, research skills, problem solving and constructive teamwork are things you actually need far more than any of the nonsense qualifications that usually adorn job notices.

So, give them some problem-solving assignments to allow them to demonstrate these qualities. Let them show how their skills and creativity can benefit you. All the people who spend their lives colouring inside the lines, all the people who get ahead by kissing asses, all the people who skated through higher education without learning basic skills can be quickly weeded out, leaving you with highly-motivated people ready to contribute.


How Not to Keep Good People Around

So, you’ve hired creative, talented people who are willing and able to improve your business… and slowly it dawns on them that they won’t be allowed to do that. Maybe it’s a problem of bureaucracy, poor business processes, or simply poor leadership.

Well, that’s no biggie for the employee. Statistics overwhelmingly show that we are living in a post-loyalty economy. The workforce has finally woken up to the fact that, with the era of stable employment ended due to the bottomless stupidity of corporations, they really have no reason to be loyal to any organisation that isn’t loyal to them. If you won’t let them move forward, they’re not going to stick around.

You may have seen and, no doubt, been on the receiving end of some of the many, many ways in which organisations of every kind squelch or drive out talent. Make a note of these self-destructive behaviours, not only to avoid them when you find yourself in a leadership position, but to know when to jump ship when you see them happening around you:

Overloading your team with menial admin: If you can’t keep the administrative burden contained and within the purview of those individuals who have the talent for dealing with it, don’t expect your people to get anything done.

Poor incentive structure: If your people can’t grow with their contributions, the organisation’s finished. Even in a small business, the employees should grow with the business they’re helping to build. You need to make sure that people get both recognition and remuneration proportionate to their contributions, and above all, that credit is not stolen by their superiors. In many organisations, people who are “politically adept” (I believe that’s the PC term for “slimy”) advance, while the competent and talented (read “too honest”) are left behind. Tap into that pool, and see the difference it makes.

Giving people jobs they’re not suited for: People must be able to build careers where their talent and passion lies, and not shunted into something they hate. Even within the same position, employees may find themselves loaded down with jobs that have nothing to do with what they signed up for.

Constant changes of direction: Even in a rapidly-changing economy, you need to give your people a reliable direction and long-term goals to invest their time in. If you’re always reactively changing direction, if the ground is always shifting under their feet, they’ll just give up trying.

Failure to invest in training: If you want the talents of your people to grow (and some HR departments don’t, lest they ask for more money- you can’t have your cake and eat it too), you have to let them continue their training and form connections in the industry.

These are only the problems that directly affect career motivation. This list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface on the many other ways in which poor leadership and defective organisational culture collude to crush the morale of employees (Heck, that’s a whole other list with 45 bullet points!).

But the central and most basic cultural problems that drive away talent are a top-down command structure and a cheap-labour approach.

A top-down hierarchical structure is very efficient for producing cars on an assembly line, but for most emerging businesses, it is a talent-squelching liability. Have you ever had a boss who pretended to consult you on some problem and then did the opposite of what you told him was the only sane option? Or announced a major change of direction as a fait accompli?

The problem with both the top-down structure and the cheap-labour approach is that while both temporarily make things simpler and cheaper for management, the organisation will not grow or improve. Management will never know what contributions their employees could have made, because they actively deter them from trying to contribute.

But if you’re among the leaders who’ve realised that the only way forward in the modern world is to make full use of the talents of your people, then you have to meet them half way. If you want them to be loyal, you have to start by being loyal to them. Your people and their talents should be the source and driver of your growth and your direction, and they need the leeway and the incentives to do that.


The video above applies to a millennial retention effort, although clearly its effects go beyond just that generation. But as you watched it, you may have been thinking, “Here’s a company that half gets it, but only half.” They’re certainly trying to create a pleasant work environment. But that is only half the battle. You can pile on all the cakes you want, but core question for any talented person is, “Are my talents producing positive impact, or are they being wasted?”

You may have experienced organisations that hire “change consultants” to mollify their workforces during a restructuring process. But the problem isn’t the employees’ fear of change. They should be the drivers of change, not its victims. Their ideas and initiatives should be a permanent and abiding source of adaptation for the organisation. This is the bottom line. If your employees aren’t being allowed to contribute on that level, then their talent is going to waste.


Teach a Company to Fish…

Every one of you will at some point be in a leadership position, whether in business, the public sector, non-profits or elsewhere. The single most important thing you can do as a leader is attract and retain talented, competent, creative people with the capacity to improve your business.

In order to do that, you need to recognise all of the poor leadership you’ve ever been subjected to for what it really is- the baggage of a bygone era. If you can engage the creative genius of your people from the beginning of the search process and sustain that engagement throughout their time with you, then talent will flock to you. Remember, it’s all about the basics- not management and employee, but what we can create together.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger
~ Anthony S. Rodger, M.A.

Leadership Excellence: Attract and Retain Great People Part 1

Whether you own a small business or work for a large company, non-profit or simply volunteer in your community, chances are you will find yourself having to lead and possibly recruit other people. Attracting and retaining talent is a huge issue for every type of organisation out there, and a big trouble spot for many corporate balance sheets.

So whether you’re wondering why:

• You’ve become “aggressively disinterested” in your own workplace, or…
• You can’t find a workplace you like, or…
• All the most talented people you’re trying to hire are yawning during their job interviews,

…just read on!



Bad Advice

Naturally, there’s a ton of advice to be found on this subject. Unfortunately, most of it is bad.

Why? Because it’s pretty much all grounded in the nineteenth century idea that employees are basically commodities to be selected from a list of requirements, used and disposed of- an attitude implicit in the term “Human Resources”. People working from this point of view try to slap all kinds of fancy new features on this crashed operating system, from open-concept workplaces to new recruitment initiatives for millennials to social media network-based recruitment. This keeps consultants busy, but the point they’re all missing is that the Human Resources approach is based on a self-defeating premise. But that’s alright, because there’s an analogue solution of elegant simplicity.

Back to Basics

If you really want to excel at drawing talented people to you, motivating them and getting them to stick around, there’s no getting around the fact that you have to dump this industrial-age claptrap. The emerging economy is starting to punish organisations that objectify their workforces, and so is the talent pool.

So, what’s the alternative? Let’s go back to basics for a moment. Forget for about organisations, companies, employers and employees. Let’s assume that none of those concepts exist, and your sole job is facilitation. Human beings are by nature creators, as well as beings with needs and wants. When you approach anyone, you should have two questions:
– What do you [want to] create?
– What do you most need or want?

Talk to enough people, you can begin to match the creative talent to the people who want what it produces, and to the people who can collaborate to make it better. Sounds almost too simple, right? And it would- after a couple of centuries’ worth of industrial propaganda, we can hardly remember a time when human beings worked for their own and each others’ benefit and not for the benefit of the company, the shareholders or some other organisation.

The truth is that the best leaders can take this approach and make it practical and profitable for everyone.

What Not To Do

As you may have seen, when many organisations go talent-hunting, the first thing they do is make a shopping list, representing an imaginary ideal array of traits, experience and training that their ideal employee should have. They then devise a series of hoops through which their candidates must jump to demonstrate that they meet these criteria. They are, in effect, looking for their perfect commodity and testing to make sure they’ve got it, much as an aerospace company might test a new alloy.

The moment you take this approach, you’re setting yourself up for failure. All you’ve done is create a series of barriers that prevent you from actually getting to know your potential coworkers and letting them get to know what you’re all about. Why do we say that? Because all those qualifications and years of experience don’t represent ability. They’re conventionalised proxies for ability, just as interviews and tests are proxies for workplace competence. None of these things guarantees you’ll get the people who can do the job well, let alone the people who can drive your organisation forward. All this process guarantees is an increasingly cynical talent pool exhaustedly jumping through your hoops without any idea of whether or not you’re actually what they’re looking for.

Worse, that list of requirements is not based on what’s possible. It’s based on preconceptions about what your organisation does now and how it does it. It’s an approach designed to fit a new cog into the machine. If you really want to get ahead, you need the people who can transform whatever processes you assign them to oversee. You need people whose ideas and efforts can help you grow, not remain static.

Two related problems with this approach are over-pitching and feathering. Over-pitching means requiring qualifications, experience and talent you won’t be able to fully utilise in the position. You can guarantee that anyone whose talents you can’t utilise fully is going to leave as soon as possible. Feathering means adding requirements that aren’t objectively necessary to be able to do the job, but serve to exclude a great deal of the talent that’s out there. If the people who would be willing to do the job, feel themselves able to do it, but don’t have those extraneous qualifications are driven away, and those who do have the qualifications look and say “What? I could do so much more,” who are you left with?

Check any job board – it’s guaranteed, there will be dozens of postings that have hung around for months or years because of feathering. You have to be willing to take in and train people new to your industry, especially for the lower level jobs, because, and I can’t emphasise this enough, the people with experience don’t need to put up with morons who think that an MA in economics and five years’ experience is necessary to push paper and write e-mails.

Who to Hire and How

So, if the old process in all of its incarnations doesn’t work, then what does? Again, back to basics. What does your organisation/company need? What does it want to build? What are its core principles? What are yours? Anyone who looks at their organisation and says “This is good like it is” either doesn’t care anymore or is comfortable and incompetent. There’s always room for growth and improvement. If you want to find talent, then tell the world what you want to do and why. Tip: “We want to increase our profit margins because money is good,” and “We want to execute someone else’s policies ‘cause, like, they pay us” are both wrong answers. If your mission is inspirational, people will break down your doors with good ideas that they want to contribute. If you can’t do that, then give people a problem to solve, a process to improve. Engage their creativity, and they’ll come.

In Part-2, we’ll cover the all-important next phase: what to do when those talented people start banging on your door. Yes, that’s a great position for you to be in as an organisation, but ONLY if you know how to handle it…

Can Leadership Be Taught?

Turn up your speakers… or just read on!

MP3 File

Before you begin reading this post or listening to the audio version, I must warn you it is not for everyone. If you are someone who cannot bear a politically incorrect word or if you live life well within your own comfort zone, what you’re about to hear may very well offend you.

The words of this post will test your dedication to becoming a RESILIENT person. What is a resilient person? Quite simply, it’s someone who is on the way to becoming a true human being, to exploring and living out the full potential of a being created in the divine image. And every resilient person is, in fact, a warrior, because no one can overcome the barriers that stand between mediocrity and resilience without great courage.
Every resilient person is also a leader. First and foremost they are leaders of their own lives – they know who they are, what they stand for and where they’re going. And it’s because and only because they know these things, that they’re fit to lead others.
Why is leadership so critically important for you? Because it’s impossible to become a resilient person or to help others attain resilience otherwise. Until you develop the qualities of a leader – on fire with an inspiring vision, living by noble principles, genuinely caring for others and dedicated to brutal honesty in all things – you’re as handicapped in your pursuit of a better life as a three-legged horse would be at the Kentucky Derby.
The Few:
How do we recognize such people? If you personally know even one or two such people, you’re truly blessed, because they are very few and far between. You’ll recognize them because they will inspire and motivate you without even trying. They’ll make you feel glad to be alive and enthusiastic about the challenges to come. You’ll notice they serve a purpose far greater than their own self-interest, they live by principles rather than their own convenience and they can be relied upon one hundred percent of the time to give and demand brutal honesty and truth. That’s why the cowards who surround them call them disruptive and “loose cannons”, considering them dangerous and inconvenient.
At least, that’s what they said about people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and many others.
Of course, the few are “dangerous”. You see, the few have no interest in the artificial rules or the polite lies that all of society wallows in. They’re completely committed to what’s real. They have no interest in comfort, in playing it safe, or in avoiding the tough decisions. No, they’ll jump in with both feet, knowing that audacity will always rule the day and snatch the victory.
The few don’t waste their energy trying to perpetuate ossified institutions or obsolete social structures and decorum. Gandhi didn’t have the social standing to lead India to independence, nor did he have any interest in perpetuating the social evil of untouchability. The few are far too focused on the magnificent possibility they see in their mind’s eye to bother with such things. And this passion that enflames their very souls is contagious – you can’t talk to one of these people about their passion without coming away with some of that flame yourself… if, of course, they think you’re worthy to hear about it.
The Many:
The many are quite different. Why do we call them “the many”? Simply because at least ninety-five percent of the people around you fall into this category. Now don’t get me wrong – the “many” can be perfectly nice people. They can be your neighbors, your colleagues, members of your church and community and you can be very happy with them. Yet however pleasant your social interactions with them may be, they are not leaders, no matter how prominent they may appear.
Despite this, they constitute well over ninety-five percent of the so-called “leaders” in our society – our politicians, our managers and bosses, and the leaders of our religious institutions. And that’s only natural since, unlike true leaders, they actively seek the limelight.
Why is that? Ultimately, it’s because they live for themselves, not for any higher purpose (despite any claims they might make to the contrary). They’re not dedicated to any great and inspiring vision, which explains why, as “leaders”, they’re totally unable to inspire their subordinates to follow them. Part of the reason is because they consider themselves superior to their underlings, they value control over collaboration and stability over results. They’re really just functionaries, rather than leaders and, to them, the process is the product.
They live well within their comfort zones and see preserving the status quo as a sacred duty, even when the status quo is a total betrayal of the principles they make such a fuss about adhering to. But that’s something they’ll never admit to themselves, let alone to you. So life among the many leaves you swimming in a sea of lies and half-truths so bewildering it will have you questioning your own sanity.
The Crisis:
In the life of every institution, community, group or team there always comes a crisis. And crisis is most useful because it lays bare for all to see who is willing to call a spade a spade, to stand up and be counted, rather than cower in the corner and submit to a lie for the sake of personal convenience.
That’s why it’s so often said that you only know who your real friends are when things go wrong.
That’s what makes crisis such a great gift – it sorts out who’s who with all the accuracy of the “sorting hat” in Harry Potter. It also explains why the literal translation of the word “crisis” is so bang on – you see, the ancient Greek word “Krisis” means “judgment”, and every crisis is precisely that. It divides the resilient from the weak, the courageous from the cowards, the leaders from the functionaries and the visionaries from those who play it safe.
Of course, in rare cases a crisis can be the catalyst that propels a person to leave the many and join the few. The Lord of the Rings is a tale about exactly that: Frodo and his fellow Hobbits did not have to take the one ring back to Mordor at great personal risk, and we watch their inner debates unfold as they’re tempted to rejoin the “many” by giving up and going back to the Shire. Perhaps it’s the sure and certain knowledge that there won’t be an Shire left unless they persevere that saves them.
The Myth:
Of course, our governments, corporations and educational systems don’t want you to know all that and the reason is quite simple. Just ask yourself who runs those institutions… Instead, they tell you that anyone can become a leader through training, by acquiring the right “skill sets”.
In fact, that’s totally erroneous. The many are not the many because they lack certain life skills. The many are the many because on a level deep enough to remain hidden from the world and usually from themselves, the many are unwilling to put their well-being, their livelihood and ultimately their lives on the line. They have settled down to live with the mediocrity, the political correctness and the polite lies that pervade our everyday experience. Yes, they may be raising fine children, donating to charity and volunteering their time, but when the crisis comes, you’ll see them for who they are. And no amount of training will change that.
Take the typical corporate manager. Training in leadership, change management, team building or whatever else can no more turn this person into a leader than it can change their racial DNA from Caucasian to Negro or Oriental to Caucasian. You see, leadership, like resilience itself, is not primarily a skill set. The “many” can never become leaders by learning “skills”; they can only become leaders by doing one thing…
Repenting. That’s right. Until such a person decides that personal integrity means more to them than life itself, they cannot be taught. You see, the fundamental dividing line between the few and the many, between the leaders and the functionaries, is precisely a matter of character, of virtue.
The many can think of lots of things to live for, but only the few believe that there are some things worth dying for.
In the words of Star Trek’s fictional Klingon general Chang, so ably portrayed by the great Shakespearean actor Christopher Plumber, as he addresses a group of elite recruits:
“You have surpassed your peers to earn a place within this distinguished hall. Yet I tell you now, this is not enough. In the days to come, you will be tested, well beyond your current limitations. I am not interested in the names of your fathers, nor in your family’s lineage. What I am interested in is your breaking point. How will you conduct yourselves in battle? How far will you go to preserve your honor, to fulfill your duty? These are simple questions that will decide the fate of our empire.”
The crises you will inevitably face in daily life – at home, at work, in the society around you – these will test you beyond what you think you can handle. And every one of these crises will reveal one thing – whether you belong to the few or the many. Your social status, your previous achievements are irrelevant. Will you live with integrity or won’t you? Will you boldly proclaim the truth or indulge the lies of the many around you? Which will it be? You can’t fudge this – it’s one or the other. This is the battle. Will you preserve your honor and fulfill your duty to yourself and those who depend on you or will you not?
And it is not only your own fate on the line, it is ultimately the fate of your country and your whole civilization as well.
The Challenge:
Several years ago, a great financial scandal broke out in my Church, engulfing hundreds of communities throughout the United States and Canada. My bishop here in Canada had the temerity to stand in front of his people week after week and proclaim that nothing was wrong, that there were simply some “administrative difficulties”. By doing so he willingly participated in the cover up of a felony – the embezzlement of some two million dollars that had been earmarked for victims of 9/11, the Beslan massacre, the Armenian earthquake and similar tragic events. He also publicly besmirched the reputations of several people who were demanding an open investigation into the financial scandal, calling them “trouble-makers”.
Yet the majority of our people were not outraged or overly concerned. The “many” never are until it’s much too late. The “many” are like sheep that an unscrupulous “leader” can lead straight over a cliff. Only the “few” took action, often risking their status, their reputations and their livelihoods to tell the truth in the midst of endless lies, to demand openness in the midst of a cover-up and justice in the midst of criminality at the highest levels. As for myself, I was only marginalized and effectively booted out of my own parish for speaking out. Others suffered much more and for much longer. In the end we were vindicated, though not necessarily reinstated or recompensed.
Events like this are distressingly common – they’re taking place all around you and you have a choice to make. Will you tell the truth, live by your principles, and dedicate yourself and your energies to working toward a noble, inspiring and better future, or will you choose the easy way out?
Only you can answer that question. Behold, I have laid the challenge before you. Or rather, the challenge is constantly before you; I’ve simply brought it to your attention. Time to make a decision…
~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

The Life-Giving Principles of True Leadership

He who knows men is clever; he who knows himself has insight.  He who conquers men has force; he who conquers himself is truly strong.

-Lao Tzu




Are you seeing disastrous “leadership” around you, perhaps at your workplace or in other organizations you belong to, or in society at large?  Today we’re going to talk about WHY that happens and the critical principles of true leadership.  So if you’re looking at a case of incompetent or dishonest leadership and asking yourself that ever-important question (“What SHOULD this situation look like?”), today you’re going to find some help getting the answers you seek.

Are you yourself in a position of leadership?  Careful… don’t be too quick to say no!  As you’ll soon see, we’re all in at least one position of leadership and we need to make damn sure we get it right.  The keys are here…


The Leadership Difference

The manager views people as tools, “human resources,” bits of machinery to be procured according to standardized requirements and fit into an organizational structure.  It doesn’t matter whether the vision into which he tries to fit people is his own or someone else’s- the fact remains that the manager relates to his subordinates defensively, as cogs to be kept spinning and a potential source of problems to be contained.  Especially in the public sector and in high-functioning private-sector organizations, this process of containing employee problems has been developed into a fine art, replete with best practices and proper procedures- all of which is a good thing, as it smoothes the relationship between employer and employee and helps to ensure fairness.

But while leaders would do well to pay attention to best practices, there still remains a leap of consciousness to be made.  The leader first changes him- or herself to change the organization.  Where a new manager comes in with a new agenda, talking about “how things are going to be different now” and telling everyone what they have to do differently, a leader recognizes that for change to be real, it must start at the top.  From this realization, the defensive relationship of the manager to his pesky employees transforms into something very different.  A leader regards people not as interchangeable parts, but as living organisms whose growth will grow the organization.

The objective of a manager is to control and rationalize the people beneath him, to make them less of an obstacle to implementing the models he and the institution have devised.  The objective of a leader is to do everything possible to lead people to substantial achievement and to reward and empower them in order to drive greater achievement. 


Principles of Leadership


1. You create the organization you deserve.  The tone of the organization is set by the leader.  Subordinates are very attuned to the moods, attitudes and thought-patterns of their bosses, and will mirror them back.  From an energetic point of view, we could even call this entrainment- the boss’s energy sets the tone for the organization’s energy.

If the boss is energetic and optimistic, they will be energetic and optimistic.  If the boss is irresolute, they will be cowardly.  If unsure, they will be unsure.  If thoughtful of them, they will be thoughtful of him or her.  If the leader sets an example, her department heads will set examples.  If the leader gives, they will give. If he or she takes firm and considered decisions, so will they.  If a leader creates cliques, cliques will form against him.  If the person at the top micromanages, the entire organization will be choked as though by a suffocating fume as everyone tries to force everyone else to do everything the way they think it should be done.  An angry and frustrated CEO’s emotions will echo and amplify throughout the organization until it becomes a seething and intractable mass.  The successful leader takes full and personal responsibility for these dynamics at all times.

An organization is like a spaghetti noodle.  You have to pull it from the front- you can’t push it from behind.  Whatever you want done, you have to be the first to start.  Everything to do with mindset is key to leadership.  If the leader has an attitude of unrelenting positivity, a can-do attitude and a practical, constructive mind, then the organization will plough through setbacks like a hot knife through butter.


2. Responsibility travels up, credit travels down.  The healthiest corporate cultures are based on this principle, and every successful leader knows it.  When your subordinates have done something well, taken an extra step; they deserve the credit and tangible rewards.  When something goes wrong, you take responsibility.  Be lenient with subordinates and tough on superiors, and teach your subordinates to do the same.

There is nothing more demoralizing than to see upper management raking in the cash when they have steered a company to disaster and mass layoffs, while no one below ever gets a pay raise no matter what they do.  In organizations where this is the case, the resulting dysfunctionality hangs in the air like the stink of a dead woodchuck in the ducting.  A leader must take responsibility openly for his or her own failures and learn from them, or subordinates will not do so.


3. Respect your subordinates and share their conditions.  Any leader who approaches his subordinates as though entitled by his greater experience or achievements to some sort of reverence is setting himself up for failure.  Talk with your people, have lunch with them, stay in touch with their problems and concerns, and especially their goals and personal development.  If they have trouble at home or become ill, make sure you give them time to address it.  If they work late, you work late.  If they take a pay cut, so do you.  Erwin Rommel, the infamous “Desert Fox” of the Second World War, was one of the greatest generals of all time and earned the unrelenting loyalty of his men.  How?  When the going got tough, he refused to eat anything different from what his men had to eat.  He shared their conditions so he would always know how far they could go.  You must first be loyal to your people in order to gain loyalty from them.


4. Your first job is to grow people.  An organization that does not grow people does not grow or diversify.   Get to know your people.  Ask about their hopes, ask about their difficulties.  Find out what they need and give it to them.  Let them make their mistakes and learn their jobs.  Find out what they can and want to contribute and give them that opportunity.  Your people know their jobs, and as Adam Smith says, a person focused on a particular task will have the best ideas about how to make that task more efficient.  Reward them for good ideas.  Celebrate their achievements.  Give them as much responsibility and training as they can handle.  If you aren’t stretching your people’s abilities and giving them opportunities, they will stagnate.  A hinge that is used constantly doesn’t rust shut.

Your subordinates’ suggestions should be the basis for your greatest successes.  If you fear loss of control from this, do not even try to lead.  Retired US Navy Captain Michael Abrashoff, in his book It’s Your Ship: management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, describes how he got command of a ship which was just about on the verge of mutiny because of its previous commander’s poor leadership.  Abrashoff turned this around through a number of means, one of the most important being to reward the crew for good suggestions, a policy which ultimately made the ship the most efficient in the Navy.  Beyond that, he gave them a sense of purpose, of importance and responsibility.

Above all, find your people’s real talents (which are not necessarily the ones the hiring process cares about) and passions, and find a way to help them pursue them.  This is the shortcut to diversification and organizational growth.  If you do this habitually, you will never need to do anything more to motivate them or increase productivity.  Successful leaders look at the people and skills available to them and look for the best ways to utilize them.  The people and their skills should lead structure, not the other way around.  The more flexible you are around the talents your people bring to the table, the more your organization will prosper.


5. If you want trustworthy people, be trustworthy.  This means first of all being trustworthy in relationship to your subordinates.  If the organization cannot trust the sanity, impartiality and consistency of a leader’s reactions, they will not communicate with him, and in not trusting him, they will not support him, and in not supporting him, they will let him fail.  Be straightforward, and they will be straightforward with you.

A leader’s criteria for making key decisions, particularly personnel decisions, must always be openly stated, universally applied and transparent.  A leader may not serve his or her own agendas in dealing with her subordinates.  Rather, the leader must abide by clear and generally understood standards in personnel decisions.  Personnel decisions must be based on the central skills of the job.  Do not ever let personalities lead you to undeservedly favor someone or hold them back.  The leader who treats his organization like a club to be populated with congenial personalities will end up only with a crew of useless sycophants and yes-men.  A successful organization is not an alchemy of personalities, but a check and balance system of differing and talented personalities reinforcing one another’s blind spots and interacting in a courteous and professional manner.

A commander must be absolutely secure in his position, or if he is not, must act exactly as though he were.  To attempt to control communications among staff, to demonstrate inability to tolerate contradiction, to show passive aggression and make decisions based upon perceived personality issues, are all traits associated with insecure commanders and lead to breakdowns of morale and professionalism.

A leader may not under any circumstances denigrate any of his subordinates in front of another subordinate.  Never discuss the relative merits and demerits of your subordinates with anyone.  If possible, train yourself not even to think about these things.  Such opinions easily become self-fulfilling prophecies when you begin reacting differently to different people.  You will inhibit underappreciated subordinates from giving their best and perhaps demonstrating quality you do not see.

The Emperor Taizong, founder of the Tang Dynasty and widely regarded as one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history, not only required his officials to criticize him honestly, but rewarded them for doing so.

People feel trusted when they are given a responsibility and left to carry it out- a micromanager cannot create an atmosphere of trust.

Be honest with your people.  Simple honesty counts for a great deal.


6. Protect your people.  The job of a leader is to protect and represent his/her people.  There are three basic elements to this: protection from bureaucracy, protection from toxic influences, and protection from bad leaders.

People should always come before institution, unless the institution has principle on its side.  If institutional red tape or administrative nonsense is harming your people, you have a duty to represent their interests.  If, however, one of your subordinates has done something seriously wrong, you must not stop the truth from emerging.  This has been the institutional impulse in abuse cases in both the Canadian RCMP and the US military in recent years, greatly degrading the reputations of both institutions.

A good leader must never hesitate to weed out those who are doing manifest harm, are acting without professional courtesy on a regular basis, will not be educated and make themselves intolerable to their colleagues and subordinates.  If they are willing to learn and change after being confronted, fine.  But to protect them beyond the point where they have proven themselves unteachable is destructive of morale and cohesion.

Astonishingly bad and unprofessional managers survive because neither the institution nor their superiors have taken the necessary corrective measures.  It is essential to the health of every command structure that demotion always be on the table, not on a whim but as the inevitable answer to incompetence and the abuse of power.  Protecting your people means first and above all protecting them from the abuse of power in any form.


7. Teach your people by example to behave honorably, and you will be able to do anything.  A few weeks ago, we talked about principle and how it relates to business.  The first thing to know, then, is why you are in business.  What principles are at stake for you in that business, what values do you take pride in upholding?  If the answer is none, it’s time to think about a new profession.  The most motivated leaders proceed from a positive impact they wish to make on the world.

A leader needs a deep moral center, and must be answerable to it.  No institutionally-given principle can substitute for the inner grounding of comprehensive and constant moral exercise, and no leader can keep herself or her organization grounded without this inner light.

Never promise anyone anything unless as a general and permanent policy.  If you can do something for someone, do it.  If a reward is deserved, give it, though the recipient is your worst enemy.  This will win you the respect of everyone.

Never threaten anyone.  A threat which you may later regret or be unable to carry out shows weakness.  If you see something requiring punishment, punish with a fitting and proportionate punishment, your best friend just as your nemesis, thus showing impartiality.

Reward loudly, thank often, and make a point of looking forward to the person’s next achievement to create a positive attitude moving forward.  Discipline quietly and without undue demonstration.

Treasure your mavericks.  Exceptional people have low tolerances for institutional limitations.

Be without pretension, and prize substance over appearance.  You can have one or the other, in the same sense that a photon may be observed as a wave or a particle but not both.

Cultivate a sense of professionalism and pride in yourself and your people, and especially in dealing with clients.

Empty your sense of self and act as the leader who is responsible for your team, and you will not have to worry about making mistakes.

Prize truth for itself and stand up for your principles.  Doing this consistently will ground and cement your team with purpose in a way you can you can barely imagine.  This is where real loyalty is born.

Never ask a subordinate to do something dishonest- otherwise, the message you send is that dishonesty to get ahead is alright.  Dishonesty will multiply in the organisation, destroying trust, cohesion and morale.  (There are exceptions, usually to avoid harm caused by a stupid rule, but this is something that you both have to understand.)


As you embrace these principles, you will find your leadership style changing.  Managers who bluster or expostulate at length or shout at subordinates where no matter of principle is at stake are weak.  A real leader knows how to inspire obedience and make corrections with a few well-chosen, quiet words and nothing more.

It is absolutely unacceptable for a leader to let his or her decisions be dominated by either fear or anger.  This is the sign of a weak leader, and there is nothing more dangerous, particularly when they start making “tough” decisions.  The art of balance in tough situations is not the province of the tough-minded, but of open and confident minds.

A leader must not abdicate moral responsibility to rules or orders from higher authority.  You alone are responsible for your team’s actions until the moment you resign.

Leaders must support their subordinates in achievement to the hilt, push them to develop their talents and follow their passions, show them that they can do things they themselves had never dreamed, and make sure that they correct their mistakes.  Every failure is merely an obstacle to be overcome.  To take this attitude, even on a small scale, on a team, with your family and friends, or in business, public administration or politics, will have an immediate and positive impact on the people around you and on your personal resilience.  Measure the leaders you see around you by these criteria, and you will be able to spot real leadership when you see it, and protect yourself from weak leaders and managers.


Embracing the principles of leadership is fundamental to building your personal resilience.  How so?  Why are these principles so important for you if you don’t feel you’re in a position of leadership at the moment?  These principles are vital to your resilience whether or not you’re in an official leadership position right now because true leadership is NOT a position; it’s a state of being.  Every true leader is first and foremost the leader of his or her own life and that is the very foundation of personal resilience.


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Leading From the Front: Six Steps to Effective Leadership from China’s Most Revered Leadership “Guru”

“In stillness be as quiet as a fish in the deep, in action be as swift as an otter.”

–         Zhuge Liang

We’ve all had the experience of bosses, politicians, people in any kind of leadership position who have no idea how to lead.  Chances are, more than a few of us have also been put in such a position and felt unsure of how to approach it.  In the Three Kingdoms Period, one of the most tumultuous eras of Chinese history, an exceptional leader emerged whose writings have helped generations of leaders to find their way. 

Zhuge Liang was a polymath, itinerant scholar, Taoist mystic, strategist, alliance-builder, regent, inventor- the list of the man’s talents seems endless. That they were buttressed by what could be considered a soft touch and the humility of an open mind gives Zhuge Liang a lasting charm that contrasts well with the grasping hard-headedness that has led many military and political strategists to unfortunate fates. And yet, the man was revered as one of the most successful politicians and strategists of the Three Kingdoms Period.

Despite his dazzling “CV”, Zhuge Liang’s advice on leadership is straightforward and translates very well across the centuries.  Whether you’re looking to improve your own leadership skills, to address a particular issue in an organization you’re involved with or simply understand what your boss is doing wrong, The Way of the General is a perfect first stop.  Despite the name, it talks little about warfare, and a great deal about humanity, and for that reason holds a place of honor in Taoist literature.  Here are a few of the key teachings that you can use to lead any organization or project to success today:

  1. Start at the Top.  We’ve all experienced bosses and leaders who will try to solve every problem except the ones they create and who blame everyone else when things go wrong.  In a successful organization, the leader takes responsibility, and management is the first port of call when changes need to be made.  Zhuge Liang writes, “First organize the near at hand, then organize the far removed. First organize the inner, then organize the outer. First organize the basic, then organize the derivative. First organize the strong, then organize the weak. First organize the great, then organize the small. First organize yourself, then organize others.”
  2. Fit the Organization to the People.  This is exactly the opposite of the modern Human Resources approach, which tries to reduce people to interchangeable commodities who fulfill lists of requirements which may or may not have anything to do with the job.  Find out what your people are good at and passionate about, and put them in a position to run with it.  Zhuge Liang suggests organizing an army by the talents of the soldiers rather than by a preconceived structure, forming elite units for melee combat, charges, speed, horse archery, marksmanship and so on, thus giving everyone scope to use their strengths in battle. Zhuge Liang also provides guidelines for finding able leaders at various levels.
  3. Loyalty Starts at the Top.  This one seems almost strange today, when we almost without exception expect our leaders to be looking out for number one and any show of sympathy with the people to be little more than convention. Zhuge Liang writes, “Give security to those in danger; gladden those in fear. If people oppose you, take what they say to heart; if people have grudges, let them express themselves,”  “Restrain the strong, sustain the weak,” and, “Good generals of ancient times took care of their people as one might take care of a beloved child. When there was difficulty they would face it first themselves, and when something was achieved they would defer to others. They would tearfully console the wounded and sorrowfully mourn the dead. They would sacrifice themselves to feed the hungry and remove their own garments to clothe the cold. They honored the wise and provided for their living; they rewarded and encouraged the brave. If generals can be like this, they can take over anywhere they go.”  Remember, this man was one of the most successful strategists and political leaders of his day.
  4. Be Consistent.  Some leaders try to be feared by being unpredictable.  All they are doing is demotivating and demoralizing their subordinates.  The consistency of rewards and punishments should be clear and absolutely without personal bias, since this is the only way to encourage achievement and cultivate order.  “If they [the leaders] get angry without discernible reason, their authority will not be effective. If their rewards and punishments are not clear, the lower echelons will not be encouraged to achieve.”  Also, personal considerations cannot be allowed to intrude.  “If politics are inappropriate, orders will not be obeyed. If private affairs are carried over into public life, people will be of two minds.”  “If rewards are given for no reason, those who have worked hard in public service will be resentful; if penalties are applied arbitrary, upright people will be bitter.” This sounds like many an organization I’ve known!
  5. Reward Generously.  In other words, you have to give in order to receive.  The more you give, the more you get.  “[A] General should not be stingy, for if they are stingy they will not reward the trustworthy, and if they do not reward the trustworthy, the soldiers will not be dedicated, the armed forces will be ineffective.”
  6. Know your People.  “[The enlightened ruler] worries not about subordinates not knowing superiors, but about superiors not knowing subordinates. He worries not about the lower classes not knowing the upper classes, but about the upper classes not knowing the lower classes. Thus when you are alert to what the people in the lower echelons have to say, and take it into consideration, so that your plan include the rank and file, then all people are your eyes and a multitude of voices helps your ears.”

All this boils down to one essential point, as expressed by General George S. Patton, one of the most successful commanders of the Second World War.  Any organization is like a wet spaghetti noodle.  If you try to push it from behind, it won’t go anywhere.  You have to pull it from the front.

Zhuge Liang spends a great deal of time listing everything that leaders should avoid. His list of the eight evils of generals is particularly instructive. Inability to formulate strategy in a moral way is the worst evil, the inability to delegate authority to men of peace in peacetime the second worst. Being unable to foresee and prevent future dangers through wise policy features twice on the list. Yet another list of leadership vices deals with the ill effects of decadence and greed.

Zhuge Liang also emphasizes the importance of dismissing corrupt and unjust officials as well as those whose excessive meddling and bureaucracy causes the people hardship and confusion.

It is notable that Zhuge Liang remains a key standard by which officials, and especially Premiers, are still measured in China.

While there are more than a few gems of leadership advice to be found in ancient literature, The Way of the General is one of the shortest and easiest to read.  Its relevance to present day situations is never obscure, and it is highly recommended as a first stop for anyone wanting to improve their leadership skills.

All quotations from Kong Ming’s Archives, translation by Thomas Cleary.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger 🙂

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