Friday, August 28, 2009

Remember the Titans

My bride loves to go to the movies.
I don’t.

I would rather sit in my own chair, eat my own popcorn, drink my own Coke, and the whole evening costs $3.00. But not Tina. When I tell her I am going to take her to the movies at “the big movie theater”, she pants like a lizard on a hot rock.

One of her favorite movies of all time is “Remember the Titans”. Ok, I admit it, I love it too. It is the story of a football team (and really an entire community) that comes face to face with racial reconciliation when a “white high school” and a “black high school” are merged into one school.

Two of the leading characters in the movie are two of the star football players on the team: one white athlete (who is the captain of the team) and one black athlete (who is a total football beast).

As the football team prepares for their season during a weeklong, off-site training camp, the racial tension among the players is very intense. At the height of the unrest, the two stars are about to tear each other apart and, the white player is yelling at the black player about his bad attitude. The black player shouts back, “Attitude reflects leadership, CAPTAIN!

It was a great moment in the movie and everyone in the audience was able to see how a leader can dramatically impact the whole atmosphere of a team (positively or negatively) by the attitude they bring to the table. Now, I define a leader as “anyone who has influence”…that’s you!

What attitude are you bringing…
…to your office?
…to your team?
…to your church?
…to your home?

Here is the great news…you are in total control of your attitude! Regardless of what is happening all around you – you still have total control over your attitude. Choose carefully. It makes a big difference.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Going to the “Dark Side”

For those of you who have been following my blog (hi, mom and dad), today, I thought I would share with you a recent blog posted by my daughter Lindsey. Lindsey is an amazing young woman who is quite a gifted communicator. She is a Junior in college, majoring in English, with an emphasis in writing.

I enjoyed her take on “change” and wanted to share it with you…enjoy!

I Think I Just Joined the Dark Side

How in the world did I get here? I thought as Elise dipped my head back into the sink. My hands death-gripped the sides of the chair as she shampooed my hair.

“Ok, I’m starting to see how it looks now!” Elise exclaimed gleefully. A few other cosmetologists-in-training peered down at me. “Big change” one murmured, “going from a 10 to a 2”. I didn’t know what “going from a 10 to 2” meant. It’s hairdresser language. But when I sat up from the sink and looked at my hair in the mirror I understood. I had just transformed from almost platinum blonde to espresso brunette.

After 20 happy years as a blonde, why would I decide to make such a drastic change (aside from the secret hope that I would somehow resemble a less-tan version of Megan Fox?) Why wash away what’s been working for me?

Change is always a little uncomfortable, whether it’s your hair, location, or job. It seems like human beings instinctively fall into ruts (or as most of us prefer to call them, habits and routines). Most ruts are helpful, like brushing your teeth every day, or making your column deadlines (a rut I almost swung out of this month!). There’s really one main problem with ruts—change inevitably finds it’s way into our ruts and forces us to blaze a new trail. We can resist change, avoid change, become paralyzed by change, or view change as the opportunity for adventure.

More than anything, change teaches us about ourselves. Since “going to the dark side”, I’ve really struggled deciding if I like my hair. I know you might be shocked , but I don’t resemble Megan Fox now any more than I resemble Conan O’Brian. By changing my hair, I was forced to get out of a few other ruts too. For example, the way I apply my make-up (I've looked like a ghost for almost a month, and the humidity is not helping). The colors that look good on me have changed a little bit too. I’m a brunette stuck with the closet of a blonde. Life is just different as a brunette. I can’t even blame all the stupid things I do on my hair color anymore, I actually have to take responsibility for my gullibility and lack of coordination! Then again, I’m forced to ask myself, is it the color of my hair that's bugging me, or is it the fact that this decision forces me to get out of my comfort zone, out of my rut, and try something new? Will I view my hair as a kind of “cosmetic adventure”, trying new kinds of make-up and colors? Or will I view it a big, brown disaster and shave my head immediately? That decision, like change, reveals more about me than my hair color ever could.

So I’ll keep you posted.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Got Passion?

My father taught me many great life principles. One of the best things about growing up in the home of a training consultant is that my Dad believed “if it will work at the kitchen table, it will work at the conference table” and he tried out many of his lessons on us before he introduced them to his corporate clients. Now, not everything he taught me was suitable for the workplace (belching at will comes to mind), but still many of the lessons I learned as a boy remain with me today.

Passion is one of those lessons. I can remember, like it was yesterday, my father telling me, “David, figure out what you love to do, and then figure out how to get paid to do it, and you will never work a day in your life.” I did not fully understand it as a boy, but I have seen it to be true the older I get.

I love being a speaker…I mean, I love it!!! I will never retire. People often ask me when I think I will come off the road and stop speaking … I tell them never! I mean why would I stop doing something I love only to try and fill my days doing things I don’t enjoy as much as speaking? That does not make sense to me. I am one of those in life who is truly doing what I was created to do…and, sadly, we are rare.

So, how ‘bout you? Do you love what you are doing? Do you wake up each day filled with anticipation of spending time doing that which you so enjoy? If not, why not?

This past week I met so many people who, in their 40s and 50s, have just now started doing that which “lights their fire”. These were mostly second or third career individuals who had left great jobs because they weren’t fulfilled. What did they move to…teaching! Not only are they happier, but their families are too. And get this, most of them took big paycuts as an added bonus!

Are their jobs perfect? No.
Is there a perfect job? No.

There are aspects of any job that don’t excite us. For me, I get tired of all the time I spend alone on the road, the frustrations of air travel, eating by myself in restaurants, and sleeping in strange beds just to name a few.

But the folks I have met recently seemed to be so fulfilled in their careers. I’ve met software engineers, military personnel, R & D scientists, and others who found themselves simply “going through the motions” of their daily life. It was refreshing to speak with them and see the excitement they now have for their work. One former high paid, big oil engineer said, “I enjoy trying to be a good teacher much more than not caring about being a good engineer.”

So, follow your passion and enjoy your work…you certainly spend a lot of time there. You deserve it!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

Ah yes…the famous Verizon Wireless guy…walking across the country and around the world making sure the Verizon network is working at optimum efficiency by asking the question, “Can you hear me now?”

Who doesn’t know the phrase? It has become a part of our culture (Verizon, I’m sure, is thrilled).

But a closer look at the question reveals a much bigger challenge: Are we really listening?

Are we really listening…
…to our kids?
…to our spouse?
…to our co-workers?
…to our friends?

Oh sure we are hearing a lot (blah blah blah), but are we really listening? You see many times the message is not in the words…WHAT is said(actually words sometimes get in the way). The real message is in HOW it is said.

For example, the smoke coming out of the ears, red-faced dad who shouts across the table, “I AM NOT ANGRY” is , obviously, exactly that—angry.

Now, while for most, the sense of HEARING is a gift (it comes with birth). But LISTENING requires a conscious choice we must make to fully engage in another person. As a colleague of mine says we are to be “in the moment –at the moment”.

I was putting a group of executives through a LISTENING test to see how they would do…only one passed—and he was wearing a hearing aid! He teased the others stating, “Oh man, are we in trouble…the only one who was really listening was the deaf guy!”

We all had a good laugh, but the point was well made. I had intentionally created a slight distraction, and only the executive who had honed his concentration on really listening was able to fully interpret what I was saying.

In this age of non-stop distraction (phones, emails, TV, radio, etc) it is easy to get “lazy” with our listening. Oh sure when our spouse asks, “Are you listening to me?” we can “parrot” back everything they just said, but were we really listening? Or were we focused on the ball game, or the email, or whatever.

The people in our lives deserve our best, so let’s give it to them. Can you hear me now?

Monday, August 17, 2009

To Some it’s Not “Just School”

This is the time of year when virtually every school system in the nation is gearing up for the start of a brand new year. I have the both the privilege and the opportunity to be the Convocation speaker at many of these events.

At one of those beginning of the year kickoffs this week I had a conversation with a lifelong educator who relayed this story to me.

She had been having a conversation with a student one day on the subject of year round school. The student had asked her if she was in favor of it. This teacher, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, jokingly replied, “Oh, no! I don’t think I could put up with you all summer long!” They both shared a laugh but then the student said, “I’m for it.”

This teacher was surprised and asked him, “Are you serious?”

“Yep. I’d come every day if I could.” he said.

“Oh come on…even Christmas?” she asked.

“Sure would. Even Christmas.”

She pressed him, “But why?”

His answer is one that she has not forgotten in years, “Because here, I can eat. I am warm. And somebody cares about me.”

I submit that this little guy is probably speaking for thousands of young people who feel the same way. So to all you teachers and administrators out there, remember school might be the very best part of your students’ life. Take good care of them.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Conquering the Obstacles

Like so many other fathers on this little spinning ball in space, I suffer from a syndrome that has plagued man for centuries…my daughter has me wrapped around her little finger. When I look at her I see perfection – pure, unblemished perfection. Now, as her father, I realize that I am probably the only one who can see her through such unbiased and objective eyes so if others fail to see it, I can simply write them off as ignorant buffoons.

And, as my daughter’s 10th birthday approached, she inevitably desired that one gift that made all other gifts pale by comparison…a horse. Well, as you would guess, while I love her more than life itself, I do not have that tree (I have tried to plant it many times but it just won’t grow money). And, as you would also guess, she looked up at me with those sad, big blue eyes and, by golly, Daddy bought her a horse.

Her name was Yoo Hoo (the horse not my daughter) and it was love at first sight. Lindsey wanted to be a show jumper (this is where she competes in a huge arena filled with people and jumps over large walls, fences, and other obstructions that frightened her father to no end).

We got Lindsey an amazing trainer to help her learn how to compete in this sport (honestly, all I knew about horses was which end the food went in and which end it came out and to stay away from both ends). I was more than a little worried when “my baby” climbed up upon this 700 lb “wild beast”.

They trained for months with Lindsey progressing rapidly in her learning. She was a natural. Then one day her trainer, Jason, proclaimed her ready to compete and signed her up for a huge show. We had one week to get ready. Jason informed us that the week before a show was critical and that he wanted to work with Lindsey every afternoon with her completely dressed in her “competition outfit”.

We arrived for the first pre-competition practice and Yoo Hoo was nowhere to be seen. Jason said Yoo Hoo was ready but Lindsey was not. He proceeded to sit her on top of the fence that surrounded the riding area at the stable and they rode the course over and over in Lindsey’s mind. Jason taught her that she had to “see” herself succeeding, that she had to visualize herself flawlessly running the course: elbows in, thumbs up, heels down, change leads, lean into the jump. Time and time again they ran the course in Lindsey’s head.

The following Saturday I watched my girl win her first blue ribbon and learn a lifelong lesson on the importance and the power of vision. Rather than focus on the obstacles in the course she focused on getting over them. A good lesson for all of us as we face the obstacles in our course of life.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009


The longer I live the more I see the negative impact that mediocrity can have in virtually any situation. From a mediocre project team member pulling the team down, to a mediocre waiter ruining a nice dinner out, to a mediocre parent unwilling to say or do the hard things that good parenting sometimes requires… mediocrity, at its core, is really something most of us would like to avoid.

For those who truly aspire to do great things, beware of the mediocre in your midst. You see mediocrity recognizes greatness… resents it… and seeks to pull it down. Rather than rejoice with or emulate greatness, when the mediocre encounter it, they want to destroy it. You see, true greatness makes the mediocre feel “less than” and rather than work harder to become better, the mediocre would rather you become mediocre too.

It could be the athlete who tells his teammates to slow down during pre-season wind sprints, or the teacher who tells her colleague to stop using so much technology in the classroom, or even the sales rep who belittles a coworker for staying late, the bottom line is they do not want to work harder to get better and they don’t like that you do.

Watch out for the cynics too. Cynical people are sometimes nothing more than mediocrity with a bad attitude (which they try and mask by cutting everything else down). You can almost hear them rolling their eyes as they talk. Cynicism is cancer of the attitude and you do not need to hang out with it. You deserve better.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Sometimes it’s the Little Things that Make a Big Difference

This summer, after 22 years of being a professional speaker, I had my first opportunity to work with our men and women in the military. Having never presented to folks in our armed services before, I was quite nervous. As I flew from Atlanta to San Diego to work with the Navy, my self-talk continually threw questions of doubt around in my head:

Would they enjoy my program?
Would my principles apply to “their world”?

Would they be able to relate to my stories and illustrations?

I envisioned a room full of men and women in uniform, sitting in perfect rows, staring up at me with lifeless, stony expressions that conveyed a “hurry up and finish, we have a country to protect” message.

As always, I arrived early to get set up and make sure all the technology was going to cooperate (laptop, LCD projector, wireless lapel microphone, etc). Moments later the first sailors began to arrive and sure enough they were in uniform. Having never served in the military, I immediately felt out of place in my coat and tie. I’m not sure if they could “smell the fear” or not but many of them immediately approached me and introduced themselves to me. Those first to arrive were actually part of a Navy band that was there to play music as the crowd of over 200 filed in.

“What a first class move”, I thought to myself. It sets a whole different feel when people walk into a large meeting room and there is upbeat, toe tapping music playing—much less from a live band. My contact told me that everything they planned for the meeting was intentional and he wanted folks to instantly feel engaged.

I thought to myself, “How many times have I watched people walk into a silent meeting room or ballroom and it was like walking into a morgue. It somehow makes folks want to sit in the back and “punch out”…you know, a lot like church.

The band continued to play right up to the start of the program and then performed the most amazing rendition of the star spangled banner I have ever heard. It gave me goosebumps. As I was introduced and took the stage, I had a crowd full of eager learners who were ready to be challenged and inspired by their speaker (me).

The morning went great and as I flew home I reflected on my contacts words “everything is intentional”.

What a great lesson for all of us. Sometimes it is the little things that can make a big difference in our lives and our pursuits. What many people might have thought of as an afterthought -- “Hey, there was live music” --was actually an intentional step in creating the best environment for learning to take place…one with positive energy, that invited folks to engage.