Navigating life successfully requires facing difficulty with authenticity. We often grow the most during times of trial and tribulation. Hardship builds muscles of compassion, empathy, intentionality, persistence, will, endurance and faith. These strengths enable us to climb the mountain of life successfully – in both good times and bad.

Having acknowledged that reality, let’s look at the other side of the coin.  Gratitude is the antibody in the face of disappointment!  As Oprah states, gratitude looks toward what we have, rather than what we don’t have.

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” — Oprah Winfrey

Many people face hardships and still manage to stay positive.  They intentionally focus on the good, rather than resenting their current situation.  Although at times life seems difficult, what we focus on gets transcribed upon our heart and flows like a river out into the world.

Out of heart flows the wellspring of life.  (Proverbs 4:23)

Commit to nurturing a grateful heart as we prepare for a new year.  One tool that can help you move in that direction is a gratitude journal.  Begin each day recording at least 5 items that you appreciate that morning.  It is amazing what recording your thanks and gratitude can do to improve your perspective on life.  Taking stock of the good things in our life helps us to put the trials into perspective.  Hardships don’t define us; we define them by how we decide to respond.


“If serving is below you leadership is beyond you.”  – Anonymous

There are two kinds of leadership: power and service-oriented. Lead by authority, or lead by example.

The world has seen leadership by authority for centuries. We now know that leadership by example is much more powerful and effective. To be on the cutting edge of leadership, we need to embrace service-oriented leadership.

How do the two models differ? Leadership will always maintain its element of authority, but the defining difference is in how that authority is used.

Power leadership sees people as a resource that can be used for any purpose, by any means, for the sake of accomplishing the goals. Service-oriented leadership recognizes that the people within our corporations are part of the goals, and thus leads them in such a way that raises them to their full potential. A power-based leadership structure will always create an environment of drone workers who punch the clock, do their job, and go home to their real life. But a service leadership structure will create a culture of leaders at every level who are engaged and who actively contribute to the success of the whole.

There are many wonderful examples of service leaders just in the past century or so, including such people as Martin Luther King Jr., John Wooden, John Maxwell, Cathy Truett, and many more. One of the most notable examples, Nelson Mandela, said, “A leader…is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”[i]

Each of these leaders has stories that validate the power of the service-leadership they lived. But it’s especially worthwhile to note that King and Mandela used service leadership to reform oppressive, authoritarian systems. If power leadership was more effective or powerful, then neither King nor Mandela would have succeeded.

We might ask, if service-oriented leadership is so much better, why has it taken so long to be taught? The reason is that it’s harder. In particular, service leadership requires sacrifice. It’s about putting self aside for the betterment of another person and the overall mission of the organization. The military, top-performing athletic teams, and the most influential leaders of all time deploy this principle. But, truthfully it’s easier to be selfish. In fact, it is nearly impossible to yield self-interest in service unless a common cause or mission becomes more important to us than the self-interest we’re naturally born with. If we are going to work harder at leadership, we need to understand the benefit we’ll receive for the effort.

There is a deeper reason service leadership has been slow to be embraced. After all, entrepreneurs and executives didn’t become what they are by taking the easy road. Also, if it just comes down to setting aside our egos, then we really just need to understand the preponderance of evidence proving superiority of the service culture.

Why then would it continue to be difficult to set ego aside? The answer may be that our ego is not really about taking pride in our work or making a difference in our communities. Instead ego thrives on the control we have over other people, and the power we feel from our exalted position. Taking this one step further, if our identity is rooted in performance-orientation, we risk feeding an ego need to exert authority and make ourselves look good. This approach fears failure above all else and is intimidated by others’ successes.

A service-oriented approach is rooted in possibilities and the best interest of others. It bears failure as a steppingstone to success and can celebrate and encourage the successes of others, knowing that the success of one individual provides increased strength to the whole.

True service is looking out for the benefit of each other and the customer. 


Darwin Smith

Not many people know about Darwin Smith, and that’s the point. He began as a simple in-house lawyer for Kimberly-Clark, but the future dramatically changed for both him and the company one day in 1971 when he was chosen to be the next CEO and chairman of the board.

He operated in that role for the next 20 years until retiring in 1991, and is known for saying of his position, “I was just trying to become qualified for the job.” He was more than qualified for it by taking a company that over 20 years had fallen 36 percent behind the general market in stock performance, and transforming it so that it performed 4.1 times greater than the general market.[ii] He led the organization in making bold moves to divest its ownership of several paper mills and focus on strengthening the technology of its products. This paid off dramatically in causing Kimberly-Clark brands such as Kleenex and Huggies to gain No. 1 rankings in market share, elevating the company above its rivals Scott Paper and Procter & Gamble.

Despite all his successes, Smith continually passed credit on to the employees, the managers, his predecessors, and the customers. He led the way in developing continuing education and health programs for his employees. He established a culture of service that looks to hire people who want to make a difference in the world, not just for themselves.

Today, two decades after his death, Kimberly-Clark prides itself on serving one billion people worldwide— all because its CEO believed service was the company’s No. 1 goal.




“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” ― Abraham Lincoln

I just don’t get him… Why do they always…? Why doesn’t she ever…?

Have you ever finished one of these sentences in reference to a coworker? It’s ironic that we often say or think these things about others, and yet never consider that others may be thinking the same about us. In order to understand and evaluate others effectively, we must develop the capacity to perceive and empathize with their feelings and attitudes.

Do you make a genuine effort to know the people around you—who they really are rather than who you merely perceive them to be?

“When the dust settled, it came down to being the person that everyone enjoyed working with and having as a coworker. That person was the guy/gal who could get along with any personality, and they left a mark at every company they worked for.”[i] Do you know who that person is in your workplace? Consider what makes him or her stand out from the crowd. Skills and experience are important, but the man or woman who can flex their communication style to engage meaningfully with every person they encounter is invaluable. They seek to acknowledge each coworker’s inherent value and contribution to the organization, and they consistently bring out the best in others. This person is a giver. With high emotional intelligence and an outwardly focused attitude, they are able to give people what they need at any given moment. Instead of feeling threatened by others’ skills and achievements, they look for opportunities to leverage the diverse strengths within their organization, helping individuals to identify those areas where they excel.

“When we understand people’s DNA, we can provide ‘personalized care,’ giving them the treatment they need based on their uniqueness. This enables us to build trust, respect and long-
lasting relationships… In fact, we can get along with just about anyone, when we know who they are and how they need to be treated.”[ii]

How can you become this person in your organization?

To better understand the individuals you interact with in your organization, you must make a sincere effort to take an interest in who they are. With a genuine sense of curiosity and a willingness to listen more often than you speak, you can learn a great deal about others. Recognizing the value of diversity within any team will motivate you to identify each person’s unique strengths that contribute to the overall success of your organization. But to attain such success, you must be willing to show that you care, since compassion is an integral part of achieving these goals. Demonstrating empathy consistently will lead you to an understanding of situations from alternative points of view, even those that differ widely from your own.

The overarching principle behind understanding and evaluating others fairly revolves around the truth that it’s not all about you. If someone responds to you sharply and seemingly out of nowhere, it needn’t be taken personally. Everyone carries around some “junk” from the negative things going on in their life, and rather than creating conflict or reacting emotionally, a wise coworker will offer a generous dose of compassion to soothe the sore spots.

Do we treat people the way they need to be treated, or the way we feel they should be treated?

Picture this scene for a moment: You’re in line for the security check at an airport, and someone behind you is grumbling about the line and muttering foul language about the pace of the people in front of him. As the person immediately ahead of him, you realize that people are moving as quickly as they can. When you reach for a bin for your belongings, you hear some piercing words from behind: “Hurry up! Can you take any longer?”

What‘s your first inclination? For most of us, it would be to hurl an insult or cast a glaring look at the man in response. Imagine if you were to reply in a calm and gracious voice, “Here, go ahead, sir, take this bin. Do you need another one? That’s a nice briefcase. Where are you headed today?” Suddenly a window of opportunity is opened for a release of tension and the start of a meaningful interaction that may just change his current state of mind. Instead of taking personal offense at the man’s unkind remark, a compassionate response offers what he needs without expecting anything in return.

Be interested, be generous, be compassionate. Leave a mark wherever you go.




Over a hundred years ago, the Marlin Company began its legacy of distributing posters to executive leaders to assist them in communicating in powerful and effective ways about workplace issues within their organizations. However, as the marketplace began transforming into a technology-based culture, the company foresaw a threat arising to its position in the print industry. It was forced to make a decision that would either catapult it into an uncharted future or extinguish its name forever.

Frank Kenna III, CEO of the Marlin Company, recalls the difficulty of the situation: “There was considerable pressure from managers and board members, especially in the beginning, to not let our new unproven products harm our bread-and-butter ones. But we had to…It was clear to me that if we didn’t do it ourselves, someone else would.”[i] Despite initial skepticism and criticism, Kenna led the organization into a new era in which a print publisher became a software developer, providing solutions for workplace communication based on software-as-a-service to over 8,000 customers.[ii] While most of their competitors went out of business during this period of change, the Marlin Company experienced rapid growth, specifically in their digital products. The company proved that if an organization is willing to adapt to the prevailing marketplace and implement a flexible approach within its overall mission, it can come out on top despite the curveballs thrown its way.

What kind of emotion starts to surface when you hear the word change? For some of us, the very word brings an immediate feeling of dread that makes us want to run in the opposite direction, but for others, it brings enthusiasm and the prospect of adventure. The extent to which we remain flexible depends heavily on our ability to adapt and manage change. As a leader trying to implement change, you no doubt have encountered a wide array of reactions to shifts in your organization or team. There will be some who flourish during transitions, while others struggle just to keep their heads above water.

Understanding why people are afraid or reluctant to change is a helpful starting point for any leader who wants to effectively influence his or her team and organization in adopting change. Emotions such as fear, mistrust, or loss of security may serve as underlying factors in resistance to change. When unexpected change takes place without adequate warning, many people will naturally push back, either from fear of the unknown or from the unsettling feeling that arises when things seemingly come out of nowhere. If the foundation of trust is weak within your team, individuals may struggle to commit to the shift in vision. They may ask, “How do I know I can trust them if they haven’t proven their trustworthiness to me in the past?” Moreover, if the change leads to a perceived loss of control or a feeling of insecurity in their roles, individuals may believe that decisions impacting their future are being made without their input, making it all the harder for them to come on board wholeheartedly.

Sometimes the resistance to change revolves around timing. When employees experience a lot of change within a short period of time, they may feel overwhelmed, especially if the change puts more work on their plates without a corresponding sense of empathy from the leadership. It is also important to remember that
some people simply don’t like change constitutionally. In this case, resistance has less to do with the actual change taking place than with the disruption of routine and familiarity.
From the moment we are born, our minds build mental scripts based on our experiences and the lessons we learn as a result. These reactions become second nature, like catching a ball that is thrown to you or ducking when you are about to hit your head on something overhead. These scripts simplify our world by allowing us to react without having to process a situation. Within the realm of change in the workplace, these mental scripts contribute to an adherence to the status quo. Individuals assume that a current process will continue to be successful because it has been in the past, without taking into consideration the external factors that can affect our potential for success in the future. In essence, clinging to our mental scripts is the opposite of flexibility and can blind us to opportunities for beneficial adaptation.

Given these potential causes of a hesitation to adapt, leaders must be sensitive and aware of the reasons why individuals may struggle with change. We can’t rely on assumptions or generalizations, but must instead employ active listening skills and show empathy if we are to gain the valuable insights into their thoughts that will equip us to lead them more effectively in the present and in the future.

As we come to terms with the realities of our ever-changing world, we must translate this change into the functional dynamic of our teams. The Marlin Company’s awareness of the potential danger ahead gave them the motivation and courage to be proactive in finding a way to survive as they moved forward. In building our teams, we should learn to value those individuals who have the ability to stay flexible and who are open to new approaches to ordinary tasks. Those who possess a natural inclination to make modifications when circumstances call for them and are proponents for change will be invaluable in building cohesive working units. Ensuring that your team members maintain excellence in the midst of transition or challenge, rather than losing their mental resilience, will help to instill perseverance when you need it most.

Learn to vary your approach with team members, depending on what works best for them. There’s a reason why baseball pitchers learn multiple pitches, with different spins and direction, and football teams master numerous plays. Sometimes a situation calls for an approach different from what we’d anticipated, and we must listen to our instincts in order to make needed adjustments. What’s in your leadership playbook? Are you running the same play with every team member, expecting it to work every time? Your ability to be flexible with your team members’ communication styles, personalities, and emotions regarding change will set the tone for their willingness to adapt. By showing them that you are flexible, empathetic, confident, respectful, and supportive, you will develop a greater sense of unity and trust and make change much more manageable for everyone involved.

Just as the Marlin Company understood that a century of success would mean nothing if it failed to adapt, we too must be willing to act upon an honest assessment of the unforgiving evolution of the marketplace. If we hesitate to adapt, we will be left in the dust. But by strengthening our flexibility, we will increase our value to our organizations, our teams, and ourselves. While we can never predict what the future may hold, we can equip ourselves with the right playbook now and be ready for each and every curveball that comes our way.




“There’s a myth that learning is for young people. But as the proverb says, ‘It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.’ The middle years are great, great learning years. Even the years past the middle years. I took on a new job after my 77th birthday — and I’m still learning.

Learn all your life. Learn from your failures. Learn from your successes, when you hit a spell of trouble, ask ‘What is it trying to teach me?’ The lessons aren’t always happy ones, but they keep coming. It isn’t a bad idea to pause occasionally for an inward look. By midlife, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves. We learn from our jobs, from our friends and families. We learn by accepting the commitments of life, by playing the roles that life hands us (not necessarily the roles we would have chosen). We learn by growing older, by suffering, by loving, by bearing with the things we can’t change, by taking risks.”

In this, from his 1990 speech in Phoenix to McKinsey & Company, John Gardner delivered a message of motivation for continuous personal renewal. His powerful words were cited in a Harvard Business Review article of September 2014, “The Best Leaders Are Insatiable Learners,” as an exemplary testament to the vital necessity of continuous learning for achieving success in the marketplace. Clearly, Gardner was on to something in a speech that still remains relevant nearly a quarter of a century later.

Alvin Toffler is quoted as saying, “Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.” Simply put, if you are not learning, you are failing.

Are you learning something new every day?

There is a wealth of knowledge waiting for you to discover. When was the last time you sat down to read a book or began following a new blog? News sources, research studies, and magazines are other abundant sources of information for enriching your intellect. In addition to reading, you can open your mind toInfo Retention Pyramid new perspectives that will broaden your current way of thinking by engaging in stimulating conversation, or by collaborating with others of diverse backgrounds and interests, or by joining a social media networking group in your field. Volunteering to take on project assignments that will stretch your abilities in new functional areas, listening to talks, attending training sessions and webinars, and finding a mentor who will push you to grow are all avenues of learning that often go untapped. Learning through multiple means helps to broaden your range of knowledge and improves the retention of information.

Do you have a thirst for knowledge?

Many people have a natural motivation to learn from a deep and sincere thirst for truth. But if learning for its own sake does not motivate you, there are other drivers that can help you become a continuous
learner. For example, many people are driven by a competitive edge to not simply survive in our technological world, but to thrive. Some strive for personal growth and improvement in order to become

more adaptable, and others, who value career growth, realize that continuous learning is a necessary means to attain professional goals. Still others may hunger for knowledge in order to be able to pass it on to those they are mentoring or teaching. These factors and others may serve as internal drivers to lifelong learning. Kevin Eikenberry puts it this way: “As humans, we are learning machines. We are most alive and functioning closest to our potential when we are learning, adapting, adjusting, and finding new ways, approaches and techniques to improve our lives (or the lives of others) in some way.”[i]

How are you building a culture of learning?

Encouraging one’s team to learn continuously keeps it competitive and relevant in the marketplace. The reality is that teams who fail to adapt and learn will be left in the dust. Business is constantly changing. According to the 2014 video, Did You Know?, “The amount of new technical information is doubling every two years…which means that for students starting a four-year technical degree, half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study. In 1900, human knowledge doubled every 100 years. In 1945, human knowledge doubled every 25 years. In 2014, human knowledge doubled every 13 months. By 2020, human knowledge will double every 12 hours.”[ii] In order to thrive in today’s world, one must be willing and eager to absorb and share information at an ever-increasing rate.

By prioritizing such learning opportunities as training workshops, it is possible to see measurable increases in productivity as more advanced and efficient ways of completing everyday tasks are adopted. By getting out of the routine work environment and engaging with learning materials that spark innovation, the mind is given the time and the freedom to think bigger and bolder. It is this kind of learning that most often leads to creative breakthroughs.

To be part of building a team that learns continuously, each member must value collaboration and maintain an attitude of relentless curiosity. To assess these attributes, try asking your team members to explain the last thing they learned, how they learned it, and how they have shared it with others. Look for passion, inquisitiveness, and an excitement to share and implement newly acquired knowledge.

As a leader, you play an indispensable role in facilitating their collaborative learning. If you expect your team to be continuous learners, you must make this skill a priority, both by modeling it yourself and also by giving them ample time to follow your lead. Encourage your team to challenge current methodologies and roles with new insights. Share what you’re learning with them and be a reliable mentor and resource, always giving them the freedom and confidence to bounce their new ideas off you. Finally, give them opportunities to teach others what they are learning. It will not only motivate their desire to learn, but also help to ingrain what they’re learning on a far deeper level.

The greatest leaders are continuous learners. More engaged and better able to think on their toes, they are equipped to make smarter decisions. Continuous learners maintain a frame of mind on a daily basis that makes the most of curiosity, critical thinking, and reflection. They never quench their thirst for knowledge because they embrace the wisdom of John Gardner: “Learn all your life.”[iii]




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