Lee J. Colan, Ph.D., co-founded The L Group, Inc. in 1999. Lee’s passion for serving leaders enables him to deliver cut-through-the-clutter tools that elevate leaders and their teams. He was nominated for the 2013 Thinkers50Award for best management thinker globally. Lee possesses an in-depth understanding of business, people and organizations. He blends this understanding with his corporate management experience to help leaders and companies grow. As a result, Lee brings order where there is chaos and clarity where there is ambiguity. Lee has authored 12 popular books that have been translated into 10 languages, including the bestselling Engaging the Hearts and Minds of All Your Employees (McGraw-Hill, 2009). His latest release Stick with It: Mastering the Art of Adherence (McGraw-Hill, 2013) is an enhanced and expanded 10-year follow-up to his bestseller. He has also created over 100 products that equip and inspire leaders at every level.
My Definition Of Success | You don’t have to become an industrial baron and make a billion dollars to live a life of significance. All you have to do is share the resources you now have. However insignificant you may think they are, your resources are often of greater value to someone that they are to you.
The straightforward way to live a life of significance is simply to share your three T’s: time, talent, and treasure. Our lives are meant to give away–to significant causes, to loving families, to friends in need, to lasting relationships. Find a way that your gifts can serve others. Your time, energy, and money are precious resources–they are limited, and you are the sole owner. If you spend them in one area, you can’t spend them in another. When we say “yes” to one thing, by default we are saying “no” to something else. The key to winning is to say “yes” to the significant things in your life.
1.) Time. It’s a paradox of life that only by giving away our time do we make our lives meaningful, for time is the most precious gift of all. The time we spend playing with a child or grandchild, chatting with a bedridden friend, coaching a team member, supporting a colleague, or serving those in need in our community cannot be measured in dollars but is priceless. And life rewards those who donate their time, first in terms of their own satisfaction and the good opinion of others, later in ways they can never foresee. The time may come when you need a hand, and there will be many more hands offering help than you can count.
2.) Talent. There’s something especially rewarding about applying your best talents toward the benefit of others. The way to make the greatest contribution with your talent is by recognizing and using your strengths. Applying your talents to something bigger than yourself–a team’s goal, an industry meeting, a professional association or a community project–inspires a sense of meaning and significance.
3.) Treasure. You don’t have to be wealthy to donate your treasure to others–an insignificant part of modest holdings can be a fortune to others–but stories of truly generous wealthy people inspire us. Here’s one such story.
In 1981, business leader and self-made millionaire Eugene Lang looked out at the faces of the 59 African-American and Puerto Rican sixth-graders who had come to hear him speak. Years earlier, Lang had attended this same school in East Harlem. Now, he wondered how he could get these children to listen to him. What could he say to inspire these students when, statistically, most would probably drop out of school before graduation?
Finally, scrapping his notes, he spoke from his heart. “Stay in school,” he told them. “If you do, I’ll help pay the college tuition for every one of you.”
At that moment, he changed the life of every student in the room. For the first time, they had hope–hope of achieving more than their older brothers and sisters, hope of living a better life than their parents and neighbors.
Six years later, nearly 90 percent of that class graduated from high school, and true to his promise, Lang made it possible for them to attend college. A few years later he founded the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, which has supported similar projects in 57 cities, assisted by more than 200 sponsors helping more than 12,000 disadvantaged students with academic support and guidance through high school and a college education.
There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “If you continually give, you will continually have.” It’s a perfect formula for building a significant team and a significant life. Remember, your legacy is not about what acquire. It is about what you leave behind.
The Difference Between Good And Great | Sticking with It . In business and in life, the game is usually won by those who can consistently execute a well-thought-out strategy. In other words, winners stick with it—they practice adherence. Adherence is the ability to consistently execute. Not coincidentally, the word “adherence” appears to have originated in the 1500s from the French word “adherer,” which means “to stick to.” Adherence is the critical link between strategy (knowing) and results (doing). Therefore, it is the solution to the knowing-doing gap. Winning requires adherence because successful execution of your plan is not a one-time event but rather steady progress over an extended period of time.
The art of adherence is a lot like growing Indian Thorny bamboo, which is native to Asia. Like many bamboo species, when this particular seed is planted, it requires the right amount of watering, sunlight, care, and feeding. It takes up to two years of this kind of careful attention for the bamboo to build a strong root structure, which is not visible above ground. However, once the sprout finally breaks through the earth, the Indian Thorny bamboo can grow up to 100 feet in a month! When you consistently sharpen focus, build competence, and ignite passion, you build a strong foundation for adherence.
Initially, you may not see many tangible results. But rest assured that things are happening beyond your sight. Adherence is growing. Leaders and team members begin to stick with it, to execute their plans consistently. Your team builds momentum as it adheres to its plan and achieves small goals that lead to bigger goals. The required effort decreases over time as actions become habits. Momentum continues to build, resulting in a self-reinforcing cycle of achievement. Then, seemingly overnight, your results will multiply.
Principles I Live By | For years, I have written personal “Letters from Lee/Dad” to my wife and each of my three children on birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, Christmas and other special occasions. It might contain a blessing, a poem, words of wisdom, encouragement or all of the above. It has become a special ritual for us. On a recent birthday of mine, I decided to write a letter to my entire family (vs. the usual personal letters) to share my beliefs in writing, just as a leader expresses values and beliefs to his/her team. Then, I thought it might be worth sharing it with you. So, below is an excerpt. Regardless of your personal beliefs, I hope you find an encouraging nugget for your team, family or even for yourself. I also hope you choose to share what YOU believe with those who are most important to you. One last note: I perform some of the supporting behaviors below reasonably consistently, but most of them I have to work at every day … and have a long way to go. We are all works in progress.
My 10 Beliefs – Respect the 3 P’s: People, Property and Perspectives
– Leave people, places and situations in a better condition than when I arrived. Leave places in better physical condition by cleaning up, and leave people in a better emotional/psychological condition by building them up.
– Look for common ground vs. differences. No matter how different people might appear, typically, we have more similarities if I look for them.
– Seek first to understand others before seeking to be understood (thanks to Stephen Covey).
2. Do more than is expected before is it asked of you (take initiative, anticipate others’ needs). This only occurs when I think of others more than myself.
3. Give more grace to others than I think is necessary, because at some point I will need more grace than I think.
- It is not my job to judge others. I can leave that to God.
4. I will make mistakes in action and judgment. When I do:
- Apologize for what I did or thought (not for the consequence but for my actions).
- Ask what I can do to make it right (if the answer is nothing, then I need to think of something to do).
- Do it as soon as I am able, no matter how uncomfortable.
- Then, move on.
5. Success in any form is not my own – it is owned by God who blessed me with:
- Certain gifts that make me unique.
- Parents who afforded me the opportunities to develop certain skills.
- People who supported my efforts along the way.
6. Everything starts and ends with our relationships – with God first, then family.
7. I can serve God by encouraging and equipping others to do their best:
- Show genuine interest by asking questions and listening without distractions (tame my technology).
- Be a resource to connect people to other people, tools or places that can help them.
- I believe what Zig Ziglar said, “You can have all the success you want if you only help enough other people get all the success they want.”
8. Perseverance and hard work beat natural talent every day. Continue pressing on long after the feeling to do so has left me. Don’t let my mood control my actions and choices. Every success and trial is an opportunity to become a better version of myself. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1:4
9. I believe that Jesus died for my sins, and that I cannot be all He wants me to be without keeping Him in my heart through: Daily reading of scripture, prayer and yielding to His will. Doing my best and trust God to do the rest. Faithful actions that support my faithful beliefs.
10. There are few, if any, neutral thoughts, words or actions: Watch your thoughts; They become your words. Watch your words; They become your actions. Watch your actions; They become your habits. Watch your habits; They become your character Watch your character; It becomes your destiny. – Frank Outlaw
How I Use My Mind | Choice: Reaction or Response? The power of choice is one of the greatest gifts we are given. In fact, it is so important that the privilege of choice is removed from prison inmates as a form of punishment. Although we make many choices every hour of the day, we rarely make neutral choices. Each choice has a positive or negative consequence for us at some level.
Our attitude toward life is the most important choice we make! Let’s look at why such a simple choice – embracing a positive or negative attitude – is more challenging than it appears for many people. The bottom line is that we often forget that we have the power to choose. We relinquish it subconsciously, because we make thousands of decisions daily – about 95% of them are subconscious.
Just think of the last time you were in deep thought about your plans for the evening while driving home from work. As you pull into your driveway you wonder to yourself, “How did I get home?” The car seemed to practically drive itself home. Driving is a relatively complex task, requiring many choices along the way – turn right, turn left, slow down, stop and change lanes. Still, driving home can be successfully performed almost subconsciously. So, consider the multitude of much smaller choices we make each day that we don’t really think about: waking up, brushing our teeth, saying “good morning” to a colleague, eating our lunch, performing a repetitive job duty and so on. Subconscious actions are useful most of the time, but we must also consciously choose our attitude in order to control our results.
Our ability to choose is a gift, but it is also a huge responsibility. No matter what today’s ‘it’s not my fault’ culture encourages, we are all ultimately responsible for our own choices. In fact, I like to write the word “responsibility” as response – ability. As humans, we have the unique ability to respond. It is a choice we make, although many times an instantaneous or subconscious choice.
Here’s a scenario repeated daily. Family dinners are important at the Smith house. Jim and Jane Smith and their two children (Jonnie, age 3 and Janie, age 4) have just seated themselves at the table. Before the first bite of dinner is enjoyed, Jonnie spills his milk and it goes everywhere.
A reaction to this event: “Not again, Jonnie! Every time we eat, this happens. Think, son, think! Do you want to eat in your room from now on?”
A response to this event: “Uh Oh, Jonnie. Let’s get a sponge and clean this up so you can eat your dinner.”
When you react, you make a purely emotional and subconscious decision. Often, because of how your experiences and prior choices have programmed your subconscious mind, your reactions do not help you achieve the best results.
On the other hand, when you respond to a situation, you make a constructive and conscious decision. That’s why there are Emergency Response Teams not Emergency Reaction Teams:
- When you simply react, your emotional instinct is in control, with little thought of the long-range consequences.
- When you respond, your brain is fully engaged and your self-awareness is high. You have the long-term consequences in mind.
We all experience plenty of negative situations and people. The key is to be prepared to consciously respond to these negative inputs. Choosing to respond instead of react helps us to positively orchestrate our attitudes….and our lives.
A Script for Orchestrating Attitude. There are three aspects of the script that work in concert: thoughts, words and actions. By orchestrating each aspect with conscious responses, we positively influence our beliefs, commitments and results.
|Orchestrate your …||to positively influence …|
The script plays out like this:
- Thoughts the way we choose to interpret our world, directly influence our beliefs.
- Beliefs directly influence the words we choose to speak to others, and more importantly, to ourselves.
- Words reflect our commitments to ourselves and others.
- Commitments influence our choice of actions.
- Finally, our actions directly influence the results we achieve.
This script is self-reinforcing, for better or for worse. The results we achieve reinforce our thoughts and the same script is played out again. So, it all starts with our thoughts. Our thoughts today influence our results tomorrow.
The left side of the script is the side of choice. Each of us chooses our thoughts, words and actions either consciously or subconsciously. Therefore, we influence the right side of the script – the side of responsibility. We must take responsibility for our beliefs, commitments and results. We are each responsible for the choices we make and the results we ultimately achieve. The ultimate choice is ours – victim or victor?
To illustrate how this script plays out, let’s say I am given a new project to lead. I am confident that the prospects for this project are positive. Therefore, I start thinking about how to ensure its success and how I can measure the benefits of the project deliverables. I also think about my talented project team, knowing they will need to go above and beyond to achieve success on this project. My kick-off e-mail contains words like “excited,” “opportunity,” “talented team,” “creative solutions” and “positive impact.” My team members speak and react in kind, “boomeranging” my winning attitude back to me. Meetings are crisp, roles are clearly defined and decisions are made collaboratively, yet quickly.The expected challenges, even the seemingly big ones, are handled professionally and swiftly because the team knows that failure is not an option, and there are many pathways to success. My thoughts and words have already predisposed the team to acting in alignment with my expectation of success. And our eventual success predisposes me to the same thoughts, words and actions on the next project. This is when the powerful, self-reinforcing script will be played again.Orchestrating attitude creates a beautiful human symphony. The result is a person of integrity who gets the best from him/herself and others.
Lessons I Have Learnt | Having spent the past 25 years both serving leaders and leading others myself, I’ve been fortunate enough to have amassed some practical perspectives on a number of different aspects of business.
- Life’s rewards go to those who let their actions rise above their excuses.
- A life filled with positive attitude is also filled with positive impact.
- Those who give the best of themselves get the best from others.
- A single act does make a difference; it creates a ripple effect that can be felt many miles and people away.
- A good plan gets you into the race, but execution propels you into the winner’s circle.
- Saying “Yes” to one thing always means saying “No” to something else.
- Measure what matters, then manage what you measure.
- A blurred vision yields diffused efforts.
- High revenue growth forgives many sins.
- Growth comes when you get off the treadmill of working in the business and step into the eagle’s nest to work on the business.
- The entrepreneur says, “The next deal is king,” while the leader says, “The customer is king.”
- Those who underestimate the intelligence of their employees generally overestimate their own.
- Great leaders appreciate their employees, not just their contributions.
- Employees who are searching for answers typically fill in the blanks with the worst case scenario.
- Live your company values before you communicate them.
Dealing With Doubt | Did you know that you talk more to yourself than to anyone else in the world? In the face of challenging situations (and we all have our share), the words you choose for that conversation with yourself will directly impact how long you will find yourself in those situations.
Use your words to change your situation, not to describe it. The moment you speak something – good or bad – you give birth to it as an idea, an expectation, a desire. You have planted the seed that will, sooner or later, grow into the results you will reap.
When you’re feeling somewhat down-spirited, don’t tell people how you feel, tell them how you want to feel. By controlling what you say and how you say it – using positive words with enthusiasm – you help to change your physical and mental state.
I remember the year I started my own business. I jokingly refer to it as “the year I told a million lies” because I spent a lot of time talking myself up. Let me explain. Like most start-up businesses, I had my share of challenges, disappointments and adjustments. I recall many well-intended friends asking me, “Hey, Lee, how’s your business coming along?” I could have described my situation by saying, “Gee, it’s been a tough year. I have had to really dig into my savings to keep things going and it’s been a lot harder than I thought it would be to convert my existing business relationships into paying customers. To boot, it’s a lot more work than I thought it would be.”
That type of response would not only drag my friends down – and no one wants to hang around a downer for too long – it would have planted the seeds of doom for my business. Instead, I chose to use my words to change my situation. I wasn’t telling a lie, I was simply “choosing my view” in response to my friends’ inquiries. So, I said something like, “I feel good about my prospects and am confident that I am doing the right things that will pay off long-term. Most importantly, I am passionate about my work and that’s a victory in itself.” My words planted the seeds of the success that was to come.
Most people enjoy working and living with people who live and work with a positive, upbeat attitude.
Tell people how you want to feel and it won’t be long before you do. So, the next time you are feeling gloomy and a friend asks you how you are doing, talk yourself up!
The Meaning Of Life | To fulfill my God-given purpose here on Earth by using my God-given gifts to serve others and glorify God. In our business, our purpose is to inspire and equip leaders at every level with:
- Cut-through-the-clutter consulting and coaching
- Practical, actionable resources and tools
- High-impact training and speaking.
The Best Advice I’ve Received | Do Not Worry About Knowing Everything
The best advice I ever received was about being resourceful–connecting resources to problems. A very wise graduate school professor told me, “The key to success is not to know everything. The real key is being able to plug up your ignorance within 24 hours.”
Initially, I responded with a chuckle since this advice came from someone who spoke 14 languages fluently, was a black belt martial artist and a competitive racecar driver, in addition to being a college professor! However, once I let these words marinate in my mind, I appreciated how poignant and practical they were. It became a defining moment for me. I gained a quick and heightened appreciation of the value of being resourceful and staying connected.
As a result, I honed my ability to quickly access talent and information, so I could confidently address any challenge. This advice was liberating in that I did not feel like I had to be the expert at everything… or anything for that matter.
It inspired me to build a strong professional network of experts and other resources. Now, in today’s hyper-speed, mega-wired world, the standard for “plugging up your ignorance within 24 hours” has been cut to 8 hours… or less!
Advice On Building Wealth | Purpose before profits.
Find your compelling cause in life. If you do that, you will figure out a way to create wealth with it.
I Am Inspired By | Jesus for all aspects of my life.
- Ken Blanchard and John Maxwell from a business perspective.
- Zig Ziglar from motivational and presenting perspectives.
- There are hundreds of people I interact with daily who can inspire me to be better, whether they are a store clerk, janitor, pastor or a CEO. If we look for excellence we can find it in many different places and faces.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | For people to know that I left each situation, place and person better and more enriched. Most importantly, my family, then everyone else.
Useful Links |
Click here to watch inspiring video of quotes from Lee’s latest book, Stick with It: