McLaranism: A More Graceful, Dignified Approach to Leadership

It's 4am. If it wasn't a Sunday morning, Mike McLaran would be getting ready to head to the gym for a workout. He joked on his 53rd birthday that he was 35. That was less than a month ago.

After working with Mike at the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce for a decade, I got to know some of his ways. I call them McLaranisms. Here are some of my favorites. Some of these are things he actually said, while others are my interpretation of how to be McLaranistic. I've already had to update this list five times now, as you McLaranizers remind me of others. Here's a Prezi version I've presented on stage.

Diplomacy // The art of letting someone else have your way
Excellence // It's just a little bit more than greatness; a hard place to get to, and even harder to stay there
Team // Everyone has a role, and no role is more important than any other. No one can be great at their role if everyone isn't great at their role.
Champion // A title that comes with a target on your back. If you're not a contender, you're not part of the conversation.
Annual Review // Do you still love what you do here? Where do you want to be in 5 years? How can I help you get there?
Firing Employees // A failure of management to hire well and align his/her team's strengths
Teaching // A way to demonstrate that you have learned something
Servant Leadership // To publicly give credit to anyone who played a role in your hard work or achievements. Requires that you are willing to do, and capable of doing, anything you would ask of someone else.
Faith// Something you don't need to talk about if you live it
Dignity// What you preserve in others when you refuse to take anything but the high road
Blame// Something a leader takes for his/her team, even/especially when it has nothing to do with them. Never to be assigned to someone else.
Integrity // Something earned over decades but lost in a careless moment
Trust // Something you receive when you give it first
Love// When honesty and trust and selflessness are directed at another
Listening// Listen with your eyes and your ears will work better
Focus// Wherever you are, be there.
Promises// Keep them. See also: Integrity.
Crisis// Focus on issues, not personalities
Initiative // Reward it in others. We need people to start things and take risks. Support them. When it's your turn to initiate, they will join your army.
Patience // Seek first to understand, then to be understood. See also: Listening
Interruptions// Refuse to speak over anyone else, and never, ever, ever interrupt anyone else. See also: Listening
Silence // Sometimes it's the loudest thing in the room
Discipline // You can't lead others if you don't first manage yourself

I had missed several phone calls within 5 minutes from my best friend, Tom Hoffert. Spring weather was upon us and I was hoping he wanted to take the boat out, but even the boat was only worth one phone call.  I knew it wasn't going to be good as Tom delivered some tough news.

Mike had passed away. He was running at the time - something that gave him immense personal satisfaction.

Tom and I let ourselves in to Mike's house as we had done so many times before and were greeted by many tearful embraces. My tears still weren't coming.

Mike McLaran has been the greatest influence on my adult life since hiring me at the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce in June of 2001. In a meeting room full of agendas, egos, and hot-heads, it was always the purposeful silence of Mike McLaran that was the loudest. You can imagine how much louder his spoken words are in the lives of those who knew him.

When I was finishing my first book, REMEMBERSHIP, I was so excited to write the acknowledgements. I wrote one to him first of all, although I recall moving it to the end because he wouldn't approve of being first. His humility taught me everything.

At about the same time, I had given Mike a finished draft and told him that I couldn't publish it until I could get his feedback. I was so nervous. I should have called it Things Mike McLaran Taught Me or Allowed Me To Learn. I remember feeling nauseous about the idea that I might have stepped out from under the shadow that Mike provided. It was a huge, safe place, of course.

I regularly had dinner with Mike and Diane. Mike always finished the evening by asking me, "Is there anything I can be doing for you?" My response was always the same. "Mike, you've already done so much for me. I could never thank you enough for all you have given to me."

I'm so grateful that I emailed him one more thank you last week. His response:

Thank you for the note.  Always pay it forward.  We enjoyed something very special with our team at the chamber and we'll have that to build on for years to come.

When you make a difference in the lives of others and live your life to the fullest acknowledging God for the blessings he has provided you.....that is the best thanks of all.

You can imagine how emotional it was at Mike's house. We spent the evening with his wife, Diane, as we awaited the arrival of his daughter, Katie and her husband from Eugene, and his son, Chris, who went down to Albany to pick up his grandparents, Kathy and Chuck. I was sitting with friends of Mike's and mine -- all of them board members or former teammates at the Salem Chamber.

Look at this mess. All these thoughts and memories thrown together on a blog. What I really want to say is this... If you knew Mike and you are grieving, I beg you to teach others what he taught you. (And for crying out loud, spell his name right.) If you know me and not Mike, anything good about me has been polished and made presentable by Mike. I promise, if you keep your eyes and ears open, you can get some more McLaranisms.

You can't really be of help to someone else if your own tank is empty. My tank overflows from years of McLaranisms. They guide you in difficult times and push you to reach further in good times. Fill your tank with love and trust and integrity and selflessness and servant leadership and championship teams. When someone needs help, don't solve their problem for them. Give them a McLaranism instead. That way, you know you've actually learned it.

Mike's Mom, Kathy, was sitting alone in Mike's den looking at photos yesterday. I went in to give her a kiss on the cheek and thank her for giving us Mike. She asked if I was there to tell her it wasn't true. How do you comfort someone who just lost their child?

I saw Mike's warmth and kindness in her eyes as I replied: "Mike was the most Christ-like person I've ever met, and my life's work is to teach others what he taught me."

Ah, there they are: the tears I've been waiting for.

Mike McLaran received an honorary doctorate from Corban University

Professional Bio of Mike McLaran

Mike McLaran is the founder of McLaran Enterprises, a leadership development firm based in Salem, Oregon.

Mike has served as a CEO of Chambers in Oregon for over twenty years. For over sixteen years, he headed the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce.  During his tenure, the Chamber has grown from a membership of 860 to the current membership of nearly 1300.  Prior to coming to Salem, Mike served as the CEO of the Albany, Oregon Chamber of Commerce where he helped establish the Chamber as a highly respected leadership organization.  He has served as President of the Oregon Chamber Executives and helped lead efforts to establish the importance of Chambers engaging in the political arena to advocate for business.  He is a past-chair of the Oregon State Chamber of Commerce’s efforts in governmental affairs and was a Director on the Board. Mike is also a Past-President of the Northwest Chambers Leaders Conference and is continually asked back to lead and facilitate workshops for both professional and volunteer leaders.

Mike’s community involvement is extensive. He has served as the campaign chairman for both the United Way of Linn County and for the United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley. He served as a director on the board of the Salem Leadership Foundation, is a member of the Salem Downtown Rotary Club and serves on the program committee, served as a Trustee on the Salem Hospital Board and works with the Cascade Pacific Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He has been and continues to be involved in numerous committees, task forces and advisory councils and was recently part of the team that helped Salem “win” a 30 million dollar Kroc Community Center.  He was recognized as Albany’s Jr. First Citizen in 1993, Chamber Executive of the Year in 1997, and received the Russell E. Pettit Excellence in Leadership Award, among many others.

A graduate of the University of Oregon in the field of Business Management, Mike also is a graduate of a six-year program in Organization Management held at UCLA.  Mike has used his experience in business and organizational management to move organizations to new levels of excellence.

UPDATE: Many of you have been asking about the McLARANism wristbands that we had made. You can order them directly right here. Click on your choice and use coupon code SPRING2013 to save 20% on your order.

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