December 26, 2007

Two of My Favorite Books for 2007

Filed under: Observations, Relationships — Mark Sanborn @ 12:32 pm

I have long been a fan of Richard Russo and greatly enjoyed Empire Falls. His latest book is Bridge of Sighs and it was a delight. The rich character development, engaging storylines and nuanced and beautiful writing made this book a standout. It deals with a myriad of subjects including the affect of the past on our lives, matters of the heart, upbringing and human imperfection. Russo has the ability to show a character’s strengths and weaknesses in such a way that still allows you to feel fondness for them.

The other book I put off reading because I misjudged its premise. It is The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer. The setting obviously, is a bar in Long Island. I thought a book about growing up around and in a bar would be a bit dark and sordid, but in this case it isn’t.  It is a true coming-of-age story and the best look at interpersonal relationships I’ve read since Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety (the latter being a work of fiction but loosely based on the relationship between the Stegners and another couple close to them). Moehringer, who lives in the greater Denver area now, writes with uncanny insight and, like Russo, reports on exceedingly interesting and eclectic characters. The only difference is that Moehringer’s characters are the real people–friends and relatives–who influenced his life.

These days I read more non-fiction than fiction, but I have always believed that great fiction can be just as educational as non-fiction. Neither of these books will provide you three steps to take for a better life, but they will do something much better: they’ll make you think about your life and your relationships. They’ll remind you of things that will delight you and of some things that will disappoint and maybe disgust you. And they’ll most likely provoke questions you’ve not considered before. A good book with do some of those things; a great book will do all those things.

One test I use for an extraordinary book is that I hate to see it end. Both of these books passed the test.

Concerns of Character

Filed under: Observations, Moral Leadership, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 12:15 pm

Junior Achievement released a study on December 5 that is troubling. According to the summary, 71% of teenagers say they are prepared to make ethical decisions when they enter the workforce. So far so good. Here’s the troubling part: 38% of those who say they are prepared to make ethical decisions think it is sometimes necessary for success to cheat, plagiarize, lie or even behave violently. (23% of those surveyed think violence towards another person is acceptable on some level.)

The acceptance of unethical behavior and the belief that success makes wrong choices necessary to attain it should give us all serious pause.

Public education is often conflicted about character education (based on what? whose standard? what about cultural difference? are we imposing ‘values’?). The Junior Achievement study strongly suggests that some type of concerted character education, imperfect though it may be, is necessary.

That is no way alleviates parents of their responsibility to both teach and model ethical behavior to their kids.

I appreciate the important and good work Jr. Achievement does and believe they have done us all a service with this study.

December 23, 2007

A Christmas Story

Filed under: Observations, Difference Makers — Mark Sanborn @ 1:29 pm

As we approach Christmas day, I want to share this true story with you given to me by my dear friend Charlie “Tremendous” Jones called “My Most Blessed Christmas:”

“I was nine years old when the depression was still in full force. We came from Alabama and settled in Lancaster Country (PA) in a little row home which my father managed to rent. It was getting near Christmas and my dear dad had nothing to spend for Christmas for his five children ages 1 - 9. In desperation he went to the bank to try to persuade them that he was a safe risk for a small loan. He explained his predicament: no job, no collateral and five small children with Christmas approaching. As he should have known, the banker would have to decline his request, but he had an alternative offer for my dad to consider. He explained that if my dad could postpone celebrating Christmas a day or two, the children wouldn’t know it and everything would be reduced in the stores, and he would only need half the amount he was requesting. He said if this was agreeable he would approve the loan for a smaller amount. Of course my dad gratefully accepted the offer.

Christmas Eve after we were all in bed the downstairs front door slammed open. There was a lot of noise and my father rushed down the stairs to see what was happening. I followed a few minutes later and saw he sitting on the bottom step with his head in his hands. I couldn’t understand why he was weeping. When I reached the bottom step I could see no one in the hallway, but the hall was lined with boxes. There were boxes of good, clothing and candy. There was a riding fire engine and a four-foot folding white paneled dollhouse. We didn’t belong to a church and the friends we had were as poor as we were. Later, when my dad returned to the bank to repay the loan, the banker surprised my dad by telling him that there was no record of this loan.

I only understood that Christmas experience years later when Jesus became my Lord and Savior. How blessed some of us are to see God’s love working in and through His children. Those unknown servants were practicing 1st John 3:16, ‘Hereby perceive we the love of God, how He laid down His life for us, so that we ought to lay down our lives for others.’”

December 19, 2007

The Importance of Small Choices

Filed under: Moral Leadership, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 12:25 pm

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ride or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.” C.S. Lewis

Give the Gift of Learning

Filed under: Professional Development, Success, Difference Makers — Mark Sanborn @ 9:13 am

In the U.S.:

Seventy percent of eight graders are not proficient in reading–and most will never catch up.

1.2 million students drop out of high school each year. That’s one every 26 seconds.

1/4 of high school freshman fail to graduate on time.

2/3 of jobs require college education.

(source: ED in ‘08)

One of the most important gifts you might give this holiday season is the gift of education.

Raising a Reader gets parents engaged in teaching their children to read.

Pro Literacy is the oldest non-government organization promoting literacy worldwide. Another excellent organization doing that work is Room to Read.

Closer to home, don’t just buy your child or grandchild a book; make time to read with them. If you give allowance, consider paying your child to read books of your choice and then giving you a book report.

Last night I gave my son Hunter an article on scramjet and ramjet aviation technology. I asked him to read it in exchange for $1 if he could answer some basic questions I asked him after he finished. It was fun for both of us and the best buck I spent yesterday.

One of the best ways to encourage learning is to model curiosity and a love for learning. Get reacquainted with your local public library or spend an hour browsing your neighborhood bookstore. Get up a little bit earlier or go to bed a little bit later and spend some time reading.

It is one of the best gifts you can give anyone, including yourself.

December 18, 2007

The Worst Kind of Bureaucracy

Filed under: Observations, Leadership — Mark Sanborn @ 11:59 am

We have good reason to make rules.

We follow the rules.

The reasons for the rules change.

We keep following the rules.

A 10 year old girl was expelled and hauled off in handcuffs for bringing a steak knife to school to cut her food. She did not threaten anyone or behave inappropriately, but she violated the school’s “zero tolerance” rule about knives.

So what did the administration do? They abdicated the responsibility to think and enforced the rules blindly. In doing so they most likely traumatized who appears to be an innocent child. (Her and/or her parent’s lapse of judgment could have been dealt with much more rationally. She is now accused of a felony.)
The timid and irresponsible hide behind rules. Rather than make the case that in an imperfect world there will sometimes be legitimate exceptions to the rules, they succumb.

I don’t know the administrators (the responsible parties aren’t leaders) at that school. They might otherwise be sane, decent people. But I am completely dismayed by their lack of common sense.

They have exemplified the worst kind of bureaucracy.

December 17, 2007

Leadership at Thomas Jefferson High School

Filed under: Leadership, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 2:20 pm

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology was recently named by USN&WR as the top high school in the U.S. Admission standards are high and only one of six who apply is chosen. A GPA of 3.0 is required for students to remain enrolled, and the curriculum includes courses in organic chemistry, neurobiology, marine biology, DNA science and quantum mechanics. In addition to traditional languages like German, French and Spanish, TJHS teaches Chinese, Russian and Japanese. This certainly aren’t options I had when I attended high school during the dawn of civilization.

In other words, this school rocks.

Recently I received an email from Principal Dr. Evan Glazer, also known as Dr. G. He teaches a leadership course for 15 juniors and seniors. They had found my book You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader and were wondering if I could do a video- or teleconference.  I enjoy doing things like this when possible, but my travel schedule doesn’t often allow.

Thankfully, I’m off the road for the balance of the year so we were able to do a teleconference today. The students asked excellent, perceptive questions and being able to share ideas with them was an honor.

At the end, they asked me if there was anything I’d like to ask them. Time was short, but I asked, “What is the one attribute you look for in a leader?”  Here are the three responses we had time for:

“I look for how much a leader cares. I want a leader who you can work with, not for.”

“I want an open-minded leader who is willing to look at different solutions, not just their own.”

“What I look for is someone who can inspire collaboration.”
I wish time would have allowed for me to learn more from them. The answers above indicate students who are thoughtfully addressing the important issues of leadership.

My compliments to Dr. Glazer and the leadership students at TJ High School. Keep up the great work!

December 16, 2007

The Question of Christmas

Filed under: Observations — Mark Sanborn @ 3:23 pm

Christmas is upon us. I know that there is a great diversity of beliefs among those of you who read this blog. I’ve always been overt about my worldview as a believer in Jesus Christ. I appreciate very much those of different worldviews who respect and consider my beliefs as I do theirs’.

To stimulate thinking and dialogue, I thought about asking the question, “What difference does Christmas make?” It is a good question given the frantic preparations and unfortunate pressures the holiday season creates for people of every faith.

Instead, I want to keep this personal. I’ll simply ask you a question I’ve been asking myself, and I don’t expect an answer. This question is private, for your own personal reflection, should you choose. The question is this:

“What difference is Christmas making in you?”

December 14, 2007

The Art of Self-Confidence Podcast

Filed under: Professional Development, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 10:29 am

Recently I did an interview with Anna Farmerly on the art of self-confidence. You can listen to the podcast here.

December 12, 2007

Understatement of the Year

Filed under: Observations — Mark Sanborn @ 12:07 pm

My vote goes to Mike Ditka. After closing a charity that collected $1.3 million dollars but only distributed $57,000 to needy ex-NFL players, Mike said:

“There was nothing wrong that was ever done, except the money was accumulated. Some was given out, probably not enough was given out. You can always find fault with anything you want in life.”

Uh, yes, but some things are easier to legitimately find fault with. Did Ditka’s charity do anything illegal or unethical? No. Was the charity irresponsible? Oh yeah…

But then again, you can always find fault…

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