What Happened When Water Got In My Gas Tank

Every Christmas, my family loads up our minivan to drive thirteen hours to visit extended family. This year we almost made it. Around 1:00am, I exited the interstate to refuel our gas tank. The kids were still asleep, a minor miracle for my family. And as I drove away from the pump, the car died. Steering onto the shoulder next to the gas station, I rolled to a stop. Even with the help of a friendly stranger and jumper cables we couldn’t get the car started. It took until 3:30am to get our car to the shop and us to Grandpa’s house.

gas station at night

The repair shop confirmed what we feared: bad gas had damaged our engine. (I’m tempted to make a burrito joke here, but I’m way too mature for that.) I learned the hard way that the quality of your fuel determines the story of your journey. Tweet This

And a great life requires more than adding good ideas. We also have to filter out contaminants. Good fuel mixed with bad fuel equals bad fuel. I put the correct grade of petroleum in our gas tank, but the groundwater that snuck along drowned out the benefits of the good fuel.

What contaminants do you need to protect yourself from?

As an individual, it could be a TV show or music album with seductive lies or a bad relationship or junk food or even a particular place. As a leader, it might be your highly skilled, but bad attitude employee or even that toxic customer.

Maybe the key to your growth this year is not more good ideas, but stronger protections from the “groundwater” trying to get in.

photo credit: in the desert via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakWhat Happened When Water Got In My Gas Tank

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Brothers

The big things are all done now. Now it’s time to make the little things count.

Slow down and listen to the laughter and squeals of the children. Hug someone—for longer than a second. Close your eyes and smell the food. Take a big, deep breath and release it.

Be fully in this moment. And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

photo credit: Christmas Brothers via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakMerry Christmas!

Capsized at Christmas

The Christmas season magnifies our emotions, the good and the bad. When life is going well, it’s a magical time of joy. But when trouble strikes, it seems to hurt worse during the Christmas holidays.

We can feel like the woman who set out to row across the Atlantic ocean. After rigorous training, she stockpiled a specially-designed rowboat with satellite phone, food, medical supplies…everything she needed. And then, about halfway between Canada and England, a hurricane swept over her little boat.

For days, she fought the sea. And she lost. She survived, but only barely. Not only had she been capsized, but most of her supplies were washed away, including her satellite phone, her anchor, and her food.

Maybe this Christmas, you feel lost in a sea of trouble without an anchor or even food.

She did have a radio (it was built into the boat), but it didn’t have much range. She doubted it would do any good, but she sent out a distress call just in case.

Turns out, there was a ship nearby. In fact, the Queen Mary, one of the great cruise ships of modern times, just happened to be in range. About eight hours later, they pulled alongside her and replaced everything she had lost. And they added encouraging cards from the passengers and chocolate as well. She went on to finish her trip, setting a new world record.

rowboat and queen mary

I’ve had good holiday seasons and I’ve had hard ones, too. A couple of months ago, a very close friend of mine suddenly lost his job at the same time his wife needed expensive medical treatment. He doesn’t know how to pay his mortgage next month, let alone pay for Christmas.

And as I write this, my 2 year old niece is in the burn unit of the hospital, waiting for a skin graft surgery to replace all the skin on her chest and stomach. Her dad was burned trying to stop her from pulling the pot of boiling water onto herself. They’ll spend Christmas in the hospital, holding a confused little girl.

No matter how much we plan, hurricanes can capsize our lives and steal what we need. And it’s tempting to let the waves drag you under.

Don’t quit. Please. Your story is not over yet.

Maybe all you have is a short-range radio. That’s enough. Send out a call for help. You are not as alone as you think. Tonight might be long and lonely. But the Queen-Freaking-Mary might be just out of sight, on it’s way to help you.

You can finish your journey, too, if you refuse to quit. We’ve all been there. Let us help.

Photo Credit UK Daily Mail

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Scott WozniakCapsized at Christmas

How I Decide Whether To Ask Questions Or Tell The Answer

Too often we try to help others by telling them what to do when we should be asking them questions. And too often we ask questions when we need to tell them what to do. Neither is right in every situation. Here’s how I choose when to do what (not that I always get this right).

Deciding Which Door To Choose

Telling is ideal when you need to solve the problem as fast as possible. It’s efficient. And, assuming you have a real expert giving the advice, it solves the problem. Telling puts you in a position of authority. Having an authority figure make the decision can feel good for both sides. But it can also create distance in the relationship. And if you haven’t been invited to give advice, it won’t be received well. (See my previous post for more on this). But if you’re in a crisis, where speed and a sense of security are critical, then telling is likely the best approach.

Asking is ideal for developing people. It is slower and sloppier than telling (in the short-term). But asking stimulates growth in others, prompting them to consider the issue for themselves and create a solution that is truly their own. Asking (when you want to tell) requires a bit of humility, honoring the other person’s ability to think and decide, and it draws people together. Tweet This It’s more risky than telling, but it builds trust fast. If your goal is to help a person become better, and you have the time to get to the solution more slowly, asking is better than telling.

When deciding whether to ask or tell, I consider these factors:

  • Do I have stated permission to tell them what to do?
  • How urgent is the problem?
  • How big are the consequences if they get this wrong?

photo credit: Deciding Which Door to Choose 2 via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakHow I Decide Whether To Ask Questions Or Tell The Answer

The Better Your Advice, The Less Likely They Will Receive It

My life’s aim—put very generically—is to help people as much as I can. (The full version addresses my relationship to God, my family, leadership, and adventure). For a long while, I thought being helpful meant giving great advice.

So I began to learn as much as I could, growing my stockpile of valuable knowledge. But eventually I realized that giving advice isn’t always the best way to help others. In fact, I discovered that unsolicited advice is received as judgement. Tweet This By the way, the more insightful the advice you want to share, the more you want to share it. But the better your advice, the less likely they will receive it when they didn’t ask for it. When your advice is spot on, it exposes their lack more clearly. It’s a tragic irony. There is a time when giving advice is what they are asking for and helps. But more often, asking great questions is more helpful than telling others true answers. Tweet This

Question Man

When I learned this, I helped others by telling 95% of the time, only asking 5%. And even though much of my work these days is delivering presentations, I’ve worked hard to change that. Even in my workshops (where I could get away with pure telling if I wanted) I ask the participants questions and give them time to discuss. And I’ve found that people at my workshops rate me as much more helpful when there are lots of questions and discussion time.

What’s your default? Asking or telling? In your key relationships (work, kids, best friend) what’s the percentage of time you spend telling vs. asking? 60% telling (40% asking)? 90% telling? What do you want it to be?

This holiday season, what if you didn’t give advice to any of your relatives? What if you just asked questions and listened?

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Scott WozniakThe Better Your Advice, The Less Likely They Will Receive It

What I Do on A Life Planning Retreat

I’m in the middle of my life purpose/planning retreat. If I went home now it would have been worth it. And I have one more day left. When I posted about why to get away and work on a life plan, I promised to share more on what I do when I’m on a retreat. So let’s get practical and tactical.

It all starts with why. If you don’t know your “why” then spend all your time on that. Years ago, I worked with a life coach to create a life purpose statement and some core values. I read those statements all the time. It fires me up—I really care about those ideas. And it helps me say no—if an opportunity I have isn’t aligned with them then I won’t pursue it, no matter how cool it is.

I don’t just read the statement. I ask myself:

  • How well did I live these out last year?
  • What could I do next year that would make me at least one step closer to living them out fully?

After grounding myself in my why, I look at who. Before anything else gets planned, I evaluate my relationship with God and the state of my heart. And then I think about my marriage, then my kids, then family and friends. I ask questions like:

  • What character quality does God want me to work on (there is almost always just one trait He’s calling me to work on)?
  • What kind of man have I been when I’m all alone?
  • How is my relationship with my wife? How can I love and serve her better?
  • How is my relationship with each of my kids?  How can I love and serve each better?
  • What kind of friend have I been?

Finally, I work on what. I look at the professional options I have. I ask:

  • What projects could I pursue?
  • What would success look like?
  • What do I want to do less of next year?
  • What do I want to do more of next year?

When I’m done with all of this, I have a long list of ideas—way too long. There’s no way I can do everything there. (I’ve tried that a few times, never worked.) That’s okay. Phase one is listing out options, not making final decisions. Now it’s time to whittle down the list to the handful of things—sometimes only one for each area of my life—that I will actually do next year. Questions I use to help with that:

  • If I could only get one thing done, what would it be? What’s most important?
  • How much time and effort would each project take?
  • What does God want me to focus on? (I ask Him and listen.)
  • Who can I collaborate with on these ideas?
  • What has time limits on it? (Example: choosing to delay showing up as a father could cause me to miss their childhood.)
  • What most aligns with my life purpose and values?

thinker by rodin

Let me offer one last encouragement. Don’t wait until you have all this perfect to sit down and work on your life plan. What I’m describing is a process I’ve worked on every year since 2002. It didn’t always look like this. And your retreat doesn’t have to be this intense to be worth doing.

In fact, I think finding life purpose is like sculpture carving. Bit by bit, you go from raw rock to clear image. Tweet This I started off with a raw chunk of material, no idea what I wanted to do or why. One hammer strike at a time, I’ve knocked off a piece that doesn’t belong. Bit by bit, I get more clear on what I’m making. In the early days I just knocked off big pieces, trying to get to the general shape of a man. Finding arms and legs in the rough stone was a big challenge for a long time. These days I’m able to work on making the fingers clear. But that’s only possible because I started with the basics years ago.

You don’t have to be in the same spot on the journey as I am to have a productive retreat. It won’t be perfect the first time, or even the tenth time. But each time you work at it, your life will become more clear. Each time you’ll become a better version of yourself.

photo credit: He never stops thinking via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakWhat I Do on A Life Planning Retreat

My Favorite Birthday Tradition

Today is my birthday! And I’d like to invite you to participate in my favorite birthday tradition. Every year since I was a little boy, my parents made sure something special happened at my birthday party. When all my friends gathered around for cake and presents, Mom and Dad would stand next to me and explain it was time for everyone to say what they liked about me. One by one, all my friends would share what they appreciated about me. When I was young, it was mostly stuff like, “He’s silly!” But by my senior year of high school, my friends said deep things about my heart and what our friendship meant to them. I only remember a few of the birthday presents I got. (The Electronic Survivor Shot gun was pretty epic.) But I remember what my friends said about me. I believe I’m a different man today because of those moments.

Blue candles on birthday cake

Even though we spent the entire year together, my friends and I didn’t talk about what we liked about each other. We usually didn’t say we liked each other at all! Somehow, in our culture it’s more acceptable to mock than encourage. But the truth is we really did like each other. But naming what we really felt made our friendship—and our lives—much better.

A friend of mine talked recently shared how he was challenged, as a full-grown man, to write a “love letter” to his non-emotional, now-senior dad. He resisted, but finally sent it. And it ended up causing the most meaningful connection he has ever had with his dad, still to this day.

My family did this again for me over the weekend (we do it at all our birthdays), so right now my fuel tank is full. I’m good to go. Who do you need to say something to? One sentence could make a big difference. It could change the trajectory of their day or their week. It might even turn into the most meaningful connection you will ever have with them.

We’re not guaranteed another year. You may not get another chance to share what you really feel. Thanksgiving is right around the corner. This year maybe you could let your friends and family know you’re thankful for them—and offer some examples of why.

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Scott WozniakMy Favorite Birthday Tradition

Guest Post From Abby, My 10 Yr Old Daughter

If we are willing to listen, those much younger than us can teach us a lot. Tweet This

For example, my 10 year old daughter, Abby told us that she had been wrestling with some friendship troubles at school, but after she was “got some things out” she felt much better. I had no idea what that meant. Then she showed my wife and I what she’d written.

It was so good I asked her if she would let me share it on my blog. Fair warning: spelling is currently her weakest subject at school. So it might help to explain in advance that: Whow = How, Click = Clique, and surtan = certain. 🙂

[Bonus comment: I love how she drew one of stick figures breaking through a circle!]

Abby's note on cliques 1

Abby's note on cliques 2

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Scott WozniakGuest Post From Abby, My 10 Yr Old Daughter

Cowboy-Style Leadership

This year, I was invited to lead a personal development retreat for some high caliber business owners and they chose a Colorado dude ranch as the location. One afternoon we took a break to ride horses. We were at a dude ranch, after all. And, yes, I appreciate how cool my job can be. 🙂

It’s been years since I’ve ridden a horse. Getting to ride again was awesome. While alternating between grinning like a kid and trying to look cool, I realized cowboys know a thing or two about leadership.

Lost Valley Ranch - Scott just on horseThe first thing our guide said was, “Remember, these are horses, not machines. They have a mind of their own.” You don’t control a horse, not the way you control a car. You persuade a horse to become your traveling partner. And you won’t persuade a horse through force. They are much, much bigger than we are. They can go anywhere they really want—as one of the other riders discovered when her horse ran off from her group despite her repeated pulling on the reins and shouts of “Whoa!”

You don’t ride a horse by pushing the animal or jerking on the reins. You’ll just confuse it or make it mad. Cowboys don’t control their horse, they partner with it. And it’s the same with leaders. For a short time, you can fool yourself that you have control. But in the end it’s all about persuasion. They have to truly believe that where you want them to go is the right path. You have to be aligned on the same goal—like partners.

Leading isn’t about lording over people. Leading means partnering with those you lead.Tweet This

It can seem so much simpler and faster to decide the path and force them to do what we want. But the hard truth is we can’t avoid the need to persuade. At best, we can delay the consequences of their disconnection. This is why some kids look obedient but go wild in college. They never truly agreed with the rules their parents enforced. They weren’t actually working toward the same goal.

What or who in your life do you need to stop trying to control? Maybe it’s time to let go of that illusion. When you do, you might discover you can finally enjoy the ride.

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Scott WozniakCowboy-Style Leadership

Rising Strong by Brene’ Brown

I recently finished reading Rising Strong by Brene’ Brown.I’ve heard her speak twice (at TED and Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit) and have read all of her books. All her stuff is wonderful, but this book might be her best. It’s powerful, poignant, and practical–I’d give it 6 stars if I could.Rising Strong by Brene Brown

Brene’ writes with even more vulnerability than usual and with all of her spicy wit. She talks about what happens in us when we fall, when it’s our fault and when we get pushed down by others. With humor and humility, she shines a light on what goes on in our hearts and minds when our face is in the dirt, as she puts it. The book is full of stories, rich with universal truths, and offers practical, simple ways to “rumble” with these heavy moments in our lives.

This is not a book for only those going through a special kind of trauma. All of us have failed. All of us have been kicked by those we trusted. All of us know this pain. And what we do in these moments shapes us, defines our lives. Tweet This Our instinct is to run away from them, to wait for them to pass as quickly as possible. But she shows us the power and healing and hope found in opening our eyes. She calls us to rewrite the stories we tell ourselves and in the process rewrite our lives. She shows us how many have been able to turn losing experiences into learning experiences.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been face down in the dirt recently, maybe it’s because I’ve been down there a lot in my life, but for whatever reason this book really moved me. I cried multiple times. Yes, tears-running-down-my-cheeks cried. And I’m so glad I did. It was just what I needed, beautiful and healing.

I’m not saying you’ll cry if you read this. My wife loved it and didn’t cry. But if you’re face down in the dirt, this book might be just what you need. You don’t need to carry that pain and weight around with you anymore. And you might want to have some kleenex near by while reading.

Do your heart a favor and order this book now. [Amazon Link: Rising Strong] read more

Scott WozniakRising Strong by Brene’ Brown