Suggestions for your summer reading

It’s summer, so you’ve probably noticed an increase in articles and blogs recommending books to read while you’re on the beach or otherwise decompressing from your work world. In many cases, these blogs are by authors who simply want to share the books they’ve enjoyed. Others, of course, are secretly sourced by clever PR agencies looking to promote a particular client’s book. That doesn’t make the list bad, it just makes the motives suspect. Caveat emptor.

So what do I recommend? Well, glad you asked. I don’t know what you’ve read or what you like to read or what types of books would help you with your current situation. But that doesn’t mean I can’t help you out a little.

One of my bookshelves, which, by the way, are organized in “random order.” Don’t judge me.

My main recommendation is that you should diversify. Read a bunch of different stuff. Read a bunch of styles. Read fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and humor. Variety from your library keeps you from slipping into a mental rut and helps you see fresh perspectives on your work and your world. Here are my main categories, keeping in mind that in some cases there’s some overlap.

Novels – Great fiction takes us out of our world but reshapes how we view the world in which we live. The most recent really good novel I’ve read was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a Spanish author who brings 1950s Barcelona to life with a dark but lively mystery.

Biographies/Autobiographies – I worked on The American Immigrant, a Kindle single by Dick Gephardt and Mark Russell that profiles some cool stories. Another recommendation would be Seven Men by Eric Metaxas, which profiles seven of the most influential men in history. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish this book because I left my copy on an airplane.

History – I’m a big fan of well-written history, and I confess it’s been way too long since I spent some time in this genre. One that pops to mind is Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer. The significance of that one event changed the course of history, and this book shares why in a very readable way. Another favorite of is Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides, which uses Kit Carson as a thread for the story of the American West.

Leadership/business – Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton fits in this category. It’s written for people in ministry, but I’ve found it applies to leaders no matter their profession. Forging Grit, a short fiction book I co-wrote with Mike Thompson, also fits this bill. Other authors you can check out: Tommy Spaulding, Steve Farber, Eric Chester, Elise Mitchell, Max DePree, John Maxwell, and Mark Sanborn.

Faith-based – I recently finished Donald Miller’s Scary Close, which is faith-based self-help. Obviously I’m partial to Grow Like Jesus and Go West (by my friend Jeremy Sparks). And right now I’m reading and enjoying None Other by John MacArthur. Also, my wife and I always have a devotional book from which we read each morning.

I know people who have multiple books going at the same time, and I do this from time to time. Most often, I’m reading one book on my own and one with my wife. But do what’s best for the rhythms of your life. And by all means, share what’s been meaningful. Almost every book I mentioned in this blog came to me as a recommendation from some wonderful friend like you.


Click here for more information on books I’ve written.  

Grit: A weapon against enemies of the good

There’s an old saying that we should never let great become the enemy of the good. You’ll see it written in different forms, but they all pretty much draw on the idea expressed by Voltaire: “The best is the enemy of the good.”

So I almost didn’t write a blog this week because I felt certain I couldn’t give it my best. I had several ideas for things to write about, but I was slammed by a variety of projects. I didn’t want to give them less than my best, but I wanted to keep my personal commitment to write a weekly blog. It’s an exercise that helps me grow as a writer and as a person, and that hopefully helps a few readers along the way.

So what to do?

I started by reflecting on Voltaire, and then I made the simple decision to act by writing something. Anything. And this is what I produced.front-cover

Frankly, I don’t know that this blog reflects my best, but then again, I seldom finish anything I write without thinking I somehow could have done better.

In Forging Grit, the short book Mike Thompson and I authored that was published last year, we tell the story of a business leader who survives a plane crash in Nepal and finds himself in a seemingly hopeless situation. He learns about grit from the women in a village and he develops the grit he needs to survive. We define grit as a passion for getting something done and the fortitude to see it through even when obstacles seem overwhelming.

There were no overwhelming obstacles preventing me from writing something this week, but there was one significant obstacle: My initiative. So I needed some personal grit to put down these words. Hopefully they weren’t a waste of your time. They weren’t a waste of mine.

As Helen Keller said, “I cannot do everything, but I can do something. I must not fail to do the something that I can do.”

Are you feeling a bit stuck? Is the best becoming the enemy of your good?  Take Helen’s advice. Show some grit and do the something that you can do.



10 Books for Your Reading (or Giving) List

One of the many perks of helping people write or edit their books is that I get to know some terrific people who have valuable messages to share. In fact, I sometimes boil my job description down to this: “To learn new things from smart people so I can help others by sharing what I’ve learned.”

Not a bad gig, and it pays the bills to boot!

I’ve been doing this for 20 years, although it’s only been my full-time job for about five. In that time, I’ve helped with 21 books – not including several that are still in the works. And I’ve never worked on a book I wouldn’t recommend.

So that’s what I want to do today: Recommend some books — five I helped with in some way that published in 2016 or that will publish in early 2017 and five that I read in 2016. I don’t think you can go wrong by reading any of these books or by giving them as gifts for Christmas (or some other occasion). Let’s start with the five I helped with in some way:

gowest_fc-imageGo West: 10 Principles that Guided My Cowboy Journey by Jeremy Sparks. I met Jeremy about a year ago and helped him with this wonderful story about how his God-given calling (which he literally received when he was 12) led him to fight bulls in professional rodeo while also serving in the United States Air Force. He has an entertaining story that’s gritty and real and that brings to life some wonderful principles for life. The book is due out in early February, but you can pre-order it now from any online bookseller.

The American Immigrant, Volume One by Dick Gephardt and Mark Russell. This is the first of what will be several volumes of feature stories about immigrants who have helped make America the great country she is. I wrote most of the longer stories, which allowed me to interview some amazing people like Dr. Josephine Park, Nabiel Fareed, Rolando Rodriguez, and former big-leaguer Barbaro Garbey. Right now, it’s available only as a Kindle Single.

Leading Through The Turn: How a Journey Mindset Can Help Leaders Find Success and Significance by Elise Mitchell. If you are a leader at any level, this book provides some great lessons about balancing the pursuit of your goals without sacrificing the joy of the journey. I learned a ton about motorcycles and leadership while helping Elise with this project. It debuts in January, but, again, you can pre-order it from any online store.

Grow Like Jesus: Practicing Luke 2:52 Discipleship by me. I actually wrote this all by myself, and it came out earlier this year. Well, that’s not true. Many people helped inspire the ideas and craft the message, which boils down to this: Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, favor with God and favor with man; we should, too, and this book tells you how.img_3872

Forging Grit: A story of leadership perseverance by me and Mike Thompson. Grit is a critical leadership quality that we all need to make it through life, but Mike and I decided to tackle it in a slightly different way from the norm. Since most of us learn from stories, we decided to create a story that unpack the definition of grit and how we can develop it. This short story is about a leader who learns grit while stranded in a remote village in Nepal following a plane crash.

Here are five other books I read this year that I also recommend (other than reading them, I had nothing to do with these):

7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. My wife and I started reading this together early in the year and only made it about two-third through before one of us (OK, me) left it on an airplane. As the title suggests, this book profiles seven amazing men and what we can learn from them. I plan to buy a new copy someday and finish it. Anything by Metaxas is worth the read.

Forward: 7 Distinguishing Marks for Future Leaders by Ronnie Floyd. This book is by a prominent pastor and the principles are Biblical, but it’s a leadership book for all leaders, not just leaders in ministry.

Unseen: Angels, Satan, Heaven, Hell and Winners in the Battle for Eternity by Jack Graham. This is one of two books I picked up at a men’s conference. Graham covers a ton of spiritual ground in a well-written, easy-to-digest way.

Pray Like It Matters by Steve Gaines. This is the other book I picked up at the conference. It seems to me that many of us either don’t pray or we pray with very little passion or intentional focus. Gaines makes it clear why fervent prayer matters so much and provides a ton of practical ways to practice this critical discipline.

Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller. Few people write so well and so transparently and with such insight as Miller. Even when he rubs me the wrong way it takes me in a good direction. You’ll not only relate to to his story, but you’ll learn from it (something missing in many memoirs).

If none of those fit your needs right now, here’s the rest of my I-helped-on-these-books list (with my role in the project in parenthesis). Google them …book-1659717_640

  • The Heart-led Leader: How Living and Leading from the Heart will Change Your Organization and Your Life (Crown Business, 2015) by Tommy Spaulding (I was an editorial consultant and ghostwriter on several chapters)
  • Jumping in the Parade: The Leap of Faith That Made My Life Worth Living (BenBella, 2014) by Tim Brown (I was the ghostwriter)
  • Untapped Talent: Unleashing the Power of the Hidden Workforce (Palgrave, 2013) by Dani Monroe (I was the ghostwriter)
  • The Weekly Coaching Conversation (Evolve, 2012) by Brian Souza (I was a consulting editor)
  • Up, Down, or Sideways: How to succeed when times are good, bad, or in between (Tyndale, 2011) by Mark Sanborn (I was the ghostwriter)
  • Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce (Greenleaf Books, 2011) by Eric Chester (I was the ghostwriter)
  • It’s Not Just Who You Know (Broadway Books, August 2010) by Tommy Spaulding (I was the ghostwriter)
  • The One Minute Negotiator: Simple Steps to Reach Better Agreements (Berrett-Koehler Publishers; August 2010) by Don Hutson and George Lucas. (I was an editorial consultant)
  • ViewPoints (BodyBuilders Press, 2009) by Steve Shadrach (I was an editor and publishing consultant)
  • The Second Half: Real Stories. Real Adventures. Real Significance. (Halftime, 2008) by Lloyd Reeb. (I was the ghostwriter)
  • Life@Work Workbook: Marketplace Success for People of Faith (Injoy, 2005) by John Maxwell, Thomas Addington and Stephen Graves (I was a contributing editor)
  • Daily Focus (W Publishing Group, 2001) by Thomas G. Addington, Stephen R. Graves (I was a contributing writer)
  • Building Blocks For Your Life@Work (Word Publishing, 2001) by Thomas G. Addington, Stephen R. Graves (I was the ghostwriter)
  • The Life@Work Book: Sixteen respected leaders talk about blending biblical wisdom and business excellence (Word Publishing, 2000) by the editors of Life@Work (I was the editor)
  • The Fourth Frontier: Exploring The New World Of Work (W Publishing Group, 2000) by Thomas G. Addington, Stephen R. Graves (I was a ghostwriter)
  • The Cornerstones for Life@Work: A Case for Character, Skill Serving & Calling (Life@Work and Broadman & Holman, 1997) by Thomas Addington, Stephen Graves (I was the ghostwriter)


Get 40% off the cover price of Forging Grit or Grow Like Jesus when you order direct from the publisher.
Go here for Grow Like Jesus and use GLJTHANKS as the promotion code when you check out.
Go here for Forging Grit and use FGTHANKS as the promotion code when you check out.


Creative Gratitude: A Quest for Impact

The gift in the mail sparked a brief discussion about how missionaries communicate with their supporters.

“I think a random gift like this makes a bigger impact than a newsletter,” my wife said.

As a guy who makes a living by writing, I’m a fan of newsletters. On the other hand, it was hard to argue against my wife’s point.

First, I make it a practice to avoid, whenever possible, arguing with my wife. Second, the gift under discussion was chocolate from Peru. Needless to say, it was fantastic. Who argues against Peruvian chocolate? Not me.chocolate

We’re friends with and supporters of a couple who work in Peru, and this is the second time they’ve sent us a cool gift. The other was a set of coasters. We keep them on an end table in our living room. When people ask us about them, it gives us a chance to talk about our friends and their ministry.

With both gifts, our friends included a brief (two sentences) handwritten note saying they were thinking of us, a.k.a. a nice, warm-fuzzy moment.

So I conceded: Random gifts equal big impact.

My wife’s observation reminded me that we all have different love languages. It’s important to keep that in mind as we share relevant information and our gratitude with the important people in our lives – no matter what we do for a living. Missionaries often raise the funds that support their work, but we all have people who support us – people we need to keep informed and people we need to thank for the part they play in our success. It might be employees, customers, clients, vendors … or all of the above.

Here’s my No. 1 rule about communication with supporters: Do it.

That might sound simple and obvious, but it’s amazing how many of us don’t practice Rule No. 1. We are too busy. We think we aren’t good at it. We forget. Until we start feeling the impact of reduced financial support or, far worse when it comes to missionaries, reduced prayer support. Then we scrambled to get back in touch with people.

In our high-tech world, it’s easy to write an occasional blog or update our social media and call it good. But there’s something to be said for consistently and proactively staying engaged with the people who support us. Staying engaged not only promotes stronger relationships, but also a spirit of gratitude. Our supporters will be thankful for the work God is doing through us (whatever our line of work). And we will be thankful for the work God is doing through those who support us (whatever their line of work).

Thankful is good.

There are many ways to drive this type of engagement. For missionaries, I’m still an advocate of a short, well-written newsletter that’s sent out on a regular and consistent basis. I like some detailed information and specific prayer requests. Social media is an obvious way to stay in touch. Hand-written notes are great. And, of course, nothing’s better than in-person visits. Then there are random gifts. They don’t have to be expensive, just personal. They can be practical, like coasters, or here today, gone tomorrow like a Peruvian chocolate bar with a sweet note.

Most of that can translate to any type of business. No one works in a vacuum. We all have people we need to keep informed and people we need to thank because they help contribute to our success.

We don’t have to do everything, but we should do something. Some combination of the above will help maximize our communication impact. And it just might satisfy someone’s sweet tooth.


My Thanksgiving deal to you: Get 40% off the cover price of Forging Grit or Grow Like Jesus when you order direct from the publisher.
Go here for Grow Like Jesus and use GLJTHANKS as the promotion code when you check out.
Go here for Forging Grit and use FGTHANKS as the promotion code when you check out.


How to develop Olympic-style grit

Note: I wrote this blog in partnership with my friends at SVI, home of Forging Grit co-author Mike Thompson. It first appeared earlier this week on SVI’s Develop Everybody blog.

Athletes from around the world walked proudly behind their country’s flag as they entered Maracana Stadium during the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. They all brought unique stories of how talent, hard work and perseverance brought them to one of the biggest stages in all of sports.

That’s what the world wants – great stories. And that’s what the media provides.

The Olympic Games are filled with amazingly talented athletes, but the coverage always veers beyond the winners who ultimately find their way to the three-tiered podium to receive their medals. The media comb the Games for “human interest” stories that provide fans some deeper insight into the athletes – their personalities, their passions, and, perhaps most of all, their grit.

Frankly, I don’t think it’s possible to make it to the Olympics without grit. In Forging Grit, co-author Mike Thompson and I define this quality as “a passion for getting something done and the fortitude to see it through even when obstacles seem overwhelming.”

The Olympics are filled with “grit” stories. You’ll find them in the unheralded athletes competing in sports you only hear about during the Olympics (handball, badminton, equestrian dressage …). And you’ll find them in headliners competing in the popular events – stars like Usain Bolt in track, the American cast of NBA stars in basketball, swimmer Michael Phelps, and gymnast Gabby Douglas.

Me and Mr. Bolt (I'm on the right)
Me and Mr. Bolt (I’m on the right)

Earlier this year, I met and interviewed Usain Bolt in Kingston, Jamaica, and I can tell you this: He has grit. Yes, he fits the mold of the laid-back Jamaican. And, yes, he is immensely talented. But he’s also overcome some tremendous odds to become the fastest human on the planet. He comes from a remote mountain village. At 6-foot-5, he is considered too tall to be a world-class sprinter. He has a curved spine. And he’s dealt with a variety of injuries.

Bolt’s passion for winning motivates him to put in the hard work it takes to overcome injuries and compete at the highest level. Training isn’t fun. And it’s especially hard to stay at the top, where bright lights and fame make the “good” and even bigger enemy of the “great.” Grit drives Bolt to push toward more world-records and more Olympic medals.

So whether they are young first-timers at the Olympics like 15-year-old American table tennis player Kanak Jha, or older and more seasoned like 41-year-old, seven-time Olympic gymnast Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan, all of these athletes needed grit to make their way to Rio.

But no group entering the stadium that first night had overcome more challenges on their journey to Brazil than the 10 athletes who walked in behind the banner of … well … grit.

Officially, they walked behind the Olympic flag, because these athletes had no country to represent. They all are refugees, several plucked from camps with very little background in competitive sports. They were provided the opportunity of a lifetime, given the resources to train and qualified based on merit.

“These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem,” Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said earlier this year. “This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis…These refugee athletes will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit.”

These athletes haven’t just overcome training challenges. They’ve overcome life challenges. Yiech Pur Biel arrived alone at a refugee camp after fleeing from South Sudan when he was just nine. James Nyang Chiengjiek escaped an attempt to kidnapping him into a military unit. Rose Nathike Lokonyen was 7 when a rival tribe attacked her village; as she fled, she came across the dead bodies of her grandparents. Yusra Mardini, a swimmer from war-torn Syria, reached Europe by way of inflatable boats that carried refugees across the Aegean Sea.

Most of us never face the types of challenges those men and women have faced – or even the types of challenges most of the other Olympians have faced. But we do face challenges. Every day. In our families. In our work. In our communities. In life.

Grit isn’t just for elite athletes. We all need it. It helps us deal with pain, heartbreak, and setbacks. It motivates us to push onward despite injury or disease. It gets us through a difficult marriage. It helps us deal with a child who has lost his way. It provides us with a sense of calm and peace during an intense dispute in our community. It allows us to endure recessions, layoffs, mergers, and that new boss who seems determined to make our life a living hell.

Grit doesn’t guarantee us a place on the medal stand. But it does provide a way forward toward our goals no matter the obstacles we face.

Want your team to forge more grit?

Check out these medal-worthy specials for getting your hands on Forging Grit resources:

For more behind-the-scenes action on Usain Bolt, check out these links:

  • Behind the Scenes with Usain Bolt, Part I
  • Behind the Scenes with Usain Bolt, Part II
  • Behind the Scenes with Usain Bolt, Part III

Ali and Kemp: Two Stories of Grit

I’ve been thinking a good bit lately about two former professional athletes: Mohammad Ali and Steve Kemp. That might seem like a strange combination, but Ali and Kemp have this in common: Grit.

You probably have an intuitive understanding of grit. You’ve seen it in someone (perhaps yourself). And you’ve seen it lacking in someone (perhaps yourself). Here’s how Mike Thompson and I defined it in Forging Grit, a fictional story that illustrates this critical quality for leadership success: Grit is a passion for getting something done and the fortitude to see it through even when obstacles seem overwhelming.

Grit marked Ali’s life, and it’s still marking Kemp’s. Kempali

You know of Mohammad Ali. He was The Champ. The Greatest. The iconic boxer with a flair for words died last week after suffering for years from Parkinson’s disease. As I read some of the many tributes about his life, I was regularly reminded of his grit, inside the ring and out. He had natural talent, but he knew what it meant to work hard and push through challenges to reach his lofty goals.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it,” he once said. “Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

And what about the grit of Steve Kemp?

Frankly, I had never given much thought to Kemp’s grit until last week when his daughter, who works for our publisher, sent Mike and me an email with her dad’s reaction to the book.

Kemp was the first overall pick in the 1976 draft, and he spent more than a decade as an outfielder in the big leagues. But a line drive during batting practice in 1983 shattered his eye socket and knocked his playing career off its Hall-of-Fame track. He played a few more years, but the injury severely damaged his depth perception and he was never the same on the field.

Kemp has been redefining himself ever since. He’s in his 60s now, and he would tell you that life without baseball hasn’t been easy for a guy whose world once revolved around the sport. He said in his email that he was inspired by the book because he knows he needs grit more than ever. “I really think God wanted me to read this book at this very moment,” he told his daughter.

Ali and Kemp both experienced success in athletics at least in part because they had grit to go along with their talent. Like many of us, they might have taken it for granted at times, especially at the height of their success. But their grit really defined them when they lost their ability to compete in the sweet spots of their respective skills. In other words, they needed grit most when they were most outside of their comfort zones.

As we grow like Jesus, we continually find ourselves outside of our comfort zones. Sometimes God takes us there and other times we go on our own and He uses the circumstances to prune us, shape us, and bring us to some better bloom. Some flowers wither at the first sign of a nearby weed. Others develop grit and bloom where they’re planted.

The formula for developing that grit includes finding a passion for something bigger than yourself. For followers of Christ, that something is Jesus. He gives us hope for something beyond this world. In fact, grit without Jesus is dangerous because it can lead to self-reliance rather than God-dependence. Ultimately, the passion that fuels our grit needs to flow from our love of God and faith in Jesus. With that, the things we accomplish – in business, in athletics and in life – can have eternal value.

ForgingGrit_FC-Web (1)Note: Forging Grit launched this week and is available online and at many bookstores.