Leadership has a People Problem


“A leader is a dealer in hope.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

I don’t know about you, but I am not getting any hope from leaders today. I am increasingly troubled by the widening chasm between what true, authentic leadership is and the characteristics we find in in an overwhelming number of folks in positions of authority (I am purposefully avoiding calling them leaders). From the halls of esteemed government institutions to corporate suites the divide between who is actually been served compared with who the commitment to serve is with is teetering on a crisis.

Author and renowned motivational speaker, Brian Tracy, describes the top seven characteristic of great leaders as: vision, courage, integrity, humility, strategic planning, focus,  and cooperation.  If you take a survey of contemporary leadership in both the public and private sector you might be able to identify a few people holding leadership positions with more than two of these qualities; the majority however, have 2 or less. All we have to do is look at the seemingly never ending quagmire in Washington, DC, where corruption is rampant and the politicians pose and pontificate while accumulating inordinate amounts of wealth. Miraculously these people are able to reach agreement on increasing and securing their own future while completely incapable of overcoming deadlock over national issues.  Sadly, the Congress of the United States has become nothing more than, “a den of thieves”. It has to be the most successful, hustle or con, ever played, on such a large group of people.  I ask myself, what happened to the courageous investigative journalism that broke stories like “Deep Throat” and “The Iran-Contra Affair”that served to keep public servants honest? Then it becomes a little more clearer-6 companies own 90% of the media in the United States.  Who do you think does their legislative bidding? It would go against their self interest if they were to pursue the public’s interest.

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it no real success is possible,  no matter whether it is on a section gang, football field, an army, or in an office.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower 

As we slide more and more toward oligopoly and the financial wealth gets hoarded in fewer and fewer hands, the number of corporate criminal cases referred to court systems throughout the United States has increased. While these cost continue to borne by the tax payer-these same corporations, don’t even assume any of the burden through securing (you guessed it), tax breaks, legislatively.  While politicians are “tough”on “street” level criminals, they turn a blind eye to corporate crime and criminals whose affects are far reaching; and we don’t have to look to far to come up with examples. Who has been sentenced as a result of the fraudulent actions of scores of persons within the financial world that caused the financial crisis of 2007-2008?  Corporations face criminal charges from environmental, antitrust, fraud, financial crimes and tax evasion. Who is at the helm of these organizations when charged with crimes?  Where are they when these crimes are charged? I wonder what it would be like, if and executive “leader” were to publicly take responsibility for actions committed by the corporation under his watch rather than hiring slick attorneys and  public relations firms to shift blame, find some legal technicality  and avoid ownership.

Are these political and business “leaders” so deluded that their example isn’t being learned by future leaders? Do they fail to understand or do they simply not care that the lack of character being displayed is a cancer that is eating away at the very fabric of our society.  The disconnection, the division, the divisiveness, and the never ending self-promotion are at the core of what is wrong with leadership today. The disconnect reflected in how their decisions and actions impacts other human beings-mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, who have dreams too. It appears that they fail to truly grasp the concept expressed by John Maxwell that, ” All leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.”

In the end, leadership has a people problem; we all have a part in its correction. By trade and passion, I am a “hope dealer” and believe that that we still have a chance to teeter ourselves from crisis. For example, I am heartened by the work of people like Daniel Goleman and Bill George with the concepts of emotional intelligence and authentic leadership. Tangible action, is the next step.  I long for the principled-centered leaders to do what is right no matter what. I challenge my peers in the world of leadership development to hold clients accountable and integrate values based, character building, people connecting themes in their work.

In my own life and work of helping others discover and pursue their passions, I find that maintaining a high value on relationships creates an opportunity to navigate the complicated organizational dynamics that sometimes ignore the people side of what we do; and frankly, people and relationships, are what we really do.

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Helping your find synergistic solutions for your life and business.


Can We Learn 21st Century Leadership Skills By Looking To The Past?


Yesterday Now Tomorrow Signpost Showing Schedule Diary Or Plan



In over twenty years of work within the non-profit sector, I have had the undeniable pleasure of of working in one of the most diverse sectors. An industry where the common objective, regardless of location or specific services was to stand in the gap and provide oftentimes that intangible gift of visibility to people who are so frequently invisible.  My career has afforded me the great fortune of working with well funded, well established organizations as well as those fledgling startups with little or no funding, but who had been brought to life out of need and love of those willing to stand in the gap to provide for that need.

Time and time again, I have been witness to the amazing power where vision met generosity and the impossible became possible;  where the world felt right, everyone from the executive director down to the receptionist feels like they make the world a better place on a daily basis. Where I developed the value of treating clients like worthy consumers and dignity of the person is valued above whether a contract is renewed.

I have also experienced the pangs of loss; from failures to secure funding for programming, to simply not communicating a vision compelling enough to ignite community engagement. I know what it feels like to be on the layoff side of a merger and working in a toxic environment not fit for the mission an organization was designed to carry out. Ironically, in many cases non-profit organizations survive despite themselves.  All for the greater good, right?

Like all companies, these organizations met the challenges of growth within a framework that accounted for both the need to provide direct services while ensuring financial viability.  Leadership in the non-profit sector requires not only the anticipation of demands from or shifts in funder(s) priorities, losses of funding, changes in constituent priorities, in addition to swings in the political landscape. Not to mention the loss/gain of key staff including that dreaded moment when a board of directors chooses what is best for an organization at the expense of those who founded it.  It is through this amazingly diverse and complex lens, I view the world and it’s working systems .

As a strategic thinker with the Clifton Strengthsfinder themes of Input, Intellection,  Learner; in addition to being a problem solver and simply desiring to contribute to this discussion in a meaningful way, I have spent a significant period of time reflecting on the leadership skills which are being championed for 21st leaders, for-profit and non-profit alike, I am transported back in time to the early 90’s while working at AID Atlanta, an AIDS Service Organization. Like most AIDS service organizations in those days of the heights of death and dying of the epidemic, leadership at all levels of the organization-and everyone was a leader, required the types of 21st century leadership skills described by thought leaders. Strategic/Creative/Systemic thinking, comfort-ability with ambiguity and uncertainty collaboration and networking skills, the use of horizontal and vertical development processes (this was simply the way I came to understand professional development and for years believed, everyone did it this way), and it was always “relationship-centered”-what mattered most was relationships. It was a time of building up in the face of devastating losses in the middle of a crisis.

Unfortunately or fortunately, with the advances in medicine that brought the much needed stabilization and relief from the ongoing crisis, organizations shifted their focus; leadership became compartmentalized with a “management” focus and the “we’re all in this together” spirit fell to a strict hierarchical system where decision make was reserved for the directors. The paradigm resulting from that sense of urgency created by crisis gave way to settling in for the long haul. Non-profit managers, directors, and leaders in AIDS service organization modeled their counterparts in the corporate sector in the new paradigm. Which was standard operating procedure for most if not all community based organizations who weren’t in the throes of crisis. Much like the dismal state of customer service provided these days, service provision has become an act of muscle memory, lacking the investment, innovation, and creativity which were once their keystones.

What is it about operating within a framework of a crisis or as we are learning now,an environment described by the army acronym VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) which necessitates our thinking about leadership development and its skill sets, which quite frankly seem like the kind of skills we would want irrespective of shifting circumstances? Obviously management processes and the use of particular skills over others will be impacted by circumstances. What I am referring to is the type of strategic/creative/systemic thinking, the emphasis on shared decision making, in the spirit of collaboration and networking, all conducted in an environment where relationships are valued and each individual participates in a developmental process which combines horizontal and vertical approaches. What was unique about the people who were coming together in communities to form organizations in the middle of the AIDS crisis which that organically developed that very skill set?

Is there something, inherent in struggle or if you prefer, volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environments that simply drive us to that better part of ourselves? Can we gain insight by looking at those early years in the AIDS epidemic and find the answers to the looming questions about leadership development in the 21st century.  I believe we can, and I welcome the opportunity to explore these answers and many more with you-if you are willing.

I remain



How to Make Your Goal Setting Effective

“When a man truly commits, the universe will conspire to assure his success.”  Henry David Thoreau19613619-Man-aiming-to-his-target-in-red-word-goal-Business-goal-concept-Stock-Photo

When I consider how very little instruction we are given on goal setting as compared to it’s unequivocal importance in success in life, I am at a loss; it truly defies logic.  Since goal setting is a skill of the highest order, this blog post will be the laying of your goal setting foundation; upon which you will be able build more learning and incorporate all the improvements to your techniques along the way of changing your life!

Establishing and writing out your goals helps you more clearly define who you are and what you really desire. This clarification assist your brain in making choices that are more aligned with the real you. Setting goals, puts you back in control of the direction of your life and opens you up to horizons that you didn’t even know existed. Additionally, setting goals causes our brains to release the neuro-chemicals that make you feel better and give you a more positive attitude.

Writing out your goals harness the amazing power of all three of your body’s inter-related systems; the muscular, the skeletal, and the nervous system; signaling the brain, that what you are doing is extremely important-so pay attention. A goal that isn’t written down is nothing more than a wish.  Are you ready, to change your life?

Steps to Effective Goal Setting

Step 1: Write your goal out and set a date to reach it.

The structure of writing your goal is very important. You will always start by writing, “My goal is state your goal-remember, be very specific. For example, “My goal is to save $550 to buy a new iPhone by June 1, 2016.”

Remember, the date like the goal is the target. They should be written to allow for adjustments. If you don’t allow for adjustments, the message you are sending your brain is that you are going to quit, you aren’t really committed.


Step 2: List no more than 3 obstacles to reaching your goal

Obstacles can be anything that has impacted your ability to achieve your goal in the past. Staying with our example goal we can use the following obstacles: 1) I haven’t saved in the past for things I really wanted, 2) A crisis could come up, and 3) I don’t deserve an iPhone.


Step 3: After each of the obstacles, write and date the action steps you’re going to take

 Each of the action steps you write down are actually small goals. For example, obstacle #1 is: “I haven’t saved in the past for things I really wanted.” Action Steps:  1) To listen to the Financial Responsibility Self-Talk Program 3 times a day (while eating breakfast, lunch and as I lay down for bed) until February 10, 2016; 2) To visualize my transferring $50 each pay period for 21 days; and 3) Contact my banker to set up automatic transfers of $50 to my savings beginning January 29, 2016,


Step 4: Review and track your goal plan on a weekly schedule.


Step 5: Reward yourself as your complete each of your action steps and when you accomplish your goal!!


It’s really is, that simple! The example I used was for teaching purposes and simplicity. We are larger goals that affect our lives like, starting a family, going back to school, starting a business, buying a car or a house, etc.… If you apply these 5 steps to all levels of goals, you will, in the words of Thoreu, “meet with a success unexpected in common hours”.


That is the long and the short of goal setting. If you have any questions, are get stumped along the process with obstacles or action steps, please, do not hesitate to send me an email at dean@deanthelifecoach.com  or Post a Comment of my Facebook Page www.facebook.com/deanthelifecoach so that I can get back to you.


As Always, Much Love.

The Mistaken Perspective In Leadership Development

In my blog post, The Leadership Lens, I realized ,after the fact, that I had failed to provide any meaningful closing which would have enabled the reader to see the dots which I had connected. It is my dangling and I hope that you will look at this post with a fresh set of eyes.

The White Paper I referenced, by Nick Petrie, Trends in Leadership Development, was from what I can tell, pretty representative of the high quality work that is done at the Center for Creative Leadership. What I missed upon reading it was a visceral reaction that later when processed checked out to be incredibly valuable on a number of levels,;including synthesizing the fact that I wish to be known in for-profit circles as the, “non-profit guy who taught them leadership” and it re-ignited a little resentment (I had pushed down somewhere deep), I had held with respect to the artificial class construction between managers and leaders in the non-profit sector as compared to those managers and leaders from the for-profit sector. While my curiosity is going into overdrive to get to the why did it start, when did  change, was the divide always there, etc…none of those things are really relevant. What is relevant is where and how do we go from here?

Two days after I read Mr. Petrie’s paper, I came across a May/June 2010, Ivy Business Journal article written by Jean Crawford entitled, Profiling the Non-Profit Leader of Tomorrow (. iveybusinessjournal.com/…/profiling-the-non-profit-leader-of-tomorrow). In the article she provides 15 “must have attributes”, which mirror the skill set described for leader of tomorrow’s for-profit organizations. Personally, I believe this skill set isn’t really innovative-these are the characteristic of leaders, period. It can be argued in fact that all of the skills/traits/attributes discussed in each article could be categorized within each of the 8 characteristics of principle centered leaders as described by the late Dr.Stephen Covey. Whether or not, individual leaders possessed or demonstrated this standard is an entirely different matter.  Additionally, variances within context and circumstances impact which of the identified traits the leader would use; however, my contention is that regardless of sector all leaders have these skill sets as their baseline.

Since “cutting my teeth” at an AIDS service organization at the heights of the AIDS crisis until this day, I have been convinced that we have missed untold opportunities to solve so many of our problems as a result of the divide between these two sectors. Imagine if you will, a world where leaders from both sectors create teams which collaborate to address social, medical , and technological problems. That through these collaborative exercises synergistic solutions come about for all parties-a true win-win scenario. I myself can see changes in health care, cures to illness, a significant change in chronic homelessness. Not to mention to ripple affect throughout each of those communities, through the nation and the world. All while each of the sectors are exceeding the expectations in carrying out their missions.

One of the duties of thought leaders, including academics, experts, and gurus is that we be change agents. What I have observed in recent years however, is an unhealthy amount of conformism, self-promotion over service, and the use of exclusive, decisive language, again for self-promotion. I have nothing against marketing, in fact, I love it. What is troubling, and this is relevant, is that we now have a saturation of self-proclaimed experts, whose primary mission is personal branding and not developing leaders. As a result their drive is to find the next hook, to sell some product at the expense of authentically guiding the development of those under their care.  This of course isn’t reflective of everyone in the field; however if I, as a leader of leaders, place a higher value on securing my future at the expense of doing the right thing as a change agent, I am complicit in the problem. That is not leadership.

In a 2006, Stanford Social Innovation Review article entitled, What Business Execs Don’t Know-But Should-About Non Profits, the authors described in great detail, how, coming together and learning from one another, the social sector could be improved.  It also confirms what we have learned from the Center for Creative Leadership and the Ivy Business Journal articles is that the complexities that leaders in each sector face are very demanding. (ssir.org/…/what_business_execs_dont_know_but_should_about_nonprofits)

So where do we go from here? First thing we can do is to take down that artificial wall that divides the sectors into two separate classes. Then as thought leaders, experts, academics, and gurus become more mindful of using inclusive language we can begin to change the landscape. What that will look like will require a whole lot more people than me to even attempt a proposal. We have sacrificed too much in the way of creativity, innovation, and relationships for way too long, for us not to stand up and lead.

Together, there isn’t anything that we can’t accomplish!

How to Find Meaning and Purpose

I didn’t learn this lesson until much later in life, it’s an important lesson for all of us: Smart people learn from their own mistakes, wise people on the other hand, learn from the mistakes of others. 

I have always been driven by  the ideals of compassion, justice, equality, and a  level playing field for everyone. I was raised in the beautiful state of South Carolina, in a two parent home, with what appeared to be the makings of a successful life. By my junior year in high school, I served as a Page for the late Senator Strom Thrumond, who was actually the first and only U.S. Senator to have been elected as a write in candidate. During my senior year, I was the recipient of two Congressional nominations to the Service Academies; West Point, The United States Military Academy and Annapolis, The United States Naval Academy.

The cracks in the future that looked so certain, just a year before, started appearing by the end of my freshman year in college. During summer break between freshman and sophomore years, my identical brother, David and I came out as gay men. I didn’t know it then, but as I reflect, I never regained a firm footing in life after that process. I just didn’t know what help or tools I needed; of course, I never bothered asking because I didn’t have those skills either. I became what I like to refer to as the King of Great Starts; finishing, well, that was a different story entirely. I spent years going from cause to cause; providing me enough direction to at least allowing me to project the appearance that I was doing something. However, looking back, I can see that there was something that was just off, like I was out of sync. I always excelled at work but struggled with managing my personal life.

By the time I began working with Service Employees International Union (SEIU), I believed that I had found my place, finally. I was a talented organizer and it appeared that this was the place where I would grow. However, all of that changed on July 13, 2002, when my brother, David, my identical twin passed away.  Reminiscent of my coming out experience, this loss, shook me to my core. I began questioning everything I believed in and became increasingly judgmental and negative-a morose engulfed my existence. I was frantically search for some relief with the coping skills that I had; which was to find the solution and “fix” myself.  In the last few years of his life my brother, who had been vehemently anti-drug, had been using meth-amphetamines, at least “recreationally”. The curiosity of “what the attraction”finally won out the weekend following our 2003 birthday in October.

What followed would be a nine year journey of losing myself and finding myself again, but for the first time. What I have learned is that I experienced at least two crucial moments, while in an existential crisis, I lacked the knowledge or the skills to have made better choices. I retrospect, I was in active addiction way before October 2003, my first drug of choice was work or a cause. My mother profoundly ask at some point, “Dean, what are you going to do when you run out of causes?” A huge red flag that we both had missed, or weren’t sure if it meant anything at all.  Today I have the awareness to pay attention to those subtle signals and immediately check in with the appropriate professional to find out what unresolved issue is pushing its way out. My journey is far from over.

Since coming into recovery, I have earned my credentials as a Substance Abuse Counselor, have engaged in spiritual practices which challenge and stretch me, and continue to educate myself in a broad range of subjects. I have continued to experience this prompting or urging-some internal push to do more with what I have been given.  Which brings us to this moment.

I have, with the help of many friends, supporters, and family become a Certified Self-Talk Trainer by Dr. Shad Helmstetter in addition to the Business and Life Coach Certification.  These only remain steps to a greater purpose. A purpose that intersects your life with mine.

As a strategic thinker who’s strength themes include achiever, connectedness, learner, input and intellection, combined with the diverse work experience with non-profit and labor organizations; ll in addition to the very personal odyssey of tragedy, loss, and the gift of redemption, I bring unique insight and a profound understanding of systems to individuals, leaders, and organizations.

My purpose and meaning is to help you find yours through working together to find synergistic solutions to your business and your life.