Welcome to the Faceless Leaders Blog

Thank you for visiting the Faceless Leaders blog.  As someone who has been in a leadership role in numerous organizations over the past 20 years, I created this blog as a resource for those who hope to improve their leadership.  In John Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Maxwell defines leadership as influence- nothing more, nothing less.  If that is the case, then all of us are leaders in some way because we influence people every day.  (My guess is that you already consider yourself a leader to some degree or you would not be reading a blog on leadership.) Unfortunately, we all know people (possibly even ourselves) who misuse or abuse their ability to influence others.

This blog is for the leader who has said, “If I only had better employees, volunteers or students…” My hope is that you will read my posts, learn from my failures, and see that your people are your greatest assets.

This blog is for the discouraged leader.  I hope to share stories, answers to real-life questions, and other materials that I and other leaders have developed that will encourage you in your leadership journey.

This blog is for the leader that says they are too old to change.  I hope that you will read the stories of the many “seasoned” leaders I have encountered and realize you are too old not to change.

This blog is for the young leader who fears admitting that they have no idea how to influence people without relying on a title or position of authority.  I hope you will read my stories, laugh at my ridiculous efforts to prove myself a leader, and realize that true leadership is when people follow you because they “want to” not because they “have to.”

This blog is for the many other leaders that desire bigger dreams, clear direction, and meaningful lives. My hope is that you will find the maker of dreams, the giver of direction and the one who gives life embedded in the words of this blog.

As you read the blog, if you have comments or questions, please feel free to contact me anytime at Michael.willis@thecolorninegroup.com.


An Illustration of the Poverty Mindset

A few weeks ago, I was discussing employment opportunities with a millennial that recently graduated with an MBA. He explained that he is making about $30,000 a year in his current job. He mentioned that he would really like to be an executive with a big box store, but figured it would be next to impossible for him to obtain that job at this point in his career. He stated that a friend of his was making approximately $200,000 as the manager of a Wal-Mart and that he might have an opportunity in that organization. However, he couldn’t see himself taking a position with that organization out of concern that it would be rather embarrassing to tell friends that he worked for the world’s largest discount retailer.

Apparently, it is less embarrassing to turn down $170,000 per year than it is to say, “I work at Wal-Mart.”

I encourage you to not waste an opportunity based on what others “might” think. I can assure you, it’s not worth it. My guess is they probably haven’t thought about your job because they are busy doing theirs.

Positively Negative

As a business owner, it is imperative to stay positive since there are a number of risks that I must take in order to be profitable.  Recently, I spent several thousand dollars to submit a proposal to an organization in hopes that they would award a contract to our company for consulting services.  If we win the contract, the money spent is worth the investment.  If we do not win the contract, we lose our investment.  As you might imagine, keeping a positive outlook can be a tremendous asset when your proposals are declined.  However, as a business owner it is hard to remain optimistic when a large amount of time and effort is spent preparing for life “in the event of” catastrophe.  Let me explain.

It is required by most of my contracts that I carry Error & Omissions insurance in the event that one of our consultants makes an error.

I must pay unemployment insurance fees to the state in the event that a consultant performs poorly and has to be terminated or our business earnings are lower and we have to lay-off any employees.

I am also required to purchase full-coverage auto insurance in the event that someone driving our vehicle is involved in an accident.  To make sure I also receive compensation in the event that someone without insurance damages my vehicle, I also purchase uninsured motorist insurance.

Because I realize that it’s important to maintain my health (and now thanks to the government’s insistence on taking care of me), I also purchase health insurance so that in the event I get sick, I can get treated quickly.

In the event my health insurance does not do the trick, I have also purchased life insurance.

I have also purchased insurance for my office in the event that a wild tree falls or a random spark ignite the nearly 100-year old building.

The great news is that as I do better in business, these insurance costs are immaterial, right?  Wrong!  As the business grows, I get older, and my vehicles get newer, these insurance costs increase annually (which is also the length of the policies).  Granted, if everything in the world were to go wrong in the same year, I would be covered financially.  The bad news is that the more I need insurance, the costlier it becomes.

Don’t get me wrong.  Being your own boss and running an organization that does things you believe in is a wonderful experience.  I love to take chances and try new things.  It’s just the law and our culture make it hard to remain focused on long-term winning when we are required to purchase annual insurance policies that punish short-term failure.  While the financial costs are definitely an issue for small businesses, I believe the annual obligation to evaluate the cost of failure wears on many business owners and discourages them from taking chances.     It took Thomas Edison more than 1,000 tries to create a functioning light bulb.  Would he have given up if he had to annually purchase insurance in the event of…

If you are a business owner or someone considering business ownership, keep your head up.  Despite all the people requiring you to invest in your short-term failure, there are millions of us in the world who are counting on you and want you to succeed.  Chances are you will fail and it is ok.  Get up, learn from your failure, and go again.  Without your unique product or service, the world is boring.

If you know a business owner, encourage them.  They need it.  Especially, in the event of…

by Christian Del Rosario


The 80/20 rule sounds like a mathematical formula and in some ways it is, but don’t worry, this isn’t a lesson on statistics.  The rule came from an Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, who stated that 80% of the Italian income was earned by 20% of the Italian population.

Years of research has shown the 80/20 rule applies to almost any activity.  What this means is that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts.  To put this another way, 20% of your activities equate to 80% of your fulfillment.

To prove this theory, consider your workplace.  Do 20% of your daily activities equate to 80% of your productivity?  Studies show that they probably do.  Think about the business sector as a whole.  The top earning companies in every industry are a small percentage of companies and yet they earn the largest portion of income.  And if you look at your own habits, you may find you spend a majority of your time watching television or participating in other activities instead of investing in your dream.

So how can you use the 80/20 rule to your benefit?  My mentor, John Maxwell talks regularly about the fact that he is only good at a few things.  So, he decided he wouldn’t waste his time doing things he couldn’t do or doesn’t want to do.   He focuses on doing the few good things he does well.  This maximizes his efforts.  It also helps him to improve his skills.

Malcolm Gladwell says that to become an expert, you should spend 10,000 hours perfecting your craft.  If you spread yourself across the board, become a Jack of all trades, master of none, then your efficiency rate decreases and no longer will the 80/20 rule work in your favor.

Take a moment and consider what you love and what you are really good at. Then list out those things that cause you to waste time and decrease your effectiveness.  You may not get it completely right the first time and it may take some time to sort out what your good at doing and what takes a lot of effort.  In fact, I am still revising my strengths and weaknesses on a regular basis to make sure I am using the 80/20 rule to my benefit.

Once you get a good handle on what you’re good at doing and those your not, consider ways to delegate to someone else those tasks that fall in the latter list.  Share duties with your children (Warning: they will complain loudly), spouse, roommate, significant other, co-worker, team members, etc.  Trade your time and skillset for theirs.  If you are able, maybe you need to hire someone to perform those tasks. (My wife and I hired someone to clean our house when we realized how much time we were losing versus the cost of paying someone else to do it.)  You will find that focusing on the 20% of tasks that provide 80% of the benefits will be worthwhile.



Practice makes……….?

We have all heard the phrase practice makes perfect, but that is not really true. Practice actually makes permanent. If you practice wrong, you will do it perfectly wrong. If you practice right, you will learn to do it perfectly right.

If you find yourself taking shortcuts or only giving partial effort, you are not only robbing yourself in that circumstance; you are practicing those bad behaviors. Before you know it, you will be really good at those bad behaviors. Everything matters! Even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment. Practice making the best decision no matter how big or small, easy or hard. The practice will pay off.

Stephanie Willis

All rights reserved 2014

When Getting to the Table Is Not Enough

My friend Sheikh and I live just 21 miles apart.  We are roughly the same age, share the same values, and we have both experienced the pain of having a child born very premature and struggle to survive.  It would be easy to think that we speak regularly since we can relate to each other’s story so well.  However, the last time we spoke we were both 860 miles away from where we live in Orlando, Florida at an event.  Prior to that, we were 4,611 miles from home in Asuncion, Paraguay.

This past week after exchanging several text messages, Sheikh and I planned to “catch up” over dinner while we were once again in Florida together.  We were finally elbow to elbow for nearly an hour, but unable to speak more than pleasantries because others around the table kept asking us questions.  In fact, all I could tell you at that point was that my friend had a little more gray hair than the last time I saw him and that his family was doing well.  I knew more about the people who randomly sat next to us at dinner than I did my friend whom I have known for several years.

It suddenly clicked, getting to the table isn’t enough.  There are many conversations that I should have with others, but waiting for the stars to align to get us in the room together doesn’t ensure we will connect.  There will always be other activities and people that distract me from what I intend to do.  The distractions can be either good or bad, but they are distracting.  If I want to have the friendships I desire, I must be intentional in quieting the distractions and focusing on the conversation in front of me.




Performance vs. Progress

Twice a year I have the privilege of gathering for a few days with some of the greatest leaders in the world. There is so much information and wisdom available, but it is not just about hearing others tell you how to be a great leader. There are always things to do. For example: lesson one, day one……everybody gives a speech. Not everyone there is or wants to be a public speaker, including me. As a matter of fact, studies reveal that most people report their number one fear to be public speaking, second on the list is death. As Jerry Seinfeld once pointed out, this means that at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy.  Okay, okay…I digressed.

Nevertheless, the point is, there is no getting out of this speech. When your time is up, all eyes are on you. In that moment, you can choose to focus on looking good or you can choose to focus on making progress.

Honestly, my default approach usually doesn’t push me towards progress. Instinctively, I am engulfed by thoughts like, ‘I’ve never done this before. What if I am not very good? and I don’t want to look like a fool in front of these people!’ All of which are focused on the performance and the outcome.  While performance and outcomes are important parts of life, they should never be allowed to sit in the driver’s seat of our mind.

The natural tendency when driven by performance and outcome focused thoughts is to either give up or succumb to whatever means necessary to achieve the desired outcomes. Unfortunately, outcomes achieved through shortcuts are rarely, if ever, sustainable.

You can lose a few pounds to reach a weight goal by not eating for a few days, but you compromise your health and eventually you must eat again.

You might win your high school volleyball game if you always set your 6’4” middle hitter, but the development of your team will suffer and eventually that player will graduate.

The tactics that lead to quick results and outcomes are usually not the best approach to progress, growth, and development. To achieve positive and sustainable outcomes, we must set aside the thoughts and questions that focus on outcomes and shift our focus to the progress and growth that will ultimately result in the performance and outcomes we desire.

The lesson to learn by giving the speech was never about being a great public speaker. It was always about teaching us how to embrace the progress and growth that happens when you lean into the struggle, make the hard choice, and face the unknown. A lesson that can be and should be applied to everything in life we choose to pursue.

Stephanie Willis

All rights reserved 2014

Failure is an Option

I just spent a couple of days with Seth Godin, the author of Tribes and Purple Cow.    While there are several thoughts and illustrations from our time together captured in my notes, there is one idea that I have circled with the message, “Write blog.”  This is my attempt to convey what I was pondering when I drafted my message.

Give yourself permission to fail.  I don’t mean permission to fail at small things like picking up the kids late from school or forgetting to pack toothpaste for your road trip (I do these things regularly).  I mean the kind of big failures that cause your friends and family to whisper, “What was he/she thinking?”

Each year, I meet dozens of talented and educated people in their 20’s and 30’s who are looking for the role they should play in society.  Having been raised in a culture where failure is considered a character flaw, they have been trained to be average thinkers and thus average dreamers.  Unable to consider a learning process that includes doing, failing, learning, and trying again; they have accepted that their role is to do simple tasks where correct answers are easily obtained.  Google and social media determine the rest.

I also have the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks a year with “older” individuals who once allowed their biggest dreams to waste away while they settled for more “realistic” ideas.  People, who at age 50 or 60 decided they are no longer going to be bound by the fear of failure and instead have accepted the fact that they may fail.  Something in them snapped.  For some, it is the realization that their days are numbered. For others, they have finally grown tired of bearing the load of logical but nevertheless made-up reasons for never trying.  Regardless of their reason for stepping up to the starting line, one thing all these individuals have in common is that they have started “doing.”  None of them are planning or thinking, because they have thought and planned in their minds for years.  While they waited for the right thoughts and plans, the years passed by and the fear of failure grew.  Their fear hasn’t gone away, they have simply decided to force the fear to “prove it.”  They challenge fear to prove the world really does end when someone fails or that no one will love them if they don’t succeed.

Regardless of the outcome, I am learning to see that much like these 50 and 60-year old’s, I need to challenge the fear of failure- not look for ways to outrun it.  Because if failure is not an option, neither is success.

P.S. For the record, I Googled “Death by I told you so.”  No casualties to date.

Michael Willis

The Author:

Michael Willis has had the privilege of leading thousands of individuals through his work in radio, the United States Congress, several corporations, and his church over the past 20 years. His experiences with these organizations have led to numerous opportunities to share his insights with major news agencies such as Bloomberg and the New York Times. Michael’s passion for developing leaders and teams to address the challenges facing our nation, communities and churches today led him to become a certified coach, trainer, and speaker with the John Maxwell Team. His mission is to work with individuals and teams to focus their efforts on the basics of leading and move one day at a time towards reaching their full potential. He has used the strategies taught by John Maxwell to develop leadership teams responsible for the passing of major legislation, changing the culture of businesses, and inspiring men and women to be the leaders in their homes and churches.

If you want to find out more from Michael check him out at: https://www.facebook.com/leadershipwithwillis/

Valuing the ‘Big Win’

As a young girl, I remember how empowered I felt when someone challenged me. The power that came from my belief that I could be the best at anything I wanted to do. I was a runner and I believed that I could always learn to run faster and further in order to win. I knew it would take a lot of hard work and practice, but I never doubted that I could achieve the results I wanted……winning. I pushed myself everyday to get better and I did, but I didn’t just apply this philosophy and belief to running. I applied it in every aspect of my life and eventually, ‘winning’ wasn’t always possible. The older I got, the more I experienced situations where winning just wasn’t going to happen and no matter how good I was, there was always someone, somewhere better at it than me. The more I lost, the less I tried.

At a crucial turning point in my life I realized I no longer saw challenges as something I could overcome. As a matter of fact, it was the exact opposite. I had come to fear a challenge and I no longer had that determination or drive to pursue whatever in life I wanted. That determined  mindset I once had, the empowerment I once felt when challenged, was gone. So what had changed?

I spent a lot of time evaluating my life and choices. I dug deeper into my feelings and beliefs and the difference between the two. Unknowingly, because I had placed all the value on the win, somewhere along the way I stopped valuing me if I wasn’t winning. As I got older and the level of competition heightened, those wins didn’t come as often and this truth that I had unknowingly adopted of no win…no value left me feeling like I had no value. For 20 years if you had asked me, I would have argued with this, because it sounds ludicrous when you say it out loud, but every behavior and feeling I had proved otherwise.

Don’t get me wrong…..I don’t believe there was anything wrong with working hard to be the best or even my desire to win as a teenager, but putting ALL the value on winning ultimately robbed me of the belief that I had value when I wasn’t winning.

In a world that places so much emphasis and value on winning and being the best, and in a society that looks at the results to determine value, don’t forget to value the process. Value the failures, value the growth, and know that wherever you are, you are worth the journey…….wherever it may take you.

Stephanie Willis

All rights reserved 2014

Without Influence, I’m Just a Boss

As a kid, I was often told that being the boss made you a leader. A boss sits atop the organizational chart and tells people what to do and how to things get done. At 18 years old, I had the opportunity to host a talk radio program for teens and college-aged students. I quickly found people to work for me and I built a team of 12 people. Unfortunately, I was a great boss but a lousy leader. I didn’t understand the answer to the question: What is leadership?

Within a few months, our program had become the number two most listened to program in our region. This seemed to solidify my understanding of leadership. I was barking out orders, people were following them, and the organization grew in listeners each week. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that my team didn’t do anything unless I told them what to do and they didn’t really like being told what to do. It was especially tough to lead those who had recently discovered their minor celebrity status. I did have one tool that every boss has in their tool belt that allows them to counter bad attitudes: I could terminate those who refused to follow my orders. No matter how many times I threatened to fire those who didn’t get in line, I never did. I didn’t need to. People on my “team” quit on a regular basis. In fact, those remaining on the team began to talk about it as if it were a normal part of talk radio. We would talk about how difficult it was to find people who truly loved our audience and were willing to put in the work to make the show a success.

The sad truth is that my love for the audience and being a boss that demanded action wasn’t enough to create a successful program. The program’s ratings eventually plateaued and I found myself working harder and giving more direction with limited return on my investment.

Finally, my pastor handed me 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell and said, “I think you will find this book helpful.” I misinterpreted that to mean, “You are such a great leader, I think you will like this book.” I put the book on my shelf and thought I would get around to reading it when I had the time.

A few months later, my dad attended a leadership conference and bought a book written by the keynote speaker. The book was 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. This time, his message to me was a little more clear. “There are some really good things in this book that I think will help you as you build your radio program.” At this point, I was struggling to maintain our current level of quality programming. Only three people were working on the program and I was doing all that I could to keep similar ratings from week to week. I didn’t have the time to read a book!

Then it happened. One evening as I was walking out the front door to go to the radio station, my wife said, “If you don’t change how you lead your people, you will not have anyone left to lead.” I took her comments to heart… two weeks later. For two weeks, I thought I could prove her wrong. I took the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership off of the shelf and I searched for all of the evidence I needed to do just that. However, everything I read proved her right. Here are a few quotes from the book that affected me most:

“True Leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence and that cannot be mandated.

To be a leader, a person has to not only be out front, but also have people intentionally coming behind him, following his lead, and acting on his vision.

The interaction between every leader and follower is a relationship, and all relationships either add value to or subtract from a person’s life.”

Prior to reading the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, I had declared myself the leader but had not developed a relationship or shared a vision for success with anyone on the team. I was the boss, but I didn’t have any influence with them beyond what was required for job security. Without influence, I wasn’t a leader.

Twenty years later, I am no longer in talk radio, but I am still studying leadership development. It has afforded me the opportunity to lead teams of just a few dozen people to organizations of several thousand. Regardless of where I am going, I have learned that if no one is following me, I am only taking a walk. As John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”

This post originally appeared on John Maxwell’s The Leading Edge blog: http://johnmaxwellteam.com/2017/03/14/what-is-leadership/


Leading a Family: My Most Difficult Follower

The hardest people to lead are family, or so it seems. Regardless of your professional accomplishments or personal successes, you are often seen as “just my…” dad, mom, husband, wife, or a plethora of other familial titles. This can be especially true during certain seasons of life. For example, not too long ago my wife and I saw our oldest son join the Marines, and our twin daughters graduate college and become engaged. At the same time, our two youngest children began high school. These things would all seem to be normal processes in the lives of your typical American family. However, in our house it was as if someone had unleashed a clan of William Wallaces all clamoring for freedom from the oppression of sensible thinking and experienced foresight.

My wife and I spent years trying to encourage our children to think for themselves, see others the way that God sees them, and add value to people daily. Though our methods weren’t perfect, we strived to raise kids that used their passion and talents for good. We worked to model these same characteristics in our own work. None of it seemed to matter as we entered this unchartered territory of, “You don’t understand” and, “Maybe in your day…” Our principles for making decisions and our love for our children hadn’t changed, but every conversation with the kids seemed to leave us frustrated with ourselves and doubting every parenting decision we had ever made.

Despite the hurt we were feeling and the frustration we had with our children’s decisions, we continued to put their best interests ahead of our feelings by refusing to let their words and dismissiveness towards us dictate our behavior. We sought the counsel of wise leaders and prayed regularly that our children would grow in wisdom and redirect their passions toward the benefit of others. We weren’t perfect parents. At times it seemed hopeless, but as John Maxwell says, “Everything worth having is uphill. Many people have uphill hopes and downhill habits.” I knew that if I allowed my hurt, and at times my anger, to drive how I parented, I would only feed the bad habits of my children. But I couldn’t convince them that while they were hoping for the best, their actions were leading to potentially negative long-term consequences. We had hit a lid in our ability to influence our children.

One day during a conversation with my wife, she said, “If we keep doing what we have always done, we will keep getting what we have always gotten.” We had shared this many times with others, but we had not applied this thinking to our current context with our children. This new self-awareness allowed for us to change our thinking patterns and our behavior. The realization soon set in that our desire to see our children reach their potential had caused us to try and control their behavior without addressing the thinking patterns that led to the poor behavior. In other words, we couldn’t influence our children because we were behaving like our children. Our uphill hope and passion for their success were matched by downhill habits of holding them to an impossible standard that was destroying the relationships within our family.

The growth we experienced manifested itself through the increasing amount of grace we extended to our children. We made it abundantly clear that regardless of actions or consequences, we loved them unconditionally. We spent nearly two decades instilling principles and values in them, so they knew where we stood on moral and ethical issues. What they needed was to know that as they chase their passions and learn from their own failures, our love and support for them was just as strong as our deeply held convictions.

On Christmas Day, less than a year after we changed our thinking and behavior patterns, the evidence that our new approach was working came in the form of a letter from our son, the Marine. He wrote to us from his barracks with this simple message, “Mom and Dad, keep on doing what you have always done. You’ve always known best, and I can now see you were right. I’ve had a hard day today, but I know it will get better. I can’t wait to see you.” Six months prior to this, our leadership, and mine in particular, was leading us down a road that would have never allowed for this kind of statement.

Each Christmas I reminisce on the message my son penned to us. It is then, I am reminded that it’s not always my family that is hardest to lead. Sometimes it’s myself.


This story was originally published on John C. Maxwell’s The Leading Edge Blog.  http://johnmaxwellteam.com/2016/12/26/the-leading-edge-leading-a-family-my-most-difficult-follower/