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5 Leadership Lessons from History

5 Leadership Lessons From Crossing the Delaware

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Leadership Lessons From History

Several years ago in a meeting, we were asked to share the name of the best leadership book we’d read in the past year. My colleagues suggested books by Maxwell, Gladwell and Collins, yet my mind went directly to the historical account of General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River in 1776, depicted in “To Try Men’s Souls” by Newt Gingrich.

You may remember the story from high school history class. In December 1776 during the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army was demoralized and on the run. Christmas night, while camped along the Delaware River, Washington realized that their only chance to win – or even to survive – was to attack the British at Trenton.

It wasn’t evident at the time of course, but historians now consider the events of that evening and the next morning as the turning point of the Revolutionary War. As we study Washington’s decision-making during these extraordinary circumstances, five leadership lessons emerge.

1. Heroes Exist in the Unlikeliest of Places

Henry Knox served as Washington’s chief artillery officer, and before the war, Knox managed a bookstore.

According the Washington, Knox’s efforts made the attack on Trenton possible. As a devastating blizzard engulfed the area late on Christmas night, the river seemed impassable. Knox coordinated efforts to load the army’s few remaining artillery pieces onto the creaky flatboats and to navigate the ice-choked river. Once across, it was his leadership that allowed men to transport heavy machinery up and down the icy hills in the midst of an historic blizzard.

Washington later said he was stunned by Knox’s confidence and impressed by the routine, matter-of-fact way Knox explained his plan. He had horses drag artillery pieces up frozen hills in the middle of a snowstorm, in the dark, using malnourished and barefoot soldiers, yet Knox made it seem like an ordinary, routine event.

Like eagles, leaders don’t flock together. You most often find them one at a time, and sometimes a bookseller helps you win a war.

2. Hold Steady in the Face of the “But Sirs”

Once Washington made his decision to cross the Delaware and attack, he never wavered. As soon as the order was disseminated through the ranks, leaders were hit with a barrage of “but sirs.”

• “But sir, the river is filled with ice.”
• “But sir, these boats weren’t designed to transport cannons.”
• “But sir, my men haven’t eaten in three days, they won’t survive the march.”
• “But sir, the British are well-rested and well-fed, what chance do we have in battle?”

But sir, but sir, but sir. As a leader, how often do you deal with resistance to a tough decision? Washington responded by increasing the level of communication so that everyone had better understanding of his decisions, as illustrated in this brief aside to his officers:

“If we do not win soon, there will be no army left. When there is no army left, the rebellion will be over. When the rebellion is over, we will all be hung. Therefore we have little to lose.”

3. Frequently Communicating Vision is a Necessity

Washington didn’t say it just once, he repeated himself over and over, up and down the line of soldiers. The vision: Cross the river, move the artillery and cross Jacob’s Creek. In twelve hours.

Did everyone agree with his plan? Hardly. Did they execute the mission? Definitely.

4. Be Visible

A Continental soldier’s diary recounts that for every mile he covered, General Washington probably covered twelve. Riding back and forth, checking on the front line, then crossing the creek to check on the men at the back of the line, then back to the front again. The soldiers knew their leader was invested and that he was fighting right by their side.

A good rule-of-thumb for leaders: the tougher the mission, the higher the visibility.

5. Leaders Aren’t Called to Do Their Best

Washington knew this leadership secret better than anyone. He knew that most of his men’s enlistments expired in a week and that he was outmanned and outgunned. He knew that their only chance of survival was to attack and win at Trenton. Everything else was irrelevant.

It didn’t matter that the river was filled with ice, or that half his men had no shoes and hadn’t eaten in days. The boat boarding passcode that night was “Victory or Death.” This is what Washington believed and it was how he led his army. He knew that as leaders, we are not called to do our best – we are called to do what is required.

Washington’s army went on to win the battle at Trenton, and to win again at Princeton. The momentum of those wins turned the war in their favor, eventually leading to American independence fifteen years later. And I believe the momentum truly began with the perseverance of one man, directing his forces to victory through a blinding snowstorm.

Nearly two hundred fifty years later, General Washington’s leadership lessons are as valuable today as they were that snowy night on the banks of the Delaware River.


Jim Quillen

by Jim Quillen


Author Bio: As director of tax at Paycom, Jim Quillen is responsible for ensuring payments and returns are filed timely and accurately. Quillen, a CPA by training, has worked in many fields during his career, including finance, auditing, recruiting, sales, business development and software implementation. Prior to his current role, Quillen has served Paycom as the director of business intelligence, director of new client implementation and director of recruiting.

a professional practicing Mindfulness in an open field at sunset.

How Mindfulness Benefits the Boardroom

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Often, “mindfulness” conjures up images of stillness in a yoga studio. But fast-paced executives are finding mindfulness and leadership also go hand in hand. Intentionally tuning in to daily tasks, people and events can actually benefit the boardroom as much as it does the boat pose.

 Why mindfulness matters

 Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” This mindset encourages people to slow down and focus on the present.

For many in upper management positions, slowing down feels more like a luxury than a reality. However, mindfulness can also occur by noticing actions as they happen.

Essentially, mindfulness exists in opposition to moving thoughtlessly from one task to the next and instead prioritizes focus, curiosity and openness. According to leadership expert John C. Maxwell, the highest level of leadership – Pinnacle leadership – requires intentionality.

Maxwell writes in his book The 5 Levels of Leadership Pinnacle leadership “requires longevity as well as intentionality … if you continually focus on both growing yourself at every level, and developing leaders who are willing and able to develop other leaders, you may find yourself at the Pinnacle.” Leaders who practice mindfulness have an edge on the focus and intentionality required to reach the highest level of leadership.

Proven benefits in the field

 Business behemoths like General Mills, Target and Google are part of the mindfulness movement. All three companies implemented mindfulness training programs and had improvements in leadership qualities like listening, productivity and decision-making.

Harvard Business Review detailed these companies’ mindfulness initiatives, noting “bringing mindfulness to the workplace has decreased people’s stress levels while improving focus and clarity, listening and decision-making skills, and overall well-being. Perhaps most importantly from a management perspective, mindfulness gives employees permission to think.”

Implementing mindfulness

Today’s leaders need to plan for tomorrow without sacrificing commitment to their day-to-day responsibilities. Though pursuing mindfulness can feel challenging in a fast-paced environment, working to increase levels of focus, curiosity and intentionality is worth the effort.

A few actionable ways you can implement mindfulness are:

  • taking the time to practice active listening during one-on-one meetings
  • remaining open to a company’s change and innovation trajectory
  • prioritizing clarity over speed during big decisions

These small steps can add significant depth to an individual’s leadership skills.

Learn more about improving as a leader (and achieving Pinnacle leadership) with this on-demand  Paycom webinar presented by John C. Maxwell. Whether you’re looking to lead your company to the next level or focusing on your own personal management skills, mindfulness can help you get there.

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Author Bio: Jason Bodin has been the communications pulse for a number of organizations, including Paycom, where he serves as director of public relations and corporate communications. He helped launch Paycom’s blog, webinar platform and social media channels. He aided in the development of Paycom’s tool to assist organizations in complying with the Affordable Care Act, one of the largest changes in health care the country has seen. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Bodin previously worked for ESPN and FoxSports. In his free time, he enjoys adventuring with his family, reading and strengthen his business acumen.

core values

Defining Game-Changing Core Values to Attract Superstar Talent

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March is over, but the madness HR deals with never ends. Fortunately, your organization’s core values can be a real game-changer in the competition for top talent. In a recent episode of the HR Break Room podcast, Kinetix CHRO Kris Dunn discussed the valuable lessons HR can learn from the annual college hoops competition.

Here is a sampling of our conversation on why core values matter – in basketball and in business.

The margins for talent are small

 When recruiting high-quality talent, organizations actually compete on a tight playing field, and like a single-elimination tournament, hiring is a one-and-done process. When an organization edges out other companies in the quest for top talent, it ultimately has the advantage over competitors, and may even move up to face much larger businesses as a result.

In college basketball today, nearly all universities that advance to the final games have chosen to grow their teams over several years, instead of recruiting superstars who play for one season before going pro. In developing talent for the long term, your organization can succeed against the competition too.

Listen to the full conversation with Kris Dunn in “Slam Dunk: Defining Game-Winning Core Values,” an episode of the HR Break Room podcast.

Define and promote core values to attract top talent

 Compare a successful business to any winning basketball team, and you will find a common thread: well-defined core values. This year’s tourney winner, Villanova, places a high value on learning and development by retaining players for multiple years. The value of practical education permeates the entire organization. Consequently, Villanova has a great skills development program.

When defining core values for your organization, it’s important to determine which traits support overarching strategic goals. Once these values have been determined, communicate and promote them to the outside world so you can attract talented individuals who share those values. To create the best possible experience for prospective candidates, these values must be transparent and consistently demonstrated within the organization.

Know what makes your organization special

 No two teams play the same way. Some apply pressure to opponents; some play a specific type of zone defense; and still others want to run out the clock. Similarly, each top-performing organization has its own unique company culture, driven by its core values.

Take any sample of American companies, and you’ll find various ways to make decisions, assign responsibility and define success. Differing approaches to culture directly reflect the core values of each organization, because your culture is born from the values most consistently on display.

For an entire organization to own its culture and core values, HR must invest in the company’s desired identity, and encourage leaders to go “all in.” This can help differentiate your organization from other companies competing for top talent, and give you an edge in identifying and recruiting prospective employees likely to make valuable contributions from day one.

Enjoy this article? check out Swish! 5 Talent Lessons I’ve Already Learned From the NCAA Tournament This March

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caleb.masters

by Caleb Masters


Author Bio: Caleb is the host of The HR Break Room and a Webinar and Podcast Producer at Paycom. With more than 5 years of experience as a published online writer and content producer, Caleb has produced dozens of podcasts and videos for multiple industries both local and online. Caleb continues to assist organizations creatively communicate their ideas and messages through researched talks, blog posts and new media. Outside of work, Caleb enjoys running, discussing movies and trying new local restaurants.

Anonymous Sexual Harassment Reports

Building Employee Trust with Anonymous Sexual Harassment Reports

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Employee trust is one of the most important factors in handling sexual harassment complaints. Employees need to trust HR will listen to their concerns and will respond appropriately to reports of sexual harassment. Yet the EEOC notes only about 30% of employees who experienced harassment reported the harassment internally within their company.

One way HR can help build trust with employees is with a robust system of reporting and investigation that allows anonymous complaints and communications.

If clear procedures are communicated to employees and consistently followed, an anonymous complaint process can help build trust that HR is prepared and committed to investigating harassment complaints in a fair and thorough manner.

Make a plan and stick to it

 As with all company policies, developing your procedure ahead of time, and following it when issues arise, are key to workplace fairness. Following the steps of a robust and outlined policy can also help limit company liability after an incident occurs by demonstrating the company seriously investigated the complaint and took appropriate action in accordance with its policy.

Providing the means for employees to make anonymous complaints can help employees trust their complaints will be handled discretely and appropriately, and can help lessen employee concerns about retaliation.

Some employers contract with an outside vendor to provide a third-party anonymous reporting system that will pass on complaints only to a specific person or group who needs to know of the complaint in order to investigate. The vendor can also allow the person making the report to specify individuals who may be involved in the behavior, so those people will not receive access to the anonymous report.

Follow up

 Take anonymous reports as seriously as any other type of report, including face-to-face complaints. Recognize the reasons an individual may wish to remain anonymous and be sensitive in your response.

Think of anonymous reporting as simply another pathway to allow your employees to share their concerns, in addition to the other methods available to them, like discussions with HR personnel or meetings with supervisors. Thoroughly investigate any complaint made, regardless of whether the person who filed a report chooses to remain anonymous or not.

Don’t promise more than you can deliver

 Communicate to employees that they can make a report of sexual harassment completely anonymously. However, if they choose to identify themselves in a complaint, don’t promise you will be able to keep their identity secret. Make clear you have a duty to investigate all complaints, and this may involve interviews with the person or people accused of taking part in inappropriate or harassing behavior.

Emphasize the company will follow its internal procedures. Do not imply or promise what may result from an investigation after an employee complaint is made. An anonymous complaint is the first step of a workplace investigation, and must be investigated in accordance with policy, just like any other type of report.

It’s important to take your company’s responsibilities seriously when you respond to sexual harassment complaints. A robust policy that allows anonymous reports and responds with an impartial and thorough investigation to each anonymous complaint can be an effective part of an overall anti-harassment strategy, and can help build and maintain employee trust in HR personnel and anti-harassment efforts.

 Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.

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Posted in Blog, Compliance, Featured

Erin Maxwell

by Erin Maxwell


Author Bio: As a compliance attorney for Paycom, Erin Maxwell monitors legal and regulatory changes at the state and federal level, focusing on health and employee benefits laws, to ensure the Paycom system is updated accordingly. She previously served as assistant general counsel at Asset Servicing Group in Oklahoma City. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Oklahoma and a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma. Outside of work, Maxwell enjoys politics, historical mysteries and spending time with her family.

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