My Last Trip to Build a Bear

My Leadership Begins at Home tagline once again came to mind a couple of weekends ago as I attended the college graduation of my daughter Sarah. 

It's official ... there's a new Mercer Bear in the world. 

I remember our first trip to Build-a-Bear like it was yesterday ... only it wasn't. It was fifteen years ago that we first set foot in a mall (remember those) to pay an insane amount of money to design a teddy bear. A teddy bear that honestly looked like every other teddy bear. 

Baby Bear 1

Looking back, the first bear cost little in comparison to the college bear, and I'm not referring to tuition. I'm talking about a higher price. Truthfully the latest version has cost me my life. Every precious ounce of life. All my prayers, cares, hopes, dreams, and yes, even my money. So many bedtime stories, front porch chats, soccer practices, and tanks of gas have represented the price tag. And if you ask me, worth every second and every penny. 

Baby Bear 2For leaders the temptation is to focus on the nine to five, those hours that represent work. The idea of Leadership Begins at Home is more about what happens from five to nine ... kids aren't the only ones who need to be doing homework.

As a father, I can tell you there are few things that compare to the joy of watching your kids grow up, knowing you have attempted to be fully present. 

Along the way I learned you can read all the Dr. Seuss bedtime stories in the world, attend every game, even show up for an occasional tea party, and still miss the moments.

Let me warn you ... technology will tempt you. Your schedule will seduce you. Leadership will lure you. And if you're not extra careful graduation will represent regret.

Thankfully, my daddy regrets are few, but I do wish I had respected the time more and been even more locked in. It was hard to appreciate just how fast it would pass. 

In a few weeks most kids will go back to school, but one of mine won't. No, our time for back to school shoes and backpacks has passed. 

I'm glad my wife and I took the time to build a bear. This one very real. Costly, but now priceless. 

Way to go kid. You were worth it!

Leadership Begins at Home,


Feel free to leave Sarah a word of wisdom in the comment section below ...

I want to thank each of you who faithfully read and pass along my content to your friends and co-workers. Over the next few weeks I will be taking an extended blog break to spend extra time doing Homework. I hope you will too!

My next post will be Monday, July 20th. 

Do You Think Others First?

A while back I picked up my copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

When it comes to working on my people skills, Carnegie’s classic is still one of my favorites.

One of the best reminders in the book is where Carnegie writes, “The unvarnished truth is that almost all the people you meet feel superior to you in some way, and a sure way to their hearts is to let them realize in some subtle way that you recognize their importance, and recognize it sincerely.”  He goes on, referring to what Emerson once said: “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.”

I love those words so much because they keep me focused on the importance of other people. Great leaders think others first.

Unfortunately, I have a tendency to think me first. More than I care to admit, I default to my-self, my agenda, my success, and my dreams.

Carnegie’s reminder is not original to him. This idea was first written about a couple thousand years ago when Paul penned in his letter to the Philippian church, “In humility value others above yourselves.”

If you want to win friends and influence people, perhaps you should start by changing your focus.

Everyone you meet today will have tremendous value. The question is, will you exercise the humility to recognize it?

Leadership Begins at Home,


Who has added value to your life during the past month?

Comment Below ...

Remember, Your Business is Your Stage

One of my favorite things about my work is the interesting people I am able to meet.

Yesterday, my friend Billy Boughey and I were spending time brainstorming business models when we happened to run into James Gilmore, the author of The Experience Economy. Being an idea expert himself, Billy who leads Elevate, was like a kid on Christmas morning when he met the guru.

Jim Gilmore

(Commercial ... If you ever need to take an event to a world class level, Billy and his Elevate Team are the ticket)

The subtitle of Gilmore’s book, Work is Theater and Every Business a Stage, is a great challenge to anyone who leads an organization.

Hopefully, like the best thespians, you understand that theater is about the audience, not the actors.

As you think about your business, do you see the audience as the hero? If not, you are missing the point ... people are looking for an experience, not a commodity.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Gilmore and Joe Pine wrote the following words:

“Ensuring the integrity of the customer experience requires more than the layering on of positive cues. Experience stagers also must eliminate anything that diminishes, contradicts, or distracts from the theme, Most constructed spaces - malls, offices, buildings, or airplanes - are littered with meaningless or trivial messages.”

If you want to elevate your game, I encourage you to evaluate your messages. Are they meaningless? Trivial? More about you than the audience? If so, it’s time to clear the clutter and create an experience.

Remember, your business is your stage. If you hope to get your message across, focus on what matters most ... Your customers.

Leadership Begins at Home,


What is the best customer experience you have had during the past month?

Comment Below ...

The Biggest Decision of the Day

A friend of mine joined me for lunch yesterday. As we headed to the car, we were faced with a big decision. The same big decision we are faced with each time we go to lunch. "Where do we want to eat?"

While the lunchtime location is a hard one to decide, it is not the biggest decision of the day.

(tweet) The biggest decision of the day is the first one you make ... It is the decision to bring energy and engagement to your work as opposed to holding back and living half-hearted.

(tweet) Leaders who fail to engage at the beginning of the day end up missing out on opportunities to influence others.

Why not make it a practice to ignore your circumstances and focus on the facts?

The truth is, your attitude is a lot more important than you might think.

Focus your mind and heart on being positive in everything you do, and you will be well on your way to a life of greater impact.

Leadership Begins at Home,


What other big decisions determine the success of a leader's day?

Comment Below ...

First Class

A couple of days ago, while on an airplane, I had a chance to see first-class up close and personal.

I was sitting in coach.

Within minutes of boarding the plane, a gentleman I had passed in first class came walking back toward my seat. He passed me and stopped four or five rows back beside a sharp looking young man who is in the Navy. The man from first-class looked at the soldier and said, "Excuse me young man, I believe you are sitting in my seat." The soldier replied, “No sir, here's my boarding pass.”

As the man in the Navy held up his pass the distinguished gentlemen reached and took it and said, “No son, you are in seat 1A,” handing him his first-class boarding pass.”

The stunned soldier said, “No sir, that is your seat.” The older gentleman said, “I insist. Go up there and enjoy yourself, and thank you for all you do.”

The entire scene reminded me of a few important things.

First, you don't have to be wearing a uniform to understand or demonstrate honor. The executive was willing to sacrifice a small part of himself to make the day better for the soldier. I had a chance to talk to the man after the soldier when up front, thanking him for demonstrating what it means to be a servant. The businessman shared with me that, when he is upgraded to first class, he likes to give his seat to someone in the military. He said, “If I can help a guy gain an extra 10 or 15 minutes with his wife or girlfriend, it makes me feel like I'm doing my part.

Second, first class is not a seat or section on an airplane. First class is a man who would give up what is rightfully his to bless a soldier. First class is a stay home mom who yields her career for a couple of preschoolers who are too small to say thank you. First class is a friend who sits by the bedside of someone in the hospital. First class is a Dad who slows down long enough to read a bedtime story to his little girls.

First class has absolutely nothing to do with how much you can afford to pay for a plane ticket.

As I approach this weekend I am going to be looking for an opportunity to be a first class leader – one who sees another in need and then responds to meet that need anyway I can. I hope you will join me.

It is not hard to be first class, but it sure is difficult. It requires me to think of others before I think about myself.

The world needs more first-class leaders. Let’s all do our part and give up our seat for someone in need.

Leadership Begins at Home, 


When is the last time you saw a leader demonstrate “first class” behavior? 

Comment below…

Make a Difference

I am always surprised at how often I have the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life. However, the opportunities can sometimes be easy to miss.

One such encounter happened on Saturday as I was checking into a hotel with my wife and one of our daughters.

The young lady behind the counter looked to be in her early twenties. She rattled off a memorized set of questions ... Name? Address? Phone number? Tag number? As she neared the and of her list, without hesitation, she added, "Name of your first book?" with an attempt at being funny.

Having no idea I actually wrote a book, she was caught off guard when I said, "Wait right here," and walked out the door, back to the parking lot. I happened to have a copy of Finding Your Way in my car.

FYW Link

Realizing something was up, she had a puzzled look on her face when I reentered the lobby. Opening the front flap of the book I picked up the pen on the registration desk and said, "I'm going to need to know your name." By this time she was smiling. "Kayla," came the answer. "Kayla with a K?" I replied. That's right," she said. “What do you want to be when you grow up, Kayla?”

Not that there's anything wrong with working behind the desk in the hotel lobby, but most 23-year-olds have grander aspirations.

“What's your dream Kayla?” I pressed.

“I wanted to be a zoologist, but I got a little off course along the way. I need to get back on track.”

I closed the book, and handed it to her. “Kayla, I think this might help get you back on track.”

You would have thought I was John Grisham from the look on Kayla's face. In that moment a few things became clear to me.

  1. I’m glad I took the time to write the book with my friend Dan Webster. Being faithful on the front end positioned me to make a difference on the back end. The same will happen for you.
  2. Little things can make a big difference. Truthfully, you could argue that my gesture was small. However, to Kayla, having someone remind her there is greatness in her could prove to be very big. That is my prayer.
  3. When we seek to make a difference in someone else’s life, the biggest difference occurs in us. I walked away feeling good about myself for not being in a hurry and for encouraging a fellow struggler. Walk slowly through the crowd this week.

Today, don’t be surprised if you are given the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. It will be easy to miss, or even ignore. Don’t!

Choose a different way. Be a noticer and a doer. Someone needs for you to remind them they are great. Now go and make a difference.



When was the last time you went out of your way to make a difference in someone’s life?






Never Compare Your Inside With Somebody Else’s Outside

Recently I read a the following: “Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.” If you are a leader, those are great words to embrace.

One Sunday, I had a speaking engagement in northeast Georgia. Driving back toward home, I decided to stop for some lunch at the Mall of Georgia, just north of Atlanta. As I walked into the food court, I saw an amazing example of someone who is refusing to compare their inside with somebody else’s outside.

The restaurants in the food court were buzzing. All but one, that is. There sitting in darkness was Chick-fil-A. For those of you unfamiliar with Chick-fil-A, they have made a commitment to be closed on Sundays. It is a value of the company, and they have remained true to it.

While others rake in Sunday profits, the employees of Chick-fil-A enjoy one day each week to rest and recharge. Why? Because someone in leadership at Chick-fil-A once made a fundamental decision that their values would be more important than their profits.

Too often I see leaders who do just the opposite. They act more like followers than they do leaders. It is a copycat, go with the flow, fit the mold, kind of world these days.

We look at others on the outside and make decisions, compromising our inside. We strive to be like the trendy, latest and greatest, leaders out there who seemingly have it all together. This mindset erodes our integrity and causes us to lose our way.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with learning from others who are successful and profitable. However, at the end of the day, there is only one you and you need to be it.

There is greatness in your life. Great ideas, great skills, and the potential for great impact.

I dare you to unleash who you are in your sphere of influence. Determine your values and stay true to them

no matter what everyone else around you is doing - even if you feel like you are living in the dark. Chick-Fil-A does and so can you.

Your uniqueness is needed, and it will make a statement to those who are watching.

“Never compare your inside to somebody else’s outside!”



Who do you know that is value driven and successful?



Over the past couple of weeks I have been looking forward to today. Why?

The Olympics are over, and now I can get some sleep.

Watching the world’s best, night after night, has reminded me that greatness requires sacrifice. Gabby didn’t get lucky and go viral last week. She will forever be known by a single name, not because of a moment, but because of thousands of hours of practice that prepared her for a moment.

But not every Olympic story will end up on a Wheaties box. After yesterday’s mens’ marathon, American Ryan Hall will wake up today and feel disappointment after dropping out of the race, with a hamstring problem, around the nine mile mark.

“I am in shock right now. This is the first time in my life I have ever not finished a race.” Hall said when interviewed.

Truthfully, Ryan worked just as hard as Gabby did, only to see his dreams come crashing down.

So what happens when you work hard and don’t get the results you had hoped for?

You have to make a choice.

You can either go away or go to work.

Hall will need some time to refocus his running career. Eventually though, he will have to decide. He already seems to be on the right track. Just this morning, Hall tweeted (@ryanhall3), "Blessed to have family and friends for encouragement. Getting fresh perspective today."

After years in prison, the wrongly accused Nelson Mandela once said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

Hall’s story is not over and neither is yours. If you have experienced a recent disappointment it is time to rise, put one foot in front of the other, and go to work.

Ultimately, what you achieve will be forgotten, but how you deal with disappointment will be remembered. Especially, by YOU.



What would you say to someone who is dealing with disappointment?


Susanna Wesley was a remarkable woman. Giving birth to nineteen children in the span of twenty years was no small feat. Especially considering nine of the children did not make it past infancy.

The patience of the woman is legendary. Once when teaching one of her kids a particular lesson, her husband Samuel overheard and counted her repeating the same information twenty times.

“I wonder at your patience,” he encouraged her. “You have told that child twenty times the same thing.”

Susanna, with a grin on her face, replied to her husband, “If I had satisfied myself by mentioning it only nineteen times I should have lost all my labour. It was the twentieth time that crowned it.”

There is a reason Susanna raised such legendary leaders as John and Charles, the founders of the Methodist Church. She understood the importance of persistence.

Susanna also embraced her opportunity to influence the next generation of leaders. Once while her husband was away from home, she wrote to him . . . “I am a woman, but I am also the mistress of a large family. And though the superior charge of the souls contained in it lies upon you, yet in your long absence I cannot but look upon every soul you leave under my charge as a talent committed to me under a trust. I am not a man nor a minister, yet as a mother and a mistress I felt I ought to do more than I had yet done. I resolved to begin with my own children; in which I observe the following method: I take such a proportion of time as I can spare every night to discourse with each child apart. On Monday I talk with Molly, on Tuesday with Hetty, Wednesday with Nancy, Thursday with Jacky, Friday with Patty, Saturday with Charles.”

Every leader could learn a couple of things from Susanna.

First - Finish the job. Greatness, no matter the arena, seems to be more a matter of practice than it does a matter of talent. Repetition is the key to rising through the ranks yourself, or leading someone else to do so.

Second - Be consistent in the way you connect with your team members. For Susanna, it was with her children. For you it might be with your direct reports. Whether your leadership is exercised at work or at home, recognize the greatness in those you have been entrusted to lead and approach them with love and humility.

The dictionary defines persistence as, “Firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.” In other words, don’t expect persistent influence to be easy.

Is there someone who needs to be reminded one more time? If you have given up, you should reconsider. One more time . . . one more connection . . . might “crown it” to use Susanna’s words.  And imagine an environment where you saw, “Every soul under your charge as a talent committed to you under a trust.”

See others that way and lead with persistence, and your influence will go to another level.





What role do you think persistence plays in the effectiveness of a leader?





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