How to Energize Your Leadership Life

The coolest thing happened to me last night! My wife had a meeting and rather than sit at home in my office, she dropped me off at the local Starbucks. So I am sitting outside (a benefit of living in Florida) having a hot chai tea latte (my personal favorite), grading some papers for an Executive Coaching class I am teaching. I had graded about 12 papers and my eyes were starting to cross when an older gentleman sat down at the table next to mine.

I know better than to make eye contact. When you make eye contact, that is when they start talking. Even thought I had completed what I needed to get done, I had a chance to get ahead in the class. I had work to do. Just stay focused, Scott, you can do it. Just don’t look up.

But the words of my pastor’s sermon jumped into my mind at that very moment “the gift of Christmas is found in the margins." The point of his sermon last Sunday morning was that even when it looks like all is lost and you have no power of your own to provide, God is in the margins. Christmas is a time for hope because 2000 years ago the Romans had such powerful rule over all the people they had lost hope.  Then, in the middle of the night, in a Bethlehem stable, HOPE showed up in the margins. God acted because he cared. I was thinking to myself, “Scott, how much do you care?"

…And as I was having this thought, you guessed it...

I looked up!

“You live around here?" the old-timer asked.

That was it. I was done for the night. Turns out he was a real talker. We spent the next 45 minutes together of which I asked 3 questions and he talked the entire time. And what a glorious night it turned out to be! Turns out he was a football coach from central Ohio down in Florida for Christmas with his daughter. He started in the high school ranks and worked his way up the coaching ladder. He has spent time with and coached for some of the all-time greats: Bo Schembechler, Tommy Tuberville, and even spent some time in the Canadian professional league.

I honestly could have listened to him all night. He had such a neat perspective on both football, coaching, and life.

Leadership Lessons

Here are my three big take-a-ways from my conversation with the old coach.

  1. There is only one letter difference between "hire" and "fire." No matter which you are experiencing, there is probably some “ire” in each. Do the very best job you can with the job you have today. Hold everything loosely, because you never know when you could lose your job, even when you have a winning record. If you get a new job, there are others who wanted it and some of them might still be on the team.
  2. Professionals don’t need your advice. At the end of the day, the professional (football player or insert whatever noun you wish) gets paid for how they perform. Period. They are ultimately responsible for the decisions they make that affect their overall performance. There is too much victim mentality today. Too many people think they are entitled to something they haven’t put an ounce of effort into. Professionals might want you to help them think through something, or get some perspective, but don’t ever be fooled into thinking they want your advice.
  3. The end will come. One of my questions for him was, “In hindsight, would you do it again?” Without flinching or even much thinking, he said, “Without question!" He said, “I have this tablet thing at home (and I am dying laughing on the inside), and I get messages from other coaches, from past players, even from kids in my English class. They say, "Hey coach, good to see you are still alive. Did you see that game last night between Clemson and Virginia Tech?”

Then came one of the only pauses in roughly 45 minutes of conversation …

“Do it again…I would not have done anything else.”

In rather dramatic fashion, my wife pulls up in the old Kia Sorento to pick me up.

As I thanked him for the lively conversation and started to walk back to the car it hit me right between the eyes: God had shown up in the margin, but not as I had originally intended it.

My original idea was to show up and be some margin in this guys life. After all, he was older and all alone.

Turns out, I could not have been more wrong. Turns out I was the one who needed the blessing of someone else's company.

I don’t even know the old coach's name. For all I know maybe he wasn’t even a football coach. But I am really thankful he took the time to show up and provide some light into the margins of my life.


Maybe you know someone in your organization who is feeling marginalized. Maybe there is someone who needs a 45 minute Starbucks conversation. Even though you don’t have time, maybe what you need to do is stop and recognize that they are human too. Who knows, maybe you will be the one who ends up with the blessing. Merry Christmas!

The Lost Art of This Leadership Responsibility

Many of you find yourself in a different energy gear at this time of year. For some of you, this time of year brings some reflection and relaxation. Others of you don’t know where your energy is going to come from and are relying on Redbull and Starbucks to help you finish the year strong. No matter what psychological energy state you find yourself as a leader, one of the most important leadership responsibilities you have is to create memories for those you love and care about. Those you are responsible for can be either in your work life or your home life.

Big family with three children celebrating Christmas at home. Festive dinner at fireplace and Xmas tree. Parent and kids eating at fire place in decorated room. Child lighting advent wreath candle

As a leader, you have the responsibility to be  a memory maker.

Those who follow you, whether at home or at work, will remember for many years to come the impact of the memories you created for them.

My Story

Recently, I lead a group of students I teach in an intentional leadership exercise. I had them ask family members to all think about an event they participated in together. Something like a vacation, a sporting event, or even a meal. Then each person is to write a short paragraph recalling what the event meant to them. We call this a Family Journaling exercise.

Let me tell you, my students went into this exercise kicking and screaming (metaphorically of course). They came out of it with deep joy and gratitude for the experience. Why the transformation?

Many students reflected on the power of the memory sharing that family members had recalled. It was powerful for them to hear the depth of meaning brought by those who shared. Several students commented they were going to make this part of their holiday tradition. They were starting a Christmas journal to capture the highlights of the year and then read them in years to come.

My wife writes a Christmas journal every year. I can share from personal experience how powerful it is to go back over the years and reflect on the significance of that particular season. We collect some of our favorite Christmas Cards, recipes, and stories into the journal.  My wife will even play a game with us reading some of the collection and have us guess the year it took place.

Why not be intentional this holiday season about creating positive memories for those you lead? Here are a few suggestions for activities you could lead others to participate in. These types of activities are both fun and cathartic for those who engage, and for you as a leader there will be things that are shared that are valuable learnings for you to reflect upon.

Here are 3 memory makers you could lead for those who follow you:

  1. Create a Family/ Team Journal. Write down significant events, gifts, meals, from the season. Include some photographs and Christmas cards in the journal. Have those on your team or family help you by selecting what is meaningful for them.
  2. Do a Family/Team Journaling Exercise. This is an easy one, and you can do it in under an hour. Pick an event like a vacation, celebration, or a time when you all were together. Then give everyone a blank sheet of paper or a blank note on their device. Have them write a paragraph or two of what they remember from their perspective. When everyone is finished, spin a candy cane and the person the stick is pointing to goes first. After they read what they wrote, have others fill in the memories from their perspective.
  3. Lead a Gratitude Group. Sit your group in a circle and share something that someone in your group did this year that you are thankful for. This is a great one for kids of all ages to practice the freeing emotion of being thankful.

My hope for you as a leader is that you will take some time and reflect this holiday season on how truly blessed you are. I love being on this leadership journey with you and look forward to a great 2016.

Homework: Okay, this is an easy one this week. Pick one, two, or even all three of the memory makers outlined above and implement them with your team or family. We would love to hear from you if you do this, so drop us a line and tell us your experience.