Monday, October 12, 2009


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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Knowing Thyself

This past week I took the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II (, which is an evolved and more behavioral application of the classic MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) inventory that places individuals in a combination of 16 potential personality types.

I learned that my personal growth, professional development and experiences across the past decade now places me as an ENFJ, compared with an ENTJ classification of about a decade ago and the INTJ result that emerged when I first took the inventory in the mid-1990s. Apparently my capacity for extraverted behavior—with aspects such as sociability, interaction, and multiplicity of relationships—has expanded quite a bit across the past 15 years, although internal focus and depth are still of great value to me. This makes sense to me, since this is the time period during which I have become an executive/life coach and a public speaker/trainer in addition to enhancing my lifelong writing vocation. And the F has now edged out the T, meaning that qualities such as values, appreciation and intimacy are more behavioral in me as compared with policies, laws and categories.

My N (intuition) and J (judging) components have remained dominant and consistent across the years whenever I have taken this particular assessment. I’ve always been a person who is drawn toward abstract, creative approaches, while also preferring to be organized, have a plan and be on time!

ENFJs are rare among the 16 types, the research shows—only about 2 percent of all respondents, although I seem to keep “running into them” and happen to be married to one. One label for this particular combination that makes me laugh is “Smooth Talking Persuader.” Hopefully I’ll live up to this one day.

Furthermore, ENFJs fall into one of four specific “temperament categories” identified by Keirsey, with mine being the “Idealists.” (The other three temperaments are “Artisan,” “Guardian” and “Rational.”) Idealists trust their intuition, yearn for romance, seek their true self, and prize meaningful relationships while seeking to attain wisdom. We tend to be very trusting, quite spiritual, and rather focused on personal journeys and human potential. Among our ranks have been Gandhi, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Moyers and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Idealists as a whole make up about 15-20 percent of the population, according to Keirsey. Drilling down further within the Idealist temperament, ENTFs in particular are specifically identified as “Teachers,” whose greatest strength often lies in their belief in their students.

I find these sorts of assessments very interesting and often affirming, and enjoy how they synergize with other key instruments I have taken such as The Gallup Organization’s StrengthsFinder (, the DiSC tool and the various spiritual gifts inventories produced by Christian organizations. Each fills in a key dimension that helps to foster self-awareness and application, and the confluence of all of them has made me more intentional in my career choices and subject matters of study.

I encourage everyone to take one or more of these assessments; not to “completely figure out” who you are—because no assessment can ever fully capture the complexity of a human being—but to embrace helpful frameworks for unleashing epiphanies, affirmations and deeper measures of confidence as you move forward. They also help us to more fully understand another person’s behavior, and develop strategies for stronger relationships and leadership. I have found it particularly effective when an entire work group takes one of these assessments together, and follows through with meaningful discussion that leads to changes in how its members operate.

Taking the same assessment again after a number of years also provides an interesting perspective for how one grows and evolves—a healthy dynamic of intellectual, spiritual and emotional living. When I study my personal and career journey side-by-side with the results of these assessments at key benchmark moments, things make a lot of sense to me.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Washing the Dishes

Within the past week I've read Thich Nhat Hanh's classic work on meditation, The Miracle of Mindfulness, at least twice. There is a plethora of practical exercises in this short book for how to get still and quiet and focused, many of them revolving around awareness of breathing. These practices transcend any particular religious dogma (for we all breathe, don't we?), and help a person become more fully present and engaged with whatever is happening in the moment. For me personally, they give even greater meaning to Jesus' assertions that the Kingdom of God is here now and eternal life a present reality, and teach me more of how I can "be still and know."

One of the spiritual coachings in the book concerns something as mundane as washing dishes. When you are washing the dishes, the Vietnamese monk Hanh he writes, don't just try to get through the task with the hope of doing something else a bit more interesting. Actually focus on washing the dishes. I tried this, and meditated on what the dishes represented. They are objects upon which my wife and children enjoy their food. I then applied the same approach toward the task of making my nine-year-old's lunch, which certainly can be a hurried chore on a busy school night. This is the lunch my child will eat in school the next day, I reminded myself. And it became a sacred moment to me, packing a little girl's lunch, spreading the PB&J on the whole wheat bread.

Certainly this practice applies most significantly to being in someone's company. The book quotes a story from Leo Tolstoy when emphasizing that the most important time is right now, for this moment is all one ever has; that the most important task is the thing you are doing, for who knows if you will have the chance to do anything else (the future is not guaranteed); and that the most important person is the person you are with right now.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

I Stopped to Pet a Cat

During today's run/walk on a cool October morning, I was practicing being mindful of what was within and around me. I took note of my breath, paid attention to my thoughts as they happened, and heard the song of birds and the yelp of dogs in the distance. I took note of the trees, imagining when they might begin to turn color.

Above all, I could sense life teeming around me and through me, sensing a connection to all created things.

And then I saw the black, shiny cat with the ID tags. She was trotting on the opposite side of the street, and I was still a ways off. I found myself simply appreciating the life of this cat, the grace of its beauty. And I knew by instinct that the cat was sensing me as well. Sure enough, as I looked over at her she spotted me and quickly crossed the street. Without thinking I made the little kitty noises my dad always made when he was trying to get a cat to play with him. She stood next to me, and I gently petted her as the purrs kicked into gear.

"You're a good kitty," I told her over and over, scratching her head as she rubbed it against my hand. And she was good.

After a couple of minutes of this I decided to proceed home. She walked briskly alongside me for a couple of blocks, and I wondered if she would follow me all the way home. But then I glanced back and she was gone, off to her next adventure, living in the moment as cats always do. And I was left with my own splendid moments to pay attention, to breathe, to simply be as I moved along the glorious earth.

Friday, October 02, 2009

A Thought From Holmes (Not Sherlock)

A mind stretched by a new idea can never go back to its original dimensions.

A new friend shared this classic Oliver Wendell Holmes quote with me this morning during a meeting at a Panera Bread. I'm sure I've heard it before, but it resonated with particular power for me because of the "stretching" I've undertaken for the past several years. It made perfect sense to me because it is true; once the cognitive wineskin has been reshaped or even torn, it can no longer be repaired to snugly fit the same individual's head.

One of the most dangerous and disheartening dynamics to come across each day is the purposeful or unintentional closing of this same mind. I will be blogging much more deeply about this subject in the near future, but I'll say in a nutshell for now that the root-cause culprit of intentional or unconscious mind atrophy is institutionalization.

What do I mean by this loaded word? I am referring specifically to the behavior exhibited when corporations; religious entities; governmental bodies; educational establishments; neighborhoods; and social cliques or organizations perpetuate themselves through incessant expectations, rule-enforcement and relentless marketing via numerous formats--disregarding heartfelt desires and leaving the critically-thinking individual to contend with the triple-play downer of fear, negative peer pressure and alienation.

This perpetuation often comes at the expense of truth, justice and compassion, because the "brand" must be protected and expanded at nearly all costs. It births a significant cluster of stressed-out people who are intellectually "in the closet" because they fear retribution should they be honest and dare to synthesize rather than compartmentalize their work, intellect, spirituality, emotions and relationships.

The person who has begun the process of enlightenment starts to see the dark side of institutionalization, and daily grows more uneasy with serving its cause. He or she increasingly swims against the tide, finding comfort and strength when splashing alongside others who also taste the truthful flavor of Holmes's words. They literally cannot turn around and go with the established current, for the swimmer who once left the shore no longer exists. The synthesis is too life-affirming, too profoundly reverberating with truth down to the core of their being.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Decade Makes a Difference

As autumn sets in and this decade nears its end, I am amazed by the extent to which people and circumstances can evolve across 10 years.

This is the end of September 2009. Ten years ago I was well into my final year of graduate school at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., with a return to Florida on the near horizon. We were prayerful about starting a family. I was immersed in a world of courses involving ministry leadership, public speaking and counseling--among others--and had been carefully documenting all of my graduate reading into an A-Z subject list for easy retrieval. The summer of 1999 had involved an intensive internship as a hospital chaplain, followed by a few days in the mountains to read Thomas Merton and Ken Gire and catch my breath.

Since then, I've completed school; become a father not once but twice while saying goodbye to my own father; become ordained as a deacon in full connection by The United Methodist Church; and moved from a pastoral leadership role to business leadership development roles in the corporate sphere. During these past 10 years I've also evolved in my writing from doing mostly articles and marketing copy to a stronger focus on books and blogging. Ten years ago I was still several years away from establishing any sort of Internet presence, and today I'm all about leveraging social media to communicate with others and create awareness. And the context of my family's life has shifted from Kentucky to Florida and now to Tennessee, which certainly feels like home for the next decade and perhaps many more after that.

Throughout this 10-year journey of many changes that have built upon one another and expanded my thinking across numerous disciplines, there certainly have been joys and struggles. Each has taught me something, and some lessons I have had to repeat. I find myself today, as compared with 10 years ago, much less in a "box" and harder to categorize. I have hundreds of new friends or associates whom I did not know 10 years ago, and thankfully have been able to stay somewhat connected--especially through social media--with those I knew well during the 1990s. There are dozens and dozens of books I've read this decade that were not on my radar in 1999, and these certainly have enhanced how I look at vocation, spiritual growth, relationships and certainly myself.

The sustainable joy is in the growing, the learning, the trial and error. I would not be satisfied with a life that remained virtually static across a decade. I do not know what pleasure or pain awaits me across next 10 years, or even what might happen tomorrow. But my hope is that the passion I have for growth and learning that has carried me for so long will continue to escalate, and that I might leverage it wisely and humbly to serve others well.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When Leaders Cry

I saw leaders cry today, at the end of a workshop I co-facilitated. They didn't cry because the workshop or the facilitator were so bad...they cried because they expressed heartfelt appreciation to others, and had it expressed to them in return. For a precious afternoon, they let down their guard, engaged their hearts and realized it was a good thing not only for human relationships but for business. Both and. What a concept.

When you appreciate others, recognizing and building upon their strengths, you set loose a vocational revolution. People move from worker-bee to leadership perspectives. Jaded managers regain their sense of inspiration and help organizations break through barriers to success.

Appreciation, respect and caring are not hard to express. Such behaviors are some of the easiest a leader will ever have to execute. But they seem to be some of the hardest to remember to execute.

Why is that?

In my opinion, leaders are often inconsistent in expressing appreciation and building on others' strengths because of fear. They fear they won't get a desired result if they slow down to extend the human touch or take their momentary focus off of the employee's areas of opportunity. Fear is a key symptom of lack of presence, lack of being fully engaged with the person before you and the latent possibilities. The mind is zooming ahead to potential consequences, missing out on what could be done right now to make things better. Much of the frustration in a leader's life--and, furthermore in any one's life--is grounded in failing to make the most of the moment at hand because of fear, anxiety, distraction, etc. The moment to come is always more eagerly anticipated, so no moment is every fully enjoyed or capitalized to its fullest.

Leaders cried today because they were fully engaged in the experience of the moment. Heart touched heart, spirit touched spirit. And the business did not come grinding to a halt in the process. My hunch is that the business will be even more vital tomorrow, a day full of present moments.