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

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.


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!

Integrity & the Hatfield-McCoy Feud

Have you ever wondered how a choice you made around integrity could affect the future?  The History Channel recently ran a mini-series called Hatfields & McCoys.  It’s the story of a family feud that spanned decades and resulted in death, destruction, and nearly caused a war between Kentucky and West Virginia.   As portrayed on the History Channel, Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield, serving as a Confederate captain,  made a choice to desert and return home.   Was it a choice of integrity?  He certainly thought so, since his family was more important than keeping his promise in the midst of a losing war.  Yet, he went back on his word.  Randall McCoy, serving on the same battlefield as Hatfield, chose to honor his word.  The battle was lost and McCoy went to a Union prison for several years.  When the war was over, he was released and came home to find Hatfield prospering and having suffered no consequences for desertion,  and what McCoy considered a lack of integrity.   The murder of a McCoy union soldier by a Hatfield, sparked a series of increasingly violent acts between the families.   Bitterness and rage influenced their choices over the next years as the feud spiraled out of control.

Yet the core of the controversy came down to a choice – one that lacked integrity.  We’ll never know if Randall McCoy would have been as vengeful if Anderson Hatfield has not deserted.  But it give us pause and the opportunity to consider the consequences of not keeping our word.   When has a lack of integrity caused massive consequences?

– accountants who wrote letters of resignation when asked to falsify the books, then proceed to do so and told no one. no  longer exists.

–          John Edwards didn’t honor his marriage vows, lied before the press and voters.  While not convicted, his name is mud.

–          Steve McNair, former Titan quarterback, violated his marriage vows with numerous affairs – the final one resulting in death.

–          Creflo Dollar is in the news having been arrested.  If it turns out his daughter lied when she called police at 1 am, what are the potential consequences on the family?  What relationships become broken, trust destroyed?  T hat’s how family feuds begin.

Integrity matters.

What Do You Tolerate and Reward?

Culture is measured by what you tolerate and reward.

 I once worked for a CEO who had a two pronged focus  – financial health and the avoidance of failure.  As long as the monthly financials were in line and there was no bad news, he tolerated almost anything.  Instead of catching employees doing something good, the emphasis was on catching them doing something wrong.  Rule after rule was implemented, designed to prevent something bad from happening.  He didn’t value big successes as long as nothing was lost.  He avoided feedback.  The result:  Sunday night found me dreading going to work on Monday morning.   I don’t think I was the only employee feeling that way.

 I worked for another inspiring CEO who tolerated nothing less than outstanding customer service.  He promoted that culture by putting employees first. He inspired us to always go the extra mile and he loved to celebrate the stories of employees delighting our customers.   I saw him get angry only once, when members of our senior team were having parking lot conversations instead of going directly to him.  He didn’t tolerate the lack of respect and he rewarded risk taking and continuous improvement.  He valued feedback that made us stronger.  The result:  I loved coming to work and so did the other employees.  We were making a difference, and it was fun.

 What do you tolerate and reward?

How to Say Yes & Honor your Word


I had the opportunity to spend time last week with Linda Grajewski, the founder of a ministry called Gaits to Heaven.  She works with the Lakota people on the reservation in North Dakota.  By using horses to create bonds between the women and children of the reservation and the volunteers, they experience first hand the love of Jesus, gain skills that will enable them to set a new direction for their lives, and have hope for the future.   ( )  As we discussed her ministry, her vision, and her needs, she talked about the challenge of fund raising.

 Raising funds as a not-for-profit is difficult as the best of times.    Linda told me that she never counts a donation on paper until she has the check in hand, because so many times people don’t follow through with their word to give.   That’s simply a lack of integrity. 

Integrity is about honoring our word.  Once we’ve given that word, not honoring it breaks trust and leaves us with a reputation we don’t want.  It is always better to carefully consider whether we can honor our word BEFORE we give it.  If we feel we’d be unable to follow through on the commitment, then we shouldn’t make the promise.  Once we’ve given our word, anything less than following through, lacks integrity. 

 This insight has caused me to change how often I say yes.  I think hard before I commit to attending an event or meeting.  I ask myself how I will feel about following through on the commitment before I say yes.  The result:  I say no more often.  I also honor my word more consistently.

Celebrating 60 Years of Marriage

This past weekend was my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary.  We didn’t expect them to make it.  My dad, now 91, had been given 30 days to live last Christmas while in the hospital.  The doctors said he went downhill so fast, they didn’t expect to stabilize him.  He has congestive heart failure and his kidneys aren’t working well.    As he says, “I proved them wrong.”   So Saturday, we had Christmas on the Farm – an open house to celebrate 60 years of marriage.

A lot of people don’t make 60 years.  In fact, when Bill and I say we’ve been married 31 years,  we get expressions of surprise.  It’s a sad world we live in when long marriages are rare.  So celebrating 60 was a way of showing our kids, the grandkids, and friends that it can be done.   Dad and Mom love each other deeply – he’s there for her in the early stages of memory loss, she’s there for him when his arthritis starts screaming.  It’s what marriage is all about – trust, love, and perseverance .  Congratulations Mom and Dad – you are incredible role models.

Integrity or Hypocrisy?

Integrity is the quality people most want to see in a leader – someone who walks the talk..   The opposite of integrity is hypocrisy. When we make poor choices at integrity forks in the road, the word hypocrite becomes a clanging bell in our mind and soul. Hypocrisy is one of six perceptions of the church today by the secular world (Barna Research:  UnChristian) because we have often failed to walk our talk.    In Matthew Jesus scolded the Pharisees for saying one thing and doing another.  They were the leaders of the Jewish people, and yet eight times in this one chapter Jesus says, Woe to you, hypocrites…and then points out to them their two faced behavior as leaders.  The Pharisees weren’t living up to the level of integrity that Jesus expected of them as leaders. We call them ‘character gaps’ in our leadership – when we behave in ways that do not make Jesus proud. It’s clear that a hypocrite is unqualified to lead others – to higher character or to success.

 Before we point a finger at the Pharisees, we need to look in the mirror as leaders.  When we claim to be a follower of Jesus, we make a statement that we will have integrity by leading like Jesus.  We will balance grace and truth by holding others accountable, we will serve rather than be served, and we will have “ an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15)  We will exhibit His Heart, His Hands, His Head and His Habits.  And we will constantly look for hypocrisy in our words and actions, ask for forgiveness, and look to Jesus as our leadership role model.  A person of integrtiy isn’t perfect, but that person can be depended on to make amends when he or she has lacked integrity in their words and actions.

 In what areas of your life are you saying one thing and doing another?

*originally written for and posted on


Was it an Accident or a Mistake?

On Good Morning America, coach John O’Connor and player Matt Kravchuck faced each other over the incident in practice at Holy Family University.  Video shows the coach knocking Matt down and then kicking him – and telling him a little blood is good.  On this morning’s show the coach called the incident an accident. 

 An accident is something you could not have predicted would happen and could not have prevented.  Being rear ended by a car, bird doo landing on you, and having your bike skid on a pebble in the road are all accidents.  Mistakes, on the other, are a wrong action due to bad judgment or inattention. Mistakes aren’t pre-planned.  John O’Connor made a mistake – he crossed the line as a coach and the first step to re-earning the trust and respect of his players and Matt Kravchuck is to admit his mistake.  Coach O’Connor says it wasn’t intentional and that is supported by the video. He had an amygdala hijack – when rational thought is swamped by emotions. 

We are too quick in our society to call an error in judgment an accident.  At the heart of integrity is getting our language right – and owning up to our mistakes.  It’s at the heart of being a leader who earns respect and trust.

3 Must Do’s in Social Media


I was at the National Speaker Association UnConference Friday – Sunday and came away with great ideas and amazing content.  One of the best came from Nathan Kievman, CEO of Demming Hill – who said all interaction in social media should do three things:

 (1) Build Trust – Is your social media strategy building trust for your target market?

 (2) Build Credibility – Do your communications consistently represent your brand, who you are?                   

 (3) Eliminate Risk – Do you eliminate risk in their choosing to do business with you?

 It’s all about integrity.  Thanks to Nathan ( a great concept and actionable idea!