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Leadership Thoughts for Life Long Learners

Archive for the category “Personal Leadership”

Self Fulfillment vs. Self Development

I was reading John Maxwell book, “15  Invaluable Laws of Growth” and was deeply impacted by what he stated in the Law of Contribution.  Maxwell differentiates the difference in living a life focused on Self Fulfillment vs a life focused on Self Development.

Self Fulfillment – thinks of how something serves me.

Self Development – thinks of how something helps me to serve others.

Self Fulfillment – feeling good is the product.

Self Development- feeling good is the by-product.

I do not know any leader that would not list one of the goals of their lives as desiring a feeling of self fulfillment.  Yet, according to these definitions we realize that living with the focus of self development is a much deeper and generous claim.  I have no doubt fallen into the trap of desiring self fulfillment at different times in my life.  Yet, when self fulfillment becomes the goal it sabotages the culture you work in.  The insinuation is that there is a defining moment when we arrive.  The moment we think we have arrived we begin to lose our grip on the progress we have made.  When self development becomes the aim, we never buy in to the mindset that there is some elusive “arrival” and we focus on consistently getting better as we progress forward.




Inspire Me!!!!

Motivation can not be taught, it can only be inspired.  For this reason, I would rather have one individual that is internally motivated with little experience over ten professionals that lack drive.  The world in which we live is filled with people that promise 10 step plans to motivate those who refuse to be motivated. Additionally, companies spend large percentages of profit for the sole purpose of keeping a sales force motivated, and on and on the cycle goes.

I am convinced the problem is not a lack of motivation, but a lack of inspiring work.  People desire to be game changers.  They desire their life as well as their work to matter…. to somehow make a difference.  The desire to matter does not come from some external ideology or corporate tag line, but rather it is born in each of us from the day we take our first breath until the moment we take our last.  It is something internal, not external.  Motivation is temporary, Inspiration is eternal.

Many leaders have bought into the idea that you can somehow motivate inspiration!  They do this by rallying the troops and pushing people to limits far beyond any healthy boundaries all for the sake of desiring something inspiring to happen. This has created a culture of hype, with little substance or meaning. The product of trying to motivate inspiration is do more, be more, try harder.  This leaves people feeling inadequate and under an elusive goal that always seems to never be achievable.

A much better way to approach people is not by pushing or even pulling them, but rather by inspiring them to something greater.  Nothing pulls people out of mediocrity quicker than the inspiration found through the recognition of our meaningfulness in the grand scheme of the greater story!  Possibly a better approach to loyalty and motivation would be to inspire people rather than demand from them.  In what ways have you communicated their significance in the story of life change?  The world doesn’t need another manager trying to motivate.  The world needs a leader willing to take a risk and live life on an adventure that could possibly change the world forever!  When a leader does this, they will not have to demand allegiance or motivation, they will have to turn people away from desiring to be a part of the meaningful story that is being written.

Today is a Gift

Today is a gift. I know, if you are anything like me you have to admit that the daily grind rarely feels like a gift and more like a treadmill. The problem with viewing the daily grind as a treadmill session is that it removes the joy of every moment a day can bring. Admittedly I am not great at this, but I am slowly learning that life does not have to be viewed as a list of daily routines and lists, but can be viewed as empowered segments of time that are loaded with possibility. Two key words are found in the phrase “today is a gift”.

First consider “today”. You can not live any other day but today, so why not make the most of it? Regrets over past poor choices or worry over future events have never changed the reality you are facing right now in this moment. What if you approached, this moment, today, for what it was and could be. Don’t allow past performance dictate the results of this day, but choose to make today start with a blank canvas.

Secondly consider “gift”. A gift is something that can not be earned or deserved or else it loses it’s meaning. Many confuse a gift with a payment. You are not given today because you earned it, you are given today because it was gifted to you. This simple shift in thinking takes the focus off of ourselves and what we think we do or do not deserve and shifts the focus to appreciating what we are given. So, what are you going to do with the gift that has been given to you? You aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, so make today count.

You Are A Magnet

Your life is a culmination of things and people that you were or are 1) attracted to or 2) attracted to you. Look around, what do you see? Who do you see? It is difficult for us to admit the truth, we are who we are, not what we want to be. Leaders are magnets. We attract people to us personally before anyone ever buys into our vision. One of the largest mistakes a leader can make is to invest all of their energy into crafting a compelling vision, yet never discover or identify who they are and who they are not first. As a leader you must recognize what kind of person you need to attract to make the vision a reality. When you know who you need to attract, you can then begin to identify what kind of leader you need to be to attract those people. Leadership is more about WHO you are rather than WHAT you do. Your presence as a leader is attracting someone or something to your organization or team. If you are filled with drama, guess what? Your organization will have drama. If you are passionate you will attract passionate people. If you are creative you will attract creative people and so on……. So, Who are you? Look around. Evaluate your DNA as a leader. Recognize what areas you need to work on personally to move the vision closer to reality. The only way to change who you attract is to change who you are.

Are You An Oddball?

Why do we find it offensive when someone describes us as a little bit different? First of all I am very grateful that we are all unique in our own way. Your uniqueness is what makes you an original, something that is rare and of high value. Personally, I think we should embrace our oddity. The reason we should embrace our oddity is because too many individuals spend their lives trying to fit a specific mold they have convinced themselves they have to fit. When I consider the good leaders that I have been blessed to work with I recognize that they were anything but “normal”. As a matter of fact, those who spend their lives trying to be “normal” discover at the end of their lives that they have very little to show for themselves. The reason we have heard of leaders from a variety of fields such as Ronald Reagan, Steve Jobs, Kobe Bryant… etc is simply because their level of risk or discipline or ingenuity is just simply not normal. If any of these individuals would have embraced and pursued being “normal” as opposed to the oddity that made them who they were, we probably would have never heard of them. I have decided, maybe I am slightly odd. I’m ok with that. My oddity makes me unique. My uniqueness makes me valuable. At the end of the day, I can live with that and you should too.

Be Aware

If I were honest with myself I would conclude that I miss more than I get. One of the fundamental practices of ensuring we get the most out of everything is to be more fully aware in the moment. Rarely is piling more action items on the calendar the solution to seeing better results. If we could eliminate action items, or even keep the same items, yet be more aware and in tune with what is going on in the moment we could capitalize on the opportunity which is right in front of us. I have met far too many individuals that are so concerned about missing the “next big thing” that their lack of awareness concerning opportunity right in front of them never materializes. Being more aware does not happen accidentally; it must be intentional. Awareness requires you to listen more than you speak. It requires you to observe your surroundings rather than ignore them. It just might be that the key to a better future has been right in front of you all along, you just missed it.

4 Steps to Produce More

I desire to produce more!  This statement is one that I hear continually.  The very nature of leadership itself moves you to desire to operate at a higher level; to see more results; to produce at a greater rate.  Several observations must be considered if greater production is what we desire.

First, greater output will require greater input.  You can only give what you have.  While this may seem basic, this very concept is where many leaders hit a ceiling in their effectiveness.  When we desire to produce at a greater level, we must begin by looking at the input of our lives first.  What personal plan do you have in place to increase the level of input you receive?  What blogs/books do you read?  What people do you spend time with?  Whose voice do you listen to the most? When was the last time you intentionally listened to something new? The answer to these questions will help you to determine whether the current level of input is sufficient for the output you desire.

Secondly, greater output will require a greater capacity!  Your ability to increase your learning capacity will determine your ability to be more.  Two vehicles may get the same miles per gallon, but the vehicle with the larger gas tank will go further!  Your capacity is therefore directly linked to your ability.  The good news is that all of us have the ability to expand our capacity as leaders, which leads me to my third point.

Third, expanding our capacity as a leader will require us to grow.  The only way you can expand your capacity is if you are willing to stretch yourself and grow.  Play it safe leaders rarely operate at the capacity they are capable of because they are always concerned about the question, What if?  What if it falls apart?  What if I fail?  What if I don’t like the new reality?  Too many leaders have allowed their growth to be stunted out of the fear of what if?

Last, a new expanded capacity presents a new reality.  The leader that expands his capacity will have to learn to grow into his new reality, thereby producing more.  The longer the leader fails to internalize growth into his DNA after being stretched, the greater the risk the leader will never grow.


Values, Morals & Ethics

A common phrase that is repeated often is, “actions speak louder than words.”  When contemplating the issue of personal values, morals, and ethics, we must focus primarily on the actions and choices we take rather than just on stated values.  Just as the clearest identifier of a seed is the fruit it ultimately bares, our actions become the fruit of our lives that flow from our roots or our values and morals.  Having clearly defined values and morals are what ultimately guide our decision- making process both personally, as well as organizationally.  In this paper, I will briefly discuss how values and morals guide my decision-making process.

The very nature of being a leader immediately positions us in a place of influence.  In many cases, the leader of an organization is the one that does not run from a tough decision or problem, but rather is the one that embraces the difficulty standing ahead.  While some decisions the leader must make are simple, many predicaments the leader is given to handle are not clear-cut.  It is in these moments the leader must find something deeper within them than just what can be found on the surface.  Clearly defined values and a moral code that drives ethical behavior must come into play.

When faced with an ethical decision that will ultimately affect myself, as well as those I lead I must begin by digging beneath the surface to the core of who I am by exploring my values and morals in light of the choice.  For me personally, these values and morals come from a solid foundational belief in the Word of God as the authority in my life.  Therefore, it is my personal desire for others to discover the fruit of my life in perfect alignment and sustained by the root of the Word of God.

When faced with an ethical or moral dilemma it is not wise to rely upon feelings as the guide of our choice.  While a gut feeling can lead you in some instances it is not a reliable standard to use when facing issues of this magnitude.  Having made the decision to build my life on the Word of God and viewing the Word of God as the foundation of all moral choices and the seedbed for my personal values I always go back to it when seeking clarity on specific issues.  In many instances, the Word of God will speak clearly for or against an issue that society views as a personal preference. On the occasions when it doesn’t, I must begin to process my decision-making through the lens of my values and principles, which are rooted in the Word of God.

If I do not have clear direction on a difficult decision I am facing, I then ask how the decision I am about to make will affect the values and principles I have chosen to live by.  If a decision for something is legally and morally ok, yet it would violate my personal values and principles, I am obligated to not pursue the decision any further.  If the decision is legally and morally ok and it does not violate my personal values and ethics, I would then place the decision in perspective of short- term and long- term benefits and drawbacks of the choice.  Information is necessary to make wise choices; therefore, if I am lacking information I know I could get if I pursued it, I will try to get that information before I make the decision.  In this case, ignorance is not bliss.

Just as the fruit of a tree determines its DNA, the actions and choices I make determine what my moral code and personal values are.  It is vitally important in the life of a leader to determine early what they personally value. The process of determining ones personal values in life will liberate you to make choices based upon those values later on.  In a sense, our personal values and moral code become the track for which we choose to live our life upon.  The role of a leader is established by the permission of those who choose to follow.  When a leader clearly defines their values and morals and then makes decisions based upon them, trust is built between the leader and follower, which in turn establish a greater permission to lead.


Backwards Living

Have you ever starting viewing a football game in the third quarter?  While I love watching football, regardless of the quarter, I understand that at the end of the day all that matters is whether the final score shows that your team scored more or fewer points than the other team.  If you pick up a game in the third quarter the first question you ask is, what is the score.  The reason you want to know what the score is in the third quarter is because it gives you a glimpse as to what happened in the first two quarters and helps bring you up to speed on the game.

When a leader considers their life, or the life of their organization, it is critical for them to learn the skill of backwards living.  What I mean by this is simply the results you desire do not automatically transpire, but the results at the end are a culmination of the choices you made and the things you did in the ensuing years prior.  The final score of a football game is not determined in the last minute of the game, but it is a culmination of everything that happened throughout all four quarters. As a leader the trajectory of your life today will determine the destination you arrive at tomorrow.

Stephen Covey made this principle famous in his book entitled, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.  The habit Covey identified is called, Beginning With the End in Mind, or as I am calling it, backwards living.  If the leader desires to put this principle into practice they must begin by clearly identifying what they desire the results to be before they ever begin their journey.  When we have knowledge of where we are going, we must then be able to clearly identify our present reality.   Just as a GPS in your car needs an ending point (results) as well as a starting point (reality) to give clear directions, the leader must determine both if they desire to make forward progress.

In my experience, forward progress is stunted when either the present reality or the desired results are not clearly articulated.  It is only when we know who and where we are and who we want to become and where we want to go are clearly defined that we begin to make forward progress.  When we can identify where we need to be, it helps us measure any incremental progress we make towards meeting our goal and it gives us the opportunity to celebrate the progress along the way.

So, where are you?  Or maybe a better question would be, Who are you?  Once you determine this you can begin to ask yourself who you want to become as well as where you want to go?  I am a big proponent of living backwards simply because I have learned that living backwards is proactive, whereas trying to live forward is reactive in nature.  When I live backwards I live with intention, when I live forward I just take what comes to me.

Pave the Way

Do you get a thrill out of doing something which has never been done before?  If I were given the choice to either a) do something routine and ordinary, or b) do something that has never been done before, I would have to go with the latter.  While the routine and ordinary is necessary, that is for another blog.  I was given the opportunity to take my kids out into the winter wonderland that is Northeast Ohio today to go sledding.  There is an incredible hill near our house that begs for you to get a sled and just have a blast, so that is exactly what we did.

When we arrived there were numerous families out sledding on the hill.  We went to the side of the hill that was not nearly as steep to begin the adventure.  After we felt we had mastered the bunny hill I looked over to the boys and asked them a simple question, “Do you want to head over to the really steep part?”  My oldest son said yes although you could sense a nervous gulp gathering in his throat.  The next comment he said was priceless, “but dad, nobody else is sledding up there.” We went and conquered the hill and we were unsatisfied with any other hill after we had been exposed to the new one.

The connections to leadership and sledding are plentiful.  One of the correlations I noticed immediately was the simple recognition that there are some hills that need to be conquered that nobody else is willing to conquer.  The main difference between a leader and follower is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to conquer the fear and do it anyways.  Another lesson you learn is that the first time down the hill is always the most difficult and it will always be the slowest.  The reason for this is that you have to pack the snow in and pave the way the first time. There are lessons that must be learned. The goal in your initial run is that you just make it to the bottom.  Every subsequent trip down the hill is much more efficient because you stay in the path that has already been packed down for you.  The leader must view their role as having the courage to step out and pave the way, not because it is easy, but because it is difficult.  If it were easy to pave the way, everyone would do it.  Just as it was while sledding today, once the new hill is conquered and the way has been paved, you just can’t find satisfaction going back to the bunny hill ever again.

Is there a hill in your life, career, organization, or your market  that you have been too afraid to step out and conquer?  Is the difficult nature of paving the way what is keeping you back?  I encourage you to step out and pave the way.  Be the leader that paves the way and prepares a trail that can be traveled more efficiently by those behind you.  I believe you will discover that when you conquer your hill and have a new “normal” you will never be satisfied with the bunny hill again.

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