Thursday, November 1, 2018

Sharing Timeless Leadership Lessons

Over the years, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege to meet and interact with a variety of leadership experts. These leadership experts travel the world sharing their expertise to create better leaders and, as a result, more engaged workforces. One of these experts is James Strock, an independent entrepreneur and reformer in business, government, and politics. His most recent book is a must-read, Serve to Lead 2.0: 21st Century Leaders Manual. Follow James on Twitter @jamesstrock and visit his website at We recently had a discussion about leadership, and highlights follow below.

QUESTION: What defines a great leader that others want to follow?

JAMES STROCK: The ultimate test for leadership is: Would history have been different BUT FOR their service? Few leaders can credibly be accorded this accolade. One thinks of Winston Churchill. His determination to fight Hitler at the height of Nazi power—against the better judgment of many experts and the initial inclination of a large part of the English public—changed the course of history. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Charles De Gaulle also pass the “but for” test. On the other hand, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, and Mao fail. Any argument for the effect on history is compromised by their reliance on coercion to achieve and maintain power. As such, they’re best seen not as leaders per se, but as criminals.

QUESTION: You often write about Theodore Roosevelt. Which three of his leadership lessons do you consider to be timeless?
JAMES STROCK: TR applied determined intentionality to render his life a leadership lesson for young Americans of his time and into the future. If leadership is performance art, he was writer, actor, director, producer and impresario—as well as his own most demanding critic and appreciative audience. This points to his overriding lesson: if a leader can be seen as personifying his vision, his or her influence can be profound. This most gifted and privileged figure strove to be worthy of the support of what were then called “ordinary Americans,” or the “plain people.” Then and now, we sense that commitment to service.

Second, TR strove to achieve integrity. Amid the kaleidoscopic changes of politics at the turn of the twentieth century, Roosevelt attempted to meet the high but “realizable” ideals he urged for the nation. He would inevitably fall short, but the valiance of the attempt was and is evident and inspiring.

Third, Roosevelt never ceased in his project of self-creation. He embraced change and sought to stretch his capacities, to challenge himself, through the final hours of his life. For such reasons, TR continues to fascinate and inspire people everywhere almost a century after his death in January 1919. In common with his role models, such as, Lincoln and Washington, he was a memorable combination of personal detachment and historical familiarity. Alone among our greatest presidents, many people feel that TR, born in 1858, could walk onto the stage and take charge today. He remains an enduring touchstone for leadership.

QUESTION: How can leaders (Presidents/CEO’s) explain their vision to employees so that they also embrace it?
JAMES STROCK: There are doubtless as many ways to convey a compelling vision to employees and citizens as there are circumstances. What is effective in all times and places is PERSONIFYING THE VISION one would present. That requires a level of commitment to those one is serving, a level of integrity, that is uniquely persuasive.

QUESTION: You appeared on my Blog in 2014, when I interviewed you about leadership, and also in 2011, when I reviewed your inspiring book, SERVE TO LEAD. (Links to the two posts are provided at the end of this Q&A.) Recently, you released a second version of your book. What’s new?
JAMES STROCK: The book includes updates, as well as new information and elaboration gleaned from readers. In addition, the presentation has been redesigned, to render it accessible to readers of all ages. It’s intended as a manual, a book that one can mark up and truly make one’s own. I’m delighted that there has been much positive feedback on the new edition.

QUESTION: Since you last appeared on my Blog, social media has become an important marketing and customer engagement tool. However, how can leaders use social media effectively? Which five leaders do you follow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram?
JAMES STROCK: Leaders can use social media most effectively with two injunctions in the front of mind. 

First, don’t forget the “social” aspect. It’s meant for sharing, for serving others. Those who use it primarily to broadcast their own news and views, who aren’t using it to listen and learn, are foregoing much of the value. They’re confined by the limitations of serving oneself. 

Second, social media is a powerful tool for accountability. At the higher levels of leadership, the lives and treasure of many people may be at stake. If one is not leading one’s own life and work consistently with one’s expressed values, social media may bring accountability. It’s no accident that social media has resulted in a number of CEO’s being sanctioned for private activities inconsistent with their responsibilities. The entire #MeToo movement could not have become a social change milestone other than in the social media era. How this sorts out will be important, particularly as rising generations of digital natives move into increasing responsibility.

I follow many leaders, in various fields on social media—notably including Debbie Laskey! I strive to receive a range of perspectives. This results not only in learning from experts in expected ways, but, at least as important, from the serendipity of insights and references abounding among curious, engaged, leaders in all walks of life, in the USA and around the world.

Image Credit: James Strock.

My gratitude and appreciation to James for appearing on my Blog a third time and for sharing his inspiring leadership insights!

Leadership Is All About Serving Others - from 2014:

Serve to Lead - What a Visionary Concept - from 2011:

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