Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Psalms 23:4 reads, "Even though I walk into the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

This is a bible scripture often used in sports and in life as encouraging words when facing adverse times. This scripture profiles the writings of King David around 979 BC, where he speaks of the comforts of God in the difficulties of life he faced.

Similar to the times of adversity King David faced, there are a handful of individuals who experience leadership in a way that many of us never will, or would never sign up for. These leaders and situations are called, "in extremis," or "at the point of death."

Today's MMM simply profiles the characteristics of in extremis Leaders. There is an entire chapter dedicated to in extremis leadership in a book I am currently reading, Leadership Lessons from West Point.

This chapter was particularly interesting because a lot of leadership characteristics and qualities we think important in our world fly right out the window when leading others in life or death situations. The book says, "Behind the veneer lies a rich array of insights about leadership, forged in the face of fear, and paid for with the blood of heroes."

In extremis leaders give us a picture of authentic leadership. Leadership stripped to it's core. Leadership found only when then highest stakes are at play. This is pure leadership. Understand the core of something and you can build on it. If you consider yourself a leader, developing this leadership core is a great place start, or start over.

In extremis Leadership defined: "Giving purpose, motivation, and direction to people when there is imminent physical danger and where followers believe that leader behavior will influence their physical well being or survival. Out comes in in extremis leadership mean more than mere success or failure, pride, or embarrassment. Outcomes are characterized in terms of hurt or healthy, dead or alive."

"I am a leader." How many times have you heard someone tell you this (especially if you have ever been in a position to interview someone for a job or position). The next time someone labels themselves "leader," my next question may be, "How many people have you lead in terms of hurt or healthy, dead or alive?"

After I read this chapter, my thoughts of the depth of myself as a leader, dropped off harder than a Vanilla Ice single.

The authors of this book learned about in extremis leadership by watching, living in, as well as conducting 120 in depth interviews of a range of leaders and followers who have participated in in exteremis situations. Through this research and experience the top characteristics of this type of leadership where revealed.

1 and 2. INHERENT MOTIVATION AND THE LEARNING ORIENTATION: In extremis situations are inherently motivating. The dangers that people face brings energy to the leader and the followers who are involved. The potential hostility means that leaders must be able to scan and learn their environment quickly, having confidence and competence to read the situation, make decisions under fire, and make them quickly.

3. SHARED RISK: Here is one of the characteristics I found to be much different than many leaders in the sports and/or corporate world. Shared risk means that the leader is willing to share the same risk, and even risk more than the followers. This is one of the most profound leadership characteristics any authentic leader must take on. This creates deep respect and admiration from followers. This is a "I'll go first leader." That is the way it should be. That is why you are called, "leader."

4. ELEMENTS OF COMMON LIFESTYLE: Another characteristic that is quite different from that of what common leadership is in extremis leaders do not focus on materialism and/or "what they look like." They instead, focus on values.

In their research they found that in extremis leaders earn an average but sufficient wage. The author made a great point stating "people who live and work in dangerous environments learn to love life. They seem to live in a world where value is only loosely attached to material wealth." Most of us as leaders in free world, have a hard time understanding this concept. Because our life is never really threatened, we tend to place less value on the important things in life and more on materialist crap.

In extremis
leaders seem to accept and embrace the lifestyle that is common to their followers. Think about it in your own experience. Is it easy to follow someone who looks completely different than you? Is it easy to follow someone whose expression of who they are (through their appearance to their material possessions) tips the other side of the scale from you? Or do you look for a leader who embraces the same values, lives like you, understands what is important to you, and is willing to do the same things as you do? Too many leaders think that leader means "better." Not so much.

5. COMPETENCE: No one wants to follow an incompetent leader into a place where they might get killed. There is absolutely no amount of positional or legal authority that is likely to command the respect or obedience in a setting where life is at stake.

Leaders in these extreme situations are placed in an incredible amount of pressure. They must see all the outcomes of the decisions that they make, and sometimes they have to make decisions where they know the outcomes will not be good.

This is truly the building block for trust in a relationship between the leader and their followers. The book says, "Organizations run by appointed leaders without legitimate competence can muddle through mundane events, but will predictably crumble when pushed in a crisis that poses genuine threat."

If you want to find out who the real leader is in your organization, take your group or team into your "valley of the shadow of death." See who has the competence to win the trust and heart of the team. I believe most of the people on the team will already know who it will be. The only person or person's who might be surprised about their new position are the "leaders" who sit in the corner office with the gold name plate and fancy title.

6. TRUST: Authenticity is the foundation, competence is the bricks, and trust is the house. The combination of authenticity and competence is what builds followers to trust their leaders, especially when it comes to life and death. There is nothing that is harder to gain and easier to lose than the trust of your followers. This is why in extremis leaders have to be the most authentic, trusted, and honest individuals that someone can find.

7. LOYALTY: Loyalty is eminent in in extremis leadership. And it is also a two way street. In extremis leaders see it as their absolute duty to take care of their followers. They put the men first, the mission second, and themselves third. Because of their loyalty to their men, they gain the same type of loyalty back.

Once again, this is not common in "leadership" in our world. Coaches and executives might do well in looking at their loyalty towards their team or employees. When they truly see how much they do or do not care about the well-being of their followers, they will then understand the degree of loyalty or dis-loyalty towards them.

The section in this book ends with a great statement. It says, "As leaders, our most enduring legacy exists in people we have led. We can build corporations, we can make loads of money, we can write books, we can name buildings after ourselves. In the end, for leaders, the only lasting effect is in the people we develop by giving them motivation, direction, and purpose. Competence, trust, and loyalty are all key in establishing the legacy of any leader, regardless of the nature of their organization."

This Week:


Have a Great Week!!!

Monday, March 1, 2010


This is by far the most difficult MMM I have written to this date. I have been putting it off for weeks, because of the difficulty I knew I would have writing it. But as I learned this weekend in a random audio lesson, when your mind gives you resistance (tells you to put something off, or not to do something), the best thing you can do is the exact opposite.

I have been telling myself, "I'll write this later," or "I don't need to write about this." It is resistance. And, on this subject, I decided not to listen to it anymore.

This story about "The Man Who Talked to Himself." It's true story. It's a story that I hope will help you appreciate, embrace, and cherish the differences in others around you. I also hope will motivate you to change your perspective on the preciousness of life and understand the importance taking the initiative to develop friendships with those around you.


"Let's go. You can do this. Come On. One more set."
This motivational talk was not coming from the personal trainer positioned above Mr. Lee Strickland preparing to spot him on a dumbbell chest press. It came from the client. Mr. Lee Strickland, with his eyes down and shoulders rolled forward continued to motivate himself, out loud, with enough volume as if he was trying to pump someone up across the room.

His trainer was looking at me through the mirror, with a smile that says, "It's just his thing," I'm smiling back at him with a smile that says, "this dude is weird."

And it wasn't just me, or his trainer that Mr. Lee Strickland would catch the attention of. It was the young lady I was training at the time. A college student who, every time Mr. Lee Strickland would start self encouraging, would look at me and try to hold in her laughter.

We would poke fun of Lee. Asking, "Is this guy really talking to himself?" It happened on multiple occasions. When you are the only adult training in the room with a bunch of teenagers, and just happen to be motivating yourself out loud, it was more than one time I got the question, "Is this guy serious?"

And yes, Mr. Lee Strickland was serious. He was a man who was very hard on himself. Like many type A personalities, he worried about things that probably didn't matter too much. But he took many things seriously and was a contributor in all of them. From being and avid exerciser to a Sunday school teacher, to serving on multiple community boards, to his professional accomplishments as an engineer, as a die hard fan of the Florida Gators, and as a husband and father, Mr. Lee Strickland was serious about whatever he did in his life.

I knew Mr. Lee Strickland for years. Or, at least, he worked out next to my clients and I for years. I just thought he was a weird dude who did too much bench press. It wasn't until about one year ago that I began to get to know Mr. Lee Strickland, and over that year I felt I got to know a great person, a great husband and father, and I always looked forward to seeing him come in. Always walking in like the gym was the last place he wanted to be, tired, just getting off of work, but always got it done. My greatest regret is that I let Mr. Lee Strickland's differences stop me from getting to know him sooner.

Lee and I began our first conversations about the Florida Gators. I have become what I like to call, "an adopted Gator fan." Simply, because a lot of kids I train have went on to play there. My friend Hunter would say it's because I am nothing but a "front runner." I can't help it the Gators have won multiple championships in multiple sports since I was adopted.

Mr. Lee Strickland was a UF graduate who loved the Florida Gators and Gator football. I would say that the majority of our conversations centered around the Gators, especially the football team.

For a year, a couple times a week, Mr. Lee Strickland would train in our facility while all of us would engage in conversations about football, the Gators, and argue pointlessly about sporting events and other random subjects. Mr. Lee Strickland's sarcasm and funny comments made my afternoon many times as he would say things to his trainer trying to get out of another set or more weight. He was funny as hell. But when it came down it, he was back at it, pumping himself up, out loud, for everyone to here. He was completely focused on the task ahead of him, "You can do it." "One more set." "Come on Lee, nothing to it."

On January 11th, Mr. Lee Strickland made a phone call into his trainer saying he would not be able to make his training session on the following day because of a meeting that just came up. A meeting he had to travel for. This "just came up" meeting had an unfortunate destination. A destination that we, to this day, continue to watch the devastation unfold. Haiti.

January 12th, 2010. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hits Haiti and destroys the infrastructure of the country. I saw on my Facebook page that my friend and Mr. Lee Strickland's trainer posted:

"Please add my dear friend and client Lee Strickland to your thoughts and prayers. Lee checked into this hotel on the afternoon of the quake and is yet to be heard from."

"What, Lee...." I thought as I scrambled to grab my phone to get a hold of his trainer to see what was going on. And yes, it was true. Lee had not been heard from. Mr. Lee Strickland had checked into the Hotel Montana (pictured above) and just spoken with his wife at 4:45 pm. He was on his his way back to his hotel room. Eight minutes later, at 4:53pm, the earthquake struck and Lee was never heard from again.

Thirty four days later, it was finally confirmed. Mr. Lee Strickland was found in the rubble of the Hotel Montana. Through this time, I followed his Facebook page and the Hotel Montana Facebook page spoke to both of the trainers who worked with him often, and did my best to pray for the comfort of his beautiful family, his wife, and eleven year old daughter.

During this time, I reflected a lot on what I learned from Mr. Lee Strickland and just how much I enjoyed that year I got to know him a little better.

Mr. Lee Strickland was different, at first, kind of weird to everyone, but it was his differences that I really began to enjoy. I really looked forward to seeing him 1 or 2 afternoon's a week. He was always pleasant, funny, and made me laugh.

This time of reflection has helped to me realize it is our idiosyncrasies, that make us masterpieces of God's work. And, no matter who you are or what you do, you are an unbelievable gift.

I sit here and think about his daughter and his wife. I am blessed to have three beautiful women in my life, my wife and my two little girls. I cannot imagine leaving them without me. I cannot imagine if my little girls were at the comprehending age of eleven and the pain, the confusion, the heart-ache, the hopelessness, that they would experience in the event of losing their daddy. It pains and saddens my heart to end just thinking about it.

Please take a moment today and pray for my friend Mr. Lee Strickland's family.

I hope this story, "The Man Who Talked to Himself," helps motivate you too..

Embrace others differences. No matter who are what they are (looks, color, religion, quirks, idiosyncrasies, etc.). Make them feel as if there differences are gifts, not curses or annoyances. There is probably someone you interact with every day who you have purposefully chosen not to get to know. Either because you are too busy, just do not care too, or worst of all and what has been my biggest problem too prideful. This is a mistake my friends. I want to encourage you to go to that person this week, get to know them, ask them and become interested in their differences, and make a new friend.

At this point, it may have been easier not to know Mr. Lee Strickland,
"The Man Who Talked To Himself." This pain of losing someone I truly enjoyed getting to know is difficult. However, I would not trade this pain for a second of my time interacting with Mr. Lee Strickland. Our times of laughing, him and I backing the Gators while we were getting bombarded by Gator haters, listening to Garrett tell him why he needs to stop just doing bench press because his shoulders were going to collapse forward, seeing him and Josh get through a Friday afternoon workout, and of course always enjoying his motivational speeches to himself.

I believe Jesus Christ summed it up when a Sadducee, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him saying, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law." Jesus replied, "You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments, hang all the Law and the Prophets."

Loving your neighbor as yourself is all about embracing differences and taking the initiative in getting to know who they are, cherishing them; becoming their friend. The success of your life will never be measured by how much money or professional gain you've made for yourself. Rather, life's greatest measure of success is determined by the number and quality of great friendships you have.

May God bless, watch over, and continue to comfort the Strickland family.