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The Restorative Value of Mentors, Models and Networks

February 21, 2011
The Restorative Value of Mentors, Models and Networks

“Serve others. The unfailing recipe for happiness and success is to want the good of others. Happiness and success is when I see others happy. Happiness is a shared thing.”

— Bishop Desmond Tutu

I have learned a lot about happiness this past month … and the contagious effect of being around people who are happy. My wife is happy. Linda says, “Be happy. It is a choice, you know.” Maybe there is a message for me in there. My assistant is happy. The team I work with at The Drucker Institute is happy with their marvelously flexible new space designed for them by the Herman Miller Company.

Last week I went to participate in this year’s Drucker Institute CEO Forum, a truly remarkable gathering of 25 Big Dogs from all three sectors – government (Department of Education), social sector organizations (Harvard, The American Red Cross, Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter’s House in Dallas), and business (CEO’s of P&G, Starbucks, Costco, Intuit) among others.

It was an interactive, relational idea exchange – no speakers. My knowledge of large enterprises grew by leaps and bounds. For example, did you know that the mission of multinational consumer goods company Procter &Gamble is “changed lives?”  How remarkable is that! They hold all their product development and distribution practice to that standard. There were all kinds of offers to stay in touch, to share models and to mentor one another.

Doris Drucker is happy. She approached me at a reception before dinner with a smile to ask, “Are you coming to my one hundredth birthday party?” Her 100th birthday is this spring and she still plays tennis twice a week.

Last year’s CEO Forum was hosted by the then Chairman of P&G, A.G. Lafley, who afterwards sent along a blog post by Harvard Business Review’s Ellen Peeble. Her thoughts seemed to express the spirit of the whole:

“The answers from this group of business leaders were inspiring. Participants spoke fervently of a renewed passion for purpose and values, a sense of responsibility to local and global community, and of a new generation entering the workplace with what appears to be a level of desire to serve and give back to a degree we haven’t seen since the 1930s and 1940s.

“The group consensus (or maybe more accurately, hope): Drucker would be proud. His advocacy of concerns that rise above corporate interests still resonates, and appears to be embraced by the up-and-coming leaders who will be running business in a couple of decades. … Maybe I’m naïve, but socially responsible ideas seem to be penetrating business conversations in a way that feels earnest and even game-changing.”

It is a real ray of hope that the emerging generation of Millennials is very receptive to mentoring relationships from their elders. Last year was the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock. It was occasion for me to turn up the volume and watch again the film of that once-in-a-lifetime concert, still the best concert film ever made. Lots of “attitude” was characteristic in that generation of Viet Nam era free spirits. I remember the slogan was “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

The currently dominant theme seems to be partisanship, angry political gridlock and that America and Europe have seen their best days.

A February 14, 2011 Wall Street Journal piece by Joe Nye, former Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School, titled, “The Misleading Metaphor of Decline.”  I met Joe when I was momentarily on the board of the Hauser Center at Harvard. He is smart, nuanced and a specialist in the human side of Foreign Affairs. He voices a point of view about relationships that I found appealing: Some quotes:

“Describing the future of power as inevitable American decline is both misleading and dangerous if it encourages China to engage in adventurous policies or the U.S. to overreact out of fear.

“American power is based on alliances rather than colonies, and it is associated with an ideology that is flexible and to which America can return even after it has overextended itself.

“America’s culture of openness and innovation will keep it central in an information age when networks supplement, if not fully replace, hierarchical power.

“America is likely to remain more powerful than any single state in the coming decades. At the same time, we will certainly face a rise in the power resources of many others—both states and nonstate actors. We will also face an increasing number of issues to which solutions will require power with others as well as power over others. Our capacity to maintain alliances and create networks will be an important dimension of our hard and soft power.”

On the religious front, I drew inspiration from my side conversations with Bishop T.D. Jakes at the CEO Forum. He has a congregation of 30,000 members. He is a wonderfully wise man in the area of ethnic minorities … with both a complete and informative knowledge of current realities and a positive let’s-fix-it point of view. He could hold his own with any of the others in the room.


The company you keep

And last, speaking of relationships – Linda and I had a dinner party for a few close couple friends to celebrate Valentines Day. The list was just a friends’ list, no agenda. But on closer examination, I found that everyone in the room was doing something important to serve others in Dallas and beyond … in healthcare, in education, in programs for the poor … lots of up-close and personal sharing with a group of inspiring and inspired friends. Virtuous people doing noble things. It was a warm and wonderful evening in a different context.


So What About You?

Here are three penetrating questions for organizations from the Drucker Institute CEO Forum. These questions might fit marriage and family as well:

  1. What is a value or practice that has buckled or broken in the past?
  2. What is a value or practice that has proven resilient under pressure?
  3. What is a value or practice that is most at risk in the near future?

Recommended Resources:

The Future of Power by Joseph Nye, Public Affairs, 2011

The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church by Reggie McNeal, Jossey-Bass (March, 2009)

McNeal describes a new scorecard for American churches – more externally focused moving forward from proclamation to demonstration through faith-motivated community organizations.

The Drucker Exchange, An ongoing conversation about bettering society through effective management and responsible leadership. It is refreshed daily and free on the web. It is like Drucker speaking on current events.

Management Revised Edition by Peter Drucker with Joe Maciariello. HarperCollins (April, 2008). Drucker’s sixty year body of work, 35 books and countless articles compressed into 10-15 page topical sections by the best Drucker Scholar alive. This is the go-to reference volume. Like having Peter at your side as a wise mentor on whatever problem that’s keeping you up nights.

Managing the Nonprofit Organization by Peter Drucker, Collins (August, 1992). My favorite Drucker book (if that can be said). Brief and focused on the five major topics for the social sector.





Rest – Musing on weather and idling at Still Point Farm

February 4, 2011

Rest – Musing on weather and idling at Still Point Farm

This has been a week of involuntary rest for most of us in the middle of the country and on the East Coast. Schools are closed and TV meteorologists are advising us to stay inside lest we join those televised images of abandoned cars covered with two feet of snow on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. The temperature yesterday in Texas was colder than the temperature in Anchorage, Alaska. Texas is buying electricity from Mexico to keep things warm and working.

As to me, I struggled with guilt for my lack of productivity for a day but with a blanket of snow outside and a fireplace blazing inside, I have decided to give in to the genial ambiance and just “be.”

Linda, my enabler, in the pleasant pursuit handed me a missive from a local pastor who reassuringly reasoned:

“Even the disciples observed a time of rest from their work.

God has sanctified the Sabbath as a weekly day of worship and rest.

And He has created an annual season which invites rest as well.

Winter is a time created by God to give the earth an opportunity to

be still. The term ‘Winter rest,’ from the German term Winterruhe, means

a state of reduced activity in which plants and animals save energy during

cold weather.’ God created this season for a purpose. And we would do

well to take advantage of it.

That pushes against much in our world. For many, there is no letup

in work in the winter. There is certainly no rest from the media

saturation in our culture.

But sometimes seemingly doing nothing is actually doing something.”


Mortimer Adler, of Aspen Institute fame, had this description of what he called “idling” to put a positive frame around days like these:

“When I have nothing to do for an hour, and I don’t want to do anything, I neither read nor watch television. I sit back in a chair and let my mind relax. I do what I call idling. It’s as if the motorcar’s running but you haven’t got it in gear. You have to allow a certain amount of time in which you are doing nothing in order to have things occur to you, to let your mind think.”

Sooo I’m giving in to the mood of the day with nothing particularly profound to say, hoping these words give you comfort in your circumstances.

The temperature for the Super Bowl in Dallas Sunday is expected to be in the mid-forties outside, 72 degrees inside Jerry Jones’ opulent stadium.


Quick Guide to a Balanced Life – the Four Essential Questions

January 18, 2011

Quick Guide to a Balanced Life – the Four Essential Questions

Most of us begin each New Year full of good intentions to lead a balanced life. The prior year we found we had over allocated to some area of our life (usually work) and sadly sacrificed other areas leading to exhaustion and all manner of mischief.

Over the holidays, I read an exceptional piece by Michael Lewis (author of The Big Short). The subject was a hot young broker who was consumed by his quest for money and the eighty-hour ethos of his rapacious work environment. Lewis recounted that the broker “routinely ranked in the top percent of revenue producers in whichever firm he happened to be working for. In his best years, he grossed more than $1 million. Only now he had a problem.  He was quickly becoming the world’s unhappiest man … A fellow broker had told him, “You are confused about your job. Your job is to turn your clients’ net worth into your own.” This young “master of the universe” told Lewis, “Everyone I worked with had a drinking issue. You can’t continue to hurt people and feel good about yourself.”

But how to avoid this mess ourselves? Most of us begin with New Years Resolutions that quickly evaporate under the pressure of circumstances. I am going to suggest that instead we would serve ourselves better by asking fruitful questions. Years ago at age 34 in the most intense part of my life, I was managing a television station and chasing deals all around the country. A work associate confronted me one day saying, “You are a frightening person. You are sooo focused on cash flow.” After some reflection, I said to myself, “She’s right, and what are you going to do about it?” I went aside and begin asking questions. My first question was, “What are you going to lose with all this gaining?” That quickly led to a second question, “What are the non negotiables in your life? What can you not afford to lose?” That led to my writing six goals for my entire life. They haven’t changed to this day. More on that in a moment.

I have taken note of the fact that the smartest people I know always begin with questions. For example, Peter Drucker’s three famous questions about business are: What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?  Jim Collins begins each of his book quests with a question. “What does it take to go from Good to Great?” What sort of companies are “Built to Last”?

A couple of years ago, I was privileged to hear Tom Tierney deliver a lecture in New York City. Tierney is one of my great examples of a fruitful Life II (he is interviewed in my book, Finishing Well). Tierney had succeeded Mitt Romney as world-wide Managing Director of Bain & Co, a leading strategy consulting group. He had left to form The Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit that provides strategy consulting to nonprofits and philanthropy organizations. ( Tierney’s lecture was based on an organization’s willingness to rigorously confront four essential, interdependent questions. I didn’t write them down, but later Tierney sent me a note saying, “Recall my talk in NY – you asked about the ‘four questions’ – here they are.” Attached was a Harvard Business Review article. I retrieved the article during the Christmas holidays and have converted Tierney’s Four Questions from corporate application to personal application. What you will see next is a matrix that I hope will be useful for your planning to develop a balanced personal life. In the left-hand column are my six goals for a balanced life. The particulars have, of course, changed, but the nonnegotiable categories still provide the framework that supports all the important priorities of my life. Your dominant categories may be different, but it is critical to know what they are.

The line across the top has Bridgespan’s Four Essential Questions which apply to the categories listed on the left. It is a fill-in-the-box personal exercise. You will note that the Tierney questions stress results, what those results will cost and how they can be funded. I felt it important to leave cost considerations in for two reasons: the funding question often trips people up causing them to allocate less than they might to deployment of resources to significance activities. People simply answer the “How much is enough?” question by saying “more!!” The second reason is that often the costs are existential rather than economic. By that I mean they are questions of time and values, not money questions. If you read the Michael Lewis article about the young broker, you will quickly find that he doesn’t have time to allocate to anything except making money, deceiving his clients, and achieving a top ten ranking in his company.

So I wish you well in filling in the boxes to make them fit the person God has designed you to be.

Download pdf version of this worksheet.

As an example, my answers to Q1 for my six categories are:

  1. Linda happy.
  2. Serving others to fill “the Ross void” in my life. The fruit of my investment grows up on other peoples’ trees.
  3. Funds flow from 5-year plan. Reviewed annually.
  4. Assured lifestyle – the rest goes to “significance” projects preferably in my lifetime.
  5. Areas of interest: Management, visual arts, literature/history, investment/economics.
  6. To transform the latent energy in American Christianity into active energy.


So What about You?

  1. Are you willing to answer Bridgespan’s Four Essential Questions for your life? There is a wonderful line from Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
  2. I recommend you share your own musings with your spouse, your best friend, or a small group of people you trust. Often they can see more than you can.
  3. You can reconvert the Four Questions back to corporate usage by simply inserting “we” where I have used “I.”

One of my Favorite Poems:

It is the world’s one crime

that its babes grow dull.

Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap.

Not that they serve,

but that they have no God to serve.

The tragedy is not death.

The tragedy is to die

with commitments undefined,

with convictions undeclared

and with service unfulfilled.

— Rachel Lindsey



The U-Ben of Life

January 4, 2011

The U-Bend of Life: Why, beyond middle age, people get happier as they get older

I have been contending for years that in the Second Half of life is the best part of life. My evidence has been my own life and countless anecdotes I encounter through the work of Leadership Network (now in its 27th year) and Halftime. I always worry that I am rowing upstream against a cascade of fear and media buzz, news that older is worse and younger is better.

You can only imagine my delight to see the cover story of the current Economist magazine proclaim that people are happier – continuously happier as they move through Halftime into what I call Life II. The Economist (Dec 18, 2010) calls this welcome contradiction of the common wisdom “The U-Bend of Life.” The headline on the cover reads:

Here is an initial paragraph:

“When people start out on adult life, they are, on average, pretty cheerful. Things go downhill from youth to middle age until they reach a nadir commonly known as the mid-life crisis. So far, so familiar. The surprising part happens after that. Although as people move towards old age they lose things they treasure—vitality, mental sharpness and looks—they also gain what people spend their lives pursuing: happiness.”

It will come as a surprise to some, if not most people, but the new research is not at all at variance with the evidence I confront almost daily in those good Samaritans who are spending their days in a variety of post-success meaningful pursuits “loving their neighbors.”

Man does not live by bread alone

The Economist continues:

“This curious finding has emerged from a new branch of economics that seeks a more satisfactory measure than money of human well-being. Conventional economics uses money as a proxy for utility—the dismal way in which the discipline talks about happiness. But some economists, unconvinced that there is a direct relationship between money and well-being, have decided to go to the nub of the matter and measure happiness itself.”

Pursuing happiness seems to be what I am doing personally these days. It is what I watched Peter and Doris Drucker do the last 25 years of their very productive lives. Doris still plays tennis, at age 98, and travels for The Drucker Institute – to China and Korea!

Right now (New Years Eve), Linda and I are in the midst of a nine-day interlude at Still Point Farm. The name comes from a line in my favorite poem by T.S. Eliot:

“At the still point of the turning world there the dance is. Where past and future are gathered – the inner freedom from the practical desire, the release from action and suffering – release from the inner and outer suffering.”

Last year we seemed to need to spend two weeks in the South of France to celebrate our birthdays. This is better.  I have concluded that these nine days at Still Point are just about the happiest time off we can imagine. The crisp winter mornings are quiet contemplative spaces. There is a pleasant light lunch together. Afternoons are time for a brisk bundled-up walk on an East Texas country “road less traveled.” And, evenings bring a warm fireside and a stimulating batch of high stakes win-or-go-home college and professional football games. I don’t think I could stand full time retirement, but I can sure stand this highly restorative interlude. It is time to let my subconscious do the work.

Gross National Happiness

According to the article that birthed this line of thought, a new branch of Economists measures the concept of Gross National Happiness seeking a more satisfactory measure than accumulated treasure to determine human well being. France and Britain have both commissioned new studies – there is already a lot of data collected by America’s General Social Survey, Eurobarometer, and Gallup on the perennial question, “What makes people happy?”

Four main factors emerge: gender, personality, circumstances and age. “Women, by and large, are slightly happier than men. But they are also slightly more susceptible to depression — considering the age variable, people are least happy in their 40’s and early 50’s. They reach a nadir at a global average of 46.”

Interest in “The U-Bend” is growing. The graphic shown here from a study by professors at Stony Brook and Princeton looks at how self-reported well being varied through life. The effect on happiness is significant.

My experiences with the 450 people who have come to join a circle of ten during the four years I and my colleagues have been holding our Halftime Institutes in Dallas have shown us that human beings in midlife have a longing for significance when they tire of the chase for money, recognition and power. They don’t want to waste themselves away in the Second Half of their lives. And the Halftime transition always involves a shift from accumulation to deployment. You might call it an age and stage based transfer of addiction – from success as a basis for meaning, wealth and security to significance.

For many of the people I know, serving others is a calling, wired into our Spiritual DNA. It is what St. Paul describes in Ephesians 2:10 as a consequence of faith – “good works prepared beforehand for us to walk in.”

I know a lot of people who have made the transition in Halftime from addiction to money, recognition and power to what I call a positive addiction. It is why I will go back to Dallas after the New Year Bowl Games. I have asked many people whether, given the opportunity, they would return to their First Half Life I. Not a single one has said, “Yes, I would.”

There is a season for everything. Apparently people lead happier lives past Halftime. It is nice to know the research supports my observation.

Happy New Year! Happy New Life!

Recommended Resources (more than usual):

Finishing Well: What People Who Really Live Do Differently! Integrity Publishers, 2005. My fourth book. Sixty-two stories of successful First Halfers who have crossed the bridge to significance – and increased happiness.

Halftime Institute (

The Halftime Institute is a small-group event designed for high-capacity individuals who have experienced success in the first half of their lives and now have a desire to pursue eternal significance in their second half.

The highly interactive experience offers both the personal insights of Bob Buford and the input of peers over a focused, two-day period.  By the end of the process, participants create their own powerful second-half life plan.

From Success to Significance: When the Pursuit of Success Isn’t Enough. Zondervan, 2004. By my long time associate, Lloyd Reeb. I call it Halftime for normal people who aren’t rich and don’t have to quit their job.

Ken Blanchard and Colleen Barrett. Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success. FT Press; 2010. Ken Blanchard and Colleen Barrett are both great examples of a life well lived in the Second Half. Ken sent me this remarkable book with a note that said, “If I was to leave a legacy right now, it would be this book.” Tom Peters said, “For the committed reader, it will be a truly life altering event.” Woman on a mission is a self-discovery tool and Bible study designed to help women determine and pursue their personal mission. Great course and small group materials. Linda Slaton describes the restlessness and confusion that many women experience but have difficulty defining.

Something to muse on this New Year

On a 1 to 10 scale, what is your well-being score these days? Is it higher or lower than it was twenty years ago?


Miracle Fair

December 20, 2010

Miracle Fair – Thinking about the common place miracles

It has been a bad year. My two favorite restaurants in Dallas closed (York St. and Lola). And my two favorite football teams tanked. There are 35 College Bowl games and the University of Texas didn’t win enough games to get invited to any one of them – not even the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl or the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl. The Dallas Cowboys have the look of the pad-less, shave-less Tony Romo standing forlornly on the sidelines. Not even a Wild Card shot this year.

Linda says, “It’s dragging down your writing. Be Happy. You know, it is a choice!” So this time I am going to muse on the common miracles that surround my everyday life when I choose to notice them.

Of course, the Big Miracle is to be deeply in love with a woman who looks and acts like she did twenty years ago. She’s always “There!” Linda incarnates harmony, empathy and other-centeredness.

And I am surrounded everyday by virtuous and energetic people who share the same values and work that gives my life meaning and significance (Leadership Network, Halftime, The Drucker Institute and “Bob Inc”), and I had the greatest mentor in the world since Alexander had Aristotle and he is still there through his writing.

Furthermore, having experienced a life-threatening infectious disease in the first Quarter of the year – I’M ALIVE – and feeling great following what no less than four doctors have told me was a miraculous healing. Yea God!

I wake up each morning forgiven of my multitudinous sins and have a son who assured me in writing that he had a great time in his 24 years on earth and that in his own words, “I am in a better place now. You’ve made it a great life. Make sure you go up and not down, and I’ll be waiting for you at heaven’s gate. Thanks. Adios, Ross.” People say all the time, “You will never know this side of eternity the lives you have touched.” I look forward to life “on the other side.” Not everybody does. I do. Think what a blessing that is!

The title for this musing comes from a favorite poem by Wislawa Szymborska, wherein this Nobel Prize winner celebrates “The usual miracle, the one-of-many miracles, the run-of-the-mill miracle, the miracle minus top hat and tails, the miracle that’s lost on us.” I have many of this type of miracles when I pause to think of them. My small miracles are mostly in the area of relationships but hundreds of other things are well – the glorious red and orange leaves this fall in Texas – the stillness at Still Point Farm that restores my soul.  It is just a matter of being receptive and taking notice. I want to suggest that this Christmas season with its opportunity for quiet moment is a great time for you to take notice.


So What about You?

  1. What are ten common miracles that enrich your life?
  2. What about love? Who are you investing your life in? Who is investing their lives in you?



A Thought

All the prior chapters in “My Next Book” are archived at

Maybe you will take time during the holidays to catch up on those you have set aside. I can’t imagine you have read them all.


In the meantime, Christmas reminds us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In sickness and in health. In a turbulent world, it is our only “sure thing.”

Christmas cheer to all

The Land Between

November 22, 2010

The Land Between

It seems like so many people I know these days are living in a transitional “wilderness” state. And it is not just Halftime, though that has been my field of concentration for several years. Every day I hear stories of things that happen that knock people off their feet and paralyze them with uncertainty:

  • A young superstar in the nonprofit world is ambushed with a devastating divorce. I get a letter saying she has engaged in some “inappropriate behavior” and has resigned from the dream job that she had executed so successfully.
  • My Director of Information Technology at 100X gets held at gunpoint and car stolen in front of her suburban Dallas home. Her daughter is battling cancer.

On a broader scale the cover story on The Economist magazine, titled “Angry America,” shows a cartoon of a beleaguered Barack Obama surrounded by enraged voters bearing placards saying “No-bama,” “throw the bums out,” and “jobs now.” It is not going to be an easy fix.

I could go on and so could you.

In Jeff Manion’s book, The Land Between: Finding God in Difficult Transitions, surely a book for our time, the author states, “I firmly believe that the land between – the space where we feel lost, lonely or deeply hurt – is fertile ground for our spiritual transformation and for God’s grace to be revealed.” He skillfully parallels the story of the Israelites in the desert wilderness to our periods of hardships and doubts, complaints and struggles to hold on. Manion also shows us that this period is a time when our lives are pruned back to essentials and prepared for new growth. He says, “The habits of the heart that we foster in this space – our responses and reactions – will determine whether the Land Between results in spiritual life or spiritual death. We choose.”


The Quarterlife Crisis

I have been reading up lately on the 20/30-Something generation where I found something surprising and remarkable. The Millennials, especially recently college graduates, are asking almost the same questions as the 50/60-Somethings. Both groups are, at the heart of it, working on questions of self-identity and context. After twenty or so years working in a highly structured context – college and graduate school in the case of 20/30’s and an organizational world (military, corporate or professional) in the case of Halftimers – people undergo a kind of formless culture shock when they step out of their structured environments. In the academic or corporate environment, the where-to-go, when-to-get-there, and what-to-do questions were mapped out by the context. I give two samples. In the research for their book, Quarterlife Crisis, authors Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner interview 100 recent college graduates. Their finding:

“When young adults emerge at graduation from almost two decades of schooling, during which each step to take is clearly marked, they encounter an overwhelming number of choices regarding their careers, finances, homes and social networks. Confronted by an often shattering whirlwind of new responsibilities, new liberties, and new options, they feel helpless, panicked, indecisive, and apprehensive. … So while the midlife crisis revolves around a doomed sense of stagnancy, of a life set on pause while the rest of the world rattles on, the quarterlife crisis is a response to overwhelming instability, constant change, too many choices, and a panicked sense of helplessness. Just as the monotony of a lifestyle stuck in idle can drive a person to question himself intently, so, too, can the uncertainty of a life thrust into chaos.”


Let me give you an unforgettable example from the other end of the life scale. Several years ago I was invited to participate in a group assembled at West Point by my Drucker Foundation partner, Frances Hesselbein. The group was an impressive mix from three sectors: one third from Army Generals, one third from corporate C-level executives, and one third from social sector leaders. As a way of structuring this experience as a productive Halftime learning experience, I decided to focus on the military, the group I knew least well. Each time I had access to a General, I asked, “What are you going to do when you quit being a General?” I found that Generals are conditioned to following orders. The Chief of Staff of the Army had retired to an idyllic, long anticipated life as a cattle rancher in his native state of Montana. One day he got a call from Dick Cheney, “We want you back as Chief of Staff of the Army. He twice said no. Cheney said, “You know who the next call is coming from.” The General said, “Yes, I’ll go.”

During a break before dinner, I happened to be talking to a very articulate General with three stars on his shoulder and a chest full of medals – a very much in-command, particularly confident Princeton University graduate. I asked my “what next?” question, and to my dumbfounded surprise, the answer came, “I hope I can buy a house.” Even this extraordinary, competent leader had lived in government housing and had been told what to do next by higher authority for his whole adult life. The General was David Petraeus!

Month after month, I and my associates at Halftime, discover that seasoned marketplace executives are finding themselves, by one circumstance or another, in the Land Between. They say, “I read your book. I don’t consider retirement a favorable option. But I don’t have a clue what to do.” A few are trapped in a high expense lifestyle that makes them slaves to cash flow but most are not. The best of them open themselves to lives of service that center more on meaning than money. An example: A top medical administrator at a mega hospital who mentors younger doctors to “take one more look” to see whether patients have some illness beyond their hyper-specialty. Result: 800 lives saved in the first eighteen months. (Side note: I am probably alive today because a physical therapist named Jennifer said, “What you have is beyond my specialty. You need a second opinion.” My illness was a life threatening, fast growing staph infection of the spine, not a rib injury.) I am fine today. Alive to do the works “prepared beforehand for (me) to walk in” (Ephesians 2:10).

I could give you countless examples of those who get through the Land Between to discover that the “life after” is richer and more fruitful than the “life before.”


So What about You?

Are you in the Land Between? If so, who/what will you trust?



A silver lining around the cloud?

November 9, 2010

A silver lining around the cloud?

“It was the best of times and the worst of times” is one of the most remembered opening lines in literature. I have been wondering lately if I have become too pessimistic since I heard at The Aspen Ideas Festival this past summer those dire predictions of the possibility of imminent economic collapse and the venomous rift between the Washington governing majority and business. These are indeed frightening times, but perhaps the dramatic midterm elections signal that we are finally asking some fruitful questions: What is wrong here? What is stuck? What is the fix that can come from sources other than big government. According to exit polls two-thirds of the Americans who cast a vote said that the $800 billion stimulus package was either harmful to the American economy or made no difference at all.

I agree with David Brooks’ conclusion that the midterm election “shellacking” of Barack Obama was more about values than economics (New York Times, October 28, 2010).

“The current sour mood is not just caused by high unemployment. It emerges from the fear that America’s best days are behind it. The public’s real anxiety is about values, not economics: the gnawing sense that Americans have become debt-addicted and self-indulgent; the sense that government undermines individual responsibility; the observation that people who work hard get shafted while people who play influence games get the gravy.”

The first requisite for solving any problem is to identify the problem, what Jim Collins calls “facing the brutal facts.” We have been shocked out of our period of blindness, looking the other way, and denial. Our eyes are open and there are a multitude of people willing to work on our problems outside Washington now that we are beginning to recognize them.

There are alternatives. I want to muse on the ones I am lucky enough to be working with.

Last week was a big travel week: New York City early in the week where, among other things I had dinner with Frances Hesselbein and Bill Drayton. Frances’ work for the past thirty years has been promoting leaders by the thousands in the nonprofit worlds (Leader to Leader Institute). Frances calls me her “partner for life.” Her birthday was Monday. She is indefatigable. Bill Drayton formed Ashoka which serves over 3,000 Social Entrepreneurs working effectively all around the world to support the growth of what he calls “The Citizen Sector.” Their vision is “Everyone a change-maker.”

Midweek in Dallas, we had 29 people from Singapore, Canada, Australia and nine U.S. cities gather for three days to explore ways to catapult Social Entrepreneurs into endeavors that energize their hearts and can make a huge difference in this world. The interesting thing is that these 29 people are not pastors — they are Social Entrepreneurs who believe the Halftime movement is where they want to invest the rest of their lives. So you get the picture — 29 Social Entrepreneurs who want to support thousands of Social Entrepreneurs. This is quite literally a dream come true for me.

This past weekend was the final event of The Drucker Centennial sponsored by The Drucker Institute which I chair at Claremont Graduate University. Over our two-year celebration of Peter’s 100th birthday, I have had the opportunity to visit with virtually all the major management speakers. These are guys who speak to audiences composed of business leaders. This year’s keynote was Tom Peters. I asked him, “How many speeches do you make a year?” He said, “Several.” I said, “How many is several?” He said, “About 52.” That means he gets to circulate among hundreds of the nation’s business and social entrepreneurs. We got to sit together over a long lunch. Peters said:

“I’m worried. We’re like spoiled brats. Anyone under the age of 40 has never experienced a major crisis. India and China are hungrier than we are. But this is America. I talked to my 90-year old mother last week and was amazed by the number of crises she had lived through – World Wars I and II, the Depression, the Cold War, Korea, Viet Nam.”

Then there are the churches that focus outward on their communities. Perhaps the most exciting trend in the megachurches that Leadership Network works with is that so many of them are releasing their members to work on literally hundreds of community projects outside the four walls of the church.

I have been devouring a brand new book by Robert Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone, whose research ten years ago traced a pattern of individualism, isolation, and a decline in community. Putnam has completely reversed himself based on a study of 3,000 Americans. The book is titled American Grace, and it is the best work in print on the state of religion in America today. I want to give you a sense of the exciting findings that this dispassionate secular Harvard sociologist has discovered and documented. Some of the findings may surprise you if your only window into church is the local church you attend or perhaps some of you have given up on the church as a social resource.

Putnam begins by saying “any discussion of religion in America must begin with the incontrovertible fact that Americans are a highly religious people. … In general, Americans have high rates of religious belonging, behaving, and believing. Eighty-three percent of Americans report belonging to a religion; 40% report attending religious services nearly every week or more. … The absence of a state-run religious monopoly combined with a wide sphere of religious liberty has produced an ideal environment for a thriving religious ecosystem. Religions compete, adapt and evolve as individual Americans freely move from one congregation to another.” Putnam discovered that 75% of the people attend a different congregation than they were raised in. There is enormous fluidity and innovation. Religiosity and community connections are closely tied together.

“The typical megachurch is both evangelical and nondenominational. For many people, their small group is their church. Putnam discovered that in any given month, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church will host some 3,000 separate events. In a New Yorker article entitled “The Cellular Church,” writer Malcolm Gladwell discovered the key to Saddleback was its small groups meeting together and working on projects together.

Remarkably Putnam discovered “while Atheism has recently gained prominence, particularly on the best seller lists, self-identified Atheists and Agnostics comprise a vanishingly small proportion of the U.S. population. For instance, in the 2006 Faith Matters Survey, precisely five people out of 3,108 chose either label.”

In another new secular book titled God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World, John Micklethwait and Adrain Wooldridge shine a bright light on a global revival of religion. They say, “Since the Enlightenment, intellectuals have assumed that modernization would kill religion and that religious America is an oddity. The authors, one an Agnostic and the other Jewish, argue that religion and modernity can thrive together and that America’s approach to faith is becoming the norm. They say, “Above all, 21st century faith is being fueled by a very American emphasis on competition and a customer-driven attitude toward salvation. George Will, in The Washington Post, described this as “the best political book in years.”

Wow. What a week! What a world! There is much to be hopeful about. This is the silver lining around the cloud.


So What about You?

  1. What are the citizen enterprises that give you cause for optimism?
  2. Is this now our “crisis not to waste?”
  3. How would you describe the optimistic side of your life?

And It Has Come to Pass, and Not to Stay – Change as Opportunity

October 25, 2010

And it has come to pass, and not to stay – Change as Opportunity

Ecclesiastes 3 (NIV)

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.

And I saw something else under the sun:
In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

I thought in my heart,
“God will bring to judgment
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time for every deed.”

That pretty much sums up the views of the wisest man in the Old Testament, King Solomon. In a more colloquial version, Stephen Covey once told me, “This too shall pass,” and my partner, Phil Anschutz echoed, “It’ll all work out.”

It seems there is a pervasive sense of loss these days. Loss of certainty. Loss of structure. Loss of close one-to-one relationships in favor of social networks.  Loss of an aging loved one or, much worse, loss of one snatched untimely from this earth, loss of a secure job through technology change (newspapers), outsourcing (factory jobs), down-sizing (banks and bankruptcy), loss of a home, loss of financial security (where’s my 401K?).

My friend, the management writer, Jim Collins, who feels that the worst is yet to come, has spent eight years researching the characteristics of those who survive and prosper during times of turbulence and utter unpredictability. His book is soon to come. Collins’ “small interim book” was titled, How The Mighty Fall, which also gives you a feel for his mood these days.

Last week I heard the long-time Director of the World Economic Forum (Davos) say, (no kidding), “For a long time, America has sinned. It is going to take a long time to atone for those sins – probably eight or ten years.” It was almost like Joseph’s prophecy to Pharaoh of seven fat years followed by seven lean years.

When I need to process some vexing concern I have, I often write in a series of journals. They go back for years. I spent a morning last week reading what I wrote fifteen years ago. As usual, I found myself tangled in a bramble of concerns. I couldn’t see around the corner. Fred Smith, Jr., my partner for the first twelve years of Leadership Network, had resigned to stay closer to home after years of relentless traveling to build the bedrock of relationships that is now Leadership Network and the American evangelical megachurch. Fred told me, “I’m a limiting factor now. Leadership Network should be two or three times the size it is now. Given my desire to be close to my two daughters before they leave home, I am not the man to do that job.” I was dumbstruck. I still had a growing cable TV business to watch over and a book to promote – the beginning of Halftime — and no leader in sight.  I prayed and prayed and prayed: (“I’m lost, God … This is a sea change, a new season … I’m tired, bone tired … I’m dependent on you, God, dependent on others”).

In the intervening years between then and now, friends stepped up with partnership.  Leadership Network tripled in size, Halftime went from 45,000 copies sold to 600,000. The megachurch movement swelled from a few hundred churches with over a thousand attending to over 7,000 to become the most robust church movement in the U.S. This was mostly a self-taught movement. I could foresee none of this in my anguished prayers of fifteen years ago. Others could, I could not.

What are the lessons? I kept hearing God say, “Stay in the game.” Peter Drucker told me, “Just put one foot in front of the other and go on.” Some programs flourished. Others died.

The last two weeks have been heavy – the funeral of a long-time Tyler hero and friend, then there was the third person in my high school class to die in the past four months, two Dallas friends’ parents die: Bill Solomon’s mother at 100, Mort Meyerson’s father, Brudus, dies at 99.

I soldier on. I’ll close with a Prayer by Thomas Merton that illuminates the intersection between uncertainty and faith. Linda, one of whose StrengthsFinder is “Empathy,” brought it from a class she is taking in Dallas:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,

and the fact that I think I am following your will

does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that my desire to please you

does in fact please you.

And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this

you will lead me by the right road

though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always,

though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,

and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

— from Thoughts in Solitude

Abby of Gethsemani

So What about You?

  1. Think back about the ups and downs of your lifeline.
  2. When has your life been more amenable to prayer than reason?
  3. When has what seemed like a loss turned out to be an opportunity for wisdom and growth?


What Gets You Going in the Morning?

October 12, 2010

What gets you going in the morning? Is it vision or is it fear?

Larry Crabb is a prominent psychologist, author, and friend. Based on his observation over years of practice, Larry says we have two basic psychological needs in our lives:

  • The need for security, and
  • The need for significance


My observation is that most of those who are stranded behind desperation and contentment on these two issues live what Thoreau memorialized as “lives of quiet desperation.”

Fortunately those of us who have a robust faith can at least have a deep sense of eternal security. More on that later.

A couple of weeks ago, another author, Richard Simmons, a Halftimer who, after many years as a CEO in Birmingham, formed the Christian-based Center for Executive Leadership, flew in to compare notes on what he is finding out in his work with my experience in the Halftime Institute. Simmons has noted a dramatic shift since the financial collapse of 2008 in men’s motivation from accumulation towards fear. Security needs which seemed so buttoned up in the 80’s and 90’s have come under a cloud of uncertainty. Part I of Simmons’ terrific new book, The True Measure of a Man in the Midst of Economic Hardship begins with a story that personifies his theme:

“Forced to take a buyout from the Kansas City Star last summer

Paul Wenske lost his sense of identity. ‘I’d been an investigative

reporter all my life, and then boom,’ says Mr. Wenske, an

award-winning journalist of 30 years. ‘Suddenly you’re not the same person you used to be. You look in the mirror:

Who are you?’

The deepening recession [exacted] punishment for a

psychological vice that masquerades as virtue for many

working people: the unmitigated identification of self with

occupation, accomplishment and professional status.”


As we talked, I recalled similar stories from participants in my Halftime Institute – a real estate developer of thousands of suburban homes whose lenders, without notice, pulled the rug out from under his prosperous business. Two top quality guys whose media industries had been decimated by technology, both forced to start over. Big new questions arise: How do I measure success now? What will people think of me? One of my Dallas YPO friends suffering from depression told me years ago, “In Dallas, you are what you do.” Simmons told me of a successful businessman who confided, “Why am I in such turmoil? I have come to realize that life to me is money, affluence and financial security. My feeling of manhood is from all the trappings of wealth.”

Both of us agreed that the primary damage of unemployment is psychological. The average unemployed time span is now six months. The damage to self-confidence is devastating. It is what one friend calls “sitting at home alone with the dog.” A suited-to-the-times group called Executives in Action has been formed in Dallas, led by friend, Jeremy Greg. Its mission is to place executive-level people who have lost their jobs in high contribution (if less well paid) positions using their carefully honed skills in nonprofit organizations. It gives them a place to go, a person to be, and they are living lives of significant contribution. They also fill an embarrassing gap in their resume.

Fully qualified college grads just at the beginning part of their careers are also having difficult times finding jobs. I expect that is causing lots of them to hide out till the storm passes in the world of education via graduate school.

As you may know, I have been exploring the issues of 18-30 year olds. In their book, Quarterlife Crisis s Authors Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner conduct a hundred interviews where they find:

“The extreme uncertainty that twentysomethings experience after graduation occurs because what was once a solid line that they could follow throughout their series of educational institutions has now disintegrated into millions of different options. The sheer number of possibilities can certainly inspire hope –that is why people say that twentysomethings have their whole lives ahead of them. But the endless array of decisions can also make a recent graduate feel utterly lost. …

“The resulting overwhelming senses of helplessness and cluelessness, of indecision and apprehension, make up the real and common experience we call the quarterlife crisis. Individuals who are approaching middle age at least know what is coming.”

Both Simmons and I are seeing this same loss-of-identity following years of role-structured certainty among the on-the-beach Halftimers we encounter. College grads and displaced midlifers both emerge with stunningly similar stage-of-life questions:

Who am I?

What are my strengths?

Where do I belong?


These are the questions Peter Drucker raises in his chapter titled, “Managing Oneself” issues of identity and structure.

Three times I have seen Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Death of a Salesman (a movie with Lee J. Cobb, on stage with Dustin Hoffman, and a television production with Brian Dennehy). In it, Willy Loman has been living a charade as a hot shot road salesman. His “happy family” is in dysfunctional tatters, everyone hiding out behind one mask or another. Willy is having an out-of-town affair. In the end, he takes his life. Just after the funeral, Loman’s wife asks their son, Biff, “Why did he do it? Why did he take his life?” Biff answered,

“He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong. And he never knew who he was.”

Due to self-imposed word limits, I can only suggest the answer now. In two words, as simplistic as this sounds, it is the same for college grads and Halftimers: New Vision.

In the words of Kenny Rogers’ County & Western song, “You got to know when to hold’em and know when to fold’em.”

The most succinct definition of vision I know of comes from Bill Hybels: “It is a picture of the future that produces passion in people.”

I am surprised and fascinated that the issues of self-identity and ‘where do I belong?’ recur at the beginning of Life I (Success) and the new beginning of Life II. (After success, what?)

Here is how the poet, Rachel Lindsey, sums up the life of so many who now face Life II with no clear vision for what now, what next?:

It is the world’s one crime

that its babes grow dull.

Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap.

Not that they serve,

but that they have no God to serve.

The tragedy is not death.

The tragedy is to die

with commitments undefined,

with convictions undeclared

and with service unfulfilled.


Recommended Resources:

The True Measure of a Man in the Midst of Economic Hardship, by Richard Simmons

Executives in Action – information available at:

Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties, by Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner


Management Revised Ed, by Peter Drucker



So What about You?

  1. What gets you up in the morning?
  2. On a 10-1 scale, where is your degree of certainty and self-confidence about the future?

Realizing Your Childhood Dreams – What Now?

September 28, 2010

Realizing Your Childhood Dreams – What Now?

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote something about how the only way to find true happiness is through the fulfillment of childhood dreams.”

— Source uncertain

This quote has really resonated with me at this stage of my life – how about you?

My childhood dreams seemed to revolve around the tension between my genuine and easily accepted faith in Christ and my desire to be successful in the television business – I never considered another career choice. In high school, I played a self-invented form of “Fantasy Finance” by picking a hypothetical investment portfolio from the newspaper and following its stock prices to see how it turned out. I did the same exercise as assignments at The University of Texas and in the Owner Managed Program at Harvard Business School.

All of this crystallized when, at age 34, twelve years after I began my business career in television, I wrote down my six directions (actually goals) for life. I have pretty much stuck to that plan which had two family goals, two personal development goals, and two money goals.

The two money goals described the accumulation of a specific net worth and its deployment, if I were successful, into entrepreneurial projects to advance and expand God’s kingdom on earth. My previous writing describes how this all turned out in some detail so I won’t repeat that here. The tensions got more or less resolved by sticking to my plan for the following 37 years – long obedience in the same direction.

With “childhood dreams” now realized, I seem to be at a new turning point. I’m not sure what it means, but it seems a lot like a new beginning. I have accomplished, not without some bumps in the road, the dreams of my first childhood which concentrated first on success with money and marriage and then on using my first half skills to do my best to fulfill a sense of calling from God. But even the 24-year “significance” stage was fairly material – pretty much about measurable results and performance in a new sphere – building an organization to help leaders accelerate their impact in building churches and helping people in midlife (Halftimers) find their own path to significance.
Life III – Finishing Well

The true worth of a man is measured by the objects he pursues.

— Marcus Aurelius

The conventional answer to the question: “What happens now when you are lucky enough to fulfill your childhood dreams is: Retirement.” That was the Industrial Age blueprint – the golf course and the grandchildren. Looking in my Oxford Thesaurus, I find these words as synonyms for Retirement: “give up work, pack it in, call it quits, go away, retreat, withdraw, pull back, disengage.”

Ugh! Not for me. I am wired for, addicted to, and called to a set of “works prepared beforehand for you to walk in” to use the language of Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. My search now is to find the expression of that divinely mandated mission that is season-appropriate for what I now call Life III: From Success to Significance to Finishing Well. In 1991 at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, Peter Drucker, arguably the best mentor since Aristotle coached Alexander, told me, “Your mission is to work on transforming the latent energy in American Christianity into active energy.” Right now, I am in another season of transition that comes to people when they either fulfill their childhood dreams or abandon them. Either way the solution to this dilemma is to come up with a new dream appropriate to this season (Life III) of life. What exactly is this new paradigm, this new role in life? Scott Peck, in his book, The Road Less Traveled, still an important book, called this unsettling in-between metamorphosis “the tunnel of chaos.” For me, it is more about questions leading to hunches, than one that yields hard-edged answers.

Here are my hunches so far:

  1. To use Psychiatrist Carl Jung’s Warrior ——> King ——> Sage progression. All my instincts run toward the Sage role – that is what I went to Peter Drucker for and that is what people are coming to me for now. *See The Archives on my website,, for “What Peter Drucker does for me as a Mentor.
  2. In Life III, the new dream is more instinctive, more about perception than reason, more spirit driven, more an affair of the heart.
  3. For one thing, I am drawn toward younger generations; today’s younger people have more energy, more need to do something meaningful, more idealism but fewer stories to draw on. Their lives are before them. What I have to exchange is a dense web of experience stored up in my unconscious. What they have to exchange is idealism, energy and a natural sense of how to use technology to access information and to extend their reach. (“Where do you want to go today?”) It is a synergistic integration of two different types of knowledge.

Sooo, at the moment, I am learning what I can about 20/30-Somethings. I am the student. They are the instructors. For example, here are a few clips from an op-ed by 25-year old Elizabeth Suggs, in Saturday’s Dallas Morning News, titled, “How Millennials Measure Greed:”

“Greed is … different.

“Life experiences are the currency we choose. In 1987, I was 3 years old, and greed was good. Gordon Gecko said so in the film Wall Street. How we dressed said so in Dallas. And Madonna had been saying so in “Material Girl” since 1985.

“Now it’s 2010, I’m 25, and things aren’t like that anymore. Greed is different.

“This generation is just as interested in status – it’s just that our currency is experience. We measure status in trips to Europe, the ability to play musical instruments, interesting-looking Facebook albums …

“We all spend time acquiring experiences and becoming unbearably quirky, and the collective resume of all these experiences is how we evaluate each other’s lives.

“This generation knows greed very well. We just know it in a different form.”

So What about You?

  1. Are you drawn toward retirement?
  2. If not, when will Life II (Significance) or Life III (Finishing Well) begin for you and what will be its object?