New Season Comes at Just the Right Time

One of the wonderful things about the seasons of our Creator: each one comes at just the right time. I celebrated a 10-year season of working with The Human Capital Group in October.   When I joined in 2006, I had no idea just how much of a sweet spot it would be for me. Coaching and consulting have enabled me to use my gifts, skills and experience to make a real difference in the lives of others. HCG is a fabulous place to work and I have so enjoyed the journey. I am grateful for this deeply rewarding season of my life.

In 2012, I heard Sandra Hatcher, a retired Merrill Lynch executive, speak on personal finance. She shared her testimony about going from a ‘driven’ personality to a season of retirement, waiting patiently for projects that God brought to her attention. I was really intrigued her story, and met her for lunch to talk learn more. I thought it would be great one day to have enough margin in my life to do the same, but I also struggled with the idea of retirement. I just don’t see that concept in Scripture.

Fast-forward a few years, and I can now see such a season approaching. I am not using the word retiring, as I have clearly heard the Lord say that a new season of service is coming – one where I have the time and energy to say yes. My husband calls it “refiring” – the opportunity to step back, refresh and renew, and to respond when the Lord calls. I have no idea what opportunities to serve the Kingdom lie ahead, but that is part of the wonderful adventure of following Him. He always comes up with bigger ideas than I could ever dream of.

I will be leaving HCG as a senior consultant on December 10th for this new season in my life. Steve has requested that I stay on as an internal advisor. No phone number, email or work with outside clients, but I will be available to provide insight and guidance to the team, and I’m excited to have that opportunity.

I am delighted to be able to announce that Ginger Duncan will be joining The Human Capital Group as senior consultant and executive coach on January 1st. With over 20 years’ experience in leadership development, coaching, facilitation and training, plus 11 years leading the talent development function in a corporate setting, Ginger has extensive experience partnering with organizations to guide strategic business alignment. Ginger received two undergraduate degrees from University of Massachusetts Boston and two graduate degrees from Murray State University in Kentucky. She is certified as a Master Coach from the Behavioral Coaching Institute and is certified in numerous assessments. Ginger is a woman of integrity and faith and will be a true partner for anyone who wants to raise their level of leadership, strategy and effectiveness. You can reach her at

I would love to stay connected and will be blogging about my new season at My email will be

Finally, I want to share with you a quote from Dan Webster that has had a deep impact in my life.

 “Am I impacting people because they admire my leadership savvy and skills 

or are they impacted by my character and the beauty of my soul?”

I know this season in my life is coming at just His time. Grace and peace – Nancy

Do You Have The Rose Petal Touch?

French Lick Resort in Indiana has been chosen as the best Historic resort in the UScustomer service and they are well known for their customer service.  Great hotels and resorts do little things that say they care. I had the opportunity to stay there recently and was very impressed by my entire experience.  When my friend and I had dinner one evening at the 1875 Restaurant, we were delighted to each be given a long stemmed red rose. It turns out they do that for all women who dine in the restaurant. That’s a little thing that says “You’re special”.

As we left the restaurant, I noticed some red rose petals on a couch and the floor in the lobby near the restaurant. I assumed a child had played with Mom’s rose and left the petals behind. It was only as I walked around the lobby that I realized management had strategically place red rose petals in various places. As I sat in the lobby and talked to my husband by phone, I realized that the petals on the floor at my feet made me feel valued and special. I was blown away at that tiny choice by management to make my stay even more special.

They had “rose petal touch” customer service.

Here are “rose petal touches” I’ve experienced over the years:

  • The Blue Pearl emergency vet, who had to put our dog to sleep, sent us flowers and a donation in our name to the Humane Society.
  • The Staples copy employee who personally brought me my copies after a mistake was made in the completion time.
  • Costco gave me a no hassle refund when my printer went bad one week after the manufacturer’s warranty expired.
  • The 1875 Restaurant that gave me a long stemmed red rose – with the thorns removed.

What’s your “rose petal touch”? What small choices and actions do you take that say to your clients, customers, or patients they are valued and special?

3 Reasons We Don’t Fire Poor Performers

three wise monkeys

What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in the area of leading people?

The number one answer, according to a report by Ram Charan, Consultant and former Harvard Business School professor, is “waiting too long to remove a direct report who wasn’t matched to the job.”

I made that mistake as a first time manager at the YMCA. I had a swim instructor who was wonderful and got rave reviews from all the parents, but he had a reliability problem. The YMCA was in Bloomington, IN during the reign of Bobby Knight, and you could count on the fact that anytime there was a basketball game or a concert, he wouldn’t show up for lifeguarding shifts. I gave him lots of chances before I finally let him go. When I did, the other staff all thought my boss had prevented me from firing him. That wasn’t the case. The reluctance to fire him was my fault. I lacked the managerial courage to do what needed to be done.

There are three reasons that we justify not firing people who aren’t a fit.

  1. I can fix them. We rationalize that with enough coaching, or discussions, or encouragement, they’ll turn it around. While that is a noble approach, it soon becomes apparent when they can’t be “fixed”.
  2. Better the devil I know than the one I don’t. This was my reasoning. It was hard to find great instructors, so I lived with his faults until I got too frustrated. I was afraid I wouldn’t find anyone as good at teaching as he was. That fear should have been a clue – and has now become a sign that I need to step back and reflect on the situation.
  3. He/she isn’t really hurting the team. I can also own this one. I didn’t understand the negative impact his behavior and my failure to hold him accountable was having on my team. Once the young man was released, team morale improved over time. Staff began to trust that everyone would be held accountable – equally.

Leaders of integrity set high expectations, work with staff to achieve those expectations, and hold ALL staff accountable for their work. They also quickly move to replace people who aren’t a fit, and they hire someone who has a high level of competence, character, and interpersonal skills.

As a first time manager, that lesson about holding employees accountable was a powerful one and has paid huge benefits in every position I’ve held since then.

  • How’s your managerial courage?
  • Is there one or more of these three reasons holding you back from doing what you know must be done?

How’s Your Core of Excellence?

Apple no core

Have you ever heard a message that sounded great at the beginning, but as the message went on, you realized there was something wrong? A 28-minute video entitled A Spirit of Excellence was recently recommended to me.

The speaker’s audience was business people. His focus was the impact that a spirit of excellence can have on your life and on your business. Performing with excellence gives you influence that others don’t have. At this point, I was all in. But as the minutes ticked by, I sensed that something was missing. As he began to give illustrations of excellence and non-excellence, every single one was about how well you’re dressed, if your kids are messed up, if your store is clean, etc. I realized his message rang hollow because he was focusing on the outside—on image—while having a core of integrity was missing!

My grandfather owned an apple orchard, and I would often go visit on crisp, fall days and pick my very own red delicious apple from the tree. I would bite into it and experience a loud crunch as I bit into the apple and, then, the explosion of sweetness as the juices dribbled onto my tongue. It’s an excellent fruit and one of my favorites. But without the core of the apple, which contains the seeds, there would be no fruit. It’s the same with leadership.

After 35+ years in the workplace, I am an absolute believer in doing all you do with excellence. But excellence isn’t created unless you start at the core. As character and integrity grow, our choices to pursue excellence have greater and greater influence by planting seeds that produce more excellence.

Planting seeds of humility, wisdom, peace, mercy, justice, honesty, respect, and grace do more for the next generation of leaders than you can imagine. We need more leaders who have solid cores of integrity to plant seeds so that the fruit of excellence is evident in the next generation of leaders.

Take a moment to be deeply honest with yourself. Using the continuum below, diagnose the current level of your integrity by placing an X on the continuum.

Inconsistent words & actions                                                             Consistent words & actions

Focus on getting what I want                                                              Focus on mutual benefit

Win at all costs                                                                                   Inspire trust to produce results


How’s your core? Are you leading with integrity and planting seeds of excellence?

But as for me, I shall walk in integrity. Psalm 26:11

A Prerequisite for Exceptional Leaders

LIncoln internet

During the 2008 election, David Letterman took to the streets and interviewed voters.  He showed Obama supporters McCain’s positions and asked them if that’s why they were voting for Obama.  They said yes.  Then he showed McCain supporters Obama’s positions – and they too agreed that’s why they were voting for McCain.

That was a seminal moment for me.  I realized how the lack of critical thinking training and skills in this country was impacting our way of life.  Critical thinking improves the quality of your decisions and your integrity by enabling you to be informed by the thoughts of others, the evidence, and your core values. 

I taught a class on critical thinking at Belmont University as adjunct faculty for two years.  We looked at various issues in the US and applied CT skills.  Whether our classes revolved around the fight for civil rights, the power of voting, religious movements in the US, the influence of advertising, or choosing integrity, the discussions were lively and deep.  One student who went on to law school has stayed in touch and shared with me how much the class changed her perspective.

There aren’t any studies I can find that show how many people practice thinking critically.  My best estimate would be that 75-80 % of the population doesn’t practice it at any level   This is demonstrated by people who simply repeat what they’ve heard, or take a side without being able to defend their choice.  Have you ever received an email or seen a Facebook post that seems flat out wrong?  I once got one that pictured an Al Qaeda march in Michigan.  When I researched the photo, I found it was originally taken in Pakistan and then used by someone to foment fear and anger.  Those who simply forwarded it or shared it were failing to think for themselves and had a negative impact on others. 

That leaves 20-25% of the population who may be applying some critical thinking skills.  When done well, it includes researching and analyzing both sides of an issue, then looking for evidence you can observe that supports the side you think is strongest.  At the highest level, critical thinking then merges your analysis of the issues with your values and includes subjective thought.

Robert E. Lee practiced critical thinking in April1865 when he made a choice to defy President Jefferson Davis and commit what could be considered treason and insubordination when he surrendered to General Grant.  His letters gives us glimpses into his struggle between what was commanded vs. what was right. He analyzed both the arguments for surrender and for continuing the fight, looked at the evidence around him that supported both, merged his thinking with his faith, and choose to surrender.   His choice was the beginning of the end of our civil war.

As we face challenges in our companies and our country in the coming years, as leaders, we MUST learn to practice critical thinking in our own lives.  For those we work with and do life with, we must also teach and model it.  A prerequisite for exceptional leaders is encouraging discussions and debates of issues that are done with critical thinking, respect and dignity. 

Did you know Hitler won leadership over the Nazi party in 1923 by ONE vote?  How might that outcome have been different had one more person thought more deeply about his or her choice?  How could your life, your leadership, and your integrity be changed by critical thinking? 

Accomplish More by Doing Less – Part 2

Hare and Tortoise 001

When I wrote about my struggle to accomplish more by doing less last month, I struck a cord for a lot of you. One reader shared this: “I travel almost weekly. To catch flights I’m up many mornings around 4 am. Last night I arrived home at 10:30 pm. The easiest thing to give up is my “quiet time” for prayer, reading or meditation or exercise…all of which I need to stay healthy and productive.”

It is a hard struggle to shut down the years of a performance driven life and to willfully choose to live your life in a way that has greater benefits – for both yourself and for those you lead. So, if you’d like to accomplish more by doing less – here are the 4 choices I made that enabled me to live with margin in my life.

1) Determine your true north, figuring out what is most important to you. It forms your “rules of engagement” with the world. Check out my 2011 blog on that topic.  Finding Your ‘True North’

2) Once you define true north, do a cost benefit analysis of your current activities. It involves four questions to ask yourself before you say “YES”.  4 Prioritization Questions

3) Answer this question around focus. What good things will you not do so you can do great things? One of the best business books ever written is the Aesop fable “The Tortoise and The Hare”. The tortoise wins a race he should never have won by simply keeping his eye on the finish line.

4) Master your fears. As you start to focus and make intentional choices, fear (false expectations assumed real) will raise its ugly head. “What if” questions will start rattling around your brain.
• What if…clients see me as withdrawing (or even lazy)?
• What if…I focus on the wrong thing?
• What if… I fail?
• What if… what if…what if?
The truth is, fear is the great dream thief. If we let our fears govern our choices, we will never know what we could have done. I remember the day in 2006 when I decided to leave a 20-year career and go into business for myself. I was petrified and sure I’d fail. “What if” questions often swamped my mind. Now, almost 9 years later, I look back and see those fears for what they were – false expectations assumed real.

If we face fear, embrace fear, and master fear, we can do anything we want.

We can accomplish more by doing less.

We can live with integrity.

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.