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Posts from the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

How the Mighty Fall

In Jim Collins’ helpful book “How the Mighty Fall” he describes the following tell-tale signs of an organization in the first stage of decline from “greatness.”

  • Success, entitlement, arrogance: Success is viewed as ‘deserved,’ rather than fortuitous, fleeting, or even hard-earned in the face of daunting odds; people begin to believe that success will continue almost no matter what the organization decides to do, or not to do.
  • Neglect of the primary flywheel: Distracted by extraneous threats, adventures, and opportunities, leaders neglect a primary flywheel, failing to renew it with the same creative intensity that made it great in the first place.
  • ‘What’ replaces ‘why’: The rhetoric of success (‘We’re successful because we do these specific things’) replaces understanding and insight (‘We’re successful because we understand why we do these specific things and under what conditions they would no longer work’).
  • Decline in learning orientation: Leaders lose the inquisitiveness and learning orientation that mark those truly great individuals who, no matter how successful they become, maintain a learning curve as steep as when they first began their careers.”

I consider making a regular and honest assessment of SpringHill (and myself) against these markers one of my top priorities. I have no doubt the moment I stop the self assessment, both I and SpringHill, have taken the first step towards decline.

For Me, Against Me, or for Yourself?

Jeremie Kubicek, President and CEO of Giant Impact, challenges us in his thoughtful book, Leadership is Dead – How Influence is Reviving It, to imagine what the effectiveness of our leadership would look like if we were truly “for others” before we were for ourselves or our organizations.

“Think about it this way: people around you are either for you, against you, or just for themselves. While there may be variations on these three motives, this concept generally holds true…

(Now) take out a sheet of paper and make a short list of the people in your life (business, home, family and so forth). Answer this question for each: ‘Is this person for me, against me, or for himself/herself?’

Revealing isn’t it? Now turn the tide. What would they say you were to them? For them, against them, or for yourself?

The reality is that the majority of people are self-centered. Rarely are people against you. It’s more that they are for themselves and totally driven by self-interest. It’s human nature. Most people I know are in survival mode day-to-day, doing whatever they can to take care of their families and their businesses and organizations. I fall into that mode, and it’s likely that you do too.

What would happen, though if you intentionally demonstrated that you were for the people on this list? You would see amazing changes transpire in the lives of those around you if they knew you were invested in their success as well as your own.

Imagine yourself becoming so significant in other people’s’ lives that you are not only memorable but also valuable to them. Imagine people believing that you want the best for them and understanding that you are for them. Imagine that they open up to you, enabling you to wield true influence and have an impact. Imagine experiencing, as a result of these things, the fulfilling relationships you’ve dreamed of at work and at home.”

A Thought from America’s Greatest Theologian

In honor of Independence Day the following is a thought from America’s greatest theologian, Jonathan Edwards.

“No notion of God’s last end in creation of the world is agreeable to reason, which would truly imply any indigence, insufficiency and mutability in God, or any dependence of the Creator on the creature for any part of his perfection or happiness.

Though it be true that God’s glory and happiness…are infinite and cannot be added to, and …(are) perfectly independent of the creature; yet it does not hence follow, nor is it true, that God has no real and proper delight, pleasure, or happiness in any of his acts or communications relative to the creature.

God has respect to himself, as his last and highest end, in this work; because he is worthy in himself to be so, being infinitely the greatest and best of beings. All things else, with regard to worthiness, importance, and excellence, are perfectly as nothing in comparison to him.

All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, the glory of God.”

Jonathan Edwards from The End of Which God Created the World as quoted in John Piper’s God’s Passion for His Glory

Help a Kid go to Camp this Summer without Writing SpringHill a Check

Yes, you can help send a financially challenged child to SpringHill this summer without writing us a check. Let me explain how.

You may have noticed the note below the “Books I’m currently Reading” section of my blog (right side of the main page). It’s there because my friend and one of SpringHill’s regional Vice Presidents, Craig Soderdahl, recommended in March I apply to become an Amazon Sales Associate.

Craig, being the great entrepreneur that he is, told me that I should be receiving commissions for any books sold through Amazon that I recommend or review. So, with his help, I’ve become an official Amazon Sales Associate.

Now, please understand, I write my blog for a number of reasons, but making money isn’t one of them. Instead, after talking it over with Craig, I realized that I’m actually, in some small way, helping Amazon make money. So, in fairness, Amazon should compensate me for promoting their products.

So here’s my idea – use all of my blog’s commissions to send a needy child to SpringHill this summer. So far without mentioning it at all, my blog’s earned nearly $100 in commissions, part way to sending a kid to camp.

And here’s the best part of this whole deal, my blog receives a commission on every sale of any item that started with a click on my blog, not just the books I’m highlighting. And, even better, it costs the buyer exactly nothing more buying through my blog than going directly to the Amazon website.

Now you see how you can help send a kid to camp (and keep my reasons for blogging pure)?

Any time you buy from Amazon, just access their website through my blog by clicking on one of the books on the right. All the accounting happens automatically and confidentially (I have no access on who makes purchases) and the sales commission will go to our Camper Scholarship Fund.

And, the best part, at the end of the summer, I’ll be able to share with you the story of the child we help send to SpringHill.

A Case for More (and better) Meetings

In honor of today’s SpringHill Leadership Team’s monthly strategy meeting, I found Patrick Lencioni’s perspective on meetings in his new book The Advantage – Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, both helpful and hopeful.

“No action, activity, or process is more central to a healthy organization than the meeting. As dreaded as the ‘m’ word is, as maligned as it has become, there is no better way to have a fundamental impact on an organization than by changing the way it does meetings.

In fact, if someone were to offer me one single piece of evidence to evaluate the health of an organization, I would not ask to see its financial statements, review its product line, or even talk to is employees or customers; I would want to observe the leadership team during a meeting. This is where the values are established, discussed, and lived and where decisions around strategy and tactics vetted, made and reviewed. Bad meetings are the birthplace of unhealthy organizations, and good meetings are the origin of cohesion, clarity and communication.

So why in the world do we hate meetings? Probably because they are usually awful. More often than not they are boring, unfocused, wasteful, and frustrating. Somehow we’ve come to accept this – to believe that there is just something inherently wrong with the whole idea of meetings. It’s almost as though we see them as a form of corporate penance, something that is inevitable and must be endured.

Well, I am utterly convinced that there is nothing inherently bad about meetings, nothing that can’t be fixed if we confront the problems we’ve allowed to calcify over the years.”

Check out Lencioni’s books The Advantage and Death by Meetings for practical ways to have better, more effective meetings.

Books that Gave Me Nightmares



Over the last couple of months I did something that literally gave me nightmares. I read Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas while listening to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer.

If you’re not familiar with Bonhoeffer, it’s an award-winning book about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It tells the story of this courageous resistance leader in Nazi Germany, who also happen to be a brilliant theologian, compassionate pastor, and committed follower of Jesus Christ. The story is inspiring and challenging.

On the other hand, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich‘s considered one of the best histories of Hitler and Nazi Germany. It’s a fascinating story, filled with details, about one of the darkest times in the history of the world. Even after listening to the book, it’s still impossible for me to grasp the true evil perpetrated by Hitler and the Nazis.

But it’s where these two books intersect that I had my nightmares. I would dream on the nights after a day of listening to and reading both books. And my dreams were always the same – I stood by while people were mercilessly being killed and, by doing so, I shared the guilt of the murderers.

So I’ve become convinced that the source of these nightmares lay in the challenge of Bonhoeffer’s life, and in my doubts about my own convictions and courage – would I see evil around me and stand up to it, even it meant death? It’s a question that’s haunted my dreams, and my waking hours, over the past few months. And every morning I found myself praying “Lord, if I ever need it, please give me just an ounce of Bonhoeffer’s courage, so I too can stand against evil in this world.”

Prep – Do – Review

Being the Boss – The 3 Imperatives for becoming a Great Leader by Linda A. Hill and Kent Linebeck is a helpful book for new or growing leaders. It provides both a philosophical and practical approach to leading yourself, leading your network and leading your team.

For example one of the most practical suggestions the authors give is a simple, three-step tool for tackling any kind of task or situation, called Prep – Do – Review.

The first step – “Prep. Before acting, take literally a minute to prepare. Ask yourself, What am I about do to? Why am I going to do it? (That is, what goal, no matter how simple, are you trying to reach?) Who will be involved or affected, and what are their interests? And how am I going to do it?

Step two – “Do. Perform the action you prepared to take in the prep stage.”

Finally, step three – “Review. Afterward, reflect on what was done and the outcome, including any expected or unexpected consequences. Identify the lessons to be learned. How would you perform the action differently in the future?”

As you can see one the keys to using it effectively is asking a lot of the right questions. And as Hill and Linebeck state, asking good questions is “a fundamental skill that, in our experience, all effective managers possess to a high degree.”

And the beauty of Prep – Do – Review is that it can be applied to everything from simple tasks to major events, from going through your day or week, to career planning. And, if it can become a regular part of how you work, it will undoubtedly make you a more effective leader.

 

Some Non-Fishing Insight from A River Runs Through It

As I said in my earlier post, A River Runs Through It is one of my favorite stories, much of my love for it has to do with its observations about life not just its insight on fishing. So below I’ve pulled some of my favorite “non fishing” quotes. After your done reading them, even if you’re not a fisherman, you may want to read the entire story for yourself. It may stir your heart as it does mine.

“My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”

“Sunrise is the time to feel that you will be able to find out how to help somebody close to you who you think needs help even if he doesn’t think so. At sunrise everything is luminous but not clear.”

“Even the anatomy of a river was laid bare. Not far downstream was a dry channel where the river had run once, and part of the way to come to know a thing is through its death. But years ago I had known the river when it flowed through this now dry channel, so I could enliven its stony remains with the waters of memory.”

“As the heat mirages on the river in front of me danced with and through each other. I could feel the patterns from my own life joining with them. It was here, while waiting for my brother, that I started this story, although, of course, at the time I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books.”

“For all of us, though, it is much easier to read the waters of tragedy.”

“‘Help’, he said, ‘is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly. So it is,’ he said, using an old homiletic transition, ‘that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed. It is like the auto-supply shop over town where they always say, ‘Sorry, we are just out of that part.’

A River Runs Through It – Some Thoughful Quotes

In honor of it being spring and the beginning of fishing season I’ve re-read some of my favorite fishing passages from one of my favorite books – A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. See if these words don’t get you ready to wet a line and land the big one.

“Poets talk about ‘spots of time,’ but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment. No one can tell what a spot is until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone.”

“‘Brother,’ he said ‘you can’t catch trout in a bathtub. You like to fish in sunny, open water because you are a Scot and afraid to lose a fly if you cast into the bushes. But fish are not taking sunbaths. They are under the bushes where it is cool and safe from fishermen like you.”

“One reason Paul caught more fish than anyone else was that he had his flies in the water more than anyone else. ‘Brother,’ he would say, ‘there are no flying fish in Montana. Out here, you can’t catch fish with your flies in the air.'”

“Something within fishermen tries to make fishing into a world perfect and apart – I don’t know what it is or where, because sometimes it is in my arms and sometimes in my throat and sometimes nowhere in particular except somewhere deep. Many of us probably would be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time watching and waiting for the world to become perfect.”

“Every fine fisherman has a few stunts that work for him and for almost no one else.”

If you aren’t going to go out and fish soon, read The River Runs Through It, there’s more to it than some wisdom for fishermen.

 

Two Lessons from Beauty and the Beast

Without a doubt my favorite Disney movie of all time is Beauty and the Beast. So it thrilled me when the school our kids attend, Northern Michigan Christian School, decided to perform it for its spring musical.

The performance was this past weekend and it was inspiring to watch our son Mitch as Gaston, along with many of his school mates, act and sing so masterfully. The entire cast, directors and orchestra did an incredible job. Watching it twice wasn’t enough.

Though the story isn’t perfect, as I watched it again, I remembered why Beauty and the Beast became my favorite Disney movie. It’s because it communicates two valuable lessons about the realities of life.

The first one is the most obvious, it’s the warning not to judge another person by their appearance, because what’s on the inside a person is more important than what is on the outside.

The second lesson, admittedly more clearly communicated in the stage version, is the fact that our decisions and actions always have serious ramifications for those around us. We don’t live on islands. It’s best expressed when Cogsworth, the talking clock, asks “why did we have to get involved in all this spell business? It’s not like we’re the ones who threw the old hag out of the castle.”

It’s this second lesson that’s the most uncomfortable for us to face. You see, we want our personal freedom but we don’t want to believe our choices impact those around us, because if they do, then we’d have to choose between our own desires and the welfare of others. And the fact is, we place a higher value on our freedom of choice than on the good of others. So we too often try to ignore this inconvenient connection between our actions and their impact on those around us. But it’s a truth we can’t escape.

And it’s a truth so clearly and compellingly communicated in Beauty and the Beast, and one we all desperately need to take to heart.

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