#An Army of One…Loses

Last week my long-time friend, Don Christian, president of Concordia University Texas, was in Chicago for several meetings and we met for an early breakfast to catch up. I’ve known Don for 40 years and continue to be amazed by how genuinely curious Don is about people, business, society, and almost any topic that may lead him to some new insight. I am also struck by the contrast between what some of our modern-day society portrays as leadership versus how Don actually leads.

There’s much in society that tells us to believe that strong leaders always have all the answers, spend lots of time making big decisions by themselves, are lone wolves, and know everything. Our advertising world supports this notion with catchy slogans like “Your world, delivered.” - American Airlines “My life. My Card.” – American Express “Yours is here.” - Dell “Because you’re worth it.” – L’Oreal “Army of One.” – US Army. These slogans tempt us to place ourselves at the center of the universe. They are indeed clever, yet they’re designed, primarily, to tug at our self-centered, narcissistic egos.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, that’s not how the most effective leaders operate. Being an “army of one” leaves you with only one person on your team. It’s you and you’ll be isolated…limited to think, decide and perform based on your own thinking. We can only have truly meaningful, purpose-filled lives when we’re in community. Otherwise our skills, experiences and God-given talents are wasted in isolation.

Even though I’m self-employed and spend quite a few hours working on my own, my best days are those when I’m with my clients in deep conversation (listening, brainstorming, encouraging, challenging, etc.) about how to create new endings to their stories…endings that are filled with possibilities and greater impact.

Don’t get me wrong. Time for meditation, reflection, journaling, planning and exercise are vital parts of what I regularly do alone, but too much time alone can leave me stuck in my head, and that is the time when my “saboteur” (that inner voice that wants me to stay small, and talk me out of taking risks) tries to take over my thought processes. Intentionally connecting with the right people, like my friend Don, on a regular basis is a simple, yet powerful way to ensure that we can continue to grow and maintain a healthy frame of mind.

In almost every conversation I’ve had with Don in the last 30 years part of our exchange has included a brief time of “what’s the best thing you’ve read in the last six months? And what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned?” Even though he’s a university president, his curiosity, and love of people and learning new things is one of the big reasons why he’s such a successful and influential leader. This refreshing perspective leaves people feeling appreciated and heard, and continually fills Don with new, creative insights.

Here are five key ideas that have helped me to not “breath too much of my own exhaust”:

  1. Intentional network. Life is short. Time is finite. Don’t invest your valuable time with people who aren’t serious about changing the world for good.
  2. Secret mentors. Who are several people that you aspire to be like? These are people who absolutely bring out the best in you, inspire you, you find creative, innovative, and powerful (in healthy ways). Buy them breakfast or lunch once or twice a year. Plan and ask them questions that help you gain insight into what’s important to them and why they do what they do. Then be sure to send them a thank you note.
  3. Keep reading. Stanford Social Innovation Review is just one of the resources that keeps me fresh and on the edge of innovation. What’s the right one for your niche?
  4. TedTalks, Podcasts & Blogs – one of my favorites, other than my own : ) is Craig Groeschel’s Leadership Podcast. Great insights from a proven leader.
  5. Journal – periodically (daily, weekly, the right rhythm for you) write about what you’re learning, what the big questions are you’re trying to answer, insights that have been real eye openers for you, goals, ideas, reflections, prayers, etc.

Remember than when you’re isolated you’re an “army of one”, and that means you’re the only one on the team. It’s an interesting fact that when you play alone, you just can’t win.


This blog shares my perspective on how you have the ability to create new story endings that are meaningful, powerful and filled with hope. I facilitate culture changing processes that help organizations achieve greater impact. Also, I provide leadership coaching to help executives and aspiring leaders become the fullest expression of who they’re intended to be.

If you're looking for coaching or consulting services, contact me - brian@leadersedge.me

@beckerbits #leadership #vision #culture www.leadersedge.me