Archive for April, 2010


How to Eat a Book

Edmund Burke said, “To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.” He’s right. I’ve gotten many a stomach ache after reading  junk, but the real meaty stuff feeds my soul. First thing to recognize when eating a book is that you have definiteness of purpose in selecting what you read. Is it to become a better salesperson, a better leader, better at customer service? Read with a goal in mind. And remember, the brain can never do too much and the only time it becomes exhausted is when it is not doing anything.

There are three key elements to digesting a book:

First, study it. Develop systematic mental habits and don’t begin to read anything with reluctance. If your brain feels overloaded, quit and rest. If your brain is suffering, tell it to stop and focus. As with any new habit, it will take time to learn these steps. Frederick Harrison said it best when he observed that the “reading of great books is a faculty to be acquired and not a natural gift.” So remember, don’t be discouraged if reading tastes strange at first. It is an acquired taste that you will develop. Finally, chew the words up well. Read and reread them. Making notes will also aid digestion.

Second, believe it or not, books taste best when they are regurgitated or shared. John Wanamaker stated, “It is not good enough to be well read. We must help others by what we read.” There are many ways to do this. One of the greatest business ideas my father taught me was to hand out my business card tucked inside of a book I had picked out for a specific client or employee. That really makes a positive impression. It’s like selecting a vintage label or choice cut of beef. You can also share your fine taste in books by the ones you keep stocked in your office on your desk or on the shelf of your cubicle. Everything is a reflection of the leader and everyone loves to look at what’s in your office. Keep yours stocked and let employees know they are free to take and read and share. I’ve heard it said that “You may judge a man more truly by the books and papers which he reads than by the company which he keeps” (Haines and Yaggy, The Royal Path of Life). The books on your shelf will lend you a sense of humility. They say, “you don’t have all the answers, but it lets you show where you got them.”

Finally, books are best consumed when they are digested in a group setting and the words are read out loud. There is something about the spoken word. Remember how many times growing up you didn’t pay attention unless you yourself had the text in front of you and you were reading aloud? When folks would come to my Dad for answers, he’d just pull out a book and have them read to him. He knew that unless the person found the answer themselves, he could do them more harm than good by trying to advise from his perspective. Let the words speak to each individual’s ears and hearts. They’ll find exactly what they need to hear.

Bon appétit!!!


3 Cures for Reading Deficit Disorder (RDD)

RDD is a serious but treatable affliction. Symptoms of RDD include lack of vision, shortness of new ideas, lameness of the brain and thumbsucking. The job of a leader is to consistently get better vision along with the ability to execute. It is not a choice, it is a responsibility. If reading is learning and learning is living, then reading is living. Books unlock the secrets of the greatest minds in all of history. They are constant, unchanging, and always there for you. They can make you laugh and make you cry. They can provide comfort, wisdom, insights and assist you in making some of the most critical decisions of your life. Is essence, they are truly your best friends.

I’ve found three effective and proven cures for RDD:

Companionship: Let’s face it; it’s lonely at the top. That’s not just a cliché. Those of you who have been in a leadership position for any length of time, you know it’s true. You are no longer one of the masses; you are the one in charge…responsible for everything! And that puts you in a very special, yet singular, class. Reading what others have gone through offers an endless supply of encouragement. Reading helps you really grasp that failure, betrayal, and uncertainty go with the territory.  James Baldwin said, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” You think you’ve got it tough? Read about Abraham Lincoln, Booker T. Washington, Walt Disney, Winston Churchill, or General George S. Patton, to see some of the daunting tasks and setbacks other leaders have faced and triumphed over.

Growth: Curing RDD through reading great books helps me learn how I’m supposed to do the job I’m in. Studies show that technical expertise is 15% of job success; the other 85% is how you lead, communicate and interact with others. So who teaches you that? I’ve been blessed with a few great mentors, but I’ve had my fair share of terrible ones as well.  How many of you were fully trained to take on a position before you were given the helm? How many of you walked into organizations which the person you were replacing said were functioning very well, only to find out that wasn’t exactly the case? What did you do? How do you know what to do? As your company grows, you’ll have to delegate. Everyone wants good employees who can think and make decisions, as well as mistakes, on their own. Getting them on a sound reading program like yours can get them grounded and on their own path for success. Check out Mark Sanborn or Bob Burg’s titles to show your team how to excel at customer interaction so you can focus on carrying out the job at hand.

Teamwork: You don’t grow close by doing things together; you grow close by thinking together. While I’m all for team activities (I love hosting the annual Christmas party or taking the whole team out to a sports event) sometimes they come off as “mandatory fun”. Elbert Hubbard said, “No book is of much importance, the vital thing is, what do you yourself think.” I’ve been told by many previous employees that what they looked up to most as a leader is how they made them feel and what they made them think. A book can leave a lasting impression on an employee. Books are an outside expert; that means folks aren’t arguing with each others’ points of view nor will they sometimes fall into turf protection or parochialism.  They teach without rank or tone of voice, they aren’t trying to take your job. Money is tight in many organizations. There are no more corporate trips to Vegas and no more outside speakers to teach, train and motivate the troops. But for a few dollars, you can introduce your entire team to the kings and queens of the earth in business and in other professions. Books provide a common reference or rallying point for your team to all discuss and point towards.

Joseph Addison said, “Books are the legacies that great genius leaves to mankind.” And all it takes is a couple of minutes a day from some of the greats to cure you of RDD forever!


Leaders are Readers

Times are tough, budgets are tight and great leaders are a dying breed. Great! Napoleon Hill said, “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” So today we are going to talk about one of the many ways that we can plant the seeds of a great harvest through reading great books.

How do we learn to become adept business leaders? If you’re a product of the military, you received leadership training at various stages throughout your career. If you’re from a large corporation, perhaps you had courses in managing people and a culture that required 40 or more hours of training a year. If you’re fortunate enough to have found a mentor and become a mentee, that can also be of tremendous value.

But did you know that books can be just as valuable as your favorite boss, best mentor or camaraderie-building team event? The real beauty is that books are at your immediate disposal. You don’t have to wait to be selected. You don’t have to wait until the budget is approved. You don’t even have to hunt down a mentor to groom you. You just pick up the book knowing that the hand that lifted it will be different than the hand that puts it down.

So why don’t more people read? Especially people who are responsible for leading others?

I’ll give you three main reasons why people fail to take full advantage of the greatest and most accessible resource of all time.

The first response of folks who display no intention to read is I’m busy, followed by I read only work stuff, then I’m taking courses after work to, I’ve got the kids to deal with, and even the very honest I don’t like to read.

The second key element in taking advantage of the many benefits of reading is how to read. Yes that’s right, there is a how.  I’m talking about a way to read to ensure you get the maximum results. The attention you pay to reading and harnessing your wandering mind is no different than the discipline and attention displayed at the gym as you train new muscle groups.

Lastly, folks miss out on reading because they are overwhelmed with choosing what to read. There are over 200,000 books that come out each year alone. It can be a daunting task to hone in on selecting and committing time and money on the one that will benefit you the most.

As Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “Leaders are readers.” If you are sitting in the head shed and not reading, you are not truly leading. You’re just occupying the position.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll delve more into each of the above areas to further review how books can transform you and your organization.


Bots Like Change…Why Don’t We?

I recently attended a webinar given by my friends at Decade30, Benjamin Bachman and Austin Meadows. One of the bullets on their presentation stated “Search Engines Love Change” which caught my ear immediately because you rarely hear the words love and change in the same sentence (other than “I love to resist/thwart/sabotage change!”).

Search Engines love change because they reflect new content. Business owners love this because it raises their social media rankings, gaining them greater visibility. This results in new leads, increased sales and a wider fan base–all good things! New content means new ideas, new products, new comments, new personnel, and new input!

Search Engines love change because they employ “bots”. Bots recognize what change can do for a particular site, i.e., business. They reflect this “approval” by raising them up among their peers in the World Wide Web.  People don’t necessarily love change because we’re human and it takes persuasion to get us to buy in. We’re told that it’s all part of human nature.

But I think it’s more a function of the culture that the leader promotes for the entire organization. Nothing is more exciting than seeing a regime change where the incoming team is open to any/all ideas. They reflect this vision in their actions by rewarding innovation, cutting our inefficiencies and continually seeking input from all members of the organization. Like bots, they comb through every level to seek out new ideas, new content and better ways of doing key processes.

Sir Winston Churchill said, “Kites rise highest against the wind; not with it.” What an amazing metaphor for how high change can take you and your organization when you learn to embrace it.


Are Past Reflections Healthy?

I spent the last few days in Saint Louis. It’s a great time to see friends and frequent my favorite haunts. It’s also a chance to catch up on how things are going at previous job locations. Nothing stays the same and each manager puts their own particular spin (even a lack thereof) on the daily operations. So when I got the chance to catch up with some old co-workers, I got the lowdown on how things were going. What’s always most interesting is not what is going on with the operation, but to see what various employees are doing under a new hierarchy.

Having spent a considerable amount of time mentoring the underlings before mamma bird flew the nest, it’s always fascinating to see who has spread their wings to soar with the eagles and who’s resorted to running around on the ground with the turkeys or the chickens with their heads cut off.

While it’s an interesting case study in human nature, it is no longer my organization so it’s not my concern. However, it does cause one to reflect back on various business and personnel decisions made. History is always rewritten by the current author because they make assessments about their predecessors’ motives without them being there. But is this type of reflection by either person healthy?

I was watching an astronomy show on the Discovery Channel on Saturday. Astronomy has always been a passion of mine since I was a little girl. They went on about the universe, covering the different types of stars and why some formed into tiny brown dwarfs while other became blue super giants. Regardless of the outcome, when I look into the night sky, I am looking at the past. What is actually happening at the time is not evident to me and I am only seeing things as they once were and not the reality of now.  

This reminded me of some of the emotions I felt while discussing the current work environment with my previous employees. Do I feel prideful when I hear they have fallen on tough times after my departure? Do I rejoice in their success under a new legion? Do I bristle when I hear how my previous top echelon is engaged in gossip? Do I beam with pride at their new leadership abilities?

We’re all human, so some of the sensations and actions are part of our nature. However, it is imperative not to let a reflection of the past in any way influence how you are assessing the present and planning for the future. The past is done, and looking at it will serve no purpose. Any successes or failures you achieved during that time are over.

Herman Melville said, “The Past is the textbook of tyrants; the Future the Bible of the Free. Those who are solely governed by the Past stand like Lot’s wife, crystallized in the act of looking backward, and forever incapable of looking before.”


How to Read

Statistics show that the number of people who read has dropped considerably in recent decades. It’s easier to fill our time and minds with other input such as TV, the Internet, or movies. Since you are reading this blog, you are a “reader”. And there is one thing I know about you… that you are probably a “leader”. Anyone who reads to learn, grow and ultimately share is, by my definition, a leader.

 My father, Charles “T.” Jones, was a big proponent of reading. He used to tell me:

Don’t read to be big, read to be down to earth.

Don’t read to be smart, read to be wise.

Don’t read to memorize, read to realize.

Don’t read to just learn, read to sometimes unlearn.

Don’t read a lot, read just enough to keep yourself curious and hungry, to learn more, to keep getting younger as you grow older.

But still the age old question, why don’t folks like to read? Joseph Addison said that, “Books are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind, which are delivered down from generation to generation, as presents to the posterity of those who are yet unborn.” So who doesn’t want amazing gifts filled with timeless insights?

 To read like my father told me, in the quote above, takes work. Frederick Harrison said that reading “is a faculty to be acquired, not a natural gift”. It takes work to read in order to grow. Just as a pre-law student reads countless case studies in order to develop their analytical mind, or a salesman in training reads countless books on how to deal with various personalities so they negotiate to a ‘yes’, it takes work.

 Those who study words, whether they hear them on audio, download them electronically, or thumb through them on paper, are my heroes. They are doing the work required to grow. They are learning about things, events and people they will never physically see. Yet, they still have the desire to learn about them. These heroes will also be moved to share what they’ve uncovered. 

 This blog really isn’t for folks who are already hooked on reading and make it a part of their daily routines. This is for folks like me that were on the fence and tending to fill their time with other forms of non-value-added input. If you really want a great little booklet on the amazing power of reading and books, and what it can do for you personally, please check out this little pamphlet called Books Are Tremendous by Charles “T” Jones. It is filled with quotes and input from some of the wisest people throughout the ages and what the power of the word did for them.  Trust me. Coming from someone so full from digesting the amazing wit and wisdom of others, this little gem made me hungry for more!!


Exposure to Experience

There’s an old adage about life that goes like this. A young man asked his mentor how he achieved success. The old timer replied, “Good judgment.” The young man then asked how his mentor achieved good judgment to which the old timer answered, “Experience.” Not to be deterred the young man then queried, “Well, how do you get experience?” The old man answered, “Poor judgment!”  If you want to be a leader, then learn to live!

In his book, Life Is Tremendous, Charlie Jones states that we are born with a psychological key ring and that every situation we are faced with gives us another key for the future. Every action I take, regardless of the results, gives me another key with which to open future doors. This had a powerful effect on me growing up. I understood that as long as I was learning and experiencing, I was moving forward. I was not one of those who knew early on in life what their driving passion was. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each of my previous jobs to include the one I’m in right now. But that doesn’t mean that in five years I might not find a different calling that becomes the new driver in my life.

Every person I interact with, every decision I make, every job I take, every book I read, gives me another key. Maybe it’s the key to a door I never wish to go through again, or maybe it’s a key to a door that brought me much success. Either way, it is a key to life and learning. Grow your experience bag. Make it a priority! Just as you work out to grow your level of physical fitness or study to increase your IQ, go full steam ahead to expose yourself to as many different experiences as possible.

The result is an incredible self awareness and confidence that you can handle any situation or variation which comes your way. Do I like making poor decisions and mistakes? No! And for many years I relentlessly beat myself up for my errors. But when I realized the experience and wisdom that I now had was actually enabling me to make good judgments, I stopped kicking myself in the behind.

Charlie “Tremendous” Jones stated “Know-how is tremendous when you know-why; know-how lets you drive it, knowing-why drives you.” The more keys of experience I have to unlock life’s situations, the more I’ll know not only what I’m doing, but why. And that’s the most tremendous form of judgment in the world.


Butterfly Leadership

Believe it or not, leaders morph just like the rest of us. They evolve with every decision, opportunity or crisis. Many leadership books state that a leader must be an effective change agent. They must be at the forefront with the “main idea”, garnering support and rallying the troops. The first thing leaders must change, however, is themselves.

This is tough for a leader. We’ve been through the corporate fires, academic rigors, and earned our stripes! But as I look back at my career path, I can most definitely see where I have matured into a completely different leader throughout each job and decade in my life. In my twenties, I was an officer in the military. Our leadership was based on a cohesive hierarchy focused on a singular mission. Regulations were in black and white and people were there to serve.  In my thirties, I moved towards private enterprise. People were not directed by power, but rather motivated via influence. In my forties, it continued to change, this time towards the challenge of leading as an entrepreneur.

Knowing that I have changed as a leader in the past encourages me that as life goes on I will continue to do so. I also have to change as those underneath me change. I have left several positions because I developed the team to make me obsolete. They did it in style and it was an inspiration to watch them spread their wings. There were many times throughout the change process, however, that there was a lot of anger, fear and frustration. I was the outsider making them do things differently. How dare I when everything was working just fine?

The struggle of leading, decision-making, and mentoring, is what helps us transform and emerge from our cocoon. In his book, 8 Attributes of Great Achievers, author Cameron C. Taylor shares how he was struggling financially when he started his business. He went to a friend who declined to assist. The friend stated, “If I take away your struggle, I will also take away your victory.” He then relayed the story of the caterpillar that would never develop if someone would see him struggling and cut open the cocoon in an attempt to help.

So, as developing leaders, enjoy the struggles of change. Enjoy spreading your wings in each new opportunity, challenge or position. And most of all relish in the realization that this is an unlimited journey whose heights you’ve only just begun to glimpse.

Tremendous Tracey

CEO Tremendous Life Books. Book Evangelist

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April 2010

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