Category Archives: Personal Development

The Power of Meaningful Engagement

zig_ziglar_help_enoughIn a recent post (“Make it About Them”) by  Matt Holmes, the Denver networking guru brings up a fundamental – but never too-often-repeated adage about shoulder-rubbing: Engaging others should start with a conversation about them – not you. He also refers to one of my favorite Zig Ziglar quotes from the book, “Secrets of Closing the Sale” (click to get it), which I highly recommend.

Matt’s angle is tactical, as it reinforces the practice of basic inquiry in the context of active business hobnobbing. I’d like to go further with it, though, because it’s already easily halfway to a much more meaningful way of living in a broader sense: Actually engaging with others from a place in ourselves where we actually seek to help them along in the universe.

Of course that’s easier said than done. And I can imagine some of the eye rolls I’ll get here when I not only say that it’s a bit of work – and perhaps even more challenging – it involves matters of the heart. (If anyone is ready to click away here, that means it’s even more important to stay!)

My point: Everywhere, especially in the startup world – where we’re in many cases actually building awesome solutions with a lot of benefit to others – it’s tempting to run on (and on, and on) about OUR stuff. But even if one looks at it pragmatically, the best way to connect your business “out there” is to change “in here” (in our hearts) so that knowing others and their goals becomes part of the DNA of our M.O.

When we approach others this way it’s not “faking it” to find out what others are into. It’s not about feigning interest so that we can “see where there’s a fit” to launch into selling our product. The Zen idea of truly “forgetting ourselves,” even for for just a moment while we meet someone new, turns the dynamic around to create a true emotional/spiritual engagement and can spark a commitment to mutually helping each other achieve our greater purpose.

Imagine if everyone approached networking, or – (gasp) every single interaction we have, from the beggar on the street to the venture capitalist with whom we have a high-stakes meeting – with the intent to help others reach the ultimate purpose they were put on this Earth to achieve!

Would sales increase? You bet! Would people feel more connected and loved, and actually get further along in their ultimate purpose? Without a doubt.


Birthing a Warrior

COMMONS-CREDIT-TOnordic_warrior_by_tansy9-d336dr4I have done things no one else would contemplate. I have risked and lost, I have loved the most broken and vulnerable creatures and people. I have chosen in one instance to forgive, in another to smite my enemies with a vengeance and delight that would cause even my brothers in battle to avert their eyes. I have known an awesome and humbling power which compels others to conscript themselves to my cause, come ignominy or glory, death or brilliant life, riches or regrets. I have lain awake and known the gravity of the universe.

Yet today I hold the keys to greater means, influence, and creative power than I have ever imagined. From humble, damaged roots I have adopted tools of the masters, Robbins, Hill, Rand, Peale, the words of my Lord and Savior, and thereby hewn a rough path for myself, a circuitous but victorious journey to this plateau and that vista, ever searching in vain for the narrow way of peace, self-knowledge, real power. I have glimpsed it, ever out of reach, but here and there have come close enough to detect the scent of the fertile peat that lays along the edge of the way of greatness.

I am now, with my work, my children, my wife, at a place where my path must end, where there is no safety or solace in trudging along on the wits and talents with which I came screaming and naked into this world. I must do, see, and become more than even I can imagine, yet as I submit. Those powers and that intellect others made note of, envied, flattered, I now know were as parlor tricks for their amusement and my own. Squandered. Yet the blush of youth has left my cheek, and there is no wizened sage who will appear to point to the error of my ways; I myself must define the moment. I must, in fact, let my light illuminate for my own earthly father the first step on the path of his enlightenment, as with my own children: by my example – while bearing only my burdens and not what is theirs to carry.

I know when I reach the path of my destiny, obscured as it is by that wispy layer in the rarefied peaks and planes above, I will come to a serene pool and be able to look down into it and see revealed my sanctified countenance, that which God sees when he gazes upon my soul. But as I have experienced in my marriage, in the eyes of my children, those who catch the vision of my business, I must allow the faith placed in me by others to help light my way to those awaiting realities and vistas.

For I can see greatness of potential in others, in ideas, in the world around me – yet I often stand as an artillery-shocked trooper, unable to find my way out of the front from which I fight. Unable to rebuke my own demons and cast them into the putrid craters of the battlefield where they belong. Unable to claim my destiny, even as I take yet another enemy stronghold, rescue another villager on my way to that very place I’ve only vaguely imagined.

I now know there is no hill I cannot take, no gift my Father would withhold from me. Yet, the thirst to taste another bottle of pillaged wine, or even to hoist my flag from another ridge has waned. The battle of without has run its course; to be, to do, to have anything of meaning and permanence, I must lay down my sword and face the battle within.

It is said, “Know thyself”. I am ready to leave it all on the field in exchange for even one moment, face to face with the future and the fullness of who I AM.

Killing Simon Bar Sinister

Simon-Bar-Sinister1“Who are you and what are you made of, really deep down in your guts?”

Recently, one of my mentors, Bo Eason, had me answering that question during his three-day storytelling seminar. I was floored, but telling him I was “kinda busy and er, craving a Starbucks right about now” just didn’t seem like a good option. I sent him the following:

When I was about 8 years old, I remember coming to the realization that there were a lot of things in this world I didn’t understand, realities I couldn’t reconcile with the way things should be. A lot of my idealistic dreams felt crushed.

My mom and dad split up, and I didn’t have a feel for how I fit in, so I “surfed life” instead of swimming in it. Around the same time, we found out something was wrong with my little 3-year old sister, and after a lot of tests we discovered she was what you called back then, “retarded.” Now they’d say “developmentally disabled.” I didn’t care what you call it, she was different, and I realized, helpless in many ways. So tricking her out of her cookies and making her Barbie prisoner to my GI Joe was out. And I love her to this day, but I knew I wouldn’t ever really know her like a big brother.

I loved other things too, like bike riding, and chasing Claire Ryerson, and kissing her under the big pine tree in her backyard right before eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches her mom made. But the high point of my week was Saturday cartoons. My mom would let me get wired on sugared cereal and watch TV in my Spider-Man pajamas all morning.

My favorite cartoon hero at the time was Underdog. Remember Underdog? A dog with a cape and a secret power pill, who spends his days as Shoeshine Boy; a mild-mannered nobody. But whenever Polly Purebred, his love, is in distress, Shoeshine Boy runs inside a phone booth and…BOOM! He comes out in his superhero suit . . . and the phone booth always explodes. (My wife says that part “explains a lot”.)

Underdog flies to the scene of mayhem with people exclaiming “Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! (One old lady with glasses says “It’s a frog!” Someone replies, “A frog?”) And he reassures the crowd thusly:

Not plane, nor bird, nor even frog,
It’s just little old me… (whereupon, Underdog would crash into something, then sheepishly finish) Underdog.

Underdog usually caused a lot of collateral damage; and whenever anyone complained, Underdog replied, (always in a rhyme of course):

I am a hero who never fails;
I cannot be bothered with such details. (There’s another spousal raised eyebrow)

Of course, Underdog had his “arch enemies”, primarily Simon Bar Sinister and Riff Raff, who would victimize unwitting people in carrying out their various schemes for power. Simon Bar-Sinister would take over someone’s mind, their eyes would turn funny, and they would repeat, over my vociferous protestations, “I will do what Simon Says!”

I never connected it, but I ended up with two responses to deal with what I saw as injustice or unfairness: I would live in my own world in my head, sort of disconnected from a lot of what was going on out there…

…or sometimes I’d swoop in and fight back. And sometimes, I’d cause some collateral damage just like Underdog. But it’s the thought that counts, right? Besides, I’m a big-picture guy, I can’t be bothered with the details.

There was this time in 3rd Grade where some boys were making fun of the “special” kids in the hall - only, my sister at home was also “special”. I got so mad, I pushed them against the lockers and socked one of them. I remember being proud, even as I was explaining what happened to the principal. I’m still proud, because some lessons need to be painted in red. I bet that kid still remembers how his face hurt that day!

I was what you might call a “feral child”, so it took me some years to figure out how to channel this fire inside me, which animated me, into more productive means. And I never thought much about the meaning of the events, circumstances, and choices driven by that fire. I just lived every day.

But I recently went through an exercise with a marketing and branding agency run by a brilliant guy who has become a friend, Eliot Frick, who totes around this amazing brain and runs a branding agency called Bigwidesky. In the process of bringing my product idea to the marketplace, Eliot brought me through a process of discovery that connected Underdog, my idealism, the blood I’ve given up and battle scars I’ve collected over the years.

I’ve heard that 80% of college graduates never go on to a career in their area of study. Most of us arrive at what we do for a living through some circuitous path. We just sort of end up doing something. We go through phases and pick up roles. Troublemaker. Crusader. Dad. Entrepreneur. But Eliot’s job is to purposefully tie together all of the things you do and are into an overarching theme.

Cutting-edge marketing agencies work to extract your “brand”, which is modern-speak for ‘who you exhibit yourself to be’, from someplace deep in your heart – not the things you say you are or believe in, but the raw, soft parts of you that actually manifest into reality. Because whether we realize it or not, our psyche, our makeup, the thing that drives us to create and sometimes destroy, comes from our experiences, usually in early childhood, as interpreted through the framework that’s hard-wired into you.

So here I was, excited to talk about product-market fit, and traction, and other geeky startup stuff. But Eliot didn’t so much want to talk about what my product is, or what my company does, as to delve into the things that drive me, the experiences that forged my soul. Some of it was awesome to talk about, and a lot of it was quite painful, vulnerable, messy. And perhaps the most beautiful discovery I’ve had in my whole life, certainly in my post-30 adult life, is the theme that we came up with through that process.

I realized that until that day, the rhyme and reason behind events of my life were obscured.

My epiphany? Whether it was insisting that my mom turn around to pick up a hopelessly injured bird, or sitting with the crippled old man next door that the other kids were scared of, fighting for freedom through politics; checking out and partying a few years away in protest, or winning a jury trial (without a lawyer) against the insurance company who wouldn’t pay, it’s all been the same:

I’ve been fighting Simon-Bar Sinister, the arch-nemesis who robs peoples’ potential away, takes over their minds, steals their hope, crushes their dreams. 

I had to have my identity spoken back to me: “Your a guy who can’t stand the idea of the little guy not having the fair chance, being taken advantage of by outside forces and actors. You’re a hero of heroes.” I cried over these words later. But it’s true – I believe if we can just get people out of their programmed minds, out of the robot existence, into the fullness God envisioned when he made them, they have the power to be the heroes in their own world.

It’s truly profound to me that a business branding exercise eclipsed years of therapy, helped me reconnect with my inner warrior, and face the fallout of sometimes being alone in my battles against those who would shackle others’ minds and futures. I know now, THAT’S what God put me on this earth to do. (Even if things get a little messy when I fly in and crash into something.)

That’s the answer; it’s “who I am”. So let me ask you, “Who are you, and what are your guts made of?” Only you can answer that – and no matter what kind of life you’ve had, the answer can be abstracted from your real-life, messy story.

You may think you don’t have time to answer the question. Maybe no one has asked you the question until now, but now that I have, a vacuum has been created in the universe – and it will never go away until it is filled with the power of your words.

I encourage you to answer, share YOUR story – maybe here, maybe somewhere else. The answer to that question just might be the entire point of the rest of your life.

HELP! I’m Obsessed With the Four Learning Styles!

Understanding and Evaluating for Kolb’s Learning Styles

The Two Preference dimensions, or axes (Click images to enlarge)

This is a good representation of Kolb’s “Four Learning Styles”, with the axes and the types clearly organized. At the bottom of this post I reposted a brilliant hand-drawn interpretation of the concept.
Notice the popular “4 Spiritual Types” model is simply flipped upside down and backward. Same Axes, same idea. This concept is used in Christian ministry, other missions orientation assessment. Compatible with Briggs-Myers.










Perception Dimension

In the vertical “Perception” dimension, people will have a preference according to two main continuum running along the vertical axis above:

  • Concrete experience: Looking at things as they are, without any change, in raw detail.
  • Abstract conceptualization: Looking at things as concepts and ideas, after a degree of processing that turns the raw detail into an internal model.

People who prefer concrete experience will argue that thinking about something changes it, and that direct empirical data is essential. Those who prefer abstraction will argue that meaning is created only after internal processing and that idealism is a more real approach.

This spectrum is very similar to the Jungian scale of Sensing vs. Intuiting.

Processing dimension

In the horizontal “Processing” dimension, people will take the results of their Perception and process it in preferred ways along the continuum between:

  • Active experimentation: Taking what they have concluded and trying it out to prove that it works.
  • Reflective observation: Taking what they have concluded and watching to see if it works.

Four Learning Styles (a.k.a. Four Spiritual Types)

The experimenter, like the concrete experiencer, takes a hands-on route to see if their ideas will work, whilst the reflective observers prefer to watch and think to work things out.

1) Divergers (Concrete experiencer/Reflective observer) = NLP: “Why?”

  • Divergers take experiences and think deeply about them, thus diverging from a single experience to multiple possibilities in terms of what this might mean. They like to ask ‘why’, and will start from detail to constructively work up to the big picture.
  • They enjoy participating and working with others but they like a calm ship and fret over conflicts. They are generally influenced by other people and like to receive constructive feedback.
  • They like to learn via logical instruction or hands-one exploration with conversations that lead to discovery.

2) Convergers (Abstract conceptualization/Active experimenter) = NLP: “How?”

  • Convergers think about things and then try out their ideas to see if they work in practice. They like to ask ‘how’ about a situation, understanding how things work in practice. They like facts and will seek to make things efficient by making small and careful changes.
  • They prefer to work by themselves, thinking carefully and acting independently. They learn through interaction and computer-based learning is more effective with them than other methods.

3) Accommodators (Concrete experiencer/Active experimenter) = NLP: “What if (I do this)?”

  • Accommodators have the most hands-on approach, with a strong preference for doing rather than thinking. They like to ask ‘what if?’ and ‘why not?’ to support their action-first approach. They do not like routine and will take creative risks to see what happens.
  • They like to explore complexity by direct interaction and learn better by themselves than with other people. As might be expected, they like hands-on and practical learning rather than lectures. 

4) Assimilators (Abstract conceptualizer/Reflective observer) = NLP: “What (is this)?”  

  • Assimilators have the most cognitive approach, preferring to think than to act. The ask ‘What is there I can know?’ and like organized and structured understanding.
  • They prefer lectures for learning, with demonstrations where possible, and will respect the knowledge of experts. They will also learn through conversation that takes a logical and thoughtful approach.
  • They often have a strong control need and prefer the clean and simple predictability of internal models to external messiness.
  • The best way to teach an assimilator is with lectures that start from high-level concepts and work down to the detail. Give them reading material, especially academic stuff and they’ll gobble it down. Do not teach through play with them as they like to stay serious.

So what?

So design learning for the people you are working with. If you cannot customize the design for specific people, use varied styles of delivery to help everyone learn. It can also be useful to describe this model to people, both to help them understand how they learn and also so they can appreciate that some of your delivery will for others more than them (and vice versa).

See also: Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential Learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

FINALLY, here’s an excellent post from which I grabbed the image below; it has a number of interpretations on this concept:


Here’s an excellent (and short!) video explaining this material:

Material adapted by Christian LeFer for Speaker’s Connection, Bozeman, MT, March 2, 2013

Most text borrowed from

Images, in order of appearance, from:


Tides of Change, Shoals of Commitment

For some time I have been aware that change in my life was coming. While I believe that I have been pursuing what God put me on this Earth to do, I knew that as written in Ecclesiastes, there is a time and a season for every purpose under Heaven.

I know in my bones, the sun is setting on this season in my life.

Yet also I have long held a core belief that my life should be lived on my terms, not terms dictated by others. Living by those terms means taking action and responsibility. Commitments, relationships, expectations develop. Therein lies a natural dilemma.

What to do when the tides of change threaten to dash me against the shoals of commitment?

For weeks now, perhaps months, my ship has drifted. I do what I must to stay afloat, but fail to chart a course decisively. Questions plague me as I gaze toward the gray horizon, as I lie down and as I wake: How will I navigate? Will I founder on the rocks approaching beneath the water’s surface? Who will I leave behind on the shores, disappointed, angry, or in need? Yet, these worries are the sure way toward Death.

My ally, my love, my partner in all endeavors, has lost her eye for the compass and the sextant. She cannot help me in turning the craft about, in plotting by the map and according to the signs in the sky. We kiss away tears of our children, break bread in the galley, partake of love in the night as the moon dances atop the points of restless waves.

Yet for whatever reason, God has left this task to me, and me alone. This in itself is a sign, a test of anchor, of the sinews of my soul straining against the depths.

But chart a course, and set sail I must. My family are on board, trusting my hand is upon the rudder. The tide rolls. Danger lies in drifting.

Missions and dreams unfulfilled, vistas unseen, await.

Charting a course takes quiet hours in observation topside, in peaceful candlelight of the bowels of my quarters. Uninterrupted by the daily catch, the toil and bustle of the scrubbing and the rigging.

Perhaps today I can only take the first steps: Sounding the depths beneath me, gauging the distance to dangerous water, and selecting a new shore for which to set out. Without these, a new course cannot be charted. My soul cries out this prayer,

Heavenly Father, still the waters again with your mighty hand,
Calm the swells and the winds in my heart,
That I may envision a new land upon which to alight.
A promised land upon which your faithful servants will plant our feet,
To tame, to cultivate, to adventure, to lie beneath a verdant canopy upon velvet fronds
Squinting through cracks of sunlight falling gold and warm, a reflection
Of your glory as we rest in the shadow of your wings.

Amen and Amen.

Downsize Your Life and Stress Level – Sort, Sell, Simplify

by Christian LeFer – I recently did a Business Brainstorming video where I proposed a number of ideas for replacing or enhancing one’s income in our tough economy. Some workable, some less so.

One of the five ideas I cooked up was a business that helps people get rid of their unneeded stuff. That idea spurred this video. The subject is a bit ironic coming from me, an unabashed capitalist who is not opposed to people owning as many things as they want.

The reason I stumbled upon that idea is that my wife Allison and I are actually going through that exercise right now: Systematically getting rid of all non-essential stuff that occupies the crevices of junk drawers, closets and much of the garage I no longer have practical use of.

And make no mistake, it’s daunting. But just like the first time you hit the gym after a sedentary stretch, just imagining yourself thinner, more physically fit, or in possession of less junk makes one feel a little bit better and helps you pull through the work, and maybe even enjoy the sweat.

This idea, which I call “Sort, Sell, and Simplify” is not just an exercise program to help your household become more nimble and svelte, it has all the markings of a movement. Shows like Pawn Stars, Storage Wars, and even Antique Road Show in part appeal to people’s latent interest in the value in the junk buried in their basement, garrisoned in their garage.

For many decades, nearly early every gainfully employed family in America has stuff, and lots of it they don’t need. Now, nearly everyone is more carefully making the cut of what to collect, what to keep, and what to cut.

And here’s my caveat, a quote borrowed from uber-entrepreneur Tim Ferris’ book, The Four-Hour Workweek:

And mind you, this is not just for the cold hard cash, but it’s also gratifying for the soul – our “stuff” comes to own us, instead of the other way around.

Three questions my family is asking as we consider what to will make the cut:

  1. Do we need it?
    1. We often buy things because of the feeling we get from the purchase – because of what the thing says about us – not for rational reasons. From the pious Prius Hybrid driver to the Type-A Hummer road warrior, the psychology outweighs the ecology and the utility, hands-down. If you disagree, you are probably lying to yourself, even if only in part.
    2. A great example is the Carbon-Fiber Road bike sitting in my garage. It’s not the bike, it’s what it says about me. I picture myself tooling down the road, clippied into my pedals, on a smooth, straight road. The problem is, I live in Montana, which limits both the season and the suitable riding area. So I take my mountain bike. The featherlight Tour-de-France model is just not practical.
  2. Can it be replaced?
    1. Example: Luggage, tools. This market guarantees you can replace most commonly available things.
    2. Just as we have more avenues to sell things on the Internet today, we also have more avenues to re-acquire them later, if and when we really need them. This should help relieve the “separation anxiety” associated with giving up our prized (but unneeded) possessions.
  3. Should we sell, or give it away?
    1. It can be a fun family exercise to decide how you can bless other people you know specifically with things you are giving up.
    2. It’s easy and also personally rewarding to give items to Goodwill and other cause outlets. Not only does the outlet thrive due to your donation, but the person who buys that item for $5 is happy they found it.
    3. When it comes to selling, we have more avenues than ever to not only rid ourselves of this kind of stuff, eBay, craigslist, and numerous other outlets exist on a local and national level. And keep in mind, video sells, (not just for cars and motorcycles, but for less “sexy” items like tools) – it’s easier than ever to shoot a smartphone video, and its free.

The second irony? All of the things we buy, we really buy in pursuit of better quality of life. Yet, it is those very things that, as they fall into disuse or disrepair, become a weight on the timbers of our soul just as they strain the rafters in the attic.

So don’t wait for “spring cleaning” that might never happen. Take advantage of the winter months, take advantage of NOW. Go ahead, take the plunge.

Go minimalist.

You won’t regret it.

Bo Eason – A Master Storyteller and Presenter Reveals His Craft

One of the most amazing people I have encountered in my study of interpersonal communications and marketing is Bo Eason, former NFL star-turned-actor/playwright. This man defines heart, and teaches others how to capture, flesh out, and present one’s personal story in a manner that, as Bo says “no one can look away”.

The first time I met Bo and saw his one man play, Runt of the Litter, was the weekend I attended Brendon Burchard’s Experts Academy in 2011. Without announcing who this mystery “guest” was ahead of time or preparing the audience at all, Brendon unleashed Bo Eason on the crowd. The results were fascinating. My fellow experts, authors, and entrepreneurs in attendance reported a wide variety of responses ranging from outrage to elation to emotional exhaustion. I assure you, no one was unaffected!

Never before or since have I been so powerfully affectd by a play or presentation as I was by Runt of the Litter - Bo Eason’s dramatized life story grabs the viewer by the throat and makes him/her a participant, dragging the unwitting through the heights and depths of every human emotion right up until the play’s rending conclusion. As only the most masterful authors and playwrights can do, Eason uses the imagination of the audience to heighten the drama of the final outcome.

I am very blessed to have seen and met Bo at the Experts Academy, and later as member of Next Greatest Speaker training in mid-2012. I’m even more excited to be a part of the exclusive Personal Story Power program Bo is conducting in April 2012 in Southern California. Bo Eason will spend three days helping each of us in attendance to refine and present our own personal story in a transformative way so that we can go out and make an impact in the world.

If you haven’t seen the play, I highly recommend you buy it on DVD – and if presenting, speaking, or using the power of story to deliver an impactful message, attend Bo Eason’s Personal Story Power Event training. You won’t regret it!

Amy Cuddy on TED Talks – How Body Language Determines Your State of Mind

From “Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.”

From Christian: I’ve practiced this, and it works. Back in the mid-’90′s when I discovered Tony Robbins’ Unlimited Power, I learned about how to change my state by changing my posture and physical attitude. Amy’s powerful story of how she overcame challenges, and her mantra “fake it until you become it” – which isn’t really “faking it” at all –  is a great testimony to how much more in control we are of our prospects and quality of life than we might believe.