Presidents Day: The Range of Leadership Backgrounds

George Washington. Abraham Lincoln.

One had massive wealth. He risked everything he owned over and over by riding his horse on the battlefield in order to lead his troops in the battle against the British. He declared war when he had a tiny army to battle the world’s military superpower.

One was extraordinarily poor and basically read his way to become a gifted writer and speaker. He stood firm to his beliefs even as the enemy quickly approached the White House. He declared war when the South had most of the senior military leadership and most of the ammunition.

I encourage you to read Washington: A Lifeby Ron Chernow and Lincoln’s Sword and Honor’s Voice by Douglas Wilson.

These were two very real men who intentionally stepped into doing and saying what they each felt was the right thing to do and say. The very real storms of violence waged around them, and they gambled everything they had to do what they thought was the right thing to do. They influenced the way other people thought so those people could make decisions that improved results in a sustainable way.

We could all learn a lot by studying closely these two very real leaders.

The Real Beauty in Mundane Excellence

Every year has highlights. Special moments where you deliver a great performance, achieve a challenging objective, or receive some public or private recognition of your efforts. Those moments are really memorable.

Then there’s the other 95% of year.

Those are the mundane moments. The ordinary ones. The ones where you’re doing something you’ve done hundreds and maybe thousand of times before.

If you can make the mundane moments excellent by doing the best you can in each of those moments while learning how to do them better the next time, then you will have a real opportunity to break through and perform at higher and higher levels. 95% of your time can be filled with excellence if you can push yourself to lean into the ordinary moments and make them extra-ordinary.

The Enormous Value of Mistakes

Mistakes happen a lot. And sometimes our mistakes create very embarrassing situations. And sometimes they really damage our results greatly.

And that’s perfectly okay.

We are all humans. We all make mistakes. We do things without realizing what we’re doing, and sometimes those things we do turn out to be fairly awful and hurt people.

We can beat ourselves up over and over and over, or we can honestly admit to ourselves that it really was a mistake, apologize for it, learn how to improve our future behaviors, and move forward.

So what will it be?

Are you going to remain stuck in sorrow and self-loathing for the rest of your life, or are you going to say, “Here is what I learned from this experience, and I will keep that lesson in mind as I go forward”?

Who Has Influenced Your Life?

My son, Ben, had to conduct an interview for his senior language arts class. He needed someone who talks a lot. He said to his teacher, “I’ve got just the right guy.” I’m not sure I’m taking that as a compliment.

One question was, “Who has influenced your life?” I said, “My dad. He was remarkably consistent. He was married to the same woman for 54 years, worked at the same organization for 42 years, went to church several times a week at 6 AM for many decades, always focused on his family over work, constantly kept encouraging all of his kids to keep going, and had the same mantra all of his life: good things come to those who wait.”

Thinking about my dad, who died almost exactly ten years ago, made me realize how one person affects another person. So much of him is in me. One my favorite sayings to my son is, “Habits make all the difference. Develop good habits and you never know what you might be able to achieve.”

I think Dad and I were saying the same thing.

Who has influenced your life?

Empty Your Mind on to a Sheet of Paper

Last night I read the first two chapters of David Allen’s famous book, Getting Things Done.

Very practical and useful. Here’s my main take away.

Any time an idea comes into your mind that you need to do something about, write it down immediately. Always write it down on the same piece of paper, or in the same place on your computer/cell phone. Whatever you do, do it the same way every single time. Never carry it around in your mind. Empty what you need to get done on to a piece of paper as quickly as you can. Now you don’t have to think about it anymore until you go back to the piece of paper.

Then go to each item on your list at least once every few days, and answer these two questions:

  1. What is my objective for doing this thing?
  2. What do I need to actually do to make it happen?

Then move into action.

That’s it. That’s the miracle of getting things done. Identify what you need to think about and write it down immediately. Identify what objective you’re trying to achieve as a result of getting it done. Then write down what you need to do in order to get it done. And then go do it.

Don’t skip any of those little pieces. Voila! You got something done.