Character Creates Opportunity® – Gentleness: Thursday, February 27, 2014

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, I wanted to write about a virtue that gets little mention in today’s “loud and proud” environment.  When we call roll for those who have delivered lasting, positive impact in our world, in our communities, and in our homes, there is a common virtue among them that is tough to find in the intensity of our world today.

The quality of gentleness, or “strength under control” as the more practical, relevant definition, continues to be an effective behavioral anchor for us in dealing with relationships in the complexity of life today.

I am confident that if I polled all the readers of this blog, we could all give a few solid testimonies about when we “lost it” in a relatively intense or even seemingly routine interaction with a family member, coworker, or friend.  We occasionally blame our response on the hectic commute across the town, the stressful day at work, the loss of the big game, the weather etc.   However, we all know we fell short in demonstrating strength under control and we most likely took a big withdrawal from the proverbial “relationship bank account” and needed to work extra hard making deposits into the future if we wanted to repair the relationship.

Maintaining gentleness in today’s world is not easy.  The real-life situations of dealing with an unruly child while hustling to get ready for work, an irate customer call just as “normal business hours” have passed and your daycare is closing, the spouse that just seems oblivious to the situation you are struggling to get through, or the aging parent who does not realize her limitations are all situations that put our gentleness to the test.  It is not easy to maintain strength under control, but it is worth the effort.

There are several positive outcomes that we can all expect by demonstrating a greater degree of gentleness or strength under control in our interactions with others:

(1) Gentleness has been shown over time, either through time-tested philosophers or academic research, to be the more effective method in strengthening relationships and sustaining positive behavioral change compared to the typical “loud, proud, and loss of control” technique we all so quickly adapt.

(2) We will quickly replace the regretful thought of “oh, I should not have acted that way” with the cherished memory that we did the harder right, rather than the easier wrong and more times than not, maintained a productive connection to continue the relationship another day.

(3) Our example will be “watched” by those around us and whether we ever see it or not, others will be positively impacted by our actions.

One final note of truth from the late Leo Buscaglia, PhD:  I am not sure if you remember Leo, but he was “Dr. Love” in the 70s & 80s who was famous for his sold-out “Love 1A” class at the University of Southern California.  His PBS Specials (which are on YouTube for those interested) were an earlier and less rehearsed version of modern day TED Talks for healthy relationships.  Leo Buscaglia, in describing a relevant truth of those exhibiting the virtue of gentleness said, “Only the weak are cruel.  Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.”

We should all strive to be strong and exhibit gentleness.  As a result, we will continue to make steady progress on building and strengthening our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to have positive, lasting impact in our relationships.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Quiet Service: Thursday, February 20, 2014

There is a great deal of material written about and attention given to leaders. One of the burdens of leadership is often summarized in the quote it is “lonely at the top.”  There are many times when a leader needs to step forward and decide. The leader has gathered all the input, sorted through the data, and then at some point a decision needs to be made.  There is that moment of decision when the burden is only fully felt by the leader.  This is when a leader confronts that cold reality that it is truly “lonely at the top.”

However, today’s message is not about the “leader”, but about the often underappreciated role that most of us play…The role of serving to get the job done.  Mostly out of the spotlight, behind the scenes, and without the typical fanfare that comes with the “lonely role at the top.”  Similar to an offensive lineman blocking for a great running back or providing protection for a great quarterback to find the open receiver, the offensive line, like many of us, do our job faithfully day in and day out without being in the spotlight.

Although many times underappreciated, there is something extremely honorable about the commitment of those who get the job done in our workplace, our communities and our homes.  A tremendous example is quietly set by those getting up on a cold, dark morning and getting the job done on a consistent basis that is worthy of appreciation, but so often goes without it.  It does not matter what role you play; whether you get up and load boxes into a truck, pack a lunch for children, sit and hold grandchildren, or plan the strategy for an organization.  The day in day out choice you make to get up and get going despite going underappreciated for not just days, but perhaps years, is worthy of praise and honor.

Truth be told, our most underappreciated examples of honorable, quiet service most often occur with those closest to us in our homes and extended family.

We may not realize it, but those around us, whether they are our children, our coworkers, or our neighbors are all impacted by our example to get up and get going.  The spotlight or the press can be fleeting and inaccurate over time on those individuals in high-level positions.  However, the day to day example of those in quiet service to a cause beyond themselves and honorably fulfilling their commitments are to be given the highest praise for their impact is positive and lasting on those around them.

All of us, at certain points in our journey across the various roles we play, will feel underappreciated for our efforts.  Whether it is an insensitive spouse, a young adult going through that “know it all” phase, a preoccupied boss, or selfish coworkers, we all will go through times of service where we just feel underappreciated.

In most cases, especially in the home, the tide does eventually turn.  The insensitive spouse or the “know it all” young adult eventually has that “light-bulb” moment when they realize the quiet service that has been delivered faithfully over the years.  However, if they do not, it is important that we do not lose our drive to deliver on our commitments to do our job and fulfill our obligations.  Continuing to move forward in quiet service is the right thing to do.

If you have felt underappreciated for a while, take this writing as a little “pat on the back” of encouragement for a job and an example well done.  In addition, we all should do some self-reflection and see if we are that insensitive spouse, “know it all” young adult, preoccupied boss, or selfish co-worker and start today to put forth some encouragement and recognition to those who are in honorable, quiet service around us.

There are two key points from today’s message:

(1) Keep moving forward in quiet service no matter how seemingly underappreciated or unrecognized our efforts become.  Our day in and day out example to maintain our commitments will have a positive impact on those around us, even if we do not see it today.

(2) We should avoid allowing the negative energy of bitterness to set in when our service goes unnoticed or the praise and recognition for the task goes to someone else.  Continue to transfer energy into serving and minimize the negative energy that can creep in when recognition or appreciation is non-existent. If not, it will have a negative impact on our ability to deliver on our commitments.

There is a famous poem that has been attributed to a number of individuals.  The most famous accounting is that it is written on the wall in one of the Missionaries of Charity orphanages in India that was founded by the late Mother Teresa.  The poem is entitled, Anyway.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.   Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

In essence, the learning is to continue to build and strengthen our character by doing what is right, regardless if we are appreciated or not and regardless if someone says thanks or not.  Our efforts will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to have a positive impact in our world and on those closest to us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Compounding: Thursday, February 13, 2014

The positive financial impact of compounding interest is well known and has been reinforced by some of the brightest minds in our history.  Benjamin Franklin described compounding as “Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more.”  A quote commonly attributable to Albert Einstein is, “Compounding is mankind’s greatest invention because it allows for the reliable, systematic accumulation of wealth.” Compound interest is one way our money can make more money. It is a simple, yet effective way of building financial strength.

As we look to continue to build and strengthen our character, the concept of compounding interest can provide some insight.  Before we go there, it is important to acknowledge that we all have an element of our nature that wants a quick fix to our struggles or a fast track to achieving our life-long goals.  We want financial security now and there is a strong appeal to some quick, potentially high return investment.  We listen to a motivational speaker at some high energy sales conference and we expect great results on day one.  We attend a weekend marriage retreat and plan to apply the ‘5 principles of a great marriage’ on Monday and then we expect to finally have the relationship we desire.  We get the DVD series and new juice blender to lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks and we believe we have found the fountain of youth (we have cabinets full of DVDs and blenders in case any of you are wondering).

The reality is quick, lasting fixes don’t happen in the major and most important areas of our life.   As we think about the principle of compounding interest, there are some relevant learnings that compounding can have in many areas of our lives beyond financing.  When we look at a graph of building financial strength with compounding over time, the ‘wealth curve’ appears relatively flat in the early years and then slowly builds momentum and the curve gets very steep in later years.  The consistent application of some small dollar amount placed in a savings or investment portfolio will put any one of us on the path to building a small fortune over time. The principle is that we need to stick with it, leave the money alone, and let the interest grow.

Guiding our thoughts, decisions, and actions by the principle of compounding in other areas of our lives can help to build and strengthen our character.

In Relationships:

There are probably many things we can do to improve the relationships of those closest to us.  There are countless books and blogs out there to help all of us.  Applying the principle of compounding by making a decision to do something small and consistent over time will help.  For example, we could just focus on being a better listener.  When we feel like immediately jumping in with a comment or correction, if, just once a day, we held back and focused on listening with the intent to understand the other person, we would be on a better path to building strong relationships with those that matter most.  Just changing our behavior once a day in conversations will build momentum in our relationships and the compounding interest curve will continue to rise with the eventual outcome being healthier relationships.

In Health and Wellness:

We all have struggles with some aspect of staying physically healthy.  For some it is overeating, others it is getting little to no exercise, for still others a lack of sleep can contribute to health problems.  There are plenty of resources out there to help us get on the right path to improving our health.  With the principle of compounding, find one small, relevant step we can do and stick with it.  Perhaps leaving a few bites of dessert behind is a potential step to take or drinking one less can of soda throughout the day.  For others it may be walking one more lap around the block or maybe 5 more minutes of some cardio-workout.  The point is that whatever the choice, making one small change, consistently over time, will pay tremendous interest over time with regards to our health and wellness.  There is a great deal of academic research and practical experience to dispute the lasting impact of any extreme fad diet or exercise regimen.  However, the consistent application of small incrementally positive steps toward improving our health will make a lasting impact.

In Personal Development:

We all have areas we need to improve professionally and personally.  Perhaps attending some high energy seminar will kick us in gear to take the first step.  However, it will be small incremental changes that will bring about lasting change.  For example, reading books relevant to our chosen profession for 15 minutes a day or keeping a daily journal of progress toward some goal are small steps, that over time, have proven to produce huge dividends in personal growth and accomplishment.   These actions start small, build over time, and gain momentum to have a positive sustainable impact.

Remember the compounding of interest…just keep making steady, small, consistent steps in the right direction and the results will be tremendous over the long haul.  The curve will be relatively flat at first, but it will get steeper over time.  It is how we finish, not the “dash and flash” at the start, that really matters.  As we continue to apply the principle of compounding in other areas of our life, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and our Character Creates Opportunity® for us to make a real difference in our world.


Character Creates Opportunity® – Intention: Thursday, February 6, 2014

As we continue on our journey of building and strengthening our character, I wanted to address the topic of intention.  Intention simply refers to the course of action that an individual decides or proposes to follow.

Several months ago, I had a very ‘out of the ordinary’ experience in that I was chaperoning a group of middle school musicians (one being my son) to Chicago to visit a world-renown, music school and conduct a band practice with a very famous music teacher…and eat a ton of deep dish Chicago pizza.  The chaperones were allowed to sit in the back of the room and observe the instruction.  The last time I met a music instructor was in my third grade band class when I attempted to play the trumpet, so I was very interested to see how things may have changed over the years.  The music teacher gave some great music lessons and buried in his instruction were some valuable life lessons.

As one would expect, the group of young jazz musicians made a few mistakes throughout the day and the teacher provided some encouraging words to keep them on track.  However, when it appeared that the kids were drifting a bit and became a little careless in their practice, the teacher shut things down and gave what amounted to an amazing half-time locker room speech that would have made Vince Lombardi proud.

He spoke about the importance of intention when hitting a note.  Just going through the motions would result in many off key notes being played.  If they are not going to strike a note with intention, they might as well not even hit it.  In addition, he did acknowledge that they will still make mistakes in playing.  Sometimes they would play an off key at the start or they may wander in the middle of the selection, but “you live with your finish,” so be intentional about finishing strong.  Always focus on a strong finish as you will have no more notes to play at the end.  His rallying cry worked and the still tired and hungry jazz band ended up sounding like a group of professionals.

Beyond playing effectively in a middle school jazz band, I think there are two takeaways from the instructor’s pep-talk that are insightful for us to consider on our journey to build and strengthen our character.

#1:  We must live with intention 

Our homes, our businesses, and our world continue to grow in complexity, intensity, and uncertainty.  We can’t afford to just “wing it” and go through the motions.  If we think we can build a solid 30-40 year career in a job just by showing up, we are living in a fantasy.  We need to be intentional about how we add value today and what additional skills we may need to acquire in order to stay ahead of being commoditized in a global economy where someone will always be able to do our job faster and cheaper.  Regardless of industry, we all are only a few years away from being “outsourced” or “downsized” unless we become intentional about staying ahead on additional training, skill development, job experiences, etc.

In our homes, we are all facing the reality that as our world gets more connected with things like the internet and social media, we run the risk of enabling those tools to get us disconnected within our own families if we just “wing it.”  Just look at the average family driving in a car or sitting at a restaurant.  Just about everyone has their own screen in front of them connecting with the rest of the world only picking up their heads to announce their order to the waiter.  There are six of us in our family, we all have smart phones, and we all battle this reality pretty regularly.  If we move forward without intentionally getting involved in the lives of those closest to us, we run a greater risk than just a temporary shutdown of internet service.

#2:  We should focus on moving forward in order to finish strong 

We all have a story or two about our past.  Some may be good and some may be bad.  Our past should not define us; it is just what got us started.  Often, we unfortunately spend a great deal of energy “grinding” over our past.  It is our responsibility to learn from it and focus on moving forward to finish strong.  We are each responsible for writing the rest of our story with an intention on finishing strong.  It does not matter whether we are 30, 60, or 90 years old, we can move forward with the intention of finishing strong as we will never know when our last note will be played.

If we make the choice to live with intention and avoid the seemingly easier path of just “winging it” in the short run, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and our Character Creates Opportunity® for us to finish strong in the areas of our life that matter most.