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The Thrill of Getting Published is Far Greater Than Actually Selling Any Books

April 15, 2013

Presentation1A couple weeks ago I received a royalty check from the publisher of my e-book, At Work as it is in Heaven. It wasn’t much – enough to buy a couple tanks of gas for my SUV. But the point is, there is now hard evidence that some wretched working souls somewhere on this lonely planet have actually punched their way through enough mouse clicks to actually purchase the thing.

We’re not talking about thousands of people, so calm down. But we can safely count in the hundreds, which I consider a miracle in and of itself.

Although, truthfully, I probably could have raised as much money with far less work by holding a bake sale.

But really, friends, it was never about the money – even though getting a surprise royalty check in the mail is great fun, if nothing more than to hear yourself while spreading out your arms in a great stretch and a casual yawn say to your friends, “Oh, yes, another royalty check arrived in the mail today.”

I had always dreamed of saying those words.

Those same friends hardly need to know, of course, that my daughter made as much from her last two babysitting gigs. Better to keep them guessing. Read more…


Are You Dealing with Complexity, Ambiguity and Uncertainty? Join the Club.

April 8, 2013

IMG_1441There is a saying here at my company: we like to see managers get “bloodied up a bit” before moving them into more prominent leadership roles.

If we believe someone has management potential, we will intentionally put them in a situation where they will encounter extreme conflict, opposition, or just plain ambiguity (which in and of itself can be very stressful). Then we will watch closely to see how the candidate responds.

How will they handle an impossible situation where there is no right or wrong answer, but a decision has to be made?

How will they manage conflict and difficult personalities?

How will they weather through a thorny issue that may take a year or two to work its way through to resolution?

Our hope is that the painful, difficult experiences will help mature the person in question, and that through the experience they will gain wisdom, as well as a measure of trust and respect from both the executives and their peers.

It’s counter-intuitive, but sometimes the best thing to help us grow is to be put into a really difficult, challenging situation. God does this to me all the time. He doesn’t care what I think,  because he knows better. He sees my potential, way beyond what I think I’m capable of.

I picture Him, rubbing his hands together with this glint in his eyes as he gathers the archangels around him, saying, “Hey guys – check it out: This Mr. Wood here is getting far too comfortable. Let’s beat the crap out of him for a while. He’ll thank me later.”

If these experiences don’t do you in, they usually provide an excellent opportunity to grow in maturity and stamina. In my company’s case, it also allows the prospective manager to experience the practical realities of leadership, with all the messy employee issues and market chaos and unexpected crap hitting the fan. And we can’t really trust a manager to make major decisions or handle significant responsibilities without having observed them live through some of these situations, and eventually coming out the other side in tact.

I don’t know why the difficult, gut-wrenching experiences are so crucial, other than they somehow test us – our will, our strength – and humble us at the same time. And that’s how we grow in wisdom and confidence.

Now, there’s a great formula for leadership: wisdom, confidence, and humility.

Will you also feel like you got beat up a little along the way? Sure you will.

Join the club.

You Must Build Credibility Before You Can Have Influence

April 2, 2013

imagesLast Easter Sunday was not only, well, Easter Sunday, but it was also the final episode of Mark Burnett’s series, “The Bible” on the History Channel, culminating in a gritty and inspiring dramatization of the crucifixion of Christ. The five-part mini series managed to generate ratings of biblical proportions, and a spin-off is already in the works.

Burnett is best known for his stints as producer of Survivor, The Apprentice and The Voice – certainly not your typical Sunday School fare. However, these prime-time reality shows are exactly where Burnett cut his teeth, establishing his reputation in the television industry as a star producer who knows how to deliver what matters most to the network: results and ratings.

So, I thought it was interesting that Burnett, along with his wife Roma Downey (of the tear-jerker, “Touched by an Angel” fame), felt compelled to use their clout to bring forward such an oddity as (cough) a bible show – to prime time television. I mean, in our super-fresh new millennial age of Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo, you would think Hollywood would be the last place to parade around a show like this.

Hats off to Burnett for leveraging his success into something more meaningful than reality TV.  “It was the right time to use the currency of that success to want to make something very important,” he told Focus on the Family.

Wait a second. Did you notice the way he accurately used the word “currency” to describe his previous success? Now the question is, what to do with that currency? Burnett’s hope was to help people emotionally connect to the great story of the bible. Read more…

Can You Know God’s Will for Your Job?

March 26, 2013

The other day my friend asked a rather blunt and personal question: “Do you think it is God’s will for you to be at the company you’re with right now?”

What I wanted to say was, “Well, duh. I’m working there, aren’t I?” 

In other words, how else could I have possibly ended up in this place unless God had somehow greased the wheels? I don’t know how all this stuff works, theologically speaking, but I have to give him some credit for my current life circumstances. 

I am not one to obsess about these kinds of things, but truthfully it is difficult to know minute by minute whether or not we are in that exact bull’s eye of what we think of as “God’s will.” When you start unraveling the layers of choices and chances and serendipitous events that lead us to any particular decision, the thought that we each are supposed to have only one magic track to be riding on can become oppressive. Especially when things are not going so well. Then it becomes much more convenient to consider that, well, perhaps God had a much more fulfilling and happy plan in mind for you. Suffering isn’t supposed to be part of God’s will, is it? 

It seems rather presumptuous that any of us could claim an inside track to understanding God’s universal omniscient plan. I mean, once you start parsing out those judgment calls, when does it end? If you know his will for your job, then what about your plans for the weekend? The church you attend? The cup of coffee you just poured? Was that in his will? The danger in searching for God’s predetermined will behind every rock becomes a never-ending trail of second-guessing. 

That being said, I must admit there have been moments of clarity in my life; specific situations when I knew – absolutely, beyond a doubt, at the deepest spiritual level – that God had me in a very specific place doing the exact work I was supposed to be doing. 

This does not happen very often. 

Click here to continue reading this post at The High Calling.

Do You Live to Work, or Work to Live?

March 19, 2013

Iphone pics 2010 127I recently took a staycation – you know, that unique experience of spending vacation time relaxing at home rather than an exotic locale. I hadn’t done this in years, but the Spring Break schedules of my wife and daughters did not synch up, so I decided to just stay home.

The idea of lazing around the house for a week was thrilling. I imagined sleeping in ’til ungodly hours, watching too much TV, and eating excessive amounts of chips and salsa.

The reality, however, was more reasonable, involving some Spring cleaning, cooking a few healthy meals, exercising just about every day, and plenty of uncollected time for reflection, reading and writing.

The break from work gave me enough mental space to slow down, to think in another dimension altogether, like I was now flowing on the current of a gentle river rather than the usual frenetic pace of paddling furiously upstream. That being said, it took me a good three days to stop ruminating about the goings-on at my job, to shrink those seemingly monster challenges and lists and mid-stream projects down to size.

Really, my work doesn’t define my life, but stepping back for a minute, I realized that it takes up a noticeably large amount of mental storage capacity. Work has this strange effect of zooming things larger than they really are.

In last week’s New York Times Sunday business section, there was a sobering essay by Erin Callan, the former CFO of Lehman Brothers, where she reflects on the slippery slope that led to her conceding to an all-consuming job prior to her resignation in 2008 during its collapse. “I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job,” she says. “It just crept in over time.”

I can imagine her initial excitement and pride over a promotion to the top executive spot. People work their whole lives for such influence and responsibility (not to mention, the bonus swag). But it only led to a one-dimensional life, a self-defining rut with no boundaries. Callan puts it rather bluntly: “Work came first before my family, friends and marriage – which ended just a few years later.” Read more…

Twenty Seven Things to Do Before You Die

March 15, 2013

I made Chicken Cacciatore last night, which reminded me of this post from many moons ago. 

DSCF2316From time to time I will indulge myself in the tacky genre of self-help-leadership-development books. Usually I skim through the pages quickly to see if I can find one or two ideas of substance that might come in handy later on, perhaps some catchy quote I can rip off to make me sound smart and sophisticated at an upcoming cocktail reception.

I’ve discovered that if you want to appear smart in business, you really only have to be about five minutes ahead of everyone else with any given category of information. And since most people do not like to read, this is not so hard.

Recently I was paging through one of these books, and I came across an exercise under an inconspicuous little heading that said, “27 Thing to Do Before You Die.”

This struck me as irresistibly intriguing.  Usually we talk about the one or two things we want to do before we die. Not three. Not five, not even ten. But this author was asking for twenty seven.  “This will be fun AND fulfilling!” I told myself. So off I went to my writing corner, busily scrawling out a list of what would surely become a multitude of interesting and exciting dreams that were so reflective of my dynamic and magnetic personality.

Numbers one through five were easy. They were all the things I am either currently working on, or those nagging ideas that for some reason I have never managed to get around to. Like, writing a book that gets on the New York Times bestseller list, for instance. Which should only be a matter of time, since my Blog has so handily dominated the “Business-Inspirational-Memoir-Humorist” genre that is so popular with publishers these days.

Also, there is the simple pleasure of taking my wife to an opera production at the Met. That is only a matter of purchasing the tickets and saving the date. Then there are a variety of travel destinations that keep falling by the wayside.

Six through ten were not so hard either, especially after I gave myself permission to just let go and dream big, even if I didn’t think it was really ever possible. Purchasing that Family Lodge in the Adirondacks? Check. The enviable art collection? Check. The ocean-side vacation home? Absolutely!

And yes, I WILL speak fluent German before I die. How hard could that be, if I just put my mind to it?

The ideas stopped flowing so freely after #11, so I decided to enlist my wife in the exercise. Not that she would be able to tell me what I wanted to do before I die, but perhaps hearing her own views on the subject would further stimulate mine. So, we turned on some opera music, poured a couple glasses of Merlot and started cooking Chicken Cacciatore. That always seems to get the juices flowing.

As we traded dreams and ideas, I sheepishly began to notice how materialistic and ego-driven many of the previous items on my death-to-do list were. Humbled and repentant, I began to focus on generating more meaningful, spiritual priorities – opportunities where I could give back, which of course should have been at the top of the list to begin with. I may not be the most spiritually pure Christian, but at least I am honest (in other words, I still did not change the order of my list).

Maybe it’s the Merlot talking, but here comes that week-long spiritual retreat at the monastery, at number thirteen. Next, I thought about the many missions and service trips that I have conveniently avoided for all these years, fervently sending on my daughters as proxy.

By the time I reached number seventeen, I was so spiritually pumped up that I found myself creating the very admirable but pathetically generic goal of “Inspiring people to live better lives.” (But I really mean it.)

Number 18 was “Get a cat.” I am currently prevented from fulfilling that particular dream because several family members are allergic. If I’m the one dying, then I should get my cat.

That’s all I’ve come up with so far. Eighteen. I have nine more to go. And I don’t want to flake out by just adding new countries to the list of destinations I’d like to travel to.

I didn’t think this exercise would be so challenging. What does that say about me? Maybe I’m just too comfortable with where I’m at right now. Perhaps I don’t have enough vision. Or, maybe this was just another tacky and ridiculous motivational exercise meant to sell a book that tells us we are capable of far more than we will ever be able to realistically achieve in life.

In any case, the Chicken Cacciatore we made that night was delicious.

Why Guilt-Ridden People Make Better Leaders

March 12, 2013

LAFD_handcuffs_squareThe head of security, Fred, poked his head into my office the other day and asked if I was busy.

“Uh…well, I’m going to lunch,” I said. It was 12:15, and my stomach was growling.

Fred doesn’t usually show up around here in the executive suite, so it seemed a little suspicious. But, whatever. Maybe he was looking for a lunch date.

He stood there at my office door, looking awkwardly down at the floor while pawing his foot into the carpet, then he commented on the colorful print hanging on my office wall.

“Yes,” I agreed, as we both fixed an admiring gaze towards it. “The evocative interrelation between color and form has a soothing effect, don’t you think?” Fred nodded.

We chatted for a couple more minutes about this and that, and then he suddenly swooped in for the kill.

“Your name has come up for a random drug test,” he abruptly announced, as if cramming the entire sentence into one lengthy, multi-syllabic word.

Ah. So that’s why Fred is here.

Our company, like many others, has a random drug screening program. Fred asked if I would mind being escorted to the occupational health unit.

“Sure!”  I exclaimed enthusiastically as I jumped out of my chair, suddenly feeling the compulsion to sound overly innocent and pure. Meanwhile, a rush of terrorizing thoughts ran through my head.

“Did I take any drugs last night? No, duh, of course not! But what about wine? Does that count? Dear Lord – I had two glasses of wine! And on a weeknight! Wait – what about those fish-oil pills? I think I read somewhere they test positive. Oh no! My acid reflux prescription! That will surely show up as cocaine or something! No, no, no, no, no!”

I tried to maintain a low profile walking down the corridor as the panic of guilt-ridden thoughts swept over me. Eventually, I worked up enough courage to ask the most dreaded question of all:

“Will I have to pee in front of you?”

Fred chuckled. “Only if you tamper with the evidence.” I made a mental note to follow the instructions very, very carefully.

Click here to continue reading the rest of this informative post over at The High Calling.