Make It Matter

Significance. Value. Impact. Purpose. Effectiveness. Influence. Results. Multiplication. When someone can describe your efforts with these words, you are doing something that matters. I have not met anyone that did not want to do more, to matter more, and to make more of a difference in their activities. You have to do many things to “make it matter.” We’ve discussed the importance of setting the right priorities (here.) You have to be aggressive in determining what you will not do if you want to make it matter in the most important things.

“I have not met anyone that did not want to do more…”

Collaboration and synergy are also vital to “making it matter.” Think about the times in your life that you have been most effective or achieved your greatest results. It was never just “one thing” that got the job done, was it? No, it took energy from yourself and others. It necessitated teamwork. It called for several things personally and professionally coming together. It required excellent processes, people, purpose, unity, commitment, focus, hard work, time, health, rest, and support from those most important to you to get a result. It demanded collaboration and synergy.

Think about the times in your life that you have been frustrated with your results and effectiveness. I bet one or more of the following were in play: stresses at home and at work; struggles in relationships; times of illness; not getting enough rest; not getting enough exercise; lack of teamwork; broken processes; competing demands; lack of focus; lack of commitment. It’s hard to make it matter when there is a lack of collaboration, synergy, or harmony.

To make it matter and to lead you also have to “show up.” “Showing up” refers to your physical and mental engagement as well as how you are perceived. “Showing up” is a leadership principle I often see ignored because it seems so obvious. Physical presence is essential and opens more doors than any other type of communication. Regardless of the forum, however, your mental and emotional energy are critical. Phone, email, video conference, or face-to-face your mental and emotional engagement should be evident. People can tell when you are not fully engaged and how much energy you are bringing to the conversation. If you’re going to give your time, then make it matter. The real price of any activity is the time you spend on it.

“If you’re going to give your time, then make it matter.”

You want to “show up” as a leader. Your actions, energy, engagement, and appearance will affect how you are perceived which, in turn, will impact your effectiveness. Leading is not about a position. If you want to lead, then lead. You don’t need a title or position. You need ideas, energy, passion, engagement, to communicate effectively, and to be able to enlist allies to support what you want to accomplish. Positions and titles don’t come first. They usually follow after demonstrating leadership. A title or promotion is often just a recognition of what you are already doing. I’ve seen this in both corporate and non-profit settings. Lead first. The rest will follow. You have to lead to make it matter.

“You need ideas, energy, passion, engagement, …allies to support what you want to accomplish.”

It should be apparent that your key to making it matter is how you engage with people. Relationships matter. Relationships develop through frequent and long-term engagement. Developing profound relationships is one of the Leadership FIRSTS (here.) Cultivating deep relationships will enrich the world while achieving enhanced results. Value is created and distributed in collaboration with people. Leadership happens when you draw the talents and energy of people to a common task, goal, purpose, or objective. If you want to make it matter you have to become a “people person” and you have to lead.

“Leadership happens when you draw the talents and energy of people to a common task, goal, purpose, or objective.”

Competent CEOs make it matter, in part, because they are adept at developing and maintaining relationships. Yes, they have accomplished much in their careers and have strong skill sets. But what sets the CEO apart and is a significant determinant of their success is their relationships.

I follow a large, non-profit organization that recently went through a tough time. Its retired CEO was brought back to navigate the organization through a challenging regulatory and public relations environment. Bringing him back was necessary because he had relationships with key State and Federal officials that could impact the organization’s success and well-being. He was able to get the support needed and enlist help from other leaders which allowed him to position the organization for a better future. The CEO that left was a capable operator. He could “run” the organization. But, it proved, he could not be successful because he lacked the relationships to be effective in the role. Don’t underestimate the power of relationships in making it matter.

There is, of course, more to it. It’s easy to write concise essays, but the execution is always more challenging. What are your ideas for making it matter? Please share your thoughts and comments.

This blog is one way I try to invest in others and to encourage character-driven leadership in life and business. If I can help, please feel free to reach out to me at

For more information about this blog, please visit
By Alan Buttery

#MakeItMatter, #Leadership

The Balance Myth Part 2

In “The Balance Myth” (here) I discussed the need to pursue “harmony” in our lives instead of “balance” and the fact that balance is not only unattainable, but also undesirable if you want to be successful in business, life, and relationships. Being methodical and deliberate in pursuing harmony will lead you to make priority choices that are in line with your values and what is important to you and to those you love. I assert that value-based decision making and ruthless prioritization will lead to greater harmony in your life for you and those around you.

This subject resonated with many people and I subsequently did a podcast with Broc Edwards on The Balance Myth. It was a transparent conversation regarding what has worked for me over the years and what has not. I don’t always get it right, and I am aware that my choices impact others. You can find links to listen to it here.

To recap the key points from the original article:

1) Balance is unattainable. It is mathematically impossible for the vast majority of people.
2) You don’t have enough hours in the week. Your 168 hours are spent.
3) You have little discretionary time.
4) Balance is undesirable. Giving everything a balanced priority is a formula for failure.
5) The most successful people in any field give an extremely high, unbalanced priority to their goals. They are willing to sacrifice other things to achieve their goals.
6) The most successful people in any field tend to love what they are doing. Their choices often do not feel like a sacrifice to them.
7) The quest for harmony is a very personal one. You will always have to fight for it.

The foundation for finding harmony is knowing your purpose and knowing what you value. You will usually not find purpose without a deep understanding of what you value. Family, faith, career, helping others, and fitness are in my values list. The more I can connect what I value to what I do, the more harmony I will discover. The more what I value and do aligns with the values of those I love, the more harmony I will have in those relationships. It sounds easy, but harmony with self and harmony with others are difficult to achieve. Both Life Circumstances and Prior Choices conspire against us.

Many books have been written on the subject of finding your purpose. Having a simple purpose statement for your life is helpful. I said last time that mine is, “To make a profound difference in every activity with which I am involved.” This statement is my initial filter for every opportunity that comes my way. If I can’t make a difference, then I will say “no” to the opportunity. Like everyone, I want my efforts to matter.

Purpose, however, is more complicated than you think. I believe most people discover their purpose by accident. I don’t hear of many cases in which someone wakes up one day and suddenly knows, “My purpose is to ___________.” In other words, they don’t understand on the front-end of an opportunity if they will discover purpose in it. They start a task, project, job, career, educational path either because they enjoy it or because they feel like they have to do it. I believe that most people discover purpose through both a process of elimination and by making choices over a long period in alignment with what they value. A job turns into a career. A relationship turns into a marriage. An idea becomes a business. A talent grows into something bigger. An educational path leads to other opportunities not previously considered.

As you seek harmony between what you are doing and what you value you discover purpose. It is the cognitive and emotional dissonance between values, tasks, and responsibilities that create the misguided desire to seek balance. Think about the times you have discovered the most joy and fulfillment in life and what things led to that sense of well-being. Did you find them because of balance? Most likely not. You most likely had what others would call an unhealthy focus on your goals and desires. Falling in love, starting a business, going back to school for a graduate degree, pursuing an athletic goal or other endeavor requires tremendous focus and concentration. “Balanced” allocation of resources will not get the job done.

You will have to make difficult choices to achieve alignment of your values with what you do on a day-to-day basis. Even harder is aligning your values with others. How do you make these choices? Some choices you’ve made in the past are affecting your present. You may have to make significant life changes to begin to achieve harmony. Work first from your values, and then, if you’ve identified it, a sense of purpose. Let this direct your prioritization and the changes you make. Don’t try to change everything at once. Start small, make a change, and then go to the next. These changes may be a longer-term project to align your life with your values and purpose but are well worth it. You will also have to be diligent in protecting the harmony you create. Many things will compete for your attention and will disrupt what you are trying to do.

As you can see, there are benefits to an unbalanced life. Focus on the things that mean most to you. Neglect the good in favor of the best. Do what matters to you. Spend the time to assess what you value most and manage your priorities to what you value.

What do you think?  If you think I’m on point (or not!), I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. This blog is one way I try to invest in others and to encourage character-driven leadership in life and business. If I can help, please feel free to reach out to me at

Lastly, I am running the 2019 Boston Marathon with the Pedro Martinez Foundation Charity Team and would very much appreciate your support! If you would like to help support PMF’s fantastic work you can find out more here.

For more information about this blog, please visit
By Alan Buttery

The Mental Game

“As a man thinks…, so is he.”

Mastering our thoughts is a critical skill in life and business. The recording (or podcast) in our heads feeds our beliefs, values, character, attitudes, impulses, decisions, actions, and behaviors. These, in turn, have a profound impact on our lives, relationships, and outcomes. It is vitally important that we learn to direct our thoughts in desirable directions. Our thoughts determine who we are today and, more importantly, who we will become. Repetitive thoughts can lead you to positive outcomes and joy or to destruction and despair. Most people are somewhere in the middle. Some thoughts lead the right direction and others do not, thus, we are all, at some level, full of contradictions. There is a battle for your mind.

“Defeat is a state of mind; no one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as reality.” – Bruce Lee

I could bombard you with quotes on positivity and believing in yourself. There are many tidbits of wisdom that tell you, essentially, “you’ve got this” or “you’re going to make it.” A mantra is a useful tool, but it does not change the circumstances you are facing. It can help your attitude. While I believe in the power of positive self-talk, I have found several things helpful in corralling my thoughts and redirecting them in a positive direction. How do you begin to corral your thoughts when they are spinning out of control?

“She believed she could, so she did.”

It may be helpful to review why people “give up.” A person may quit something long-term like a job, a relationship, a business or a venture they started, or an organization of which they have been a part for a long time. They may quit something short-term like a sporting event, leave a show or a party early, a task, or a conversation. Generally, people quit when they lose hope, they lose interest, or they perceive the pain or the risk to be greater than the reward.

“People quit when they lose hope, they lose interest, or they perceive the pain or the risk to be greater than the reward.”

How do you rein in your thoughts when they are getting out of control, how do you begin to rein them in? These are some suggestions that have worked for me. These are short and to the point for purposes of this blog. Feel free to reach out if you’d like to comment and discuss further.

1) Realize most pain is temporary. Remembering this is usually all I need to stay focused and determined through a trying situation. I keep moving through the pain. “When you are going through hell, keep going.”

2) Do the next thing. Sometimes you can only see one step in front of you. I often want a fully developed plan and not having that can lead to inaction. Knowing the next step is enough. Take the step.

3) Do just one thing. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all that is in front of you. I’ve seen many people, myself included, be successful by focusing on doing just one thing well. Master the one thing before adding another. This has helped me in everything from weight loss and fitness to business projects. “Don’t try to boil the ocean.”

4) Press “pause.” Give yourself some mental downtime to clear your head. Do the things that allow you to relax your mind or focus on something else.

5) Move. When I can’t get clarity on something, I go for a run. Increasing the blood flow to your brain does wonders for mental clarity. Exercise of any sort will help clear your head.

6) Sleep. Most of us do not get enough rest. Even if you think you are “fine” on 4-5 hours of sleep, you will have more clarity, physical, and emotional energy when you get more rest.

7) Confidence is a choice. When you feel uncertain, chose the thoughts and path the lead you to confidence.

8) Focus. When faced with a particularly tough challenge I find directing significant energy to it for a short period allows me to “muscle through.” Temporary intensity can yield great results.

9) Declutter your mind. It is easy to trouble yourself with too many things. Only give thought to what you can manage. Everything else can be a distraction.

10) Smile. Choosing happiness, positivity, and to smile will affect your outlook, your attitude, and your results. In a recent marathon, I got to mile 18 and was starting to hurt. From miles 18-26 I kept reminding myself to smile and that it was a privilege to run the race. It led to a great outcome. The world record holder in the marathon, Eliud Kipchoge, when asked for running advice frequently tells people to smile. He is always seen smiling through the race and at the finish.

These are simple ideas that anyone can implement to deal with their thoughts. Did I give you too many? If so, do number 3 (Do just one thing.) It is not my intent to address here the broader issues of depression, mental health, or the tragedies that can affect us all. There are circumstances which require the help of experts in the field. I can tell you what works in my own life when I sense my thought processes getting off track.

If you find these blogs helpful I’d like to ask for your support. I am running the 2019 Boston Marathon with the Pedro Martinez Foundation Charity Team. Your tax-deductible donation to PMF helps kids in at-risk situations in both the Dominican Republic and the United States. You can find out more here or contribute here.

What do you think? If you think I’m on point (or not!), I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. This blog is one way I try to invest in others and to encourage character-driven leadership in life and business. If I can help, please feel free to reach out to me at

For more information about this blog, please visit

By Alan Buttery

The Balance Myth

I regularly hear people speak of “balance.” Work-Life balance. Balanced priorities. Balanced attitudes. Balanced workloads. In a quantitative sense, there is no such thing as “balance” in life. Would your key relationships accept a “balanced” approach to love? Of course not! Your spouse expects to be first. Do you prioritize your life based upon a balanced, i.e. equal, distribution of your time, resources, talents, emotional, or physical energy? I am confident you do not.

You only have 168 hours in a week to utilize. Let’s assume you get the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night. Let’s also assume you are either at work, in transit to/from work, or getting ready for work 65 hours per week. You may have a very long commute to work. I have friends in several cities commuting 1½ hours each way to work. Thus, their hours consumed by work-related activities are much higher than 65. You may also be in a role that requires you to work many more hours.

Staying with my example (168-56-65=47), you then have 47 remaining hours in a week with 6.7 average hours per day that is “discretionary time.” Except, it’s not discretionary. The other priorities in your life, this includes people, will consume much of that time. The point is, there is nobody in the modern world that has a job and relationships that has true, quantitative balance. Nor is that desirable! If you want to make a difference in your world, relationships, or career, then the goal is not balance!

So, why do we hear all the talk about “balance,” as if it’s a virtue? I submit to you that balance is not a virtue. Further, if you give everything a balanced or equal priority and resources, then you will be unsuccessful in all that you do. I believe when people speak of seeking balance that they are expressing their earnest desire to set proper priorities in their lives and to make room for what is most important to them! In short, they are unhappy with the current order of things.

“they are expressing their earnest desire to set proper priorities in their lives and to make room for what is most important to them!”

Most athletes are successful because they have a great work ethic and they enjoy the training process. My marathon coach is a former Olympic athlete. He loved the training. Running before and after work to get 150 miles per week and make the Olympic team was important enough to him to make the sacrifices to get there.

I know a couple of active Navy Seals. Their job is 75% training and 25% deployment. They are successful for many reasons but among them is they enjoy the training. Their full-time job is to train for the occasional deployment. There is a reason they are among the most elite trained forces in the world.

Those with the most successful relationships prioritize them over other things. They sacrifice other opportunities and desires to make their relationships successful. They set boundaries around their relationships to give them the time and nurture they need.

The most successful people in any field did not get there because of balance. They got there because of a single-minded pursuit of a goal which often came at great personal sacrifice. You will usually find, however, that they love what they do.

What we seek is not balance but harmony. Harmony in how time is allocated. Harmony in relationships. Harmony among the priorities in our lives. This idea of harmony comes from a recent conversation with a colleague struggling with competing priorities in his life. The quest for harmony is a very personal one that is tied to your values and priorities and is something you will always have to fight to maintain. There will always be something competing for your attention.

Here is a process you can use to pursue harmony in your life. These ideas deserve much further development than I can give them in a blog, but they should help you get started.

1) Know your purpose. Harmony first comes from defining your purpose. My purpose is very simple. “To make a profound difference in every activity with which I am involved.” It’s vague but helps me set my priorities and determine what activities I pursue. If I can’t make a real difference, then I don’t participate. That helps me determine which activities to remove from my life. Define your purpose and let everything in your life flow from it.

2) Know what you value. Truly assessing your values requires some introspection. It includes certain relationships. It includes character qualities such as integrity. It may include spouse, kids, health, career, faith, and helping others. My values determine the categories of activities with which I am involved.

3) Assess your life. This comes down to evaluating what you are doing today. Where and how are you spending all of your precious resources (time, money, talent, energy, relationships?) Where can you make quick changes? Where do you need to start the process of making long-term changes? How do you categorize these activities? How do you rank them within the categories? Does the ranking line up with your purpose and values? Why or why not?

4) Prioritize and restructure. You are so talented that there is no way you can do everything of which you are capable. Thus, you must make the hard choices to order your life around what matters most to you. I order my life around faith, family, career, health, and helping others. These are my primary categories. There are things I do consistently in each of these categories. Your priorities and activities may be different. Some things require attention every day while you can pick your opportunities with others. You may do some things on a short-term or long-term basis but what you value should be a recurring theme in your activities.

5) Determine what you will sacrifice. You can’t do everything. Some things are easy to decline. Others may fit your overall priorities or categories but pull your attention and resources from other things that are more important. Do not let “good” take your time and resources away from “best.” Measure the cost and be cognizant of what you are giving up.

6) Protect your priorities. This means setting and enforcing boundaries around those things which are essential to you. This includes time for yourself. There will always be encroachments on your priorities. Some encroachments you can control and some you cannot or should not. In the latter, you should make the encroachment temporary. Do not let it become permanent. If you miss a day, then make sure you recover the time on the next one.

7) Regularly reassess. I generally do this on an annual basis but sometimes more frequently when I sense my activities are not lining up with my purpose and values. You know when things are slipping out of control and when it is time to reinforce your boundaries. This is an excellent time of year to look back over the last twelve months and genuinely assess what worked, what did not, where you were on track, and where you were not. Give yourself kudos for success and for where you made positive changes to move your life in the desired direction. Be sober-minded in evaluating failures, missed opportunities, and where your activities did not line up with your priorities. Let this be the impetus for change.

8) Remake your life. I worked with an executive coach some years ago who told me you have to remake yourself every five to seven years. It takes a process, sometimes lengthy and expensive, to become something you are not today. You are the CEO of your life. How would you rate your performance? What changes do you need to make? What investments do you need to make in yourself or others? Where did you “underinvest?” What is the health of your “organization?” Are you creating the value you desire? What does your “board of directors” think? What is your change management plan? Do you have one? How will you pursue and develop the harmony you need among all of your competing priorities? Be the CEO. Lead the change you desire to see.

Life is not about the tightrope. It is not about pursuing balance. Set the right priorities and pursue harmony. Make choices that align with your purpose, values, and goals.

What do you think?  If you think I’m on point (or not!), I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. This blog is one way I try to invest in others and to encourage character-driven leadership in life and business. If I can help, please feel free to reach out to me at

Lastly, I am running the 2019 Boston Marathon with the Pedro Martinez Foundation Charity Team and would very much appreciate your support! If you would like to help support PMF’s amazing work you can find out more here.

For more information about this blog, please visit
By Alan Buttery

Hard Work Is Never Enough!

Hard work and good results are never enough.  Good performance and producing results are simply the minimum requirements to be eligible for advancement and success.  If performance and results are not present, then nothing else can happen.  If hard work and good results are not enough then what does it take to “get ahead?”  Many people who work hard and produce good results rarely get more opportunities to grow or to lead.  If you aspire to do more, to advance, or to “succeed” then, in addition to your ability to produce, you’re going to have to develop a robust set of “soft skills.”  Managing relationships, emotional intelligence, improving perception, creating visibility, developing influence, and dealing with politics are as important as your performance is in being given opportunities to grow or to take on more responsibility.

I am extremely fortunate to have worked in a great company for the last twenty plus years.  I have had great mentors, leaders, and colleagues from which to learn.  I have seen a lot of opportunities and what others call success.  What you may not know is that my career was very stagnant for about the first five years with few opportunities for growth.  It wasn’t until I realized that I needed to do more than produce a good result that things began to change.  It wasn’t until I actively changed my way of thinking that my job started to change.  What happened that caused my career to change?  I did.  I was my own biggest problem.

The most significant difference between you and “the boss” is often not what you know or how smart you are.  You may indeed be much more intelligent than those above you.  The biggest difference is usually in how you think.  It’s been said, “The one who knows ‘what’ will always be the servant of the one who knows ‘why.’”  I have found this to be true.  I’ve worked for and with some great leaders.  One of the best benefits of these relationships has been learning how these leaders think.  While I am no mind reader, by observing and asking questions, I have been able to glean valuable information on how to manage and lead in an ever-growing, ever-changing complex enterprise and I have gained insight into managing complex relationships.  I actively sought to learn to think like the boss.  I do not have to agree, but it is to my advantage to understand the thought process.

“The one who knows ‘what’ will always be the servant of the one who knows ‘why.’”

Relationships matter.  Relationships matter more than any other single thing because people do business with people.  Learning the importance of relationships was one of the hardest lessons for me to learn as I am an introvert and my default is to keep to myself, keep my head down, and grind through my day.  “Profound Relationships” is one of the Leadership FIRSTS (more about FIRSTS here) because value is only created by people, is only delivered through people, and is only consumed by people.  Everything else is either a tool for people to use or a measurement of what they have produced.  If you can’t work with and influence people, including some very challenging personalities, you will be very limited in what you can achieve. 

“Value is only created by people, is only delivered through people, and is only consumed by people.”

Emotional Intelligence is another area in which I have to work hard.  Intuitively understanding someone’s goals, dreams, and motivations is not something that comes naturally for me.  I tend to be very logic driven and focused on facts.  I am also not prone to self-reflection which probably hinders my efforts to understand the feelings of others.  I’ve learned a lot through observation, learned better how to read non-verbal cues, read books on emotional intelligence and related subjects, and generally tried to become a better leader by understanding the uniqueness of my team members.  I am sure some of my team could discuss how I fall short here, I certainly do not claim to have mastered this, but I find that making an effort will make you more effective as a leader and will help you avoid some of the pitfalls that can come in a career.  Having strong emotional intelligence can also protect you when you come across the occasional “bad actor” that seeks to do harm.  Developing emotional intelligence will serve you well.

Improving perception is something we can all do.  Early in my career I became known as “Dr. No.”  I was very misguided and, thus, proud of this reputation.  I did not have an “epiphany” but over time realized that this perception was hurting my career.  I set out to change that perception.  I wanted to be a helper and facilitator, one who helped others get things done and to achieve their goals.  How you are perceived, rightly or wrongly, affects your results, your opportunities, and your influence.  You should manage perception so that it more closely aligns with who you know yourself to be and communicates the value that you are adding.  Be known for the value you add.  You can begin to make changes in your life and career by better managing how you are perceived and finding better ways to communicate your value.

“Be known for the value you add.”

Creating visibility with the right stakeholders is a difference maker.  Simply put, if the right people are not aware of the value you add and your capabilities, then new opportunities will rarely come your way.  Introverts tend to operate in stealth mode which is one reason why more extroverts tend to be in leadership.  If you are like me, then you are going to have to work harder to make your value known.  Are extroverts better leaders?  Not necessarily but it is generally easier for extroverts to get the visibility necessary to be able to advance.  I almost missed a turning point in my career because the decision makers above my boss (who was retiring) did not know me or my value add well enough.  I got the job and, about a year and a half later, my newer boss told me that if he had known just 10% more about me, the decision would have been a “no-brainer.”  Like managing perception, you have to make an effort for those further up in the organization to understand and have visibility to the value you add.  The key decision makers that impact your career may be one, two, or more levels above your current boss.  When faced with known versus unknown, most people will default to what (or who) they know.  Make sure you are known!

Influence has been written about extensively.  It is at the core of being a leader but is also a product of many of the above factors we have discussed.  Performance, relationships, how you are perceived, and your visibility all have a profound impact on your ability to influence others and to lead.  Leaders in my organization often do not control all of the functions that impact their results.  Their ability to achieve their goals is tied to their ability to influence other functions in the company.  The higher up you go in an organization, the more you must lead by influence rather than position.  True leaders are people of influence. 

“True leaders are people of influence.”

Politics are a factor in every organization of every size.  Tom Peters wrote recently, “If you cannot manage politics you will never lead anything of any size.  Ever.”  I occasionally hear someone complain about the “politics” in their company.  By this, they mean that some individuals have an “unfair” advantage over others due to relationships they may have with senior leaders.  I define organizational politics as, “the art of managing competing agendas and motivations to deliver the best result for the organization, customers, and stakeholders.”  Rather than cast organizational politics in a negative light, realize that your objective is to deliver the best result for all stakeholders and to do that you must work with the people necessary to achieve the desired result.  People matter!  You will always have these dynamics in anything you want to accomplish.  Those that learn to manage through organizational politics will always be more successful.  Don’t be afraid of politics.

“Organizational Politics is the art of managing competing agendas and motivations to deliver the best result for the organization, customers, and stakeholders.”

Once again, hard work and good results will never be enough.  They are the minimum requirements for any future oppportunities.  To do more, to add more value, and to achieve more you will have to work on the soft skills.  These are areas in which I am striving to improve.  Being aware of them and continuing to grow in each one of these areas can only help you develop as a leader.

What do you think?  If you think I’m on point (or not!) I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.  This blog is one way I try to invest in others and to encourage character-driven leadership in life and business. If I can help, please feel free to reach out to me at

For more information, please visit

By Alan Buttery

Being More Valuable

Value. There is a value in what we are either willing or able to do, the complexity we can handle, our persistence in seeing a task through to its conclusion, the commitments we keep, and our track record in achieving goals and overcoming challenges. It’s the reason we have jobs or start businesses. It’s the reason we have customers or employers. It’s the reason we have relationships. It’s the reason we are asked and agree to serve. Value is given and received in these “transactions”. When we perceive the value received exceeds the value given we feel we “got a good deal”. When we don’t receive the expected value for what we give in time, effort, stress, or money we are disappointed.

You have value. It’s often difficult to assess our value. I regularly try to quantify and, more importantly, improve the value I add in each transaction in my life. When I reach a point I cannot sustain, add, or increase my value, I will usually withdraw. If what I’m doing is not valued by others, I will seek to improve it. I want what I do to add value for others. I want the value received to be at least equal to the value given. Your time is too precious to be spent on things that either do not add value for others or do not add value for yourself. Ideally, the value added is mutual for each party. You should regularly assess the value you are adding in each activity with which you are involved and work to increase it.

Value Creation is at the core of any business enterprise. The value created and its economic value to all stakeholders is why businesses exist. How do you create and enhance the value you add? Here are some thoughts on how to increase your value to others:

1.      Grind. There is tremendous value in just taking one step at a time towards a goal. Grinding is not glamorous, it doesn’t get much attention, and it doesn’t make headlines or excite people. People make headlines with big goals, big dreams, big purpose, big achievements, big failures, and big visibility. The reality, however, is that most “big” achievements happen by working through many small details and challenges over a very long time. Big achievements happen by grinding. A gym my son used to frequent has this saying on the wall: “You have to grind in the dark to shine in the light.” Grinding through a task, project, or the slow steps of working toward a long-term goal is hard. It’s also how success is earned.

2.      Persist. What most of us call success is usually the outcome of many years of discipline, persistence, and small wins. It’s the outcome of grinding. Someone once said, “It’s taken me twenty years to become an overnight success.” I am a firm believer that you can accomplish many things by simply committing to a path, no matter how long or arduous, that leads to your goals. The process to achieve something meaningful is often more valuable to you than the outcome. The learning we obtain, the relationships we build, the challenges we overcome, cannot be duplicated and cannot be taught in a classroom. While we can learn from the experiences of others, we will never obtain the same depth of understanding without experiencing it ourselves.

3.      #DoHardThings.  I have seen this hashtag on t-shirts and online. If it’s easy, either everyone can and will do it, or it doesn’t have much value. Your value, what gives you a competitive advantage with your customers, with your employees, with your employer, with whom you interact and serve is in either what you do that few others can or what you accomplish that few others will. Taking on difficult challenges, things that nobody else wants to do, things that take a long time to achieve, or things that are very complex and require additional learning, and demonstrating a desire and ability to do what it takes to achieve them will make you very valuable. Accomplishing the “hard things” will set you apart.

“Your value…is in either what you do that few others can or
what you accomplish that few others will.”

4.      Solve. Being willing and able to handle complexity is very valuable. You do not have to know everything about a complex task to start as long as you can learn. You will set yourself above others by taking on what others are afraid of or are unwilling to do. Complexity requires time, commitment, and a willingness to keep learning. It’s not for the faint of heart. You get bonus points if you can take the very complex and make it easy for others to understand. Your competitive advantage will be greatly enhanced while also being difficult for others to replicate.

5.      Serve. One of the leadership firsts (more about FIRSTS here) is Willing Service. “Service is taking action to create value for someone else.” There are times that you should give value, not because of what you receive in return, but because you can. In reality, even if there no “economic value” received you will always still receive a “return.” You may not be able to quantify it, but it matters. Serving needs, people, and organizations will change you and will help you exponentially increase the value you add across all of the transactions in your life. Be known for serving others.

6.      Upgrade. One of the best ways to increase your value is by continually upgrading yourself. Upgrading takes many forms. It includes more education but also includes any continuous learning, skill enhancement, self-improvement. It may include better lifestyle, diet, or fitness choices. Continuously improving and becoming better at what you offer will help you sustain and increase your value. You are not limited by what you know. You are limited by what you are willing and able to learn. Keep adding skills and improving on what you already know and do. Add to your strengths and improve on your weaknesses.

7.      Create. I am an analytical type and this is an area in which I struggle. Expanding your mind and worldview to see complex and creative solutions that others do not will greatly increase your value. Taking it further, having the ability to implement a creative solution is a strength few people have. Many have great ideas but are poor in execution. If you can do both, you become very valuable. Writing this blog is both a creative and analytical exercise for me. It’s difficult and uncomfortable. (Where is my spreadsheet!)

8.      Influence. Influence is the product of numerous factors which include performance, perception, and visibility. It’s increased by relationships, accomplishments, service to others, position, and all of the value enhancers we have been discussing. Influencers become very valuable to others and can be highly effective in a business or organization. When you have influence and can use it to create value for others, you become rare and valuable to those with whom you interact. Influence is not easy to develop, it may take many years, and can be squandered away in a few moments. There are plenty of examples in the media of those who had influence and lost it. You do not, however, have to be a “media darling” to have influence. I have been fortunate to meet many influential people that you likely would not know. They are behind the scenes of much that happens in my town. Without them, many worthwhile activities would never happen. They are very successful but don’t flaunt it and are using what they’ve built to accomplish much good. Influencers “get things done” though they often don’t get or want the credit.

So, what are you going to do to increase the value you are adding? What will you do differently? What will you learn? What task, project, or challenge will you take on? Are you willing to “grind it out?” Are you willing to “do hard things?” Are you willing to immerse yourself in a complex challenge? Are you willing to serve others? Can you upgrade yourself, be more creative, develop and use influence? What other ideas do you have to continue increasing your value to others? I would love to hear your comments!

This blog is one way I try to invest in others and to encourage character-driven leadership in life and business. If I can help, please feel free to reach out to me at

For more information, please visit
By Alan Buttery

The Power To Overcome

I recently attended a “graduation” ceremony for recovering addicts at the invitation of a friend. These men had been to the pit of despair and are finding their way back out. They are “overcomers!” Their stories challenged my assumptions. The commonalities in their stories were not what you would think. What was consistent in their stories was the string of bad choices leading to more bad choices. There was, however, no common denominator in upbringing, economic status, education, race, parenting, or spiritual influences in the home. 

“What was consistent…was the string of bad choices”

In many cases, the choices started early in their lives, preteen or high school, and then escalated into worse choices with much further reaching implications over many years. As each man shared his story, I was struck by how much the people that we allow to surround us influence our lives. Our current lives are the product of our own choices, continuous learning, and factors beyond our control. We have to “own” our current situation. Two things we can control are the people influencing our lives and the choices we make.

Two things we can control are the people influencing our lives and the choices we make”

From very early we gravitate towards certain kinds of people with either edifying or deleterious affect. These individuals have a profound, if not completely quantifiable, influence on who we become. We can choose to be with or surround ourselves with people that give us energy, encourage us, have a positive outlook, are generous with their resources, and that influence our thinking and choices in a positive way. We can choose to be with people that are the opposite, that drain our energy and resources, discourage us, have a negative outlook, are “takers” rather than givers”, influence our thinking and choices in negative ways, fuel our discouragement and discontent, and that may lead us to self-destructive behaviors. Among our most important choices are who we allow to influence us, who we choose to influence, and the circles of influence in which we choose to participate.

“Among our most important choices are who we allow to influence us”

Our circles of influence include those influencing us and those whom we are influencing. It is not easy for us to change the circles of influence in our lives. Our best chance to move above our current circumstances, outside of a spiritual transformation, is to change the influencers in our lives. The people in your life are the strongest influencers. Lasting change requires, among other things, that you set your life up to encourage and help you along the path you wish to take. Set up your life to fuel your success. This may mean making hard choices about friends and relationships. It may mean completely severing ties with negative influences. It may mean a complete “total life makeover” to position yourself to achieve the positive outcomes you know are possible. 

“The people in your life are the strongest influencers”

These are some of the things the overcomers have had to do that shared their stories that night. They lost everything because of their choices. Then, they chose to lose “everything” again so that they might change their lives. They are undergoing a “total life makeover.” The result is they are emerging from a very dark place with new hope and new opportunities. Is it hard? It is very hard! The unwillingness to change is the self-limiting choice. Is it worth it? Absolutely! These men had an excitement about the future that they did not have just six months earlier. They will deal with the consequences of their choices for a lifetime but they now know they can move forward and are finding their way back to a productive and meaningful life. You cannot change the past but you can face the future.

“The unwillingness to change is a self-limiting choice”

One of the phrases I heard repeatedly that night was “do the next right thing.” Most of us have an understanding of what’s a wrong choice versus a right one. If you mapped a decision tree of the choices these men had made you would see very easily how one bad choice led to the next one. But the good news is the reverse is also true. One good choice in the decision tree sets up the next one and the next one. To begin changing your life you just have to do one thing, “the next right thing.” Make the next choice the right one. And then, the next one.

“Do the next right thing”

Many people are “stuck” in their present circumstances, relationships, patterns of failure and falling short of their own and other’s expectations. Certainly, the overcomers found a way, with help, to break this pattern. They did the next right thing, made dramatic changes in their life over time, and began to find a measure of success. They did not find success in the material sense as they are still poor by most standards. They found success in overcoming great obstacles, success in overcoming addiction, success in changing patterns of self-destructive behavior, success in changing relationships, and success in restoring a life that was once without hope.

“Many people are ‘stuck’”

“Success” has many definitions and is measured in many different ways. I would challenge you to think of success not as an outcome but as a lifestyle. There is a reason that those we consider “successful” continue to become more so while others are “stuck” or find their lives spiraling out of control. It is not any one thing but a combination of factors that allow people to have better relationships, find success in their organization, and to generally improve the quality of their life. They have setup a “virtuous cycle” that fuels success and affects their circles of influence. There are many examples of those that figured out how to get off the merry-go-round and set up a new virtuous cycle.

“Think of success…as a lifestyle”

Being “stuck” is a real thing and sometimes you need help. I serve on the board of a non-profit organization and we very recently visited a community that lives along the edges of the city dump in Diriamba, Nicaragua. The dwellings varied from plastic sheeting for walls to tin to cement block. The people of this community make their living by scavenging in the dump and by up-cycling, selling, or using what they can. If any group of people would appear to be “stuck” it would be this group. Someone on the trip pointed out to me that this group is wealthy in three things: faith, family, and friends. Someone else pointed out their faith gives them resilience. They were surprisingly happy. 

“Being stuck is a real thing and sometimes you need help.”

The reason I mention this wonderful group of people is they want to grow out of their present circumstance- to become “unstuck.” They want to start a composting business using land and organic material from the dump. We hope to help them do that by working with local team members to secure permission from the city, by helping to provide tools and training, and then by helping with leadership and marketing. They need a helping hand but are willing to do the work and to work together to begin changing their circumstance! You would think they would not have hope but that is far from the truth. I find that awesome. No matter the circumstance I have yet to meet someone that didn’t want to improve their life.

“They are willing to work together to change their circumstances!”

Your life may not have spiraled out of control as the lives of the overcomers did and you may not be stuck in such desperate circumstances as this community in Diriamba. You may feel, however, that there is no hope for change in your current situation, that you are stuck in your career, stuck in your relationships, or stuck in a way of thinking that is unproductive. The first thing to do is to make the next right choice and then the next one. 

“You may feel that you are stuck”

If you want to do something different and to become something more you have to change your circles of influence. This includes who is influencing you but also who you are influencing. “Don’t fake it until you make it.” Become what you want to be, make the changes you need to make, structure your life and influences to support it, make the hard and right choices, commit to a path that leads to your goals, and put forth the tremendous effort it may take to get the change you seek. Along the way, use what you have learned to give someone a hand up. Character-driven leaders make a positive impact on their organizations, their communities, and the world by leading from strong core values and by doing things that matter.

“Make the hard and right choices”

Leadership FIRSTs is about character-driven leadership. The FIRSTs are Fearless Integrity, Profound Relationships, Willing Service, and Earned Trust. The stories of these “overcomers” demonstrate why these attributes are necessary for everyone. 
•    Acting with Integrity can be hard when there is so much temptation to either take shortcuts or there is significant pressure to do favors for others that may compromise good organizational practice or may be questionable morally or ethically.
•    Relationships matter at all levels. Both who you influence and who is influencing you have an effect on who and what you are becoming. If you want to do more and to be more you may have to change or expand both.
•    Willingly being of Service to others sets the stage for becoming more and doing more at a higher level. You add value to others by meeting their needs and wants. I guarantee that serving others will build you up and lead you into a more productive and meaningful life.
•    Trust is developed over the long-term. The overcomers have a long road to rebuilding trust but they have taken steps in the right direction. I have written elsewhere on trust. Without trust, it is very difficult for anything positive to happen.

So, what about you? What’s the next right thing for you to do? What choices do you need to make to start the transformation in your life? What are the relationships bringing you down and keeping you from becoming all you know that you can be? Have you set up a virtuous cycle in your life that fuels success in your relationships, your organization, and improves the quality of your life?  Who are you serving and helping change their circumstances? Have you defined the path that leads to your goals? Do you know the next step? Do the next right thing!

Do you agree or disagree? Either way, I would love to hear your comments!

This blog is one way I try to invest in others and to encourage character-driven leadership in life and business. If I can help feel free to reach out to me at

For more information please visit
By Alan Buttery


Power. Power of belief. Power to overcome. Power to change your life, your destiny, your organization, your community. Power to change the world. Personal power. Power dynamics. Power over people. Emotional power, power through leverage, power through influence, power given, power taken, power by permission, physical power, power through wealth. Uses of power, abuses of power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely? Power to control. Increasing your power, giving up your power, empowering others. The power to resist.

Power is needful and having power matters.

Power is needful and having power matters. In my musings above on the types of power, uses of power, and power dynamics I realized that many of us are obsessed with power. If you are reading this you likely want to increase your power in some way. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having a certain amount of power is fundamental to being able to accomplish anything meaningful. You will have to use either your own power or your power (ability) to enlist the power of others in order to accomplish anything that matters. If you desire to lead you desire a good thing. If you desire to lead at a higher level you desire a good thing. Increasing your power is fundamental to being able to accomplish more and leading at a higher level.

Most of us are afraid to talk about our desire for power.

Most of us are afraid to talk about our desire for power in direct terms. It may not be “socially acceptable” in some circles to discuss power directly so we use softer terms like leadership, influence, doing things that matter, making a difference, leading a team, getting results. What underlies all of this is a desire and a need for power. Your motive in seeking power may be truly altruistic but it is still a desire for power. Power is necessary.

Many “good” leadership principles do not lead to an increase in your leadership ability!

Unfortunately, many supposedly “good” leadership principles do not lead to an increase in your leadership ability because they do not deal with the power, political, or people dynamics in play! While you may have worthy motives and a genuine desire to do more good in the world it would be naïve to think that everyone around you is the same. Face the fact that there are those that desire power for all of the wrong reasons and that will go to great lengths to get it without concern for integrity, humility, or who gets hurt in the process. You likely know many examples of this and have, perhaps, experienced it yourself.

Are you aware of what’s going on behind the scenes? 

Are you aware of what’s going on behind the scenes? Have you been stabbed in the back in the workplace, know of someone who has, been passed over for promotion, seen the opportunity you thought was yours go to someone else? Did you overlook the power dynamics in play? Were you aware of what the “players” were thinking or doing? Did you think your results were enough? Were you aware of the backroom conversations taking place that affected the outcome? Were you aware of the politics?

You may have to deal with some snakes.

You may have to deal with some snakes who try to outmaneuver you or even desire to do you harm. The snakes are not everywhere but they are around and you should be aware of them. The good news is there are good people with leadership strengths everywhere. Good, character-driven leaders make a positive difference in their organizations, communities, and the world. I believe in the “power” of humility. Your “ascension”, however, may be necessary in order to keep the snakes from making the wrong kind of difference!

Let’s fill the leadership ranks with quality, character-driven leaders!

Let’s fill the leadership ranks with quality, character-driven leaders! Leadership abhors a vacuum. Do you really want the wrong kind of leader to fill the void? Then you need to step up and use the power you have to prevent that from happening! It is not humility to standby and allow others to take leadership when you can make a powerful and positive difference. Sir Edmund Burke is often attributed with the idea that “all that is needed for evil to succeed is for good men (and women!) to do nothing.” If you genuinely desire to do good then you you should use the power you have to lead and serve others.

Most leadership decisions are made behind closed doors with only 1-2 people.

Do you know that most leadership decisions are made behind closed doors with only 1-2 people, at most three, making the decision? Do you know who those people are? Have you built your power (influence, reputation, visibility, credibility, integrity, results, relationship) with these individuals? Do they know what you want? Do you know what they want? What if the decision makers think you are content with what you have? Do they know you want to do more? Have you told them? Do you think “doing a good job”, “working hard”, “being faithful”, letting your results “speak for themselves” is enough? It Never Is! Good results are expected of everyone. They are the baseline to enter and to stay in the game but they do not move you around the chessboard. You have to develop “power” with those who have power over you.

Leadership is using your power and enlisting or strengthening the power of others to accomplish your or your organization’s goals.

Leadership is using your power and enlisting or strengthening the power of others to accomplish your or your organization’s goals. You need power to accomplish anything. You may need the power of others to accomplish something meaningful. Others need your power in their service or you may need to strengthen their power in some area to achieve a mutual goal. You also have the power to decide where and how your power is deployed. Most of us do not understand the power we already have. All of us, at some level, are powerful. You are powerful. People have power over you but you also have power over others. How you both use and submit to power is indicative of your character and your values.

There are many reasons we want power.

There are many reasons we want power, some conscious, some unconscious. Most of us have not taken the time to think through why we want power. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What do I want to accomplish in my relationships, life, or organization?

  • What is necessary to accomplish these goals?

  • What skills, resources, and power do I have to accomplish these goals?

  • Whose skills, resources, and power do I need?

  • Do I have the skills, resources, and power to get what I need?

  • If I do not have the power (ability) to obtain what I need, how can I get the power to get what I need?

  • Am I willing to do what is required?

Be honest about what you want to do, why, and what is necessary to get it done while paying attention to the reality of the world in which we live. Power is necessary. There may be a price to pay to get it but you can be a force for good and use your power to better your relationships, your life, your organization, and the world. Be the character-driven leader the world needs!

Do you agree or disagree? Either way, I would love to hear your comments!

This blog is one way I try to invest in others and to encourage character-driven leadership in life and business. If I can help feel free to reach out to me at

For more information please visit
By Alan Buttery

Trust Me!

“Trustworthiness is the single greatest quality for creating leadership.” -Counterintelligence expert Robin Dreeke

Trustworthiness is in short supply. Earning Trust, like many things we discuss in Leadership FIRSTS, requires playing the “long game.” Trust can take months and years to develop and it can be lost in moments. Trust is an exhaustive topic so I will focus on just two aspects of Trust- the benefits of trust and principles for cultivating trust.

Many of the benefits of trust are well known. Relationships of all types work better from a foundation of trust. In a business and leadership context building trust can materially benefit everything you wish to accomplish. A relationship built on trust is mutually beneficial to the stakeholders. Trust is a vital quality in successful business because “People do business with people.” Success is contingent upon building trust in both professional and personal relationships.”

“People do business with people.”
“Success is contingent upon building trust in both
professional and personal relationships.”

Some of the key benefits to having trust in professional relationships are:

  • Speed of action, decision, execution

  • Partnership without strife

  • Increased value creation

  • Velocity in overcoming challenges

  • New or greater opportunities

  • Loyalty

  • Extra effort from your team

    The penalties for either violating trust or for not building the relationship on a foundation of trust are high. Just as the above are true of relationships built on trust the opposites are true for relationships without trust. Lack of velocity, indecision, poor execution, strife, value destruction, closed opportunities, lack of loyalty, and the inability to get people to step up their effort when you need it are all consequences of a lack of trust. You could add to this list of consequences very easily. In business it means lost business. In personal relationships it is completely destructive to relationships and friendships. It is worth the effort to develop and then maintain trust in every area of your life. It is a necessity for any character-driven leader.

“It is worth the effort to develop and maintain trust in every area of your life.”

Cultivating trust is not difficult but it does take time. Below is not a complete list of ideas for cultivating trust. Some ideas are obvious, like always doing what you say you will do, but some ideas may not be. Take some time to digest this list and see what you can begin implementing in your life to increase the level of trust in all of your relationships.

Principles for Cultivating Trust

  1. Follow-through/execution. Always do what you say you will do.

  2. Give people confidence in your competence. Don’t be shy about your strengths and then "deliver the goods" when called upon.

  3. Invest in others. Those you lead will trust you when they know you have their best interest in mind and are looking out for them. Help someone else be successful.  Make their goals your own. It is easy to follow someone who is helping you be successful.

  4. Get used to living in a fish bowl.  People are always watching what you say, what you do, how you treat others, the words you use. The more visible you are the higher the level of scrutiny. This is one reason character-driven leadership is vital. If your leadership is not derived from your core values and beliefs everyone will notice the incongruity of your statements and your actions. Many leaders are effective because of the strengths they have, at least in the near-term. We have all seen, however, the countless examples of leaders that lost everything because of their lack of character. They were not trusted, not loved, and did not have the loyalty of their team. In some cases, it was someone on their team that facilitated their downfall.

  5. Don’t put your quest for “power” above people. I am not naïve to the power struggles that take place in business, the jockeying for position, and the effort some people make to succeed at the expense of others. Dick Costello, upon being named COO of Twitter, famously tweeted, “First full day as Twitter COO tomorrow. Task #1: undermine CEO, consolidate power.” While this was presumably a joke he later became CEO of the company. He was ousted in 2015.

  6. Give “grace” for mistakes. You will never get your team’s best work nor encourage them to take risks if every time there is a mistake it is followed with a reprimand. I have been fortunate that my mentors allowed me to learn from my mistakes. I have made some VERY costly mistakes in my career. The key is to mine the lessons learned and not repeat the mistake. Give your team members the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

  7. Cultivate an environment that promotes transparency and visibility. When something is not working or there is a problem, your team needs to trust you enough to bring it to you immediately. We have a “no surprises” rule with my team. You must demonstrate giving “the boss” the bad news so your team members will also give “the boss” the bad news. Team members may be apprehensive about giving you bad news but they should not be in fear of your reaction nor, in most cases, their job.

  8. Deal swiftly with lapses in integrity. Don’t confuse lapses in integrity with honest mistakes. Remember, your team is watching and knew about the problem long before you did. Once known, how you deal with it will be a lesson to them for the future.

  9. Learn from your own mistakes. No, you’re not perfect. Your ability to face reality and make corrections is being watched by your team.

  10. Face problems head on. Denial and avoidance are not behaviors that will engender trust.

  11. Demonstrate loyalty to your team members. The loyalty you desire must be reciprocated. Over time, people will observe if you remain committed and loyal to your team members. How you deal with someone in a crisis can increase their loyalty, and the loyalty of the observers, or have the opposite effect.

  12. Play the long game. Your team will know when you are after a quick win or when you are interested in producing something that will endure. Knowing that you are striving to build something that will endure will give your team confidence that a short-term setback won’t mean the unraveling of the effort, project, or business.

  13. In times of change, over-communicate and stay visible. If you can give sincere reassurances do so but don’t hide facts that may adversely affect your team members. In times of change there may be restrictions on what you can communicate and when but be as transparent as possible. Once you are able to communicate, do so often and make sure you can be seen and approached by those with uncertainties. Be truthful. Be authentic. Be seen. Be compassionate.

  14. Be aware of how you are being perceived. Perception can be managed but do so with integrity. Managing perception is also a long game. You cannot change someone’s mind overnight. The best perception management simply communicates who you really are. Communicate and be your authentic self. Trust is gained when perception matches reality.

  15. Make continuous improvements. Trust is gained when you are constantly getting better and constantly making your team better. It shows commitment.

The same principles above apply to rebuilding trust when it is lost. It may take years to rebuild trust when it is lost. It may never be regained.

Trust matters. Become the trusted leader, advisor, employee, friend that others need. The ability to develop trust in your relationships will enhance your ability to make a difference in every endeavor and will make you a more complete, authentic leader. Trust and trustworthiness is at the core of character-driven leadership. It ties everything together. If you aspire to lead at a higher level then become more trustworthy.

“If you aspire to lead at a higher level then become more trustworthy.”

This blog is one way I try to invest in others and to encourage character-driven leadership in life and business. If I can help feel free to reach out to me at

For more information please visit
By Alan Buttery

The Perfect Life Lie

You don’t have “it” all together. Nobody does. Admit it. I have yet to meet a person, no matter how “successful”, that is able to manage and execute everything perfectly in his or her life. Leaders that continually seek to maintain the image of the perfect life to colleagues and friends create more stress in their life, fuel their pride, hide their weaknesses, and do not get the help they need to grow and become more successful. Some people try to maintain an image of perfect performance in their work as well. These are deceptions that over the long-term will not serve them well.

All of us have observed the perfect life images and statements that some people post to Facebook. It would be easy to think that the Facebook life you see others projecting is real but we know that it is not. The false image makes us long for a life we think others have. While I do not think that Facebook is the place to air all your grievances, I think many are deceived into thinking that others have it much better. The reality is that everyone has struggles and challenges, pain and heartaches that they must work through and overcome. Some people definitely have it better and some have it worse than others but nobody has the perfect life.

It is OK to be imperfect. Perfection, or the image of it, does not matter. I believe that self-honesty is vital to self-improvement and growing as a leader. Denial does not serve you well and, indeed, will handicap your efforts to become a more mature and more effective leader. The biggest challenge most leaders have is the person looking back at them in the mirror. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is vital. Many performance review processes use “360 feedback” to gain a comprehensive assessment of an employee’s strengths and weaknesses. You can do your own 360 feedback through an anonymous survey and use that to drive your self-improvement efforts.

What does matter is a commitment to continuous improvement. Make continuous learning and improvement a part of your life and you will see exponential improvements in your effectiveness over the course of your lifetime. A 1% improvement per day is almost a 38X improvement over the course of a year! ((1.01)^365=37.78)) A 10X improvement by most standards would be considered exceptional. Rather than perfection you should focus on constantly getting better at what matters. 10X improvement over the course of a year is less than 1% improvement (.63%) per day.

Humility has become an underrated virtue. Many years ago I read a management book in which the author suggested that humility is an overrated virtue. While there were some good ideas in the book I have to disagree with his statement on humility. Humility is a valuable character quality. Unless we are humble enough to admit our faults and weaknesses we cannot grow as leaders. Unless we adopt an attitude of service to others we cannot build effective teams or achieve organizational or personal goals. Our purpose as leaders has to include being of service to others in order to help them succeed. This requires humility.

“Unless we are humble enough to admit our
 faults and weaknesses we cannot grow as leaders.
Unless we adopt an attitude of service to others
we cannot build effective teams or achieve
organizational or personal goals.”

Honesty regarding your struggles can also benefit someone else. I am not someone who wears his heart on his sleeve. I tend to keep my feelings and challenges private. I have learned, however, that when I am transparent about my trials and lessons learned I can often help someone more than if I just focus on my successes. One of the reasons I write is to help others. To be the most effective in this I need to be willing to share what works and what doesn’t.

You have to get help when you need it. I will be the first one to try to muscle through a problem. It’s a good trait to be persistent and to keep after something until you overcome it. This is a common characteristic in leaders. You do not accept defeat. You never give up. You keep pressing forward. It’s been said that the “test of your character is what it takes to stop you.” I love this characteristic in people. There is a point, however, when you have to admit that the lack of forward progress is not acceptable or that you will need help to achieve your goals. It is for this reason that I have had a number of mentors and coaches over my life. Be humble enough to admit when you can’t “muscle through” and get help when you need it. Don’t let your pride keep you from growing into all that you can become.

This blog is one way I try to invest in others and to encourage character-driven leadership in life and business. If I can help feel free to reach out to me at

For more information please visit
By Alan Buttery

WANTED: World Changers

“The moral responsibility of every leader is staggering. [It’s] an opportunity to be of service to (literally) civilization...” –Tom Peters
“Leaders make things happen that should have been impossible.” –Robert Hargrove

I believe a leader is someone who changes the world in which we live. That change could be for good or ill and on a large or (seemingly) small scale. We have seen many examples of each throughout history. We have vivid examples of evil and oppression and of those leaders who stood against the tide. We have examples of great darkness and those who sought to bring “light” at great personal costs. We have examples of people who spent a lifetime doing little things that made a big difference in the world. The leader who is both visionary and is willing to sacrifice still exists today but has become increasingly rare.

Where are the “true” leaders, those with great courage, a strong moral compass, tremendous energy, a revolutionary vision, and the willingness to sacrifice? Where are those who will answer the call to lead and to make a difference? (I know you are out there but you are becoming much harder to find.) We have very, very few true leaders. Most organizations do a very good job of developing managers but a poor job of developing true leaders. Indeed, most organizations can only sustain a handful of visionaries and only give a select few the flexibility to take their team, department, division, or company in a completely new direction.

Too many managers? There are many, many managers. Most organizational cultures encourage management versus leadership. Our business schools train people to be better managers. Organizations use the platitudes of leadership but discourage true leadership behaviors at most levels. Most organizations discourage the risks that come from being revolutionary or going in a new direction. In business, managers have the mandate to grow existing businesses, start complementary businesses, reduce losses, and improve current processes. These are the hallmarks of good management.

There is most certainly a place for strong management but we should not confuse that with leadership. It is good to be a strong manager but leaders do new and different things. Leaders often don’t stick to “core competencies”, are visionary, and take risks. They make things happen which should have been impossible and will spend resources in the process, sometimes at a loss. Great managers are often not great leaders and the converse is also true. Great leaders, however, will employ great managers and surround themselves with the people they need to ensure success.

The increasing gap between managers and leaders. I believe the lack of visionary leadership is increasing due to a number of factors including aspiring leaders having too few mentors, the focus of our schools on management skills versus true leadership skills, and the risk aversion of most organizational cultures. Senior leaders rarely have time to invest in younger leaders. Our schools do not teach the skills needed to be a successful visionary. Most organizational cultures do not encourage risk taking or, if they do, they try to keep the risks very manageable. The reality is that most organizations are not very visionary.

You may work in an environment that cannot afford too much risk. While no organization wants to take losses some are more risk tolerant than others. This is due to both the personality of the senior management as well as the financial strength of an organization. Private companies are generally more risk tolerant than public companies. Companies with high profits can obviously afford more risk than companies with lower or no profits. As you ascend the corporate pyramid you may be given more opportunity to take risk. If you do so and succeed you usually earn the opportunity to take more risks. (The reverse is also true so make sure your early bets are successful.) Visionary leaders are often thought of as being a little crazy. You have to manage new (or visionary) efforts within the confines of your environment. If you are unable to get buy-in on the effort you have to decide if you are in the right organization. Many new companies have been started because an idea did not work within the leader’s current culture and they decided to take the risk and create something new.

How do we train true leaders since most of us are ill-equipped to do so? Most of us have been trained to be managers. I do not believe that leaders are the only ones that can train new leaders. Managers need to learn to train new leaders and be humble enough to admit that others, even those they train, may have different strengths that better enable them to lead. Here are some guidelines for training new leaders:

  • Encourage leadership behaviors in those that have the character, the personality, the risk tolerance, the ability to draw others to themselves, and the vision of “what could be” while teaching them to manage risk and resources.

  • Allow tactical failures. This means giving people “grace” to work through and fix failures.  We all learn more from our failures than we do our successes.

  • Do not tolerate ethical lapses. No goal is worth the price of lost integrity. The effects of a lack of integrity are magnified exponentially at higher levels of responsibility. Expect “Fearless Integrity” from those you train. (See Fearless Integrity.)

  • Encourage risk taking within the limits of what your organization will allow. Be wise in helping leaders select which risks to take.

  • Help define “success” and the plan to achieve it. Fear is not a reason for inaction. Not having a pathway to success, however, is a reason to wait.

  • Assess the bets and advocate for the winners.

  • Be unselfish. This is a hard one for most people as individuals want to advance their own agenda. To develop true leaders, however, you have to realize someone may have the gifting to pass you. Your best act of service may be to help someone else be even more successful than you are. (See FIRSTS.)

Are you a leader or a manager? Either way you can change the world. Character-driven leaders take an interest in helping others be successful. They are more interested in changing their organizations and the world than they are in their personal agenda. I believe that the more you help others succeed the more you will realize success in your own life. Are you willing to invest in others? What are you doing to help change the world?

This blog is one way I try to invest in others and to encourage character-driven leadership in life and business. If I can help feel free to reach out to me at

For more information please visit
By Alan Buttery

Fan The Fire In Your Soul

We are all besieged by the good things that we “should” do. We should do more, do less, give more, exercise more (run, bike, swim, lift weights, “work on our core”- ugh), eat better, stick to a budget, spend more time with people we love, lose weight, gain weight, have a hobby, excel at work, make a difference, serve more, help those less fortunate, be more spiritual, read more, be more disciplined, take personal or quiet time, go on vacation, work more hours, work less hours, explore something new, stay with what’s familiar; hire coaches, trainers, and helpers; do more around the house and so on. The reality is there are only two categories of things we really accomplish- those things we want to do for ourselves (or others) and those things we think we have to do. Nothing else is sustainable. How do we tap into the power needed to make meaningful and sustained changes in our lives? We must cultivate passion!

Change takes emotion and passion. Countless materials have been written on how to achieve goals. The reason most people fail at their goals is that they have not attached their emotion, their passion to them. While many goals can be achieved by applying logic, planning, process, discipline, resource allocation, measurement, and adaptation to them I find that logic rarely prevails when the goal is self-improvement. It takes something much deeper to bring about change. It takes a fire deep inside your soul! It takes emotion and it takes passion! Unfortunately, we are generally poor at identifying our own passions and even more poor in cultivating that passion into something actionable. We should forget making New Year’s resolutions and focus on cultivating passion for the things that matter.

“It takes something much deeper
to bring a change. It take a fire deep
inside your soul!”

Don’t “follow” your passion. Cultivate it. In addition to all of the advice you can find on how to achieve goals you can find plenty of advice to “follow your passion.” You’ve heard things like, “If you can find your passion you will never have to work again.” The reality is that there are only a few things about which we are naturally passionate. Passion has to be cultivated, nurtured. Many successful people are passionate about what they do. If you look at their early careers they weren’t always so. They found passion and, therefore, success over a period of time. They chose, perhaps unconsciously, to develop their passion in a particular field or career. Passion is usually developed over time but it may develop much more quickly due to a Catalyst. Catalytic Events are often painful but have led countless people to make great changes in their lives, to start something new, or to become champions for a cause.

Passion will keep you from accepting defeat. Few people make a meaningful change in their life without passion. Most of us underestimate the amount of effort it takes to achieve a goal, the amount of adversity we will have to overcome, the number of people who will seek to dissuade us, and the scope of changes we will have to make to ensure success. It is passion that gets us through the long, uphill climb. It is passion that will keep us going and help us to ignore the naysayers. It is passion that is needed to keep us going when others would quit. It is passion that will drive us to find a way to success and to resist the obstacles, pain, or fear that would seek to stop us. Cultivating a deeply seated, unwavering passion will help you make needed changes and achieve your goals over the long-term. Passion will keep you from accepting defeat.

“Defeat is a state of mind.
No one is ever defeated
until defeat is accepted as reality.”
-Bruce Lee

Passion doesn’t just happen. How do you cultivate passion? It is derived from Values. Values come from strongly held moral or spiritual beliefs. Passion also emerges due to Catalytic Events. A Catalytic Event can cause you to make great changes in your life and to cultivate a passion you did not know existed. One definition of passion is “the state of being acted upon or affected by something external, especially something alien to one’s nature or customary behavior.” Identifying sources of passion and unleashing them in your life may require some soul-searching. Taking the time to know yourself, what is important to you, what you care about, what you believe, and why is vital to releasing passion in your life. This passion is what is needed to fuel any change you want to make and to pursue any goal you wish to achieve. Many goals fail because of a lack of passion.

“Passion is the state of being acted upon
or affected by something external,
especially something alien to one’s
nature or customary behavior.”

Values and Catalytic Events can be used to cultivate passion. Here are some examples:

  • Values

    • Family

    • Loyalty and Honesty

    • Integrity, Relationships, Service, Trust (See FIRSTS)

    • Spiritual Values

  • Catalytic Events

    • Pain or Loss

    • Failure or Consequences

    • Injury

Our Values are deeply seated and often have been with us since childhood. Thus, for adults, I see Catalytic Events bringing the most change in people’s lives. A good friend of mine, a doctor, lost his brother to Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD.) This horrible, catalytic event led him to offer free services to veterans recovering from PTSD, led him to partner with organizations helping veterans with PTSD issues, led him to work to bring greater visibility in our local community to PTSD related issues, and led him to recently launch a charitable foundation in his brother’s name to help veterans and to prevent soldier suicide. He is rightly passionate about this cause.

For me, a number of setbacks early in my career completely transformed how I approach my work. I am fortunate to have been with the same company for over 19 years but it wasn’t always that way. Nor was I always passionate about my employer as I am today. Early in my career I moved from job to job, trying to find the next, better job. Sometimes the choice was made for me. I learned a lot about how to manage myself and others. I learned the value of commitment and loyalty. I learned much of what not to do. I am very stubborn and sometimes it takes great pain before I will make changes. Many lessons learned the hard way have shaped who I am today. Over many years I developed a passion for what I do and for my employer. I work for an amazing company which I love. I didn’t start that way. I, along with great bosses, cultivated this passion. (By the way, you, as a leader, have a responsibility to cultivate passion in those you influence.)

We have all heard stories of people who have fought their way back from injuries or trials to achieve great things. I witnessed something amazing at a half marathon last month. After finishing and watching some of my friends finish the race I saw a veteran in an electronic exoskeleton come across the finish line- a true Iron Man. I did not know such a thing existed until I saw it. This wasn’t the sleekly designed exo-suit of a science fiction movie. It looked heavy, clunky, slow, and had limited mobility. You could hear the gears and motors helping the man’s legs move with each tedious step. The man was surrounded by friends and was moving slowly. He moved one step at a time but had a fierce determination on his face. The crowd at the finish line erupted into applause as he came across the finish line. It was one of the most moving things I have ever witnessed at a race. I don’t know his story but he clearly had experienced a Catalytic Event. He was also clearly determined to overcome his injury and to prove something to himself and to others using whatever tools were available to him. He was a great inspiration!

By searching our Values and using Catalytic Events to shape our goals we can cultivate the passion to make great changes. These passions may lead us in directions we had not planned to go. Cultivating passion may even completely change the direction of our lives. Living your life from a place of passion will make it more meaningful, fun, fulfilling, and allow you to have a greater impact on the world. Don’t “find your passion.” Cultivate it! Grow it into something that will drive you to new levels. Make 2017 the year you choose to become passionate about the things that are most important to you!

It is my hope to encourage you as a character-driven leader. There is someone in the world that needs what only you can offer. Feel free to reach out to me at

For more information on PTSD or the Sergeant Zacharie Hirshorn Foundation please visit

By Alan Buttery
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The Winners Are Drinking All The Beer!

“The winners are drinking all the beer!”

One of my first blogs was “Life Lessons” from my first marathon. I just completed marathon attempt number 5 at the TCS New York City Marathon on November 6, 2016. I have completed 4 and have successfully run the entire distance the last two. Each attempt has been a unique experience full of lessons. While I continue to improve at each attempt I have yet to perform at what I feel is my “best.” Here are my new “lessons learned” from my marathon experiences.

“Pick up the pace, the winners are drinking all of the beer.” This was one of my favorite signs from the NYC marathon. It highlights both the celebratory atmosphere of the race as well as an underlying truth, the winners are already celebrating. Winning is not just in the result but in the attitude towards the experience of the race. At the start, many participants are celebrating. At the end, you see even more celebrations as people accomplish a goal or complete a run that benefits a cause. I saw laughter, high fives, and tears of joy among those that finished. And the celebration continued as they met up with friends and family. All of the runners faced adversity during the race. At mile 16, while I was trudging up the Queensboro Bridge and everyone around me had given up running, it did not feel great. I wanted to quit. It would have been easy to walk, especially when everyone else was. In a half mile, however, when I made the turn on 1st Avenue there were thousands of people encouraging us on in the “world’s largest block party” and a gentle downhill slope. I was glad I didn’t quit. All who kept with it and finished earned their celebration.

“She turned thought into action and dreams into plans.” Another sign from the race. I love the positivity in this statement. It also underscores the fact that nothing happens without taking action and steps towards making that a reality. (See Get on with it!”) For me, I have to have goals to be motivated and only accomplish anything when I have a plan. I just work the plan from there. I hired a running coach to give me great advice and training plans. (Get help when you need it!) I work the training plan set for me. I set goals of running the 6 major marathons (NYC, Chicago, Boston, Tokyo, Berlin, and London) over the next three years. I just ran NYC, I am in Tokyo at February 2017 and I have taken the necessary steps to enter Berlin in September 2017.

“Adversity happens, press through it.”  This was not a sign from the race but it should be. I have had struggles in each marathon. Here are some examples.

#1 Utah, June 2015. This was my first marathon. I started a race at elevation that had almost 20 miles of continuous downhill. Experienced runners know this was a poor choice. At mile 16 my legs were destroyed. I finished but walked most of the last 10 miles. Lesson: ignorance is not bliss.
                #2 Savannah, November 2015. The heat and humidity were so bad that the marathon route was closed down 2 hours in the race. Several runners were hospitalized. Only the fastest runners were able to finish the full distance. I reached the turn off to continue the marathon course and was diverted to the half marathon course. Thus, this is the attempt I did not finish as a marathon. Lesson: there are circumstances you can’t control that may force a change in your plans.
                #3 San Antonio, December 2015. When you take four plus hours to complete a marathon (yes, I’m slow) the conditions will change on you. It was cool at the start but 85F by noon and got hotter from there. The course was not closed early but I was spent by mile 20. I ended up walking most of the last 6 miles. I finished the race but not with a great result. Lesson: When conditions go south on you perseverance will often get you through. The key thing is to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
                #4 Napa Valley, March 2016. This was my best race yet. I planned much better. What I couldn’t control, again, was the weather. At mile 18 I was in the middle of a long uphill in a downpour with the wind in my face. I came out of it at mile 22 and finished strong. This was also the first time I ran the entire 26.2 mile distance. Lessons: You get better with practice. Train yourself to be stronger. No matter how prepared you are you will still face adversity.

“Keep running when everyone else around you is walking!”

#5 NYC, November 2016. Many lessons, some above. Summary lessons from NYC: No matter how strong you are getting, you will need to get stronger. Never stop getting better. You will always need perseverance and adaptability. Keep running when everyone else around you is walking! Adapt when things don’t go as planned. I had to change my nutrition plan mid-race due to running out of fuel earlier than planned. I did not hit my goal time but managed another personal best in the marathon.

“Adversity introduces a man to himself.”
         -Attributed to Albert Einstein

Everyone needs time to recover. Most marathoners will take some time off from training or work a significantly reduced training schedule after a marathon. Good coaches put recovery time into the training plan. A marathon is a very traumatic event on the body. It is generally not recommended to do one more frequently than every 12-16 weeks. There are those who have built the fitness, strength, and endurance over many years to do a marathon more frequently but you don’t see the pros racing that much. The lesson is that when you go through something traumatic it is perfectly ok to give yourself time to recover. Your body and your mind need a break and need time to heal. The only way you gain strength is by allowing time to recover. You build strength during recovery!

Champions are made not born. Countless books on sports psychology, championship athletes, and championship teams show that it is only in training and hard work that you can cultivate the skills to win. Some people have more natural ability than others but nobody gets a pass on doing the hard work! Even when the skills and ability are present those alone are not enough to win. The winners have a plan, have ability, are committed to a process that produces winners, and are willing to endure great suffering to win. They have determined that victory is worth the pain. I heard Jerome Bettis of the Champion Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl XL) speak at an event in November. He talked about the mindset of that championship team. He said, “Becoming a champion is not the most important goal. It is the struggle, commitment, work ethic you develop in the process of becoming a champion that is most important.”

“Nobody gets a pass on doing the hard work!”

Successful people have learned to be grateful. No matter the role in which you find yourself in life, business, or sport you have many things for which to be grateful. While those that have put in the hard work have a higher probability of success and those that can endure more suffering increase their probability of winning even more there are no guarantees. Recognize the good that is in every situation and be grateful you even get to play, work, and live another day.

“Find the good. It’s all around you.
Find it, showcase it, and you’ll start believing it.”
-Jesse Owens, 4 time Gold Medalist
1936 Olympics, Berlin, Germany

I continue learning from these experiences. Endurance running has many analogies to character-driven leadership, life, and business. It is my hope to encourage you as a character-driven leader. There is someone in the world that needs what only you can offer. If I can help, feel free to reach out to me at

By Alan Buttery
Visit for more information.

Get On With It!

Doers win. Walt Disney had no idea the Disney company would become what it is today when he released the iconic short animation film Steamboat Willie in 1929. Disney went on to take some very large risks in building the brand we know so well. He bet nearly everything he had, nearly all of his personal wealth, on his first animated feature film, Snow White, which was released in 1937. It was produced at a cost of $1.4 Million, about $24 Million in today’s dollars. Fortunately, it was a great success. The project and subsequent ones like it all had inherent risks, setbacks, financial and other challenges. Walt Disney’s vision of what could be and the drive to see it through despite innumerable challenges built the Disney brand. He is probably best known for buying some swamp land in Florida and turning it into Walt Disney World. The brand he built continues to endure 50 years after his death.

“The best way to get started is to quit talking and start doing.”
-Walt Disney

Dreamers win bigger. Disney was not alone as a leader with big dreams. Throughout history, leaders with a bias towards action and big dreams have accomplished what others thought impossible. Some of today’s examples include Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg. These leaders are all well-known for what their companies have achieved. These leaders influenced their companies, industries, marketplace, and the world. Their products and services have changed how we live, how we access and acquire goods, and how we spend our time. All of them have started projects not knowing how they would be completed or what the final outcome would be. They started them not knowing from where they would get the capital and without having the needed expertise. They had to adapt their plans, perhaps, hundreds of times to get to the outcomes we see today. They faced many setbacks but kept moving forward. Their vision, determination, and resourcefulness continue to drive them forward. Some of them are hoping to take their vision to other worlds. Musk, Bezos, and Branson, for example, are each involved in commercial space flight projects. Musk recently announced his desire to colonize Mars.

“All of them have started projects not knowing how they would be completed or what the final outcome would be.”

Destination Unknown. Good leaders understand that leadership is a journey rather than a destination. To accomplish something of significance, you have to play the long game. Going long means committing yourself to the long-term process of building something great. You take small steps towards big dreams. You consistently pursue the talent, resources, capital, and expertise you need over a long period of time to be successful. You build processes and capabilities that will support your short and long-term outcomes. You find ways to create value at every step of the way so that people continue to buy-in to your dream. And you fight through obstacles and setbacks. The latest hurdle will make you stronger when you overcome it. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos understands that he has to play the “long game” in pursuing his goals.

“I always tell people, if we have a good quarter it’s because of the work we did three, four, and five years ago.  It’s not because we did a good job this quarter.”
-Jeff Bezos, Chairman and CEO,

Decisive Action. Having a bias towards taking action is an uncommon trait. Most people I interact with have great ideas but struggle with taking the early steps to see them happen. The excuses for inaction are many. “The risk is too high. I don’t have the experience, expertise, talent, or resources. We have not built the processes to support the business. I don’t have the money.” Risk avoidance and fear keep people from acting. Pursuing a new business, dream, or an idea is a process of “ready, fire, aim.” There is no such thing as certainty. Many times you must take action and then figure things out as you go. You do what you can to mitigate risk but you move forward not knowing what will happen. We all must face fear and overcome it. (More on facing fear here.) Even if the resources aren’t present there are still steps that can be taken that move you towards your goal. Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you don’t meet your expectations but you still learn from the process. I have found that very few things, even if “unsuccessful”, are a waste of time because of what I learn from them.

“Pursuing a new business, dream, or an idea is a process of “ready, fire, aim.”  There is no such thing as certainty.”

If you’re reading this, I already know you are a leader. I don’t know what dreams or ideas you may have but it is my hope to encourage you to act on them and not let uncertainty and risk stop you from finding a way forward. To do less is to neglect the gift that is in you to lead, to make a difference, and to change the world. There is someone in the world that needs what only you can offer. In the end, you have to “get on with it.” If I can help, feel free to reach out to me at

“To do less is to neglect the gift that is in you to lead, to make a difference, and to change the world!”

By Alan Buttery
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Making a Difference by Alan Buttery

  • A young girl sees her mom and boyfriend murdered by her father.
  • A 16 year old boy is barely taller than a 10 year old due to malnourishment.
  • A young child scavenges at a local trash dump for food.  

The above stories are horrific and, quite tragically, not unique. They occur around the world. I am in Honduras as I write this on a trip with Rice Bowls at Good Shepherd Children’s Home. (More about Rice Bowls here.) I have heard these stories and others about the kids that reside here. They are shocking and are hard for most Americans to grasp. (Does this really happen in our world? Why?) Once you get past the shock of the stories you discover there is an opportunity to make a real difference in a child’s life. It’s an opportunity to serve in a way that can help change the future, break the cycle of poverty, and teach kids to grow up to be caring mothers and fathers that nurture future generations.

Leadership FIRSTS is a blog focused on character-driven leadership. One of the “FIRSTS” is Willing Service. (More about FIRSTS here.) Character-driven leadership requires us to not simply pursue our own development and success. It requires us to use our God-given abilities to serve and to make a difference in the lives of others to change the world! The concept of serving should undergird everything you do in life and business. All success ultimately comes from living your life in a way that is of service to others. If you want to change the world figure out who you can serve both passionately and well and put your energy, enthusiasm, and resources into it. Don’t settle for mediocre effort or results in your service. You wouldn’t settle for it in your business. Instead, gladly, willingly use your talents to serve others and to help change the game for them. The best leaders know how to serve.

Character-driven leadership requires us to not simply pursue
 our own development and success. It requires us to use our
God-given abilities to serve and to make a difference
in the lives of others to change the world!

One American couple told me of their first night in Honduras. They stayed in a home in a village. There were windows but no glass, a doorway but no door, a dirt floor, tarantulas, bats on the ceiling and guano on the floor. They slept in a hammock. They came to make a difference, to serve, but spent their first night crying and asking themselves why they were there. To their credit they are still in Honduras working to make a difference 10 years later. They were willing to give up a very comfortable American lifestyle to do something that matters. To meet a real need and make a difference you may have to get outrageously uncomfortable in the process. You may have to endure great hardship in order to really serve.

The best definition of Service I have found is in Ron Kaufman’s book, Uplifting Service. He states, “Service is taking action to create value for someone else.” You can’t separate “service” from action and you cannot separate “service” from creating value. Some people have great ideas but never take action. Others take action but no real value is created. The latter mean well but may only be doing what they know or what is comfortable. Value is created when it meets a real need. You should be willing to “squirm” in learning to make a difference. Don’t assume you know what the needs are. I’ve been asking a lot of questions while in Honduras and some of the needs (read this as “opportunities”) are not what I expected.

If you want to do something that matters and make a difference you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. Maybe you identify a need that does not line up with “what you know.” If you see an opportunity to do something that matters and it aligns with your passion you should seize it even if it is beyond your skillset. You will figure it out later! You could be launching into the most transformative adventure of your life leading to an impact you never thought possible! This applies to your business as well as your personal life. Once you determine where you can add value you should absolutely learn all you can but you will never know everything. More people wait on the sidelines trying to figure everything out than ever take action. You should always err on the side of taking action!

This is my second trip to Honduras with Rice Bowls. I came back because I wanted to learn how I might be able to make a difference here. I also came back because there are great lessons to learn or be reminded of when you are in an environment like this.

  • Most of the world cannot relate to our “on demand” society. We take food, education, basic utilities, housing, jobs, basic healthcare, good clothing, law enforcement, family support, and access to goods for granted. If we need something there is a store or “supercenter” a few miles away that likely has whatever we want or think we need. If you are like me, most of what you want or need is delivered to your door in two days with “free” shipping. Our definition of “need” is very shallow. We visited a village with homes very similar to what I described above and took some supplies. The people showed us great hospitality, invited us in, and offered us their food. (Fortunately, no bats or spiders!) They had very little but were very gracious. They also slept in hammocks because of flooding, snakes, and scorpions. Your priorities will change when you see and understand what real need is.

  • We assume our kids will be able to get a good education and that they will eventually find a job. We think we have a right to such things. In many places in the world that is not a good assumption. One of the opportunities I see here is to support efforts to alleviate what happens to these kids after they “age out” of the children’s home. There is a group of us that may be able to help by working with local residents to help start small businesses that create jobs and employ these young men and women.

  • Relationships matter- everywhere. One of my goals for this week was simply to meet people that I may be able to help or work with on future opportunities. I met a couple that has a coffee farm and is running two shoe manufacturing shops that employ young people that have transitioned out of the home. They have an aspiration of growing these and similar businesses. They are looking to get into coffee roasting as another way to create jobs. Currently, they send the beans from their farm to a third party for roasting. There is a large underserved market for coffee roasting in Honduras as the equipment is expensive to get started. I would not have known about this opportunity had I not come nor met the people “on the ground” that can make it happen. The only way to build relationships is to show up! You can’t assume you know what the needs are. Invest time with people, ask questions, be curious, and learn.

  • Tragedy is not life-limiting. This kids here were either taken from their families or abandoned. It is a huge adjustment for kids that have not known love, proper care, or proper discipline before. After they have been here they smile, play, and hope for the future like other kids. They are generous with hugs. They want to be teachers, doctors, policemen, farmers, pastors, photographers, and athletes when they grow up. Some do very well in school and continue on to college and their careers. Others, because of a late start, struggle in school but are willing to work hard and will learn a trade. Like us, they all hope for a better future.

Why serve?
The best leaders realize service is at the root of everything they do. In business they serve customers, employees, bosses, stockholders, and their communities. Outside of work they serve their families, communities, causes, and churches. They have learned to serve in every area of their life and realize that they have an obligation to make the world a better place in whatever way they can. They don’t serve out of false motives or because they think it makes them look good. They do it out of authentic care and concern for others. They serve because they realize they have the opportunity to do something transformational, to make a difference, to leave the world better than they found it.

What about you?
Hopefully, you are already serving in whatever way you can and according to your passions. If not, find something that you care about deeply in your bones and then serve with passion and excellence. All of us can make a difference and do something that matters. Leaders lead. You don’t need a title or a position to have an impact. You don’t need someone’s permission to take action! In business, there is much talk about “transformational leadership.” This is normally in the context of either remaking or turning around a business. To be a real transformational leader you should not settle for anything less than changing the world. Whether you think your service is a big or small thing does not matter. What matters is when you leave this world you’ve done something to make it better. Consistent effort over a lifetime will leave a huge impact whether or not you can measure it.

“Leadership FIRSTS” is not simply about furthering your career, developing your leadership abilities, or helping you further your agenda. Character-driven leadership is at its core and it requires leading from within, being authentic, and using your leadership gifts to make a positive impact in your business, your community, and the world. It may require being outrageously uncomfortable to make a difference! I believe there is a transformative adventure that awaits you!

Change the game! Make a difference! Change the world!

Rice Bowls is an organization that provides resources to feed kids in children’s homes around the world. They are “feeding future leaders” in 8 countries, 56 children’s homes, and help provide meals to 1800+ kids every day. That’s over 1.9 Million meals a year! It’s a lean organization that has been around since 1980 and is making a difference in the lives of orphans. (More about Rice Bowls here.)

By Alan Buttery
Visit for more information.

The Black Belt Mind

The Black Belt Mind is a series of posts applying the wisdom and disciplines of the martial arts to your personal and professional life. I have discovered through personal experience that there is much to learn from the martial arts that can fuel success in every area of your life. In the coming months I will write on different aspects of The Black Belt Mind. This blog focuses on the power of perseverance and I hope you find it valuable. Please let me know your thoughts.

He was short, skinny, and uncoordinated.

The awkwardness in taking a step, throwing a punch, and maintaining his balance was humorous to observe. He had little flexibility from years of inactivity and he was not alone. The other students taking their first class looked just as awkward. They had not yet earned their white belt.

He was determined.

He did not know what it would take to become a black belt. He knew he needed to get in shape and that he needed to change his lifestyle. He knew he could be persistent and disciplined. Two years later after countless workouts; hundreds of hours of individual practice, stretching, conditioning, and sparring; learning “forms”, blocks, counters, holds, throws, breaking boards and bricks, and learning traditional weapons he would earn his first black belt. He was the only one from that first class that achieved the goal. Only about 1 in 20 white belts make it to black belt. Everybody wants to be a black belt. Not everybody wants to do the work.

“A black belt is a white belt that never quit.”

The above was me. Japanese martial arts were a part of my life for fifteen years. During that time I was privileged to become a Sensei in our school and to lead our demonstration team. It was exciting to watch students move from those awkward early stages to proficiency and then to excellence. There is one common attribute in every student that earns their black belt- they never quit. They never quit, they don’t take “time off”, they consistently and relentlessly keep learning, improving, getting stronger, and pursuing their goal. New students may not be strong or coordinated. They may not be athletic but if they commit to their goal and follow the course laid out with dogged persistence they will eventually become a black belt. The average student takes 3-5 years to earn a black belt. In some martial arts it takes much longer. There is no “instant gratification” in this type of training. One of most valuable aspects of martial arts training is learning to stay with something for a long period of time while you take small but progressive steps towards a seemingly overwhelming goal. You learn to integrate the goal into your lifestyle. It becomes part of who you are instead of just something you do.

You can quit when you stop breathing.

Most people have not learned the value of perseverance. In life and in business many things can be achieved by simply staying with them long enough. The Navy Seals only become so by enduring great hardship. On average, only 15% of those that begin the training actually complete it. Most “applicants” quit in the first three weeks. Only those that place their aspiration above their own suffering will make it. Everyone admitted to Seal training has already proven they have the physical and mental capabilities to become a Navy Seal. Thomas Jefferson said, "Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude." Leadership requires the ability to endure pain and hardship. Leaders find a way to keep going. Do you have what it takes to keep going?

Defeat is a state of mind.

Bruce Lee was one of the greatest martial artist of all time. He said, “Defeat is a state of mind; no one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.” Many of us experience setbacks in life. Personal tragedies, family crises, setbacks in our careers or finances, injuries and many other things can delay achievement of a goal or get us off course from where we want to go. We all face setbacks. What are you going to do when a setback comes? You must take care of priorities but once you’ve dealt with whatever setback has come your way you have to pick back up where you left off, resume progress, or try again. If a goal is worth achieving then don’t give up just because it’s hard or inconvenient. Never, never, never give up!

Fighting your way back.

During my years in martial arts I dealt with a number of injuries. During a martial arts demonstration one of the students was a little too enthusiastic with a flying side kick. The kick was to land in the center of a target pad I was holding and slightly pulled back at the end so as to prevent injury. Instead the kick came in high and I took the full force in my right shoulder tearing the muscles around the joint. It took months to regain proper use of the shoulder through rehab, ice, and stretching. It slowed my training as I couldn’t put weight on it. Throwing a ball or doing pushups were agony. Regaining mobility in the shoulder took months of diligence and of slowly doing what I needed to recover. My training was modified until the shoulder recovered enough to take the strain. It may take a very long time to recover from a setback. The key is doing what is necessary to fight your way back no matter how long it takes.

The secret to willpower.

Most people embark on a new course or set new goals and expect their willpower to carry them through. It usually doesn’t. If you have not structured your life to support your goals then you will not achieve them no matter how much you desire to win. You may need the support of your family and friends. You can’t create time to work on your goals without first choosing what you will give up and this can impact other people in your life. You have to be intentional in scheduling time to pursue your goals and disciplined in using that time for its intended purpose. For example, in order for me to get daily exercise I have to plan around time with my wife, family commitments, my work schedule, travel schedule, and my son’s basketball schedule. If I do not plan for it then it never happens. If you structure your life to support your goals you will be much more able to commit to a long-term process that takes you to where you want to be. Most worthwhile goals will require a long-term effort to achieve.

It’s worth the effort!

Anything worth achieving is going to be difficult. There are no easy ways to succeed. You should set meaningful goals for your life and for your career then do what is necessary to make it happen. Continuously learn and do what it takes to get better. Don’t quit, don’t grow weary, and don’t take a break. Structure your life to support your goals. Enlist the support of allies- family, friends, and colleagues. Don’t give up when it gets hard, deal with setbacks, and then fight your way back. Have the will to win. Never, never, never give up!

In the last two years I have transitioned from martial arts to marathon training. The lessons I learned in martial arts have shaped who I am and have helped me in every area of my life. I still set long-term goals and work diligently over a long period of time to achieve them. My latest long-term goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Each day, week, month, and year I am taking progressive steps towards that goal. For me, it’s not a question of if I will qualify. It’s only a matter of when. There are plenty of people who think I am crazy. I am just determined.
A black belt is a white belt who never quit!
-Alan Buttery

Facing Fear

My wife is in surgery

She is undergoing a common procedure as I write but there is always uncertainty associated with surgery. A million “what ifs” can surge through your mind and overwhelm you as you think about the possibilities. You put on a brave face and try to be confident so as to help her feel relaxed- to help her not be afraid while not verbalizing what you really feel. The reality of life is we all face fear and uncertainty nearly every day. We face it in life, in relationships, in business, in investments, in any risk we elect to take, and in any worthwhile venture. Fear is present anytime we embark on a new course, implement change, take a risk, or decide to lead.

The problem with fear

Fear can immobilize us. We all know of people who never take a risk out of fear, who refuse to challenge the status quo, who make every effort to conform, who never chase a dream or fulfill a greater purpose. We know of those who are paralyzed by irrational fears. The biggest limiter to what we can achieve is often ourselves. I know many people that will not admit to their fears. I am, however, firmly convinced that everyone at some level is afraid. Fear can immobilize us but it can also motivate us. I’ve met many people who have reduced their vision or dream to something manageable. They limited themselves so they did not have to face fear. It’s much better to increase your dream or vision and then learn to manage fear as it comes up.

Phantom fear

It’s important when you are afraid to distinguish whether the threat exists in your imagination or reality. When you ride on a roller coaster you can feel your stomach drop as the ride ascends and descends but the threat of harm is mostly in your imagination. The chance of an accident is nearly zero. However, if you are driving down a steep hill in the ice and snow and your car starts to spin out of control the threat of an accident is real and you may need to protect yourself. People who can’t distinguish whether their fears are based in imagination or reality spend their whole lives trying to protect themselves. They avoid all kinds risk, real and imagined, in an effort to be “safe.” Sometimes more harm is done by failing to act!

The benefits of fear

Fear can inspire us to greatness. If we use fear to motivate us and let it be the fuel to drive us to manage risks then we work harder, we never give up, we continuously learn, we become more resourceful, we find needed allies and partners, we become more creative, and we find ways to win. As we face fear and win we become more confident in facing more fears and taking more risks. Those that achieve greatness have faced fear and let it drive positive actions. They’ve let the desire to win overwhelm their fears and they achieve something that matters as a result. Fear can be helpful if it drives the right behaviors.

The nature of courage

Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the willingness to act in spite of it. Our heroes are people who accomplished something that mattered in the face of fear, at great personal risk, or at great personal cost. They are the ones that never gave up. Where is the hero, the leader, the influencer that never faced fear? They don’t exist. It takes great personal courage to accomplish something that matters. Courage also takes tremendous energy and willpower. Leading is not for the faint of heart. Leaders have learned to face fear and overcome it.

Go big or go home?

My wife and I laugh at how often I quote this mantra. I have faced fear and as a result have taken many big risks over the years with mixed results. Do I win 100% of the time? No, but I like to think that I’ve graduated to winning more than I lose. Do I always take big risks? No. Facing small fears followed by success leads to facing larger fears and, as a result, larger successes. You don’t always have to “bet the farm.” My experience has been that fear is never a reason to avoid doing something. Never make a decision that is based solely on fear.  

Planning for success

When you face fear you “do not go gentle into that good night.” Facing fear does not mean a blind charge into oblivion. As a leader you have the obligation to do everything possible to ensure success and to tip the odds in your favor. Do you have the resources, the drive, the creativity, the allies and team members you need for success?  Can you get them in the required time period? Can you tap into the right experts? How hard are you willing to work? How much physical and mental energy can you put into the effort? Nothing substitutes for tenacity in facing fear and in helping ensure success.

Fear is a fact of life

Fear is a fact of life. We all must face fear. If we aspire to lead or to chase a dream we must be willing to face fear and overcome it. If we are going to succeed at any endeavor, if we are going to do something that makes a difference, we must do so in spite of fear and uncertainty. Have the courage to lead. Have the courage to do something that has not been done before. Have the courage to make a difference. Have the courage to press forward in the face of doubters and naysayers. Let fear be your fuel rather than what stops you! Fight to succeed. Fight to win. Manage the risks as best you can but do not let fear stop you!

You may be wondering about the surgery. My wife came through it fine and is recovering well!
-Alan Buttery

Fearless Integrity Part 2

The rules do not change when the pressure mounts! It is easy to say people should have integrity. It is much more difficult in practice to do the right thing. Having integrity means making judgement calls, hard choices, and dealing with conflicting interests and dilemmas.

Imagine you are in the following situations:

  • You’re the CEO of a car company and find out your engineers have installed software to defeat emissions tests. You have 100,000 cars on the way to market. Do you pull them back?

  • You’re a professional athlete with a contract with Brooks Running Company. In order to compete in the world championship for Team USA you are required to wear Nike gear. Do you compromise?

  • Your largest customer misses earning a sizeable rebate by one day and asks you to back date an invoice so they can still get the rebate. The customer buys millions from you each year. Do you do it?

It is not always easy to lead with fearless integrity. Being authentic and doing the right thing when it hurts is exceedingly difficult, especially when the temptation to gain a temporary advantage by bending the rules can be very strong. 

Leadership with fearless integrity is about playing the long game and letting the chips fall where they may. My research shows that leaders that make the hard (right) choices are the ones we admire, respect, and hold up as examples. They are the ones that, in the long run, are the most successful and build sustainable legacies.

The ones that make choices without integrity, deceive, or defraud ultimately become the examples of what not to do. The above are real-life examples. Here’s how they turned out:

Volkswagen allowed fear to conquer integrity.

  • Volkswagen, as you know, has been embroiled in a scandal the last six months because VW engineers installed software to defeat emissions tests conducted by agencies in the US and Europe. This affects several of the company’s brands. The company’s reputation and culture has been severely damaged, billions in shareholder wealth has been destroyed, and CEO Martin Winterkorn was forced to resign. The company also confirmed last week it has reserved €6.7 Billion (US $7.28 Billion) for repairs to the 11 million affected vehicles.

  • VW’s new CEO Matthias Mueller has not made matters better. He has repeatedly tried to spin the story as a misunderstanding and then later had to back-peddle. As recently as January 11, in an interview with NPR, Mueller said VW did not lie and that it did not “understand the question.” Mueller was back on NPR later in the day to retract the statement saying, “We fully accept the violation…there is no doubt about it.”

Nick Symmonds, a US Olympian and champion runner, is a great example of fearless integrity.

  • He won the USA 800-meter title on June 28, 2015. He was left off Team USA at the World Championships in Beijing, held August 2015, because of refusing to sign USA Track & Field’s “Athlete Statement of Conditions.” The document required him to wear Nike gear during the world championships. Symmonds integrity would not let him go against his contract with Brooks. His spot was forfeited on August 9 and went to the runner up.

We run into business situations in which we must face fear in order to do the right thing.

  • It’s common in business for customers to make unreasonable demands. Unfortunately, some will threaten your business in order to get what they want. Over the years I’ve seen many examples of individuals putting personal or company gain ahead of integrity. Whether it’s changing dates on an invoice to get a rebate, placing purchase orders to hit a sales goal with the intent of returning the goods later, or manipulating accounting in order to avoid taxes or defraud investors there will be a price to pay when integrity is not kept.

 “Our integrity is never worth so much as when we have parted with our all to keep it.” –Ovid

All of us will have our integrity tested at some point. You may be facing tough choices today with intense pressure to do what is expedient instead of what is “right.” Doing what is expedient is not worth the long-term costs. Living with integrity is playing the long game.

The rules do not change when the pressure mounts! Do the right thing!
-Alan Buttery

Fearless Integrity

Most everyone agrees that integrity matters. It appears in countless personal and corporate mission statements, is touted by political candidates and CEOs, proclaimed as a virtue by ministers, encouraged by parents, demanded of partners, and aspired to by individuals.

Many have spoken on the subject of integrity. Here are some of the many quotes:
  -Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching
          - C.S. Lewis
  -The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity
          - Dwight D. Eisenhower
  -Subtlety may deceive you; integrity never will
          - Oliver Cromwell
  -Our integrity is never worth so much as when we have parted with our all to keep it
          - Ovid

I think a simple yet profound synonym for integrity is “authenticity.” Authenticity implies that the image, words, deeds, behaviors we present to the world are consistent with our values, character, and beliefs. It implies we are truthful, genuine, and not a hypocrite. The best leaders have learned to be authentic.

Yet we see lapses in integrity all around us. We may even see lack of integrity from the person in the mirror. The impact of lapses in integrity are very visible in failed relationships, failed trust, and in failed businesses. When you fail to act with integrity you trade a potential short-term gain for long-term success. Everything becomes more complicated when trust is betrayed.

Most people do not wake up one day determined to be disingenuous, to lie or deceive, to be hypocritical, or to do the wrong thing. So what happens? Why do so many who intend to do the right thing ultimately fail? Why do we struggle with integrity?

It’s in our nature to be deceitful. It’s been said that you don’t have to teach a child how to lie; it comes naturally. From the very beginning we have to learn the value of being authentic. Indeed, some people take a lifetime to learn this as evidenced by some of the spectacular and very public failures we have seen in every area of life and in every type of organization.

Why are some people disingenuous? Here are a number of reasons:
  -They value their goals more than people.
  -They value their goals more than honesty.
  -They are trying to be someone or something they are not.
  -They succumbed to the small lie which led to larger ones.
  -They developed habits of dishonesty.
  -They succumbed to fear.

Character and values are great determinants of integrity. Beyond these, I believe fear is a significant reason that basically honest people will sometimes act without integrity. I talk about “fearless integrity” for this reason. If you can address fear many of the reasons to be inauthentic go away. Some of the reasons for fear include fear of perception, fear of relationships, fear of outcomes, and fear of anger. I will address these in more detail in a future post.

So what are some of the ways to “protect” your integrity?
  -Avoid situations which may lead you to compromise your values.
  -Incorporate accountability in your life.
  -Be faithful in small things.
  -Do the right thing in spite of your fears.
  -Set right priorities.
  -Never do anything that goes against your values.
  -Avoid the slippery slope.
  -Reinforce habits of integrity.
  -Know and be yourself, not a copy of someone else.
  -Surround yourself with people of integrity.

If you practice the above ways to “protect” your integrity you will be much further along your way to being a character-driven leader. Being a character-driven leader requires authenticity. Authenticity paired with a strong value system will lead to greater opportunities and influence, employee and customer loyalty, effectiveness in dealing with difficult problems, better negotiations, and greater impact. Businesses and reputations only last when founded upon integrity.

The rules do not change when the pressure mounts. Do the right thing!

Life Lessons From My First Marathon

·         Set impossible goals. Running a Marathon looks impossible but, in fact, is only very hard.

·         Persistence matters. Putting one foot in front of the other will move you towards your goals.

·         Don’t start too fast. You have to manage yourself for the entire race.

·         Don’t start too slow. Why give yourself a disadvantage at the start?

·         Be adaptable. There will always be surprises no matter how prepared you think you are.

·         Everyone can be a “winner.” There are other ways to “win” than being “first.” 

·         Don’t underestimate your opponents. You may get beaten by a 90 year old in a tutu.

·         Applaud heroes. I ran several miles with firefighters in full gear including air tanks!

·         Keep “self-talk” positive. What you tell yourself affects your attitude and performance.

·         Hills are a part of life. Have a strategy to deal with them.

·         Find joy in the journey. There is much to enjoy along the way.

·         Having the best gear does not make you faster or better.

·         Pain is not a reason to give up. The other guy is hurting, too.

·         Encourage each other. You will both do better as a result.

·         Don’t always run solo. The right partner will push you to higher levels.

·         Say, “thank you” to those that support you along the journey.