12 Strategies for Leadership Success

This is a guest post by Margaret McSweeney. She is the author of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace (Moody Publishers, July 2009) and A Mother’s Heart Knows (Thomas Nelson, 2005). She is also active on Twitter and Facebook. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

My father, the late Dr. Claude H. Rhea, Jr., executed and exemplified lessons on leadership throughout his short life of sixty-two years. He was a strategic visionary, a 32-year colon cancer survivor, a member of the prestigious Royal Society of the Arts, an accomplished international lyric tenor who recorded five albums (one with the Concert Orchestra of London), a published author (including his autobiography, a cook book and two song books for children), a Dean of a Music School and a President of a College.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Sportstock, Image #10121450

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Sportstock

These are his life lessons for leadership:

  1. Creed. Create a mission statement for your life and your job. Each professional and personal project you undertake should fall under the tenets of your creed and belief system. An important part of my dad’s creed was to make faith an action verb and to honor God in all that he did.
  2. Heed. Surround yourself with people that can provide insight and wisdom, even if you disagree with them. You should always understand all sides of an issue before making key decisions. Connect with others and network.
  3. Read. Empower yourself with knowledge. My dad started each morning by reading the Bible. He was a voracious reader of all types of books. Throughout his whole life, my dad learned a new word a day. He always said a common thread of leaders and CEOs was a powerful command of an extensive and excellent vocabulary. Here’s a good resource. (Click here.)
  4. Knead. Work hard at what you do! Success doesn’t just happen. You must roll up your sleeves to roll in the proverbial dough. And, an important part of working is asking. That was one of my dad’s greatest leadership lessons for me. He applied this to his fund-raising efforts: “Don’t be afraid to knock on a door and ask. The worst thing someone could do is say ‘no.’ and then you just knock on someone else’s door.” Kneading takes commitment and perseverance. Never give up!
  5. Feed. Even as a college president, my dad would invite new students and faculty to our home. He would prepare the meal and serve the guests. My dad had the heart of a servant. He also believed that many problems could be resolved and goals discussed over a full stomach.
  6. Seed. Take the time to invest in other people’s lives either intellectually or financially. Grow your business or ministry by planting seeds of wisdom, hope and experience within others. I found out after my dad died that he had set aside a Seed Fund to quietly help families that needed a little extra financial sustenance and students that needed scholarships.
  7. Weed. Yank negativity by the roots and banish it from your organization and home. Be positive and stay positive even when challenges arise. At breakfast each morning, my dad would start my day by saying, “Something good is going to happen to you today.”
  8. Speed. Be quick with compliments and always respond in a timely manner to phone calls and correspondence. Don’t be in a rush to make things happen. My dad always said, “God’s trains run on time.” During the “meanwhile”; however, when nothing seems to be happening in spite of the hard work, we can still learn strategic lessons and encounter opportunities for personal and professional growth.
  9. Greed. Avoid it! Make each challenging situation a win/win for everyone. Share your success with others. Typically, you alone are not responsible. Success comes from teamwork.
  10. Deed. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Each person needs to feel validated in life no matter who they are or what they do. My dad treated everyone the same—CEOs and janitors. He always taught me that “Everyone is God’s child.” I’ll never forget one afternoon when I visited him at his office. As we were leaving, he spent ten minutes with the janitor who was mopping the floors. My dad asked by name about each member of this janitor’s family.
  11. Exceed. Go beyond expectations. Deliver quality and quantity and always be consistent with delivering your top performance.
  12. Need. My dad’s mantra was to “touch the near edge of a great need and at some sacrifice to yourself, act upon it and make a difference.” Go beyond the here and now of your life. Identify a real need in your community or in the world and do something about it. You will inspire your employees, friends and family with your actions to effect change.

These twelve points are just a few of the lessons from my dad on how to lead and succeed. He always stressed that each person should have a vision of what it is he or she wants to do, to build, or to become. As Dan McCreary said, “Managers think about today. Leaders think about tomorrow.” Dream big and go for it!

Question: Which of these life lessons spoke top you?
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  • http://www.AdvantagePrint24.com David Moore

    This is just really good stuff. Certainly no "breakthrough" secret to success, but it never is. #1 There is no such thing. #2 All of these are about just doing the right thing. Love God, respect others, and be the best YOU you can be.

    You can't help but read the catch titles like "12 Strategies", "10 Secrets" with a wish for the "secret sauce" to success etc. But reading these articless brings us back to the basics on which we all can improve each and everyday.

  • http://twitter.com/colleencoble @colleencoble

    What a fabulous post. Thank you, Margaret! I especially need to learn the Speed thing. I tend to want to rush to a solution!

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/sawagner30 Scott Wagner

    Great post!! Thank you.

  • Tyrone

    Great post. I will read these daily.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.blissassociates.com;www.leadershiplessonsfromthebook.com Bill Bliss

    A post worthy of printing and having on the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, the computer, the dashboard of your car and any other place your eyes will see it. Thanks for sharing this.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lindsey_Nobles Lindsey_Nobles

    Loved this post. I have been needing to do some "weeding" and "creeding." A great reminder!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Cindy_Graves Cindy_Graves

    Love these. Great, practical advice.

    I've heard before that we are ALL leaders in some way. I guess some just take the responsibility more seriously than others.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/DerekDRobertson DerekDRobertson

    This was a good wake up call and there is alot of meat to chew here. My jaw will be tired soon but must take it all in.

  • Ali

    I think this is a wonderful post. It sounds like your dad was an extraordinary leader. Many times people involved in academia and the arts have no idea that their gifts and intelligence come from God, and they are the ones who rail against Christianity. It is nice to know that your dad's faith guided his life and that he knew he had a mission to fulfill. Thank you for sharing.

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  • debra schott

    Margaret, Thank you so much for sharing the wisdom of a life well lived. PTL for your father's faithfulness and your dilligence. I miss IL and running into you. We return to the states this summer. I hope to see you then. Love to all,

  • Melody Reid

    I remember your dad well Meg and everything you say about him is true. He was a fine man and I know you must miss him.

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  • http://www.faithimagined.com alisa hope wagner

    Wonderfully and creatively written! Thank you for this amazing chunck of insight.

    I would also include following the guidance of the Holy Spirit in "heed." Somtimes we run ahead of God, which leads to disaster. We wear ourselves out and forgo God's balance, and we give up because "holy ease" is not with us!

    I will definitely book mark this for future pondering!

  • http://building-his-body.blogspot.com Anne Lang Bundy

    Wow! This is an amazing piece, all the way around. Every one spoke to me!

    If I choose the top one, it would be creed — "make faith an action verb and to honor God in all." If a person nails this, the other eleven should fall into place.

  • Susan Fulkerson

    Meg, it was such an honor to know both your mother and your father. Not only did they both live exceptional lives but they passed down such a Godly heritage to their children. I will print out this list as a reminder of such great qualities and smile when I think of your family!

  • http://www.bmhbooks.com Terry White

    Thanks, Margaret, for the post–there's a lot of distilled wisdom in those 12 points! I was challenged by your discovery that he had a "secret fund" he used to help others when he heard of a need. What a great idea! And what a way to bless others when they may be at a low point or in need! Knowing you and Claude makes me wish all the more I had met your father!


  • Claude Rhea III

    Thank you, Meg, for creatively capturing and cogently conveying the leadership traits Dad modeled so consistently. Servant leadership was a sacramental expression of his love for Jesus Christ. Because of your loving labor, his lessons will now bless many more lives!


  • Bob Burroughs

    Claude H. Rhea was one of my main heroes. I worked for him as my Dean nine years in the 70s at Samford University in the School of Music, and again for five years in the early 90s at Palm Beach Atlantic University, when he was President of the school. He always had an "open door" policy to both students and faculty. He knew how to love and inspire people to be better than the thought they could be. And, he could "sing down the stars" with that great Tenor voice. He still remains a vital part of my life and ministry.

    Bob Burroughs
    Greer, SC

  • Don Looser

    Like father, like daughter, Meg. Your dad was my first real mentor; our friendship completely changed my life. It is so good to see Claude and Carolyn's enormous gifts flourishing in their children. One of his lessons I learned was proceed. He never was intimidated or inhibited in his pursuit of dreams by the kind of daily pragmatism that stops many of us in our tracks. To be with him was to be breathless. God's world was his oyster! He was Uncle "Mame." Thanks for distilling his ongoing advice to us all so convincingly.

  • http://www.timbanks.org Timothy Paul Banks

    Every word of this is gold! — to me as a 56-yr-old musician, professor and would-be servant mentored by Claude Rhea in my student and early professional days; and to anyone who knows that Dean Rhea’s example glows through so many of us in whom he invested his own great spirit and example.
    I have a joking photo of CR holding a candle burning at both ends … but the real point for me is…MORE LIGHT!! Thanks Meg for sharing this wonderful tribute, while reminding us to “pay it forward.” I hope I have already done a little of that, and continue to pay forward the dividends on CR’s unselfish investment in me as a young person.

    Tim Banks
    Samford University
    Birmingham, AL

    • Mark Bowers

      Indeed you have paid it forward. Because of the example of folks like you who knew Claude Rhea, I feel that I know him even though I never met him. Thanks for your example and your friendship.

  • HveHope

    Margaret ~
    This is being 'handed down' to each of our children (I'm going to print it for their 'hope chests'). As an avid reader of the PearlGirls site (chronic pain is my 'grit'), I was thrilled to read all of these comments about your father & your family (your brother's comment was touching!). Hope you save those to bring out 'when needed' for encouragement. :)
    grateful for Him who is Rock, Fortress, and Might,

  • Lester Barker

    Meg, first let me say it is good to hear from you through a message I was privileged to witness for several years. You have very keenly depicted your father, revealing in words what propelled and motivated his outstanding life.

  • Chrissie

    This is awesome! Should be given out at all births, weddings, graduations……
    Real life advise! Thank you for sharing :)

  • http://www.TeamEnthusiasm.com Randy Ross

    Margaret has done a wonderful job of capturing the heart of Dr. Claude H. Rhea, Jr. I knew him as a mentor and a friend. His life embodied these principles and he was an encourager by example. He was a visionary and a strategic thinker. Thank you, Margaret, for reminding us of the impact that a passionate leader can have in a world muddled with mediocrity.

  • http://www.litfusegroup.com amy

    What an amazing legacy Margaret's father has left! Great advice for business and LIFE!

  • http://www.wmufoundation.com David George

    I am fortunate to have known Dr. Rhea while I was a student at Samford University. What his daughter, Meg, has written provides great insights into a man I truly admired. Now, I know a bit more about WHY I admired him. And, since I knew Meg and her brother, Claude, in school (and continue to see Claude occasionally) I can see that Dr. Rhea's life lessons were heavily invested in the two of them. The 12 life lessons for leadership are excellent reminders for all of us who seek to "present a life worthy of the calling we have received." Dr. Rhea has given us a great example to follow.

  • Carol H

    Margaret –
    All these points are truly wonderful. I especially appreciate the fact that your dad knew where true wisdom comes from. Many intellectuals don't understand that man's wisdom is just a fraction of God's. I love the fact that your dad reached out to others, no matter how high his position was. My husband is just like that and I've always felt this is a gift from God. Finally, I needed to hear the point that God's train is never late. During difficult times, that is a perfect reminder that Jesus sees exactly what is going on and his rescue is on time. After hearing this description of your dad, I think he would have loved to read PearlGirls and would be very proud of you for encouraging others with your book!

  • Jody Hunt

    Hi Meg. Thank you for sharing this. It is powerful. As I told your brother last week when I had the pleasure of seeing him after so many years, I have fond memories of your father, who visited my family overseas when I was a young child growing up in Asia the son of foreign missionaries. He sang "How Great Thou Art" for our mission family, and it left a lasting impression on me. There is never a time I hear or sing that great hymn that I fail to think of your father. He was a great man, and it is wonderful to see his legacy live on. — Jody Hunt

  • http://www.ricksmith.me RickSmithAuthor

    How about Bleed. You simply have to fail to ultimately achieve success. That is how you learn the most, about yourself, about leadership and about life. My 4 most significant career setbacks all led indirectly to the 4 major successes. Success would likely have never happened in my life without the hiccups!

    And Weed! (no, not the "this is stressful, i need a break" kind of weed). As a leader, you have to continue to weed out people who dont fit. They might today, but there is a very real possibility that they wont tomorrow. it is in everyone's best interest if the leader addresses this head on, and timely.

    Rick Smith

  • http://bonniestjohn.com Bonnie St John

    What I was impressed by is how much you live by all of these. You are so positive, faith-filled, hard-working, setting high standards and more! Since I have also been "fed" by you, literally and spiritually, I can attest to that.
    You are a blessing in this world and thanks for sharing your DNA (Darned Nice Attitude) passed down from your father.

  • Doug Wilson

    Hello Meg, This is a simple yet profound insight into the making a great leader and a great illustration of your father. Although I had limited exposure to your father, Dr. Claude Rhea, Jr. as a student at Samford, I was aware of his stature and reputation from others, including my own father who was his friend and fellow faculty member. This is a very timely subject as we experience a leadership vacuum in so many segments of our society today. Thank you for sharing this Meg, and it's great to have your brother, Claude Rhea III on staff with us at Samford University.
    – Doug Wilson

  • Dede Wamberg

    I am honored that you "shared" this with me. I have printed it off and also posted it on my facebook for friends and family to read. Your father's gift was certainly handed down to you. Thank you.

  • http://www.gobackandbehappy.com Julie Papievis

    This is lovely! Much like you and your father, whom I never had the chance to meet, but feel I know so well through you :) As we were working together & as you so lovingly co-wrote my story of a devastating brain stem injury,near-death experience, and remarkable, God-given, miraculous recovery, in the book Go Back and Be Happy (Monarch/Kregel, 2009), you would always quote #8 to me, "God's trains run on time." As I would stumble on those words, I know that those words, in addition to other fabulous advice from your father that we also included in the book, are transforming so many people's lives, as you have mine. Thankfully, through all of us, our Lord continues to share His story of hope. Thank you for continuing to share the gifts from your father, that our Father, in some way, gives to us all.
    Be Happy!

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  • Lisa

    These guidelines for leadership could easily have the title, How to be a doer of the word and not a hearer only. They do indeed remind me of James 1:22. It's easy to talk the talk but putting these things into action is quite a different story. I don't know anyone who wouldn't benefit from following even one of these guidelines. I think "Creed" may be the umbrella all the others fall under. We need to figure out who we are and live a life that exemplifies those values and beliefs. Personal integrity, sadly, seems to be in short supply today! Thanks for sharing this positive message and inspiring me on this day! Lisa : )

  • Linda Thomas

    Margaret, thank you for those rich, wise words. I will read them again and again and will pass them on to several key people. I bought your Pearl Girls book and have shared it with others. Thank you for your ministry!

  • Carol Summers

    Hi Margaret,

    Really loved reading your pearls of wisdom. Your father was a very wise man and thank you for sharing that wisdom with all of us.

    Carol Summers

  • http://www.InnerMess.com Bill Giovannetti

    Love it. And I'm soooo of this the outline! I too will use this with my church staff as well as my children. It sounds like your father had a powerful impact on you for good. Thank you for sharing this.
    Bill Giovannetti
    How to Keep Your Inner Mess from Trashing Your Outer World (Monarch/Kregel 2009)

  • http://www.InnerMess.com Bill Giovannetti

    I'm sooo "jealous"…

  • http://www.annhgabhart.com Ann H Gabhart

    What a blessing it must have been to have such a wise and loving father! Thanks for sharing with us, Margaret. The line "God's trains run on time" is something I need to remember, but every point was great advice.

  • http://www.denadyer.typepad.com Dena Dyer

    I love this list. Thanks for sharing, it, Margaret. I'm sure your dad is very proud of you!

  • http://www.andy-mcguire.com Andy McGuire

    Thanks Margaret. I particularly appreciated "weed." Although we sometimes consider "thinking positively" as a secular, worldly solution to problems, it is, in fact, biblical. We are consistently told throughout scripture to be full of gratitude and joy.

  • http://www.triciagoyer.com Tricia

    This is AWESOME advice. It would make a great book!

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  • http://www.asim-ahmed.com Asim


    Excellent post, I am sure your father was a very successful individual. I really admire the 3rd lesson which is to empower yourself by reading. I think this is absolutely crucial, the power of reading is limitless. All of the great successful leaders in the past and current state of time have been voracious readers. What many people don't understand is that books can not only give you more skills, and entertain you but they are also a means of changing ones life. One example would be Abraham Lincoln who read his way to his presidency

    My recent post 3 Lessons to Improve your Concentration

  • Edson Souza

    Dear Margaret,

    Thank you so much for remembering and allowing me the privilege to comment on your Dad leadership legacy. I still remember very well that Christmas Eve 24 years ago when I had the opportunity to meet your Dad in that restaurant in Rio as I worked as a waiter. That encounter changed my life forever. After a few talks he offered me to go to America and attend College at PBAU with a full scholarship. It was powerful. During the several meetings with this man of great vision, I can point it out 2 good ones, the first was after a few months at the College, I was homesick and did not have the chance to talk with my family in Brazil . So, He saw me in the hallways and asked me if i had call my family lately, And I said no. Than with that amazing smile he said please got tomorrow to my office, sit in my chair and call your family and friends and make sure you are doing fine. There I was a kid from the slums of Rio sitting in the President’s chair.

    And the second one was during one of the many dinners he offered to the international students. While enjoying a delicious meal, He said, Edson one day you will be back to Brazil and impact the live of many people. He was right. For the past 9 years my family and I have a school for poor children in one of the largest slum in Rio . These principles I will carry with me and pass them on to my students.

    Many thanks,


  • Christine

    Dear Margaret, These are such true sayings from a sage not just a saint. I recently read that we should strive to be sages – being part of our cultures and living wisely in them, rather than living as saints apart and exclusive of our world. In all the points above it is clear one has encountered a man of pure creed and faithful deed as a true sage. What an inspiration!
    Christine Gunn-Danforth

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  • http://twitter.com/mcsweeney @mcsweeney

    Thank you, Mike for the incredible honor and opportunity to share my dad's lessons on leadership through a guest blog. Also, thank you to all who posted comments. How special to reconnect with people who knew my dad and to celebrate his life. This year will mark my father's 20th anniversary of his homecoming in heaven. I plan to print this post and the comments for my daughters who never met their granddad. If you have a chance, please read Edson's comment. My dad met him 24 years ago in a restaurant in Rio where Edson was a waiter. Stepping in faith, my dad offered this young Brazilian a college scholarship at Palm Beach Atlantic University where he was president, and now Edson is touching and changing lives in the slums of Rio through his ministry http://www.newhopebrazil.com Only God could orchestrate that encounter. A reminder that even though we may lead, God is the one who is directing our paths.____Happy New Year, and thank you again for your comments.____Margaret McSweeney

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  • http://twitter.com/BobEwoldt Robert Ewoldt

    Margaret, I know this is an old post, but I have to tell you that this was a very good post, and probably something that I will use in my own life and with my family. I especially liked #7: Weed. There’s so much negativity that can creep into my life, and I need to aggressively weed it out.

    • Margaret

      Thanks, Robert.  What a “hug from heaven” to hear that my late father’s wisdom continues to bless lives.  He was a huge influence in my life.  I am so thankful and honored to have the opportunity to share my father’s insights on Mike Hyatt’s blog.  And by the way, my parents’ 60th anniversary is today.  

  • Anonymous

    For the 1st item, I’d also stress the importance of revisiting your creed. In my Church we read/recite the Nicene Creed every Sunday. I love the reminder, “Here’s what I believe”. 

    I’m co-chairing a committee and we have crafted a vision/mission statement (3 sentences). I’d like to begin every meeting with a review of the statement to remind ourselves of our purpose and focus. My co-chair doesn’t consider that worthy of an agenda item, but at least he’s got it captured in the first slide for our meeting. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I recite the Creed in my daily prayers as well. It is hugely beneficial for the reasons you state.

      • Anonymous

        What a great idea! I love it and plan to follow suit.

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  • Brenda A. Smith

    My Father, the late Fred Smith, Sr., knew your Dad when he was a music student.  I remember growing up and hearing your Dad’s name.  You might enjoy our online archive http://www.breakfastwithfred.com   There are leadership resources and a place to sign up for a Weekly Thought which brings you an email containing words from Dad.  The privilege of wise fathers is a great gift, isn’t it?