Walking in Wisdom, (the Summit, December 13, 2018)

Well, good morning. As Kevin said, I spend my life working with businessmen and I do teach and I do speak and I write. I find myself from time to time in a lot of counseling situations. In fact, we have two people on our staff that that’s all they do is counsel. I recently asked the guy who heads it up, Jay Lloyd, when men come here with their problems and their struggles, what percent are self-induced? In other words, how many of them have problems by making bad decisions in the way they conduct their lives? He thought about it for a second. He said probably 95%. Clearly from that information, it’s pretty clear that our decisions and our choices have consequences. This is why I can say that one of the greatest assets you can possess in all of life that you can pursue is wisdom. King Solomon says it’s more valuable than jewels and nothing you desire compares with it. You get a good grasp of its value, when you understand its definition. It comes from a Hebrew word, chokmah, which means to have a skill or expertise in living. Think about it, seriously, think about how your life would be so different if you were truly an expert in living this life. Think about the advantages you would have. Recognizing, in this room, there probably is a great deal of wisdom, but we can always possess more. It’s something you can basically spend your entire life seeking to acquire. It has several different components to it. I want to talk about those real briefly and then focus in on a final component of it.

First of all, I would say this, wisdom is to have the ability to distinguish between those ideas in life that are true and those that are false. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Stephen Covey’s bestselling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s a terrific book and he talks about this very thing. He says that if people are going to truly lead healthy, vibrant lives, their ideas must be rooted in the truth. And he gives a great illustration to point this out. He talks about in the book going to the city of Chicago. Imagine that you are going to the city of Chicago for the first time. You’ve never been there before. You fly in at night, you go to your hotel room and spend the night. First thing in the morning, you come down and go to the front desk and ask for a map. Do you happen to have a map of the city, you ask? I’ve got a lot of things I want to see today. They tell you you’re in luck. We got some brand-new maps that just came from the printer yesterday and he hands you one of these maps. Without realizing it, the printer made a mistake. What you really have is a map of the city of Detroit and it says Chicago across the top. You go out into the street and you start trying to match up the map with where you are and you then realize you’re terribly lost and you get frustrated. You decide, that you need to put more effort into this. I need to walk faster. Of course, where does that get you? It gets you more lost. You get angry and you begin to think that your attitude is just not very good. I need to improve my attitude. I’m going to have a positive attitude. But having a positive attitude doesn’t help at all. You’re still lost. In fact, what Covey says, is that it really doesn’t matter what strategy you employ that you will be lost in this life if you have the wrong map. I think he’s absolutely correct. I find this to be true in the lives of so many people attempting to live this life with maps that are entirely inaccurate and it’s so easy to develop false ideas. Think about it, I had this conversation with my kids. It’s so easy to have false ideas and beliefs about success. I mean, what does it really mean to be successful in life? Is it all about accomplishment and what is real wealth? Is it just about money? I’ve spoken at funerals where people have no money and yet they were incredibly wealthy in the things that really count, particularly their relationships.

In the work that I do with men, a big issue is what is true masculinity? What does it truly mean to be a man? You have all these different issues that can be your work, your identity, the source of happiness in life. Our ideas about these things can be completely in error. If that’s the case, we’re living this life with the wrong maps. Now there’s a second aspect of wisdom that I think is important to understand as well. So many people in our culture think that your life, the way your life will turn out, is based on living a moral life. There’s truth in that. You can obviously ruin your life by making bad moral decisions, but you know when it gets right down to it, most of the big decisions that you’ll make in life are not moral. They’re judgment issues and they require wisdom. Think about it. I don’t know how you got into the career that you’re in, but you made a career choice at some point. That’s a judgment issue.
Think about choosing a spouse. How do you have a good marriage? How do you be a good husband or a good wife?

Then you’ve got financial decisions, investment decisions, decisions about raising your children. How do you raise a child well in this culture? The way you spend your time establishing your priorities, are judgment issues. They require wisdom. You see, wisdom understands how life truly works. That’s why wise people are very forward thinking. They understand that all of life is connected, that there is a cause and effect relationship between the choices that you make today and what you end up with tomorrow. But ultimately, and this is kind of where I want to go today, wisdom understands there is a pattern or fabric in all reality. Life is governed by certain laws and principles that God has woven into our earthly existence. The great thing about principles is that they’re not good or bad. They’re not moral or immoral. They’re simply true. The great thing about principals is that they make life predictable. They create the potential for certain outcomes in our lives. This is what’s so important. When we align our lives with these laws and principles, that’s when our lives will flourish. So, I want to talk to you this morning about three principles that I think, if you truly will apply them to your life, will have a huge impact.

How many of you know the name Jack Welch? He said something 25 years ago that had a real impact on my life. What’s interesting about Welch is that he became the CEO of General Electric back in, I think, 1982 and at the time it was a faltering home appliance company. It was going into the ditch. It was dying. He came in and took over and transformed it into one of the great companies in the world. Now when he retired in 2001, the stock was at $60. They hadn’t done too well lately. I think it closed yesterday around 7.00, 6.60. But the fact is, that when he came on board, he made this statement that had a real impact on me when I first heard it. He said this, and this was kind of a guiding principle that drove everything. He said the key trait of a vital dynamic corporation is looking reality straight in the eye and then acting on it with as much speed as possible. You can substitute the word corporation for person. The key trick to a vital dynamic individual is that you look reality straight in the eye and then act on it with as much speed as possible. When he became CEO, Welch said he inherited a lot of great things at GE, but facing the truth, particularly as it relates to problems, was not one of the company’s strengths. He said they had too much superficial congeniality and unrealistic optimism. He says this made candor extremely difficult to come by.

So, what is the first principle? It’s really kind of simple. If you want to be a healthy person, if you want to have a healthy organization, you have to immediately run straight towards your problems and not away from them.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the name Jordan Peterson. You might’ve seen him interviewed. He’s been on a lot of different news shows because he wrote a book that probably will be the best-selling book of nonfiction in 2018. It’s called The Twelve Rules for Life. Peterson says, if you want real chaos in your life, he says, don’t deal with your problems. Let them linger. Pretend like they’re not there. Ignore them. He says we somehow have this propensity as people to think that if I leave my problem over here, maybe it’ll go away. The problem is, they never go away. They really don’t, and often they end up growing worse. They are magnified. They compound and Peterson, who is a brilliant psychologist and who teaches at the University of Toronto, loves to emphasize and teach on this very principle about dealing with your problems.

One of the things he does, is use a children’s story to make the point and I want to read it to you. It’s called, There is No Such Thing as a Dragon by Jack Kent. It’s a very simple tale, at least on the surface. It’s about a small boy, Billy Bixby who spies a dragon sitting on his bed one morning. It’s about the size of a house cat and very friendly. He tells his mother about it, but she tells him that there’s no such thing as a dragon. It starts to grow. It eats all of Billy’s pancakes. It soon it fills the whole house.

His mom tries to vacuum, but she has to go in and out of the home because the dragon is everywhere and then the dragon runs off with the house. Billy’s dad comes home and it’s just an empty space where he used to live. The mail man tells him where the house went, so he chases after it. He climbed up the Dragon’s head and neck and rejoined his wife and son. Billy’s mom still insists that the dragon does not exist, but Billy who’s pretty much had it by now insists that there is a dragon. It does exist. It instantly starts to shrink. Soon its cat sized again. Everyone agrees that dragons of that size exist and are much preferable to their gigantic counterparts. Moms, eyes reluctantly open now, asks somewhat plaintively why did it have to get so big? Billy quietly suggests that maybe it just wanted to be noticed. At this point. Peterson says, we love to sweep our problems under the rug, which is where dragons feast on crumbs. It begins to grow and he says, at some point in the future, it will burst forth in a way that you can no longer ignore and usually the end result, he says, is chaos and misery. Now this can happen in your company or it can happen in your personal life. In fact, Peterson says where this happens most frequently is in people’s marriages. He says that when marital conflict and problems arise, he says, so many couples, don’t react, they don’t attend to it, they don’t discuss it with their spouse, they don’t work for peace, they don’t take responsibility.

Having been married for almost 24 years I can honestly say the possibility of a growing dragon lurks beneath every single marriage. This is why truly, if you want a healthy company, if you want a healthy marriage, if you want to be a healthy person, run straight towards your problems immediately and don’t let them linger.

I have a great application I want to share with you before I move to the next principle. I was talking about this very issue, this very principle with a gentleman. In fact, I had lunch with him two days ago. He is the CEO of his company. He owns the company. He has over a thousand employees. He’s got a lot on his plate, but he said, you know, this is something I’ve learned. He says, when I get to the office, the very first thing that I do is look at everything that needs to be done that day and I identify the one thing that’s going to be the most unpleasant thing to do, the most difficult thing to do. He says, I tackle it the moment I get to the office. He says it’s amazing what it will do to your day, not only does it free it up, but you will enjoy your day so much more. He says, because historically this unpleasant task, this unpleasant problem, I would usually think that I’ll do it at the end of the day or I’ll do it in the afternoon and he says, what happens? You get to the afternoon, you think, well, you know, I’ll just handle it in the morning. He says, if you do it first thing, and get it done it’s amazing how much more effective you’ll be and how much better your day will go. I think that’s a great point. And I think that’s pertinent to this principle.

Now, a second principle has to do with humility. I’ve written a book last year called The Power of a Humble Life. It comes out of there, but it’s a very significant principal. Just to kind of lay it out, let me share with you an interview that I read. The interview was with Laszlo Bock. He is the head of human resources at Google. He’s in charge of all the hiring and maybe even a lot of the firing. What I’m here to tell you and it’s in the Wisdom book that you have a copy of, is that one of the primary traits that they look for in the employees that they hire right up at the top, the number one thing they really look for, he says, his intellectual humility.

I don’t know if you know that term, intellectual humility, but a person with intellectual humility realizes there’s so much that they don’t know and they readily admit it. Therefore, they’re always seeking to learn and to grow. They’re always seeking continuous improvement.

On the other hand, Dr. J. P. Kotter, who teaches at Harvard Business School, says that you see just the opposite in arrogant people and arrogant leaders. He says, basically they over evaluate themselves. They listen poorly, they learn slowly. Part of the reason is they arrogantly think that they know so much and they don’t need improvement. Kotter says that they feel like they’re sufficient and that they think there’s very little that they need to learn because they’ve got it all.

Now there’s an interesting gentleman by the name of Charlie Munger, do you know that name? You may know who he is. He’s 94 years old. He is the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. Warren Buffett calls him his partner and his best friend. Munger back in 2007 gave the commencement address at the University of Southern California, USC, which is what most people call it He spoke in this commencement address on intellectual humility. Listen to what he says. These are his words. “It is crucial to be hooked on lifetime learning.” Then he references Berkshire Hathaway, which he says is the best regarded company in the world with probably the best investment record in the history of civilization. Now, of course, the anchor of Berkshire Hathaway is Warren Buffet who is about 88. In this address this is what he said about Warren Buffett. He says, Buffet spends half of his waking hours reading and a big chunk of the rest of his time talking to knowledgeable people all over the world. And I love this. He says, Warren Buffet is a continuous learning machine. If you ever hear him interviewed, you see the intellectual humility come out. I mean, he’s a very humble guy and yet you would think at 88 years old he could easily sit back and think, you know, I kind of got this figured out. But as Munger says, he is a continuous learning machine and then he says that this, he believes, this requirement applies to all walks of life. In his address Munger says, “I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little bit wiser than they were that morning.” Boy does that habit help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.

I’ve been reading an interesting book on the greatest coaches in NFL history and the genius behind them and their success. One of the greatest that I found interesting is a guy by the name of Bill Walsh. If you remember him, he coached the San Francisco Forty-Niners back in the 1980s and in that ten year period, won three Super Bowls. Then he retired. I find his strategy to be really interesting. He says, my job as the head coach is to coach the coaches. He said, I really didn’t coach the players. I coached the coaches who then coached the players and he was a brilliant football coach, but that was his style. He said, because of that, I never hired coaches unless they have this intellectual humility. He says, I can’t use a coach that thinks he knows everything. I need a coach that’s coachable. I need a coach that has intellectual humility.

I don’t if you know the name Wynton Marsalis. He’s a jazz musician and I’m not into jazz music, so I don’t know him, but he obviously must be good. He’s won nine Grammys. He speaks of the mindset that you have to have if you’re going to advance in any field, and I don’t know what your field is, but I think you would want to advance in it. He says humility engenders learning because it beats back the arrogance that puts blinders on. It leaves you open for truths to reveal themselves. You don’t stand in your own way. Do you know how you can tell if someone is truly humble? I believe there’s one simple test: they consistently observe and listen. The humble improve. They don’t assume that they know the way and that they know everything. People with intellectual humility, are students for life, they seek to learn from everyone and everything. So, wherever you are in your life journey, there’s always opportunities to learn and this is what intellectual humility will bring into your life. I truly believe it will enable you to grow and to flourish. I love what author Matthew Kelly said, he said, “wherever you find excellence in life, you find continuous learning because they go hand in hand.” He says, “wherever you find that continuous learning is missing, you find mediocrity.” So, I guess the principal in its simplest form is there is strength and there is power, in intellectual humility.

The final principle that I want to share with you, I’m going to introduce it by talking about an important area of life that affects us all. I’ll start by reading to you a riddle and see if you can figure this out. I’m your constant companion. I am your greatest helper or your heaviest burden. I will push you onward or I will drag you down to failure. I am completely at your command. Half the things you might just as well turn over to me and I’ll be able to do them quickly and correctly. I’m easily managed. You must merely be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done and after a few lessons, I will do it automatically. I’m the servant of all great people and of their failures as well. Those who are great, I have made great. Those who are failures, I’ve made failures. I’m not a machine though I work with all the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a person. You may run me for profit or run me for ruin. It makes no difference to me. Take me, train me, be firm with me and I will place the world at your feet. Be easy with me and I may destroy you. Who am I? Your habits, your habits.

I don’t think we realize how our habits shape our lives and the path that we go down. Think of these words that I will read again. “Take me, train me, be firm with me and I will place the world at your feet. Be easy with me and I may destroy you.” You know those are sobering words. They really are. Matthew Kelly says, “Habits have power over us. They play a central role in your life story. For most people, their habits keep them from becoming the best versions of themselves.” Then he goes on to say, “My whole life I’ve been studying champions and excellence and I’ve been fascinated with the best of the best at anything. The one observation I have continually made over the years is that the best of the best, the enduring sports figures, the business leaders, the saints, all have better habits then everyone else.”

Now before I give you the principle, I want to share two quotes that really kind of pave the way for the principle, which as you will see, will impact your habits. The first quote comes from Bill Bradley. I don’t know if you know him, again he’s an older guy. I’m familiar with all these people because I’m so old. Bradley was an all American at Princeton in basketball. He was a Rhodes scholar, so he went straight from Princeton over to Oxford where he studied for maybe two or three years before he got that degree. Then he comes back and plays in the NBA for the New York Knicks for about 10 years. From there, he runs for the Senate and is a senator for many years representing the state of New Jersey. You know, not a bad career. But he made this comment, he said, “you know, success is a daily task. He said, so I’ve taken this approach to life. I have to ask myself what am I doing daily to make myself better?”

Then John Maxwell says this, it’s very simple, but it’s very profound. Listen to this, I’m going to read it to you twice. “You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. You will never change your life until you change something you do daily.”

This leads me into the third principle. This third principle has a name. It’s called The Vector Principle. I’ll share this. I addressed a management group, I want to say seven years ago, of one of the largest, most prominent companies in Birmingham. The founder of the company, the CEO at the time, said to me afterwards, that vector principal may be the most important principle in life. I share that with you so that you might really see the significance of this and how it can impact your life. Because when it gets right down to it, our lives change when our habits change. Now, the third principle, the vector principal impacts our habits and I’m going to read to you what it is. Vector is a term in mathematics and physics that quantifies the speed and the direction of an object. If you are the pilot of a jetliner, you would use vectors to define the course to your destination. When you’re given a new vector by the control center, you turn the plane to line up with that heading on the compass, creating a new vector angle.

Obviously, even the smallest vector change in the cockpit can make a big difference in the plane’s ultimate destination. Though it may seem a small imperceptible change with every mile traveled, you were further from your previous course. For example, you could make a tiny vector change while flying between New York and Seattle and end up in Los Angeles. The vector principle applies to our lives in the same manner. Even if you never fly an airplane, you are vectoring through life by the choices that you make. You are currently on a path that was determined by choices you have made since you were aware of your capacity to choose. Many of these choices seemed rather insignificant at the time, but, and this was the heart of the principal. Small changes make a big difference over time. Making small changes in your life make a big difference over time.

Nido Qubein, who is a very prominent business consultant, said one of the greatest reasons people cannot mobilize themselves is that they are always dreaming of some grand accomplishment that they hope one day will come to pass. Most worthwhile achievements are the results of many little things done in a single strategic direction. Back in my insurance days, I read a book by a guy by the name of Donald Phillips who studied the life of Abraham Lincoln. He was fascinated with Lincoln and his leadership skills and the way he led the country as president. It seems that Abraham Lincoln understood this vector principal because he applied it when it came to winning the civil war. Lincoln realized, this is according to Phillips, that the attainment of such a successful outcome had to be accomplished in small steps. So, he constantly set specific short-term goals that his generals and cabinet members could focus on with intent and immediacy.

Pat Williams who is the general manager of the Orlando Magic was good friends with John Wooden. Wooden is considered probably the greatest sports coach in all of history. He was a basketball coach, a coach at UCLA. He won 13 national championships. They were having dinner one night and Pat asked him, coach, if you could pinpoint just one secret of success in life, what would it be? He thought about it for a minute and he said, the closest I can come to one secret of success is this. A lot of little things done well. You know, I believe that all great accomplishments and all significant goals are reached as a result of a lot of small objectives met, a lot of little things that are done well. You see in times past, particularly back in my thirties, early forties, I would at the beginning of each year, write out my goals for the year and they usually were very ambitious and almost every year when I’d get to March, I’d fail miserably until I learned this principle. So, now at the beginning of every year, I seek to make two, three or four small changes, not huge changes, small changes. I’ll do it in the most important areas of my life and over time they become habits. What you see as time goes by, is a ripple effect. A compounding takes place when it becomes a habit that’s part of your life for five, ten or fifteen years. The idea of compounding, Albert Einstein says, is the most powerful force in life. Now, most of us understand the power of compounding when it comes to finance investing, but I don’t think we realize how powerful it can be when it’s applied to our lives.

So, as I wrap this up, I would ask you to think about this and really challenge you. Based on what you’ve heard today, is there anything that I’ve said that you can put into practice? Two days from now I turn 65 and as I look back over my life, I think one of the greatest truths that I’ve learned is that if you want to grow and develop, if you want to seek continuous improvement, you have to be intentional about it. You have to plan for growth or it’ll never happen. This is true in every area of your life, but ultimately to put any of this into practice is the decision that you have to make. If you think about it, the decisions and choices you make are the foundation of your life.

So, Peterson says they lead to order or they lead to chaos. They lead to excellence or they lead to mediocrity. You see life is not made by the dreams you dream, but by the choices you make. As John Wooden said, there’s a choice you have to make in everything you do. So, keep in mind that in the end the choices you make will ultimately make you. My prayer is that as you go through life, you will truly choose wisely. Y’all have been a terrific audience. It’s been great being with you. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.


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