Rivers & Swamps

A river flows.  A swamp stagnates.  

A river gathers strength.  A swamp generates stench.

A river provides energy.  A swamp fuels decay.

A river identifies a path much traveled.  A swamp invites aimless wandering.

A river has boundaries that provide direction and generate power.  A swamp is a featureless morass that easily entangles and consumes.

Building Boundaries in my Life & Business

As a strategy leader for a multi-billion dollar business and now a mentor to embryonic businesses at a local startup incubator, we coach leaders to define the boundaries of their business.  Personal mentors–authors, pastors/priests, coaches/bosses–often urge us to do the same in our personal lives.  This exercise is both superficially simple and deeply difficult. There is a tendency to define ourselves and our business by what we do (i.e. our professional vocation, community role, the products we sell or the services we provide).  However, highly successful businesses dive below the surface to define why we do it and often think in terms of the desired outcome in the lives of family, friends, colleagues, customers and suppliers.  

Even if we can get below the surface to develop a richly fruitful understanding of what we do and why we do it, we face continual challenges in living up to what we believe defines us.  

Why is it so difficult?

I touched on part of the challenge in  Beliefs, Behaviors and Branding.  Beyond that, human nature instinctively resists the imposition of boundaries.  Boundaries restrain our freedom to explore.  Boundaries confine us to the mundane.  Boundaries limit our options.  The idea of going anywhere, doing anything and being anybody sounds seductively liberating.  But, in most cases we simply don’t like being told what to do.  

Why boundaries matter?

Whether we like it or not, individuals and businesses remain subject to natural laws.  One such reality is that every individual and business faces the reality of limited resources in every dimension.  Well defined boundaries for our businesses and lives avoid the wasteful spending of our limited resources.  Aligning our beliefs and behaviors provides the focus that generates exponential returns from our investments of time, talents and treasures ($$$).  Consequently, it becomes crucial to define who we are, what we do and why we do it so that we are equipped to recognize and rebuff ideas and invitations that fall outside our boundaries.  We must reframe those crossroads questions; not can we do it, but should we do it.   

Putting it into Practice.

  • Create a written list of your own resources
  • Carve out some reflective time to define (or update) your boundaries in writing — things you will (and won’t) do in life or business; this might be in the form of a mission statement, a list of values you cherish.
  • Periodically test the alignment among your beliefs, boundaries and behaviors (at least annually)
My present period of voluntary unemployment creates the luxury of more contemplative time.  Those reflective times have variously challenged, frustrated, and encouraged me.  It has forced me to consider the need to define some new boundaries in my life and build up the levees in other areas to prevent the chaos that occurs when a river overflows its banks.

Thanks to @BuddyHoffman for the reference to rivers & swamps that got my mind moving down the track of this topic.

Made for Eternity; Trapped in Time

The Genesis account of Creation clearly portrays the idea that God designed mankind to live forever. According to the same Genesis account, the Fall of Man consigned our immortal souls to live in a temporal body and world subject to disease, death and decay. That juxtaposition of mortality and immortality creates a challenging internal tension that influences how I interact with the world around me and use my finite time and talents.

If I believe that my spirit will live forever and further believe that my actions here on earth will influence my eternal existence, how should that impact my decisions and actions. Even if you do not believe in an afterlife but are concerned about your personal legacy, read on.

While I may feel the pains of prior sickness or accidents, my body is always marching through time confined to the present. My mind may deliberate about the past or dream about the future, but I decide in the present. My limited mind cannot grasp eternity. However, that limitation does not preclude me from making choices for predetermined purposes with reasonably assurance of the outcomes. Am I suggesting we can predict the future? In a manner of speaking, I am saying exactly that.

Natural laws describe observable cause-and-effect in the world. The universal applicability of these natural laws forecast reasonably predictable outcomes. For example, violence usually breeds violence and kindness often begets kindness. When I align my beliefs and behaviors with these timeless truths my influence extends beyond my present space and time into eternity and defines my legacy.

So how do I do that?

First, I must become a diligent student of human nature and the physical world. My diligence in studying natural laws determines the degree to which I ground my own beliefs in timeless truths. As I have noted in previous posts, highly effective people take the time to capture their own beliefs in writing or regularly study the writings of others.

Second, I must periodically invest time to think deeply about my beliefs and rigorously assess their alignment with timeless truths.

Third, I must rigorously train my mind to set aside vengeance for the past and instead consistently choose the greater good of the future over the fleeting pleasure of the present. In other words, I must make purpose-driven choices.

Fourth, I must relentlessly discipline my behaviors into alignment with my beliefs.

In short, the key to reconciling my eternal nature with my temporal existence is discovering Truth and living my life in accordance with that Truth.
A shout out to @EricMetaxas and @RaviZacharias who both tweeted on this topic recently and got my mind thinking about this subject.

Beliefs, Behaviors & Branding

     I’ve recently gotten involved as a volunteer mentor at Georgia Tech’s startup incubator.  The process teaches budding entrepreneurs how to discover whether their idea might become a sustainable business.  The principles are deceptively simple to understand and incredibly challenging to implement, because startup entrepreneurs often believe so passionately about their idea that they become susceptible to what’s called Confirmation Bias.
     This malady is common to the human condition.  We all hold certain beliefs about our business, family and self and possess an innately tuned bias that selectively finds examples of behaviors that confirm our beliefs.  Yet we often get surprised when others react to us in ways that seem inconsistent with our beliefs.  This dissonance arises from a gap between beliefs and behaviors.
      We cannot resolve this dissonance by more effective marketing of our beliefs and values, because our behaviors almost always have greater impact than our beliefs–as the old adage says, “What we do speaks so loudly others cannot hear what we say (let alone think).”
     In the business world, branding experts zealously strive for consistency between behaviors and beliefs, because they know that behaviors inconsistent with a brand’s target image undermine the brand and decrease its value.  In fact, all of their efforts zero in on translating their beliefs into consistent behaviors so that everyone who interacts with that product or service has a similar experience.
     At a personal level, people know us (our personal brand) by how we behave.  When our behaviors remain consistent over time it establishes a level of predictability which makes it easier for people to interact with us–they know what to expect.  When our behaviors are aligned with our beliefs we experience less distracting and destructive personal stress.  And when our beliefs are further aligned with Truth we experience a harmonic resonance of personal productivity and effectiveness.
Putting it into practice
     My friend, Jack Williams, created a personal mission statement entitled his “I Believe” list.  Jack knows that defining what he believes isn’t enough to make a difference; so Jack reads his “I Believe” list frequently to remind himself of what he values. Periodically Jack reviews the list and evaluates his behaviors against his beliefs. If his assessment reveals behaviors reliably inconsistent with one of his stated beliefs, Jack takes that as evidence of disbelief, and he removes that item.  That can be a sobering reality check when one of those beliefs might be “I believe that I communicate love and respect for my children by consistently participating in events important to them” or “I believe that consistently spending quality one-on-one time with each direct report is crucial to their professional development.”

Learning to Leave a Legacy — What’s in a Name?

Before I get too far out of the starting gate, this blog’s name, “Learning to Leave a Legacy” deserves its own post.
Webster’s dictionary defines “legacy” as anything handed down from the past. Since every living person has a past, we must not ask, am I leaving a legacy, but, what legacy am I leaving? A legacy may:
  • Uplift or tear down
  • Enrich or impoverish
  • Expand or contract
  • Enlighten or obscure
  • Spread peace or strife
  • Cast narrow or broad
I’m writing this post sitting in the home of my recently deceased aunt.  An auction company is removing the personal possessions from her home.  It’s a sobering experience to observe how little those things mean.  I want the measure of my lifespan on earth to leave a legacy of enduring value to others in my circle of influence. Like many of you, I want others to think of me as wise.
Webster’s dictionary defines “wisdom” as knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action. In other words, a wise person aligns their beliefs and behaviors with Truth. 
Let’s consider that definition in two pieces–knowledge of the truth and practicing justice. 
1. Knowledge of the Truth
But how do I know what is right or true? I see at least three ways to acquire knowledge of the truth.  One, humans have a conscience that sometimes accuses and at other times defends our own actions; although my repeated actions can sharpen or dull this innate sense for what is right. Two, the Christian faith teaches that any person who lacks wisdom may receive it by asking of God who gives to all generously. And third, we may acquire wisdom through life experience.  Since this third source is the only one we influence as humans, I want to explore it a bit.
Even a cursory observation of mankind concludes that acquiring wisdom requires something more than longevity of life. That something is a zest for learning. Whether they do so consciously or not, most wise people acquire knowledge of the truth by applying a process akin to the scientific method. 
First, they intentionally seek and voraciously consume the acquired knowledge and wisdom from those who preceded them. From that knowledge and their own life experience they develop hypotheses (or beliefs) about what is right or true. However, those ideas remain academic information until tested in their individual lives. That testing process requires purposeful action; most notably, making time for reflection in order to progress upon a learning path (Applying our senses to collect data >> Sifting the data for patterns to glean information >> Acting on that information to acquire knowledge >> Repeatedly practicing knowledge in a variety of circumstances to gain the expertise/wisdom).
2. Practicing Justice
Like our conscience, I would contend that we are also born with an innate sense of fairness.  Consider small children who are quick to say, “That’s not fair!” at perceived injustice. However, unless arrested, our naturally selfish nature will breed a callous disregard for others that eventually dampens our ability to sense injustice. This  tendency suggests the wisdom to produce a powerful and positive legacy rests on a servant’s heart.
Learning to Leave a Legacy
Summing up…a powerfully positive legacy requires a commitment to intentional learning and a heart of service toward others.  This blog, “Learning to Leave a Legacy” embodies my commitment to share what I am learning on the journey of building my own legacy.

Assets, Inventory & Giving

     The 14-Apr post on Lessons from Networking generated some interesting dialogue with those I’ve met in the intervening ten days or so.  A couple of those dialogues made significant impressions on my outlook.  Over the past decade or so I’ve mentally toyed with the idea of writing and sharing more frequently, but I’ve always been reluctant to dive in.  Two reasons would usually stamped out any thoughts of committing to regular sharing.  One, maybe some folks can sit down and rapidly capture meaningful thoughts, but for me it’s a time-consuming and deliberative thought process.  And, two, I was afraid of having little, if anything, to share that others would find interesting or meaningful in their lives.
     The past week has been another example of God intentionally lining up people to hammer a common message into my head like ammo in a gun on full automatic.  As my heart and mind have continued to chew on how to make regular deposits to the emotional bank accounts of the relationships in my life network, I keep getting drawn back to the notion of writing for the purpose of giving.  
     Once my mind headed down this path, I quickly realized that we cannot give something we do not already possess.  On the balance sheet of a business, we categorize things we own as “assets.”  One of the periodic activities of successful people and businesses is that they periodically step away from doing and take an inventory.
     So, what assets do I possess (you will need to conduct your own inventory)?  I narrowed my list down to five big categories.  I do not pretend this list is comprehensive (it ignores tangible assets–monetary or physical assistance); however, this inventory represents elements crucial to any effective relationship–gifts from both the head and the heart.
  1. Time — In this fast-paced world, time for many of us is our most precious asset
  2. Talents — Those traits inherent from birth that make each of us better at some things than most people around me
  3. Training — The lessons life has and continues to teach me
  4. Transparency — Being real and vulnerable with others
  5. Truth — The Natural Laws, designed by our Creator, that govern the affairs of mankind
     I still do not know if anyone will consistently find value in what I share, but that barrier, which previously kept me from starting down this path, is falling in the face of several truths.  First, since I believe that God owns it all, “my” life assets are really His assets to use and hoarding them is a disingenuous lack of faith.  Second, any gift involves relinquishing control.  The outcome is in the hands of the reader/recipient, and not my concern.  Third, I am left with this simple, yet deep question… am I giving (writing in this context) for the best interests of the reader/recipient?
     So What (can I do now)? [Since I’m a huge believer in action-oriented learning (i.e. applying the lessons we are trying to learn), I will usually include in these posts a few suggestions on practical steps you can take to apply the concepts discussed in the post.  Otherwise, it’s just an intellectual dialogue firmly anchored in mid-air.]
  1. Conduct your own periodic inventory of life assets (life is dynamic; so it will change over time)
  2. Decide how you will share those assets into the lives of others in your circle of influence
  3. Put that plan into action
  4. Return to Step 1 and repeat