Author: stoshdwalsh


Pushing Them

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Come to the edge, He said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, He said.
They came.  He pushed them,

And they flew…

-Guillaume Apollinaire

A beautiful poem, and a lovely leadership lesson also: knowing how and when to push is nearly as important as anything else to leading well. 

For how else can we be responsible for others’ flight?


Leading Authentically

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Among my online haunts is Seth Godin’s blog, which has a lot of quality ideas about many interesting topics.  Today, his post about how to make a blog more popular made me think about leading authentically.  In it, he says, “one difference between creating something you believe in and creating something that’s popular is that popularity seekers follow established steps.  Do this, do that, do the other thing…  The problem with this, that and the other thing is that you end up with a career filled with it.  Instead of creating long-lasting art, ideas that matter and things that spread organically, you end up with a bunch of calculated mini-hits.”

When was the last time you looked at the leadership section in your local bookstore? 

Huge, wasn’t it?

Now, many of those books contain excellent ideas worth practicing. 

The problem is that all of them don’t fit all of us.

Seriously now–what would become of my leadership if I tried to be more like Joe Torre, Robert E. Lee and Jack Welch?  All at the same time?  Or how about one at a time?

Who would I be?

It’s likely my followers wouldn’t know.

I need to know who I am, and then incorporate things I learn about leadership that are congruent with that.  If not, I run the risk of creating “events,” (or worse, masks) and never truly capturing anyone’s heart or allegiance.

And that is a risk I cannot live with.


Leaders Create Community

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I had an opportunity this week to address a group of educators on leadership.

One of the things I said to them was, “A school is the hub of a community, and a community is the hub of the world.”

I am not in the habit of christening my own comments as profound, but I realized as soon as I’d uttered it that it resonated through the room.  I hadn’t planned the comment in advance, which perhaps added to the effect.

It started me thinking about the goals and outcomes of leadership.  Though I often talk about my own family, and leading within the familial context, this, while tremendously important, cannot be the limit of my leadership if I am truly a leader.  I must apply principles I learn in the leading of my family to other contexts: micro to macro.

Given that followers need trust, relationship, hope–surely these are the ingredients of community.

The core questions, then, become, “How do I lead in such a way as to bring these about, and how can I be certain they have transpired?”

This is “The Hope of ‘What If?’”–to imagine that it is possible to extend the concept of family to the entire world–daring to wonder how community, and therefore outcomes like peace, justice and subsistence might be achieved, and then leading toward them with intent, confident that they are, in fact, possible.

And this is why the family is so important, for if I cannot lead to achieve peace, justice and subsistence (among others) there, what business do I have in assuming I might lead others to them elsewhere?


Identity is Destiny Pt. 2

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While these are nice thoughts, they do not become my identity, my destiny, without action.

Even my thoughts, though powerful, do not become my identity; only my actions shape my identity, and alter my destiny with that of those around me.

I have dreamed of having a wife and children ever since I was a child, but they know they are my dream come true only because I tell them and show them in a way that gives us all certainty.

In this way, I shape my own identity through action–through action, I become more of all the things I long to be.  Each time I act, my destiny–the vision I have had for myself and my family ever since I was a little boy–becomes more certain. 

And with greater certainty, I shape their identities also, as they grow in the knowledge that they are special, loved, and wanted.  With each intentional moment, I make them more capable of perpetuating that which is best in my leadership.  With each intentional moment, I make them more capable of finding aspects of their identities that will make them better leaders than I was.

Identity.  Destiny.  Certainty.


Identity is Destiny Pt. 1

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“Identity is Destiny” is one of my favorite sayings. I like it more as I grow older and realize with ever-increasing intensity how much I control, and can not control. I have come to understand that the more comfortable I become in that tension, the more meaningful my life becomes. By extension, the more meaningful my life becomes, the more influence I can exert on others.

I’ve been reflecting on Father’s Day for a few weeks now. I used to hate Father’s Day. For years, I went out of my way to spend it by myself, reeling from the pain of fatherlessness for as far back as I could remember.

Now, though, I have established my own family, and Father’s Day is perhaps my favorite day of the year.

As I examine it, I realize more and more fully that this transformation has everything to do with embracing my identity to shape my destiny, and that of my family, with intent and confidence. Though it is ever difficult, I am first–a fatherless son learning to father. I am failing, and succeeding. Ultimately, I am first, but the many who follow will find it far different work because of me.

As I tried to capture that thought, and the notion of somehow growing up husband and dad, not just son and brother, being ultra-responsible and more mature than my years in every arena I’ve ever entered, it came out as a poem I’ve titled “That Man.” The essence of it for me is embracing identity, some of which we create, and some of which we accept.

That Man

I have always been that man
In ways I did not understand
In ways I did not plan
And though I did not intend
I have always been that man

I am that man
In ways I understand
In ways I plan
And I intend
I am that man

I will always be that man
In ways they will understand
In ways they will plan
And they will intend
I will always be that man

While these are nice thoughts, they do not become my identity, my destiny, without…


Love and Leadership

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“What are you, man, if you do not learn love?”

Shawn McDonald’s song, “Simply Nothing” contains this lyric over and over again.  It occurred to me as I listened to the song today that we could fill in just about any of our roles for “man,” and gain insight.

It struck me as I filled in the word “leader” that the resulting statement communicates the truth about leadership: LEADERS LOVE.

Sometimes it is incredibly difficult, not unlike parenting with its need to let others try and fail, even fall flat, when it lies within our power to intervene. 

Love, after all, is a choice, and a great power rises in us when we choose to love someone, or something. 

Who among us is not at her best as a leader when she loves the people she’s leading?  Can there be any better way to ensure the best possible outcomes are achieved both individually and corporately?

I submit that there is not.

The best thing about this truth, though, is that it lies 100% within our realm of influence.  We choose every day whether or not we love our spouses, our children, our jobs, even the television show we’re watching.

As leaders, we must choose to love our constituents, and we must choose to love the cause for which we partner.  If that seems overstated, consider the leaders you admire against that ideal.

The best leaders choose to love.


… and whose thanks will you deserve?

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I’ve been thinking about “The Influencers” post on Tracey’s blog a bit more, because it begs another very good question:

Whom do you intend to influence?

Most of us can look back at specific events in our lives and identify those people who were influential to us during those times.  But can we look back and see those same kinds of events in the lives of others and see the ways in which we have influenced them?  Better yet, can we tell a story about that influence without having to look back to realize it?

It is the difference between serendipity and intentionality, and intentionality is a hallmark of influential leaders.

So how can we be more intentional about influencing others?

I suggest 4 simple ways: Targeting those we want to influence, Establishing a relationship with them, Knowing what we have to offer and Selecting a destination.

First, we must be intentional about targeting those we want to influence.  We must seek them.  Whatever our selection criteria, influencing others is proactive, not reactive.

Second, we must be intentional about establishing a relationship with them.  This sounds obvious, but influence requires more than just acquaintance.  We must risk something of ourselves so that we not only know others, but are known by them.  Not long ago, my friend Dave Rendall’s Freak Factor Blog cited ee cummings,

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch.”

Only those who know us well can provide us with such insight consistently.  Meaningful relationship yields meaningful influence.  Being known yields opportunities to be influenced.

Third, we must be intentional about knowing what we have to offer.  Once we have established a mutual relationship, do we seek to influence others through our subject matter expertise, our experiences, our altruism?  We must be purposeful about the platforms from which we influence others, understanding that the way we influence one person or group might not be the way to influence another.  The more we hone this self-awareness and practice it, the more powerful our influence becomes.     

Fourth, we must be intentional in selecting a destination.  To what end does our influence lead in the life of this individual or group?  We must be able to answer that question emphatically, and we must prioritize our investments toward that end.

The rest of the ee cummings quote reads,

Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

Toward increasing our influence–intentionally


Who deserves your thanks?

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I was reading a blog today by a woman named Tracey, who posted a list of people who had influenced her in one way or another throughout her life.

It made me think about an activity I teach regularly in which I ask participants to come up with a list similar to Tracey’s, after which I always ask this question:

“Have these people been adequately thanked for their influence in your life?”

Imagine with me for a moment what it would feel like to receive a thankful phone call, email or letter from someone you’d impacted.  Would you feel proud?  Privileged?  Honored?  Successful?

We have it in our power to give those feelings to people who have invested in us.

I sent an email to my 4th grade teacher about a month ago.  In it, I thanked her for seeing my potential, for instilling in me a love of learning that I have carried into adulthood, and for giving me affirmation that I needed very much at that point in my life.  

She replied only a few days later to thank me for the note, saying that it affirmed for her that she was able to make a difference during her teaching career, which she had sometimes doubted.  

It seems to me that we all want to know we’ve made a difference, and that we all come to doubt whether or not we have.

We have it in our power to erase that doubt for those who have made a difference to us.

So who deserves your thanks?  I’d love to hear your stories about who has impacted you, and how you have thanked them.

The Influencers « New Creation