The Precious Present

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift—that’s why they call it the present.”

You may have heard this quotation, attributed to many different people including Eleanor Roosevelt. It reminds me of when I first met Spencer Johnson. He had just finished a manuscript entitled The Precious Present (Doubleday, 1984).  It’s a wonderful parable about a young boy who lived near an older man who always seemed to be happy. One day the boy asked the old man about it.

The old man told the boy that the secret to lifelong happiness was finding the Precious Present. “It is a present because it is a gift. And it is precious because anyone who receives such a present is happy forever.”

“Wow!” the little boy exclaimed.  “I hope someone gives me The Precious Present.”

For years as the young boy grew, he searched high and low, trying in vain to find the Precious Present. Finally, as a grown man, he stopped to recall the things the happy old man had told him so many years ago. At that moment, he realized the Precious Present was just that: the present. Not the past, not the future, but the Precious Present.

It’s okay to learn from the past, but don’t live there. And it’s okay to plan for the future, but don’t live there, either. If you really want to be happy as you go through life, don’t lose what is precious to you. Live in the present.

What a powerful message. I always remember it when I’m feeling bad about something that’s already happened or when I start worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. Living every day to the fullest is really the best way I know to be happy for the rest of your life. Thanks, Spencer.

Vulnerability in Leadership: a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

Every day, one of my friends sends me a quote from a little book called Live and Learn and Pass It On, edited by H. Jackson Brown. Here is one I particularly enjoy:

“I’ve learned that everything I truly value has been gained by vulnerability on my part. It is the secret to life.”  (Anonymous, age 21)

The reason I love this quote is because it reminds me of the work of Brené Brown, who describes herself as a researcher and storyteller. Brené spoke at our client conference last fall and was one of the first people to study and write about the power of vulnerability.

As a leader, you might think that if you admit to your people you don’t know how to solve every problem, they will see you as weak. Quite the contrary. When you show your vulnerabilities, rather than thinking less of you, people will think more of you. Why? Because they already know you don’t know everything!

Colleen Barrett, president emeritus of Southwest Airlines and my coauthor on the book Lead with LUV*, has been known to say, “People admire your skills, but they love your vulnerability.” When you are willing to acknowledge that you don’t have it all together, your people—including customers and family members—know they might have a chance to play a part and make a contribution.

Brené Brown says being vulnerable requires courage as well as humility. Most people who aren’t willing to show their vulnerability don’t want to admit they are scared little kids inside. Being humble is not the same as lacking confidence. I have always said “People with humility don’t think less of themselves; they just think about themselves less.”

So, have a vulnerable, courageous, and humble day. Isn’t it great to know you don’t need to have all the answers to be admired by others?

 

*LUV is the stock symbol for Southwest Airlines.

You Don’t Need a Fancy Title To Be a Servant Leader

One of my favorite stories in our recent book, Servant Leadership in Action, comes from James Ferrell of the Arbinger Institute. The leader James writes about doesn’t have a fancy title, but he’s a living example of Robert Greenleaf’s definition of a servant leader as someone who “focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.”

Who is this servant leader? It’s the man who collects the trash in James’s neighborhood each week.

“Our trash is collected on Friday mornings,” James writes. “One Friday morning, as I heard the garbage truck pull into our cul-de-sac, I realized that I had forgotten to take the bins out.”

Perhaps you can relate to the panic James felt as he threw on some clothes and hustled down the stairs—not to mention the sinking feeling he had when he heard the truck pull away. “A week with no room in our garbage bins!” James thought with a grimace.

But when James looked out the front window, he saw his two bins—and they were empty! He was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for his amazing neighbors.

A few weeks later James bumped into two of those very neighbors: David, who lived across the street, and Randy, who lived around the corner. David was telling a story about how he’d seen the garbage truck driver walking around and picking up trash strewn all over the street. David said he felt badly, because he’d overpacked his bin and it was likely the spilled trash was his.

“So,” David said, “I decided that the next week I’d go out and thank that driver and give him a gift.”

But the next week the truck was early. By the time David rushed out the door, it had already rounded the corner. “The truck was parked in front of Randy’s house,” David continued. “Then I saw the driver wheeling Randy’s two garbage bins down from the side of his house!”

“Wait!” Randy interjected. “The garbage man did that? I thought the neighbors had helped us out.”

As he listened to this story, James had the same reaction. He realized that the driver must have helped with his bins, as well.

“Now,” James writes, “you might think that David, Randy, and I had it made at this point. After all, we wouldn’t even have to take our trash out to the street anymore; the garbage man would do it for us!”

But that’s not how they responded. Instead, the garbage truck driver’s selfless actions motivated James and his neighbors to remember to take out their bins, because they didn’t want to make things harder for the driver. Plus, they took care to leave ample room between the bins, something they’d heard they were supposed to do, but hadn’t bothered with before.

“In a way,” James continues, “our garbage man trained the entire neighborhood to make his life easier. How did he do this? By making our lives easier, which is the essence of what servant leaders do.”

In Leading at a Higher Level, my Blanchard colleagues and I define leadership as the capacity to influence others by unleashing their power and potential to impact the greater good. James Ferrell’s story underscores the point that you don’t need a fancy title to be an effective servant leader.

Greetings from a Servant Leader

“Good morning everyone, this is Ken. It’s a little bit after eight o’clock in San Diego, California….”

That’s an example of the way I begin my morning message that goes out to most of the people in our company every weekday morning. I’ve been doing it for the better part of twenty years now!

When folks outside of the company hear that I send a daily morning message to our people, they usually ask, “How can you think of something new to say every single day?” They think it sounds like a lot of trouble. But I enjoy doing it. Why? Because knowing that people are expecting my daily message compels me every day to think of things I feel lucky about. What did I do yesterday that was interesting? What did I learn? I’ll ask for prayers and love to be sent out when I hear someone is ill or when they lose a loved one. And sometimes it’s about celebration—I’ll congratulate a person or a whole department on something specific they did right, like giving great service to a client or making a big sale.

Sending out a daily message helps me stay in touch with almost everyone in our company at once. I’ve been told it keeps our company culture top of mind for people I don’t get to see very often—those who work in the field or in other parts of the world.

Sending a morning message does as much for me as it does for the people who receive it. I highly recommend it as a great communication tool for any servant leader!

You Will Become Who You Walk With

One of my favorite quotes is “None of us is as smart as all of us.” Two of our company’s cofounders, Don Carew and Eunice Parisi Carew, came up with that simple truth when they coauthored our team leadership program. It’s one of the basic tenets for building and maintaining high performing teams.

In a similar vein, my pastor friend Erwin McManus states in his book The Last Arrow that we are meant in life to live in community. “Whatever you do, you need to find your tribe. . . . When you surround yourself with great people, it elevates who you are. If you want to have great character, surround yourself with people of great character. . . . You will become who you walk with.”

When Renee Broadwell and I edited Servant Leadership in Action, we surrounded ourselves with great people—our book’s contributors. Now, as Martha Lawrence and I edit the third edition of Leading at a Higher Level, we also are surrounded with great people—our company associates.

So think—who do you surround yourself with? Who do you walk with?