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Year: 2019

Christmas Cheer All Next Year

My wife and I and a few friends have a tradition where we go to the Alabama Theatre in downtown Birmingham every year to watch a classic Christmas movie, like It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, etc. This year it was Elf.

Christmas Sing alongBesides the nostalgia of sitting in this “movie palace” built in 1927 and resurrected in 1998, you get to see original Disney cartoons and sing old Christmas carols before each movie. Singalongs are made even more special by the theatre’s pipe organ, a Wurlitzer Opus 1783. Affectionally known as Big Bertha, it’s played by legendary theatre organist Jesse Crawford as he accompanies each song while 600 kids of all ages belt out the words.

Here is a 30-second video of the ending of the singalong from our trek there last week. (Please forgive the amateur videographer – me). I hope that it will make this time of year a little bit brighter for you and yours.

Journal Entry: Is there an Elf lesson that might be good for you to you think about more in your leadership and life?

To learn more about the Alabama Theatre, visit alabamatheatre.com.

Elf Quotes & Life Thoughts

I just like to smile! Smiling is my favorite. Just smile.

Actually, I am a human, but I was raised by elves. Share who you really are.

Deb, you have such a pretty face you should be on a Christmas card. Compliment more often.

Papa says my real father lives in a magical place far away … But the thing is, I’ve never left the North Pole. Take some risks.

I passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane Forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel. Never give up.

If you can sing alone, you can sing in front of other people. There is no difference. Be courageous.

Good news! I saw a big dog today. Look for little things to be happy about.

Does somebody need a hug? Be more present with people.

First we’ll make snow angels for two hours, then we’ll go ice-skating, then we will eat a whole roll of Toll House cookie dough as fast as we can, and then we’ll snuggle. Do what you love.

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud for all to hear. Step up and make a difference.

Engaging Thankfulness

The Campbell Soup company had lost its way when Douglas Conant took charge in 2001.

In the late 1990s, the company increased prices and lost many consumers to less expensive soup brands. Rather than bring prices back down, to maintain earnings Campbell cut costs by reducing advertising and laying off employees – moves that resulted in even lower sales. By the time Conant was recruited, the company’s share price had dropped from a high of $60 in 1998 to $30 in 2001.

Conant said, “We had a toxic culture. People were understandably jaundiced with management.” He added, “It was hard for me to imagine that we could inspire high performance with no employee engagement.”

So, he defined a new strategy and set clear expectations with accountability in the form of department and manager scorecards – the typical MBA things any CEO worth his or her salt would do. Then he took to the hard work – changing the culture. To do this, his first step was to state and apply his philosophy of what really motivates people:

“We needed to reach employees on four levels,” Conant said. People needed: 1st – to make a living; 2nd – to feel loved; 3rd – to learn; and 4th – to feel like they were part of something special and leave a legacy behind.” Based on this four-level foundation Conant adjusted pay scales, set a new vision and installed structured leadership learning programs that all employees were required to attend.

By 2010, the Gallup Employee Engagement Index showed that for every 17 engaged employees, only one was disengaged, a ratio that exceeded Gallup’s “world-class” benchmark of 12:1. More impressively, the engagement ratio for the top 350 leaders was an amazing 77:1. Plus the corporate cumulative total shareholder return was 64 percent, nearly five times the 13 percent return of the S&P 500.

What helped this happen? I believe the key ingredient that created the atmosphere that allowed this success was Conant’s relentless modeling of the second level need in his four-level philosophy. During his 10-year tenure as CEO, he wrote 10 to 20 handwritten personal notes to employees at all levels of the organization each day to thank and recognize those who were performing well. This practice added up to over 30,000 notes to his 20,000 employees.

Journal Entry: It is amazing what engaging thankfulness did for the people and the performance in one organization. But writing 20 to 30 notes a day seems more than a little daunting to me. So why not aim for one a day. Want to try it? Beginning this Thanksgiving Day until New Year’s Day 2020, send one thank you note, or I appreciate you text every day. Then on January 1 send me a note and let me know what you experienced with people in your leadership and life.

If you are really thankful, what do you do? You share. – W. Clement Stone

Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The person who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life. – Robert Louis Stephenson

Don’t let the sun do down without saying thank you to someone, and without admitting to yourself absolutely no one gets this far alone. – Stephen King

Reflect upon your present blessings – of which every man has many – not on your past misfortunes, which all men have some. – Charles Dickens

But now these three things abide: faith, hope, love; but the greatest of these is love – The Bible – The 1st book of Corinthians, Chapter 13, verse 13

Small-Time Leader Vol. 2

Seven Words of Life

The cabin door of the plane was about close when he came rushing down the aisle and flopped down in the seat next to me. I wasn’t in the best of moods, but he was. Hand extended, he said, “My name is Jim. What is yours?”

We small talked for a while. He told me he was a trainer and consultant and had been doing that for most of his business life. He owned firm and was doing management, sales and communication seminars with business groups around the country. Then he asked, “What do you do?”

This was the one question I didn’t want to hear or talk about, but Jim did. I told him I had lost my job and wanted to do the kind of work he had just described, but I had little experience. Jim asked, “Would you like for me to help you?”

Naturally I was leery of help offered by someone I had known for 15-20 minutes, but there was something different about Jim. I thanked him and said I would think about his kind offer. For the rest of the flight, we talked about hobbies and family and the sort. He gave me his card and asked me to call him if I wanted to know more about his offer. A few days later I did.

To make a long story short, Jim flew down to my home in Louisville, Kentucky and taught me to lead one seminar and gave detailed instructions on how to sell it. I followed his method step-by-step and things began to work.

I was proud of my early success and wanted to share it with Jim, so I invited him to come and listen to a session I was leading. He enthusiastically agreed. However, this event wasn’t my finest hour. There was a small crowd and I blundered several times during my presentation. I was feeling pretty bad. Later that day, as we were walking thorough the airport for Jim’s flight home, he stopped at the gate. He thanked me for the trip and time, then he look me in the eye and said, “Mike I want you to know that you spoke with a lot of authority in the class today.” Regarding the small number of paying attendees, he smiled and said, “Remember God always sends the perfect number.”

No critique. No do this or don’t do that. He graciously spoke confidence into me and added the gentle reminder that we are not in control here. Those two concepts , in two seven-word phrases, ring as clear in my ears today as they did 30 years ago.

Journal Entry: Do you know someone who it is discouraged and could use an acknowledgment of a personal strength you noticed within them? Could he or she be helped by a kind tap on the shoulder about heir option of placing their worries in God’s hand as they seek their way in leadership and Life? Could you be their small-time leader today?

10 Things Bad Managers Say (and Small-time leaders don’t)
If you don’t want this job, I’ll find someone who does
I don’t pay you to think
I’ll take it under advisement
Who gave you permission to do that?
Drop everything and DO THIS NOW!
Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions. i.e. “Don’t complain — shut up and deal with it.”
Sounds like a personal problem to me
I have some feedback for you … and everyone here feels the same way
In these times, you’re lucky to have a job at all
From Article “10 Things Bad Managers Say” – Bloomberg Businessweek

Leaders don’t look for recognition from others, leaders look for others to recognize. – Simon Sinek

It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realize for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us. – C. S. Lewis

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. – The Bible – Old Testament Book of Proverbs 3:5-6

Small-Time Leader Vol. 1

His name was Connie Parsons. He was my first real manager and my first experience with a small-time leader at work.

A small-time leader is a person who did a small thing that made a big difference in your life and work. That small thing may have been a question, a recommendation or an action that was so on point and timely that it radically shifted how you viewed yourself forever.

When I was in college, I loaded packages into UPS trucks to pay my way. I got up every day at 3 AM and worked until 10 AM. Then I went to school the rest of the day. Connie was my manager and during my three years at UPS, he pushed me to take on assignments that were way above my head and my pay grade as a truck loader. These were tasks like making presentations and working on efficiency improvements projects. I complained and wondered why he was doing this to me. I did not understand, but Connie did.

A few months before I graduated, Connie and I were standing near the package delivery beltline after my shift was over. He said, “Have a seat. I would like to talk to you about something.” I thought, “Oh no, not again!” Connie looked directly into my eyes and asked, “Mike, are you planning on pushing packages for the rest of your life?” I remember thinking for a minute and then saying, “Connie, I don’t know. Are you?” He said, “As a matter of fact, I’m not. I just passed my LSAT and am going to law school next year.” He smiled and walked away. No shoulds, oughts or musts. Just a question.

Connie went on to get his law degree and became a well-known attorney in our city. A year or so later, I walked away from a management position at UPS and went to graduate school to follow the dream I didn’t know I had until he asked that little question.

One question. No recommendation. A small-time leader in action.

Journal Entry: Have you experienced a small-time leader that made a big difference in your life and work? What small thing could you do to help a child, spouse, friend or co-worker catch a glimpse of their potential in leadership and life?

Note: Over the next several months I’ll be writing about small-time leaders in my life. If you have had an experience with a small-time leader and would like to share it, please send me an email. I would love to hear your story.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together. – Vincent Van Gogh

If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way. – Napoleon Hill

Success in life is founded upon attention to the small things rather than to the large things; to the everyday things nearest to us rather than to the things that are remote and uncommon. – Booker T. Washington

If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. – The Bible Luke 16:10

You can’t change the world; you can’t fix the whole environment. But you can recycle. You can turn the water off when you’re brushing your teeth. You can do small things. – Patti Smith

You do not lead by hitting people over the head — that’s assault, not leadership. – Dwight Eisenhower

First Followers

Beware of a leader who takes lots of credit for a big success.

When I was working on my first book, my book producer reminded me to not think about selling books to the masses. “Books sell one at a time” He said. “Here how it works. One person buys a book and if they really like it, he or she recommends it to another person who buys that book. If this series of events happens over and over, and again and again, your book will be a sales success.”

A book becomes great because of the first follower influences another follower – not because of a publisher’s mass publicity efforts.

The same is true for leaders. A real leader always stands alone at first – just her or him sharing a big and sometimes crazy idea. If after a good while he or she is still standing alone, then they are not a leader, but are just a person with an idea – standing alone. But when one person buys into their idea with enthusiasm, then others start following that follower. Soon more join in and follow the other followers. The person with big idea will be given the credit. However, without a courageous first follower, there would be no credit or success for anyone to give or get.

Which leads me to share a controversial idea. The idea that everyone should be a leader. This makes no sense in the real world, even though this philosophy sells a lot of books and makes many leadership consultants a lot of money. The truth is, brave first followers who are empowered by a leader are the real secret. Ideas start and stick one person at a time. Here’s how it works. A person buys into a big idea and if they really like it, he or she tells it to another person who buys into that idea. If that series happens over and over, and again and again, that leader has a pretty good chance of being successful and seeing something great happen.

Journal Entry: How do you encourage and acknowledge those followers who have consistently supported your success in leadership and life?

2018 Gallup research shows that there are 4 things followers need to experience from a leader: trust, stability, compassion and hope. — From It’s the Manager by Clifton & Hart

The world is moved not only by the mighty shoves of heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker. — Helen Keller

If I had to reduce the responsibilities of a good follower to a single rule, it would be to speak truth to power – with diplomacy. — Warren Bennis

If a man aspires to the highest place, it is no dishonor to him to halt at the second. — Cicero

From Gandhi to Mandela, from the American patriot to the Polish shipbuilders, the makers of revolutions have not come from the top. — Gary Hamel

The greatest among you shall be your servant. — Matthew 23:7 The Bible’s New Testament KJV

You’re gonna have to serve somebody. — Bob Dylan

R.O.W.E. or M.O.V.E. Management

If you were asked to put an X below to indicate your belief about what motivates people to consistently give their best at work, where would you make your mark?

Innate Desire to Excel——————– Outside $-based Incentives

If your X is toward the left, you give people more autonomy. Autonomy a defines as the desire to be self-directed. By taking this intrinsic motivation approach, you create what open-minded business executives call a results-only work environment or R.O.W.E.

In a R.O.W.E. culture of freedom and trust, people are given clearly defined expectations and outcomes only. They are not told how or when to do the work they are assigned; only what needs be achieved and the deadline. Research shows that managers who offer autonomy soon discover that productivity increases, stress decreases and people are generally happier. They experience their manager as a servant leading.

If the X is to the right, this manager takes away people’s autonomy and replaces it with a control, relying on an extrinsic “carrot and stick” mode of operating. They create what I call an environment of manipulated outcomes verifying everything or M.O.V.E. This fear-based approach is infected by half-baked expectations and a granular “check with me first” style of management, creating a low-trust culture resulting in up -and-down productivity, high stress and burnout. People experience this type of manager as self-serving.

If you ask your direct reports to indicate with a X what your behavior says you believe about what really motivates people, where would they put their mark? Where would your spouse and children place their X?

Journal Entry: I hope this short note creates a desire to explore more about what really motivates people. The concept of R.O.W.E. is found in a book called What Really Motivates People by Daniel Pink. M.O.V.E. is something I made up one day when I had too much time on my hands.

If you’d like to learn more this subject, you can buy the book, which I recommend, Drive: What Really Motivates People. I hope this helps you and the people around you manage to have more fun and fulfillment in leadership and life.


Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results. – General George S. Patton

It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit. – Harry S Truman

When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun, you can do amazing things. – Joe Namath

The best test of a servant leader is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? – Robert Greenleaf

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles LORD it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. – The Bible book of Mark, Chapter 10, verse 42-45

Tree Cutter Vision

“We’re loggers – We’re not landscapers,” spoke the grandpa, who was also the leader of the close-kin gang of low-country men I hired to remove some pine trees on my quail hunting preserve. I had just explained to them that I wanted the trees cut so there would be about 100 feet between each tree. All I saw were question marks in ever eyeball. Then I walked around in the trees and showed them. I looked up as the group cocked their heads, squinted, grunted or grimaced after which their elder replied with ” we’re not landscapers.”

That’s when I thought, “I’m in trouble. They don’t get it. ”

So I asked, “How many of you have ever hunted quail behind a birddog?” One hand rose. It was grandpa. “Did you ever hunt in south Alabama or southern Georgia?” He nodded with a far away, good-days-gone-by look in his eyes. “Do you remember how those birddogs ran through the sage grass growing among pine trees scattered across the open land?” He grinned and nodded again. “That’s what I want this land to look like.” He stared at me. “Can you do that?” I asked. He nodded. Then he spit. (A nod followed by a spit means yes in logger lingo). He had the vision.

Two days later I got a call from his grandson, the only person who had cell phone. He said, “Grandpa wants you to come down and take a look to see if we’re doing right.” I went down. They were. After they walked me around and showed me what they had done, one of the leading cousins said, “Now, Mr. Mike, if you want to come down again, we’d be pleased to have you take a look anytime.” I did. In a little over a week, my overgrown pine thickets looked a lot like the southern plains. The outcome was not landscaped, but it was a marvel in their logging world.

The whole bunch of them seemed a bit proud of their work.

A positive spit was the giveaway. I’d like to think that maybe for the first time ever, at least a few of these worn-out tree cutters glimpsed their work as more than how many logs they could deliver to the sawmill. I hope they began to see their saws, bulldozers and drag ropes as tools to create something with good purpose. They made my dream become a reality.

Journal Entry: Do you sometimes feel like you’re just going through the motions? You are doing a good job and producing excellent outcomes, but you are not sensing real progress and starting to wonder why? Do you ever find yourself questioning your team, manager(s) or partner for their lack active engagement? If any of these situations ring true, maybe you need to reset your vision for a key relationship, your department, your team, your organization or even yourself. Doing this may not matter at all, but you never know – you might just turn out to be the best landscaper for your leadership and life.


Definition of a Landscaper: An artistic arranger of grounds

Inch by inch life’s a cinch – yard-by-yard life is hard. ~ Unkown

Where there is no vision, the people perish. ~ Proverbs 29:18 – Bible KJV

“Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie.” ~ William Shakespeare, playwright

“I always wanted to be somebody. I guess I should have been more specific.” ~ Lily Tomlin, comedienne

You never know when someone
May catch a dream from you.
You never know when a little word
or something you might do
May open up the window
of a mind that seeks the light.
The way you live (and lead) may not matter at all
but you never know – it might.

And just in case it could be
that another’s life, through you,
might possibly change for the better,
with a broader and brighter view.
It seems it might be worth a try
at pointing the way to what’s right.
Of course, it may not matter at all,
But then again – it might.

New Podcast Available

In this episode of Play Your Position Podcast, Michael Alan Tate talks about what a life-giving career is. He talks about some key points from his book, The White Shirt — about knowing who you are, what your skills, interests, and values are, as well as finding the key interest in your career and how to find a job by looking back to ask, “who am I and where do I fit?”

Michael’s plan is to help and coach people who feel discouraged by finding “their way” and into their career. As a mentor himself, Michael talks about some of the influential people in his life who have contributed to his life-giving ways.

Make sure to give this episode a listen if you are stuck in your search for the career that is for you! Don’t just give into the grind of hanging around a job you don’t like just to end up in a dead-end career. Make the change! Hear some of the key offensive strategies Michael shares in this episode to further your career path and design a life that matters now!

The White Shirt is available on amazon.com or at whiteshirtbook.com.

Glimpse of Civility

I do not attend comedy shows nor follow politics very often, but this week I sat in an amphitheater and watched comedian Jim Gaffigan. It was a great show with lots of one-liners. My favorite Jim line was, “I’m fat. That’s not self-criticism or low self-esteem. It is self-awareness, which seems in very low supply these days.”

Then for some reason, I picked up a copy of USA Today, turned to page two and read the Rod Rosenstein letter of resignation to President Donald Trump. This line caught my eye:

“I’m grateful to you for the opportunity to serve; the courtesy and the humor you have displayed in our personal conversations; and for the goals you set in your inaugural address: patriotism, unity, safety, education, and prosperity.”

The story went on to tell of the public scorn and emotional abuse rained on Rosenstein by Donald Trump over his time as Deputy Attorney General. Yet the man did not take the current politically approved approach of bashing anyone as any opportunity arises. He instead showed civility, a true civil servant so to speak; he displayed kindness and courtesy to a man who reputably ranks very high on the list of the worst people managers in the world. Rosenstein acted from a place of good for his country, instead of a position that was good for his public image.

Leadership evolves by intention. In my work over the years with some very effective and ineffective managers, I have noticed that many young high-potential professionals, and most four-year-olds, act out of a self-absorbed place of arrogance and pride: “I’m right, you are wrong. I will win. That’s it.” Then as life goes on, some people choose to step back and observe their behavior honestly. Those rare individuals become true leaders as their self-awareness transforms them into being civil, which is synonymous with humility and confidence: “I may be wrong. How can we work this out? What’s next?”

Journal Entry: Have you had a manager, spouse or child that you consider to be a person of civility? How do they influence the way you show up in your leadership and life today?


“Gentle words are a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” — Proverbs 15:4, the Bible, NLT

After God created 24 hours of alternating darkness and light, one of the angels asked Him, “What are you going to do now?” God said, “I think I’m going to call it a day.”

“When you know you can do something, and you feel good about yourself, you do not have to devalue others.” ― John Patrick Hickey

“You can disagree without being disagreeable.” ― Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“The person of greatest strength is also one of great gentleness. The most accomplished person learns from both failure and success. The strongest leaders know how to follow, and that asking for help can sometimes be the best thing she or he can do.” — Found on a birthday card

“Any fool can criticize condemn and complain, and most fools do.” — Benjamin Franklin

Prayerful Question

Sam is good leader. He knows the two things that matter — 1) What he wants, and 2) the primary question a person needs to answer to become a leader.

When Sam called me to help him with his team, the team was not in trouble; as a matter of fact, his division had led the company in production and profits for many years. When I asked how he had accomplished this, he gave some credit to “the luck of the draw” on his part, then without the slightest hesitation, he gave the lion’s share of credit for success to the amazing people on his team. Sam had called because he sensed the team may have peaked, and he wanted talk about ways to make this team even better.

In a few verbal bullet points, he spelled out the vision he hoped for his team and the impact they would have on the organization. Then he said “Over the last few months, I have been asking myself is there something about me that is keeping this team from moving to the next level of performance?”

Is there something about me? Philosophers, poets, prophets and presidents — found in prayers, speeches, and books since civilization began — have put this single inquiry forward, in different words, from altering angles. It is perhaps the one indispensable question necessary for the growth of anyone seeking to influence others toward something better or bigger.

Legend has it that in some ancient tribal cultures, the warriors (or the leaders in the tribe) strived to walk as if every step they took was a prayer. I have yet to learn what words were in those prayers or if this only figuratively represented a posture of humility and gratitude. But I believe if there were such a “walking prayer,” and that a warrior did indeed pray this prayer on his road to leadership, it might have been something like a reworking of The Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the thing I can, and the wisdom to know that it’s me.

Journal Entry: Are you feeling like things are good and hoping that things could be even better? What might happen if you sought the answer to this one prayerful question as you consider your next move in your leadership and life?

Physical strength can never permanently withstand the impact of spiritual force. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better. – Abraham Lincoln

It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart. – Mahatma Gandhi

Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful. – Ann Landers

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – The Bible’s New Testament, Matthew, Chapter 7 verses 3-5

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