The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

April 9, 2017

Are You Making the Leadership Choice? Pt 1

Before you can learn “how” to be a leader, ask yourself: Do I CHOOSE to lead?  Do I have a vision of what’s possible? Am I willing to risk toward that vision? … and to experience failure in the process?  Am I willing to be suspended in a never-ending series of gaps between what is and what might be?

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Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. Now, a show for anyone who is or has a boss, this is the Boss Show with Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.
Jim Hessler: Hello. I’m Jim Hessler. I’m The Business Guy. I’m the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development and I’m the co-author, along with my co-host, of the book Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face. Welcome to the Boss Show.
Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko. I’m The Psychology Guy, co-author of that same book. I’m a Harvard-educated leadership coach right here in the Seattle area. And Jim, what’s on tap for us today on the Boss Show?
Jim Hessler: Today, on the Boss Show, we’re going to talk about a concept called Make the Leadership Choice. Just a little bit of … In one second of advertising, this is a concept right out of our book. If you get our book, Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face, you can read about this in more depth, but we’re going to present this concept to you in the next couple of shows actually. This is enough to flesh out two important conversations. Steve, have you … Well, let me start with a story. Okay, so I had a guy many years ago. He was working for me. He walked up to me one day and he kind of poked me in the chest and said, “Jim, you don’t know how good I am. You don’t know how much I can contribute and you just don’t know what I’m capable because you haven’t promoted me yet.” And you remember what I … I’ve told you the story.
Steve Motenko: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim Hessler: So, what did I say in return?
Steve Motenko: You said something to the effect of, “Why aren’t you doing it? If you can do it, why aren’t you … I’m not gonna promote you to a position that I don’t know you can handle. Show me that you can, that you’ve got the chops to do this higher level of work and … “
Jim Hessler: And then I’ll promote you. What this guy demonstrated is that he had not made the leadership choice. He had not chosen intrinsically for his own reasons to be a leader in the world. He thought leadership was something that was bestowed on him by other people.
Steve Motenko: He was waiting for that to happen.
Jim Hessler: He was waiting to be knighted, I call it, waiting for me to walk up with a broad sword and tap him on the shoulder and call him Sir John of Whatever. This is a common misconception and this is why this concept of making the leadership choice is such an important one. So, I think as you’re listening to us talk today, think about whether you’ve really made this choice or whether you see your ability to lead others as something that’s granted to you by virtue of a title or a promotion.
Steve Motenko: One thing I often say to workshop audience is about our program that I really like about our program and Jim, really, you created the structure for it 15 years ago. So, this is really a big compliment to you. Most leadership development or leadership training programs begin with how to be a leader. It’s kind of a no-brainer, right?
Jim Hessler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steve Motenko: Yeah, of course, that’s what we’re here for — how to be a leader. But what you started with and where the first chapter of the book starts is, “Do you wanna be a leader? Do you have what it takes to be a leader?” And that “what it takes” is not so much a skill set, but a mindset. So, it’s this kind of a level of intention, a level of thinking that has you looking over a more distant horizon than most people.
Jim Hessler: I think one of the things that’s interesting about leadership … I love your mindset concept, because it is a way of being. It’s a way of showing up. It’s a way of considering yourself as an agent of change in the world.
Steve Motenko: For a lot of us, we’re born into that mindset, but others not so much, but it can be developed.
Jim Hessler: I think, after the break, we might want to explore that a little bit more of this, are there born leaders or not? I think that, that is something that comes up a lot. In our line of work, people ask us that question all the time. I think that the skills of a leader are important. It’s important to know how to run a meeting. It’s important to know how to do a job interview. It’s important to know how to put together a strategic plan, things like that. The skills are really wasted on anyone who doesn’t have the mindset of a leader. So, this concept of making the leadership choice is really about that. It’s about, are you in the mindset? Do you believe yourself to be a leader? If you don’t, your leadership journey really gets stopped there.
Steve Motenko: I think what we want to talk about is, what does that look like to believe yourself to be a leader? What kinds of thinking does that involve? We want to also say that it doesn’t depend on positional authority. It doesn’t depend on where you are in hierarchy.
Jim Hessler: So, let’s explore here with this whole concept of making the leadership choice.
Steve Motenko: We’ve got a listener comment line, 206-973-7377. We’d love to hear your voice. We can play it on air or not as you request. Also, of course, you could just send us an email at or visit our website, You can contact us there.
Jim Hessler: Today we’re talking about a concept we call Make the Leadership Choice. It is out of our book, Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face, but don’t let that stop you from listening. This is interesting stuff. The first question that came up a minute ago, Steve, was in relation to this nature, nurture question: Are there people that are born leaders? You’re The Psychology Guy, so you probably have as much to say about this as I do, but …
Steve Motenko: But you’ll say it anyway.
Jim Hessler: Well, I’ll start the conversation. I think the way I would say is that certain people are born with certain assets that may help them lead, but in general the idea of being born as a leader, I don’t really buy into that too much.
Steve Motenko: I agree with that. That’s kind of too much of a black and white frame and there are certain personality styles that lead people into what we typically consider leadership. So, it just comes naturally just like anything else in life comes … Musicianship, relationships, anything you can mention come more naturally to some people than to others. Of course, it can always be developed. The critical question of whether you choose to be a leader involves things that we’ll discuss later in the program and in the part two about to what extent to what extent you have a vision, which we talked a little bit about earlier. To what extent you’re willing to work, to sacrifice for that vision. To what extent you’re okay with failing and willing to accept the consequences of failure as a learning experience instead of a huge hit to your self-concept.
  Things like that do come more naturally to some people than to others and all of them can be developed if you are … If you don’t come naturally to it and you want to step up to a higher level of potential in leading others.
Jim Hessler: I also think that some people — through a lack of understanding about leadership — look at certain people who are charismatic, confident, authoritative and they equate that with leadership. I think those are elements that some people are born with more than others, but don’t think that that necessarily qualifies these people to be leaders of people just because they have that extrinsic kind of qualities.
Steve Motenko: There’s a danger to that too. As you know well, we’ve worked with lots of clients who struggle with leaders who have confidence that isn’t really grounded or isn’t really earned. It may be a display of confidence that truly comes from a lack of confidence. It comes from insecurity, but they’re a bull in a china shop and they take charge wherever they go, because they’re afraid of the only way they know how to cope with the world and they destroy relationships and motivation and morale along the way. Our culture tends to frame those people as leaders.
Jim Hessler: As leaders. So, here’s what I want you to imagine right now, dear listener. I want you to imagine that you have … In front of you, you have a chasm or a space between maybe two rocks or two cliff faces or whatever and there’s about a 10-foot gap there, and you’re thinking about whether you want to make that leap, whether you want to jump across that gap and land on the other side. This is the metaphor we use for making the leadership choice, because the fact is that when you choose to lead, you enter into a way of being that’s constantly in transition, constantly suspended between what is and what might be. So, just imagine what that feels like. Imagine what it feels like to be perpetually suspended between now and the future. That’s the metaphor, the main kind visual metaphor, that we use for this concept of making the leadership choice.
Steve Motenko: You might think exhilaration. You might think terrified. All sorts of adjectives and experiences and emotions that you could put on that.
Jim Hessler: Let’s talk about this word that is used so much called vision. So, Steve, what do you think of when you hear that word?
Steve Motenko: I think of an ability to imagine a future state. Not only an ability to imagine, but the desire, the kind of natural inclination to imagine a future state that’s very different from the current state and is better.
Jim Hessler: So, we talked a minute ago about this leap, this courageous leap that we make across the space between what is and what might be. The thing that compels to land on the other side, to make that leap, and even make the effort, is our vision. There has to be something on the other side of that leap that we find interesting or engaging or worthwhile. A lot of managers, a lot of leaders fail to become leaders because they can’t conceive or articulate what’s on the other side of that leap.
Steve Motenko: Really, entry-level jobs and most organizations, most industries, most domains of life don’t require that. They don’t expect that. They expect you to do well. They expect excellence at the job that’s in front of you, but they don’t expect you to be looking at that distant horizon. They don’t expect you to be suspending yourself over that gap and imagining what’s possible and leaping toward what’s possible.
Jim Hessler: Yeah, and I think a lot of people don’t give themselves permission to create visions. I think it can be more difficult at lower levels of the hierarchy and in maybe lower-level jobs to be a visionary, but I think everybody can be a visionary. Even as a truck driver or a barista or a nurse’s aide, you have to be able to see something in your job or in the company’s endeavor that’s better than what it is today. The vision me, it’s literally what you can see. Can you see something better? If you can’t see something better than what is, how can you lead?
Steve Motenko: Right.
Jim Hessler: How can you lead yourself let alone anybody else?
Steve Motenko: If you’re not currently seeing something better than what is or seeing the possibility of something being better than what is, it is possible to train yourself into that.
Jim Hessler: Absolutely, or to hang out with other people that encourage you to think that way.
Steve Motenko: Right, and to do both of those on a diligent basis. So, really, structure your life so that you are hanging out with people who are brainstorming what’s possible. Structure your life so that you are regular … I just met with a client this morning and just suggested to him that, because he is being groomed to step up into a higher level of leadership in his company, I suggested to him that once a week, he take a walk and he seed his thinking process in the walk with a question like … I think this one, Jim, I got from you, but it’s brilliant. If a competitor moved in next door, had all our resources and was aimed at exactly our target clients, what would you do differently? If you were that competitor, what would you do differently to play on our weaknesses?
Jim Hessler: Yes. So, here we go. We’re making the leadership choice. This is the most fundamental question we can ask any of our listeners to ask themselves, “Do I want to be a leader? Do I see myself as a leader? Am I willing to take the risks that come from leadership? And do I have something in terms of a vision that compels me, even if it’s small, something that makes me want to invest my capital, my time, my relationships, et cetera, in this process of being a changed agent in the world? This is the essence of leadership.
Steve Motenko: We want to make the point that we are not … I don’t think you’ve heard us say, although you might have kind of intuited it that everyone should step into leadership. Jim and I actually don’t agree that that’s true. For some people, leadership is not the right choice. You might not be driven by a vision. You might not want to be driven by a vision. You might not be in a place where you have the confidence to believe that you can make a bigger difference in the world. We hope that you’ll gain that confidence someday, but maybe it’s not something you have currently.
Jim Hessler: Thanks for saying that. You may have various times in your life just be worn out by the conditions of your life and you can’t put that much risk or effort, energy into your job. We don’t make any judgment about that, that when we say, “Make the leadership choice,” again, we’re not inferring everybody should make that choice. Even for the same person, there’s different times during their life and career when it’s appropriate for them to make that choice and when it might be appropriate not to.
Steve Motenko: Right. That’s well said. Sometimes you have to coast.
Jim Hessler: Right, exactly.
Steve Motenko: Sometimes you have to focus on other things that aren’t about creating a vision and following that vision and attracting other people. Sometimes you just have to get by for whatever reasons are going on in your life. You’re sick. Your parents are sick. You’re focusing in the small microcosm of raising small children, for example.
Jim Hessler: You’re tired. You’re tired. You need a break. You need to chill out for a while. All these are legitimate reasons, but it’s important to know where you are. It’s important to be self-aware about where you are, because if you try to lead when you don’t have the energy or impulse for it, you can burn out pretty quickly.
Steve Motenko: And I think that everything that we mentioned can be … How do I want to say this? Everything that we mentioned can be infused with leadership qualities. You can lead yourself through a more fallible period in your life. You can lead your children to become better people. You might not think of that as leadership, but …
Jim Hessler: It is.
Steve Motenko: … every way that we … I like to say that a leader is a person who has any influence over any other person.
Jim Hessler: Right.
Steve Motenko: That’s pretty much all of us. So, you can step up into your leadership potential in any activity.
Jim Hessler: And our programs with our clients. We kind of ask this question over and over again, why would somebody follow you? Why would somebody find you a compelling person to get behind? So, before we move off the vision topic, I want to make sure we make one thing clear. I’m not a believer. We’re not believers in visions like we want to be world class or we want to be the best of the best or … That’s not a vision. How do you see that?
Steve Motenko: It’s marketing language.
Jim Hessler: It’s marketing language. Too many companies and too many individuals, I think, even use that sort of amorphous, foggy language when describing their vision. So, we point people towards the John Kennedy speech in 1961 in which he said, “By the end of this decade, we will send a man to the moon and return him safely to earth.” Notice the “we will” language, not “we wanna, we’re gonna try [crosstalk 00:16:38] … “
Steve Motenko: Wouldn’t it be great if …
Jim Hessler: Wouldn’t it be great if … Right. It’s hard language and we’re going to focus on that more and more. I think in the shows that are coming up is this concept of hard language. We work very hard with our clients to eliminate fuzzy, soft language like, “I’m gonna try. I’ll do my best. I’ll see if I have time. If something else happens then I’ll … ” John Kennedy didn’t say, “Yeah, let’s try to get to the moon.” He said, “We will. We will go to the moon and return a man safely to earth.” He put a time box on it, so [we’ll 00:17:13] will do it by the end of the decade. And indeed, we did it on July 22nd, 1969, exactly as he predicted.
Steve Motenko: So, we encourage you to look at the language that you use as you flesh out your own leadership potential. We encourage you to look at words like try, “I’m going to try to … ” We encourage you to encourage others to monitor the language you use and see if it’s compelling and see if it’s concrete as befits a leader.
Jim Hessler: So, we’ve talked about the fact that it’s not hierarchical. It’s a choice you make to lead others. It’s not something you wait to be told to do. It’s just in your nature to want things to be better. It’s in your mindset that you can act on things and make them better. This is the engine that drives leadership.
Steve Motenko: If it’s not in your nature, you can develop it.
Jim Hessler: You can, you can. So, one of the most interesting conversations we have in our leadership workshops is around the concept of failure. The F word. I don’t know. I mean, I’ve always been kind of comfortable with the word. So, if I said I’m going to sell a million dollars of widgets next year and I sell 950,000, even though by a lot of measures, 950,000 was a hell of a year for widgets, and made it be way up from the 700,000 I sold the year before, I failed to meet the goal that I set for myself. I seem to use that word more comfortably than most people do. What does The Psychology Guy say?
Steve Motenko: Well, we have to be careful to understand that different language, that language lands differently [crosstalk 00:18:59] people. So, the word itself doesn’t mean anything. The facts of what happened. The word itself is a label for an experience. What’s really important to look at is what happened and what we can learn from what happened. Now if what happened includes you’re endlessly … And this is not something you do, but you listener. If what happens includes you’re beating yourself up endlessly and allowing it to erode your self-concept every time …
Jim Hessler: Wearing a hair shirt about the whole thing.
Steve Motenko: You set a goal and don’t achieve it, that’s something to consider in terms of your leadership potential, because if it’s going to cause you … If you are going to cause yourself great suffering every time you fail to meet a goal, maybe you shouldn’t be setting goals, or maybe you should be doing something about your internal monologue.
Jim Hessler: What I’ve seen is, I think, a lot of people actually see it as kind of refreshingly honest to say, “Hey, we failed.” I think so many people tap dance around that that it’s almost uncomfortable for people, because they see the leader trying to soften the landing. The fact is failure is failure, and why not be honest about it?
Steve Motenko: The greatest leaders fail most often.
Jim Hessler: Absolutely.
Steve Motenko: I mean, there’s endless documentation of that fact. We could tell you stories way [more 00:20:23] … Spend way more time than we have to tell you stories about great leaders, the Einsteins and the Edisons who failed way more than they succeeded, but they succeeded because they tried way more often than most of us try. We’re driven by that vision that we talked about earlier and we’re comfortable enough with failure that they … Who was it that said, oh, Churchill. I think it was Churchill.
Jim Hessler: It was from failure to failure without losing …
Steve Motenko: without losing enthusiasm.
Jim Hessler: … enthusiasm. And Edison who said, “I found a thousand ways not to make a light bulb,” right?
Steve Motenko: Right.
Jim Hessler: Or whatever it is. I think the other thing that’s important about this failure concept is if you set a goal to do 10 million in sales and you did five million last year and you did nine million, you fall off million short of your goal. You still increased your business by four million dollars. Good for you, but if you declare victory at nine million when you said you were going to do 10 million, you’re setting your organization up to fall short of the goal year after year after year, because you’ve created a culture that not meeting the goal is as good enough.
Steve Motenko: I just wanted to add, Jim, to what you said about failure and about not lying about it, telling the truth about it.
Jim Hessler: Deceiving yourself.
Steve Motenko: Yeah. What it’s really about, to me, it’s not about using the word because the word lands very differently in different people. I think it’s kind of arrogant to say, “Well, what I say is failure, you should also say is failure.” I think what’s important is to not be rationalizing and not be making excuses — something that leaders don’t do.
Jim Hessler: I also think it’s important to think of failure as labeling an activity rather than a person. So, I would never call a person a failure, but sometimes we fail to do things. So, the Boss Show is produced by Path Forward Leadership and our sound engineer is the inestimable Kevin Dodrill.
Steve Motenko: If you missed any of the show, you can get it in its entirety online at our website, It’s also where you can go to subscribe to the podcast and to contact us for any reason at all.
Jim Hessler: Thank you for listening.
Steve Motenko: Don’t forget. Rule number six.
Jim Hessler: Rule number six.

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