My Favorite Leadership Quality (It Begins with ‘H’…)

Several months ago I blogged about how an on-line discussion thread sought to define leadership in one word (see 19,731 Definitions of Leadership). It was an interesting idea even though it is an impossible task. Leadership is far too complex and interdisciplinary to be summed up in one word. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t possess a preference for certain aspects of leadership. Some of you may value a leader who is strong in communication; others look for those who have a genuine concern for people, while some will prefer a gifted strategist.

I also have a favorite leadership quality. It took me many years to realize how much I valued it. In fact, it likely became more significant as I grew older. It’s a very common and simple practice and it’s called,

h  u  m  i  l  i  t  y .

When I first typed this word I used capital letters and put it in bold. But it just didn’t fit because….well…. because it’s humility. It’s not supposed to be in flashing lights, fancy fonts or bold letters. By definition, humility is having a modest view of one’s own importance. St. Barnard once stated that humility is “a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself”. It is a noble and challenging goal. Perhaps this is even more true in a digital age which encourages us to self-promote ourselves and create on-line identities that are far larger-than-life.

However, the people I really like to spend time with are humble. They include people like Sarah who hired me to coach her because she thinks she has blind spots that are holding her back. You need to be honest and humble to say that! Or it includes the community leader who I just discovered had a doctorate. When I met with him he made me feel like the smartest guy in the room. But I wasn’t. Somehow, the attitude of humble people creates a space that others need. And as er practice humility, it coaxes the best out of others. While I cannot logically explain it, I’m at my best around humble people. That’s why humility is my favorite leadership quality.

How about you? What is your favorite?

As you assess the things that you value in a leader, it may help you to reference my triadic model of leadership. This simple diagram outlines three key ingredients of leadership:Triadic

  1. What a leader does: the measures and outcomes of leadership.
  2. Who a leader is: the identity and characteristics of a leader.
  3. Why a leader leads: the motives of a leader.

The topic of this blog reflects the theme of ‘who’. Humility is an aspect of the DNA of a leader – who she or he is. I encourage you to write down the two or three things that come to mind when you consider your favorite leadership qualities. Often they reflect a particular corner. This simple little test often reveals a lot about what you value in leaders.

The mic is now yours. So what’s your favorite leadership quality? And why?

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After writing this introspective blog, Jeff Suderman decided to forgo his usual bio. He’s not very humble but he’s trying!  Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:


Going Tribal: When Globalization Fails

Much ado about globalization has occurred over the past two decades. Spurred by technology, the ease of travel and our never-ending appetite for cheap products, our globe has seemingly grown smaller as more and more cultures connect to do business.

However, trends are often accompanied by counter-trends. This simply means that a segment of the population pulls in the opposite direction as a means to counter a trend they do not like. For example, the modern trend of ever-present technology is increasingly facing a counter-trend of ‘unplugging’. There are vacations designed to help people unplug and even recovery groups for those addicted to technology (similar to AA).

Europe is currently in the midst a major counter-trend against globalization.  It is called tribalism and I believe that its’ impact will signal a major change in the globalization norms we have experienced in recent decades. Tribalism refers to a way of thinking or behaving that places your loyalty with your ‘tribe’ (a group with whom you share affinity) rather than to your country, social group or friends. While globalization has quietly turned us into a global village, tribalism seeks to ensure that we take care of the needs of our own little village first! Here are two examples of how tribalism is currently manifesting itself in Europe.

  1. Immigration. There is tremendous backlash in many parts of Europe as a result of the major influx of refugees that many countries have experienced. A country like Germany has been welcoming millions of immigrants with open arms (an example of an attitude that embraces globalization). At the same time, we see other countries closing their borders and citizens mounting protests against immigration (an example of tribalism).
  2. Brexit. On June 23, British citizens will vote to determine if their nation will leave the European Union (EU). This issue is closely related to many of the issues noted above regarding immigration and perceptions that leaving the EU will protect British financial interests (consider the recent monetary bailouts for Greece). To loosely quote Shakespeare, this referendum can be summarized as,”To be globalized or to be tribalized. That is the question“.

The counter trend of tribalism also manifests itself in our workplaces. For example, business departments that seek their own needs ahead of the company they work for are demonstrating an aspect of tribalism. Concerns about members of the same family working for the same company or department (typically called nepotism) also relates to concerns about tribalism.

Globalism and tribalism and complex issues that I cannot adequately debate in this short blog. However, awareness about this tug of war between global and tribal priorities is something that we each need to develop. Expect it to continue to increase in significance in the decade ahead.

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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:


Trend Watch: Rate the Rater

Word-of-mouth can determine whether businesses thrive and die! When people share their good (or not-so-good) stories, an organizations’ reputation quickly spreads. While word-of-mouth still occurs over cups of coffee and through our friends and associates, it has also become a huge on-line business. Organizations like Yelp, Amazon ratings, Angie’s List or are all common ways that we research products, businesses or people. As a result, they are also a modern use the word-of-mouth phenomenon.

However, on-line sources and ratings are still susceptible to misuse. Can you recall the last time you read a rating that sounded rehearsed or was the only five star review amidst a slew of one star ratings? Conversely, businesses have also used this system to attack competitors with negative ratings as an unethical way of eliminating competition. Since many organizations live and die by these ratings, an entire industry of fake ratings or ratings-for-pay has emerged.

While this challenge will never be fully eliminated, there is a recent trend which provides hope. The solution is simple – rate-the-rater! In traditional rating systems, you buy a product from Amazon. After the transaction is complete you are given the opportunity to rate-the-seller! In a rate-the-rater system, the business also gets to rate you, the purchaser!

This is not new and has already been used effectively with some organizations. For example, our AirBnB Coachella guests rated us after their stay in our home (a five star rating system). However, as hosts we were also given the opportunity to rate these same AirBnB guests. Uber uses a similar system and drivers are able to rate their customers. This allows other drivers to determine the quality of their potential fare. In turn, this helps balance a system that, historically, has favored the purchaser!

A rate-the-rater system creates accountability as we can no longer offer scathing reviews without some level of consequence. It is a unique application of The Golden Rule – treating others as you want to be treated. When rating becomes a two-way process, an amazing change occurs in what you say. While I will still leave a negative review, my language changes when I know that the company will potentially also be reviewing me. This limits my rants or inflammatory language.

This change also reminds us that privacy is something that no longer exists (see The Death of Privacy). It also teaches us that our on-line ratings are one more thing that we must manage in our on-line lives. Potential employers are already reviewing our Facebook, Instagram and other social media pages to assess our character. I expect that your on-line rating will be yet another aspect of this within the next five years.

As usual, this trend has both upsides and downsides. However, no matter what your personal views are, this shift will occur. So I encourage you to begin managing your on-line ratings like this trend has already happened. Because it has! Rate-the-rater is here to stay!

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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:

Five Leadership Lessons from Muhammad Ali

Last week a modern legend passed away. Cassius Clay, more commonly known as Muhammad Ali, was 74 when he died. Amidst his colorful, quotable, and controversial life, Ali’s story provides some timeless lessons for leaders. Here are five leadership lessons that we can learn from the boxer known as The Champ.

Setbacks Provide New Opportunities: As a 12 year-old, Cassius Clay had his brand new Schwinn bicycle stolen while he attended an event. When he reported it to a local policeman, he was invited to start coming to the gym and a boxer was born. One cannot help but wonder what would have occurred had this theft not occurred! Setbacks are difficult but they can provide leaders with new opportunities.

Your Past Does not Determine Your Future. Ali changed his named, in part, because “Cassius Clay is a slave name – I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it”. He was the grandson of a slave living in the heart of segregated Kentucky and Muhammad Ali wanted to ensure that he defied the odds. As a result, he became one of the most famous athletes in modern history. Like Ali, successful leaders and organizations achieve things which defy circumstances.

Effort is Required. As a teen, Ali jogged his Louisville neighborhood in steel-toed work boots to improve his conditioning. He spent several months training in Zaire prior to the famed ‘Rumble in the Jungle’. As a result of practicing in the heat, he developed a boxing strategy which would conserve energy (known as the‘rope-a-dope’ tactic). This stratagem helped him avoid the fatigue which Foreman encountered and resulted in his win. Like Cassius Clay, effective leaders understand what they are up against and put in the effort required to be great.

Agility Rules. Amongst his many quotable phrases, Ali may be best known for saying, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see”. At the heart of this quote is a theme of agility. In fact, two of Ali’s five losses occurred after he came out of retirement – a period when his physical agility was waning (he won 56 matches). Like a boxer, successful organizations must adapt to the many things that are thrown at them and this requires constant agility.

Your Greatest Battles Will Be Unexpected: While ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ is likely his greatest feat as a boxer, Ali’s greatest battle may have been in the latter years of his life. Since 1981, Ali battled Parkinson’s disease. Effective organizations strategize, work hard and develop agility. However, their greatest challenges will typically come from things they do not see coming.

Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali


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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:


Curwen, Thomas, & Kennedy, J.M. (Sunday, June 5, 2016). Los Angeles Times.


Leaders & Power

Power is something which gives us the ability to influence or direct other people. It is an invisible but powerful force in our lives and our organizations. I have worked for supervisors who use their power to produce fear and for others who wield it in ways that makes me want to perform my best. We can learn a lot about others based on how they use (or don’t use) power.

There are two types of power that occur as we interact with others.

Positional Power is the use of your authority over someone to get something done. This type of power is something you exert over others. Positional power is given to a person as a result of their position (your boss at work can use his position to make you do things), the ability to give out rewards (a coach who awards hard working players with more playing time) or it can also be applied in a coercive way (Kim Jong-un, the despotic ruler of North Korea uses coercive power to ensure follows do as he says).  As an example, when parents tell our children ‘because I said so’ they are using our positional power to make something happen (or stop something from occurring!). A simple way to visualize positional power is with the image of you pointing your finger at another person – this simple gesture indicates your positional power and authority over another person.

Personal Power is when your authority is given to you by others. It is typically given because of the expertise or competence that a person possesses (we typically extend this trust to our medical doctor) or by our personal identification or liking of a person (few people personally knew Nelson Mandela but he was liked by almost everyone). Personal power is bestowed upon us by others and gives us the ability to accomplish something because others allow us to do so. Instead of us pointing a finger at others, the image for this style of power has others pointing a finger at us and asking for our involvement or expertise. When your child texts you and asks you for advice they are bestowing personal power as they are indicating that they respect and trust your judgement.

Effective use of positional and personal power is situational and we must learn when to use each one. At times, it is appropriate for parents to request their children to do something ‘because they said so’ (positional). In contrast, Pope Francis appears to believe that he can accomplish the goals of the Catholic Church by allowing others to give him power (personal).

There are also times when we can inappropriately use power. Can you recall a social conversation with someone who keeps trying to impress others by telling all about their accomplishments? These people are inappropriately trying to remind you that they deserve positional power (and it usually backfires). As well, an over-reliance of personal power will not be effective when you are in situations when no one knows you. Personal power is something which is earned over time.

Effective leaders understand the difference between positional and personal power. Furthermore, they know when to use each of them in order to accomplish their goals. I encourage you to evaluate your use of power. Which of these styles do you use more often? Which style needs improvement? Which do you tend to use inappropriately?

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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email: