Today I’m grateful for my wife Lisa and our marriage. I have not always been. I have always loved Lisa. We’ve talked many times about how we think we have a good marriage. Still, I am not generally a very grateful person. I take a lot for granted in my life. The closer and more dear something or someone is to me, the more I tend to assume them.

Many times I’ve met with coaches, advisors, friends to whom I complain about the lacks I feel in my life. I haven’t accomplished the professional position I hoped for. I am not on the career track I want. I haven’t attained to the financial status I desire. I haven’t made a big enough contribution to the world. And on my list goes. The reverberating theme: I haven’t done anything worthwhile with my life. My life doesn’t count for much. I don’t count for much. Many times my counselors have told me how I have much to be proud of and grateful for. A beautiful and amazing wife. I’m raising two incredible boys. I’ve grown our business. And more.

No matter how many times they tell me, I haven’t heard them. I discount every treasure, every accomplishment and every person I value.

This past year has been a year of intense lows and highs. Lisa and I struggled in our marriage as never before. We each struggled personally as never before. Our business went through intense challenges and challenging successes. Our boys hit junior high school and the early teen years (if you’ve experienced this unique stage of parenting, you know what I’m talking about!). 2016 was a hurricane.

As 2017 opens, I find myself at peace. Grateful. For the first time, I see the true treasures I have in Lisa and our boys, David and Matthias. The relationships I assume the most—those are, in fact, the most valuable.

I am thankful for Lisa and who she is. I see her more clearly than I ever have. She is thoughtful, caring, and works hard for our family and our company. She is a savvy, practical person in business and life. Her creativity inspires me and blesses many. She’s grounded. She loves me. I could have lost all of that. I am grateful for her. To have partner in business and life.

Lisa and I accomplished great things in 2016. We hit goals with the business about which we’ve dreamed for a long time. We finally got the kitchen remodeled after 6 years of talking about it. We went places and saw things we never dreamed of seeing. But for all that, our marriage is our number one accomplishment of the year. We helped each another gain ourselves. We gained a better family for David and Matthias. We gained one another.

Today, I am grateful.

Getting Done What Matters Most

stephen-leonard-david-holds-handI don’t want to miss out on the important stuff. Because life is busy, I set goals and review my priorities regularly.

I sat down the other day to review my goals for the year. I’ve been convicted recently that I need to grow in the ways I show love to the people in my life. I was thinking and praying and writing. Right at the moment I started getting into it, David walked up, reached out his right hand and rested it on my hand as he looked off into the distance. This is David’s way of asking to be picked up and held. I was busy, so I said hi to him, told him I couldn’t pick him up right now, removed his hand and continued working.

A couple of minutes went by. David came back and again placed his hand on mine—interrupting my writing this time. Again, I acknowledged him and sent him away.

A few minutes later the same thing happened again. David, standing in front of me. Hand on my hand, keeping me from writing down my thoughts and goals about living out a life that shows love better. I was annoyed.

That morning, I was focused on what I was doing. David was interrupting me. I was trying to get things done. I was working on something important. I didn’t have time to pick David up. I need time to focus so I could live the life God has called me to live.

Meanwhile, David kept coming back asking for attention. I told I love him. I told I saw him. But really I just wanted to get back to what I was working on and focus on my work again.

David persisted. And as I thought about my goals as a father, I thought about how one of my goals is for my children to know that I love them—that they are important to me. I want to spend time with them. And I began to think about the day I may not be able to hold him. I may not be able to hug him. So, I stopped. I stopped trying to figure out what my life is about and decided to live into the life I have. I stopped writing what I want to be and decided to be that person. At least in that one moment. I picked him up and held him. Nothing important got done. But we did the most important thing.

When have you almost missed the most important thing?

How to Communicate So You’re Heard

What_They_HearCommunication is what the other person hears.

Earlier this week I was on the receiving end of a customer service transaction that reminded me of one of my big lessons from 2013. Simply put, communication is what the other person hears. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that what I was trying to communicate was NOT what was being heard. The moment she heard what would make the transaction easier for her as the employee, she stopped communicating what would be easier for me as the customer.

A musician friend taught me the concept of musical dynamics this past summer (note: I am not a musician and so will surely get this at least partly wrong). Musical dynamics are the way a listener hears music. It’s why when you hear that high school band play they sound like a wall of muddy notes slipping down past your ears. Each band member plays his instrument like they’re the star of the show. The drummer plays louder and harder. The guitarist cranks her amp to be heard over the drums. The singer yells over the guitar and drums.

When a Beatles song comes on every person in the room wants to move to the beat. It’s crisp. Each person plays his role in the band—hitting each note, beat, and harmony with perfection. That’s musical dynamics. It can be fun for musicians to play for themselves like the high school band. But when musicians have great dynamics, it’s nearly magical for the listener.

Communication is what the other person hears. A band communicates through music. A preacher communicates through words and illustrations. Retailers communicate through marketing. People communicate by our words and behaviors.

To communicate well, we have to be other-focused. We have to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes to hear what they hear, see what they see, and experience what they experience. It changes the dynamics of every interaction.

In your interactions this week, listen to yourself through the other person’s ears. Watch your face and your body language through the other person’s eyes.  Then ask, “Am I communicating to get my message out, or to have it received?”

I’d love to know—what have you found that helps you communicate well?

Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness

George-Washington-Great-ManDo you seek out examples for your life? 2013 renewed my desire to read biographies and find worthy examples from whom to learn. It’s easy to see great men and women and to think, “I could never do something like that. I don’t have the…education, money, intelligence, connections, skills…that they have.” One of my great take-a-ways from the book Mindset this year (see my post here) is that we have a choice when we see examples of success—we can feel threatened by them, or we can find lessons and inspiration from them.

I’ve read biographies for many years to learn from great people of the past and present. This year, I began to engage with them afresh to learn from people who made a significant difference in the world—especially because of and for the sake of the gospel.

I closed out the year reading the excellent Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. I read Metaxas’s biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 2012 and loved it. When I saw this quick character study on these seven men, I knew it would be a great read and that Metaxas would handle these men in a way that showed what made them great—including their humanity and flaws. I was not disappointed. I commend the book especially for men and dads of boys looking for worthy models for themselves and their sons to follow. These seven men were great in the history of the world and were driven by their understanding of God’s grace in their lives. Consider these brief highlights:

George Washington—An ambitious, even arrogant young man who sought the highest possible leadership roles. But, the only man in history to lay aside his power after conquering the superpower of his day.

William Wilberforce—A self-centered, self-aggrandizing politician who schmoozed his way into high position in the British Parliament.  After coming to faith, he campaigned for decades for the abolition of the slave trade in England, France, Spain and the Americas, the abolition of slavery in Engalnd, the fair treatment of animals (in the 1700’s people!), the dignity of  workers and more.

Eric Liddell—Famous for his refusal to run the Olympics on the Sabbath because of his faith, Liddell showed his faith more profoundly by looking after the children in a concentration camp while a missionary in China. He died in their service.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer—The genius German theologian who saw the German’s treatment of the Jews in WWII through the lens of the racial segregation in America. Pastor Bonhoeffer was executed for his role in the Valkerie plot to kill Hitler.

Jackie Robinson—The talented athlete whose record of standing up to racial injustice  and stats won him a place on Branch Ricky’s Brooklyn Dodgers to break the color barrier in baseball. Robinson and Ricky took Jesus at his word, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.

Pope John Paul II—A poor Polish kid, Karol Wojtyla,  who grew up in the shadow of Hitler’s Germany and quietly rose in the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church by resisting communism’s , investing in teenagers, writing theological treatises on sex, and human dignity. Wojtyla, unexpectedly elected Pope, became one of the 20th century’s most well-known advocates for the oppressed, reconciliation between religious groups, and personal devotion to the Lord.

Charles W. Colson—The power-hungry and ruthless special counsel to President Nixon who was arrested and imprisoned for his significant role in the Watergate scandal that took down the President of the United States. On meeting Jesus (just prior to his imprisonment), Colson realized that his life was to be given in the service of his fellow inmates—proclaiming to the gospel and equipping them to live it out behind bars. Even developing robust worldview resources to reach people before they had committed their crimes.

I am thankful for Metaxas’s work in bringing these heroes to life. In our day, we need realistic portraits of heroes for ourselves and for our children. I plan to share these stories with David and Matthias in the days ahead that they might have real life examples of those who lived out a deep understanding of God’s grace and his redemption of His world.

Question: What have you read in the past year that inspired you?


What’s Your Mindset?

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Can you change your abilities? Consider these questions:

  • Can you change your intelligence?
  • Can you change the kind of person you are (personality)?
  • Can you change your talents?

 Most of us have been taught to believe we cannot change our Intelligence, personality, or talents. As a result, we either:

  • Live under the burden of proving our abilities. OR
  • Give up before we ever try.

 The book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D Professor of Psychology at Stanford University (formerly Colombia and Harvard—in other words, she knows her stuff!) challenges us to reconsider.  Dweck’s research shows that our intelligence, personality, talents are not fixed; rather, we can grow our abilities. The issue is not ABILITY, but MINDSET. A friend of mine recommended this book to me this past year. As one of the most helpful books I’ve read this year, I wanted share it with you.

Mindset is our beliefs about our abilities. Dweck identifies two mindsets that we adopt.

People with a fixed mindset believe their basic qualities— intelligence, personality, talents —are fixed traits. They document their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They believe that talent alone creates success. They’re wrong.

People with a growth mindset believe their abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Brains and talent are the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

The issue is the story we tell ourselves. The fixed mindset story focuses on judging. When faced with challenges and obstacles, the fixed mindset says, “This means I’m a loser,” or “This means I’m a bad husband.” or in the face of success it says, “This means I’m a better person than they are.” “This means my partner is selfish.” The result is either not to try at all (Don’t do it. Don’t take a risk), or only to try when you know you’ll win (You have to win. Prove yourself. Everything depends on it.).

The growth mindset story focuses on learning and constructive action. When faced with challenges and obstacles, or even successes, the growth mindset says,  “What can I learn from this?” “How can I improve?” “How can I help my partner do this better?” (Go for it. Learn. Improve. Pursue your dream.)

For many of us, this is the time of year when we start thinking about next year and our hopes and dreams and goals. Your mindset will play a major role in the way you envision and plan for the year ahead.

After reading Mindset this year, I have decided to risk and grow in a few specific areas.

  1. I started a blog
  2. I have sought coaching in my leadership and life
  3. I am trying to grow as a write and speaker

I have decided to grow. I invite you to join me. Buy Mindset and read it this year. Then identify some areas of growth and risk for you!

What opportunities do you have for learning and growth this year? Share your thoughts and lets inspire one another!  


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Today I Write

Today-I-WriteToday I’m writing because I committed to writing. Today I’m writing because I want to do this for real. Today I’m writing because I can’t let a day like to day go by without putting words on a page. I’ve read too many things lately about fear, resistance and the willingness NOT to write.

I’m tired of avoiding what I really want to do. I’m tired of being a victim of my willing lack of effort. I’m tired of giving in and giving up.

Today, I’m at my computer putting words down on the page so that It (fear, resistance, victimhood) don’t get me. Maybe it will inspire you to do the thing you’re avoiding. Maybe not.

Either way, today, I write, because I committed to writing.

Give Yourself Permission

PermissionGive yourself permission to try.

Give yourself permission to fail.

Give yourself permission to try again.

Give yourself permission to succeed.

Give yourself permission to look like a fool.

Give yourself permission to not have to be special.

Give yourself permission to write. Even if you’re not a writer.

Give yourself permission to make some art. Even if you’re not an artist.

Give yourself permission to cook something. Even if you don’t know how.

Give yourself permission to be more social.

Give yourself permission to be alone with our own thoughts.

Give yourself permission to create something ordinary and lacking any unique quality.

Give yourself permission to create something extraordinary that’s unique because it’s from your voice and through your lens on the world.

Give yourself permission to exercise.

Give yourself permission to lead.

Give yourself permission to follow for once.

Give yourself permission to learn.

Give yourself permission to grow and find out who God made you to be.

What Would You Tell Your 20-Year-Old Self?

Stephen Leonard in 1997

Stephen Leonard in 1997

I recently joined a gym and as part of the intake one of the guys asked me, “Stephen, what would you tell your 20-year-old self?” His question made me reflect on 20-year-old Stephen. “What would I want him know—in college, trying to figure out how he’ll live in the world?”

Then it came to me, “Take more risks. I would tell 20-year-old Stephen to take more risks.”

I think back on classes I thought about taking but didn’t. The semester in the U.K. that I always wanted to do, but “couldn’t ever afford.” The girl I wanted to date, but couldn’t risk being rejected. The job I wanted, for which I never applied.

Hockey player Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

How often have you missed out on an opportunity in life, not because you failed, or lacked the skill, or got beat out by someone more qualified, but because you never tried? In my life that’s true more often than I would like to admit.

I don’t want to be laughed at. I don’t want to be criticized. I can tell you every objection to every risk I take. Whether big or small, there’s always a reason to hold back, play it safe, and avoid finding out what I’m really and truly capable of doing.

But I also know risk works. That’s how I met and married my wife. That’s how Lisa and I built our business to the point I could leave my day job. That’s how we help the people who stare understand David and respect people with special needs. That’s how I got fired from one job to get a much better one.

Here’s the thing about avoiding risk—it’s impossible. Safety is an illusion. Life is risky. People are killed in automobile accidents everyday. I know an athletic and otherwise healthy 22-year-old who suddenly died days before college graduation. I’ve seen people in the intensive care unit for heart problems caused by stress. I’ve seen leaders endure criticism, failure, and loss as a result of avoiding risky decisions that they believed in. I’ve spoken with people in their late 80’s who characterize their lives with regret because they avoided the risk of the path they really wanted to follow.

Yes, we need to be responsible in our risk. Start small. Write a blog. Take that trip you’ve always to take. Volunteer your time in a cause you care about. Invite those people for dinner you’ve been wanting to get to know.

If I were to give my 20-year-old self advice, that’s what I would tell him. Risk more. Risk in the little things to gain practice. Learn from failures in risk. And risk again.

I’d love to hear from you. What Would You Tell Your 20-Year-Old Self?