Where’s The Beef?


We can call them leaders.  We can assign them to a position.  We can give them a title.  None of these actions will make them leaders.  Leadership requires substance and is about who you are more than how you are labeled.

My own experience with learning leadership is it takes time to develop the skill, and continual improvement is a necessity.  Unfortunately, we are living at a time where a great many people claim the title of leader, but when we look at the substance of what they are offering we are left asking “Where’s The Beef!?”

When Clara Peller made this commercial at 81 years old she was selling burgers, but commenting on substance.  Substance is fundamental to leadership, and without the right answers to the following three questions, people may ask of our leadership, “Where’s The Beef?”

Do I Have Character?

There are a number of qualities which one could use to describe or define character.  In my view, the simplest answer to this question is about self-awareness.  Does the individual who claims to be a leader know who they are, have a set of uncompromising principles, and the willingness to sacrifice any opportunity to remain true to their beliefs.

Do I Have Purpose?

Uncompromising principles are almost always accompanied by a deep and meaningful sense of purpose.   This purpose is not born of selfishness or selfish ambition.  The purposes that produce and even demand character are about something bigger than self.   While many people will lead and claim to be leaders, only those with this selfless sense of purpose can provide the type of leadership which produces enduring organizations.

Do I Have Humility?

Enduring organizations are built on something more substantial than a particular individuals personality or vision.  They are built on a set of uncompromising principles and a purpose bigger than any individual.   All of this requires humility.

Humility is the most essential quality necessary for great team leadership, and team leadership is essential for building an enduring organization.  Team leadership is about shared vision, shared responsibility, and shared emotional commitment to the organizational vision.   No one individual is more essential or important than any other, because only together can they make the dream come true.

Once we evaluate ourselves based on these three questions, we can determine whether we are leaders of substance or superficiality.  We can discover our strengths and weaknesses. We can become more substantial leaders capable of building an enduring organization.

How will your life answer the leadership question, “Where’s The Beef?”

Red Auerbach and Team Leadership

Team Leadership
Team Leadership

Red Auerbach, Team Leadership

“After a certain amount of money, it don’t make a damn bit of difference. (A player) makes a million dollars, anything after that, it’s just numbers. So you have to appeal to his pride, his wanting to win, and you disregard the money. The only thing I did years ago was tell them, ‘Your salary is dependent solely on what I see with my eyes.’ Statistics don’t matter, contributions matter. Winning matters.’ You rewarded people that way. Today, you can’t do that — it’s all about stats and who’s getting theirs. So I would have had to change my approach. You adapt.”

Red Auerbach (Seeing Red After All These Years)

The business world appears to have discovered team leadership around 1992, when Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith published “The Wisdom of Teams.” This is a good book, but it has never made my pulse race as much as Pat Riley’s “The Winner Within,” or the sound of Red Auerbach’s voice saying anything about team leadership.

I spent the eighties in Boston as a Lakers fan, which explains the Riley reference (inspired by my favorite player of all time Magic Johnson). Despite my affinity for the team from the west, it was the team building of the Celtic’s which shadowed my young existence.

I can still remember attending my first Celtics game in 1980, and experiencing the magical moment of watching Larry Bird against Dr. J (I can also remember the extreme racism in the stands by some unruly fans, a factor any Celtic attendee of color had to deal with). Nothing could keep me from watching the Celtics even though I wanted the Laker’s to destroy them, because the Celtics personified team. The fans and even the city personified team.

This spirit and culture of team was built by Red Auerbach. The words of Bill Simmons explain it best.

Growing up in Boston in the ’70s and ’80s, we possessed three treasures that nobody else had: Fenway, the Garden and Red. He was our trump card. He had mystical powers. He made things happen. He fleeced other teams. He found diamonds in the rough. He intimidated officials. He stamped his winning imprint on everyone and everything. He was the Celtics. Sixteen championships in 30 years … and they all happened because of him.

Bill Simmons, Seeing Red After All These Years

The Steve Jobs I heard in ’94, seems like Zuckerberg in 2016


When I moved to Silicon Valley in 1993, the Odyssey by John Sculley was my guidebook.  Guy Kawasaki’s “Selling the Dream” came next.  Each of these books placed a man named Steve Jobs on my radar.  According to both Sculley and Kawasaki, this guy Steve Jobs was a special, but prior to my reading he meant little to me.


Apple captivated me but not Steve Jobs.  What Sculley and Kawasaki were beginning to make me think was this guy Steve Jobs just might be Apple.

When I had the opportunity to attend an Executive Program on Innovation at Stanford University my eyes were opened.  Two of the classes were significant.  Jim Collins, who was just releasing his book “Built to Last,” spoke about enduring companies.   When asked a question about Apple and Steve Jobs, he said the jury was still out (he wasn’t exactly positive when he said it), and to be fair he was absolutely right.

built to last

On that same evening, the speaker was Steve Jobs. We were in the Stanford Faculty Lounge, listening to him talk about great new products he admired.  He mentioned Odwalla, Whole Foods, and a company called Pixar.

He spoke about Pixar at some length, describing the development of a movie called “Toy Story,” which was due to be released in the distant future.  He spoke about selecting employees and building a leadership team.  At that point, he had everyone’s attention as we each began to realize his level of expertise. His depth of knowledge and insight about people was incredible. I began to wonder how Sculley ever replaced him at Apple, and why he was running some small, seemingly irrelevant company called Next.

Here in 2016 we all know Steve Jobs is a legend.  His second act at Apple was incredible, and each time he made a brilliant move, I thought about the night at Stanford.  Now I find myself examining people who run companies, and wondering if they are leaders.  I wonder if they know people or products like Jobs.  I wonder if they could answer questions delineating the abc’s of who is and isn’t a capable member of a team.  How to choose them?  Who not to choose?  How to make hard and unsentimental decisions for the sake of the company?

I have been looking around Silicon Valley, and the one guy who fits the mold is Mark Zuckerberg.

Julia Greenberg, in an article for Wired titled “Why Facebook is Killing It–Even When Nobody Else Is,” might just agree with me.  Her idea of what makes Facebook tick comes down to these 13 words.

“But throughout Facebook’s evolution, one constant has remained, and he wears a hoodie.”

The world seems to believe the socially maladjusted genius depiction of Mark Zuckerberg in the “Social Network.”  While there may be truth to this looking backward, the man currently at the helm of Facebook is a savvy visionary leader.  He is the reason Ms. Greenberg can say the company is staying one step ahead.

“More holistically, Facebook has been very good at staying one step ahead.”


When I look at the company Facebook has become it is impossible to avoid the idea.  Which idea is this you might ask?  The idea of Mark Zuckerberg as the new Steve Jobs of Silicon Valley, or more accurately the chief thought leader of this region.  Reading Ms. Greenberg’s description of the company how could anyone disagree?

“Facebook has an aggressive vision of what the future looks like—and it’s constantly testing, iterating, and exploring its vision. It should come as little surprise then that it was Facebook, not Apple or Alphabet, that earlier this month laid out its ten year roadmap. All of which is a strategy that ultimately stems from Zuckerberg’s own sensibility.”

This type of company building would not be possible, unless an individual understood how to build teams, who to select, who to avoid, and how to inspire them.  Beginning today, my eyes are on Zuckerberg.

What can I learn from how he is building his leadership team?  What can I learn from how he is developing his vision?   How has he learned from Steve Jobs, because his effort to keep control of Facebook, seems like a lesson drawn directly from the ghost of Jobs reaching out to him from Next.

Note: Read the entire Greenberg article to understand how Zuckerberg is using class C shares to avoid giving up too much control of Facebook (A key lesson from Jobs?).  Read this Forbes article to understand Jobs was a mentor for Zuckerberg.


The Power of Reading then Rereading

Benjamin Disraeli captured my young imagination reading the writing work of Sarah Bradford. What I remember about her book, “Disraeli,” is this charismatic and resilient character, became one of the greatest leaders in England’s history.


I read this volume in college

You can only imagine my excitement, when I stumbled onto a new biography about him called, “Disraeli: The Novel Politician” by David Cesarani. For some years, I had wanted to revisit my fascination with him, and this new volume presents the opportunity.


The New Book on Disraeli

I discovered this new book, “Disraeli: The Novel Politician,” reading a book review in the Wall Street Journal by Benjamin Baliant. The book review is titled, “A Genius for Self-Invention.”

Reading the review reminded me why I originally fell in love with Disraeli. He was fighting against the odds, living by his wits, in an attempt to penetrate high society, which was closed to Jews.

Perhaps his Jewishness was what fascinated me about Disraeli. The fact that his background and lineage ran counter to everything necessary for success in English patrician society. Despite the odds Disraeli rose to the greatest heights serving as Prime Minister twice.

Lord Randolph Churchill, the father of Winston Churchill, whose career Baliant says was helped along by Disraeli, explains his success in conquering those odds and obstacles.

Randolph Churchill once summarized Disraeli’s life as “failure, failure, failure, partial success, renewed failure, ultimate and complete triumph.”

Benjamin Baliant, A Genius for Self-Invention

His enduring determination and sense of destiny is again expressed in the words of Baliant describing his elective struggles.

At 32, after four times standing unsuccessfully for Parliament—then still the domain of landed aristocrats and monied peers—Disraeli was elected in 1837, the year Victoria acceded to the throne. His bombastic maiden speech at the House of Commons was greeted with hoots and foot-stomping. “I will sit down now,” he shouted above the din, “but the time will come when you will hear me.”

Benjamin Baliant, A Genius for Self-Invention

What I find fascinating is the imprint great men and women can make on our minds. Here I am, revisiting the emotional inspiration of someone I read about in college, by reading a new book to experience my fascination all over again.

Whenever I revisit a heroic figure I always learn something new about them, and as a consequence about me. This is the power of reading then rereading.

Time to purchase my new book, learn my new lessons, and deepen my belief that each of us has a destiny to reach no matter how difficult. Thank you Benjamin Disraeli for reaching yours.

Focus On The Future Not The Past

This is simple.  No matter how hard we might want to focus on the future, there is always someone or something insisting on the importance of the past.

There is the family who knows the exact incident to drudge up from the past, so they can put us in our place, and let us know the future we dream of is impossible.

There is the friend who freezes us in time, resisting our every attempt to change and move forward into the future.

There is our company who insists on staying the course based on the success of the past, even when the present makes clear the future will not be bright.

We can blame our family,  our friends, or our employers, when we feel our lives have stagnated.  There is another alternative.  We can take responsibility for our own lives, embrace risk, and leave the past behind so we can live our future.

Steve Jobs did the latter.  When asked about holding a 30 year anniversary celebration for Apple.  Here was his answer.

“Apple is focused on the future, not the past.”

Read the whole story here.

Note:  You can find the featured tee shirt here.


The Generalist

“The great strategists of the past kept forests as well as the trees in view. They were generalists, and they operated from an ecological perspective. They understood that the world is a web, in which adjustments made here are bound to have effects over there— that everything is interconnected. Where, though, might one find generalists today? . . . The dominant trend within universities and the think tanks is toward ever-narrower specialization: a higher premium is placed on functioning deeply within a single field than broadly across several. And yet without some awareness of the whole— without some sense of how means converge to accomplish or to frustrate ends— there can be no strategy. And without strategy, there is only drift.”

Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree

There are in my mind three great forces at work in the world.   They are economics, religion, and politics. Everything else is simply a trend.

Rereading Thomas Friedman’s “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” caused me to consider my writing in light of these three great forces, and what he calls the “generalist.”  I wondered whether I was neglecting my natural inclination to be a generalist, because of all the spectacularly successful specialist in Silicon Valley?

My conclusion is I am a generalist.  This means my writing must change to see the whole, which means considering the influence of the three great forces at work in the world.   I look forward to the adventure.

My Top 5 Books of 2015


I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial”

Winston Churchill

Destiny was my reading discovery in 2015.  It was an unintended but welcome consequence of reading superb writing about people who changed the world.  What follows is my top five books from my 2015 reading list with a brief reason for their selection.

#1 Traitor To His Class

H.W. Brands has always been a dry read for me, but “Traitor To His Class,” subtitled “The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt” breaths fire.  I have read a number of books about Franklin Roosevelt, but none clarified his personal courage, radical nonconformity, and visionary hopefulness quite like this volume.  By the time I reached the end of the book I wanted to change the world.  What I learned was it would have been far easier for Roosevelt to choose a comfortable life of privilege, but he instead embraced a radical life of service, which lead him into a destiny which gave hope to a despairing world.

#2 Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye

This book is authored by Kenneth P. O’Donnell and David F. Powers with Joe McCarthy.  I actually read this book in college, and remembered being inspired, so I embarked on a reread.   O’Donnell and Powers were close friends and White House assistants to John F. Kennedy.  Their story is an emotional one, filled with personal antidotes of the intimate journey they traveled with Kennedy from beginning to end.  Read this book if only for the account of the hunting trip at Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ranch.  The lesson I learned is John F. Kennedy became president in large part because he had great friends, who recognized their destiny was inextricably tied to his. They sacrificed their individuality so that together with him they could turn the ideas of the New Frontier into a national reality.

#3 The Georgetown Set

Lloyd James beat out my favorite historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and her book “The Bully Pulpit” as my favorite about journalism, and as a result took second place.  His book “The Georgetown Set” was riveting from beginning to end.   Having lived in DC, and witnessed the importance of political journalism, it was inspiring to see and feel the power of relationship described in its pages.  Subtitled “Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington,” I was left wishing for this type of courageous relationship journalism as contrasted with the ratings motivated media of today.  The lesson I learned is the major players in the spotlight are not always the most influential people on the ground.  Whether we appear large or small in the eyes of people, we should embrace our destiny, because our potential for influence could be greater than we imagine.

#4 The Wright Brothers

I still can’t remember what possessed me to read “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough.  When it was initially published, I questioned why anyone would write a history about the discovery of air flight and the invention of the airplane.  After reading this book, which I began begrudgingly, two things became clear.  David McCullough is the premier historical storyteller of our time, and the Wright Brothers story needed to be told.  Their curiosity, courage, and endurance can be applied to any area of life for inspiration.  What truly moved me was the relationship between Wilbur and Orville, and that destiny is not about the individual but rather the team or in this case family!

#5 Destiny and Power

First of all, I am a Jon Meacham fan, because he embraces a political neutrality, which allows him to see deep into the soul of those whose lives he documents.  I am also a political junkie, whose entire childhood was shaped by a family of democrats living in a republican stronghold.  Both of these facts explain why I am a political independent…I like to see both sides.   Reading Destiny and Power I saw both sides, and came away impressed with George H.W. Bush.  Meacham does a wonderful job giving voice to the elder Bush through the very honest and compelling diary accounts of the former president.  I have never read anything from a president as humble, vulnerable, and authentic.  No matter where you stand politically (and I don’t agree on a lot with Bush), it is impossible not to appreciate the personal life of George H.W. Bush.  The lesson I learned is you don’t have to believe you are better than everyone else to believe you have an important destiny to fulfill.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Crucible of Command by William C. Davis
  2. C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Robin Sachs
  3. Education of a Coach by David Halberstam
  4. Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender, Rick Tetzelli
  5. Brothers, Rivals, Victors by Jonathan W. Jordan
  6. Rebel Yell by S.C. Gwynne
  7. Wilson by A. Scott Berg




LeBron Assists Special Needs!

This NBA 2016 season the Golden State Warriors are the talk of the town.  Lead by Stephen Curry they are playing the game at a historic level, and for many Curry is the best and most charismatic player in the NBA.

This leaves LeBron James a bit in the shadows, which is strange since we haven’t seen a player of his capability ever before.   It is a lesson to all of us about time, how it moves on eventually lifting younger people into the spotlight, and leaving those growing more mature to redefine themselves.

This film snapshot of LeBron James publicly congratulating a Special Olympics athlete, and expressing a bond with him tells me LeBron is going to be special beyond basketball.  The authentic expression of connection with this young man who was wearing shoes LeBron designed for kids with special needs is nothing short of breathtaking.

Take a look and see if you conclude what I have concluded, which is LeBron James is bigger than basketball, and understands the value of his brand to lift up and include those with special needs.

This may be the most important assist of his career, and one which I hope other players imitate!

6 Reasons Standards are Better Than Rules



Leaders and students of leadership should study Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K).   This interview by Graham Bensinger makes this easier.  Mr. Bensinger , surfaced subtle yet revealing answers from Coach K.  One of the most significant was his distinction between rules and standards.
6 things I learned from this interview.
  1. Rules are enforced, Standards are developed
  2. Leaders who enforce rules will rarely develop people
  3. Leaders who develop standards develop people and other leaders
  4. The process of developing standards takes time
  5. Shared standards inspire ownership
  6. Ownership reduces the need for delegation and eliminates micromanaging
Conclusion:  Leadership burnout decreases as ownership increases.  Coach K speaks from personal experience on this topic here.

My Son, His Friends, and an Inclusive Film

“Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.”

Leonardo da Vinci

The scientific discovery and technological wizardry of the 21st century can obscure the power of art.  Science may discover and even breakthrough, but only art makes the eye twinkle and the heart beat.

The twinkling of my eye and beating of my heart were pronounced when I heard about my son, his friends, and a new film in development.

Inclusion As Inspiration

My son Jonathan has never allowed Down Syndrome to keep him from building friendships with his typical peers.  Ben Middlekauf is one of those typical peers.   Ben is  younger than Jonathan, but growing up he always wanted to hang out.  Ben was attracted to and amazed by the friendship Jonathan shared with Will Eleazer.

Ben was part of the original team responsible for building the award winning E-Soccer program, so inclusion has been part of his life from the beginning, but being younger he was not a direct peer of Jonathan’s.  What he had was a unique perch from which to develop a perspective on how special needs and typical kids become best friends.   Ben has plummeted the depths of his inclusive experience to write a script for his movie project called Tentura.   He wants to inspire everyone with the power of inclusive friendship.

Tentura Promo from Benjamin Middlekauff on Vimeo.

Inclusion As Art

Ben attends NYU where he has developed a stellar team to create his movie inspired by the inclusive friendship Jonathan and Will share.

While this movie is not specially about special needs children or adults, it is an artistic attempt to communicate the lessons learned and impact of an inclusive friendship on a typical kid growing up.  This typical kid is Ben Middlekauf and I am personally excited about his effort. They are in the developmental process for the film, and if you would like to know more or even support it financially you can get more information here.

Note:  For those who want to see Ben’s work involving those with special needs, the story below is on a young man with Asperger’s.

Point B from Benjamin Middlekauff on Vimeo.

Inclusion As Family

Why am I so excited and sharing this artistic work with you?  I remember Ben when he was around 5 years old, and my hope was our inclusive E-Sports programs would leave a lifelong imprint on youngsters like him.  My dream was these kids would grow up and promote inclusion…that they would always have a place in their heart for those with special needs.

Ben has fulfilled my deepest hopes and aspirations.  He even went out of his way to assure me our privacy as a family wouldn’t be infringed upon, and as you can see by the artistry, symbolism, and metaphor he has fulfilled his promise.  Ben is truly family and I wish him the utmost success in his endeavor.  We need more students  and leaders like him!