To Spend and Be Spent for the Good of Mankind

To Spend and Be Spent for the Good of Mankind

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By Dan Coughlin                                                

About three to four times every year I think it’s important that we step back from the doing of our work and think in a more aspirational and noble way. Otherwise we can fall into the trap of feeling like a beaver building a dam all day long, or a rat scurrying for food scraps.

In his new book, The American Spirit, the historian and author David McCullough shares fifteen of his speeches from the past thirty years. I found the book to be remarkably refreshing and inspiring. Through speeches to the U.S. Congress and a variety of university graduations, McCullough used moments in U.S. history to extract examples of the best in people. Over the past 225 years there have been many moments of bigotry, racism, cruelty, and meanness to other human beings within the U.S. However, there have been moments where people have acted in ways that we can all aspire for.

In Chapter Five, called The Animating Spirit, he told the story of Benjamin Rush, who served other people in a myriad of ways as a physician, teacher, and educator, Rush said, “To spend and be spent for the good of mankind is what I chiefly aim at.”

Wow, what a statement, and he backed it up with his actions.

Aspire. Dream. What can you do to make an extraordinary difference in your family or in your organization or in your community or in your country?

I see Rush’s statement in two parts: spend, and be spent.


To me, this means spend some of your time, energy, and money in preparing yourself to be able to make a great difference in the world. I’m a big believer in spending time in reading books. I think the ideas in books help to prepare me to make a bigger difference in the future.

What can you invest yourself in that would prepare you to make the type of impact that you want to make?

If you want to help solve the literacy problems in your community, could you volunteer to teach children how to read? This might help you to understand the problem at a broader level.

If you want to develop young leaders in your company, could you volunteer to mentor one young person? This might help you to see how a mentoring program could be applied across your organization.

If you want to create a better service for your customers, could you go and spend time with a customer as he or she uses your service? This might help you to see issues that customers deal with that people in your organization are not seeing.

Be Spent

To be spent means to do the work. To actually do the thing that you have developed yourself to do in a way that really makes a meaningful impact.

You’ve spent your lifetime developing yourself into the person you are today. What would it mean now to be spent in a worthy cause?

Step back from the doing of tasks, and lift your eyes above strategy, tactics, and action plans.

What can you do to really matter in a significant way at home, in your community, at work, and in your country? What can you do that no one else can do in the way that you can do it that will really matter in the big scheme of things?

It’s okay to aspire for noble actions.

Go ahead, be noble today.

The Downside of Imagination

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An imagination is an incredibly powerful tool.

It’s through your imagination that you can see a future that does not currently exist. With that picture in your mind you can start to take steps toward making it a reality. This is how all meaningful progress happens. First in the mind, and then in physical reality.

The Downside of Imagination

However, without realizing it, we can create in our minds future situations that are very negative and seem very real, or we can relive situations from our past that no longer are happening. Either way we are eating up valuable time and energy on negative images that don’t exist.

Situation #1

(l learned this exercise in a really interesting book called, “Loyalty to your Soul” by Ron and Mary Hulnick.)

Imagine you’re sitting in a chair in the middle of a room. Your ankles are tied together and your hands are tied behind your back. Your legs and torso are tied to the chair. You have a handkerchief tied around your head and through your mouth. There is a two-foot machete on a small table about ten feet away. There are only two doors into the room. Coming through each door are five angry gang members with guns. You have done something to make them very mad. They are coming to hurt you or maybe kill you.

How do you get out of this situation?

You can’t move or speak. You can’t take back what you did, and they are getting closer and closer to you. What’s the only way out? Keep thinking.

Notice the exercise started with the word “imagine.”

The only way out is to stop imagining it.

Situation #2

Your annual performance review is in two days. You very much want a raise and a promotion. You see your boss at a meeting. He seems to be in a very bad mood. You imagine that he’s angry at you. You think he wants to punish you for a decision you made last week. You’re convinced that you’re either going to get demoted or fired. The raise is out of the question based on the way he’s acting at this meeting. You start thinking about how you’re going to explain this to your spouse. You start to feel sick to your stomach. All your years of hard work are going out the window because of one bad decision last week. You notice that everyone in the meeting is staring at you. They all know what you did. You wish you had never made a decision. You promise yourself to never make any decisions in the future. You’ll just do what the boss wants every time. That way you can never get in trouble. You’re feeling hopeless and helpless. Fear and anxiety are rising.

How can you ever get out of this terrible situation?

Answer: stop imagining it.

Let the Negative Image Go and Create a Positive Image

We sometimes create negative future situations in our mind about our boss, employees, customers, colleagues, friends, family members, finances, work situations, and so on. Then we mentally embellish the situation until it becomes impossible to fix.

What’s the only way out?

Stop imagining it. It never really happened. Let the negative thoughts go. If need be, imagine what you do want to have happen.

Situation #3

Ten years ago you coached a youth sports team. You were really excited to be with the kids and teach the game. You loved bringing the kids together to teach the fundamentals and build teamwork and give out high-fives and pats on the back. You wanted to create kind of an ideal situation where everyone got along and enjoyed playing together. Then you started dealing with parents who didn’t like where you put their son or daughter on the field. They didn’t like the way you coached. They wanted you to stop yelling encouragement and directions. Then others wanted you to talk up more. They didn’t like your messages to the team because you mentioned some kids but not other kids. You recall the intense conversations with parents as though they are happening right now. You’re getting angry as you relive the parents telling you what to do and why your way was all wrong. You keep the argument going day after day in your mind. Every time you do it you get all worked up again.

What’s the only way out of this situation?

Stop imagining it. It isn’t really happening right now. It’s over. Let the negative thoughts go.

Interrupt Your Negative Memory and Replace Your Negative Thoughts

These kinds of situations can happen all day where we relive past negative situations from years ago with our spouse, children, boss, colleagues, employees, customers, and suppliers. As we relive these situations, we get ourselves into an extremely negative state of mind. The negative emotions of helplessness, hopelessness, fear, anger, and worry become very real within us.

Negative mental creations are like weeds in a yard. They can crop up and take over an otherwise healthy mind. Whenever you imagine a negative past event, close your eyes and shake your head back and forth.

Then say to yourself, “Stop imagining it. Wake up.”

Then move forward with your day. If need be, relive the healthy, positive experiences from your past. The key is to take control of what you are imagining.

An imagination is an incredibly powerful tool, but it’s only useful if we handle it with care.




By Dan Coughlin

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 Dads have been on my mind lately.

My father, Eugene Coughlin, passed away on March 18, 2009. I called him Dad.

My father-in-law, Arnold Bizer, passed away on March 28, 2017. I called him Pa.

For the first time I do not have a father figure in my life. However, those two men had an enormously positive impact on my life, and their influence in so many ways is engrained in me. I think the lessons they taught me have value for dads who want to be successful business leaders. Here are some of the lessons I learned from them.

Lesson #1: Family first, work second.

Both Dad and Pa put family first. They were both remarkably focused on their wives and their children. They made sure their families were the center of their lives, and that their work was a secondary priority. It’s easy for people to let their work run their lives rather than their life running their work. Dad and Pa made sure that their work was a subset of their lives, but not the center of their lives.

How do you make your family your first priority every day?

Lesson #2: Take work seriously.

They both worked for 40 years. Dad worked at Laclede Gas Company for 40 years, mainly as a salesman in new construction, from 1949 – 1991. He was up every day by 6 AM. He put on a suit every day and went to work. Pa was a Senior Minister for two different United Church of Christ churches from 1952 – 1992. I only knew him after he retired, but I’ve heard many stories about him teaching Confirmation Classes from 8 – 10 AM on Saturday mornings, and leading the church in many other activities they took on. He literally had to leave town during vacations in order to step away from the work of the church.

Are you giving your work your best effort? Keep your family first, but take your work seriously.

Lesson #3: Remember the enormous value of simplicity.

In many ways these two remarkably influential men lived simple lives, and they wanted it that way. Being fancy was not in their nature. Dad used to say when friends came to our house for the first time, “We’re just plain folks. You can just be yourself here.” Pa had absolutely no interest in being fancy. If I spent too much money on a new sports jacket or suit, he would look at me in a funny way.

Look at your life. What can you do to simplify various areas of your life?

Lesson #4: Show you can handle responsibility.

If you can’t be responsible enough to be a good dad, how can an organization possibly trust you to be responsible for large numbers of employees and significant financial investments? If you take shortcuts at home with your children, how do you keep that habit from creeping into your work? We are who we are wherever we are. We can’t fake it for very long. The habits you have at home are likely to become the habits you have at work.

What are your responsibilities at home in the next two weeks? Do them well.

What are your responsibilities at work in the next two weeks? Do them well.

Do them in that order.

Lesson #5: Handle money intelligently.

Neither Dad nor Pa ever made a ton of money. Probably not a half-ton or quarter-ton either. But you know what they did? They lived within their means. They didn’t go into a ton of debt. Not a half-ton or quarter-ton either. They had money left in the bank for their wives to live on after they died. It’s not how much you make, it’s how you handle what you make.

Are you handling the money you earn intelligently?

Lesson #6: If you’re man enough to create a child, then be man enough to raise a child the right way.

Obviously I’ve been very lucky to have two wonderful father figures in my life. Two men who engrained in me a very specific code on how to live my life. No shortcuts. No living on the fringe. No playing around with the important relationships in my life.

However, I’ve come to learn that some dads are not like that. They leave their kids either before they know them, or when they are very young. In some cases, dads physically or sexually abuse their children.

I can’t think of anything crueler or more awful than a father who abandons or abuses his children.

If you were man enough to create a child, then be man enough to raise the child in a loving way. Be involved in the child’s life. Care about the child’s well-being. Listen to the child’s dreams and do what you can to support that child on a path that strengthens his or her self-esteem.

Being a dad is more important than being a business leader. It’s way, way, way more important. As a dad you will have a lasting impact on another person’s life either positively or negatively. Choose how you want that impact to turn out.

I have a quote by my bed and in my office. It’s a double daily reminder that I’ve had since my daughter, Sarah, was born on April 21, 1999.

It says, “100 years from now it will not matter the type of house I lived in or the kind of car I drove, but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”

Here’s to you, Dad and Pa. Thank you for the incredibly important impact you had on my life.

Twelve Lessons from Six Days in New York City

Twelve Lessons from Six Days in New York City


By Dan Coughlin

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Barb and I took our kids, Ben and Sarah, to New York City recently for six days. First time we’ve ever done that. Technically it was Sarah’s Senior Trip, but it turned out to be a massive learning experience for me. Here are twelve lessons I learned that I think can be used in any business.


Lesson #1: Build a magnet.


What is New York City? How do you define it?


That question went through my mind as went from Times Square to Central Park to The Plaza Hotel to Tiffany’s to the NBA store to the Statue of Liberty to the 9/11 Memorial to the Empire State Building to Rockefeller Center to a Broadway Show to a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden to the NBC Studios to the Today Show and to Ellen’s Stardust Theater.


It finally hit me. NYC is a magnet. It attracts great architects, builders, actors, designers, entertainers, athletes, and so on.


In your business, who do you want to attract to you in the form of employees and customers? Around what type of value do you want to magnetize these people to you both personally and as an organization?


Lesson #2: Be polite.


Despite all contrary reports, everyone we met in NYC was friendly and patient, including employees and citizens. It made our experience really, really enjoyable.


Are you and the people you work with polite and friendly and easy to work with, or cranky and bossy and difficult to work with?


Lesson #3: Maintain breadth and depth.


Within the type of business you want to be in, provide both breadth and depth. NYC covers sports to business to the arts to education to entertainment with an extraordinary level of breadth and depth. That’s what we should all aspire to provide in the area we want to work in.


Lesson #4: Be really, really good at what you do.


The singers at Ellen’s Stardust Diner were amazing. They were also the waiters and waitresses in the diner working for tip money. The Uber drivers were incredible, even during a 12-inch snowstorm. All the actors and actresses in Wicked, the show on Broadway we saw, were phenomenal. The pages on the NBC Studio Tour were like long-term professionals. The 9/11 Memorial is breathtaking, and the new World Trade Center is 1776 feet high (get it?), making it the tallest building in the western hemisphere. As I turned 360 degrees, there were incredible buildings everywhere I looked.


Whatever you do you need to do it really, really well. That’s how you stand out in any crowd.


Lesson #5: Stay calm and have fun.


If I had to drive in NYC, I would be stressed out. As in heart attack stress. The drivers we met were laughing at our stress. Somehow a bicycle rider magically went in between two taxis and came out without a scratch. Al Roker and Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie were smiling on the set of The Today Show and when they came outside in 25-degree weather.


A restaurant named Tony’s di Napoli was packed at 10 PM on a Sunday night, and the waiters and waitresses looked totally relaxed.


Have fun with whatever you do. We look back now and laugh that our plane had to land in Albany for a few hours because the weather was too bad at LaGuardia Airport.


Lesson #6: Make it timeless and practical.


While we were on vacation I was reading a great book by Chip and Joanna Gaines called The Magnolia Story. Joanna explains how she focuses on her home designs being both timeless and practical. That’s what NYC was like. Timeless in many ways, and yet practical and functional at the same time.


As you focus on creating value for customers, consider how to make it timeless and practical.


Lesson #7: Have spaces that help you re-energize.


In the middle of Manhattan on property that has to be worth a billion dollars rests Central Park. Think about that. NYC values 843 acres of prime real estate to re-energize yourself so much that they have preserved it since 1858.


What spaces do you have at home and at work that help you to re-energize? Value those spaces in your life. Invest in creating and preserving them. You will need them to keep growing as a person and as an organization.


Lesson #8: Think and act for the long term.


The Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center were built during the Great Depression. Not the Great Recession, but the Great Depression as in 85 years ago. Central Park was built 160 years ago. The Statue of Liberty was built in 1875, and stands just as proudly as ever.


Do work that has a lasting impact, as in its impact will last for many generations, not for the next three months.


Lesson #9: Time with your family is invaluable.


Quite literally the four of us were within twenty feet of each other every minute for six days, or so it seemed. That would be two teenagers and two people in their fifties. And it was awesome. Your work is not your life. Your work is a subset of your life. Enjoy your family. The best investment I know of is time with your family.


Lesson #10: Be ready for your moment.


Matt Lauer is really good at what he does. He’s been the co-anchor of The Today Show for 20 years. We saw where Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for his first 10 years, and where Jimmy Fallon does it today, or tonight. Chip and Joanna Gaines had been fixing up homes for over ten years before their hit television show, Fixer Upper, became a reality.


All these folks got an opportunity, and they were ready for that moment.


If you received an incredible break right now in your work, would you be ready to seize that moment and make the most of it?


Lesson #11: Make your work interactive with your customers.


At The Today Show, Barb shook hands with Matt Lauer (Perhaps the highlight for her not only of our trip, but of our marriage. Just kidding honey. I think.) Sarah gave a high five to Jenna Bush on The Today Show. Al Roker took the time to shake hands with nearly every person around the outdoor stage. Ben talked NBA basketball with an Uber driver. We were all on The Today Show for about two seconds as the camera scanned the crowd.

Do you create memorable experiences as you interact with your customers? Don’t be the wizard behind the curtain. Get out and interact with your customers.

Lesson #12: You have to have freedom to build a great business.

We spent one day just getting to the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 Memorial. It really hit me that no great business exists without people having the freedom to make decisions and take risks. We wouldn’t have that freedom if it were not for millions of military people sacrificing enormously to preserve that freedom. Freedom should be cherished for the incredible value that it brings to all of us every day.

And then we have to have the courage to hang on to that freedom and use it. My favorite lines in Wicked were from the song, Defying Gravity. Here they are:

Something has changed within me

Something is not the same

I’m through with playing by the rules Of someone else’s game

Too late for second-guessing

Too late to go back to sleep It’s time to trust my instincts Close my eyes and leap!

It’s time to try Defying gravity

I think I’ll try Defying gravity

Appreciate your freedom and have the courage to make the most of it. Don’t play by the rules of someone else’s game. Learn from every life situation you’re in, and apply those lessons to making a significant difference in your work and in your life.
About Dan Coughlin

Dan Coughlin is president of The Coughlin Company, Inc., a management consulting firm focused on improving executive effectiveness and significance. He serves as a thinking partner for executives and business owners toward improving their most important desired business outcomes. He also provides keynote speeches and seminars on effectiveness and leadership. Visit his free Business Leadership Idea Center at

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