Insights for Leaders

The Comfort Zone

“If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.” — John Maxwell

Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, wrote: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world.  The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”  In not adapting himself to the ways of the world, Shaw’s “unreasonable man” is one who will tend to live outside of the comfort zone.

Steve Jobs, Apple Founder and CEO, was such a man explaining: “My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders remain in a growth posture by keeping themselves and their people outside the comfort zone

Opportunities vs Problems

“Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.” — Jim Collins

Peter Drucker observes, “It is more productive to convert an opportunity into results than to solve a problem.”

Warren Buffet advises, “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders seize opportunities, give them ‘top priority’ status and dedicate their best people to those assignments.

The Challenge of Change

“Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.” — Babe Ruth

Jim Collins writes in his latest best seller, Great by Choice: “Far more difficult than implementing change is figuring out what works, understanding why it works, grasping when to change, and knowing when not to.” Changing at the right time and in the right direction is challenging!

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The Bottom Line: Leaders figure out how and when to change to meet changing times and new challenges.

Failure to Change

“When you’re finished changing; you’re finished.” — Benjamin Franklin

Andrew Grove, former Intel Chairman and CEO and 1997 Time ”Man of the Year”, observed: “There is at least one point in the history of any company when you have to change dramatically to rise to the next performance level.  Miss the moment, and you start to decline.”

UCLA’s legendary basketball Coach John Wooden, who won 10 NCAA national championships in a 12-year period (and 7 in a row) believed, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders by definition are change agents — if they fail to change they fail to lead. 

Fox vs. Hedgehog

“Management is about coping with complexity. Leadership, by contrast, is coping with change. More change demands more leadership.” — John Kotter

In 1953, Isaiah Berlin wrote a famous essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” (taken from an ancient Greek parable) that observed: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Jim Collins writes in best seller Good to Great, “Hedgehogs are not stupid. Quite the contrary. They understand that the essence of profound insight is simplicity….They have a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns.”

The fox represents management that is constantly aware of many complexities and options, while the hedgehog represents leaders who simplify a complex world into a single concept that unifies and guides everything.

The Bottom Line: Leaders simplify complexity with piercing insight that enables them to effectively lead through change.

Conquering Fear

“Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.” — Mark Twain

Leadership trainer and author, Dale Carnegie, writes: “Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it…that is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear.  If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it.  Go out and get busy.  Inaction breeds doubt and fear.  Action breeds confidence and courage.”

Legendary painter, Vincent van Gogh put it this way: “If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders courageously conquer their fears by actively addressing them and lead others to do the same.


“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by.  And that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost

Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton was a trailblazer observing, “I have always been driven to buck the system, to innovate, to take things beyond where they’ve been.”

According to Starbucks founder and CEO Howard Schultz, “Whatever you do, don’t play it safe.   Don’t do things the way they’ve always been done.  Don’t try to fit the system.  If you do what’s expected of you, you’ll never accomplish more than others expect.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders are wary of the well-beaten path, preferring to step out courageously and blaze new trails.

Personal Leadership

“Know thyself.” — Socrates

Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Mount Everest observed, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”  Prolific 19th century author/speaker Charles Spurgeon warned, “Beware of no man more than yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us.”

Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders understand it is essential to know, change and lead oneself before you can effectively lead others.

Strategic Change

“At the end of every day of every year, two things remain unshakable, our constancy of purpose and our continuous discontent with the immediate present.” — Roberto Goizueta

IBM founder Thomas Watson remarked, “If an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except its basic philosophy of doing business.”

Jim Collins articulates this principle as “preserve the core and stimulate progress“. He writes, “A visionary company doesn’t simply balance between preserving a tightly held core ideology and stimulating vigorous change and movement; it does both to an extreme.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders build their enterprise around an unchangeable core ideology, and are prepared and willing to change everything but that core ideology.

Sweat the Small Stuff

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” — Vincent Van Gogh

An ancient proverb instructs, “He who is faithful in the little things, to him will be given more.” Or, as Albert Einstein paraphrased, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important matters.”

John Wooden, college basketball’s legendary head coach with the most winning record in all sports history advises: “Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens it lasts.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders understand the importance of “little things” and seek small, incremental gains that add up to lasting greatness.

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