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One Thing Every Great Leader Believes

Have you ever asked your child after a day of school, “So what did you learn today?” I think that’s a great question.  
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  I think it’s an especially great question for you and me to be asking ourselves. Why? Because being a lifelong learner is a crucial mindset for strong, successful leaders. Every great leader believes that. In my training course, 7 Days to Becoming a Great Manager, I make the following statement,   “If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a successful executive and now as a successful business owner, it’s this. You can never stop learning. You can never stop growing and investing in your future. The minute you do, the descent begins.”   There’s really no such thing as sitting still. In the global, fast-paced environment we’re operating in, you’re either progressing forward, or sliding backward. The pace of this movement may vary, but there’s always movement. Great leaders believe this. Don’t be fooled into believing otherwise.   There are many ways to intentionally invest in learning and in the coming weeks I’ll be giving my top picks for enjoyable and productive learning. You should focus on the one or two methods that are most enjoyable and productive for you. Here’s my favorite option:
  Reading great books. I would encourage you to make sure you read a variety of books. The best leaders I know read far beyond the business/leadership genre. Reading stimulates creative thinking and helps to keep us in a mode of being open to new ideas and possibilities. And with the rise of audiobooks, this is more accessible than ever, even to busy travelers.  

Best of the Best

Here are ten of my favorite (i.e. most impactful) books of all time, not in any particular order. These have all shaped me as a person and have impacted how I lead.   1. Leadership and Self Deception (The Arbinger Institute) – I’m very close to making this a requirement for every one of my coaching clients. It’s a powerful book about how we look at ourselves and others and, if you allow it, will have a radical impact on your relationships at work and home.   2. The Advantage (Patrick Lencioni) – This is the best of Patrick Lencioni. In this book he takes all of the wisdom he and his team have gained through the years and puts it in practitioner’s terms. Clear and straightforward, this book hits the mark.   3. The Power of Full Engagement (Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz) – This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s had a tremendous impact on my health and productivity and will do the same for you. These authors bring their research based approach right to the heart and mind of leaders.   4. Undaunted Courage (Stephen Ambrose) – I read this book many years ago, but have never forgotten it. It’s a riveting account of the harrowing journey of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery, but has some tremendous leadership lessons tucked inside.   5. Crucial Conversations (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler) – Every adult should read this book. It’s not only one of the best business books I’ve read, but has immediate and obvious application to every relationship in which you and I are involved. It’s about how to skillfully navigate difficult conversations.  
Photo Courtesy of Danielle Trista Photography
  6. Getting Things Done (David Allen) – David Allen uncovers and passes along some crucial insights into how we think about work and other tasks. In addition, he communicates a wonderful and closed-loop process for getting the things done that matter most to us.   7. Integrity (Henry Cloud) – Integrity is more than simple honesty, it’s the key to success. A person with integrity has the ability to pull everything together, to make it all happen no matter how challenging the circumstances. This is essential reading for every aspiring leader.   8. The Bible (God) – The best-selling book in the history of mankind. It has impacted me more than any other book on the planet. I read it almost daily to ground myself in the truth.   9. Good to Great (Jim Collins) – This book has become a classic that’s referenced in leadership circles across the globe. Collins’ research and writing once again hit a home run in helping business owners and leaders everywhere understand what creates and sustains greatness.   10. The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg) – This is probably the most intriguing book I’ve read recently. It gives powerful insight into how habits work, both personally and organizationally. It also shows us how we can change them, when needed, to get more positive results.    
Being a lifelong learner is a crucial mindset for strong, successful leaders.

Joe Denner


One More Perspective

There are many great ways to learn. But, there’s one more thing that’s indispensable when it comes to learning for leaders. We must never stop learning from our mistakes and failures.   While we should never seek to fail, failure is inevitable for anyone who is stepping out and taking risks. That’s what leaders do. And they learn from their mistakes. Failure, while not the objective, often provides one of the richest and most valuable laboratories for learning.   Take a quick look at my post titled, “Three Ways to Turn Failure Into Feedback.”   Question: What is your favorite book and why? [question]great-leader-believes[/question]  
Seize the day!
Personal Development

What’s Wrong With Your To-Do List?

Have you already looked at your to-do list for today?    
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  Not everyone is a list person, but almost everyone has a to-do list of some kind, somewhere, even if it’s in their head.   Some people use their calendar. Others use a trusty notepad or notebook. Others still, like me, look to technology to find the most effective and efficient method of managing the avalanche of stuff we need to deal with and ultimately take action upon.   Some of us are trying to squeeze the maximum productivity out of every moment of every day. If we’re not careful we can become slaves to this mentality and wear ourselves out to the point at which we actually become a liability.   Here’s a different angle. Do you have a stop doing list? There are likely things that you’re doing, that have become routine for you, but that are actually working against you.   What’s one thing you need to stop doing? If you were to stop doing it, what would be the impact on your day, your week, or even your life? Let me elaborate…

A Great Stop Doing List

Here are three quick things that I almost certainly know belong on your stop doing list in some form or another.   1. Stop giving power to limiting beliefs. What are the things that you believe, mostly about yourself, your dreams, and your aspirations, that are holding you back? You need to realize that you are the one giving those things power over you. It’s time to reframe them or obliterate them.   For example, one of my biggest limiting beliefs is that I don’t have enough time. I bet that’s on your list too. But, the plain fact is that it’s not true. What is true is that I don’t have time to do everything, but I do have time to do what’s most important. The problem comes when I refuse to decide what’s most important. As the old saying goes, if everything is important, then nothing is.   See my blog post, “The Five Best Things to Do When You Don’t Have Enough Time.”   One of my other big limiting belief is that I can’t say no. It feels absurd to even write that, but that’s how I feel when I perceive a need or receive a request that I know I have the ability to fulfill. The feeling is especially strong when I don’t see anyone else stepping up to fill the gap. I am definitely getting better at saying no, or at the very least not volunteering for things, but I have a long way to go to.   Michael Hyatt has a great podcast on “How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty.”   2. Stop doing the things you should be delegating. We each have a unique set of tasks that are really within our sweet spot and are the things that we can best do for the organization. But, we often get sidetracked with a torrent of other tasks that we gravitate to for a variety of reasons.   Either way, we need to work hard at identifying the short list of things we do best and which the organization most needs from us and stay focused on those things. Everything else should be delegated. Everything.   I know that’s easier said than done, but I believe effective delegation is one of the top five essential skills for organizational leaders. I have a great podcast that talks about this in a lot more detail. It’s called, “Five Essential Skills to Being a Great Leader.” Listen now.  
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  3. Stop doing the things that are keeping you from what’s most important. Not only are limiting beliefs keeping us from what’s most important, but many other things get in the way. The #1 thing I encounter personally, and with many of my clients, is that of becoming a slave to our email and other forms of messaging. That has to change or we’ll never become as effective as we could be.   Another thing we need to stop is doing what is easy instead of what is important. This affects almost everyone at one time or another. Some of us struggle with it constantly. I’ve learned that I tend to value completion over progress. So, I will naturally tend to do things that I can get done quickly and easily so I can check them off my list. Most of that stuff isn’t high priority and, as such, is a distraction I need to ignore.   I’ve implemented a new practice that helps me with this. I begin the day by identifying what absolutely must be done today. I put that on a special list and then discipline myself to only look at that list until all of the items are complete. Then I am free to look at the rest of my to-dos. I’m not perfect with this, but making a lot of progress and really enjoying the benefits.  
Stop doing what you should be delegating.

Joe Denner


Last Chance + A Great Bonus

Our new video training series, “7 Days to Becoming a GREAT Manager” is available for a 45% discount, but not for much longer. At midnight tonight, the price reverts back to our normal retail price.   Additionally, for anyone who purchases the course today, I will be offering two live coaching calls where we’ll discuss how to apply the material and create some quick wins. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity. Act now.  

Take Action Today

I’ve given you some personal examples. Now it’s your turn. Stop right now. Take five minutes and make a short list of the most important things for you to stop doing. Don’t try to figure it all out right now. Just make the list. Then pick one item and work on how to make it happen (or stop happening in this case).   Question: What is one thing you need to stop doing? [question]to-do-list-stop[/question]  
Seize the day!
Personal Development

Giving Thanks for the Fallen Warriors

Were you able to attend a Memorial Day parade or flag folding ceremony on Monday? I’m sorry to say that due to other priorities this was the first time in a few years that I have not.  
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  Memorial Day is one of those holidays that I took for granted for way too many years. But as I have aged (somewhat like a fine wine) it has grown in its importance to me. It’s become more personal because my grandfather gave his life in the service of our country many years ago, when my mom was only twelve.   I never had the privilege of meeting this great man, but I’ve heard a lot about him from my mom and other family members. I’ve admired his picture and, as young boy, I had the opportunity to visit the Davis-Monthan Air Force base in Tucson, AZ where a monument in his memory was built.   All five of my sons and I are a part of the Civil Air Patrol, which is the official auxiliary of the United States Air Force. Because of our participation in this organization, many of them have been involved in flag folding ceremonies as well as presenting the colors over the years. No matter how many times I attend one of these events on Memorial Day, it’s always a very moving experience.   My grandfather’s story is an example of true servant leadership. He trained pilots for the Air Force and one day a routine training flight went awry. As the plane landed something went wrong and the plane’s engine caught fire. As the crew scrambled to evacuate the plane my grandfather’s seatbelt jammed. One of his fellow crew members attempted to assist him. My grandfather ordered him to exit the plane. The crew member obeyed the command and thankfully his life was spared. Unfortunately for my grandfather, the plane exploded with him still inside. All of the other crew members made it to safety.     I know you appreciate the service and sacrifice of those who have served in our military. Many have given their lives to secure and maintain the freedoms the people of this nation, including you and me, have enjoyed for more than two centuries.   Let me encourage you to make sure you take the time to stop and thank the men and women you encounter along life’s journey who have donned the uniform and sworn to protect this great nation. And, next year, let’s both commit to setting aside the time to watch the parade and listen to the speeches offered by veterans whose simple desire is to honor their friends and comrades who paid the ultimate price that we might be free.   Question: Who would you like to honor in regards to Memorial Day this year? [question]fallen-warriors[/question]  
Seize the day!
Personal Development

Don’t Miss This Time With Your Family

This is a big week for our family. On Saturday we will have three sons who are graduating from college. Yes, you read that right. Three. All on the same day. All from the same university.     It’s going to be really fun to watch the three of them cross the stage to get their diplomas together, one right after the other. You don’t see that every day.   As I’ve shared my excitement with people over this momentous occasion I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how this came about. No, there are no twins. And, no, no one flunked out of another school.   There is a perfectly reasonable (and actually pretty cool) explanation, but that isn’t what’s important to me right now. What’s important is that we drink in this experience together and celebrate what’s been accomplished by these three fine young men.   I want to emphasize the part about drinking it in and celebrating. The reason is that I don’t always do that very well. So maybe this blog post is a little more for me than it is for you. You be the judge.
  I’m a pretty goal-driven, task-oriented person. I’m running pretty hard most of the time and actually enjoy it. I have a hard time slowing down and smelling the roses. This is a weekend where I definitely want to smell the roses, or whatever is growing in that part of the country.  
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  I want to drink in the time with my family as we walk the campus, buy souvenirs at the bookstore, eat, swim, and whatever else we decide to do with these couple of days. This is a rare and amazing event we are about to experience and celebrate together as a family. There will be priceless, never-to-be-repeated moments and photo ops around every corner if I pay attention (and have my camera ready).   What do you need to slow down and enjoy in the coming weeks? What is your attitude about that thing, person or event? In the past there have been events that I didn’t enjoy to the extent I could have if I had chosen to have the right attitude about it.  

Quick Favor

My son just put together a commercial for the upcoming release of my management training product. It is only 90 seconds. Would you take a look and give me some feedback. We would sure appreciate it.   Question: What do you need to slow down and enjoy in the coming weeks? [question]url[/question]  
Smell the roses!
(a more relaxing way of saying, “Seize the day!”)
Personal Development

Balancing Work and Family

For a while now I’ve been wanting to write and smash this myth about balance.  
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  I hear and read so much about people trying to find balance in their life. To me that’s like the search for the Holy Grail. Why? Because I don’t think balance, at least in the sense of finding that perfect middle ground, even exists. From my vantage point it’s not about balancing as much as it is about identifying and honoring a set of priorities.   This whole idea of trying to find balance in your life can feel like an uphill battle. You and I have so many demands on our time and energy, many of which seem completely valid. I don’t know about you, but there have been many times when I’ve felt like I’m not giving enough time to any facet of my world. That can be downright discouraging.   On the one hand we have our work that’s constantly tugging at us, whispering to us that it needs more attention. We have the pressures of cash flow, outstanding receivables, dissatisfied customers, problematic employees, tough competitors, and shrinking margins, just to name a few. On the other hand, we have spouses, children, significant life events, or other personal obligations that are feeling neglected and want more of us.   It’s nice to be wanted, but…   So, what to do? How do we escape feeling like we’re the little flag tied to the tug-of-war rope being jostled back and forth? While there’s no magic pill or silver bullet, I do believe that we, as human beings, have a level of agency. It’s a matter of stepping into that privilege and responsibility.   Let’s do that together by looking at five ways we can exercise our agency.

A Way in the Wilderness

1. Identify your true priorities. Do this with your spouse, significant other, or someone else who knows you well and is committed to your welfare. This is hard work, if you do it right, and should be given significant thought and reflection. I’m not talking about whipping off a list of priorities that you will change your mind on next week. These are the “big rocks” of your life that Stephen Covey wrote about. If they don’t go into the bucket first, they won’t fit.   Lean into this exercise. Take it seriously and don’t stop until you reach a deep, personal (inner) agreement about it. If the exercise includes another person, make sure you give each other the space you need to reach that place of assurance.   I would recommend choosing three to seven. Fewer than that doesn’t narrow the path enough. If you try more than that you are getting dangerously close to the “if everything is important then nothing is” precipice.   2. Make sure your calendar reflects those priorities. This is where it gets practical. It’s one thing to do the hard work (which it is) of figuring out your priorities. It’s a whole other thing to actually translate that into purposeful decisions and activities to which you are committed. The bottom line is that if your calendar doesn’t reflect your priorities, then either you’re out of kilter integrity-wise, or you missed on identifying your true priorities. In my experience it’s usually the former unless you didn’t give step 1 the appropriate level of consideration.   Once you’ve identified your priorities, it’s time to pull out the calendar and set aside time for the things you just decided matter most. Maybe that’s the time your going to spend with your spouse, your child, an important project for work, or something to do with your health.   Here are some things that go on my calendar well in advance:
  • My quarterly review with my wife. We just completed one two weeks ago, about which I wrote last week. And, our next one in June is already on the calendar.
  • I have a weekly meeting scheduled with my VP of Sales & Marketing, which is our leadership team meeting.
  • I periodically schedule 1:1 breakfasts with each of my daughters.
  • I set aside most Wednesdays from 8:30-9:15pm to spend 1:1 time with my sons.
  • I work out at our local gym on all my non-travel days.
  The bottom line here is that this moves us from a conceptual commitment to one that is in black and white and, therefore, gets planned around. Next time you see me, just ask to see my calendar.   This communicates clearly to those around us what’s important to us. One additional benefit is that it prevents the awkward moment when you realize that you scheduled a dinner meeting with a client on your wife’s birthday or the night of the big school play in which your child has the lead role.  
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  3. Make the tough decisions. This is where the rubber really meets the road. There’s absolutely no way to avoid it. By simply putting some dates on a calendar you’re not going to magically cause all of the difficult tensions that can arise to evaporate. Those clashes are bound to come. Client needs and their calendars have a way of coming into conflict with our personal lives. Uncanny.   For example, this was stacking up to be one of the busiest weeks of my last 3-4 months and I could see it coming. But, this Monday was the father-daughter banquet and my four daughters were super excited about putting on their beautiful gowns, doing their hair and spending the evening at dinner and dancing with Daddy. So, what did I do?   On Monday at 2pm I put my work down and got into my own fancy duds. And trust me, at 2pm I left behind a massive pile of important work. But at 3:15pm, we rolled out and headed for our special evening. We had a fantastic evening and I never once worried about the pile!! (Check out my Facebook page for some pics). That event was on my calendar weeks in advance and, therefore, I planned my busy life of competing priorities around it. Putting that priority on my calendar made a tough decision much easier.   As another example, I am just about to pause as I type out this blog post because I have a Bible study scheduled with my five sons (ages 15-23) on Tuesday evenings. I really “don’t have time” for this tonight. I need to finish this amazing blog for you (insert rimshot) and then I have to work on finishing up preparation for the 4 talks I am giving at a conference this Friday and Saturday. But, I’m going to stop and I am going to meet with my sons. Why? Because as important as you are, and as important as my audience this weekend is, my sons are more important. I know that hurts, but you’ll get over it.   By the same token, there have been plenty of times that I’ve had to say “no” to my wife or one of my children because of pressing work-related matters. You can’t do it all. Eventually, you’ll have to decide. That’s what real leaders do.   4. Do a quarterly review. I won’t take a lot of space here, but I’ll direct you to my blog post from last week and my e-book, “10 Ways to Live on Purpose.” The quick summary is that my wife and I do an overnight each quarter to reflect on the past 90 days and plan out our priorities for the next 90 days. It has been a hugely positive rhythm for our marriage, our family, our church ministry, and our business.   5. Remember there are seasons. This is simple, but critical. The priorities you set today are not likely to be the same as the ones you had five or six years ago, nor will they be the same five or six years from now. Life is a series of stages and seasons.   Don’t get stuck feeling like your blowing it because you’re not keeping the same priorities you had back then. Nor should you automatically feel a lack of integrity if new priorities are rising to the top of your list. Some things should stay the same, but others may experience radical change. You need to be the judge of that.   So, don’t worry if you can never get the scales to balance. That’s a pipe dream. But, live a life that gives appropriate honor to what matters most.   Question: What is one of the top priorities in your life over the next 90 days, and how will you get that on your calendar? [question]family-work-balance[/question]  
 Seize the day!
Personal Development

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