Posts Tagged ‘focus’

Talk Less and Listen More

December 9, 2016

For those of you who get up to read these essays by 7 am EST, I’m late. Plane was delayed and I got home at 1 am. 

Here I am. Five hours of sleep. Nothing prepared. Nothing on my mind.

But I try to write leadership thoughts on Fridays.

So, here is the thought of the day. Works for leaders. Works for parents. For spouses. Even for public speakers 😉

Talk less; Listen more.

I could give examples. But…you get the point. What are you going to do today?

What Have The Years Wrought With You

November 29, 2016

I knew a woman who was kind and funny. She got a job as a police dispatcher. Within a couple of years she became negative, cynical, joyless.

She dealt daily with criminals, people with stories about how they wound up  on the wrong side of the law, drug dealers, drug users. She seldom saw beauty and truth. There were no random acts of kindness.

I felt so sad.

When I reflect on the last year, one thing stands out–how many people have lost their kindness, their grace toward others, their joy.


I came across this thought while reading through my eclectic information gathering.

How have circumstances affected us?

Have we become more hardened, resentful, afraid?

These actually go together. Fear is at the root of many negative emotions. Fear of loss. Fear of the future. Fear of someone taking my job. Fear of others whom I do not know. Fear of the future.

However, we all know people (I hope) who have grown wise and understanding as they age. They no longer have anything to prove. They see that others have struggles, too. They see evil or foolishness and avoid it. They walk with God.

The Dalai Lama points to a wisdom that we also find throughout the Proverbs. It is our choice.

Every day we arise and we begin making choices. We can fill our minds with words of wisdom. We can fill our minds with the news headlines. Our choice.

We can choose how we react to the news. Do we allow our emotions to go crazy and get all worked up? Do we take a breath and allow the perspective of God to let us see beyond the news.

It’s not that I wish to ignore bad news and act as if it didn’t exist. That is a sign of mental illness. It’s just that I choose what I focus on.

We become what we think about.

Making A Difference In The World

September 8, 2016

There is a habit I can’t seem to break. I know how to break habits and establish new ones in their place. The chasm to leap between knowing and doing is huge. Don’t we all know that one!

I get up in the morning, and laying there on the front step, beckoning me most seductively, whispering my name–is the morning newspaper. Yes, me, Mr. Digital, gets news in paper form. Actually not one, but two papers.

Then I make a cup of coffee, settle in, and read the darn thing.

For the most part, the news is not happy. Or beneficial. I used to love NFL football. My team has had a season where it has won more than it lost just once in something like 20 years. Why do I read about it? Then I’ll start to scan a story about someone’s misfortune. But I ask, what good will this information serve? I can’t help them.

Then today. There it was. Above the fold with a large picture. A story about a church. A large church. With a large staff.

It won an award. Best place to work among Christian organizations. They interviewed some of the staff. They talked about how full of enthusiasm they were.

It’s a church of 7,000 people. 80 staff. They give away 25% of their budget to mission work. Just gave $500,000 to a hospital in Africa. They are in the midst of a 100,000-hours-of-service campaign. They are at 40,000 hours at the time the article was written.

Just goes to show, if you look you can find something worthwhile to spend your precious attention on.

There are challenges and difficulties in this world. The point is not to dwell on them, but to decide to do something to help.

Unleashing Energy, The Creative Leader

September 2, 2016

You’ve seen it, I hope. The type of leader who unleashes the energy of everyone around. The organization may have been lethargic. Or complacent. Or dying.

The someone new comes in. She has a vision of success. He is transparent–no hidden agendas, no spies among the employees, no sudden directives.

There is something about a feeling of trust that is darn near undefinable where people can have ideas and share them. You feel you’ll be listened to. In fact, you feel encouraged to come up with ideas.

These leaders pop up all over the place. Perhaps not enough, but they exist.

There is a leader whose blogs I read and podcasts I listen to who is such a leader. He exudes energy and positive emotions. He’s driven to provide the best solution for his customers. He’s also driven to find ways to unleash the creativity of his employees.

There exists a pure joy of learning and applying what he learns. Try an experiment. It works, great. It doesn’t, well, scrap it and try something else.

The point is for all of us, how do we achieve that as leaders?

  • Vision of what constitutes success
  • Create trust by doing what you say
  • Constantly encouraging
  • Quick feedback designed to help not tear down
  • Celebrate the little victories along with the big ones
  • Constant messaging of the vision through every means available
  • Always inviting others to go along on the journey

What could you add?

Getting Things Done Takes Focus

August 26, 2016

I woke up Wednesday morning with many things on my mind. There was a 7 am international conference call followed by a 10 am international conference call. Then a 1 pm conference. Finally a 2:30 pm very important client call for which I needed to prepare.

There was enough focus enough for my daily marketing Facebook post for the local coffee shop. And then it was gone. No morning reading and meditation. How was I going to fit in the morning run? How was I going to continue working on a research project? Not to mention time for soccer referee assigning and straightening out the revised assigning Website that has so thoroughly cost me and my athletic director clients a ton of time this summer.

So, no Faith Venture post. And a day that began frazzled and uncertain.

There was my Getting Things Done app, Nozbe. The art of getting things done (by the way, the title of a book and a methodology of David Allen) begins with putting all the things you may have to do and relevant information or links into a trusted location. I use Nozbe linked to Evernote.

The method is to take a deep breath–or more. Clear the head. Then review the list and look at my calendar.

No way I could stay on the first call two hours. So, I listened for a while, got the gist of the conversation. There was nothing for me to contribute, so I dropped off and headed for the park. The next steps are just to review what needs to be done and focus on one at a time. By the evening reflection on the day, it had been pretty productive.

Part of the reason for the personal story is that all around me are things not getting done. There is the room where we have Yoga. We were moved a little over a year ago. They were converting a racquetball court into a Yoga studio. They began painting in January. Did a quick and temporary sound deadening, with the promise of more. And nothing has happened since. Getting Things Done.

There are other places around where there are things to get done, but the person just cannot focus. There is no weekly review and controlling the calendar (hour by hour) to assure that important things get done and that to the best of ability the person is controlling the calendar.

The very first personal development seminar I attended began with the challenge to avoid the dreaded “Tyranny of the Urgent” and work on the Essential things. Forty years later, we still need to work on that.

Leader’s First Response To Decline

August 19, 2016

You’ve been appointed to head an organization. Could be a business, church, nonprofit. Wherever you are in life.

The organization is thriving. All indicators were up. People affiliated with the organization are enthused. Good things are happening all over. Leadership teams are planning expansions.

Then a change happens. Imperceptibly at first. Few, if anyone, notice. But growth stopped. No real decline, yet. But a couple of staff leaders left, leaving behind some leadership gaps. You, the overall leader didn’t move quickly to fill the gaps. They just slid by.

Eventually the decline is in progress. At first only key people in the organization notice. Then more people notice. A key top staff person notices and brings to your attention. Conflict erupts. Now there is another key gap in the leadership team.

This is a situation I’ve seen several times in my career. I did try to salvage a couple. In one I was actually “president” for a short time while my partners tried to raise money for a takeover. They didn’t, we failed, now I’m writing here.

But back to our fearless leader. The one who seems oblivious to the by now obvious to everyone decline. If you were in that position, would you

  1. Call an emergency staff meeting of the perhaps dozen top leaders to address the problem; or
  2. Gather together a larger group–say greater than 25–and begin a month’s long vision planning exercise, or
  3. Do nothing and either ignore the situation or hope it reverses?

I have never been in the situation (and I can think of at least four I’ve been in) where the leader chose number 1.

Mostly I have seen the non-choice choice of number 3. Either the leader is totally out of their league and just flounders, or their narcissism makes them ignore the situation. Perhaps even degenerating into blame.

Then, I’ve actually seen number 2. All attention is diverted from important and immediate tasks while the entire leadership team squanders its attention on dreaming of what might be.

What should you do? I’d suggest steps such as:

Gather the top leadership team and get them to acknowledge the problem

Gather facts and stories about the situation

Perform root cause analyses (5 why’s, as we say)

Tackle one main problem as quickly as it is identified

If one of the issues that pops up is that “no one understands what we stand for”, then the messaging both internal and external has become muddled. In that case, it is time to go back to the vision statement of the organization and sharpen it. Then make sure that all messaging is consistent.

Maybe the customer experience is not good. Then a team can tackle that problem.

Notice that by doing this, the leader focuses the leadership team and infuses new energy. The new energy should spread throughout the organization as teams form and more people are involved.

I’m Doing A Great Work

July 21, 2016

I’m doing a great work, and I cannot come down. — Nehemiah

Still focusing on focus. This morning I was thinking about various people in the Bible and came across Nehemiah.

He was an important official in the Persian Empire toward the end of the “Babylonian Captivity” period of Jewish history. His brother returned from a trip to Jerusalem with a description about how the once great city was now a laughing stock. It seems the walls had never been rebuild since the Babylonians had conquered the city some 70 years or more before.

A city without walls? Impossible!

This touched Nehemiah’s heart and he determined that his life’s work was now to rebuild those walls. You can read the entire story in the book that bears his name. It’s short, but powerful. A great lesson in leadership. And in focus.

From that day forward, Nehemiah focused on that mission and what he could do to accomplish it.

Skipping toward the end, he went to Jerusalem with the king’s blessing and set about rebuilding the walls. When the nation’s local enemies determined that he was serious and about to accomplish the project, they sent for him to come down from the mountain for a meeting. Most likely they were going to kill him. But Nehemiah sent a reply, “I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down.”

His focus was incredible.

He accomplished his mission.

So, we may not have a mission that great. But reading the practical advice that Paul gives the Colossians helps us bring it home.

“Set your mind on things that are above.”

Set your mind on things that are above.

We choose that which we focus on. Either we choose mindfully. Or, we choose lazily, just drifting to what feels good or influenced by peers or advertising to just follow shallow desires.

What do we choose to focus upon today?

Persevere In Practice

July 20, 2016

“I know how to hit” exclaimed the kid to his baseball coach.

“Yes, but that just makes you a coach. Hitting makes you a player,” replied the coach.

Yesterday’s topic was focus. I thought I’d, well, focus on focus for a few days.

So, I did a search for the word “focus” in my translations of the Bible on my iPad. Digital books have much to commend themselves.

Focus does not appear in the Bible–at least my English translation. I figured Paul’s writings would be full of the word. But, alas, no.

He does tell us to persevere, though. And there is a similarity. In Romans, he advises, “Persevere in prayer.”

I take this to mean–do it; concentrate while doing it; make it a practice.

I thought of a little kid learning to hit a baseball. “I know how to hit,” he says. But knowledge only gets him so far.

Actually hitting a baseball gets him on the team. To hit a baseball requires focused attention, consistent practice, and perseverance over a period of time.

Many people know the Bible. Many people know about prayer. But what do they practice? Do they practice studying the Bible with the focus on improving their lives? Do they consistently focus on prayer to bring the Spirit into their lives (and into others’ lives)?

It’s like the person who knows CPR but can’t do it when someone needs help. (I worry about that. I take a refresher course every two years. Will I remember and keep my head if I’m in a situation?)

We’re in a game. Life. Are we just going to sit on the bench and watch others play while we do nothing? Or are we going to apply that knowledge to actually going up to bat?

“Batter up!”

Distraction, Er, What Was I Just Doing?

July 19, 2016

Martha, Martha, You are distracted by many things.–Jesus

I help out with marketing for a “coffee cafe” that I’ve invested in. High Grounds Cafe is a “business as a mission” cafe featuring Direct Trade coffee. Our roaster buys directly from the farmer. This means the farmer earns an income sufficient for feeding his family, paying his workers fairly, and even, in some cases, funding church startups in his country.

Every morning I post to Facebook. Right now, that is one of the best ways to reach people with information about your local business.

Pam texts me about 6 am with a list of the brewed coffees of the day and any other specials for the day.

I open Facebook in my browser. Then I see my notifications. So, I have to click on the red button and go through them. Then I go to my home page. See a photo. Check it out. Scroll down a little. 15 minutest later, I click on the High Grounds administrator page. Compose my message, load a photo, and publish.

A 10-minute task consumes almost a half-hour of my morning.

Thank you distraction.

We have banned email from our internal communications. — Michael Sliwinsky, founder/CEO of Nozbe

I use a task manager (to-do list on steroids) called Nozbe. The CEO writes often about productivity. He noticed years ago that email is a distraction. He banned email as an internal communication application. People only use it to communicate with the outside world.

More and more companies are banning email. If you work in an organization, have you ever been caught in a group email “chain” where everyone is “replying all” to the message and you wind up mired in mindless (lack of) communication?


Writing this post, I was distracted by Facebook. Email. My soccer referee assigning application. Messages. Newspaper. That is all before 6:30 am. And I try to focus.

Is this a modern thing caused by so many devices?

Apparently not. Jesus addressed Martha who was getting frustrated. He calmed her. Told her to focus. To focus on what’s important first. Then focus on the next.

Focus negates distraction. Eliminate distraction. Close all apps except what you’re working on. Concentrate on that one thing–the one thing that is important in the moment.

Spiritual Discipline of Humility

July 7, 2016

Jesus makes it impossible to think you’re righteous because of what you do.

After Matthew introduces who Jesus is in his book, he dives right in to report Jesus’ teaching. I say report because much of chapters 5-7 are quotes.

I have been returning to Matthew this year and also Mark to search out just Jesus’ words. Not the stories or drama. Or to pick on poor Peter. I thought that this year I’d throw out the theologies and commentaries and just focus on his words.

You can read these chapters as a set of instructions. Remembering that the Pharisees also had a set of instructions. Or they called them “Laws.” It was like a checklist of things to do today. Except that for the Pharisees it was a checklist of about 630 items. Imagine trying to check those off every day!

So, looking at Jesus’ words. His checklist in Matthew is smaller. But then stop and contemplate what he’s saying:

  • If you’re angry at someone, it’s the same thing as murder
  • If you obtain an easy divorce, not only you commit adultery, you force your spouse to do so as well
  • If you hate your enemy, so what, that’s easy; love your enemy
  • If someone forces you to carry their packs (think Roman soldiers) for a mile, carry it two
  • If someone asks for a small thing, give them a big thing
  • And there is more…

When you look at Jesus’ checklist, it’s impossible to do on your own. Even more impossible than that of the Pharisees.

This is all leading up to a conclusion–it’s all about the status of your heart. Is your heart cold and methodical? Just intent in checking off the list so that God will think you’re great? Or is your heart focused on God?

You cannot checklist your way to righteousness (being right with God). That means you cannot compare yourself to others, saying ‘I’m better than those sinners.’ No, you cannot do that.

Changing your heart’s focus from self (ego) toward God with the outlook of helping others–that is called humility and that is the path to righteousness.