Accomplish More by Doing Less

Painting by Deborah Gall

Painting by Deborah Gall

2012 was my “Hurricane Sandy” year.   Business trips found me in the United Kingdom twice and spanning the continental US from California to Texas to Virginia all before September 1st. My husband and I both agreed I was on the road too much and started praying to have more clients located closer to the Nashville area. October of that year found me boarding a plane to fly in to New York   and work with a client as Hurricane Sandy approached.   The night the hurricane made landfall found me training in a circle of candlelight – punctuated by loud explosions and blue lightshows of transformers blowing up outside the window. Stuck in New York for a few days with time to reflect, I decided to take 30 days off at the end of the year to rest and reflect on what was most important in my life. I asked God to teach me His ways.

Toward the end of the 30 days, I read a phrase in Jesus Calling – “If you live this way, you will do less but accomplish far more.” Oh, how I wanted that, but didn’t have a clue what it looked like or how to get there. Fast-forward 2 years and 3 months and I can honestly say I’m accomplishing more by doing less.

For a type A, goal oriented professional like me, getting here has been a struggle. About a year in to my learning curve, I mentioned to my husband how I was working smarter with less hours – and his response was “Yeah, right!”   He lovingly helped me see that as I built boundaries around my work, I also said yes to more volunteer opportunities. I might have been “working less”, but I wasn’t “doing less”. He was right!

I struggled greatly with feeling non-productive and lazy (still do sometimes). Those feelings forced me to look at the truth. I WAS accomplishing more, making a difference, and still having time for family, friends and fun. I had to learn to set boundaries, counting the cost of saying yes. I had to overcome the lie that I needed to do more—work harder—in order to have worth.

There’s been a three-fold benefit in accomplishing more by doing less.

  • I have space in my life. When a unique opportunity comes along, I can say yes because I’m not overwhelmed. This happened in 2014 when I was asked to be a mentor for Miral Dera from Egypt as part of the Laura Bush Women’s Initiative.
  • The quality of my work has deepened. More fruit is evident from coaching, teaching, training, speaking.
  • Peace has been a wonderful blessing. In a 24/7 world that seems to constantly spin faster, an unhurried pace of living – the ability to accomplish more by doing less – brings a deep peace in the midst of the chaos of life. The ways of God are breathtaking.


Next month I’ll be writing about the first and second steps to

accomplishing more and doing less. Stay tuned!

Best Books I Read in 2014


16 stonesBooks have enriched my life, changed my life, and enabled me to see the world through the eyes of others. So as we start 2015, here are the best books I read in 2014. Great leaders are continual learners and books are the entryway to learning. Enjoy!

1) With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani – A challenge to live with God instead of over, under, from or for God. It’s the kind of book you have to read a section of, reflect on, and pray over.

2) The Way Back from Loss by Wayne Hastings. This is a 60 day devotional written by a friend of mine who truly understands the pain and despair of loss. I have given it to friends, family members, and clients – may need to buy another dozen. It could be the next Jesus Calling.

3) 16 Stones: Raising the Level of Your Leadership One Stone at a Time, by Dick Wells. This was a challenging read – two of my favorite (and most convicting) chapters were “Wait” is a Four Letter Word and The Red Zone. Bonus: it’s written by a business leader here in Franklin.

4) Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant. This book is a fascinating look at business leaders who are on two sides of a spectrum – those that generously give to colleagues and even new acquaintances in business, and those who may initially seem generous but are out to get what they can. Grant helps you decipher between the two and understand why a generous heart in business is a research proven way of enhancing your bottom line.

5) A Severe Mercy – by Shelden Vanauken – It’s his life story of marriage, his friendship with CS Lewis, and his faith walk as he watched his wife die. I will remember his story about his dog, freedom and obedience forever.

6) Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg – While I didn’t always agree with her, too often I found myself surprised that women were still struggling with things I experienced 20 years ago. It’s a challenging read for mean and women.

7) Wounded Tiger by T. Martin Bennett – This is the story of the man who led the air raid on Pearl Harbor and one of the Doolittle raiders who first bombed Japan and became a prisoner of war. Fascinating insight into the Japanese-American side of WWII and an inspiring story about how loving your enemies honors God.

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”   Ray Bradbury

Four Questions for Leading Yourself

How much time do you spend leading yourself?

I ask my coaching clients and MBA students that question early in ourFullSizeRender relationship. Looking at the compass here, do this exercise: If you took 100% of your time on an average week at work, what percentage would be spent:

  • Leading your boss/supervisor?
  • Leading your peers?
  • Leading your direct reports?
  • Leading yourself?

Your total numbers should add up to 100.

While the answers around the outside of the compass may vary depending on the industry and managerial level you find yourself in, the answer at the center of the compass should be 50%.

Research in emotional intelligence emphatically indicates that the ability to lead yourself well is a 2 to 1 predictor of success in the workplace – regardless of industry. How well you know yourself and to manage yourself in a variety of leadership situations and conflicts enables you to positively influence the people on the outside of the compass.

Leading yourself can include:

  • Learning and growing as a leader
  • Knowing your triggers in conflict and modifying your behaviors to deescalate the conflict
  • Understanding how you respond to change and choosing the best options that enable others to embrace change
  • Identifying when you are “stressed out” and making choices to reduce stress
  • Recognizing when to listen and when to respond

So as you start 2015, ask these questions about leading yourself.

  • How can the people around the outside of the compass tell that you have their best interests at heart? What actions and behaviors let them know you are there to serve?
  • When did integrity win? When did you make a choice to do the right thing, for the right reasons, despite the potential cost to you personally?
  • What progress did you make in living out your core values – personally and professionally? Would someone observing you from the outside be able to identify what’s most important to you?
  • How did your leadership produce fruit? Whose life was blessed because you took the time to invest in him or her?

Leading yourself is a process. You’ll make great strides and then slip backwards. Don’t beat yourself up when you struggle and make wrong choices. Just enjoy the process of becoming a leader who produces lasting fruit.

Start at the Finish Line

Harold Coker

I’d often heard Harold Coker tell the story of how he went into the tire business. Born in a log cabin in NC, and the first in his family to receive a college education, he founded Coker Tire in 1958. His parents sold their home to loan him the start up money. He made sure he cared and honored them for the rest of their lives, including buying them a home to replace the one they had sold. Harold built Coker Tire into the largest supplier of collector car tires and wheels in the world. A man of leadership and integrity, His word was as good as gold. What I didn’t know until his passing last month was the depth of the generosity in his heart and his ability to see other’s through the eyes of Jesus.

Over 3000 people attended the visiting service at the funeral home in Chattanooga. They stood in line for long hours in order to pay their respects to a man who had made a difference in their lives. When his sons and daughter would ask how they knew Dad, the stories flowed.

“ I couldn’t afford new tires, and told Harold that, but he told me to give me what I had. He put tires on my car and gave me $10 back…”

“ I had no money to get new tires, so Harold put me on a payment plan. After paying $20 for three months, he said my account was paid off…”

“He gave me a job when no one else would…”

“I didn’t have the courage to go into business on my own, but Harold walked me through and mentored me as I began the journey…”

Harold Coker chose well, led well, and finished well. He left a legacy of faith, integrity, leadership, generosity, and family.

Unfortunately, only 1 in 3 leaders finishes well. (Dr. Robert Clinton) Some crash and burn from a lack of integrity. Others make poor choices in life and leadership and never achieve the potential their lives represented.

If you want to finish well, you have to start at the finish line. What choices are you making each day? What are you learning from others? How do you pour your life experiences and wisdom into the next generation? What legacy will you leave for those around you?


Top 10 Ways to Lead Yourself

baseball hat

It was 6:30 am when he came in the building wearing a green baseball hat. Had he been at any other YMCA in Chicago, it wouldn’t have been an issue, but this YMCA was in the heart of Cabrini Green, a housing project rife with gangs. Depending on how a hat was worn, and its color, it could constitute a gang sign, so we had a “no hats” policy in the facility. At 6:35 am, one of my staff members came to tell me a man was refusing to take off his cap. I went out to meet him, knowing that once he understood the reason behind our policy, he’d be happy to comply.

Boy, was I wrong! After telling him why we had the policy, he simply said, “I’m an FBI agent and I’m wearing my $@# hat!” It was then I had an amygdala hijack as my emotional brain swamped my rational one. He’d made a power play and I wasn’t to be outdone. So I informed him that if he failed to take off his hat, I’d have his membership revoked. Needless to say, the conflict went south from there. I had failed to lead myself well.

If you want to lead well and have a positive impact on both those around you and your company or organization, then 50% of your time should be spent in leading yourself. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about this and it’s become the centerpiece of the MBA leadership classes I teach at Lipscomb University. So today I’m sharing with you the top 10 things I’ve learned over my career about leading myself.

  • I’ve made a lot of mistakes and poor choices. I need to own them when they happen, apologize, and take immediate action to rebuild trust.
  • I am consistently reading, studying, and going to conferences. Only by expanding the information I expose myself to can I grow and become a better leader, consultant, and coach.
  • I love change, but 75% of people don’t. So I have to slow the process down and give them an opportunity to get on board.
  • When holding someone accountable, it’s important that I balance grace (understanding and giving them room to fail) with truth (making sure they know what not to do – or to do – next time).
  • When I have one of those days where everything seems to go wrong, and I just know I’m going to take the next person’s head off when they walk through my door, I take a walk, or go down the street to get an iced tea at Starbucks. Cooling off prevents amygdala hijacks.
  • I’m a bullet point communicator – short and sweet. But only 30% of the population is like me, so I need to modify my communication style in order to better serve the person I’m going to be working with.
  • I’ve spent a lot of time understanding what I most value in my life and then creating a values vision statement. This helps me hold myself accountable to live a life of integrity and purpose. (email me at if you’d like a copy)
  • When someone asks me to a make a commitment, I wait at least 24 hours to give them an answer. In that time, I weigh the cost of the commitment and how I’ll really feel when the time comes to engage. If it’s not in line with my focus and values, I’m learning to say no.
  • I am a Jesus follower. Jesus taught “whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant…” Doing anything other than servant leadership, for me, lacks integrity.
  • My ability to lead others decreases during times of stress. My tendency is to work harder and sacrifice more, in order to get the job done. That only further decreases my ability to lead. I need courageous friends around me who will hold me accountable and help me pull out of the self-sacrifice flywheel.


Nine Minute Moments


In my last blog, I shared the painful struggle of being fired over 20 years ago. As a result, I began a 20+ year journey of learning to choose well, lead well, and finish well.

Being fired all those years ago was an incredibly painful experience. I lost confidence in my abilities, felt like a total failure, and simply wanted to crawl into a dark cave and lick my wounds. I seriously thought about giving up my YMCA career and starting all over in a new field. I had to make a choice. While on the surface the choice was between two career options, in reality it was a choice to either pull out of the self-criticizing death spiral I was in or let failure win. When you’re in the never ending cycle of defeating thoughts, it’s pure choice to replace those negative thoughts with ones that start to speak truth to your soul about who you are and Whose you are. Choose truth.

Last month, a former colleague and friend asked me to attend his retirement celebration. I put it on my calendar, but when the day arrived I started to hear excuses building in my head:

  • It would take 40 minutes to get downtown.
  • Parking would be atrocious.
  • I had so much to do, that not going would make my day much easier.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because I had wrestled with a very similar issue a couple of years ago and wrote about it. Yet here I was faced with the same choice. I had choose to remember the lesson I’d learned then – relationships trump to do lists. Choose relationship.

Dan Webster is the founder of Authentic Leadership ( and a mentor. He has a phrase he uses – nine-minute moments. If you add up all the seconds that first-string NFL players are actually blocking, tackling, throwing, etc,  the total live action in a game is 9-12 minutes. Yet they prepare physically, mentally, and strategically over 80 hours for that one contest in order to raise their potential to make a difference in the football game.

I relate that to our choices. Each and every day we make little choices that don’t seem to have much impact. We choose what meeting to attend, when to speak up, what we listen to, when to confront and when to avoid. The right small choices prepare us for our nine-minute moments. Those times are when relationships hang in the balance, when truth is challenged, when your gut is clenching and your heart pounding because you know making the difficult but right choice has huge consequences – personally and professionally.

What nine-minute moments are you facing? Choose well.

The Gift of “You’re Fired!”

New City YMCA at Cabrini


These were the words I heard from across a table on a Monday morning over 20 years ago. I was stunned. I had two hours to pack my office and leave. It was the first big failure in my life. But as I look back now, it was also a time when God decided to teach me about integrity.

When I interviewed for the job, one of the questions I’d asked was whether they functioned well as a team. The answer had been a resounding YES, accompanied by stories of their support of each other. The reality, however, was something very different. Brittle laughter could be heard in staff meetings when a joke was cracked—usually at the expense of another staff person. They didn’t know how to function as a team, and I didn’t know how to build a team. Between backbiting, sarcasm, and a general lack of respect, I was miserable. I can look back now and know that I lacked the integrity to build trust and to lead. While I said that I was there to serve them, in reality this job was just another rung on a ladder to my dream job. Because my faith didn’t match my words, which didn’t match my actions, my pride was all they could see.

In the middle of my misery, I got a call to interview for a position in Chicago’s inner city, at a YMCA in one of the worst housing projects in the United States, Cabrini Green. Weeks before a little 6-year-old boy named Dantrell Davis had been gunned down in gang crossfire while he walked to school with his mom.

Surely God didn’t want me to go there?

I decided to go to the interview, but only for the experience. The Friday interview was a one-day process and as fast and tough as I’ve ever experienced; half-hour slots with various leaders and board members; little time with the people I would lead; and an offer of employment at 3:30 that same afternoon. I told them I would let them know my decision by the end of the weekend. I prayed, I wrestled—and I decided God surely could not intend for a young, white woman from a farm in Indiana to go serve in Cabrini Green. And so I turned down the position on Sunday evening.

On Monday morning when I arrived at work, I heard the words, “You’re fired!” They said, “Nancy, you can really run a YMCA, but we’re not sure anyone would climb the mountain with you to plant the flag”.   I could picture the image of Iwo Jima in my mind, but I didn’t know why anyone wouldn’t climb with me!  With my stomach tied in knots and my body shaking, I called my husband. He came over with some boxes and we packed up my office. In the middle of packing, the phone rang—it was the leadership in Chicago, wondering why I had said no and what it would take for me to reconsider. My heart pounded so hard I was sure they could hear it over the phone.

How do I sound nonchalant and calm, considering what I’m going through, and tell them I would like to reconsider?

My fear and pride kicked in. I was afraid if I said yes, they’d think something was wrong or know I had been fired. So I explained how hurried I had felt through the interview process and requested permission to come up and spend time individually with each person I would be supervising.

That same week, while driving to Chicago for the second interview, the story of Jonah came on a radio program I was listening to in my car. Jonah—you know, the guy God told to go to Nineveh. Instead Jonah said no way and headed for Tarshish. God let him spend some think time in the belly of a fish in order for him to see the light. I realized God was speaking to me as directly as He ever had in my life—Cabrini Green was my Nineveh.

God took me to Cabrini Green to learn about integrity and leadership, His way.  The words I heard when I was fired set me a course to learn about this “leadership thing”.

Today, while painful, I know that experience was one of the best character and leadership development experiences of my career.  I learned how to choose well, lead well, and how to finish well.  In upcoming musings, I’ll share the lessons learned and encourage you to choose well, lead well, and finish well.

4 Blogs Worth Following


I get a lot of e-newsletters and blog notices in my inbox. Very few are ones I’ll save or flag to read later.  Here are four that top my list.  Three are about leadership, one is about your stomach!  Enjoy!

UnCommon Leadership  – Ed Chaffin

I like how Ed Chaffin thinks!  He coaches all over the world and focuses on the people issues we all face.

Leading with Trust – Randy Conley

Randy is the Vice President of Client Services & Trust Practice Leader for The Ken Blanchard Companies.  He was selected as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders and writes a great blog on trust in leadership that is highly practical.


Intentional Leadership – Michael Hyatt

Michael Hyatt is the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers.  His blog in intentional leadership is down to earth and practical.


Evins Mill – Gastronomy

Not only a great retreat and get-away place, but fabulous food – and the chef shares his recipes here.


Confessions of a Workaholic


“Hi, Nancy!  How are you?  Busy?”

“Actually, just right!”

That’s my response when someone asks me how I am.  If you’ve been following this newsletter for the last year, you know that I set a goal in 2013 to accomplish more by doing less.  I wanted an unhurried pace of living that would enable me to serve clients, spend time with family, and focus on what is most important.  I’m a little surprised and a little in awe that I’ve achieved it.  Now I don’t want to mess it up. I know I could, because I have red shiny ball syndrome.  Each new idea or concept can take me off my plan and path.

I have been a workaholic all my life – working long hours, achieving goals, and taking on new challenges.  But over the last few years, things other than achievement and work began to have more value in my life.  So last January, I made a commitment to back off my pace.  It wasn’t easy or simple.  In fact, I’m confessing my struggles to you.  I hope in doing so, it encourages me to stay the course and gives you the courage to try the same.

1)      A voice in my head still tells me I’m not doing enough.  I’m learning to override that voice.  I have my values posted in a frame on my desk, and my values vision statement in the same frame.  When that nagging voice goes off, I look at those values and remind myself that right now I’m living values intentionally.  It feels good!

2)      As my time started to be less programmed by work, I started to fill that spare time with volunteer opportunities.  About 4 months in, my husband challenged me.  I told someone I’d done well in prioritizing my time.  He said I’d just shifted emphasis.  He was right.  I had to make some tough decisions about what to say no to

3)      I’ve struggled with fear.  “What if” questions pop into my head.  What if my clients interpret my new approach as negative?  What if I’m perceived as lazy?  What if revenue takes a hit?  I’ve had to keep my eyes focused on what was most important and not let fear keep me from trying a new approach.

In my book, The Dichotomy of Power, I wrote “If we face fear, embrace, fear, overcome fear, we can lead with courage.  We can live with integrity.”  2013 was a year of putting my words into actions.  The benefits have far outweighed the costs.  No more chasing red shiny balls.

5 Best Books I Read in 2013

“There are worse crimes than burning books.  One of them is not reading them.”     – Ray Bradbury

Books have enriched my life, changed my life, and enabled me to see the world through the eyes of others.  So as we start 2014, here are the best books I’ve read in 2013.  Buy one, read it, then give it away.

I’ve Got Your Back:  Biblical Principles for Leading and Following Well by James C. Galvin.  This jewel of a book on leadership should be a must read for everyone.  Galvin creates a story of 4 young professionals who all work for bad bosses.  As he weaves the story, the 4 search out a Christian coach who helps them understand the concepts of how to follow well, how to lead a bad boss, and how to lead in ways that honor God. His insights into God’s original design for leadership as a dance between leadership and followership are powerful and life changing.

To Sell is Human:  The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel H. Pink.  I have to admit that another book on selling was low on my radar.  But once I picked up this book and started reading, it was hard to put down.  His premise is everyone sells – whether we are in the sales profession or simply trying to “persuade, influence or convince others in ways that don’t involve making a purchase”.  Pink’s book includes practical ideas to improve our ability to “sell”, interweaving concepts of emotional intelligence, power, trust and integrity.

George Washington’s Secret Six:  The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade.   I have always loved reading about American Revolution history and this book was a fascinating page turner.  I expected a historical fiction book, instead I got historical fact told as a story.  As you read about six unknown names of Revolution heroes, you’ll learn about leadership, community, commitment, and how pride can change the course of history.

Deep & Wide:  Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend by Andy Stanley.

The participants in our Pastors Leadership Academy will be reading this book.  Stanley gives us a painful glimpse into the politics of the church world, then provides a framework for keeping your focus on the mission and vision of Christ’s call to make disciples.  His insights on vision, change, and leadership are invaluable for anyone leading in a faith based ministry.

The Tortoise and the Hare , an Aesop Fable.  This one’s on my annual reading list.  It’s the best book I know to remind us of the importance of focus in our lives and our careers.  The Tortoise, who should have lost to the much faster hare, wins the race because he didn’t take his eyes off the goal line.

Blissful Reading!