Tag Archives | leadership

Everything You Do Matters

I was first introduced to the Butterfly Effect by author and blogger Andy Andrews.

 

A doctrinal thesis published in 1963 by a meteorologist named Edward Lorenz, in short the Butterfly Effect states that a butterfly can flap its wings on one side of the world and set in motion molecules of air that in turn set in motion other molecules of air and eventually create a hurricane on the other side of the world. Ridiculed by the scientific community for more than thirty years, the Butterfly Effect nevertheless persisted in myths and urban legends until physics professors in the mid-1990’s proved it, not only with butterflies and air molecules but with every form of matter…including people. Eventually, the Butterfly Effect became a scientific law called the Law of Sensitive Dependence upon Initial Conditions. When applied to people, it essentially means that all of your actions can shape far-reaching outcomes spanning generations. It means that everything you do matters.

I was reminded of how this law applies to personal branding during a talk I gave as a guest at a local B.N.I. (Business Network International) meeting several years ago. The story begins in Traverse City, Michigan during the summer of 1982 between my junior and senior year of college. My girlfriend–who is now my wife–had just flown in for my sister’s wedding and my parents invited us to join them, my sister and two of my brothers for dinner downtown. Five months earlier, my dad had purchased a Buick dealership in town, taking a small, under-performing franchise and turning it into the top selling dealership in northern Michigan. It was the height of summer in this beautiful, scenic Lake Michigan resort town and our entire family was coming together for a much-anticipated wedding celebration.

After a wonderful dinner we hopped in our cars to head home. While backing out of the parking space, one of us–I cannot recall who–inadvertently sideswiped another car in the cramped parking lot, leaving a 6-inch crease in the rear fender of the parked car.  By this time it was nearly dark and there was on one else in the lot. We could easily have pretended nothing happened, hopped back into our cars, and driven away.

Instead, noticing what had happened, my dad jumped out of his new Buick, surveyed the damage to the other car, pulled a business card out of his wallet, wrote a short message on the back along with his home phone number, and left it on the windshield.

Having witnessed my father’s leadership and personal responsibility my entire life, I was not surprised by his response and never thought about the incident again–until the morning of my B.N.I. presentation nearly 30 years later. Following my brief speech (I can’t recall the topic), each B.N.I. member delivered their customary introduction along with a few comments on my talk. After the first few members spoke, a woman introduced herself and, after some kinds words about my message, proudly mentioned that she and her family had purchased every car they owned from us since the early 1980’s.  Then she explained why.

“I had recently moved to Traverse City back in the early 1980’s and had spent the evening shopping downtown with some friends when I returned to my car and immediately noticed a pretty big dent in the rear fender,” she said, adding that this was the first brand new car she had ever owned and really wanted to keep it looking great. “Frustrated and angry, I walked to the front of the car and noticed a business card stuck in my windshield with your father’s name, phone number, and explanation of what happened. I called him the next day and he was so gracious and apologetic. He not only arranged to fix the dent but he gave me a car to drive while it was in your body shop. To me, the integrity that your father displayed was huge, something I have never forgotten, and as a result, my entire family has done all of our business with your company ever since.”

I was shocked. That was the first time I was reminded of that incident since it happened–it seemed like a lifetime ago.

What does this have to do with the Butterfly Effect?  Everything. What was to my dad a simple act of doing the right thing–his response would have been the same whether anyone had seen it or not–was, to this woman, a rare display of integrity that resulted in lifelong loyalty. And for a big ticket purchase like an automobile, that’s a lot of revenue.

The lesson? The quality of your life–the strength of your personal brand while you’re alive and the legacy you leave after you’re gone–is driven not so much by the major events and big decisions you encounter at key times in your life, but by the seemingly small, everyday decisions you make, both good and bad.  If the flapping wings of a tiny butterfly can affect meteorological events thousands of miles away, imagine the impact of your everyday decisions.

My questions for you: How can you apply the Butterfly Effect to improving your personal brand? What seemingly small decisions have you or those close to you made that have had significant long term consequences? How can a deeper awareness and understanding of this principle impact your life?

This post has been adapted from my 2013 blog post.

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Four Key Decisions That Shape Your Character

Charisma may be useful in attracting a following, but it is largely useless when it comes to achieving a long term positive impact on the people and organizations we lead. For this, we need character. Effective leadership is an inside-out job.

The older I get, the more this quote from one of my mentors, Michael Hyatt reveals itself in everyday experience. As leaders (we are all leaders in some area of our lives), our influence is shaped by our character, which, in turn, is formed over time by our daily choices. The fact is, who we become is not a product of the milestone moments in our lives as much as the small, seemingly inconsequential decisions we make every day.

The good news is that, unlike personality, which is fixed at birth, your character can be developed through the intentional decisions you make about how you spend your time. If you are consistent in managing them, these daily decisions become powerful forces that will encourage you to live with more passion, purpose and influence. Here are four to consider:

Decision #1: The content you consume.
How much news do you expose yourself to every day?
What are you reading and how often?
What do you listen to while driving?
How you answer questions like these says a lot about how intentional you are in developing your character. Author and speaker Matthew Kelly tells his audiences, “You show me what you’re reading and I’ll tell you what sort of person you are. If you give me a list of the books you read last year I can tell you what happened in your life. Even better, you give me a list of the books you’re going to read in the next 12 months and I will tell you what will happen in your life in the coming year.”
That’s a bold prediction, but his message rings clear: Your character is shaped by what you allow to occupy your mind every day. I recall a successful entrepreneur telling me that he largely ignores the news because, if he didn’t, he would be too fearful to launch new business ventures. Remember, regardless of which side of the political spectrum you’re on, both Fox News and MSNBC do not exist to deliver news; their goal is to achieve ratings, which means their mission is keeping you glued to the TV. Over time, the negativity, alarmism, and agenda-driven drama affects us, injecting doubt, worry and passivity that, over time, can hijack our dreams and stifle our initiative. While I’m not suggesting we ignore what’s going on in the world, I strongly believe we need to set boundaries not only on the news we watch, but on all the content we consume every day–podcasts, blogs, streaming video, social media, etc.

Decision #2: The friendships you maintain.
Personal development icon Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Although we are often called through our work and personal lives to minister to many different types of people, those we choose as our closest friends and confidants will have a disproportionate influence on who we become, so we must choose them wisely. If you want to have a great marriage, for example, hang out with people with strong marriages. If you’re looking to become healthy and fit, cultivate friendships with people who practice good nutrition and exercise habits. On the other hand, avoid making close friends with people who exhibit the traits you want to avoid. Remember, birds of a feather really do flock together.

Decision #3: The beliefs you cultivate.
It’s been said that our actions ultimately reflect our beliefs. If you believe, for example, that human life is the result of random, meaningless chance verses the product of a loving, personal God who created you for a purpose, then chances are this belief will, at some point, play out in your life. Your world view–the fundamental beliefs you have about ultimate reality–matters, and every world view attempts to answer these four questions:
>Origin: How did I get here?
>Meaning: What is the ultimate meaning of my life?
>Morality: How should I live? Is there a right and wrong, and what is the difference?
>Destiny: What will happen when I die?
In a culture shaped by superficiality, these questions may seem over-the-top, but your capacity to formulate clear, confident answers to each of these will profoundly influence the breadth and depth of the person you become.

Decision #4: The habits you develop.
In his book, Make Today Count, leadership expert John Maxwell makes a provocative claim. He writes:

If I could come to your house and spend just one day with you, I would be able to tell whether or not you will be successful. You could pick the day. If I got up with you in the morning and went through the day with you, watching you for 24 hours, I could tell in what direction your life is headed.

According to John, when he shares this at conferences, he always gets a strong reaction. Some people are surprised and get defensive because they think he would be making a snap judgment about them. Others, however, are intrigued and want to know why he would make such a statement. As John points out, our character isn’t something that suddenly manifests itself in someone’s life. It is a process; every day is merely preparation for the next, and our habits–the simple, repeatable actions we consistently take over time–ultimately determine who we become. As John famously says, “You will never change anything in your life until you change something you do daily.” So what are your habits preparing you for, and is it aligned with where you truly want to go?

Of all the forces shaping the quality and impact of your life, your character stands alone. No one wants to reach the end of their life and feel regret over squandered opportunities and broken relationships, yet sadly, it will be the destination of choice for so many. The difference between experiencing regret verses a deep satisfaction with life, I believe, lies in the importance you attach to each of these life-shaping, character-defining decisions.

Question: Which of these decision areas do you feel confident you have made? Which ones have challenged you? What do you plan to do about it? I’d love to hear your comments!

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Be a Hospitalian To Present the Best Version of YOU

In his popular TED Talk, “Be a Hospitalian,” Bobby Stuckey, owner of the renowned Frasca restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, shares a humorous holiday story of trying to please one of his relatives while hosting Thanksgiving dinner:

 

Bobby’s talk highlights the critical difference between service (“What you do for someone”) and hospitality (“Changing how they feel”). His point: From serving customers in a 5-Star restaurant to hosting your neighbors for a backyard barbecue — while excellent service is important, authentic hospitality is the real difference-maker.

As many of us prepare to spend the Easter holidays with family, Bobby’s message serves as a great reminder. There’s bound to be someone you’ll encounter who rubs you the wrong way…  be it that crazy uncle, know-it-all brother-in-law, or your sister’s boyfriend who drives you nuts. Being a “hospitalian” means presenting the best version of yourself, or, as Bobby says, “looking out instead of looking in.” It’s thinking of yourself less and putting others first, even those who irritate us.

So during this Easter holiday, take a cue from Bobby: Before the craziness begins, put aside your need for affirmation and gratitude and commit to becoming a “hospitalian.”

And if, at any point over the holidays, you’re tempted to slip back into the lesser version of yourself, get out your Bible, take a deep breath and let the true message of Easter inspire you:

Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48)

What was your experience celebrating Easter with family growing up? Was there tension or peace? How has that affected your approach to the celebrating holidays and family functions? How can Bobby Stuckey’s message of hospitality help you enjoy the coming days?

This post has been adapted from my previous post for the Christmas holiday.

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The One Thing You Must Do To Present the Best Version of You

Last spring, I was having a “30,000 foot” conversation with a friend, sharing some of our mutual leadership and relational challenges. During the exchange, he shared a statement that resonated so strongly with me that it became a personal theme, a constant reminder that underscores an ongoing obstacle in my life:

I will be where I am… wherever I am.

This simple sentence is a definition of presence, which is the ability to give people the gift of your attention, the willingness to fully engage in every encounter–at every meal, every meeting, every conversation, every day.

The older I get, the more I realize how difficult this can be for me. I suffer from a distracted and overactive mind.

In an effort to improve, as I’ve unpacked this whole issue of presence, I’ve come to realize that being present starts with listening. I know that sounds ridiculously obvious, but in an increasingly distracted culture, listening is one of the most difficult skills to consistently practice. And yet, if you are serious about building a strong personal brand by consistently presenting the best version of yourself, learning to listen–really listen–is non-negotiable.

Presence: Listening and hearing are not the same.

Listening and hearing are not the same.

How many times have you been introduced to someone, and, within minutes, or even seconds, you forget their name? (Don’t tell me I’m the only one guilty of this!) How can that happen? After all, you clearly heard the name, right? The problem was that you may have heard it, but you weren’t listening. Chances are, your focus was on yourself and the impression you were making. Or your mind was absorbed in the meeting you were preparing for, the weekend plans you were looking forward to, or something else that occupied your thoughts at that moment.

Instances like this cause people to say things like, “I’m bad with names” when the truth is, you’re simply unskilled at the discipline of listening.

Whether this example resonates with you or not, the key is to understand that listening involves more than just hearing words directed at us. Listening is an active process by which we receive, assess, and respond to what we hear–and the benefits are huge. As Mary Schaller explains in The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations:

People are often ready to listen to us only after they feel understood and heard. In a society full of folks who would rather talk than listen, people are starved for someone who is willing to move into their lives as a listener and learner. Being known as a good listener will cause you to stand out in our self-centered, what’s-in-it-for-me kind of world.

The stakes are high.

In an earlier post, I shared that today more than ever we tend to live in echo chambers where everything we pay attention to only reinforces what we already believe. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, Americans today are more polarized than perhaps any other period in our history. As a result, we are increasingly less likely to listen and learn from one another–at great potential cost to the health of our society.

In my upcoming posts, I will explore some proven skills to improve our listening, develop our sense of presence, and expand our capacity to present the best version of ourselves.

Are you listening?

How would you evaluate yourself as a listener? Are you, for example, comfortable with remembering names and noticing things? Does your mind tend to wander during conversations? Do you find it hard to concentrate in the midst of smartphones, social networking and other distractions? What would it mean to you and to the quality of your life if you could expand your sense of presence?

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