Archive for Summaries and Reviews

“Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions”


It is the last week of the year, and therefore a time when many of us intentionally take time to reflect on the last year and plan our goals for the next year. This may be something that you are doing in your personal life, or it may be something you are doing in your organization, but either way it is likely a time when you are analyzing where you are and asking questions as you prepare for 2017.


So it seems to be good time of the year to turn my attention to a book I read a couple of month ago, called Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions. I realize this is an older book (and this version is actually a reprint that includes additional thoughts from other leaders), but it is still an apropos book for the end of the year. In his little book, Drucker explains and illustrates five important questions that every organization ought to be asking of itself:

  1. What is our mission?
  2. Who is our customer?
  3. What does the customer value?
  4. What are our results?
  5. What is our plan?


These may seem like obvious questions, but often it is the obvious questions that are missed, so the book is a tremendous reminder of the basic important questions that should be revisited on a regular basis. If you haven’t asked these questions in a while, it’s time do so.


On a personal level, these same questions could be modified to match your life: knowing your personal mission, identifying the people you impact and who are a part of your life, understanding what matters to those people, examining how you are affecting their lives, and intentionally determining how to get better at making a difference in your relationship with them. Ultimately, your family is more important than your job, so I pray that you are being just as purposefully in those relationships as you are with your profession.

Integrity, by Henry Cloud


In the Christmas season, we all tend to pause and take some time to reflect on the things that really matter; things like family, love, generosity, and the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ as a baby in a manger.  It seems appropriate, then, to take a little time to focus one of the character traits that we notice more during this time of year:  integrity.  For that reason, this week I share some thoughts about Henry Cloud’s book, “Integrity,” and next week I am drawing  a lesson on leading with integrity from the example of George Bailey in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful life,” from a post I originally shared two Christmas’s ago.


integrity-cloud-coverAccording to Dr. Henry Cloud, there are three essential qualities of successful leadership: Competence, or the ability to “master your craft,” to “get good at what you do”; Relationships, or the ability to “cultivate and maintain relationships that are mutually beneficial”; and Character, or “your makeup as a person . . . not just moral safeguards, but who you are at your core, in both positive and difficult circumstances.” It is this third quality, Character, that he addresses in his book, “Integrity: The courage to meet the demands of reality” (2006).


In the book, Dr. Cloud connects character with integrity and reality, by explaining how reality puts demands on our lives that force us to respond, and how our response to reality are a reflection of our character. Our integrity, then, is seen in how our character is consistently demonstrated in all areas of who we are. He then discusses six specific aspects of our personhood – who we are – that must be integrated (consistently reflective of our character) for us to successfully lead:

  • The ability to establish trust through authenticity
  • The ability to see and speak the truth and reality, both in/to themselves and in/to others
  • The ability to finish well
  • The ability to embrace – and therefore to learn from – the negative
  • The ability to be oriented toward growth, which requires intentional effort and application
  • The ability to be oriented toward transcendence, recognizing that something bigger than you, from which your values will emanate


I found this to be an interesting and thought-provoking book. The emphasis was not so much on the character trait of integrity, but rather on the importance of having an integrated character. I would probably describe it in terms of consistency in your response to the realities of life in all circumstances, which reflects who you are as a person. Therefore, in this context, integrity is actually referring to an internal state – the unified wholeness in your character and your personhood as you navigate life. I do believe whole-heartedly that consistency and authenticity are necessary for successful leadership (and successful relationships), so this is a good lesson on which to reflect.

“Shifting the Monkey” by Todd Whitaker


shifting-the-monkey-whitaker-todd-coverMy habit is to alternate between reading books on leadership (mostly for my own personal leadership growth) and books on education and learning (mostly for my professional growth in my role as a school administrator). And since this blog is specifically about leadership, not education, I generally only share my thoughts on the leadership books. However, I recently read a book that was in the “education” category, written by a professor of education at Indiana State University, that I found to be an excellent book for leaders in any profession.   This book, by Todd Whitaker, was called Shifting the Monkey: The art of protecting good people from liars, criers, and other slackers.


Whitaker defines “monkeys” as the responsibilities, obligations, and problems that everyone carries and deals with every day, but that often get shifted to someone else. It’s the coworker who shirks his duty, leaving someone else to pick up the slack; the boss who makes a bad decision and passes the blame on to someone else; or the customer who has a bad reaction in the store and creates an uncomfortable environment for everyone else within earshot. The problem is that these people are frequently allowed to shift their monkey on to someone else, making life more difficult for others. Because of our frustration, we pick up the slack from our coworker. Because it’s our boss, we cover for the bad decision or are too afraid to speak up. Because it’s in a public place, we don’t excuse ourselves from the uncomfortable situation in the store. Whitaker’s solution to these monkeys is a simple, two-fold process: identify the monkey, and shift the monkey.


To identify the monkey, Whitaker says, you need to ask 3 questions:

  1. Where is the monkey?
  2. Where should the monkey be?
  3. How do I shift the monkey to its proper place?

Then, in shifting the monkey back to its proper place, he says that you must do 3 things:

  1. Treat everyone well.
  2. Make decisions based on your best people.
  3. Protect your good people first.


This was a relatively simple and short book, but one that I found to be very practical. Almost immediately upon reading it, I began to notice when someone was (consciously or unconsciously) trying to shift their monkey to me. I found myself saying (to myself), “That’s not my monkey,” and consciously refusing to take on responsibilities or problems that were not mine, and keeping them where they belonged. This was actually quite stress-relieving, and ultimately helped my to keep my focus where it needed to be – on my responsibilities – while helping me to better redirect others to deal with their own monkeys.


For this reason, this is an “education” book that I would recommend to any leader!

“Leadership Excellence” by Pat Williams

Leadership Excellence, Williams, coverRecently, my older brother Kel told me about hearing Pat Williams speak, and asked me if I had read his recent book, “Leadership Excellence.” Williams had referred to the book in his speech, and my brother thought it sounded it like it might be a good read, so he asked for my thoughts. So, I got a copy and read it, and my conclusion is that “Leadership Excellence” is an excellent book on leadership.


In the book, Williams talks about “seven sides of leadership,” seven characteristics that embody good leadership: vision, communication, people skills, character, competence, boldness, and a serving heart. In describing and explaining each of these, he uses an abundance of examples and illustrations to make his points, but what I most appreciated was the practical nature of what he had to say. He took a “real-life” approach to leadership, and focused on the observable characteristics that effective leaders can all recognize as important for leadership.


I found myself identifying with the lessons he gave, and seeing clearly how I can, should, and do apply those principles. It’s another book that I would definitely recommend, especially for anyone looking for basic, practical guidelines on the attributes and skills of leadership that are most important.

Finding Purpose


Last week, I shared some thoughts on life purpose based on something my dad said to me when I was younger:  “Do as much as you can until you’re 40, then do one thing well the rest of your life.”  He often said things like this that were wise thoughts on finding and following your purpose in life, and one of those things came about when I was in my early 20’s.  In the fantasy of my mind, I thought that if I wrote a book, I would become “famous” or “important” in my field, so I had decided that it was something I needed to do.  When I shared this with my dad, he said, “Jeff, before you can say something that people will listen to, you first have to have something to say.”  Like a lot of things he said, there was deep wisdom here that needed to be unpacked, and I understood over time that it is not until you have learned something valuable and meaningful through your own life, learning, and experience, can you truly pass it on to someone else.  I eventually did write a book (that’s what this post is about), but it came after a lot of life and experience.  I now appreciate the lesson my dad taught me, that I ought to write not simply because I want to say something, but because I have learned something that is important to say.

FindiFinding Purpose coverng Purpose at the Intersection of Passion, Ability, and Opportunity is a book I originally wrote almost ten years before it was published (I even went so far at that time as to apply for a copyright and submit the manuscript to a publisher). However, much like what happened with the rebuilding of the temple described in Ezra 4 and 5, God – in His divine sovereignty – saw fit to put a stop to the process until the time was right. It seems He still had more to teach me on the matter.

Now, I know that I will continue to learn and grow for the rest of my life, and I also know that “the more I know, the more I know I don’t know,” which means if I waited until I have full and perfect knowledge, this book would never have happened. And so eventually I reached a point in time when God prompted me to pick up where I left off and re-engage, and – with some revising and additions to the original – to publish.

In essence, this book addresses the question of “How do you know God’s purpose? How do you know what He wants you do?” When I look back over many of my experiences, it is clear that God was working out His purpose in my life. So then, as I have analyzed the circumstances and events that have taken place, I have focused in on three common factors that keep appearing in these situations that have helped me to know His purpose. These three factors are:

1)    Passion – the things that I strongly desire, that I want to pursue,

2)    Ability – the things that I have the talent to do, and

3)    Opportunity – circumstances that occur in my life.

It is these three lines in our lives – passion, ability, and opportunity – that, when they intersect, form the point where we find the greatest fulfillment and contentment, with a certainty that we are where we should be. Picture a geometric graph, with three separate lines, one representing our passion to do or be something, one representing our talents and abilities, and one representing the opportunities that appear before us. At some place on this graph these three lines intersect at one specific point. This is the place where we find that we are doing something that brings us joy and that matches our talents well.

These concepts first came together in my mind while facilitating a student retreat quite a few years ago, and over the time since, I have seen them applied in my life many times and in many ways. God has placed opportunities in front of me that matched my passion and abilities in ways that have allowed me to be His instrument while finding fulfillment in my work. My prayer for you would be that you would identify these three factors in your life and find your purpose.

To order a copy of my book, Finding Purpose at the Intersection of Passion, Ability, and Opportunity, on Amazon, click here.

“Every Good Endeavor” by Timothy Keller

Recently, my family came together during a difficult time, when my father had a stroke.  As we gathered together in the hospital, often our conversations would turn to our memories of the words of wisdom he had shared over the years.  Some of it was quite funny, but all of it was wise, so I thought it would be appropriate to share some of the wisdom I have learned from him through the years.  Some are a repeat of previous posts (because I had already been sharing his wisdom), and some are topics I haven’t shared before.  My father went home to be with His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on Sunday, May 8, 2016.  I grieve at the loss of my hero, mentor, and friend, but I rejoice at the celebration of his arrival in heaven.

This week, I am sharing a review of book that reflects some of the great lessons about work that he taught me.

Every Good Endeavor, Keller, coverI learned a lot from my father about the value of work, about work ethic, and about how to work well. He taught me things like, “ always give eight hours of work for eight hours of pay,” “work so that you make yourself more valuable to them than they are to you,” and “always leave in such a way that you’ll be welcome back.” He didn’t just teach me these (and many other) things, he lived them by example, and as a result I believe that today, as an adult, I work hard and I work well, in a way that honors God, serves others, and reflects excellence. Thank you, dad, for teaching me how to work.

As I was thinking about this over the last couple of months, I also heard a pastor at my church preach a message on work from Ecclesiastes, and he referenced a couple of other specific books, so, like I usually do when I hear a good book referenced that seems applicable to my life at that moment, I ordered them. One of those was the book Every Good Endeavor, by Timothy Keller, which I found to be an excellent book that looks at work from a biblical, Christ-redeeming point of view. Keller essentially walks through three steps:

  1. Work was modeled by God and given to us as something joyful and valuable, designed for the benefit of God, others, and us.
  2. When sin entered into the world (and by extension, into ourselves and into our work), the true purpose, value, and joy of work became and continues to be distorted and difficult.
  3. The redemption by Christ and the cross, in the process of redeeming our souls, also began the process of redeeming the work that we do, restoring its purpose and value.

The result, according to Keller, is that a saving relationship with Jesus Christ now gives us freedom from work – the realization that the fruit of our labor is not dependent on us, but actually rests in God’s hands, so all we have to do is serve in the work we’ve been given by the Father. It also now gives us freedom in our work – the ability and capability to work sacrificially, following the example of Jesus and working for God’s glory, and sacrificing ourselves for the good of others.

I found this to be a quite refreshing and biblical look at the value of work, and how we should be approaching the work we are doing regardless of what that job is. It seems that often people spend their time looking at the grass that appears to be greener on the other side of the fence of that “dream job,” rather than seeing how they can serve God in the tasks they have been presently given. If you have been struggling with finding meaning in your work, or with understanding what it means to work well, or with seeing your job as a calling, then I would recommend this book to you. I am grateful for the lessons on work that my dad taught me, and so for me, this book brought both affirmation and clarity to those lessons. Perhaps you haven’t had those lessons, in which case, get it and read it. It will help you to see your work through the lens of Jesus.