Leadership Caffeine™: Take Your Best Practices Viral with Leadership Development Blocking and Tackling

One of the interesting observations of writing regularly about developing and reinforcing great leadership habits is that the readership tends to be the group that already gets it.

Trust me, the lousy leaders that haunt our corporate hallways are not spending much time reading and applying the lessons of this blog, or the great work of: Wally Bock (Three Star Leadership) or Dan McCarthy (Great Leadership) or Bret L. Simmons (Positive Organizational Behavior) or Mary Jo Asmus (Intentional Leadership) or Becky Robinson (Leader Talk) and the many other outstanding leadership evangelists.

The people reading these blogs tend to be in violent agreement on the need for effective leadership practices and effective leaders. They might occasionally differ on key points and the “how-to’s,” but we’re having a great deal of fun writing to and preaching to the proverbial choir.

Our issue is truly about taking the people-focused, results-oriented great practices so widely covered and helping them go viral inside our organizations. No small task and one that takes time, dedication and teaching by example.

First, some quick observations about barriers and then my thoughts on catalyzing a mini-leadership revolution inside your organization through good old-fashioned blocking and tackling. And, pardon me if the football tie-ins are starting to show up. I’m excited that we’re quickly moving towards the greatest season of all!

  • The slightly cynical, cold-hard slap of reality: there are some people in positions of authority that don’t get it, don’t care, and sure as heck don’t want to be converted. Get over it and get over them.
  • I encounter many firms in my travels that are truly ripe for improving their practices but lacking the catalyst to get going. No one is saying “No,” and the issue isn’t that the current leadership class doesn’t care, but more that it doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. I usually find pockets of effective leaders tucked away in these organizations in spite of the lack of a visible leadership development culture.
  • The people change, but the excuses for not improving leadership practices are all the same and include words such as: time, money, too-small, no one to coordinate, don’t know where to start, don’t need it, no budget for training and so on. Of course, the reality is that improving leadership practices is not expensive, and the notion of not having time to do the right things to improve the business just ties my brain up in knots!

Actions You Can Take To Start a Leadership Revolution in Your Firm:

  • Always strive to set the the example of the effective leader. No one is perfect, but word travels fast through an organization when some one and some team is meeting and beating targets, innovating, problem solving and somehow becoming a magnet for talent from other areas.
  • Be a relentless developer of talent: your support of the development of others through coaching, feedback, a supply of increasingly more difficult challenges and your encouragement of risk-taking in pursuit of innovation are all powerful tools at your disposal. You don’t need a budget or a training program to do any of this.
  • Encourage your team members to branch out into the organization. The better a developer of talent and the more success that you have at propagating your former team members into roles around the organization, the more likely you are to see your best leadership practices popping up all over the place.  The most successful football coach of the 80’s, the late Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers, is given credit for the creation of an entire generation of head coaches and the modern method to run an offense. It’s hard to read an article about a coach that doesn’t track lineage back to this brilliant coach and leader. In this case, one man set about the task of creating excellence and without knowing it, changed the culture of the entire sport.
  • Work leadership development into the corporate conversation. Ensure that strategy discussions ultimately encompass talent discussions…because no strategy can be executed without the right talent in place.  Once there is broader awareness, encourage your peers to engage in activities that promote discussions and that lead to actions. An example is the simple, low-cost “leadership book club” activity that I’ve seen work so successfully at the senior and front-line leadership levels. Tie development actions to lessons-learned from the reading activities.
  • Build leadership development accountability into the organization. Hold your managers accountable for proving that they get it and are living it in the prosecution of their jobs.

The Bottom-Line:

When it comes to leadership development, sweeping corporate mandates and expensive training initiatives are rarely as effective as consistent blocking and tackling. Your own practices are capable of creating a new and next generation of professionals that carry the right approaches and ultimately innovate and improve upon what you did. That’s what it’s all about.

I write everyday with the picture hanging in front of me of the great Green Bay Packers of the 60’s running the one play that everyone knew they were going to run…the sweep. They of course did this with devastating efficiency en route to numerous championships that decade.

The picture (signed!) shows Bart Starr handing off to Jim Taylor with Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston leading the way as blockers. Coach Vince Lombardi is visible in this picture standing on the sideline, watching his team execute this play as effectively as they understood how to breathe. Relentless practice around relatively simple concepts yielded perfection.

How’s your leadership blocking and tackling training going on your team?  Done right, it might just catalyze a revolution!

By | 2016-10-22T17:12:03+00:00 August 23rd, 2009|Leadership, Leadership Caffeine, Leading Change|17 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. Mary Jo Asmus August 23, 2009 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    Thoughtful essay, Art! One of my Management Excellence favorites!.

    Even though many of us – some of whom you have mentioned in your post (thank you, by the way) have a vested interest in development of leaders (which includes making money from organizations who choose to intentionally develop their leaders and pay us to help with that), we all know it doesn’t have to cost much. The trick is helping the decision makers to understand the value.

    So how do we get more energy around this evangelism? What is the secret sauce that will help organizations and communites to really “get” the value of developing their leaders? Where is the tipping point?

    I’ve worked in and around Corporate America for almost as long as Wally :^) and sometimes it seems like groundhog day. Depending on who is leading and how much the care about it, leadership development is or is not a priority. I’m hoping someone will respond to your post and tell me that I’m jaded, and that there has been progress in this arena. I want some hope that there is some movement afoot that is gaining steam.

    And how about some ideas on what I, you and the rest of the “leadership evangelists” can do that we aren’t currently doing to spread the word?

  2. Bret Simmons August 23, 2009 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    Art – exceptional! This is one that should be bookmarked and read on a regular basis. Concur with all, but love “there are some people in positions of authority that don’t get it, don’t care, and sure as heck don’t want to be converted. Get over it and get over them.” so true. Can’t use them as an excuse to not do the right thing. Good stuff! Bret

  3. Wally Bock August 23, 2009 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    Great post, Art. The fact is that there are pockets of great leadership in even the worst organizations. I’m convinced that the strategy you outline: doing a good job; developing others; and sending out leaders who’ve had your good example to set the example elsewhere is the way to go.

    One caveat. It’s easy to think you’re doing a great job. Even the best of us tend to evaluate ourselves based on our intentions. So make sure that while you’re doing “all of the above,” you also get lots of feedback so you keep getting better.

    One of the best supervisors I ever knew was Art Jones. He was relentless about critiquing his own performance. I worked with him when I was studying what great supervisors do. But even though I was there to study him, at the end of every shift we spent together, he would ask, “How do you think I did tonight?”

  4. Art Petty August 23, 2009 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    Mary Jo and Bret, thanks much for your comments!

    Mary Jo, I agree on the Ground Hog Day scenario. We (the business leaders) continue to perpetuate the same poor or non-practices and the cycle recurs time and time again. I love your challenge for all of us to share some ideas to spread the word!

    Bret, I love the “can’t use them as the excuse” perspective. Thanks for your valued addition!


  5. Art Petty August 23, 2009 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    Wally, that is is spot on, I’m genuinely miffed at myself that I left it out. Appreciate your helping of “feedback” here to me! -Art

  6. Steven M. Smith August 23, 2009 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    Great post, Art. Loved it. Thank you. -Steve

  7. Mark Allen Roberts August 23, 2009 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    Great post Art, (one of my top favorites!)

    I like your be a part of the solutions attitude recognizing those who need your content most are not reading it.

    You are right, it is not some fancy, expensive program but daily blocking and tackling. One step I recommend of all leaders is to be a mentor as I shared in my post : 12 Mentor Moments to help leaders grow their businesses profitably http://nosmokeandmirrors.wordpress.com/2009/08/12/12-mentor-moments-to-help-leaders-grow-their-businesses-profitably/ .

    Become a mentor and you will make your organization stronger while fine tuning your skills.

    Mark Allen Roberts

  8. Dan McCarthy August 27, 2009 at 6:20 am - Reply

    Coach Art –
    I love your game plan! significant change can be led from the middle, I’ve seen it happen again and again.
    And thanks for the mention.

  9. Art Petty August 27, 2009 at 6:41 am - Reply

    Dan, thanks for your consistent inspiration! -Art

  10. Douglas Brent Smith August 27, 2009 at 11:37 am - Reply

    Great advice on keeping the conversation on leadership alive in any organization. Also a great insight on spending one’s efforts with the next generation of leaders instead of trying to reform those who “don’t get it”. Timely and useful!

  11. Art Petty August 27, 2009 at 11:40 am - Reply

    Douglas, thanks so much for reading and for your kind words. -Art

  12. Gini Dietrich August 27, 2009 at 11:47 am - Reply

    I keep a saying that I wrote on my wall: I have changed careers. I am no longer a kick @ss PR person; I am a kick @ss company grower! What this means is I constantly challenge my leadership skill set and read (and apply) as much as I can. I am your proverbial choir.

    I recently was struggling with how to become the head coach of our organization. Then I watched “The Express,” the story of Ernie Davis. It suddenly became clear – I set the course, coach, mentor, and communicate…constantly.

    You’re right – the greatest season of all sports is upon us, but I may never read your blog again if you’re a Packers fan.

  13. Art Petty August 27, 2009 at 11:54 am - Reply

    Gini, thanks for reading (at least until now!) and thanks for the reference on the movie. I will check it out.

    It was a pleasure having you as a reader. Go Pack! : )


  14. Bruce Dodge August 28, 2009 at 10:14 am - Reply

    Wow, talk about hitting the nail on the head! I continue to preach that while we have some great “old dogs” that have gotten our organization where it is, the true value comes not from wasting time re-training them, but teaching new tricks to the “young dogs” that are our future. While the old school practices were fine for the culture they were in, they do not translate well into the web 2.0 culture that we interact with today. Great article to re-ignite the passion when the blocking and tackling starts to take its toll.

  15. Art Petty August 28, 2009 at 10:18 am - Reply

    Bruce, thanks for your enthusiastic response! Glad this helped re-ignite the interest a bit! Don’t forget that the “old-dogs” still have a lot of experience and wisdom to help mentor the development of the new ones as well. This interesting collision of the generations that we are living through can offer some nice opportunities.

    Thanks again for reading and commenting! -Art

  16. Elizabeth Brown September 3, 2009 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    A great “say it out loud” moment (sometimes we just want to know we aren’t crazy!) Clients seek me out as a consultant, and usually my point of contact is ‘like me’ interested in forward motion, consistent improvement, constant development, and embracers of change. They are usually hampered by one or more – er – uninspired leaders – in their workplace. We continually have conversations about how to distract and keep these individuals “busy” with what they WANT to work on so that what needs to get done can happen.

    And we always find and attract those other individuals who can “get stuff done.”

    Great read, I sent it on to several clients already, thank you for saying it out loud!

  17. Art Petty September 3, 2009 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    Elizabeth, glad that it resonated! Thanks for commenting and forwarding! Best, Art

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