Live Full to Die Empty

Die-Empty-3dMy Review of Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day by Todd Henry

A disclaimer is in order.  I have been a Todd Henry enthusiast since I read his first book, The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice.  His regular podcast is on my weekly “must listen to” list.  I was thrilled when I heard the title and theme of his second book.    I’m what business guru, Ken Blanchard, calls a “raving fan” of Todd’s work.  Admittedly, I’m biased not just because we share the same first name.

Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day is about how we can unleash our best work each day and increase the odds that we won’t regret the work we’ve done when we come to the end of our life.  It’s about living full so we can die empty.

What I Like Most

What I like most about Todd’s writing is his courage.  He doesn’t hesitate to call out the fluffy platitudes that we are fed in too many business and career books.  He doesn’t shy away from saying that success and our best work will require effort and self-discipline.  Those two things go against the grain of our comfort driven culture.  I was practically cheering out loud when he said, “You cannot pursue comfort and greatness at the same time.”

One popular fallacy Todd takes on that resonated with me was, “The Passion Fallacy.”  We are told countless times to just “follow your passion” and the money will follow you.  Besides the obvious impracticality of this advice, (How many of us actually do get paid for playing video games all day?) Todd points out that it is a selfish approach to finding meaningful work.  Eventually the passion dies down and we are left searching for a different obsession.

A better approach is asking, “What value can I add?” instead of “What can I get?”  When we pose the question this way, it correctly reminds us that we are not the center of the world.  We know that when we are the center of our own world, it’s a very small world…after all.

Challenge Accepted!

Another example of Todd’s courage occurs in the chapter titled, “Finding Your Voice,” which tackles discovering our unique expression of value through our life’s journey.  He challenged me when he wrote, “Great work results when you stop doing only what you know you can do and instead begin pursuing what you believe you might be able to do with a little focused effort.”  In the infamous words of television character Barney Stinson (Played by Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother), “Challenge accepted!”

Todd’s writing tone is one we would find from a buddy who is sitting across the table having coffee with us.  It’s friend to friend encouraging conversation rather than top down pronouncements.  In addition, his stories are nicely balanced with practical applications and probing questions at the end of every chapter.

This is the type of book I can see myself rereading on a yearly basis to keep myself on track in fulfilling my life’s mission.

The message of the book is simply stated: “Don’t go to your grave with your best work still inside of you. Choose to die empty.”

May that be true for us all.

Whew! That was Close: A Leadership Lesson from a Crash

B1 BomberLiving within earshot of Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, it is common to hear fighter jets roaring by overhead.  I’ve gotten used to it.  On Monday, August 19, 2013, Ellsworth was in the national spotlight when a B-1B Lancer Bomber crashed in southeastern Montana.

Fortunately all four people, including the two pilots and two weapons system officers ejected and parachuted to safety.  No one on the ground was hurt.  The aircraft was not so lucky. It was a total loss. Or was it?

For the men who flew the plane, I imagine they were not thinking of having to rocket  themselves out of it on a high powered ejector seat. They were prepared should something happen, but it was to be a routine training mission.  When I saw the news reports I thought, “Whew! That was a close one!  It could have been much worse.”

I thought about the times in leadership when we’ve narrowly escaped a disaster that could have taken us out of the game but didn’t.  For example, when we almost hired the wrong person for our team.  Or when a deal broke down in negotiation and we found out later the other party in the deal was caught cheating.  Narrow escapes and dodging bullets, such is the life of a leader.

Sometimes we get lucky in leadership and that’s okay.  But we need more than luck to be a successful leader.  We need skills to adapt when crisis occurs.

There are times in our leadership life when a seemingly routine event goes wrong.  In those moments, we have to adapt our mode and style.  As Todd Henry says in The Accidental Creative, we need to be “brilliant at a moment’s notice.”

The training mission suddenly changed when the plane went down.  It went from a training mission to search and rescue to recovery of the parts of the plane to an investigation as to why the crash occurred.

Yes, it could have been a lot worse, but it can be a lot more because of what we can learn from the crash.

This is what it means to be a creative leader: when crises occur, we adapt to the changing mission and learn all we can from it so we can be better in the future.

Our mission may change today.  Are you ready?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you have developed your adaptability skills.  Leave your comment below.

Book It!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
― Groucho Marx, The Essential Groucho: Writings For By And About Groucho Marx

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” ― Ernest Hemingway

We’ve heard it said too many times to count that “leaders are readers.” It’s one of the lessons they teach in Leadership 101. Read, read, read. As an introvert, this advice has been easy to take to heart and put into practice. I have friends and family members who don’t like to read and will never pick up a book to mine its wisdom. That’s okay for them. They can grow in their leadership in other ways. For the readers among us, we’ve found some benefits in reading books that we don’t get anywhere else. Here are a few of my favorites.

Reading books helps us stay current.

With the advent of the Internet, books are the slow turtle in the race for fresh information. The turnaround time from the submission of a manuscript to a publisher to when it is available for sale can take up to a year.  Quick information is available 24/7 on the World Wide Web. However, when we want to dig deeper into a subject, we rely on books to help us sort through the weight of research. When we read Jim Collins’ classic, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t  or Chip and Dan Heath’s, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work or Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, we have hours of the most relevant and best research on the topic at our fingertips. We have food for thought rather than a snack for skimming.

Reading books helps us observe different leadership styles.

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes and styles. The way John Maxwell leads and writes is not the same way Jack Welch leads and writes. (I have an amazing grasp of the obvious.) Through their words, we get a sense of who they are as leaders and how they approach the various leadership challenges that we all face. There is room for a variety of styles at the leadership trough. The diamonds are there for our choosing.

Reading books is fun.

This one varies in degree according to our personal taste. I find reading pleasurable while some of my extroverted friends find reading a chore. There is a joy in discovering new insights as I pore over the latest Malcolm Gladwell offering (David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants). Fresh wisdom is mashed with existing wisdom in our heart and mind to give us a new creative edge.

Reading books gives us perspective into our situation.

One of my favorite authors is psychologist and leadership consultant Henry Cloud (Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships and Being Ridiculously in Charge; Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses and Relationships That All of us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward; 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life).  When I read some of the composite stories of clients from his counseling practice or business consultations, I sometimes say to myself, “Thank God, I’m not that messed up.” Other times I say, “God, help me to be more like that person.”  Reading gives us perspective into our situation by helping us meet people we would not have encountered in daily life.  We would have missed out on some much needed perspective for our own situation.

Reading books affirms who we are.

This benefit is related to the one above. A couple years ago, Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs was a bestseller.  With any individual we read about, there are things we relate to and things we don’t relate to in their story.  I’ll never be Steve Jobs and neither will you. There was only one.  In the same way, there is only one you and only one me.  Reading helps to affirm who we are and who we are not.  It reminds us to celebrate our unique contribution to the world.

Reading books gives us practical ideas.

When we read great books like Todd Henry’s, The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice or Peter Bregman’s, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distractions and Get the Right Things Done, we’re taken to the toolbox of the author and shown what has worked for them. Because we share the human condition, their ideas may help us to be more effective in our leadership.  Even if we don’t use the same idea in the way it is presented in the book, it may spark a thought in our mind as to how we can handle a challenge we are facing.

We take the books that we’ve read, mix in our experience, combine it with our personality, add it all together with our skills and talents to be the creative leaders we are meant to be. Those that make a difference in the lives of those we lead.

What books have had the most impact on your leadership? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Action Steps:

Check out my reading list and add your suggestions below.

To go the extra mile see: http://michaelhyatt.com/how-to-retain-more-of-what-you-read.html