Mom’s Contribution

Click here for the audio: Mom’s Contribution


In September my second book will come out: Be Real: Inspiring Stories for Leading at Home and Work.  I casually mentioned to Mom my book’s need for a fine-tooth comb edit, to push every last apostrophe to the correct side of the s, and to adjust every to, too, and two.  I hate when people write it’s when they mean its. Mom said, to my mild surprise, that she was sorry we lived so far apart, because she would have been happy to do that.  I told her I’d wished I’d known, but the clock had ticked down.

If you know Myers-Briggs, I’m a P (for Perceiver), which means I’m adaptable, open, creative, but not so good at finishing; it’s why I was past deadline. If you know ADD, well, that’s me; I get distracted. If you know perfectionism, you know why my P and my ADD drive me crazy: I need it to be right, but I often can’t find the discipline to get it just so.   I talked to Jennifer that evening after I’d spoken to Mom and said, “Babe, tell me what to do.”  She’s a J (for Judger) which is the opposite of a Perceiver; J’s love (live!)  to finish, conclude, order, arrange, and otherwise get stuff done.  I told her I was just sick of editing and couldn’t even read my manuscript attentively and objectively, and I was inclined to just sign-off, as I was beyond deadline.  True to form she had an answer: “Farm it out today,” she said.  “Get a couple great technical readers to go over it.  I’ll read some if you want.”

“Thanks,” I said and immediately called Mom.  “If I can get you a few chapters, can you read it today?”  “Sure” she said and the next morning over the phone she gave me her editorial catches for seven chapters.  (She also told me she really liked it – better than my first book, Everyday Leadership, which she didn’t finish because it didn’t feel relevant for her at this point in her life.)  “Thanks so much for the compliment, Mom,” I told her, and added, “and I can’t thank you enough for the edit!” She said, “No, thank you for asking me in the first place,” and added this leadership pearl: “I’ve learned, as I’ve gotten older, that it feels great to be useful.”

Leaders know this about people: We all crave being useful. It’s why three of five of Kouzes and Posner’s essential leadership practices tell us to “challenge” people, “enable them to act,” “inspire them with a vision” they can be a part of. Those are all about inviting, empowering and challenging people to be truly useful.  The lesson applies to kids who will help out at home or school – if asked.  It applies to older workers who may have lost their youthful luster.  And it certainly applies to our vast aging population – our parents and retirees and community members.  Maybe “usefulness” was a big part of why Derwood Boyd led such a strong and happy life, until running out of steam last week at 88 years old: he had sung in his choir at Plymouth Congregational Church in Lansing for SEVENTY years.

Somebody around you wants to be useful.  Inspire, challenge, enable and encourage them, as you

Lead with your best self

  • NICE post Dan; wish my Mom was still around as she too was always good for the once over and it always made her feel so good!

  • I soooo agree with the following Five Principles of Exemplary Leadership:

    1. Model the Way: Modeling the way is essentially about earning the right and the respect to lead through direct individual involvement and action. People first follow the person, then the plan. Titles are granted but it is behavior that wins respect.

    2. Inspire a Shared Vision: Leaders have visions and dreams of what could be. They have an absolute and total personal belief in those dreams, and they are confident in their abilities to make extraordinary things happen. Every organization, every social movement, begins with a dream. The dream or vision is the force that invents the future.

    3. Challenge the Process: Leaders are not the only creators or originators of new products, services, or processes. In fact, it is more likely that innovation comes from customers, clients, vendors, people in labs, and people on the front lines. The leader’s primary contribution is in the recognition of good ideas, the support of these ideas, and the willingness to challenge the system to get new ideas adopted.

    4. Enable Others to Act: Grand dreams do not become significant realities through the actions of a single person. Exemplary leaders enable others to act. They foster collaboration and build trust. This sense of teamwork goes far beyond a few direct reports or close confidants. They engage all those who must make the project work — and in some way, all who must live with the results.

    5. Encourage the Heart: It is part of a leader’s job to show appreciation for people’s contributions and to create a culture of celebration. Exemplary leaders encourage the heart of their constituents to carry on with genuine acts of caring. Encouragement is curiously serious business. It is how leaders visibly and behaviorally link rewards with performance.

    Source: The Leadership Challenge, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

  • Dan,

    I remember from my childhood (back in the dark ages), that my grandparents were deeply and directly involve in raising my siblings and me. Oh, my folks had time and spent plenty of it with us, but we never had babysitters, because there were plenty of “grands” around to fill in when needed. My great grandparents lived with their family members and everyone had purpose and plenty to do.

    My father-in-law was a finish carpenter, and was incredibly busy until his sudden death in 1992. A great deal of that time was spent trying to teach me the basics of woodworking — which unfortunately was a hopeless cause — though I am proud of the deck he helped me build for our home. He was busy. He was in demand. His retirement was a joy to him.

    Because of the economic downturn and (later) health issues, my last full time job ended in January 2009. More than a year and half of frustration and struggle to find work left a bitter flavor to many of my days. Yet, I am fortunate to have friends and family who have challenged me. There have been islands of hard work, filled with the joy of duty and purpose throughout that time. My grandchildren eagerly accept (even demand) as much time as I can spare. Friends have challenged me to help with important projects.

    It is not just the older population, but those who have physical and mental limitations, who suffer from “creeping invisibility” — who feel like they are fading from the photograph of life, and fear becoming wraiths on the borders of society. Growing greyer involves more than the hair on one’s head, it is a gradual dissolution of purpose and the slow growth of shadows that erode one’s connection to family and community. Navigating through tight economic times in a culture fixated on mobility, youth, and health, and looking for work when even the jocks in their toy suits cannot find gainful employment is a depressing journey.

    Thank God for those who still value experience and have the capacity to see past myriad laugh lines and retreating, wispy, gray hair to register the spark still burning in aging eyes. And thanks for your Monday morning column. It is always a pleasure to read and a challenge to respond to it.


    • Mick,
      Beautiful heartfelt expression. The “creeping invisibility” is powerful.
      Your thoughts on being connected speak powerfully to how we can renew our own isolated “self made man” (who’s dying of loneliness or cardiovascular disease) ethos to a stronger sense of community.
      You and others may enjoy an amazing Ted Talk by Dan Buettner on why some cultures have many centenarians. You will see your Yooper experience of grandparents and great grandparents being central to the story of LIFE! It’s here:
      Great job,

  • Dan, this is an excellent reminder of how we overlook obvious resources to help us get things done, Your mom is full of energy and life and for you to include her in your work is an excellent gift and act of loving kindness. It also reminds us to not overlook the obvious human resource that may be tucked way in a corner or first floor desk in the back of the office. I will look forward to reading the 2nd book and watching your personal growth unfold for the world to see. Thanks for including mom!

  • Dan:
    I am someone who is learning to ask. And, to my surprise (!), people are willing to help. I grew up with an independent streak. I didn’t actually know I had one until friends pointed out how I never asked for help. It never occurred to me to ask, having been raised in a family where the motto was “If you want a job done, do it yourself”. Imagine how surprising it was to be told that others actually wanted to help me!

    As I have learned the lesson of collaboration and collective hands sharing the load, your point about usefulness lands in a big way for me. For those out there who struggle with asking for help, I encourage you to give it a try – begin with a task that is “general”, and work toward one that is more personal. The rewards are immense, and you will find yourself building community as a result.

  • Dan,
    Thank you for your comments today. Your words are right on point. Retirement has been another great challenge in life, and rarely, are we really prepared for the challenges it brings — health, caregiving, and as Mick said, “creeping invisibility.” The Dan Buettner presentation is powerful.

    Learning has always been a fun and important part of life; so realizing that I get to (actually it is that I must) continue to learn in retirement, is a joy. It’s just that I have to learn things I didn’t realize I was interested in learning. Hummm, not much different than the rest of life!

    The message seems to be to continue to enjoy the journey, believe, stay connected to family and friends, eat and drink in a health way, move / exercise, and keep on learning and growing.
    Take care and be well,

    • Nancy,
      It’s great to hear from you, and to hear that you’re well.
      Pretty good summary in that last paragraph of the secrets to long life.
      Be well!

  • I find my acknowledgements getting longer with each book I write – they become more and more joint efforts. Not everyone is delighted to pitch in, but many are. I was stunned with how helpful my network was with my last effort. They really helped shape the outcome.

    Your P + ADD sounds like a set-up for frustration! I could use a little more perfectionism, myself. But I will say that my goal for my last manuscript was to have the days before deadline be balanced and unpressured. It was a breakthrough to have accomplished that!

    Anyway, very cool about your book and your Mom. My Dad was my biggest fan for my last book, and that was worth the effort right there.

    • Meryl,
      Isn’t there something gloriously wonderful about having your parent’s pride when you are long past the point where you’d think that would matter?

  • Thanks so much for your support and that of the Governor. And for using Dad as a positive example. He WAS a “useful” guy. And a pretty fair father.

    John D. Boyd

  • Thank you, Dan, for writing about my father Derwood in your recent blog. He truly believed one needed to be useful to be successful. As so often happens as we age, we believe we can be replaced by someone younger or more vibrant. But Dad served as an inspiration, not only to those in the choir, but to his family and many others much younger than he. After all, he didn’t retire from his insurance agency until he was 84!

    • Barb,
      Thanks for adding to my very brief tribute to your dad. We’ll be talking about “senior workers” on my show next Saturday, the 14th of August. I’d love for you (and John) to listen – and maybe call in – and share what you observed about your dad and his extraordinary work ethic. How did it affect his children? Will you also want to work into your 70s or 80s?
      It should be an interesting show.
      Lead with your best,

  • What a wonderful column today. I am the mother of a writer and was enlisted to type his last book and add my editorial comments. In my past life, out of college, I was an editor, and, as you no doubt know, once an editor always an editor. I am a stickler for correct grammar as well as correct use of commas. This was a labor of love (after all the author is my son) that turned into an interesting project for me. Since I am now retired I can use projects that engage me. So let’s give a hand to moms today!

  • I already DIDN’T work into my 70’s or 80’s (unless one includes temping for the census and playing a bit with local government up here. Maybe that counts as work.) But on the other hand, I’d rather play with my grandchildren……

  • [another one i didn’t actually send]

    At first I thought “well, I would have given him an ‘A’ if he’d done his own proofreading, but to actually get his mom and his wife to do it for him?” But then I realised that you’re benefitting twofold by also receiving what you know to be heartfelt and valuable criticism from knowledgeable people who are concerned about you. Understanding how what you write makes other people feel will go a long way towards staying positive and having the right attitude when you present your book to others. They’ll pick up on that and congratulate you. So though I was immediately critical, after I thought it through, I realised that you’d made a pretty good decision. Must be nice having parents!

    . . . ” I need it to be right, but I often can’t find the discipline to get it just so. ”

    Even after applying a lot of science, art, and any other perceivable discipline, even after putting in the fine tuning and adding a nice polish, the end result of work can fail to please.

    I’d forgotten you were a Myers-Briggs subject.

    Every person who goes into a body of work or makes a comment is a P-erceiver. Everybody who puts finishing touches on the work or decides whether the comment poses a security threat or not ends up being a J-udger. They’re common roles people go through every day, things a person could shift into or out of at a moment’s notice. I wish more people would forget about the MB and other personality quiz categories and just feel content with their persons. They certainly aren’t perfecting who they are by including complex thoughts about the result of some test made by some fallible other person.

    And I think it does a grim disservice to the world every time people socialise over their special little clubs and categorical cul de sacs, but that’s my bag — I’d prefer if more people got the shadow-play over with and and just joined the human race. Though I suppose the massive guilt complexes bestowed on the masses by industrially agricultural civilization just won’t allow the majority of people to come out from behind the closed doors of membership and exclusivity just yet. That’s because industry has always been, from the beginning, about replacing the human necessity, and agriculture has always been about effacing that dirty and disastrous thing we call nature. We herald automation because it eliminates effort and, allegedly, frees us up for leisure time. What about all the time we have to spend justifying the automated, or getting it together to purchase it, or now having to automate to stay competitive or else lose out everything? It’s always amusing to me how the same person promotes always being productive but when it’s handy for promotes taking leisures.

    I think the comment you made about a tendency to want to get things right, and about how you “often” can’t, is more worthwhile than “I’m a P”. It talks about you, personally, in your own terms, in a way that’s immediately relevant to other human beings. And, I think it’s a self-referential statement. Look at the statement (I quoted it above). Can you see the logical loop in it? Hint: place yourself in the “it” of the subject.

    [ Dan: ” I need Daniel to be right, but I often can’t find the discipline to get Daniel just so. ” ] — if you can admit you do work on self-improvement, this isn’t impossible.

    But: if you’re inspecting yourself, you’re questioning yourself; if you question yourself, you admit fallibility; if you admit fallibility, you recognize imperfection; recognizing imperfection, you feel you’ve fulfilled the purpose of inspecting — to find a flaw; considering imperfection to be a flaw is overly critical, since everybody’s imperfect it doesn’t need correcting. Nobody *would* be able to find “the discipline” to be just so, that’s why “just so stories” are just that — they’re make-believe.

    Q: If you’re flawed, how can you expect a positive result out of self-inspection, self-correction, and self-discipline, at all, ever?

    A: It works because you eventually give up and follow through with the action. You eventually accept who you are and get into what you’re worth to other people, over accepting your perceptory and judgemental abilities towards yourself and others.

    Forgive me for picking over it with a fine-toothed comb, but I think it was a great RfL. It had a natural flow, you presented the reader with a normal/normative problem by offering a direct route to empathy, and you ran into the natural end-result of positively thinking through the problem: ” that it feels great to be useful ”.

    Here’s another statement you might find immediately useful, since it sums this RfL up so well: ” The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa. ” — Werner Heisenberg

    Consider a person who is self-inspecting as either static or changing. If they are changing, they cannot come to a significant conclusion, because the information they based the conclusion on has changed and become irrelevant. If they are static, they can come to a conclusion about their current state, but to do this they would have to disregard the result of their self-inspection as very important, or else they’ll be moved and changed by it. So what a person does is stop everything (emotionally and developmentally), self-inspect, and move on. A person who dwells on their self-image or self-perception, no matter how pure or how positive, is going to be more or less inactive.

    I worry about this nation (especially this particular state, where it falls in the race to be fattest, least educated, and less likely to know how to conduct good business, at nobody’s fault but their own) sometimes, as the culture seems to have a strong lean towards one-dimensionality in personal characteristic, almost as if more and more people are coming to find it too taxing to be dynamic, well-rounded individuals, and would prefer to accept the put-downs and other labels of their competitive peers as gospel, and just act as and treat others as what literature calls “static characters”. What kind of person suggests that, or worse, accepts it?

    Indeed, to many grown men, suggesting that they are still developing amounts to fighting words. We’re supposed to have grown past all that as a nation, but frankly, the liberals let us down — the movement accepted too many seriously flawed persons as “just fine”, “special is all”, and gave them equal standing with people who I’m sure weren’t put on God’s green earth to pull equal weight with people that don’t even see where the rope is.
    Maybe some time you could address major and serious issues in one of your books, you know, like “The Cheating Culture” did. Or “Apocalypse Culture”, or the essays of John Zerzan. Many of your readers seem familiar with “five points of this and that”, “one point to the greener grass” sort of bunkum, but any arbitrary number can be applied to personalities and methods of being a human. Didn’t the bible say, though, the God has no desire for the diverse weights and measures? In any case, I think you’d probably find a really significant point to hammer home writing a book that takes the form of a nice cultural criticism essay. Your particular personal qualities make you seem warm and caring, and most cultural critics just seem aloof or amused. I know mine always break down in farce, because I feel it’s more effective to state things cruelly, especially when people are barely listening.

    The point is that people, flawed as they are, not only fail to fit into categories and quiz-boxes, they’re also so dynamic that unless they accept their flaws, they fail to really fulfill their purposes in life and will just end up committing the inhumane injustice of putting theirselves down to less than really human. It’s a middle-ground, really: you have to accept the flaws or else you don’t get the really amazing package deal. That’s a concept for personal, self-improvement, though — it’s supposed to be beneath the workings of something as major as the agenda of an entire social order.

    I also happened to have felt that your first book was early-grade. The thing is, your mom is probably a balanced and versatile person. Most of the nation isn’t — rich or poor, most of them are crawling out of the booby-hatches of their nuclear households and gunning for their comfort zones. Whether it’s a trust fund and alumnus or an encyclopedic knowledge of pro wrestling and track car racing that they’ve come to rely on, they have their little economic bubble machines. 9-11 didn’t change all that: 9-11 made it scared for its future. That’s just a little less security, but it’s not like there was something else to fall back on for such victims of upbringing and inbreeding. So, what change? Diminished, America? Heck no.

    In any case, we’re talking about a nation of people who, even in their fourties, tend to not have developed much emotionally. I thought your last RfL was pure farce, until I realised you were really seriously shocked by the fact that most American men are full of theirselves and these days aren’t worth spit in business, blindsided by bubbles and taken in by even the simplest scam. Then it hit me: you’re WITH the financial sector. You’re really, actually, part of the problem, if you think about it. And your first book coddles the white-collar, adult-child American, to put it bluntly. But, then, so does much of America.

    I’m sure that there’s some use for them all to be that way, though. And I’m sure they all appreciate it. A number of years ago there was a great study on the effects of pairing young and inexperienced (I’m talking really young — like, early high schoolers) people with much older, very experienced people (mid 50’s and older) in business settings, to see how productive it would be. They balanced each other out; they performed better than their middle-aged counterparts. Hopefully that’s the direction the country heads in, but the children in the study weren’t man-children — their minds were young and undistorted. And they knew to accept and respect their elders, something else sorely lacking in this country, but for generations, now. Of course, this is still the country where we have to have laws against throwing children out of the house to go lose limbs in a clothing mill so they can bring home a few coins for their parents to spend on booze, though, right? Or else it would happen. So respect for children is kind of out the window, too. Oh just recently a lot of Pentagon officials were caught with child pornography. Not big news, really: executives and legislators from various levels all over the nation have been known to fly off to exotic locales where sex laws allow them to do what they like with very young minors. Apparently not much can be done to them over it. Funny enough, barely anybody ever addresses these issues. So perhaps we’re not in the least bit fit to take the road towards productivity, that involves putting together think-tanks of the old and the young. Not homogenously, anyhow, not without some filtering, first. But who’s going to work that filtering? The CIA? Canadians? Who pays attention or cares much in this country? Who’s “intelligent”? Are they all just contained here, or in some other website? We have people earning degrees everywhere that aren’t worth anything. Were they to begin with or is that the lesson the economy is teaching us?

    I mean, with the important subject matter split off into ten or twenty books, all of which are critical, why isn’t there a bigger market for one book about all the big problems rolled into one? Besides the religious books. And besides the self-help books. Something big for intelligent people.

    Of course, if your Mom didn’t like your first book because the subject matter was already behind her, but did like the new one, then I’m guessing the new one is prime material. Please be sure that there’s a copy available for the Lansing public library — for some reason I was told they would have trouble obtaining your first book.

    Here are some more quotes from Heisenberg about uncertainty in all forms of information (which the universe is made of):

  • Hopefully, we saw a glimmer or two of light in early November as some strong incumbents were not asked back to Washington by the voters. Maybe voters are finally looking at the score cards and taking notice that the current members of the political class are making a lot of errors and not hitting a lot of home runs. Maybe it is time to break down the tribal barriers, have a national discussion on how to solve our problems, and finally put some runs on the score board and score card, regardless of what party or tribe gets the game winning hit. Currently in the United States there are two main political parties, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. While not every person ascribes to every belief of their stated political party, generally, the beliefs held are as follows:
    Failure to follow this, or a similar, strategy, will lead to death by a thousand cuts for both Obama and the Democrats. If they pass a health care bill that fails to deliver more choice at a lower cost, but only forces fifty million uninsured Americans to buy the same crappy insurance the rest of us already have, the Democrats will lose the faith and support of many current backers. Where would that leave us? Likely with a significant number of people just dropping out of the political process, making the already difficult task of solving our problems even more difficult. A Democratic Party that is only incrementally better than the Republicans is simply not good at this moment in time.

  • >