Three Things Every Leader Needs

I love helping leaders.  And I’m blessed to be able to work with so many great leaders.

And it’s awesome to see leaders in so many areas of life – in the home, in the workplace and in the church.  Here are three things every leader needs.

Three Things Every Leader Must Have

1.  Purpose

Most organizations know what they do.  A few can articulate how they do it.  But very few know WHY they do what they do.

That’s what Simon Sinek says in Start with Why. (one of my top five books for leaders, by the way)

This isn’t just a business principle – it’s something for every leader.  Before you build a list of action steps or hire people or do anything at all – you need to come to grips with the purpose behind it all.

There’s a good chance you inherited your purpose – either from your parents, or from culture, or from the immediate need in front of you.

Before you do anything, you need to know WHY you’re doing it.  Uncovering the true driving force will provide a lot of clarity on any decision.  If you can take the time to clarify the WHY, the WHAT will become much more clear.

2.  People

In addition to a clear purpose, you need people around you.  You might be able to accomplish more than the average person, but without a great team around you, you will never be able to do all you were meant to do.

“Give a great idea to a mediocre team and they will mess it up.  But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will pull it off or make it better,” writes Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar in Creativity, Inc.

Nearly every great accomplishment happened through a team.  Take the light bulb, for example.  You credit Thomas Edison for that invention, but he had a whole team of people working on that project.

Whenever you see someone win a prize, know there is probably a team equally deserving of praise.

One of your most important jobs as a leader is to build a team of people that is smarter than you.

3.  Plans

On Sunday night, we huddle as a family to talk about the schedule.  Between tests, chorus, baseball, tennis, lacrosse and two birthday parties, the week looked pretty full.  Honestly, we were stressed before the week even got started.

Now every family has weeks like this from time to time, but this was becoming normal in our house.  One day, we made an important realization.

Our schedule was driving our plans, not the other way around.  We need to let OUR plan as parents dictate the kids schedule, not just accept everything as fact and go with the flow.

There’s nothing wrong with tennis, chorus or lacrosse (though I don’t fully understand the rules), but if those activities don’t help our family fulfill our purpose, they are distractions.  All to often, we just accept things, refusing to understand we’re really in control.

Any knucklehead can set goals.  It’s the hard work and the everyday step you take that sets you apart.

  • I know a lot of people who want to be better parents.  What’s your plan?
  • I know a lot of people who want a better marriage.  What’s your plan?
  • I know a lot of people who want to get out of debt.  What’s your plan?

It’s great to set goals, but what you need is a plan.  They won’t appear out of thin air; they require intentional thought and focused discipline.

The People You Admire Most Were Failures


Fear-of-failureThere are some heroic characters in the Bible.

  • Moses, the guy who parted the Red Sea and got Charlton Heston to play him in a movie.
  • Peter, the man who has the most famous church in the world named after him
  • David, the man after God’s own heart.

But most of the people you admire in the Bible were miserable failures.

  • Moses, the guy who murdered an Egyptian and tried to cover it up.
  • Peter, the guy who cussed out a teenage girl in order to forcefully deny he knew Jesus.
  • David, the adulterer and murderer.

The same people were both failures and heroes. And they didn’t become heroes until they were first failures.

It is an act-one story of misery followed by an act-two story of redemption.

Woven throughout the pages of Scripture is this story of grace.  A God who doest just forgive, but forgives and restores.  He isn’t just a God of second chances, but third, fourth and fifth chances.

This is part of the reason you admire these people so much. You know they did great things, but what’s inspiring is they did great things after doing awful things.  The riches are more impressive when you consider the rags.

Why do we love these comeback stories so much?

Because deep down, we want to hope.

We love the redemption stories, because there’s a good chance we’ll be in one.  Maybe we’ve already been featured in one.

By all means, admire and emulate the heroes in the Bible.  But never forget that most of them were sinners before they were saints – murderers before they were missionaries, and miserable failures before they got chapters in the Bible.

When God Leads You Into Struggle

There’s only one nation on earth that can legitimately claim to be God’s chosen people.

Sorry, it’s not the United States.

It’s the nation of Israel.

The land flowing with milk and honey.

The promised land.

A nation that began when an old man and his wife had a son – a nation that came into it’s homeland by walking on dry ground through a miraculously parted Red Sea, was made great through one of the most interesting plot twists in history.

You know Israel because of what made her famous.

But Israel became great during a period of national struggle.

Genesis 46:3 gives us a glimpse when God speaks to Joseph:  The he said, “I am the God, the God of your father.  Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.”

You see, the nation of Israel wasn’t made great when God gave the 10 commandments, or when David beat Goliath.  Israel’s greatness was built during the darkest part of her history.

The greatness of Israel was forged in the fires of Egyptian slavery.

God promised to make Israel into a great nation, WHILE LIVING IN EGYPTIAN BONDAGE. When God told Joseph to seek relief from a famine in Egypt, He knew the nation would prosper there, only to be oppressed by a new Pharaoh a few years later. God sent Israel into the fire.

And it was the toughest of times that led to prosperity.  Years of slavery were encouraged by God, because they would become the backdrop for His deliverance.

To this day, when Jews celebrate passover, the remember life in Egypt.  Chroset is a mixture of chopped apple, walnuts and red wine.  It resembles bricks and mortar, reminding the Jews of the hard work forced to endure as slaves.

Hard labor, encouraged by God,  helped made them into a great nation.

We think it’s the successes in life that make us great, but it’s actually what we become during times of struggle.

If you are going through tough times, take a little comfort in knowing it’s these tough times that can actually make you great.

Just like the nation of Israel.

Where Did Your Dream Go?


Are you working to fulfill your own dream or someone else’s?

Chances are, the work you are doing is helping someone else free up their time, increase their bank balance or follow their heart.  You’re a chess piece in their game.

You’re doing the work.  They are reaping most of the blessings.

Don’t get me wrong – you’re thankful for the job.  You even like some of the people at the office.  It’s not totally miserable. But deep down, you know you are working hard to fulfill someone else’s dream.

After all, if you’re not willing to work for your dream, someone will hire you to work for theirs.

So, where did your dream go? Why are things the way they are?

1.  Some dreams are buried by budgets.  

My friend Ben shared a quote from Nassim Taleb.  I wrote it down and it’s never escaped me.  “The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates and a monthly salary,” he said.

I wonder if our unfulfilling jobs, providing an adequate cover for our lifestyle, are the very things keeping us from fulfilling our full potential. And I wonder if finding that sweet spot wouldn’t produce even more income in the long run.

A salary is great.  But a salary is also safe.  It can keep you from dreaming.

I’m not an advocate of betting the farm on a long shot.  I don’ think it’s wise for you to quit your day-job to pursue an unfunded passion.

But what if you lived on 80% of your income for a couple of years and banked the rest?   What if you started something on the side and saved all of the money?  You might have to work early or work one extra day a month, but I bet you could generate something extra.

What if you took control of your income instead of letting your salary dictate your lifestyle, and put a plan into place that would energize your dreams instead of kill them slowly?

2.  Some dreams are caged by fear.

If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?  Would you start a business?  Write a book?  Would you launch out on your own?

Fear is a powerful thing.  It robs our future by whispering loudly in the present.

Fear tells you to stay on the shore because it’s dangerous out on the open water.  That the comfort of your current paycheck is worth a few more years of regretful wishes.

Fear is a powerful thing, but if you don’t act, I wonder if the corresponding regret won’t be bigger.

It’s true it might not work, but fast forward a decade and think through the ramifications of staying where you are.

William Shakespeare wrote, “ There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the food, leads on to fortune.  Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.  On such a full sea are we now afloat.  And we must take the current when  it serves, or lost our ventures.”

Fear is a very real thing.  But may we be more afraid of never trying than trying and failing.

3.  Some dreams are washed away by time. 

The rare and powerful dream gets stronger with time.  But it’s far more common for a dream to die a slow and subtle death.

It was there long ago, but it’s a distant memory now.  Days became months and months became years.  The kids are older and the bills are larger – now is not the time to try something risky.

But peel back the layers, and I bet your dream is still there.  It’s a sleeping giant ready to be awakened.

Go for a walk, read an old journal or take time to remember.

Remember how excited you were about that new idea.  Sure, the timing or technology might have changed by now, but the dream is still there.

Remember what you drew on the napkin.

Remember the late night conversation you had in the living room.

Remember the prayers and the talks and the dreams.

You can’t go back in time, but you can remember and learn from the past.

So where did your dreams go?  Have they been buried by budgets, caged by fear or washed away by time? If money were no option, what would you do?  Feel free to leave a comment and dream out loud.

It’s safe to dream here.

Five Important Things You Should Do Today


It’s hard to tell the difference between the important and the urgent.

Those urgent things seem to take all your time, leaving you little energy left to do what’s really important.  Managing this tension is one of the most important things you can do as a leader.

The battle won’t be won with a huge air attack, but with a daily ground war.  There are little things you can do today to put the urgent stuff in its place and do important things to truly make your life better.

Here are five important things you can do TODAY.

1.  Say thanks to someone.

They say gratitude is an attitude, but that’s crap.

You might feel thankful, but that’s not enough.  You actually have to say thanks for it to make any real difference.

One of the best ways to do this is sit down at a table and write three thank you notes.  You can do this today in about 15 minutes.  It doesn’t have to be a poetic novel.  I’m talking about a simple note of thanks.

I make a recurring to-do item on my to-do list that simply says “thank someone for something.”  Each day this pops up, I write a note or send a gift to someone.  Sometime, I have to think for a minute or two, but there’s always someone I can encourage or appreciate.

2.  Give something to someone.

You have a friend or neighbor or co-worker who needs something you have.  Maybe it’s a tangible item.  Maybe it’s your time.  Maybe it’s a connection to someone else.

But you have it and it would mean a lot to someone else.  Letting go of stuff is one of the most freeing things you can do.

A friend of mine recently cleaned out his closet and took five bags of clothes to Goodwill.  Not only is their life simpler and a little more clutter-free….they were able to help other people.

Another friend of mine is starting a brand new church, and told me how blessed he was to receive a financial contribution from a stranger.

If you have more than you need, consider giving something away.

3.  Think about your life goals.

New Year’s resolutions are dumb.  Yearly goals are too-short term.  You need something bigger to anchor you.  You need life goals.

Fast forward your life 30 years and think about where you will be. Then backtrack and write some life goals.  These are major, awesome, and lifetime achievements.

Setting life goals is one of the first things I talk about in this free email series called Organize Your Life in 21 Days.  It will really help you  (and it’s free).

4.  Be honest about something.

Living a double life is exhausting.

There’s something going on in your life, heart or world that needs to come into the light.  It might be a secret or it might be a fear, but if you can be honest about it, you will be healthier and happier.

Honesty does something for the soul.  And relationships where you can be totally open are life-giving.

5.  Work on something that matters.

We all have to do work stuff that doesn’t fulfill us.  It’s just the way it is.

But find as much time in your schedule to work on something that really matters.  That’s a sweet spot, and it will bring you real fulfillment in work.

Maybe you have a message that others need to hear.  Maybe you have a book in your heart.  Maybe you have a dream to start something of your own.

If it’s a big, huge, audacious thing – just do something small today.  Push it forward, even if it’s just a few inches.  Progress comes in little doses then jumps forward suddenly.

I’m working on something to help you bring this to life and can’t wait to share it with you.

Three Staff Meeting Ideas for You and Your Team

Staff Meeting

Ever sat through a pointless staff meeting?

You meet because a meeting is on the calendar.  You debate and discuss with no real outcomes.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  You can step out of the ordinary and meet to work ON it.  Here are three staff meeting ideas for your next team meeting or offsite.

1.  Six by Six

As leaders, the urgent often pulls us away from the important.

But it’s even easier to get pulled away from what’s important if you haven’t taken time to identify what’s important.

You can’t focus on what you don’t identify.

That’s where a 6 x 6 comes in.  In Axiom,  Bill Hybles, the Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community church, asks it this way:  ”What is the greatest contribution I can make to the Willow Creek community in the next six weeks?”

He narrows the list to six projects and pours his energy into those over the next six weeks.  Once the time is up, he does it it again.  This allows him to focus on what’s truly important.

There is great personal value in this exercise. But it’s also a great exercise to do with your team.

In your next staff meeting, take time to discuss what are the six most important (not urgent) things that should happen in your organization in the next six weeks.  Make a list and whittle it down through debate and discussion.

2.  What is Good, Bad, Missing, or Confusing?

You’ve heard of the good, the bad and the ugly.  This is similar.  It just happens in a meeting and not in the wild west.

In your next meeting, answer these four questions about your organization.    These questions can help you create an honest assessment.

  • What’s good in our organization?  What about each department or team?
  • What’s bad in our organization?  What about each department or area?
  • What’s missing in our organization?  You can get specific with different areas here, too.
  • What’s confusing in our organization?  Website? Processes?

Let each person give feedback on the overall organization, but you apply the same questions to specific areas.  Do this, and you’ll build a realistic picture of where you really are as an organization.

Jim Collins says great leaders confront the brutal facts.  Be honest in your assessment.

3.  Core Value Checkup

Every organization has core values.  Some just write them down and talk about them more often.  Others have well-written core values that don’t ever show up in the everyday activities.

But what happens down the hall is far more important than what hangs on the walls.  So this meeting is all about comparing the two.

This assignment is simple, really.   Write down your core values on one side of a sheet of paper or on one side of a dry erase board.

Then, as a team, assign letter grades.  Encourage honesty and receive feedback with grace.  Don’t rush it.

As you evaluate, you’re not evaluating the core value itself, but how it’s fleshed out in your organization.  Look at your last big event, your last newsletter and your last activity.  Identify any gaps between what you say is important and reality.

As a follow up, you could talk about action steps and how you plan to close the gap between desire and reality.

For more about how to connect your meetings to the purpose and mission of your organization, watch this free training video.  In it, you’ll learn the actual meeting rhythm we use at The Rocket Company.

Why Non Profits Should Act More Like Businesses


In this post, I talked about two ways businesses should act more like non-profits.  Today, I want to talk to those of you in the non-profit world.

First of all, I love what you do.  You’re helping, serving and making a difference.  You’re focused on people and want to solve problems.  You get into this because you were called or compelled to do something that truly matters.

But too many times, we can break fundamental business rules and still be successful.  We think our passion and our mission trumps the rules of life.

This is rarely the case.

Those of us in the non-profit space still need to be good business people.  We still have to lead, strategize and deal with financial issues.  If we don’t do these things, we’ll go out of business and our passion will be left by the wayside.

If you want your non-profit to be successful, don’t abandon your passion for helping and just run a business.  But add good business sense to your passion.

Here are three ways non-profit leaders should act like business people.

1.  Invest in your education.

One of the favorite emails I’ve ever received came from a pastor who was responding to one of our coaching programs.

The program was called Giving Rocket and it’s designed to help pastors raise money throughout the year.  Thousands of churches have increased regular giving by 10, 20 or even 40% using these tools.  They really work and there’s a long track record.

The program costs $99 a month for 12 months.

This particular pastor apparently couldn’t stomach that high price so he sent me this email…

$99 a month!? I can’t afford that….send from my iPad

Ironic, isn’t it?

I laughed out loud on that one.

I’m not debating whether the program is expensive or not…that’s not the issue.  The issue is worth and value.  If a pastor isn’t willing to invest $99 a month into getting their entire church financially healthy, then we’re not going to be able to help.

It’s a broke mindset.

Sadly, a lot of non-profit leaders think like that.  And it leads to a perpetual problem.

Yes, there are lots of dollars wasted on coaching and training.  If you fall into that boat, you just picked the wrong coach or the training was no good.

As a non-profit leader, you must invest in your business.  You must invest in yourself.  Zero investment leads to zero improvement.

Walk Disney said, “I never know where I’m going to get my next great idea.”  He knew great ideas can come from anywhere.  That’s why you need to be in learning environment and have different experiences.

Stop trying to “pick the brain” of some other struggling but passionate philanthropist.  Pay for coaching.  Invest in education – both for yourself and your team.

2.  Invest in your business.

Not only should you invest in yourself, you should invest in your business.

This means you’ve got to view your cause as a real business, not just a side project or an unfunded passion.  Don’t let the broke mindset lead you to search for the cheapest alternative.

The cheapest is rarely the best.

Listen to this TED talk from Ted Palotta about investing in fundraising dollars.  It’s one of the most brilliant perspectives on raising capital, but the principles he shares go beyond fundraising.

If you want your non profit to make a huge difference, you need to invest in it like a business.

One of the things we tell churches is to send quarterly contribution statements and vision-filled communication to their donors.  Most churches only do this once a year, because that’s what the government says.

We know that if you appreciate and communicate with your donors, they will be more inspired to keep participating.  Investing in this segment of people is always worth it.

But it’s amazing how few churches do this, because they don’t see immediate return or don’t want to pay for the cost of postage.  It’s short term thinking and it hurts over the long term. 

3.  Pay people what they are worth.

One of my first real jobs out of grad school was at a local church.  I was hired to oversee the student program and the educational system at the church.

I was newly married and we didn’t have kids.  I made a really low salary, but everything was fine because I was doing important and meaningful work.

When my wife got pregnant, I realized the math wouldn’t work.  I went to my boss to ask for a raise.

“It was always my job to get you up to what a school teacher make, but it’s gonna take several years,” he told me.

At that point, I knew I couldn’t live on passion alone.  If it would take years to get up to the level of one of the most underpaid positions in America (teachers should all make six figures, but that’s another blog post), I was in trouble.

I ended up leaving that job. 

If you want to invest in your business and build something that can help a ton of people, you’ve got to recruit good people.

It’s hard to attract top talent with bottom barrel pay.

Yes, there are people who will take less money to do something that matters.  Yes, there’s more to job satisfaction than a pay scale.   But passion for the cause isn’t an excuse to rob people of what they are worth.

Those are three ways I believe non-profits should act more like for-profit businesses.  What would you add to this list? 

Why Businesses Should Act More Like Non Profits


I’ve always loved business.

Someone told me if you want to know what you’re really passionate about, think back to what you did when you were younger, when budgets and expectations didn’t limit your thinking.

My young businesses included mowing lawns, creating neighborhood newspaper and selling subscriptions and ads, and creating a homemade bank to keep track of friends money.

In my post-college years, I sold Beanie Babies on the side of the road and started a summer camp for teenagers.

In 2005, I moved to Atlanta to start a different kind of a business – a non-profit, local church.  Today, I work with a for-profit organization that coaches and resources a lot of churches.  In the Venn Diagram of for-profit and non-profit worlds, we’re right in the middle.

So life always involved starting and running some kind of business.

All of this has led to a driving belief that businesses should act more like non-profits and non-profits should act more like business.

I’ve met highly-driven business people who seemed to miss the point.  And I’ve met struggling humanitarians who couldn’t live on passion.  The perfect combination of success and happiness lies somewhere in the middle.

How Businesses Should Act More Like Non Profits

Making is money isn’t enough.  Providing for your family isn’t the ultimate goals.  And a successful company isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You can make the INC 500 List and run a big company and miss out on the best life has to offer.

1.  Pursue profits with a purpose.  

There’s nothing wrong with making money, but making money in itself is empty success.  Non-profit organizations are driven by purpose, not profit.

Without a deep why, accolades and bank accounts won’t truly satisfy. Your soul really is more important than your stuff.  If your happiness comes from a balance sheet, your sense of self-worth is shallow.  If you drive your team to produce more and more, you’ll ultimately drive them to self-preservation.

Profits aren’t bad.  They just aren’t enough.

Failure to grasp this concept will lead you to make a living and miss a life.  Let me dig deeper and ask a few questions.

  • What’s your quality of life?  We can get so focused on our standard of living that we forget about quality of life?  What are you really working for?  What are you trying to prove?  Who are you trying to please?
  • What good are you really doing?  It’s great that you’re building something big, but are you building something important?  What lives are truly better because your company exists?
  • How are you sharing success with your team?  Are you helping your employees fulfill their dreams or are you just employing them to fulfill yours?

Finding a deep purpose isn’t just for the philanthropic – it’s good business.  And you don’t have to be a non-profit or operate with a one-for-one model like TOMS shoes to find a deeper purpose.

A business that does good is good business.  Helping people is a good business plan.

2.  Give employees more than a job.

Non-profits do a great job connecting the purpose and the mission to everyone on the team.  Whether it’s a staff member or a volunteers, people know why they do what they do.  Yet in the business world, most employees come to work to get a paycheck.  They don’t have a sense of purpose or see how their daily tasks connect to the overall mission of the organization.

Uninspired employees may get the job done, but they will not help build a great company.  If you want to build a powerful team, you’ve got to give your team more than a paycheck.  You’ve got to give them a purpose.

People say knowing what they do matters and liking the people they work with are the two most important factors that contribute to job satisfaction.  These two things rank higher than salary and benefits on nearly all of the surveys.

Do your employees love coming to work everyday?  If they do, it’s a sign that they have more than a job.  But if they hate Mondays, they are just putting in time and cashing a paycheck.

In the next post, I’ll talk about ways non profits should act more like businesses.  Stay tuned.

Join the No Matter What Launch Team

No Matter What by Michael Lukaszewski

I’m about a month away from releasing my book, No Matter What: Ten Lessons from a Father.  I’ve self published before, but this is my most important work to date.

It’s a book written to my three kids, but I wrote it knowing you would read over my shoulder.  My hope is that it helps you impart important life lessons to your kids.

I didn’t write this book to become a famous author.  Which is a good things, since publishers probably wouldn’t like a target audience of three people, all under the age of 12.

I spent a year working on this project – filling the pages with stories and principles.  I hope it’s entertaining and helpful.

So it’s time to release it and I need your help.

Starting today, I’m taking applications for the Launch Team.  A group of people to help spread the word and get this message out there.  As a launch team member, here’s what you will get:

  1. A electronic copy of the book delivered in PDF format.
  2. A signed copy of the physical book.  You’ll get it before everyone else can buy it.
  3. Much thanks!

As a member of the launch team, here’s what I will ask you to do.

  1. Leave a review on sometime before April 29, 2014 (that’s launch day).
  2. Tell your friends, family members and co workers, especially on April 29.

My goal is to sell 5,000 copies of this book.  I don’t know if that sounds like a lot to you, but it’s a lot to me.

I’d be honored if you would help.  Just fill out the form below and I’ll email you more details.

Fifty Nifty United States


I’ve got something of a list for you today.  Every state in alphabetical order with something interesting.  Or at least, something I think is interesting.

  • Alabama – Casey Graham lives in Georgia, but he’s all about Alabama.  Both the state and the professional football team.  If I was starting a business, I would absolutely hire Casey to coach me.  And if I didn’t have the money, then I wouldn’t start the business.
  • Alaska – When I think about Alaska, I think about Sarah Palin.  And the Alaska cruise I really want to take.
  • Arizona – Phoenix is home to Infusionsoft, the marketing automation software that drives our business.  If it’s overkill for you, try aWeber, but don’t tell them I said that.
  • Arkansas – I worked at Cross Church in Springdale, Arkansas for about a year where Gus Malzahn was one of our high school small group leaders.
  • California – Our favorite vacation was a trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley.  It’s also home to Evernote, a free software tool everyone should use.  This will help you use Evernote, and trust me…it will make your life better.
  • Colorado –  Denver is on my top five list of cities I’d like to live in one day.  Plus, it’s home to the Denver Broncos.  See Nebraska for more.
  • Connecticut – P.T. Barnum of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus was from Connecticut.  And my daughter wrote a book about a clown who lost his funny and couldn’t work at the circus.  You can get it at
  • Delaware – I don’t know much about Delaware other than it’s home to a lot of major banks.
  • Florida – My hometown is in Florida, and it’s also home to Boyd Bettis, a young leader you should follow.
  • Georgia – Where I live!  You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  • Hawaii – I’ve never been to Hawaii, but people I know from there tell me it’s got it’s own way of life.  Wayne Corderio is there and his book Leading on Empty is a must read.
  • Idaho – Is there more to Idaho than potatoes?
  • Illinois – I’ve been to Chicago several times.  Jarrett and Jeannie Stevens and Soul City Church church are there, so I feel good about the future of the city.
  • Indiana – Even though they live in Nashville, I think about Justin and Trisha Davis when I think about Indiana.
  • Iowa – There’s corn.  And then there’s Justin Wise and the Think Digital Podcast.
  • Kansas – There’s a Manhatten in Kansas, but not the real one.  And the Kansas City you probably know is actually in Missouri.
  • Kentucky – Ron Edmonson leads a great church in Lexington, Kentucky.  He’s a great pastor, father and writer.  Definitely worth following.
  • Louisiana – When I think of Louisiana, I think of New Orleans.  And when I think of New Orleans I think of Hurricane Katrina and a seminary class I took one time.  Both were fairly destructive.
  • Maine – Lobsters are to Maine what corn is to Iowa, but Maine is also the birthplace of Steven King.  His book On Writing is a must-read for any writer.
  • Maryland – Tally Wilgis and Ellis Prince  started churches in Baltimore.  And Baltimore is one of my favorite cities in the USA.
  • Massachusetts – Ben Franklin is perhaps the most famous person from Boston.  He was also the father of the modern self-help movement.
  • Michigan – Home of Detroit.  Home of Ford.  The maker of my F150 truck.  Buying it was my first step to becoming a farmer.
  • Minnesota – Bob Dylan and Judy Garland are from this state.  So is John Madden.  And speaking of John Madden, you should watch Frank Caliendo’s impression of him.
  • Mississippi – This is one of the only states I can remember learning how to spell.  The rest just came naturally.
  • Missouri – I don’t know how Missouri is in the SEC, much less the SEC East. But there they are.
  • Montana – I remember meeting Reggie Joiner at TED’s Montana Grill for the first time.  “I wanted to have a meeting to see if I wanted to have a meeting,” he said.
  • Nebraska – Omaha! Omaha!  *See Colorado.
  • Nevada – I love Las Vegas.  For about 8 hours.  Then the fakeness and realness of it all start to wear on me.  But I’m so glad my friend Vince is there.  He leads a great church and puts on a great conference.
  • New Hampshire – Jed Bartlett was Governor of New Hampshire.  If you don’t know who Jed Bartlett is, you missed one of the best show on TV.
  • New Jersey – Rich Birch and Liquid Church are there.  It’s just as cold but not as cool as New York.
  • New Mexico – I got little.  Who can tell me something good in the comments?
  • New York – New York City is my favorite city in the world (particularly the borough of Brooklyn).  When I think about New York, I think about Tim Keller, whose work and writing has greatly influenced me.  His book on work called Every Good Endeavor is a must read.
  • North Carolina – North Carolina makes me think about BBQ and slow cooking pulled pork on my Big Green Egg.  Also, my friend Tadd Grandstaff lives there.
  • North Dakota – The Rocket Company is pleased to serve churches in all 50 states.  North Dakota was the last holdout.
  • Ohio – Home to the Wright Brothers but also home to the Content Marketing Institute.
  • Oklahoma – Scott Williams and tornados.  Those are the two things I think of when I think of Oklahoma
  • Oregon – At a restaurant in Atlanta, we had a wine called the Ghost of 413.  It’s amazing and it’s from Oregon.  Plus, there are the original Mighty Ducks.
  • Pennsylvania – Bryan Allain lives in Amish Country.  We visited Amish country once and it was fun.
  • Rhode Island – According to @dankeaton, Rhode Island is home to the first baptist church in America.  Take that all you other First Baptists.
  • South Carolina – I think NewSpring Church and Perry Noble own this state.  And I’m glad.
  • South Dakota – I challenge someone to leave a comment with something of note about South Dakota.
  • Tennessee – My friend Carlos says Nashville is a small town dressed up like a big city.
  • Texas – I think I could live in Texas….maybe Austin, because it’s cool and hip but still like Texas.
  • Utah – Bluehost, the web hosting company I highly recommend, is in Utah.
  • Vermont – I know little about Vermont, but they make some mean maple syrup.  And when I think about maple syrup I think about Canada. And when I think about Canada I think about Carey Nieuwhof.  Carey writes one of the best blogs on the Internet and is one of my favorite people.
  • Virginia – My friend Matt Wilmington lives in Virginia, which is all that’s really needed to make this state great.  Matt has been a friend and a voice of wisdom to me, and helped me get through a really dark time in my life.   There are flashy people and then there are wise people…that’s Matt.  Not only should you follow him, you should try to be more like him.
  • Washington – I love the city of Seattle and have been there a few times.  One of those times, I got to sit down with Pastor Mark Driscoll and talk about preaching and sermon prep.
  • West Virginia – When I was a youth pastor, me and a buddy organized ski trips for youth groups to West Virginia.  We have some crazy stories.
  • Wisconsin – Donna’s parents are from Wisconsin.   Yes, I know that’s the second reference to The West Wing in this list.  But the show is really that good.  Plus, I don’t know much else about this state.
  • Wyoming – I once learned a song with all the states in Alphabetical order.  That’s how I was able to write this list from memory.  Wyoming, of course, is the last state.

Fifty nifty United States from 13 original colonies…shout ‘em, scout ‘em, tell all about ‘em…

Notes and Quotes from Boundaries for Leaders by Henry Cloud

Boundaries for Leaders by Henry Cloud

Here are some notes and quotes from Boundaries for Leaders:  Why Some People Get Results and Others Don’t by Dr. Henry Cloud.  This was one of the books on my 2014 reading list.

  • The personal and interpersonal sides of leadership are every bit as important as the great leadership themes as vision, execution and strategy.
  • You always get what you create and allow.
  • There are five right plans….there are lots of ways to get there.
  • The right people doing the right things in the right ways at the right times will yield real results.
  • The people side of things should be an investment with a high rate of return, not a contestant drain on your personal and organizational resources.
  • You have to lead in a way that’s easy for people to follow.
  • It takes a ferocious amount of spinal fortitude to not end up making a crappy mix of your vision and endless bits and scraps from others who didn’t have the cojones to start something themselves.
  • “How are we doing in what we said we would be doing.”
  • The leaders job is to create a positive emotional climate for the team.
  • A bad mood is just as contagious as the FLU.  Your tone can create fear.
  • Improving performance is not just learning new technical skills or working on the right plan; it depends on changing the team’s mood and improving relationships outside and inside work.
  • You cannot grow a plant by dipping it in dirt once a year.  It takes an ongoing connection to build a root system.
  • Someone who can’t but things he can will outperform someone who can but thinks he can.
  • Great leaders optimistically find a way.
  • Focus your people on what they can control
  • Don’t define yourself by outcomes.

When Becoming a Great Leader Makes You a Bad Person

Apple is certainly one of the most influential companies in America.  And Steve Jobs was certainly a game-changer, lauded for his innovation, focus, creativity and leadership.  Walter Isaacson’s biography left me impressed with Jobs the leader, but not so much with Jobs the person.

I walked away with the same feeling after reading biographies of several other corporate icons.   Impressed with their accomplishments but little desire to become like them.

  • Brilliant strategists, bad bosses.
  • Visionary leaders, questionable personalities.
  • Shareholders loved their thinking, the people close to them felt railroaded.

I look back on parts of my life and see it, too.  There was a time when I aspired to be a great leader.  All the while, I was not the person I wanted to be.  Up front, I was impressing but behind the scenes, I was eroding.  The mission of “going to the next level” took me to a place that was not healthy or admirable.

It really is possible to become a great leader and a worse person at the same time.

Here are four instances when being a great leader makes you a bad person.

1.  When your identity is wrapped up in your activity.

One of the first questions we ask when we meet new people is, “What do you do?”  This question flows naturally and we think little of it.   We naturally look to quantify and characterize people according to their jobs.   That’s how we’ve come to understand who people truly are.  It’s as if we cannot separate who a person IS from what a person DOES.

But It’s dangerous to tie your identity to the things you do.   So many leaders don’t know how to be people, because their entire identity is wrapped up in their jobs.

It’s one of the reasons great CEOs struggle to be great parents.  In the office, he has a team of people to execute his plans.  But at home, he’s got to drive to soccer practice and take out the trash.  At work, he is praised.  But at home, the same level of respect doesn’t exist.  Not only do these two identities not mesh, they compete with one another.   So the great leader gives more of his heart to the place where he receives more praise, widening the gap even further.

It’s great to be a leader, CEO, entrepreneur, doctor, or writer.  What you do with your time matters a great deal.  But at the end of the day, you are much more than what you do.  Your job title does not paint the full picture of who you are.

It’s dangerous to let your identity as human flow from what you do for a living.  It might make you a great leader but it will make you a bad person.

2.  When you have more fans and followers than you have real friends.

As you succeed in your career, you receive more and more praise from people who don’t really know you.  It feels great.  It’s validating.

Before you know it, people want to meet you, hear from you and learn from you.  If you’re active on social media, your following grows.  When you write something, it gets shared and retweeted.

Before you know it, you’ve got hundreds of followers not no real friends.

You’re living for the like button.

But your public presence has little to do with your private life.  And the gap between your platform and your humanity becomes wider.

You see, people can like what you say but not like you.

There really are intelligent jerks, who get quoted and praised, but are not respected and loved.

You can fans and followers, but if you don’t have true friends – people who don’t care about your role, then you will feel a little empty.  Relational starvation is masked but he empty calories of social shares.

When your following is large but your friends are few it makes you a great leader but a bad person.

3.  You are impressive to those near you but absent to those close to you.

Talented people know how to dazzle.

Whether it’s with a sentence or a scalpel, talented people easily impress.

Great leaders easily impress crowds.  But great people are respected by those closest to them.

On my path to recognition, I sadly cared more about earning praise from people in the outer circle.  I wanted to be a great public speaker, when I should have been concerned with being a great husband.  I wanted to build a bigger platform, but I should have been concerned with building more authentic relationships.

What good is it if a man gains a platform but loses his soul?  What’s the real win if a woman builds a business but loses her family?

The larger your platform becomes, the more you are unavailable to people.  In the name of next level leadership, you pull back from people, guarding your time and protecting your calendar.  You create systems in your life to enable growth.  But the larger your platform becomes, the more important it is to be more available to some.   Your family and friends and mentors need MORE access, not less.

Great leaders are impressive to shareholders, board members and the public.  But great people are fully present and fully respected by those closest to them

4.  Your vision becomes the ultimate pursuit.  

There’s no doubt about it.  Great leaders are great visionaries.

I love the stories of people who were able to peer into the future and chart a path for growth.  Steve Jobs and the iPod.  Jeff Bezos and the Kindle.  In both of these scenarios, leaders were able to cut through the confusion and ultimately carve out a market.

Vision is more than a buzzword; it’s the beginning and end of leadership.  Without a compelling vision and at the ability to cast it, organizations remain in mediocrity.

Vision makes for a great company.  But relentless pursuit of it might make you a bad person.

  • When those who challenge your position become a threat to the organization, rather than a necessary voice.
  • When those who don’t understand the vision are brushed aside rather than guided.
  • When you use and abuse people to accomplish something.
  • When anyone who things different is seen as a challenge.
  • When vision is placed on a pedestal and becomes the ultimate pursuit.

Great leaders lead with great vision.  But great people know there is more to the story.  Vision alone is a poor master.

My hopes in writing this post is to encourage you to focus more on becoming a great person and less of a great leader.   I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

The Perfect Family Photo

Baby in Pumpkin

The picture on the left is perfect.

The picture on the right reflects reality.

Sure, there’s something cute and fuzzy and sharable about the picture on the left.  So we try to recreate it.  We pose and stage so we can capture and share the perfect moment.  But it rarely works out.

And it’s probably a good thing.  Because these perfect moments are mostly fake.

We share the perfect pictures, because the perfect pictures earn us praise.  Our well-rounded, athletic, smart children get us digital pats on the back.   When you post about date night, people think your relationship is healthy.

Never mind the fact that there was a blow up right after we snapped that picture of our teenage daughter reading her Bible.  Never mind the fact an argument ensued right after date night was Instagrammed.

There is more crazy in my house than I like to admit.

There are more unphotogenic moments than sharable ones.

And we don’t really believe your child likes sitting in a pumpkin.

Maybe it’s time for the picture on the right to show up on more Christmas cards.

Six Reasons I Love the Local Church

Michael Lukaszewski
That’s me in the white shirt and tie, sometime around 1991.
That year, I walked down the aisle at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida to surrender to full time Christian service. I didn’t really understand those terms, or the ramifications of that decision. But I remember a strong pull to abandon my desire to be a lawyer and work in a local church.
The next thing I remember was the pastor mispronouncing my name as he shared my decision with about 3,000 people. (It’s Loo-kah-zoo-ski, by the way.)
Ever since then, I’ve never been able to escape the pull of the local church.  Looking back on my life, it’s FULL of local church influence. Here are just a few reasons I give my time, energy and passion to helping local churches.
1. A local church helped set the trajectory of my life. When I was 15, I decided to follow Jesus with my life at a local church My best friends were members of that same church, and we all stood in each other’s weddings. I met my wife because of that church.
2. Most pastors are selfless servants who want to make a difference. In my line of work, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with hundreds, probably even thousands, of pastors. And most of them are amazing, humble, selfless leaders who love Jesus and love their communities. Pastors are heroes.
3. Churchecome in all shapes and sizes. There are rural churches and urban churches. There are progressive churches and traditional churches. There are small churches and mega churches.  All of them are important and all of them matter.  I know there is still work to do, but local congregations all over the world reflect heaven and their community at the same time. That is amazing.
4. The church is the closest representation of Jesus we have on earth.Jesus is invisible, and I’ve never been to heaven. But the church is the body of Christ, and I can see that. When local churches love and serve their community, worship wholeheartedly, and give generously, it’s a very real picture of Jesus.
5. Every church member is family. What unites us is far greater than what divides us. Everyone who is a part of a little-c local church is a part of the big-C Universal Church. That makes them family. They might be more like the crazy great Uncle, but it’s family nevertheless.
6. Jesus said He would build His church. Jesus told Peter He would build His CHURCH.  Not a 501(c)3 non profit organization. Or a publishing company. Or the Boy Scouts. He said He would build His Church. Lots of things matter, but there was a guy who was dead and came back to life. I’m going to hitch up to his construction crew and help build what He’s building.
I love serving pastors. And I’d consider it an honor to serve you. This is a great place to start, but if it’s not right for you, I just want you to know I appreciate what you do.

Notes and Quotes from The Everything Store by Brad Stone


Here are some notes and quotes from The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone.  This was a late addition to my 2014 Reading List.

  • With his consistent proclamations that he is building his company for the long term, Bezos has earned so much faith from his shareholders.
  • Americans are funny…we want things cheap, but we don’t want anyone undercutting the mom-and-pop store down the street or the locally owned bookstore.
  • When a company comes up with an idea, it’s a messy process.  Reducing Amazon’s history to a single narrative would give the impression of clarity rather than the real thing.
  • The Regret Minimization Framework:  When you are in the thick of things, you can get confused by small stuff.  “I knew when I was eighty I would never think about why I walked away from my 1994 Wall Street bonus right in the middle of the year at the worst possible time.  At the same time, I knew I might sincerely regret not having participated in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a revolutionizing event.  When I thought about it that way…it was incredibly easy to make the decision.”
  • We don’t make money when we sell things, we make money when we help customers make purchase decisions.
  • Don’t be worried about your competitors because they aren’t going to send you money.  Be worried about your customers and stay focused.
  • Great leaders have a healthy stubbornness.
  • Amazon’s six values:  customer obsession, frugality, bias for action, ownership, high bar for talent and innovation.
  • When Amazon’s stock price dropped by 30% in the summer of 2000, he scribbled “I am not my stock price” on his whiteboard.  Reminds me of this post.
  • Amazon lost a few dollars on 250,000 copies of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  But they did it to build customer loyalty with a view on the long term.
  • Costco buys in bulk and marks everything up 14%, even when it could charge more.  Most of it’s profit comes from the annual membership fee.
  • The motto on his space exploration company is Gradatim Ferociter which means “Step by step, ferociously.”
  • The entire company is structured around “two pizza teams” – groups of fewer than 10 people who were set on Amazon’s biggest challenges.
  • Like Steve Jobs, Bezos’ personal passions guided Amazon’s activity and strategy.  He was convinced Amazon needed to become a technology company.
  • Great companies fail not because they want to avoid disruptive change but because they are reluctant to embrace promising new markets that might undermine their traditional businesses and that do not appear to satisfy their short-term growth requirements. – from The Innovator’s Dilemma bu Clayton Cristensen
  • Have backbone; Disagree and Commit.  This is what they expect of their team members.
  • If humans think long term, we can accomplish things we wouldn’t otherwise accomplish.