Jay Rifenbary

Jay Rifenbary's Blog

Where Have All the Leaders Gone?


When we speak of our leaders, what are our expectations of them? When we discuss leadership what are the characteristics we believe makes a leader effective? Is it their honesty, charisma, knowledge, determination, communication skills and fairness? We could list a myriad of characteristics that would influence our perception of a leader’s effectiveness, and any of those attributes implemented successfully may accurately define that leader. I wonder is the pure, untainted leader lost forever in our society? In the mist of political and corporate corruption, and the thirst for power, wealth, fame and the not so almighty dollar, will there ever be a leader in the future who will not compromise their principles? I honestly do not know, but the trend is not promising. Most importantly, what are our children’s expectations of those who impact and influence their lives, and how will that example effect the development of their own leadership aptitude? These are great questions to discuss around the dinner table, in the work place, and in the classroom.

What does it mean to be a leader? The “New Oxford American Dictionary” defines leadership as, “the action of leading a group of people or an organization.” How boring is that? Although a definition, it does not take into consideration the human impact of leadership, and the consequences of that leadership. If the outcome is destructive in nature is that effective leadership? Within my “No Excuse!” training sessions I define leadership as, “the ability to lead a group of individuals, to the successful accomplishment of a common purpose”. However, even that definition does not take into consideration how the accomplishment was achieved. I believe the outcome of any leadership endeavor should include a component where the results were attained ethically, and the outcome beneficial to those being led, and the common purpose. What does it mean to be ethical? Ethical is defined in the same dictionary as, “of or relating to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with,” and morality is defined as, “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong, or good and bad behavior.” It is a leader’s responsibility to clarify to those being led the difference between right and wrong, and its’ relevancy to the successful achievement of the common purpose. Granted, defining right and wrong can be left too much interpretation based on one’s ideology and even religion, but I define moral behavior as revolving around treating my fellow man and woman with dignity and respect. I am sure you would agree, that now more than ever we need ethical leadership in our government, communities, businesses, schools and homes.

In my experiences as a leader in the military, the corporate world, running my own business, service to the community, and most importantly my family, I have recognized several common characteristics that are inherent in the results of effective leadership. First, a solidification of trust is generated within the entity being led, producing positive and constructive levels of communication. Second, an increase in loyalty to the leader, and dedication to the mission, vision, and the core values that embody the entity we are leading. Third, producing greater motivation among followers to execute the process in achieving the objective. Finally, establishing consistent professional conduct, resulting in mutual respect and dedication among those being led.

We all set an example to others on a daily basis, and the effectiveness of that example is a direct result of the approach stated above. To lead is an honored opportunity to have bestowed upon any individual, but with it comes the responsibility of leadership, and the aftermath of the leader’s efforts. During the process of leading those we are responsible for, it takes enormous personal strength to take accountability for the mistakes made, and tremendous humility when success is achieved. Be a leader of principle, strength, and competence, but most importantly be a leader of honesty and moral fortitude. There is No Excuse!

Life Lessons - A Reason For Everything


Recently I had the opportunity to conduct a presentation for Cambridge Investment Research Group in Fairfield, IA. Although a multi-million dollar broker/dealer company, it is literally in the middle of a cornfield. I was scheduled to share two presentations with the employees during my one-day visit. Prior to the first seminar, the training coordinator asked if I would be willing to be interviewed by their communications team for the purpose of their newsletter and other marketing materials. I appreciatively accepted the invitation. The course of the interview was filled with many questions I am usually asked, such as how did you proceed from West Point to inspirational speaking? How is the “No Excuse!” message being received? Who are your typical clients? Etc. Upon getting close to the conclusion of the interview, the interviewer asked if she could ask one more question that was a bit more personal. I answered, “of course”. She proceeded to ask, “If your father were alive today, what would you tell him?” (My father passed away at the age of 49, when I was 11 years old) You can imagine that the candidness of the question caught me by surprise, plus throughout my life’s journey I had never been asked such a question.

As I contemplated for a moment, and sensed emotions being generated that I had not felt in some time, I responded with, “I would not tell my father anything, I would ask him everything. What is it like to be a father, a husband, and a professional? How do you become those things? What are your values, what do you like to do, and what are some of your philosophies about life?” All the questions I never had an opportunity to ask my father as a child I would now ask him as an adult. Upon further self-reflection it occurred to me that in my desire for his presence, and the reality of his absence, I have been on a path to discover all the things I had always wanted to ask him. Thus, in the search to discover the answers I yearned for, I have been blessed to share that insight with others through my profession and my message.

Life lesson one is, “you teach best in life what you want to learn the most”. I have always wanted to learn the things I had self-doubt about, and in that undertaking realized all the areas of life I had interest in and wanted to understand, generated excitement to share and teach that discovery and awareness with others. Ask yourself, if you are passionate about something; is not one of your greatest joys to share that something with others? For example, if you love to fish, ski, sew, study history, or have a hobby you enjoy, some of the most fulfilling times are when you share and teach that joy with others. Realize the interests in your life you are passionate about and enjoy the most will provide perspective of who you are, and yield an understanding of the impact and influence others have had on you. From a family perspective isn’t interesting how we as parents pass down to our children many of the things we enjoy the most? Just examine friends and family acquaintances you have, and how evident that historical pattern of interest repeats itself.

The second life lesson is “what happens to you happens for you”. I certainly cannot go back 41 years and change the passing of my father, but I understand that “life is not what you are given but how you take it”. In my heart I know I would not be the person I am, retain the family I have, nor have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others if that tragedy had not occurred. I cannot change the past, but only learn from the past, work with the present and prepare for the future. I am sure there would have been many benefits in having a father figure and mentor in my life, but “it is what it is”. The final life lesson learned is to recognize, “we cannot use what we did not have in life to justify what we cannot be, cannot do and cannot become”. It is just an excuse for not taking accountability for our lives and ownership for our actions. Enjoy what you love, learn from what you do, and help others along the way. How fun is that?

Saturday, August 15, 2020

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