3 Qualities of Leadership from My Golden Retriever

Leadership-Cappuccino-Golden Retriever


Every dog has a different personality, even within the same breed. We have had two Golden Retrievers over the past 13 years. Taffy was our dog who got us to Italy and back. You can read more about her here. Cappuccino is our current Golden Retriever, who will celebrate her second birthday on the 26th. (You think I am kidding about a celebration–but my kids and wife will make sure she is celebrated) She is our Christmas Golden.

Taffy and Cappuccino are very different dogs. But they do carry some similar traits. There are three characteristics that I have observed over time that make for quality leadership reflection.


Many breeds are curious by nature, but a Golden Retriever is supremely curious. Any sound from outside will spark an immediate reaction. Any new object within the home, or even an out-of-place item, will cause a sensory speculation that must be satisfied. At this time of year, a wrapped present sets the stage for sniffing, surveying–and hopefully tearing–to discover the contents inside. House guests are welcomed beyond measure as they must be greeted with all manner of tail wagging and licks. This supreme curiosity may arouse excitement, fear, or great caution–but nothing must be ignored.

The curious leader is an aware leader. 

We too need to be attuned to the unusual noise, the new element in “the room” that could change everything, and especially those we lead. Curiosity leans into the unknown. Curiosity discovers. The unknown may startle us, cause us anxiety, or even fear. But curiosity also leads to possibility. Leaders chase what’s possible. Aware leaders are curious leaders.


I know this will surprise you, but Retrievers retrieve. Our Cappuccino will retrieve from sunup to sundown if you will supply the throws. As soon as she has had her breakfast, Cappuccino will bring you her tennis ball and beg you to throw it in the backyard. She will cajole you, bug you, and frustrate you. But you will throw the ball eventually–even if it is to just get some energy out of her. She will outlast you.

To be tenacious is to not be easily stopped. It is the essence of determination. 

The measure of a leader is what will stop them. By definition, leaders move things forward. Leaders change the status quo. Leaders push against what is to get to what could be. And there will always be barriers. Tenacious leaders draw energy through calling and conviction. They are driven by a vision. If they are leaders of true character, that vision is for someone else’s good. But they are never easily stopped.


Golden Retrievers are nothing if not grateful. Taffy would show her gratitude through leaning on you and her low-level grunts. Cappuccino demonstrates her thankfulness with a gentle lick. It is a very conscious move on her part. Immediately after breakfast, or dinner, I can expect the grateful lick. She is also quite happy to show you her gratitude when you return home. These are social animals.

Gratitude keeps us grounded and humble.

For a leader to say “Thank You” is to acknowledge that he or she is less than omnicompetent. Leadership is about influencing others. It is also about serving others. No leader has ever tasted success without the help of many others. To be grateful is to be appreciative. The more specific you can be, the more powerful your gratitude–and the greater your influence. Leaders who are worthy of being followed are leaders who say “Thank You.”

Are you a Golden Retriever leader?

5 for Leadership-November 21st


Liz West on Flickr

5 for Leadership is a collection of weekly posts focused on the topic of leadership. This week there are posts covering leadership gratitude, first-time leaders, knowing when your leadership time is up, an interview with Max Lucado, and what millennial women think of leadership sacrifice. There is plenty to ponder.

Millenial Women Question: Is Leadership Worth The Sacrifice?

“The real question is: do Millennial women really not want to be leaders? Or, have they recognized how great the sacrifices female leaders must make, and how many obstacles there are for them in the business, and chosen other paths?” This post comes from the Switch & Shift blog and contains a great infographic.

Take An 80-20 Approach to First-Time Mangement

“As an individual contributor, your focus is on doing the work, getting projects done, and meeting deadlines. But when you switch into a manager role, it means that you have to help others get the work done and ensure that they have the support, resources, and encouragement they need to be successful, both as individuals and as a group.” David Witt contributes a great post for anyone new to leadership or improving in their leadership–on the Blanchard Leadership Chat blog.

5 Leadership Questions with Max Lucado

This is a podcast on the Christian Leadership Alliance website. I think you will really enjoy this interview with pastor, leader, and author–Max Lucado.

10 Ways A Leader Knows It Is Over

“Leadership is temporary.  Our responsibility is to steward it well while we have it.  The fact our leadership responsibilities will one day conclude is a sobering reality that is in the back of all our minds.” This post is from Brian Dodd on his blog, Brian Dodd on Leadership. Brian takes some points from a recent USA Today piece on Peyton Manning and makes some great leadership applications.

What Is Leading With Gratitude?

“Each of us has many things to be grateful for in our imperfect personal and professional lives. Although it may be easier to look at what is not working, it is more empowering for leaders to identify what we are thankful for. As Thanksgiving approaches for many of us, let’s explore ways to show our gratitude.” Terri Klass shares 10 great ways to show leadership gratitude on her blog Terri Klass Consulting.

There are the 5 for your Thanksgiving week. Take some time to truly reflect on your leadership journey this week–and give thanks!


Context Matters


Gonzalo Deniz on Flickr

Context = the group of conditions that exist where and when something happens. 

The context in which a leader leads matters.

Every leader stewards their influence in a particular context.

Every leader exists within a particular set of conditions that help to determine the degree to which they are able to maximize their influence. 

The prerequisite for determining a proper leadership context is self-awareness. A leader must understand who they are and what they bring to the equation in terms of strengths, personality, and emotional intelligence. If they have a healthy sense of these factors they will be in a position to assess a favorable context.

There are at least three levels of context which every leader should consider: organizational, role, and direct report.

Organizational Context

Organizational context is primarily about the mission. Are you in alignment with what the organization is determined to do? Does the purpose of the organization elicit sufficient passion within you to give your best leadership effort? Can you still lead when the organization makes decisions that run contrary to some of your preferred beliefs or operating style? These are some of the conditions that matter in deciding if your current organization is the right context for you.

Role Context

Role context is primarily about your unique leadership contribution. Does the organization provide sufficient direction, resources, and support for you to make a significant contribution towards the mission? Does your role match your primary strengths? Do you have a role platform that allows you to make a unique contribution to the mission? Does your leadership role position you to empower emerging leaders to multiply the impact of mission? These are some of the conditions that matter in deciding if your current role is the right context for you.

Direct Reporting Context

Direct reporting context is primarily about your freedom of leadership expression. Does your boss allow you to lead according to who you are? Does he or she provide sufficient feedback and developmental support to help you lead better? Does your boss keep your properly accountable to the desired results of the organization? Do you have proper decision-making authority and empowering resources that promote your leadership platform? These are some of the conditions that matter in deciding if your current reporting relationship is the right context for you.

The context in which a leader leads matters.

“Why” for Leaders


La Ciudad Visible on Flickr

“What” is for followers.

“Why” is for emerging leaders.

I have often commented that the greatest task for every leader is the responsibility to raise up more leaders. This really should be a leader’s first and controlling thought.

But most leaders treat those that report to them as mere laborers. They only delegate tasks. They focus on the “what” of a job and forget to explain “why.” To merely tell someone what you want them to do is to focus more on the task than the development of the emerging leader. To tell them “why” is to help them understand the leadership principles behind the task you want them to complete.

“Why” points to the overall direction behind a decision.

“Why” lays the philosophical foundation for the task at hand.

“Why” helps an emerging leader in how to think–so that next time they can make a great decision.

It is best to ask an emerging leader “why.”

But you can also tell an emerging leader “why.”

Education will leave its mark.

Personal discovery will last a lifetime.

Listen to some of the questions of Jesus:

“Why are you anxious about clothing?”

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”

“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”

“Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

“Why do you question in your hearts?”

“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

“Why put me to the test?”

“Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?”

“Why” gets to leadership motives.

Lead well!

5 for Leadership-October 10th


Susanne on Flickr

Here is a fresh 5 for Leadership for this beautiful fall day in October. Take some time between all of the football games and baseball playoff games to grow your leadership through these outstanding thought leaders.

What is Leadership?

“Do you consider yourself a leader?  I’ve noticed that this basic question provokes a lot inside people.” This insightful post comes from Adrian Pei on his personal blog. Take a look at this post and other titles by Adrian.

Observations From An Overwhelming Week

“My week was not overwhelming due to a massive crisis hitting my life, though there are plenty of crises hitting our world these days. In fact, most of the various items hitting the schedule were extremely enjoyable taken individually. The overwhelming feeling simply came as the normal flow of life built up and a few added curveballs were thrown into the mix.” You will enjoy and identify with this very real post from Justin Irving–take a look.

Guy Kawasaki On How Leaders Can Be More Innovative

“I’m live blogging from Catalyst Conference. Catalyst is a next-generation conference that  embolden leaders from all over the world. The theme of Catalyst for 2015 is “Awaken the Wonder.” Wonder invites potential. Wonder provides vision. Wonder inspires. Wonder leads us to God.  Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. He is the author of The Art of Start 2.0.” Paul Sohn does a great job of capturing insights from Catalyst–glean from his experience.

Q&A With Millennial CEO And Book Author Rick Lindquist

“Millennial Rick Lindquist is making his mark in the business world and enjoying the success of his co-authored 2014 bestseller book, The End of Employer-Provided Health Insurance. Lindquist, in his 30’s, is the President and CEO of Zane Benefits, Inc. Today, he kindly answered questions about leadership, mentors, his book, and Millennials in the workplace.” This post comes from Eric Jacob’s blog and is incredibly insightful.

How Is It Even Possible To Be Aware Of Wonder?

Joseph LaLonde has also been blogging from the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. He captures the essence of this important message from Erwin McManus about capturing the wonder. Every leader should read this.

There are the 5 for this week. Pass this post on so others may benefit from this crossroad of leaders and ideas.


Every Leader Needs To Cross Culture

Ponte Vecchio-Bridge-Cross Cultural

The Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

Over the past 35 years I have led many teams into cross cultural settings. Sometimes the trips were for a few days. Sometimes they lasted a couple of months. I have also taken my family to live in another culture for five years. Yet, I am no expert. Living and leading in a cross cultural setting is difficult.

In today’s global economy many business leaders are spending time in other parts of the world. But most run from meeting to meeting and back to the airport. They overcome minor irritations that cultural differences present, but they fail to cross culture.

What does it actually mean to cross culture?

One online business source states that cross culture means “The interaction of people from different backgrounds in the business world. Cross culture is a vital issue in international business, as the success of international trade depends upon the smooth interaction of employees from different cultures and regions.”

This provides us with some sense of definition, but more importantly highlights the necessity for better understanding.

“Cross cultural” can be defined as “involving or bridging the differences between cultures.”

This simple definition does a better job of getting to the heart of the matter.

To be truly successful you have to be able to “involve” and “bridge” the differences.

And that wont happen through a few seminars or training sessions.

To truly cross culture, or arrive at being good at living and leading cross culturally, you need to truly engage the culture. This takes time. You may have to add some days to your business trips. You may need to utilize your vacations differently. You need to create enough space to actually experience the culture outside of your own interests. But if you do, here is what will happen inside of you.

You will notice over time that your attitudes will move from . . .

1. Superiority to humility.  Every person sees their own culture as superior to any other. Writing as an American, we probably take this to an extreme. We have been told inside and outside our borders that we live in the best country in the world. Most of us totally believe in American exceptionalism. And that can cripple us to the ability to “involve” and “bridge.” But if you spend enough time in another country you will begin to see how others view Americans. The “ugly American” syndrome is alive and well. We will begin to see valuable aspects to other cultures, like–relationship over accomplishment, community over individualism, or tradition over efficiency. An attitude of humility may begin to prevail. It is the understanding that we are not superior as a culture. We all bring good and bad into any cross cultural setting. If we will immerse ourselves enough we may find that there are values within the new culture we would choose to embrace warmly. To embrace and adapt well will require humility.

2. Self sufficiency to dependence.  If you remain in a foreign culture for any length of time you will begin to realize your profound deficits. You may not know the language. You might not truly understand how to navigate the city and its transportation system. You are unfamiliar with appropriate greetings, customs, and ways of coming to collaborative agreements. You will need to rely on others to be successful. This requires abandoning your sense of self and being able to ask for help. That can feel like a very vulnerable place to be. But dependence is good. We will become more approachable and accepting of what we don’t know. Dependence does not have to rob you of your initiative. It actually will encourage it at a whole new level.

3. Ignorance to understanding.  It is easy to encounter different cultural elements and declare them bad or wrong. Certainly for Americans we often see other cultures as incredibly inefficient. But again we miss the point. Most cultures around the world have a longer timeline than we do. There is richness, history, and tradition that informs some of these “inefficiencies.” To ignore such cultural variants may be to miss out on deep relationship and effective partnership. It takes a new level of understanding to be a good partner.

What does crossing culture take in practical terms? Seeing, listening, studying, and time. Be curious. Ask questions. Avoid condemnation. Take time. Watch your heart change.

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Augustine on Leadership


Augustine by Sandro Botticelli

Saint Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, was an early Christian theologian and philosopher whose writings were highly influential. Without a doubt Augustine was one of the most important figures in Western Christianity during the 4th and 5th centuries. He is also considered by many to be the early father of the Reformation. Two of his most prominent works were The City of God and The Confessions.

Augustine was also a great mentor of leaders. I have written a previous post about this aspect of his life and some of his methods. Through his sermons and writing Augustine had much to say about leadership. In many ways he was a forerunner of the servant leadership philosophy.

In one of his pastoral sermons Augustine uses Ezekiel 34 as a background text to describe some of his convictions about leadership. Ezekiel 34 stands as a strong rebuke from God towards the religious leaders of Israel. They were to be watchful shepherds over God’s flock. Instead, they proved to be wayward shepherds only interested in bettering themselves.

Here are some of Augustine’s translated leadership principles from this sermon (Sermo 46, 1-2: CCL 41, 529-530):

. . . true shepherds take care of their sheep, not themselves.

I must distinguish carefully between two aspects of the role the lord has given me, a role that demands a rigorous accountability, a role based on the Lord’s greatness rather than on my own merit. The first aspect is that I am a Christian; the second, that I am a leader. I am a Christian for my own sake, whereas I am a leader for your sake; the fact that I am a Christian is to my own advantage, but I am a leader for your advantage.

Many persons come to God as Christians but not as leaders. Perhaps they travel by an easier road and are less hindered since they bear a lighter burden. In addition to the fact that I am a Christian and must give God an account of my life, I as a leader must give him an account of my stewardship as well.

Here are a few other quotes from Augustine with implications for leadership:

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.

No man can be a good bishop if he loves his title but not his task.

Order your soul; reduce your wants; live in charity; associate in Christian community; obey the laws; trust in Providence.

Other related posts:

Leadership the Augustine Way

15 Augustine Quotes That Helped Shape Modern Christian Thought

5 for Leadership (2/14/15)

3915604902_f66d2bf6e1Here is a fresh 5 for your Valentine’s Day. We have posts on Tim Tebow, leadership inquiry, leadership truths, leadership trust, and happy habits. Take some time and become more informed as a leader.

Trust & Leadership  “The key to a leader’s success is the relationship they develop with their constituents. This relationship is always based on trust. Without a deep sense of trust, a leader cannot have any relationship with constituents.” This comes from Will Lukang on the Lead Change Group blog.

7 Inquiry Methods You Must Master  “For most adults, inquiry is a route to information. For teenagers, questions are a rhetorical way to emphasize their point. For toddlers, questions serve to drive their parents batty. There’s also a more nuanced role for questions.” This provides an interesting paradigm for influence–from David Fields. Take a look.

Did You Learn These 9 Critical Leadership Truths?  “As I was visiting my children’s school*, I was struck by 9 critical leadership truths that were being promoted. What impacted me was the fact that as a leadership coach and consultant, I am often talking about these very same qualities and skills with my ‘adult’ clients.” This comes from Andrew Bryant and was found on Linkedin Pulse.

7 Essential Habits of Happier People (How Many Do You Possess?)  “Happiness: everyone wants it, yet relatively few seem to get enough of it, especially those in their early forties. (That’s about the time many of us start thinking, ‘Is this all there is’)” Jeff Haden offers some worthy reflection–this too coming from Linkedin Pulse.

Out of the NFL, Tebow Builds His Lasting Legacy  “The incredible fourth quarter finale to this year’s Super Bowl, complete with a bobbling catch and unlikely interception, made me wonder what’s become of a Christian brother with a knack for fourth quarter heroics: Tim Tebow.” Here is a leader who continues to make a difference in the lives of others.

There are the 5 for this week. Read more than one of these posts and consider.

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5 for Leadership (1/24/15)

medium_2115303614Here is a new 5 for Leadership with some excellent posts on MLK, Winston Churchill, leadership priorities, simple leadership and the future of leadership. There is something here that will enhance your leadership . . . I promise.

3 Leadership Lessons from Winston Churchill  “This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. We might draw many lessons from Churchill’s life, and not all of them salutary (his views on religion, women, and alcohol come to mind). Nevertheless, Churchill was an inspiring and effective leader in a time of crisis, and it is appropriate to consider what he might teach us today about leadership.”  This comes from Gavin Ortlund and contains some great insights and foundational principles for leadership.

What Are Your Leadership Priorities? 5 Areas to Target  “During a recent 360 feedback interview, the client I was working with said something that caught my attention. I’ve been thinking of it since then, and it’s having an impact on what I am identifying as my priorities and targeted behaviors for this year. My client said there are five things you can never be too good at and always need to develop.” This is from Linda Miller on the Blanchard Leader Chat site.

Simple Leadership  “If you are anything like me, the never-ending books, articles, biographies, and latest best practices of leadership are both overwhelming in their volume and confusing in their analysis. So allow me to cut through the unnecessary esoteric complexity of today’s often convoluted approaches to leadership and share a profoundly simple yet powerful system for effective leadership. There are six essential skills of simple leadership.” This is by John Barney on the Business Timezone Blog.

Imagining the Future of Leadership  Linda Fisher Thornton participated recently in the #LeadWithGiants Tweetchat. Here is her lead in: “During the Tweetchat, inspiring global voices weighed in on big questions, including these:

  • What will the future of leadership be like?
  • What is the best case scenario for the future of leadership?
  • How will we individually and collectively reach that best case scenario?”

MLK and Jesus: No Romanticized Kings  “Next to Jesus and the Apostle Paul, no leader has influenced me like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and legacy we honor annually during this time of year.” Natasha Sistrunk Robinson shares a striking post in honor of MLK Day from her blog, A Sista’s Journey.

There are the 5 for this week. I hope your 2015 is off to a great start. Lead well.

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5 for Leadership (11/29/14)

medium_10784025124In this 5 for Leadership we explore more deeply the art of gratitude and what it means to be truly thankful. Every leader needs to exhibit an attitude of thanksgiving. I hope these posts inspire you towards that end.

10 Reasons You Lose Gratitude and 16 Ways To Find It  “Gratitude is a form of happiness. Ungratefulness, unhappiness, and ugliness travel in the same circles. Ungratefulness paints everything ugly.” Dan Rockwell gives us some very practical advice on this critical virtue.

A Leader’s Reasons To Be Thankful  Art Petty provides 11 reasons leaders should be thankful for what we get to do and the influence we have–the privilege of serving.

3 Reasons To Be A More Thankful Person  “Ever wonder the secret to being thankful? I believe the secret to being thankful is in learning to be more content. We give thanks out of a heart overflowing with gratefulness. A full heart naturally produces gratitude. How do we do that?” Ron Edmondson taps some wisdom from the Apostle Paul for learning the secret.

What Is Gratitude?  “True gratitude begins with deep humility. True gratitude changes us. True gratitude transforms our relationships. True gratitude changes the game.” See what else Karin Hurt has to say about this necessary leadership trait.

5 Quotes from G.K. Chesterton on Gratitude and Thanksgiving  Justin Taylor gives us some timely and thought provoking quotes from one of England’s premier writers. Chesterton also was known as a great lay theologian, philosopher, poet, and journalist. These quotes will expand your definition of thanksgiving.

There are the 5 for this week. I hope you have had a beautiful and reflective Thanksgiving. May this holiday season be fruitful in your leadership life.

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