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Year: 2015

A Well Pruned Life

It is winter. If you are a gardener, the chill in the air is a reminder that this is the time to prune your fruit-bearing trees and vines and flowering perennials. This act of cutting a plant almost to the ground seems extreme. But the law of nature requires near total destruction before new growth can produce of a good harvest.

If this cutting back doesn’t happen at all or happens too late, the results are not good. Total neglect of pruning over time results in disease and untimely death. The un-pruned plant becomes an unbalanced mixture of old and new, producing many limbs and leaves – but no fruit. Several years of not pruning a rose bush will turn it into a thorn bush.

Proper pruning eliminates at least 50% of most vine plants. The remaining healthy vines will often produce a 100-fold yield.

Is it possible that the heart of this principle holds some truth for your business, career and family?

Journal Entry: What will you prune from your busy of schedule, of things you know you have to do, so you can have time and energy to produce your very best in your leadership and life in 2016?

Drawing Some Insight: It is not easy to see the things we might need to prune. We are too close to them. One approach to seeing what needs to be cut back is to draw a stick person in the middle of a sheet of paper that represents you today. Take 10 minutes and list everything connected to you at work, in the community and with your family, don’t forget how your electronic devises pull at you. Now see how you answer the Journal Entry.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. – Mark Twain

Law of the Trivial Many and the Vital Few: 80/20 Implications for Life & Work

Strive for excellence in a few things, rather than good performance in many.

Celebrate exceptional productivity, rather than praise average efforts.

Look for the short cut rather than the full course.

Exercise control over your life with the least possible effort.

Delegate or outsource as much as possible in our daily lives and business.

Only do the thing we are best at doing and enjoy most.

Make the most of those few “lucky streaks” in our life and work where we are at our creative peak and the stars line up to guarantee our success.

Uncomfortable Truths

Five years ago the Millennials (employees ages 18- 34) made up around 10% of the workforce. Today, their numbers have increased to around a third of the workforce, and by 2020, they’ll make up almost half of the workforce.

Last week I asked a large gathering of executives, “Do you have some managers in your organization who constantly complain about the new generation of workers on their teams? Do they have many conflicts and ongoing problems motivating them?” Heads nodded across the large room. Then I asked the nodders, “Are they the same managers who had constant conflicts and complained about their unmotivated people 5 or 6 years ago?” Nods were slower.

Although there is some truth to the disruptive way a small portion of Millennials act out in the workplace today, I believe that more times than not, the “new generation” buzz is just an excuse for a some lazy managers to continue being lazy managers. Whenever there are many books and a boatload of specialty consultants making lots of money on a really hot business topic – it is usually not the whole truth.

An IBM Study (Myths, Exaggerations and Uncomfortable Truths) of 1,784 employees in 12 countries and from six industries reported that:


  • Millennials have similar career aspirations as other generations; they desire financial security and seniority.
  • Millennials don’t really want a trophy; they want a leader who is ethical and fair and they want performance-based recognition and promotions, just like older groups.
  • Millennials don’t really want to do everything online and virtually. When learning something new, they want face-to-face interaction.
  • Millennials leave their organizations for the same reasons as other generations – to get ahead, enter the fast lane, to make money.


What this seems to boil down to is that having an excuse is a lot easier than exerting some effort to understand and appreciate the differences in people. I would suggest that each person, no matter their phase in life, is seeking answers to these three questions: 1) who am I? 2)what are my strengths? 3) Where is my place in the world? If each of us put a little more energy into helping another explore her or his answers, maybe our workplaces would be more productive and our communities and homes might become better places to be.

Journal Entry:
Would this be a good time to take an uncomfortable step in the direction of helping a next generation team member or a kid at home get closer to the the truth about their place in leadership and life?

Millennials are like pets who work sometimes. – U-tube video: Millennials in the Workplace Training

A 2012 analysis of 20 studies and 19,691 people found that generation had nothing to do with employees’ job satisfaction, organizational commitment or turnover intentions – Journal of Business and Psychology. Generational Differences in Work-Related Attitudes

It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one. – George Washington

God grant me the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the thing I can; and wisdom to know that it’s ME. – A wise manager’s daily prayer

Looking Up to Leaders

Pulling out of my driveway yesterday morning, I looked to my left and saw a very young boy standing beside a middle-age man waiting for the school bus to arrive.  They stood about a block away, and I recognized them from the neighborhood. I thought, “What a fine way to begin my day – seeing a father and son begin their day together.” I stopped my car to take in the moment. The boy looked up at his dad and tugged on his sleeve, and the dad looked down – at his cell phone. I waited. The son said something to this father, who never lost concentration on texting his message. I drove off wishing I had not paused to watch. In my rear-view mirror the scene was the same as I drove away.


Engagement is a hot topic these days. There are multiple employee engagement training courses and engagement consultants that provide all the skills and knowledge needed to equip every manager to be an excellent mentor or coach at work. However, a recent Gallup poll of 2,000 organizations of varied sizes found that 70% of employees said they were not engaged. In addition, 49% of the employees who had left an organization said they didn’t quit the company- they quit their boss. The leader they had looked up to and expected to help them learn and grow didn’t make the time to look back and talk to them.


If you walk down almost any hallway in any business and peek inside the offices or even in the break room, you’ll see what most people are engaging in these days. It’s sitting in their palm.  It is not a sandwich.


Mobile technology has changed us – in some good ways and some not so good ways. Information exchange via technology can save time when it’s a tool we manage, but when it becomes a key stakeholder in our lives and work and begins to overly influence our activity, even consume some of us, everyone loses. If that is you, maybe it’s time to do something about it.  There is a 3 step strategy you might want to consider in the side bar.


Journal Entry: When a team member, family member or friend looks up to you, where will you be looking? Will your choice of where to look help or harm her or him in their leadership and life?

Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.

Mother, will you text me a bedtime story – Modern Parenting

Smart Phone Detox, Employees Engagement & Wellness Strategy
Step 1- Push the OFF button (not silent mode) . Do this 5 times each day for 20 minutes at a time.
Step 2 -Take a walk thorough the office and talk to someone face-to-face .
Step 3- Be amazed that the world did not collapse today and your blood pressure dropped 10 points.

Do you realize if it weren’t for Edison we’d be watching TV by candlelight?
– Al Boliska , actor and writer

Peeking Pushing Mentor

Once upon a time a small child saw a big teenager riding a bike. He admired the teenager’s skill, and he decided that he wanted to be able to ride a bike too. At first the idea of peddling fast and staying upright was frightening. So he tested the experience in a safe environment.

The child found an old bike in his family’s garage, and he pushed it up to a workbench and put the kickstand down. He then climbed up onto the workbench and then slid over to the bike seat. And there he sat, turning the handlebars and imagining he was racing down a road.

After a while, the child carefully got down off the bike, looked under the workbench and found some old training wheels. His mom helped him put the training wheels on so he could start to take rides all by himself. It took some time in the driveway, but he finally he learned how to pedal and how to brake. Then he worked up his courage to take the next big step. He removed the training wheels and was ready to take off into a whole new world. But the first attempts at gaining balance were awkward.


His neighbor from across the street looked out his window and saw him struggling to ride. The neighbor walked over to lend a hand. He steadied the bike as the child began this next step in his biking-skill development. After a few times with hands-on support, he was ready. “Let me go,” he said. Wow! What a feeling of freedom and control. Then he looked down, lost his focus and crashed hard. It hurt. He wasn’t sure he wanted to hurt again, but he got back on the bike anyway. Something inside made him know that if he didn’t push through this tough spot, he would never reach his goal.

Finally he got his balance  – and stayed upright and moving steady.  He rode more each day and had fewer crashes.  Lessons were learned, skill increased and his confidence grew.


One afternoon when he was riding, he met another young biker. They became fast friends. Days were spent racing on the street, competing on homemade obstacle courses, learning new bike tactics together, making mistakes and getting better.

Over time the young biker began to see more clearly what he was good at and what he was not so good at.  Bicycling feedback is fast, very clear and often painful. His strengths grew stronger, and weak areas became less apparent. He started making better riding decisions.

Sometimes other people watched him take a risk on a big hill or real curvy road and crash. Most people sighed and helped him get back up, but some people laughed at him. When anyone laughed, at first he got mad and tried to get back at the jeerers. Then one day he asked one of the critics for advice on how to avoid a crash next time. The naysayer’s feedback really helped, and he gained a friend. Although that was not always the case, he found could learn from almost everyone, if he listened. His confidence rose, and his circle of friends grew.


It’s good to have several friends, but everyone needs one big encourager, someone who is totally committed to your success and will always tell you the truth. He had that someone. When he was first learning, he remembered his neighbor peeking through the blinds at him as he struggled along. He had never stopped looking out for him. Over the years, this wise mentor observed him as his skills and judgment increased and supported him as he took longer trips and tried more challenging bike adventures.

Riding past a small house one morning he noticed a child standing in the yard watching him. He slowed down and looked back. In that young person’s eyes, he recognized the same desire that had captured his imagination years ago. He waved then made a U-turn in the street. He rode up in the yard beside the youngster and put his kickstand down. The child asked if he might he sit on the seat. He said sure. They talked for a while about bicycles and then he left for home. When he arrived there, he went into the garage, looked around the workbench for something and found it.

Later that day he headed back to that child’s house with his old training wheels in his lap and a steady grip on his handlebars.

Journal Entry: Who are the people who helped you stay upright, challenged you to grow and cared enough to speak truth to you over the years? Who do you know today that needs a steady encourager who will peek in on them and offer a timely push as they pedal their way to where they want to go in their leadership and life?


The best test (of a servant leader) and diffucult to adminster is : do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served , become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become a servant (mentor)? – from Servant as Leader by Robert Greenleaf

A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. – Proverbs 11:25

Go to the people, learn from them, love them, start with what they know, and build on what they have. But of the best of leaders, when their task is accomplished and their work is done, ‘We have done it ourselves,’ the people will all remark. – Chinese Poem, 23 BC

Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults. – Benjamin Franklin

Success in life is determined by the decisions you make. Significance in life is determined by the decisions you help other people make. – Michael Alan Tate

Projects that Go “Know Where”

History shows us over and over, leaders have a way of getting things wrong. Yet stronger leaders will see in these errors in judgment a knowledge that lays the groundwork for future expansion and growth.

Take the 1803 effort by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Their expedition to find a Northwest Passage – connecting east to west and establishing a U.S. presence in land that other nations had their own sights on – was one of the most important projects in U.S. history. Though this effort had a profound effect on the United States we know today, if we were to use the standards some of today’s executives would apply to projects, the expedition would be considered a complete failure. After all, it took longer than expected, cost more than planned, and failed to meet its primary objective – to discover a waterway that led to the Pacific Ocean.

Learning from Failure

Before Lewis and Clark started their project, they only knew vaguely what lay ahead. They planned carefully, but they couldn’t be expected to know what they would face. With each step, however, they gathered valuable information that accelerated westward expansion and the growth of our country.

I think it is safe to say that most managers and professionals are good at making plans to solve problems. Over time most learn to act with confidence – when they have a clear deliverable and a sense they can control or adapt to the factors that impact success or failure. Sometimes, however, a new way of thinking is needed. When a manager moves up to a higher leadership position, the newly placed leader may continue to apply the same problem solving thinking to predicaments. Predicaments are different than problems. Here’s why.

Some Things Can’t be Solved

Predicament is synonymous with words like plight, quandary, jam or pickle. It is defined as a difficult situation that has no readily discernible resolution or way out, often involving multiple stakeholders. Predicaments can’t be solved. At best a predicament can be influenced toward a more ideal scenario. Similarly, the Lewis and Clark expedition, which at first appeared to be solving a problem, instead became something with strategic significant. A voyage of discovery, which ultimately lighted a path so others could “know where” their best step might be in an uncharted world.

Journal Entry: Are you facing a predicament such as motivating a diverse staff to excellence, reorganizing your company’s reporting structure, coaching a technical genius to become a leader, helping a senior partner move on to a next phase in life, raising children to be their best or making a marriage work? If you apply the Lewis and Clark approach to project management, you just might be lucky enough to go “know where” in your leadership and life.


Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision. – Peter F. Drucker

All business proceeds on beliefs, or judgments or probabilities, and not on certainties. – Charles W. Eliot

If you are deliberately trying to create a future that feels safe, you will willfully ignore the future that is likely. – Seth Godin

Women who carry a few extra pounds seem to live a lot longer than the men who mentioned it. – A husband who is not sleeping on the couch

Planting a Strategy

When I was a child we had a good-sized garden. My father liked to plant many crops in it, but loved his green beans. Not just any bean would do. “Kentucky Wonder” pole beans were his calling. He was known for his knack of growing them and his disposition for sharing baskets full with others.

His process for planting was logical and systematic.

  1. Plow and fertilize the soil based on climate or moon phase.
  2. Select high quality seeds and plant them at the correct depth.
  3. Place a 5-foot pole near the bean plant, so the vines (runners) can latch on and move up the structure.
  4. Train each of his children to work the garden; place any wild runners back on the pole and sprinkle Seven Dust™ to protect the plants from pests insects.
  5. Listen to what people say about the taste and look of the beans and note ways to improve next year.

The General’s Way

Strategic Planning is often called the art of the general. The premise of strategic planning is to set up as a sequence of moves based on your strengths and your competitor’s weaknesses so that you win and they lose. For decades this blood-on-the-field military model has been the tradition in business strategy development, but with limited success.

A McKinsey Quarterly survey of nearly 800 executives reported that only 45% of respondents were satisfied with the strategic-planning process and only 23% indicated that major strategic decisions were made within its confines.

For those who are tiring of this traditional model, there is another approach that I am currently experimenting with. I call it Strategic Planting ™, the art of the gardener. What follows is a snap shot of my idea and process.

The Gardener’s Way

Strategy Planting™ is not for everyone. It is a sweat-in-the-field approach that calls for more thinking, creativity and risk-taking. The traditional strategic planner is like a farmer who fights against other farmers to capture more of a limited amount of farmland. In contrast, a strategic planter conceives a new way to grow a top quality crop that requires no soil at all. Apple, Southwest Airlines and Cirque du Soleil are just a few companies who appear to have planted their strategy. Each of theses organization invented and nourished a new way of being in a place of value that had never existed. Freedom instead of fighting became their reality, because their competitors were too busy battling each other for more worn out farmland.

Strategic Planting™ is counter-intuitive and may seem overly inspirational, but its soil is research rich. Similar to the background needed to prepare for strategic planning, detailed attention to the market and keen self-awareness are baseline requirements. However, the intent of this analysis is not to compete against, but to unearth a soon-to-sprout vision.

Step by Step

Like the system my daddy used with his pole beans, the process of Strategic Planting™ is logical and systematic.

  1. Prepare a healthy culture. Fertilize it with core value stories.
  2. Plant a few good seed ideas, monitor growth and invest in the ones that take root.
  3. Set-up an infrastructure to support and sustain growth
  4. Train staff to keep quality on track and to prevent the two deadliest infestations: “comparing yourself to others” and “a win-lose mindset”, both of which will lead to a withering death.
  5. Keep honest self-examination continuous,especially after a big accomplishment. Celebrating a great harvest is needed, but great success can breed greater failure if arrogance and pride become the fertilizers for the future.

Journal Entry:

Do you have a business to build, a career to grow or a relationship to strengthen? Consider Planting a Strategy as a way to find more success and significance in your leadership and life.

Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are. – Alfred Austin, poet

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results. – Winston Churchill

The Sower
He told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.

Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop-a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
Whoever has ears, let them hear. – The Bible , the book of Matthew 1 verses 3:3-9

The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious. – John Sculley, American businessman & entrepreneur

Comma or Period

A few years ago I facilitated a focus group of high potential leaders at a very successful and innovative enterprise. This small lean organization had run uphill fast to reach its current peak of achievement. People were stressed to near breaking point, but still determined to become even better. I asked the group, “What is the chief barrier to your organization getting to the next level of success?” The room was silent. Eyes darted. Truth telling can be terrifying. Then one guy spoke-up, “We do a good job planning most of our projects, but we have too many going on and we rarely really complete many of them. I’d say we have a lot of commas and very few periods on our projects.”

The group collectively sighed and nodded. Someone chimed in, “When we get close to wrapping up a project, a new idea pops up and we take off on it. We don’t stop and see if the last project was finished, much less finished well.”

Listen to Everything

I shared their observation with the executive team, who acknowledged the wisdom of these future leaders. Then the team examined the 30 plus strategic projects that were on their plate for the past 2 years. They determined that over half were comma projects – projects that were still only 60% to 75% complete or 25% to 40% away from putting a period on it. Slumped shoulders and weary eyes told it all. Their comma projects were like leeches; clinging, lingering, draining energy and wasting limited resources.

Set a New Habit

After some difficult discussion, the senior team declared a new corporate habit they would establish to help move the organization to the next level. “We will concentrate on a few high leverage projects and schedule a formal debrief for each one. At the debriefing we will mark it as either done well or done away with, note our lessons learned and share this with all key stakeholders both verbally and in writing.” What will be the benefit? “We believe that if we do this consistently most of the new ideas, that keep us busy, will be preemptively addressed due to our thoroughness and discipline.”

Have Courage to Slow Down

At their annual planning retreat, the CEO told the Board there would be no new projects initiated for the next 6 months while they put periods on a few projects that really mattered. The Board is pleased with the record-breaking results this year.

Journal Entry: When would be a good time for you to look at your project list and decide if you need a new strategy to move to the next level in your leadership and life? Period.

‘My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere, you must run twice as fast as that.” – The Queen of Hearts tells Alice in Alice in Wonderland

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John the Baptist, an apostle. John 8:32 NIV Bible

What went well? What did we learn? What is still unclear? How can we improve? – 4 Project Debriefing Questions

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” – Henry Ford, automobile manufacturer

Mark the Start

This local college president is a visionary with a hands-off approach to leadership. She invested over 15 years ingraining quality and efficiency at the main campus. Three years ago the college established a second campus on the other side of town.

Although very near retirement at that time, she was on the new campus almost every day.  This seemed out of character. So I asked her why she was spending so much time there.  She said,  “Because I need to make my mark.”  By this she meant she knew she needed to model the organization’s values and teach their principles of success, by being very hands-on at the beginning.

Faulty Assumption

Leaders often assume that if they have an effective model in place and want to grow the enterprise elsewhere, the answer is to just plug in the proven structure and processes and the new venture will run itself. This hands-off approach seldom works at the enterprise level or even day-to-day.   

When a new project gets assigned, a new leader is hired or a manager moves to lead a new team, there is that tendency to think that your job as the manager is done. With a sigh of relief we say, “It’s time to be hands-off and let them do their job.”  Being hands-off too quickly can quickly turn a high priority project team into a disgruntled committee or transform an enthused high potential leader in to a discouraged manager wandering in the wilderness.

Invest Now or Later 

Endowing power and pushing ownership in order to develop others is critical for success now and succession later.  Investing purposeful time at the inception sets things up for long-term success. The truth is, we will invest our time sometime, either to manage out of a mess later on, or mark it up well in the beginning.

Today the new college campus has surpassed the enrollment of the main campus. The college president retired soon after the new campus hit its stride. She is now making her mark on her community and the lives of her grandchildren.

Journal Entry: Are you facing a new project launch or significant management change? Is there a tricky transition coming your way that needs to begin on the right foot?  What will you do your mark the start so you can help others find more success in leadership and life?

The beginning is the most important part of the work.” – Plato,The Republic


Things alter for the worse spontaneously, if they be not altered for the better designedly.” – Francis Bacon


All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”  – Calvin Coolidge


Problems do not go away. They must be worked through or else they remain, forever a barrier to the growth and development of the spirit.” – M. Scott Peck


Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.” Mark Twain

One Book in 2015

He stood in the middle of the room – in a chair. He was surrounded by 18 senior H.R. executives who had assembled, from around the world, to design a global strategy for their organization. They were here this day to, as he put it, ” agree on a smart strategy to get, grow and keep more than their fair share of top-shelf leaders.” My role was to assist him.

A few minutes before he stood up in the chair, I pulled him aside to let him know that were we way off our agenda. He thanked me and told me to go sit on the table in the back of the room and watch. I did.

Being an agenda guy, I was very nervous. This looked like total confusion. There he was towering 5 feet above this group of type A personalities, holding his hand high, he repeated the goal for the day. Then he asked them what they thought was the best way to make that goal happen. Brief discussion, everyone nodded and a guy picked up a marker and started writing ideas on a board. People gathered around this bold participant, who was one of the youngest in the group, as if he were the meeting leader. The strategy began to take shape. I was still on edge.

He stepped down from his perch, walked to the back of the room, sat beside me on the table and whispered, “When they take the marker from you, you are becoming a real facilitator”. It took me several years of conversations with Cliff , to realize that what I experienced that day was more than him doing a facilitation technique; it was Cliff being.

His full name is Cliff Freeman Eslinger. He is a master executive consultant and has been my friend and my mentor for over a decade. The above story is but one small example of the many insights of consulting and leading Cliff has taught me. He has put his spiritual insight in a tiny little book. It was just published and is entitled, The Serenity Prayer – A Meditation for Leaders.

Journal Entry: As you know, in the past 10 years of writing this article, I have never recommended a book, but today, I request that you purchase and read one book this year. It is The Serenity Prayer – A Meditation for Leaders. In it you will discover a simple way to know real success in your leadership and life in 2015. It is on available at Amazon. (Cliff does not know I was writing this article.)

Happy New Year!

PS – The strategy meeting was an amazing success, so much so that this international corporation is still one of Cliff’s active clients today. That meeting was over 15 years ago. Fortunately for Cliff I keep my seat.

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

enjoying one moment at a time;

accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;

trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;

that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.


~ Reinhold Niebuhr , pastor and author (1892-1971)

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