Teddy Roosevelt on Courage

18 09 2017

“A soft, easy life is not worth living, if it impairs the fibre of brain and heart and muscle. We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage… For us is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty; let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.”

(Theodore Roosevelt)

 

Suggested Resources:

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Edmund Morris)

The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses (Theodore Roosevelt)

 

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Drive and Initiative

6 09 2017

When you were growing up, did you hear this question (I bet you did)?  “Why do you have to wait for me to tell you to clean up your room?”  One or both parents would make this nagging request.  Yeah, I thought it would bring back memories.

What were our parents trying to do?  Were they just bored and looking for something to gripe about, harping on us, making our lives unpleasant?  No.

What they were trying to mold in us was this:  Initiative.  Self-discipline.  Drive.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the years and realize that the difference between excellence and mediocrity boils down to whether one is a self-starter or has to be told, constantly, what is the next step in any given enterprise or series of tasks.

Understand this:  Your boss, like your parents, can spot initiative.  And initiative taken, even if the performance is not up to speed, gets favorable attention from those who are in positions to help us.  The opposite is true as well.  Our betters can spot laziness and a “just enough to get by” attitude a mile away.

I studied French for six years in high school and college.  One phenomenon I’ve heard about a few times comes from people who’ve either visited France or Quebec.  The French are notoriously jealous of their native tongue.  And they should be for it is a beautiful language.  Those who take the initiative to try and communicate in French with native French speakers, even if their own skills are marginal, often have the reward of the French trying to help them, honored that someone took time and effort to try.  Such initiative has an ingratiating quality about it.

Here’s the challenge:  Find something in your job, your vocation, your home, wherever, that you can do without being asked.  And then make a habit of this.  “It’s not my job” must not be within a million miles of your credo.  You are meant for far more than that.  And the habit for doing more than is expected will be rewarded.

Remember, people are watching.  Up the ante.

 

Suggested Resources:

A Team of Leaders: Empowering Every Member to Take Ownership, Demonstrate Initiative, and Deliver Results (Paul Gustavson & Stewart Liff)

The Go-Getter: A Story That Tells You How To Be One (Peter B. Kyne)

 

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Words of Wisdom from Gene Simmons’s Mom

4 09 2017

Flora Klein is a lovely, Hungarian woman.  She is on in years.  Born in 1927, she is ninety this year.  Jewish, she survived the death camps of the Third Reich.  To say she is quite a remarkable lady is an exercise in understatement.

As a fourteen-year-old girl, she watched her mother and grandmother go to their deaths.  Her grandmother was given the death sentence and her daughter—Flora’s mother—did not want her mother to face death alone and made the incredible decision to join her in death.  A profoundly moving example of sacrifice and selflessness in the face of evil.

Having survived the horrors of the war, she emigrated to Israel.  There, she married  a carpenter and had a son, Chaim, in 1949.  Her husband eventually left the family and left mother and son to fend for themselves.

In 1958, Flora and Chaim journeyed to America to forge a new life, as have done many Jews over the past century or more.

They settled in New York.  Chaim grew up and took his mother’s name, Klein, and exchanged his Hebrew name for Eugene, or “Gene” for short.  Gene Klein.

Gene—still “Chaim” to his mother—received all his direction, nurture, and inspiration from his mother.  It is no exaggeration to say that Gene worships the ground his mother walks on.  Not his father; his mom.  Mention her and ask him to talk about her and he tears up.

Gene was trained in rabbinic Judaism at a New York yeshiva and eventually worked as a New York City school teacher.  He was a young musician and pursued that, his mother cheering him on.  Eventually he formed a group with his friend Stanley Eisen.  He and Stanley changed their names.  Now they are known as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.  You’ve probably figured out that Israeli-born Chaim Witz is Gene Simmons of the rock group KISS.

Gene eventually went on to superstardom in the entertainment industry.  In recent years, he’s gotten into many different business ventures—some as startups rooted in KISS®, the brand.  Others are independent enterprises.

A few years ago, when asked on the Canadian talk show The Hour (minute 11:10) where he got his inspiration to be a success in so many fields, he answered without hesitation, “My mother.”  He began to choke up as he told the audience he wished she could be a part of all their lives.

His advice:  If you want inspiration, look to your mom.  She’s his inspiration to this moment.

He spoke of the time he got his first $10,000,000.00 (yes, that much) check—a one lump sum—as a return on his work with KISS.  He brought the check to his mother, wanting her to be proud of him.  “Mom, look at this.”

She said, in her broken English, “V’wonderful (pronounced VWAHN-dare-fool).  V’wonderful…..Now what are you going to do?”

Superstardom.  A ten-million-dollar check.  “Now what are you going to do?” Are you serious?

“Precisely the point,” says Gene.  One doesn’t rest on yesterday’s accomplishments.  Tomorrow is a new day.  What will you do to better yourself?  How can you improve what you do?

This is timeless—and distinctly Jewish—advice and perspective.  How about you?  Are you going to rest on yesterday’s successes?  Or worse, are you going to give up because of yesterday’s failures and disappointments?  Or will you value the gift of life and make the most of it that is possible?

Not sure?  Ask Chaim.  Better yet, ask his mother.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement (Steven L. Pease)

The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank)

 

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Passing the Buck or Not?

29 08 2017

President Harry S Truman was famous for many things.  A plain-spoken man.  He made the terribly weighty and controversial decision to drop two nuclear bombs on the Empire of Japan, no doubt hastening the end of World War II.

But he is perhaps best known by a little sign he kept on his desk (see image above).  He was the chief executive officer of the United States and Commander-In-Chief of our armed forces.  He made choices that affected history and lives.

“The buck stops here.”

Buck-passing is currently in vogue now and has been for some time.  But it has never served anyone who has participated in it.  President Truman used this maxim to communicate one thing: I am ultimately responsible. See the picture.

Some time ago, I heard someone say, “The moment in which you grow up is when you take complete responsibility for your life.”

Complete.Responsibility.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, owning up to my position in life.  I’ve done my share of buck-passing, blame-shifting and the like.  What I have found, however, is that as I have embraced full responsibility for my life—where things went bad, where I fell short of some objective, where life ended up being the pits—I feel strangely liberated.  Like a young man who moves out on his own for the first time and assumes the responsibility that had been his parents’.

As a leader, you will grow rapidly as you wrestle with this challenge and not permit yourself to be seduced by the siren song of the culture.  No more will you say “I can’t” about a thing when you know inside that you can.  It will just cost more.  Longer work.  More exercise.  Loss of a friendship because you tell the truth in love.

  • I am responsible for being out of shape. I chose to eat poorly and not exercise.  Now I’m trying to eat better and am exercising and weight training regularly.
  • I am responsible for my career advancement or lack of. I chose to stay in an unfulfilling job when the time came to go.  I chose not to pound the pavement and send out résumés.  I chose not to further my education in one way or another.  I spend my weeks furthering my learning, polishing my skills and gifts.  On my own time.  Without monetary pay.  There’s more than one form of remuneration, after all.
  • I am responsible for inferior relationships. I chose not to cultivate friendships or to repair those that have taken a beating in the rough and tumble of life.  I’ve recently reconnected with old classmates.  It’s an important step.

Challenge:  Take a long and honest look at your life and see if there’s a time you ducked responsibility.  Evaluate it.  And own it.  Then craft a plan to do things differently the next time you are thus challenged. You will feel empowered immediately.

 

Suggested Resources:

Where the Buck Stops: The Personal and Private Writings of Harry S Truman (Harry S & Margaret Truman)

Personal Responsibility: Why It Matters (Alexander Brown)

 

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Dr. King on Excellence

28 08 2017

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

(Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

 

Suggested Resources:

The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue EXCELLENCE (Thomas J. Peters)

Inner Excellence: Achieve Extraordinary Business Success through Mental Toughness (Jim Murphy)

 

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Sharp Tools Are the Most Effective

25 08 2017

Fall 1994. I hired on as an apprentice carpenter for a company that built staircases and hung trim.  Thus began, for me, a lifelong enjoyment for working with wood, especially hardwoods like red oak and poplar.  I was privileged to learn how to build curved staircases and these now fill quite a few houses in lower Michigan, where we lived at the time and have since migrated back to.

A carpenter learns very quickly that it is critical to keep his tools in good repair in order to do fine woodwork.  Chiefly, this means sharpening cutting implements regularly.  You may be surprised to find that dull tools—saws, chisels, router bits, etc.—not only do inferior work, marring the wood, but they are also dangerous.  You risk injury using chisels with dull blades.  A sharp saw does the work quickly, effectively, and safely.

In life, we have tools that we use to mold our lives and become effective and reach our potential.  Like planes and gouges, they must be kept sharp to be effective.  Here are a few:

  • Vocational Skills – What talents and acuities do you have that you can sharpen now and in the days ahead? I work in Information Technology and am a musician.  I try to read up on the latest technological innovations as well as become more proficient with the software apps I use in my work.  And with my instruments, I practice and learn new stuff.  Do you have a plan for skills development?
  • Relationships – “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” (Jim Rohn) What kinds of relationships do you cultivate to 1) add value to others and 2) help in your own development?  If you walk with wise and ambitious people, you fuel your passion to grow and develop.  But if you make a practice of hanging with people who are pessimistic and complacent, like it or not, it will affect you.  Enthusiasm is contagious.  So is discouragement and criticism.  Choose wisely.
  • Reading ­– That readers are leaders is axiomatic. And you are called to lead.  What kinds of books do you plan on reading or listening over the next year?  Here’s a good place to start: The Magic of Thinking Big (David J. Schwartz); How To Read A Book (Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren); Spiritual Leadership (J. Oswald Sanders); Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman); Talent Is Overrated (Geoff Colvin).  Possibilities are endless, but whatever you do, develop a reading plan for the next year.
  • Physical Fitness – Your effectiveness is charged or limited by your physical fitness—or lack of it. Regular cardiovascular exercise 1) improves your focus, 2) makes you feel better because of endorphins and 3) increases your longevity.  Also, there are numerous other benefits to staying fit, fighting the national epidemic of obesity.  Your career and its growth are one of these. As some have said, “Your shape will shape your future.”

Now go sharpen your tools and build.  You will be astounded at what they produce.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (Stephen R. Covey)

Stay Sharp: 52 Ways to Keep Your Mind, Not Lose It (David B. Biebel et al)

 

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Honesty Is Therapeutic…and Right

24 08 2017

    “Honesty is such a lonely word.  Everyone is so untrue.  Honesty is hardly ever heard.  But mostly what I need from you….” 

(Billy Joel)

Life thrives on health.  And healthy relationships thrive on honesty, on commitment to truth, whatever pains may ensue.  This is the same for all human interactions—with spouse, children, parents, colleagues, friends–even with God.  But most of all, with oneself.

I’m learning that in order to be honest with others, I must first be honest with myself.  I have to summon the moral courage to take a good look at where I’m at, what I like and dislike, where I’m going and with whom I’m going.

My wife has been the truest friend I’ve ever had largely because she sees me and tells me the truth, rarely with anything other than love.  She has helped me be courageous in asking myself tough questions about life and answering with the antidote of truth, even though it hurts.  One of my goals is the practice of radical honesty, primarily with myself.  This will help me be more authentic with others because I’m a unity, rather than a potpourri of different selves adapting to the moment.

Go get alone, maybe with a journal and a cup of coffee or glass of wine, whatever, and ask yourself these tough questions and answer honestly:

  • Am I being true to my professed values, both in the public eye as well as out of line of sight? There is inherent tension that visits us when we profess one thing and live another.
  • In my life of faith, do I really believe what I mouth as creed or simply parrot something I’ve been taught? Be ruthless on this one.  Nobody gets a free pass.  Someday, you will stand and account for your time here.  It will not be good enough to say “I did this because [insert name] told me this was the right thing to do.”
  • Have I come to terms with the fact that I drove my own car to the place I’m at and to go further in my journey, I’ll have to drive there? Devil didn’t make you do it, the economy either, nor your parents. Did they influence? Of course.  But we either acted or chose not to act.  A tough sell but own this.
  • If money were no option, what would I do for a career? See yesterday’s post.  You have a sacred obligation to provide for your own, even if digging ditches.  But don’t stop there.  Work towards your dream occupation.  President Kennedy was fond of quoting the Greek maxim: “Happiness consists in the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope.”
  • Am I continuing to nurture relationships that are hurting me? A mantra on this blog but you have to choose your circle of peeps carefully. Do they spur you on or deflate you?  And can you goad them in the direction of their best selves?

Honesty is therapy.  You will ultimately be a much happier person as you really start to tell yourself the way it is this year.  There may be pain at the outset but that will be replaced with more peace, if only because you’re finally authentic.

“To thine own self be true.”

 

Suggested Resources:

Radical Honesty: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth (Brad Blanton & Marilyn Ferguson)

Getting Real: Ten Truth Skills You Need to Live an Authentic Life (Susan Campbell)

 

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