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Leadership edge sounds enticing, doesn’t it? Well, it is — even to a baby. Now, don’t be put off by my use of my thirteen month old granddaughter as the example. Through her eyes you’ll discover the key to the leadership edge and what’s required to get it. Once you know, you’ll be forced to confront yourself with the question: Do I really want it? Am I willing to pay the price (because there is a price to pay)?

At thirteen months, Sylvia was learning to walk. She’d laugh and stretch her arms high and wide as if pushing for the finish line in an Olympic sprint, though her starting block was my living room couch and her destination, my outstretched arms. Once in range of her goal, she’d hurtle her little body towards me with never a doubt that I’d catch her. Over and over she’d repeat the action, knowing my arms would provide soft landing every time. She was clear about her destination and, at some level, she knew that I was committed to her well-being. In other words, Sylvia trusted me until I proved myself untrustworthy. Should that ever happen, God forbid, our relationship will be changed forever.

When you hear the names: Bernie Madoff, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Martha Stewart, what word comes to mind? Thief? Liar? Cheater? It can certainly be argued that each of these people possess a high level of competence in their field, but competence alone wasn’t enough to gain a following and keep it. Due to egregious behavior resulting in significant loss of trust, none of them will ever be totally trusted by most people ever again. All suffered financially and relationally, and all watched their power to lead evaporate. In every case, personal reputation and public confidence eroded. Though none can ever reclaim the position they once held, it is possible for them to make a comeback, albeit, for most, chances are slim.

The focus of my work is helping leaders, sales professionals and entrepreneurs develop real influence. The very foundation of influence is trust – a tangible asset that can be developed through right action. Perhaps a better word, to be more encompassing, would be character.

The late Jim Rohn said of character, “Character isn’t something you were born with and can’t change, like your fingerprints. It’s something you must take responsibility for forming.” Character isn’t something that can be contrived, but rather it’s something you cultivate over the course of your lifetime through every experience and every decision that you make. The greater your sense of responsibility and accountability, the greater your character.

Over the past year I found myself struggling with a crisis of character because I had yet to finish writing a book on leadership that I had promised to finish two years ago. My final interviews were completed in early 2013, and though I knew it would get done, I was bothered by the fact that, at the time, it was still incomplete. A gnawing sensation of something left undone resulted in sleepless nights and an overwhelming sense of personal disappointment in me. Though a well-known leadership coach recommended that I abandon the project and be okay with that, I simply could not abandon the people who opened their lives to me in an interview with the promise of a forthcoming book. My character was at stake. Would I be courageous and face what seemed like a daunting task or slink away? Would I muster the courage and discipline and fortitude to fulfill on a promise to do what I said I would do, or would I cave in and give up? I’m happy to say that at this time, the book is completed and will finally be published in January, 2016.

Former president, Ronald Reagan, stated it clearly when he said, “The character that takes command in moments of crucial choices has already been determined. It has been determined by a thousand other choices made earlier in seemingly unimportant moments. It has been determined by all the little choices of years past, by all those times when the voice of conscience was at war with the voice of temptation, whispering the lie that it really doesn’t matter. It has been determined by all the day-to-day decisions made when life seemed easy and crises seemed far away—the decisions that, piece by piece, bit by bit, developed habits of discipline or of laziness, habits of self-sacrifice or of self-indulgence, habits of duty and honor and integrity—or dishonor and shame.”

Why do I bring up the subject of my book? Because at the core of leadership is character built on truth – doing what we say we will do. If I do what I say I will do, you will trust me to be a person of my word. Being a person others can trust is at the core of who we are. I can hear some of you saying, “Oh, but Mary Jane, aren’t you being kind of hard on yourself? Isn’t an unfinished book different?”  No. Because if we can’t trust ourselves to do what we say we’ll do, how can we expect others to trust us when they’re involved and the decisions we make will affect their lives? Trust begins by being honest with ourselves.

A leader is someone who sells people on a compelling, worthwhile vision and then follows through on that vision in such a way that others trust the leader to take them there. Your character is at the heart of people’s willingness to set aside their own agendas and take up yours. They have to believe that you are who you say you are and that you will do what you say you will do. They have to believe that you have their best interests at heart. They have to believe that you are a man or woman of truth and that you practice what you preach — every day in every action that you take, big or small. They have to believe that you will do the right thing in the right way for the right reason.

Character is who you are when no one is watching or is the wiser. For example, a man told me recently that he’d visited a big box discount store to buy a new Mac computer because it was on sale at 50% off. When he got to the checkout lane, the clerk didn’t realize that the computer had already been marked down, and gave the man an additional 50% off. The man knew what had happened, but said nothing. He then walked out of the store with a brand new computer for which he had only paid 25% of the original price. He was bragging about having purchased the computer for so little. What he didn’t know was that my estimation of him plummeted. If he’d knowingly cheat the store out of money due to a mistake made by someone else, where else would he be willing to cheat?

Unfortunately, the man mentioned above is not alone. According to research, 75% of business students and 63% of medical and law students said that they cheated to improve their odds of getting into graduate school. And, the list goes on. If this example is indicative of what goes on in organizations today, and it is, no wonder we are hearing so much about a crisis of leadership.

Who are you – really? It’s important to know the answer to this question because others certainly do. You can’t hide your character. Character may begin on the inside, but inevitably shows up on the outside. Are you living your values? Keeping your word? Making decisions based on what you morally and ethically believe is right and wrong? Treating all people honorably? Are you internally aligned with who you claim to be? It’s important for you to know these things about yourself because others do. Your character screams loudly; it seeps from every pore of your body. And, it encourages or discourages others to trust you enough to want to follow you.

Do you possess the leadership edge? Remember, a leader is not to be confused with a boss. You may be the boss, but are you really a leader – do you really possess the leadership edge?

If you’d like to get a snapshot of the strength of your character, be your own best coach. Answer the following questions with complete honesty. Your answers will determine the level of your trustworthiness, the key component of the Leadership Edge.

  • Do I have the courage of my convictions? When faced with fear, failure,
    challenges, and obstacles, do I refuse to allow it to stop me? Or do I slink
  • Do I speak the truth if I believe it needs to be said, even if others remain silent or if what I have to say is not popular?
  • Do I do what I say I will do? Do I keep my commitments?
  • Do I have the courage to remain steadfast in my values even when it’s
    uncomfortable or when faced with potential negative consequences?
  • Am I honest in my dealings even when it would be to my advantage not
    to be?
  • Do I practice what I preach – with everyone in every situation?

If you are not happy with your answers to the above questions, but feel called to lead, take the advice from Mary Ellen Rodgers, Deloitte LLP’s U.S. Managing Partner for Workplace Services, one of the top twelve women I interviewed for my book, The Unstoppables – How Twelve Women Leaders Reached the Top:

“Take time every year to sit down and ask yourself, ‘What have I learned? How am I better? What are the things that I still need to learn? How do I put myself in a position of not being stagnant, but truly growing in ways that are important to me and important to creating that leadership style that I aspire to?’”

Want to be notified when Mary Jane’s upcoming book, The Unstoppables, is available?  Click on the following link: 

Always Test Your Assumptions words on a speedometer or gauge to measure or estimate whether your theory is correct or incorrect, right or wrong

You’re probably familiar with the old joke about a bad day at the golf course.

Fred got home from his Sunday round of golf later than normal and very tired. “Bad day at the course?” his wife asked.
“Everything was going fine,” he said. “Then Harry had a heart attack and died on the 10th tee.”
“Oh, that’s awful!”
“You’re not kidding. For the whole back nine it was hit the ball, drag Harry, hit the ball, drag Harry.”

The first time I heard that joke, it was funny because as any good joke, it caught me by surprise. You and I probably made the same assumption the first time we heard the joke. However, how many times in the course of our busy work days do we make a false assumption and then get caught by surprise when we learn the truth? That’s not always so funny.

Take, for example, what happened to my brother Rich and his wife Sandy.  Sandy, a sales rep and kitchen designer, had several appointments one particularly hectic Thursday afternoon, with a scheduled golf tee time at 5:00 p.m.  While getting ready for her three o’clock sales appointment, she asked my brother, who’s retired, to please put her golf clubs and shoes in the back of her car as she would have to leave for the golf course directly following her meeting. Rich happily did so.

Arriving at the meeting location, Sandy when to her trunk to get some product samples she’d need for her presentation. Upon opening the trunk, she immediately spied her golf clubs, but only one golf shoe. She looked under the car, thinking the shoe had fallen out when opening the trunk, but nope, it wasn’t there. Sandy thought to herself, “Rich must have accidentally dropped it on the floor of the garage when loading my gear into the trunk.”

When her appointment ended, Sandy called home to have Rich look in the garage for the missing shoe. But no shoe could be found. Again she looked under her car and scanned the parking lot, but no shoe. She emptied everything out of her vehicle, determined to find that shoe. She ended up golfing in her sandals that evening.

Following her golf game, Sandy drove the route she had taken earlier, thinking that perhaps Rich had placed the golf shoe on the roof of her car when he loaded her clubs, had forgotten it, and it had fallen off during her travels. She retraced the route – still no shoe. She went home convinced that Rich had not put both shoes in the trunk when he’d packed it for her.

Arriving home, Sandy discovered that Rich had also retraced her route – twice. But no shoe. He was convinced that she’d lost her shoe or that it had somehow gotten mixed in with her sales samples. Both Sandy and Rich suspected the other was responsible for the missing shoe.

The following day, my brother, undaunted and determined to find that shoe, went out again to look for it. He opened the trunk of Sandy’s car and began pushing things around, confident he would find the missing shoe. Minutes later, Sandy followed him into the garage to assure him that it was not in her vehicle.

As Sandy approached, with Rich hunched over rummaging around in the trunk, she started to laugh. Rich, frustrated by his inability to find the shoe and thinking it anything but funny, barked, “What’s so funny?”

Sandy pointed, “Look up!”  When he did, Rich saw, hanging over his head, the lost shoe dangling by its Velcro strap to the carpeted hood. Both started to laugh – and laugh every time they think about the incident.

In the workplace, the fallout from wrong assumptions isn’t a laughing matter. Image is marred. Credibility is questioned. Reputations are ruined. Conflict ignites. Sales are lost. Relationships are damaged. Every day in business, a host of negative consequences occur when someone can’t make sense of what seems to be. Lacking all the facts, they make an assumption and create a story that ends up far from the truth.

For instance, do you assume things like the following?

  • a client is avoiding you because they haven’t responded to a voicemail or email?
  • your business partner is happy with the way you work together because he or she not said anything?
  • a customer intentionally lied to you when they promised a testimonial that you didn’t receive?
  • your employees are happy with your leadership style because no one has ever approached you with a complaint?
  • no news is good news?

These are just a few of the assumptions people make daily, and all lack a major piece of the story – something that could only be gleaned by working collaboratively and asking questions to get a broader view of reality.

As difficult as it may seem, it’s important to give the other guy the benefit of the doubt. Avoid jumping to conclusions and making assumptions, especially if your assumption involves assigning blame.  Assigning blame is unproductive and can cause more harm than good. If you see an issue from only one perspective, you are incredibly limited in what’s possible. Even multiple individuals addressing an issue separately have a narrow view of the problem. But when people act collaboratively and share information and perspectives and brainstorm together, they can get a different view altogether. New information and new perspectives and a host of new possibilities open the mind to unique (and sometimes interesting) solutions to what may or may not be a problem.

Be your own best coach. Answer the following questions:

  • Think of an issue that needs a resolution. What assumptions have you made about the problem? What facts are missing?
  • How many perspectives have you elicited?
  • With whom have you taken time to brainstorm?
  • Have you involved the stakeholders in finding a resolution? If not, why not?
  • Are you truly grateful for the input of others?

Attacking a problem together and assuming the best of those involved is key to a greater field of view and richer possibilities. And, who knows, you just might be pleasantly surprised at what you find and enjoy some laughs in the process.

(c) 2015  Mary Jane Mapes  All rights reserved.

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influence word cloud with related tags

Have you ever known someone with an uncanny ability to influence, never quite figuring out what they possessed that gave them such power?

Have you ever worked with someone who held no college degree, no formal title, and no aspiration for leadership, but who demonstrated greater influence with team members than many with the title of leader?

Ever wonder what secret ingredient they held?

I can list a host of traits that contribute to the power to influence. But, in listening to the most recent political debate by Republican presidential candidates, I was reminded of a quality that many overlook. One of the candidates asked that the camera be turned on the audience instead of on him as he spoke. He stated that the American people were less interested in hearing candidates talk about themselves and more interested in hearing candidates talk about what they would do for the American people if they became President of the United States. Regardless of how viewers felt about that candidate, his point was well taken. To win the hearts, minds, and votes of the American people, a candidate must keep the spotlight where it belongs: on the well-being of the people to be served.

Allow me to illustrate using a simple but powerful example of the influence reserved for those who know where and how to shine the spotlight. Continue reading

Hand writing Truth with red marker between many Lies on transparent wipe board.

As national elections loom, debates among top contenders are imminent. Once campaigns heat up, its not uncommon to hear accusations of lying, cheating, and stealing, with members of each major political party pointing the finger at their opponents.

It’s our responsibility as the voting public to seek out the facts, discover the truth, and vote our conscience. Sometimes we’re successful in discovering the truth and other times we remain deceived. But the one person who always knows where the truth lies is the leader him or her self. Regardless of the arena–political, academic, corporate, or religious–at some point, all leaders must look in the mirror and confront the truth about themselves and their actions.

My dad died a few years ago and, following his funeral, my brother Bob took over his insurance agency. Under the glass top on Dad’s desk, Bob found a heavily yellowed copy of The Guy in the Glass, a poem written in 1934 by Dale Wimbrow. The poem took on a life of it’s own years ago, even to the point of others taking credit for having written it, which is interesting given that the poem deals with integrity. In the rare event you haven’t read it, please read on.

The Guy in the Glass
When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Whose judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down that pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.

Wimbrow understood the correlation between honesty and self-respect, but he wasn’t quite right when he wrote, “You can fool the whole world….” That’s not been my experience, and I’ll bet it hasn’t been yours either — at work or at home.

There isn’t much your kids don’t know about you, and if you’re not who you profess to be, when your kids become teens, they’ll call you out! If they detect any phoniness, hypocricy, or dishonesty of any kind, you’ll hear about it. If you don’t inform the clerk who gave you too much change or return to the store to pay for items missed, your kids know about it. If you gossip about others or betray a friend’s confidence, your kids know about it. Kids can spot a phoney, a cheat, or a liar a hundred miles way. And, so can the people with whom you work.

If you don’t fulfill on your promises, people know it. If you snack on the job, use company materials for your personal use, take extended lunch breaks, pad your expense account, use company time to pay your bills or search the Internet for vacation spots, guaranteed, people know it. If you don’t keep your word or if you bad-mouth those you supervise, people know it. If you fail to give credit where due, invade people’s privacy, or blame others to cover up your own mistakes, people know it. But perhaps best (or worst) of all – fake, phoney, or honest – you know it.

Successful leaders simply don’t operate that way. Successful leaders are driven by their conscience, that moral law within that knows the difference between right and wrong, true and false, honest and dishonest. They live by a sense of fairness, honesty, respect and contribution that transcends time and culture, and is self-evident.

At home or in business, you know if you tell the truth, keep your promises, honor your commitments, and deal honestly and fairly with others. You also know if you are duplicitous and dishonest.

At the luncheon that followed my dad’s funeral, members of the overflowing crowd reiterated the fact that our father was a born-leader, a man of integrity who lived his life based on principles that reflected a higher standard. People knew it, they trusted him, and sought his leadership. In the end, it is safe to say that the man in the glass was my father’s friend, just as it is sure to be for any leader, formal or informal, who leads by moral authority that comes from living a life of honesty, a life of integrity.

Be your own best coach. Answer the following questions:

  • Do I keep my promises, fulfill on commitments, and deal honestly with others If not, why not? What price am I paying for a breach in honesty?
  • In what area(s) of my life is there room for improvement? If I were to “close the gap,” what would the impact be on me? On others? On my organizations (or family)?
  • What would I need to do to fulfill on a sincere desire to chose honesty over habit?

Albert Einstein once wrote, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.” When you look into the mirror, is the guy (or gal) in the glass your friend? Respected leaders can honestly answer, “Yes.”

If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please take a moment to share now.

Comments are welcome.

(c) 2012, revised 2015  Mary Jane Mapes  All right reserved.

To learn more about leadership/communication strategist, professional speaker, and executive coach, Mary Jane Mapes, visit her websites now:

money okEver wonder why your company gets replaced by a competitor? Or why you can’t get the respect of your direct reports? Or when there’s a promotion, you don’t get the nod? Ever wonder why you didn’t make the sale?

As strange as it may seem, it could have something to do with you. Maybe you just aren’t a giver. You think of yourself first. You’re looking for what you can get out of your position, the sale, a relationship, a connection, a task. And if it doesn’t appear you’ll benefit, you just don’t make the effort. Big mistake.

A universal law states that “you reap what you sow.” We call it reciprocity. What you give, you get–either positive or negative. For instance, you smile at me and I’m more apt to smile back. You’re friendly with me and I’m friendly back. You appreciate me and I’m more open to appreciate you. In other words, you give me a “gift” and I give you one back. But you notice in each of these simple positive behaviors, somebody had to give first.

In the workplace it works the same way. In fact, if genuine, there’s one positive behavior that will pay off in spades, allowing you to double or triple or quadruple your relationship currency like nothing else will. This one behavior can clear up misunderstandings, diffuse conflict, help you gain commitment from people who do not agree with you, help you get promoted, and make a sale. What is it? Listening with both the head and the heart.

Allow me to illustrate. Continue reading


Dave Gray

Have you ever had a boss:

  • you didn’t trust?
  • who frustrated you by changing priorities and expectations almost daily?
  • who described his entire team as difficult?

These examples indicate the same problem: leadership inconsistency, producing fear, lack of trust, and/or inaction. Inconsistency is so prevalent that it’s often the subject of humor.

You may have heard of the man who had six children and was so proud of his achievement that he started calling his wife “Mother of Six” in spite of her objections.

One night they went to a party. The man decided that it was time to go home and wanted to find out if his wife was ready to leave as well. He shouted at the top of his voice, “Shall we go home now, Mother of Six?”

His wife, finally fed up with her husband’s lack of sensitivity, shouted back, “Anytime you’re ready, Father of Four!”

The subject of inconsistency may cause a chuckle, but when it comes to leadership, inconsistency is no laughing matter. Consistency in word and action is a matter of integrity, and no one expresses it more succinctly than Dr. Lillian Bauder, one of twelve leaders I interviewed for my upcoming book, The Unstoppables, in which I discuss how twelve women leaders reached the top. Continue reading

Well done word writing on banner

Attending a performance of our local symphony orchestra, my husband Bill and I were privileged to hear the first chair violinist perform a solo. I leaned over and whispered, “Bill, how much better can it get? This woman’s playing is sensational.” Had I considered that this was the warm up act for the evening’s virtuoso, another violinist, I’d have realized the foolishness of my question. Less than 30 seconds after the guest artist began playing, the answer was clear. It could get a lot better. The bar was raised—a new standard of excellence set.

You’ve heard it said that an organization can never be something its leaders are not. Like the virtuoso who has mastered his or her craft and set the standard for excellence, it’s an organization’s leaders who set the bar and determine the level of excellence for their organization. The game hasn’t changed. It’s still: Follow the Leader. Like the virtuoso, the proof of leadership excellence in found in the level of performance, and it’s observable.

I’ll use a personal story to illustrate. A local philanthropic educational organization asked me to be the guest speaker for their annual fund raiser for women’s higher education. The event was titled Hogs and Kisses, a program fashioned after my book, You CAN Teach a Pig to Sing.

After the accolades had been shared and the clean-up crew had gone home, I, along with my husband, son and daughter-in-law, all of whom attended the event, headed to our home.

While sitting on our porch, enjoying the late November sunshine and chatting about the morning’s event, my son, quite unexpectedly, blurted, “Mom, I thought your program today was fabulous! I was so proud that you were my mother. You made it all look so easy. But I know something all those other people who attended don’t know. I know the years of time and energy you’ve put into becoming so good at what you do. I know the sacrifices you’ve made to become one of the best. And I’m not just saying that because you’re my mom. You’re a masterful speaker. I know how hard you’ve worked, and I’ve learned from you that if I want to get good at anything, I’m going to have to work at it. It isn’t just going to happen overnight. I may have to work years to get that good. And, Mom, that’s just about the best lesson I think I could ever learn. Developing excellence and being successful doesn’t come without effort – and lots of it. And I have you to thank for that.”

His compliment left me almost speechless. I’d never considered that my son had been watching. But he had. He had been watching, taking in, and learning, not from anything I said, but from all those days, weeks, and years of work put into mastering my craft.

My father, who was raised on a dairy farm, used to say, “Never worry about how many people there are who do what you do. Just remember, the cream always rises to the top. You just have to make sure that you’re part of the cream.”

We all know that competition is greater than ever. But we must never forget that in business, the cream always rises to the top, too. An organization can never be something its leaders are not because the leaders set the bar for the level of excellence expected in the organization, and people are always watching, always aware, always following the leader.

If you want to lead an organization that is known for excellence in every arena, become your own coach, ask yourself:

• At what level have I set the bar for those who follow me?

• Am I expecting more from others than I am expecting from myself?

• On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), where would I rank myself in terms of leadership excellence?

• If I were to select three areas for leadership improvement, what would they be? What would I need to do to develop excellence in each area?

• What seems to be preventing me from developing in those growth areas? How will I overcome the barriers?

• If I were to improve my leadership skills, what difference might that make in my job performance? What difference would it make in the performance of my team?

Aristotle wrote, “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

We all know that leadership excellence is multi-dimensional; high performance teams don’t just happen. It requires the right mindset, behaviors and skills. It takes attention, hard work and dedication; it takes a willingness to develop mastery. You raise the bar for your team only when you raise the bar for yourself. People are watching. People are following your lead.