Leadership & Life Journal

This is Good

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” Henry Ford

Over the last several months, I’ve encountered more major leadership team challenges than I can ever remember. Some are so personal and ethically challenging that I can’t even mention them, but there is one I would like to share.

I began a new project with a new organization, and the week I showed up, two members of the six-member executive team resigned. So, you’re probably thinking that you might want to think twice before you ask me to work with your team. That could be true, but that is not the point of this example, so let’s move on.

When the four of us met with those two open seats at the table, the group was still in shock and reeling from the sudden change. After a time of talking about how each person felt about this surprising turn of events, everyone still had their heads down. But then the head of Operations said, “Maybe this is a good opportunity to rethink our organization and arrange it in a more meaningful and effective way.”

A simple “how could this be good?” question shifted the atmosphere from a pity party into a providential event to capitalize on. By noon the next day, they had a 1-year reorganization strategy and 3-month transition plan hammered out and were ready to move forward together toward a new and fresh vision of success.

Journal Entry: Are you facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge with your team, family or a friendship? Will you choose to view this situation from a place of pity or providence, loss or lesson, bad or good event in your leadership and life?

An old story is told of a king in Africa who had a close friend with whom he grew up. The friend had a habit of looking at every situation that ever occurred in his life (positive or negative) and remarking, “This is good!”

One day the king and his friend were out on a hunting expedition. The friend would load and prepare the guns for the king. The friend had apparently done something wrong in preparing one of the guns, for after taking the gun from his friend, the king fired it and his thumb was blown off. Examining the situation, the friend remarked as usual, “This is good!” To which the king replied, “No, this is NOT good!” and proceeded to send his friend to jail.

About a year later, the king was hunting in an area that he should have known to stay clear of. Cannibals captured him and took him to their village. They tied his hands, stacked some wood, set up a stake and bound him to the stake.

As they came near to set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb. Being superstitious, they never ate anyone that was less than whole. So untying the king, they sent him on his way. As he returned home, he was reminded of the event that had taken his thumb and felt remorse for his treatment of his friend. He went immediately to the jail to speak with his friend. “You were right,” he said, “it was good that my thumb was blown off.” And he proceeded to tell the friend all that had just happened. “And so I am very sorry for sending you to jail for so long. It was bad for me to do this.”

“No,” his friend replied, “This is good!”

“What do you mean, ‘This is good’? How could it be good that I sent my friend to jail for a year?”

“If I had NOT been in jail, I would have been with you.”

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)

Don’t miss my “Small Time Leader 10-minute podcast” next Tuesday and Thursday. My guest Dr. Joey Faucette, an organizational culture and leadership expert, shares the impact an educator and church leader had on his success. Please subscribe via your favorite syndication platform so that you do not miss an episode!

Raking in the New Year

Raking in the New Year

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This past Tuesday, the speaker at my Rotary club, a retired Chairman of the Board of his very successful family business, didn’t talk much about his business. He talked about his past 10 years’ experience of being a volunteer airplane pilot transporting war-injured veterans to places they needed to go around the world. He was on one of the most joyful speakers I have ever heard. Rotary clubs are famous for writing checks to good causes, but he reminded us of something more important when he said, “My father always told me this about serving others: The easiest thing to do to is write a check. Go rake a yard.

Every person I’ve met in the first 10 days of 2020 has asked me, or I asked them, “How is your New Year’s going?” A few said great. Most said fine or pretty good. And a couple of people told me that this is the toughest start of any new year they have ever had.

If you happen to be part of that last group who entered this new year with great expectations and were instead confronted with great disappointment and find yourself in a sad funk – I’d like to offer you something to think about.

“There is a wonderful law of nature that the three things we crave most in life—happiness, freedom, and peace of mind—are always attained by giving them to someone else.” Peyton Conway March, the 1st US Army Chief of Staff 1918-1921.

It’s easy for me, and maybe for you, to stay stuck alone in my disappointment and become uncomfortably content to be a quiet Debbie Downer. As March says above, it is easier to act your way into thinking better, than to think your way into acting better. Good feelings follow good actions.

So, get out of your chair and give someone a smile down the hall or a pat on the back. Tell someone how gifted they are, give an unexpected gift or just sit and listen to a friend who may have a problem bigger than yours – rake a yard.

Journal Entry: Even if you having a great new year, do you know some people at work or home who needs an uplift? Whose yard do you need to rake in your leadership and life?

Announcement: the first episode of my podcast “Small-Time Leaders” will air next Tuesday. Here is a preview of the intro to the podcast.

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

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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