Dr. Henry Cloud Coming to Pittsburgh

On April 23, the 18th Annual Serving Leader Conference will be held in Pittsburgh, this year featuring the work of Dr. Henry Cloud. I am looking forward to sitting at Dr. Cloud’s feet as he works through the subject of “Necessary Endings” and teaches us how to make vibrant, highly fruitful connections in our relationships (for both life and leadership) and how to avoid one of the most common pitfalls of leadership, which is isolation and insulation.


This year’s Serving Leader Conference Keynote Speaker, Dr. Henry Cloud


Room for Improvement

Walking into the corporate headquarters of the Jenesis Group, visiting for a day with my friend James Jensen, I was struck by a large sign in the foyer that asked, “What is the largest room in the world?” The sign then answered, “The Room for Improvement.”


My friend James noticed my eye being drawn to the message on this large sign, and he kept his face trained on me as I read through the words and then broke into a grin. Then James laughed his big, “I really like life” laugh, his eyes twinkling like stars. At the bottom of the banner was the name, Ronald Jensen, 1930-2005.


Running the Race and Smelling the Roses, Both!

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Our daily, walking-around behavior could indict us on several very serious charges.

1. Charge: That we believe ourselves to know more than anyone else.

2. Charge: That we believe ourselves to be the only effective actors on the scene.

3. Charge: That we are disinterested in the concerns and contributions of others.

4. Charge: That we believe that there’s no God.


How to Set New Year’s Goals Through the Lens of Stewardship

If you are like me, you’re well into your planning cycle for 2015, asking the questions you must always ask as a steward of your time, talent and treasure. In what and in whom should you invest over this next year? What do you believe you should stretch yourself to do? How in this next year should you serve at a higher level? Grow? Contribute? More deeply engage?


These are the stewardship questions that we are always being called to ask:

  • Who am I?
  • What have I been given that I am responsible to be a good steward of?
  • What has God (what has life, what has the universe) placed right in front of me to do?
  • What must I make the top priorities in order to be faithful to all of the above?

Making First Things First

Before throwing yourself into a goal setting exercise for your next year, I encourage you to spend some significant time in reflection about the principle of “First Things.” Many people get ground up in the doing of much, but our greatest contribution on earth is always to be found in the doing of the right few things first. You don’t need to “do it all,” and, besides, you can’t. To try to cover all the bases robs you of your best part – you’re too stretched out in the doing of many things to do your best in the ways that you are the best. And, trying to cover all the bases robs the people around you of their opportunity to contribute.

Here are a few ways I’ve found helpful to get clear on what the “First Things” are in my life. Go through this exercise – make notes or write in your journal as you proceed – and give yourself time to listen deeply to your heart, mind and soul on this.

Review your past year, asking these questions:

  1. Which of the many things I did over this year produced the greatest results? Consider those outcomes from the past year that you are happiest with, most proud of, that made the biggest difference – and trace backwards from those outcomes to the specific things you did that brought them about. This first question sheds light on the ways that you are “Fruitful.”
  2.  Of all the things you do, which activities draw uniquely on your distinctive gifting and strengths? Ask this question: which activities were absolutely necessary for me to do? Somebody else simply would not have been able to make that particular contribution because it came from the unique set of capabilities that you’ve been endowed with. This second question sheds light on the ways that you are “Essential.”
  3. Let your mind reflect back over the work, chores, tasks, responsibilities, projects that you took on in the past year, and identify those that you found the deepest joy and satisfaction in doing. It might have been daunting work, or it might have been delightful work, but you felt energized and your fires were stoked in the work. This third question sheds light on ways that you are “Built Up.”

There are approximately a billion books written on the subject of goal setting. Okay, probably not a billion in reality, but a lot! The problem with so much of the goal setting advice is that it doesn’t own up to its frame of reference. We always set goals in relation to a particular reference point. My goals are established to serve something! But what is the something that lies at the root of my goals?

Most of the goal setting guides I’ve examined are poisonous to excellence. Usually unspoken, many goal setting guides presume that we exist on earth to serve our wants. “What do you want? Make it a goal!” And why do I call this poisonous? It is poisonous for the obvious reason of selfishness. But far, far worse, this approach to goal setting is massively wasteful. If the frame of reference is “want,” then the goals you set will be countless, you will be dissipated across a vast wasteland of effort, your best won’t have space to come forth, and your greatest blessing to the world will be missed.

Let me be a little kinder: most of the goal setting guidance I’ve examined over the past 35 years doesn’t pause long enough to examine what should guide our goal setting. “Want to set some goals? Well, here’s how you do it! Yessir! And don’t forget to pin a picture of that Lamborghini, svelte figure, or faux million dollar check to your bathroom mirror, and by all means, write those goals down!” Practical guidance, all in all, and not wrong in the mechanics. But, nevertheless, massively wasteful of true human treasure.

Stewardship must be our frame. And, if stewardship is our frame, then we have sober considerations to make before we sit down to write our goals.

  • How am I most Fruitful? I exist on earth to make a difference, to leave a mark, to bear fruit. I must get after that!
  • How am I most Essential? I was shaped and designed for certain key contributions, one-of-a-kind offerings, distinctive arenas of service. I must offer the part that is my part!
  • How am I Built Up? Your stewardship includes yourself. We are to grow and to become more. Grounding ourselves down through the extreme sport of busyness gains nothing. I must guide myself onto pathways that bring growth, health and maturity.

When you’ve completed this exercise, reflectively, with a steward’s regard, look it over and search your answers for those “First Things” that you discern must be made your priority in 2015.

Finally, let me pass on some advice I’ve received from over a dozen mature, deep, and fruitful mentors and leaders. When you complete your “First Things” list for 2015, keep it short! When it comes to the overall number of key priorities that a person should choose in their planning work, “succeed in a few, fail in none” is the way a wise friend put it to me over twenty years ago, and “keep it under five” is the way a highly effective CEO put it to me yesterday.

In short, keep your list short!

Now, you’re ready to do some goal-setting! Let’s commit ourselves to giving our utmost in this next year!


It’s Time To Address The Confusing Issue Of Humility!

I’d like to get something off my chest! Would that be okay?

There is a big confusion within the field of “servant leadership” around the issue of humility. And this confusion creates incalculable damage. I have seen it too many times and in too many places to not address it. We have big and important work to get done in service to the good of the world. And a piece of core “servant leadership” teaching is hampering our calling!


I’ll begin with two quick points, so that my message is clear.

  1. The greatest leaders on earth have true humility. I’m not arguing with this. Jim Collins was right about this! Indeed, Jesus Christ nailed it once and for all – you want to make a big difference, lay your life down in service to that which matters more than self.
  2. Behaving with such “humility” that the people around you don’t know what you’re contributing or how you’re doing it – or even if you’re leading at all – is not true humility. The “servant leader” according to the often-quoted sage words of Lao-Tzu, “Is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’

Give Thanks in All Circumstances!

When I was a boy, my Sunday school teachers often gave pop quizzes, which frequently took the form of needing to recite a bible verse of our choice from memory. Smarty pants that I was, I liked to go early in the line so I could recite John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” When someone else went first and took “Jesus wept”, I kind of wept myself.


“Jesus wept,” I was told, was the shortest verse in the bible. What’s better, when you’re 8 years old, than a two-word verse!

No one informed me back then that there are other two-word verses, which I would have loved to know about! Here are two more:

I Thessalonians 5:16: “Rejoice always.” Believe me, I could have pulled off memorizing that one!

I Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray continually.” Adding this to my boyhood repertoire would have been a cakewalk!


Business is Mission

As I write these words, I am preparing to speak at the 2014 HarvestNET International Summit, taking place on November 21, 2014. Harvest Net is a global alliance of Christian pastors working across broad denominational lines to advance the purposes of Jesus’ Kingdom on earth.

I have been asked to specifically address how business is emerging globally as the best stage for mission, poverty alleviation, human development, and social improvement. There is no happier assignment for me than this one, as I have spent the last twenty years inside amazing businesses around the world that are bringing transformational change to the world.



Yesterday, I spent several hours with a group of under-40 entrepreneurs in Chicago, reflecting on the deep paradox of leadership that is captured in The Serving Leader, which I wrote with my friend, Ken Jennings.


In summary, here is what we dialogued about yesterday.

Fully alive human beings are needed at every workstation in a company, each man and woman with their brains humming and their hearts beating and their imagination soaring, with their eyes seeing, their ears tuned in, and their empathy fully alive.  Great organizations are great because the people who show up at work every day bring their humanity with them and take up their posts thinking and acting as though they themselves are the owner of the company.   


If You Want a Breakthrough, You Have to Stage a Break Out! Here are 7 Simple Strategies

One of the most fiendish traps of leadership is the trap that is set by daily, overwhelming tasks that must be done. Our greatest contribution to our organization and team is not in the accomplishment of those daily tasks, however important they are, but in getting away from them regularly enough to look around, breathe, think, and find the solutions that cannot be found on the playing field of daily duty.


In short, we must get “up and out,” but we are forever being pulled “down and in.”

I don’t know a great leader who doesn’t regularly step aside, disappear, take a “planning day,” retreat, pray, meditate, step back or walk away. They must come back, of course – we can’t walk away and stay away – but we must walk away quite regularly if we want to be of true service.

Here are some ways to do it.

  1. Think through your day! Get up in time to spend 30 minutes thinking through the day that you are about to jump aboard. What matters most today? Where are you most needed? What is priority number one, two and three? Make notes!
  2. Review your notes at bedtime! Note the key accomplishments. Note the misses. Give thanks!
  3. Observe the Sabbath! I mean this. Don’t work seven straight days! It’s not just one of the Ten Commandments, it’s the wordiest of the Ten, emphasized far more than “don’t murder” and “don’t commit adultery.” God rests, and He’s God. Jesus rested. But we think that we don’t need to?
  4. Circle up with a group of safe peers! Talk things over. Listen. Share ideas. If you listen to this 4-minute video of some of my executive clients, you will note how many of them talk about the transformational impact of (confidentially) talking with others about their leadership!
  5. Read books! The late, great Charlie “Tremendous” Jones drove home the point that the two most impactful decisions a leader makes are the people they associate with (point 4, just above), and the books they read. Leaders are readers!
  6. Schedule “Free Days!” Dan Sullivan urges his entrepreneurial clients in Strategic Coach to set aside days for renewal. This is a borrowed idea, as Jesus practiced it again and again, getting “by himself” (or, as the old English puts it, going “apart”). Walk, play, think, pray, doodle, muse, dawdle, nap, wander and wonder. Go fallow. Sail a boat. Bake bread. Trim rose bushes. Sit in the sun.
  7. Regularly (annually, quarterly, you pick the pace) ask, “What must I stop doing?” If it needs to be done, equip someone else to do it. If it doesn’t need to be done, quit it! The Dead Sea isn’t dead because new water never arrives; it’s dead because nothing ever leaves.


Share your stories of “breaking out.” How do you get up and out? What is your discipline for recharging? Let’s give each other some help!


Why Investment Works: A Testament to Employer Commitment

In case you’re ever doubting the purpose of developing relationship with your employees, listen closely.  If you ever feel like investing in those working with or for you is a nicety, and occasionally seems like a waste of time, please keep reading.  Let me encourage you along this part of your journey to great leadership.

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My name is Laura Hess; I’m John’s Executive Assistant.  On Tuesday, John wrote about the importance of your commitment to your employees.  He told the story of an Old Pete Spriggle, a man who couldn’t be bothered to devote much time or energy to the future.  He couldn’t see past the here and now.  He thought it a waste of his time to build up his children when they needed to be built up.  Old Pete chose to sit out of the growth process, and hope his children grew to be interesting adolescents.  When they reached that point, Old Pete gladly jumped in to reap the benefits of his childrens’ development into interesting people.  John goes on to demonstrate the foolishness of Old Pete’s mentality. “Know of any returns on investment that skip the investment part?”, he writes.  You can read John’s post in its entirety here.