015: My favorite heretic [Podcast]

015: My favorite heretic [Podcast]




Heretics are non-conformists. They are outside-the-box thinkers who rub authorities and protectors of the status quo the wrong way. And we need them.

In this episode of The Spirit of Leading I talk about some of the world’s better known heretics and the contributions they made.

I reveal my favorite heretic and what I take away from his example that will make for being a more INPowering leader. Listen, and hear what I mean.

Then, think about your favorite heretic. What are the qualities that person demonstrated in his or her experience and example?


Are you a heretic? Why not?

Seth Godin wrote in Tribes, “Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements,” (2008, 11).


Heretics are trailblazers. They are unconventional leaders, and they cause a lot of anxiety for those who are trying to arrest change and keep everything within a narrow comfort zone.

The inertia of the comfort zone resists any side trips into unknown territory. It would rather keep doing the same old thing that doesn’t work than try something different that seems risky or is unproven.

Those who call themselves leaders to keep everything the same, to play it safe, to protect the status quo, are leading us to nowhere.

These are the INPowered.

The trailblazers are leaders who are looking for opportunities to make things better. Furthermore, they are creating those opportunities by rebuilding relationships among the estranged, buy pushing science and technology into new applications, buy reshaping communities so people can find common solutions to difficult problems.

History is dotted with many heretics in all disciplines–government, religion, medicine, science, business, technology, and others–who dared challenge the status quo or conventional wisdom. Many, whom we now revere, were originally ridiculed and persecuted as heretics for their outlandish and absurd ideas and philosophies.

Some of my favorite heretics are:

Jesus bar Joseph of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) for daring to bad mouth the written traditions of the Jewish religion that got in the way of observing the spirit of God’s Law (Mark 7:1-23). Jesus really went off on the religious legalists in Matthew 23. It got ugly. The Jewish religious leaders were able to have him executed over it and other heresies.

Socrates, the Greek philosopher, for holding the rulers of Athens accountable for their immorality and lack of ethics. He was tried and found guilty of corrupting the minds of the youths and for mocking the gods of Athens. He was executed.

Galileo Galilei, the Italian astronomer, for proving that Earth was not the center of the universe as the church leaders professed. His inventions allowing observing celestial bodies literally showed the sun was in fact the center of our solar system. But when it came to religious orthodoxy, seeing was not believing. The church put the pressure on Galileo to recant his findings. He did, but spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

Mahatma Gandhi, for challenging British rule over India and accompanying civil rights abuses and ultimately achieving national independence. His non-violent methods have inspired many other civil rights movements. While trying to heal religious strife late in life between Hindus and Muslims, he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist.

One thing more. The kind of heretic I’m talking about is the one who contributed something of substance to the welfare of mankind. I’m not talking about egomaniacal blowhards with a personal agenda.

Nicolo Machiavelli had it right when he wrote, “It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.”

Who would you add to this list?

Who are some of your favorite heretics who contributed something of substance to the welfare of mankind?

Will you join the ranks of the heretics who made a difference that outlived them?

And what will be your cause, your passion?

Will you be
Leadership training, leadership development, Garland McWatters

We the People–the “for all” principle

We the People–the “for all” principle

The preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America ranks among the most powerful political statements of all time, beginning with the simple, all inclusive phrase, “We the People of the United States.”

WE the peole Flag

Our Pledge of Allegiance to the flag is another, concluding with the phrase, “with liberty and justice for all.”

The foundation concept that underlies these is front and center in our nation’s original Declaration of Independence, “WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights–that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

INPowering leaders are first, and foremost, inclusive. To INPowering leaders their focus is what can we do together, in the interest of all, to make things better for all.

I have seen this Spirit of Leading in action at every level­–families, neighborhoods, communities, work groups, small businesses, and large corporations. When the spirit of INPowering leadership is working, leaders are answering these four questions from their followers:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. How are we getting there?
  3. Will I, and my loved ones, be OK?
  4. How will you help me get there?

When leaders are determined to make things better for all, the creative energy to find mutual solutions is unleashed.

  1. A common vision produces clear goals that all can get behind.
  2. Leaders are free to work on specific objectives and tactics that will move everyone toward a common destination.
  3. Buy-in will be higher, since people tend to support the goals they help to create. They can see themselves in the proposed future.
  4. Leaders are focused on constructive outcomes and collaborate to help everyone move forward together.

Leaders who build their power base on being divisive with, Us-against-Them rhetoric are actually dis-empowering and are working against the precepts of our founding documents and enduring principles. There will always be differences of opinion, but when those differences are cultivated into wedge issues designed to promote division, strife, and self-interest, they weaken the collective energy of We the People.

The power of inclusiveness is foundational to being
Leadership training, leadership development, Garland McWatters

How being empathetic makes you a stronger leader

How being empathetic makes you a stronger leader

friends having coffee

Everything is personal. Each and every one of us takes everything personally. You know this is true by your reaction when someone gives you bad news, then says, “It’s not personal.” If an action or a decision affects you in any way whatsoever, it’s personal.

INPowering leaders know their decisions will affect others personally. Yet, as followers, we want to know that we are safe in the care of our leaders–that they would never intentionally do anything to harm us.

Empathetic leaders are able to build this bond of trust with followers simply because they do care and are able to demonstrate it in word and deed.

Here are three things you can begin doing immediately to strengthen this bond by being more empathetic.

1. Practice resonate listening

Resonate listening is engaging the speaker to get on their wave length. Too often, we try to bring them onto our wave length and totally miss the meaning of what they are saying. Listen to understand and to help them express their meaning fully and authentically. Then, and only then, are we in sync with their message.

Resonate listening also helps us imagine what it’s like to be the other person. We can get inside them, in a sense, and grasp what they are feeling and experiencing. We can comprehend their reality.

2. Be curious about others

The empathetic leader seeks out others to learn something about them beyond their name, rank, and serial number. Failure to get to know those we lead reduces our connection to what they can do for us rather than how they will be affected by our relationship.

Take time to ask about their hopes and dreams, their family and friends, their hobbies and interests, and their experience of being part of your team or your organization.

3. Give full time and attention to your interaction with others

Friends who have met former President Bill Clinton personally have told me that when he spoke to them, they felt they were the only person in the room with him. He devoted his full attention to what they were saying. They felt a connection.

We all have experienced what it’s like to be talking with someone who is not really paying attention or has lost interest in what we are saying. The conversation is shallow, and no connection happens.

If you are always in a rush to get someplace else, you can’t fully be present in the moment. Sometimes, all it takes is a moment to engage someone personally and fully, but the memory of that encounter will last. Be fully present in each and every interaction.

One thing all effective leaders have in common is their ability to be empathetic. Their power comes from the way they connect with others, which fosters bonding and loyalty.

Empathetic leaders are
Leadership training, leadership development, Garland McWatters

The power in “a-ha”

The power in “a-ha”

How do you feel when you suddenly, or finally, get it–when you clearly understand something that had been perplexing? For me, it’s the a-ha moment when the light comes on and I feel like a mystery has been revealed.

girls spyglass

The Greek scholar, Archimedes, shouted, “eureka,” when one day he noticed the water level rise in his tub as he stepped into it. It was his sudden realization that the amount of water displaced by his foot and leg equaled the volume of his foot and leg that was submerged. Eureka means, I found it, or I find. Archimedes had an a-ha moment.

There is an INPowering energy in a-ha. We experience a surge of enthusiasm that propels us even further into exploration and discovery. The more we learn, the more we want to know.

An INPowering leader helps make that happen for you. A dis-empowering leader wants you to think like he does and spends a lot of energy trying to keep you from learning on your own. That leader wants you to take their word for it and check your ability to think for yourself at the door. Beware of that so-called, leader.

The enemy of a-ha is propaganda

I had a recent encounter with a new acquaintance over a difference in opinion. They would hurl an opinion they had heard at me as if it were a fact. I would go research the opinion and, where warranted, cite facts refuting what they claimed. This happened several times, and on a couple of points I gave them back a fact providing information that either directly contradicted their assertion or revealed their conclusion was more exaggerated than the facts logically allowed.

When they objected to my replies, I simply asked them to provided the facts that supported their opinions. Our discussion ended with them insulting me and accusing me of being closed minded. No “a-ha” for them.

You are under no obligation to agree with me

To be an INPowering leader, you are obliged to explain your conclusions with verifiable facts. And you can take it to the next level by insisting others go learn for themselves.

A fact is verifiable. You can seek independent information that affirms the fact or dispels it. An opinion is one’s conclusion about what a fact means to them. You might disagree with my conclusion about a fact, but the fact should, itself, be verifiable.

Propaganda is information that has been intentionally slanted to promote a point of view. They spin the information, often distorting facts, to convince you of their opinion. Just know that most of the information you hear on cable news is spin.

Be an “a-ha” maker.

Here are some ways to promote a-ha possibilities:

Be a guide to knowledge instead of a propagandist. Point others to information. Ask them what they think the information means to them. Have discussions about what they learned from the information.

Seek counter points of view. Just because you are willing to listen to contrary information does not mean you are wishy-washy or flip-flopping. Others might cause a shift in perception and open your mind and eyes to other possibilities.

Take the fear out of changing your mind. It’s not a character flaw to shift your opinion or conclusion based on learning something new. Celebrate revised opinions as a sign of vibrant thinking.

To INLarge the expectations of living in yourself and in others, you must be an “a-ha” maker. The greatest compliment I ever receive as a teacher is, “you made me think today.” They might even say they are not sure they agree with me. That’s OK. They are thinking, and that’s what matters most.

Promote the power in “a-ha,” and be

Leadership training, leadership development, Garland McWatters

3 ways to overcome the number one obstacle to consensus building

Where there is no trust among parties, there can be no consensus. Consensus building is the commitment to a decision process in search of a solution that benefits the whole, instead of insisting on a position that benefits a few.

United Nations

It’s frustrating to watch a group of diplomats struggle to build a consensus that takes into consideration the needs of the whole while dissidents, promoting their self-interests, do everything possible to thwart the effort.

When it comes down to it, lack of trust is at the core of the struggle. Consensus making and trust building must go hand-in-hand.

1. Consider everyone’s position as sincere.

I think treating people like you believe them is more likely to build trust than treating them as if they are lying. I would prefer to get to a relationship with others in which they know it is safe to express themselves sincerely instead of dancing around hidden agendas.

One of my Tenets of INPowered living is to treat yourself excellently, and telling your truth kindly is an aspect of that. Expect that of others as well. Encourage them to speak their truth openly and be ready to receive their truth respectfully no matter how much you disagree or how incredulous their truth might seem to you.

2. Find a way for all parties to “live long and prosper.”

Everyone needs a win. A fundamental condition of humanity is that everyone seeks to survive and live in some measure of comfort and hope. Work on making that happen for everyone, and consensus is possible.

By definition, consensus building is seeking to balance disparate needs and interests of several parties. The problem is when one party believes it is not possible to live in peace with another and is set on eliminating the threat; ergo, lack of trust.

If one party is only concerned with getting all they want all the time regardless of the needs of others, the result is competition–winning at the expense of others. Consensus is impossible in an atmosphere of fighting for your life.

Consensus is possible in an atmosphere of collaboration where all parties are committed to building a solution where everyone can live long and prosper.

3. Build in accountability.

If everyone acts in a trustworthy manner, being mutually accountable becomes part of the group dynamic. Everyone feels safe being transparent and answerable to the group.

Accountability is a natural extension of being trustworthy, not a threat to our independence. If the first two principles above are met, accountability should not be an issue.

President Reagan is famous for saying, “Trust, but verify,” in dealing with the Russians. (The phrase is actually a Russian proverb recommended to Reagan by a speechwriter, Suzanne Massie.)

The more accountable we hold ourselves to keep our word, the less urgent our need to verify among parties.

Let others see you as a consensus builder.
Trust will grow in your ability to be
Leadership training, leadership development, Garland McWatters

Be a fool for the truth

Be a fool for the truth

Fools fascinate me. Fools are invaluable to our society because they have a knack for exposing the numbskulls who, for some incomprehensible reason, end up in positions of influence in our most important institutions.

Three Stooges, comedian, fools

By NBC Television (eBay front back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m not out to bash our leaders wholesale. I am, however, out to extol the virtue of divergent thinking in the service of getting at the truth we must confront to make good decisions.

Certified fools

In medieval times, fool was a licensed profession of sorts. In some cases fools were used merely for entertainment. But some monarchs and rulers used the fool, or jester, to bring up the absurd counterpoints that others were too afraid to mention for fear of costing them their head.

Our current day fools are the comedians who spoof the actions of political figures, celebrities, and those at the helms of business, educational, and religious institutions.

Fools change the direction of our thinking

Why? Because the fools invariably see the truthful nuances and absurdities we either don’t see, or don’t want to see. Fools expose the disastrous effects of numbskullery on our institutions and on our freedom and tolerance.

Margaret Heffernan’s comment from her TED Talk, Dare to disagree, struck me as especially poignant (click here to view).

“The truth won’t set us free until we develop the skills and the habit and the talent and the moral courage to use it.”

Fools possess that skill, talent, and moral courage.

The stand up comic often finds himself or herself being a stand up leader who is INPowered2 LEAD, by speaking a truth through humor. First we laugh; then, we think. Sometimes that leads to action that changes the landscape.

Steve Martin, comedian

“Steve Martin” by Towpilot – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Comedian, Steve Martin, defined a joke as, “complete knowledge in a nanosecond.” Like the time I heard a local fool in my community say of a hometown political kingmaker, “If you aren’t under his thumb, you’re under his skin.” Complete knowledge in a nanosecond.

Sometimes, a stand up leader must accept the brunt of a fool’s truth directed at them. Like the medieval ruler who was smart enough to recognize the truth veiled in humor, and act on it to change the landscape.

Everybody needs a fool

“It’s no accident that AHA and HAHA are spelled almost the same way.” – Mitch Ditkoff

Those who can make us laugh at ourselves are some of the best friends we can have. They help us relax the tension that comes from taking ourselves too seriously. When we loosen up, we release the creative juices to explore the possibilities we would otherwise squelch.

You have permission to be a fool for the truth.
The sooner you are,
the sooner you will beLeadership, empowerment, personal development, success

Are you braver than a six-year-old?

Are you braver than a six-year-old?

Imagine the scene. You’ve tirelessly rehearsed your routine for the past month to polish it for the celebrity judges who now await your first steps onto the competition dance stage.

Your dance teacher whispers her encouragement, “You’re ready. Have fun.”

The music begins. Applause and cheers from a packed house of dancers and dance teachers, sprinkled with friends, parents, and grandparents pushes through the heavy downbeats: one-two-three-four.

little girl dancing, dance competition, dance performance

This is your very first dance competition.

Sure, you’ve danced for audiences at recitals and festivals, but this is for judges who perform on television and in movies. They know talent when they see it. Will they see it in you?

Mom and dad are watching anxiously. All the grandparents who drove, or flew, for hours just to watch you do this now, hold their breath.

The routine goes perfectly. You hit every beat right in the center. You pivot for the next sequence; then . . . nothing.

The connection between what your body has learned through weeks of repetition, and the music it has learned it to, do not jive. You hesitate a split second, and now nothing will be in sync. They will see the disconnection. They already have. Everyone thinks you have forgotten–choked. What happened?

Eight beats pass. Now sixteen. You look for a place to pick up. Now twenty-four. 5-6-7-8, GO!

You piece together steps that you hope will get you to the end, and you push through. Smiling.

Meanwhile, in the audience, everyone who is seeing your routine for the first time feels your pain. The fear and humiliation of a six-year-old who blew her competitive debut. They explain it away, “Well, she is, after all, the youngest in the competition. It will be a good learning experience.”

But they don’t know what you know: that the music the technician cued and played was the wrong arrangement, not the arrangement to which the dance was choreographed. But that doesn’t matter. You were the one on stage, under the lights.

Two more dancers perform.

Your teacher tells you the judges will let you go again since the technician played the wrong music. The emcee announces to the audience that you will repeat your performance, but she does not explain why.

The music begins. The audience cheers your courage. After all, they think you blew it, and you are getting a charity do over. They know that most of them would have run off the stage in tears. Some would have quit and never gone onto the competitive stage again.

But not you. You believe in your talent, in your preparation, in yourself.

And you nail it.

What looks like bravery to some is your self-confidence shining through the adversity.

Prepare, perform, persevere.

You are
Leadership, empowerment, personal development, success

Break a leg!