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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The ONE THING You Can Do Now to Make the Biggest Difference

You do matter, and your choices do add up. But one area must be addressed first.

Isn’t it easy for me to sit under a blanket, by a fire, and tell you that your choices matter? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing right now! But don’t fool yourself, I know choices are NOT the same around the world.

** Warning, it gets slightly more graphic from here. **

I’ve walked through the slums in India and I've seen people carve out homes in the landfills and garbage heaps in Asia and South America. I’ve befriended leaders in our inner-city missions. I’ve helped build houses and shelters, and I've given food to the starving, and shoes to a village of children, and I’ve wept and prayed. Some of those who have “made it out,” then returned to help others… those friends are some of my heroes in life.

But most readers of my leadership writings and listeners of my speaking don’t know my secret: I came from the American version of those circumstances.

I didn’t have a “dad,” and my mom—a raging alcoholic—was married and divorced at least four times by the time I finished grade school. Those were the good times. All the rest of the times, there was a different guy in our “house” almost every night.

Notice how I put “house” in air quotes. We lived in “welfare housing” with ceilings that caved in from water leaks and sewage systems that didn’t work well. We couldn’t afford our heating bill. I still have the scars from stitches on my fingers from trying to find and cut firewood for my sisters to be warm.

I’m now 60 years old, and this was the time before food stamps. We got to line up once a month for government surplus food. It was certainly embarrassing for a kid who wanted to be liked at school, but it was also survival for my two sisters and myself. Most of the time, we had no washing machine, no clean clothes, no bread on the counter or milk in the refrigerator. Things got much worse from there (I’ll spare you the painful abusive details).

Back then, I spent most of my time and effort trying to hide my “reality” from other people. Then, in the years that followed, I spent my time and energy trying to hide my past.

Why?

I just wanted to be liked or, who knows, maybe even loved. I knew that would never happen if someone knew the “real” me. That’s probably where some of my really poor ways of thinking got their start.

But where you start doesn’t have to be where you end.

Not in this life. Where you start does not have to be where you end… this month, not this week, not even today…

Let that sink in.

 

My life was one of pain, embarrassment, and deceit that were all fueled by my immense insecurity. I was trying to make it, but I didn’t know how and there was no one who volunteered to show me a better way. I stole things and lied. A lot.

With a heart of compassion, you might feel compelled to say, “You were just doing the best you could to survive.” Yes, there probably is some truth to that, but I still knew that I shouldn’t be stealing and shouldn’t be lying. Some inherent truth, followed by my deserved feelings of guilt, those were all letting me know that some of my choices were better than other ones.

One of my sisters ran away, and the other sister went to live with her birth father. Years later, I was incredibly blessed because a neighborhood family took me in when I had nowhere to go. It was the family of my best friend, who is now my “little brother” for life. So, I consider myself to be one of the “lucky ones.” I remember in high school, after they took me in. They treated me like someone worthy of discipline and love… and a smile… and milk.

It meant the world to me.

The changes in my life have come slowly by my standards. I’ve self-sabotaged way too many times. Learning how to be forgiven and how to forgive myself was definitely a catalyst for me. That allowed me to open myself up to new possibilities. It seems like a glacial pace, but my life of deceit, insecurity and hidden feelings slowly started to melt.

Very slowly.

I’m certain that some of that past still affects me, even with all the counseling, study, and introspection. But I had a chance. My life could begin to change for the better IF, and ONLY IF, I learned to use my superpower, the same one I’m about to encourage you to use.

First, what about all the people who have never known they had a chance? And what breaks my heart even more: those who did get a chance, but their poor choices—over and over again—have led them to one wasted opportunity after the next. My heart is truly broken for them. I want them to know that right now, in the midst of their worst days, their superpower has never been taken way. Neither has yours.  

You and I have a superpower. It’s our ability to choose.


As we’ve just seen, the context of our choices is not a level playing field. I’m white, sort of tall, and, between you and me, good looking! (Apparently some self-deception only comes out by prayer and fasting.) Here’s my point: not all countries, cities, environments, opportunities… are created equal. They never will be.

But you still have a superpower.

Being born in America gave me a huge advantage over people born in most other places. I’ve been to over 70 countries teaching and training leadership principles—it’s my small way of giving back.

We started a small foundation to help give people the chance to make better choices. Many were born into far worse circumstances than me, but they continue to make mostly good choices… they are the most beautiful people in the world.

Just one more point about your superpower…


Don’t worry, I won’t be long, and I’m proof that you don’t have to get it right all the time. But better choices will lead you to a better tomorrow, a better next week, next month… and a better life.

I know what I’m talking about in this arena. I’ve done the research. My PhD in Organizational Leadership was the culmination of years and years and years of really hard work. If I could wrap it up in one sentence, I’d say this:

 

“The leaders who learn to make better choices, and take full responsibility for all their bad ones, those are the leaders (and organizations) that we all want to work for.”

 

People don’t want to follow someone who is always right… they want to follow someone who is always real.

Now we come to payoff… you just have to accept one truth right now…


You are in charge of an important organization. It’s called your life.

Good news, your organization is about to get better.

As you read last week, I’m going through a great new book. I told you I’d be drawing from it in the coming weeks. As Mark Miller points out in his outstanding book, Smart Leadership, all choices are not created equal (www.smartleadershipbook.com).

Mark gives us a great framework for recognizing that our choices usually fall into one of a few categories:

  1.  Trivial — requiring very little thought or energy.
  2. Costly — we over invest our time, energy in things that don’t make a big difference.
  3. Routine—they happen all the time without much thought. “If they are ingrained, we call them habits.” Trust me, a few changes in these can make a huge difference.
  4. Smart—the choices that will have incredibly multiplied positive effects in our lives, if we will spend the time and energy to choose wisely in these areas.

 

There are four Smart choices. Individually, they are important. Taken together they are life changing.

If you’ve read my blog over the years, you know that my favorite leadership quote ever comes from Max Dupree: The number one job of a leader is to accurately confront reality…

That was always, always, always my first step as the new CEO or Executive Director. I put it into my own words: “Who is going to love people enough to tell them the truth?” I wish I had learned that much earlier. It would have saved me years of time and helped me immensely in hiring and firing (both my own and others)!

Now, years later, Miller points out that the first Smart choice that you need to make: Confront Reality. Do you see why I wish I could have read this book 20 years ago?!

Let’s land this plane (at least for this week).

Most of us are reluctant to confront reality, because we know it’s messy at best, and incredibly painful at worst.  Getting to the truth is hard, especially when we know that revealing that truth will hurt. I don’t want to hurt and I certainly don’t want to hurt others… so reality goes unconfronted.

 

Personally, I have had no better friend, no better habit, no better way to overcome than learning to confront my reality, and then take responsibility for my next steps.

 

Miller says it this way:

…the reasons for dodging reality never outweigh the value of confronting it. Granted, sometimes reality is hidden and must be discovered; other times it is veiled, twisted, or mangled so what remains only vaguely resembles the truth. Of the four Smart Choices… I would suggest you think of this choice as first among equals.


Me too.

My personal vision statement has not changed over the years: “I equip leaders of leaders after loving God and my family.”

What’s the number one way I do that? I help people begin to confront their personal reality.

I do it in my speaking engagements, I do it in my personal coaching, and I do it in my companies. But I have learned that I always must start with myself. It gets easier, but only because I have seen the incredible benefits.

What about you? Are you ready to make 2022 a better year?

Are you ready to implement some Smart(er) Choices? That’s what I’ll be discussing in the coming weeks. Until then, know that you have a friend. And your friend says:

Confront your reality and use your superpower. It’s hard, but worth it!

 

Much love,

Dr. Rob

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