Tough, Tender and Tenacious

"We must stop setting our sights by the light of each passing ship;
instead we must set our course by the stars."

- George Marshall

Here's a healthy approach to life that deserves consideration - be tough on yourself, tender with others and tenacious with priorities.


By being tough on yourself, I don't mean beating yourself up for mistakes, that's unhealthy and discouraging. What I mean is holding yourself to a high standard. Be disciplined. Have high expectations of yourself. Seek to be your best self, all day, every day. If you fail, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back at it. Do what others aren't willing to do. Decide to be exceptional. There is deep internal satisfaction in practicing excellence.


Practice uncommon kindness and patience. It's easy to judge and criticize others. But we don't know what's going on in the lives of others and we see imperfectly. Look for the best in others. Be an encourager. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Exercise grace in relationships. Overlook minor offenses and be quick to forgive. Yes, there are times to have difficult conversations, but those still should be done with the other person's best interest in mind.


Decide what is important to you in life, then attack it with intention and intensity. Live a life of focus, not distraction, diffusion or dabbling. Be committed and passionate about important things. Get after it. No half-hearted measures in areas that count. Develop and hone your God-given strengths. Channel your best energy into things that are most important. Concentrate your efforts on the vital few, not the trivial many. Have a fire in your belly for what matters most.

Focus on Excellence and Success Will Follow

"Try not to become a person of success,
but rather try to become a person of value."

- Albert Einstein

There is a lot to be said for setting goals and achieving results. However, goals and results aren't always something we control. What we can control is our effort. If we focus on giving great effort, success is a likely result.

Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden won an amazing 10 championships in 12 years. Ironically, he never talked about winning. He would always preach to his players that what mattered most was giving their best effort. Their practice sessions were meticulously executed and they were conditioned so well that winning the game seemed like a natural by-product.

Don't tie your emotions to the results. Knowing that you gave your best effort provides great internal satisfaction. The success that may come with it is the frosting on the cake.

  • You can't control how well your book will sell. You can ensure that you did quality work.

  • You can't control whether you will be selected for the position, but you can control your effort in preparing for the interview.

  • You can't control whether you will be admitted to the college of your choice. You can control the effort and time you spent studying in high school and preparing for the college entrance exams.

Giving your best effort puts you in the best position for success.

Here are three ways to pursue excellence.

1. Do one thing at a time. We easily become distracted and diffused. I saw a guy at the gym a few weeks ago who was literally doing arm curls with one arm while texting with the opposite hand. Whatever you are doing, do it with intention and intensity. There is power in single-minded focus.

2. Focus on a few things. We may be interested in many things but focus on the few that count. Practice selective ignorance. Limit your information intake. Keep current with the news, but watching political pundits debate doesn't make your life any better. Decide to be sharp instead of well-rounded.

"Devoting a little of yourself to everything
means committing a great deal of yourself to nothing."

- Michael Laboef

3. Make excellence your standard. In things that don't matter, get it done and over with. But with things that count, take it to the next level. Become dissatisfied with mediocrity. Aim for high quality. Seek to be exceptional. Be a craftsman, not a carpenter.

No one who ever gave their best regretted it.

Gratitude: The Healthiest Emotion

"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others."
- Cicero

I love when I come across videos of someone hearing or seeing colors for the first time. It is very emotional. It reminds me that I take beautiful things for granted every day. Perhaps, instead of being frustrated when missing out on that close parking space, we should be thankful for the ability to walk.

The older I get, the more I believe that thriving in life is largely due to having the right perspective, not the right 'stuff'. We, as humans, have the unique ability to train our brains in ways that are beneficial.

"Gratitude doesn't change the scenery. It merely washes clean the glass you look through so you can clearly see the colors."
- Rochelle Goodrice

Here are 3 simple ways to increase gratitude in your life.

1. Look up, not around. Instead of being envious of the few things you don't have, you could be more thankful for all the things you do have. Perhaps when you hit the snooze button in the morning, start your day with 9 minutes of gratefulness. And at the end of the day, instead of counting sheep, count your blessings.

2. Quit complaining. I recently heard someone say that every evening at dinner he asks his kids "What's the best thing that happened to you today?"  In a world of whiners and complainers, you stand out when you focus on wins and successes.

3. Express gratitude. There is a big difference between felt gratitude and expressed gratitude. Get in the habit of expressing gratitude. Write thank you notes. Tell your spouse, kids, co-workers how much you appreciate them. Look your restaurant server in the eye and say "Thank you for the good service." When staying at a hotel, leave the housekeeper with a tip and thank you note for cleaning your room.

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like
wrapping a gift and never giving it."

- William Ward

Like almost everything in life, gratitude is a choice. When you choose to be grateful, life is better for you and everyone around you.

You, Inc. - Building a Great Reputation

"It takes 20 years to build a great reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.
If you think about that, you'll do things differently."

- Warren Buffett

Every company has a brand. Apple has a brand. Disney has a brand. L.L. Bean has a brand. Successful companies intentionally build and protect their brand.

You have a brand too. A personal brand. You are the CEO of the company titled, 'You, Inc'. And your brand is your reputation. And your reputation is the most valuable thing you bring to the marketplace.

As you seek to build a great reputation, think of three levels. 

1. The top level is Professional. This is your interactions on a business level. They include the quality of your work, your knowledge, your trustworthiness, your responsiveness, your poise, and your eagerness to serve.

2. The second level is Informal. In this area, you are more relaxed and transparent. You build rapport with others, you make a personal connection, you discuss interests outside work. This is healthy. Strong relationships build a sense of belonging, community, and connection.

3. The third level is UnfilteredThis is the area you want to avoid. It includes gossip, inappropriate comments, off-color jokes, speaking poorly of others, breaking confidences, and getting into unnecessary and divisive political discussions. This is the area where you lose your influence and your reputation.

I'm not suggesting that you be 'fake' or 'plastic'. But it doesn't serve you well to 'let it all hang out'. There needs to be a filter between what goes on in your head and what comes out in what you say or do.

Do we not see someone absolutely ruin their reputation over something stupid almost every day? I know someone who lost a high-level position because he passed on an inappropriate picture someone sent him on the internet.

I had a boss years ago who would tell his direct reports, "never do or say anything that you wouldn't want to read about in the local newspaper the next day." That's a high standard, but an appropriate one.

With today's social media, that principle is even more important. You should consider everything you post on social media to be permanent and public.

"Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. 
Because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."

- John Wooden

Actually, the best way to build a great reputation is to work on your character. If you develop great character, you don't even have to worry about enhancing your reputation. Character is an inside job while reputation is an outside job.

Just like great companies seek to build their brand, make it your goal to build a great personal brand. Companies with great reputations have more market value. This is true for individuals as well. Take this seriously. Go out and make a great name for yourself.

After all, you are the CEO of your own company.

Service Excellence: 3 Essential Elements

Your success in the marketplace will be in direct proportion to your ability to serve well.

In my business I have discovered a simple truth: if I serve my clients well, I get to eat well. If I don't serve them well, they will find someone who will.

There are 3 essential elements to any customer service experience: Personal Warmth, Quality and Responsiveness.


"A person without a smile should not open a shop."
- Chinese Proverb

Every business is a relationship business. We want to work with those we like and trust. My father-in-law is in the market for a high-end truck. He already knows the kind of truck he wants to buy. He is now focusing on buying it from the right kind of person. 

How about your Personal Warmth?

  • Are you friendly, welcoming and easy to work with?

  • Do you seek to serve with energy and enthusiasm?

  • Do you show concern for your customer's best interest?



When it comes to your product or service, make sure it is exceptional. Decide to be a craftsman not just a carpenter. Design it well, make sure it has nice finishing touches.

How is the quality of your product or service?

  • Can it be described as excellent?

  • Does it significantly improve the life of your customer?

  • Is it easy to understand and user-friendly?


The third element to service excellence is responsiveness. You develop trust with your customer by responding to their needs and keeping your word.

How are you doing in the area of responsiveness?

  • Do you consistently follow through on your commitments?

  • Do you come to meetings and appointments prepared?

  • Do you respond to phone calls and emails in a timely manner? 

These 3 elements apply in almost any occupation.

  • If you are a patient in a hospital, you want your nurse to be friendly and compassionate (Personal Warmth), competent (Quality) and to answer your call light promptly (Responsiveness).

  • When dining out, you want your server to be welcoming and enthusiastic, the food to taste good and to arrive within a reasonable time period.

  • When having your car repaired, you want to be greeted by someone friendly, the mechanic to be knowledgeable and honest, and your car to be ready when they told you could pick it up.

These 3 elements can be applied to how you serve your internal customers (your co-workers) as well.

Think about it, two out of the three won't cut it. Give those you serve the entire experience.

Personal Productivity

3 Ways to Manage Your Energy

"The world belongs to the energetic."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Many years ago my father-in-law was installing laminate flooring at our home. It was a two-day job. Towards the end of the first day, he came to the place where he needed to make a detailed cut around a doorway. Although he still had some work left in him, he said "I'm going to stop now and leave this intricate cut for first thing in the morning."

That is a simple example of properly managing energy. Effective time managers match the task with their energy level.

We all have our own biological prime-time. We have our individual cadence of rhythm and blues during the day. The key is to know your daily energy highs and lows and, if possible, plan your work accordingly.

Here is my 'personal energy cycle.' I am at my energetic best first thing in the morning. I maintain this level until about 10:30 am. My energy level slowly diminishes and hits a low right after lunch. I get a second wind from 1-4 pm but my energy level is still not as high as in the morning. After 4pm my energy level gradually diminishes until the end of the day.

Think about your daily energy levels. Are you best in the morning or are you a night owl? Regardless of your individual energy rhythm, here are 3 ways to work with your personal energy cycle.

1. Work on Your High-Value Priorities at Your Peak Energy Times.

Perform your highly creative and/or analytical work at your peak energy times. For me, this means writing blog posts, developing podcast content and designing training and speaking engagement material. All of these tasks take focus and concentration.

What are your high-value tasks that demand your mental best? Do you schedule them at your high-energy times?


2. Perform Routine Tasks During Your Low Energy Times. 

Your routine tasks are usually administrative work. Administrative work takes less brainpower. Routine tasks for me include printing out training materials, gathering information for upcoming events and sending emails. I also try and schedule appointments and phone calls for the afternoon.

What are your more routine tasks? Are you performing them according to your energy level?

Of course, there will be many days when you have no choice. I often deliver full-day training programs. On those days, it doesn't matter what my various energy levels are, I've got to be energetic all day. 

3. Take Frequent Breaks.

Research indicates that the mind can work in a highly focused state for limited amounts of time. During your times of highly creative or analytical work, take mental breaks. For example, work for intense 50 minute stretches then take a 10-minute break. Do something that doesn't require brain power. I usually try to get up and do something that requires physical activity. 

Being a high-performer requires not only managing your time but managing your energy. To the extent that you have control over your day, work with, not against, your personal energy cycle.

Because of my personal biological prime-time, I try to be a 'maker in the morning and a manager in the afternoon'. Do what works best for you.

The 3 Levels of Happiness

We are meant to thrive, to enjoy life to the fullest. That is why I was intrigued when I came across psychologist Martin Seligman's 3 Levels of Happiness. I think they are insightful. I'd like to share them with you while adding my own interpretation.

Level 1: The Pleasant Life

The Pleasant Life consists of doing and having things that bring pleasure. This includes shopping, going to concerts, eating good food and having nice things. None of these are bad, they are just temporary and not deeply fulfilling.

Level 2: The Engaged Life

The Engaged Life includes pursuing important personal goals and building strong relationships. Examples of personal goals may be running a marathon or becoming proficient with a musical instrument. Living a disciplined, focused life leads to personal fulfillment.

So does investing in relationships. Taking time to enjoy family and friends. The Engaged Life provides longer lasting and deeper happiness than the Pleasant Life.

Level 3: The Meaningful Life

The Meaningful Life consists of using your God-given talents and strengths in service to others. Take time to discover what you are good at. Seek out your natural talents and use them to make someone else's life better. All of us want to be part of something larger than ourselves, to make a positive difference in the lives of others. The Meaningful Life moves you from happiness to joy.
I don't think Seligman meant for us to limit ourselves to one level of happiness. I'm not an 'either/or' person. Rather I'm a 'both/and' or in this case, an all-three, type of person.

So pursue all three levels. Use the special talents that the Lord gave you to serve others. And pursue personal goals and healthy relationships. And round out your life with healthy experiences and things you enjoy.

In fact, I believe if we seek the Meaningful Life, the Engaged Life will flow naturally from it. And the Pleasant Life will be the frosting on the cake.

In this case, who says you can't have it all?

Nourish the Mind: 9 Books to Help You Thrive

"A person who does not read has no advantage over the person who cannot read."

- Mark Twain

In a world filled with 'weapons of mass distraction' like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, don't neglect digging into a good book.

Here are a few that I have found to be especially helpful.



• The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

• Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

• How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie


• The Art of Explanation by Lee Lefever

• Communicate to Influence by Ben and Kelly Decker

• Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds


The Truth About Employee Engagement by Patrick Lencion

• Entreleadership by Dave Ramsey

• The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard

We live in a knowledge-based society. In many cases, we are paid for what we know. If you are not increasing your knowledge and improving your skills, there is someone else who is.

Remember, when you're through learning, you're through.

3 Types of Time Managers: Drifter, Driver and Designer

"How we live our days is how we live our lives."
- Annie Dillard

There is a tension for each one of us between accomplishing our plans for the day and dealing with the unexpected.

In my experience, I have observed three types of time managers.
The Drifter heads into the day with no specific game plan or daily goals. They figuratively shrug their shoulders and say it is futile to plan the day because something will inevitably come up and sabotage their plans.

They are like a piece of driftwood on the waves, going whichever way the day takes them. (This is also known as 'flying by the seat of your pants.')

The drawback with this approach is the lack of looking at the long term. Everything is immediate. With no daily list of priorities or goals, there is a lack of focus and direction. There may be activity but not much accomplishment.
The Driver is the opposite of the Drifter. The Driver heads into the day with a very specific game plan and checklist. They put their head down and do whatever it takes to complete the list.

The Driver may get a lot accomplished but they leave little room for opportunities and issues that come up during the day. There is little time for spontaneous relationship building. Everything not planned is seen as an annoying interruption. Because of their lack of flexibility, the Driver is often frustrated and stressed.

The Designer is the most effective time manager. The Designer balances structure and flexibility. The Designer enters the day with a solid game plan but leaves themselves margin. They are clear on what they want to accomplish during the day, but allow room for relationship building and addressing important, 'on the spot' issues.

The reality of life is that you need to focus on some important priorities and be able to adapt to unexpected events. The Designer has the flexibility to focus on the right task, at the right time with the right amount of energy.

Decide to be a Designer!

To help you design your day, I have developed a 'Win the Day' Action Plan. I use this daily planning sheet every day. You can download it here. I hope you find it helpful.

This 'Win the Day' Action Plan resource is just one resource that is shared as part of my In Control! Personal Productivity MasterClass Public Workshop. To register or learn more, click here.


3 Simple Ways to Work with a Difficult Person

"Kindness is in our power even when fondness is not."
- Samuel Johnson

It's a fact of life that we will like some people more than others. We are going to be emotionally drawn to some people while others will rub us the wrong way.  Many people act inappropriately or have a challenging personality. (Keep in mind that we may be a difficult person in someone else's eyes.) Many years ago the Apostle Paul wrote, "live at peace with others, as far as it depends on you."  The key here is to focus on maintaining your composure, despite how the other person acts. Here are 3 simple strategies when dealing with a difficult co-worker, customer, family member or friend.

1. Separate Your Feelings from Your Actions
You cannot control your feelings but you can control your behavior. Don't let the other person lead you into counter-productive behavior such as blaming, yelling or other personal attacks. Be kind, not necessarily because they deserve it, but because you are a kind person. 

2. Exercise Grace
Keep in mind that you have a very limited view of the other person. You likely have no idea about the other person's past or what they may be currently going through.

I am not suggesting that you be passive or tolerate inappropriate behavior, but give others the benefit of the doubt. You can be kind and candid at the same time.

3. Don't Criticize, Complain or Gossip About Them To Others
 Make it your goal to maintain your integrity and poise. When you criticize, complain or gossip to others, you demonize the other person, cause division and most importantly, give away your influence. Remember, you are the only person you can control. Don't try to control the other person, it's futile.

"I decided to resign myself from the position of general manager of the universe."
- Jeffrey Gitomer

Doing the right thing and how someone else responds are two different things. Do your part well. Live at peace with others, as far as it depends on you.