Moving From Good to Great

Moving From Good to Great

Believe it or not, every team has a set of Rules of Engagement; guidelines that define what is acceptable and unacceptable. Unfortunately, very few teams have been intentional in creating these rules. In most cases, leaders have simply let them develop on their own; essentially, leaving team culture up to chance. With any luck you might end up with a good culture using this roll of the dice approach, but if your goal is to have a great culture, you have to be intentional.

The creation of Rules of Engagement is a critical first step in transforming your culture from good to great. Check out the latest installment from The Culture Architect Video Series for more information on this foundational, building block of a great culture.


Tony hits the stage with three fundamental goals in mind: present disruptive ideas that challenge your thinking, share solutions born out of experience, and provide inspiration that moves your audience to action. This vlog is designed to provide actionable steps for you and your organization, as well as glimpse into Tonys core mission.

Featured Keynotes

Agents of Change

Agents of Change

Imagine the heights to which your organization could soar if every employee served as an agent of change. Imagine the solutions that would surface if your culture encouraged every employee to speak the truth. Imagine the impact on your bottom-line if your organization went from responding when the cheese was moved to moving the cheese. In this video, we take a brief look at the core competencies of an agent of change. The descriptions come from a wonderful resource called FYI: For Your Improvement, found here.


Tony hits the stage with three fundamental goals in mind: present disruptive ideas that challenge your thinking, share solutions born out of experience, and provide inspiration that moves your audience to action. This vlog is designed to provide actionable steps for you and your organization, as well as glimpse into Tonys core mission.

Featured Keynotes

Building a Culture of Trust

Building a Culture of Trust


Tony hits the stage with three fundamental goals in mind: present disruptive ideas that challenge your thinking, share solutions born out of experience, and provide inspiration that moves your audience to action. This vlog is designed to provide actionable steps for you and your organization, as well as glimpse into Tonys core mission.

Featured Keynotes


Last November our country reflected on the 50th Anniversary of the Kennedy assassination and its impact on the nation. Written records, interviews, and previously unreleased footage reminded us of a time that began with great hope and ended with numbing despair. Listening to the interviews of those who lived through it, I found myself reflecting on an experience from my own history; an experience which coupled with my mother’s wisdom taught me a fundamental lesson in leadership.

I was college age when I first encountered racism face to face. My parents did what I believe was an exceptional job helping me understand what I might face in the world outside of our home. Nevertheless, when I experienced it no amount of discussion could have fully prepared me for what it would feel like to be judged solely on the color of my skin.

When I consider the events of that day, I am still amazed at the indelible imprint it made on my thinking. Equally as amazing were the variety of responses of my friends; some wanting to get a group together and take physical action, others wondering how something so ugly could happen to someone of whom they cared so deeply, while some were simply at a loss for words. An even more interesting response came from a group of officials who instead of doing something, dismissed the activity as “locals being locals,” with no real intent to harm. It was, however, my mother’s response that provided the most lasting impression. Her response put adversity in perspective; then and now.

A few days after explaining to her what happened, I received a card in the mail. Inside of the card she had written the following African proverb:

“A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor”

Few words have ever been so simple, yet profound. Few have been more timely and impactful. Embedded in that message was both compassion, and encouragement; a reminder that although I was in pain, I had to dust myself off and get back in the game.

As one of the first African-Americans to integrate her high school, my mother understood the impact these events could have. Having lived through the assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., she knew this was a pivotal moment in my life. She had seen a mix of responses from the disenfranchised; some driven to despair and anger, while others rose above the fray. That simple African proverb was her way of saying, this is what I have been trying to teach you and now that you are facing it head on, how you respond will determine its impact.

So here’s the Straight Talk…

Leadership involves facing adversity and it is the navigation of this adversity that shapes us, sharpens our resolve, and makes us skillful sailors. Whether it is addressing a poor performing team member, executing organizational change, or dealing with someone who just threw you under the bus, adversity can serve as the fuel that propels you to greater heights by simultaneously helping you develop both the competency and the heart to be an effective leader.

So consider this perspective, leading and adversity are inseparable therefore…

EXPECT IT: Although you may be surprised at its origin, do not be surprised you are facing it; especially when you are pushing yourself and your team toward greatness. Set clearly defined outcomes, work with your team to create a path of execution, then brace for any adversity that may come your way; living with the recognition that adversity comes with the territory.

EXPLORE IT: “Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backwards.” These words from the philosopher Kierkegaard, provide the perfect framework when dealing with adversity. Face it head on, then when it is over, look back and make note of any lessons learned. Ask questions such as: What would you do differently if this situation came up again? Did you in anyway contribute to the difficulty you faced? Are there any preventive steps you can take to decrease the chances this will happen again?

EMBRACE IT: Irrespective of how you respond, adversity is a great teacher. Embracing adversity doesn’t mean you have to like it, rather it means you recognize its long term value. In the words of Nietzsche (or singer Kelly Clarkson), “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Back to Basics

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

With so much written on the subject of leadership, it can be challenging to identify the right pathway to success. Personally, I am always searching and exploring the topic in hopes of finding a nugget of truth to apply to my life and make a more positive impact on my team. Over the years, however, I have reached the conclusion that oftentimes what I am studying is not a new concept or construct, but rather a repackaging of a former idea that has been modernized for a new audience. I have found that in reality there is nothing new under the sun.

Now before you think I have gone off the deep end, please know that I am in no way attempting to discourage you from studying in order to perfect your craft, quite the opposite actually. In my opinion, the restatement of an old idea both validates and demonstrates its value. It’s survival of the test of time increases its relevance and provides a firm foundation for the current generation of leaders.  I am indebted to the great leadership writers of our generation.

Perhaps, however, this repurposing of old ideas is a way of saying that we need less newfangled epiphanies and more return to the basics. Maybe our greatest success as leaders lies in our ability to embrace the simple over the complex, and to remain faithful to a set of tried and true fundamentals.

So here’s the Four One One…

If you want a team that follows you by choice, let the following serve as the four cornerstones of your leadership…

Others First

As simple as it sounds the “others first” attitude stands as the great differentiator between good leaders and great leaders. Always remember, your position carries with it a great deal of power; making it easy to focus on your needs, your success, and what you can accomplish. Great leaders, by contrast, seek the good of the team over their personal good. As Mark Miller writes in his book, The Heart of Leadership, “…your ever present question is not what can you do for yourself; rather it is how can you serve them. When decisions are made, you consider the organization and your people before you weigh the personal consequences.”

Your Word is Your Bond

Before the time of written contracts, a handshake or a spoken word was considered binding; whereas today, so called white lies, half-truths, and broken promises are the norm. As a leader, your words and your deeds must be inextricably linked. Failure to do so will erode your team’s trust and once trust is lost, it can be nearly impossible to recover.  “Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean.” Miguel Angel Ruiz, Author

Own Your Mistakes

Legendary Coach John Wooden wrote,” If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” Perfection may be your goal; nevertheless mistakes will be made during your pursuit.  Your team will be willing to accept your short comings as long as you are willing to admit you have them. Your hard earned reputation can be easily lost when you blame others or make excuses for your mistakes. Application of the Three T’s will serve you well. They are Tell it all, Tell it fast, and Tell the Truth.

Block and Tackle

As a leader it is your responsibility to “block and tackle” for your team; identifying and removing obstacles from their path to success. You sit in the position of power and you must use it for the benefit of your team. Do they have training they need to be successful? Is there a process in place that hinders their ability to perform at a high level? Are there people in the organization making unrealistic demands on your team? Are there conflicting priorities that are immobilizing them?  It is your job as their leader to get answers to these questions, and then use your power to ensure their success. Always remember the immortal words of Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

True Measure of a Leader

Early in my career, I had the privilege of working for an outstanding organization; a place I believed I would work for my entire career.  Our organization was not only seen as the leading provider of services in our local community, but we were also the flagship of a corporation that provided similar services nationwide.

It was everything I wanted in an employer; opportunities to learn and grow, provision of services with stellar outcomes, and a team of very talented, committed, and hardworking people. It was truly a great place to work!

Our CEO was a shrewd man; personable, engaging, and able to rally the troops every time he spoke. He was smart, visionary, and incredibly competent. He understood our business and seemed to have an uncanny ability to forecast and respond to business challenges. He led a fledgling hospital to a place of unprecedented prominence and by all accounts was a great leader.

Today, that organization is closed and its end was like something out of a Grisham novel. One morning to everyone’s surprise, FBI agents entered the building and confiscated files, seized computers, escorted  employees and patients out of the building, and placed a large chain and lock on the front doors. As it turned out, the organization I loved for so many years had been a part of a large Medicaid scam; defrauding the government of millions of dollars. The actions of a few violated the trust of employees, the community, and the children and families we served.

How does an organization with a stellar reputation come to such a sad end? How does a CEO manage to present one persona to the public while presenting something completely different behind closed doors? What could account for an entire leadership team remaining silent while wrong-doing is occurring? What is the measure of a true leader?

So here’s the Four One One…

What happened to us and countless organizations since then was a failure of leadership. The CEO and his leadership team abused their power and privilege by putting their own interests above the interests of patients, employees, and the community. As hard as it is to imagine, not a single person possessed the managerial courage to take a stand against the illegal, immoral, and unethical behavior that eventually led to the collapse of the organization. It was a monumental failure of character.

The True Measure of a Leader

Psalm 78:72 provides a fascinating description of the leadership of King David. It reads “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” Embedded in this verse are the two fundamental components of great leadership: Character or “integrity of heart” and Competency or “skillful hands.”

By all accounts our CEO was a great leader, nevertheless he proved to be an utter failure because he possessed plenty of competency, but very little character; skillful hands, but no integrity of heart. In his seminal work, The Ascent of a Leader, Bill Thrall wrote, “…leaders eventually falter when their skill development outpaces their character development.”  Truly great leaders possess a healthy dose of both character and competency. It is, however, their character that determines how they use their competency and modulates their use of power.

Leadership Character

Who you are as a leader is far more critical than any particular competency you may possess. Allow me to repeat what I believe is the most important statement in today’s post; who you are as a leader is far more critical than any particular competency you may possess. Unfortunately, leadership development programs focus heavily on competency to the unfortunate exclusion of character. “The dysfunctions of many leaders are rooted in a common reality: their capacities have been extensively trained while their character has been merely presumed” (The Ascent of a Leader).

Think of it this way, it was failed character as opposed to competency that brought down Enron.  It was a failure of character that led to the accounting cover-up by Arthur Andersen. It was lack of character that defined the actions of Presidents Clinton and Nixon. History has taught us leadership failure is rarely about competency, and frequently about character.

Character First

Let’s return to the description of King David. Note that it begins by first focusing on his heart; seemingly signifying that being a true leader—one who people follow by choice—begins with the heart. It is indeed your character that will keep your team on board and engaged when the odds of success seem out of reach. It is your character that allows your team to extend you the benefit of the doubt when your actions are called into question. It is your character that will allow your team to provide you a second chance when you make a mistake. Leadership character is the hallmark of great leaders!

Actions, Habits, and Character Development

True leadership character develops over time and is demonstrated through a series of deliberate and intentional steps that eventually become habits. These habits solidify your character and define your success as a leader. As someone once wrote:

 Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Clearly there’s no three step process to character development. Character is demonstrated by our actions, yet rooted in our beliefs. Nevertheless, I do believe there are actions that are difficult to fake over time. These actions develop character when practiced over a lifetime.

  1. Think of Others First: The word shepherd was used to describe King David, so like a shepherd consider and respond to the needs of the team even when it conflicts with your personal needs.
  2. Don’t Shy Away From the Mirror: Create an environment where vulnerability flourishes. Do this by encouraging your team to hold a mirror in front of you so that you can see the inconsistencies between your words and your deeds. Listening and responding to their feedback will prove invaluable as you attempt to build the habits that become your character.
  3. Take the High Road: Treat people with the dignity they deserve; even when their actions don’t indicate they deserve it.