Blessings in the Rubble

Last week marked the ten-year anniversary of the massive fires in San Diego that took our family home. When Margie and I reflect on that time, we try to focus on the good things that came out of it. You might not think that makes sense. Of course, it was a tragedy—but there were many positives. One of our biggest blessings was realizing the difference between the value of people and the value of stuff.

Only a month before we lost our house, I received a copy of a new book called When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box written by my friend John Ortberg—a wonderful author and the senior pastor of Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California. I was so taken by one section of John’s book, I sent everyone in our company a voicemail about it. John wrote about how in life, some things are forever and some are temporary—and how easy it is for us to get the two mixed up. He suggested everyone do the following exercise.

All you need is a pen and two pads of sticky notes. Write TEMPORARY on each note on one pad and FOREVER on each note on the other pad. Then go around during your day and distribute them. Put a TEMPORARY note on your car, your house, your furniture, your checkbook, things in your closet, your TV, your cell phone, etc. Put a FOREVER note on people in your family, your friends, your boss, your coworkers, the stranger behind the counter—and don’t forget to put one on yourself. Because everything else is just temporary stuff. No one will remember what clothes you wore, your bank balance, or the kind of car you drove. When the game is over, all that’s left is love—who you love and who loves you. Everything else goes back in the box.

A week after the fire, we decided to have a memorial celebration for our house—so many people in our company had been there for get-togethers or holiday parties. And over the years a number of our salespeople and consulting partners and other friends and colleagues had come to stay with us, sometimes for days or weeks for various reasons. And even though there was nothing left of the house now, all of those memories remained—so about 100 people gathered and shared their memories with us. It was a wonderful, healing experience.

One of the blessings we hadn’t thought of—and one of the biggest laughs—came at the end of the memorial celebration. Our daughter, Debbie, said, “I’ve been having a lot of mixed feelings about the house burning down. Of course it’s very sad. But I remember not that long ago walking through the house and seeing all of mom and dad’s stuff in the garage and the closets—they never threw anything away. I had the thought that if something ever happened to them, it would probably end up being my job to clean the place out—to go through everything and figure out what to do with it. Now I won’t have to do that!” Everyone laughed but they had to admit that Debbie had a point.

Shortly after the fire, a wonderful friend of Margie’s and mine named Tom Crum told us about a sign in his home written by a Japanese poet. The message on the sign translates to “Now that my barn is burned to the ground I can see the moon.” It was yet another reminder—there’s always something to be thankful for.

The Leadership Compass

A few years ago, my good friend Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, came up with an interesting concept about how leadership is like the face of a compass, with four points—south, north, east, and west.

When people talk about leadership, they are usually talking about the compass pointing south. When you lead south, you are the leader and your job is to help your people win. Spencer Johnson and I wrote about this in The One Minute Manager. You work with your people on goal setting, praise them when they do well, and redirect them when they get off track.

When you manage north, it’s about influencing up—which is the subject of my book with Susan Fowler and Lawrence Hawkins, Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager. How do you get what you need to succeed? You must develop the right mindset and skillset to ask your boss for exactly what you need.

Then there’s leading east and west, which is all about supporting your colleagues and others in your peer group. When you know how to lead laterally and create win-win situations with your peers, it can have a very positive effect on the culture. Leading east and west is also about the mentoring that can happen among people of any rank or age as long as one person has something they can learn from another.

What’s really key to the compass analogy is what is at the center of the compass: you. The most difficult leadership challenge we all have is ourselves. Meeting that challenge begins by being self-aware. It doesn’t matter how many points we hit around the compass if we’re not strong in the middle. Take a hard look at yourself. Figure out what you need to do to be the kind of leader you want to be.

If you want to be a 360-degree leader, you need to learn how to lead in all four directions—south, where  you serve the people who report to you; north, where relationship and influence help you manage those with authority over you; and east and west where you guide and encourage your peers. And don’t forget to keep the compass point centered by knowing you are the best leader you can be so that you can maximize your influence on others.

Your Words and Actions Matter

We’ve all seen the image of the ripples created when a pebble is tossed into a pool of still water. The ripples radiate out in ever bigger circles—all from that tiny pebble.

In a sense we’re all like that pebble. Our words and actions—whether positive or negative—ripple out and impact the world around us.

I was reminded of this after Sunday night’s massacre at the Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas—the deadliest mass shooting in US history. The shock, fear, and anguish of that event rippled across social media and regular news channels.

Then came the heroes—ordinary people covering others with their own bodies, stopping the bleeding with their own shirts, carrying the wounded to paramedics, and offering their own vehicles to rush the injured to hospitals. Long lines of people wrapped around those hospitals, waiting to donate blood.

The hope and humanity of these selfless actions also rippled across media channels, inspiring a continuous outpouring of compassion and support.

The truth is, our words and actions affect many more people than we often realize. In a study on the impact of cooperative behavior, James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis found that each time a person acts for the public good, that action is tripled by others who are influenced to contribute as a result. In other words, good deeds have a cascading effect on humanity.

So, do good and love others. You make more of a difference than you know.

What Businesspeople Can Learn From the Back to School Mentality

Around this time of year, young people are experiencing the deep joy of a fresh start. It’s back to school season and possibility is everywhere! And I’ve got some good news: this sense of possibility isn’t just for students. Anyone can experience the benefits of a fresh start.

I once went on a cruise with a lot of older folks and noticed a big difference between those who saw opportunity everywhere and those who didn’t. The folks who saw opportunity in all the activities on the cruise expressed excitement about the future and were enjoying their lives more. Plus, they looked and acted 20 years younger than they were! The folks who didn’t take advantage of the ship’s activities were withdrawn and didn’t really come alive until mealtime.

The insights I gained on that cruise inspired my book Refire, Don’t Retire. One of the powerful ideas in this book is the Nothing Ordinary Rule, which challenges you to create new possibilities. For example, instead of ordering the same old thing at a restaurant, order a dish you’ve never tried. Go to an event you ordinarily wouldn’t go to. Listen to a new kind of music. Applying the Nothing Ordinary Rule increases your mental acuity and infuses your world with possibility. Pretty soon you’ll start to feel like an excited student all over again.

When you see opportunities all around you, you can’t help but generate good work. People often express astonishment that I’ve written more than 60 books. But I see each book as a new opportunity to learn about something new and share my excitement about that subject.

Aldous Huxley once said that the secret of genius is to carry the spirit of a child into old age. He was right! So take some inspiration from all the students going back to school this month—embrace the new opportunities around you.

The Power of Serving Others

Our love and prayers are with everyone who is dealing with the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. So many are homeless as a result of this storm. It’s an awful situation but it’s amazing to see how people rally together to help each other in times like this. We saw it with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with the fires here in San Diego in 2007, with Hurricane Sandy in 2013—and now it’s happening with Hurricane Harvey. We have seen and heard countless examples of people serving each other during this crisis—and I’m sure there will be more.

When someone shows up to help, they don’t say “Wait a minute—what’s your religion? What’s your sexual orientation? Who did you vote for?” People who serve others don’t come with judgment; they just reach out with support and love for their fellow human beings. I love what actress Sandra Bullock said when she donated a million dollars to the Red Cross for Harvey victims last week: “There are no politics in eight feet of water. There are human beings in eight feet of water.” Isn’t that great?

During times like these, when I’m watching the heroic efforts of people taking care of each other, I always think how great it would be if we behaved this way all the time. It shouldn’t take a crisis to bring out the best in people. What are some ways we can keep ourselves in that servant heart mindset when times are bad and when times are good? Imagine the difference we could make in the world!

For now, we need to keep focusing our love, energy, and prayers on all of the good folks in the communities hit by Harvey. Please consider donating any amount to the Red Cross (www.redcross.org), the Humane Society (www.humanesociety.org), or, to find other worthwhile organizations, go to www.charitynavigator.org to ensure your donation will be used to help people affected by Harvey.

We are at our best when we stand together. Keep pumping out the love and the prayers! Good on you all!