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I caution my kids all the time that the friends they surround themselves with will likely determine their path in life. I am sure I say that because my parents and others instilled that “truth’ in me. But was it truth or just the verbiage of over protective adults trying to keep me on the straight and narrow?

Life happens…

I was recently shocked to hear of the passing of a dear friend from my High School Class. I moved my freshman year of high school – not the easiest time to transition. Peer groups were already established, and I was the new kid in town. Mike Rampy became one of my closest friends because of our common language – Soccer. Though neither of us had played before, we poured ourselves into it in such a way that it became part of the fiber of our being. In fact, both of us went on to coach soccer, pouring our love of the sport into the next generation.

I just finished a great book called The Sender by Kevin Elko and Bill Beausay. It is based on a real life scenario where a person was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo multiple rounds of Chemo. During these 90 days of treatments, someone who identified themselves only as "The Sender", wrote a letter every day to the patient encouraging, challenging, and refocusing them. This book is full of amazing nuggets of truth that can be applied to your personal and professional life. Those nuggets I will share in a later post. In this post I simply address the question, "Why read?"

I never liked whip cream on my shake. In my mind it simply made it harder to get to the stuff I wanted to get to. To me the whip cream kept me from seeing the “good stuff” and had the potential of being real messy. Before you tune out and decide that I have finally lost my mind, I want you to know that Leadership is like a Milkshake. So often when I read books on leadership, I just wish they would cut through all the fluff and let me see what I really need to see. I wish they would help spell out how I can be a better leader by taking the cosmetic layer off the top.

I know myself pretty well. I have been through pretty much every behavioral profile known to man. I am aware of my strengths and seek to avoid situations that magnify my weaknesses. As I look back on my career, I have to admit that was not always the case.

Years ago, as a country boy who had rarely ventured outside of North Georgia, I had the opportunity to travel to New York City. I have countless trips to this great city under my belt now, but I will never forget that first foray into the metropolitan jungle. I flew into Laguardia in the middle of a snow storm. When we finally landed, my best option to get me to my hotel near Times Square was a taxi. I remember being concerned about my safety. It didn't help that there was a language barrier that eliminated the possibility of communicating.

"How are you doing?" We hear this question multiple times daily and likely respond with a "Fine, how are you?" This interaction happens so often that we don't even wait to hear the response. It has become simply the polite thing to say.

Leadership, at its core, is all about influence through relationships. I have often noted that the greatest leaders are not those who feel they have to do it all, but those who have the ability to create loyalty from a team who can do it all – a team made up of quality people with differing skill sets that when combined allow you to do what no one person alone can do - achieve your vision.

One of the greatest mistakes leaders make is focusing on their own performance over that of their people. There is no doubt that all leaders need to seek continual improvement, but in order to improve your business, self-improvement is not your best route. Instead, focus on improving those around you. Create an atmosphere that allows and encourages your employees to seek continual improvement. Doing so multiplies your potential to succeed.

This is an election year, so it makes sense to evaluate leadership in the most visible platform we have available in 2016. Now before you think this is a political column, think again. There are, in various forms, leaders on both sides of the isle. Though there have been good leaders, and some may even argue great leaders, there remain no perfect leaders.