Lessons Learned This Past Year

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As we approach the end of another year I can’t help but reflect on this past year.  It was filled with good times, bad times, positive emotions and negative emotions.  I cried and I laughed.  I opened up and I shut down.  I made some good decisions and I made some bad decisions.  I got angry and had a negative attitude and I was filled with joy and had a positive attitude.  I also learned a lot this past year about leadership, my relationship with God and the baggage that I still tend to carry.

If you’re like me this can describe almost every year.  However every year I like to ask myself if I have grown in my faith, character and leadership in this past year.  For me it’s a big yes this year.  Probably more than many other years because of the amount of change I experienced at work.  Here are some of the lessons I learned or went deeper in understanding.

  1. God opposed the proud but supports the humble – Every time I allow pride to creep into my life I get knocked down a few notches.  This often happens to me when things are going well and I start comparing myself to others.  It can happen when I’m meeting with someone that is going through a hardship and I think I can fix it with three simple steps.  Or when I don’t think a certain strategy or decision is the best and my way is better.  Or if I don’t pay attention to my wife and just do what I want.  I keep learning and understanding more deeply to humble myself and in due time the Lord will lift me up, but it’s his decision not mine.  I need to remain faithful, work hard and focus on doing what is right and good and submit to God and other people.
  2. Value your relationships because life can change in an instant – I was reminded through several tragic events that life is precious and things can change very quickly.  I was reminded to spend time with the people I love and to work on those relationship by practicing forgiveness, communicating clearly and often and by loving well.  The Bible says to love extravagantly and that we are bankrupt without love.  Learning to love or how to express love is one of the best things we can do to improve our lives and value the people around us.
  3. Having the hard conversations is a game changer – Conflict is not fun and many people tend to avoid it.  However if you want to grow, make progress, change for the better or have less stress, then you must deal directly with conflict.  Learning to admit when your wrong and confronting issues quickly when they come up does not allow things to fester and get infected.  I had many hard conversations this past year and most of them ended well and improved the relationship or the situation.  Resolving conflict is hard but it leads to relational, emotional and physical health.
  4. Vulnerability and openness are strengths not weakness – I studied and read a lot about vulnerability, shame and courage this past year.  It takes great courage to be vulnerable and be honest, but when you do it, you experience great freedom, creativity and strength.  I became more vulnerable in some of my relationships and took some risks by sharing more of me with others.  I grew in confidence and courage by facing the junk in my life head on and sharing that with some trusted people in my life.  Everyone knows your not perfect so stop trying to be, take off the mask and be real, that’s when things start to change.
  5. Emotional health is one of the most import things a leader can have – Being healthy emotionally allows you to lead at a high level and take on enormous responsibility.  However staying healthy emotionally takes constant work just like staying physically healthy takes constant work.  Caring for your soul and understanding your emotions is a sign of maturity and leadership.  Sometimes you have to go to a professional counselor in order to break through some of the emotional walls that come up in your life.  It’s always worth the time and energy and money to get healthy emotionally.
  6. When you keep God first and submit to Him other things fall into place – My relationship with God has grown and deepened over the years, but this did not just happen, I had to be intentional.  I have found that the more time I spend with God the more I can accomplish, the healthier I am and and the lower my stress tends to be.  Having a spiritual rhythm in life is vital.  What I mean by rhythm is having a thriving prayer life, feeding on God’s word regularly, being silent and being with God and living a life of worship.  That is staying focused on the most important thing in life, your relationship with Jesus Christ.  When that is growing the rest of life tends to be healthier as well.

Keep growing in Faith, Character and Leadership.

Five Leadership Essentials

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I first heard this quote from John Maxwell: “Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.”  If you don’t have influence you can’t be a leader.  So if you have influence with anyone, you are a leader.  If you’re married, a parent, have a job, serve on a committee, play on a team or have friends your a leader.  Some people have obvious leadership positions and oversee or lead a large number of people. While others may only have influence with a few people or their immediate family.  No matter how many people you have influence with, there are some essential qualities when it comes to leadership and developing increased influence.  These essentials will help you at work, at home and in the community, wherever you have influence.

  1.   Trust – This is first on my list because without trust you have very little influence.  Being a trustworthy person is required to lead well.  When trust is broken it takes a long time and a lot of hard work to restore it.  When people trust you they will follow you, even when they don’t understand everything.  To build trust you must be honest, open and vulnerable with people.  If you keep secrets from people close to you or you are not honest about what is going on, people begin to lose trust.  In every encounter with people you are either building trust or losing trust.
  2. Humility – This is second for me because this helps develop trust.  When you are humble you acknowledge that you don’t know everything and that you have weaknesses.  You give credit to people that deserve the credit and you are willing to serve the people around you instead of being served.  Humble leaders know they need help from others in order to achieve the vision, whether in a business, church or family.  Humility helps you to have the right perspective, while pride can blind you from potential problems.
  3. Love – This may sound strange for an essential of leadership, but it is vital to love other people if you want to have influence.  As a leader love is the key ingredient to gain influence.  When people know that you care about them as a person they will follow you and go above and beyond for you.  People can quickly tell if you care about them or not.  The Bible describes love this way: “Love is patient and kind, never jealous, boastful, proud or rude. Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered. It doesn’t keep record of wrongs that others do. Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. Love never fails.”  When you genuinely love the people you lead your influence skyrockets.
  4. Clarity – The reason this is an essential is because if you are not clear in your communication it leads to misunderstandings and conflict.  The ability to clearly communicate expectations, goals, problems to be solved and issues to address is vital to good leadership.  People trust and follow leaders that are clear and direct while doing so in a loving, kind way.  It is also important to ask questions and try to understand where the other person is coming from or what they are trying to say.  So part of clarity is the ability to listen to understand.  When you do that you can respond in the right way and avoid unnecessary conflict.
  5. Empathy – This is the last essential that I am listing but it’s equally important in building influence as a leader.  The ability to see things from the other person’s viewpoint is essential in order to lead and influence them.  To empathize with someone you must slow down, listen well and not jump to conclusions or judgement.   It is basically putting yourself in their shoes.  Empathy will help you to be more compassionate when you need to be and resolve conflict much quicker.  This also helps to build your connection with the people around you because they know you are always willing to hear them out and be there for them when they are going through a struggle.

I could include many other things but these five essential qualities give any leader the foundation needed to increase their influence and therefore their leadership.  For me I need to ask God for help in all of these areas.  Everyone can improve in these essentials and when you do you become a better person and a better leader.

Lead On!

Six Practical Leadership Principles

 

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A lot has been written about leadership, I’ve read books, articles and listened to speakers.  There is not one thing that makes a great leader, each person is a bit different in personality, style, gifting and drive.  Some leaders are bold and charismatic while others are quiet and reserved.  I’ve seen great leaders with each of those traits.  So what’s important to know in leadership?  As a young person what can be done to grow as a leader?

Here are some things I’ve learned over the years in my experience leading in the banking/accounting world and also in full time ministry:

  1. Be the best version of you – Don’t try to copy another leader’s style or personality.  Work at knowing yourself and what your strengths and weaknesses are.  Learn from other leaders but be who you are and keep improving who you are.  Personal growth should be a high priority if you want to be a great leader. Early in my leadership I would often try to imitate leaders that I admired and would wish I had gifts I did not have.  That led to frustration and disappointment.  As I got comfortable with who I was, I got better as a leader.
  2. Ask for criticism and feedback – Give the people around you permission to criticize you and give honest feedback about your leadership and the systems, procedures and policies that are in place.  Create safe ways for that to happen.  Doing that allows people to be open and honest and helps to keep you humble.  When I get critical feedback it always motivates me to get better, focus more and make adjustments and ask questions.
  3. Take the time to plan – Most people do not take time to write down their plans and think about how to get there.  Developing a life plan that involves personal and business is critical for high level leaders.  This means setting aside time to think, study, analyze and dream.  It means writing down your plans or your vision for the future and then developing goals on how to get there.  It also means putting those goals on your calendar, updating your progress as you go and staying focused.  When you spend time planning it’s easier to say no to good things so that you can say yes to the best things.  Planning well keeps you focused on the right things, not the urgent things.
  4. Learn to relax – Most leaders have a high drive and love to get things done.  However, if you run at full speed too long you can blow a gasket or your whole motor.  High level leaders know how to stop, relax and recharge.  They understand when they need to take a break, get away and spend time doing something they love doing or simply spending time with family and friends.  Taking a sabbath day each week is a great place to start.  Don’t wait until you are burned out to relax and recharge, build it into your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly planning.  If you don’t deal with stress, the stress will deal with you.
  5. Build healthy relationships – Leadership is all about relationships.  To build healthy relationship you have to be healthy yourself.  So deal with your junk, go see a counselor or a coach and work on your issues.  Then work at deepening the relationships in your life at home and work.  When the people around you trust you, know you and understand you, the team will be much more productive.  This takes time, patience and lots of hard, honest conversations.  Speaking the truth with love leads to healthier relationships.  Caring about the people you lead is vital in leadership.  If people know that you actually care about them as a person they will follow you wherever you go.
  6. Take Personal Responsibility – This one is huge.  Instead of complaining about what is happening ask yourself how you can lead better, what can you contribute to make things better?  What part do you need to own?  What is under your control?  Doing this helps to keep you humble and focused on yourself and not the other person.  Coming up with solutions to problems instead of complaining about the problems is what high level leaders do.  They own their mistakes, admit when they failed and ask for forgiveness.  They don’t make a bunch of excuses or shift the blame.  This is a mark of maturity and builds incredible trust and respect.

Learning to lead is really learning about yourself, knowing your blind spots and barriers.  Knowing your core fears, weaknesses and scars.  When you raise your level of self-awareness you raise your level of leadership.  Then if you can surround yourself with people that will be honest with you and are gifted in areas you are not, incredible synergy can start to happen.

Six Guideposts for an Emotionally Healthy Life

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Living an emotionally healthy life is incredibly freeing.  Yet it is very difficult to do because we all grow up learning unhealthy behaviors and unhealthy emotions.  Think of it like pieces of armor that we put on growing up, defense mechanisms, ways of handling conflict, how to treat other people, what we think about ourselves, others and God.

In order to get healthy here are a six guideposts that can help us all get healthier emotionally and live with freedom and joy.  Many of these guideposts come from researcher, author and speaker Brene’ Brown.

  1. Cultivate authenticity and let go of what other people think –   Authenticity is a choice and must be practiced every day.  It’s letting ourselves been seen for who we really are and also setting healthy boundaries in our lives.  It’s being able to say no in a kind way yet stay firm when pressured.  It’s choosing to have a hard conversation instead of stuffing it and letting resentment fill us up.  It’s paying attention to what we are feeling and why and dealing with the truth.  It’s speaking up instead of holding it in.  It’s taking our mask off and being our true self, imperfections and all.
  2. Cultivate self-compassion and let go of perfectionism – Perfectionism leads to frustration, anger and a host of other unhealthy emotions.  It also leads to negative self-talk and keeps you from moving forward in relationships and projects.  It can feed fear and keep us paralyzed.  To let go of perfectionism we need to be able to practice self-compassion or being kind to ourselves.  It’s allowing ourselves to deeply feel what we are currently going through and understanding that we are not alone in our struggles.  Others have gone through similar things and survived.  We must be able to love ourselves before we can love others.  It’s giving ourselves a break from having to be perfect and always doing the right thing.
  3. Cultivate a resilient spirit and let go of numbing behaviors – This involves knowing who we are and how we are wired.  It is the self-awareness to know what our numbing behaviors are and a willingness to get help to avoid going there.  It’s understanding our purpose in life and God’s plan for our lives.  When we grow spiritually it strengthens our spirit and allows us to bounce back much faster when troubles come.  It’s having a healthy outlet for venting frustrations and pain.  Allowing people close to us to know us and be vulnerable with them about what is happening.  numbing behaviors include things like spending hours on Facebook or social media, watching TV, video games, working.  It can be drinking alcohol, taking drugs, smoking or watching porn.  It can also be focusing on our phone and not being fully present with the people around us.
  4. Cultivate gratitude & joy and let go of scarcity & fear – It’s not just having an attitude of gratitude, but actually practicing gratitude.  Keeping a gratitude journal and actually telling others how grateful we are for them and the things we are grateful for.  It’s living with an eternal perspective and knowing we have a higher purpose in life.  It’s noticing the little things in life and being able to live in the moment and just be.  It is being comfortable in our own skin and not trying to be somebody we are not.  It’s having an abundance mentality, and not a scarcity mentality.  It’s being generous with our time, our money and possessions and our abilities by helping and serving others.
  5. Cultivate intuition and trusting faith and let go of the need for certainty – Certainty is not real but uncertainty is.  Our intuition comes from the experiences we have had in life.  To cultivate intuition we need to think about and learn from our experiences.  It’s also important to grow in our faith and keep searching for answers to life’s questions.  Yet it’s also being OK with not having all the answers.  Many people would rather be miserable and certain than emotionally healthy and uncertain.  One way to cultivate intuition and trusting faith to create time for silence and solitude.  Building time into our schedules to connect with God, feed our soul and nourish our minds.
  6. Cultivate creativity and let go of comparison – Every human being is creative, some people practice using it more than others.  Unused creativity turns into unhealthy emotions like anger, judgement, rage and depression.  When we start comparing ourselves to others our creativity goes down because of fear.  Often because of something someone said or did to us as a child we avoid being creative because we fear not being good enough.  When children get to be in the 4th and 5th grade their level of creativity goes way down because that is when their art begins to get graded and compared to others.  To cultivate creativity we need to start doing something we gave up or thought we were no good at.  Start drawing, painting, sculpting, writing, taking pictures, making videos.  Finding our creative side and exercising it will bring joy, freedom and energy into our lives.  Do something creative today.

Start pursuing an emotionally healthy life by cultivating the good and letting go of the bad.

Top Ten Proverbs

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Recently I challenged a group of guys I meet with to read through the book of Proverbs and identify their top ten.  We all found that very challenging as there are so many great Proverbs.  So here are my top ten:

  1. Proverbs 3:5,6  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”
  2. Proverbs 4:23  “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.”
  3. Proverbs 11:2  “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
  4. Proverbs 11:25  “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”
  5. Proverbs 12:18  “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
  6. Proverbs 19:11  “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
  7. Proverbs 19:21  “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
  8. Proverbs 27:1  “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.
  9. Proverbs 28:13  “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
  10. Proverbs 27:17  “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

If you can’t read through all the Proverbs take some time over the next several days and read these 10 and ask God to help you understand how they apply to you personally.

 

 

Summer 2015 Reading List

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Reading is one of the most important things you can do to learn, grow and improve yourself.  I love to read and I try to read one or two books a month.  I also listen to pod casts, and audio books to keep feeding my mind good stuff.  As a leader this is vital to keep stretching and pushing yourself to get better.

So over the next several months I plan on doing a lot of reading.  I have carved out some extra time to allow for this by taking some vacation time and incorporating it into my regular work schedule.

Here are the books I am currently reading and several I plan on reading later:

Business Books:

Spiritual and Personal Growth:

Audio Books:

Just for Fun:

A Key to Stronger Relationships

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I’ve been studying the idea of vulnerability and how that plays out in our relationships.   Brene Brown has some incredible insights on this tough topic.  Much of this post is based on her research.

One of the things that keeps us from being vulnerable is shame.  Shame thrives in secrecy, silence and judgement.  However when we introduce empathy, shame cannot grow.  So in order to be open and vulnerable we need to be around people that are great at empathizing and we need to learn how to be empathetic with others.  Learning how to be empathetic is one of the most powerful ways to improve your relationships.

In order to be empathetic we need to be able to see the world as others see it.  This is all about perspective, being able to take the perspective of another person and not our own.  It’s being able to listen to someone and not interject our own experience but to really what to hear it from them.  It’s not one upping the person by sharing what you did or how you messed up.  It’s being able to realize that our lens of life and our experiences are different than others and being OK with that.

Empathy also requires that we are nonjudgmental.   Most of us are  judgmental and we are usually judgmental in areas where we are vulnerable to shame.  We tend to judge people that are worse than we are so that we feel better about ourselves.  We do that because we are looking for validation that at least I’m not as bad as so and so.

Empathy is not our default or natural mode, it’s a skill that must be worked on and developed in order for this to happen naturally.  Empathy is usually very subtle, it can be just a knowing look or going to be with someone in a time of crisis instead of calling to express sympathy.

When we empathize with someone, we go to that dark place with them, we don’t flip on the lights and try to cheer them up and fix the problem or make light of the situation.  It’s like walking up to your friend that is in a hole and going down into the hole with them, but knowing how to get back out of the hole because it’s not your hole.  Sympathy is walking up to the hole and asking what happened.  When they tell you, you express that your sorry to hear that, that’s a terrible thing.  Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.  There is a big difference.

When we empathize with someone, we are creating a safe environment for people to be vulnerable.  Being vulnerable is one of the most accurate measures of a persons courage.  To be vulnerable takes bravery, because it is walking into uncertainty, it’s taking a risk and it’s exposing your emotions.  It takes courage because the reality is you can get hurt when you do this with someone that is not able to empathize or keep things confidential.

However if you live in secrecy, and silence you might feel safe, but are most likely miserable.  When we are vulnerable we are our true self.  We are showing that we are imperfect, messed up, awkward and goofy.  The greatest relationships are the ones where you can be all  of that and the person loves you even more.

So if your looking to improve your relationships, first learn how to empathize better with the people around you. Work on those skills of listening and trying to understand their perspective.  Don’t try to fix them or the situation, but let them know we can do this together.  Then work at being vulnerable with the people in your life.  Expose yourself emotionally by being honest about your struggles and your shame.  When we do that there is incredible freedom and life when we push past our fear.

 

Good Enough

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One of the questions that runs through our minds is; am I good enough? Am I good enough feeds our need to perform, please and pretend.  Am I good enough pushes us to prove ourselves and show people that we matter. This can be very dangerous to our emotional and mental health.  It also damages our spiritual lives.

We all grow up with dysfunction.  There are certain values that you grew up observing and statements that were made to you that have affected your life. If you only got attention or approval if you did something good or achieved something then you will continue to think your only worthy if you perform and are productive.

When we experience conditional love it feeds this question of am I good enough?

The truth is in God’s eyes we are good enough.  There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.  His love for us in truly unconditional. We are good enough. When we can step away from this question and say yes I am good enough our focus can be on the right things.  We know we can improve, but that does not make us more worthy or valuable as human beings.  Our worth is not found in our achievements, its found in our character.

Being good enough is the wrong question because it causes us to question our value and worth. We all have stories that are undesirable, painful and shameful or embarrassing. When we can walk into those stories and accept them as part of us, we can experience the power of our worthiness.  Those stories don’t define us but we can use them for good.  That’s what God does every day, brings good out of the bad.  When we can love ourselves despite those stories and see our worth as a human being then we can love others and encourage others along the way.

God says that we are good enough just as we are, dysfunction and all. He loves us unconditionally and desires for us to grow and connect with Him every day.  So stop asking yourself if your good enough, God created you and planned for you to be a part of this world at this particular time in history.  You are enough simply because you are you.

15 Leadership Tips

I found this in my leadership files and wanted to share this.  Not sure where I got it, but some great reminders for everyone that has influence and is leading other people.

15 Leadership Tips:

  1. In other words, for people to embrace and follow compassionate, honest, ethical, peaceful, and fair principles, they must see these qualities demonstrated by their leadership.
  2. A given type of leadership inevitably attracts the same type of followers. Put another way, a leadership cannot behave in any way that it asks its people not to.
  3. Prior to expecting anyone to follow, a leader first needs to demonstrate a vision and values worthy of a following.
  4. The suggestion that loyalty and a following can be built by simply asking or forcing people to be loyal is not any basis for effective leadership.
  5. That is to say – loyalty to leadership relies on the leader having a connection with and understanding of people’s needs and wishes and possibilities. Solutions to leadership challenges do not lie in the leader’s needs and wishes. Leadership solutions lie in the needs and wishes of the followers.
  6. It is not possible for a leader to understand and lead people when the leader’s head is high in the clouds or stuck firmly up his backside.
  7. Incidentally, leading is helping people achieve a shared vision, not telling people what to do.
  8. Leaders get lost because of isolation, delusion, arrogance, plain stupidity, etc., but above all because they become obsessed with imposing their authority, instead of truly leading.
  9. Always, when leaders say that the people are not following, it’s the leaders who are lost, not the people.
  10. People are a lot more clever than most leaders think.
  11. People have a much keener sense of truth than most leaders think.
  12. People quickly lose faith in a leader who behaves as if points 10 and 11 do not exist.
  13. People generally have the answers which elude the leaders – they just have better things to do than help the leader to lead – like getting on with their own lives.
  14. A leadership which screws up in a big way should come clean and admit their errors. People will generally forgive mistakes but they do not tolerate being treated like idiots by leaders.
  15. And on the question of mistakes, a mistake is an opportunity to be better, and to show remorse and a lesson learned.

Lead On

 

Seven Servant Leadership Principles

 

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The greatest leaders in history are the ones that had a mindset to serve others.  There has been a lot written about servant leadership and many today try to practice being a servant leader.  But just how practical is that in the real world.  When you have to get things done, ship your product or close the sale, how can you serve?

It can be hard when the heat is on to be thinking about serving others.  Yet if you want to be great you must learn the fine art of serving others as a leader.  Here are just a few things I believe are important in having a servant leader mindset.

  1. Keep Growing – If you want to serve the people you lead and the business or organization you work at, then grow.  If you become a lid for the organization then you are not serving anyone well.  To me this means that you are reading and studying your area of business.  It means that you are talking to others that are doing it better than you and learning as much as possible about how to improve yourself as a leader and whatever product or service you offer.  The bottom line is that servant leaders are constantly growing and changing and improving.  The more you grow the more you can pour into the people around you.
  2. Have a Vision – You have to know where you are going and be able to articulate that to your team on a regular basis.  A servant leader is constantly reminding everyone about why we are doing what we are doing.  Where we are heading and what the win is every day.  Casting vision is vital to being a servant leader.
  3. Think Strategically – A servant leader must be thinking ahead and planning.  One of the best ways you can serve people is by being well prepared and by thinking of things that could wrong before they go wrong.  This involves analyzing what is working well, what is not working well, what is missing and what is confusing.  Going through that process with your team will help bring clarity to the work being done.
  4. Collaborate – Servant leaders realize they don’t have all the answers, so they will involve the people around them in the decision making process.  They will ask what other people think and be open to new ideas and suggestions.  They allow other people that know more about the situation to make decisions and then back them up.  Servant leaders are also very open about what is happening and what is coming, they don’t keep secrets from their team.
  5. Empower People – This is one of the most powerful principles of servant leadership.  It’s developing people and then allowing them to do their jobs.  Servant leaders do not micro manage unless a person needs that extra attention.  Empowering a person is trusting them to make decisions, without having to always check with you first.  This can feel risky at times, but it builds your team and develops leaders.  People learn from mistakes and it allows you to coach your team along the way.
  6. Hold People Accountable – This is another important servant leadership principle.  When you are leading someone it’s important to be clear about what the expectations are and what results you want.  It needs to be in writing and you need to talk about it on a regular basis.  Setting goals and objectives with your team and then asking for regular updates on the progress is a great way to serve your people.  When someone is not hitting the goals or meeting expectations you serve them by having honest conversations with them and telling them the truth and coaching them on how to get back on track.
  7. Care About Others – Finally the people you lead need to know that you actually care about them.  That they are more than just an employee that is getting results.  This means you have to get to know your team.  Find out about their family and personal lives and ask them how they are doing.  It means taking time to have conversations with them and carve out time to have fun together as a team.  If your all business all the time you won’t connect with your team and your not serving them well.  When you take time for people especially when they are going through a crisis it’s a game changer – People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Lead On