Thrive vs. survive…

“You have power over your mind not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” 

Marcus Aurelius

Where does your mind go when something happens that is outside of your control? Do you feel attacked? Are you likely to frame your response in a negative or positive manner? All of this is within your control.

It brings to mind Viktor Frankl’s quote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”I wrote about this one last July here.

Recognizing that you have the power to control your mind, and how your mind then directs your response to any situation is incredibly powerful. It is, I believe, what separates and distinguishes those who thrive and those who simply survive in this world. What habits of your mind do you know that you need to take control of?

Circle of Concern vs. Circle of Control…

“I have seen many storms in my life. Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature.” 

Paulo Coelho

Forgive the long post but this topic is something that I am really passionate about… I am a huge fan of Dr. Stephen Covey’s classic “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” It has been one of the most impactful books that I have read and studied in my life and each of the Habits are incredibly powerful. It is certainly a must read ((In fact, thinking about it now I am due to reread it again soon…) and one that I highly recommend.

One of the things that resonated so much with me the first time I read the book was the concept of the “circle of concern” vs. “circle of control.” Proactive people tend to live a life focused on their “circle of control” while reactive people tend to live a life that is reacting to things outside of their control.

I bring this up in context with this quote because the weather is a great example of “circle of concern.” We can’t control the storms, the sunshine or how the weather changes our plans. But we can control how we react to the weather. We can make decisions to wear different clothes, make different plans, put an umbrella in our car.

This is such a great metaphor for life. If we choose spend our energy focused on reacting to things that are in our “circle of concern” instead of being focused on the things with in our “circle of control” we will always be reacting, always be unhappy, always be unsettled.

It is hard to do at times but I try to run everything impacting my life, and those around me, through this filter and ask myself the following questions.

  • Is this thing/event/circumstance within my circle of concern or circle of control?
  • Circle of Concern:
    • What decisions do I need to make regarding how I will act/react to it?
    • What is within my control that will influence how this impacts me/others?
    • Where can/should I have made different decisions that will/would have impacted the impact on my world/environment?
  • Circle of Control:
    • What can I do to impact this?
    • Where should I invest my effort and energy to make a proactive change?
    • What can I do differently?

Take a look at this picture below. I think it does a tremendous job outlining the difference in how people react to the Circle of Concern vs. the Circle of Control.

I trust you…

“Trust, but verify.”

Ronald Reagan

I absolutely love this quote. It has long been one of my favorite sayings and principles. If you were to boil effective leadership down to a few key tenants this one would have to be on that list.

Trust is a funny thing. It has to be earned and can so easily be destroyed if one isn’t careful to be honor it and to verify it in the right way. Sometimes how you go about verifying can instead send the message that you don’t trust someone. Are you verifying that something was done, or are you trying to make sure it was done your way? Are you micromanaging or simply validating? Do you trust someone or are you seeking to control them?

The key is how you ask the questions…

Failure preventative…

“Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don’t fail overnight. Instead, failure is a few errors in judgement, repeated every day.”

Jim Rohn

I really like how Jim frames failure as a “error in judgement, repeated every day.” When you think of failure through that filter what does it look like for you? What are the daily “errors in judgement” that are repeated? Is it not tackling the tough conversation and letting something fester? Does it revolve around allowing negative conversations to persist even when you know that you should address them? Is it a case of doing the urgent but not important things that need to be done? There are so many possible ways this can manifest.

Think about failure through the lens of the daily opportunities you have to perform at a higher level. Does settling for “good enough” today become an “error in judgement” in hindsight when something critical fails?

Individuals aligned & focused = necessary ingredient for success

“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

Vince Lombardi

Working together with a team towards a common and shared purpose is so powerful. When there is a common purpose, a shared goal that has 100% commitment, then there is no room for hidden agendas, no place for politics, no backstabbing or power struggles.

When the goals of the individual are more important than those of the group that is when the bad stuff happens and dissension builds in the team. How do you ensure this doesn’t happen?

First, make sure you aren’t part of the problem. Are you spending any effort that detracts from the common mission and purpose? Are you more interested in being right, than in doing what is right?

Second, is there a common purpose? A clearly defined objective that everyone understands and believes in?

Third, Does everyone know what is expected of them? Are roles clearly defined with the key success metrics and targets aligned to the achievement of the goal?

Fourth, Is the team reviewing successes and CANDIDLY talking about failures or setbacks in a non-personal and non-threatening manner with the focus on the mission, not the person.

As Vince said, “Individual commitment to a group effort – That is what makes a team work…”

Do you seek to help or hurt?

“We must desire to see people rising in life, rather than looking for ways to contribute to their fall.”

Bamigboye Olurotimi

When you are talking about another person, how many of your words are spent talking about ways that you can help them grow or how they rise up even farher? How many of your words are about what they did wrong and how you want to see them fail? The first question is leadership. The second is most definitely not. Make sure you are focused on the first question…

Clear expectations first…

“What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.”

Chip Heath


If you don’t understand the reason for a change can you really be committed to the hard work it takes to make it happen? As a leader if people are resisting change have you done all the work necessary to communicate clearly why the change is needed?

It is our responsibility as leaders to own the creation of clarity with our teams. No on else is responsible or accountable for this critical step. If you haven’t set clear expectations change won’t stick…

Who really counts?

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt 

This has long been one of my favorite quotes. I have it inscribed on a plaque in my office to serve as a constant reminder of the power of doing things, of being in the fray instead of timidly sitting on the sidelines. Often it seems that there is so much time and energy spent armchair quarterbacking every action and decision made by others. Those who can do or they just figure out how. Those who can’t are simply bureaucrats who talk about what others could have done better…

How do you want to live your life? Do you want to be in the arena desperately striving to win knowing full well that you will suffer defeats at times and you will have to pick yourself up to fight again? Or are you content being a passive observer of your life with your greatest accomplishment becoming your ability to point fingers and make excuses?

I could kick myself…

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Are you honest enough with yourself to be able to deliver that kick? Can you take 100% ownership and accountability and then do something with it?

Change begins by taking responsibility. Period. If you don’t like something, change it. Don’t bitch, complain, or moan. No one, and I mean no one, wants to hear that crap. It isn’t anyone else’s fault. It’s not the fault of the cosmos or the situation. Dig deep, understand where you contributed, deal with it. If you don’t, then you are going to owe yourself yet another kick…

Embrace criticism…

“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

Norman Vincent Peale

I don’t often repeat quotes within a relatively recent time period (after sending a quote for over 20 years there is bound to be some repetition…) but I was reminded of this quote after a conversation with a colleague yesterday.

“Criticism” carries with it a negative connotation in our language. The dictionary defines it as “the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.”  But I prefer to think of it differently, as positive and enhancing, not negative. If you don’t get real feedback how can you ever improve and grow?

If you play baseball and all you hear is praise you are never going to reach your full potential. If you hit a home run everyone will clap and cheer and that is great. But if you start dropping your back shoulder, and no one tells you, you won’t be hitting home runs for long.

Embrace the feedback, any feedback, regardless of the intent of the person providing it. The key for the receiver is to ensure that we have the intent to use it to grow and get better.

If you are interested here is the blog post from the last time I used this quote.

Do something!

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Dale Carnegie

Sitting around waiting for things to happen just sucks. I am the world’s worst at being patient because sometimes patience just feels too much like inaction. I’ve long lived by the tule that it is better to do something, even if it is wrong, than to do nothing at all.

When you are doing something, anything, then you don’t have time to be afraid and worry about all the “what ifs.” Sometimes the action can be physical, sometimes it can be sitting down to reflect and plan the work. Doing something is the key. There is no time or space for sitting idly by in life. If you do, then you will reap what you sow which is nothing…

No regrets…

“I have no regrets, because I’ve done everything I could to the best of my ability.”

Robert Redford

How many of us can truly say this? That we have done EVERYTHING to the best of our ability? I know that I certainly can’t say this about everything in life. I can say that for those times when I fell short of my goals, yet did everything to the very best of my abilities at the time, I have no regrets about the outcomes.

I say “abilities at the time” because for several examples that come immediately to mind I took the opportunity to step back and review the shortcomings and tried to figure out how to enhance my skills and abilities for the next time I would be faced with a similar challenge. It is not always successful but it has helped me to grow and improve and not be willing to settle for the status quo.

Do you have regrets? Do those regrets anchor you to the past or serve as a launching pad for the future? Have you expanded your abilities because of active reflection and review or just accepted them as they are?

Losing stokes the fire of winners…

“Success is a lousy teacher.  It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

Bill Gates

I don’t like to lose. Heck, no one likes to lose. Losing isn’t fun, pretty or enjoyable. Losing sucks. Period. However, nothing stokes the fire of determination and focus like a loss. Nothing teaches a more powerful lesson than losing, if you choose to learn. That’s the key right, you have to choose to learn. You have to accept the loss, and your part in it, so that you can you learn and build on it so you can win the next time.

I would strongly argue that losing is more important to growth and development than winning. Losing is the platform that wins are built from. If you don’t know how to lose, how can you learn to win?

We must work as hard as we can to win and build success. When the losses come, and they will, then we have to embrace the suck, figure out why, and get up and try again.

Will I ever enjoy losing? Absolutely not. I hate losing with a passion. But do I appreciate every loss I have ever had? Damn right. Those losses, and the scars that they created, are the burning fire that powers all future successes. Losing is going to happen to all of us. Being a loser is a choice that we individually make….

Wisdom is applied knowledge…

“It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.” 

Oliver Wendall Holmes

The older and more experienced I have become in life the more I have learned to value great questions. Great statements can be profound but they don’t create the opportunity for change and growth the same way a great question does.

What I love about a really great question is that it gives one the opportunity to listen and gain both knowledge and perspective. If you think about it, if you focus on gaining knowledge you can just have more information. If you listen and ask questions you can gain both knowledge and wisdom. With wisdom being the distinct ability to apply the knowledge you have learned.

What are the right questions to ask that focus not just on gaining knowledge but on gaining wisdom?

Embrace discomfort…

“If a change doesn’t feel uncomfortable it’s probably not really a change.”

John Maxwell

I love the way this quote challenges how I think about change. How often do we truly seek to be uncomfortable? It is easy to talk about change and the need for change but are we truly embracing the the opportunity to be uncomfortable? Changing ourselves and our behaviors can be hard and I have found that often people change just enough to check the box saying that they did it. When this happens it doesn’t take much to slip back into old habits. It doesn’t take much for the change that was being made to just slip away.

How uncomfortable do you have to be with a current situation or circumstance to make the challenge and discomfort of change a better alternative? How can you lower this hurdle rate to smash through barriers and implement true change faster and with more vigor and therefore prevent yourself from slipping back into old habits or behaviors?

In a world of constant change and disruption then a feeling of discomfort is the new normal. We must be continually challenging ourselves to grow and evolve and pushing through the natural tendencies we have to maintain the status quo. We must be comfortable being continually uncomfortable if we truly want to grow.

Dream or a nightmare?

“Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.”

Jerry Rice

What is it that you know you should do, but haven’t yet had the discipline to accomplish? Is it being healthier? Learning a new skill? Reading a certain book? Building a stronger relationship with God? Setting aside time to focus on giving to others? The list can go on and on for each of us.

So many people have dreams but don’t have the self-discipline and determination to make those dreams come true. Actually I think living this way might be more aptly labeled as a nightmare… If you want something, do the work today. That is what will make the dreams come true. You can either capture your dreams or be held captive by the nightmare of regret.

We can all choose if we want to be a victim or a victor in life…

Encourage change…

“A word of encouragement from a teacher to a child can change a life. A word of encouragement from a spouse can save a marriage. A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach her potential.”

John C. Maxwell

Sometimes it is the simplest things at just the right moments that make all the difference in the world. I still have a handwritten note that I received over 20 years ago from the SVP who was responsible for the division I worked in. The fact that he took the time to notice and acknowledge me made all the difference in the world to a very green and naive leader who was learning what real leadership was all about. That note has stayed with me for many moves and transitions and is one that I treasure not for what it says but for what it represents. True appreciation and encouragement from one human being to another expressed in a manner that was genuine and humble. That one simple thing has had a profound impact on me and my life.

I am sure that all of us have those great “encouragement moments” that created a marked impact on our lives. But what if they weren’t there? What if instead of encouragement we had received negative reinforcement or worst yet, nothing at all? The world would be a very different place.

We are all going to fail multiple times in our lives. Heck, we are going to fail daily if we are truly trying hard enough. Sometimes all we need is one person who recognizes not who we are today, but who we have to potential to become and helps us to see that potential. That is what I received 20+ years ago via a simple handwritten note.

Invest daily…

“Doing the right thing daily, compounds over time.”

John Maxwell

The impact and importance of this goes far beyond what you can see right in front of you today.

It shows up in the example you set for others, the things they then say or do, the decisions they make. The example you set for your children and the men and women they grow up to become. Doing the right thing daily has the opportunity to be a catalyst well beyond your time here on this earth. You might never recognize the return on the investment yourself, but the legacy you leave might be recognized for generations.

Choosing not to do the right thing also compounds daily… But it is a negative value proposition…

Do you choose to impact or be impacted?

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

Charles Swindoll

There really isn’t much to add to this quote. It says a lot and truly it says it all when it comes to the power of attitude.

I will say that I am always amazed at how much impact another persons attitude can have on our own, if we choose to let it. That can be both positive and negative. A positive attitude is contagious and a negative attitude is cancerous. However allowing another person to impact us is a choice. Both for good and for bad.

When you woke up this morning what was your attitude choice for the day? Is it intentional or accidental? Does someone else’s choices frame your day or do you make the choice? Do you choose to impact others or be impacted by others?

Patience to grow…

“I worry that business leaders are more interested in material gain than they are in having the patience to build up a strong organization, and a strong organization starts with caring for their people.”

John Wooden

It is cliche but there is so much truth to the old saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” 

Putting another person’s life and interests ahead of your own selfish pursuits is the mark of great leadership to me. Now, please don’t misunderstand, this doesn’t mean that you are putting another persons needs ahead of the organization. You are putting them ahead of YOU. The greatest leaders I have ever had the honor of serving under never compromised the needs of the organization or it’s shareholders for their personal gains or needs.

When I think of the patience part of this quote I am reminded of the story of the old farmer planting acorns. His grandson was with him and asked, “Grandfather, how long will it take these acorns to grow into trees like those around your house?” Grandfather thought for moment and then said, “son these acorns will grow to be trees like those in sixty to seventy years if they are cared for and protected while they are growing.” The grandson reflected quietly and then asked, “but that means you will never seen them becpme trees, so why are you planting them?” The Grandfather smiled and said, “Son, I asked my grandfather the exact same question when I helped him to plant the acorns around his house…”

Sometimes what we build isn’t for our enjoyment, but is for the betterment of the world around us and for the people coming after us. A legacy of a strong organization that cares for its people is one that will carry through multiple generations.

Interested vs. Interesting…

“A major stimulant to creative thinking is focused questions. There is something about a well-worded question that often penetrates to the heart of the matter and triggers new ideas and insights.”

Brian Tracy

I once hear Jim Collins speak and he was relaying a lesson taught to him by Peter Drucker. The essence of the lesson was that if one wanted to become truly impactful as a leader they must change their focus and truly be more “interested than interesting.” The key here was that when one is focused on being interesting they are about themselves and what they want to say and do. When they are interested they are focused on the other person and how they can help them.

The next part of the lesson was on how to accomplish being “interested vs. interesting.”  If one wants to convey interest, then one must change the questions to statements ratio. Ask three, four, five times or more questions for every statement one makes. That conveys focus on the situation and the other person, not that you are only interested in being heard…

It has been at least 10 years since I first heard this and it has really stuck with me over the years. It is an area that I continually have to remind myself to work on and really focus on enhancing my questions to statements ratio. (I wrote a little bit about this (at least tangentially) back in August in this post.)

Take stock of your leadership words today. Are you asking more questions or making more statements? Are you focused on being interested or on being interesting? One side is about others, the other side is all about you…

Time to set sail…

“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”

John A. Shedd

What does it take to get you to break free from the harbor? We humans aren’t built to simply be comfortable and exist. We are all high performance machines that are meant to explore, contribute and serve. Yet, we all get comfortable with being safe, with staying close to home, not venturing out onto the blue water. What causes this? Is it fear of the unknown? Fear of change?

We aren’t built to be safely tucked into the harbor never seeking to explore or grow. If you feel stuck in a rut of safety ask yourself what small thing you can do to break free and create a moment of lasting change. Go, or you will look back later in life and wish that you had…

Extraordinary perseverance…

“With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.”

Thomas Fowell Buxton

I love the “ordinary talent” part of this quote. Ordinary talent combined with extreme drive, grit and determination; that is what gets it done. I have known people with extraordinary talent that didn’t have the drive and the perseverance and it is heartbreaking to see that kind of talent go to waste.

You can’t teach perseverance. It comes through struggles, failures, getting the crap knocked out of you, and getting back up again. It is an attitude by which you live your life, not content with simply sitting back and being content with what you have.

I’ll take ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance every day of the week…

Listen to learn…

“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”

Margaret J. Wheatley

Why is such a simple act so hard to do? Heck, simply being present is hard to do sometimes. I find it so fascinating to observe the difference in my mindset when I am listening to learn versus listening to respond. Listening to learn has me leaning forward and seeking information as though I was in the desert desperate for water. Listening to respond has me leaning back just waiting for the opportunity to jump in with what I want to say.

I much prefer the attitude of listening to learn. It is a key area of focus for me and I have found that when one shuts down their “auto response” mechanism the things you can pick up are truly remarkable…

What else needs to be said?

“When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.”

Henry J. Kaiser

Hard work speaks for itself through the results that are generated. It is amazing how many folks want to talk about the activities they are engaged in versus the results they are seeking to achieve. All the activities and actions don’t matter if they results aren’t there.

If you are focused on the right things and then just let the results speak for themselves what else really needs to be said?

Pursue excellence today…

“Excellence must be pursued, it must be wooed with all of one’s might and every bit of effort that we have each day there’s a new encounter, each week is a new challenge.”

Vince Lombardi

Every morning is a new opportunity to get back up, to attack the world, to strive for excellence with all one’s might and effort. That’s what it takes to win. That’s what it takes to go beyond where we are today and get to where we want to be.

Approaching each day as a new challenge, a new opportunity to strive for excellence allows one to leave whatever happened yesterday, whether it was a success or not, in the past. Excellence is ahead of us and achieving it depends on what we do right now.

What are you going to do today to advance towards excellence? This is not a list of ALL the things you feel you need to do. What is the one thing that you can do differently and WILL DO today?

Surrender in order to learn…

“Earn the right to be heard by listening to others. Seek to understand a situation before making judgments about it.”

John Maxwell

When I read this quote I immediately thought of the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” I haven’t read this book in a number of years but it has long been one of my favorites. Habit #5 from the book is “Seek first to understand, then be understood” and it is probably one of my absolute favorites. I know that I use this phrase all the time when communicating with others about the importance of digging deep and trying to understand any situation.

I think the same principle either from that habit or from this quote applies when trying to understand oneself and our behavior. What are the deep questions that you ask yourself in challenging situations or even when you are just trying to grow and learn? How do you slow down to ensure that you are really thinking the right things through?

There is a key thought outlined in the quote above that is so important and bears further rumination. “Seek to understand a situation before making judgments about it.”  I think that is the aspect that so many folks, most certainly including myself, miss out on. We are listening (or at least we tell ourselves we are) but we are listening to find fault, or to prepare our side of the argument. Research shows that most people are simply listening to respond, not understand, and certainly not with judgment. How do you ensure that you have suspended judgment so that you can truly understand?

Maybe it is as simple as this. To understand, to truly understand without making judgments, one must surrender the need the be right. Much easier said than done of course however think through how liberating that could be when really getting deep into a topic or situation. I believe doing that is what enables the first part of this quote to happen. If you do this well, you earn the right to be heard…

The difference you make is in the details…

“The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.”

Charles Swindoll

What matters more, the really big things or the little details? When I think of a great customer experience it is rarely the over the top stuff that makes the big impression. Instead it is the tiny details that create unexpected delight and moments of joy.

When a team member at Chick Fil A says “my pleasure” it doesn’t make the sandwich taste any better, but the tiny detail of conveying a servants promise in a genuine manner flavors the entire experience. When a server at a restaurant notices that I drink several cups of coffee through my breakfast and unexpectedly delivers a “to go” cup of hot coffee when they bring me the check they are delivering more value than expected and demonstrating that they are paying attention to what matters to me, not themselves.

The little details that happen all around us every day are the things that make the biggest difference when we slow down long enough to notice them. They are the things that make the biggest difference to others when we slow down long enough to deliver on them…

Think about your day yesterday, what were the small details that created the great experiences for you? What small things did you do for others that had the potential to elevate the experience from simply good too great? Even if those things you did weren’t noticed right away, or even at all, they matter. They matter for both the people you are doing them for, but perhaps even more importantly, they matter because it shows the degree of care and discipline you bring to your world and demonstrates the commitment you have to not simply being good but to being great.

Pay attention to the world today and the experiences that happen around you. What are the smallest details that impact you the most? What are the little things you are going to do that demonstrate your commitment to excellence?

Take inventory. Take notice. Pause to appreciate. Deliver your own greatness through the details.

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