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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Choosing influences = choosing character.

Originally posted July 14, 2009
Yesterday I explored the following chain: Thoughts --> Words --> Actions --> Habits --> Character. If we back up on step further, we discover that there are lots of things that influence our thoughts. Some influences are thrust upon us, some we freely choose to allow. Sometimes we have a choice, but we don’t see it until we’re viewing it in hindsight. Although we’re not completely in control of our environment, we have more choices today than ever before.

A small sample of the things we choose:
Activities (sports, leisure, social, etc.)
Food and diet
Mentors and roll models
Authors and books
News and media
Where we live
Financial choices (long sublist here and a whole new topic)
Attitude and approach (What? We can choose that?)

I want to consider the motivation behind these choices. Why do we choose they way we do? Will the choices we make build us up or tear us down? Will they enable us to do the types of things we are called to do or enslave us to something less?

Let me take an example near and dear to my heart: Career choices. After leaving the Navy, I worked full time and went to night school to earn a bachelor’s degree in business. After several years of working in business operations planning, I then decided to pursue a master’s degree and attend the Professional MBA program at SMU, again at night and on weekends, while married and raising two children. After the MBA was complete, I chose positions in marketing then sales and sales management.

These decisions required huge commitments of time and energy. As much as I would like to think my decisions were noble, I assure you I didn’t make these decisions because I wanted to cure cancer or feed the homeless. They were driven by personal ambition. I’m not asserting that there’s anything wrong with commerce. I’m just pointing out the motivation behind the choice. The choices didn’t end there. For now, I’ve chosen to work in sales. But whom shall I perform my services for? Whom shall I follow and why? Some have more choices than others - whether due to previous choices we’ve made or because of circumstances thrust upon us, but we all have choices to make.

During an interview, how often do we probe the values and character of the leaders who seek to hire us? How do they value and treat their team? Will they help us succeed and work on our behalf? When the team wins, the coach wins, and the owners profit. What types of questions are they asking? Is the conversation all about what you can do for them or are they interested in you as a team member as well? Do they even see you?

Confession: Doing a better job of probing in these areas could have spared me a nightmare job situation. In hindsight, I can now see that I was heavily influenced and blinded by ambition and greed. Not exactly biblical principles. But again, I digress.

What is our criteria in choosing the leaders we follow? Stephen Covey tells is in his book The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness ( that all great achievers have three things in common:
Vision --> Mind. To see what they want to achieve

Discipline --> Body. To carry it out

Passion --> Heart. Fuels discipline in achieving the vision

(Footnote: The opposite of discipline and commitment is indulgence - sacrificing what matters most in life for the pleasure or thrill of the moment - Stephen Covey)

This is true of high achievers and leaders, regardless of the type of influence they have become, whether we’re talking about Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, George Washington, or Mother Teresa. Their vision, discipline, and passion will attract followers. But what separates Adolf Hitler from Mother Teresa?
CONSCIENCE--> Spirit. Inward moral sense of right and wrong, the drive toward meaning and contribution. This is the guiding force for vision, passion, and discipline.

Do we follow people who embody all four of these attributes? Do we follow them just because they’ve made a lot of money, achieved some position or notoriety, or are passionate and driven? I would assert that’s not enough.

The people we follow influence us. They ultimately shape our character. One man lived who demonstrated what our character should yield - service out of thanksgiving, not because of something expected in return.

Over the last two days I’ve quoted Aristotle and Stephen Covey. Today, let’s end by quoting the Bible. Two fantastic passages as to where our minds should be in seeking influence.

Psalm 1
The Way to Happiness
1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.

Colossians 3
Rules for Holy Living
15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Blessings to you my friends.

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