Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership

handsA decade ago, I met a woman who served as an instructor at the United States Chamber of Commerce Institute of Organizational Management.  In 2000, I graduated from the program for Chamber of Commerce Executives which took place in Charleston, South Carolina.  There we discussed the means by which we could be “masters” of our given professions.  Throughout the program which took place for a week over four years, we discussed topics ranging from ethical leadership to volunteer development. Perhaps the message which made the most impact on me was a piece shared by one of our instructors on the Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership.

Dr. Kent M. Keith, wrote the commandments which were later used by Mother Teresa.  The statements were thought provoking for me and I think you will find them meaningful as well.  Keith writes:

People are illogical, unreasonable and self centered.  Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.  Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.  Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people with the smallest ideas.  Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.  Build anyway.

People really need help, but may attack you if you do help them.  Help them anyway.   

Keith saved what I felt was the best for last.  He said, “Give the world the best you have andann marie you’ll get kicked in the teeth.   But give the world the best you have anyway.”   Simple truths for challenging times.  Sometimes they seem too difficult to put into practice.   Perhaps…. but wouldn’t it be great –  just to do it anyway?

What have you done for me lately?



In 1986, Janet Jackson broke through on the Pop and R&B Charts with a little ditty, “What have you done for me lately?” and that refrain has become ingrained in our popular culture today. We’ve all heard it – perhaps some customer or client feels your performance doesn’t measure up today no matter what you might have done yesterday.  An employee is dissatisfied or feels unappreciated no matter what you might have done for them recently. Maybe it’s a family member who thinks you’re unreasonable despite the sacrifices you might have made on their behalf in the past.  As a Chamber of Commerce representing 1,100 members, you are going to hear that line occasionally. It’s the reason we work so hard to make our membership aware of the programming and opportunities available to them.

Last month, I was surprised when I attended a BusinessWorks program and at the conclusion, the co-chairmen announced they had come to the part of the program that was entitled, “What has my Chamber done for me lately?” It was led by Joe Carbon, who himself, was recently diagnosed with cancer. You might recall last month I wrote about Joe as the unidentified Chamber Member who compared this organization to a family. Joe talked about the outpouring of support in his battle to lick the “Big C”. There were few dry eyes in the room as we recognized how much he loved the folks in the room and how much they returned that feeling. Another member, Kevin Cole, spoke about how he saw first hand the seven touches of the Chamber. Nearly every client he had could be traced back to our Chamber. Members around the room talked about how the relationships they made in the Chamber paid off for their business and I left there feeling great!

Charlene and Zion at Big Day at the Lake 5

Charlene and Zion at Big Day at the Lake 5

But none of that could compare to the conclusion of my week. That Saturday, I joined several hundred volunteers and boat hosts in hosting kids at Big Day at the Lake 5. I was the guest of Huntersville Commissioner Brian Sisson and his family as we entertained Charlene Whitaker (Big) and Zion Black (Little) on Brian’s boat and Jet Ski. At first timid, Zion really opened up and you just about had to pry her off the Jet Ski. All of the kids and their Big Brother / Big Sisters were then treated, along with the hosts, to lunch at the Energy Explorium. I had to leave early to attend Bob & Louise Cashion’s 5oth Wedding Anniversary. There, as I moved from table to table, person to person, I was enthralled with stories about how Bob & Louise had impacted our community over their lifetime together. I wasn’t surprised at the stories. I’ve heard them many times before and witnessed their community leadership firsthand. Their generosity is renown throughout the lake region. The Cashion’s have spent a lifetime of sharing their success. They have used the gifts God has provided and left their community a much better place than they found it. They are truly a community treasure.

Bob & Louise Cashion

Bob & Louise Cashion

When I laid my head down on my pillow that night after a long but wonderful day, I couldn’t help but think how fortunate I am to work and live in the Lake Norman region. It was a day when kids, most from single parent families, walked on sunshine. Their laughter and splashes heard from the Energy Explorium to Cashion’s Cove. Where the love, charity, and compassion ran as deep as the lake itself.  And I witnessed a community return thanks to two very inspirational and special people.  It was a very good day.  It was my big day at the lake.

The Essence of Leadership – Remembering Senator Thurmond

Parade of States - 1991

Parade of States - 1991

One of the professions before I decided to pursue a career with a chamber of commerce was that of a property manager for a Charlotte-based real estate firm.  The company managed several properties in Columbia, S.C.  Among them was the Bank of America Tower downtown.  While I enjoyed the relationships I established with our tenants, my real passion was my extra-curricular activities after hours with the Jaycees.  During the years I worked as a property manager, I was as a state officer of the South Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees).  During those years I served in a volunteer capacity as a state vice president, state president, and later as a National Vice President with the United States Junior Chamber.

In 1990, while president of the South Carolina Jaycees, I was asked to participate in the Marion (SC) Christmas Parade.  Melissa and I were asked to take part in a number of parades that year and we often joked about getting the wave “down”.  The slight half cocked wave to the left and then to the right to everyone who’s lining the street.  Now, we knew the reason most local folks attended parades was to see their son or daughter in the band or for a glimpse of the last float which was typically carrying the crowd favorite – Santa Clause.  But that didn’t stop the elected officials and dignitaries from eating up their moment in the sun.

After this particular parade, we were invited by the parade organizing committee to attend a special luncheon for the parade grand marshal, elected officials, and special guests at one of the local churches in town.  Typically the town and city parades are filled with your federal and state officials as well your county and local politicians.  And one thing you can count on with politicians, they never miss a parade or a chance to glad hand a few voters.  On this occasion, the Marion folks had done themselves proud and had a strong contingent of notable politicians.   There was one in particular who symbolized the essence of southern politics.  Now deceased, this individual was without question the ranking elder statesman in our state and perhaps the country.  All of the parade dignitaries were invited to a buffet lunch which again was led by the elder statesman in the group.  We filled our plates with the abundant southern delicacies of fried chicken, deviled eggs, green beans, and potato salad.  Grabbing our sweet ice tea, we all moved down the line and then dutifully followed the Senator as he travelled down the hall and right into a closet.

We were all stacking up on each other pretty good. The Senator opened the door with confidence and we all dutifully followed right behind.  It must have been quite a scene to the Church volunteers, watching all of the elected officials turning the corner and heading into a storage closet.  We all remerged with a look of embarrassment in full view of our hosts.

The thing is, when a leader who has demonstrated time after time their strong leadership abilities, you begin to develop a healthy trust of their instincts.  Every time that leader makes the right decision – the decision which advances the group’s common goals – he or she will become more trusted.  Confidence and trust are earned – they are not just given.   While embarrassed at the time, we later all laughed at our situation.  It has occurred to me over the years that that single error – that wrong decision – never swayed our trust in our elder statesman.  Over the next decade he continued to lead his community, his state, and his nation.  He inspired people to follow him and in the process he developed many young people to become leaders themselves.  Leaders are always moving forward – they are always going somewhere – and real leaders will develop people who follow.

A few years later I met this leader – Senator Strom Thurmond – in his office in Washington. DC.  What amazed me, he remembered me being in that parade on that particular Saturday and then he asked if I recalled our little misadventure.  I would have never brought it up.  However, the Senator laughed at his mistake.    Senator Thurmond left a huge impression on me that afternoon.  He never lost sight of his humility and he had the courage to laugh at his mistakes.  His final act was to walk me to his office door.  Just as he had personally greeted me on my arrival, instead of having one of his many aids usher me into his spacious office.  He patted me on the back and told me how proud he was of all the young men and women who were working so hard to make our communities and nation the best it could be.

Senator Thurmond in his office - 1993

Senator Thurmond in his office - 1993

Before I left, he asked if he could have a staff member take a photo of us together.  Weeks later when I arrived back in my office at the U.S. Junior Chamber in Tulsa, Oklahoma, there was a package from the capital.  The package contained a small gift, the picture of the two of us, and a note stating how proud he was a South Carolina boy was serving as National President of the Jaycees.

Over the years, I ran into quite a few South Carolinians who had similar stories of Senator Thurmond.  He was a leader who knew where he was going and his people followed.  More importantly, over his many decades of service, he taught generations of young people, the essence of leadership.

Speaking the Truth

This past January, an airbus 320, flown by USAir Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, ditched his plane in the waters off the Hudson River on a flight bound for Charlotte, NC.  There were no serious injuries to the 155 aboard.

Shiga-overviewNow almost forgotten is a similar flight that occurred November 22, 1968.  It’s been more than forty years since Captain Kohie Asoh, the Japan Air Lines Pilot, landed his DC-8 jet with 96 passengers and 11 crew members, two and a half miles out in the San Francisco Bay but in nearly exact compass line with the runway.  Captain Asoh landed the jet so gently that many of the passengers were unaware they were in the water until a sailboat appeared on the port bow.  No one was hurt.  No one was bruised.  No one even got their feet wet when passengers were taken off in inflatable rafts.  While the jet itself was not damaged.  It had to be salvaged before the corrosive salt took its toil.  Regardless of how competently he piloted the jet, a veteran pilot with over 10,000 hours, the fact that he landed the plane 2 ½ miles in the bay upset more than a few people.

Shortly thereafter, the National Transportation Safety Board held a hearing to determine the guilt for the deed.  Attorneys and the media scrambled to San Francisco representing their clients.  When Asoh took the stand, the investigator asked, “Captain Asoh, can you explain in your own words how you managed to land that DC-8 jet 2 ½ miles out in San Francisco Bay in perfect compass line with the runway?”  Asoh’s reply was. “As you Americans say, Asoh screwed up!”  Actually his comment was a bit more colorful, but I’m trying not to offend here.

According to the story, all that could be said was in that brief reply and the judge adjourned the hearing.  Apparently Asoh was not aware of the American philosophy of never apologize…never take blame…never explain.  We live in a business society which does not approve of failure.  How many times have military officers been passed over for promotion because of a single blemish on their record.  I’m not speaking of repeated mistakes, just an honest error or failed attempt.

Would Richard Nixon have resigned if he had appeared before the American People and fessed up to the Watergate break-in?  Would the Challenger accident have occurred if the problem 225px-Richard_Nixonwith the “O” rings had not been covered up?  The good news is many companies, particularly small businesses are practicing  “Grace – the ability to forgive an error.”  Some companies are expunging records after a certain lapse of time.

The business community must provide a routine to wipe the slate clean periodically, removing adverse personnel actions from employee files.  Employees should be encouraged to acknowledge mistakes, to correct them before it significantly hampers the future efficiency of the business or organization.

Captain Asoh had the courage to assume responsibility for his own actions.  He didn’t blame others for his mistakes.  More than four decades later we need to learn from Captain Asoh, who by the way continued to fly for Japan Airlines without further incident until his retirement.  Innovation does not come from doing the same thing over and over again.  Innovation will be met with mistakes, errors, and failed attempts,  But it is through that process that we grow and learn.  I say set your goals high and shoot for the stars.  That way if you only reach the sky you’ve left the ground and cleared the treetops!

Creating Raving Fans

Raving Fans1Remember the good old days when you could pull your car into a service station and an attendant would not only fill up your car, but check your oil, tires, brake fluid and even clean your windshield?  Not long ago, I pulled into a service station that said “Self-serve” on the sign.  Just out of curiosity, I asked the manager inside if there was a choice.  It took a while for him to look up from his clip board, but when he did he looked at me like I was from Mars.
Several years ago, I read a book that I recently read again entitled Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.  In the book, Blanchard tells the story of a sales manager who is counseled on the three most important tips in creating raving fans.  In a nutshell, to create raving fans of your business you must first identify what you want to achieve.  You must determine what the customer desires and then deliver more than they expected.  Sounds like common sense but too often businesses fail in that task.

I was raised in Rock Hill, S.C. and a fixture in that city for many years was a Texaco station

A Texaco Full Service Station Circa 1955

A Texaco Full Service Station Circa 1955

located on Main Street.  David Wylie operated the station with his wife Mable.  My father was an insurance agent for First Insurance Agency and wrote Mr. Wylie’s policy when a direct writer would not insure the station.  I can recall once having a problem with my car, and at the suggestion of dad, took the automobile to David’s station for repair.  David’s repairman had it running in no time and little by little I continued to patronize Wylie’s Texaco for gas and service.   David Wylie had several attendants who would hurry out to your car, put in the amount of gas you needed, check under the hood for all the fluids, and cleaned your windows.  They also engaged you in conversation and truly seemed interested in how your day was going.  On the occasion his attendants were busy with other cars or a new driver would pull up, Mr. Wylie, pipe clenched tightly between his teeth, would stride out to the island and began attending to their needs.  He never failed to ask about the family or how the day was going.

The Old Wylie Texaco Station Today

The Old Wylie Texaco Station Today

I always felt Mr. Wylie cared about his customers.  His station was older than most and his pumps worked a great deal slower.  But David never lost a customer because he and his staff always went that extra mile and gave just a little more than was expected.   Mr. Wylie retired from the service station scene years ago.  Today, the station still sits there.  The gas pumps have been removed but a garage still operates in the old building.  Occasionally I will drive by the old place on my way into Downtown Rock Hill.  Driving past, I imagine I see Mr. Wylie peering through the plate glass windows of the station, drawing on the pipe, overseeing his employees, going the extra mile to take care of his … raving fans.

Are you Stuck in a rut?

A few days ago, I was enjoying lunch at one of our Lake Norman restuarants while catching up my reading on the week’s events.  Two people settled into the booth behind me and were having a very engaged conversation about business.  Actually, one was complaining about their business in particular.  I overheard as this individual ticked off all the reasons the “store” was experiencing problems.  While I’m not making light of their troubles, I think we all know times have been tough for all of us. With each positive suggestion, the despondent retailer would point out all the reasons they could not do that – cost too much, didn’t have the staff, they had tried it before, not quite their market.  At one point I wanted to turn around and tell them I thought the biggest reason for their lack of success might be the face they saw in the mirror each morning when they got up!  They dripped in negativity.

Granddaddy Russell with my cousin Chris at the farm - 1982

Granddaddy Russell with my cousin Chris at the farm - 1982

It reminded me of a story my Granddaddy Russell told me a long time ago.  Granddaddy didn’t go to college and I’m not sure he ever owned a copy of any leading business book of its time.  But he did have a heck of a career.  He drove a taxi, worked in a textile mill, spent most of his liesure time, if you call it that, tending the farm where he raised cattle and produce, and studied his church “lessons” at night.

My Granddaddy Russell owned a farm in Rock Hill where he raised a couple of dozen head of cattle.  He passed away in 1999, but not before he left me with a treasure trove of little stories and a lifetime of wonderful memeories.  On one particular weekend, Granddaddy Russell and I were walking through some of the trails behind the house checking the fenceline.  I was fresh out of college and gainfully employed at a local office supply and furniture company as a salesman.  I was making the sales calls but my commission check certainly indicated my lackluster performance.

After listening to me grumble about how my customers weren’t buying and I wasn’t getting the support I needed from my company, granddaddy looked over and asked, “Doc,” (one of the many pet nicknames he had for me but that’s a different story) “Did I ever tell you about that little bullfrog that fell into the deep, muddy tractor track?”  Without waiting for my reply, he began, “A couple of days later he was still there when his other frog friend happened by and found him…urging him to hop out.  He made a few feeble efforts, but he remained stuck in the quagmire.”

“Over the next few days, his fellow frogs tried to motivate the little frog to escape the rut, but they all gave up encouraging him and hoped back to the pond.  The next day the little frog was seen sunning himself contently on the shores of the pond.  “How’d you get out of that rut? ” he was asked.  “Well,” said the frog, “as everyone is aware I could not.  But along came that big red tractor again and I had to!”

Granddaddy looked over at me as we walked down the road waiting for his point to sink in.  “You waiting for something to come along and get you out of the rut?” he asked.  I do not know that I ever became the super salesman my manager hoped I would be but the point granddaddy made was not lost on me.  The ability to overcome my obstacles and rise to the occassion was within my means the whole time.  Most of it was my own personal attitude.  The bottom line:  you can motivate yourself or wait till outside forces do it for you.

I sure miss the long walks grandaddy and I took together, but I never forgot the lessons he shared.  Daddy still lives out on the farm and often we take walks together still checking the fenceline.  Occaasionly we will happen on an old tractor rut dug deep into the soft southern clay down by the creek.  I might even hear the splash of a little frog as we approach.  It brings a smile to my face as I think about all the wonderful times I’ve spent at the farm.  Perhaps an old farmer knows best, when there are so many reasons why you cannot be succesful, you succeed anyway.  You simply accept nothing less.

Beating the Odds

John Foppe 1993 TOYA Recipient

John Foppe 1993 TOYA Recipient

In 1993, as President of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), I stood on stage in Tulsa, OK. recognizing the Ten Outstanding Young Americans.  The Jaycee’s TOYA program recognizes the best and brightest young people in America between the ages of 21 to 39 inclusively.  Standing on stage that night, I met a young man who demonstrated the qualities that set him apart from his peers.


John Foppe was born without arms.  John, 22 at the time, said on the stage that night, “Either God created me without arms or he created the will within me to deal with it and adapt.”  Adapt he did!  When I met John, he was sitting on the floor behind the stage signing autographs with his feet.  Later that night, when I made a toast to our recipients, John picked up his glass of champagne with his toes, hoisted it to his mouth, taking a sip without spilling a drop. John was recognized by the Junior Chamber for his humanitarian efforts.  While in high school he started the John P. Foppe Seminars and began an ambitious public speaking tour.  Proceeds from his events were donated to a Haitian orphanage.  When I met John he worked for Zig Ziglar as a motivational speaker and was recognized by Ziglar in the book Over the Top!

I watched John as he walked around the room that evening spreading encouragement and enthusiasm.  John said he looked at his limitations as opportunities.  Because of his handicap, he adapted and developed in other areas which could best serve him.

Today, our lake community and business leaders face opportunities brought on by this present economic challenge.  Companies and businesses face threats not seen in many of our lifetimes.  What we must remember, there is a correction with every economic cycle, and this too shall pass.  We are already seeing some very positive indicators which may point to our rise back up from this current downturn.

There has been strong participation in the Chamber’s many seminars, programs, and networking events.  Many businesses have taken advantage of the free counseling opportunities provided by SCORE and the SBA and will emerge from this situation a much stronger business.

John Foppe had every reason not to succeed in life.  He chose to meet the challenges head on and make something special of himself.  The things we take for granted have come hard for John.  On the stage that night, with tears in his eyes, he thanked God for the life he has and the success his challenges have brought him.

We should all keep in mind that the strongest steel is forged by the hottest fire.  It is through our many trials and mistakes that we learn and we grow.  We must live each day, adapting to the challenges we face, giving our absolute best…and like John, refuse to settle for nothing less.