Category: Habits

Are you a Lovecat?

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I loved Tim Sanders’s Love is the Killer App (Three Rivers, 2002).

Though I haven’t read many books in business and marketing, this is a book that, though it deals heavily in these fields, transcends those genres: It’s a book which, at a fundamental level, can help you to grow as a person and then teach you how to help others grow as well. What Sanders calls a “lovecat” is essentially a nice, smart person who is generous with his knowledge and network and who is committed to the growth of others.

Sanders says you become a “lovecat” by attending to three things: 1) Knowledge, 2) Network, and 3) Compassion. By “knowledge,” he means you must read a lot, and books above all, so that you are at the top of your field and are equipped to share this knowledge with others. By “network,” he means that not only should you diligently cultivate a professional network, but you should then be diligent about helping people those in your network by sharing your knowledge with them and get busy connecting them with others who can help them. Finally, by “compassion,” he means something that is so simple but which we often neglect in at the workplace, and especially in the world business: Be human. This he defines well, I thought, as fundamentally “being committed to the growth of the other.”

This is one of my favorite things about Sanders’s book: Everything he commends is consistent with biblical principles, and primarily, as the title suggests, the biblical command to love. This is all about putting others first, seeking their good above your own, and then finding your own happiness and success because of that.

I loved how he puts it at the end of his book (meaning these pages are all kinds of dog-eared!):

“If you are a genuine lovecat, you show compassion for people because you like them. You tell others you are committed to their success because you want your contacts to be smarter, more informed, more capable. You arrange meetings between your contacts because you genuinely believe they will like each other, even if you gain nothing from the introduction… When there is no love, there should be no expression of love. Never fake it.”

“… Perhaps the greatest advantage of being compassionate is that… you help your bizmates grow, in both their outward success and their inner lives. And they sense your compassion, they start to develop in the most basic sense… In other words, we love people in order to help them grow in their own ability to love. We want them to enjoy the warmth of love and become more human… So when I engage in bizlove, I’m motivated by the impact it has on others, not just the attitude they will have about me (and whatever gain or popularity that affords me) I’m not a needy lover. I don’t hug you or tell you how much I care about you because I’m lonely. I say and do those things because I want you to experience the same humanity, freedom, and joy that I do. When lovecats help others do that, our job is done” (192-193).

Good news: Facebook can make you more productive

wbnCompanies that restrict or limit employees’ ability to use social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter during work hours are understandably trying to reduce distraction that results in waste and inefficiency. As studies have shown, however, such policies turn out to be counterproductive, because workers who surf the Internet or use social media for reasonable amounts of time while at work are generally more productive and effective.

Now let me be honest: This is a finding which I’ve enthusiastically pounced on as a way of justifying my social media habits while at work. The fact is that there are still many days when I would be more productive if I spent less time on these sites and more time in focused, extended stretches of work. But this is something I’m conscious of and getting better at, so with that admission aside, I’d like to share below how Matt Perman puts this in his excellent and wonderfully practical What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014). I especially like what he says about how having and using online networks can help workers in today’s “knowledge economy.”

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“For self-motivated people, time spent on Facebook is actually productive. It is productive for building networks and spreading truth. Both of these build people up, and thus increase productive capacity.

“Research bears this out by showing that employees with extensive online networks (such as through Facebook, LinkedIn, and so forth) are actually more productive than those without them.

“Facebook and other online networks and interaction help us refine, spread, and gain ideas. These are three core competencies in the era of knowledge work” (249-250).

Do You Want to Lead? Then Read!

leaders readAre you a leader – at school, work, church, or at home – or do you want to be in a position of leadership? Have you ever considered that one of the most important activities for a leader can be reading?

I’ve always noticed that good leaders are usually big readers too, thinking this made sense because being well informed is an important part of being an effective leader, and also because truly intelligent people, as many leaders are, know that they actually know very little, and therefore are always seeking to learn more.

Below is the best case I’ve come across for why reading is essential for the effective, and more importantly, the convictional, leader.

(This is my last post from Al Mohler’s book The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters (Bethany House, 2012), which I strongly recommend to anyone who wants to grow in leadership qualities.)

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“As a general rule, clichés are to be avoided. The statement that leaders are readers is an exception to that rule. When you find a leader, you have found a reader. The reason for this is simple – there is no substitute for effective reading when it comes to developing and maintaining the intelligence necessary to lead.

“… Leadership requires a constant flow of intelligence, ideas, and information. There is no way to gain the basics of leadership without reading.

“… The explosion of books and articles on leadership is one signal that leaders are avid readers and eager consumers of the written word. Leading by conviction demands an even deeper commitment to reading and the mental disciplines that effective reading establishes. Why? Because convictions require continual mental activity. The leader is constantly analyzing, considering, defining, and confirming the convictions that will rule his leadership” (99-100).

The Role of Humor in Leadership

Winston Churchill, 1940.

Winston Churchill, 1940.

Do you normally think of humor as an important quality for a leader to have? Before I read Al Mohler’s The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters (Bethany House, 2012), I didn’t. I thought of humor as something that might add to the character appeal or charisma of a leader, but not really as important, or even a virtue.

But consider what Dr. Mohler has to say about the way that humor can be used to serve and, by showing humility, build respect among those you serve as a leader:

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“We are not called to be comedians or humorists, but the effective leader knows that generous, self-deprecating humor is a gift that leaders can give to the people they serve.

“Humor humanizes and warms the heart. Those who follow you know that you have weaknesses and foibles, so let them share in the humor you direct at yourself. Humor should never be used at another’s expense, but it can be used to make people feel at ease, to relieve tension, and even to affirm humanity. Humor must never be crude or disrespectful, but it can build respect.

“… Leaders know how to laugh with their team, with their people, with the public, and at themselves. Humor is a public admission that leaders are completely human, and that, in itself, is a virtue” (155-156).

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NOTE: In this book, Dr. Mohler (President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) has some wonderful things to say about many topics, including reading and the use of social media for leaders. Stay tuned for posts on these!

A Healthy Information Diet

informationIf you’re politically conservative, is your main news source Fox News? And if you’re liberal, is it MSNBC? If so, you may be engaging in what is called “confirmation bias.”

Confirmation bias is what happens when we seek out information which confirms our beliefs. Now, doing this isn’t always bad, and it doesn’t mean that what you believe is wrong, but if you only seek information that confirms what you already believe, or your biases, you risk having a very lopsided perspective on a number of issues. Worse, it becomes harder for you to think critically about these issues and to change your mind when it would be right or intellectually honest for you to do so.

Exposing yourself to a variety of sources not only gives you a more balanced and complete view of something, but it will also help you better understand your beliefs and defend them more ably. I first learned this in college from Father Schall, who in our political philosophy course would quote Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274): “You don’t really know something until you know the reasons against it.” I’m impressed by that quote.

Now, these insights also apply to our social lives and the people we surround ourselves with, as Clay Johnson writes in his excellent The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption (O’Reilly, 2012):

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“We all live in our own social bubbles, which we create and empower through our social relationships – and interestingly, new research says that these relationships have profound impacts on us. The friends we select, the communities in which we work, play, and love serve as filters for us. It’s too high of a cognitive and ego burden to surround ourselves with people that we disagree with.

“If you’re a Facebook user, try counting up the number of friends you have who share your political beliefs. Unless you’re working hard to do otherwise, it’s likely that you’ve surrounded yourself with people who skew towards your beliefs. Now look beyond political beliefs – how many of your friends share the same economic class as you?” (60)

Reading Tips to Improve Your Writing

toolsIn his helpful book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (Little, Brown, 2008), Roy Peter Clark offers these “tricks” for writers, though they can be used by anyone who wants to improve their writing. Do you ever do any of these?

  • Read to listen to the voice of the writer.
  • Read the newspaper in search of underdeveloped story ideas.
  • Read online to experience a variety of new storytelling forms.
  • Read entire books when they compel you; but also taste bits of books.
  • In choosing what to read, be directed less by the advice of others and more by your writing compass.
  • Sample – for free – a wide selection of current magazines in bookstores that serve coffee.
  • Read on topics outside your discipline, such as architecture, astronomy, economics, and photography.
  • Read with a pen nearby. Write in the margins. Talk back to the author. Mark interesting passages. Ask questions of the text.

On the Importance of Morning Prayer

prayer bookPrayer is essential for the Christian. It’s the mark of a meaningful relationship with God, and a daily, even constant, necessity: it’s as vital for the soul as food and water are for the body. It’s also a wonderful privilege, for it means that you can talk to the Creator of the universe at any time and with complete honesty; you don’t have to  pretend with God – you can come to him just as you are!

Concerning the time of prayer, Scripture and the testimony of countless saints in the history of the Church commend the early morning as an appropriate time for extended prayer. The Gospels show Christ rising early, “while it was still dark,” to pray to God the Father, giving us not only a clear example but impressing on us our great need for prayer, since even Jesus, the perfect man, felt the need to pray. This prayer was also key to the power and peace which followed Christ through all his activity, showing how one may be very busy while remaining peaceful and focused at heart. I believe this is what the great German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was getting at in his book, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible (Augsburg, 1970):

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“The entire day receives order and discipline when it acquires unity. This unity must be sought and found in morning prayer…the morning prayer determines the day. Squandered time of which we are ashamed, temptations to which we succumb, weaknesses and lack of courage in work, disorganization and lack of discipline in our thoughts and in our conversations with other men, all have their origin most often in the neglect of morning prayer.

“Order and distribution of our time become more firm where they originate in prayer. Temptations which accompany the working day will be conquered on the basis of the morning breakthrough to God. Decisions, demanded by work, become easier and simpler where they are made not in the fear of men but only in the sight of God” (64-65).

Don’t Just Listen to Your Heart; Pour it Out!

WalkingWe’ve all heard the well-intentioned exhortation: “Just listen to your heart.” In one sense, we should listen to our heart, by which I mean, pay attention to your mind and soul. It’s helpful to regularly take stock of the movements of your soul in response to the events and people you interact with. This is what Socrates meant when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” However, Scripture teaches that the heart is “deceitful above all things,” so it’s foolish to simply follow your heart and live according to what you feel it tells you without regard for wisdom, love, and duty to guide you to what is good for yourself and others.

The passage below, from Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Dutton, 2013), shows us that we should not only listen to our hearts, but turn this listening into prayer – honest, real conversation with God – by pouring them out before him. This is encouraging, for it means that we’re not left to ourselves to plumb the depths of our heart and then wonder what to do with the mess that we find, but we can offer our naked soul before the God who hears our every cry, notices our every tear, and promises to be with us through it all.

“Psalm 42 is an intense, sustained, and eloquent prayer. He is ‘pouring out his soul’ to God. What does that mean? First, to ‘pour out your soul’ means to get into one’s own heart. It is an ancient and healthier version of what is sometimes now called getting in touch with your feelings. It means to look honestly at your doubts, desires, fears, and hopes. But notice that this is not abstract self-examination but, rather, something he does before God. This man is not over in a corner looking at himself, he is exposing his inner being to God. This is crying, longing, reflecting, remembering – all before God.”

Cicero’s On Old Age: A Sampling

Cicero_PenguinThis post is dedicated to my grandpa, Julio Enrique Bohorquez, who embodies youthful vigor and a sense of intellectual adventure in old age.

Cicero’s On Old Age is ancient wisdom at its best. In it he answers the charges of younger men against old age, such as lack of physical activity and the loss of mental acuity and bodily pleasures, such as taste and sex. To each of these charges Cicero responds by arguing that much of the discomfort and failings of old age are due more to the bad habits of earlier years and personal character faults than to old age itself. Old age, he says, has much to offer to those seeking the improvement of their mind and the refining of their spirit. As the French essayist Montaigne said of the work, Cicero makes you look forward to old age.

Written about 40 years before the birth of Christ, this work also shows human wisdom’s limits as well as its glimmers of eternal wisdom. For example, Cicero’s affirms the immortality of the soul but is unable to imagine much else beyond death. As the last quote below shows, however, he seems to have understood that this life is a temporary stay on the way to our true home, much like the Christian concept of pilgrims on the way to our true and final home.

I encourage everyone, young and old, to treat themselves to this classic work. It’s only about 30 pages. But if you won’t get to it for a while because you have so much to read as it is, here’s a (completely free!) sampling:

“A person who lacks the means, within himself, to live a good and happy life will find any period of his existence wearisome.”

“[In old age] there is great satisfaction in the knowledge of a life well spent and the memory of many things well done.”

“The evils for which ignorant people blame old age are really their own faults and deficiencies.”

“Great deeds are not done by strength or speed or physique: they are the products of thought, and character, and judgement. And far from diminishing, such qualities actually increase with age.”

“At the very least we must concede age the capacity to teach and train young men and fit them for jobs of every kind; and no function could possibly be more honorable than that.”

“When its campaigns of sex, ambition, rivalry, quarreling, and all the other passions are ended, the human spirit returns to live within itself – and is well off. There is supreme satisfaction to be derived from an old age which has knowledge and learning to feed upon.”

“Old age must have its foundations well laid in early life.”

“Old people are also complained about as morose, and petulant, and ill-tempered, and hard to please…but these are faults of character, not of age…For the fact is that not every personality, any more than every wine, grows sour with age.”

“The particular harvest of old age, I repeat, is its abundant recollection of blessings acquired in earlier years.”

“Since death is an imminent possibility from hour to hour, you must not let the prospect frighten you, or you will be in a state of perpetual anxiety.”

“What nature gives us is a place to dwell in temporarily, not one to make our own. When I leave life, therefore, I shall feel as if I am leaving a hostel rather than a home.”

 

 

Cicero’s On Old Age: A Work for People of All Ages

ImageOn reading Cicero’s On Old Age, the great French essayist Montaigne said, “He gives one an appetite for growing old.” And he really does, for it’s a delightful, wise, and surprisingly optimistic work. I first read this in a Georgetown class taught by the legendary and beloved Father Schall, whom I credit for introducing me to the “great books,” and I’m thrilled to share it with you now. Though this work deals with old age, it’s profitable for all people, young or old, who desire to acquire wisdom and live life well.

Written in 44 B.C., Cicero, a respected Roman statesman and master orator, answers charges against old age, beginning with: “old age takes us away from active work”:

He begins, “surely there are also occupations fitted for old men’s minds and brains even when their bodies are infirm” (219).

“So people who declare that there are no activities for old age are speaking beside the point. It is like saying that the pilot has nothing to do with sailing a ship because he leaves others to climb the masts and run along the gangways and work the pumps, while he himself sits quietly in the stern holding the rudder. He may not be doing what the younger men are doing, but his contribution is much more significant and valuable than theirs. Great deeds are not done by strength or speed or physique; they are the products of thought, and character, and judgment. And far from diminishing, such qualities actually increase with age” (220).