Authentic Leadership: Living and Leading Outside-the-Box


I have worked for a long time only to find too many people with little passion for change. They simply want to “stay inside their box.” There are also too many leaders and managers that look at their way being the correct one.

Very rarely do these types want to listen to new ideas or embrace the ideas of others (or even their own.)

Inside and Outside the Box Thinking

I am a very passionate leader who loves to help others. I love to teach, train, educate, and live out dreams.

So here is my perspective on leadership. It boils down to living and leading in a state of low risk/low reward that I call Inside-the-Box thinking,  or living and leading in a state of higher risk/higher reward that I call Outside-the-Box thinking.

Living Inside-the-Box

Living and leading with an inside-the-box mentality allows one to feel that the world is safe and secure; there is uniformity, control, and routine. Most people would prefer to stay inside-the-box because change only exists in small doses. This box is a symbol of how one’s world does not have to be perceived differently beyond basic vision.

Although there is perceived safety, comfort, and control, this thinking has its downsides, too.

Staying inside a box restricts growth and a the ability to branch out and meet new people developing great ideas, taking great leaps and doing amazing things. The world would be a boring place if everyone lived inside the box. The box is where dreams stay dreams instead of becoming a reality.

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Living Outside-the-Box

Stepping outside-the-box requires courage and willpower. Outside-the-box is a place of the unknown and frequent changes, where new people can be met and great accomplishments can become achieved. Stepping outside-the-box can be a scary and unconformable place for those who are used to living with an inside-the-box mentality.

A person usually will step outside of the box only to take a “giant leap” to a different box, or just to another box that is just bigger.

Rarely does one leave their box with enough courage, determination, and fight to really increase their influence and live a bigger dream.

But however the risk, living outside-the-box is a place of creativity and desire. This place is completely new and exciting all of the time. It is where change is like a rapid river moving from mountain to valley allowing for exploration and mistakes to happen. Those who live with little fear will thrive in this space allowing for dreams to become reality and for great progress to exist.

This place is a great platform to teach, train and experience what the world has to offer.

Are Leaders Born or Made?

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Authentic Leadership comes from those who live and lead outside-the-box.

To understand this, answer this question:

Are Leaders born or Are They Made?

  • There are those who are born with the ability to live without the need for a box, they live freely outside-the-box and naturally influence others.
  • There are those who have lived in a box and have taken a leap by listening to those whose passion for outside-the-box ways have inspired them. They found an inner passion to live among those who thrive outside-the-box.
  • Then there are those who were designed or taught to live inside-a-box and follow the world build for them to tell the tales about the possibilities that are outside-the-box they wish not to leave.

I have seen passionate people stop from leaving the confines of their box because they didn’t want to “risk it all.” I have seen people fall and not want to get back up. I have seen people succeed and never look back.

But for me, I live and lead outside-the-box. I live and lead in a world not yet created.

Future leaders need not ask the question “Are Leaders born or made?” They simply lead the answers they wish to find. Leadership is not a focus on the question “why?” Leadership is the desire to find “the how?”

So many have asked the question are leaders born or made, what is your opinion?

One of my favorite answers is this:

Leaders are born to be made.”

Change involves people of all types to coexist in a movement toward progression. What are some of the biggest challenges for change leaders today?

What will it take for a inside-the-box thinker to break the stagnation and become a great leader? What sort of courage is needed? How can you help others gain that courage and teach them to live outside-the-box? I wold love to hear your thoughts!


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Michael R Stanford is Doctoral Learner at UOP
He does occasional motivational speaking for community colleges
Email | LinkedInFacebookWeb

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Leadership Formula: Learn, Connect, Influence

Time to Learn

Over the past four years I have analyzed people and processes to develop a better leadership model. This leadership training formula can be used personally and/or professionally and is known as the LCI model.

LCI is a fairly basic model that stands for:

  • Learn
  • Connect
  • Influence

These three pieces put together form a strong foundation for leadership.


Education and life learning are the foundation for personal growth. The lessons we learn and retain are what make us grow up as opposed to just growing old.

Classroom learning is important to enhance the mind so that we can better develop and learn about new possibilities and progressive growth toward the future.

The classroom can be:

  • Staged in a school. whether it be physical or digital
  • In the workplace or at home
  • It can be anywhere one develops knowledge in an interactive setting toward understanding and growth

Learning from others experience is a part of human growth that sometimes goes unrecognized. I have learned more from listening and collaborating with others, to integrate methods with past, present and future ideas toward innovation masterpieces.

Risk and failure are a part of learning and growth, when life happens people are forced to learn lessons. The idea that generation integration in the workplace has become an issue due to an increased gap in differences blows my mind; integration takes and open mind and willingness to change in order to learn and grow.

Leading by understanding the strength of learning concepts will lead to endless possibilities.


Relationships are important to grow a network that expands to include many by touching only a few. The concept of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” is a myth.

Who you know will help advance a person, but you need knowledge and self- promotion in order to advance.

An example would be that someone you know can get you an interview, but you have to sell yourself in order to land the position.

Networking takes time energy and self-promotion, but will help one spread their individual message. As a leader I look to educate and influence as many people as I possibly can to ensure continued growth; this takes hard work, dedication, and communication.

Communication is commonly seen and understood as passing a message. What we miss in this understanding is that communication is more of a listening skill than a speaking skill. When connecting with others I have found that if I listen more I can understand them better and convey an unspoken message, the message that I care.

I used to sit through management meetings about communication and nothing ever got better because everyone had a solution, but no one listened to each other in order to make progress. When I spent time with my groups outside the meetings, I would listen 95% of the time and speak 5% which produced a bond with my team.

When people want more communication, what they are asking for is someone to listen and guide while providing information that is important and relevant to them.

Leaders need a following which takes strong networking and communication skills.

A strong leader has the ability to influence others with only having to speak to and interact with a few people.


In order to influence people a leader must understand how to educate, embrace, and empower others.  Leadership takes continuous learning as well as educating; sharing information is important in order to develop others while creating a collaborative atmosphere to create new information.

When educating people one must be open to the ideas of others and innovative information, collaboration expands minds while creating a learning environment for the leader and expanding the network which they influence.

Leaders should empower others to be creative and become great. This act of empowerment will develop an atmosphere of innovation which requires a selfless attitude and an open mind.

When a strong foundation is built, the foundation will last no matter what changes occur above. The combination or learn, connect, influence allows for leaders to grow personally and professionally one the same foundational concepts.

Leaders of the future need inspiration from the leaders today.  How can we better integrate generations when the majority of leadership images that surfaces on the new age platforms positioned in a negative light? Do you think that the public school system would benefit from more collaborative style learning? Why?


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Michael R Stanford is Doctoral Learner at UOP
He does occasional motivational speaking for community colleges
Email | LinkedInFacebookWeb

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Leadership Role: It’s Not Rocket Surgery

Rocket Surgery

Have you ever heard a leader say something like this: “Wow, it would be a great idea if we held our people accountable for….?”

Well for me, the first question I ask is this: “Do you hold yourself accountable for….”?

Practice What You Preach

As leaders, we must always understand that we have the responsibility to practice what we preach.

It is often easy to come up with great ideas and suggestions, but our people will hesitate to follow us when they do not see execution and follow-up from their leaders.

From here, our level of personal leadership effectiveness suffers when people see us as just a mouthpiece for action and not an actual doer of things.

Are You Taking Action?

I see many leaders in the retail field talk about great ideas that would be huge in productivity and sales generation, but what I don’t see are leaders stepping up taking action.

All too often leadership teams come up with roadblocks rather than solutions.

There are more unproductive conversations in the retail field than action toward success. Why are teams ineffective at times? The reason for ineffective teams is ineffective leaders.

It’s Not Rocket Surgery

Here is a message to all leaders:

There is no secret sauce, nor rocket science, nor brain surgery behind leadership. The recipe is actually quite simple.

Leadership just takes a few easy steps that one repeatedly employs with every situation:

  1. Observe opportunities that are within in your control
  2. Plan a solution to the opportunities and get buy-in from your team
  3. Teach EVERYONE how to execute the solution to the opportunity presented.
  4. Exemplify what you want execution to look like and never stop.

If a leader misses anyone of these steps, there is possibility for costly failure that business leaders cannot afford to miss.

Train for Success

As leaders, we can easily get wrapped up in day-to-day functions of our own and forget to slow down and train people to do the job with us. More often than not, people want to be active members in an organization by being great at their job function.

And our job is to equip them and to help build a healthy environment in which they can prosper to play out and grow in their roles.

The assumption I find from many leaders is that most people are just another body to run the business. And unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion based on observations of “leaders” in many organizations that leadership has lost true meaning. Our leaders have become scared cats running away from their decisions, instead of backing them.

Taking One for the Team

Many leaders today are dropping like flies because they would rather let their entire teams get ambushed rather than standing tall for them and taking the bullet for their teams.

They don’t know how to get back up again after a misstep or failure, so they cower and eventually waste away.

A real leader is not afraid of missteps, failure, or even taking the bullet to make a difference. The best leaders are always prepared with a bulletproof vest, so that they can get back up again and fight for the win.

Leading By Example

I have heard critiques of my opinion that real leaders need to step up and train our future leaders; a general opinion is that a real leader knows how to learn to lead. What I say is that a real leader knows how to look for the right inspiration and if there is nothing to look at how they know what is great leadership.

Leading by example is the ultimate key to create a better future, we are losing the battle for success because too many people know how to talk about leadership, but all too few know how to exemplify leadership.

Leadership takes courage. It is supposed to be an uncomfortable position.

Who is your inspiration as a leader and why? Why has leadership become an image of easy? What have you done as a business leader to make a difference and can you stand to take a bullet or just blame like everyone else? I am a leader and I am vested-up to take the bullet. Are you? 


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders


Michael R Stanford is Doctoral Learner at UOP
He does occasional motivational speaking for community colleges
Email | LinkedInFacebookWeb

Edited by Scott Leathers

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Emerging Leaders: Leading the “New World”

Leading Technology

As leaders in a professional environment, we always aim to convey a message with good intentions. However, we can oftentimes fail. This is because we haven’t crafted our message for the correct target.

Our messages are not always clear because we don’t always understand our audience.

Engaging Future Leaders

I am a person, a leader, a mentor who aims to engage future leaders and develop an understanding of methods to connect with all generations to enhance communication and leadership growth.

There is a huge divide between the “Net Generation” and other generations because technology has exponentially developed this group of people.

Who knew that social media would be the greatest influence over a group of people?

A Growing Divide

Teachers, coaches, mentors, and leaders a like struggle to connect with the new generation of leaders. And this disconnect between these groups becomes more clear as the years progress.

Our job as leaders is to make sure our future leaders are ready for the future world, starting now to develop the “Net Generation,” helping them understand the advantages and disadvantages that technology has created for them.

Technical Edge

Cutting Through the Crowd

Now, many may understand the advantages of being tech savvy which are:

  1. They are able to connect with larger audiences more globally.
  2. They can work faster with more mobility.
  3. They can understand more and have more resources to produce results and develop others.

A Double-Edged Sword

What many don’t understand is that there are disadvantages as well:

  1. Everyone is under a microscope and the world of Human Resources is stronger than ever with fewer people and more resources. This means that social media can be used for hiring practices to get a better snap shot of people. People and leaders alike need to watch what they post as posts are seen by more than just friends and family. Networking circles are larger than ever before.
  2. Verbal communication skills have become diluted; much of today’s communication is via device without speaking.
  3. Connecting with multiple generations has become more difficult because the differences have become exponential.

Closing the Gap

Now, to close the gap between generations to enhance communication and develop “simply great leaders” we must teach listening and understanding, which are the basics to human interaction and chemistry.

I have…

  • Spent some time developing myself to understand the complexities of social media.
  • Utilized social media as a leader and employer to get a better understanding of this topic and to help develop young leaders.
  • Used social media to make decisions about hiring leaders into organization in which I have worked.

Emerging leaders need more guidance and coaching than ever before so we need to be there to help.

Mentoring New Leaders

I have mentored emerging leaders and the key to success is to find common interest with leadership goals and practice one-on-one communication through coaching practices.

Unfortunately, as business professionals we have fine lines as to how much we can inform new candidates and employees in regards to business do’s and don’ts ; we have to generic, ensuring equality and professionalism which can hinder the growth of potential emerging leaders.

Today’s leaders need to step out of their comfort zone make a difference for the future.

Taking the Time

Taking time to develop and educate future leaders, raising awareness about the effects of social media though sincere coaching and development; this is what we need to build a stronghold of the next generation leaders.

Effective communication is about listening and understanding while conveying a message that a person or group of people will understand. The best way to convey a message is to understand the audience to which it is being conveyed. Keep in mind that the great leaders of tomorrow will encompass the teachings of the leaders of today.

So how are you doing in bridging the gaps that exist in your organization? How well are you reaching out to those in different generations to help your operation run smoother? What are some of the (technological) barriers that are keeping you from better engagement with others? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Michael R Stanford is Doctoral Learner at UOP
He does occasional motivational speaking for community colleges
Email | LinkedInFacebook | Web

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The Game of Simply Great Leaders


Does your workplace morale ever feel as though you are playing a Jenga game where if one piece is pulled out that the whole structure collapses?

This concept is all too common in business today and it’s caused by mediocre leaders in the industry. But this could be cured with “Simply Great” leaders.

Simply Great Leaders

Leaders exist in every organization, yet “simply great” leaders are spread ever-so-thin, putting a weighing burden on few people who uphold organizational morale structure.

So the question becomes this:

Why lead with an iron fist, when people are better motivated with a “Hello” and a “Thank You”; a “Good Job” goes a long way for many more then you think.

The simple words of appreciation become forgotten in the “hustle and bustle” and morale tends to fall.  I understand that the fast-pace environment of organization can be stressful and the great people are overlooked by the ones who are not-so-hot and this is the time to change that mentality.

Simply Human

“Simply Great” leaders are not immortal and are subject to human nature, but they differentiate themselves by apologizing if they get stressed affecting others. “Simply Great” leaders can make a large impact on a vast population with only a few simple words.

A great leader makes a difference through action and inspiring words.

A “Simply Great” leader thinks “How is everyone else’s day going?” instead of thinking “How is my day going?

When a leader understands and embeds the quality of selflessness in their leadership style they will find significance in their impact on morale.

Another key to a simply great leader is about understanding their significance to other and embracing the fact that they are great at making an impact on the lives of others.

Simple Formula

“Simply Great” leaders know where they belong and when they must move on to the next step in their journey. With the knowledge of what a “simply great” leader encompasses, organizations must understand that attracting and retaining these leaders has become a formula to success.

The attraction starts with an inspiring vision, concrete mission, and culture to be desired. Every “simply great” leader requires a template to develop people and ideas.

However, if the template is marked up then it becomes less desirable.

Retention of these leaders requires goals and support, while keeping a firm vision and mission and desirable culture; the lost focus of any of these three foundations by the organization could lead to a loss of “great” leaders.

Simple Foundations

JengaNo business can survive over a substantial time period with only a few “simply great” leaders.

As in the game Jenga, when the support system is weakened by the pieces easily removed (desired leaders that will be the first to go by choice), the structure becomes unstable and eventually falls: the weight becomes unbearable for the few leaders that struggle to make a difference.

Any organization looking to make changes must first look at how the changes affect the basis for their business and ensure that changes made are directly reflective of their vision, mission, and culture.

Change does not fail due to lack of resources, it fails from lack of leadership.

I don’t throw this out there to say that leadership teams in the field are the sole cause to lack of leadership.

I challenge executive leadership teams to understand how their decisions can be their own demise; pulling out and pushing away the “blocks” that uphold the business, causing their once strong foundation to collapse before their eyes.

JENGA! You are lost without “simply great” leaders.

Why do many leaders spend so much more time analyzing instead of leading? Have you ever said “Thank you for coming to work today” to your employees? What was their response? Are you a great leader and why do you think this to be true?


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Michael R Stanford is Doctoral Learner at UOP
He does occasional motivational speaking for community colleges
Email | LinkedInFacebookWeb

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Leaders: Avoiding “Tornado Leadership”

Tornado Personality

As a leader do you ever feel as though you are moving at astronomical speeds and getting absolutely nowhere?

Well, STOP!

This type of hectic behavior is what I call “tornado leadership.”  It is where leaders tend to spin out of control leaving disaster behind.

Fortunately, this type of behavior is short-lived and so are the leaders who perform in this manner.

But unfortunately, just like a tornado, this leadership style appears all over the place and comes out of nowhere. It is brought about primarily when people do not communicate effectively and when they are not in control of their business. It wreaks havoc wherever it appears and it causes nothing but pain, damage, and a pile of debris.

On Leadership and Listening

I speak to the topics of communication and its effectiveness very often since proper communication is not all too common, everyone wants to have their say and no one wants to listen.

I have had the rebuttal “I listen” brought up to me from leaders that I have worked with so my response is “in your own words what did I communicate” and there is a rare case of understanding.

As a leader you must sit back, observe, and listen in order to have control.

Communication effectiveness is the key to eliminating what causes the tornado effect to spin a team out of control.

Be Wise, Organize!

Tornadoes destroy a path through debris around. Debris with leadership tornadoes is disorganization that leads to high turnover, poor performance, and arguments that destroy business dynamics. Many leaders today can and are ineffective today because they have a limited understanding of followership.

Everyone in a leadership team wants to take charge and no one wants to go along for the ride, which is important to do when you have multiple leaders working together. No leadership team intends to clash with one another, but it easily occurs without warning.

Awareness of everyone in a leadership team and a strong united front can create clear skies for a long time.

Listening Your Way to Prosperity

Within the leadership team everyone should have the chance to take lead in unique situations, but never can a leadership team have every individual lead at the same time as it increased the debris due to mixed signals to those your team is leading.

This path of destruction can be very costly to an organization, but can be easily avoided by communicating with one another. I cannot emphasize this enough “communication is 95% listening and understanding and 5% speaking.”

Watch out for the stop and go patterns of leadership tornadoes; they may seem to disappear, but may resurface any time the leadership team dynamics shift. This is something I have observed quite frequently in my career; unlike weather pattern tornadoes, leadership tornadoes can be prevented and stopped.

Leaders must be aware of the how their team can spin out of control and take preventive measures.

Even though every team is unique in their own way and the dynamics of the team will be different in every case there is one way to effectively prevent leadership team tornadoes; the way to do this is effective communication: communication is 95%listening and understanding and 5% speaking.

Avoid becoming that leadership team that is stuck in “tornado alley.”  Listen to each other, truly understand one another (don’t just hear, understand): Communicate effectively!

Have you as a leader every experienced the “tornado leadership effect”, what was done to control it? Under-performing leaders can be a major cause to “tornado leadership”, do you think strong leaders can avoid disaster when a poor performer is doomed to never improve? Why or why not? What is the main cause for lack of followership by leaders in your opinion?


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Michael R Stanford is Doctoral Learner at UOP
He does occasional motivational speaking for community colleges
Email | LinkedInFacebookWeb

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Leadership: Communication Unmasked

Communication Unmasked

One of the largest factors that determine a business’s success is communication. Many leaders in organizations are aware that communication is important, but fail to understand how to correct the issue with miscommunication.

So what is a leader to do?

Knowing The Vital Signs

The figures for how much poor communication can affect a business do not typically show up as line-items in financial statements. Consequently, mis-communication can be easily missed or ignored if leaders are not aware of the vital signs.

I hear statements like this all of the time from leaders in the retail industry:

“We know mis-communication is the problem, but we don’t know what our people are looking for.”

But with statements like this, it shows that leaders are not always genuinely listening to their people.

I have observed meetings designed to provide solutions to poor communication. They are usually filled with discussions on easily observable solutions that do not work. The poorly designed solution generally provides undesirable affects like adding more email, memo’s, and meetings to everyone’s schedule.

Unfortunately though, the solutions many leaders are coming up with are short-term and are generally a waste of time.

Seeking Solutions

So what is the solution to better communication? Well, over the last few years I have spent some time on some personal observations and research and found that the best way to enhance communication within an organization is in listening and connecting with people.

Leaders need to listen to their people and communicate information pertinent to the specific needs of the individuals and groups that they serve.

Not all information is important to everyone equally. And people understand when leaders are just pushing information down from above. They inherently know that this causes a disconnect or provides a feeling that the information provided is potentially useless or that it may be just another fad.

Communication is an Investment

Communication is not a simple fix with a quick solution; communication is an investment of time from leaders to connect with their organization. Every level of leadership needs to have the same commitment to their direct teams and there must be consistency.

Leadership teams need to be on the same page with communication to avoid inconsistency which can lead to dysfunctional communication between teams and an individual leader or leaders within a leadership team.

The best way I have always found to build strong communication with teams is listening to verbal and nonverbal cues when passing or receiving information.

Knowing your people can and will enhance communication.

Getting Honest Feedback

Ask employees to give you honest feedback as to how well you communicate. You may think that you are a great communicator because you pass information along.

But the truth may be that your communication technique is ineffective for the people you are leading.

At one point, I asked my team how they though my communication was. The response was surprising, but rewarding.

  • My team at the time stated that I email too much. Consequently, they deleted my emails without reading them.
  • The team also stated that I told them stuff that they did not care about. Consequently, they ignored the information because it was just corporate information that was going to change in a week.

The team felt a bit disconnected and uniformed as to what was important to their success. The members also stated that there was a lack of follow-up to care about some of the information they ignored.

Formulating a Response

I took this information and restructured how I communicated and made everything more personal and direct. I also made extra time to really understand individual communication needs to become more effective.

A few months later after making my changes to how I communicate, again I asked my team for feedback and the results were phenomenal:

  • The team stated they felt more connected and informed and never felt like they were missing information that was important to them.
  • They always read my emails because they were direct and informative to them with a follow up action from me.
  • The team stated that they never thought anyone would ever listen to them and make changes based on what they said.

These results are a reality that many leaders ignore or push to the side, listening and understanding is the key to increase communication effectiveness for leaders.

This may be a rude awakening for some leaders, but effective communication is not easy and there is no quick fix solution.

Communication is a commitment to understanding and informing to create a more effective organization.

Is there a way that a group of leaders can have strong consistent communication with any type of leadership divide? What are some best practices when communicating with a new or unfamiliar group that you are leading? Is it difficult for you as a leader to accept constructive feedback from an employee, why or why not?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders


Michael R Stanford is Doctoral Learner at UOP
He does occasional motivational speaking for community colleges
Email | LinkedInFacebookWeb

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