Everyday Leaders Matter More

Tom Walsh in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press opens a window for us to see and hear from Bill Ford, Jr., chairman of Ford Motor Company.  Walsh quotes Ford: “I grew up around money, power and fame, and I’ve had all three myself and . . .” well, read the article to see how he finishes it.  Darn interesting.  Who isn’t interested in money, power, and fame?


I’m not just interested but obsessed with the notion of “everyday” leadership.  And I think we need to actually fight our obsession with Top Dog Leadership.  Now, I have counseled and coached and watched enough top-authority leaders in all kinds of organizations to know that the leader matters.  Indeed, Bill Ford held that tenet so deeply, and had such personal humility, that he went out and found Alan Mulally – the only person he thought could turn the company around.  Ford removed himself as CEO and put Mulally in.  Mulally’s strategy, focus, and persistence are often credited for Ford’s great, ongoing turnaround.  So, yes, top dogs matter – hats off to Bill and Alan – two fine everyday leaders.


But in our time, when machines and brutally impoverished global workers can do all the mindless and even pretty mind-ful work, our survival depends on the ability of individuals and groups at all levels to innovate and collaborate.  And of course, the greatness of our families, our schools, our offices depend completely on everyday folks.  Heroic CEO’s or governors can set courageous strategy and foster an empowering culture, but everyday leaders have to step up and deliver.  One big mental block stands in our way: our obsession with those top dog leaders.  We just can’t get enough hero-making and hero-dashing.  Look at Obama: the only thing more incredible than the human tide and passion that swept him into office, has been the fierce, sudden, and vicious drive to now bring him down.  Bush faced much of the same.  Can you imagine if you had wild followers and vicious critics like that, quick to applaud you, and, yes even quicker to slay you?!  Well, I suspect you do face exactly that.


I imagine every everyday leader hears voices of praise, and perhaps like our top-dog leaders, even more fierce voices of doubt and disparagement.  We hear these voices in our own heads.  Perhaps part of our virulence about the leaders stems from our fears and doubts that we can’t get the job done! I suspect it would behoove us to “withdraw the projections” as psychologists would say:  Quit worshipping and demonizing our leaders and deal with our own wild hopes, as well as our deep doubts and self-recrimination.


What’s the alternative to attacking and defending yourself:  Be clear about your vision and your values, get your strategy straight, and build the systems and support for you to

Lead with your best self!


  • Dan,

    One of the blessings/curses of living past 50 years of age is outliving your hero-worship. Few things crash as hard as the soaring expectations we attach to our personal heroes. A terrible reality nearly overwhelmed me when I discovered my heroes were only human. I won’t go into a litany of my fallen heroes. Yet, there is a flip-side to my story.

    I remember (with shame now) the opinion I held of my father when I was eighteen years old, when — of course — I already knew everything. He was so old-fashioned and controlling, always emphasizing two things: integrity and responsibility. I knew he left school in the eighth grade to work, and with my newly printed high school diploma and my entrance papers for university, I tried my best to look down my very young nose at him. I left home, and very quickly started down my own path.

    Somehow, each time I tripped on that path and started to fall on my face, he was there to catch me or help me back up on my feet. With each errant misstep; with each attempted stupidity; his litany on integrity and responsibility made more sense, and I began to see past his gruff and grumpy exterior and to love even more the everyday leader he was. We shouted. We argued. We cried together when my Mom passed away. And one day, a few years back, he was gone.

    It was about that time I looked in the mirror one morning, and saw my dad looking back at me. I realized then how much I missed his fiercely quiet and stoic, his granite leadership. I now hope that one day, my own children will reflect on my efforts — on my own litany about integrity and responsibility — and think of me as an everyday leader.

    This is how I deal with my doubts and fears, how I try to keep my strategy straight, how I focus on my vision and my values, and how I sleep at night.


  • Dan,

    The big point that you make here – that it’s not just about the big kahuna, but also the other kahunas, if you will – is VERY important. While that is a major theme of your writings about leadership, it is one of my strongest beliefs about leadership as well.

    Going along with that, let me remind you of what John C. Maxwell has said: “A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.”

    The Nobel Peace Prize is a great example of this. Many winners of the Nobel Peace Prize did not have such titles as President or Prime Minister. In January we Americans celebrate the life of a Nobel laureate who was titled The Rev. Dr. – pretty good, but there are many people with those titles, and only one with a holiday to commemorate him. Then there are others, such as Mother Teresa, Shirin Ebadi, and Wangari Maathai, who didn’t let their titles (or lack thereof) define them.

    Neither should we!

  • Scotty,
    Well put. It’s extraordinary to think how much potential each of us possesses. Imagine if we thought we had the title to go with our God-given right and ability to lead.

  • Mick,
    Thanks for a beautiful tribute to your father and, I would add, a great tale of the wonderful gift of aging.
    You make the point about values. God bless you and your dad for living by Kotter’s creed: “overcommunicate the vision by a factor of 10.”
    Lastly, you point out the incredible power of relationship in leadership.
    Thanks for another great post.

  • Hi Dan,

    To build on your last comment, I believe that relationships (good healthy ones) are the most important element of leadership – any kind of leadership. When we are intentional and purposeful about those relationships, everything else flows from there. The vision doesn’t get realized, the work doesn’t get done well without them.

    Thanks for your ongoing Monday morning inspiration.

  • Having a clear vision and acting on making it a reality in these tough times is vital for survival. Just read an interesting article in Sunday’s New York Times about twin Gen Y sisters (recent college grads) struggling to find jobs in NYC. They are not alone as only 46% of people aged 16-24 had jobs in September 2009, the lowest since the government began counting in 1948.

    In Metro Detroit, Wayne State University is stepping up to assist its graduates create a clear vision and then an action plan to become gainfully employed.

    Here in the epicenter of joblessness in the U.S. with a 15% unemployment rate, Wayne State University’s School of Business Administration is sponsoring workshops and a new book, “Yes! You Can Land a Job; (even) in a Crummy Economy” authored by Therese Marie Boldt, a successful recruiter and career coach.

    Wayne Business School Dean David L. Williams says, “Our main goal is to prepare students for their professions. That entails not only theory and practice, but also the concepts Therese so aptly discusses [in her book] such as a positive, realistic attitude; self-knowledge; preparation; and perseverance. In today’s uncertain economy, our students are finding it more and more challenging to cross the commencement stage and step into their dream jobs.”

    Nice to know that some educational institutions are understanding that everyday leadership is required to help their graduates become productive U.S. citizens.

  • Dan,

    Your blog of October 12, 2009 really left me puzzled. I can only conclude that occasionally we all wish we had not actually pushed the “GO” button on the computer’s patch to the Internet. I can not really believe the First Gentleman would accept an assumption wherein a common connection between two distinct presidential administrations would result in some logic parallel we are all destined to follow.

    You wrote, “Look at Obama: the only thing more incredible than the human tide and passion that swept him into office, has been the fierce, sudden, and vicious drive to now bring him down. Bush faced much of the same.”

    A couple of observations: Governor George Bush came into office because of the US Supreme Court decision that resulted out of Bush v. Gore, 5 to 4 vote in 2000. Even though Vice President Albert Gore achieved 550 thousand more popular votes.

    Senator Barack Obama received 52.70 percent of the vote in 2008. If you combined all other ’08 contestants the also-rans percentage would amount to 47.10 total, with Senator McCain achieving 45.70 percent of that aggregate vote.

    Conclusion: Not any equivalent likeness on the front end between Obama and Bush here.

    Now you wrote, “…and the vicious drive to now bring him down.”

    This linkage combined implies, Vox Populi.

    As of today October 12, 2009 let’s look at the numbers, in the Transatlantic Trends report released last month by the German Marshall Fund. Obama’s approval rating in Germany: 92 percent compared to 12 percent for George Bush. His approval in the Netherlands: 90 percent compared to 18 percent for Bush. His favorability rating in Europe overall (77 percent). President Barack Obama is currently at 57 percent in America. I took the liberty of providing the documentation, forgive me.

    It would appear an argument could be made that in fact President Obama is doing better in October 2009 than he was in November 2008. So why would your perception be so far off the mark?

    I would have thought you more than many others could not be so obviously mislead. I think the answer is right under our collective radar screen. We have tended to be convinced of reality and true perceptions by the sources we have been educated to trust in course our lifetime. Tradition plays a major part here. Since the founding of our republic the US Constitution has established pretty much how we direct our daily lives. Most citizens throughout the last 220 years have learned how to find the truth amid the lies of deceit strictly because of a precise way the founders put the formula together way back at the beginning.

    We must give James Madison the credit, because of course he introduced the way forward in the House of Representatives on June 8, 1789. Madison’s provision made it possible to flesh out reality from fantasy. After several drafts, special committee rewrites, more additions from Madison himself and the Senate approval, it was born: ”The freedom of speech and of the press, and the right of the people peaceably to assemble and consult for their common good, and to apply to the Government for redress of grievances, shall not be infringed.”

    I will fast forward from here. All worked well enough until radio and television came of age and what we learned from the real Nazis regime and the pain of W.W.II. So in 1949 our United States Federal Communications Commission had the great judgement to introduce the Fairness Doctrine. Please not to confuse with the Equal Time rule.

    Surely you must acknowledge that those you call the, “human tide and vicious drive,” nice rhyme though, are not the voice of the real People but manufactured via script writing and then heard and watched on Talk Radio and Fox News TV. What is more none of this fantasy would have ever appeared until and then only after 1985 when Ronald Reagan’s FCC Chairman Mark S. Fowler began to repeal parts of the Fairness Doctrine. A little later President G.H.W. Bush stopped an effort to get the Fairness Doctrine back when he threatened a veto. That’s really the cause of our 2009 troubles in a nutshell. None of the devastation to our culture, political or current economic troubles and the nation’s decline could have happened without the loss of the Fairness Doctrine.

    Clearly beyond any shadow of a doubt the economic melt down that brought down GM and Housing, Wall Street and Main Street too began with the clever move by Republican Senator Phil Gramm to dismantle the cop on the beat regulation watching the territory known as Investment Banking. I link these sites should you care to browse: The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), also known as the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, (Pub.L. 106-102, 113 Stat. 1338, enacted November 12, 1999) is an act of the 106th United States Congress (1999-2001) which repealed part of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, opening up the market among banking companies, securities companies and insurance companies.

    The good news, to quote a great Republican President, “You can fool some the People all of the time, all of the People some of the time, but not all of the People all of the time.”

    Here’s an assignment your blog may wish to test: Ask the question and tell the answers.

    Invite your readers to question their parents, grand parents, and themselves.

    Have these so-called Liberal programs worked for America?

    Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, the Security and Exchange Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Right to Vote for Women, and equal pay for equal work.

    What programs have the Republicans provided to improve our America?

    Can you think of one of their best to lead by?

    Talk to you later, your friend

    Bill Hirsch

  • A person has to know who they are. They can’t be constantly looking over their shoulder, wondering what people think of them. As a great disability rights activist once wrote in a book of the same title, “What you think of me is none of my business!”

    Think of Jesus on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. People are fickle! We have to do things (like love people) because of who WE are, not who THEY are. Then we can demonstrate unconditional love, the most empowering force on the planet!

  • Bill Hirsch,

    Wow, that was quite a commentary. That false parallel really got you going, and I agree with your underlying premise that the right – which has found a high-volume voice through Fox News and AM radio – has whipped up these flames of judgment, fear, and at times hatred. I hardly exonerate them. I also have no idea how we put the genie back in the bottle on free speech. So, the fact that people like you take the time to argue a point with such clarity and support will likely be the salvation of our country. Now more than ever we need an educated electorate.

    I hardly intended the parallel that you inferred, by the way. I believe the right would say that President Bush (and Reagan, too) were also assailed – often personally, intensely, and disrespectfully. I doubt it was of the same order as what we’re seeing now. But frankly, I don’t want my right-wing readers to miss the point which has nothing to do with partisanship: to wit: We focus too much on leaders. We need to do our own thinking and overcome our own fears and limits.
    Thanks for writing,

  • Looking back, waxing nostalgic…..the year end is quickly approaching.
    Jobs recovery….NO.
    Stimulus money not getting past the good ol’ boy network and gov’t gifting…..new police cruisers, not ordinary ones, but big bling Suburbans, etc., YES.
    Wal St. manipulation with TARP funds; you betchya. Dow up over 10,000….it needed to be in order for the record amount of bonuses to be paid.
    Some things never change.

    You said that we focus too much on leaders. I’m wondering where the real leaders are that you speak of?
    Or is it a subtle way of saying to the citizen, as MC Hammer sang….you can’t touch this?

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