Leadership is Easy — Why do we make it so hard?

People – clients, colleagues, even family – are forever telling me something like, “Kevin, it’s just not that simple.”

To that, my typical reply is “balderdash.” It usually is that simple. A story…

I recently played golf at Champions Golf Club in Houston. No, I won’t share my score here in this post. Great course, owned by golfing legend Jackie Burke, winner of 16 PGA events in the 1950’s, including the Masters, the PGA, and two very lop-sided Ryder Cup victories. He was Hal Sutton’s assistant coach for the 2004 Ryder Cup.

Anyway… I was in the locker room afterward, having a drink with my host, when Jackie comes in. Now, my host has been a member there for over 25 years, so they know each other quite well. Jackie sat down at our table and we had a chat.

During that conversation, Jackie mentioned that he had attended a small, Catholic college in the northeast, and during a business class, his regular professor was out ill, so they had a substitute professor lecturing one day. This guy told the class that he wasn’t nearly as smart as the regular professor, and in fact, had only one lesson he could teach them.

There were chalkboards on either side of the classroom; this professor went to one of them and wrote “50.” He walked to the other one and wrote “51.” Then he asked this class, “Why are these numbers significant to you as business leaders?”

The class dove in. Some said it had to do with market indicators; others that it was the ages of prominent CEOs or other chieftains. They talked, discussed, argued, and haggled for almost an hour.

Finally, this professor stopped them, and said: “It’s simple,” he explained. Walking over to the chalkboard with the 50, he pointed to it and said, “If you make this…” then walking over to and pointing at the 51, he concluded “…don’t spend this.”

I asked Jackie, why is that such a hard lesson? He looked at me and said, “Kevin, we complicate things unnecessarily.”

If you make this (50), don’t spend this (51). Zero-based budgeting before it was a fad.

I don’t know how you can make a business leadership lesson any simpler. Whether you like/dislike, agree/disagree with the veracity of the lesson, know that nearly all leadership lessons are this simple. We have to go out of our way to make them hard, and generally when there’s no need.

Simple: Treat people right. And no, we don’t need a Wikipedia definition of “right.”
Simple: Do what you say you’ll do. No excuses, no justifications.
Simple: Apologize when wrong. And no lengthy “but” qualifications, either.

The list goes on. This stuff just isn’t all that hard.

KISS. “Keep it simple.” And I won’t even add the “stupid” to the end.

Thanks for the conversation, Jackie. And many thanks, Roy, for the invite.


Kevin Berchelmann

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