Leaders Never Act in a Vacuum

Gail and I ran the Country Music Half Marathon yesterday. It was my third race and Gail’s first. I didn’t achieve my best time ever; in fact, it was my worst. But given the fact that the temperature was in the 80s for most of the morning, I was just pleased that we were able to complete the race.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/, Image #10614952

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/fredfroese

The truth is that I almost didn’t start. I had a brutal schedule last week. On Monday, I spoke to a class at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management. On Tuesday, we had our Thomas Nelson quarterly Board Meeting. On Wednesday, we had our quarterly Business Review Meetings with our extended leadership team. In addition, we had dinner with an important literary agent and his wife, who also spent the night with us.

On Thursday, we had an ECPA Board Meeting (via phone) and our quarterly All Employee Meeting. On Friday, we had executives in from an out-of-town company to discuss a strategic partnership. That evening I spoke to the New Hope Academy “Half Marathon Team Meeting” before the race. In between all of these meetings, I managed to sandwich in another ten meetings.

By mid-week I was starting to run out of gas. I had also been struggling with a sinus infection that had dogged me for about three weeks. During this time, my training for the half marathon had fallen apart. So on Wednesday I quietly decided I was going to bail on the half marathon. I spoke with Gail about it; she concurred, especially in light of the fact that I was leaving for California a few hours after the race and for Africa the next week. It seemed like the reasonable thing to do.

So I called Megan, my oldest daughter, who was also the race coordinator for New Hope Academy. She listened patiently and was exceedingly gracious. She said, “Dad, you do sound incredibly busy—and exhausted. Please do whatever you think you need to do. I love you and will support you.” I felt a tremendous sense of relief.

Later that evening, I got the following email from her:

Hey Dad,

I’ve been thinking about our conversation about the marathon earlier this evening. I have a couple thoughts that I want to share with you.

I completely understand why it seems like a reasonable decision to opt out of the race this year. However, as I’ve thought about the implications, I think it might be worth reconsidering.

I am concerned that backing out now creates a situation where people may question—even subconsciously—whether or not they can trust you. After all, you are the reason that most of your employees signed up to run the race in the first place. Without you, many of them wouldn’t have had the vision to think it was possible. They are following your leadership. I think it could strongly undermine the faith they have in you and could be incredibly demoralizing. I also think it gives people permission to back out.

When you promote the marathon next year, or for that matter, try to enroll your people in any initiative, I think backing out now could really work against you. It could cause people to doubt your sincerity and commitment to them and the cause you are promoting. I don’t think that’s what you’re after. Bottom line: I don’t think this decision is in alignment with who you are. You are about integrity, keeping your commitments, and showing-up.

I think you could walk the course and finish by 12:00 p.m., minimizing the physical impact dramatically and still allowing you to get out in time to do what you need to do. I realize it would be a big sacrifice, especially in light of the schedule you have had this week. But, I think it’s worth it.

I might be completely misguided in my sense of the situation. Regardless of what you do with my input, I love you and respect you deeply. It just seemed like the risk here was much greater if I didn’t say anything.

I love you,


The more I thought about Megan’s words, the more I saw the wisdom in them. I decided I would run the race after all. Her email created a shift in my thinking.

As leaders, we have to set the pace. We never act in a vacuum. Others are watching. We have to keep our commitments—even when we overcommit. (I realize that this may not always be possible, especially when our health is at stake.) Everything we do has implications—for ourselves, for our people, and for the future we are trying to create.

I am very grateful that Megan had the courage to speak up. Her email helped me see what was at stake. It also gave me just the boost I needed to keep my commitment and finish the race. I’m really glad that I did.

Question: Where are you tempted to quit? What is at stake? What does finishing make possible for you and for those you lead?
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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/AverageJoe AverageJoe

    An incredibly motivational post. Sometimes as Leaders — whether in the family or in business, we can see our position as one to give direction and guidance, and too often we choose to do so by words. Your example is a reminder that our actions speak must more loudly (and clearly) than words do, and all the motivational words in the world are meaningless if our actions do not coorespond.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    wow. that is amazing. right on!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/human3rror human3rror

    wow, that is amazing! right on!

  • Claude

    Very motivational indeed. I praise Megan for her acute perception and her fine assessment. As a leader, you have unwritten obligation to show up, present a good face. It would have been less damageable to drop out mid course than not to participate at all. Megan clearly saw that. As an added bonus, your self esteem was boosted by the event.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      That is so true. I felt fantastic after the race. I'm not even sore today. I am grateful that Megan had the courage to speak up and call me to walk my talk.

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

    As I was reading Megan's email to dad, two things went through my mind. The grace and wisdom of your daughter that you just can't help but be proud of how she 'got' the big picture and also the strength of your family dynamics that she was able to have the confidence to be able to 'call' dad on his decision and know she'd get a fair hearing. You and Gail are clearly awesome parents! and leaders.

  • http://www.ad1024.wordpress.com Andy Depuy

    What an email from one of your children. I meet you in Franklin & I was amazed then when you took the time to introduce,you & one of your daughters to me. I read your blog everytime there is a new one & have you on my blog roll. Presidents of companys,#1 doesnt get to know the employees like you do. I know with your leadership & the way God is leading you. Thomas Nelson is going to go along ways. In fact i sometimes wish i worked for a christian company so they would sometimes understand & have a heart, but God has me where I am at the present time. Thomas Nelson family & your entire family will be in my prayers for a very long time. Thank you for the leadership you show on your blog. & be careful traveling these next few weeks.

  • Dennis

    As the father of 6 , and a couple of "adopted" kids, I am first touched by Megan's heart for you. Then to hear the rest of the story from your wife, all I can say is WOW ! You indicated that leadership doesn't take place in a vacuum, I want to extend that to say that being a leader involves the whole family. Thank you for the foundations you all have laid, and for being willing to share them.

  • http://rvcalgary.blogspot.com Fred

    I sense your daughter's a leader! I wonder where she gets that from. I've linked to my blog as this lesson needs to be widely understood. Thanks for the honesty in your writing, it makes a big difference.

  • http://www.tucsoncowgirl.com Monica S Spigelman

    As a parent and as a professional, this post had double meaning for me. I clearly understand the message about commitment (whether you are in the lead position or a sub-assignment). But your post's most important message, to me, is demonstrated in the communication between father and daughter. My husband and I, married 36 years, have one son. We have grown up together as a family but also as friends. I feel so much pride in my son's accomplishments and sense of values, and also am proud that we three can communicate openly and without qualification. Your daughter's thoughtful note to you clearly shows the important of building families that yes, have values, standards and defined roles, but that also foster a "speak your mind" attitude grown out of love and friendship. My husband and I now live in Tucson, with our son building his life still in New York City…and although we are apart most of the time, our friendship fostered in part by frank communications allows us to retain a closeness I treasure. May it always be so, thank you for your post.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Wow. I had no idea. As leaders that's the part we so often miss—the ripple effect and how our decisions impact others.

    Did I mention that I LOVE doing things with you!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Thanks for your kind words. We have been blessed with very wise children. As adults, they have truly become some of our very best friends.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Thanks, Andy, for your kind words and your prayers. It was actually Megan whom you met when you were in Franklin!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Dennis, my wife and children are my best counselors. It does take a family!

  • http://www.shessothere.com Sweetie

    One of the hardest things is knowing that our every action is indeed noticed by those we who watch us and our relationships with others. I am ever aware that indeed my life is not my own any more….that I must ever pray and listen for God's guidance, especially when my humanness is weary, when it would be so easy to be discouraged at times….As a teacher I know that very often the success of my examples in teaching is only truly measured when my students use the skills in their own lives and work….and it may be forty years before they even realize the value of the principles and beliefs we have shared….
    Your leadership is inspiring….and your transparency in sharing the truths of being the man God has called you to be is important….thank you for risking saying the truths out loud, the joyful ones as well as the challenging ones…..We are not only reading as so many are….but we are praying for you and cheering you on….as you reach the masses as a Christian, husband, father, and grandfather…..not to mention CEO.
    Thank you for leading us!

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

    What an amazingly transparent post! You've raised a wise daughter there, Mike & Gail. And one who loves you enough to call you on something important. This post was a great reminder of how people watch much more often than we realize. Meg was totally right!

  • Joel

    Megan offers a great perspective on leadership. And you, Mike, provided the insight and courage it takes to make a commitment and follow-through. You're so right when you say leaders (whether parents, managers, entrepreneurs, executives) never act in a vacuum. Pastor Bob at Calvary Chapel Ft Lauderdale also challenged me with his sermon to keep steady in my commitments to myself this weekend. I'm heeding… Thank you for your honesty, Mike.

  • http://jennicatron.tv Jenni Catron

    This is so good and SO true. I'm proud of you for sticking with it in spite of a grueling week… and it wasn't the easiest of race days. Thanks for sharing this!

  • http://www.dayleshockley.com Dayle

    You're raised a very wise young woman. I agree with all of her observations. To have missed the race–even if you had to walk it–would have planted seeds of mistrust in your employees. Smart girl you have there.

  • Laura bowman

    Awesome post! as the as a pastor's wife and mother of 4 sons who are all in ministry today I have to totally concur with you. The example we set speaks much louder than our words.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/gailhyatt Gail Hyatt

    I have to admit when Megan's email came in I was a bit angry. I live with you and I saw first hand how overwhelmed you were. I was particularly worried about your health. It wouldn't take much to push you over the edge. If you got really sick, you would be no good to anyone. We had made the decision. We both felt good about it. It was the right thing to do.

    After receiving Megan's emal you decided to go see the doctor and get his perspective—one piece of information we were lacking. The doctor "happened" to be an experienced runner and was, himself, participating in the Country Music Marathon. After thoroughly examining you and prescribing some medications he gave you "pemission" to race. In fact, he enthusiastically encouraged you to do it. He even said you might feel better after running it. And, much to my surprise he was absolutely right and so was Megan.

    I'm glad you received both my encouragement, and Megan's, with an open heart, sought your doctor's advice and made the decision with wisdom. Your not bailing was absolutely the right decison. What you don't know is that I was a hair's breath away from bailing myself. But I didn't because of you.

  • http://abramovitz.wordpress.com Jeff

    A great post, indeed. I could feel the anguish in your mind and heart as you wrestled with the decision. Then, after wisely seeking the counsel of your wife made a decision. A leader is ALSO willing to change a decision. After weighing all of the information, including the very well written note from your daughter, you changed your decision. The truth is, other than your family, most wouldn't know that you were close to quitting. A leader is also transparent and gives glimpses into why they made the decision.

    Finally, I concur with Monica. One of the most powerful testimonies about this story is in the underlying relationship that you have had with your daughter (and, all of your children I assume). The fact that she was encouraged to enter into this discussion speaks highly of how you must of taught her to do the right thing, even when it is difficult. Another quality of a leader.

    Thanks for giving us a glimpse of your heart and sharing the process of continuing to be a leader! Blessings to you.

  • Sharon Wheeler

    You continue to motivate and inspire us all!

  • Teri D. Smith

    Wow, what a wonderful message from your daughter. It really spoke to me because I have been at the point of quitting my position as coach of a homeschool girls basketball team. Some parents (even ones who admit they know nothing about basketball) have been brutal with their comments. Your daughter's message about trust and committment spoke forcefully to my heart. Many thanks for being so transparent in order to inspire us.

  • http://brandiandboys.wordpress.com brandiandboys

    Another example of what wonderful parents you and Gail are, you've raised children who speak the truth in love… even to the ones who love them the most. You have to have an extremely healthy relationship for your child to write such an honest, yet respectful letter of challenge.

    Congrats on finishing and thank you for your example as a leader and as a parent!

  • http://blog.hafchurch.org/peter Peter P

    Your great leadership and your willingness to be open about how hard it is to be both humand and a great leader is why you mde it into my ‘five’ for the noticer project.

    Thanks for sharing this, I’ve learned a lot and been inspired by it.

  • http://craig-mckenzie.com Craig McKenzie

    I posted on FB how inspired my wife and I were as we got the tweet at the 7th mile (the number of perfection.) And in that run you perfectly changed somebody's life. It is obvious that Megan has that Hyatt leadership blood. She knows that from time to time leaders must be encouraged too. She knows that her dad is one of the great ones.

  • RoseG

    Megan is right. Integrity is doing what you you said you would do. The problem came when you didn't schedule your life to allow for the physical demands you knew the commitment would take. Some of the best leadership example is one's willingness to say "no" to what others perceive as highly important, in order to do what is right.

  • Peacock blue

    You might want to look into a Netti Pot and clean your sinuses out regularly. Many people have sinus problems due to allergies they know nothing about.

  • http://amykiane.typepad.com/ Amy

    what a wise daughter you and your wife have raised. congrats on running the 1/2 marathon. i had a couple of friends from birmingham who ran in it also.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Yes, I have been using it. Even my doctor recommended it. It helps!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    So true. I am continuing to make mistakes—sometimes the same mistakes—and learn from them. Pain is a wonderful teacher.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Thanks, Peter. Your post really inspired—and humbled—me.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Thank you, Brandi. I love following you and Pete on Twitter. You are both very transparent. This will serve you well with your own children as they grow up.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    She takes after her mother. ;-)

  • Rachel Hauck

    Thanks for sharing Mike. You are always transparent and it's inspiring.

    What I love most about this lesson is that we can do more than we think we can and two, we do not live in a vacuum. What we do effects others. People are watching, even when you think they are not.

    While most of us may not be a CEO or a boss, or have any one following us, technically, we are all leaders and examples in some way. Especially those in the Body of Christ.

    Blessings and congrats to you and Gail and Meg on a great run!


  • http://www.maclakeonline.com Mac Lake

    Great insight, thanks for your openness and for your example.

  • http://www.dearkaren.com Karen Anderson

    Mike – I would love to hear your thoughts sometime on the process of how you decide when it is time to "quit" and the challenges of making responsible decisions based on what's good for you vs. what's good for "everybody else". I'm so glad you were able to do the race and very, very proud of Gail! At the same time, if you had not been able to run, could that also have been an opportunity for leadership? Just some questions for future blog posts!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Beaconhillnw Jim

    Seems like quitting is the easiest, quickest decision. But not always the best. I've had to learn to push when I don't feel like it. Get out of bed when I really don't want to, teach when I'm burned out and tired. But in all these scenarios I learn a lot about God and how He deals with me as a leader/father/son/pastor/etc.

  • http://updatable.cc Scott

    Super duper post and a great story. Thanks.

  • http://teawithtiffany.com Tiffany Stuart

    I loved this! What truth spoken in love from your daughter.

    Glad you finished the race.

    We are watching…

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/DavidOlawoyin DavidOlawoyin

    Quite remarkable and exemplary. Meg’s perception was really, really sound. And welcome in advance to Africa! David.

  • http://www.karenwelsh.com Karen Welsh

    What a wonderful letter and response. I know Megan would have loved you, regardless, but the truth she spoke was so profound and wise beyond her years. You should be proud, as should Gail, for raising a great daughter who has turned into an awesome and intuitive adult!

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

    What does finishing make possible for me? It increases my capacity for Christ. How? On the path to the finish line I will have to face my limits, my fears, my insecurities, my expectations, resentments, or whatever other dream entangling suggestions the enemy will throw at me. By facing these it will be clear that I alone can not do this. This will keep me in real-time with Jesus. Not talking about yesterdays miracles but experiencing Him in the now. This will increase the space inside my soul that would be available for Him to fill. Surely, I could be completely filled up with Him, but there's a difference between having a shot glass full of water or a bucket full of water when I need to quench not only my thirst, but the thirst of others for someOne real.

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

    My 21-year old daughter and 19-year old Marine son, have both spoken insightful truth, life, and challenge, into their mother's soul time and time again. Who among us knew, while busily raising our daughters (and sons) and pouring ourselves into them, just how rich and rewarding the culminating effort would be!

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

    Examples are so important. I grew listening to the words, "Do as I say, not as I do," and decided I did not want that to be my motto for life. As a mother of seven children and a teacher of many more teenagers, I know my life speaks louder than my words. I am careful with my actions and am constantly thinking about how things will look to those who are watching me. In fact, way back in the mid-1980's, my marriage was on the rocks. Despite wanting to leave the pain behind, all I could think about was our oldest child–how could I ever tell him that God is faithful if I left his father? The answer was that I couldn't tell him and that is what kept me in the marriage. You know what, we worked our problems out and I can tell our son and his siblings that God is indeed faithful.

  • Pingback: Michael Hyatt: Leaders Never Act in a Vacuum « Ripe for Harvest()

  • Kathleen Leslie

    I have just been reading about shaping the path for people, as outlined by Dan Heath and Chip Heath in their incredible book Switch. In chapter 10 they discuss “rallying the herd,” and the first page says what happens when there are situations where others you are leading don’t know how to behave: they watch you.

    Following through even though over committed is a hard choice to make, especially when you are trying to right the fact that it was you who got you into this situation! It is a hard pill to swallow sometimes, but the right one. The lesson for me when this happens (and it happens too much): lead better next time by under-committing and over-delivering.

    Thanks, as always, for the great insight.

  • Kathleen Leslie

    I have just been reading about shaping the path for people, as outlined by Dan Heath and Chip Heath in their incredible book Switch. In chapter 10 they discuss “rallying the herd,” and the first page says what happens when there are situations where others you are leading don’t know how to behave: they watch you.

    Following through even though over committed is a hard choice to make, especially when you are trying to right the fact that it was you who got you into this situation! It is a hard pill to swallow sometimes, but the right one. The lesson for me when this happens (and it happens too much): lead better next time by under-committing and over-delivering.

    Thanks, as always, for the great insight.

  • Kathleen Leslie

    I have just been reading about shaping the path for people, as outlined by Dan Heath and Chip Heath in their incredible book Switch. In chapter 10 they discuss “rallying the herd,” and the first page says what happens when there are situations where others you are leading don’t know how to behave: they watch you.

    Following through even though over committed is a hard choice to make, especially when you are trying to right the fact that it was you who got you into this situation! It is a hard pill to swallow sometimes, but the right one. The lesson for me when this happens (and it happens too much): lead better next time by under-committing and over-delivering.

    Thanks, as always, for the great insight.

  • Anonymous

    I love that your daughter spoke up. I think this past week showed how far your followers will go with you … Thank you for leading by example.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Idelette. I am blessed to have very courageous daughters!

  • Nancy

    Reminds me of the importance of what I agree to and my schedule. The last two days, I said no up front to 2 opportunities. I am recalling the words let your yes be yes and your no be no. When it is yes, I must try to be there. I am also reminded of the book, “Margins.” Not sure of the author. Trying to keep margins in my life so there is room for the unexpected and those tough weeks.

  • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

    Very wise daughter you got. Apparently you have done an incredible job raising her. I pray I do just as good a job raising my boys as you have apparently done raising your daughter. Very wise. What a blessing!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. She is really wise beyond her years (or her parenting!)

  • Yvonne

    Thank You & Meg for allowing listening to God and allowing God to speak through both of You once  again
    Keep Listening to God
    Following God is just one Step at a time

  • http://www.justinhayslett.com/ Justin

    Michael, Great article. 

    First of all, it is apparent that you were an amazing father, being able to raise a woman with such wisdom. Well done to you on that! 

    Secondly, I love what you said at the end, “where are you tempted to quit and what is at stake.” My passion is helping others reach their dreams of changing the world. And as I am on a journey to reach those dreams, there are many quitting points that challenge me, and anyone else pursuing a big dream. Points of discouragement, overcommitment, and failure. All of which culminate to crucial points of decision on the journey. The age old question rises up at these junctures: fight or flight. Do I keep fighting for this vision, or give up. 

    Before giving up it’s crucially important to think of the implications. What is at stake? Who won’t be impacted because you gave up your vision and dream. What children won’t get fed. What orphan won’t get care. What community won’t get churched. The implications of laying down a dream is far superior to personal discomforts of ‘feeling’ discouraged.Like Churck Yeagar breaking the sound barrier. The turbulence is always worse before the breakthrough. 

    Thanks for the post and encouraging us to persevere!

  • Steve Akins

    1) Thanks for having the integrity to post this.  I forget you’re human some times. You are so insightful and accomplished.
    2) Congratulations on raising a daughter with such tack and wisdom.

    You’ve caused me to re-evaluate my commitments. I’ve forgotten that leadership costs…

  • Cathycarver

    I understand leading and leadership…just glad your heart held up….and wisdon would have been to regulate you pre-race scedule a bit better….after all you are not everyones all in all…..

  • Chris Gigliotti

    Absolutely. It becomes an integrity issue and your team is always watching: http://www.chrisgigliotti.com/integrity-your-team-is-always-watching/

  • http://www.toddliles.com/ Todd Liles

    Great evergreen content!