This is Any Leader’s Main Task

In 1939 the dark clouds of World War II were hanging over Great Britain. The British government resurrected a department called the Ministry of Information and charged them with the task of propaganda and publicity during the war. The MOI was given the assignment of designing three posters that would build morale throughout the country during the testing times that lay ahead.

They were told to use a “special and handsome typeface” that would be difficult for their enemies to counterfeit.14 The background was to be a bold color. And the only image on the posters was to be the crown of King George VI.

The first two were readied quickly and distributed in September of 1939. The first poster said, “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution will Bring Us Victory.” 800,000 were printed. The second poster read, “Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might.” 400,000 were printed.

These two were posted all over the country: in public transport, notice boards, public shops, and billboards. The hope was that the messages would bring out the duty of the individual citizen in stressful times.

But the third poster, of which two and a half million were printed, never got circulated. It was to be issued only in the event that Germany invaded Great Britain. Since that event never occurred the poster was not seen in public. At least not for about sixty years.

The British leaders devised messages to prepare their people to handle anxiety producing times. It carried London through fifty-seven consecutive nights of bombing.

And so did the British as they were pulled into World War II. The first two posters helped people understand their role in victory and their role in defending their freedom. But the third poster was never issued because Germany never invaded Great Britain. Most that had been made were burned or trashed at the end of the war. That’s why few people had seen or remembered the third poster.

Until one turned up in 2000. Stuart and Mary Manley owned Barter Books in Northumberland in the northeast corner of England. They had bought a number of boxes of books at an auction. Stuart was rummaging through a box of old books and found something folded up in the box.

When he straightened it out he found a poster. Red background. Crown on top. The only words were these: Keep Calm and Carry On.

The Manley’s framed the poster, displayed it at their bookstores, and people started asking for copies. Now you find the message on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers.

The British leaders were strong leaders. They knew that the main job of a leader is to be a calm presence.

Just like Jesus in the midst of a storm on the Sea of Galilee, you can help bring calm to the anxious people around you. Practice “calming” starting today by:

  • Becoming more aware of your own anxiety.
  • Monitor your thinking in moments of anxiety.
  • Manage your feelings.
  • Take a deep breath and slow your pace.

You can be calm in your world today. Practice calmness. Then carry on.

Happiness Leads to Better Work

It seems that doing better work is tied to your level of happiness. If that statement causes you unhappiness, read on before you give up.

Shawn Anchor gave a TED talk in which he helps us understand that our outlook on life actually determines the quality of work we do. You can watch the video here. He explains that the typical mental model is that our external world is what defines our happiness.

The formula would go something like this: “If I work harder I’ll be more successful. And if I’m more successful I’ll be happier.” The problem is every time you hit a success the bar is raised even higher making “happiness” an unreachable goal.

We have to change the equation. We need to let our happiness inform our work.

He calls it becoming “positive in the present.” Those that develop this ability experience a “happiness advantage.”

And it is an advantage! The research tells us that the brain performs significantly better when it is “positive in the present” than when it is “negative.”

  •  Intelligence rises.
  • Creativity rises.
  • Energy levels rise.

The brain is 31% more productive when the positive switch is on compared to when it is negative, neutral or stressed. Dopamine floods our system causing us to feel happier while it turns on all the learning centers in our brain.

So maybe you want to be happier just for happiness sake with the side benefit of working better? Here are five things Anchor says we can do to create lasting positive changes:

  1. 3 Gratitudes. He says 2 minutes for 21 straight days where each day you list 3 new things you are grateful for will change the way you view things.
  2. Journal 1 positive thing that you have experienced within the past 24 hours.
  3. Exercise. A healthier you is a happier you.
  4. Meditate on the task at hand. Instead of thinking about or worrying about many things be present to one thing.
  5. Random acts of kindness. He suggests doing simply things like writing one positive e-mail to someone in your networks.

The Apostle Paul said to “give thanks in everything.” Give it a try. You’ll be happier if you do. And you may find yourself working better too.

Question: How have you noticed your work improving in your happiest times?

How to Reduce Your Anxiety and Gain Focus

We live in an anxious society built off of creating anxiety. You need only watch recent political campaigning to observe it. If you didn’t know you needed to worry about Ebola or the border you do now. Or take in a few commercials. Until that hair growth commercial began showing you were unaware that your bald spot was. You’ve added that to a list of things that are growing: your anxieties.

We all have them. Some are acute. They’re actually the good kind. For instance, if your child is about to run into the street and a car is barreling down your road you will—and should—feel instant anxiety. A real threat is present and you need to act.

But some of our anxieties are chronic. They are the bad kind. These are present due to a threat that is perceived or imagined. For instance, a case of Ebola is mentioned in a location hundreds of miles away and you suddenly have sense of threat to your health.

There are plenty of things to create anxiety: the economy, the government, terrorist threats around the world, gasoline prices that affect grocery prices. We worry about our jobs. We’re told one day that chocolate is good for you and the next it can be harmful. So we just pretend we did not hear that revision.

There’s an interesting word in the Greek language for anxiety. The word is merimnao, a compound word meaning “to divide the mind.” When our mind is divided we worry. We feel anxious.

Maybe you’re feeling that way today. Wouldn’t you like to be single-minded rather than double-minded? There is a way.

Jesus speaks to this in his teaching. He says clearly: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Funny he should mention money. One study asked respondents to select their top three fears from a list of 10. “While two personal fears, losing a family member and being alone for the rest of one’s life, took the lead, financial fears made up 66 percent of the responses.”

First century anxiety was not much different than ours. So he gives us some steps to conquering anxiety.

  • Decide what you will focus on. He narrows the choices to God or money. Make a list of what divides your mind. Then pick the most important for your life.
  • Then seek after that one thing. I hope its God. Jesus says he already knows what you need before you ask him. And, if you seek after him, the promise is that the other things you need you will be given. Things like food and drink and clothes. You’ll have your needs. You’ll have enough.

Try it. And see if you become less anxious and more single-minded.

Question: What causes your mind to be divided?

If You Want to be Great at Anything You Have to Do This

When my boys were young we had a “boys’ night out.” It was pretty wild. Dinner at Chili’s and Bowling on $2 Tuesday. I suspected I’d do better at Chili’s since I eat regularly but don’t bowl frequently. I did. Nothing was left on my plate.

Some pins, however, were left on the bowling lanes. Imagine my surprise when I ended up with a score of 292. I was envisioning the PBA Tour until the boys pointed out that 292 was my combined score for two games. Too many “just missed it by that much” opportunities. And for some reason it frustrated me.

Strange, isn’t it, that we think we should do better at things we don’t do often? A recent study asked the question: “What makes someone great?” Why is Tiger Woods a great golfer or Warren Buffet a premier investor? Most think they have a natural gift for their area of expertise.

But that’s not what this study revealed. The good news is that we are not born with specific innate abilities towards one specific job. Instead, there are some things that must take place for “greatness” to surface.

  • First, nobody is great without hard work.
  • Second, the hard work needed comes through deliberate practice.
  • And third, you have to put in the hard work of deliberate practice regularly rather than sporadically.

No wonder I clear out a plate of food better than I can a set of bowling pins.

Maybe you’ve noticed the same in your life. You seemed to pick up a skill or did well at something initially, but over time it seemed you stopped developing. Maybe you’ve felt that way about God.

The good news is your relationship with God can improve with practice. When asked “Lord, teach us to pray . . .” (Luke 11:1), Jesus did not respond with: “Well, some just have innate abilities to pray while others do not.” Instead, he said, “When you pray, say . . .”

Then he taught them the basic strokes of prayer (Matthew 6:9-13): how to praise him, seek his priorities, ask for his provision, find his pardon, run to his protection, and focus on his power.

When a bowler finds himself in the gutter too often, he goes back to the basics. And when you feel your prayers are misfiring, go back to the basics. What is true in our area of expertise or skill in life is also true in spirituality. Both can be developed into great expertise.

You may just need some practice.

Question: What skill do you want to improve in your life? How do you want to develop spiritually?

End Your Day Well to Start Your Day Right

Another day. The alarm goes off. (What a wonderful way to start the day, right, with an alarm?!)  Your feet hit the floor and before you are awake enough to think about it you are faced with maybe the most important decision you’ll make all day:  How will you spend your first fifteen, thirty, or sixty minutes of your day?

The question of how successful people start their day appears on Quora. Quora is a website that boasts “the best answer to any question.” One responder included a picture of Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule. He begins the day by addressing “Powerful Goodness” and ends the day by examining the day. His question in the morning was “What good shall I do this day?” and his question at the end of the day was “What good have I done today?”

The Psalmist teaches a similar rhythm. But note it is an “evening” and “morning” rhythm.

“…ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices . . .”

“O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.”

  • Evening. Spend some time pondering and considering what “right sacrifices to offer.”
  • Morning. Turn your attention to the day ahead and prepare the sacrifice you pondered the night before. Jesus had a habit of disappearing in the first hours of the day to pray and get direction for what lay ahead.
  • Watch. See what happens. Pay attention to what unfolds.

It’s the rhythm of creation. Genesis 1 follows a cadence of “evening and morning.” That is how a day is viewed.

It is how you can view your day too. Successful people seem to agree. Whether it’s Benjamin Franklin or a present day life coach, most would say that you and I need to start our days with some time to be quiet. Give these five steps a try:

  1. Get a cup of coffee. (At least some of us may need to start here.)
  2. Spend a few minutes just being quiet. Address the Powerful Goodness that is God.
  3. Make a mental or physical list of what you are grateful for.
  4. Think ahead through the day. Offer a prayer for how you will be used during the day and for the people with whom you will be interacting. Ask the question “What good shall I do this day?”
  5. At the end of the day look back over it. 5-10 minutes of reflection can tell you much about how you spent your day. You may want to make some adjustments for the next day. No need to beat yourself up if you squandered some opportunities. Learn from them and prepare “right” sacrifices for the next day. Ask “What good have I done today?”

Then go to sleep. The Psalmist did:  “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

When you find the rhythm of evening and morning you will have good days.

Question: 

Invest in a Long-Term Marriage and Expect a Surprising Yield

85% of the American population believes that joy and happiness will come from finding a soul-mate. That’s a lot of pressure to put on another person! Your joy and happiness will come from one other person?  Did you know that this is a fairly new way of thinking about relationships?

Not until the 11th century did viewing your spouse as a source of your happiness begin to surface. The Romantic period in Europe shot this view sky-high until today we are focused more on infatuation and what the other person can do for us and how they can make us feel than on what our role within the relationship is.

The Romans blamed infatuation on Cupid. The Greeks called him Eros—the “god of desire.” It is one of four Greek words available that we translate “love.” It means “passionate” or “sensual” love. Plato said it was the initial love felt for a person. But even Plato understood that it had to grow into an appreciation of the beauty within that person.

Neuroscience has actually proven that the feelings that come with infatuation will only last 24-36 months. That’s only 2-3 years. One study in Britain said that the “seven year itch” has now been replaced by the “three year itch.”

When people enter into a marriage with a mental model that the other person is where their joy and happiness will come from and have a love based on eros love it is almost set up for failure. A couple gets married on an emotional high thinking that’s what a good marriage is like. Then, at some point when the “romance” fades a bit, one or both begin thinking they may have married the wrong person when in reality you can only keep infatuation feelings high for 2-3 years. And the only way you can keep infatuation high is to remarry every 2-3 years.

Maybe that’s why the word eros was not used by New Testament writers. They talked about brotherly love (phileo) and family love (storge). But they really liked to talk about the kind of love that is other-focused rather than self-focused: agape.

Agape love will lead you to a mature, intimate love. The research says that although it only takes 2-3 years for infatuation to drop off it takes 10-15 years to even begin to reach intimacy. And here’s the interesting find: couples that make it to their 35th wedding anniversary find the same satisfaction as newlyweds.

Marriages that stick are like steady yield investments. Keep putting deposits into it and at some point it will explode with intimacy.

You can start making deposits today. Here’s how:

  • Instead of asking “what can my spouse do for me?” ask “what can I do for my spouse?”
  • Start doing that.
  • Redefine marriage. Instead of thinking it is designed to make you happy start understanding that marriage is designed to make you holy (or mature).

Invest for the long term. You will see a great yield in due time.

Question: In what way(s) can you put your partner first today?