Teach Yourself to Smile

[This post is also available at www.guestfriendly.org.]

That’s right. I said, ‘Teach Yourself’. Just because you have a face and positive emotions doesn’t mean you have a good smile. Don’t believe me? Check out my post, “The Problem With Your Face!” When I realized that my habitual smile looked more like a scowl than anything else I realized I needed to fix it. Here are a few steps I recommend to get you started:

STEP 1: EVALUATE YOUR ‘REAL’ SMILE.

First, it’s important for you to get a good, solid evaluation of your smile. I’m not talking about the pasted smile you put on when you are taking a picture. I’m talking about the smile you use every day at home, work, in the store, etc. You’ll need input from more than yourself too. This will require a good dose of humility on your part.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Look in the Mirror
    As long as you aren’t embarrassed being with yourself too much, this one is really easy. The next time you are alone in the bathroom spend some time smiling at yourself. The best way to do this is to just ‘pretend’ you are in different scenario’s and smile like you would at those times. While doing this, ask yourself, “Is this what I want people to see?” The first time I did this I became very frustrated. I found that I didn’t really know how to smile except when I was getting my picture taken or was laughing. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do with my facial muscles and worked on retraining them.

    But don’t stop there. Just because YOU like your smile doesn’t mean others do!
     

  • Ask Someone You Trust
    This means you have to admit that you might have a problem and need help. I know enough about us leaders that this one hurdle may be bigger than the smile itself. Assuming you can get over whatever pride you may be carrying, find someone you trust to give honest feedback. You’re not looking for someone who is afraid to hurt your feelings. That’s totally counter-productive. Find someone who will honestly evaluate your natural smile and ask them their opinion and thoughts. Then, as they give you feedback, just listen, ask clarifying questions and resist the impulse to defend yourself if the evaluation you receive is less than you expected.
     
  • Ask a Stranger
    OK. Maybe that’s going a little too far. You’ll have to decide. But consider this, your most trusted friends are used to seeing your face every week. It’s possible they will not be capable of giving you an objective opinion. So ask a stranger. Next time you are sitting in a waiting room or standing in a line, humble yourself and ask the person next to you for some feedback. You might start by simply smiling at the person before saying something like this: “Excuse me. I know this might sound really weird, but I am a public speaker and recently I’ve been wondering what kinds of first impressions I make when I smile. If it doesn’t make you too uncomfortable, could you just rate your impression of my smile just a moment ago as well as right now while I’m talking on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being that I seem really mean and 5 being that I seem very friendly and approachable? Again, just let me know if you’d rather not. I know it’s a very strange request.”
     
  • Ask a New Acquaintance
    Finally, you can ask someone you have recently become acquainted with. Perhaps it’s a pastor or leader from another church, a new attendee in your church, or a next door neighbor. You could use a similar approach as above and solicit their feedback.
     

STEP 2: DEFINE YOUR NEW SMILE

Next, you need to begin working on your new smile (assuming you need to). This isn’t something you will accomplish in one sitting. It will likely require a concerted effort on your part over a period of days, even weeks before you find the smile you are really looking for. Here are more suggestions:

  • Focus on Your Muscles
    Ask yourself what muscles you are using when you are truly smiling. There are over 50 muscles in your face. It’s highly likely that there are some that you almost never use and don’t even know are there. In fact, a good 20 minutes of ‘smiling’ could leave your facial muscles feeling sore. That’s a good thing. Find and consciously discover the new muscles you are using. You’ll need that knowledge later when you want to smile but don’t have a mirror in front of you to make sure you’re doing it right!

    A lot of research has shown that great smiles use the orbicularis oculi muscle. This is the muscle that surrounds your eyes. Good smiles will produce a slight squint in your eyes that help transform the smile from a ‘fake’ smile to a genuine one – sometimes called ‘laugh lines’. 
     
  • Ask Yourself How Your Face Feels
    This sounds weird but it works for me. I’ve discovered that when I’m smiling properly my cheeks touch the bottoms of my glasses and I can feel a different kind of pressure on the edges of my mouth. Again, that’s great knowledge to have when I’m out and about. About the only time I can genuinely ensure I’m smiling while talking to people is during a Skype call where I can see myself at the same time as the person I’m addressing. Since you and I don’t live on Skype we need some ‘help’ making sure we’re getting it right.
     
  • Get More Feedback
    You’ve developed a new smile and you like it. So you begin turning on the charm everywhere you go . . . and people start running. What gives? Try going back to Step 1 and get more input. For all you know, your new ‘smile’ still says things you never intended (and never said before). The last thing you want is for your first impression to be, “I’ve lost my marbles and hope you know where they are!”
     

STEP 3: PRACTICE

You spent most of your adult life perfecting that grumpy look. I guarantee you won’t ‘fix’ it in just a couple of weeks or even months. They say it takes 21 days to build a new habit, but in this case I suspect we’re talking more like 6 months. Practice, practice, practice. Check out your smile in front of the mirror often. Look it over every day. Until you know you are representing the ‘real you’ stay on your guard whenever you respond with a smile.

 

The Problem With Your Face

[This post is also available at www.guestfriendly.org.]


Your face probably lies . . . a lot!

You think you know what your face is saying, but it’s very possible you don’t. I discovered this the hard way. For years I thought I was expressing a kind, friendly expression everywhere I went.

Here are two examples:

  • A few years ago I was driving to work and passed by a church attendee walking in the parking lot. She saw me and lifted her hand in a brief wave of greeting. I made eye contact as I passed by, moved my mouth muscles into what I considered to be a ‘greeting smile’ and nodded. Immediately, I got the impression I should ‘check’ what my smile looked like. So I looked up into the rear view mirror and repeated the smile, only to be horrified to see a scowl looking back at me!
     
  • I remember sitting in my office across from a young couple in our church. The young man was interested in a job and had brought his wife along to discuss details and options with me. At one point in the conversation, he made a great comment that solicited a positive emotion inside of me. In a purely automatic response I again, moved my facial muscles in a modicum of a smile and nodded thoughtfully. A few moments later, I remembered the ‘scowl’ from the parking lot and realized that I had just frowned at him when I should have been smiling!

Most people smile at least a few times a day without even thinking about it. At least, they smile on the inside. Something happens that brings a small measure of joy into our hearts and we respond, either intentionally or unconsciously with a smile or nod.

The problem is, for MANY of us, our outward reactions don’t even
come close to our intention or genuine feelings.

This was true for me. One day my wife mentioned something about my ‘frown’ and I finally started paying attention. I was appalled and embarrassed. What I thought was a thoughtful or gentle smile was a total frown. I’m not exaggerating. My mouth automatically turned down on both sides creating a perfect frown. Ugh!

Since then I have been having an almost daily battle with my face – forcing it to truly express what I think and feel instead of what it (as if it has a will!) naturally expresses.

As a pastor, public speaker and Jesus follower with a strong desire to encourage and strengthen those around me, this became a very important issue for me. I’m afraid to think too much about the number of people I have given a negative impression about me, or worse, Jesus Christ, because of my expression.

The Scary-Mad Man

A while back our church hosted a national speaker and pastor for a conference. He brought one of his pastors and associates to assist him during the conference. Since I was sitting behind him, I engaged him in some breif conversation before the service. My first impression was less than nice. He seemed extremely unfriendly and antisocial. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was mad at me.

What shocked me was when the national speaker got up and introduced him as one of the kindest, passionate man with a huge hunger for God. I realized I had fallen for his scary expression. He seemed to be constantly frowning, even when it seemed like he should be happy.

It’s sad to say, but this has happened to me more often that I want to admit, and often from pastors and christian leaders that are, or should be, held with a measure of respect and esteem.

In his book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, Guy Kawasaki said, “What does it cost to smile? Nothing. What does it cost not to smile? Everything, if it prevents you from connecting with people. While smiling sends a very clear message about your state of mind, not smiling creates an opening for many interpretations, including grumpiness, aloofness, and anger – none of which helps you enchant people.”

It turns out little orphan Annie had the right idea, “You’re never fully dressed without a smile!”

How is your smile, really? 

Check out “Teach Yourself to Smile” to learn some great tips on how to smile!

Blind Spots for the Christian Leader

Back in 1955 a couple of men came up with this great model to help people discuss various aspects of self-awareness. The word ‘JoHari’ is a combination of the two people’s first names (Joseph & Harry). In the Johari Window you see four quadrants expressing personal knowledge or lack of knowledge regarding various character traits, weaknesses, etc. The below chart shows each of these quadrants.

Johari-Window3

Open Self: Known to self and others.

This is what we usually communicate to others or is obvious to nearly everyone. It may be something physical, like a blemish or your weight; or it could include things like your education, number of children in your family, a hobby or your job.

Hidden Self: Known to self, but unknown to others.

This is what we conceal from others about ourselves. Sometimes there is a good reason for holding something back, ex. computer passwords or confidential information about others. At other times it may include information you know would not be appropriate to share, ex. a special moment with a spouse or with God. The rest of the time this quadrant will include secrets – most of which we are embarrassed or afraid to share with others.

Blind Self: Unknown to self, but known to others.

Also known as ‘Blind Spots’. This is where our ignorance can truly hurt us. Others see a weakness, flaw, or even a strength and assume you already know about it or choose not to tell you. You’re left in the dark and don’t even know it. For example, perhaps you tend to have strong B.O., often seem angry, rarely smile, or just can’t preach (wait, I meant ‘sing’). On the positive side, it’s very possible others see a gift in you that would be great to strengthen and develop, but nobody ever says anything, e.g. hospitality. Blind Spot’s may run much deeper and darker as well. This is where people have bought into lies earlier in life that they are completely unaware of. Lies may include pride, insecurity, an addiction, stubbornness, insensitivity, and more.

Unknown Self: Unknown to either self or others.

This final quadrant is disclosed to God alone. It will include the inner workings of your life, personality, character, history, sin nature, etc. that may never fully be disclosed to anyone else. That doesn’t mean it won’t one day be revealed. It’s possible God is waiting for the opportune time to reveal an Unknown strength or weakness. David’s prayers were often requests for God to reveal the unknown to him, like in Psalm 139: 23-24.
 


 
If this is your first time seeing this matrix, I know what you’re thinking. “I can’t wait to teach this on a Sunday morning!” or “I should share this with {fill in the blank} – since they have so many blind spots!”

Let’s hold the phone for a while. I’d like to pose a question to YOU first. Here it is.

What are you doing to shrink the “Blind Spot” quadrant in your life?

It’s folly to assume that we don’t have blind spots. Proverbs regularly reminds us to remain humble before both God and man. For example, “He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.” Pr. 28:26, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.” Pr. 19:20, and “rebuke a discerning man, and he will gain knowledge.” Pr. 19:25.

There’s an age-old way for you to begin shrinking that window in your life; but it takes great courage to do it. Find some trusted people and ask them to share what they know or think about you. I’m not just talking about your best friend. Select several people who see you in different venues and who you trust implicitly to be open, honest, and loving with you. 

You might think the courageous part is sitting them down to ask them self-disclosing questions, but the really brave moment is when they begin telling you what you don’t know. That is the moment of truth. It’s the moment when you choose between foolishness or wisdom. I have one word of advice. Assume they are telling you the truth. To do otherwise is to be presumptuous – and dishonoring to them.

After all, how can you judge if they are right if it’s a blind spot? At the very least, admit that their commentary about you reflects a real perception, if not reality. 

A few questions to get you started:

  • What do you view as my primary strengths?
  • What do you consider to be my primary weaknesses?
  • Do I seem approachable to you?
  • Do you think people are afraid to confront me about anything?
  • Is there anything you notice in my personal life/family that concerns you?
  • Have you ever been aware of an ‘elephant in the room’ when I have been leading meetings or sharing a sermon? 
  • On a scale of 1 – 10, how would you rate my effectiveness as a communicator?
  • If I hired you as a personal life coach, what would you want us to work on first in my life?
  • Is it possible that I believe I’m good at something that others probably wouldn’t necessarily agree with?

How To Maintain Unity in the Local Church

A while back I was asked to create a devotional video for christian leaders focusing on the topic of character. I decided to discuss character as it relates to unity in the local church. The passage I shared from is found in 1 Peter 3:8:

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

This may be a great video for your leadership team, eldership or board of directors to watch and discuss together, just to keep the conversation about unity in the church alive and in the open. Enjoy.

Questions:

At the end of this teaching, I ask a few group questions. Here they are for your reference as well.

  • What relationship are you dealing with right now that’s causing strife, division, or discord?
  • What part, if any, are you playing, to fan the flames of that discord?
  • Which of the following words do you feel need to be applied, based on the passage I just read?
  • What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you right now?

Toby Cavanaugh on Persistent Prayer

My friend, Toby Cavanaugh, shared an outstanding message to our staff, pastors, and leaders at Elim Fellowship on Persistent Prayer a while back. I was so impressed I decided to share the wealth. I know this message will inspire and challenge you in the area of prayer. It might also be a great video to consider sharing with your leaders at some point! Enjoy.

If you can’t see this video, click here.

Cared for, Called & Empowered to Serve

fields-ripe2I was reading Matthew chapters 9-10 this week. I’d like to share 9:36-10:1 with you.

When he {Jesus} saw the crowds he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore to send out workers into his harvest field.’ He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

This passage is rich with encouragement and truth for us today. 

  • Jesus is a compassionate God.
    The word ‘compassionate’ can be defined as ‘feeling/showing sympathy & concern for others.’ Jesus is focused on you and I today, and is aware of our individual circumstances.
  • Without Him, we are harassed & helpless.
    Jesus is our Shepherd and can turn ‘harassed’ into ‘protected’ and ‘helpless’ into ‘empowered’ when we put our faith & trust in Him. Even as believers, we need to be reminded to turn to our Great Shepherd instead of continuing to try and do it all on our own.
  • It is the Lord who sends out workers.
    We do not have the authority to send out people to be His hands & feet. It is the Lord who ultimately calls us to serve in His name. The best we can do is to acknowledge His calling in the lives of others and help them succeed in that calling in whatever way we can.
  • We have the right & authority to ask for workers.
    Wow. This is so empowering for us. We may not be able to ‘send’, but we have the blessing of Jesus Christ to ask for laborers. Whether volunteers in our churches, new hires in our ministries, evangelists in our communities or missionaries in the world – there is an implied promise from God that, when we ask, He will send.
  • We are the answer to the question.
    It is interesting to me that the very next chapter and sentence starts with ‘He called.’ Since you and I are serving in leadership and ministry today, we must be the answer to someone’s request to ‘send out workers’. That means we get to serve as shepherd’s under the Great Shepherd, reaching a world that is ‘harassed & helpless.
  • We are empowered.
    Jesus is not one to send his workers out without the tools they need to succeed. He ‘gave them authority’ and he has ‘given us authority’ to minister to those He has ushered into our spheres of influence and responsibility. We can do it, because He has authorized us to!

Be encouraged! You are cared for, called and empowered to fulfill His purposes today!

Leaders Are Readers (Part 2)

This updated article was originally posted on Transforming Leader January, 2011. Being both a popular and a particularly long post – we decided to split it into two parts and re-post. Haven’t read part 1 yet? No problem – click here to read it right now! Enjoy!

leaders-are-readers-3

HOW TO INCREASE YOUR READING SKILLS (part 2)

Go digital.
If you already own a smart phone, Kindle or iPad and have regular internet access with them, then I urge you to begin taking advantage of the digital options available to you. For example, you already have the basic tool needed to begin reading blogs (see next point). Additionally, Amazon will let you download the kindle apps for free on your device, which can then be used to purchase and read audio books. This year alone I have read about 5 books on my phone/Kindle using the kindle app. In fact, I read the entire book, Crucial Confrontations, on my phone each night during a 15 minute slot in my day when I was doing nothing else, but didn’t have a book handy nearby.

Discover the power of blogs.
I know many pastors and leaders who are afraid of the word “blog”. It’s an unknown so it’s intimidating. It’s something for the younger generation, right? Not true. I’ve discovered that reading blogs is one of the best ways to stay fresh on just about any topic or issue without stealing too much time. In fact I read an average of 10-12 blogs a day if possible, all within chunks of time when I wasn’t going to be doing anything else important anyway. Here’s a couple ideas to get you started:

  • Use an rss (blog) reader.
    Nowadays, there are several free apps/services you can use to keep track of blogs you’d like to read. Among the most popular is feedly.com (check it out – just go to the website and type in ‘transforming leader’ to find my blog.) This is a great place to keep track of any blogs you come across that you would like to read. Feedly will keep track of the articles you haven’t read so you can catch up later. It also allows you to search for new blogs that might interest you. You can search either by author, blog title or your subject of interest and then save what interests you to your account. Feedly offers you a free account that enables you to keep track of what you’ve read, are reading or hope to someday read. I’m currently following more than 500 blogs including some great and popular ones like: michaelhyatt.com, thomrainer.com, ronedmondson.com, churchm.ag, tonymorganlive.com and more.
  • Afraid of rss? Just subscribe via email instead!
    If you aren’t interested in learning how to use an rss reader like feedly.com. No worries. You can still subscribe to most blogs via email to get their posts in your email inbox. If you’re like me, you won’t want to clutter up your inbox with more emails though. One suggestion you might consider is to create an email with a popular email service like gmail.com that is dedicated just to your blogs. That way, you can just receive email updates for your blogs in that email without gumming up your main email address. Just a thought.

Here’s the main thing you should understand about blogs if you are new to them. Don’t read every one. That’s right, unless you’re only subscribed to mine (joke) you’ll want to look through the list of blog titles that pop up in your reader or email each day or week and decide which ones sound or look interesting to you. You’ll then skim or read those as you see fit and mark the rest read. Every once in a while (almost daily for me) you’ll find one you really like and want to either forward or keep for future reference. If that happens, I recommend you take care of it right then, or it will likely not happen at all

Take advantage of dead time.
This may seem obvious, but it actually takes diligence, preparation, and intentionality to take advantage of the dead time in your life (time that you aren’t really doing anything valuable). One of the best ‘dead time’ tools is, as I already mentioned, a phone with reading materials available on it like e-books or blogs. If that’s not available to you, I recommend you try to keep one or two books with you at all times that you can pull out to read whenever you have a few minutes. If I stay focused, I can read a whole book in one month just by taking advantage of the white space in my life.

Become a bathroom reader.
Uh, well I just covered this above, but thought perhaps it was worth mentioning specifically. Most of us can often spend anywhere from 4 to 24 minutes alone in the bathroom. Other than the obvious, there’s not much else to do in there. It’s a great place to get some reading done. Even the four minute sessions can be valuable if you pick the right kind of book – one with short chapters. For instance, I read Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and Axiom from start to finish in the bathroom. Find a good book that will work, or some magazines that are relevant to your life or ministry, and just leave them in the bathroom. Don’t read them except when you’re umm, you know, busy in there.

Kill your guilt.
I used to get so frustrated with myself if I didn’t finish a book or if it took forever to read. I’d even feel guilty if I was reading the book (which someone else told me was awesome) but thought it was real boring. My suggestion . . . don’t be so hard on yourself. Some books are going to hit you as amazing, relevant, and inspirational, others won’t. Don’t worry about it.

Read a whole book in 8 pages (or listen in 20 minutes.)
OK, I guess you won’t actually read the whole book, but there is an awesome way to get all of the relevant highlights and major points of hundreds of popular books on leadership, management, marketing, etc. A while back I stumbled across www.summary.com and www.studyleadership.com. These have been awesome resources to me and my team. Basically, you pay the fees you feel are appropriate for your situation and find yourself with access to all sorts of great book reviews. You can download them as pdf’s – each one being 8 pages long or you can listen to someone read the summary in a 20 minute period by downloading the mp3 version. You can even subscribe to them in a blog if you want. For me, I occasionally walk to work. It takes me almost exactly 20 minutes. I can listen to one book review in that one walk. It’s awesome.

Read while exercising or commuting (audio-books).
You already know about audio-books. I actually don’t utilize them myself too often, but have several friends who do very successfully. Audio-books are perfect for your 15 – 45 minute commute, for when you exercise, or when everyone else is watching that program that you just aren’t interested in. I also know that the national literacy rate is about 14%, which means some people just don’t read very much. Additionally, I have friends who can read fine, but hate doing it. Audio-books are a great alternative.

How about you? What other ideas might you suggest on how we can stay sharp as readers and leaders?

Leaders are Readers

This updated article was originally posted on Transforming Leader January, 2011. Being both a popular and a particularly long post – we decided to split it into two parts and re-post. Enjoy!

leaders-are-readers

There was a time when I absolutely dreaded reading anything besides fiction (including the Bible, I am embarrassed to say.) I would be assigned to read some book on leadership by my boss. It would sit on my desk at work or my nightstand at home unread for weeks at a time. Every once in a while I would open it up and give it a token effort, perhaps getting through the first 2 or 3 chapters. Then my boss would kindly but firmly give me some extra incentive, like remind me that quarterly reviews were coming up soon. Ugh. So I would finally plot the appropriate hours and plow through.

As is often the case, the book usually ended up being a great help to my life and ministry; but it was a bear to get through! Perhaps you relate. Maybe it’s not a motivation issue so much as a life management issue. When are you supposed to find time to read in the midst of everything else going on in your life?

You’ve probably heard people quote Harry Truman, “Not every reader is a leader, but every leader is a reader.” I would qualify that statement by adding, “every growing leader is a reader.” I am so glad to say that I’ve finally figured out ways to incorporate reading into my life and ministry. I’d like to share some pointers with you; perhaps one or more of these ideas will help you as well. You may be interested to know that I don’t always set time aside specifically  to read each day or week, yet I get a lot of reading done each month.

HOW TO INCREASE YOUR READING SKILLS (part 1)

Learn how to skim.
This is a skill I have developed over the years that has served me very well. For some books, blogs, or articles, I will simply skim over them. I have successfully “skimmed” 300-400 page books in just a couple of hours and sometimes less than that. I can still tell you today what I learned from some of those books. Sometimes I will skim a book first, and then read it word for word later. Skimming is a lot easier than you think (as opposed to speed reading, which is an acquired skill.) Here are two articles I would recommend that will give you the basics:

 

Determine when to read and when to skim.
I evaluate every book I read to determine if it’s a “really read this book” or a “skim and get the meat book”. Sometimes I will decide to skim a book and realize within the first chapter or two that this is a “really read this book.” At other times I will “try” giving a book a solid word for word and find I am just not interested or motivated, so I switch to the skim method. Here are a few of the criteria I use to make this determination:

  • A leader I highly admire/respect requests or recommends the book: READ.
    (My pastor once suggested I read the book, Next Generation Leader, by Andy Stanley. I read it and now highly recommend it myself.)
  • The content is very engaging and interesting to me: READ.
    (I started to skim the book, Crucial Confrontations and found it so engaging that I ended up reading through it word for word.)
  • The content is important to me (though not necessarily engaging)READ.
    (I found the book Getting Things Done sort of hard to read, but I knew the information was important and would help me, so I read it all the way through.)
  • I want the information, but don’t have time for a full blown read: SKIM.
    (Sometimes if I’m preaching or teaching in a few days I may skim to get some extra info on a topic. If I found the book really engaging, I’ll set it aside to read through more in-depth later.)
  • The author hasn’t impressed me in the past, but I know he/she has something good to say: SKIM.
    (For whatever reason, I’ve never been able to get into Max Lucado’s books, though he’s a best selling author, so I’ll often skim his books for the good stuff instead.
  • I have already read the material before, but want to remember what it was about or get some quotes/illustrations: SKIM.
    (I recently skimmed the book, Thinking for a Change, by John Maxwell which I read last year in order to prepare for a lesson I was about to teach.)
  • The topic is something I am already very knowledgeable in or the material is stuff I already know: SKIM.
    (I read a blog a while back that was talking about a key principle I’ve already learned and implement from the book Eat That Frog, I skimmed through that article.)
  • The topic is not something I need to be well-versed in or I already know the gist of the book: SKIM.
    (I have the book Drive, by Daniel Pink on my reading list. I’ve already watched him present the content from this book, so I’ll likely just skim it.)
  • The book has been sitting on my bookshelf forever and I’m dreading reading it: SKIM.
    (I purchased the book, Brain Rules more than two years ago. If I actually get to it, I’ll likely skim it. If I don’t read this book within the next year I’ll likely just give it a 15 minute leaf through and either sell, give away, or throw away.)

Notice that I have more criteria for skimming than reading. You’ll also realize that not only do I skim quite a few books, but I also read more than just books every week. See below.

Strategically mark up books when you can.
I have used many methods for tracking information in books, or marking them up for future use. I’m still not sure which methods are the best. I have taken notes from books and created my own “cliff notes” on some books. For others I’ve highlighted/underlined and placed a number next to sections with notes on the back inside cover telling me what that particular section/highlight was about for future reference. I am a big believer in underlining key sentences, highlighting headings or sections I want to stand out, and writing in the margins several words that summarize the selected text for easy retrieval. The point is, find a method for marking up books so that you can quickly get the meat out of it when you need to.

How about you? What other ideas might you suggest on how we can stay sharp as readers and leaders?

Check out Part 2 of this article by clicking this link now!

 

Excellence Inspires People

team-hoytPeople really inspire me. In particular, I’m inspired by people’s dedication, commitment, attention to detail, tenacity and passion to succeed. A quality that all of these people share is excellence. I believe excellence inspires people.

I’ve already shared several posts on the topic of excellence, you’re welcome to find them at the bottom of this post. In this post, I just want to make one final point. When we choose to give all we’ve got to accomplish our goals (that is, our own resources, efforts and energies) we will very likely be an inspiration to those around us, to excel, to live well, and to do more than they thought they could.

Let me share some examples of how I’ve been inspired by people:

  • I’m inspired when I see a great movie. 
    I’m not talking about movies with inspiring plots – don’t get me wrong, those are cool. What I’m inspired by is the dedication it takes for people to accomplish the making of those inspiring, funny or just plain fun movies. If you’ve ever watched how some of the scenes were made in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you’ll be dumbfounded behind the effort, expense and attention to detail the team put in to create such realistic scenes. When you have a free hour to chill and be amazed, watch this documentary on how they designed ‘Middle Earth’ – one small part of the whole movie effort.

    Can’t see this video? Try clicking this link.
  • I’m inspired when I hear great music.
    My coworkers know about this. I tend to listen to a lot of movie & game theme music. If you want a totally different listening experience, try creating a Hans Zimmer radio station in Pandora. I’m also amazed when I see someone play an instrument like it’s part of their body. The thousands of hours of practice time these people put in to become ‘the best’ is truly incredible. Consider this video of Luka Sulic & Stejepan Hauser (2Cellos) playing ‘Welcome to the Jungle’.

    Can’t see this video? Try clicking this link.
  • I’m inspired when I see people rise above the status quo.
    I want to live my life with excellence. I suspect you do too. But sometimes we can get stuck in a mindset that says we can’t do it. We’ll blame our circumstances or our past or our lack of resources. But when we see people rise up, despite incredible odds, there’s something that wants to rise up inside us as well. Consider this inspiring story of a blind teenager who wouldn’t let his blindness dictate what he could or could not do.

    BRAVE from EYEFORCE on Vimeo.
  • I’m inspired when people care enough to sacrifice for others.
    It goes without saying that Jesus Christ was our example when it comes to loving others. He has set the tone for what it really means to be a Christ-follower. It’s about caring for others, even when it means giving up something for ourselves. Check out this inspiring story of a father who helped his handicapped son live a dream.

    Can’t see this video? Try clicking this link.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Let’s be an inspiration to those God has placed around us. 

Excellence Honors God

24-eldersSometimes you hear a message that you will never, ever forget. It’s a defining message. Early in my walk with Christ I heard one such message by Pastor Jack Hayford about the holiness of God. It changed how I think about God. If I had known how important that message was to me at the time, I would have saved it. But it’s not a great loss – I remember it like I just heard it yesterday. Among other things, the message helped birth in me an intense desire to do things with excellence, specifically to honor and worship God.

Pastor Jack spoke from Revelation where it says:

Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Revelation 4:8-11

The picture that has been etched into my mind is of these twenty-four elders who were each sitting on their individual thrones around the throne of God. These are real individuals who have a will. They are not puppets. And yet they are so overwhelmed by the Presence of God that they fall to their faces to shout out their praise to God. When they are finished, they find their seats in perhaps one of the most honoring of all places to sit – only to find themselves in awe of God’s Presence yet again and compelled to proclaim it to one another and God Himself as they bow before Him. They do this over and over, never tiring, in rapt worship to our heavenly Father.

There is nothing half-hearted about these elders. Every fiber of their being is given to honoring God. 

Compare these people with those God Himself rebuked in Malachi, who were bringing mediocre offerings before God:

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ By offering defiled food on my altar. But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’ By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your Governor! Would he be pleased with you?” . . . “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.” Malachi 1:6-8a, 10

The only thing I can think to say to that reference is, “Ouch!”

I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the best ways that I can honor God, is by giving him the best of what I have to give. That means my best resources. My best time. My best work.

Excellence Honors God!

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not arrived. I still fall short, and I’m so thankful for His grace when I do. But I aspire to give God my best. I aspire to excel. Excellence is one of my core values. It’s something that drives and marks me. It’s not on some legalistic ‘to do’ list. It’s an act of worship and honor to God.

I think excellence should mark the ministry of every believer, in some way. It defines who they are and what kind of relationship they have with God. That’s a bold statement for me to make. It’s actually a little scary for me to say. Perhaps presumptuous? I don’t know, but it seems right to me.

How about you? Where does excellence stand out in your life and ministry?

Image by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1982, 1992 (revelationillustrated.com).

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