A few years ago I read Axiom by Bill Hybels. His writing, videos and leadership never fail to challenge me to higher levels of leadership myself. In his book he explains how after reading Colin Powell’s book, he realized that good leaders have certain things they say, what he called axioms. He posited that if you are a good leader, there are already pithy sayings coming out of your mouth. I hoped that I was a good leader so I decided to start watching for my own axioms. There were surprisingly few (does this relate somehow to my ability as a leader? should I be worried?) but as I focus on it, I’ve discovered that there are at least enough to get started…

  • There should always be food. When I was hosting meetings and organizing teams I felt like every gathering should have some kind of food. I love how it communicates value and preparation without having to articulate it. It says to volunteers or team members or friends or whomever, “I anticipated your presence and made some effort to welcome you” without having to say it so awkwardly. So whether you’re meeting over lunch or cramming in a quick meeting after work, there should always be food.
  • You’ll never go wrong taking the high road. This is one that my sweet friend Mindi told me. I was feeling criticized and defensive for one of the leaders on my team and was wondering how best to manage the situation–should I address it? should I confront the criticizer? what was the right course of action? And my friend Mindi said to me, “You’ll never go wrong taking the high road, Nanc’.” She was right and I was embarrassed to have to be reminded. Now I try to do that myself.
  • If you want to impact the life of a parent, do something significant in the life of their child. As a teacher and children’s pastor, this was a reminder to me and my team that we can have a kingdom impact in the whole family by serving effectively with kids.
  • Today I am thankful. Sometimes my heart is warm and filled to over-flowing with gratitude and appreciation. Sometimes not so much. The truth for me is that thankfulness will have to be a choice–at times it will begin with a decision of the will instead of the emotion of the moment and that’s okay. Today I am thankful.
  • Be a grown up. Here’s what I mean: by nature I am an introvert. I am happiest in small groups of beloved friends or family. But sometimes life requires that I interact in an unknown situation or demands that I be warm and welcoming to people I don’t know or forces me to socialize in a group larger than 6 or be upbeat and positive when I am feeling anxious and maybe even defeated. In those situations I tell myself to be a grown up. I can do it. It may take a bit more energy but I can step up and fill the role required of me–I can be a grown up. See also: put on your game face; overwhelm the situation; put on your big girl pants, fake it ’till you make it, act your way into feeling.
  • Fonts matter. Friends don’t let friends use the default font. Print communicates more than just the written word; the right font can make all the difference. And Comic Sans is never the right font unless you’re a 5th grade girl writing a poem about unicorns.
  • Flip the switch. This is a saying that one of my college professors coined. His point was that college students are notorious for taking on a lot, they burn the candle at both ends and try to meet their academic obligations while still getting in as much socializing as they can. As the Dean of the School of Music, Doc used to have to ask us to do more–at Christmas time when we were in the midst of finishing papers, prepping for finals and celebrating the holidays, he added some 8 performances to our schedule. And we would moan and groan about how much he was asking. How it was too much. How we were too tired. How our to-do list was sooo long. But if someone asked us to go to a movie we suddenly had enough energy/time/money/you name it. So flip the switch was his way of challenging us to realize we had what we needed, it was a choice.
  • When in doubt, overdress. I have never said, “I wish I was wearing something sloppier,” I have however wished that I was dressed better from time to time. I am a firm believer that my attitudes and behavior are directly influenced by my wardrobe. (No, this is not an attempt to get a new outfit, but what girl would turn that down!?!) You’ll always know that I have something I’m feeling anxious about if I suddenly show up at the office with my outfit notched up.
  • Everything ends and that’s okay. This is not my own saying. It’s actually something Cathy and I have been talking about a lot. It is completely counter to every instinct I have but I still believe it’s true. I don’t want things to end…ever. But I’m discovering that my heart’s desire may or may not have any say in the matter. I can kick and shove and push against change as much as I want but am unlikely to affect the outcome other than to make myself (and those I love) miserable. I will be much more content if I begin to realize that everything ends and that’s okay.
  • We can do hard things. Remember West Wing? The early West Wing–back when Aaron Sorkin was writing? Back when it was good? There are so many scenes and lines that I find poignant or sweet or inspiring in those episodes. One of my favorites is the show Twenty Hours in America (Part Two) where Toby and Josh and Donna get left behind in Iowa. At the end of the day, having finally arrived back in D.C., as they’re walking past the monuments they stumble on a strategy for the future. It is a great idea, an inspiring idea, but practically impossible to implement. Toby says to Josh, “It’s going to be hard.” And Josh replies, “Then we’ll do what’s hard.” I love that! I love the idea of gifted and talented people coming together toward a common goal that they believe in–even when it seems impractical, daunting, or downright impossible…because we can do hard things.
  • I can hate it and still do it. I read this in an article about self-care. The author was explaining that self-care isn’t only protecting your leisure time or getting a regular mani-pedi; sometimes self-care is about making the appointment to see your doctor or get your teeth cleaned, sometimes it’s about saying no to someone you don’t want to disappoint, sometimes it’s asking for help. She’s right and not just about self-care. There are all kinds of things in my life I can hate and still do. I’m pretty sure that’s what we mean when we say adulting.
  • If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. I am not a believer in “good enough” although I acknowledge that there is a time when it is necessary. I think it’s far more common for us to use that axiom though than the one that challenges us to add that one more detail, to proofread before we hit send, to refine it a bit more. But if it’s worth doing in the first place, it’s worth doing well.
  • When we know better, we’ll do better. I thought this was a saying from my wise sister, Cathy. Turns out it’s Maya Angelou. Pretty much the same thing. Regardless, it still has such power for a people-pleasing-perfectionist like me. There’s all kinds of freedom here. This allows me to acknowledge that I’ve messed up or missed an important deadline or meeting or point or whatever but gives me permission to stay in the game. I don’t have to sideline everything because I messed up. My only obligation is to learn and do better.
  • Leaders are readers. I’m not the first to say it and I won’t be the last but I totally buy this one. I admire leaders that I know continue to stretch and grow through reading and I am in love with communities that share this value.
  • Live generously. This is a bit of a life motto for me. When it comes to investing my time, skills, interests or money, I want to be a generous person. This informs (or should inform!) all of my behavior–my speech, my attitudes, my investments, my activities. For me it lives out not so much in my checkbook but in a generosity of spirit, a willingness to believe the best about others. Cynicism and criticism may make me seem cooler but honestly I like me better when I am believing the best about others and living generously.

4 responses »

  1. Pingback: Today I Will Be Thankful « A Tale of Grace

  2. Pingback: A Word for 2013 and i {heart} erin condren « A Tale of Grace

  3. Pingback: Bread and Wine: A Review | A Tale of Grace

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