Leadership Mints Sampler On “The Greatest Thing By Far”

Aristotle called it the “greatest thing by far.” The Greek philosopher said it is the “one thing that cannot be learned from others.”

And Aristotle –the famed student of Plato and the teacher of Alexander The Great– flatly states it is a “sign of genius.”

It is the metaphor—a word or phrase used to symbolize something else.

Aristotle said the comparison implies an intuitive perception of the “similarity in the dissimilar.”

That’s why the first cars were called “horseless carriages.” And that’s why dentists are known as Smile Stylists.

The metaphor is the greatest thing by far — Aristotle.

But the most significant value of a metaphor –the sign of genius—involves your ability to define and refine a metaphor’s attributes that govern your ability to lead effectively with emotional intelligence and teach inclusively with empathetic understanding.

But first to understand others, we need to understand ourselves. That’s what Aristotle’s mentor Plato said echoing his mentor Socrates: Know Thyself.

And indeed, a well-conceived metaphor can help you identify your genius  –or your distinctive character or guardian spirit according to the dictionary — in addition to the extent of your intellectual capacity.

Let’s see how you might define your genius using a metaphor (or simile which adds the bridge word “like.”)

What could you learn about yourself if you thought of yourself like a sheepdog in teaching others ( a simile) or as a sheepdog teaching others (a metaphor)? Parker Palmer assesses his sheepdog metaphor in his book The Courage to Teach:

“My students must feed themselves – that is called active learning. I must take them to  where food is available: a good text, a well-planned exercise a generative question, a disciplined conversation.

Then I must them move to the next feeding ground. I must hold the group with those places, paying special attention to individuals who get lost or run away—and all the while I must protect the group from deadly predators – like fear.”

But there’s even more insight hidden in the shadows whenever a metaphor shines a spotlight on your optimum behaviors. The most effective leaders/teachers realize that too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

 After all the sheepdog metaphor can galvanize the teacher’s mindset to think of his or her students as  mindless or even docile.

Yet the metaphor can also serve as a bellwether to spark more improved teaching and a more cognizant teacher and ultimately a more effective leader. “If the sheepdog metaphor does nothing but keep me alert to the appearance of my own shadow, it will have served me and my students well, ” Palmer writes.

In fact as a bellwether, the metaphor can serve as an early alarm to tread carefully.

In fact the concept of a bellwether is significant since the word itself stems from the practice of tying a bell around neck of one sheep in their flock, thereby designating it the lead sheep.

This animal was called the bellwether, a word formed by a combination of the Middle English words belle (meaning “bell”) and wether (a noun that refers to a male sheep that has been castrated), “according to the dictionary.

Discover your own bellwether imbued in your metaphor.

And just think how your performance and subsequent results  could be affected if you thought of your leading and teaching as if you were a waterfall, or a mountain stream, a mountain or a molehill, or a tulip or rainstorm?

Take the time to learn something significant about your own leadership and or teaching ability. Ring your own bellwether and find your “greatest thing be far.”

For more tips on developing your own metaphors to persuade others, consider purchasing a copy of SPEAKING Like a Leader, the 300-page book now available on Amazon.com.

SPEAKING Like a Leader is part of the Leadership Mints Series that also includes a book  on creativity —THINKING Like a Leader , a 296-page book filled with 77 Leadership Mints and a 300-page book on empathy filled with 77 more Leadership Mints-LOVING Like a Leader.

All three books in The Leadership Mints Series are designed for busy leaders seeking to refresh their feeling for leading in 5-minutes or less — the average reading of a Leadership Mint.

           What ‘s a Leadership Mint?

Consumed like a breath mint — quick and on-the-go — a Leadership Mint is a short story that energizes leadership behaviors and personalizes leadership principles so they are more easily remembered, more readily acted upon and more fully applied.

Leadership Mints Sampler: On Learning Conversations

Whether you’re a leader meeting with your direct report or a teacher meeting with your class, it’s not what you say that counts. It’s what you learn. That’s why leaders and teachers step into each other’s shoes. They engage in learning conversations. They inject a creative energy into a meeting. And they yield greater results.

The focus on a learning conversation is critical. It’s two-way. The road to enhanced performance as a leader or a teacher is not a ONE WAY expressway where teacher or leader is always in the driver’s seat. That’s why leading a meeting or teaching a class isn’t something you conduct for an another.

Leading a meeting or teaching a class is something
you deduct FROM each other,
you take away from each other
after listening carefully to each other
and only after proverbially
stepping into the shoes of the other.

Likewise having a Learning Conversation is not a fact fight where information is heaved like flame throwers to burn the other rather than burnish the ensuing opportunity.

That’s because a Learning Conversation is not a matter of force-feeding the flow of selected facts for another to digest but of brewing a broth of understanding that all can stir and salt to taste.

Stirring the Broth of Understanding

That broth of understanding and insight –also known as The Learning Conversation —sparks curiosity in each other to explore continuous improvement and seek to understand the other’s point of view.

That curiosity fuels a caring and sharing attitude that nourishes the learning environment and focuses on capability not on culpability.

As a leader, you can sustain that learning environment with three key phrases. Use these three phrases like so many logs to fuel the warmth of a Learning Conversation. And consider these three words to kick start those three phrases: ME, THEE and WE. Dave and Wendy Ulrich cite these three phases in their book: The Why of Work.:

  • ME: Help ME Understand what went wrong what went right.
  • THEE:  Use the Data to better define “THEE”  problem.
  • WE: Let’s focus on what WE can do to solve this problem.

Listening and feedback are the two pillars of a Learning Conversation that help you gain more understanding so that you can become a more influential leader or a more engaging teacher.

The key to unlocking that door to understanding is to remain inquisitive-oriented not inquisition-minded.

That’s why empathy is the crux of a Learning Conversation. In fact the “deepest form of understanding another person is empathy, according to the authors of Difficult Conversations, three Harvard Law professors who have also studied optimum negotiating skills and developed the concept around Learning Conversations.

Here’s how those authors –Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen –cite empathy’s impact on Learning Conversations:

  “Empathy  involves a shift from my observing how you seem on the outside, to my imagining what it feels like to be you on the inside wrapped in your skin with your set of experiences and background and looking out at the world through your eyes.”

Leadership Mints Series Sampler: The Hawthorne Effect

Okay let’s take an imaginary walk in the woods today and let’s plant our imaginary feet under the tree that best represents leadership to you.

Is it the 300 foot high Sequoia?

Is the deep rooted white oak or hickory?

Is it the highly flexible palm tree –some that that can remain rooted in both dry and wet soil ? Some that can survive hurricane force winds even in Colombian Andes where they grow–as high as 200 feet.

Or is the elegant Hawthorn tree ? With its thorns to protect and its consistent berry-like fruits and flowers to nourish some Hawthorns last 400 years. The longer you observe a Hawthorn tree, the more you see it as a ” symbol of love, protection, beauty, balance, duality, fertility, the union of opposites ” researchers say.

The Hawthorn tree’s connection to leadership is two-fold. First the dense foliage of the Hawthorn tree provides a privacy screen  that can be viewed as if  a leader were extending his or her “arms” to comfort and protect others. And second: the Hawthorn tree has an eponymous connection to one of the most famous leadership studies. The Hawthorne Effect.

The spelling between the tree (Hawthorn) and the leadership study (Hawthorne Effect) is different but the message is the same: caring for each other brings out the best in each other.

The leadership study is spelled with an added “e” — reflecting the city of Hawthorne, IL — the home of the Western Electric Company. Hawthorne, IL was the home of nearly 45,000 employees.

The Hawthorne Effect is the “short-term improvement in performance caused by observing workers,” as defined by organizational psychologist researcher Henry A. Landsberger .

 The more you shine a light on your employees the more they will brighten your bottom line. That’s an over simplication of the study in the 1920s.  

Nevertheless, it does yield a fair understanding of the value of the Hawthorne Effect on productivity, profitability and continuous improvement even today almost 100 years after the initial study.

Today the city of the Hawthorne has changed its name. It’s now known as Cicero about 8 miles southwest of Chicago. But the Hawthorne Effect is still in effect.

Leaders today now more than ever understand the more they pay attention needs and concerns of their employees the more and the more they pay attention to what their employees are doing – good, bad and indifferent – the more productive the work environment, the more profitable the company, and the more sustaining the attitude of continuous improvement.

And like the Hawthorn Tree with its rose scented flowers the more refreshing the work environment.

Leadership Mints Series Sampler On Learning Quickly

How do you get good at something? Forget all that stuff about needing 10,000 hours of focused practice to be an expert at something.

You can become “noticeably good” in 20 hours when you practice consistently to self-correct, according to Josh Kaufman, author of the First Twenty Hours: How to Learn Anything Fast.

Consider these 4-steps to accelerate your learning: Simplify, Clarify, Ratify and then Reapply.


For example if you want to learn how to play a guitar or ukulele in 20 hours, you simplify. That’s what Kaufman did. Realize that if you could play just four chords —  (G, D, E minor and C) then you could play at least 70 of the most popular songs over the last five decades. Simplify.

In fact, Kaufman simplified so well he could play a medly of some 36 popular songs–including Journey’s – Don’t Stop Believing to Elton John’s – Can You Feel The Love Tonight to  Green Day’s When I Come Around to the Beatles’s Let it Be — after 20 hours
( or 60 learning sessions– each 20 minutes — over 30 days.

Kaufman confidently declares: “The major barrier to learning something new is not intellectual. The major barrier is emotional.” We’re scared.”


To climb over that emotional barrier to learning something new, clarify the possibility. Get inspired. Find a model and do what they did. That’s what Kaufman did. His inspiration came from the comedy band Axis of Awesome. They simplified the 4-chord learning strategy to eventually play 73 popular songs. Then came the most challenging aspect of learning quickly: to ratify –” to confirm by expressing consent, approval, or formal sanction,” according to the dictionary.


You ratify first by “Pre-committing ” to practicing every day 2-4 times a day in 20-minute-sessions for a total of 20 hours. If you practice twice a day (40 minutes), you’d complete your 20-hour commitment in 30 days.

You ratify by focusing your attention: (no TV. No internet and no interruptions).
Kaufman encourages you to set an alarm so that you fulfill your commitment to a full 20-minute session. The duration (20 minutes) is as critical as the frequency (2-4 times per day) so that you “learn enough to self correct,” Kaufman says. And that commitment requires an on-going mindset to reapply.


Self-correcting consistently and persistently is key

When the most effective learners reapply –over and over again –they verify in their own mind that they are playing “noticeably good” and that in fact they are only playing four chords to to play that one song.

You convince yourself that the practice has a critical purpose and the result is a given if you continue to invest one hour per day -(in three 20-minutes segments) over 20 days or two 20-minute sessions a day over 30 days. Then Don’t Stop Believing as you continue to simplify, clarify, ratify and reapply.


Leadership Mints Series Sampler Being Alone Together

You may be confined these days –imprisoned in your own home — by order of the state. Bummer and so boring! But cheer up.

You can break out of that virtual prison.

You can break free of the mounds of dishes that seem to continuously overwhelm your sink day in and day out.

You can break free of the incessant beat of the laundry twirling in the dryer.

You can even break away from your screens screaming more bad news day in and day out.

Take a break —on your front porch. And turn your confinement into an enshrinement to those who mean so much to you.

Just step out on your porch and visually reach out and touch friends and family with a colorful array of heart-shaped signs festooned all over your front porch like this:

Leaders Keep Hope Alive!

Each heart-shaped sign pays tribute to a family member, or family friend. Personally and poignantly. The magic in the magic marker as you carefully write their name stirs a fond memory and a smile crosses your face as you reconnect with that person.

Printing their first name imprints something more on your heart and soul than even a phone call. Those heart-shaped signs project something more lasting and more visible to others: a sense of hope. Notice that those heart-shaped signs on this front porch are also fortified with the word HOPE stated six times for emphasis on the central anchoring sign designed to express the key familial theme:


The heart-shaped signs on this home in the heart of America demonstrates a critical aspect of leadership: staying connected no matter how fragmented our lives, no matter how literally out of touch we are with each other and no matter how isolated we feel.

The leader in all of us reminds us that though we are
isolated from each other we can never
be insulated from one another.

That’s why these heart-shaped shout-outs to family and friends are so poignant and purposeful on this home on Main Street in any town.

This porch also features a special thank you sign to the one person who is likely to visit this house most often despite the stay-at-home order: the mail carrier. That tribute to the mail carrier is an homage to normalcy, an opportunity to be grateful for even the most ordinary daily tasks: getting your mail. And in the process we feel a greater sense of connection to others.

Bending the Curve and Beating COVID-19

Stay connected with a magic marker in hand. Or stay committed –and connected with chalk in hand and make your mark like this leader walking the talk with a piece of chalk. And in the process leading all of us vicariously on this path forward to defeat COVID-19.

So step up — and out — and turn your porch into a Portal of Affection that can ward off this infection –or turn your walk into a chalk talk that silences this virus as long as we STAY the course. And remain Alone Together!