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

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.