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.

Two Shoe Salesmen

Two shoe salesmen from London were sent to Africa in the 1800s. They both got off the ship and ventured out into the city, then the surrounding towns, and out into the villages. A few days later they went to the telegraph office.

The first salesman sent a message to his company in London, “No one wears shoes here. Send fare for my return. I’m coming home.”

The second salesman messages his company, “No one wears shoes here. Send 10,000 pairs immediately.”

Two men from the same place, with the same job, see the same people and come to two totally different conclusions. The first sees problems, the second sees opportunities. One sees a no-win situation and the other sees nothing but potential. One sees a road block and the other sees a wide-open playing field.

Perspective is the only difference in these two men, and perspective is the only thing that matters in this situation.

The life and leadership strategy of the Two Shoe Salesmen tells us to pay attention to our perspective. See what could be before you pack it in and move on.

In our work and in leading others it becomes easy to look for the path of least resistance. We consider what others have done and are doing, when we should be considering what could be done. Our perspective too often becomes stifled by imaginary boundaries of convenience and convention. But just because our coworkers and competition are bare-foot doesn’t mean we have to be.

Our families and relationships can suffer the same way. People accept and expect life to get busy, calendars to fill up, kids to come along, work to ask more, and intimacy, quality time, joy and values to diminish. But just because our neighbors don’t wear the shoes of healthy, intentional and live-giving family life doesn’t mean we can’t.

Our work places, homes, and communities are not unchangeable or immovable. Our role in the story of our lives has not been written for us. To think it has is to live a life lacking perspective of reality.

A good shoe salesman knows their job is to sell shoes, so they make the decisions and take the actions necessary to do it.

A good leader and co-worker should know their job is to succeed with the team they are on and will make the decisions and take the actions necessary to do it.

A good spouse and parent should know their job is to instill a sense of love, peace, confidence, values and purpose into their family and will make the decisions and take the actions necessary to do it.

It all begins with perspective. Choose to see what could be, what should be, and what will be as you decided to make it so. See the potential in your work, family, spouse, children and community and be the one who makes it happen.

Seventeen Percent Principle

My friend is a law enforcement firearms instructor. He’s told me he consistently gets perfect scores at the shooting-range; 100% accuracy. During training, they add in factors to cause stress; they have to run, do sit-ups or push-ups to raise their heartbeat and increase breathing, or they run scenarios that limit their options and require fast decision-making.

He is a better shot than most with 100% accuracy in practice, but under elevated stressful conditions in training scenarios is around 17%.

This doesn’t mean he is at 17% in stressful situations on the street, serving and protecting. That’s why they train. They create situations to get use to the stress, hurried pace, and tunnel vision to practice dealing with and overcoming it.

The 17% Principle is a life and leadership strategy that tells us we can learn to deal with and overcome stress and see past the tunnel vision. This requires intentional shifts in perspective and repetition to accomplish.

Psychological research shows people perform better in life when they are in a positive or neutral mental/emotional state than a negative/stressed one. In business, productivity increases 30% and sales increases 37%. People at positive or neutral mental/emotional states have better relationships, less health problems and live longer.

Is all this research telling us to avoid stress? Should police officers read this and decide to avoid all stressful situations? Of course not! This is why they train. These studies aren’t about our circumstances, but about our state of mind. Self-training is about our state of mind.

When a stressful situation is dealing with us, instead of us dealing with it, our fight/flight/freeze response kicks in and the tunnel vision takes over. We only see the problem which prevents us from seeing our options to solve the problem. This is what we need to train to gain control.

First, identify the bad ways we respond, so we know to avoid them. Don’t rationalize why you should be overwhelmed by stress (fight) because you shouldn’t and don’t have to be. Don’t avoid these situations (flight) because that isn’t helping anything. Don’t do nothing (freeze) and dwell in the negative state.

Catch yourself doing these negative things and call it out. Challenge that way of responding and thinking as being bad and choose a better response.

Pause. Breath. Allow yourself to see stress, even failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Choose to tell yourself that you aren’t facing a problem, but an option to move forward. Expect stress to happen and give yourself permission to move on so you don’t dwell on it. Most importantly, focus on others and serving and caring for them instead of fighting/fleeing/freezing because of the stress.

Our workplaces, homes and heads can either be dungeons of stress and anxiety or havens of peace and progress. Do the hard work of training yourself to serve and protect peace where you are so you can lead your coworkers, community and children to be able to do the same.

The Bit Market

The story is a new CEO comes to a company that makes drill bits. A veteran analyst at the company comes in to brief him about the state of the company and the market. Charts, files and figures about production, research, and sales are presented. The catalog of various drill bits for any application is proudly shown. The analyst concludes that the state of the company is good, the products are great, and they currently have a majority of the drill bit market. This means they are selling more drill bits than anyone else.

The CEO thanks the analyst, but says, “There is one major flaw about your understanding of our situation…”

The analyst looks back at his charts and files, and thinks “who is this new guy that thinks he knows more about drill bits than me?”

The CEO continues, “… there is no such thing as a drill bit market. There is a market for holes and as soon as there is a better way to make holes, no one will be buying drill bits.”

This life and leadership strategy forces us to ask if we are paying more attention to what we are doing than why we are doing it.
What is the drill bit market that we have placed all our confidence in?

In the organizations and teams we work with, do the methods we use really provide the most efficient and effective outcomes? At times, we get more comfortable with how it is than how it could/should be. Our aversion to change blinds us to the reality of what we are really trying to accomplish.

In our families we do that same thing. Everyone else is making drill bits, working as much overtime as they can, have their kids involved in too many activities, and spend any free time they may have on self-serving hobbies, so we should be too. We believe that is the market we are living in.

That isn’t the truth.
More income doesn’t make us live better lives if we spend it wrong.
Giving our kids more responsibilities and opportunities doesn’t make them better adults if they don’t have the time to be kids first.
Our hobbies won’t bring us joy if they aren’t making our families and communities better.

We buy into the drill bit market when the reality is we don’t want drill bits, we want holes. There are better ways to make holes in our lives.

Picture using an old hand drill, and then getting the first ever electric drill.

The right way to lead your team or lead your life isn’t doing it the way it’s always been done. Don’t keep buying into the lie of the drill bit market. If your team is underperforming, figure out what you are trying to accomplish. If your money is an issue, write a budget. If you want your kids to be better adults, show them what one looks like.