Reading the Year Out

Leaders are readers.

Today and tomorrow’s posts are an annual tradition at 27gen – all about reading and my favorite books of the year. Here are a few links to previous year’s posts – click and follow the link for a few thoughts on the importance of reading – and how to read!

Reading 101

Getting the Most Out of Reading

Put Down the Duckie

Read to Lead

When You Find a Leader, You Find a Reader

Thomas Edison on Reading

Reading Requires Deliberate Practice

I Read to Cheat Old Age – What About You?

I’ve been a reader of books since, well, before I can remember. My father was an avid reader, and he passed that passion along to me at an early age. Even though he worked 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, he often spent several hours reading at night. He and my mother insisted we go to the library in the next town and check out books – every two weeks. I would get the maximum number of books, take them home, and read them – usually in the first day or two. Then it would be an impatient wait till the next library trip.

Reading is a passion I treasure, and one that I am thankful to my dad for.

I enjoy books as a multisensory experience – you not only read the words on a page, you feel the binding and turn the pages, hear the crackle of a very old book being opened for the first time in a long time, and then there’s that “book” smell – a combination of age, dust, maybe a little dampness – but all telling you an adventure is waiting.

For books connected with my role as Vision Room Curator, I use the margins to have a conversation with the author – writing comments, questions, and references to other books. I also use Post-It notes to mark certain sections. Marking in books was definitely a “no-no” in school, but I have found the practice to be a great help to me in experiencing the book.

Although I’m an early adopter in almost everything else, it’s just that “experience” that has kept me from moving into the eBook world all the way. I’ve been dabbling in eBooks for several years, moving ahead with a Kindle, and I’m glad I did. Having a library at my disposal in one volume has been very rewarding – but I will always be a “book” guy at heart.

So in wrapping up 2014 and looking forward to 2015, you’ll find me with a Kindle in my backpack – and several volumes of traditional books as well!

Next: my favorite books of 2014.

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This is One Secret that is Not Meant to be Kept

Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller’s 10th Anniversary edition of The Secret is definitely not meant to be kept to yourself!

An updated version of their classic business fable, The Secret captivates the reader through an intriguing narrative centered around a simple but profound secret: “great leaders serve.”

Some of my earliest professional training during graduate school was based on the writings of Ken Blanchard, and his works continue to both line my shelf and inform my leadership activities.

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In much the same way, for the past few years Mark Miller’s writings have been an influential factor in my ongoing leadership development.

With The Secret, the authors have once again crafted a learning device that is not only a pleasure to read but filled with practical helps applicable from the volunteer team leader to the C-suite. In addition to these helps, the self-assessment included at the end of the book is a quick, useful tool to use at both the beginning and end of any mentoring or leadership development program.

The “secret” to The Secret is a simple acronym that successful leaders follow:

See the Future

Engage and Develop Others

Reinvent Continuously

Value Results and Relationships

Embody the Values

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Your continual journey as a developing leader developing others will benefit greatly from practicing the “secrets” from The Secret.

 

Improvise Your Way to Clarity

The major reason why improvisation works is that the musicians say an implicit yes to each other  – Frank J. Barrett

As with jazz soloists, so it is with organizational leaders. The competent ones hit the right notes, but the great ones are distinguished by how far ahead they are imagining and how they strategize possibilities, shape the contour of ideas, adapt and adjust in the midst of action, and resolve organizational tension.

What we need to add to our list of leadership skills is improvisation — the art of adjusting, flexibly adapting, learning through trial-and-error initiatives, inventing ad hoc responses, and discovering as you go.

Curious about the origin of “improvising,” I found the following in the dictionary:

French improviser, from Italian improvvisare, from improvviso sudden, from Latin improvisus, literally, unforeseen, from in- + provisus, past participle of providēre to see ahead

Sometimes you just have to improvise your way to clarity.

The major reason why improvisation works is that the musicians say an implicit yes to each other.

Because jazz improvisation borders on chaos and incoherence, it begs the question of how order emerges. Unlike other art forms and other forms of organized activity that attempt to rely on a pre-developed plan, improvisation is widely open to transformation, redirection, and unprecedented turns.

So it is with many jobs in organizations. They require fumbling around, experimenting, and patching together an understanding of problems from bits and pieces of experience, improvising with the materials at hand. Few problems provide their own definitive solutions.

Jazz improvisers focus on discovery in times of stress.

This is what improvisational leaders do. They come at challenges from different angles, ask more searching questions, and are born communitarians. They’re not going for easy answers or living off of old routines and stale phrases. Instead of focusing on obstacles (a form of negative self-monitoring), they create openings by asking questions that entertain possibilities.

Critically, too, improvisational leaders assume that the improv will work: that the mess is only a way station on the path to a worthwhile destination.

The message here is powerful: start by asking positive questions; foster dialogues, not monologues; and you can change the whole situation, maybe even your life.

 

Adapted from Say Yes to the Mess, by Frank J. Barrett

Say Yes to the Mess

The Influence of a Father: Servanthood

The true leader serves. Serves people. Serves their best interests, and in so doing will not always be popular, may not always impress. But because true leaders are motivated by loving concern rather than a desire for personal glory, they are willing to pay the price.

–  Eugene B. Habecker

 My father was born in 1927 into a rural family, the youngest of six children. It was the eve of the Great Depression, and he was helping out on the farm from an early age. As soon as he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. After his discharge, he came back to Tennessee and built a gas station, which he operated for 44 years. His life was that of hard work, long hours, and low pay.

When you think of servanthood, do you envision it as an activity performed by relatively low-skilled people at the bottom of the positional totem pole? If you do, you have a wrong impression.

Servanthood is not about position or skill – it’s about attitude.

What does it mean to embody the quality of servanthood? John Maxwell thinks a true servant leader:

  1. Puts others ahead of his own agenda
  2. Possesses the confidence to serve
  3. Initiates service to others
  4. Is not position-conscious
  5. Serves out of love

All week long I have been reflecting on the life of my father by looking at some of his character qualities including passion and integrity. This final post is a look at servanthood, and that quality, among all others, epitomized my father.

My father would not describe himself as a leader, but he was. He led quietly – to the high school boys who worked for him over the course of four decades, to the customers who came to him looking for more than just gasoline, to the church he loved and served all of his life. He was a servant leader.

Good leaders do good things. Their lives matter. Servant leaders do great things. They help others’ lives to matter by serving them. Servant leadership is great leadership.

If you want to lead on the highest level, be willing to serve on the lowest.

H. D. Adams

08/09/1927 – 02/25/2012

He made a living by what he got; he made a life by what he gave.

reflections following my father’s death two years ago, and revisited now as my mother begins a major transition in her lifestyle

The Influence of a Father: Integrity

My father had his act together.

Over the last few decades, various surveys and case studies have consistently identified honesty or integrity as the most desired characteristic in leaders. It makes sense: if people are going to follow someone, they want assurance that their leader can be trusted. They want to know that he will keep promises and follow through with commitments.

As I continue to spend this week looking back at the life of my father in his various roles of father, businessman, church leader, friend, and community leader, I have been reminded time and again that his actions matched up with his words: if he said it, it was as good as done.

My father was a product of a time and place (the Depression in the South) in which honestly was a common trait. It had to be for people to get along and survive. But I think it went beyond that: he knew and practiced the combination of ethics, morality, and integrity.

  • Ethics refers to a standard of right and wrong
  • Morality is a lived standard of right and wrong
  • Integrity means to be sound, complete, and integrated

A person can have a high or low ethic; they can also be moral or immoral. Those are choices. But if you want to have integrity, you must choose your ethics and live to match them.

My father followed the high and holy ethics of the Scriptures. By living and working by those biblical standards, he made a commitment to a certain morality. His integrity demonstrated that his actions matched his words. There is no substitute for a man of consistent Christ-like character.

Integrity doesn’t demand perfection. Even the most ethical and moral committed person can blow it. Integrity doesn’t guarantee a perfect life, but it does require an integrated life. People with integrity have a moral center that integrates their behavior. When they violate that moral center, they recognize that violation as sin and treat it as an aberration. They confess it, make restitution, seek forgiveness, and reconfirm the standard.

Where do you find yourself on the integrity scale?

Integrity is something that is earned over time. It does not come automatically with the job or the title. It begins early in our lives and careers. People tend to assume initially that someone who has risen to a certain status in life, acquired degrees, or achieved significant goals is deserving of their confidence. But complete trust is granted (or not) only after people have had the chance to get to know more about the person. The integrity foundation is built brick by brick.

The integrity of leadership is what determines whether people will want to give a little more of their time, talent, energy, experience, intelligence, creativity, and support.

High integrity earns intense commitment from others. When people perceive their leaders to have high credibility, they are significantly more likely to:

  • Be proud to tell others they are part of the organization
  • Feel a strong sense of team spirit
  • See their own personal values as consistent with those of the organization
  • Feel attached and committed to the organization
  • Have a sense of ownership for the organization

Wouldn’t you like to be the leader of an organization like that?

Get your act together.

 

reflections following my father’s death two years ago this week, and revisited now as my mother begins a major transition in her lifestyle

How to Be Like Walt, Part 1

Growing up in the 60’s, my earliest memories of Walt Disney came through his television shows and movies. Only decades later did I experience the magic of one of his theme parks. Looking back over all those experiences, I realize that in some sense, Walt Disney’s creative genius was equal, if not superior, to another genius of our time – Steve Jobs.

My curiosity led to ongoing research about the man called Walt Disney – and is producing some amazing lessons from his life that are powerful leadership lessons for today.

Walt Disney was more than a man. He is a symbol of the values he represents: imagination, honesty, perseverance, optimism, and vision. He was a creative genius who could visualize a future found only in his dreams – and then make those dreams come true.

Pat Williams

Walt Disney’s life provides powerful lessons that can be applied in any leadership position. Author Pat Williams recognized this, and went behind the legend to discover a man every bit as fascinating as the world he created.

How to Be Like Walt is the result of thousands of hours of interviews of the people who knew Walt best. In addition to being a fascinating life story of one of our nation’s most creative minds, the author has distilled Walt’s life into 17 lessons – lessons that we all could learn from.

Live the Adventure – Walt’s boyhood on a farm near Marceline MO inspired a sense of wonder and imagination that stayed with him throughout his life. He also experienced treatment from his father that by today’s standards would be abusive. Yet he didn’t let those memories dominate; instead, he shaped his life around the warm, nostalgic memories of his boyhood. It doesn’t matter where you came from, or who your parents are, or what happened when you were a child. All that matters is that you are willing to live the adventure and dream big dreams, them make those dreams come true.

Be a Salesman – A deeper look at Walt’s life reveals that from the beginning of his career, he was a salesman – one of the greatest salesman the world has ever known. He worked hard and sold his ideas from the earliest days of his career. Walt had the right idea and the right spirit, and he was willing to go out and sell his ideas, even when faced with huge challenges. A great salesman can’t be stopped. Be honest, enthusiastic, confident, courageous and persistent. Sell your dreams, and make them come true.

Dare to Do the Impossible – Walt returned from France after WWI and believed that anything was possible. He was audacious enough to believe that an 18-year old with one year of art school could go to a newspaper and get a job as a political cartoonist. He was brash enough to believe that he could teach animation to other artists – after learning to animate after reading two books checked out from the library. He was reckless enough that, after going bankrupt in Kansas City he went to Hollywood to start over in animated cartoons when all the animation studios were in New York City. Dare to do the impossible. Dream big dreams, and don’t be surprised when your impossible dreams come true.

Unleash Your Imagination – After losing the rights to his first cartoon creation (Oswald the Lucky Rabbit), Walt responded with imagination. In effect, he said “I’ll solve this problem by creating something new, something the world has never seen before.” So Walt created Mickey Mouse. Walt had an astounding creative awareness. He not only stored up ideas and material in his mind, but he was alert to ideas from the world around him. He had the ability to expand a good idea into a spectacular idea.

Tomorrow: How to Be Like Walt, Part 2 

My favorite post from July, 2012

Generation Flux Revisited

One of the greatest challenges of 21st century leadership is that the world we were raised and trained in no longer exists.

Robert Safian, Editor, Fast Company

Earlier this year I wrote a series of posts about a feature article in Fast Company magazine entitled Generation Flux:

Generation Flux was a term coined by Fast Company magazine Editor Robert Safian. It describes the people who will thrive best in today’s environment. It is a psychographic, not a demographic – you can be any age and be GenFlux. The characteristics of a GenFluxer are clear: an embrace of adaptability and flexibility; an openness to learning from anywhere; decisiveness tempered by the knowledge that organizational life today can shift radically in a short time period.

In the November issue, Safian has written a great follow-up feature, Secrets of the Flux Leader.

According to Safian, “we have grown up with certain assumptions about what works in an enterprise, what the metrics for success are, how we organize and deploy resources. The bulk of those resources are wrong now. The clarity of words we use to discuss business, standbys like marketplace and competitive advantage, are being redefined and rendered almost meaningless.”

It’s the same for ChurchWorld, too. 

Following a single system or outmoded model is foolhardy – churches that are successful in understanding and accomplishing their vision will be nimble and ever-changing.

Attempting to minister in today’s world is nothing if not paradoxical. Churches must be both efficient and transparent; thrifty and ambitious; nimble and stable. Churches and other organizations based on traditional stable structure and management models are not equipped for these dualities.

Generation Flux leaders are the ones who will steer their organizations toward more sophisticated models needed to survive – and thrive – in today’s world.

Are you a GenFluxer?