Our stories are very different, and yet there are some striking common themes: Both of us started in restaurants as dishwashers and became CEOs. Both of us mapped out our goals early in life. Both of us believe in people as the way to transform company culture.
Perhaps that is why I was immediately drawn into the pages of Cameron Mitchell’s compelling book.
More likely the answer to my intrigue is the fact that I find myself in one of his restaurants every week. You can always count on superb service, delicious food, and an inviting atmosphere.
Lightning strikes a tree and alters the course of a stream causing two rivers to join.
You’ve heard of the butterfly effect, where one small creature flapping its wings and creating a small wind current causes a chain reaction that alters hemispheric weather patterns half a world away.
When I think back on my own life, there are a few of those major moments that changed my life. Had just one person, one event, one little part of the equation been altered, even the slightest bit, who knows how different my own life would be.
“A good life is a collection of happy moments.” -Denis Waitley
One of those moments happened in 1990. I walked into a crowded room, looked up, and met eyes with the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Everything slowed down for a moment, the world tipping on its axis, freezing time long
enough to suspend us for a few seconds. It was immediate. It was intense. It was like nothing I’d known before.
Only a short time later, this week in 1992, she stood in the back of a church, the light flooding in through a stained-glass window behind her. She seemed to almost float there, as if she were an angel who was given the option to become fully human and was making her choice by joining her life with mine. From the front of the church, I sang to her, and she walked up the aisle and then we sang a duet together. Our lives forever changed. Yes, it was exactly like one of those Hallmark movies, the story line either inspiring or sickeningly sweet, depending on your perspective.
Others are gone, too: aunts, friends, my other grandparents, who were so gracious that day. My grandmother looked in the camera and thanked my wife “for being one of us now.”
Time marches forward. I’m now that guy that can tell others how to make a marriage last twenty-five years.
There are other moments that stand out:
Buying our first home together. How we managed, I’m not sure, but we did on a shoestring budget. We remember our near panic when we received that first utility bill, wondering how we would pay it.
The birth of our daughter in 1997. We recall every single minute. My wife’s elated cry out to me when her water broke. Hours later, my daughter surprising the nurses by tracking me by my voice.
A health scare. Only months afterward, we were surprised again with another altering moment. I’ll never forget the doctor coming out, telling me that my wife had breast cancer, and that she was about to come out of anesthesia. We would have to tell her together. It was advanced enough to require radiation and chemotherapy. She lost her hair but never her spirit. In a few months’ time, her faith began to sprout faster than her hair, and she has never wavered in her belief.
“It is in our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” -Aristotle Onassis
Life-threatening disease. Years later, we learned she had another cancer. This one even more insidious, threatening once again to steal her away, to shatter the glass of our lives. We’ve learned to pray more in these moments. No one prays in good times quite the same as in challenging times. We don’t know the why behind them. Perhaps God uses them to get our attention, perhaps because we’re finally still enough to see what is always there, and yet we miss it as we race by the important on the way to the meaningless.
Then there are the career moments. When she left hers to fight cancer and stay home to raise our daughter. When my promotions started. Her belief in me fueled my success. From the outside, my job promotions looked miraculous. The truth behind them was more struggle, political battles, and more work than you’d want to know. Nothing came easy. And it seems we moved so often that my wife put our furniture on wheels. In fact, it was our move to Columbus from Nashville that opened our eyes into how much junk we were carting around, stuff from decades ago, some of it in boxes not opened in several moves.
This is a guest post by Bill Blankschaen, author of A Story Worth Telling just released from Abingdon Press. A writer, speaker, and content strategist, he blogs at Patheos and Faithwalkers where he helps people live an authentic life. Follow him on Twitter.
Belief is the Key Ingredient
Every day you lead, you are writing a story. You don’t have to be a writer or even put pen to paper to make it a good one. But you do need one key ingredient: belief.
Regardless of your beliefs about spiritual matters, your leadership legacy will be determined by your faith. By faith I don’t mean going to church or engaging in religious rituals, as important as those practices may or may not be to us. I simply mean doing what we believe to be true, often in spite of what we see, sense, or feel.
What we believe to be true determines what we do. And what we do is what gets results. Our motion reveals our devotion to what we believe to be true.
The entrepreneur who launches a new business believes in the product or service the new venture will provide. The CEO who initiates change believes she knows where the market is headed and how the company can best prepare to capitalize on it. The individual who steps away from a comfortable career to tackle a new challenge does so because he believes a better story is possible.
If we want lasting results from our leadership — results that get talked about long after we’re gone — we must start with understanding how what we believe to be true writes our leadership story.
“Your leadership legacy will be determined by your faith.” -Bill Blankschaen
My new book, A Story Worth Telling: Your Field Guide to Living an Authentic Life, shares several stories of ordinary people who stepped out to fulfill their dreams because they believed it was the right thing to do. They believed their story could have value, so they began a quest to achieve a specific end. When we know what we value, we find our way toward it. Roy Disney, a man who knew a thing or two about making tough decisions, said, “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” -Roy Disney
The direction derived from belief doesn’t only help us as individuals, it also guides everyone we influence. As Jack Trout said, “At the end of the day, people follow those who know where they’re going.” If you don’t know what you believe to be true, you’ll tend to drift wherever other forces take you. Drifting never inspired anyone to do anything but walk away. However, what you believe to be true will have consequences for your team — so choose wisely.
“At the end of the day, people follow those who know where they’re going.” -Jack Trout
You start your book by saying, “Character matters.” It’s hard to believe anyone would disagree. Do you think they do? Why is character more important than ever?
You’re right, Skip. Everyone would agree that character matters. But then ask the same folks if good people, or good companies, finish first. I’ll bet many of them believe it’s nice to possess strong moral character, but you have to be ruthless to get ahead. They’d probably acknowledge, however, that “looking the part” yields rewards. To them, moral character is a sideshow, not part of the main act. The truth is, strong moral character builds trust, strengthens respect, promotes loyalty, and translates to rock-solid reputations. Most importantly, every day you exhibit weak character, you’re letting yourself down. Remember, you have to live with yourself for the rest of your life.
“Character is the glue that bonds solid and meaningful relationships” -Tony Dungy
Great question. As I say in Follow Your Conscience, “It’s not always easy to admit a mistake, persevere during tough times, or follow through on every promise made. It’s not always comfortable to convey the hard truth or stand up for your beliefs. In the short term, it may not be beneficial to do right by your customers, to put people before profits, or to distance yourself from a questionable relationship. BUT, in the long run, doing the right thing is the clear path to both success and happiness.” The bottom line is, listen to your conscience. That’s why you have one.
4 Stages of Trust
Everything is built on trust. Would you walk through the four stages of trust?
1. Relationship. The first stage of trust represents the beginning of a relationship. We generally start off with some preconceived notion about others. This is where a person’s or a company’s reputation comes into play.
Like many, I have always been fascinated with all things Lincoln. Studying great historical figures like Lincoln, who endured and persevered through unbelievably tough circumstances, can teach more about leadership and character than almost any modern lesson.
Abraham Lincoln, notoriously quiet about himself, would undoubtedly be amazed at the number of books written about him. Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership in Washington DC now has a spiral staircase piled three stories high with over 6,800 books written about his life. Thousands more books could also be added, and every year many more are published.
With all of the great books already available about Lincoln, it’s easy to wonder whether any more are needed. My good friend Stephen Mansfield has just written an extraordinary book, proving that it’s still possible to add to our understanding of the 16th president. Though I’ve likely read over fifty books about Lincoln, I’m a novice on his life. Stephen’s Lincoln’s Battle With God filled in missing pieces for me, added perspective, and provided more color.
In studying Abraham Lincoln’s life, what characteristics made him such a powerful leader? Tell me more about his character.
I suggest in Lincoln’s Battle with God that there were three forces that profoundly shaped his leadership but are rarely discussed.
First, his depression. Lincoln battled depression all his life. He neared suicide more than once. He was haunted by the deaths of loved ones. He had to fight through it, had to reach for the meaningful facets of life so he could endure. This inner struggle gave him compassion, wisdom and an outsider’s perspective—all of which fed his leadership gifts.