The #3 Pencil Principle

An office where people were filling out forms all day hired an efficiency consultant to review their business. The consultants found that the workers were using #2 pencils to fill out their forms. The soft graphite of the #2 pencils was easier to erase, but worn down faster. This meant the workers needed to sharpen their pencils more often and that the pencils didn’t last as long as they could.

The consultants figured the amount of money the company was spending on pencils and the amount of time the workers spent sharpening their pencils instead of working. The recommendation came back:  get harder #3 pencils for the workers instead. The harder graphite wouldn’t wear down as fast meaning that the workers wouldn’t use as many pencils and spend as much time sharpening them. There would be more money in the budget from buying less pencils and more time to fill out more forms. The consultants anticipated a 10% decrease in the pencil budget and a 10% increase in productivity.

After a year of #3 pencils, the efficiency consultants came back to check the actual results. They found an almost 100% decrease in the pencil budget and no increase in productivity. When they went to investigate, they found stock rooms full of unopened boxes of #3 pencils.

They asked the workers what was happening. This is when they found that workers hated the #3 pencils because the harder graphite meant they had to press hard to make a darker mark and it was very hard to erase mistakes. Instead of using the #3 pencils provided, the workers were buying and using their own #2 pencils.

This life and leadership strategy teaches us that making things harder on people rarely increases productivity. If you make something too hard, people won’t do it.

This strategy can be used two ways.

First, if you want something to happen you need to make it easy. Get rid of the bureaucracy that keeps your team from accomplishing their goals. Be easily accessible to your family and your community. Don’t spend the same amount of time to set up a meeting that it would take to just have the needed conversation on the spot. Don’t send an attachment that needs opened in an email if you can just type it in the body. 

Second, if you don’t want something to happen but you don’t want to look like a dictator by forbidding it you can make it a little harder. A little bit of bureaucracy can discourage people from wasting their time on things they haven’t realized aren’t needed or productive. This can apply to our work, our community, and our families. Add a form that needs filled out before money can be spent or some optional chores that need done before your teenager can borrow your car.

Take the time to evaluate if you’ve added #3 pencil-obstacles for your team or family without realizing it. You could have undermined your productivity without even realizing it.

The Mind-Bucket

Picture your mind as a bucket. It’s open and ready to receive and hold whatever the world offers you. Some of what the world gives you is cold and negative, and some of what the world gives you is warm and positive.

The warm things can be words of encouragement, accomplishments, and the results of well used gifts. The cold things can be unwarranted criticism, insults, and failures. At the earliest age, we start having our mind-buckets filled. Maybe you were encouraged and told all the things you’d be and accomplish one day, and the temperature of your mind-bucket was high, or maybe you weren’t and were put down and started with a pretty cool mind-bucket.

The temperature of our mind-bucket has a lot to do with our perspective, confidence, and behaviors. This life and leadership strategy is all about one simple truth; you can change the temperature of your mind-bucket. It is not fixed.

The temperature of your mind-bucket, and self-image, is an accumulation of all the inputs over your lifetime. It comes from what others put in and from what you put in. The way you talk to yourself and think about yourself is just as important as how other people treat and talk to you.

If your temperature is low, change it. Start by stopping to cool yourself down. When you fail, learn that failure is an event and not a character trait. Learn and grow. When you aren’t being the person you want to be or need to be, use your energy changing to be better instead of beating yourself up. Most of us would never talk to other people with the harshness and heartlessness we talk to ourselves. Stop it.

Start putting warm water in your mind-bucket and find other people who will too. It is okay to celebrate your successes, no matter how small they might seem. Practice gratitude to allow yourself to start to see the positive around you and in you more clearly. Find people that are not tearing other people down all the time, that don’t complain for recreation.

There is one caveat; you must be honest. If you really are failing, not living up to your potential or working as hard as you should, own it. You can’t take a bag full of ice, pretend it is hot, and dump it into your mind-bucket and expect it to make you warmer. Your temperature will not change and your self-image will not improve by being dishonest with yourself and others. You cannot take shortcuts to being a warmer and better self.

Our friends, family, coworkers, and community need more warm and uplifting people. We can be those people for them. We just have to become them first.

Team Ball

It is March Madness. We are in the middle of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The best team will become the National Champion. There are a lot of great individual players, but it is the team that plays the best together, as one, that will win.

This week’s life and leadership strategy is Team Ball. You can’t control how everyone else on your team, in your organization, or in your company plays. You can decide how you are going to play. You can decide to be on the team.

1.      Decide to be on the team. Make the decision from the beginning that you are going to be a team member. Commit to the group you are part of, or don’t be part of it.

2.      Sit up front. If there’s a team meeting, sit in the front third. If there is a gathering, don’t hang out in the back. Be present to the group you’ve committed to.

3.      Engage. Take notes at the meeting. The people upfront see if you are checked in or not, and so will your teammates. You’re committed to it, you are present, so engage.

4.      Take out the trash. There are always jobs on every team that no one likes doing. Be the one that is willing to do them from time to time. Take out the trash, clean up the towels, and make the coffee. Not every job on the team is glamorous, but every job is important. Do your part, from the bottom to the top.

5.      Be positive. Complaining is contagious, but so is positivity. Be the teammate that helps others to see what is good and right. You will perform better, your teammates will perform better, and your team will get better.

6.      Do your job with drive and energy. Showing up isn’t everything. The best teammates are the ones that give it everything they’ve got. Months before the championship game, the champions are hustling and so should we.

Being a member of a team doesn’t always mean you are the leader. But being the best team ball player you can be puts you on a trajectory towards leadership. But that shouldn’t be the primary goal.

Being the best team ball player you can be is how we learn all the skills we need to be the best leaders and people we can be.

If you are the one taking out the trash and cleaning up the towels, don’t long for the days when that stuff is behind you. Learn to appreciate the opportunity to contribute to something bigger than yourself. So when you are the one calling the shots, you don’t forget to be grateful for the opportunity to contribute to something bigger than yourself.

Show the people watching (there are always people watching) what it looks like to play team ball.

Westbound Freight

A fully loaded freight train can weigh between 18,000 and 40,000 tons. These trains run at speeds between 40 and 70 mph. The average (29,000 tons moving at 55 mph) would have 467,900,000 pound feet per second or 1/19th of the force of the space shuttle launch.  

This life and leadership strategy is about change, and when the time for change has come. Change happens. Change is life, whether we like it, want it or not.

This can apply to change that you cannot control; in your work place, in your community, and in relationships you are in. This can also apply to changes you know you need to make and control but haven’t committed to yet, but believe you should.

When the majority of people in an organization or group have decided it is time for change, just like a loaded freight train on straight tracks heading west gets up to full speed, there is little or nothing that will stop it.

If there is change coming in your organization/relationship/team/community and the majority is behind it and emotionally committed you really only have three choices.

1.      Get on board. There are times we need to move with the whole even if the direction is not the one we’d choose.

2.      Get out of the way and keep our mouth shut. There are times we need to accept the group is taking a direction we don’t want to go and it’s okay to let it.

3.      Lay on the tracks and try to stop it. This should only be done when there is a moral issue. Emotion and sentiment are not moral issues. This also usually ends in the same manner as if you were to actually lay on the tracks and try to stop some westbound freight.

The personal application, when you know there is a change you want or need to make in your own life is in the power of commitment. We know we need to do something but are afraid of failure so we don’t start. If we were to really commit to the change we have to make and allow the momentum of the commitment to grow, before long the force becomes unstoppable. We are the catalyst to this growth in our own physical, mental and spiritual lives.

If I know I need to be healthier and I fully commit to going to the gym, the momentum of my resolve will keep me from failing. If I know I need to be a better parent or partner and I fully commit to putting the time in, the momentum of my resolve will keep me from failing. If I know my heart and habits are out of balance and it is time to seek that which is greater than me to restore that balance, the momentum of my resolve will keep me from failing.

We cannot stop a change whose time has come.

We can decide when it’s our time to change.

Self-Image and Potential

We all have potential that is greater than we usually assume and experience. We settle for less than we are actually capable of because we don’t realize what we are capable of. At moments, we come close and exceed our own expectations. We surprise ourselves but call it luck.

We don’t see the reality of our potential because we are blinded by our self-image. For some, the ceiling of self-image is much lower than our true potential. For others, it is closer. Our hope is to get those lines as close as possible but it takes some honesty and work.

A low self-image stands in the way of building confidence, reaching our potential and being the best leader, laborer, team-member, partner, parent and community member we can be.

Here are some ways to raise the ceiling of self-image.

1. Spend time with people that have a higher self-image. If we are around negative people we will develop a negative world view and view of ourselves. People with a higher and healthy self-image show us how to be honest and self-aware. We were made for relationships. The relationships we have should make us better.

2. Say and hear things that affirm your potential. It’s more than seeing other people living with a higher self-image, do what they do. Practice self-forgiveness and self-compassion. Let yourself off the hook when stuff doesn’t work out the way you want. Remind yourself (out-loud) that you don’t control everything, but you do control how you choose to see it. When you succeed, congratulate yourself for being the kind of person that does the stuff you do. Stop telling yourself what you aren’t and what you can’t do and start telling yourself who you are and what you can do.

3. Remember and remind yourself of your accomplishments. It is too easy to dwell on failure. Build a mental trophy case to remind yourself that you win too. Failure may happen, but don’t let it define you.

4. Dream about what could be and visualize what will be. If you aim low you miss the target. Just like you need to remind yourself of who you really are, tell yourself what you want to see happen.

5. Have faith you’re more than you’ve seen. We made in the image and likeness of a perfect God. He makes good things, and He made you perfect for the life He’s planned for you. Andrew Carnegie said, “Immense power is acquired by assuring yourself in your secret reveries that you were born to control affairs.”

You might not believe your potential is so much higher than your current self-image, but what we believe and what is true isn’t always the same thing. Our family, friends, neighbors and coworkers need someone to show them what happens when we overcome our self-image, live in and live out of our true potential. Be that person for them. Be that person for you.

A Brief History of Leadership Theory

Modernity gave us ability to study and publish anything. Theories of all sorts of things started developing. The internet is the natural progression of this, sometimes with less study and more publishing.

Leadership study started in the middle of the 19th century. Here are six of the major moves in this field of study.

1. The Great Man Theory comes from the middle of the 1800s. This theory says that leaders are born with the traits, qualities and abilities of being a leader. Leaders are not made. You either are or you aren’t from birth.


2. Trait Theory came a century later, during the age of psychology. It says that whether people are born or trained to be leaders, specific traits will allow them to excel and succeed in leadership. These researchers focused on the physical, mental and social/relational characteristics that good leaders have. This can be an entertaining theory because different people proposed some strange traits that contribute to being a good leader; like wearing the same outfit everyday may make you successful. They all seem to agree that being a little taller and a little more intelligent will help.


3. Behavioral Theory followed in the 1940s — 50s. This is a reaction to Trait Theory that saw leadership as the behavior of the leader leading to success and not just mental or physical traits. This is the total opposite of the Great Man Theory. It argues that anyone can learn and preform successful leadership behaviors. Leaders are made, not born.


4. Contingency Theory evolved out of Behavioral Theory in the 1960s. It says a leader will apply the right behaviors in the right situations. There is not one style, or set of behaviors, that will work in every situation or with every group. Like Behavioral Theory it says anyone can learn the different styles, but like Trait Theory it says a good leader will know which to use, where and when.


5. Transactional Leadership Theory came in the 1970s. Contingency Theory opened the door to considering how to best motivate the people being led. Transactional Theory says a leader must offer, with the right rewards or punishment, to motivate people to follow them.


6. Transformational Leadership Theory developed at the same time as transactional, and for the same reasons related to Contingency Theory, but took a totally different direction. Transformational Theory says that it is the leader’s role to inspire others to follow. This happens through relationships and the leader’s personality. A good leader gives their followers an identity of belonging.

Both Transactional and Transformational Theories grew out of the Contingency Theory. Transactional Theory seems to favor the behavioral focus on doing what needs to be done to succeed. Transformational favors the Trait Theory’s focus on being the person who can inspire success.

So which one is best/right?

H.L. Mencken said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

Maybe they all are almost right.

The $25,000 Plan

In the early 20th Century, Bethlehem Steel was the second largest steel producer in the United States and the world’s largest shipbuilder. Charles M. Schwab bought the company at the turn of the century and led it into unprecedented growth. By the 1910s the corporation was expanding rapidly, acquiring many other, smaller companies.

Schwab knew that rapid growth can kill efficiency, so to combat this problem he hired a consultant named Ivy Lee in 1918 to give advice on how Bethlehem Steel could continue to run smoothly. Lee came and observed the organization and looked through the data, then came back to Schwab asked to be given 15 minutes with each executive in the company.

Lee spent those 15 minutes explaining a simple organizational method to each executive. He told them to spend a little time at the end of each workday to write down the six most important things they wanted to get done the next day. He told them to put them in order, starting with the most important. As soon as they got to work the next day, they would be ready to start with that first thing and were to work on it until it was finished and then move on to the next until it was finished. If they didn’t finish all six things in the day, whatever was left would get bumped to the next day’s list. He told them to do this every day.

Schwab asked how much this sole and simple advice for Bethlehem Steel would cost. Lee told him to wait and see how it worked for three months and then pay him whatever he thought it was worth. Three months later Schwab called Ivy Lee back to his office and wrote him a $25,000 check. That is over $450,000 today for one simple plan that boosted the company’s productivity and efficiently more than anything else ever had. The Ivy Lee plan was taught to all managers and workers in the company.

It was just a to-do list. It worked.

This life and leadership strategy teaches us that making and executing a plan is the key to living and being effective. We all know it’s true, but we still don’t always take the time to do it, or we don’t stick with it.

Sometimes we don’t stick with it because the system we try to use gets more complex than we care to maintain. There are phone and computer apps that help us do this. Personally, I haven’t found them effective. I bullet journal instead, pen and paper to-do lists for each day of the week. The best method of planning out what you need to get done is the method that works and one you will stick with.

I plan out my work, family, social responsibilities every week. I usually find more time in every day than I need, because so much of it is used well. It has been priceless in my life.

In the early 20th Century, Bethlehem Steel was the second largest steel producer in the United States and the world’s largest shipbuilder. Charles M. Schwab bought the company at the turn of the century and led it into unprecedented growth. By the 1910s the corporation was expanding rapidly, acquiring many other, smaller companies.

Schwab knew that rapid growth can kill efficiency, so to combat this problem he hired a consultant named Ivy Lee in 1918 to give advice on how Bethlehem Steel could continue to run smoothly. Lee came and observed the organization and looked through the data, then came back to Schwab and asked to be given 15 minutes with each executive in the company.

Lee spent those 15 minutes explaining a simple organizational method to each executive. He told them to spend a little time at the end of each workday to write down the six most important things they wanted to get done the next day. He told them to put them in order, starting with the most important. As soon as they got to work the next day, they would be ready to start with that first thing and were to work on it until it was finished and then move on to the next until it was finished. If they didn’t finish all six things in the day, whatever was left would get bumped to the next day’s list. He told them to do this every day.

Schwab asked how much this sole and simple advice for Bethlehem Steel would cost. Lee told him to wait and see how it worked for three months and then pay him whatever he thought it was worth. Three months later Schwab called Ivy Lee back to his office and wrote him a $25,000 check. That is over $450,000 today for one simple plan that boosted the company’s productivity and efficiency more than anything else ever had. The Ivy Lee plan was taught to all managers and workers in the company.

It was just a to-do list. It worked.

This life and leadership strategy teaches us that making and executing a plan is the key to living and being effective. We all know it’s true, but we still don’t always take the time to do it, or we don’t stick with it.

Sometimes we don’t stick with it because the system we try to use gets more complex than we care to maintain. There are phone and computer apps that help us do this. Personally, I haven’t found them effective. I bullet journal instead, pen and paper to-do lists for each day of the week. The best method of planning out what you need to get done is the method that works and one you will stick with.

I plan out my work, family, social responsibilities every week. I usually find more time in every day than I need, because so much of it is used well. It has been priceless in my life.