This is the tribute I wrote to my Druid Hills High School classmates for our 50th Reunion

To the Druid Hills Class of 1965:

When we became Red Devils at the dawning of the Sixties, little did we know what that tumultuous decade would bring because, literally, little did we know about much of anything. So we arrived in 1960 from among the caravan of yellow buses, braced ourselves, and climbed the front steps, walking between those ionic columns and into the “School of Champions.” We were ready for a new chapter in our lives, ready to start striding toward young adulthood. We were lowly sub-freshmen, mostly nervous and unsure of ourselves, but we were in high school. It made us feel big and small at the same time.

Druid Hills was a larger place, had different smells to it in the main building, even had a marching band. There were over three-hundred of us 8th graders, with lots of pretty girls and big athletic guys and smart people of both genders. The classwork was hard sometimes, but not overly so. The teachers were good and mostly helpful unless of course they were coaches who wanted to be seen as hardasses, with Jimmy Carnes one of the notable exceptions. We soon got our feet underneath us and settled in as we became more comfortable with the place and the pace and the prospects. Before long we could sense that we belonged, that indeed we were going to be okay here.

Pretty soon we were 9th graders, and pretty soon after that we were 10th graders. We were really starting to find our way by then, driving and dating and slipping into one of the various social strata that came either by design or by default. We loved it when Coach Rogers would show up and tell us yet again about Eneas Africanus. We were learning real stuff, about the universe, about conceptual things, about ourselves. And then all of a sudden we were juniors, convinced as we were that we were enlightened, undaunted, and indestructible. We thought of creative pranks, we found the scent of mischief enticing, and we liked the look of the opposite sex a lot. The boys would sometimes settle things at the tennis courts when all else failed. Zesto’s was a famous hangout, not so much for the food but for the swapping of stories—some truthful, some sorta, some not even close. Downtown Atlanta and the Varsity were only minutes away. But who can forget that surreal weekend in November, 1963, when the gunshots in Dallas changed more than a presidency.

Our athletic teams won a few games and our band won all the halftime shows. We were now experiencing the very best teachers like Morgan and Hampton and Davis, tackling the most challenging subjects, and starting to think about what we would do after high school. We were becoming more fashion conscious. We looked around and noticed that we had a lot of talented people in our class, as students, musicians, artists, writers, singers, athletes, dancers, debaters, and emerging leaders. We were only one step away from being seniors—the rulers of the universe that was 1798 Haygood Drive.

And then came our turn, our senior year.

We did good work and had our share of fun in the ’64-’65 class year. Druid Hills was in good hands with our senior class. We had excellent student leaders and after four years of being together we were strongly bonded. We competed hard in the athletic arena and we showcased our previously noted talents in any one of a number of ways. We discovered alcohol, threw a few eggs, and did some things that we later dearly hoped our own kids wouldn’t do. We got a new gymnasium that made us proud. The music of Motown and the British invasion kept us moving to the beat. Many of us were hearing from colleges about our applications—sometimes happily, sometimes not so much. We honored Jack Wilks by dedicating the Saga to him, and we wrote lots of pithy phrases in the yearbooks of our friends and classmates. And before long we were singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and rehearsing our graduation exercise, trying not to become overly emotional, but mostly giving in to it, if even a little.

Soon it was all over, and probably for the first time in our lives we had a collection of years that, when looking back, had seemed to pass so very quickly, like the way our parents had told us about the passage of time.

Some of us went to college, some went to work, some went into the military. The times they were a changin’, and the nation was being pulled and stretched out of its post-WWII comfortable shape. The Civil Rights era was mostly civil, but not always. The Vietnam era grew more and more uncivil and seemed to usher in the most bitter and divisive time since the Civil War. Before many of us had reached the age of twenty-one, JFK, RFK and MLK had been felled by assassin’s bullets. The ‘68 Tet Offensive in Vietnam gave the USA a decisive military victory which oddly enough became a public-opinion disaster. We found comfort where we could—sometimes in sex, drugs, rock-‘n-roll, or cheap beer. There were heroes like Neil Armstrong, outsized personalities like Muhammad Ali, criminals like Charles Manson, and traitors like Jane Fonda. Some of our classmates were shooting dope, some were shooting NVA or VC, and some were working at jobs that paid the bills, but not much else. We were just doing our own thing, whatever that meant. We were the Baby Boomers, the sons and daughters of the Greatest Generation, and we would later be described as the most spoiled, self-absorbed generation in American history. I didn’t buy that description then, and I certainly don’t now.

Most of us made it through those challenging times—some more bruised than others, some changed forever. We got married, had kids, maybe got divorced. We went to work, some staying at jobs for years, some bouncing around looking for that elusive greener grass. Some of us went into the medical or legal professions, or became teachers or salesmen or stay-at-home moms. Some of us became entrepreneurs and got rich. Many of us made a decent living and enjoyed a certain degree of comfort, while others struggled with downsizing and rightsizing and all the other euphemisms associated with losing a job. We were scattered about the entire nation, following the twists and turns of fate and the lure of opportunity.

We had class reunions and by twenty years we guys laughed about the weight gains and the hair loss. In some ways it seemed like yesterday when we were at Druid Hills. By thirty years it no longer seemed like yesterday. We were saddened by the classmates and family members we had lost along the way, and much of the social layering that once seemed so important had diminished. By forty years it was gone altogether, most of us happy just to be alive and continent enough to fill in the gaps in our personal histories, including, of course, our most recent surgeries. Our memories of school weren’t quite as robust as before, nor were our knees and backs and hips. But thankfully there were now pharmaceuticals to help us lower things like blood pressure or cholesterol or chronic pain, or conversely to help other anatomical regions rise to the occasion, so to speak.

And now it’s fifty years. We grew up together, we sons and daughters of dear ole DH. And now we’re growing old together. It’s not so bad, really. We’ll miss the departed, to be sure, and we’ll remind one another of the many good times. And we’ll take some consolation in the fact that we’re able to join together once again in the warmth of renewed friendship. We’ll offer a toast or two, make a boast or two, and laugh a lot. A helluva lot.

Those were good years long ago, sweetened even more by the passage of time. Loyal, brave, and fair and true. That was us then, and here we are now. We’ve all had our successes and we’ve all been knocked around by life. But we’re still standing, we’re still friends, and we’re still the Devils that were once dynamite. It could’ve been worse—we could’ve been shipped off to Briarcliff, for cryin’ out loud, and be the bunnies that were once, well, whatever. But no, we were a great class from what was arguably the best school in the best school system in the entire South.

We are the Druid Hills Class of 1965, by God. And by the grace of God, we can enjoy it once again. And enjoy it we shall.

I SALUTE you, my fellow classmates!

And may we meet again on down the road.

Jerry Gillis

DHHS, ‘65

01-29-2010 12;30;27PM

The following is the eulogy I delivered at my mother’s funeral on March 7, 2015:

On behalf of the extended Gillis/Hughes family, I’d like to thank all of you for your kindness and well wishes, and especially for your presence here today. And so I’d like to offer the following as a remembrance, of sorts, with great love and affection for a little lady who was truly one of the giants of my life.

Evelyn Rebecca Hughes Gillis: Daughter, sister, sister-in-law, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Among family, she answered to Evelyn, Aunt Evelyn, Eve, sis, Momma, and Memomma.

Today we lay to rest this kind, gentle, Godly woman who loved her family and friends without condition, who served her church to her fullest, and who provided an anchorage of love and stability in a great number of lives, including, and most especially, my own.

Like many of you, the earliest images I retain in my memory involve my mother, in one form or another. She taught me about the Christian faith and the way it has shaped our family’s history. She stressed to me the value of education, and the importance of honesty and integrity. She gave me an early appreciation for the Big Band music of the Forties, and consequently any band of my own era which featured a horn section had me at the get-go. She broadened my world by teaching me about reading, about the joy of books and the power of the written and spoken word. She taught me about the kinder, gentler things of life, and then she turned around and taught me the finer points of fist fighting with the admonition that I use my new skill as needed, but always as a last resort. She took care of me when I was sick or injured, even when I was faking it, and I still associate the taste of her ginger ale with my being ill. She helped jumpstart my own lifelong love of history when she took me to see Gone with the Wind in the same downtown Atlanta movie theater where, as a teenager some years before, she had witnessed the actual live premier. She confessed to me that actor Clark Gable was her guy, and we made it a point to keep that little morsel a safe distance from Clarence. And I’ve never yet been able to see Gable in one of his movies without instantly thinking of her.

She told me often about the years of World War II, about the uncertainties and hardships, and especially about the way the nation pulled together in shared sacrifice. She told me about Russell High School, and the way the boys went into military service immediately upon graduation. She told me about the good people she worked with at Western Union during those war years. She spoke often about how much she loved and admired her own mother, our beloved Mamaw. She related to me what it was like as a young woman to suddenly find her family without a father, when he died and left behind Mae , Evelyn, Jack, Henry, and Jimmy in the prime of his, my grandfather’s, life. She told me these things without any self-pity or bitterness, but as a better way for me to understand who we were as a family, our history, and thus my history. And how sometimes we just had to deal with things as they are, as opposed to fretting about how we wished them to be. That bit of wisdom has served me well, never more so than when we were confronted with the brutal reality of the Alzheimer’s.

She allowed me to make mistakes without ever berating or humiliating me further. And as a matter of undeniable fact there was something about her that caused me to always, always fess up and tell the truth when I had misbehaved, even when I knew that a large dose of unpleasantness would eventually be arriving through that kitchen door. She taught us the great truth that although we all have freedom of choice, none of us has freedom from consequences.

As I got older, I saw how she and my dad worked and sacrificed so that Ben and I could attend college, something they themselves never had the opportunity to do. And I remember how overjoyed she was when the grandkids started arriving. I’m grateful she got the reward of grand-and great-grandchildren to enjoy and spoil and show just what a loving and classy Family Matriarch she truly was. And I’m likewise grateful they got the reward of knowing her.

That she was one of a kind is without question. She fussed over the appearance of her hair. She was picky about her attire. Even near the end when she was very ill, and had in her possession nearly as many pairs of navy-blue slacks as does the carrier USS Nimitz, she let us know she didn’t care for the brown slacks that we had quietly slipped into her wardrobe. “Must be somebody else’s,” she remarked dismissively, much as she would if the slacks had been made of the very finest of possum fur. Debby winked at me and said softly, “I guess we’ll stay with blue.”

Throughout her entire life Momma could never pronounce words like “handkerchief” which came out “hanchekuff”, or “sauce”, which came out “salts,” and she often dropped the “g” from words like pudding, which of course became “puddin’.” And she sometimes liked to add a “You know” when she would finish a sentence. But what she could say was the phrase “When are y’all comin’?” which never came later than the third sentence of any conversation I ever had with her when I called from goodness-knows-where to check in. And she greatly surprised us when, after becoming a resident in the Alzheimer’s unit, she would from time to time utter a profanity or two that she must have picked up from one of her saltier fellow residents (or maybe from one of her eldest son’s novels). If she had heard such a word from me as a child, she would have threatened to wash my mouth out with soap. When the roles were reversed, however, I just smiled and let it pass.

She was never more beaming or buoyant than when she had her extended family in her home on Wood Trail Lane, with all the attendant food and noise and good tidings that enveloped and uplifted every single one of us. She loved Christmas more than anyone I’ve ever known, and she would start singing “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” right after the 4th of July. Michael McDonald sings a Christmas song entitled “House Full of Love” which is what I’m reminded of when I think of Momma’s Decatur home. That description was never more evident than during the holidays when the house was full of Gillises and Hugheses and their derivatives, with the loud laughter, tall tales, ham, turkey and turnip greens, mahogany and coconut cakes, Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets, touch football in the front yard, the ladies in animated conversation in the living room and the gentlemen falling open-mouth asleep in the den, looking every bit as if they’d all been gassed. It was in every way, and on every day, truly a House Full of Love. And the one who gave it that texture and richness of flavor is the one we so honor today.

As she neared the end of her natural life, I would often hear caregivers and others remark what a sweet, considerate lady Miss Evelyn was. Her kindness, unselfishness, and courtesy toward others were noticed and appreciated. Don’t confuse her gentility with a lack of good ole Southern toughness, however. In the last third of her life, she overcame colon cancer, a heart attack, multiple skin cancers, became a widow, survived two broken hips and the necessary hip-replacement surgeries, and bravely fought Alzheimer’s Disease well past the averages. Some of her parts may have broken easily, but not so her will. Through it all, she never lost her unwavering love for her family. She was a great treasure to those of us who knew and loved her, for to know her was indeed to love her. And while her passing leaves a hole in our family and in our hearts, she’s left far more by her living than she’s taking in her leaving.

The writer Christopher Buckley noted at the passing of his own mother, “There is an apparent universal aspect about parental mortality—namely, that no matter how much you prepare for the moment, when it comes, it comes at you hot, hard, and unrehearsed.” Mr. Buckley’s words could hardly be more descriptive.

In Proverbs 31:10, the question is asked, “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.” Evelyn Gillis was, by any objective measure, a virtuous woman—as a wife, mother, friend, relative, church member or secretary. She was a beacon of light, an unselfish giver of her Labors and her Loyalty and her Love.

The American poet Emily Dickinson wrote:

“I had a jewel in my fingers—

And went to sleep—

The day was warm, and winds were prosy—

I said ‘Twill keep’—

I woke—and chide my honest fingers,

The Gem was gone—

And now, an Amethyst remembrance

Is all I own.”

Rest In Peace, Mom, and know that, as our Gem, our remembrance of you is a great and abiding gift. But it’s by no means all that you bequeath us. The values and traditions you handed down will remain with us and endure for generations to come. And the love you showered so easily upon us is returned in even greater measure, both by those you leave behind in an earthly sense, and by those you now join in our Father’s Kingdom of Heaven. And yes, I can hear you softly saying, “When are y’all comin’?”

 

ChurchillI had the rare pleasure yesterday in an Atlanta museum to get a close-up viewing of 30 paintings from one of the most consequential figures in modern history. No, his name was not Monet or van Gogh or Picasso, and he was not recognized as much for his art as for his political career, writing, and oratory. Many of the 30 paintings that I viewed have never before been on public display, comprising but a few of the 500 works he produced in his lifetime.

So who is this painter? Or, more aptly, who is this famous person?

He is Winston Churchill, and one could easily make the argument that he was not only a consequential figure of the 20th Century, but indeed the consequential figure of the previous century. He helped save the world from totalitarianism as a British politician, more specifically as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II. His soaring oratory inspired not only the people of the British Empire and his close American allies, but freedom-loving people everywhere.

On painting, he was quoted as saying, “I know of nothing which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind. Whatever the worries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the picture has begun to flow along, there is no room for them in the mental screen.” It was in his painting that he found relief from the strain of political life and the growing menace of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

Many of his paintings are oil-based impressionist scenes of landscape, and many were painted while he vacationed in the South of France, Egypt, or Morocco. His easel and other artifacts were also on display and helped to personalize the exhibit all the more.

Churchill was not only a painter and great wartime political leader, but he was also a writer and historian. He was prolific as a writer, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.  In a BBC poll of the “100 Greatest Britons” in 2002, he was proclaimed “The Greatest of Them All” based on approximately a million votes from BBC viewers.

The paintings are good, much like the results Winston Churchill achieved in his many other endeavors. But what made the exhibit most enjoyable to me was that the paintings came from the head, hand, and brush of the incomparable Winston Churchill. For me, that was the treat that exceeded all else and made the trip entirely worthwhile.

The paintings are on display at the Millennium Gate Museum in Atlanta, through February 1, 2015.

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What makes great communicators? What separates the best from the rest? What is it about the persona or message of great communicators that moves people and creates action?

I would suggest that it all starts with a mastery of and a comfort with the spoken word, along with the ability to express ideas clearly. I would also suggest that a high degree of sincerity and trustworthiness is likewise applicable. Finally, it’s always helpful to know what you’re talking about.

Here is a list of 10 people from the 20th and 21st Centuries whom I would suggest belong on any list of great communicators. They are in no particular order:

  1. John Wooden. One of the most decorated coaches of any sport, Wooden helped transform the lives of hundreds of young men that came into his basketball program at UCLA. He is remembered not only for winning 10 NCAA national championships in 12 years, but for the discipline he demanded from himself and his players.  Wooden was renowned for his short, simple inspirational messages to his players, including his “Pyramid of Success” book.
  2. Winston Churchill. At the onset of World War II, England was in very real danger of being invaded and overrun by the seemingly invincible Nazi war machine. Churchill inspired his island nation not only with his memorable, magnificent words, but with his stubborn determination and indomitable courage to repulse the Germans and see the war through to a successful conclusion. And in the end, he was the leader who prevailed.
  3. Billy Graham. This Southern evangelistic preacher has taken his uplifting message of the Gospel to the world’s masses, in the most literal of senses. Dr. Graham has spoken to and influenced millions of people, of different cultures and faiths, of all ages and backgrounds. He has been friend and counselor to presidents and paupers, and has often served as a steadying, comforting influence during times of national tragedy.
  4. Ronald Reagan. The 40th President of the United States was often referred to as The Great Communicator. A trained actor, Reagan served as Governor of California before seeking national elective office. His wit, humor, and insight were used to great effect in his speeches, and his personal charm played no small role in many of his legislative successes. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” is one of his more famous quotations.
  5. Jack Welch. One of the Captains of Industry, this Chairman and CEO of General Electric took his famous company to record levels of growth in revenue and profits. Welch’s messages were replete with references to the need for unremitting continuous improvement, and his successful Six Sigma initiative within GE was, among other processes, copied by many business leaders around the world. He earned a reputation for his brutal candor in meetings with executives.
  6. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Dr. King’s message of nonviolent social change brought to the American public’s consciousness the pressing need for equality of all people, regardless of race. Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial has been elevated to one of the great pieces of oratory in American history. His ability to articulate the desires of minorities for social and economic justice, and the rightness of the cause, became the pivotal driver of the 1960s civil-rights movement.
  7. Walter Cronkite. Journalist Cronkite was often described during his days as evening news anchor at CBS as “the most trusted man in America.” From his nearly tearful reporting of the news of JFK’s assassination to his eventual description of the war in Vietnam as unwinnable, Cronkite served as a primary source of weekday news to millions of Americans. “And that’s the way it is,” was his trademark sign-off at the end of his newscast.
  8. Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister is a strong, passionate leader with an unwavering commitment to the survival and strength of the Jewish state. Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister born in Israel after the establishment of the state. His oratory skills are considerable, as is his ability to argue a point gracefully while pointing out the errors of those with whom he disagrees.
  9. Oprah Winfrey. According to some sources, media-icon Winfrey is the most influential woman in the world. Her self-improvement and self-help themes often characterize her talk-show content, much like group-therapy sessions. She has overcome adversity at many points in her storied life, and her often emotion-centered show content has dwelt with her many struggles.
  10. Mrs. Margaret Davis. My wonderful high school English teacher. She was one of the great communicators, simply the best teacher I had. Do you have a memorable teacher you could add to this list?

For more on the subject of communications, both verbal and written, please see my Kindle eBook HOW TO BECOME A SUCCESSFUL, EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATOR. Find it on Amazon by clicking on the link.

 

GeneralDavis2Gen. Raymond G. Davis, United States Marine Corps, is one of the more legendary figures in the fabled history of the Corps. He was a combat veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He was awarded virtually every decoration this nation can bestow for acts of gallantry, including the Medal of Honor. And he attained four-star rank when he was named Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps near the end of his illustrious career.

His Medal of Honor citation reads in part: “Always in the thick of the fighting Lt. Col. Davis led his battalion over 3 successive ridges in the deep snow in continuous attacks against the enemy and, constantly inspiring and encouraging his men throughout the night, brought his unit to a point within 1,500 yards of the surrounded rifle company by daybreak. Although knocked to the ground when a shell fragment struck his helmet and 2 bullets pierced his clothing, he arose and fought his way forward at the head of his men until he reached the isolated Marines.”

The temperature that night in Korea was 30 degrees below zero. He rescued his Marines and opened up a critical mountain pass.

When I was a Basic School student at Quantico, Virginia as a Marine second lieutenant in 1970, Gen. Davis attended a formal dinner for our class, by tradition referred to as Mess Night. I knew of his exploits in combat, and I saw the Medal of Honor around his neck and the Navy Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and numerous other decorations on his chest. He was soft-spoken, of average height and build, but he had the unmistakable presence and aura that great leaders exude, all without a trace of vanity or condescension.

When I mentioned to Gen. Davis that I was from his home state of Georgia, he asked what school I had attended. I knew the general had graduated from Georgia Tech, and when I mentioned that I had attended his school’s chief rival, he smiled and said, “Ah, a Georgia Bulldog.”

The years passed, and I now wish that I had arranged to visit him before his death in 2003, at age 88. I could have taken along the three novels I’ve written and we could have talked about the football fortunes of Georgia and Georgia Tech. And I’m sure we would have talked about the Marine Corps. What a rich wellspring of Marine history he would have been.

Thank you, Gen. Davis, for the remarkable service you rendered this nation in its times of need. You will forever be remembered by your fellow Marines.

Creativity is essential in remaining relevant in a business world now characterized by fast pace and rapid change. It’s needed to stay ahead of competition that has become more global and enterprising. It’s needed not only to solve problems, but to see ahead clearly enough to identify opportunities that others may yet be missing.

Truly innovative leaders have the ability to see connections across data, ideas, concepts, and past experience. They can then see the patterns and project forward, developing even better ideas and solutions.

Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

Innovative leaders question conventional thinking and constantly develop different (and sometimes even radical) ideas about how something can be done better. They do more than merely look straight ahead for the obvious, and instead look at all angles. By always probing and questioning, they develop other mental traits such as observing, sorting, and recognizing patterns. They experiment, they are curious, and they have a love for learning. By their example, they very often establish a culture of learning in their own organizations which can also serve as a creativity-multiplier.

Creative leaders do have some innate ability to understand and solve problems. Many have a strong imagination and a healthy sense of self that often afford s them a higher tolerance for risk-taking and a lower fear of failure. Some are non-conformists and unconventional, requiring less social approval or less rigidity in organizational structure.

So, can leadership creativity be developed and nurtured? I believe so, yes. Consider the following suggestions:

• Generate lots of ideas. Look not only for the commonplace, but for the truly innovative, game-changing, and transformational. Originality is the key here.

• Experiment with the good ideas. Always look to jump from good to great. Don’t be dissuaded by the fear of failure. Thomas Edison always viewed failure as a step closer to ultimate success.

• Be a passionate advocate of creativity and originality. Never remain satisfied with the status quo. Become an organization of learners and creative problem solvers.

• Protect the truly creative. Some individuals who have astonishing creative gifts are often viewed as geeks or social outcasts, perhaps worse. Make sure their contributions are recognized and shared, and that their value to the team is understood and appreciated.

• Inspire others. Share the wins on how creative approaches set the competition back on its heels. Dissect the failures and disseminate the lessons learned. Distribute the credit liberally and unselfishly.

Creative leaders help transform stodgy companies into organizations that are invigorated, competitive, and sustainable. These companies are built to last not only by the skillful, innovative leader, but also by the cumulative creative energies of the entire organization.

This is the last in the series on 12 Leadership Traits. See the other posts in the Leadership category. All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” – Will Rogers

Judgment is the ability to think about things clearly, logically, and calmly, and to weigh facts, assumptions, and consequences (both the intended and, to a reasonable extent, the unintended) in deciding upon potential courses of action. Judgment does indeed come from experience, and is informed by one’s ethics. Having a good sense of judgment is a prerequisite for becoming an effective leader.

Business leaders today operate in environments where there are many unknowns, and where ambiguity is prevalent. Leaders must therefore be able to confront complex challenges and quickly cut to the most important considerations. The leader must see issues from multiple perspectives, evaluate the quality of information they possess, seek additional counsel as necessary, and make reasoned judgments about how (or how not) to proceed.

Even when required to act promptly, leaders should take the time necessary to consider the alternatives. The effective leader uses sound judgment to keep the entire chessboard in mind, even when focusing on an individual piece. When the time comes to make a decision, then make a decision! A good decision made promptly is far better than an even stronger decision made too late.

How can judgment be developed? While experience plays a large role in the development of judgment, as noted above, you might also consider the following:

• Develop a logical and orderly thought process by practicing objective estimates of the situation. This can be done as a matter of course on a daily basis, or it could be done through more formal training where simulation exercises are performed and then discussed.

• Don’t give in to impulse. Trusting one’s instincts is important, to be sure, but certainly not as an alternative to a more orderly, deliberate, and informed approach to decision-making. Leading with the heart is generally better left for the lyrics of a country-music song.

• Practice viewing a situation from multiple perspectives, identifying and framing the key issues, as well attempting to anticipate the intended and unintended consequences. Decisions often have impacts far and wide, and it’s worthwhile to attempt an assessment of all those ripples.

• Consider the effects of your decisions on all the stakeholders. Are employees impacted? Customers? Stockholders? Competitors? It’s worthwhile to assess the ripples here, as well.

• Appreciate the value of mentorship and learn from the experience of others. Mentoring is an important leadership function. It would be greatly beneficial to find an experienced senior leader willing to provide wise counsel and mentoring on a regular basis.

The business world of today is a complex, fast-paced, and demanding environment. Leaders must be skilled in a wide variety of methods and disciplines, both technical and interpersonal. And the trait of judgment has never been more critical to a leader’s success.

All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.

 

When a leader is described as professionally competent, what exactly does that imply? Is it a statement that the leader knows how to do everything? Or might it mean that the leader does some things well, perhaps even extraordinarily well?

Perhaps a designation as professionally competent means something different.

Management thinker Lionel Urwick wrote over fifty years ago, “There is nothing which rots morale more quickly and more completely than… the feeling that those in authority do not know their own minds.” Incompetent leaders have innumerable opportunities to demonstrate their ineffectiveness either by doing nothing or by doing the wrong things. Incompetence erodes credibility which in turn erodes trust and loyalty. The end result is most often ugly and disruptive.

So what is professional competence?

Every successful leader has come to understand the core competencies necessary to lead complex, dynamic organizations. Good leaders must understand not just financial concepts, business strategy, and marketing, but they should also grasp the importance of written and verbal communications, employee morale and motivation, and the value of character and integrity. Competence isn’t gained by knowing how to do everything, but more in knowing what needs to be done and how to get it done.

Leadership competence develops from a combination of institutional schooling, rigorous self-development, and diverse professional experience. Building competence is therefore a gradual process, from mastering individual competencies to eventually applying and tailoring them in concert with others. Leaders continuously refine these competencies and learn to apply them to increasingly complex situations. Competencies are thus demonstrated through behaviors that can be readily seen by many others at all levels in the organization.

Leaders need to provide their employees reasons to trust and follow them. A demonstration of professional competence is an excellent beginning point.

How can a leader demonstrate such professional competence? Consider the following:

• Set an example of self-improvement. Whether in acquiring additional schooling, self-study, or merely by asking employees to give you a better understanding of a particular business process, demonstrate a sincere, serious quest for knowledge and improvement.

• Celebrate the wins. Provide your analysis on how and why the win was earned, and share the credit.

• Do a lessons-learned on the setbacks. This not only provides some important institutional memory, but also establishes a leader as unafraid to share and learn, even when the news isn’t good. And don’t be reluctant to accept the blame if warranted.

• Surround yourself with competent people. Know your strengths, but also know your weaknesses, and build the team accordingly.

• Teach, communicate, and perform at a high level. Self-explanatory, right?

Competence alone cannot guarantee a leader’s success, since there are other important traits that play into the leadership mix. But incompetence will almost assuredly result in a leader’s undoing. Professional competence—knowing what to do and how to get it done—is vital.

All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.

One of the more common weaknesses in leaders can be found in the trait of assertiveness. Wait, you say. Isn’t assertiveness an important quality for any leader bent on success? Indeed, it is. It’s the question of balance that becomes paramount, such that too much or too little assertiveness can illuminate shortcomings that obscure the other, more favorable leadership qualities.

Balancing this important skill with the others in a leader’s portfolio can augment and extend that same leader’s influence and effectiveness. Too little assertiveness and a leader risks being seen as weak and ineffectual; too much and the leader may come off as bullying and insufferable. In either case, the imbalance is conspicuous and constricting, therefore putting at risk the good results which might have been achieved otherwise. With the ability to find the right balance, the effective leader is forceful enough to move the organization in the preferred direction without browbeating and potentially alienating large numbers of the workforce.

Think of the right balance as much like the front-end alignment of a car: If the car’s alignment is in good order, you’ll likely notice the more favorable qualities of the car instead, if indeed you notice anything at all; if the alignment is poor, you’ll notice the obvious steering and vibration issues and perhaps even think of the potential damage to the tires and other areas.

How can assertiveness compliment the other leadership traits you possess? Consider the following:

• Create and foster an environment of teamwork and inclusion. It’s obviously important for the leader to assert his/her own opinions and expectations, but it’s also important for the leader to build a team whose members’ input is sought and valued. It’s important for the leader to display and teach the right assertiveness balance, such that the more reluctant team members aren’t crowded out by the more aggressive. An assertive leader creates, teaches, and coaches, and in the process builds something that lasts, that makes a difference.

• Break down the barriers to change. Employees are often suspicious of and threatened by change, hence making them reluctant and often resistant. A leader must not only challenge the status quo when dealing with employees, but often must convince his/her own hesitant bosses of the need for and the benefits of change. An assertive leader makes the case and drives the change process with passion, commitment, and effective, timely communication. Leading an organization through major change is hard, grinding work, and is best done not by the passive or the bullying, but by the smart, inclusive, assertive leader.

• Make it clear to others who you are and where you stand. If you disagree with a particular finding or direction, for example, then by all means don’t sit idly by and offer nothing more than the cowardice of silence. And don’t suffer fools when it comes to questions of ethical behavior. Make sure your core values are clearly understood, and that your integrity is not something you are willing to compromise. Not now, not ever. Be an assertive leader with courage here, not an equivocating politician.

Remember, assertiveness is an important trait, and just as importantly must be maintained in the right balance to achieve optimum effectiveness.

All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.

Have you ever worked with or been influenced by a leader who had a compelling vision for the organization? Did that leader’s visualization have a discernible bearing upon the organization’s ability to focus on its goals and objectives? And was the organization’s overall performance improved as a result?

An important part of a leader’s role is to provide a vision that paints a picture and lays out a roadmap of where the organization is going. At its best, that vision inspires and motivates, and can provide a compelling image of the future. A vision can create a climate of shared understanding, shared effort, and shared accountability for results. It can also align an individual’s own job responsibilities with the organization’s goals, creating a stronger sense of purpose and commitment that likely wouldn’t exist to the same extent otherwise.

In May, 1961, President John F. Kennedy spoke the following words to a Joint Session of Congress: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely.” Thus the efforts of thousands of engineers and planners, contractors and subcontractors, astronauts and administrators, and millions of dollars were directed toward the bold vision of a young American president. Hence, in July, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person ever to set foot upon the surface of the moon. He and fellow astronauts Buzz Aldren and Michael Collins safely returned to earth, fulfilling JFK’s goal.

So, how does a leader create and communicate a vision?

• Develop your own vision. It should be bold and challenging, yet realistic and achievable. Make sure it is consistent with and supportive of the company’s overall goals and objectives. Be certain that you can articulate it fully.

• Communicate it to your employees. Paint a compelling picture with words that everyone can comprehend. Understand that your own enthusiasm, passion, and sincerity, along with your own discernible confidence, will be keenly observed. Be sure that employees understand why the changes are necessary, the benefits to the company, and how their own actions and buy-in provide assurance that the goal(s) can be met.

• Act upon the it. Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of GE, said: “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate it, passionately own it, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” A leader’s vision is worth little or nothing unless something worthwhile is accomplished. Constantly reiterate the vision, measure the progress and close the gaps, and never cease to drive the results.

No organization can be completely successful without a clear vision of where it is going, along with some understanding of how it will get there. It is the job of the leader to provide and articulate it, along with the discipline and single-mindedness to push for the results.

All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.