Tag Archive for Mindset

It’s Time to Self-Reflect

Every once in a while (at least a couple of times a year, in my opinion) it is important to pause, look in the mirror, take time to reflect, and review. This could involve thinking through the decisions (and/or mistakes) you’ve made, analyzing the ways you’ve grown, reminding yourself of the important lessons learned, looking for patterns that have developed (both good and bad), reviewing the books, articles, workshops, and seminars you’ve studied or attended, and any number of other ways to self-reflect. Regardless of how you go about it, what matters is that you intentionally take time to do it. With that thought in mind, I would like to take time to do two things: share what I think have been the best books I’ve read this year so far, and highlight the important leadership lessons that have I have repeatedly been reminded of this year.

So far in 2016, the three best books on Leadership that I have read have been Mindset by Carol Dweck, Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, and Leadership Excellence by Pat Williams (incidentally, the way I determine this is by identifying the books that I have most often referenced or intentionally applied in practice as a leader, mentor, and school administrator). Mindset really helped me to look at myself (and others) to identify whether or not I (or they) am teachable and willing to grow and learn, and how my mindset has on impact on that. It was also tremendously beneficial in helping my to identify whether or not an employee was willing and able to grow, which in turn greatly helped me to make personnel decisions that were good for my organization. Thanks for the Feedback gave me a much better understanding of how to receive feedback well, and in a way that would help me grow, and how to give feedback to others in a way that is more easily received by them. Leadership Excellence was a very practical resource on general principles that are important for effective leadership.

In addition to these books on leadership, the three best books I’ve read so far this year for my own personal, spiritual growth are two books from Tim Keller – Every Good Endeavor (on understanding the meaning and purpose of your work in light of God’s design) and The Meaning of Marriage (on understanding God’s design for a healthy and happy marriage relationship) – and one from John Eldridge, Epic (a short book that I actually read a few years ago, but read again this year; it’s a description of how our lives are part of God’s grand story). The two books that have most helped me professionally in my career field (educational leadership) are Michael Fullan’s The Principal and Robyn Jackson’s Never Work Harder Than Your Students. And for my own reading pleasure, I most enjoyed William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace, Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, and one other that I am currently reading – The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

As I reflect back over the year so far there are also a handful of lessons that I seem to be seeing over and over again. The first is that leadership essentially involves two things: tasks and people. Managing tasks well involves things like competence, excellence, knowing the right things to do for your role and your organization, delegating appropriately, strategic planning, etc. Leading people well involves building relationships, maintaining relationships, investing in the growth of others, helping people to feel heard and validated, and so on. But ultimately it seems that almost everything in leadership can be reduced to doing the right tasks well, and cultivating relationships and people.

The second recurring lesson is that authenticity and credibility are absolutely essential to effective leadership. This means that a leader must develop and demonstrate integrity and transparency and must model consistency – walking the talk and talking the walk. In doing these things, trust is earned, loyalty is built, and decision-making authority grows. People will believe in you, trust you, and follow you.

The third recurring lesson is that it is important to be a learner, always observing, listening, studying, and growing. This means that a good leader should read often, should listen to the wisdom of others, and should practice self-reflection. Always be learning, and you’ll always be growing, which means, in turn, that you will always be in the process of becoming a better person and a better leader.

So that’s a snapshot of what I have learned or been reminded of this year. Now I’m going to be taking the next twelve weeks or so share a series of lessons on effective Christian leadership drawn from the book of Ezra. I’ve shared a few of these in this blog over the last couple of years, and last year I shared the entire series on another site (Center for the Advancement of Christian Education, or CACE), but I did not share them all here. Therefore, for the next 3 months, I am going to share that series again.   I do hope that these lessons will be valuable for you.

Oh, and take some time to do some self-reflection of your own!





“Thanks for the Feedback,” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

Thanks for the Feedback, Stone and HeenRecently, I was attending a school leadership convention, and one of the speakers referenced (and highly recommended) the book Thanks for the Feedback, by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. So, of course, I picked up a copy to read, and I have not been disappointed.

The book focuses on the topic of feedback, primarily from the perspective, and for the benefit, of the person receiving feedback (the subtitle is “The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well – even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and, frankly, you’re not in the mood”). The authors begin by identifying the three primary triggers that affect our response to feedback: truth triggers, relationship triggers, and identity triggers. The remainder of the book fleshes these out, and explains how to spot these triggers, and how to navigate the feedback well so that you can learn from it and have healthy dialogue.

I fully agree with the person who recommended this book, and so I in turn would highly recommend this book for you. Immediately after I started reading, I applied what I was learning in an interaction with one of my administrators. I had just finished reading chapter 2, which differentiates between feedback that comes as appreciation, as coaching, or as evaluation, when I needed to have a conversation to address a potential concern, and I was able to specifically explain the type of feedback I was giving, which helped it to be received in the way it was intended. Then a couple of weeks later, the business office received a dissatisfied email from a parent, and I was able to apply a lesson from the book to help those in the business office receive the feedback in way that helped them to understand the parent and to learn how to improve what was already a good process, as a result of the feedback.

This book also took me back to another time in my own life what I was being given feedback from my boss, and the feedback was difficult to receive, in part because I disagreed both with the messenger and with his method of delivery. My dad, again with his great wisdom, helped me to know how to enter that meeting prepared to receive the feedback I needed to hear in spite of the messenger, and years later I was able to look back and see what I had learned (both from the process, and from the circumstances that led to the meeting). Then, as I read this book, I found principles that directly reflected my dad’s wisdom so many years ago (which, for me, only affirmed my dad’s wisdom).

Therefore, I can say that this book is an excellent book on communication, and especially on the type of communication and response that takes place through feedback. It is practical, understandable, and beneficial, so if you haven’t read it, you ought to.

Incidentally, this is the third book I’ve read recently that also referenced Mindset, by Carol Dweck, which I likewise found to be an excellent book, and another one you definitely need to read if you haven’t done so already.

What is your mindset?

Carol Dweck, in Mindset, describes two different kinds of mindsets – fixed and growth – and shows how they can directly affect how you manage life circumstances.  So I wonder, what kind of mindset do you have?  I think that when I was younger, my mindset was more fixed than growth-oriented, but I have (thankfully) changed much over the years, and now I believe I work at maintaining a growth mindset. The end result has been continued growth and a healthy response to challenge.  How about you?  What kind of mindset do you have, and how do you know?

“Mindset,” by Carol Dweck

Mindset, Dweck, coverDo you believe that your qualities are predetermined and unchangeable, or that they can be cultivated through effort, application, and experience? This is the question that Carol Dweck addresses in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

According to Dweck, your “mindset” is the view you adapt for yourself, which in turn profoundly affects the way you lead your life. She defines two different mindset options – fixed (qualities are predetermined and unchangeable) and growth (qualities are changeable and malleable) – which then affect your life in many ways, such as how you handle challenge, the value of effort, resilience when you face setbacks, and your perception of performance, ability, and limitations. As she differentiates between these two, she describes how a fixed mindset limits learning and growth and leads to negative responses to failure, while a growth mindset learns and grows from challenge and failure. She also provides data (with illustrations and stories) to show how the choice of mindset can affect the development of ability and achievement. The remainder of the book walks through the contexts of sports, business, relationships, parenting, and education, discussing how each of these topics is affected by the two mindsets.

In essence, she says, a fixed mindset believes that intelligence and talent are static, while a growth mindset believes that intelligence and talent can be developed. The mindset, in turn, through which you filter your view of life has a direct impact on how you view challenges, obstacles, effort, criticism, and the success of others. The result is that the individual with a growth mindset tends to reach higher levels of achievement without plateauing.

This book not only helped me to be conscious of my own mindset, intentionally seeking to develop and maintain one that is growth-oriented, but it also helped me to be able to identify the mindset in my employees. This was quite helpful in the process of evaluating employees and assessing my own leadership; but more importantly, helped me to see how my mindset can positively or negatively affect my relationship with my wife and my children. It is definitely a good book for your shelf.


Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House: New York, NY.

Are You Listening?


Have you ever noticed how, when you become aware of something, you seem to notice it everywhere? For example, it seems like every time we have purchased a car, I have suddenly seen the same car everyplace I would go, even though I hadn’t noticed it before (Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons talk about the same thing in The Invisible Gorilla). Recently, I have had the same experience with an idea (rather than with a tangible object, like a car).

I had been reading Mindset, by Carol Dweck, on the effect of growth vs. fixed mindsets on how people respond to life, while also spending some time in the book of Proverbs, in which several similar verses on listening to counsel had caught my attention. This was happening in the context of my first year in a new job, and the combination of these things coalesced together to remind me the value and importance of listening to wise counsel.

The book explained that a growth mindset is willing to listen and grow from adversity and challenge, while a fixed mindset does not, which has a direct impact on learning, growth, and change. The verses in Proverbs included 11:14 (“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety”), 15:22 (“Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established”), and 15:31 (“The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise”). Meanwhile, in my new job, I was intentionally asking questions and listening to others who had expertise and information that I needed.

When I realized the theme idea that I was seeing everywhere – seeking counsel, listening, and being teachable – it caused me to stop and think about how well I was doing with this, and it reminded me of a particular story that took place in I Kings 12. The story describes what happened when Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, became King after Solomon died.

Almost immediately after he was crowned, another man (Jeroboam) came to Rehoboam with a representative group of Israelites to ask for a change in their workload from what Solomon had demanded of them. At this point in the story, there is no indication of whether or not their complaint and this request was appropriate or valid. We only know that the question was asked, and Rehoboam’s response initially seems to be a very good one – he asks them to come back in three days, so that he can take the time to figure out the best answer. There’s lots of room for biblical wisdom in this response, like taking time to gather all the information before responding, or counting the cost before making a decision.

Then he continues to show good judgment by calling together the elders, those with experience and wisdom who knew the history and the culture, to ask their advice on what to do. Their counsel: it was a valid request, and furthermore, if he would respond in the right way, with compassion and fairness, he would earn their loyalty and trust.

That’s when he takes a wrong turn. 2 Kings 12:8 informs us that after he left that meeting, he rejected their counsel, and turned to another group, “the young men who had grown up with him,” to hear their thoughts. Sadly, their counsel was to show the people that he meant business, to put them in their place, and to make their work harder. Rehoboam listened to the foolish advice of his friends, and the result was revolt, conflict, and corruption for the next two decades.

The lesson is obvious and simple – listen to wise counsel. The danger, however, is in where you seek that counsel. Proverbs makes it clear that there is much wisdom in seeking counsel, and doing so will increase the likelihood of successful plans.   However, Proverbs 13:20 also says, “he who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed,” so it does matter where that counsel comes from. You will perform better, you will be better, and you will lead better when you listen to good counsel. Therefore, be intentional about seeking counsel, and especially about seeking it from people with wisdom. Identify those people around you, people who have experience and history and cultural context and biblical wisdom, and go after their input. Ask questions, get feedback, and listen. If you do so, you will be a far better leader. Just listen and learn.