(Personal) Independence :: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly!

American Flag: Independence

There are positives and negatives to the pursuit of personal independence. We would do well to learn to strive for the positives and beware the negatives if becoming an “independent” person is our goal.  

There has been a growing trend to desire personal liberty or “autonomy” in American society. See the graph for how Google search trends show a steady increase in searches for the term “autonomy.” People want to “cast off the shackles” of societal or family expectations and be free to do or become whatever they want. We should ask ourselves if this is a band-wagon we should hitch up to.  

  • Will personal independence help us in the strong work we are created to do?  
  • Should becoming independent be my personal goal in life? 
  • And How do I lead in a lead in a culture that is driving toward independence and autonomy? 

American Independence as a Case Study

The residents of the British colonies in America felt oppressed, misrepresented, and disrespected by King George and the British Parliament. Representatives from each colony came together and became resolved to declare independence from England on July 4, 1776. Thus, began the new nation of the United States of America. As a case study, what were (some of) the positives and negatives of the American Independence? 

(Granted – these are very short lists, but it is enough to get the point across.) 

The Good of American Independence

  • American people were no longer oppressed or misrepresented. They had the freedom to represent themselves. 
  • They were able to create their own government and laws according to their values.  
  • The people felt the pride of being their own independent nation the peace that they were not under the control of another country.

The Bad and Ugly of American Independence

  • The signers of the Declaration of Independence put their lives on the line – and many of them died for their cause.  
  • The nation had to figure out their core values and how govern and establish an economy. 
  • The people were now separated from their founding nation and the strength and protection England provided.  
  • America was started through an act of separation and a declaration of war. It was not a peaceful beginning and a lot of people lost their lives for the sake of their independence. 

We can transition from the case study of American independence and relate it to the positives and negatives of personal independence.  

Personal Independence

In his classic work, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey discussed the fact that the pathway of maturity leads you from dependence to independence. A dependent person requires other people to do things for them or even think for them. A baby is a simple example of dependence since they are fully reliant on their parents for their survival. But many adults never fully mature past this maturity stage, so they continue to be dependent on others – financially, physically, or emotionally.  

Covey says that “Independence is the paradigm of II can do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose.” (49) 

True independence of character empowers us to act rather be acted upon. It frees us from our dependence on circumstances and other people and is a worthy, liberating goal. (50)

Jordan Peterson is a psychology professor who challenges people to take personal responsibility and focus on fixing yourself first – before you try to fix the world. (Video / Helpful article.) The message is similar. You mature past dependence in order to choose how you live and how you respond to life circumstances.  

The Good of Personal Independence

  • Independent people have the freedom to choose their values, interests, friends, career, etc. 
  • They are not controlled by society and circumstances. Their identity and emotions are not dependent on other people or what happens around them.  
  • There is the opportunity to have personal pride and to grow toward excellence in life. 

The Bad and Ugly of Personal Independence

  • Independence can produce pride, division and isolation from others.  
    • It ends with Simon and Garfunkel’s song I am a Rock where you can say that you don’t need other people and they don’t affect you. (“a rock feels no pain and an island never cries”)
  • Someone whose life objective is to be independent does not really care to add value to others.  
  • An independent person might see others as objects who are there simply to add value to you.

Interdependence is the Goal

After Covey’s quote above, he said that independence “is not the ultimate goal in effective living.” The goal is interdependence – since reality is interdependent. We live in a society, a community, and a family. Our economy is interdependent (I didn’t raise the chicken who laid the eggs I ate this morning). We are stronger and accomplish more as a community which has risen above independence to proactively add value to others.

As a leader – I develop myself so I can be the best version of myself so I can better serve and add value to others.  

As a country – the independent United States would do best if we became the interdependent United States. If individuals focused on improving themselves so we can add value to our society – with the ultimate goal of adding value to the world. We started with a conflict. My prayer is that we grow to be a force of reconciliation and peace in the world.  

(Disclaimer: I believe that many people, organizations, companies, and even politicians have embraced this idea currently and in our nation’s checkered history.) 

Application Questions

  1. Is your goal to become independent or interdependent?
  2. Are you taking responsibility for yourself so that you can grow and then add value to others?

Reference: Covey, Stephen. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Fireside. New York, New York, 1989.

Read this post to learn more about living in community as interdependent people!

Moving from Me to We

Moore, OK Tornado

Success or conflict hang in the balance with every relationship due to perspective and attitude. The concept of “Moving from Me to We” was developed by my friend (and pseudo-mentor) Thomas Bookhamer (more on him below) in order to address our approach to relationships, especially in leadership and the workplace.  

The first step to becoming a truly effective leader and having greater influence is learning to be others-focused; this is what I call moving from me to we.

Thomas Bookhamer – The Leaders Factor

Why We Have Conflict 

I truly believe that a person’s perspective of another person, and the communication that occurs due to that perspective, is the core issue that determines the success or failure of relationships. If we have a preconception or bias against a person or a whole group of people (such as in racism, etc.) then your perspective is set against being favorable toward that person.  

It may be subconscious, but you are going to look for ways to support your bias in your interactions with that person. They cannot win! You are rooting for them to fail to support your bias! You aren’t really trying to help or understand them – and indifference or conflict is bound to happen in the relationship.  

In their books, the Arbinger Institute calls this “being in the box” and having a “heart at war” toward that person or group. I wrote about this topic in a previous post – here.

How to Move from Me to We 

However, if we see the other person as an individual who has value and vast potential – and we earnestly desire good for them – then we have the capability to move from Me to We. A relationship has the potential to flourish IF we approach it with the rich, fertile soil of mutual respect, love for humanity, and optimism for success.  

At first, you may have to be intentional about helping others reach their potential. Effective leadership is not about how far we advance ourselves, but how far we advance others. 

Thomas Bookhamer – The Leaders Factor

In his book, Thomas challenges leaders (and all of us lead to some capacity) to have the mindset of desiring to add value to others. If you are focused on yourself – “What’s in it for me” – then you are using people as objects and you are bound to create conflict. However, if you are others-focused, then you can focus on a “We” centered approach and develop valuable collaboration within a team atmosphere.  

The tough step for a leader is to decide to develop and empower others for success. Hear your team’s input. Truly connect with them as individuals. Develop their strengths. Encourage them through challenges, support their limitations, and celebrate their victories. Then you will have moved from Me to We. 

Application Questions:  

  1. Do you know the personality type and the strengths and limitations of your team (or family, group, etc.)? 

  1. When you communicate with them, do they feel that you truly value them and their input? 

  1. What can you change to ensure that you are rooting for the success of others? 

Thomas Bookhamer information: 

Website: https://journey.leadersfactor.com 

Book: The Leaders Factor

Email: thomas@leadersfactor.com 

Story behind the feature image:

In 2013, a massive tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma and left incredible destruction in it’s wake. Organizations and countless volunteers went in to help them clean up and begin to recover. I included this because it is an example of many people moving from Me to We in the relief effort. We can identify with these relief efforts as large groups become “others-focused” and serve those who were affected. 

Below are more photos from our short volunteer effort. The cars in the below images were picked up by the tornado and dropped in the middle of a guy’s pasture.

Thinking Leaders – Solitude for your Mind to Work

Mountain Solitude

Today I would like to discuss the fourth and final leadership principle in the last chapter of The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz. I find these principles to be very helpful and practical in my personal season of life – but also for the season we’re in as a nation. We need to develop as leaders to come out of this pandemic with more strength than we had before because the challenges will be that much bigger! 

Principle 4: Take time out to confer with yourself and tap your supreme thinking power. 

Many of us, myself included, have the problem of crowding our minds with busy schedules and distractions. If we’re always jumping from one thing to the next or allowing (or inviting?) screens and noise to fill our eyes and ears, then we never have time to think. Perhaps we believe that thinking is a waste of time. Or perhaps we are subconsciously afraid of our own thoughts and to feel alone in our minds. However, I think that many people simply haven’t been taught or encouraged to have a habit of intentionally stepping into solitude to think and meditate.  

Without spending time in thought, we become increasingly shallower and lack stability and firmness of purpose. We need to step away and think through big life decisions, consider our identity and purpose, and even to draw small(er) conclusions for work and relationships. 

My experience today:

Before writing this today, I decided to spend some time thinking and meditating – in order to practice what I was about to preach. BUT I WASTED some of that precious time by being distracted by something on my phone. I recognize that I need to break away from the distractions in order to be successful in this habit! 

Advice from Dr. Schwartz

David Schwartz provides very helpful advice as he supports his claim that “successful leaders tap their superpowers through being alone.” And he challenges us by saying that, “You can, too!” 

He reminds us that the great spiritual leaders – “Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammad, Gandhi” – spent much of their time alone in solitude. There is also the example that many of the evil masterminds of the last century spent time in prison before enacting their destructive plans (Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Marx). These examples, and many others, demonstrate to us that we have a powerful tool at our disposal (our mind) – but we must tap into it more often in order to reap the benefits it can provide.  

Okay! I get it. But HOW?

(glad you asked – here are some ideas) 

  1. Schwartz says to “resolve now to set aside some time each day (at least thirty minutes) to be completely by yourself.”  
    1. This could be directed – with a specific topic or problem in mind. 
    2. Or it could be undirected – and you simply allow your mind go where it wishes and you chase ideas to their conclusion.  
    3. This could be one block of time or split between different times – say the beginning and end of the work day.  
    4. It would be beneficial to journal your ideas and conclusions.
  1. Take a solitude day or weekend once a quarter (or year).
    1.  I found great benefit in removing distractions and being in solitude for an entire day on a few occasions. I had a plan for the time and resolved to make it productive – and it was great! 
  1. Meditation and Self-affirmation 
    1. These are practices I am stepping into more recently.  
    2. Too much to be said here – so I will provide more in a near future post. 

Questions: 

  1. Is this a practice that you would benefit from? Will you start today? 
  1. If you have practiced “solitude for the mind” before, please share your ideas and tips on the topic.  

Reference: Schwartz, David. “How to Think Like a Leader.” The Magic of Thinking Big. Touchstone, pp. 275-302.

Purchase: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Thinking-Big-David-Schwartz/dp/1897384424/

Thinking Leaders – Stand for Progress!

Non-progress in India

Previously, I wrote on the first two leadership principles in the last chapter of The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz. They were to “trade minds with the people you want to influence” and to ask yourself “What is the human way to handle this?” This week I want to discuss the third principle on “how to think like a leader.” 

Principle 3:  Think Progress, Believe in Progress, Push for Progress. 

Experience with non-progress:

I have had the privilege of traveling in India on three occasions over the past decade. On each of those trips, I was able to experience the life of Indian people in a very rural context (small villages, back woods, dirt roads). One of the aspects of these people and towns that struck me over and over was the fact that so many of them were using tools and methods that their ancestors would have used over a century ago. They were content to keep using short, homemade brooms that caused their backs and knees to hurt. Some used wooden, ox-driven carts to carry hay for their water buffaloes while the younger generation zips around on small motorcycles or plays games on their iPhones. Everywhere I looked, I saw examples of people who were not progress minded – and just continued doing what they had always been doing.  

Turning this personal:

But then I think about myself. Am I always progress-minded? Do I believe that I can and should improve? That there is opportunity for progress in our company or my family? I am recognizing that I need to “think progress” – or I might drift on the status-quo and be stagnant like all those people I encountered in India.  

Guidance from Dr. Schwartz:

David Schwartz provides helpful guidance as he said, “there are two special things you can do to develop your progressive outlook:  

  1. Think improvement in everything you do. 
  1. Think high standards in everything you do.” 

He tells a story of a teacher he had one year that did not believe in progress. She didn’t seem to care about the students or really believe that they could improve. She was not respected and the students ran over her all year long. Not much progress because there wasn’t a belief in progress. The teacher he had the next year (with the exact same set of students) set the tone from day one that she loved the students, believed in progress, and expected excellence from each of them. She received respect all year long – and progress was made. She “thought” improvement and had high standards.  

We are challenged to remember that the team, group, or family you lead will “adjust themselves to the standards you set” (and example you provide). They want to know if you think progress and what level of progress you expect of them.  

Helpful quotes to remember:

“Check the example you set. Use this old but ever-accurate quatrain as a guide: 

What kind of world (company/group/family) 
would this world be, 
If everyone in it
were just like me?”  

“The simplest way to get high-level performance is to be sure the master copy is worth duplicating.” 

Wow! That quote is good. I just wrote that down in the back of my planner!  

Application Questions:

Are you a progressive thinker? Or do you drift in the status-quo?  

  •  I know that it is a mix for your spheres in life – so think about progress opportunity in each life domain.  

Reference: Schwartz, David. “How to Think Like a Leader.” The Magic of Thinking Big. Touchstone, pp. 275-302.

Purchase: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Thinking-Big-David-Schwartz/dp/1897384424/

Thinking Leaders – Trade Minds and Be Human

Skiers following a leader

I just finished The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz. Great book for you to put on your reading list. Yes… it is a “self-help” book – but it was written in 1959 and has sold millions of copies – so it is time tested and still standing! I found it to be very relevant and had many topics that were personally encouraging or challenging. I really liked the final chapter so I decided that I will discuss it with you through three messages (so I don’t write one that is way too long!)  

The closing chapter is titled “How to Think Like a Leader” and provides four leadership principles to consider as you engage in any form of leadership. We’ll dissect and discuss the first two today and attack the other two in the following weeks.  

Principle 1 – Trade minds with the people you want to influence 

This principle is really about seeing other people as significant individuals who have their own hopes, fears, interests, values, etc. They are not an object and they are not exactly like you or me. We cannot put people in cookie-cutter boxes and expect to be a driving influencer for them. We have to “keep this question in mind: ‘What would I think of this if I exchanged places with the other person?’” We will have more success in leading others, selling something, or gaining approval if we first “think of the interests of the people we want to influence.”  

He tells a story of a young lady who failed in retail procurement because she always purchased clothes that she liked for the store. Turns out, her taste in clothes and expectation of price was not even close to that of the store’s typical customer – so the clothes didn’t sell and she lost her job.  

Schwartz also provides some helpful situational questions to ask yourself. Here are a couple: 

  • The way I give orders – “Would I like to carry out orders if they were given to me the way I give them to others?” 
  • Preparing a speech – “Considering the background and interests of the audience, what would I think of this remark?” 

Application Question: What area of your life would benefit from implementing this principle? How would you do it? 

Principle 2 – Think: What Is the Human Way to Handle This? 

He starts off saying that there are three approaches to leadership situation – as the Dictator (who never involves subordinates in decisions), as the mechanical “rule-book-operator” (who is a manager by the book, no questions necessary), or as what he calls “Being Human.”  

The leader who takes the “be human” approach makes his actions say, “You are a human being. I respect you. I’m here to help you in every way I can.” Your approach in all circumstances shows that “you put people first” – because you’re all human and can address situations as humans would.  

Schwartz tells an impactful story about a business leader who saw every one of his employees as being “under his protection” and would go out of his way to serve his staff. When he needed to let an employee go who was not well suited for the position, instead of just kicking them out, he made connections and assisted the person in finding another job so they were able to transition directly without unemployment. Now that’s a high standard worth emulating! 

“Practice praising people. Rub people the right way. Be human.”  Or I like the way C.S. Lewis puts it – “be a good infection” in your relationship with others.  

Both of these principles have a striking similarity to the Golden Rule spoken by Jesus – “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” (or “treat others the way you want to be treated.)  

Application Question:  With whom can you “be human” today? What would change in your relationship? 

 

Reference: Schwartz, David. “How to Think Like a Leader.” The Magic of Thinking Big. Touchstone, pp. 275-302.

Purchase: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Thinking-Big-David-Schwartz/dp/1897384424/

Developing a Life Plan

Life Pathway

I started a bit of a journey last year through a process of developing my “Life Plan.” I listened to a book called “Living Forward” by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. They teach about how to avoid the common problem of drifting through life without a plan or driving purpose. They challenge you to honestly evaluate your current situation and develop a vision for what kind of person you want to become and the legacy you hope to leave with others. I went through this exercise on my own, so I wanted to share parts of the process with you in hopes that it encourages or helps you. 

A summary of Living Forward by Michael Hyatt

  • Step 1 – complete an online assessment. 
  • Step 2 – write your Eulogy and Legacy statements. 
  • Step 3 – choosing and prioritizing your Life Accounts 
  • Step 4 – developing an Action Plan for each Life Account. 

Resources/Downloads – http://www.livingforwardbook.com/resources/ 

Step 1: Assessment

The first step in the process (besides reading the book) is to complete an online assessment to get you thinking about what they call “life accounts.” The assessment is a really helpful guide that helps you think about your passion and progress levels for each life account. I encourage you to complete the following assessment. It will take about 15 minutes. 

Living Forward Assessment – https://www.livingforwardassessment.com/ 

Michael Hyatt also wrote a book called “My Best Year Ever” and he created a shorter assessment for that book. So… if you’re thinking that you absolutely won’t do the first one – please do this one. 

https://bestyearever.me/

Step 2: Eulogy and Legacy

Step 2 in the Life Plan process is to write your Eulogy and Legacy statements.  

Eulogy

This is a tough but revealing exercise. The idea is that you should write your eulogy or the speeches that would be given at your funeral if you were to die today. Who would be there and what would they say?  

  • Don’t sugar coat it. Be honest about what you believe they would say about you – good and bad. This is the gut-check of where you stand today with your relationships.  
  • Don’t be too detailed with the list of who is there and who speaks. My list includes my wife, kids, parents, brothers, colleagues (that’s you!), friends, and mentees/students.  
  • My eulogy section is about 1.5 pages but could have been much longer.  

Legacy

In this section, you are answering the question – “How do I want to be remembered?” 

  • Write it in the first person (your point of view) and start each section with something like “I want (person/group) to know that…” or “…to remember me as.”  
  • The people or groups should be similar to your funeral groups. Mine are God, wife, kids, parents, colleagues, friends, mentees/students. 
  • Again – don’t be too lengthy. Otherwise, this could turn into an entire book! My legacy statement is about one page. 
  • The purpose of this exercise is to provide a vision for who you want to become and how you want to foster the important relationships in your life.  

Step 3: Establish Life Accounts

Step 3 is about Life Accounts. The idea is that you have different segments or categories of your life that require attention and can be prioritized and planned out. There is a “balance” in the account to gauge how healthy the account is, what progress is occurring, and what are your goals/vision for the future. The assessment in Step 1 already helped you think in that direction.  

So – you need to list out your life accounts and prioritize them. Below is my list – which generally followed the suggestions from the book, but I applied my own twists. Some of the accounts are difficult to find the right priority order – but in the end it doesn’t matter much – so just run with what makes sense. 

What matters most? 

  1. My Faith – God’s will, His truth, and my relationship with Jesus Christ. 
  2. Being a witness and disciple-maker through all of the following priorities. 
  3. My physical, intellectual, and emotional well-being 
  4. My wife 
  5. My children 
  6. Extended family – parents, brothers, cousins, etc. 
  7. My vocation  
  8. Church and Ministry – outside of my vocation 
  9. Friends 
  10. Finances 
  11. Hobbies 

It might feel “selfish” to place yourself at the top of the list. We often hear the phrase that you should “put yourself last.” However, a wise man I know has told me multiple times – “The best thing you can offer your wife and kids is a healthy, well-adjusted, spiritually mature Daniel.” If I literally put myself last – then I would not be a very good husband, dad, friend, or employee. All my other priorities would suffer if I don’t take care of myself – my faith, mind, and body.  

Step 4: Life Plan Goals

This is the hardest and longest part of the process. You get to evaluate each of your Life Accounts and answer the question: “How can I get from here to where I want to be?” 

Here is the structure you should apply to each Life Account and a little bit of coaching for each section.  

Account 1: [Write your first account heading.] 

  • Purpose Statement: 
    • Short and to the point. What is your purpose or mission in this life account?  
    • Start with “My purpose is to…” or “My purpose in {life account} is…” 
  • Envisioned Future: 
    • What do you want for this life account?  
    • Write it as if you have arrived in that ideal future. Make it an “I am…” statement.  
    • Who are you in that future? What have you accomplished? What is your character? 
  • Inspiring Quote: 
    • They say this is optional – but I can see how it is helpful.  
    • Might be a Bible verse or a motivational speaker or from a favorite book. 
  • Current Reality: 
    • Reality check on where you currently are in this life account. The good, bad, and the ugly! 
    • Make it a concise bullet list – don’t want to write a book here! 
  • Specific Commitments: 
    • What are your short term and long term goals in this account? 
    • Make them SMART goals if you can – and keep the count limited or at least not too many overlapping goals.  

Once you fill this in – which will require multiple hours to complete – your challenge now is to read & revise it on a consistent basis. And to put the goals/commitments into practice. Finding someone to hold you accountable to following through is key to this.  

Photo: Taken by Daniel David in New Hampshire in the fall. We went to see the fall leaves and do some hiking with friends.

Is Your Heart at Peace or at War?

Peace

All of us have either a “heart at peace” or a “heart at war” in relation to other individuals or groups. Our heart’s direction toward a person or group influences how we perceive and relate with them.  

Heart at Peace

 When we have a heart at peace (or outward mindset), we recognize the individual as a human being who is legitimate, valued, and perhaps even sacred – with their own story, experiences, desires and feelings. People have the potential to contribute and are respected for their own gifts, talents, and insights.

In a business setting, we can work together as a team and resolve normal conflicts and differences with respectful understanding. We respect each other and listen with patience to what people truly mean as they talk. With a heart at peace, you are actively watching for the positive in people in order to build up their strengths and empower them for excellence!

Heart at War

 When we have a heart at war (inward mindset) toward a person or group, we perceive them as an object without legitimate ideas, feelings, or contribution. They are valuable only as far as they benefit us or our purpose. We are “in the box” toward that person or group as we actually seek justification for our perception of them.

We look for reasons to maintain our heart at war – by focusing on the negative and overlooking everything positive about that person or group. Then we develop “collusion” by inviting that person to have a heart at war toward us – creating a vicious cycle that can only be broken when one of the parties decides to have a heart at peace. 

Think about who you might have a heart at war toward and make a decision today to begin having a heart at peace. It could be an individual you know or one you don’t know. It could be a group you’ve interacted with or perhaps an entire nation or people group you’ve never met. A change of heart starts with us recognizing these assumptions and perceptions – and deciding to change them.  

Here is a great post to read more on this topicShift to See the Other

Resources

 Here is a great summary video on these concepts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbkhK5HK_j0 

 Books by The Arbinger Institute: 

  • Leadership and Self-Deception 
  • The Anatomy of Peace 

 Videos: 

Be the change you wish to see in the world.  ~Ghandi