Archive for September 2014

Either It’s True or It’s Not

“Either it’s true or it’s not.” That was one of the phrases that I heard frequently from my father when I was younger, and, while it seems to be a simple statement, I have learned that it contains great truth. It makes me think of a recent television commercial for an insurance company in which a woman tells her friend that she is going on a date with a French model that she met online. When the “French model” shows up, he is obviously not what he claimed to be, but in her response, she claims that that it must be true because she read it on the Internet. Or think about the typical statement made by a politician, the typical news story, or frequent social media claims (including the wealthy widow from Nigeria who needs your help to get her millions out of the country). Often, what is said comes from a personal bias, from a desire to win approval (or re-election), from incomplete information, or is simply a flat-out lie. And many (most?) people are quick to accept what they hear as truth, without question. The reality is, just because someone or something claims to be true does not mean that it is.

This is not a problem that is new to the current digital age. On October 30, 1938, a dramatic broadcast of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds caused a reaction due to its realistic portrayal of an alien invasion from Mars. In actuality, few people believed it to be true, but it still sparked a media outrage from the printed news on the believability of broadcast news. And history is full of rumors and legends that caused reactions and responses because a story was believed to be true.

This leads me to the importance of having an “either it’s true or it’s not” mindset. You will inevitably hear claims, statements, and rumors from every direction, whether from an employee, a supervisor, a constituent, or an external source. When you do, sometimes the tendency is to jump, and then to react immediately with a response because of what you have heard. But that’s dangerous, because it may be that what you have heard is not true, or contains misinformation, or is misleading or incomplete. And if that is so, your response could potentially make matters worse and reflect poorly on you.

When you understand that everything you hear may or may not be true, you will learn to respond to information by first confirming its truth. What a difference that makes in your response! On a surface level, this is as simple as checking facts and data to make sure that they are accurate. When it involves people, it requires asking questions to determine the full story and get all of the available information. And on a deeper level, it requires identifying nuances and implications to see if what is being stated is a valid application, because, as the study of statistics teaches us, “correlation does not imply causation” (which means that, just because two phenomena happen together, one did not necessarily cause the other even if it appears that way).

So what should you do? A wise leader, upon hearing information, will remind himself that “either it’s true or it’s not,” and be diligent to determine the truth. Ask questions, look up facts, differentiate between causation and correlation, and get the full story. Then, whether it’s true or not, you will be more equipped to respond appropriately and will therefore make better decisions.

Would you help spread the word?

Please and Thank You graphicWould you please help spread the word?  My advertising budget pays for the cost of the free use of social media and nothing more; therefore I am relying entirely on “word of mouth” to make people aware of the contents of this blog and the availability of my recently published book.  If you find either or these resources to be helpful or valuable, would you help spread the word?



Finding Purpose cover→ My book, “Finding Purpose at the Intersection of Passion, Ability, and Opportunity” is available on Amazon (also available for Kindle). Click here to order a copy.

What is God’s purpose for you? What are you supposed to do with your life? These are difficult questions that we all wrestle with, often causing frustration, anxiety, or indecision. Using the concepts of passion, ability, and opportunity, Dr. Jeff McMaster presents a road map for identifying your individual purpose, and finding fulfillment in it. Based on principles from the Bible, these simple ideas can help you gain a better understanding of what God made you to do, and find fulfillment in it.2) You can get a free digital copy of my “Three Keys for Forming a Good Team” by signing up for email notices! On the Common Sense Leaders home page, enter your email address and first name (and I guarantee your information will not be shared with anyone else), and I will send you a free digital copy, containing three important factors to keep in mind when putting a team together.



Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 1.03.32 PM→ You can get a free digital copy of my “Three Keys for Forming a Good Team” by signing up for email notices! 
On the Common Sense Leaders home page, enter your email address and first name (and I guarantee your information will not be shared with anyone else), and I will send you a free digital copy, containing three important factors to keep in mind when putting a team together.



→ I am now available for professional consulting services! E.L.M. Consulting Services can provide professional services for analyzing and assessing your Educational organization, your Leadership, and/or your Ministry; for teaching and training those within your organization through workshops and seminars; and for assisting you in creating and communicating a plan and prescription for future growth, change, and development.

My experience and expertise in these areas, combined with my ability to make connections between an organization’s past, present, and future in a way that makes sense to people, can help you to identify, understand, and implement changes that will benefit the employees, the constituents, and the organization itself. Available services include:

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Teach and Train: Growing your people through workshops and seminars that will provide professional development and training

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  • Be-Attitudes of Better Teaching
  • A+ Education

Ministry workshops and seminars –

  • Teaching the Mind, Reaching the Heart
  • Build Your House on Solid Ground (Marriage Conference)
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  • Be a Better Leader
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  • Leadership Lessons from Ezra

Personal Development workshops and seminars –

  • Building Blocks for Personal Management
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Plan and Prescribe: Developing purpose by working with your leadership team to define, strategize, organize, connect, and communicate a vision and plan for growth and development


E.L.M. Consulting Services – Discovering Your Story, Developing Your People, Defining Your Purpose

Contact me at for more information.


Week of September 29, 2014

Five Lessons on Leadership I Learned by Losing 50 Pounds

Before and After

Before and After

For over twenty years, I have stayed in the same 20-pound weight range. I’ve tried a variety of diets and exercise regimens, but nothing has ever moved me out of that range, nor have any of them ever become a long-term lifestyle. I had convinced myself that I simply had a stocky build, and, in fact, had a sense of pride about my larger size. And I believed that I was much healthier than I actually was. Then, a little less than a year ago, I was confronted with the realization that I was very overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy. My doctor had needed to prescribe medications to treat the effects of my poor health, and a family member had confronted me on my overeating. I realized that I was endangering not only my only life, but also the care and well-being of my family.

It was then that I embarked on a journey that (literally) changed me into a different person. I changed some of my eating behaviors, incorporated several tools to help me maintain a daily awareness, and gradually implemented moderate exercise. The results shocked me – I consistently lost several pounds a week, losing a total of 50 pounds in just under four months to reach my goal weight, and have since maintained my goal weight for six months. My greatest moment of joy came when I was able to once again wear the leather bomber jacket that my wife had given me at our wedding 26 years ago.

As I traveled along this journey, I began to identify reasons why I was succeeding this time, when I had tried so many times before without the same results. There were certain, specific behaviors that I came to believe were important to my success, that kept me going and produced consistent results. After I achieved my goal and reflected back on those behaviors, I realized that, not only did they help me accomplish that weight-loss goal, but they also represented some very valuable and practical lessons on leadership.


So here are five lessons on leadership I learned by losing 50 pounds:

  • Everyone wants to know your secret. After it starting becoming noticeable that I was losing weight, most people would ask me one question when they saw me: “What are doing to lose weight?” (usually also followed with, “Is it on purpose?”). Why were they asking this question? I believe generally for one of two reasons: 1) they were looking for a trick, something easy and simple that they could do to also lose weight, but without a lot of effort, and thought that perhaps I had discovered that trick; or 2) they wanted to know what I had done so that they could do exactly the same thing and get the same results. The reality is, there was no trick, and everyone is different, so what I had done would not necessarily work the same way for someone else.

The same idea is true in leadership. I think that people often read books or attend seminars so they can copy someone else’s pattern in every detail, or so that they can uncover the secret that no one else knows about. But there is no secret. Leadership is not a hidden, secret society that you are trying to uncover. And also remember, you are a unique individual, so your leadership practice should reflect you, your personality, and your strengths. The truth is, if you try to be someone else, you are not being authentic and genuine.

  • There are only a few core behaviors. My weight loss and fitness really boiled down to diet, exercise, and a handful of core behaviors. Medical research has clearly shown that the most effective weight loss programs involve healthy diet and exercise (my wife would often tell me it was 80/20 – 80% diet and 20% exercise), and I had read a study that showed that people who lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off for more than five years all share some common behaviors: they ate breakfast, they weighed themselves daily, and they had exercise equipment at home. Students of statistics or psychology know that correlation does not mean causation, so no one believes that something like weighing yourself daily causes weight loss, but those core behaviors are important because they reflect certain patterns and thought processes that bring about the change (like, maintaining constant awareness of progress, both daily and weekly). So, I focused on several core behaviors, beginning with making better food choices – like eliminating soft drinks and excessive snack foods, measuring portions, counting calories, eating more fruits and vegetables, preparing fresh meals – and exercising in moderation – I started with nothing more than walking on a treadmill for four minutes, three times a week, and doing a few sit-ups and push-ups, and very gradually increased the amounts over time. I weighed myself every day, and I ate breakfast every morning. And then I found another behavior that worked for me (it was an idea that came from my children): I filled a clear glass with 50 marbles (one for each pound), set an empty glass next to it, and for every pound I lost, I moved a marble from one glass to the other so I could have a visual picture of the change as it happened. And the result was consistent, noticeable weight loss.

Again, the same is true for leadership. There are lots of principles, theories, and ideas on leadership; far too many for any one person to use. But there are certain core principles and behaviors that show up in leadership research over and over. Behaviors like modeling, demonstrating integrity, empowering and equipping people, and identifying and using strengths. Part of your role is to understand and apply those core behaviors, and to use them in a way that matches who you are. Then you can determine what other leadership behaviors, in addition to those few core behaviors, would best work for you and most enhance the effectiveness of your leadership. Don’t try to be and do everything, because you can’t, and it won’t work.

  • It requires discipline and effort (and sometimes you’re hungry and tired, and want to quit). As I have already said, there was no simple trick to my weight loss and fitness change. It took hard work. There were nights that I would lay down to go to sleep, and my stomach would start to growl (especially early in the process), and I wanted to get up and eat, and it took discipline to withstand that feeling. There were times that I had to very consciously work at not snacking for the sake of snacking. Some days, I was tired and didn’t want to walk on the treadmill. But in the end, probably the most important thing I did was to keep moving forward, exercising when I didn’t feel like it, and resisting the urge to eat when and what I shouldn’t.

Likewise, leadership is not easy. It requires discipline and effort to put others first, to make hard decisions, to motivate others, to accept responsibility for mistakes, to implement changes, to handle criticism, and to take on other challenging tasks and roles. There are times when you want to quit, or (metaphorically speaking) when you have to go hungry. What do you do then? If you are a leader, you must steel yourself to keep going, to not give in to those pressures. Keep doing what needs to be done. Keep leading, and keep leading in the right way.

  • Moderation is essential. Let me be honest –I do not enjoy exercise. Over the last 20 years, I’ve tried some kind of running regimen a few times, but it typically hasn’t taken more than a couple of weeks for me to question the sanity of voluntary self-infliction of pain and exhaustion. Often, over the last few months, when people would ask me if I was exercising, I would say that I was, but that I was a firm believer in exercise in moderation. I knew that if jumped right in to an intensive workout routine, training for a half-marathon, I wouldn’t last two weeks. So I started with a little bit – four minutes of walking (not running) on a treadmill, three days a week, along with a few sit-ups and push-ups. Then, I made incremental improvements. Each week, I added two minutes to my time on the treadmill, and added a few more sit-ups and push-ups. By the time I reached my goal weight, I had very gradually worked up to 20 minutes on the treadmill, and a lot of sit-ups and push-ups. It worked because I didn’t overcommit at the beginning, I didn’t try to train like an Olympian, and I made incremental, manageable improvements.

Effective leadership understands that moderation is a key to success. If you overcommit your energy and resources before you’ve built up stamina and strength, you will run out of gas. Be balanced in your approach. Make incremental adjustments (this is one of the principles that Jim Collins pointed out in Great by Choice). When you exercise moderation (pun intended), it’s much easier to build and maintain momentum.

  • It needs to be enjoyable. I love the taste of food, and I definitely have a sweet tooth. It would not have been possible for me to keep going if my diet was tasteless and un-enjoyable, and if I was not able to have anything sweet. I know because I’ve tried. I’ve done the “no carb” thing, I’ve eaten rice cakes and cottage cheese, and I’ve tried a variety of diets that I couldn’t keep. This time, I did eliminate unhealthy and artificial products, but I also ate food that tasted good and treated myself with some things that I thoroughly enjoy, but I ate them in moderation (see point 4, above). I drank my Latin coffee – café con leche – with milk and sugar (3 teaspoons) every morning; I ate a small piece or two of chocolate every night; I cooked fresh, flavorful dinners with healthy ingredients, but with portion control; I occasionally (once a week) had a small serving of dessert or a couple of slices of pizza. I ate food that I could enjoy eating, and allowed myself rewards and treats because I knew that denying them completely would likely result in overindulgence if, or when, I gave in.

In the same way, the work of leadership needs to be enjoyable. That doesn’t mean that it will easy; we’ve already established that it takes discipline and hard work. But if you are not enjoying it and you are not getting some periodic rewards, it may be time to stop and ask if you are doing the right thing. You should be able to see and experience rewards and accomplishments along the way. You should be getting a sense of satisfaction from the work you are doing. So you need to find enjoyment in it, and you need to provide rewards along the way.


There’s another lesson I learned, a bonus lesson, but it’s not actually a separate lesson; rather, it is a lesson that is woven through the other five. The bonus lesson is this: It has to be sustainable. All the work I had done would have been fruitless if, six months later, it was not something I could have maintained. Think about this idea in the context of the previous five lessons: you cannot consistently be someone you are not, so in order to be sustainable, your leadership style and practice has to match you; the more complex you make leadership, the more difficult it is to maintain and sustain, so you need to keep it as simple as is practically possible, focusing on core behaviors; leadership requires work not only to start and maintain for the short-term, but also to sustain in the long-term; because it is not a quick process, it requires step-by-step, incremental improvements and moderation to be sustainable (it’s more like a marathon than a sprint); and if I am not getting any enjoyment out of it, eventually I’ll stop. Therefore these five lessons, and the ideas they represent, have to be applied in a way that makes them sustainable. Don’t try to do things in a way that you can’t keep up, because you won’t.


I am in a much healthier place in my life now (take a look at the picture above to see what a difference four months can make). I have been able to work my way off all medication (with my doctor’s supervision, of course). I now have a different – and sustainable – way of eating that I enjoy but that is also much better for me. I have a regular exercise plan that I am able to maintain. I am better able to take care of my family and I feel so much better. I learned and implemented some life-long, lifestyle principles that will benefit me for the rest of my life. But along the way, I also found some principles that transfer to a healthy approach to leadership, and so in the end, this change in my life has also made me a better leader.


What Do You Think . . . makes calibrating expectations important?

People tend to allow their own expectations, whether conscious or not, to affect their perceptions and responses. I’ve seen it over and over in marriage counseling, when either spouse in a relationship has expectations that they believe should be met; but often those expectations are unrealistic or haven’t been identified and communicated, resulting in frustration and conflict. The same happens in an organization, when expectations have not been appropriately identified and communicated. In your experience, how have you seen the importance of calibrating expectations? Please share in the comment box below.

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership

HBR on Leadership coverI first saw this book, HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, on a list of recommended leadership books from Amazon.  I scanned the contents, and saw the names of several authors of other books that I have read and enjoyed; in addition, it’s put out by Harvard Business review, which has a strong reputation.  That was enough to convince me to pick up a copy and read it.

It has since become a frequently referenced book by me.  I have found useful thoughts and ideas in most of the chapters, and those thoughts (and quotes) have made their way into a number of posts that have appeared on my blog in the last several months (this month, I referenced one of the articles – The Work of Leadership, by Ronald Heifetz and Donald Laurie – several times). Of course, some have resonated with me more than others, but I think I found the whole book to have value.

The book contains ten chapters; each one is reprint of an article published in the Harvard Business Review sometime in the last 25 years.  The intent is that these ten articles represent some of the most important and influential articles and authors that have shaped leadership theory and practice over the last couple of decades.  It includes articles from authors such as

  • Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence), in an article that introduces his thoughts on emotional intelligence
  • Jim Collins (author of Good to Great and Great by Choice), in an article that explains “Level 5 Leadership”
  • John Kotter (author of Leading Change), in an article that examines and presents “What Leaders Really Do”
  • Peter Drucker (author of The Effective Executive), in an article about what makes an effective executive
  • Peter Senge (author of The Fifth Discipline), in an article that explains that the best leaders are the ones who don’t try to be perfect at every skill
  • And several others

I think this is a great resource to have on your leadership bookshelf.  It contains summaries and short discussions of some of the most influential leadership ideas of the last two decades, so it gives you a synopsis of these ideas without having to read the full works of the authors.  As I read through the chapters, I wrote an outline of the main ideas of each article on a separate 4×6 notecard, so that I would have my own personal quick-reference guide for each of the concepts.  Whether or not you do the same, I do think this can be a great resource for you.

Various Authors (2011). HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press:  Boston, MA.