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.

When Focus is a Bad Thing

I took the MBTI many years ago and scored as an INFJ. I was really close to the P, though, so I often demonstrate the characteristics of both judging and perceiving.   As indicated by this type, I have a unique ability to tune out my environment and focus on one thing.  This got me in big trouble in college.

I had been selected to be an RA in the dorm at the University of Evansville.  At the end of the first semester, my reviews by other students were terrible.  They called me rude, stuck up, and insensitive.  The stories they listed were often of my passing them in the hall way or on campus and never acknowledging them.  I realized that I was so focused on whatever I was thinking about, that I was not perceiving my environment.  I worked hard the next semester to change that tendency with good results.  It was an early encounter with how I was wired and how it affected other people.  Now I spend most of my time helping others understand themselves and their impact on others.  But once in a while, I’m reminded that I can revert to old behavior.

The other day I was in the Grassland Post Office.  After mailing the packages, I came out and hit the clicker to open my 4-Runner’s doors.  As I stood at the driver side door, I thought it strange that I hadn’t heard the locks unlock , but they were clearly unlocked so I hopped in and put my key in the ignition.  It wouldn’t turn.  I pulled on the steering wheel a little and it still wouldn’t turn.  Frustrated, I got my phone out to call the Toyota dealer and find out what my options were.  Right about then, I heard a woman’s voice say, “Are you in my car?”  Suddenly all the little things I should have noticed came rushing into my field of vision – flip flops on the passenger side floor, a cat seat, and no big brush bumper on the grill.  I’d gotten in the wrong car!  My 4 Runner – same year, model, and color – was parked two spaces over.  Embarrassed, I apologized profusely and slunk away, got in my car and drove off.

Once again, my focus had so narrowed that I didn’t observe or pay attention to any of the small things that would have saved me a lot of embarrassment.  But it was a great reminder that I can fall back into behavior that could negatively impact those around me.   I’m practicing my observation skills and reminding myself that relationships are more important than to-do lists.

Thank you, Scott Gaalaas

“The YMCA will eat you up if you let it.  Be careful to take time off for what’s most important.”

Those words were spoken to me by my very first boss in the YMCA movement, Scott Gaalaas.   It was 1986, and he’d just hired me to be the aquatics director at the Monroe County YMCA in Bloomington, IN.  He was cautioning me that a career in the YMCA would be time consuming.  “It ‘s your responsibility,” he said, “to take time off when you need it.”    He punctuated that advice with the statistic that YMCA professionals had a higher divorce rate than the general population.  He was an advocate for living your life by your values.  He took his own words seriously, and retired from the YMCA at the age of 63 and moved from Oak Park, IL to Loudon, TN, enjoying time with his family and grandchildren.   He was building homes with Habitat for Humanity, riding his bike, and playing racquetball.   He recently suffered a catastrophic stroke and “graduated to glory” on February 22nd, 2012.

I will miss my former boss, mentor and friend.  Not only did he teach me life balance,  he taught  me how to read a financial statement, develop a budget, and how to delight the members.   He was a man of integrity, because he could be counted on to do what he said he would do.   Over the years, as we each moved to different locations, we often reconnected at AYP events.   In the early 1990’s, we both served as executives in the Chicago area.   We played golf in Arizona, and Florida with  YMCA colleagues.

I will miss Scott deeply. He poured into my life in a way that had a huge impact.  I know he did that for countless others.  While I didn’t always have the best life-balance, I was better than I would have been because of his mentoring.   Great leaders count their success by how many people they developed.   Scott is right there with the best.  Thank you, Scott.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Being an Integrity Fanatic

Let’s start with the ugly.  I recently had a lapse in integrity – and was challenged on it by a neighbor –because I branded myself as the Integrity Fanatic.  He was right and it was painful.  At the same time, we’re all human and none of us is perfect.  It’s about whether we make amends and fix our bad choices that enables us to live out our commitment to integrity.  I had made a poor choice and voluntarily confessed and tried to make amends.  Unfortunately, he believed that as the Integrity Fanatic I should never, ever make a mistake.   That’s the ugly – unrealistic expectations.

Next is the bad.  It’s the word fanatic.  It means a person with extreme zeal – so I believe it defines who I am around integrity fairly well. But depending on which generation you are in, being a fanatic can be bad.  For the oldest generation in our society – born before 1945 – the word fanatic means passionately crazy – in other words, out of control.  And being out of control isn’t something they value.  I actually knew this when I picked the name, I just didn’t realize how prevalent the dislike would be in that generation. That’s the bad – there’s a group of people who simply don’t relate to the idea I’m trying to convey.

Finally, the good.  Calling myself an integrity fanatic has made me hold myself to a higher standard.  I was recently in line to enter a club with a cover charge – famous for it’s dueling pianos.  As I struck up a conversation with another person in line, she invited me to use the special entry word for the birthday party being held upstairs and save on the cover charge.  I found myself seriously considering it – and then remembering that wasn’t an option.  Similar challenges happen more often than I expected.   So while I could beat myself up for not having the right first response, I know that being an integrity fanatic has set a higher moral compass for me.  And that’s the good.

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 Forks in the Road*


There will always be decisions you have to make based on situations you face.  Having integrity of heart – wholeness in following God’s call on our lives – helps you make the right decisions and take actions that align with Jesus teaching.

Take a moment and read the account of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz in the Bible (Book of Ruth). Talk about a fork in the road! You and your family move to another country, then your husband dies. Not long after that, your two sons also die and you are left with two widowed daughters-in-law. So you pack up and move back to your homeland, and you encourage your daughters-in-law to return to their country since they would have no hope of marrying again if they stayed with you. One returns and the other—Ruth—chooses to stay with you. Ruth, in essence, says, “Even it if it costs me my future, I will do the right thing—I will not leave you”.  How hard it must have been for Ruth to leave her homeland, go to a strange country, and follow a God she did not know. But because of the testimony of Naomi’s integrity of heart, Ruth did so.

            Boaz also had a choice. He had heard all that Ruth had done for Naomi, and he praised her for it. Boaz was a redeemer—a close member of the family who, in that culture, could marry and redeem (or save) Ruth. But there was a closer relative who could have redeemed Ruth, so Boaz went to him and offered both Ruth and the land Naomi was selling. When that relative would not risk his own inheritance by redeeming Ruth and the land, Boaz became the redeemer.

            Boaz called Ruth a woman of character and eventually married her. Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz led with integrity of heart. They knew God and did what was right in His eyes. Ruth was rewarded for her faith and integrity, as God placed her in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.

What integrity fork in the road are you facing today?  How will you lead with integrity of heart?

*excerpt from The Dichotomy of Power, by Nancy Reece

 * originally written for

What Does Integrity of Heart Look Like?


If you will walk before me, as your father David walked, with integrity of heart…I Kings 9:4a

 What does integrity of the heart look like when we lead?  It can easily be seen in those whose life, actions, calendar and priorities reflect their values.  Jesus demonstrated this so beautifully in Luke 4.  He spent a long day teaching in the synagogue, escaping from an angry crowd who wanted to throw him off a cliff, rebuking demons, and healing Peter’s mother.  He needed rest and so he went off to a quiet place.  But the people found him, pleading that he continue to heal and teach.  At this point, I know my ‘people pleasing’ side would have kicked in and I’d have stuck around to heal and care for them – it’s important work after all.  But Jesus didn’t.  He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities, also, for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43) – He had integrity of heart, stayed true to the purpose God had given him, and set his priorities accordingly. 

 David made many bad choices as king, choices which did not align with God’s purpose for his life.  But David always made the choice to confess and return to God.  He lead with integrity most of his life.  I’ve experienced the same thing – when I make a bad choice, it’s critical to that I confess, ask for forgiveness, and realign with my faith and values.  We’re all human – and we’ll all fail.  Realignment is the key.

 In virtually every survey by Kouzes and Posner, authors of the Leadership Challenge, over the last 20 years on leadership, integrity was identified more frequently than any other trait as being most desired in a leader.  If we are to lead, we must have integrity of heart, stay true to the purpose God has given us and set our priorities accordingly. 

 Do your priorities align with your God given purpose?     *Written and posted in June for Lead Like Jesus blog –

Are You A Two-Faced Leader?

We’re beginning an eight part series on Integrity, so it might be important to define IntegrityMerriam Webster defines it in two ways – (1) a firm adherence to a  moral code and (2) a state of being complete or undivided.  In our society, we have a term – two faced.  He was two faced – told me one thing and then did another.  Two faced is the complete opposite of integrity – doing what you say you will do.  Jesus was never two faced.  He lived his life as a role model of being complete and of adhering to God’s standards.  We are called to do the same. 

 I didn’t marry you to have you gone when I wake up and crashed on the couch after supper.   Those words served as a danger bell tolling in my marriage.  While I said that my values were faith, family and career in that order, I wasn’t living those values.  I was two faced.  For a long time, I had put my career ahead of my first two values.  With my husband’s words ringing in my ears, I had to make a choice – to do what I said I would do.  He had challenged me to have integrity. 

 God issues the same challenge to us in His Word.  In 1 Kings 8 & 9, Solomon had finished building the house of the Lord and he had prayed to God to confirm his promise to David and to hear the pleas of the people.  God responded in I Kings 9:4,5 – And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’

 He called Solomon – and He calls us – to lead with integrity of heart – to love Him –  the Lord our God with undivided hearts, with undivided souls, with undivided minds.  “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.”  (Matthew 12:25)  Anything less than integrity of heart is two-faced.  *originally written for LLJ blog(

 What does integrity of heart look like ?

Finding Your ‘True North’

Is the life I’m living worth what I’m giving up to have it?
    Have you ever asked yourself that question? I have – lots of times! It’s not easy, but I nearly always end up going back to my ‘True North’ and that enables me to reorient myself and get back on track.
    If you are looking at a correctly calibrated compass, it will always point north. No matter what direction you turn, the compass will remain true to north – True North. For me, ‘True North’ is the deeply-held values that form the foundation for how I live my life and the choices I make. They define my “rules of engagement” when I interact with the world. When I find myself asking the question above, I go back to my core values and align myself to what’s most important in my life – my True North.   
    Several years ago, I spent a lot of time writing my values vision statement. I prioritized the values that were most important in my life and defined those values with specific examples, thus, making my Core Values. From there, I was able to etch out what those values looked like in my daily life, again, with specific examples – this became my Values Vision Statement.
    I keep both of these in a frame on my desk as a reminder of what’s most important in my life. I’m sharing my Core Values and my Values Vision Statement with you as encouragement and in hopes that you’ll do the same.
Core Values
Faith – standing firm in Christ, seeking the things of God first
Integrity – matching my actions to my words and promises, holding myself accountable and making amends as quickly as possible when I fall short
Gratitude – taking time daily to be thankful and appreciate my blessings
Family – having quality time with Bill, kids, grandkids and extended family
Love One Another – seeing all people through Jesus’ heart and eyes, respecting all
Courage – mastering my fears through trust in God
Generosity – sharing my resources, time and talent with those in need
Creativity – innovation, play, balance, finding joy, weaving
Values Vision Statement
I will put God first in my heart and life. This is evident when I spend time in rest, quiet, in prayer and when I love others, treating them with respect and compassion. I will walk with integrity, matching my actions with my values. I will spend quality time with Bill and create opportunities to be with family. Whatever happens, I am thankful for all I have been given. I will share my time, talent and treasure to help people grow, deepen and reach their full God-given potential. I will trust God for holy courage as I live out His calling on my life with joy and creativity.

Integrity and the NPR ‘gotcha’ video


Two people have lost their jobs over the latest dust up at NPR – the executive in charge of fund development and the CEO.  In an age of cell phone camera videos and increasingly hidden technology, it becomes even more important for a company or organization to have core values that start at the top and are communicated to the entire workforce.  Had NPR sent a clear message about what they stood for and what their core values looked like in action, they probably would not have had a leader  caught in hidden video bashing one group of people to another group. 

 I’ve been blogging for the last two weeks about the importance of knowing what your top core values are.  That’s how you know what to do when the hard calls come.  It’s just as important for companies to have those values defined, communicated, and to hold employees accountable.  Jet Blue had a trainee and trainer lie about damage caused during the training.  The trainer said he was driving, when the trainee actually was.  Jet Blue made it clear that both violated their policy of honesty – and both lost their jobs.  Neither one would have had they simply admitted the mistake. 

 The executive at NPR faced a hard call – chase the money or have respect for all – no matter what.  In the end, we don’t really know what NPR’s core values are.  I don’t think he did either.