Encourage!

I had an unplanned meeting with three assistant managers the other day. Those unplanned meetings where you all just happen to be in the same place and start talking are often the best. One of them started to share a little of her personal story. She has overcome a lot in her life and is now working with some volunteer organizations to help others. Her story is inspiring, but what really caught my attention was how she talked about the people she leads. As an assistant manager in this setting, she oversees a team of about 28 people. What she talked about was their stories, how they tend to open up and share their stories with her, and how many of them had similar backgrounds of overcoming.

Have you ever heard the terms Human Resources, FTEs, Headcount, Staff? I don’t have a gripe against any of those terms per se, I use them myself. But, they are pretty impersonal ways of referring to the people we lead. I like data and numbers and trends, they all tell a story. But, so do our people. We lead teams, but teams are people. Our organizations are made up of people. They all have lives outside of work. They have hopes and dreams, plans and fears, significance and potential. Do you know what they are?

Leighton Ford said, “In our postmodern world, people have been treated as numbers, as replaceable parts, as something on someone’s agenda, a program, a screen name. They long to be noticed, to be valued, to have someone pay attention!”

ENCOURAGE

A few weeks ago, I wrote on Courage! Today I’m writing on “Encourage.” Here goes a little word nerd action. Interesting thing about the prefix “en-,” when it’s added to nouns and adjectives it forms a verb expressing conversion into the specified state as in “encrust” or “ennoble.” So, when added to courage, it means to convert someone into the state of courage, to give them courage.

In my post on courage, I wrote about different categories of courage, Physical courage, Moral courage, Social courage, and Intellectual courage. I defined courage in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, wrote ” Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Acknowledge those who work hard among you.”

HOW TO ENCOURAGE

People often hold back in their work and in their life because of fear.  They even make mistakes because of fear. To Encourage someone, you must help them decide that something else is more important than their fear.

The first step in doing that is to Acknowledge them. People need to be recognized for who they are and what they do. You can take it a step further when you acknowledge them and their work as significant. The next level of acknowledgment is to recognize that person’s potential. Start talking to someone about their potential in a positive way and watch them lean into the conversation.

The next step in encouraging someone is to Know them. You can’t help a person overcome a fear and be courageous if you don’t know what their dreams and fears are.  Connection increases courage. I recently asked a couple of training leads for feedback on a new trainer. One of them said, “She really connects with the new hires.” I asked her to describe that for me. She told me that most of the new hire classes start out shy and reserved. But, as the trainer gets to know them and builds up their skills, they come out of their shells, and by the end of the training week, they’re high-fiving each other, laughing, and learning.

Part of knowing your people is understanding their goals and dreams. That leads to the final step in encouraging them, Help them. Like the trainer who built up new skills for new hires, or a coach who helps a person develop natural talent and/or acquired skills, you show the person what needs to be done and what barriers are in the way. Help remove any barriers you can. Above all, encouraging someone is helping them decide to take action, to be bold, to shoot for what’s more important than their fear.

Think of one person you could encourage today and take action.

Attract!

Imagine you’re in a great mood and you walk into a room where there is someone in a terrible mood and someone else in a great mood. Who will you more likely want to spend time with?  Most likely the other person in a great mood. Right? What about the opposite? What if you walk into the same room but you’re in a terrible mood. Now, who will you spend time with? Misery loves company, right?

Now put yourself in the room with someone else walking in. If you’re in a great mood and so are they, they will more likely gravitate to you. The same is true if you’re in a terrible mood and so are they. Someone in a great mood doesn’t want to be brought down by a person who’s in a terrible mood. And a person in a terrible mood will just be irritated by someone in a great mood.

Now, replace “mood” with something more enduring like attitude or energy or vision. Run the same scenarios. People of like attitude, energy level, and/or vision will tend to gravitate to each other.

In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell says law number 9 is “The Law of Magnetism: Who you Are is Who you Attract”  We tend to attract people who are like us. Look at your group of friends. If you’re a leader who has selected your own team, check out the “personality” of your team. Can you see it? Hopefully, you have complementary skill sets but there is a commonality isn’t there?

How It Works

Our behavior, how we act, is the outward expression of our attitudes and beliefs. Remember the Results Pyramid from my last post? Our beliefs about ourselves and the nature of our surroundings and about other people come out, intentionally or not, in how we behave. That behavior is observable by others. Sometimes the behavior is as simple as a facial expression or body language. When people observe your behavior, they decide, again, consciously or unconsciously, whether or not it’s “attractive.” Are they drawn to it or repelled by it? Like the person entering the room, they will be drawn to what most closely matches them.

Now, I have a question for you. How do you feel about your current life situation? Are you satisfied and happy? Great! I hope that continues and increases for you. If you’re not, the question is, What needs to change? Based upon the “Law of Magnetism” the answer is, you need to change. In business, we say, “Your system is perfectly designed to generate the results you’re getting.” And, most of us have heard the popular definition of insanity, “doing the same thing and expecting different results.” In this case, you are the system. You’re getting the results you’re designed to get … sort of.

I Am Who I Am … ?

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. A leopard doesn’t change its spots. We have grains of character that do not change. Ever heard those sayings?  Have you ever heard of a butterfly? A Frog? Metamorphosis? It means “a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one.” A change in the nature of a person if you condense it for our discussion. You can learn new tricks, change your spots, even the grains of your character.

How? Remember when we talked about hope? I said hope is our prescriptive imagination for less tangible things, including character. Our behavior creates results including attracting people and circumstances. Our behaviors (the collection of which comprise our character) come from beliefs which we have as a result of our experiences according to the “Results Pyramid.” I would take it a step further and say that our beliefs come from how we think about our experiences both bad and good whether real or imagined.

How we think, what we think about are important. The good news is that you can choose what you think about. You can choose what to imagine. Do you want to attract a different kind of people? Do you want to attract different kinds of circumstances? Start by imagining yourself as the kind of person to whom those people and circumstances would be drawn. Dwell on that image of yourself long enough and intentionally enough and in enough detail and it will begin to affect your beliefs which will alter your behavior and, in turn, your results.

Changing how you imagine yourself is the beginning of changing who you are and ultimately who and what you attract.

Hope!

Does the world seem a bit strange these days? There is a lot going on that many people my age and older say seems unusual even for politics and world events. Depending on your political, religious, or cultural leaning, you may be excited or discouraged by what you see happening around you. Now zoom in. Look at your more immediate circumstances. How are things going there? How do you feel about the direction your circumstances are headed? I’m asking because of something I know about our imaginations.

Last week I talked about Imagine and imagination. It’s that amazing ability to visit places and create things in your mind. Creativity, I said, is born out of prescriptive imagination. Creativity is how you take a new thing you’ve imagined from your mind and make it real. That works most easily for concrete things like bridges, and buildings, artwork, and cakes. But what about less tangible things like character and relationships, career path, and health?

The Results Pyramid

No. This is not a mystical Egyptian religion. It comes from two books called The Oz Principle and Change the Culture, Change the Game. The idea is that results (at the top of the pyramid) come from Actions  (the next section on the pyramid just below results). That’s a “captain obvious” statement. You have to take action to get results. But the next idea is that Actions come from Beliefs. For example, if you believe your boss doesn’t care about the quality of your work, you will act a certain way. On the other hand, if you believe your boss is very demanding about quality, you’ll act differently.

The base of the pyramid is Experiences. Experiences are how we form our Beliefs. If your boss never checks your work and never comments on it then you will believe s/he doesn’t care about the quality. On the other hand, if they frequently check your work and provide feedback you will form a different belief.

So, the “Results Pyramid” says that Experiences lead to Beliefs which lead to Actions which lead to Results. If we try to change results by just changing our actions, we often fail because we haven’t addressed the underlying beliefs.

Imagination Again

Now try a little experiment with me. Replace the “Experiences” in the Results Pyramid with “Imagination.” Imagined experiences can be as powerful in affecting our beliefs as real experiences depending on how strongly imagined they are. Now, here’s what I know about our imaginations when it comes to unknown future outcomes and expectations. For a lot of reasons, we tend to default to imagine the worst possible outcome. Another word for that is worry, or, as I like to call it, faith in the worst possible outcome.

Now follow the results pyramid and you can see how a negative imagination can lead to a belief in the worst outcome (worry). That worry will play into the actions you take. When that happens the results are often a self-fulfilling prophecy of what you imagined.

Another Kind of Imagination

Hope! Hope is positive imagination. It is prescriptive imagination for things that are not as concrete. Here’s how the Apostle Paul described it in the New Testament book of Romans, “… hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” The way Paul talks about hope in this passage it has almost the same definition as imagination.

Hope is not just wishful thinking. Hope is when we intentionally form a positive outcome in our imagination and focus on it like it’s an experience. Belief, then, takes on the role of creativity by dictating the actions that are more likely to bring about the outcome we had hoped for. Leaders, for example, may call this vision.

Negative, worry-filled, hopeless people tend to spiral in that direction. Positive, hopeful people tend to produce much better results. It’s up to you how you use your imagination. Choose Hope!

Imagine!

What is your favorite word? You have over a million to choose from if you consider the total number of English words. If your list is limited to the most commonly used words, then your choices slim down to around 170,000. Each individual uses only between 20,000 and 30,000 words so your favorite probably comes from your version of that list.  The most commonly used word in the English language is the word “the.” I’ve used it 5 times in this paragraph. It’s not my favorite but it’s very useful.

I have a good friend whose favorite word is “Imagine.” He has a wood carving of the word prominently displayed in his work area. Imagine is a good word and it’s moving up my list of favorites lately. Imagine is what we do with our imagination.

Not Just For Kids

Sometimes we associate things like imagination and wonder with children. We smile while we watch them take off in a rocket ship made from the cardboard box the new dishwasher came in, or when we see them staring for a long time at a bug. What happens to that in us?

I heard the story of a school administrator who asked a large group of kindergarten students, “How many of you can draw?” Almost every hand went up. Then he asked the same question of a similar size group of High School Seniors. Only 4 or 5 hands went up. Why the difference? Reality set in? Maybe. In his famous TED Talk called “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” Sir Ken Robinson suggests that we systematically stifle and kill creativity in people by the way we teach. Creativity is the outward expression of imagination.

Stephen Covey said, “Everything is created twice. First in the mind and then physically.” Before you ever pound a nail to build a home, you first draw up blueprints. Even before the blueprints, which are a physical picture of the house, you imagine how you want it to be. Then you draw it, then you build it. So, imagination is more than just kid’s stuff.  We use it all the time.

What Is Imagination?

I haven’t called “Word Nerd Alert!” in a while so here we go. The online dictionary definition of Imagination is – “the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.” In other words, it’s the ability to picture things in your mind’s eye that are not present in physical reality.

Think of a dog. What came to mind? I can guarantee you it wasn’t the letters D-O-G. It was a picture of a dog.  Maybe it was your dog or a neighbor’s dog or the dog you had when you were growing up. But it was a picture.

How many external doors do you have in your house? Chances are you don’t have that number memorized so how would you be able to answer that question? You can walk around the inside and outside of your house in your mind (imagination) and “see” the doors so you can count them.

We use our imaginations all the time. If you think about it, we couldn’t drive anywhere or give someone directions without using our imagination, without mentally picturing the route. In fact, when we give directions, we’re attempting to transfer the picture in our mind to the other person’s mind so they can get where they’re wanting to go. Interesting.

What’s The Point?

We use our imaginations all the time. But, the vast majority of the time, we’re using them descriptively. We use them to recreate in our minds a picture of what we’ve experienced in physical reality.

The difference between most of us and the people we think of as “creative” is that those people, creatives, use their imaginations “prescriptively.” They use their imagination to make a picture in their minds of what they would like to see in physical reality. As the online dictionary definition of imagination said, forming new ideas or new concepts or new physical objects.  Then they get busy creating it the second time in physical reality.

It’s like one of those TV shows where teams compete with each other to make the best cake. Those teams get an idea in their minds of what their cake will look like, then they start working with what they have to make the physical version of what they imagined.

What might happen if more of us dared to use our imaginations prescriptively again? What if we spent some time making pictures in our minds of positive things we would like to see? Imagine!

Courage!

What is your biggest fear? I don’t mean a phobia like fear of heights, fear of spiders, or fear of public speaking. I’m asking about more common fears like the fear of loneliness, or the fear of rejection, failure, inadequacy, or the fear of being physically hurt or even the fear of uncertainty or meaninglessness. Fear unconsciously (or consciously!) blocks us from so much in life. Did one of those fears stand out to you when you read it? That, then, may be your biggest fear. But, this post isn’t about fear. It’s about courage.

Courage

I had to start with a brief mention of fear because fear plays prominently in the definition of courage. Courage, in the online dictionary,  is “The ability to do something that frightens one.” Or, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” That’s a powerful statement. Some people have said that courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear. No disagreement here, but Roosevelt’s quote seems powerful to me because it talks about why someone might overcome fear to take action.

That raises another question. What’s important to you? Another way of asking that question might be, what do you consider valuable? Setting aside for a minute valuable stuff, is your family valuable to you? Is safety and security? Your job? What about other valuable things also known as values, like integrity, love, honor, humility? These are questions we must answer if, by Roosevelt’s definition, we ever hope to be courageous. Which of us, after all, has never fantasized about being a “hero?”

Categories of Courage

Since the very definition of courage contains a clear reference to fear, it seems reasonable that categories of courage would align with a list of various fears. But, I think it’s helpful to consider them this way. Here are a few categories of courage:

  1. Physical Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than your physical safety and security. Our first responders and military, for example, have made a career out of this assessment.
  2. Social Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than your social comfort or sense of belonging. Leaders need social courage when they ask their people to believe in and follow them.
  3. Moral Courage – this is when you assess that your convictions are more important than your social standing, your job, or, in some cases, even your life. Religious martyrs and social activists require moral courage.
  4.  Intellectual Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than being right or being part of the “in” crowd. Truth seekers require intellectual courage.

Did one of those descriptions draw you in? Can you see yourself being a physical hero? Maybe. Or what about a social hero, or a moral hero, or an intellectual hero? And that’s not an exhaustive list. The point is that courageous people are clear on what’s most important to them.

A Call to Courage

It was after dark one evening 25 years ago. I was the brand new pastor of a small church in a small town outside Lincoln, Nebraska. Suzi, the kids, and I had just arrived home from a visit to central Illinois where we had lived and pastored previously. The drive was seven and a half hours so we were ready to settle in for the evening. Right after we arrived home we got a call telling us a dear friend who was a member of our previous church had passed away while we were driving home. We had just visited with him on our trip. He was ill but we didn’t expect him to go that quickly.

In the midst of our road weariness and grief, the phone rang again. This time it was a member of our new church. There had been a terrible car accident involving teenage boys from our small community. She was calling from the hospital, “almost the whole town is here,” she said.

“Are either of the other pastors there?” I asked. There were two other churches in town and I wondered if pastoral care was available.

“Yes,” she answered. But it was clear she wanted her church to be officially represented, too. I understood that, of course.

It would be a 25 to 30 minute drive to the hospital in Lincoln. That’s no big deal in and of itself. Being called upon to serve in these situations despite personal tiredness and grief was what I signed up for so that wasn’t part of my struggle. But I did struggle. None of the families involved were from our church and I was afraid that my showing up, the new pastor of the “other” church, might appear morbid. It might appear like I was trying to horn in on the community’s grief to benefit myself or our church in some way.

The Rest of the Story

I made a decision. Serving those people with injured children and answering the call of the person from my church was more important than my fears. I put those in God’s hands and headed to the hospital. By the time I arrived, providentially, everyone else had gone home. Only the parents of the injured boys were still there. I had uninterrupted access to the single dad of one boy and the mother and father of the other. I did my best to offer grace, compassion, prayer, and any other support they would need in the coming days.

It was a genuine tragedy. The single dad lost his son. The parents of the other boy eventually brought him home but he would never be the same due to traumatic brain injury. In the days before those outcomes were known, the people of our church stepped up to serve those families and the community in amazing ways. The result of their actions opened doors to ministry in that community that had previously not been opened. I was a small part of a big thing God did in those days. Had I not done my part, He would have found another way, but I’m grateful to have participated.

Every day may present an opportunity to overcome some fear. If we focus on what’s most important to us, get clear on that, I believe we’ll become more courageous.

A White Cop and a Black Kid

Suzi and I are doubly blessed to have five children. We are blessed once to have them and the double blessing is that we had them through adoption. Two of our children came through inter-country adoption from Guatemala. A third was born in the States but of half-Guatemalan descent. So, our older three (who self-identify as “Group A”) are Guatemalan. Group B, as they call themselves, came along ten years after the last of Group A. They came together as twins and are of African-American descent. Suzi and I, then, are the minority in our family. The kids are all grown now, but whenever we would go anywhere as a family we got interesting looks. Two white people with three Hispanic kids and two Black kids brought a mixed bag of reactions.

The Car

The two younger ones got jobs and so they needed transportation. They borrowed some money from their big brother and bought a modest sedan from a small dealer. That was just as the pandemic was shutting everything down back in March of 2020. The DMV was one of those entities that shut down. The dealer turned in the paperwork for the sale of the car by mail and paid the fees. For months no tags or registration came so the kids drove on the temporary dealer plate.

As I write this in August of 2021, they still have not received the registration and plates for that car. The DMV is conducting an investigation into what happened. The dealer paid the fees as his receipts show but somehow the system shows them still outstanding on the car so it won’t issue tags. It’s quite a mystery and it puts the kids in a quandary. The car is not technically legal but they still need to get to work. So, they’ve been driving it.

The Black Kid

Our Youngest son, Jordan, is a winsome and gregarious young man who seems like a natural at whatever he decides to try. He is an athlete musician. In High School, he ran track, swam, played water polo, and was in the band. In band he easily picked up and switched back and forth between multiple instruments, woodwinds and brass. He also loves helping children and was involved in a high school program that mentored children with disabilities.

When our family moved to China for two years, Jordan and his sister were nine years old. I guess that was just the right age for him to catch a bug for living overseas. He’s dreamed of moving overseas since then. A Multi-Country European excursion with two friends right after High School graduation only added fuel to that fire. He also has a knack for languages. I remember how funny it was to see this young black boy successfully hail a cab and tell the driver where we wanted to go … in Mandarin! In High School he studied German.

He recently completed a course in teaching English as a second language and has accepted a job offer to teach next year at a small school in Spain. Seems like a fitting combination for him. He’s very excited and is working and saving money to make the move. He even opened a Go-Fund-Me page to help raise moving money.

The White Cop

As a result of the car tag fiasco, Jordan has been pulled over no less than five times for the expired dealer tag. Each time has resulted in a warning to get the situation corrected. He has a court date later next month but still needs to get to work so he continues to drive, often late at night when he closes at the fast-food restaurant where he works.

On a recent stop, after the usual explaining why he’s driving the car like that, the running of the driver’s license, and the officer telling him to get it taken care of, the cop didn’t ask him to step out of the car or begin to search him or draw his weapon, instead, he started making conversation. During the conversation, he heard about Jordan’s plans to teach English in Spain.  Then he asked an unexpected question, “Do you have a Go-Fund-Me?” Jordan was a bit startled by the question but told him he did and the conversation ended shortly after that when the officer had to get on with his work.

Later that day, Jordan got a notification that someone had contributed to his Go-Fund-Me account. He looked to see who it was, and was surprised to find that the officer who pulled him over had donated to his fund.

That’s not what you might expect to read these days when you see a title like “A White Cop and a Black Kid” so thought this might be a good story to share in the current climate. Thank you for reading.

When No One Is Watching

Christian apologist and well-known author of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis, said, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.” One thing about restaurants that I find fascinating is that each table is a separate little world where the inhabitants seem to believe that no one is watching them even though they are in full view of everyone else in the room. Ironically, that makes for some interesting people watching.

Once in a while, when Suzi and I are out alone, we’ll imagine the story behind a certain scene at a table. We’re not creepers but every once in a while a particular scene will be so obvious that we can’t help but be curious about “what’s going on over there?” That reminds me of a story I recently read. I thought it was interesting and had a great life lesson along these lines.

An Unexpected Interview

I’m reading a book by Richard Stearns, former CEO of Parker Brothers, Lenox, and World Vision, called Lead Like it Matters to God: Values-driven leadership in a success-driven world. In a chapter about integrity he relates the following story:

Early in my career, I was put to the test on this principle of private versus public behavior in one of my first job interviews. I was twenty-five years old at the time and had a full day of interviews set up for that entry-level marketing position at Parker Brothers Games. I was impressed that even for an entry-level job they had arranged for me to meet with several vice presidents, three marketing directors, and even a “drive-by” with the president. I really wanted this job, so I did my best to make a positive impression. Then at lunch, I was kind of surprised that they sent me out for almost two hours with a much lower-level employee named Clint, who worked as a marketing research analyst. I doubted that his input would matter much compared to the directors and vice presidents. but off we went to a local eatery.

As I recall, Clint and I had a good time eating fried clams somewhere in Salem, Massachusetts, and talking about what it was really like to work at Parker Brothers. A few days later I was thrilled to get the call that they were offering me the job. When I showed up for my first day of work a couple of weeks later,  I spent the morning with my new boss getting briefed. But his opening comments are the ones I remember to this day. He  looked at me and said: “You know why we hired you, don’t you?” Of course, I’m thinking it must have been my scintillating interview technique, my winning personality, my prematurely graying hair, my impressive Wharton MBA,  or maybe my solid twenty months of previous work experience. But no, he said, “You passed the ‘Clint test.’ We knew you would be on your best behavior with the directors and the VPs, but we wanted to see if you were a jerk when your guard was down, so we sent you out to lunch with Clint. You passed. Clint told us he thought you were a good guy, so we hired you.” Wow! And I thought no one was looking.

When No One Is Watching

Just like the people Suzi and I watch in restaurants, Richard didn’t know anyone was “looking” during his “final interview.” The real lesson for me is when I flip that around and ask myself who’s looking at me or at us? What story might they weave based on their observation of my behavior?

I’m a person of faith so I believe there is always someone watching. That both comforts me and keeps me on my toes. Whether or not you believe someone is always watching over you, C.S. Lewis’ quote about integrity is true. Character in general and Integrity, in particular, is what makes people, families, and nations strong from the inside. We seem to be experiencing a shortage of that these days.

Will you join me in self-reflection on the question, “Is there integrity between what’s on the inside of me and how I behave outwardly?” Am I a person of character and does it show? Because you never know who’s watching.

The Smartest Kid In the Class

If you’re the smartest kid in the class, you’re in the wrong class. That is if you want to grow. I’m not sure who first made the comment about surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you but they sure were smart. The easiest way to grow as a person and as a leader is to surround yourself with people who know more than you do. In his famous book about the richest men in the world called Think And Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill wrote about Henry Ford, “Any man is educated who knows where to get knowledge when he needs it, and how to organize that knowledge into definite plans of action.” He was talking about the fact that Henry Ford had smart people around him.

David Ogilvy, widely revered as a founding father of modern advertising (and founder of one of its most famous agencies), is reputed to have once presented each of his board directors with a set of Russian dolls. When they opened the dolls, the smallest had a piece of folded paper inside on which Ogilvy had written: ”If you always hire people who are smaller than you, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you, we shall become a company of giants.”

One Example

Several years ago I sat in on a meeting of the division presidents of a large national company with their CEO. The CEO was also the founder of the company.  He had started two other companies and had sold them both making many of his team millionaires. His reputation preceded him but this company was in an industry that was new to him. What I observed was interesting. Whenever the CEO said something or made a point all the division presidents nodded their heads like a group of bobblehead dolls, except one. That guy spoke his mind and if he disagreed with the CEO, he said so. “That won’t work,” he blurted out in one case. He went on to explain why. “That’s not what this customer is looking for,” he said another time.

The outspoken division president had spent years in the industry that was new to the CEO. He knew the business. The CEO recognized the value of that president’s expertise and soon after that meeting elevated him to a position of leadership nearer the CEO so he could more readily benefit from it.

The Point

I’ve been writing about personal growth over the last several weeks. If you have a fragile ego or something to prove to someone then this post isn’t for you. This post is for people who realize that they don’t know everything and can’t do everything but still want to be successful or even significant. Those are the people who want to grow, who want to increase their influence.

If you’re one of those people then it should make sense to you to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and better than you.  That’s a growth environment. A growth environment like that will do at least three things for you.

  1. It will keep you challenged – challenges keep us engaged and, like in any physical training, we gain strength by doing a little more each time.
  2. It will keep you focused forward – you can’t drive a car looking in the rearview mirror or you’ll crash. A growth environment will keep you driving with your eyes on the road ahead.
  3. It will keep you out of your comfort zone – I recently heard John Maxwell speak on personal growth. He said, “Everything you want or need is outside your comfort zone.”

When I interview candidates for certain jobs I like to ask this question, “Could you tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you didn’t know how to do?” I’ve heard answers like, “I didn’t do it,” or “I don’t do anything I’m not trained to do.” I didn’t hire those people. I’m looking for people with the drive and ingenuity to find solutions. When they say, “I found someone who knows how to do it and asked them,” or “I found the procedure manual or I googled it until I knew what I was doing,” that’s when I believe I have someone who is in a growth mindset.  Those are the people I want to hire.

Take a look around you, at your colleagues and friends. Are they ahead of you, next to you, or behind you? If they’re all next to you and behind you, you need to find some new colleagues and friends. Put yourself in a growth environment.

A Special Day

I didn’t put up a normal Engager Dynamics post yesterday because I was honored to officiate at the wedding of my nephew Luke and his new bride Genevieve on Sunday.  Suzi and I drove from California to Colorado last week and are on our way home this week.

A wedding is a wonderful celebration. This one was in a beautiful outdoor setting with a mountain backdrop and a stream running alongside the venue. Aside from my car alarm going off right at the beginning (I’m not kidding about that), the ceremony went off without a hitch. 

There is a lot of planning and work that goes into a wedding. But, as I reminded the couple, the wedding is just the first day of the rest of their life together. I hope and believe they will put at least as much work and planning into their marriage every day as they did into their wedding.  They will also need the support of their family and friends. I challenged the wedding party to continue to stand with the couple from this day forward and those who gathered for the ceremony to continue to surround them with love and support.

I once saw a plaque hanging on the wall of a friend’s house that read “A Happy Marriage Is the Union of Two Good Forgivers!” That’s true and it’s good advice for all of us in all our relationships.

Set The Course

In last week’s post, I asked the question “Where are you Growing?” At the end of that post, I started writing about setting a personal growth course. I talked about deciding which area of life you wanted to improve, setting a destination (goal), finding a way to measure progress, laying out steps, and then starting. At the very end, I promised to give some examples this week. This post is me fulfilling that promise. I want to write about two kinds of improvement areas.

Concrete Areas

These are areas that are easier to measure and therefore easier to track. The components of these areas are concrete and easily countable.

My youngest daughter, Janessa, came home from school for the long 4th of July weekend. Janessa is a certified personal trainer and is doing that on the side while in school in Arizona. On the way home from the airport, she told us about a client she’s working with. She talked about why this client hired her, what her goals are, and what Janessa is doing to help her reach those goals. Weights and reps and speed on the treadmill, things like that are very easy to measure so goals and progress are also easy to measure.

Weight goals are like that. Say you weigh XX pounds and want to lose 10 pounds. There’s your ready-made destination. It is important to add a by when to that goal.  So, in this example, you want to lose 10 pounds by the end of the month (say that’s 4 weeks away). There’s your area of life (weight/health), your destination (a certain amount by a certain time), and your measurement (pounds and weeks).

Now you need steps. For example, you might decide to cut artificial sugar and saturated fat out of your diet. You might also decide not to eat anything past 7:00 in the evening. Finally, you may want to increase your exercise level. Let’s say you decide to walk 6,000 steps every day. That one would require a pedometer or similar app on your phone, or access to a treadmill that might measure it in distance rather than steps. Another idea is simply to walk for half an hour every day. Simple, right? Now for the important step… start.

Abstract Areas

These are areas like interpersonal skills and relationships. It’s much harder to measure these “soft” skills than it is the more concrete things. But, they are often more important to us than many of those concrete things. If I had to choose between losing 10 pounds and improving a relationship, I’d choose the relationship. But how do you measure “improving a relationship?”

One way to measure relationships is by feedback. Do you have an old friendship, for example, that you wish were closer but the only time you reach out to that person is when you want or need something? Maybe they’ve said that to you or you may just feel that way, but that’s the feedback. So, in this case, the area to improve is that friendship. The destination is feedback something like, “I’m glad we’re back in contact.” What measurement would you use? For this example, you could use the number of contacts per month. Your steps would be to put it on your calendar to call that person two times per month just to say hello and catch up.

What about improving an interpersonal skill like listening? That’s your area. What’s your destination? Maybe it’s feedback like, “Yes! that’s exactly what I mean” more often than not. Or, it could be simply hearing people say, “Thank you for listening,” or, “You’re a good listener.” What do you measure that will get you there? That depends on what your barriers to good listening are.

Three weeks ago I wrote a post called “Who’s Story Is it?” Is one of your barriers to good listening that you interrupt people with your story? If so, you could measure that on your way to improved listening. Ask yourself, “How many times today did I insert my story into someone else’s?” Keep track of that measurement until you consistently reach zero and see how that impacts your listening.

Just like with the concrete areas, the most important step in either of these examples is to start. Take action. You can plot the best course possible but if you don’t put the car in drive or hoist the sails you won’t go anywhere. Someone has said, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Let’s get growing.