I recently saw the movie “Facing Darkness”, the story of volunteers’ courageous and selfless service to others in face of the Ebola virus. If you follow the news then you already know the story – how the Ebola fighters from Samaritan’s Purse and Medicin Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) fought against Ebola with exceptional courage and devotion. Time Magazine later collectively named them “Person of the Year.”
The movie reminds us of how Dr. Kent Brantly, staff members and volunteers (Americans and Liberians) elected to stay at ELWA Hospital to help others instead of evacuating themselves to safety. It is a remarkable story. Their work was a marker of their faith. They were willing to lay down their lives for their friends and for people they did not know at all.
The ELWA team labored alone long before the CDC, international NGO’s and western governments got involved. Notably, well before the outbreak of Ebola, each of the Ebola fighters had made a self-leadership decision. Each had chosen to break away from the mold that society had prepared for him or her. Kent Brantly could have taken a safe medical job the States and never gone to west Africa. Liberian nurse Iris Martar did not have to work at ELWA Hospital in the first place and did not have to stay there after the outbreak. David and Nancy Writebol, who had manned their post at ELWA for years, did not have to do mission work overseas. They could have had safe jobs back home and the security of suburban living. In choosing to reject the mold, each person faced down his or her own internal fears and chose to express an individual calling, talent and abilities. They did not glob onto society’s offer of “security.” Each followed his or her own internal north star and did something daring, creative and “artistic” as Seth Godin would say.
What are the lessons to be learned from these people?
What if most professors got back to teaching, educating and empowering college students and encouraging them to think instead of being focused on the rote of exams and the rule of publish or perish? What if legislators were civil and bold enough to break away from the spirit of party and just did the right thing for the common good? What if society, through churches and parents got close enough to young people to provide and abundance of insight, love and support before those young people leave home and face the lure of drugs and the challenges of marriage and parenting in the modern age?
There is no magic wand for fixing the ills of society all at once. But the power of individuals breaking free from the mold should never be underestimated. The highest form of self-leadership involves self-awareness, vision and action that breaks away from conventional behavior. As Godin suggests, most of us need to generate the hubris to fly higher and not be afraid. 
 Godin, Seth. The Icarus Deception. Penguin, 2012, print, New York.
 Maxwell, John C., The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. 10th anniv ed., Thomas Nelson, 2007, print, Nashville.
 Reference is to Godin, Seth. The Icarus Deception. Id.
At Vantage, Washington and across the river near the town of George, the Columbia River glistens from basalt rock perches. These walls of the Columbia River gorge often tower 200 feet over the surface of the water. The riverbed itself was formed thousands of years ago by glaciers and the force of water carving canyons in Idaho, Washington and Oregon. As Lewis and Clark’s brave Corp of Discovery learned in 1805, the river has a clear destination – it flows forcefully for 1,243 miles, its lower stretch passing The Dalles, Vancouver, Portland and Astoria before emptying itself into the great Pacific Ocean.
Water has a redemptive quality – especially in the form of mighty rivers like the Columbia. The water moves. The water has force. The river brings life and gives life. The river moves you or anyone who get in it. It takes you places. No wonder there are so many blues, R&B, gospel and rock songs about rivers. It feels natural to sing about great rivers.
The qualities of mature leaders are similar to the qualities of great rivers.
The Columbia has power and depth. There is a spiritual side to the Columbia - its origin and its flow are clearly not man-made. The river does not believe in scarcity. It abundantly provides resources, depositing and redistributing sand, silt and minerals where it will. In many stretches of the Columbia River basin, neither humans nor animals would survive for long without the river’s beneficence. Prime agricultural lands in Washington and Oregon would not exist without the river. No winter wheat, hops or other grains. No world-class orchards and vineyards that we generally take for granted. Without the river, much of the land would be barren rather than productive.
The Columbia knows where it’s going. It constantly renews itself and confidently proceeds to its destination. It doesn’t fret about where its power is going to come from next year.
Like the Columbia, leaders have a clear destination in mind. And like the Columbia, the mature leader’s destination is something greater than the leader himself. Mature leaders reject the politics of scarcity and maintain a mindset of abundance. They attract resources and deposit those resources in just the right places so that others can flourish. Good leaders water seeds sown by others - they make sure that life-giving “water” gets to the right ideas so that the best of our collective ideas and dreams blossom into strategies and action.
At many points, the Columbia is wide and daunting. Other points are narrow and rapid. If Captain Lewis or Captain Clark were around today, they’d probably be the first to tell us not to navigate the perils of the river alone. Similarly, good leaders don’t travel the rivers of life alone. As John Maxwell writes: “great leaders always seem to embody two disparate qualities. They are both highly visionary and highly practical.” Leaders value people and value teams, knowing that “one is too small a number for significance.”
Good leaders understand the law of navigation. They carefully plan their trips. Leaders examine conditions before making commitments. They make sure their conclusions represent faith and fact. Leaders earnestly consult with others while charting the course to the destination.
Boundless Growth helps leaders boost the capacity of their own corps of discovery.
Take the Columbia challenge. Become forever resourced like the river. Learn to navigate the course. Set your destination. And make sure your destination is something greater than yourself.
Boundless Growth Coaching and Consulting is dedicated to developing leaders, transforming organizations and teams and improving lives. Step forward into growth. Activate your potential. Contact Boundless Growth. email@example.com
Sound leadership is the missing ingredient in our society today. The absence of good leaders has had and continues to have profound implications for the destiny of our culture and country. For example, just this past week news surfaced of a drill instructor at Paris Island throwing a young recruit into an industrial clothing dryer causing burn injuries. While the drill instructor’s conduct was clearly against Marine Corp standards, internal reporting of the occurrence was suppressed even though many knew the conduct was patently unlawful. Our national politics has become distasteful and disgraceful. During the past year a major auto manufacturer was caught using its technology to deliberately falsify emission results.
You see, people are appointed to positions. People are given titles. Some are elected to office. Some “rise through the ranks.” Others simply declare themselves to be in charge. But neither position, nor title, nor electoral victory nor self-appointment automatically means that one is a good and sound leader.
My friend John C. Maxwell provides a functional and descriptive definition of leadership. He says: “leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” That being said we must observe that throughout history there have been great leaders and there have been bad, even evil leaders.
The laws of the universe and creation prod our spirits to move towards fuller expression and expansion. We either step forward into growth and develop ourselves and become leaders, or we shrink backwards into indifference and slip towards insignificance. Now some may object and say that there is no need for everyone to improve themselves and enhance their leadership abilities. I disagree. I disagree because we are all leaders in one sense or another. We all influence the lives of people around us. It may be that your primary sphere of influence is your children. Or your spouse. For some it is co-workers or subordinates at work. For others it is a platoon. Or a political party. Or a country. It doesn’t matter what your current sphere or spheres of influence are. The mere fact that you are on the planet means that you are influencing other people and having an impact on the lives of others – in a good way, a bad way or a negligible way. By improving ourselves and become better leaders, we increase our capacity to do great things for the people around us and to truly add value to the organizations and groups we belong to.
We don’t all need to be Churchills or Roosevelts. But we can all make an impact on the people around us right where we are today. Leaders are learners who transform themselves and go on to transform the lives of families, institutions and communities. Leaders are people who put conscious effort into becoming the best version of themselves. Angels rejoice when we make life better for just one person. By becoming a better leader you will do far more than you presently imagine. Contact Boundless Growth if you want to up your game and step forward into leadership and growth. God planted greatness in you. Amaze others and amuse yourself along the way.
P.S. Limited space/limited availability – join our complimentary, virtual mastermind group study on The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, starting in October of 2016.
Beliefs Drive Action, Part III: An Organization or Group's Beliefs Are Impactful and Its Core Beliefs Will Determine Its Future
" Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way." - Abraham Lincoln.
It doesn’t matter whether the organization or group is a small business, a corporation, a hobby club or a country – the dynamics remain the same. Beliefs, especially core beliefs, will influence the group’s future in much the same way that beliefs affect an individual. Beliefs drive action and influence outcomes.
Does your group believe that the days ahead are gloomy and that things won’t improve? If so, your group will have great difficulty breaking the attitude of gloom and patterns of inaction or negative actions. There will be a tendency to complain, to not proactively go after change. Malaise and confusion creep in and may disrupt the group’s sense of identity. A self-fulfilling prophecy may set in. People quit or give up. Atrophy continues.
In contrast, does your group or organization believe that its best days lay in front of it? Regardless of present circumstances, do your group’s leaders have an optimistic outlook and attitude? Reagan’s sunny “morning in America” outlook stirred people of all political persuasions. An attitude of optimism and belief in a better future spurs the imagination. Creativity ramps up. Energy is generated, whereas the contrary attitude sows hopelessness and robs people of their power and ability to cope with present problems.
Core beliefs – especially those maintained by the leaders – get transmuted into group behavior. Companies with a top-down management style and a belief or attitude that only the people at the top have value and are worthy of respect sabotage their own future. Why? Because to devalue people is to demotivate people.
Think of the worst run corporations or organizations based on the cult of one or a few personalities. Such organizations don’t believe in and don’t empower their employees or members. Such organizations limit the production of new ideas and kill initiative. In the long haul, morale plummets. In a good economy, people leave those types of companies as soon as a new opportunity arises.
In contrast, companies that value and empower people have little problem retaining employees. People perceive value in their association with the organization – value which goes beyond the paycheck. Toyota of America is an example of a more enlightened company. So is the Kohler Company, headquartered near Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Kohler has 50 locations on six continents. It is highly committed to giving in the communities where its facilities are located and where its associates work. Kohler’s culture encourages employees to excel in the workplace and to take part in community stewardship. That’s part of its ethos. Its mission statement reads:
“The corporation and each associate have the mission of contributing to a higher level of gracious living for those who are touched by our products and services.Gracious living is marked by qualities of charm, good taste and generosity of spirit. It is further characterized by self-fulfillment and the enhancement of nature. We reflect this mission in our work, in our team approach to meeting objectives and in each of the products and services we provide our customers.”
Kohler partners with organizations such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and World Vision. Volunteering Kohler employees have been known to sport t-shirts stating “Give Thought, Take Action.” Few companies come close to Kohler’s match between its mission statement and its culture as reflected by employee behavior inside and outside of work.
We sometimes forget how important core beliefs are. Company A believes that it can make money by behaving honestly. That core belief will absolute drive the organization’s behavior. Assuming basic competency in its field, in the long term, honesty results in a positive reputation and a trusted brand. Contrast Company B, which believes it has to compromise on honesty in order to make money. It weasels out of warranties. It uses second rate parts. It falsifies information about quality or the attributes of its products. It does not keep promises or it cuts corners. It departs sharply from recognized standards. Such companies experience short term gains but consign themselves to failure and disgrace in the long run, or they are forced into extensive and expensive make-overs in order to survive. Those organizations become known by their fruits – declining reputation and excessive employee turn-over.
Core values and beliefs are critical. Does the organization value good leadership? Integrity? Is the organization focused on long term value? Or is integrity sacrificed for short-term gains? The beliefs transmuted through leaders morphs into culture. My friend Scott Faye suggests examining whether a group or organization relies primarily on its culture – a positive behavioral type of DNA – to guide its people or whether the organization constantly refers to and re-writes “policies and procedures” to guide people.
Another barometer is how the organization behaves when its leaders are away, because that’s when its real culture is evident. “People do as people see.” [John Maxwell’s “Law of the Picture”]. The real values and beliefs (not the formally stated ones) transmuted from the leaders’ behavior become evident at the departmental level, in the trenches, on the sales floor, in the lunch room and at mid-level and low-level meetings.
Is there a cure for an organization’s poor performance and lack of member engagement? Yes. Assuming an organization has a legitimate and beneficial purpose, with effort, an organization’s culture can be rebuilt. Collective behavior can be changed. What is the necessary ingredient for producing change? In a word, Leadership.
Leadership, and the ideas and beliefs maintained through solid leadership can transform the culture and transform the organization. As my mentor and friend John Maxwell says: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Our next blog series will focus on leadership and the transformative power of good leadership.