Epic Leader Fail!

Stop Doing the Work and Get the Work Done.

Many years ago, early in my leadership experience, I employed an admin named Janet*. Janet was a godly senior with the most remarkable spirit to help. She tried to do everything I asked, and her questions fell from her lips as water from Niagara falls. She was a saint. She just wasn’t very detail oriented, timely or efficient.

Whose fault was that? Mine.

It was a Wednesday, and being the terrific leader that I thought I was, I decided that rather than do the task myself, I would entrust it to Janet. At the same time, I knew that the task would take a couple of hours and that I would have to patiently wait for it. I also knew that the job would not be the quality that I expected or would have achieved myself. I waited…

By the next morning, Janet was still working on the project. Eight payable hours later and she was not yet finished. In my frustration, I took the project away from her and had it finished 25 minutes later to a much higher degree of quality. What a loser! Me, not her.

Here’s what I accomplished that day.

Project finished to a high degree of excellence (and in 1/18th of the time)!
One devastated admin that paid the price of a lower self-worth.
A missed opportunity to allow another to grow in skill and self-confidence.
One upset boss with a “See what I can do!” attitude that was displeasing to God. And…
A perpetual cycle of repeating that monthly task myself, 25 minutes of my time, every month, for eternity.
Epic. Leader. Fail… Lesson learned? Oh Yeah!

I would love to be able to take back those early years and decisions. However, in a way, I am grateful to look back upon them knowing that I have grown. One key element of a transformational leader is their ability to inspire and uplift, not tear down and destroy. The task-master can build an organization, but a leader can build community with a purpose.

About Inspiring Others…

You really do not need to look very hard to see the God-given gifts in other people. As their leader, a word from you—affirming their gift—will do more to motivate them to pursue it than perhaps any other worldly encouragement. Be observant, and when you see it, capitalize on it.

“Hey, Jonathan! I was watching you the other day, and I need to say… you have a unique ability for organization.”

Leave it at that. Let the compliment do the rest. Remember, it is about building up the individual, not manipulating them so that they will work for you. The first will bear fruit, the second is unethical.

If we are not first-and-foremost about building people, we will find ourselves far less the leaders than we otherwise would be.

Give them a model in your leadership that they can reproduce for others.

*name changed

He Spoke These Words and was Fired!

Human beings have a real knack for reading body language. Body language is sometimes enough to get one fired. However, would you like to know what really does the trick? Check out the list below. Repeated use of these phrases does not go unnoticed. The following are the top phrases that undermine direct reports with their supervisors and hopefully will serve as a gentle reminder to be mindful of your professional persona.


We all know people who intentionally say “I” to draw attention to themselves and their accomplishments. Many do it without thinking. They fail to realize that if they would substitute the word “we” it conveys; 1) They lead a team, and 2) They value the team. “I” conveys that no one wants to work with you or that you prefer to work alone.

“We’ve always done it that way.”

Maybe you should just sit in the corner and tell everyone who passes; “I’m not changing, I don’t care what you say!” Then, may I suggest you place your thumb in your mouth, curl your knees to your chest and gently rock back and forth.

“Like that’s gonna happen.”

No one likes the guy who brings everyone else down or throws water on the fires of “new vision.” Didn’t your mama tell you, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”? Perhaps mama will let you move back home during your unemployment.

“I was just doing as I was told.”

OK, great… Here’s another command: Head up to HR and pick up your check. This fails at a deeper level than you simply not wanting to take the blame. It actually serves as a direct indictment of your supervisor. It’s amusing how Mr. “I” (above) finally makes the shift to “We” when the wrong decisions are made.

“We’ve got a problem.”

This may not seem like a big deal, but if all you do is point out the problems, you are not the troubleshooter you think you are. I would always tell my leaders, “Don’t come to me with a problem unless you are prepared to give me two or three possible solutions.” Still better, just fix it.

“Did you see… Have you heard…”

Gossip in the workplace is an immediate character red flag. As a supervisor, I’m not stupid… If you are talking about Jennifer when she’s not around, the last thing I am worried about is anything you are pointing out about her. I am more concerned about what you are saying about me in my absence. Do you want to talk about your co-workers? Your new friends in the unemployment line might love to hear what you have to say.

“Sorry, I’m late.”

Life happens, but it is estimated that it takes a year to eighteen months to purge the perception of a single late showing. That is, it will take eighteen months before a colleague would think to say; “Rick is always on time.” In a high trust, high team setting, five minutes early is on time and on time is late. Attention to schedule conveys personal organization, preparation and that you give priority to others.

“I’m busy.”

Good. You are supposed to be busy! So is everyone else around here. What are you saying… Do you want special recognition? Geez. Maybe you should walk around the office telling others how unimportant and insignificant they are. However, you would need to get down from your high-horse before you could do that. I hope that’s not too much trouble.


Don’t be afraid to say no if the reasons are right. I would much rather hear a “No” than to hear a “Yes” accompanied by a failure to act. “Yes” cannot serve as space-filler, lighthearted commitment or an appeasement. A “Yes” demands action and you should never say you are going to do something that you are not committed to doing.

“I quit!”

Great… See ya!

That was easy…

The workplace is where you have an opportunity to build respect among your peers and craft your personal sense of excellence. If you find yourself regularly using any of the terminologies above, you may have a wake-up call on the horizon. If you get to the bottom of the list, and you remain blameless … congratulations. Would you like a job?

BR Rick Curtis

Discover the Unknown

The Amazon Rainforest is perhaps the most remarkable place on planet earth. It constitutes 54% of the earth’s total rainforest. It covers 2.5 million square miles, nine countries and produces 20% of earth’s oxygen. There are untold riches in the amazon, most of which await discovery. Most North Americans do not realize that one-third of the bird species found on earth reside within her, or that half of all plant species—some ten million—have found the ability to thrive under her canopy. Furthermore, few realize that it produces over three thousand edible fruits of which only about two hundred of them are known to the western world. As for people groups, it has been estimated that there are approximately fifty undiscovered tribes within this lush, mysterious place. Every tributary, every trail leads to new discoveries and a wealth of new information. It is the most undiscovered resource on the planet and as leaders, we would do well to learn from her.

I was there a decade ago. I set up camp near a lodge fifty miles from Iquitos Peru, hired a personal guide, and explored for weeks. We trekked, canoed to remote locations, visited an Amazonian tribe, fished for Piranha using freshly sacrificed chickens, searched for and found the Pink Dolphins of the Amazon, swam in a virgin pool beneath a remote waterfall grotto in the middle the jungle and rescued a baby sloth after its mother fell from the canopy above, breaking branches during the fall, and landing very near to us with a thud, baby clutched close.

What an incredible experience. Exploration at its finest. Looking back at that journey I think about other unexplored territories and I think to ask myself and other leaders…

When was the last time you explored your people as you would the Amazon?

Whether you are aware of it or not, your greatest assets are those who work for you. As a leader, you need to explore their lives, their talent, and their history. I have worked for organizations where the leader does not delve deep into the background of direct reports, and they have missed the opportunity to tap into greatness. In every organization I have led, I have sought to learn the deeper things about my employees. You see, it is presumptuous and awkward for an employee to approach her supervisor and say; ”Here is something you need to know about me that can help this organization.” It is the responsibility of the leader to initiate such inquiry. Here is a simply way to begin. It is the method that I use.

1. Approach the same level colleagues of your direct report and ask them this question; “Tell me something about Jennifer that would interest me, something that would add real value to this organization, something she would not say of herself.”

Same level direct reports get to know each other well over time. In fact, if you are a leader that successfully builds teams, then they have already had the conversation about what talents they possess that the organization is not taking advantage of.

2. After hearing from the same level direct reports, take the individual aside and ask; “Jennifer, I want to give you permission to brag about yourself. I will not think it conceit nor will it change how I view you in any other way than positively. Tell me things about yourself that I did not know, but should. What is there in your gifting or past accomplishments that would blow me away and I could leverage to propel this organization forward. Brag about yourself.”

Leaders who provide a safe and confidential environment that mines the wealth of accomplishment from their employees will usually fine gold deep within the skillset of their direct reports.

Ask yourself…

What talents, what wisdom, what new insights lie deep within your people?

What treasures can you uncover to transform your organization in new ways?

You will never know the depths of your people without intentional, adventurous inquiry. Sit with them, begin to explore… The treasures that you will uncover will blow your mind and transform your leadership awareness as never before.

Tap into the wealth, start the discovery.


A few blog posts ago, I spoke about seeing the gifts in other people and encouraging them in that gift for the sake of their own fulfillment. Furthermore, I stated that if we compliment them for our own gain, that we are being unethical and our actions will not succeed. I would like to convey an experience I had with a church member many years ago when I was pastoring a church in the Los Angeles area.

It concerned a man named Mark.

Mark was a member of our church. Like many members, he had his problems, but none so great that the Lord could not use him. I had heard that Mark played the guitar and was quite skilled. While I had occasional thoughts like; “I wonder why Mark has never tried out for the worship team?” they were simply passing thoughts.

One day, I noticed Mark during the worship time. He was solidly committed to the Lord in those moments. I could just see it. So, after the service, I stopped him as he was exiting. “Hey Mark, hang out for a second, let me finish shaking hands. I want to speak with you.”

Now I know what was going through Mark’s mind, “What did I do now?” When I finished, he came to me, “Yes pastor!?” “Mark, I just wanted to tell you that I was watching you during worship today, and you were really ‘in the zone.’” He smiled; “Thank you.” …Confused stare. “That’s it, I just wanted to tell you that watching you blessed my heart.”

I know exactly what happened next. Mark probably walked away thinking, “I don’t know what pastor saw, but if he saw it, maybe I was really a blessing to him and others, maybe God could use me.”

It wasn’t three weeks later that I heard Mark was rehearsing with the worship team. It took a man of God to catch a glimpse into the spiritual, and be willing to convey what he saw. You need to seek those glimpses into the spiritual when you are with your people. God will reveal what he wants or needs you to see.

WARNING: My experience with Mark cannot be manufactured. You cannot manufacture things to praise others for. God will reveal who and what you are to encourage with your words. You need to be sensitive and watch. People need to hear genuine, spirit-led praise from their leaders.

About Words…

The people that God has entrusted you with, they look to you for Godly leadership. Here are a few things that I have found to be important:

1. People need to be asked.

2. Expectations need to be defined

3. Accomplishments need to be rewarded.

People, by their nature, desire to live up to their leader’s expectations of them. If no expectations exist, then there is nothing to motivate or challenge them to action.


Do you know what BOLO stands for? It stands for Be On The Lookout… Watch for the men and women like Mark. You will find them. Those who are deeply committed to the things that drive your organization but they have not yet found their Stream of Excellence within it.