If Not Now, When

If not me, who; if not here, where?


By Ken Shelton


First, I want to thank the World Leadership Congress for this award for Business Leadership Excellence. I accept it with no sense of personal pride because I fully realize that many people consider Leadership Excellence to be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

So, to them, this is like receiving an award for government efficiency, an obvious oxymoron, perhaps the ultimate contradiction in terms.

            And I recognize that the word leader is loosely applied to just about anyone with a pulse or a position. Leadership is now a big bandwagon, and everybody (and their dog) is jumping on.

Now, you may laugh at the image of dogs jumping on the leadership bandwagon, but it’s true—I’ve seen it.  Once I was hired to work with the CEO of IAMS, a high-end pet food company that had recently completed work on a new corporate headquarters in Ohio. The CEO invited me to visit. As I entered the building lobby, I was greeted by the official receptionist with a name tag and title:  Reception Leader. She was a beautiful blond with clear sparkling eyes and a great smile. She shook my hand and even kissed me on the check. I then followed her to the chief executive’s office. I rate her at the top of all the executive assistants I’ve ever met in terms of making me feel welcome.

Yes, as you may have guessed, this official “reception leader” was a dog—a golden retriever—100% faithful and loyal to the company and her boss and happy to be employed.

That reminds me of another experience in San Diego, California.  My wife and I were on vacation, and we visited a sign shop near the beach. One sign boldly proclaimed:


Want loyalty and fidelity?

Trade Man for a Dog!


Another sign even went further:


Want to believe in someone?

Trade God for a Dog!


And people are listening: on the beach that day, I saw more women walking and talking with dogs than with men!


I also recognize that in a world of political correctness, the word excellence is now a seriously downgraded term, loosely applied to just about anything that rates above really bad.

Still, (call me a romantic) I believe in leadership excellence. Granted, it may be rare, more the exception than the rule, but I have seen it and know what a day-and-night difference it can make. It’s why I did business and published books and magazines in the name of leadership excellence for 30 years—to identify the most exceptional leaders and their leadership principles and practices, models and modes of execution.

How many of you have experienced real leadership excellence? My guess is that all of you have at least one life experience with an authentic leader who touched your life for good—and have a story to tell.  You could tell me who, where, when—and what real leadership looks like, and feels like. You could talk about how this leader had a sense of mission, mandate, urgency or immediacy (if not now, when), and how he or she operated in real time, here and now, up close and personal—some in the field and others in the office.


Field or Office . . . or Both?

Some of you would describe field leaders noted for their outstanding performance and results. These field leaders are authentic action figures; they have little patience for bureaucracy, politics, meetings, minutia, incompetence, and adminis-trivia.


Others of you would describe office leaders noted for their politics and people skills. These office leaders are often adept at policy, strategy, programs, processes, and procedures. They spend much of their time in formal and informal meetings and negotiations.


We need both field and office leaders, but we usually get 90-10 mix in solo leaders. That’s why I look for leadership duos, trios and teams (collective leadership effectiveness) —enterprises that have both office and field leaders.


Three Tests (and one example of each)

I also apply three simple tests to determine the degree of authentic leadership.  I share one story of each test to illustrate the difference that authentic leaders can make:


Test 1: Relationships and Results (people and profit). This test assesses how well the leader works with people (maintains relationships of trust) to produce product, deliver service and achieve results and profits.


Example 1: Scripps Healthcare: Chris Van Gorder, President

As President/CEO at Scripps Health, one of America’s most prestigious health systems, Chris Van Gorder has presided over a dramatic turnaround, catapulting Scripps from near bankruptcy to a dominant market position. The leadership philosophy that drives all of his decisions and actions: people come first.  As a leader, Chris has mastered the mysterious paradox: It’s not about me, and yet unless you first take care of the Me (people’s self-interest), you never get to We (cooperation, collaboration and teamwork).

Van Gorder began his unlikely career as a California police officer, which instilled in him a sense of social responsibility, honesty, and public service. He has never lost touch with his law enforcement roots. He believes in boots on the ground. He says: “A leader who leads people only from the C-suite will be disconnected from them. It’s critical to connect with line personnel in practical terms. Executives need to learn what it means to lead authentically from the ground up. When you work with front-line employees who are doing hard and important work, you realize I must find a way to take care of these people. Scripps has a no-layoff policy and yet is financially healthy, having regained its status as one of the nation’s top health care systems and become known as a marquee Best Places to Work employer.


Test 2: Mission, Motive and Means. This test measures the degree of alignment between the stated mission (the what) and the motive (why) and means (how).                                      


Example 2:  High Point University: Nido Qubein, President

Dr. Nido R. Qubein became the seventh president of High Point University in 2005.  In 10 years, driven by courage, faith, optimism and positivity, he continues to lead HPU through an extraordinary transformation that includes: tripling undergraduate enrollment, tripling the size of the campus, doubling the number of faculty, constructing 50 new buildings, raising $220 million without a formal campaign, and boosting investment to $1 billion. HPU academic rankings for a regional university soared from #17 in 2005 to #1 this year.

He grew up in the Middle East to a single mother after his father died when he was six years old. In search of opportunity, he came to the United States as a teenager with limited knowledge of English and only $50 in his pocket. His inspiring life story is filled with adversity and abundance, success and significance.  He has led High Point University through unprecedented growth and accomplishments in the heart of the great recession.


Test 3: Mother Nature, Father Time . This test assesses how well leaders adhere to natural laws and timeless, universal principles.


Example 3: W.L. Gore: Terri Kelly, CEO

W.L. Gore is the maker of Gore-Tex weather-proof fabrics, and unique medical, electronic and industrial materials. Gore is a privately held global company, with $3 billion in annual revenue and 10,000 associates in 45 plants worldwide. Over 80 percent of Gore associates work in self-managed teams. Employees are equals who decide what projects to work on based on their passion. All associates are owners. They feel great responsibility for business outcomes. If they think we’re going in the wrong direction, or a decision is wrong, they speak up.

CEO Terri Kelly notes that leaders emerge by expressing a clear vision that inspires others to follow: You become a leader at Gore by having followers. If you call a meeting, and no one shows up, you’re not a leader. Gore uses peer reviews to identify individuals who are growing into leadership roles. They ask, Who are our associates listening to? Who do they want on their leadership team? Once people are in a leadership role, they understand their job is to bring out the strengths of their teams, and make their colleagues successful. Leaders are evaluated not only by the outcomes they achieve, but by how they get the job done. Says Kelly: “By fostering a culture where people feel motivated, engaged and passionate about their work, we tap into our potential and create innovative products that make a difference.”


Dark Side (Counterfeit Leadership)  

There is a dark side to having emotional, social and political intelligence. Leaders with social insight can become master manipulators, even con-artists. I have often observed real-world examples of the shadow dark side of leadership—or, what I call Counterfeit Leadership.

Sadly I have seen enough cases that I now believe that most so-called leaders are affected (blind) to some degree—and some leaders seem to fit this dark profile perfectly. Also, I find that there is much “con” in many of their close internal and external con-sultants.

In such leadership teams, the blind are often leading the blind.  What happens is that people often become candidates for management and leadership positions based on some curious criteria—appearance, social intelligence, political correctness, professional networks, personality, connections and charisma.  In cultures where such criteria trump character and competence, empathy and compassion, counterfeit leadership flourishes.  I feel compelled to explore the dark side of emotional and social intelligence because of the immense damage that manipulative personalities can cause once they gain positons of power.

These leaders, like con-artists, understand what triggers people’s emotions and motivates behaviors and use it to their advantage. These master manipulators and deceivers put themselves first, will do anything to get what they want. If their keen understanding of human nature is not tempered by empathy and social responsibility, it can be used to take advantage of others and lead to dishonest, deceptive, manipulative, immoral, unethical, illegal and even evil behavior.

One study of up-and coming leaders showed that between 25 and 50% of them: would rather have fake but powerful friends than un-influential, real friends; would rather be feared than loved; believe that cheating or lying is only wrong if they get caught; claim that taking advantage of ignorant, naïve or trusting people is not their fault; turn on the charm at will; refuse to help others if they can’t benefit from it in some way; admit that they only look out for themselves; have been called ruthless or egomaniac; and would use blackmail, engage in sex, dig up dirt, suck up to bosses, sabotage other people’s work, lie, take credit for an achievement they never actually attained or for someone else’s idea to advance their own careers.

And over half of them: would rather live a life of success than a life lived according to their values; would rather be a cheating winner than an honest loser; believe that all is fair in love, war and business; believe that the end justifies the means; have dated or befriended someone solely to gain something; pretend to be someone they’re not in order to get what they want; lie about their job title or achievements in a resume or interview; have been labeled as manipulative or opportunistic, selfish and mean; would rather do bad things to others than have bad things done to them; justify using insincere flattery; step on toes to get ahead; listen to gossip to gain valuable information; resort to lying, flirting, flattering or using guilt-trips, intimidation, blackmail or manipulation to get what they want.

This study resonates with my experience in the field. Over the years, I’ve worked with many extraordinarily talented executives: smart, intuitive, ambitious men and women. As they seek to advance in their careers, they have one eye on the future and the other on the present. Sometimes, however, the eye on the present “goes blind,” as they fail to see what is going on right in front of them. Then their good intentions go bad, and their motives and means begin to fall out of alignment with their stated mission.


Conclusion: Influence for Good

We can’t always choose our leaders of companies and countries, but we can become authentic leaders ourselves and have great influence for good.

I will now respond to your questions.


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