September 2012

Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of perspective. In fact, one of the greatest assets any leader can have is a powerful positive perspective – the ability to see the good in any circumstance.

It’s like the young boy who was playing baseball in his front yard. The lad announced to his mother, who was watching from the window, “I’m the greatest hitter in all of baseball!” And he threw his ball into the air and took a mighty swing with his bat.

He missed. “That’s strike one!” he called. “Still two more to go, but I won’t need them – I’m the best hitter in all of baseball.”

He tossed the ball into the air again, and took another mighty swing. The ball landed softly at his feet.

“That’s strike two!” he yelled. “One more strike to go. Not a problem for the best hitter in all of baseball.”

He threw the ball it the air once more, and once again he took a mighty swing. He swung so hard he spun around on his heels and fell down onto the grass. The ball lay nearby, untouched.

The boy got up, dusted off his pants and cried out, “Steeeee-rike three! I’m out!”

His mother called out, “Aren’t you upset you didn’t get a hit? After all, you’re the greatest hitter in all of baseball.”

The boy turned to her and smiled. “No way! Since I struck myself out, I just discovered I’m the greatest pitcher in all of baseball!”

Now THAT is a powerful positive perspective. Finding the good in every circumstance, looking for good instead of searching for the bad.

Chances are, you’ve met people like that young boy. People who, no matter the circumstances, no matter what’s going on around them, see the world through a positive lens. We call them many things – dreamers, optimists, romantics, idealists, star-gazers. But no matter what we call them, most of us like being around them. They bring hope. They bring energy. They bring a sense of possibility that helps ignite our own sense of belief. We may give positive-perspective-holders a hard time, but when push comes to shove, we want them on our team.

Because we know what the people with powerful negative perspectives bring.

Those people have never met an opportunity that they liked. They see all the cracks, the blemishes, the reasons why something can’t be done. People with a powerful negative perspective may tell you that they actually understand the weight of the situation, but oftentimes they ARE the weight in the situation!

Don’t you find that to be true? In our current culture, negativity has somehow become synonymous with clear thinking and wisdom. Meanwhile, people with a positive outlook are considered naïve or willfully ignorant. And so folks that want to get ahead embrace the darkly cynical outlook that others have adopted, and then wonder why everyone has problems but so few people have ideas!

My friend, I assure you, you don’t want to have a powerful perspective that’s negative. You don’t want to be the person who dwells on what’s gone wrong, what is wrong, and what’s likely to go wrong. You don’t need those kind of thoughts in your head on a regular basis, and I’ll tell you why:

Because life provides enough challenges as it is. You don’t need to add to them.

Instead, you need to focus your energy and thinking on becoming a person with a powerful positive perspective. Look for the good. Believe the good. Find others who believe as you do and partner with them to make a difference. Because this much is true: the only people who get things done are the people who believe something can be done.

I love the advice the Apostle Paul gave to some of the leaders he trained in the city of Philippi:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (Phil. 4:8-9, MSG)

Do you see what Paul advised his readers to focus on? Positive things! Because having a positive perspective helps you in every situation. It doesn’t mean you deny reality; it just means you acknowledge that even the toughest circumstances have a way through them. There are options. There is hope. In a world that’s become quick to dismiss hope as a fool’s dream, people who can keep hope alive stand out all the more.

So the question you have to ask yourself is: what kind of powerful perspective do I have? Is it positive or negative?

Maybe you’ve never considered just how powerful your perspective is. Maybe you’ve never realized just how much your thinking shapes your behavior. Maybe you’ve been trapped in a cycle of negative circumstances and you don’t know how to get out.

Cultivate a powerful positive perspective. I promise you, in every problem, there is something positive that can be found. Talk back to your negative thoughts. Tell yourself that something good can be found. Discipline yourself to look for it. Surround yourself with people who look for the positive and learn from them. Allow yourself to fan the flames of hope in your heart.

Things won’t always go your way, but you can turn them to your advantage if you’ll keep a powerful positive perspective. You might strike out, only to find you’ve been seeing yourself in the wrong position all along.

Life has so much to offer you if you’ll look for it. Make a powerful positive perspective your goal, and you’ll be amazed how life opens up.

This week, for a new project, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk leadership with Rick Hendrick at his headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a wonderful day, and I came away with something that I want to share with you, because I think it will be of tremendous value.

Now, if you don’t know Rick, that’s okay. He’s a good friend, and in addition to being a successful businessman, he also happens to be a phenomenal leader. In fact, Rick is such a great leader that he’s able to maintain two entirely separate massive enterprises: Rick Hendrick Automotive Group, which comprises his 120 car dealerships across the southern United States, and Hendrick Motorsports, which is made up of his various car racing teams.

Both of those accomplishments are amazing in and of themselves. But Rick isn’t the kind of leader who’s happy with being just a business owner; he is committed to excellence in everything he does. And that’s why his NASCAR racing teams alone have won 11 championships, including a record-setting five championships in a row by driver Jimmie Johnson. Rick’s drive to be the best translates into a vision that goes across all of his organizations and produces astounding results.

As you can imagine, the opportunity to sit down with Rick and talk about leadership was something I couldn’t pass up!

For our conversation, Rick brought along one of his NASCAR drivers, a very sharp young man named Chase Elliott. If you’re a NASCAR fan, you’ve probably heard his name – he currently leads all rookies in points towards the Rookie of the Year award, and he’s done very well in many of his races. Even though he’s still looking for his first win, after just a few hours with Chase, I knew it wasn’t a question of IF he’d get a win, but WHEN.

The reason why I feel so confident about Chase getting a win is because of his perspective. Now, he’s a young man – just 20 years old – and he’s following in some gigantic footsteps. Chase took over Hendrick Motorsports’ 24 car, which was previously driven by the legendary Jeff Gordon. Chase’s father happens to be Bill Elliott, who is also a legendary NASCAR driver. Everywhere Chase looks, he’s surrounded by people who have achieved success at the highest levels of his profession.

He could feel overwhelmed. Or he could assume that he’s somehow entitled to success. But he’s done neither of those things. Instead, Chase has the mindset that all great leaders have: he wants to learn to be great.

In fact, he said something during our time together that just struck me. It was such a fantastic leadership statement that I immediately told him I was going to take it and use it. (And I am!) As we were talking about the preparation he does for each race, Chase explained how much he studies what other drivers do. He described the hours of film he watches, the conversations he has, the ways that he constantly seeks out information that might make him better, make him sharper. And then he said this:

“After all, you create your own luck.”

I love that phrase. It’s such a leadership concept. You create your own luck. You don’t just wait around, hoping someone will open a door for you. You don’t just sit back and hope for good things to come your way. Hope is not a strategy, and waiting is not always winning. Good leaders, the best leaders, are constantly looking for an edge. They are learning whatever they can, in order to gain new insights, hear fresh perspectives, and see new opportunities.

There’s a quote, often attributed to the Roman writer Seneca the Younger, that reads, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” What Chase has learned at such a young age is that leaders like Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon and Bill Elliott have a lot of things to teach him. They have a lot of wisdom that Chase can use in preparing to take advantage of opportunities when they come along.

The same is true for you. You are surrounded by people who have something to teach you. You have leaders with wisdom to share and peers who have great insights from experience. Take advantage of what they know. Buy them a cup of coffee, and then ask them questions. Be intentional about getting to the heart of what people know.

Because when you intentionally chase wisdom and insight from others, you begin to create your own luck. As you learn and grow, you begin to see opportunities you would have otherwise missed. Not just to advance your own agenda, but also to add value to others, who will in turn add value to you. This is what separates average leaders from good leaders. And consistently living this way is what helps turn good leaders into great ones.

As poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” When you make the choice to intentionally learn from others around you, you can help create the luck you need to do the things you dream of doing.

Everything worthwhile is uphill.

I’ve been saying that a lot lately. Because it’s a fact. Almost everything that has value, almost everything that has purpose, requires work on our part to attain it. We have to put in the effort to get what to where we want to go.

Think about it – you want a good marriage? You have to work at it. You want a good career? You have to work at it. You want to change your life, achieve a goal, do something you’ve never done before? You have to work at it.

Nothing that is good in life comes easy. And very little that comes easy is good.

You have to work at it.

I’m reminded of a funny story about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Known as one of the most gifted and brilliant architects in American history, Wright is remembered for some breathtaking designs. One of his most famous is a home called Fallingwater, which he designed for Edgar J. Kaufmann in 1935.

The story goes that Kaufmann commissioned the design from Wright, who did nothing with it for several weeks. And then one morning, as Wright was eating breakfast, he received a surprise call from Kaufmann, who informed the architect that he would be by around noon to see the final design for his house.

According to the story, Wright hung up the phone, finished his breakfast, and designed the entire house in less than two hours. When Kaufmann arrived, he loved the bold design, and went on to build one of the most amazing homes in American history.

Now, even if that story were true – and most people believe that it’s not – or even if you think Frank Lloyd Wright was so gifted that he could just design a house from scratch in two hours, do you think that house was the first one Wright had ever designed?

Of course not! Before Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fallingwater, he’d designed many other homes and structures, and spent countless hours drawing and dreaming of designs. In other words, Wright didn’t just roll out of bed one morning and make magic happen; he worked steadily at his craft one day at a time.

Because everything worthwhile in life is uphill.

But too many people don’t seem to want to climb a hill. They just want to wait at the bottom and let whatever is at the top roll down to them! I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen enough cartoons to know that whatever rolls downhill is rarely something you want to get in front of. If you don’t believe me, just ask Wile E. Coyote from Looney Tunes.

So why do some people prefer to stand at the bottom, waiting around?

Maybe they are afraid of the climb. Maybe they don’t think they can make it to the top. Maybe they don’t have the energy or stamina necessary to go up the hill. Maybe they lack the discipline.

Or maybe they just like the feeling of coasting.

When I was a kid learning to ride my bike, I was always glad to go down a hill. It was fast and exciting, and I didn’t have to pedal.

But you know what I soon realized?

In order to go down that hill, I had to pedal my way to the top. The thrill I chased only came after I’d done the work necessary to catch it.

If everything worthwhile is uphill, that means you have to make the choice to go and get it. You have to put one foot in front of the other and take that hill a step at a time. You must grow and stretch yourself a little every day. You may not conquer a mountain at first, but for every hill you do conquer, you gain confidence for the next climb. And there is always another hill to start climbing from the bottom.

I’m at a point in my life where I could choose to coast – I’ve been climbing hills for over forty years now. People ask me all the time when I’m going to retire, or if I’m ever going to take it easy. And I’ll tell you what I tell them: I’m not ready to coast. So why do I keep climbing?

Because what I’m going after every day in this season of life is worth it. The growth I discover as I push toward the top of my current hill is worth more to me than the temporary joy I’d get from coasting, even for a little while. And that’s the secret. Whatever you put at the top of your hill, it must be something that makes the journey worth it.

So what about you? Have you been coasting, or maybe waiting at the bottom of the hill? Are you unsure if what’s the at the top of your hill is worth the climb? I have good news for you – it’s never too late to make a fresh start. Choosing to go after something worthwhile is the first step in the journey uphill.

Or maybe you’re already going after something every day, putting one foot in front of the other, climbing slowly but surely toward a prize that will make the climb worthwhile. If so, I’d love to hear what that prize is! What’s at the top of your hill right now that keeps you motivated? What are you chasing that’s worthwhile?

I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments. And I’ll leave you with this: everyone has something worthwhile to go after. Every person has a dream or a purpose that can make even the hardest sacrifices feel worth it in the end. Whatever that may be for you, my friend, don’t give up on it. Even if you have to take small steps, take them every day.

The view from the top of hill is much better than the view from the bottom.