Squirrels, shame, ski jumps and advice for leaders at professional services firms

by | Culture, Prudence

When Colin Powell was national security adviser in the Reagan Whitehouse, he met regularly with President Reagan. During one meeting Powell was sharing a significant national security problem that had the military, the State Department and Congress up in arms. As Powell was telling the president about the multitude of issues, President Reagan’s attention was focused on an Oval Office window. While Powell talked, President Reagan looked out the window. Just before Powell finished his update, President Reagan exclaimed, “Look, Colin! The squirrels are about to eat the nuts I set out for them.” Powell knew the conversation was over and returned to his office. Feeling upset and put out, Powell reflected on the conversation, including the president’s comments about the squirrels.  A light went off in his head.

Colin Powell realized that he had been updating the President on his problem—not the President’s problem. Until it became a problem for the president, Mr. Reagan was not concerned about it. Powell realized that President Reagan had entrusted and empowered him to deal with the issue.  Talking about squirrels was the Gipper’s way of demonstrating leadership in a uniquely Reagan way.

This story, and many like it, was shared at the Global Leadership Summit held recently in Barrington, IL.  If you have never attended, I encourage you to sign up today. It sells out every year. The two-day event will change your approach to leadership and your life.  I have been going for several years and would like to share some of my key takeaways and great resources provided by the speakers.

  1. From Colin Powell:
    1. “Take care of your troops.”
    2. Don’t say,  “Sorry” to a wounded soldier. Instead ask, “Were you a good soldier?”  Veterans want to share their stories, have their service be recognized and have it be known that they served their country and their buddies well.
    3. “It will look different in the morning.”  This axiom is an attitude. It assumes that we are going to make what is wrong better and tells people to come in prepared to work.
    4. The only two reasons to fire someone: 1. They don’t buy into your vision. 2. They don’t want to do the work.
  2.  From Bill Hybels:
    1. You must define your organization’s current reality.
    2. You are either in a downturn, status quo or an upturn.
    3. If you are in a downturn, help put out the fire. If you are in status quo, start a fire. If you are in an upturn, pour fuel on the fire.
    4. Determine your reality and get into action.
    5. Your whole team already knows the reality. They are just waiting for you to lead.
    6. Staff culture is only as healthy as a CEO wants it to be.
  3. From Patrick Lencioni:
    1. Three signs you are in a miserable job (or you’re making your team’s jobs miserable). 1.  Anonymity: All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in authority. (Partners, he used you as the worst example of not appreciating individuals’ unique qualities.)  2. Irrelevance: Everyone needs to know that his job matters to someone.  3. Immeasurability: Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves.
  4. From Love Does written by Bob Goff:
    1. In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about it or keep planning it. Simply put: love does.
    2. READ Love Does and watch a Bob Goff video. His spirit is infectious!
  5. From Joseph Grenny:
    1. Read his book, Influencer, today.
    2. Watch the video about courage and achievement that will inspire you and your kids to push through fear. In this clip, we experience the thrill of a ski jump through the eyes of a young girl.
  6. From Brene Brown:
    1. Shame is about blame, betrayal, and withholding. Stop shaming.
    2. In the absence of belonging and love, there is suffering.
    3. A leader’s job is to model the questions, not the answers.
    4. What kills love, kills organizations.
    5. Courage and comfort are mutually exclusive.
    6. “If you are not in the arena getting your butt kicked, I am not interested in you feedback!”
  7. From comedian Michael Jr.:
    1. “I didn’t know what I needed to say until I got my feet to where they needed to be.”

The theme of the Global Leadership Summit is “Lead where you are.”  The program was originally designed (and still is) to help pastors be better leaders.  Funny how it has made me, as a business leader, a better “pastor.”  I will never see a squirrel the same way again.

Be prudent.

About the Author

Jeff McKay
Founder & CEO
Prudent Pedal

As a strategist and fractional CMO, Jeff helps firms set smart growth strategies in motion. He was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen. Learn more.

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