[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Monday, December 15, 2014

7 Traits: Are You An Extrovert, Introvert, or Ambivert?

Are you an introvert or extrovert? For years, I’ve been told (and so answered) that I was an extrovert. Turns out that wasn’t true. Or, at least, it was an oversimplification of the truth.

Most personality assessments (which I love), define you as one or the other. I’ve always received the result of extrovert from them. And all my friends and family have told me time and again that I’m a total extrovert. They’re basing this on true experiences of me.

I do love crowds (the bigger the better). Attention equals pleasure. Danger sounds fun. And I think by talking—I often know what I think only after it came out of my mouth. So I’m an extrovert, right?

It depends on what you mean my extrovert. I have read a bunch on this topic lately (the best book so far was Quiet by Susan Cain) and I’ve learned that there are really many different traits we throw in two big buckets, labeling them introvert and extrovert.

Extrovert Wiring Introvert Wiring
Motivated most by rewards (focus on what you might win) Motivated most by what you could lose (focus on cost)
Low sensitivity to the environment around you (so you like louder, brighter, more) High sensitivity to your environment (so you like softer, gentler, less)
Think by talking Think silently then talk about your conclusion
Energized by crowds Energized by alone time
Focused on external environment (what others think and feel) Focused on internal environment (what I think and feel)
Really enjoy novelty and variety Really enjoy familiarity and routine
Thrive under pressure (competition, deadlines, attention, etc) Thrive when you set your own goals (you push yourself enough that the extra pressure distracts you)

We talk about people as if they all are all one thing or another. But it’s not always true. Many people aren’t just all one type. In fact, many people are a mix of traits, part-extrovert and part-introvert.

Turns out when I look at a more thorough list of extroverts and introverts, I’m actually what is called an ambivert. (Comes from the same word we get ambidextrous—which I’m not—meaning you can use either hand). The extrovert elements are truly there. But there are other, less obvious facets of introversion that are also totally true. It’s not all or nothing.

For example, while I love crowds—they really give me a lot of energy—my favorite way to spend a day off is reading quietly at home. And while I think by talking, writing is even better at helping me thing (hence this blog) so I spend hours quietly writing and rewriting my thoughts. And while I love new and innovative things, I eat the exact same thing for breakfast every day and have the same lunch about 80% of the time (occasionally my lunch is chosen by others).

For fun, I invite you to make a totally non-scientific personality assessment out of this. How many extrovert and introvert qualities do you have? 

(By the way, I am more extrovert than introvert. 4 of the 7 traits listed above, I lean extrovert).

I’m not an expert on this area, so these aren’t all the qualities that could be listed. They’re just the ones I know about right now. I’m still learning. And the more I learn about how to get the best out of myself, the more I realized I need to make room for the introverted aspects of myself, to honor and encourage them just as much as I have the extroverted aspects of my life.

I’m writing more. I’m scheduling more alone time after big crowd events. And I’m finding I have more energy, deeper insights, and just plain more fun being me. What part of your wiring needs more room to breathe?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Preserve the Core IN ORDER TO Stimulate Progress

Good to Great, by Jim Collins is one of the most read and admired leadership for business books in the last twenty years. And it’s one of my favorite’s, too. It’s full of insights on how good organizations go to great—based on studies of organizations who did just that.

The concept I use most in my leadership—and in my life—is preserve the core and stimulate progress.

These two ideas are often pit against each other as mutually exclusive. From politics to financial planning, there are bitter fights about whether we should protect what has been or innovate and improve. But there’s a big difference between ideas in tension and opposites.

Every person, family, business, church, and technology have a core, a foundation that is at the heart of their success. Losing a healthy core leads to destruction. But we know stories of people and organizations who simply wouldn’t grow and change. From Kodak’s dismissal of digital photography to your Aunt Myrtle who won’t touch a computer, real tragedy comes from rejecting the need for progress.

Collins found that great organizations did both. Easy to say, harder to do, right? How do you know what the right balance is? How do you know when you’ve gone too far? Turns out the key to managing this tension has nothing to do with balance.

The more clearly you understand and name your foundation, the easier it is to innovate without threatening it. It’s when you don’t truly know what’s core that you risk destroying it through foolish innovation. And the deeper your insight, the more truly you see which core ideas and people and resources make up your foundation, the asker it is to protect your core.

Kodak’s problem was not that it was too concerned about it’s core. It’s problem was that it understood it’s core too shallowly. They thought they were in the photo paper business, when they were in the memory capture business.

In the end, great organizations—great people and families—do not compromise one inch on their core. They completely preserve the core. And knowing what that is allows them to be as creative and unconventional as they can be in all non-core areas. But when you don’t know what’s core and what’s not, every decision requires an exhausting deliberation.

What’s your core? How well are you preserving that? And what’s not core? How well are you doing in progressing in those areas?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Be Afraid For the Right Reasons (not manipulated by relative numbers)

Fear is incredibly motivating, right up there with love, shaping our choices, shaping our lives. At it’s best, fear keeps us alive. But fear has a flaw that love and imagination do not. Fear is very easily aroused. A very small trigger can produce a tsunami of fear, washing away all other thoughts and driving us to action—NOW. 

More and more influencers—from advertisers to leaders of noble non-profits—realize the unrivaled power of fear in moving people to action. There are naked appeals to subtle suggestions, we are bombarded with messages of fear. You are at risk, your family is at risk, our nation, our way of life is at risk—unless you act in a particular way, of course.

I don’t see them changing tactics anytime soon. So if we’re going to make wise decisions, I think we need to get smarter and more disciplined in responding to all these messages of fear. Mastering this is multifaceted and doesn't fit in one blog post. But I can expose one of the most common manipulation techniques: confusing relative risk with absolute risk.

Beware whenever you hear something like, “twice as likely to cause blood clots” or “three times more accidents from” or “50% greater chance of causing cancer”. If that phrase is not followed with absolute numbers, showing how many people actually got cancer in one group versus another, or how many more accidents there were, then distrust what they told you.

Example: there was a drug commercial some years back with this message, “Our drug gets the same results as the other drug you already know, but that other drug is twice as likely to give you blood clots in your legs. And here’s what blood clots look like.” They got you afraid of blood clots—and then repeated how the other guys are twice as likely to cause them. They didn’t lie—it was totally true. But they only told the relative risk, not the absolute numbers.

The real numbers: the drug in the commercial has a 0.015 chance of causing blood clots and the “dangerous” drug has a 0.03 chance of causing blood clots. For every 100 people who take each drug, 1.5 or 3 people get blood clots, In absolute terms, there’s no meaningful difference. 

50% more cancer from a food could mean a jumpy from 6 to 9 people out of a group of 10,000. In fact, most of the “causes cancer” claims on food are actually a slight increase in relative risk, when you read the fine print.

It takes extra work to look past the dramatic statements in our commercials and political speeches and grocery stores. It requires mental discipline to withhold your judgement when it seems so obvious But what you earn for this work is peace of mind. You don’t have to live in a cloud of constant fear. More importantly, you can know which things you really should fear and make wiser choices as a result.

In fact, I think you’ll be five times as likely to avoid looking like a fool if you take my advice. :)

photo credit: zetson via photopin cc

Monday, November 24, 2014

Death By Meeting (Great Leadership Books)

Among the many leadership books I’ve read, a handful have stood out to me as the most practical and long lasting. I posted about one of those recently (LINK). Another of those books is Death By Meeting by Patrick Lencioni

Like most of Lencioni’s books, it’s a fable—a story that teaches a lesson. It’s easy to read and kept my attention. And it changed forever how I plan and lead meetings.

Most of us spend a lot of our lives in meetings—boring, painfully slow meetings we survive using desert-trekking techniques (grit your teeth and put one foot after the the other). But meetings can be exciting and highly productive experiences. They can be engines of innovation and the key to cutting through bureaucracy. No, this isn’t hyperbole. I’ve crossed over the River Boredom into the Promise Land where the meetings really do flow with fun and progress.

One of the best maps on the journey to great meetings I know is this book. Two big ideas from Death By Meeting:

Different types of meetings shouldn’t be mixed. Each  meeting should be focused on one and only one purpose. Some of the most common meeting purposes:
Information sharing (structure and pre-work are the keys to this—do as little as possible in live meetings)
Practical problem solving (frequent, shorter meetings are needed for this)
Big issues/strategy decisions (1-3 times a year is normal for these longer meetings—save your big questions for these longer sessions)
Learning (1-3 times a year learning as a group can do wonders for your work group’s productivity)
Celebrating (commonly overlooked, this meeting type doesn’t have to be long, but shouldn’t be smashed into another meeting where it will lose it’s impact)
The catch-all meeting most of us have lived with muddies the purpose, wasting tons of time by diffusing team energy, not focusing it. You bounce from topic to topic with no clarity on what you’re there to do or how best to approach it.

An exception to this one-purpose-only rule: you can add moments of relationship building in any other meeting type without creating problems. Simple things like beginning with each person sharing 1-2 minutes answering questions like: What did you do over the weekend? and What’s the worst Christmas present you ever got?

At the heart of great meetings is productive conflict. No conflict, no need to meet. We already agree so why waste time talking about it. Meetings are intended to help people who disagree discuss and decide what to do. Great meetings require all three elements: 1) topic you disagree on, 2) healthy, rich discussions, 3) real decisions made.

There are  couple of practical aspects, but I think you get the idea. The Promise Land of great meetings does exist. Don’t settle for lame meetings anymore. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Storytelling for Leaders

This fall, I attended Story In Business, a 1-day seminar taught by Robert McKee, the guru of story. At 73 years old, he’s profound, charismatic, funny, and also pretty salty. (He curses like a sailor when he gets worked up.)

I’ve been to the 4-day seminar that has made him famous so I knew that McKee understood stories. At this event, I was delighted to discover he also understood business and leadership. I took lots of notes: 4,681 words to be precise (not counting the diagrams). I thought you’d appreciate me highlighting a few of my favorites insights rather that go through them line by line. :)

The mind is a natural receptor for story. If you can put your info in a story form, people will respond and act on it.

Above all else, leaders must make meaning out of chaos to other people. If you cannot make sense of the complex forces inside and outside of your organization, they will not follow you.

Story is the struggle to put life back into balance.

Story begins with a balanced life. A starting event throws things out of balance. Our instinct as humans is to restore the balance. So the core character focuses on something that, if the core character could get it, would put life back into balance.

This raises questions in the audience: How will this turn out? Will the character get what they want? If so, will it get them back to the balance they want? 

How many rotten films have you sat through to get the answer to these questions? :)
No matter how clever the camera work and music, a car being pieced together is a process, not a story.
The history of a family, no matter how admirable they are, is a list of events, not a story.

It’s about drawing the audience into empathy with the core character. 

They are enough like me therefore I want that character to get what they want (if I were that person in those circumstances I’d want it, too). When people root for the core character, they are actually rooting for themselves. This is why a story told well is so powerful.
Today people so identify with characters in fiction that you can lose a friend by rejecting a story they fell in love with. “The Piano” caused more divorce in America than any other specific film I know. [He made a handful of colorful comments about family, politics, morality...let’s just say he’s a cynic.]

Emotion is the side effect of change.

Business people these days are afraid of negative communication, from internal (“we’ve got a problem”) to external (telling customers about the dangers). All positive with no real problems produces no real emotion. Emotion is generated when people move from negative to positive (or vice versa). So the more powerful the change the stronger the emotion—the worse the negative the stronger the emotion when it’s solved.

Strategy is a reality story told between co-decision makers at the top of the pyramid of power.

There was so much more I wanted to include but deleted to keep this post reasonably brief. I’d highly recommend attending any of his conferences (with the caveat that they’re rated PG-13 for language).


What stories do you need to tell better?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Thinking Gray

I read my first leadership seventeen years ago and I still remember it vividly: sitting outside, back against a fence, literally turning the pages as fast as I could with my heart pounding. Sadly, I’m not exaggerating. :) But even though the book inspired me, nothing from that book actually drives my day to day leadership. All sizzle and no steak.

However, other leadership books I’ve read since permanently changed the way I lead and live. The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership by Steven Sample has several power and practical ideas. 

The one I probably use most: Thinking Gray

Our human instinct is to decide what we think about something right away. I agree. I don’t like it. She’s right and he’s wrong. But Sample challenged me to unnaturally reserve my judgement—to not form an opinion until I have to decide. Yes, not deciding at all is poor leadership. But deciding too soon is also poor leadership.

How many times have you heard someone share their story of injustice and decided the other guy was a jerk—only to later learn the other side of the story and change your mind? I’ve had that happen with my kids so many times I lost count. And I’ve had it at work and at church and with my friends.

How do you respond when you watch the news? Hear your family members complain about someone else? Learn about a decision someone else at your company made? My normal response—thanks entirely to practicing this for years now—is to be glad to learn the information, decide not to decide yet. 

Thanks to this, when I do need to make a decision, I hold the data I have lightly, knowing it’s likely not the whole story. I do make decisions—lots of them, but you might be surprised (like I was) how much of life never actually requires me to make a decision about it. (The news, my crazy relative, what another department in the company is doing—most of these things may never need me to form an opinion about whether they’re right or wrong). Deciding is mental work (many scientific studies show this). The energy loss and stress I avoid by not choosing sides on those items is pretty significant. It gives me more time and energy to make the decisions that do matter.

Thinking gray requires restraint and humility, but it’s saved me from many, many poor decisions.

What area of your life could thinking gray help you be wiser?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How to Read a Book (book review)

You'd think I already know how to read with all the book reviews I’ve written, so why did I read a book title How To Read A Book? I did love the irony of the title--it could have been the world's most unhelpful book. If you can’t read, how does a book on reading help? :)

Thankfully, it turned out to be a very useful book. This book has been in continuous print since the 1940’s and I see why.

Adler describes four levels of reading. The first level, what he calls elementary reading, refers to understanding the words on the page. But that was a short section because that’s not what this book is about. 

The second level he calls introductory--basically skimming a book to get the basic idea. This is where many of the modern speed reading techniques get applied. But it was more than speed reading. It was how to get a general understanding of a book by doing things like reading the opening and closing paragraphs of each chapter (where good authors summarize everything for you).

The third level is analytical reading. This is deep, slow, and thoughtful reading. Most of us feel that we must read every book at this level. We have school to thank for this, since those are the only two reading approaches we were taught.

But Adler contends that most of our reading should be fun and quick and that we should only spend the effort do read analytically on a small percentage of books. For fiction, just enjoy it. And for learning books, get an overview before you do anything else. Most books, he says, you shouldn’t do any more—after skimming you’re done. But a few will stir you, intrigue you, and invite you to go deeper. Only these great books warrant the effort of deep, analytical reading.

Deep reading of a mediocre book is a waste of your time.

The final level is what he calls syntopcial reading. You pick a topic and read many books that revolve around that concept. You analyze each book and also compare and contrast between whole books.

I love his core approach. I give 4 rather than 5 stars because he goes into great depth on different kinds of books and adds all sorts of very interesting but totally unnecessary thoughts on things like how to read encyclopedias and why poetry is important to culture and nature of truth found in fiction. Interesting from a philosophical standpoint, but not necessary to the core message of the book.

Ultimately, I feel really empowered after reading this book. I’ll waste a lot less time on mediocre books, now. Also, I’m going to increase my use of book summaries (also called abstracts)—let someone else do the overview work for me, right?

What books on your reading list should you skim? Maybe you should give yourself permission to skim them all.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

2nd Easiest Way to Change Your Life - Mini Habits Book Review

His life changed with the "golden pushup". And I think the insights the author of Mini Habits shared may be the second easiest way to change your life I’ve ever discovered. (Being saved by grace is pretty hard to top.)

How many times have you tried to start doing something you know you should, but ended up quitting? When did you save yourself the time and just give up before starting? Do you still want to exercise regularly? Read more? Pray more? Work on that book/painting/construction project?
Been there. Didn't do it either. Didn't get the t-shirt.
A few months back I posted about the morning routine that changed my life. It's still working. And you might think I'm Mr. Discipline now. But I still struggle to write regularly. That part of my morning routine isn't going so well. My blog posting is fairly regular (let’s not talk about the second half of September). But I also have a book in the works. I'm not even close to doing that regularly. 
Like most people, I’m trying to carve out enough time and energy to do this right. I’d like at least 30 min, preferably 45 min, to sit and write. But when the time comes to write I’ve either not left enough time for this or don’t have the energy. But Mini Habits says if you want to build a good habit, start small--stupid small. 

The author wanted to get in shape, but even thinking about the 30 min workout he needed to do exhausted him. So one day, one “golden” day, he decided he could at least do 1 pushup. That went so well, that we committed to do 1 pushup ever day. That's it. But the ease of doing it allowed him to establish a real habit. One day he almost forgot and rolled over in bed to do his pushup right there.

Once the habit was in place he increased the workout. He has applied this Mini Habit approach to many other areas of his life, from writing to eating to reading. And it all changed with what he calls “the golden pushup”. 
It’s a short book, written with lots of humor and energy and so very worth reading. It might change your life. In fact, I started a mini habit the day after I finished it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

2 Ways the Biography of Walt Disney Impacted Me (book review)

Walt Disney shaped the imagination of the twentieth century. He was the first to actually tell a story with animation (rather than merely do slapstick jokes). He was the first to use sound with animation. He was the first to produce color animation. He was the first to do a full-length animated movie. His was the first movie studio to create shows for TV. He created animatronic robots to put on live shows. And Disneyland immersed us in an entirely new experience that’s still blowing our minds today.

Even more significant than technology were the themes of his stories. They inspired the dreams of millions across the world. Maybe even your own values were influenced with themes like: Believe in your dreams and they’ll come true. Be true to yourself. Don’t lose your childlike qualities. Sometimes, for the good of others, you have to make sacrifices (think Old Yeller).

I knew most of that. I was one of the kids raised with Disney cartoons and movies, from the classic animated movies to the black and white Zorro TV show. But I didn’t know much about him personally. What I learned challenged me—in more ways than one.

First, the image of the warm, gentle uncle who told great stories was only partly true. It was true that he loved stories and told them constantly. And he did dote on his children and grandchildren. But as a boss, he was unanimously described as a hard, autocratic taskmaster. He regularly (often daily) shouted at his employees—including foul language. He even had a practice during his later years of random firing and rehiring, to keep them from being complacent, he said.

Second, this was all driven by a passion—his obsession even—to create masterpieces. He literally wanted every project to change the industry forever. Money was no concern to him. If he had to go over budget by $2 million and 2 years, he did. (That happened making Snow White, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, etc.) 

Third, he hurt a lot of people because he couldn’t release control. Projects bottlenecked, waiting for him to approve details. People were fired for getting too influential (he saw them as a threat). And after a while some of his best people left to do great work at other studios. Looney Tunes and Mister Magoo were both created by ex-Disney animators who couldn’t stand working for Walt Disney any longer. 

The book was well written—I enjoyed reading it as a story. (Click the image above to link to the book on Amazon.) But the story of his life impacted me, deeply even, in two ways.

One, I have decided to spend my life trying to create masterpieces. His passion for greatness inspired and convicted me. There are a couple of personal creative projects I was planning to make good enough and then move on. It wasn’t a conscious choice as much as an unwillingness to pay the price great work requires. But when everyone around Walt Disney, including his brother, told him that he didn’t need to make every project a masterpiece, he went for it anyway. So, after thinking and praying a lot about it, I’m committing, right here and right now, to aim to create masterpieces. Oh, I’ll make mistakes and probably, like Disney, will turn out some flops. But I will at least aim for the best every time.

Two, I saw the cost of trying to reach greatness alone. You might get there, if you strive hard enough long enough. But you might end up like Disney: famous, but lonely. He died of lung cancer, after 50 years of chain-smoking. And aside from his wife and kids, he had no real friends. None.

Greatness is more than masterful art (or science or teaching or sales). So I’m also committed to creating masterpieces in collaboration with deep friends.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Friday, October 3, 2014

Riding Home From Soccer Games - A False Teachable Moment

My children—all four of them—are playing soccer this fall. I have become a soccer-dad, driving a minivan and bringing the team snack in a cooler. During a parents meeting, they shared how many studies have asked collegiate and professional athletes, “What are your worst memories of childhood sports?” And study after study the same answer came back: The ride home after the game. 

Their parents wanted to help by discussing the game, pointing out ways their little athlete could do better next time. But the now grown-up athletes reported dreading those rides. Rather than feel helped, they said they felt badgered and defeated. 

And then he surprised me with his wisdom and simplicity. After the game, this coach said, parents should ask three--and only three--questions:

Did you have fun?
Did you work hard?
Are you hungry?

If they want to talk to you about the game, that's great. Let them share and listen well (which includes saying simple things to affirm you heard what they said). But don’t teach or even correct them. Just listen.

I would encourage one exception. It would be great to share specific things they did well and say you were proud of them. But don’t you dare poison that encouragement with a follow up comment like how they should do more things like that, or next time also do this other thing. Just make them aware of the pleasure seeing them play gives you.

If you really want to help your child improve their skills, then I suggest two options. First, become their coach. Most sports leagues are desperate for parents to help coach. Second, you could schedule a session with your child to work on skills. But separate that time from the game experience. And finish even those teaching sessions with clear communication about your love for your child.

As my children grow, and as my sense of responsibility to raise them well grows, I find myself searching for teachable moments—opportunities to pour wisdom into them. There’s so much I want them to understand—so much they need to know. But I’ve come to see that the ride home after the game is not a teachable moment.

When you force a teachable moment, it turns into a discouraging moment. Few things are more crushing to the heart of a child than feeling like they have disappointed their parents.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximizing Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation (book review)

I love the content. But I give four stars (not five) because it's overly technical/academic in it's language. I'm all about rigorous research. But the author is at Harvard and wrote this like a long academic journal article. If you can get pat the dry, over complicated language, it's a good read. Example: she calls these thinking modes "cognitive brain sets" or "brain activation patterns".

Creativity, the author argues, is not a single mental process, not a magical gift some have and others don't. Rather, it is the ability to engage in and transition between several ways of thinking. 

The first thinking pattern she discusses is the "absorb" mode, where you are open, curious, and nonjudgmental about what's happening around you. The key here is to see with fresh eyes rather than filter the world though your assumptions. 

The "reason" mode is a deliberate problem solving mode. You systematically analyze the gaps, look for patterns, test ideas, etc. 

The "connect" mode is where you reach for associations, finding similar themes but in non-obvious ways. This is where you see how building team cohesion is like baking a cake, or how thinking of paintbrush bristles like a pump for paint opens new manufacturing options. 

The "envision" brain mode is using your imagination, vividly seeing what could be. You pose a possibility and then envision all the ways it would play out. 

The "evaluate" mode uses an explicitly judgmental process. All creative professionals know that many more ideas are generated than can be used. In fact, many of them are really bad ideas. Doing the hard work of sorting and rejecting some ideas so you can focus on good ones is at the heart of good creative work. 

The "transform" mode, she says, happens when the negative feelings about yourself and life fuel creative work. I actually totally disagree with this mode being on her list. There are a lot of creative professionals who struggle with negative feelings. But I think feeling blue doesn't in and of itself contribute to creativity. I think creativity can help alleviate or channel those feelings. But it's a separate thing. Correlation does not equal causation. 

The last mode is the "stream" mode. This is when you get so caught up in what you're doing that time fades away and you zone out. It's when the challenge matches your skill level and there is real time feedback (even if just your own feelings on how you're doing). This mental process often generates ideas and work that feels effortless and even from beyond ourselves. 

But, again, creativity requires all these modes. It's not staying in your favorite mode. It's being proficient in each. And it's being able to slide back and forth without a major loss of energy or time. When you can do this, you can be creative in any field. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Funeral of S. Truett Cathy

Today, I attended the funeral of S. Truett Cathy.  I was inspired, humbled, encouraged, and I teared up more than once. And there was either a massive dust epidemic in that beautiful sanctuary or the thousands of others with me got pretty emotional as well.

And it’s no surprise. There are very few people I know—or even have heard of—who have lived their lives so well. He wasn’t perfect. But he was faithful. Day after day, year after year, he gave his very best to glorify God and bless his fellow man.

Those who didn’t know him might be impressed by his wealth as the owner of a $5 billion company (Chick-fil-A) plus many other ventures, including a theme park, hawaiian restaurant, and beach resorts. But those of us who had the chance to get to know him are far more impressed at his heart than his money.

In fact, it’s pretty ironic that he even ended up rich. He certainly didn’t start rich. Rather, he grew up in a family that was hit hard by the Great Depression. He used to joke, “I was so poor, all I had to play with was a loose tooth. And it was my brother’s tooth.” And he didn’t aim to be rich. When he was in elementary school, Truett’s teacher asked all the students to bring in their favorite bible verse. One day, she chose his verse to be the verse of the week. He was so proud of that moment that he decided to make it his life verse. The verse he chose:

“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” Proverbs 22.1a

Truett lived that value for the rest of his life. Time and time again, I saw him sacrifice profits to do the right thing. What is so sweet and surprising is that in the long run his good name generated great riches. But don’t be fooled because you learned about his riches before you learned about his heart. The riches were merely a byproduct of decades of faithful living—and not even the best byproduct his life generated.

About 9-10 months ago, shortly after he retired, one of his friends came to his house to talk with him about life and business and family. During that conversation, he told Truett about the recently released Forbes 400 list. Truett reached an all time high, being named the 46th wealthiest American. He just stared back, in a way that is well known at Chick-fil-A, as if to say, “Seriously? You think that’s important?" The moment stretched long enough that the man felt kind of embarrassed. 

Truett could care less about how wealthy he was. What he wanted to talk about was the health of Chick-fil-A, the impact of his philanthropic work, and most of all, the personal life of his friend—his kids, grandkids, and even how his garden was doing.

Hearing that story, I was again reminded how easy it is for me to get off track, to confuse what’s important. The first few sentences, I was pretty excited for him, pretty impressed with his wealth. But when I heard his response, it hit home yet again: It’s not about how wealthy you do or don’t get. It’s about how well you loved.

When asked how he wanted to be remembered, Truett said he’d like to be remembered for keeping his priorities straight. And he then said these were his top four priorities:
First, God. Second, his family. Third, his business. Fourth, his church.

He started with nothing, no money and even a speech impediment. But day after day he got up and gave it all he had. In his fifties, he was an unknown businessman in the Atlanta area. He wasn’t after getting quick rich. But his faithfulness paid dividends, in lives changed, friends formed, laughter and love, and gradually, money as well.

He chose to pursue a great name. And he succeeded.

I’d like to leave you with the way he challenged us at Chick-fil-A so many, many times. He would often end his speeches by saying, "Why not your best? Why not your best? Why not? Why not?”


For those who don’t know some of the details, I’ve included the official obituary below.

Truett Cathy, Chick-fil-A Founder and Chairman Emeritus,  Dies at Age 93
S. Truett Cathy, our beloved founder and chairman emeritus, died at 1:35 a.m. today at the age of 93. He died peacefully at home, surrounded by loved ones.
Born March 14, 1921, in Eatonton, Georgia, Truett was four years old when his family moved to Atlanta, where he attended Boys High, now known as Grady High School. In 1946, he relied on a keen business sense, a strong work ethic and a deep Christian faith to build a tiny diner, the Dwarf Grill, in Hapeville, Georgia. He developed it into Chick-fil-A®, which today has the highest same-store sales and is the nation’s largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain based on annual system-wide sales. It was at the original restaurant that Truett created the sandwich that became the company’s signature item.  
Credited with creating the original Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich and pioneering in-mall fast food, Truett built one of the nation’s largest family-owned companies as Chick-fil-A exceeded $5 billion in annual sales in 2013. Currently, there are more than 1,800 Chick-fil-A restaurants operating in 40 states and Washington, D.C. Remarkably, Truett led our company on an unparalleled record of 47 consecutive years of annual sales increases.
“I’d like to be remembered as one who kept my priorities in the right order,” Truett was often quoted as saying. “We live in a changing world, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed. I have always encouraged my restaurant operators and team members to give back to the local community. We should be about more than just selling chicken, we should be a part of our customers’ lives and the communities in which we serve.
A devout Southern Baptist, Truett taught Sunday school to 13-year-old boys for more than 50 years. As an extension of his faith and the clearest example of incorporating biblical principles into the workplace, all Chick-fil-A restaurants—without exception—operate with a “Closed-on-Sunday” policy. Rare within the food service industry, this policy allows employees a day for family, worship, fellowship or rest, and also underscores Truett’s desire to put principles and people ahead of profits. Chick-fil-A will remain privately held and closed on Sundays.
Truett’s legacy, of course, is much more than his remarkable business success. His business approach was also driven by personal satisfaction, generosity, and a sense of obligation to the community and its young people. His WinShape Foundation, founded in 1984, grew from his desire to "shape winners" by helping young people succeed in life through scholarships and other youth-support programs. In addition, through itsLeadership Scholarship Program, the Chick-fil-A chain has given more than $32 million in financial assistance to Chick-fil-A restaurant employees since 1973.
As part of Truett’s WinShape Homes® program, 13 foster care homes were launched and operated by Truett and the WinShape Foundation to provide long-term care for foster children within a positive family environment. WinShape Homes has provided a safe and secure home to more than 450 children in which they could grow physically, spiritually and emotionally. WinShape Camps® was founded in 1985 as a residential, two-week summer camp to impact young people through experiences that enhance their character and relationships. More than 18,000 campers from throughout the country and abroad attend WinShape Camps each summer.
In 2003, Truett helped Bubba and Cindy celebrate the opening of WinShape RetreatSM, a high-end retreat and conference facility located on the campus of Berry College in Rome, Ga. The multi-use facility hosts marriage-enrichment retreats along with business and church-related conferences, and in summer months houses WinShape Camp for girls, directed by Truett’s daughter, Trudy.
Truett said in his book, Eat Mor Chikin; Inspire More People, “Nearly every moment of every day we have the opportunity to give something to someone else—our time, our love, our resources. I have always found more joy in giving when I did not expect anything in return.”
Truett received countless awards over the years, including most recently becoming a Georgia Trustees Inductee (2013); Fayette County (Georgia) Chamber of Commerce Dreambuilder Award (2012); Children's Champion Hunger Award (2011); World Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award (2010); Salute to Greatness Martin Luther King Jr. Award (2009); William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership (2008); Paul M. Kuck Legacy Award (2008); President’s Call to Service Award (2008); the Cecil B. Day Ethics Award (2008); The Tom Landry Excellence of Character Award (2007); Greater Dallas FCA Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Poultry & Food Distributors Association (2005); Norman Vincent & Ruth Stafford Peale Humanitarian Award (2003); Catalyst Lifetime Achievement Award from Injoy/John Maxwell (2003); Georgia Sports Hall of Fame – Chairman’s Award (2003); Ernst & Young – Entrepreneur of the Year – Lifetime Achievement Award (2000); and Horatio Alger Award – Horatio Alger Association, Washington, D.C. (1989). Truett was the author ofIt’s Easier to Succeed Than to Fail (Thomas Nelson Publishing, 1989); Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People(Looking Glass Books, 2002); It’s Better to Build Boys Than Mend Men (Looking Glass Books, 2004); How Did You Do It, Truett? (Looking Glass Books, 2007); and Wealth, Is It Worth It? (Looking Glass Books, 2011). He also was co-author of The Generosity Factor with Ken Blanchard (Zondervan Publishing, 2002). 
In addition to presiding over one of the most successful restaurant chains in America, Truett was a dedicated husband, father and grandfather. He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Jeannette; sons Dan T. and Bubba; daughter Trudy; 12 grandchildren; 7 grandchildren in-law and 18 great-grandchildren.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Greatest Historical Figure I Never Knew About - William Wilberforce Biography (book review)

On a one to five scale I would give this book six stars. William Wilberforce was probably the most effective world changer in a time of famous world changers (his contemporaries include Napoleon and John Wesley). But somehow we've lost sight of his impact. He was so effective in changing how the western world thinks that it feels non-radical to mention what he did. Or as the author puts it, he led our culture so far around the corner we can’t see back to where we used to be.

I certainly had no idea how different the world was before him or how much he did to change the world.

Before his time, there was no common understanding that those with power and wealth should help those who had neither. Today, we argue about how best to do that, but it is assumed as the proper goal. It was literally directly due to his influence the England (the largest world empire in history) and then the rest of the world changed. As a young man, he formally declared reforming culture to be his lifelong purpose, a “great object, set before him by God”. He then set about to use his considerable wealth, position in Parliament, communication abilities, and passion to change the world.

He connected with likeminded men and women, forming a community, literally living next door to each other for many years. Over the following decades, they launched hundreds of “societies” (their version of non-profit organizations) to promote many, many causes. They wrote letters, started the first successful national petition movement in England, presented bills in Parliament, and worked and worked and worked.

Their single greatest project in this large portfolio of change was the abolition of slavery. Slavery has been a tragic fact of human history as far back as we have historical information. From Asia to Eastern Europe to South America, every time an empire rose to power they enslaved the neighboring people. (The word “slave” comes from the word “Slav”—literally a slavic person from Eastern Europe—from when Europeans enslaved each other. Chinese, Korean, and Japanese empires all enslaved each other. Incans and Aztecs…the list covers all of human history.) While the European enslavement of Africans was horrific and evil, what we have a hard time realizing is that it was considered normal by the entire world. It was even praised and encouraged by the Church of England.

William Wilberforce directly (and in his time, famously) led his nation to abolish slavery—while they were still in power and profiting from it. This is the first time in human history that a nation in power did so. And then he convinced the remaining world leaders, from Russia to France to Spain, to end their slave trades.

The journey he went on, with victories and vicious attacks on him (some even physically), is fascinating to read. But for those who want to change the world (like me) the methods he and his friends used are thought provoking. 

And this book offered more than solid facts. It was written so well that I was pulled into his world and his life. I laughed out and even teared up a few times (I was in the airport, waiting for my flight one of those times—totally awkward.)

The life of William Wilberforce inspired me, instructed me, and impacted me deeply. I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why I Will Dig For Buried Treasure In My Backyard. Literally. Yes, with a shovel.

A little while back, a business owner I know shared how he rates his employees. It took only a few sentences to explain and we moved on to other topics. But it kept coming back to me. The more I thought about it, the more it challenged me as a leader and as a man.

First, he names the expectation they're being evaluated on. He does a good job communicating his expectations before this conversation. It is unjust to hold someone accountable for an expectation you have not clearly explained in advance. After making sure the other person knows which expectation is being evaluated, he then assigns one of three ratings:
  • Remarkable
  • Compliant
  • Resistant
I’ve been a part of many evaluation conversations. I’ve even designed them. But he captured something I’ve never seen before. The middle rating I’m used to is “acceptable” or “meets expectations”. But “compliant"…well, being there means I’m not doing anything wrong. But it’s not acceptable either.

This rating system is great for anyone leading other people. I recommend using it. But that’s not what I couldn’t stop thinking about. I couldn’t stop asking myself, after my friend shared his approach with me, how I would rate myself? Imagining others saying ”He was compliant” at my funeral makes me feel a little sick to the stomach.

Which areas of my life have I settled for compliance? And what's keeping me from being remarkable?

Maybe the reason I’m not being remarkable in an area is that I have too many balls in the air. No one has the time and energy to be remarkable in many, many areas all at the same time. Then maybe I need to reduce the number of balls I'm trying to juggle. Three “remarkable” areas in my life would be more satisfying and meaningful than nine “compliant” areas.

Maybe, if I’m honest, the reason I’m not remarkable in a few areas is that I don’t care about being remarkable. Then why am I wasting time and energy on that area? Can I replace it with something I care about enough that I'd want to be remarkable? Or maybe I need to remind myself of why I ever starting doing it in the first place.

Action Idea: List out the different areas of your life, then rate yourself remarkable, compliant, or resistant. And, if applicable, see if you can shift one area from compliant to remarkable. Maybe you can come up with two ideas on how to be remarkable.

After thinking about it for a while, I finally did this. And there are some areas that I had to say aren’t remarkable, and I really care about them. I have decided to reduce some of my commitments. And I’m making some changes to how I approach some areas in my life.

My first change area will be weekends with my kids. In the past few years, I’ve slid into getting through the weekends with the minimum amount of fuss. I just wanted to make them as easy as possible so I could rest after a long week. I love my family--being with my wife and kids is truly refreshing for me. And I don't have any problem with rest as an important element to a remarkable weekend with my family. Taking a day a week to rest is so very wise. But I wouldn't say that "restful" is by itself enough to make the weekends remarkable. 

One idea I've think will get me closer to remarkable: At least twice in the next couple of months, take my kids on a pretend adventure. For example, I plan to bury a "treasure" in the woods behind our house and we all go find it using a map I've drawn. Don’t tell my kids, it’s going to be a surprise. I need to decide what to put in there. Ice cream—my first idea—won’t work if they take too long to find it. Selecting the right pirate costumes are next. (Yes, of course I’ll be dressing as a pirate. The only question is whether I try to hike with a peg leg or not.)

Some of our weekend time will continue to include rest. It wouldn’t be remarkable if we were over-busy every weekend. But I'm no longer settling for getting through the weekends. I want a remarkable time with my family, every weekend. I may not accomplish that every time. But I’m going to at least try for remarkable.

What do you want to make more remarkable?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

So Good They Can't Ignore You (Book Review)

I’ve been posting reviews of the books I read on Goodreads.com. I’ve decide to start posting some of these on my blog. 

I just finished a thought provoking book: So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. I give it 4 stars. Here’s why...

The title comes from a Steve Martin (comedian) on how to succeed in show business. “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Every waiter in Hollywood is working on a script. The few who get to do awesome work got their through exceptional skill development, not merely because they had the courage to follow their dream.

He begins by saying that society has it all wrong. The pervasive advice to follow your passion and you’ll be happy and successful doesn’t work. Courage, he says, is not what’s keeping your from living your dream. The courage to leave it all behind for your dream could ruin you. He cites stories of people who left regular careers to pursue grand but vague dreams and end up, in one case, living on food stamps.

I think he creates unnecessary conflict with his opening (more on that later), but when he dives into what he would recommend the book gets really good. He shares ideas like: 

1) Rare and special careers require you to acquire rare and special skills. Having a grand vision to live an awesome life doesn’t count as a rare and special skill. What are you doing that’s valuable to other people?

2) The difference between mundane and meaningful work might simply be the amount of control you have. This can be earned through proving your skillfulness, but also depends on the culture of the place you’re working. The same job in a big, established company has much less control that it does in a start-up. Also, he extols the contractor role for it’s control of schedule. (He notes you need special skills to be able to make a living as a contractor—see first point.)

3) Finding a mission for your work can make your work more meaningful to you and the world. He says that rather than leave your work to find a mission, find a way to use your current expertise to make the world a better place. 

In the end, I think he sets up a false dichotomy between pursuing your passion and develop valuable skills. Some identify their passion through trial and error, as he suggests. But I think you can also first identify your passion and use that to target the skills you need to learn. In fact, that's how I have lived. But after getting past that lopsided opening, I think this is a great book for those trying to so something meaningful with their life.

Whatever your life sequence, dreams then skills or vice versa, he’s right about this: No one is going to hand you a great life. You’re going to have to do the hard work and earn it. You’re going to have to be so good they can’t ignore you.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Danger of Running After A Goal (AKA How I Hurt My Ankle)

I was out of town (in Chicago for the Leadership Summit, actually) and decided to go for a run in the morning. Leadership conferences inspire me to do all sorts of crazy, idealistic things like change the world and run in the morning. They’re dangerous like that.

So I put on my running shoes and run into a field next to the hotel. Leaders love running off into the unknown, right? The first ten minutes were glorious. It was a cool morning and I was being so very responsible, running like that. Then I planted my left foot in a deep hole. My foot twisted back toward me while the rest of my body kept going forward. 

In my defense, it looked like solid ground when I put my foot down. Grass had grown up in the hole and then someone had cut the grass level with the rest of the field.

It immediately hurt. I stopped and carefully tested my ankle. My first thought was that I couldn’t afford to be seriously hurt. I had been looking forward to the Leadership Summit for months and months. Besides, I had been running away from my hotel for about ten minutes. I still had to run back.

It hurt, but I wasn’t crying. So I decided that it must not be a real injury. I would just run it off. Confident I’d solved the problem, I ran back to the hotel, got ready, and went to the conference.

But by the end of the first session, not only was standing painful, my ankle hurt while sitting still. It wasn’t excruciating, but it wasn’t going away either. Like any other tough man, I texted my wife to tell her about my injury. She replied with the sympathy and compliments for going running that I had hoped for. And then she added a challenge to have it taken care of. Get it wrapped, get ice, take some ibuprofen—she had lots of ideas.

My first response was to say it wasn’t that bad and I didn’t need to do all that. I was thinking about how all this work might cause me to miss some of the conference. I didn’t have time to be injured.

Then my wife, being a wise woman, said: The longer you wait the worse it will get.

Let’s be honest. I had injured my ankle and no amount of wishing was going to make it go away. The only choice left to me was how bad it would get before I did something. If I kept pushing it off, kept trying to pretend it would get better on its own, I risked serious problems. Or I could face the unpleasant truth and start recovering faster.

And this is true for all of us as leaders. We get inspired with a grand vision and run off into smooth-looking fields. Then we step into hidden holes. We get hurt, or more often, we hurt others. But we don’t have time for people to be hurt. We’ve got grand visions to make happen. And we face the same decision I did. Pretend it isn’t a big deal, that it will take care of itself. Or spend precious time to take care of it.

Remember my wife’s wisdom: The longer you wait the worse it will get.

Be honest with yourself. You are going to have to spend time on it at some point. You don’t get to change the fact that you stepped in a hole. But you do get to decide how long to let it fester. And the longer you wait, the worse it will get. And the worse it gets, the more time you’ll have to spend fixing it.

Wise leaders don’t let problems fester. Wise leaders take quick action once they realize any damage has been done.

At the next break I approached the emergency medical team and they wrapped my ankle, gave me ice packs, and I took some ibuprofen I had in my briefcase. Three days later I managed to exercise with no pain at all.

What have you been trying to avoid dealing with? If you were to deal with it, would would be the first step you could take? What are you waiting for?

Remember, the longer you wait the worse it will get.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Personal Leadership: Striving for Excellence (Guest Post)

This is a guest post from Josh Cole, the Founder/President of I.S.I. Leadership Consulting, LLC and is the author of The Heart of a Shepherd.  Josh is a friend of mine and a great leader. Enjoy!

Excellence is a term that often describes the best of the best; it is a term that describes those who are more than average and those who accomplish great things. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”; and Vince Lombardi said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence”.  Both men tell us that excellence is an ongoing pursuit; something that we are constantly striving for.  It is not a “one and done” deal. 

While these quotes are inspirational, encouraging, and motivational, it can be a challenge to figure out how to apply them.  That said, I would like to share with you some characteristics that you can demonstrate that will help you in your pursuit for excellence, along with some verses that talk about them. 

1.     Be distinguished (Daniel 6:3)-Daniel set himself apart from the people that surrounded him.  The result of that was, “the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.”  That thing to note, however, is that Daniel did not distinguish himself in order to gain favor with the king; Daniel did it because that is who he was.  The same needs to be true for us so that in everything we do we would strive to distinguish ourselves with our exceptional qualities. 
2.     Have knowledge and discernment (Philippians 1:9-10)- Our knowledge will allow us to discern between what is true and what is not, and to “approve the things that are excellent”.  Whether we are washing dishes, mopping floors, assisting customers, counting inventory, making product, or leading an organization, we need to know everything there is to know.  We all need to view ourselves as students, understanding that there is always something to learn.  The minute we stop believing we have more to learn is when we eliminate any possibility of growth. 
3.     Give it your all (Colossians 3:23)- Our efforts do not go unnoticed.  Likewise, our lack of effort does not go unnoticed either.  I get it, we all have bad days and our motivation seems to be completely absent.  It is difficult to find purpose sometimes; we think that our tasks are unimportant.  God honors everything that we do as long as we are doing it for Him.  So, “whatever you do work at it with all your heart...”
4.     Be a model of good works (Titus 2:7)- Whether we realize it or not, someone is looking up to us.  Our influence reaches further than we think, and we are called to be good stewards of that influence.  Our attitude, performance, and words have a big impact on the people around us.  Unfortunately, we often choose not to think about that, and we become a model of mediocrity or even worse. 
5.     Be committed (Proverbs 16:3)- We make a lot of commitments: employee-employer relationships, lunch plans, marriages, and the list goes on.  Let me ask you, what percentage of your commitments last?  The Lord takes His commitments very seriously and so should we; and whatever commitments we make, we should commit those to Him.  If I make a commitment based on my own ability, it is likely to fail.  But if I make a commitment to the Lord, He will establish my plans.  I like that option better. 
6.     Be confident (2 Corinthians 3:5, Isaiah 41:10)- Confidence covered in humility.  That is a tough balance to maintain.  Normally, we slide from one side of the spectrum to the other.  First, we must understand that without the Lord, we are nothing.  Once we acknowledge that, we must remember that He made us for a purpose and equipped us with the skills, talents, and strengths to accomplish great things. 
7.     Build up others (Romans 15:1-3)- We were not given our abilities for our own selfish purposes; rather, we are called to use them for the good and encouragement of others.  Often we think of ways to use our abilities for the betterment of ourselves, and not for the betterment of others.  We need to change that mindset. 
8.     Time management (Colossians 4:5, Psalm 90:12)- Most of us, if we were honest, would like to be better at managing our time.  Often it is the contrary that happens, our time manages us.  We need to “make the most of every opportunity”, yet, are incapable of doing so if we are living under the burden and stress of poor time management.  The psalmist says that when we learn to number our days, we can then gain a heart of wisdom.  The problem is we view our time as a limitless resource, which causes us to devalue it.  Tasks and to-do lists pile up and we begin to run around but accomplish nothing.  Value each minute and learn how to say no. 

These are not all the things that we must consider as we strive to be excellent, but can be a great foundation to build upon.  Before you can ever expect to lead others, you first must lead yourself and that personal leadership starts here, with the pursuit of excellence.  So today I encourage you to do everything you do with excellence. 

For more of Joshua Cole check out I.S.I. Leadership Consulting, LLC and his book, The Heart of a Shepherd.