Tag Archives: habits

How Marginal Gains Provide the Steps to Success

Currently reading Legacy: What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life by James Kerr.

This has been a fantastic read so far that shares the life and leadership lessons from one of the world’s premier rugby teams.

One of the chapters that I just finished talks about marginal gains which the author defines as “100 things done 1% better to deliver cumulative competitive advantage.” It is natural for leaders to focus on the big picture, to share the 30,000 foot perspective, and to constantly remind teams about the vision and mission. The struggle happens when that is the only focus and the daily grind is overlooked.

Great leadership carries the tension between the vision and the implementation. Between the dream and the details. Between success and sustainability.

How does a leader accomplish this? Through becoming an intentional role model in the area of marginal gains.

* Look at your dream or vision and begin to work backwards outlining the steps necessary to achieve success.

* Start with today, be the best you can be today, and measure what a marginal gain would look like.

* Review your day, resetting goals for tomorrow that include your desired marginal gain.

* Begin again with a new standard of achievement and keep the process moving forward one step at a time.

Whether you need to improve in vision casting, one-on-one relationships, writing skills, or project management, you will gain success as you improve slightly each day. A reality of growth is that if you are not moving forward, then you are in danger of being passed up, or even moving backwards. Don’t be overwhelmed by the dream, but take the small steps necessary to achieve your dream!

What are you doing today that if you improved by 1% each day the next week would make the greatest difference?

What about your team?

The cumulative effect of the marginal gains of your team will build momentum and carry you towards the success you are aiming for. There is definitely a place in leadership to sweat the small stuff and to celebrate small victories. The accumulation of many small victories leads to the ultimate success that we are all dreaming of!


Capture Your Next Great Idea

I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to remember what I believe I should remember. I find myself walking back into rooms in hopes that my thought is still floating in the air waiting for me to engage with it again. I couldn’t tell you how often I have had the next great idea and then within moments it was gone!

Thankfully, I have done a much better job with remembering the times that God touched my heart in a powerful way and challenged me to a new way of living. The difference is that I tend to write down the things God tells me, but by default forget to write down what I tell myself.

Admittedly, I am a big picture dreamer and visionary. I love potential and future and hope and the anticipation of what might be waiting around the corner. I love new ideas, innovative tasks and strategic planning. However, this all comes to naught if at the end of the day I don’t actually change anything or accomplish anything. Dreams without action simply remain dreams. But when I add action then the sky’s the limit to what might happen!

Over the years, I have applied how I interact with God to how I interact with everything else and I simply write it down. I have a standing note on my phone to capture new ideas, as well as a paper notebook at home. It doesn’t really matter how you might capture your next great idea…what matters is that you capture it. The sooner and more thoroughly that you capture the dream, the more likely that you will follow through with an idea to completion.

So, what are the main benefits of capturing your next big idea?

** Seeing my dreams and ideas written out makes them more real and concrete. They become possible and tangible and are no longer floating in the space for ideas, but are now entering the land of
accomplishment. I have a vision that I can now begin to strategically plan out and work on.

** It is much easier to discover gaps on paper than in my head. Whether I am writing a book, preparing a sermon, or even jotting together a blog post, I find that I write and rewrite multiple times before content might be ready to share. As a visual learner, it is vital that I see what I am creating while still in process. I am a HUGE fan of whiteboards for this very reason.

** We were not designed to function within a bubble. When I have my next great idea written down, I can easily invite others to join me. In Habakkuk 2:2 (ESV) we are told to “write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.” I get fired up whenever I am able to come alongside somebody and see them fulfill their potential. If my dream might be a tool to accomplish this in somebody else’s life, then I need to capture it in a way to makes sense to others.

** I can complete the task at hand while not forgetting my next great idea. I often have dreams and ideas surface while I am already busy with a different task. When this happens, I have several choices. First, I can get distracted from my task and focus on the new idea. Or I can focus on the task and forget the details of my idea. The best practice I have learned is to quickly capture my idea so that I can revisit it later. This allows current tasks to be completed and future tasks to be remembered. 

The discipline of capturing new ideas over the past years has become an invaluable tool for me personally. I am sure that many activities and strategies would never have come to fruition if I trusted myself to remember it all. Some ideas have been discarded, some acted upon, and some are still in the holding tank. The key is they are out of my mind, onto the paper, and ready to be acted upon if the opportunity presents itself.

How about you? How do you capture your next great ideas? Do you write them down, record a voice memo, or use some other medium?

4 Steps to Faking it Well

Okay, it’s confession time. I’m not really good at this, but if I was completely honest, I would tell you that I have been “faking it” for awhile. In case you aren’t sure what this means, I have been going through the motions more lately than living with passion. I must admit that I think I put on a pretty good front, except to those who know me well. I can smile and attend church and serve and work hard with the best of them…but lately, something has been missing. I have been empty – a car with no gas, a flashlight without batteries, a coffee cup without, gasp, coffee!

I hope that I don’t get left hanging on this one, as if I was the only person who goes through the motions. The problem isn’t necessarily the going through the emotions, but more what we do when we realize that this is what we are doing. When the realization comes that we are missing our zest and passion for life, what’s next? I was confronted by this just last week in church by something our teaching pastor shared. I basically realized that there was not much about pursuing God that was firing me up. Devotions, prayer, worship, church itself…nothing. No energy – no excitement – no passion! And if pursuing God has lost passion, it’s just a matter of time before other arenas in my life become affected. 

So, how in the world can I turn this around so that I can fake it well? It’s in the steps that come after the realization that I have been faking it. Let me share my four steps with you now (in case you are wondering…I’m currently on step #2).

Awareness – every great movement must start with an awareness that I am not where I want to be. Until I become aware of my lack of passion, nothing will change. This might come by reading a book that grabs your heart, or by having coffee with a good friend, or by a loving spouse sitting you down to have “the talk”. It could happen in church (as it did for me this time around), or at the beach, or any number of places. Basically, awareness confronts me with a choice…am I content with where I am or do I need to make some changes?

Desire – the only way to fake well is to move to this step. Without a desire for change, we are just people aware that we are living without meaning but unwilling to change anything. Wow, that’s a depressing thought! I must decide that the pain of remaining where I am is less than the pain of moving forward. This is not desire that simply sounds nice…rather, it is desire that compels me to action. Currently, I am wrestling with the frustration of my lack of passion and assessing my daily routine to see where change must happen. Where am I spending more time on Facebook than in prayer? Do I play more rounds of solitaire than reading books on family, marriage and parenting? Am I content to disappear into watching a football on TV, rather than going outside to play catch with my son who is gearing up for a season of flag football? Desire is what will pull me from the doldrums and back into a purposeful and passionate life. 

Discipline – this is where it gets messy. I can talk a good game. I have a lot of plans and dreams and hopes for the future. I am always talking about moving forward and improving. I confess that I do not act upon every one of my ideas.  I have many friends with dreams in the sky who never put a plan in place to accomplish anything. You know who I’m talking about…the guy at every party or gathering who has a million excuses why his ideas never came to fruition, but a lack of discipline is never on his list. Discipline turns off the television. Discipline wakes up early to spend time with God. Discipline eats healthy and exercises with regularity. Discipline prefers others before self. Discipline makes a plan, works the plan and never stops until the plan is finished. 

Habits – welcome to your reward for faking it well! Awareness which leads to desire which leads to discipline ends with a change of habits for the better. Habits are activities that we are able to do without much thinking. Brushing our teeth, putting gas in the car, getting dressed in the morning and clicking a remote control are fairly engrained in the majority of our lives. Habits also lead to passion. Doing what I need to do in order to remain connected with God not only ignites passion in my life, but spreads to the other arenas of my life. Family, work and hobbies all become much more enjoyable when engaged with passion and purpose. Habits keep me on track so that when my emotions are not cooperating I am still living in a way that is intentional. 

One danger of habits is that they can become, well, habitual. We can begin doing things without even remembering why we started in the first place. When this happens, we just might find ourselves going through the motions. Of course, when we find ourselves in this position, we can embrace the gift of awareness and…well, you probably get the idea!

Faking it together, 


4 Essential Links to your Leadership Chain

Who are you learning from?

This is a common question in leadership circles but is essential to growth as a leader. Once a leader stops learning, their capacity for leading is greatly diminished and their influence is minimized. A typical leader is constantly striving for growth and expansion so learning becomes a requirement for effective leadership.

chain links

John Maxwell talks about the “Law of the Weakest Link” in regards to team building and leadership. We all can identify the weakest link in our ministry or organization and often wonder why the leader won’t remedy the situation sooner.

Today’s links that I am writing about are different – they are the necessary links for yourself as a leader in your learning “chain of influence.” Without these essential links, your chain is incomplete which means your learning is incomplete which means that your influence is already waning.

The first place to look for learning is to the books and authors who have come before you. Writers such as C.S. Lewis and Oswald Chambers write with such an authenticity and vintage…truth is timeless, Experience is a powerful teacher, whether the experience is positive or negative. Read about Jack Welsh and the G.E. turnaround, or John Wooden and his pyramid of leadership. The amount of information available in our world is enormous – grab a book and a good cup of coffee…and start learning!

Another important link in your chain of learning is your direct supervisors. Whether you like them or not they are there for a reason and can provide a model to learn from. Ideally, their model is positive and one that you want to emulate. If you are in a different situation, strive to learn what does not work and discover how to be different in your area of leadership.

If you are a leader (by definition, anybody who has influence), then you have opportunity to learn from your direct reports. If you are not in a more corporate setting, this could be volunteers, colleagues or even your kids. The point is that we can all learn from those who might have less experience or influence than us…their unique perspective provides another place of learning for your leadership chain. Allow space for others to share opinions, discuss ideas and participate in conversations.

Finally, make sure to include your family in your leadership chain. They know you the best, both the good and the bad, and most often want to see you succeed. Ask for input, insight and inspiration from the ones who are in your corner, regardless of how many widgets you created today.

The bottom line is that great leaders have learned how to gain wisdom from every experience and every person they interact with. Learning is possible in healthy and toxic situations, from positive and negative leaders, and from books written last year and 100 years ago. The more intentionally you work to develop and strengthen your chain, the better the chances are for you to be both an effective and an efficient leader.

~ Mike

4 Keys to a Successful Work Environment

Unless you are in a very unique role, you participate on a regular basis in a work environment, interacting with others. Most of us spend more time at work than anywhere else in life. It’s safe to assume that each of us wants this environment to be successful, both personally and with projects to be completed.

Startup Stock Photos

I have worked in many different environments, some more casual and some more corporate. I have been part of large department teams, been my own department and almost everything in between. Along the way, I have learned one crucial truth: work environments are filled with people! Crazy, right? But this means that there are certain principles that will extend across multiple work places.

First, I have to remember that it is simply not about me. If my energy, focus, concern and conversation rotates around myself and my projects, several things happen. I become unable to see the big picture and I no longer include others in the journey. Others begin to pull away as they realize that their presence is no longer important to me. This self-centered egotism is a sure bet to destroy any chance at a healthy work environment.

Second, the job description is rarely the job description. While this fun document might be what opened the door to employment, I would suggest that your boss is looking for more. More creativity, more initiative, more wisdom and more desire to engage with the greater good. I must find places to serve, groups to participate in, special projects to accomplish and the like.

Third, we all have a sweet spot – find your groove and get to work! How do you add value to the organization? What can you bring to the table that nobody else has? While this is not permission to ignore areas of less strength, it is a strong reminder to shine brightly where you are most gifted.

Finally, spend a little time caring about people more than projects. It can be so easy to get wrapped up in tasks and to-do lists and accomplishments that we find ourselves not truly knowing the people we interact with on a daily basis. The better a team knows and understands each other, the better they will work together. Have lunch together on occasion (not a working one), celebrate birthdays and find other simple ways to encourage and connect with your co-workers.

Work is consuming and takes up the majority of the day. This can either be a drudgery or can become a place of great satisfaction. Take the time to create a healthy work environment and enjoy the benefits that you and your team will receive.

Any other ideas for healthy work places? What are some things you do currently that create health? I would love to hear about it!


Sometimes, Sweat the Small Stuff

I cannot tell you the number of times in college that I ran out of gas in my truck. The worst was that it typically happened in a moment of urgency when I had a deadline to meet for either school or work, yet that familiar sound of a coughing engine would taunt me. My truck was new, was in great shape and I loved it – I just found myself often distracted by the big and important things in life and I forgot about small details such as filling up the gas tank.

gas station-night

Now, I admittedly am a bigger fan of and more natural at vision, future, big picture, etc. While these are crucial components of leadership, I have learned over the years that there are times that it becomes essential to sweat the small stuff, regardless of what the experts might say.

I am not a proponent of worrying and stressing about every little detail and expecting perfection. However, I am a proponent of the idea that my journey begins with the first step…and this is typically small. Even jumping off of a cliff requires a small step.

What is the small stuff worth sweating?

  • Paying the bills on time – might seem trivial, but why waste hard-earned money on late fees
  • Putting gas in the car in a timely manner – enough said
  • Checking your work presentation for typos – nothing says amateur or “I don’t care” more than spelling and grammatical typos
  • Learning the important aspects of life for those on your team. While you might not remember everybody’s birthday, do you put them on your calendar as a help?
  • Listening when your spouse or children talk – not merely hearing, but taking the time to listen, to empathize and maybe, at times, to even understand
  • Being faithful and honest when nobody is looking – it is far too easy to cut corners, but in the long run I have discovered that integrity wins out virtually every time

What about you? Any small stuff in your life worth sweating over? I would love to hear about it…until then, don’t forget to check your gas gauge!

~ Mike

Getting Back in the Saddle Hurts

I’m a rhythm guy. I like to wake up at the same time, eat the same foods, go to the same places and in general stick with what works. I take risks and try new things, but I have my standards that get me through life pretty well.


Unfortunately, holidays can disrupt my rhythm fairly easily. I have not posted in over a month, my alarm is my enemy, my eating discipline was replaced by homemade fudge and egg nog, and in general a sense of laziness began to creep in.

So, how can I get out of the rut and back into the saddle again? I know that it’s gonna hurt…but the alternative is far worse than taking the steps to get back to where I need to be.

First, there is great wisdom in reflection and evaluation. Was the rhythm I was in previously the ideal? I have taken the time in the past week to determine the best wake up time, the best bedtime, book reading, devotions, exercise, etc. While most has stayed the same, there are a few areas to tweak for 2016.

Second, write it down. Write down the goals, the ideal, the plan and the rhythm hoped for. Make it visible and memorable. It is far too easy to avoid discipline when it remains a theoretical idea in one’s mind. Writing it down brings a greater level of accountability and reality to the process.

Third, aim high! I don’t know about you, but at times I will lower the standard in order to feel more accomplished. Sad?? Yes…but true nonetheless. The problem is that this does not actually work because deep down I know that I could have done more. Truth is that I do better aiming very high and then coming up a bit short.

Fourth, provide grace for yourself. You might fail, forget or just need a day off from discipline. The perfection expectation is a guarantee for failure which then often leads to quitting. Don’t go there! Understand that you are human and might not always reach the lofty goals.

Lazy feels good for a time, for a moment or maybe even for an entire weekend. However, it does not last so no matter how much it might hurt, be encouraged to get back in the saddle.

~ Mike

5 Ways to Accomplish Your Goals

Most of us have somewhere to go – on a daily basis, we are crazy busy. Wake up, eat, exercise, get ready, journal, get the kids ready, school, work, homework, dinner, activities, bedtime craziness, fall asleep and do it all over again!! Wow, it can be tiring just thinking about how full our days are. But what are we actually doing? Is there any purpose to the routine or is it more survival than thriving? What is the motivation and goal for all of the activities?


We won’t ever know where we are going or what we are doing unless we have goals to accomplish. We need goals personally, for our family, for work and even for recreation. But it’s one thing to have goals and quite another to accomplish. So, here are five thoughts about how to see the completion of the goals in your life.

1.Write them down – it is very challenging to accomplish goals that are not written down and kept in front of us. It doesn’t really matter how you write them down, but make sure they are kept in a place that is easily accessible and visible. Post-it notes on the mirror, whiteboard at work, notes app on your phone…the possibilities are endless. No matter the style, taking time to write down your goals will put you ahead of the crowd.

2. Make them clear, measurable and memorable – have you ever written down a reminder and been so vague that you couldn’t remember what the reminder was about? Not a good plan for goals. Make sure they are clearly written and you can measure them. Saying you will exercise is a dream…saying you will exercise by running for thirty minutes every morning is a measurable goal. And some added advice…make them memorable. Use rhymes or other word tricks to remember the goals you have.

3. Plan little steps to get there – news flash…you won’t accomplish your goals tomorrow! This might seem unnecessary, but often we become fixated on the goals and become discouraged when they don’t happen soon enough. It might take a thousand steps to see the completion of a goal, but each little step has its place and is important. See the steps, plan the steps and enjoy each step while you are there. Don’t become so fixated on the big goal that you forget to enjoy the moment of the little steps!

4. Start today – so you’ve thought of your goals, written them down and even discovered the many little steps needed along the way. Now just go for it! Don’t wait until tomorrow or next week or next year. Take one step tomorrow and begin moving forward towards your goals. The longer you wait to begin, the easier it will become to discard the goal and go back to a busy but unproductive life. If you are anything like me, you don’t want to actually go there!

5. Don’t give up! This is the area that I struggle the most with. I become distracted or discouraged or disheartened and walk away from goals. Then, months later, I rediscover where I wrote them down and realize that I need to start all over again. There is a much easier way – just don’t give up in the first place. Take little steps and keep moving forward. Will you experience setbacks and forget to move forward at times?!? Absolutely, but when this happens just head back to step #4 and start again.

So, how are you with goals? Do you have some written down? Are you making progress or do you need to discover some little steps to get closer to accomplishment? Wherever you are in the journey, it’s well worth the extra work to write down your goals…as a great leader once said to me, if you aim for nothing, you will hit it every time!

~ Mike

4 Keys to Being a Great Leader

Audacious, I know! I mean really…how can I claim to know the secret to great leadership? What I know personally is more about how to not lead with greatness. Allowing things such as busyness and control and lack of confidence and minimal discipline to waylay the greatest of plans and dreams.

abstract office space

It is far too easy to have our lives begin to look like this desk – cluttered and scattered and non-productive. Instead of remaining here, I have spent years studying other leadership greats…both personally and through books and conferences. There seem to be some common traits of the great leaders, so let me share four of them with you here.

  1. It actually is all about the little things! Great leaders, even if this is not natural, understand that details matter. Details allow for follow through to happen, details provide the momentum for big projects to finish, details show value to the people involved. Consider the leader who knows and acknowledges your birthday versus the leader who forgets your name…which one has greater influence on your life in a positive way?
  2. Great leaders carry a compelling vision with them that nothing can minimize. Often, those around the leader think they must be crazy or delusional or so busy dreaming that nothing good will come of it. Instead, it is this driving vision that compels leaders to greatness because they can envision accomplishing something that nobody else can see…and then they are able to both share the vision and gain buy in with those they lead.
  3. Play and rest are important to great leaders. Rarely does an effective leader not have downtime. I define great leadership as not only influential but sustainable as well. Leaders without margin who have forgotten how to rest and have fun will burn out and greatly tarnish their influence. Leaders who play and sleep and eat well and value quiet time will remain healthy which allows them to lead longer which results in greater legacy.
  4. Relationships are the most valuable investment for great leaders. It must be more about the people in their lives than the task to be accomplished. Leaders who trample followers in order to win eventually are standing on the podium by themselves, if they even made it there. In stark contrast are leaders who are surrounded  by followers that have been loved and valued and appreciated and encouraged every step of the way. These leaders fill arenas and auditoriums and sanctuaries when they die because everybody felt that they were vitally important to the leader.

So, I have two questions for you to consider today:

First, who are the great leaders in your life that you can learn from and what traits do they exemplify that you desire to mimic in your life?

Second, what kind of a leader are you? Do you find yourself consumed with the task, living unhealthily and hurting people around you…or do you value relationships and seek ways to help those around you shine?

potted plant

With a little bit of practice, you can experience growth and health in whatever environment you are privileged to lead in.

Happy leading!


Leadership versus Sympathy

There is a tendency, at times, to enlist people onto our teams or into our cause because they are sympathetic to the vision. Maybe they are personally touched by what we do, have a family member or close friend who is touched, or are merely compelled by the change we endeavor to make in the world. Regardless, this sympathy is not necessarily a license for leadership. Often, those sympathetic to a cause are the ideal followers due to their passion and emotional investment. However, these very characteristics can often be the downfall of healthy leadership decisions.


Leadership is often a lonely journey and it becomes necessary on a regular basis to make decisions that while not popular with the crowd are essential for the good of the cause. A leader cannot always see perfectly ahead and must follow their gut. If a sympathizer is in a leadership role, it becomes almost impossible to make the hard call because of the highly volatile emotional investment.

So, how do you tell the difference between leadership and sympathy? This is not a comprehensive list, but are some observations I have made over my years of leading.

  1. A leader sees the big picture while a sympathizer becomes focused on the individual. Now, hear me out on this one. I am not saying that leaders should not care about people and that the group is more important than the one. What I am saying is that you can bog down a movement by spending too much energy on one person when so many more need to be touched. A leader at times must allow sympathizers to console the one while the leader is free to decide according to the ultimate plan and vision.
  2. A leader remains true on course while a sympathizer becomes distracted with the surroundings. Leaders are called upon to know the best and most efficient way to get from point A to point B. This rarely involves side roads, distractions and obstacles. A leader looks for the one way to move forward and bring the most people with. A sympathizer can get lost on the journey by losing focus and forgetting what their original plan might have been.stop on street
  3. A leader is able to say no to many good things in order to be ready for the greatest thing – a sympathizer typically says yes to everything and misses out on the greatest thing. Our society does not readily support the idea of personal boundaries and margins. People become offended by “no” and take it personally…often accusing the leader of not caring. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is precisely because the leader cares that he or she is able to say no. They must be ready to lead. If every appointment or meeting is important, then none are truly important. If every conversation is dire and urgent, then none are. Effective leaders must be confident enough to say no to any and everything that would pull them from their ultimate purpose.

It is typically easier in the short term to act with sympathy. This causes people to like us, we become popular, we feed needed and all is right with the world. However, in the long term we become worn down, people depend upon us too much and we slowly become bitter and resentful when others ask of us. If we are able to lead, ourselves first, then our families and finally our vocation, then we can say no, we can wait for the best and then feel energized and refreshed when we lead from a place of strength rather than a place of leftovers.

Leadership versus sympathy…it is rarely an easy choice, but then again who ever said that the call to leadership involved easy?