Vanilla Leadership

I started my journey of leadership in 2006, and I had no idea where it would take me. I knew that life would unveil itself and what I cared about was making a difference in people’s lives. While I did not understand the necessary growth it would take me and who I had to become to truly make a difference, I’ve truly enjoyed the journey thus far. One of my favorite definitions of leadership is John Maxwell’s. “Leadership is Influence - nothing more, nothing less.” The questions then become; Why are you influencing people? How much influence do you have? What are you influencing others to do? Who are you influencing others to become?

I would advocate that our society has too many Vanilla Leaders. I would define Vanilla Leadership as trying to appeal to everyone while consequently inspiring no one. When a leader is constantly trying to keep everyone happy and at a status quo level, the movement forward is slowed and possibly even halted. The word that comes to mind is friction. Friction to some people is a negative word, however friction is simply what happens when two forces rub together. Friction exists between a true, great leader and a follower. A Vanilla Leader’s number one goal is to minimize friction as much as possible. I advocate this is not a positive characteristic to true and great leadership.

3 Simple Steps to Move From a Vanilla Leader into a True and Great Leader. (i.e. Here’s a TIP)

1. Take a Stand
2. Inspire
3. Propel Action

Take a Stand
In order to be a great leader, you have to stand for something great. “Stand for something or you will fall for anything. Today’s mighty oak is yesterday’s nut that held it’s ground.” - Rosa Parks. You see it takes very little effort to join a crowd, however there is friction associated with standing alone. Winston Churchill once said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something good, sometime in your life.” Whether its an idea, values, standards or an initiative, take a stand.

Inspire others to embrace the friction, as Confusious said, “The gem cannot be polished without friction nor man without trials.” Friction is a life force that pushes back when life is working to move forward. Inspiring someone first starts in the heart and makes its way to the head. A leader’s greatest gift is to help someone discover their true internal motivations.

Propel Action
Activities are the measurements of movement. Results are the measurements of progress. A true and great leader inspires other to take action. The Vanilla Leader would get stuck in rhetoric and would not cause movement, eliminating or avoiding the friction. True and great leaders know the dreams of their people and propel action to get their people moving towards them.

In the book, Good to Great by Jim Collins, the author discusses an interview with Admiral Jim Stockdale. In the interview the Admiral discusses his time in the “Hanoi Hilton” as a prisoner-of-war. I highly recommend to read the entire story to fully understand the concept. He discusses how the war camp was unimaginable with torture and death, yet he was able to create leadership centered around these two principles: 1. Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND at the same time 2. Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.

You might be asking yourself what this has to do with Vanilla Leadership. I think, what would the fate of the prisoners have been if Admiral Jim Stockdale had been a Vanilla Leader? It took a true and great leader to inspire and influence. I'll ask the same four questions I started with:

Why are you influencing people? I believe Admiral Jim Stockdale was influencing prisoners because his internal DNA was to keep soldiers alive. While in war or on the battlefield and certainly in prison, he knew his moral role was to influence others to stay alive and protect others around them.

How much influence do you have? Admiral Jim Stockdale had so much influence that he had loyal followers that were willing to accept torture to uphold the principles put forth.

What are you influencing others to do? Simply stated, the prisoners were influenced to stay alive by the admiral. Do some prisoners lose the will to live as a prisoner of war? Who is influencing them to live and fight?

Who are you influencing others to become? The prisoners became better, stronger, willful individuals that were equipped to deal with horrific circumstances. They became those individuals under the Admiral’s leadership.

When presented with the opportunity to make a difference through your leadership, are you strong enough to Take a Stand, Inspire Others & Propel Action?