Leading From the Middle, 3Rs of Success

is_150828_middle_management_tug_o_war_800x600If you are a Middle Manager like me, you know you have the hardest job in the world.  If you are going to be successful in this role I have learned there are three traits you will have to acquire:

Be Resourceful:  Since you are not at the top of your organization you cannot prioritize your initiatives.  This often means you will have to be creative and find other revenue streams, other cost savings, and creative options to make your projects happen.

Be Relational:  Many times you will not have all the resources you will need to make things happen, so you will have to rely upon relationships you have created and good will you have established with others in your organization.  This means you will have to give more than you take.  Genuine servanthood will be key to achieve things when you lead from the middle.

Be Resilient:  Despite your best efforts, sometimes your priorities will not rise to the top for the organization, or worse yet they do and you fail to make the priority successful.  It will happen if you lead from the middle long enough.  When it does you will have to brush it off and start looking for the next way you can have impact.  You cannot lead from the middle while looking backwards.


Three R’s to Takeaway from the Easter Story

easter-calendar-cross_full_widthThis very day is my favorite of the year.  This day means three things to me that have shaped me from the inside out.

Resurrection:  Death has been defeated.  If death can be defeated what else in the universe can limit me?  If I believe in the resurrection, what do I have to fear?

Redemption:  I am forever redeemed from every bad choice, stupid mistake, and failure of will in my past or in my future.  I am clean, not by my own effort but by the removal of my sin and shame by the only One with the power to do so once and for all, with the final words: “It is finished.”

Rejoicing:  No matter what life and this world may throw at me from this point on, nothing can steal the joy that the dawn of that morning in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago has placed in my heart.  The empty grave forever filled my soul with “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

Relationships on the Run lead to Ruin!

I heard the statement above on a podcast recently and, being the 3R’s of Success guy, it really resonated with me.  After all, look at the three R’s… I love it!  Beyond that alliteration, however, it highlighted some issues we all battle in our family life, career life, church life, any aspect of life, really.  It highlights two truths central to whether or not we will enjoy Success:

Truth #1 – Relationships Take Quality Time!

This is a tough pill to swallow in our microwave culture, but the reality is that without investing quality time in your relationships, they will be weak.  Relationships are fragile. When they are new, they must be tenderly nurtured, like an infant. When they are in their prime they must be fought for and courted like a lover.  When they are mature they must be savored for the true gift they are, because we never know how much longer we will have them.

This is true for our relationships with our spouses, or kids, our co-workers, God and those we seek to serve.  Relationships have a life of their own.  When two people have a relationship it is almost as though they have created a unique third entity that only they have the power to make strong, or to kill.  Their choices to pour into it, starve it, kill or maim it have consequences for the relationship, and the loss of these entities can cause grief and sorrow as much as the death of family member.

Truth #2 – Relationships are the MOST Important Things in Life!

If you believe Truth #1 and you want to have joy, peace, success and happiness in life, you have to put time and effort into the relationships that are the most important to you.  Zig Ziglar often said: “You can have everything you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”

What is it you want?

Fame?  You cannot be admired without relationships.

Fortune? Without relationships what is fortune?  If you have no one to share the things you have and the amazing experiences wealth can afford, would it bring you joy?  To answer that question, picture a man who has every material luxury money could buy or that one could imagine, but they were all on a deserted continent without another living being…  Would the wealth still have meaning?

Purpose?  We already have our answer to this in the book of Genesis.  Adam had been created by God with a purpose, and he was fulfilling that purpose, tending to the Garden of Eden, and he had fellowship with God, but yet God concluded, “It is not good for man to be alone.” and He created Eve.  Clearly we are designed to have relationships with other humans.

Whatever it is that you define as success will only happen if you invest time and energy into the relationships that matter most to that success.  If you want to succeed in you career, pour into your team, and support the mission of your employer for the good of your customers.  If family is important to you, spend quality time with them, love them well, put their needs above your wants.  If serving your community is important, know that you cannot just go through the motions.  Life is messy, and you will have to get dirty to help others dig out of their problems.

Lastly, know that you cannot do everything.  You are not God!  You are finite and your time is finite, so you will have to prioritize what it is you are meant to do, and put it first on the list.  How do you know what your priorities should be?  My advice would be found in Matthew 6:33.  If that does not ring true for you, I probably am the wrong person for you to ask…

The Dreamer, The Doer, or The Dud. Which Do YOU Choose?

I have a great respect for Dreamers.  The Bible tells us that “without a vision, the people perish.”  We need visionaries (dreamers) to inspire us to accomplish the tremendous things of which we are capable.

Then there are the Duds.  I call these people the Eeyore’s of the world.  You know; the donkey from  Winnie the Pooh stories?  They are the ones that can tell you, at length, every reason something will not work and every bad thing that happened to anyone who ever tried to accomplish anything!  They are the “naysayers,” the “wet blankets,” the “glass ALL empty because it has a hole in the bottom that can never be repaired,” crowd.  They will drain every ounce of positive energy from you if you hang around them too long. I would rather spend my life around a Dreamer that never accomplishes anything than a Dud who never even dares to dream.

Finally there is the group of people to which I aspire.  They are the Doers.  This group is composed of Dreamers that are accomplishing their dreams in a way that inspires others to dream and do as well!  They are leaders not only by virtue of what they have done, but who they are.  They realize that dreams are great, but no dream comes to pass without help from others.  They have learned “no man is an island.”  To that end, they engage others in the process of actualizing their dream by first helping others dream and accomplish their dreams.  They are the “Connectors” of this world, building networks of Dreamers and Doers, some of which they have converted from Duds!

There are three steps by which one can move from either Dud, or Dreamer and become a Doer.  They are:


One of the biggest reasons someone is a Dud is they remain in isolation.  Something is broken or dead inside them.  There are many reasons that might have caused this which are inconsequential, but what Duds have in common is a total lack of HOPE!  Their natural demeanor caused by this state of hopelessness drives people away from them, and drives them away from people!  They are the people “without a vision.”  The first step for them to move towards dreaming is to FORCE themselves to be around Dreamers and Doers who have enough HOPE to spare!  In fact, when one is around the latter groups they will catch HOPE like a virus.  It is contagious.  This is a fact that has been exploited by cult leaders and dictators for all of history, so it is important to follow people whose dreams and visions are grounded in TRUTH.

For Dreamers, following is hard!  They are the visionaries pulling others in their wake towards their dreams.  Doers, however, have learned to value others and recognize that others have knowledge, skills, connections and influence that can be leveraged for the sake of the dream.  In order to accomplish the dream they often have to first serve and submit to authority.  They must work their way through infrastructures and bureaucracies to find the resources, human and otherwise, to bring their vision to pass.


At this step we have lost all Duds.  They have either been converted or left behind.  Now it is all about what turns Dreamers into Doers.  Someone once said “A dream without a plan is just a wish.”  We all know dreamers that have never accomplished anything.  It is so prevalent in this generation that to be called a Dreamer is an insult!  There are two reasons many Dreamers fail to realize their dreams:

1.  Lack of a plan:  Usually caused by ignorance or laziness.

2.  Lack of a good plan:  Most likely caused by never FOLLOWING.  Dreamers create a plan based on their own thinking, failing to leverage the wisdom of others (even the pitfalls one could learn from the Duds), or the resources in the hands of others.


The last step to go from Dreamer to Doer is the hardest.  It is Executing the Plan.  Despite the best plans, and dreamers that have secured the hearts and minds of others by following first, DREAMS ARE HARD TO ACHIEVE!  They take time that requires patience, energy that requires endurance, and will be met with much resistance which will require perseverance.  These traits are rare in our “Microwave”, “Gotta Have It Now,” culture.  Many dreamers have abandoned their quest within steps of the summit because they allowed their hope to be stolen by the blinding storm that kept them from seeing they were so close to the top.  The last lesson here, as stated in a previous blog post is, NEVER GIVE UP!

Want Results as a Leader? Respond, Don’t React!

In my professional life, this week, I had to deal with conflict.  Has anyone other leader had to deal with conflict in the workplace in their career?  If you answered no, please let me know where you work, and tell me if there are any openings!

Today on my “3Rs of Success” blog I will address the 3Rs of Conflict Resolution.

Dealing with conflict on the team is one of the biggest drains on my energy and enthusiasm as a leader.  Yet, if addressed in a positive manner, it can lead to some of the best RESULTS the team can produce.

In order to see those positive fruits out of conflict, the secret is to RESPOND rather than REACT.  Dictionary.com defines the two terms this way:

React:  to act in opposition, as against some force.

Respond:  to react favorably.

When faced with conflict, one can take either of these two approaches.  Which do you think will build the team?  Which do you think will tear it apart?  The answer is pretty self-evident in these definitions, right?  But, what steps do you need to take in order to respond to a conflict, rather than react?

1. Deal with it!  Now!:  The first thing you have to do about conflict is address it!  In my situation this week, conflict had been brewing for a couple of weeks, and I  “had not had time” to deal with it.   We HAVE to TAKE TIME.  The sooner the better!  It can be the difference between a bump in the road to a 20 car pile up!

2. Begin with the end in mind:  What is the goal of conflict resolution?  Is it to get both sides of the story documented, assign blame and keep score?  I hope not!  The goal should be to bridge the gap caused by the conflict and unify the team.  If a leader keeps that goal in mind it will lead to the positive outcomes that can result from team conflict.

3. Find the underlying issue:  Bad behavior needs to be addressed, but often the behaviors stem from underlying causes that a leader can also affect.  If all we do is confront the behaviors it is like treating the symptoms but ignoring the disease!  If emotions run high because of perceived inequities, we need to address the perception of inequity.  If the inequity is real, we must address the reality.  If inequity is caused by lack of skill sets for part of the team, we need to add to the skills of team members.  You get the idea…   Great leaders dig deep to get at the root causes and effectively deal with them.  They do not believe in Band-Aid approaches!

Thankfully, I have a great team and we worked together to respond to conflict this week.  The results were positive and I believe we can move forward from here with greater trust and unity.  All because we chose to respond rather than react.

Special thanks to the team member who brought up the difference between responding and reacting, inspiring this blog post!

Does anyone else have tips to help us respond rather than react?

What Are Your Kids Learning From You?

I am living a blessed life.  A result, in part, of learning from my Father.

My Dad taught me a lot of important lessons by example.  He was a hard worker.  He was sent off to military school as a tween, then did a tour in the Marines, followed by cooking and managing in restaurants from the Ozark mountains to Washington D.C.  He often took second jobs in construction to make ends meet, and to pay finance payments on campers and boats, as well as fishing and hunting gear with which he had many bonding opportunities with his only son, me!  We probably went fishing, hunting, and or camping at least 15-20 times a year from age 4-13.

I played 3 years of baseball, 3 years of football, and 2 years of basketball before I was 13 and I can only remember my Dad missing 2 games, though he worked 50-60 hours a week.  In addition we shared a passion for Ohio State and Redskins football.  I remember many Saturdays and Sundays spent in our Volkswagen camper behind whatever restaurant he managed with a little 9 inch TV plugged in to an orange extension cord running out the back door of the restaurant, or listening to the game on a big battery-powered radio at a construction site while I “helped” Dad as he hung dry wall.  My Dad definitely taught me to value time with my kids and to find a way to make it work even when working hard.  He taught me to tell my kids I love them often and back it up with a commitment of time and energy.

Other lessons I learned from my Dad were not from things he did well, but from the things he did poorly.  At the age of 6 my Mom left my Dad and me and moved back home to her family.  My Dad never admitted a moral failure suspected by my Mom, nor did he admit to one when he got divorced from his 3rd wife when I was 15, nor did he see anything wrong with marrying his 4th wife, an 18 year-old, when he was 47.  He had no relationship with his two daughters from his first marriage before he married my mom.  Nor did he stay in touch with his three children from his fourth marriage that imploded.

My Dad put energy and effort into relationships as long as they were good for him.  When they were not, he just walked away and started over, but never learned from the mistakes of his past.  This fact marked me, and I have fought to never let that happen to relationships with the ones I love.

At age 11, after uninsured hospitalizations and surgeries for me (benign tumor) and Dad (double hernia) the mountain of debt he had accumulated fell in on him.  We lost our home and everything else we owned (or should I say owed) in bankruptcy.  I promised myself I would not allow that to happen to me, and have been debt averse and savings minded since.

Part of what contributed to the need to file bankruptcy was my Dad’s continuing devolving career.  When I was four, my Dad was on a very successful  management track with Marriott restaurants.  He left because of a falling out with his boss.  The same reason was given when he left employment of three other independently owned restaurants, and a stint at Ft Belvoir’s Army base cafeteria as well.  I remember at least 6 different restaurants he worked at between age 4 and 13.  My Dad was prideful and could not submit to authority.  I swore I would not make that same mistake and have probably been overly loyal to my employer’s in my career, but it has paid off with continued upward mobility.

I often wonder how some people, like me, learn from other’s failures, while others seem to be destined to repeat the same mistakes, generation after generation?  How can I make sure my sons learn from the good and bad they have seen in me to have a better life?  How can we, as leaders, help our teammates overcome their past so they can be productive, engaged and committed?  Finally, if you are a parent, what are your kids learning from you?  Is it what you intended them to learn from you?

“Home Run” by Kevin Myers and John C. Maxwell

If you have been reading my blog (3rsofsuccess.com) you know that I believe that success is not rocket science.  I believe there are basic principles that, when mastered, lead to success.  Just like “Reading, Riting, and Rithmetic” (3R’s) are the building blocks of success in education, any endeavor in life has fundamentals that, when mastered, will cause one to succeed.

In the new book, Home Run, Kevin Meyers (pastor of 12 Stone Church) and his mentor, John Maxwell, give us a basic game plan for a successful life.  They use 4C’s instead of 3R’s but I can overlook that!  These basic principles can be applied to any and all areas of one’s life: business, relationships, artistic endeavors, sports.  I will give you the basics in today’s blog, but you HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!  To that end, I want to give two fortunate people this book for free.  Comment on this blog and you will go into a random drawing.  I will contact the winners for an address to mail their book.  Simple as that!

Myers and Maxwell (M&M) use a baseball diamond as their illustration of how to be succesful in this life.  The four bases are the principles to be mastered if one wants a “Home Run” Life.  They assert that we all start somewhere, (Home Plate) and are all looking to score.  They maintain that to really do so, we need to run the bases well.  Here is a breakdown of the bases:

Home Plate:  Connect with God:  This gives you purpose and connects you to power that can overcome any adversity life can throw at you.  In a culture that idolizes rebellion, they say we must rather acknowledge the reality that we are completely dependent.  If we do that, we are ready to run the bases.

First Base:  Character:  The Personal base.  This is where we get Self Respect, by winning within.  Only by being a person of character first, are we ready to move into scoring position.

Second Base:  Community:  The People base.  This is where we learn to win with others.  We learn here that it is not all about us!  True success in any arena of life comes through serving others well!

Third Base:  Competence:  The Performance base.  This is where we win results.  We are at the top of our game! We are almost there! We are successful, and people see that and admire us.

Our culture in the US is all about performance.  It drives us so much that we want to short cut or cheat the other bases so we can get to third quicker!  We cheat our dependence on God, our development of character and our service to others in the name of getting ahead…  M&M liken this behavior to a tee ball player who is so excited when he hits the ball that he runs the bases backward!  You may get to third quicker, but you have violated the rules of the game and you will be called OUT!

Home Plate:  When we round the bases we end up at Home again.  This second time at home plate, we have scored.  We have created significance with our life because it has been lived connected to purpose, with integrity, serving others in a way that has had impact.

One other great thing about the baseball analogy is that the game is not over until the lights are turned off.  You have another inning… another at-bat.  You can still score the winning run for your team.  There is always hope until the lights go out…

Believe me, I did not do the book justice with this post!  It is full of wisdom mixed with heartfelt transparent stories and truth.  For your chance to win a copy for free, Leave a Comment or click the follow button and subscribe to this blog!  If you do not win, pick it up om Amazon!  Here is the link:


WORK ETHIC: There’s No CheckFree, Only PayPal (Re-Post)

I heard a quote from Rory Vaden, New York Times bestselling author of Take the Stairs, recently.  He said, “You always get paid for the work you do; sometimes now, often times later, but always eventually.”  It harkens back to the biblical proverb, “As a man sows, so shall he reap.”

Sometimes, these statements appear not to be true.  For instance, when banks have to be bailed out by trillions of dollars of taxpayer money because they lent without regard to the recipients’ abilities to repay, or when “Green” companies get hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, only to fold without contributing one bit of service or product they promised.  How about when an average family of four pays out over $22,000 per year for their healthcare (recent study)?  Consider when college students default on 10’s of thousands of dollars in student loan money they used to take Spring Break trips to Cancun and pay car payments on their new sports car, but never graduated from college?  And what about those who pour their blood, sweat and tears into a family business, only to see the economy tank, the business fail, and they end up in personal bankruptcy?  This world does not seem to be fair when one looks at these scenarios.  It does not appear that people are reaping what they sow.

That is why I like the Vaden quote.  It helps us get the long-term view and realize that “eventually,” THE HARD WORK WILL PAY OFF.  The application of this truth in the work place is best explained by the “Flywheel Principle,” offered by Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great.  The concept is that you have a massive 5,000 pound steel wheel that lies horizontal on its axis. One push will not move it, but consistent force, over time, in a constant direction, starts the flywheel in motion. It moves, oh so slowly at first, then faster and faster, until at some point the momentum of the flywheel is greater than the force of all the pushing, causing it to spin on its own.

That is how we see Vaden’s quote becomes real in our work life.  If we work consistently, doing the everyday things every day, we will build momentum.  We will start to accomplish more in less time as we continue to push toward our clear direction.  If we let up, we will lose momentum.  If we are not clear about our direction, we will lose ground.  But if we continue, day in and day out to deliver our best, it will pay-off for our organizations, our customers, and for our careers and personal growth.

Still skeptical?  How can I know that will really happen?

The truth is I cannot prove it to you.  It is a leap of faith.  Millions of people everyday check out and give up on the process.  The flywheel feels more like a millstone grinding them down, day after day, so they quit.  I wonder how many were one push away from the momentum swing that would have led them to the success they had been striving for?  The principle can apply in any arena; work, marriage, parenting, personal finance, etc.

Whatever areas you are fighting to succeed in, I encourage you to keep on pushing.  Also, if you have been through the process and your flywheel is humming, jump over to help someone else push on theirs.  The only thing more exciting than personal success is helping someone else achieve theirs!

In the end, you will reap what you sow.  There is no free ride, no Checkfree.  If you want to succeed, you are going to have to PayPal!

THE KEY to Success? Take This 30-Day Challenge!


Today I put forth the hypothesis that this single trait is the key to success in all areas of our lives; career, relationships, legacy, and even spirituality.  If we master this one thing, we will be successful.  Why do I believe this?  Because I have eyes and ears, and use them to observe humanity.  This is what I see.

The people who have the kind of success to which we all aspire are givers, not takers.  In great marriages both spouses serve each other rather than ask what the other can do for them.  Successful businesses are ones that consistently deliver great customer-focused service.  Not-for-profits that succeed for generations are the ones that instill a culture to serve and to train those they serve to do the same.  The people who leave a legacy, who have truly impacted the world in a way that out lives them, are the ones that have poured their lives into relationships, causing them to be loved and honored.  Have you ever attended a funeral for one of these people?  It is truly a celebration of a life well-spent.

If you long to have success in all areas of your life, at the core of your nature, you must be generous.  The good news is, as with all character traits, you can practice being generous until it becomes an engrained part of your nature.  As you practice you will experience the rewards of generosity that will reinforce this behavior set, and you will become more generous.

I CHALLENGE you.  For the next 30 days conduct your own generosity experiment.  I will give you a model to follow.  If your life is not better at the end of the 30 day challenge, post your disgruntled account on my blog site for all the world to see I am full of it!

For 30 days, be generous with these three things across the areas of your life in which you want to experience more success.

TIME:  It is the one thing we all have.  In fact it may be the only thing we all have an equal amount of daily, making it the best indicator of where we are on the spectrum of selfishness to generosity!  Look at your calendar, where are you on that spectrum?

If you want to be successful at work I challenge you to devote at least 10% of your work time to help others.  Volunteer for someone else’s project, mentor a junior team member, etc.  If you want success in your marriage, for the next 30 days make more time for your spouse, and spend it doing the things THEY love to do.  If you want to have a better spiritual life, give the first 10% of your waking hours to spiritual disciplines like prayer and scripture readings or sermons via podcasts.


Time alone is not enough.  If you want a great relationship with your kids, do not just come home and crash in front of the TV with them.  Break out a board game, read books at bed-time, focus on them.  There is a formula for success that comes to mind here:

Focused Intensity      =     Success                                                                                 Time

Success takes focus.  It is not enough to show up every day at work.  You have to prioritize and focus to succeed.  The best organizations understand and can tell you the ONE thing that will cause them to succeed.  Can you do the same for your life?  Are you focusing your energy on that ONE thing that will cause you to be what you have purposed in your heart to be?  For the next 30 days, FOCUS!


I have often heard it said, you can tell what is important to a man by looking at his checkbook.   Does yours show you are generous or selfish?  I know it is hard to prioritize giving in our culture of consumption, but for the next 30 days give just a little bit more than you are now and do it in an a setting where you will be able to see the effect.  Pay for the next person in the Starbucks drive thru and watch them in the rear view mirror.  Leave a very generous tip and watch from the waiting area on the way out.  Take a meal to single mother you know that is struggling.  Sponsor a child overseas and interact with them via letters.

Giving is the most fun you can have with money.  When you do it, you will want to do it more!  For the next 30 days, give!  You can have that feeling of watching your kids open presents on Christmas morning every day!

There is the CHALLENGE.  If you accept it, please come back to the blog and tell us what you experienced!


Leaders: At Which Stage are You?

I know a wise leader who recently shared about three stages of life that everyone goes through roughly corresponding with benchmark age groups of 1-25, 26-50, and over 50.  As I reflected about these stages later, it occurred to me that the same stages, and lessons for each, also applied to people who aspire to leadership.

Setting the Stage: Ages 1-25

This is the preparation stage.  All the remaining stages depend on getting this one right.  For leaders, it means acquiring the base skills and competencies you will need to perform.  It may include, but not be limited to schooling, internships, selecting/ruling out fields of study and career tracks, cultivating relationships that will help you be the best person possible, and avoiding some that may lead you down rabbit trails away from your goals.  It is a stage for dreaming, exploring, and ultimately choosing.  Wise choices may propel you into the next stage, foolish ones may delay or completely derail you.  The choice is yours and yours alone.  There are no victims in the Leadership track!  If you want to play the victim, pick another line!

 Striving for Success: Ages 26-50

This is the proficiency stage.  You laid a great foundation by working hard and making great choices.  You know what you want to do and now you are beginning to realize that if you want to succeed, the real work has just begun!  The goals you set to leave the preparatory phase and launch into the “real world” looked like a finish line right up until you crossed it.  Now the realization is dawning on you.  All that was just the pre-season!  The real season has begun and all the scrubs are gone.  You are now on the field with the A players who are older, wiser, and more experienced.  But you are prepared and you have something many of them have lost.  You have passion, drive, and “the eye of the tiger!”  You have youth, energy and fresh eyes!  Use them, but find ways to work with others, assisting them and complementing their skills and wisdom with your drive and passion rather than challenging them at every opportunity.

After a number of years, you will be the wise one who has led and succeeded.  You will be the one looking at the new guys coming in as idealists and inexperienced.  You will be the one they might offend with their new way of looking at things that dismisses your tried and true approaches.  When you get there and find yourself reaching out to one of those newbies with wisdom and advice on how she might position her idea in a way to be heard by leadership, you may find your success growing exponentially.  You will leverage the passion and energy of the young and temper it with the real world wisdom you have acquired.  When you get to that place you may find yourself on the threshold of the third stage of leadership.

Sustaining Significance: Age 50 and over

Leaders who get here face a choice between two paths.  They might choose the path of pleasure.  These people choose to only sit back, relax, and remember… They take their hard-earned savings and live out their lives in comfort.  There is not necessarily anything wrong with that, and if someone chooses that option, I will not judge them or be mad at them.  It may be the right path for them.

Others will choose another path.  I call it the path of principle.  People who choose this path believe in a higher calling.  They see the wealth they have accumulated as a tool to leave a legacy.  Some may give large portions away.  Others may use it to fund their life allowing them to be free to serve any where, doing anything they feel called to do, whether or not they ever get paid for that work.  All of them will likely reach back behind them and help others progress through these leadership stages.  They understand that the only real significance is that which out lives them.  Sustained significance comes from preparing the generations behind to face the challenges ahead.

Where do you find yourself?  Do you need a hand up to reach the next level?  How about those behind you?  Who can you help reach the next stage?