Being Great

There are those times in life when you encounter greatness. It takes your breath away. It’s one of those things when everything comes together in perfect harmony and you find yourself in the midst of something that just feels right… and you are inspired.

I had such an experience when I was called to do a business seminar for the leaders in an organization that hires me from time to time. I had worked as a freelance marketing adviser for this company in the late ’80’s but it had been years since I had been there to consult. I remember telling the then-owner (after our first meeting) that I would not advise on their ad campaign. He was shocked, and then I clarified.

It was early in my career and I had left an art director position for a company in Los Angeles to strike out on my own. I knew what it meant to represent the company which I had worked for and was greatly successful in driving campaigns to increase market share and product awareness, however, I knew little of this new company.

Back to the story. He was shocked. This “Ad Guy” whom he had paid travel expenses to come and advise him said that he would not. I could see his discomfort. Then I clarified. I would not advise because I knew little about their product. So he suggested that I spend the afternoon in the conference room with his in-house marketing staff and they could show me their product, advise me on how it worked, and show me the previous ad campaigns they had run.

I shocked them again. During that meeting, I refused to see any earlier campaigns (standard practice for me) because I did not want to be influenced by their previous attempts. Nor did I want to see the trade magazines they placed before me because the reason they were hiring me is that they wanted an outside evaluation of their product. Frustrated, the marketing team asked me; “So, what do you want?” My reply was simple.

I want to build it!
I scheduled an appointment (the next Monday morning) to work on the factory floor and actually build the product on the assembly line. I needed to know the nuts and bolts. Shock again!

Hear me on this. While I worked on that line, I understood the product deeper than most of the executives in that conference room. In fact, when it came time to advise on the ad campaign, I also advised on several product enhancements and a very small but beneficial change to the assembly line workflow that would save a small, but not insignificant amount of money every year. But I had to get under the hood to see those potential improvements. Their shock gave way to excitement.

Now I started this piece talking about greatness. I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about that company.

Returning years later to hold a seminar for their leaders, I walked into a completely different environment. The greasy carpet in the lobby, the smell of a factory, the noise and the unprofessional receptionist had all been replaced. Instead, I encountered what amounted to a professionally decorated sanctuary of a waiting room and an attentive and extremely professional host. Furthermore, the noise and smell of the factory had given way to a gentle classical masterpiece playing during my very short wait. In fact, as I walked in I was surprised to see an LCD screen that welcomed me (and a short list of other scheduled appointments) by name. Something had changed. Someone had gone under the hood. Someone had entered the business with the eyes of a first-timer, and it was the new owner.

Before any employee knew who he was, he scheduled an appointment to meet with the staff, posing as a prospective new client. What he saw and experienced shook the company to its foundation, but also to greatness. He trained, fired and hired employees to mold the organization to his vision of excellence. He modeled it from the top and it showed. From the office of the CEO to the receptionist who offered me a bottle of water during my short wait, everything was harmonious. Their corporate culture had changed. It had been defined. Now, they had asked me to come back to train his lead staff. He had heard of my day “on the line” and years later told his key people to get me back.

Today, he leads a company of excellence… And yes, he still calls me to advise from time to time. He did for the company what I had done for the product so many years before.

Missing the Mark

Mitad del Mundo

In 1736 French explorers set out on an expedition ordered by the King to prove or disprove the prevailing theory of the day, that the earth was not perfectly round but oval in shape, with the circumference at the equator being smaller than if measured through the earth’s poles. Two teams were dispatched, one to the north pole, the other to the north of Quito Ecuador. Triangulation was done in the Andes along the tops of Ecuador’s many volcanos, measurements were made, and the exact middle of the earth was marked. Today we call it the equator, and those French explorers marked the very spot at San Antonio de Pinchincha approximately half the distance between Quito and Ecuador’s northern border with Colombia. Much effort went into these measurements and the marking of the earth’s center was heralded as the greatest human accomplishment of its day.

In 1978 a huge monument was constructed at the very spot where these explorers had marked. Several Interpretive Centers and Museums surround the great granite monument and it is today one of the major tourist attractions for those visiting Quito. Thousands come each year to straddle the line, one foot in the Northern Hemisphere, the other in the Southern. The tragedy, unbeknownst to these thousands of tourists…

The monument is in the wrong spot!

All that work, thousands of visitors who never actually accomplished their goal of straddling the equator, the cost of constructing the monument, all for naught! Problematic mapping datum and current GPS technologies have shown that the actual equator is 240 meters to the north. Thousand of tourists, coming from Quito have failed in their endeavor because of faulty information.

As leaders, we must remember to acquire all available data before making a decision. To check and double check the facts. We must intimately know our current reality and embark upon our quest with adequate tools and resources to accomplish the task with excellence. If we fail to commit to these foundational actions we also run the risk of…

Building the Monument while Missing the Mark.


So what now? How does Ecuador solve the problem? They don’t! They propagate the lie. Thousands still come. They pay for this adventure and are not even aware they have been deceived. You see, the monument is too costly to relocate or to move. It makes for nice pictures!

Ask yourself…

How vested are you in a lie?

Is it time to do the right thing?

What happens when they find out the truth?

We must be leaders of integrity.


Leader Version

Church Planter Version