Five Uses of Money

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that US household indebtedness has reached a new high.  After years of retrenchment following the 2008 housing collapse it appears that Americans have resumed their love affair with debt.  This new peak in indebtedness is being driven by student loans, car loans, and even the evil credit card.  Credit card debt topped $1 Trillion for the first time since 2008 and will likely reach a new all-time high this year.

What is so bad about debt, you might ask?

The reality is there are only five uses of money, and what you use in one area, cannot be used for other areas that should be a higher priority.  In this way, debt steals people’s financial future.

LIVE:  This is the money you spend on lifestyle

What house will you live in, what car will you drive, where will you live, what will you wear, what will you eat, what will you do for entertainment, where will you go on vacations?  These are some of the things that fall in this category.  For most of us, this is where we would like to see a large portion of our money go so we can have “a good life.”  What credit enables us to do is to get these things on other people’s money, but it comes at a price.

GIVE:  Charities, family, friends often need our help

Can you provide for your children’s college.  Would you like to support kids overseas, or your church?  Do your parents need help from a private duty nurse or paying for assisted living?  These are just some of the areas we might like to help with, but sadly we often cannot find the means to do so.

GUARD:  Health, Life, Auto Insurance, Emergency Fund

Most people who understand financial risk have a large portion of their income going to this area.  The cost of a major health issue or a major car wreck, especially involving others, can bankrupt a middle class household.  Many who do not allocate funds to this area have experienced financial ruin.

GROW:  Investments in self development, entrepreneurial and/or career endeavors and retirement.

This is the area where we expect money to produce a return in the future.  Investing in a college education, trade school, or certifications should produce higher levels of income.  Money spent to get your own business off the ground should help you attain financial independence.  Allocating a percentage of your income to retirement funds can provide for your future in your golden years.  Unfortunately, most Americans do very little for retirement and use debt to fund their educations and business start-ups which result in the anchor of indebtedness weighing down their progress.

OWE: Taxes, Debt Service

There is little we can do about taxes unless you do not produce an average income or better.  Even then you will have gas taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes eating away at your cash flow.  Indebtedness, however is within our control.  we make the choice on whether or not to go into debt.


I have found it useful to take a look at your monthly spend and see how much of your hard earned money is going to each of these areas.  No one can tell you what percentages should go where, that is totally up to you.  Just remember, what you spend in one, you could spend on another.  Are you happy with what the balance looks like in your uses of money?  If not, you CAN change the equation.


You can eliminate debt to provide more cash flow to retirement funds.  You can buy used cars for cash instead of new cars on leases and free up hundreds of dollars a month to go in your child’s education fund.  You can choose to live in a smaller house to be able to travel more.  You are in control.  Be intentional about the life and future you want to create and start making moves to live your dream.


YOU Can Be an Overnight Success!

If you have ever wanted to become an overnight success, I have the formula.  If you want to know the formula, read on because I am going to share it for free!

Here it is:

Intense Focus+ Tremendous Effort… Repeat

Intense Focus+ Tremendous Effort… Repeat

Intense Focus+ Tremendous Effort… Repeat (For as long as it takes) = Overnight Success

The reality is almost nothing worthwhile is accomplished without the steps above.  Behind every overnight success is a lifetime of living out that formula.

So get up, Drink your coffee and get at it.

It may be today. It may be tomorrow; or the next day, or the day after.  You never know when you might become the next overnight success!Coffee


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.


Winners Plan, Planners Win!

Do you want to win?  You better learn how to plan!  Almost nobody wanders into success.  Success in any arena takes intentionality. A successful life requires intentionality across all dimensions of life.  Zig Ziglar summed these up as the seven spokes in the “Wheel of Life:”

  • Career
  • Social
  • Financial
  • Family
  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Spiritual

In order to have the type of life we all dream of having we need to plan first to have time to devote to all seven dimensions, and then have a plan in each of these arenas, both short-term, and long-term, if you really expect to achieve results in each area.

Finally, you must realize that a plan is only a plan, subject to change.  A friend of mine who has retired from a distinguished military career including combat command says the army has a saying about this reality:

Fight the Enemy, Not the Plan!

We have to realize that no matter how in-depth and detailed our planning is, that when we go to execute on the plan, things change.  The enemy defies our expectations, unforeseen external forces come into play, we forgot to contemplate a variable altogether…  What do we do at that point?  If you want to win, you cannot run, you cannot wave the white flag…  We have to adjust the plan and press forward to our objective, even if that means a temporary retreat to re-engage under better circumstances.  Just because you made a plan, don’t be married to it!  You did not take a vow to serve the plan “til death do you part.”

With the liberating thought that plans are made to be changed, let me throw out a few challenges for planning across the dimensions of the wheel of life:

  • Career-  How are you doing on executing this year’s plan in your current career role?  Do you know your next step for promotion at your current employer, or advancement by moving on to another?  If you are an entrepreneur, what will take your company to the next level?
  • Social- Who are you planning on having over for dinner in the next month?  What are you doing to create or tie into a network of friends that you can enjoy life with when your kids have flown the coop?
  • Financial- How are you doing at living within your budget this month?  Does every dollar have a name?  Are you telling your money where to go before the month begins, or wondering where it went when the month is through?  What is your number to reach financial independence so you can literally do whatever you want to do for the rest of your life?  How long until you get to that number?
  • Family- Do you have time set aside on your calendar each day to connect with your spouse?  Do you have a weekly date night?  How about a night for a family devotion with the kids?
  • Physical- How many calories can you consume and maintain your weight, or how many do you need to cut to get to where you want to be.  What will you eat today to reach that amount?  How much will you need to exercise if you eat that Krispy Kreme?  Is there time on your calendar set aside for exercise?  Could you maybe combine that with time with your spouse, or time to pursue intellectual pursuits with audible books or podcasts?
  • Mental- What are you doing to expand your knowledge in your specific career track.  Who are you reading or listening to in order to become a better leader, better spouse, better father, better person?  Can you make use of that awful highway commute by tapping into the information superhighway?  Can you listen to podcasts on your commute, your run, or on the elliptical?
  • Spiritual- Do you have time on your calendar each day to pray and meditate?  Could you turn your car into your prayer closet?  Is there a group of like-minded people at your work place who might like to study scripture or a book exploring scripture, together.  What are you doing today to answer the most important question in life?  When you stand before the maker of the universe and he asks, “Why should I let you into my heaven?”

The biggest part of successful planning is committing to do it.  If you want success in an area of life that you are not winning in today, MAKE A PLAN!

Strategy and Execution- Be Like the Buckeyes!

Yes, I am still basking in the afterglow of a College Football National Championship for my team, THE Ohio State University Buckeyes.  As I have contemplated their remarkable success this season, there are many things one could point to as keys to their success. Many of them apply to successful leadership in any setting:

Assemble the Best Team:  They won the last three games with a third string quarterback!  How deep is your bench?

Hire the Best Coach/Leader:  Gotta Love Urban Meyer!  His team would do anything for him.  Would your team do anything for you?

Strategic Plan: Their playbook was designed to beat the best teams in the country.  Is your plan up to your challenges?

Business Plan- Game Planning was impeccable.  Opponents were studied, their weaknesses identified, and their strengths too.  Plans to neutralize and dismantle opponents were made, communicate and practiced.  When it was game time, the team was prepared. How well have you prepared your team for this year’s challenges?

Project Plan– Each game comes down to the outcomes of 100 or so plays.  Each play is like an individual project plan.  Each is an opportunity to go through the “PDCA” cycle.

  • Plan:  Every play starts with coaches on both sides, as well as a quarterback on offense and someone who captains the defense making a “read.”  They take into account what the situation is.  Down and distance, what point they are in the game, what point they are on the field, and the scoreboard.  They look at the competitor’s formation, remember the things they saw on film, and determine what they think will work best.

The Play Call

  • Do: Each side calls their play based on what they think the other is going to do given the circumstances at that very moment and for that situation.  They break their huddles and approach the line of scrimmage.

The Audible

  • Check: Just before they engage, both sides get one last chance to assess the situation.  Is the opponent in the formation they expected, do they have the match-up for which they are hoping?  If not, they can make a change by calling an audible, a change in the plan based on something unexpected, or even an audible by design, because the initial formation was to mislead and the audible play was really the plan all along.

The Execution

  • Act: When all is said and done, they still have to run the play and every team member has to perform his task as designed and practiced.  Strength, speed, and intelligence still come into play, and that is why assembling the best team and having the best leader to prepare the team mentally and physically cannot be downplayed.  Blocks, tackles, ball exchanges, and proper technique must all be employed each and every play to achieve success on that play, in that game, and in the season to take home the ring.

The Outcome

  • Results: Every play has a result.  Some will be good for your team, some will be bad.  Those results are analyzed every play, in real-time by the coaching staff.  They are looking for the things that went right in hopes of duplicating them later.  They are looking for things that went wrong and sending pictures to players on the field of what to do differently the next time.  They are looking for mismatches to exploit, or mismatches to avoid.  Every play’s good or bad result is another opportunity to learn, make adjustments and improve.  The best teams are usually the ones who make the best mid-game and mid-season adjustments and, thereby, improve execution as the game, and the season goes on

The Next Play-

  • PDCA: The Cycle starts again, Plan, Do, Check, Act!  

I know there are a lot of other, more sophisticated tools out there for Process Improvement, especially in a Lean Six Sigma “Black” tool “Belt.”  There are certainly some projects that go beyond the scope for PDCA, but I have found that PDCA can work in about 80% of the projects I have led.  What PI process one chooses is not nearly as important as committing to Process Improvement.  Strategic plans, business plans and project plans will not fly on auto pilot.  The terrain is unknown and unpredictable.  vigilance and constant course correction is required to soar to new heights.

It’s Time for Me to Fly!  How about you?

Four Keys to Managing Setbacks

It is a beautiful fall day. The air has that unmistakably crisp, clean quality  that remembers summer but anticipates fall.  The stadium is rocking with 100,000 plus, all dressed in the home team’s colors as they are set to receive the kick-off.  The drum roll and war cry reaches a crescendo as the kicker kicks-off to the home team’s receiver who takes possession of the ball one yard deep in his own end zone.  The receiver rockets to his right and a wall of blockers start taking on the opposition, but it appears the return will be routine and stopped at the 20-yard line when suddenly the receiver pitches the ball to a teammate headed left on a designed reverse that catches the defenders completely off-guard. Eight seconds later the ball carrier crosses into the end-zone, untouched, and the stadium starts to go crazy.

Then, the Jumbo-Tron screen switches camera views to focus on a 1 foot square of yellow fabric laying on the home team’s 15 yard-line and wails and groans echo throughout the hallowed bleachers.  Penalty, block in the back, no touchdown, no return.  First and 10 at the 10 yard line.  NInety yards to go until pay dirt…

As much as I hate that experience in a football game, and I have lived through many similar ones as a Redskins fan, when that experience occurs in the workplace it is much more gut wrenching and personally challenging.  I had one of those experiences this week.

I was brought into my current position, with my current employer mainly to launch one new service.  I have been working with an enormously dedicated and talented group of individuals for almost a full year to bring the program on-line.  This week we had our dedication ceremony, and our launch, and then the next day we made the strategic decision to “scrub the launch,”  The decision was the right one, and when we re-launch we will be even better, but it does feel as though we scored and now have been SETBACK.

As a leader I believe there are Four Keys to Managing Setbacks:

Stay Positive:  Imagine you are the quarterback who leads the team out to the 10 yard line after the kick-off return is called back.  What would you say and do?  Wouldn’t you look every one of your team members in the eye and remind them that you have a game plan to execute that did not include a kick-off return for a touchdown, then challenge them to execute on their part of every play this drive and every drive until the fourth quarter is over and your team is victorious?  Or would you go into the huddle and lament the call on the previous play?  The answer is pretty obvious, right?

Keep Perspective:  The service that I was hired to help lead into fruition is one that a key team member told me on the original launch day had been talked about for twenty years!  Our expected delay until full launch is expected to be 45 days.  Twenty Years, 45 days…  Really, WHO CARES!  I need to lay aside my wounded pride and realize how far we have come and get ready to celebrate even harder in 6 weeks!

Put It In The Past:  Let’s look at the teammate who was charged for the penalty on the kick-off.  The replay showed the block was thrown well away from the action.  It was an unnecessary penalty, leading to an unnecessary setback.  As a leader, what are you going to do and say to this teammate?  Are you going to give him the cold shoulder, or worse yet, rip into him for his stupid, unecessary act? That would be pretty foolish as he is a starting outside linebacker who is on the field half of the game and integral on every defensive snap to keep the opposing team from scoring.  Instead, you need to help him forget about that one mistake and focus on the task at hand.

Push Toward the Prize: In any setback situation the key is to focus everyone back on the goal.  One called back touchdown does not lose the game.  One lost game does not ruin a season.  One bad season does not ruin a career.  A career failure does not have to ruin a life.  Wherever you find yourself, there is a purpose from this point forward.  Find that purpose, focus on it and move on.

For my current teammates, thanks for all your hard work and dedication.  I am looking forward to the locker celebration in our not so distant future!

“It’s Best Practice!” the new “Cause I said so!”

Remember the good ol days?!

Do you remember as a kid when your Mom or Dad told you to do something that you did not want to do, or at least not right then.  The “discussion” went back and forth. You came up with every reason that you should not have to do it.  When that failed you gave all the reasons it could wait until later.  Finally you would make the costly fatal mistake.  You would ask something in exasperation like, “Why do I have to do it right this minute?!” to which the “discussion” ending answer would be stated authoritatively:  “Cause I said so!”

I  have two sons, 20 and 17 years old.  Long gone are the days when that phrase works for me at home!  Furthermore, as an emotionally intelligent leader, I have avoided using such language in the work place unless it is completely unavoidable.  I can count on one hand the number of times I have used it in 28 years as a leader, and count on one finger the times I have felt good about it afterwards!

Thankfully, a couple of weeks ago, some colleagues educated me on another phrase that can be used in the workplace as effectively as my parents’ infamous “Cause I said so!”

We are implementing an expedited service, spanning a large part of the organization.  What normally takes hours we are going to do in minutes.  In order to achieve this,  I needed something from a support department that would allow us to perform mock run tests of the system under the new time constraints to identify potential failure points and make necessary adjustments.

Without getting into details let’s just say that what I thought was a simple request was not seen that way by my colleagues in this support area.  In fact, they thought that I should have come to them a lot sooner in the process and do it in a particular manner they preferred.  I thought my way was a lot easier, offered little risk, and asked them if they would make an exception to their normal process.

I don’t know if you have ever asked for an exception from a support service, but it can be a little like a kid trying to win an argument with his/her parents.  It’s an uphill battle at best, and useless at worst.  This time, however, I knew I had the high ground.  There were no new processes to speak of, and I just needed one little thing to be able to do our testing.  I am a persuasive guy, I knew I would convince them of my logical reasoning.

So… the discussion began.  I employed my best emotionally intelligent communication techniques.  I kept emotion out of it, listened more than talked and explained the logic behind my reasoning.  In the end, I failed!  They maintained it had to be done their way.  No exceptions could be made.  Then I did the unthinkable!  I asked that one question that brought about the end of all reasoning…  I asked, “Why not?”

Childhood memories and frustrations flooded back in when the Support Services representative gave me that look like I should know better and spoke these devastating words…”Because it’s best practice.”

Now, I know that there are evidenced based best practices in any industry, but I am in healthcare.  To acknowledge that you might do anything that goes against best practice is like saying you want to kill people!  That was it!  I was finished!

Since then, I have done an exhaustive literary search to find the study that supports the assertion that the way that they mandated was indeed best practice for my specific situation.  I have not found it yet.  We have burned through 120 man hours to create the test environment needed to follow their “best practice” and have at least 30 hours more to complete the task.  Conservatively, we are paying team members an average of $50 per hour for this project.  That’s $7,500.  Oh, and Mock Runs have been delayed for 3 weeks.

Don’t misunderstand, I am sure the end product will be great for the additional effort.  Not only that, I have a new tool in my belt to avoid the necessity to logically convince people about future initiatives I embark upon.  After all, I will only choose to pursue “Best Practice!”

What is Better Than Success?

Strange title to appear on a blog titled: 3RsofSuccess, right?

The truth is, the longer I write about leadership and success the more I realize that real success is not what most people envision.  If you did a word association test with 100 people and asked them to say the first thing that popped in their heads when you say, “Success!”  What kind of responses do you think wou would get?  I believe it would be things like: money, power, riches, mansion, Lamborghini, wealth, friends, influence.

Those things are all wonderful.  I would be happy to have them all, and in quantity!  The problem is a lot of people chase these things, maybe even attain them all, but never becoming successful.

I am a firm believer that real success may lead to the things on the list above, as well as love, peace, joy, happiness, strong family relationships and more.  Yet most people who chase after these things end up like King Solomon at the end of his life realizing that all the striving for material and or even the more noble vestiges of success, do not create success.  Chasing them is like chasing the wind.

So what is the secret of success?

I believe Albert Einstein summed it up nicely when he said, “Don’t try to be a man of success, rather try to be a man of value.”

When one focuses on being a man of success, the focus is all internal.  What can I do, be, get, that will result in me being happy, wealthy, revered, powerful, etc.  On the other hand, if one wants to be a man of value the focus shift 180 degrees to see what it is you can do that will help others.

In order to add the most value, I believe we have to first be connected to a greater purpose.  I believe we are all in this world for a reason, and have been gifted with talents and abilities to achieve great things.  That belief takes all my fears away because it is not all up to me to win or lose.  I am just part of a plan.  That belief also propels me to give my all to the purpose for which I was created and to be a person of character, because flaws in character, judgment, and integrity could cost me the opportunity to fullfill my purpose.

Once I am connected to my purpose and grounded in integrity, my focus to add value causes me to look at my family, my community and my world and ask, what can I do that will truly serve these people?  What gifts and talents have I been given, and how can those be used to help the most people?

I am a student of history.  When you think back to high school or college history classes, who are the people that you admired most?  Was it the conquerors and empire builders?  Was it the political or business leaders that dominated their day?  Or was it the people that added value like Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, or Lincoln?  Who’s legacy will be seen more positively; Joseph Stalin or Mother Theresa?

So what is better than “success?”…  Serving!  

I guarantee if you are a Servant Leader, and serve enough others well, connecting to the purpose for which you were created, and using your unique talents and gifts, the other things on your success list will also start showing up.  You will not have to chase after them, they will be attracted to you like steel to a magnet!  I have seen it in many successful people’s lives, and have been blessed to experience it in mine.

3 Questions Leaders Must Answer to Engage Stakeholders in Change

I have made a career out of leading change.  I enjoy the change process.  It is time-consuming, always difficult, politically dangerous, and often frustrating.  It takes long days, short nights, and meetings.  Lots and Lots of meetings!  Why doesn’t everybody love this?

What makes change worthwhile is when the change has worth.  Change for change sake is a waste of time, energy, resources, and political capital.  The problem is, people never know if the change you are trying to engage them in is change for change sake until you answer three important questions.  If you can answer them to their satisfaction, you will be able to engage people in the change.  If not, well, better luck next time!

Why Do We Need To Change?

Stephen Covey calls this “beginning with the end in mind.”  Leaders must cast a vision.  There is a proverb that says, “Without a vision, the people perish.”  The same is true of a change initiative.  If you cannot connect your change initiative to the Mission and Vision of your organization, assuming that the Mission and Vision itself is accepted, your initiative is doomed from the start.  People will only endure pain, only if it is connected to a greater purpose.  As Quint Studer, leader of the Studer Group consulting firm whose mission is all about changing institutional culture, says, “We must connect to the Why” in order to experience “meaningful, purposeful work.”

What’s In It For Me?

This is a question you must answer for every individual you need to participate in the change.  I used to see this as selfish and annoying.  I believed the greater good should override any self-interest.  That is how I am wired.  As a leader, however, I cannot usually rally enough people to enact significant change without addressing this question.  Additionally, I have discovered by endeavoring to answer this question I achieve far greater results.  This is why.

Answering this question requires meeting with the individuals, hearing their concerns, understanding their current situation and how they believe this change will affect them.  Often you will start to hear major recurring themes among the people involved that will necessitate precursor change prior to the change you envision.  Without this process, the change you plan might fail miserably.  Addressing the issues of the individuals leads to a better outcome and also gains more engagement.

Will This Last?

There is nothing more disheartening to a team than to fully engage in a change and then have some new initiative pull away the focus, resources, and commitment to sustain the change.  Answering this question is always important and applies to any change.  Whether it is an individual person, a department, an entire hospital system or Fortune 500 Company that is engaging in change, people want to know that this is not the flavor of the month.

If you are not 100% sure of the change then consider using a “rapid cycle” change process with a small test of change that is much less resource intense than the complete change initiative.  Make sure the participants understand that this is a test, or a pilot so that if you back out of the initiative, you will not dishearten them and lose them for future change initiatives.  I do caution over-use of this process, especially in professional service industries.  No matter your good intentions, this can often lead to a culture of change fatigue and a perception that the organization enacts change for change sake, and that leaders do not use evidence based thinking.

Final thoughts:

We live in an age where the only thing constant is change.  As leaders, we need to assure our teams that the change we ask of them is ultimately for the long-term viability and stability of our organizations and the needs of the customers we serve.  It cannot be about our pet projects, adding to our fiefdom, or impressing the C-Suite.

Finally, if you do not need to change, don’t!

Good luck finding that scenario!