We Need Others

I recently completed a Mastermind series unpacking learnings from Live2Lead, the John Maxwell team event each October. I realized how valuable the group were to me in my journey to relational and leadership health. The bottom line is that we can’t see what issues hold us back unless someone is willing to engage with us and bring those issues to light. But also, we are never fully functioning in relationships unless we allow who we are to be seen by those around us. In self-disclosure we offer our strengths to benefit others, and our weaknesses to validate and encourage others as they offer their strengths to us.

These exchanges are just as important to our society as the buying and selling of commerce or the pedagogy and debate of education. Sadly, these things get more difficult as we allow media, politics, or special interests to polarize us.

It’s time to reclaim the power of others, by inviting those who differ to engage with us for our benefit as well as theirs. If you agree, let me know, and let’s see how we can make a start!

How To Mess Up

Select any of the following:

Be sure you are right

Be defensive when questioned

Be busy without direction

Be isolated

Be driven by others' opinions

Be judgmental of others

Be superior to your peers

Be comfortable with lack of integrity

Be paralyzed by analysis

Be predisposed to self-pity

Be focused on weakness and negatives

Be the center of attention, the king of the hill

Be constantly quick to act or speak

(what have I missed?)

The Value of Space

In the summertime, schedules often change. If you are in a leadership role which enjoys less pressure in these months, this post is for you! If that doesn't apply, don't despair - I have some thoughts for you too!

Less pressure = More space

Physics was nowhere near my most favorite subject in school, but a scientific principle from those classes has stuck with me: less pressure means more space. Or in simple terms, a helium cylinder takes up much less space than all the balloons you can fill with it! The cylinder is under pressure, enabling it to do work quickly, while the balloons are much less pressurized and can float almost anywhere.

What's the application to leadership? We all need space to do our best thinking. And without that space, our leadership becomes little more than a jet of high pressure gas shooting out of a cylinder. So I'm suggesting you embrace the space of summer (if your role allows) and do some big space thinking. Kick back, put the laptop and phone aside, look out into nature, and let your mind and heart expand into new leadership insights, or follow up opportunities that need space to flourish (like that book you've been planning to read for months).

Like the balloons, there's no telling where that freedom may take you. Your next great idea, or the inspiration you need, may be just a less-pressured space away!

And I said I had a thought for those whose summer does not lead to relaxation: not all space is "blue sky" space. You may not have low pressure, wide-angle space available to you, but you can still treat yourself to a mini-space. A two-minute breather after a long phone call, a short walk in the parking lot after a meeting, a deliberate delay before moving on to the next task. Even these small spaces are valuable. I took one this morning, and it prompted the idea for this post!


Self-awareness grows

Several times recently, while reviewing LIFE Languages™ profiles with people, I have noticed that the process of discussing the results of this well-designed instrument often leads to growth in self-awareness.

Like the time when I was discussing with a husband what might be some signs if the needs of his primary languages were not being met; he was nodding in understanding, and his wife looked surprised as some of his behavior suddenly made sense!

Or another time I was talking with a man who has several languages close together in his profile, meaning he can easily switch between them in communication and teamwork. He said "I thought that was me being unpredictable, but now I see that I'm wired to be flexible!"

These insights (and many more like them) are a great gift to the healthy leader, because they open the door to further self-awareness, and thus to increased emotional intelligence. The leader is certainly not the only one to benefit from this growth. As a famous leadership speaker once said: "everyone wins when a leader gets better!"

So don't fall for the mistake of thinking that self-awareness is a waste of time or narcissistic. Your effectiveness as a leader depends on growing self-awareness. The closer to continuous you can make that process, the better! And remember that you can't see what you can't see, so find someone who will speak truth to you, and pay them! 

Self-awareness 101

Continuing our focus on self-awareness (or lack of it) among leaders, let’s think a little more about what is involved in being self-aware.

First, let’s remember that self-awareness is the first component of growing emotional intelligence, so self-awareness is a starting point, not a finish line. But you can only run the race if you start, and failure to be self-aware will be a key reason why you fail to lead as fruitfully as you desire.

Second, let’s understand that self-awareness is best developed by a combination of personal reflection and input from others. I need to develop the skill of understanding myself first: to recognize how I am wired, the strengths and weaknesses that make me unique. Then I benefit most from getting input from those around me, both confirming and augmenting the insights gained from personal reflection. 

Thirdly, self-awareness is a journey; expect your self-awareness to grow and develop over time. One suggestion I have found helpful in my own life is to plan regular opportunities to invest in self-awareness. Subscribe to a blog that builds on your strengths, take some training in an area of weakness, read a book on self-awareness issues, or schedule a regular time with a friend or mentor. You can also tap into resources online such as this self-awareness test.

Finally, apply your self-awareness to your leadership. Build teams that combine different strengths for optimal success, look for those who are strong in areas you are not, set an example of self-awareness for those you lead and encourage them to grow their own awareness. 

In all these ways, you will begin to turn the tide of self-awareness and we will all benefit from the personal and organizational growth that results.

Better than an MBA?

Harvard Business Review published an interesting article earlier this year: "Self-Awareness Can Help Leaders More Than an MBA Can." It is a fascinating thought for those of us without MBAs!

HBR reports that about 40% of CEOs are MBAs, and studies show that leadership based solely on MBA-trained logic is not always enough for delivering long-term results, in fact it is often detrimental to an organization’s productivity. 

Researchers studied 440 CEOs who had been featured in the business press, on the covers of magazines such as BusinessWeek, Fortune, and Forbes. They split the CEOs into two groups — those with an MBA and those without one — and then monitored their performance for up to seven years. Surprisingly, the performance of those with an MBA was significantly worse. 

The Journal of Business Ethics looked at more than 5,000 CEOs and came to a similar conclusion.

One CEO interviewed for the article was forced to face the fact that he was a much worse leader than he thought, with evidence to support that conclusion from comprehensive staff surveys over several years showing declining morale and a worsening staff perception of his leadership. "I was leading from my head and not from my heart" he explained. A major recalibration was needed.

Bill George, a professor of leadership at Harvard Business School, and former CEO of Medtronic, says that self-awareness is the starting point of leadership. Self-awareness is the skill of being aware of our thoughts, emotions, and values from moment to moment. Through self-awareness, we can lead ourselves with authenticity and integrity — and in turn better lead others and our organizations.

Self-awareness starts with an external, non-biased assessment of strengths and "wiring" such as the LIFE Languages™ profile. This then builds with self-disclosure, and a developing understanding of others, into Bill George's sweet spot of consistent self-awareness.

You could go for an MBA, or you could invest a great deal less in simple tools for self awareness. The choice is yours!

Keeping Going

Last week I wrote about Starting (whatever is in you to start). This week I have some thoughts on Keeping Going! Have you ever run a race? You'll recall that there are points along the way where you want to give up. The longer the race, the more drop-out points there are.

We need you to be you (that's last week's post) AND we need you to KEEP ON being you! Winston Churchill is quoted as saying "success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm"! This post has the goal of boosting your enthusiasm to keep you stumbling along!

The first encouragement that comes to mind is Keep your eye on the prize. Remember what prompted you to start what you started? Why you got in the race in the first place? Well, with your eye on that prize, organize & execute to reach it. Organize is planning to succeed, execute is acting on planning. Both combined will bring you success by the Churchill method of stumbling along enthusiastically!

While you keep your eye on the prize, the second secret to keeping going is to Take another step. That seems obvious, but it is not the way most of us operate. Let me explain: have you ever climbed a mountain? In my youth I was a Boy Scout, an avid mountain hiker, and I loved to scale the peaks in my native British Isles. I learned early on that the way you conquer peaks is to take another step. Don't only look ahead to the summit - seeing how far away it is can result in discouragement. But focus on the next step and you will discover that incremental rewards add up! And from time to time it helps to review: look back and see how far you've come, then refresh your focus on the summit ahead, and return, encouraged, to taking the next step.

Here's another lesson I learned in scouting: Fires burn longer, hotter, and brighter than firebrands. If you pull a burning stick from a fire, it burns for a while, but soon dies out. But if you gather a group of burning brands, they become a hot fire. In the same way, one of the keys to keeping going is to Gather a tribe. I'm deliberately using Seth Godin's word for a life-giving living group, because it expresses clearly the need for connectedness, with a leader and a uniting idea. Who is on the journey with you? Since you started, who has followed? Allow the gathering of a tribe to give you the safety, encouragement, and fuel for the journey. I never climbed a mountain alone, always with a group.

And finally, as you keep going, Fail forward. By this I mean (in the terms of John Maxwell's book of that name) - failing doesn't make you a failure. In fact, failure is your friend; giving you the ability to learn and then revise your plan. Thomas Edison is famous for inventing the electric lightbulb by way of repeated 'failures'. Edison is quoted as saying: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." When you fail (as you will), learn to slay discouragement with the sword of vision and the shield of community. Remember why you are in this race, look around at the tribe running with you, take another step, and KEEP GOING!



It is always a challenge to start something.

You have to battle the feeling that there is no room in the world for what you want to start, as well as the self-doubt or fear that you don't have what it takes to bring it about. Then you face the unconscious resistance of others who don't see what you see, or don't understand what you are creating. 

There are many other reasons why starting is challenging; what would you add?

Nevertheless, there is something built-in with every person that (at least infrequently) longs to start something: call it creativity, calling, purpose, or frustration with the status quo, every one of us longs to start because every one of us is unique and has something to offer.

Recently, my wife and I started a new church in our area. Around the same time I started this Leadership Coaching business. Both have brought us into a new place of fulfillment and challenge that we have found exciting (and scary). Through the process, we have learned more about ourselves, and how we are wired. We have found others who want what we have to offer, and who we can help to fulfill their unique destiny.

Along the way, we have seen how our LIFE Languages™ make our starting different from the ways others start. If we hadn't learned that, we would have been tempted to copy someone else's model or method. That would have been frustrating and hurtful to what we have started, because it would have deformed our unique offerings.

What are you waiting to start? How does your uniqueness shape your starting? How does what you are starting reflect who you are and what you bring to our world? 

By all means take time to reflect on those questions, ask for help if you need more clarity, but whatever you do...

... START!

Thanks from a world that needs you to be you.


One of the key foci I have identified as my coaching purpose is AUTHENTICITY. I have valued and sought to grow in authenticity throughout my working life, and now I hope to help others discover and develop this treasure.

But what is authenticity in leadership? I recently re-read an article I'd saved from Dan Rockwell's excellent blog Leadership Freak where Dan interviewed Karissa Thacker about her book "The Art of Authenticity". With credit to them for some of the wording, here's my take on Authenticity:

First: Know who you are. 
Self-awareness is the heart of authentic leadership. This is why I teach and recommend the LIFE Languages™ profile. Until I know how I am wired, I can't be true to who I am. Thacker says "Authentic leaders practice habitual reflection on personal strengths, passions, motivations, and values". The insights a LIFE Languages profile offers will show you that in some ways you are just like many other people, and in other ways you are completely unique! That's what I love about this tool: it doesn't box you in. Although self-awareness is the heart of authenticity, it is not the whole picture.

After discovering yourself, the second step of authenticity is to Let yourself be seen. 
Too often leaders resort to hidden agendas, or manipulation, or even backstabbing, to reach a goal. These tactics leave you guessing where the leader is coming from, or what is coming next. But these are not compatible with authenticity. Instead, an authentic leader will have the courage and confidence to let herself be seen; meaning that she is clear with others about her intentions, motivations, and beliefs (often the very things she has clarified in the self-awareness step). Holding back the truth is often excused as consideration for others, when it is really fear. You can be considerate in the way you communicate the truth of your position, but hiding it is not consideration.

A natural sequel to being seen is to Engage with others. every self-aware, self-disclosing leader will focus these strengths on engaging with others. This means actively seeking opposing views, considering a range of perspectives, and the options they offer, then acting consciously and purposefully on the outcomes this process delivers. Impulsivity is not an option for an authentic leader. As Thacker's book puts it: "You need to be on the lookout for a brilliant antagonist or three for every team".

And finally, authenticity is completed when you Follow Your Heart. This means you live out your values in your own actions, the directions in which you lead, and the ways you treat others.
As Dan Rockwell wrote to summarize the article: "Authentic leaders embody their values." 

I hope I'm more authentic today than I have been in the past. No more pretending or unpredictable leadership! How about you? Which of these four steps can you take today to increase your authenticity?

Work Week Leadership

What does leadership look like in the 'standard' work week? I know - there's no such thing as a 'standard' work week any more. The days of 9-5 are long gone, lost in a sea of side-jobs, flexible 'gigs' and an increasingly service-based economy. But my point is that you likely have a 'standard' week, even if that means different schedules on different days or different locations for different tasks. 

So pause your reading for a second and picture what your 'standard' week looks like, in all its complex glory!

Now, let's ask the question again: what does leadership look like in YOUR standard work week?

First, it needs Purpose. What is the reason you are leading? Where are you heading? What is your goal? If you described amazing success, what would it look like or sound like? Your purpose guides every aspect of your leadership. I know my purpose includes helping others find their purpose; that's why I write, coach, encourage, and meet.

Second, your 'standard' leadership week needs a component of Development. What are you learning? How are you investing in your own growth? Leaders are readers, because readers grow (and reading can be magnified by listening to podcasts, watching videos, and learning from others, but I question if it can be replaced by those other things).

Next, you need Replenishment: if you consistently give more than you receive, you will dry up or burn out. With the erosion of "the weekend" under the onslaught of 'flexible' scheduling, increased work expectations, and multiplying social media and activities, we are losing the art of replenishment. What refills your tank? Sleep? Quiet time? Relaxation with friends? Disengagement from electronics? Time outdoors? Whatever it is, why not schedule a couple of hours of replenishment and see how your leadership capacity grows?

Finally, there must be a Influence element in a leader's life. Today's complex world requires that we meet the challenge of empowering others in new ways; to learn to influence in new ways that counteract  the distractions around us. Influence is still powerful, provided we find new ways to influence. 

Here's to a work week full of great leadership!

Investing in leadership potential

A central priority for me is to invest in the leadership potential of those younger than myself. Finding younger leaders becomes easier with each passing year! 

Here are a few of the principles I hold as I seek to invest in those younger than me:

1) Don't tell them, ask them.

2) Help them see themselves as others see them.

3) Ask them to reflect on their strengths and challenges as mirrored in the perceptions of others.

4) Challenge them to maximize their strengths for the benefit of others. 

4) Encourage responsibility, not conformity, entitlement, or rebellion.

5) Affirm as much as possible, and encourage personal, honest clarity.

6) Believe in them;  make room for them to try, and to fail.


Leadership is...

“Leadership is not magnetic personality that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’–that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” – Peter F. Drucker

"Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right." – Professor Warren G. Bennis

In the transformational leadership model, leaders set direction and help themselves and others to do the right thing to move forward. To do this they create an inspiring vision, and then motivate and inspire others to reach that vision. They also manage delivery of the vision, either directly or indirectly, and build and coach their teams to make them ever stronger. - James MacGregor Burns and Bernard Bass.

"Leadership is influence. Increase influence, increase leadership. Leadership is a verb, not a noun." - John Maxwell.

"Leadership is servanthood." - Mark Miller.

“Leaders pull. Bosses push.” - Dave Ramsey.

"Leadership is moving people from here to there." - Bill Hybels.

"Leadership is hard. Leadership alone is impossible." Jim Mellado

Leadership is all these things! - Mark Burlinson.

Growing My EQ

In the last post we looked at discovering Emotional Intelligence (EQ). I recommend you go back and read that again! Today we are going to look at ways to grow our EQ.

The great leadership and management guru Peter Drucker is famous for saying "Culture eats strategy for breakfast" and we know that the cultures of great companies and organizations prove the maxim. Just think of Apple, or Southwest Airlines, or Zappos. Or, perhaps a little more niche, consider REI or Squarespace or Willow Creek. Culture is king in all these organizations. Even when a company makes a strategic mis-step, culture can help it recover: for example, most people would still prefer shopping at Target over Walmart, whatever their view on restroom policies. And culture is rooted in EQ. Having the interpersonal smarts to help ideas and people flourish will cause the culture to become more healthy, and that healthy culture will shine more brightly than any strategic plan! So to grow my EQ, I want to focus first on culture, and seek to improve it continually.

Second, I can grow my EQ through leading by example. Side thought: I understand that even bad leaders lead by example, so perhaps I should qualify that to say Leading by good example! You may have heard that the Golden Rule (treat others as you would wish to be treated) is being superseded in successful organizations by the Platinum Rule: treat others as they would wish to be treated. If I purpose to lead by example and exemplify the Platinum Rule in my organization, I will quickly fail unless I can learn to honestly seek input from those around me. Whether supervisors, peers, or subordinates, I can only treat them the way they wish to be treated if I invest time and energy finding out what that looks like for them! It is easier to do for others what I would like done, than it is to figure out what THEY want or need!

Let's get practical with the four aspects of EQ. Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves unpack each area in their book  Emotional Intelligence 2.0. They list strategies in each area and invite the reader to select two or three to work on.

For self-awareness there are suggestions like "observe the ripple effect of your emotions" or "stop and ask yourself WHY you do the things you do" and "seek feedback". Some of us would benefit from insights gained in this area because our self-awareness is the least developed area of our Emotional Intelligence.

In the area of self-management the authors have equally practical, yet challenging suggestions: "clean up your sleep hygiene" (that includes regular sleep times and no electronics or high-demand mental activities before sleeping). Other ideas include "take control of your self-talk" and "speak to someone who is NOT emotionally invested in your problem". You can see that each of the 15 -20 strategies in each category would require significant investment of effort for a person who is weak in that area. That's why Bradberry and Greaves recommend taking just two or three strategies to work on at a time, and then review in a month to see what progress you have made.

The third area is social awareness, and here the strategies are mostly focused on others: "step into their shoes", "catch the mood of the room" or "greet people by name". Thankfully each strategy in the book comes with practical guidance on how to apply each challenge to grow your EQ!

The final quadrant of emotional intelligence is relationship management. Here we apply the principles to the crucial area of making relationships work better. Some of the strategies recommended sound almost impossible: "explain your decisions, don't just make them" or "take feedback well" might be a harder challenge than some of us would wish to accept! How about "only get mad on purpose" or "tackle a tough conversation"?!

Each of these strategies (and there are many more in the book) will build EQ muscles. It may be just as painful and embarrassing as going to the gym for the first time, but the rewards in relational health and the ability to help others thrive and grow, are worth the effort.

I'm committed to growing my EQ, how about you?

Discovering Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, (from the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves) has a greater impact on teams than IQ. The authors describe four factors that determine EQ, and we can all learn from them (whether you are a boss or an employee, self-employed, or not currently employed).

Leaders often find a low EQ undermines their leadership, because this is stuff that is harder to control with systems or strategies, yet it affects everyone who follows us! 

The good news is that you can grow your EQ. But first you need to assess your current status.

Let's consider each area in turn: 

Firstly self-awareness (my ability to accurately perceive my emotions, and to be aware of them as they happen). This is an area I found I could build on when I took the EQ profile. There was room for improvement in my awareness of my emotions. No surprise when you consider I am English and we are not renowned for our emotional self-awareness! How about you? How would you rate your own self-awareness? Difficult isn't it? It may help to think about a time when you were upset with a customer or co-worker: how did you handle your emotions in that moment?

Secondly, comes self-management; which takes self-awareness and uses it to direct my behavior in positive directions (flexibility is a key part of this). Again, I found I scored "Room for improvement" on my profile, which is the result of my merely moderate self-awareness! Even if you rated yourself highly on self-awareness, try asking yourself about a time when you faced a new challenge that made you nervous. How did you channel your nerves into good performance or outcomes? That will give you a measure of your self-management.

The third area is social awareness. this is the skill of noticing emotions in others and understanding what is really going on. I was encouraged to find that I scored well on this: I'm better at noticing what is going on in others than I am at knowing my own internal status. How about you? When a coworker or client was upset with you but didn't let on, did you notice that, or sense it? And what did you do with that awareness? That will give you clues about whether this is an area that needs to be exercised in your leadership.

Finally, just as self-awareness leads to self-management, so social awareness leads to relationship management. This is the ability to use awareness of emotions to manage interactions successfully. And this is at the heart of leadership, because leadership is influence; the art and science of interacting with others for greater outcomes. To get a reading of this in your life, consider the last time you arrived at work upset about something (maybe the traffic, or an action of a family member) but you had to interact with a boss, customer, or colleague who was also upset. How did that go? Were you able to not allow what happened earlier to affect your attitude at work?

Your answers to these four areas of reflection will move you toward an understanding of your EQ. And if you can increase your EQ, your leadership will benefit, big time!

Next time we will look at ways I can grow my EQ.

Strengthening Nonprofit Boards

Nonprofit boards do vital work, and board members are united by their commitment to the mission and values of the organization. I have served on a number of nonprofit boards and see the value of these under-appreciated volunteers and their hours of valuable service to our community.

Anyone who has served on such a board can also confirm that nonprofit boards are usually comprised of people who do not know each other outside of their board involvement. A board is most valuable to the organization and cause it serves when board members have been drawn together from a wide spectrum of backgrounds: lawyers, educators, business leaders, public relations professionals, financial experts, community leaders, and faith leaders. 

I had the privilege, on several boards I served, to work actively for greater diversity on the board. Race, gender, faith, and other "divisions" need to be bridged for a board to be strong. But this also reinforces the challenge of bringing together people who have little in common beside their devotion to the cause. Board effectiveness can be hindered by the communication challenges this presents. I have seen circumstances where personality beat teamwork, to the detriment of the mission. I have also observed board members who endure meetings passively, feeling that their contribution is not needed or received. It is a tragedy when volunteered time from a skilled person is wasted in these ways, but without mutual understanding this is probably the best we can expect.

Now I am not one to highlight a problem without attempting to be part of the solution, so I have put together a package which will address this problem AND give board members a deeper self-awareness that will also benefit them in their other spheres of influence.

A one day LIFE Languages™ workshop will explain the profiles of all seven languages to give board members insight into why they think, feel, and act the way they do. The LIFE Languages™ profile provides an in-depth communication analysis and includes insightful tools that empower you to communicate most effectively from your personal profile and with the unique profiles of others. This equips your board to work effectively together, whatever challenges your nonprofit faces.

For a limited time I am offering this without a formal charge for the workshop. If you know a nonprofit that could benefit from this, please pass this along to them and invite them to contact me at mark burlinson.com





A recent blog post by Seth Godin set me thinking: Seth writes about empathy and cautions that empathy can be taken too far (essentially into false responsibility). He's right, and it is a danger in leadership; leaders have to know when to be true to their standards, and to the boundaries of personal responsibility when dealing with a team-member or a customer.

But that wasn't what piqued my interest. Seth's opening statement was: "It's essential to find empathy for the people you hope to serve, to teach, to work with. Without it, you can't find the place they're stuck, you can't help them move in the direction they seek to go."

So where do you begin? So many leaders are "Type A" personalities with clear vision, high motivation, ambitious plans, and drive to succeed. Empathy doesn't grow well in that garden. Or does it?

Understanding is crucial to the Type A leader: risk assessment, return on investment, opportunity cost, SWOT analysis, differentiation from the competition; all these leadership tools and strategies are forms of understanding.

What if the leader applied the same approach to their team? Understanding strengths and weaknesses by utilizing clear-eyed, objective measures that neither discriminate against nor flatter those who may have differing personalities? Applying that understanding to the challenges of team-building and organizational success?

It is a successful leader who either knows how to define and engage the team's strengths, or who empowers someone else to help them do so.

Empathy for those we serve (including those who work alongside us) is crucial.

Yes, there need to be limits on empathy, but woe betide the leader who fails to cultivate it, or neglects to leverage it for the good of the team.

Busy or Full of Purpose?

Most people have a standard reply when you ask them how they are doing: Busy!

But busy is not the same as fulfilled. If your life is filled with activity, but the activity has no purpose or direction, then you have a meaningless life!

Rather than thinking about what you do, focus on why you do it. Simon Sinek's book "Start With Why" is a great help in motivating the meaningless to focus on purpose, not activity.

A leader with purpose is always creating connections, inspiring creative thinking, encouraging those around, or communicating with passion. Even if the routine activities of this leader's day appear to be the same as those of others (meetings, emails, phone calls) the results are different because the leader has a sense of direction, a sense of purpose.

Even when there's a big challenge to face, purpose provides energy and draws others to share the load. Purpose pulls you, it doesn't push! Purpose is aligned with your internal wiring - your talents, your interests, your strengths, your calling. Purpose leaves you fulfilled at the end of the day or the end of the week. Exhausted, maybe, but fulfilled too.

How clear is your purpose? Purpose is always your property, but often you only find it with the help of others.

Live your purpose each day and you'll never work another day in your life!

Why We Do What We Do

An important question for every leader is "Why do I do what I do?"

Every one of us has a location, and a role, which may be highly visible or virtually invisible; prominent and authoritative, or seemingly insignificant. Wherever you place yourself on that spectrum I want to suggest that it matters what you do, and it matters more WHY you do what you do.

You may have been in your location and/or position for a very long time; you may be a more recent addition to your ecosystem. You may have a role that is well known in your city, or you may feel like an outsider. You may be a business owner who employs local residents, or a leader or manager in a local organization. Or you may be a little guy - someone few people know or see. Maybe you feel like you are just working in the shadows, struggling to make ends meet. 

Whoever you are, someone is following you, and so you are a leader. And so the crucial question is your question: why do I do what I do? I have three words beginning with M to help us focus on that crucial question.

First consider your MOTIVATION. Something made you do what you do. You started out for a reason. What was it? Your motivation matters because it sets your direction. Something drives you from within.

It may be that I’m not addressing your employment with that thought. Maybe it’s some other way you make a difference in your community: a community group that you serve with, or the ways you volunteer in the evenings or on the weekends, maybe your role in your church or other community of faith. 

We all have a motivation hidden in there somewhere. What gives you a sense of direction? What purpose propels you? You invest your time, energy or resources for a reason, and at least to start with that reason is your motivation. 
So what motivates you? Tell yourself that motivation once more. 

That is the reason you are a valuable member of your community. We need your motivation. For me, I coach leaders because I know every person has a unique purpose, and I know my purpose is to help release others into their destiny, and teach teams to be life-giving and fruitful.

And let me throw in a related thought: some of you had a motivation but you’ve misplaced it, left it behind, lost sight of it, buried it with busyness. Maybe you found yourself looking back just now when I asked everyone to name it to themselves. You can recover that - I’ll tell you how in a moment.

I believe there are as many different motivations as there are people reading this, indeed as many as there are members of each community. Each of us is unique, and our towns and cities only thrives when we value and make room for each gift. Those of you who have a faith foundation - it is your calling from God. 

Whether you have a faith or not, we need you to be YOU. Identify and express your motivation. Discover what makes you unique and offer your motivation to the common good.

The second word to help us figure out "why I do what I do" shows us something about our motivation: motivation feeds MOMENTUM. 
Too many of us struggle to maintain a healthy outlook in life, especially in our divided, troubled world. Addiction to the news cycle will steal your momentum with discouragement and despair. But your city and your region need those who will overcome obstacles for the common good. We need those with the will to win. We need those who can inspire others with their healthy outlook. And that momentum only comes with motivation. 

Remembering what fuels you will propel you forward. Those of you who had to look back to remember that you once had motivation, I guarantee you that your momentum is not as healthy as it once was. Maybe obstacles have diverted you, and your outlook has been soured?

Don’t give up. The passion that once inspired you is still in you - that’s why you can still name it. To recover your momentum, you need to refocus your motivation. I’m a fan of refocusing. It is a great way to acknowledge that none of us has it all together. I recently had my eyes checked and started wearing glasses. Now I can see much more clearly. In the same season, my wife and I have started a new church and begun coaching leaders. I’m thankful for friends who have helped me through this process. Now I have refocused my motivation and recovered my momentum. If you identify with a loss of momentum I encourage you to get with someone you can trust and revisit your motivation, refocusing it for today’s realities.

And there’s one more word to add to the equation of "why I do what I do": MULTIPLY
None of this is just about you. It begins with you recognizing you have something to offer (your motivation). Then your motivation generates your momentum, but you will only maintain that if you figure out how to connect with others. 
We come together to multiply our impact in the community. Multiplication makes more for everyone. We are not just dividing up what there is among a growing population. Together we can increase the benefits for everyone. Each unique person in your community has a role in the fabric of the area. 

My guess is that you already understand this, because you are reading this. My hunch is that you live, not for what you can get, but for what you can give to your city and your region. 

Thank you, and may God bless your unique motivation, increase your momentum, and multiply your impact as you combine your life with others for the greater good.

Isolation Leads To Mediocrity

“I don’t believe you are committed to us.” I heard those words again and again in the late 1990s. Every time I met with my boss at the conference center where I worked, he would express his growing unease with my attitude. I had worked there for almost six years, felt called there for life, and had led the staff team while he took a three-month sabbatical, yet my conflict with him continued to increase. Nothing I did in terms of increased workload would satisfy his distrust toward me. The funny thing is: he was right and I was wrong! What my boss was sensing was an independence in me that was hidden by commitment to the mission of the center, but could be seen in my attitude toward him.

The price we pay for independence is separation from those around us, and isolation leads to mediocrity.

Those of us who are leaders can easily struggle with this temptation – to ‘be in charge’ rather than to invite others to follow us as we seek to lead authentically. We also fall into the trap of failing to value the strengths of those around us. That was the error I had embraced in my “lack of commitment” at the conference center.

See how many of these characteristics of independence you can identify in your life:

1. Following my own agenda

Independence creeps in when we follow our own agenda, rather than willingly committing to the success and growth of those around us. This applies as much to those "over" me in the structure as to those around me or "below" me.

2. Presumption

Presumption is closely related to following my own agenda.  If I am following my own agenda then I make choices and decisions, or take actions, based on assumptions and without consulting others. I may start with a vision or goal for the good of the team, but I easily drift into self-directed activity toward my vision. This was the cause of the conflict with my boss at the start of this article. I was focused on what the job could do for me, rather than on what we could achieve together, and the result was that my independence caused conflict and cost me my job.

3. Self-focus

Self-directed activity is only one area of self-focus, but it is a common snare for leaders. Other times self-focus is not activity based, but a preoccupation with myself – my progress, my faults and weaknesses, my reputation, my authority, my worth (or lack of it), and my needs and desires. Each one of these things will cause me to be preoccupied with ME, a shortcut to isolation and mediocrity.

4. Worry, anxiety and fear

Self-focus is a fruitful breeding ground for worry, anxiety and fear, yet these emotions are often overlooked as indicators of independence. I have experienced anxiety and fear often enough to recognize that these can easily be early symptoms of independence creeping back into my life.  (Note: there are other causes of fear and anxiety, including physiological or psychological issues, so I am not saying fear always indicates independence, just that these emotions can indicate self-focus leading to independence).

5. Not listening

A person who is self-focused, or someone battling fear and anxiety, can be preoccupied and hampered in their ability to relate to others. A leader who is following his own agenda, or operating in presumption, is often too focused on the goal ahead to listen to those around him. Thus, not listening is another early indicator of independence returning. I am deeply aware of episodes in my past when listening to someone else (especially to my wife) would have saved me from some pain, error, or diversion. At the end of the 18 months of conflict at the conference center, we were able to seek wisdom from leaders who knew the situation; their input resulted in major positive changes for us, and opened the door to teamwork in a new and dramatically different setting where we learned much and grew in leadership.

6. Striving

A clear indicator of the infiltration of independence in my life is striving (or self-effort). Leaders who rely solely on self-effort for achievement not only isolate themselves from others, but also cause physical, emotional, and relational damage to themselves and those around them.

7. Desire for promotion

Although every human being has an innate need for affirmation and praise, it is common to seek the counterfeit of this need – a desire for promotion, title, or recognition. This desire can be cloaked in humility  but if there is pride at the root of promotion, then the desire for promotion is another dangerous facet of independence.

In my conflict with the boss, I was really saying "I want to be recognized for my achievements or skills above others so I will have increased affirmation by virtue of my position." That was acceptable in previous leadership models, but it doesn't fly in today's connected world.

8. Negativity

Studies have shown that 80% of our thinking can be negative, which aligns us with failure rather than success. If you are a person of faith, it is also a contradiction with your beliefs. Negativity is a symptom of independence, increases isolation,  and leads to mediocrity. There is power in positivity because it is attractive and draws us into connectedness, which gives us influence.

9. Pride

Pride divides. It does not promote connectedness, nor does it help others. Pride feeds independence because it cherishes my success at others' expense. Pride is perhaps the clearest, most worrying sign of independence isolating me!

Reducing independence

We will always have traces of independence in our lives, especially in light of the American culture of rugged individualism. Other cultures have much to teach us, if we are willing to learn. In some cultures honor is valued above individual pride. In other heritages there is a strong sense of community that is prioritized above self.

Here are a few pointers to help you reduce independence and isolation:

Admit that I need others in my life. They will reveal my independent pride and affirm my commitment to live by influence rather than position.

Invite input – build relationships and grow humility by actively seeking input to my life. Ask others to help me see my blind spots. When I accept I have faults I can be thankful when others point them out! 

Choose positive – not a self-centered approach of pride in myself, but a choice to always look for the best in every person and circumstance.

Discover my uniqueness, and learn to value the different strengths that others have.

Here's to the death of mediocrity in an age where influence is the only qualification for leadership!