The Leading Edge: Lead Long and Prosper

LE Contributor Trudy Menke

By: Trudy Menke

Think back – do you remember those episodes of Star Trek, especially those really old ones from the 1960’s that used the Universal Translator to help the crew of the Enterprise as they were seeking new civilizations and boldly going where no man had gone before? The Universal Translator allowed the crew to communicate and connect with anyone that didn’t share their language, even when they weren’t from the same worlds.

Imagine my excitement when I realized that the leadership skills I was learning through my 2011 Certification with the John Maxwell Team were the Universal Translator of businesses, organizations, churches, schools and families! They bring common ground to people coming together from many different worlds and experiences who are passionately working to make a bold difference.

Wherever people come together, leaders arise. Some arise due to position, and they often gain those positions through power, promotion or purchase, but, as John Maxwell teaches, position is the lowest level of leadership. Leaders succeed because of influence.

Maxwell is well-known for his insight in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership that states, “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” There’s a great freedom in that quote reminding us that where we grow our influence, we are growing our leadership. It gives us a worthy target – to become a better leader.

        The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.  –Socrates

How can we focus on our influence? There are many leadership skills that deserve attention, and, for me, trust has always been foundational. In the Law of Solid Ground, John Maxwell identifies the building blocks of trust as competence, connection and character.

When I was just out of college, I worked for a leader in the commercial lending department of a regional bank who displayed a high level of consistency. I followed the consistent patterns in his decision making for clients, for personnel issues with staff and within the ways he prioritized people and mentored me. What was black or white on Wednesday was still black or white on Thursday. I learned that consistency isn’t so hard to maintain when it aligns with your values and convictions.

While competence and connection can be flashy, character is consistent. Competence is displayed through mastery, and connection is displayed through people.  Since consistency is displayed through repetition, it can be labeled boring. Even so, in my early twenties, and long before I read about leadership skills, I could see that being trustworthy was an important part of strong leadership.

As I write this today, I haven’t worked for that leader in almost 30 years, but we’ve stayed in touch. Next week, I’ll be attending his retirement party. As this example reminds me, trust is also a great foundation for building a legacy.

When I work with clients, some will try to convince me that their industry is unique. They imply or even tell me point-blank that some of the leadership skills and best practices might not work as well as suggested because of something about their team or environment. It’s often in the very skills we haven’t mastered that we question the importance of or potential for their success. I consistently promote that understanding and utilizing leadership skills will be our best Universal Translator.

When leaders start speaking the same language – the language of leadership – organizations can change dramatically because the people running them change dramatically.

Once we can identify the skills we need, then it’s up to us to find the best ways to develop them. When you look at leadership skills as practices you can improve instead of limits you were born with, you’ll never be finished learning.


Trudy Menke is an Executive Director with the John Maxwell Team and serves on its President’s Advisory Council. As President of Trudy Menke – Reframing Leadership, she focuses on communication and leadership skills to help leaders and teams improve clarity, relationships and results. Menke earned a B.S. in Business and has over twenty-five years of experience in marketing, sales and team building. She is an authorized partner with Everything DiSC and Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team.  You can learn more about her at