Saturday, November 17, 2012

Why Giving Thanks Matters

Thanksgiving is when one species ceases to gobble and another begins.
-          R.E. Marion

A story is told of two men who were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly they darted toward the nearest fence. The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent that they would not make it.

Terrified, the one shouted to the other, “Put up a prayer, John. We are in for it!” John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never made a public prayer in my life.” “But you must,” implored his companion. “The bull is catching up to us.” “All right,” panted John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.”

Thanksgiving, to borrow a football analogy, is like the two-minute warning at the end of an NFL game. At the two-minute warning comes a chance to catch your breath and finish strong. Thanksgiving is the two-minute warning signaling the close of a long year whereby you can rest, be with family and friends, and reflect on all your blessings.

What kind of a year has it been for you? What does the scoreboard say? Are you thankful for your blessings as well as the challenges you have faced this year? Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life.”

The two men walking through the field met an unwelcomed challenge that quickly changed the course of their personal well-being. That’s how life unfolds—fast, unexpected at times, but never boring. For those in leadership, possessing a thankful heart is how you finish strong. But why does being thankful matter? Here are three reasons why.

Giving thanks connects you to the source of your blessing. The further removed you are from the source of your blessings the easier it is to take your blessings for granted. In a recent blog post, Michael Hyatt shared how at the encouragement of a friend, he started carrying a gratitude rock in his pocket. Hyatt writes, “The idea is simple. Whenever my hand contacts the stone–usually several times a day–I give thanks for whatever is happening at that moment, whether good or bad.”

Giving thanks connects you and reminds you that regardless of what you are going through, there is always something for which to be thankful. What is the source of your blessings? Be it your faith, family, or other significant person, show your appreciation.

Giving thanks empowers you to serve. What is the greater purpose of your leadership? When you understand that it is not about you then you are prepared to serve causes greater than yourself. Likewise, you will be hard pressed to find a whiner or complainer who puts the cares and concerns of others above his own.

The late Fred Rogers said, “The real issue is not how many blessings we have, but what we do with our blessings. Some people have many blessings and hoard them. Some have few and give everything away.” I am convinced that the more you have to be thankful for the more generous you will be. Servant leadership begins with a thankful heart.

Giving thanks completes you as a leader. Many terms are used to identify a leader: visionary, passionate, honest, trustworthy, delegator, and decision maker, to name a few. As noble and necessary as those qualities are it is thankfulness that completes and compliments your leadership.

How do you express gratitude to those around you? John Maxwell said, “The people who follow you also desire a personal touch. They want to know that others care about them.” The circle of caring is completed as you nurture a thankful attitude and demonstrate it to others.

Giving thanks matters and is a key ingredient in your growth as a leader. A thankful heart will connect you with the source of your blessings, empower you to serve others, and will complete you as a leader. Don’t allow the negatives you are faced with to drain you of your of your energy or cause you to take your eye off the ball. Give thanks, give it often, and finish strong.

© 2012 Doug Dickerson

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Friday, November 9, 2012

6 Leadership Lessons from the West Point Cadet Prayer

Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays – SΓΈren Kierkegaard

The stated mission of the United States Military Academy is to “educate, train and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army.” I like it. It’s clear, concise, and straight to the point.

I recently read the West Point Cadet Prayer for the first time. It contains plenty of leadership nuggets worth remembering and applying. Let’s face it; leadership is hard. It’s demanding. It can be lonely.

Contained within the prayer are leadership markers that if taken to heart and embraced can be a difference maker in formulating your leadership style and disposition. Here are six leadership takeaways for your consideration with the corresponding words from the prayer (italics mine).

Lead with integrity. Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretense to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life.

Integrity is the foundation from which leadership flows. When leaders commit to living by example rather than by decree it raises the bar for others to follow. When you commit to live above the common level of life as a leader you will be an uncommon leader worth following.

Aim for excellence. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won.

This portion of the prayer is poignant. Leaders make the hard choices. Leading with excellence is about choosing the harder right instead of the easier wrong. It is the high calling and price of excellent leadership. There are no shortcuts.

Don’t be afraid. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.

If integrity is the foundation of leadership then courage is the fuel that drives it.  Anais Nin said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” So does your leadership. Pray for courage.
Pray for wisdom. Guard us against flippancy and irreverence in the sacred things of life. Never take lightly the responsibility of leadership. Surround yourself with trusted advisors and never be too proud to seek advice.

Be compassionate. Grant us newties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer.

Charles Dickens said, “Have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts,” That’s great advice for leaders. The spirit of a leader is just as important as the vision of the leader. No one wants to follow a jerk.

Serve with honor. Help us to maintain the honor of the Corps untarnished and unsullied and to show forth in our lives the ideals of West Point in doing our duty to Thee and to our Country.

Leaders serve with honor and are devoted to causes greater than self. Henry Ward Beecher said, “There never was a person who did anything worth doing who did not receive more than he gave,” And that is the secret of great leadership. Leaders who get ahead do so out of generosity. Lead with honor and you will be rewarded.

Leaders – it’s time to say your prayers.

© 2012 Doug Dickerson

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Most of Your Office is Stressed - Are You?

Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith – Henry Ward Beecher

I read a story about a man back in 1835 who visited a doctor in Florence, Italy. He was filled with anxiety and exhausted from a lack of sleep. He couldn’t eat and he avoided his friends. The doctor examined him and found that he was in prime physical condition. There was no apparent physical ailment that the doctor could detect.

The doctor concluded that his patient needed to have a good time and told him about a circus in town and its star performer, a clown named Grimaldi. Night after night he had the people rolling in the aisles. “You must go see him,” the doctor advised. “Grimaldi is the world’s funniest clown. He’ll make you laugh and cure your sadness.” “No,” replied the despairing man, “he can’t help me. You see, I am Grimaldi.”

A recent Inc. magazine story related that 77% of American workers are stressed about something at work. Share of employees who cite the following as significant sources of stress:
·         Low salary 49%
·         Lack of opportunities for advancement 43%
·         Heavy workload 43%
·         Unrealistic expectations from managers 40%
·         Long hours 39%

Anxiety is a part of our workplace culture. If you are not stressed by something at work chances are you know someone who is. The mark of your leadership is not that you manage your own stress well but that you are creating a stress-less culture in your office. How is this done? Here are four simple reminders about how to deal with your anxiety.

Straighten up. A lot of stress in the office is created by clutter. The big picture will never be clear if your point of view is a mess. An orderly system to navigate your day goes a long way in causing it to run smooth. If your work area is cluttered then chances are your associated thought processes are a source of stress. Clean it up.

Speak up. One of the worse things a person can do is to keep things bottled up on the inside. Eventually what happens? All those emotions that have been building up boil over and it does not have a happy ending. Open and honest communication goes a long way in defusing a situation before it reaches an unhealthy conclusion. Let it out.

Step up. It’s when you learn to serve others and consequently serve causes greater than self that you learn the leadership law of reciprocity – the good that you do for others will come back on you. When was the last time you stepped up your game for the sake of a colleague? Never be so consumed with your own interests that you have no time to serve others. Step up and lead by example. One day you will be glad that you did. Serve it up.

Stay up. The attitude you choose will make all the difference when it comes to the stress and anxiety that you bear. No one is immune from stress, but neither are you restricted by the attitude you embrace.

John Maxwell writes, “Our destinies in life will never be determined by our complaining or high expectations. Life is full of surprises and the adjustment of our attitudes is a lifelong project. The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”

Stress can either be the head wind that wears you down or the wind in your sails that takes you to new destinations. Choose to be up!

© 2012 Doug Dickerson

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