Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014)

I recently finished Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.  Upon finishing the final words I couldn’t help but think, “If only I could live like that!”

At its core, Essentialism is about you and me discovering how to make the highest contribution to the world around us. Although seemingly simple McKeown points out that, “For the first time, the preponderance of choice has overwhelmed our ability to manage it.  We have lost our ability to filter what is important and what isn’t. Psychologists call this “decision fatigue”: the more choices we are forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates.”

It’s this diminished decision quality about how to spend our time that’s causing us to fall short of our very best.  Our life’s calling. 

The Key to Integrity

Don't let it be limited by the number of zeros

If you’re like me, you might sometimes find yourself learning on the fly.  When approached with a problem, the mere act of thinking through the issue, and offering advice…often results in real-time discovery.  To me, that’s one exhilarating part of leadership…facing problems and affirming in the moment what you truly believe.

After all, our handling of problems is a natural extension of what we believe internally.  So in essence, the advice we give others as leaders is the tangible expression of our internal character.  The sum total of what we hold dear.

Years ago, as the senior director in American Express’s merchant services operation, one of my responsibilities was to handle escalated calls from our small business call center.  On one occasion, a customer service representative requested assistance with a situation requiring American Express to issue a credit to a merchant.  Basically, a mistake had happened and we owed the merchant some money.  The situation was common by all measures except for one…it involved 4 zeros.  It was a $70,000 credit owed to this merchant.

Failing Forward

There's power in granting our people the freedom to make mistakes

If you asked 100 people to describe the conditions needed to be satisfied with their job, at least 90 would inject the word FREEDOM.  In fact, most of us would say that when our jobs lack freedom they become suffocating and lifeless.

Yet, if pressed for a definition of freedom we’d likely struggle to offer a crisp one. Defining its elements would be even more difficult.  To a leader committed to offering freedom to the people they lead, this makes the task of granting it elusive.

If you know me, it’s no mystery I’m a fan of Dr. Tim Kimmel.  Tim, an expert on marriage and parenting, has studied this in great detail and pinpointed 4 Freedoms the human heart desires.

Today I want to touch on one such freedom…the freedom to make mistakes.

Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012)

If you’re a leader (particularly a person of faith), and you’ve never read anything by Max Lucado, it’s time you dug into one of his most powerful books: Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine.

I recently wrote about Grace…and specifically how it lies squarely at the heart of leadership. In this post I offered that while grace underpins everything good I’ve ever learned about leadership (in my home and the marketplace), it’s often misunderstood.

In his opening salvo, Max Lucado makes a powerful statement…

“We talk as though we understand the term.  The bank gives us a grace period. The seedy politician falls from grace.  Musicians speak of a grace note.  We describe an actress as gracious, a dancer as graceful.  We use the word for hospitals, baby girls, kings, and premeal prayers.  We talk a though we know what grace means…Preachers explain it.  Hymns proclaim it.  Seminaries teach it.  But do we really understand it?”

Grace…the Heart of Leadership

I can’t even contemplate leadership without thinking about how my Heavenly Father leads me. As a follower of Christ, underpinning everything good I’ve ever learned about leadership (in my home and the marketplace) is a distinctive and often misunderstood concept. The concept of grace!

I love Max Lucado’s word picture, “Grace is God as a heart surgeon, cracking open your chest, removing your heart – poisoned as it is with pride and pain – and replacing it with his own.”

Coach or Critic

…which kind of leader are you?

While in my first job, I worked for leader I now believe stunted my early development.  I knew I had much to learn as a “fresh-out” but my boss routinely pointed out my shortcomings without any advice to help me improve.  Comments like, “You’re an idealist,” or “You’re resisting me,” although accurate; provided no insight into alternative pathways or behaviors.

During one stretch she hounded me to deliver a project I knew was doomed. Instead of helping me analyze where the project was stuck, or equipping me to envision a better solution, she pressed me to deploy.  Not knowing how to right the troubled ship, I finally acquiesced and released a flawed solution. She praised me for delivering – but as I presented the solution to my colleagues I knew it was dead-on-arrival.  Candidly, I was embarrassed and angry. I knew this wasn’t my best work. To stand before my colleagues as they respectfully entertained my “throw away” solution… was humiliating. To know with the right coaching I could have done better…was maddening.

It would be easy to over analyze what went wrong here. In my mind it simply comes down to this…I worked for a critic and not a coach.

What’s Your Bullseye?

I’ve come to appreciate friends as the seasoning in my life…a pinch of each giving it flavor. This past week I sat outside Peet’s Coffee in Newport Beach with one such friend – Michael Regan. Michael is an executive coach and aside from loving my time with him…I always walk away with new insights into my life. That’s a side-benefit of hanging out with executive coaches. They can’t help but make you better.

Michael asked me a series of questions starting with, “What are you most fearful of in your job?” I shared my fear and Michael asked a few follow-up questions amounting to this, “Then what’s the best way to spend your time in order to prevent your greatest fear from becoming your reality?”

Said differently, “What’s your bullseye?”


One man with courage makes a majority.

This was always one of my favorite quotes.  Disappointingly, I discovered today that Andrew Jackson probably didn’t actually say it.

Question: What’s your favorite quote? Are you positive the person who said it…actually said it? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Andrew Jackson...but probably not

Helping Our People Win at Work

4 ingredients to a winning formula

There’s a longstanding tension between the leaders and the led.  Some might even characterize the relationship as adversarial.  We could certainly debate the presence and source of that friction.  Instead, I’ll simply suggest that friction between leaders and the people we lead impedes performance.

Savvy leaders seek to minimize relational friction.  One powerful way to do so is to help the people we lead achieve the wins they desire.  And what they desire is to secure wins with us.