Michael VanHook
Michael VanHook


Something to Ponder


A leader . . .


"The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt" (Frederick Buechner).

Invitation to Ponder

Do any kind of search on leadership and you’ll find an enormous smorgasbord of material to gorge appetite. Some of it will digest well, while others will set off an acid reflux reaction.


One perspective that is rarely posted is “leadership as learning and listening.”


I’ve had many jobs and tasks over the course of my life. To be completely honest, at the outset, I started many of those without a clue of what really needed to be done. But I love new challenges and part of the joy and much of my success came only after I listened and learned from others. When I launched my work in Haiti, it began when I sat one evening with Haitian leaders and asked them a simple question, “What do you need.” They pointed me in a direction that I could never have imagined.


I watched a video about the former CEO of the Ford Motor Company, Alan Mulally. When he assumed the company’s leadership, several major issues negatively impacted their corporate culture—production performance, public perception, and profitability. One significant problem contributing to a loss of sales was the annual rating of their automobiles from Consumer Reports. It certainly made you think twice about purchasing a Ford vehicle.


Mulally arranged a meeting between Consumer Reports and his top engineering executives. Almost as soon as the scientists from Consumer Reports started to deliver their inspection data, Ford executives pounced on them. But immediately, Mulally broke in and warned his team, “We will seek to understand first, then we will seek to be understood.”


After listening and learning, Ford used the objective data to transform its processes and products which led to new quality standard ratings and eventually greater profitability and new perceptions.


I once worked for a man whose leadership style and power came from the authority of his position. He was “top dog” and made certain everyone knew it. He would send an assistant and summon us to a meeting without notice. In these meetings, he would lay out his directives and assignments, usually in less than five minutes. Questions were not welcomed or valued. Opinions were considered a sign of disrespect and were quickly tossed aside. Compliments were seldom, and he was overbearing and dominant.


It’s no surprise that he was feared but not respected. Everyone did just as they were told but little more. Instead of being empowered, we were immobilized. Instead of being motivated, we did only what was required.


His leadership style was ineffective, and at times destructive because he never listened and learned.


On the other hand, I worked with a man whose leadership style was best characterized by his overwhelmingly positive influence on others. He wasn’t the “top dog” in the hierarchy but that didn’t matter. In meetings, when he spoke, everyone listened. But he valued and respected everyone’s input as he deftly solicited it. He listened and learned with such skill that when you walked away from time with him, you felt that he truly understood you and was genuinely concerned about your well-being and success.


He consistently affirmed our productive work, as he skillfully offered recommendations for personal and professional improvement. When difficult problems would arise, he was the “go-to-person” everyone sought out for advice, even the leaders in higher positions. As a result, we gave our maximum effort. Staying late to add the final touches to a project was never an issue. We were motivated. We respected and loved him. I knew that I was empowered professionally and personally because of the influence of this man. As the years have passed, his leadership still influences me; it still inspires me; it still empowers me.

Who are the people that have significantly influenced your life and leadership style? What are the things they said? What were the things they did?


How can we become leaders that make a difference and influence others?


What skills and characteristics have you developed and practiced?


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Fall Creek Falls, Tennessee USA

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© Michael VanHook