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June 20, 2017

Does Character Matter?

Does character matter?

Weaving wisdom and insight with the life stories of fascinating people, in The Road to Character, David Brooks offers a much needed book. Each chapter focuses on a different person and theme. Through the lives of people like Frances Perkins, Dwight Eisenhower, Dorothy Day, George Marshall, A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), Augustine, Samuel Johnson and Montaigne, we consider dignity, struggle, self-mastery, love, self-examination and more.

Brooks Frances Perkins.jpgbegins, though, with the categories of Adam I and Adam II--Adam I being external-oriented and achievement-oriented while Adam II is internally focused, seeking inner character. Adam II seeks to embody certain moral qualities, to have an inner center, a sense of calling. While we are all no doubt a mix of Adam I and Adam II, Brooks pays special attention in this book to Adam II.

One theme he notes is that several people he highlights, like Frances Perkins (the first woman U.S. cabinet member), were socially liberal and daring but personally conservative--self-disciplined, guarding against self-glorification. Perkins was reticent, private, kept her personal life separate. But in public life she pushed the boundaries for women and for workers.

Another theme is what Brooks refers to as the "crooked timber" school of humanity, people who are very aware of their flaws and as a result, push against their bent selves to achieve strength. This is especially highlighted in the moral realism of Samuel Johnson, Dorothy Day and George Eliot.

Related to this, Brooks sees sin is a valuable concept. "Sin is not some demonic thing. It's just our perverse tendency to f___ things up, to favor the short term over the long term, the lower over the higher. Sin, when it is committed over and over again, hardens into a loyalty to a lower love" (p. 55).

In the Road to Character.jpglast chapter he makes the case that the shift from a culture of humility to a culture of the Big Me, from emphasis on people of depth to people with a thin veneer, has not come over the last fifty years. Certainly there has been plenty of self-promoting individualism during that time.

Rather, the shift came about two hundred years ago with the rise of the romantic movement. Realists distrusted the self while romantics idealized the self. Interestingly, Brooks says we need both dimensions. The problem is that the romantic side has overwhelmed the moral realist side in recent decades, and we need to rebalance.

This is an extremely worthwhile book that pushes us to answer many key questions for ourselves:

How is character formed?
How do achievement or character go together and fight against each other?
What have we found helpful in cultivating an inner life?
What hinders us from developing character?
And, yes, does character matter?

Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:31 AM | Comments

April 27, 2017

Intuition, Snap Judgments and Gut Reactions

When Gianfranco Becchina offered to sell an ancient statue to the Getty Museum for $10 million in 1983, the Getty conducted extensive (even microscopic) analysis before agreeing to buy. Afterward a few experts on viewing the statue had instantaneous misgivings, though they had a hard time articulating exactly why. Yet the gut reactions were right and the time-consuming analysis was wrong. The statue eventually proved to be a fake.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:02 AM | Comments

November 17, 2016

Why Hitler Lost

Adolf Hitler knew his history. He knew that one of the world's greatest military geniuses, Napoleon, was defeated when he invaded Russia. Hitler knew that his Nazi generals strongly advised against opening a second front in 1941 when Germany had not yet subdued England. Yet he invaded Russia anyway. Why?

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 11:28 AM | Comments

July 7, 2016

Happy with the Process

When employees are unhappy with a decision that leaders have made, often they don't react against the decision. Instead they complain long and loud about the process.

"All sides were not heard adequately."
"There wasn't enough time."
"We didn't know how the decision would be made."
"Key discussions were behind closed doors."
"The right people weren't involved."
"Clearly some ulterior motive was at work here."

Continue reading "Happy with the Process"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:11 AM

September 4, 2015

An Un-Business Book

Leadership and Self-Deception is one of the most unusual business books I've ever read. It's a parable or fictional story, but that's not what made it different. A number of business books have taken that approach in recent years.

What surprised me was that I found nothing in this book about strategy, tactics, mission statements, creativity, disintermediation, Hedgehogs, BHAGs or getting the right people on the bus. It didn't talk about innovation or being customer focused or how we live in a totally new normal.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:13 AM

July 31, 2012

Steve Jobs: Genius or Jerk?

Jeff Crosby, our associate publisher for sales and marketing here at IVP, said Walter Isaacson’s book Steve Jobs was simultaneously among the most inspiring and disturbing books he’d ever read. The uncompromising despot of perfectionism at Apple regularly screamed obscenities at coworkers and rolled out one megahit product after another, making Apple one of the most successful companies of our era.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:21 AM | Comments (1) are closed

November 14, 2011

John Stott Memorial

Since his death on July 27, more than two dozen memorial services have been held for John Stott on every continent, in such places as Addis Ababa, Auckland, Delhi, Hong Kong, Lima, Manila, Singapore and Vancouver. On November 11, a memorial was held in the United States at College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:54 AM | Comments (1) are closed

August 26, 2011

Losing Their Jobs

Someone famous once said something like, "Those who live by the sword, die by the sword." Apple has certainly flourished and declined with the comings and goings of Steve Jobs. Now that he has stepped down as CEO due to health reasons, what will happen to Apple?

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:02 AM

April 26, 2011

John Stott at 90

InterVarsity Press is privileged to have been associated with the ministry of John Stott for over fifty years. His clear, balanced, sound perspective on Scripture and life has been filled with a grace and strength that seems rare in this era of extreme viewpoints and harsh rhetoric. As tomorrow marks his ninetieth birthday, I want to consider just one aspect of his character and vast influence.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:27 AM | Comments (3) are closed

August 5, 2010

What's My Motivation Here?

Many years ago I was talking to a freelance proofreader who was several weeks late getting a project back to me. She chronicled the various issues in her life that were keeping her from completing the job. She concluded by saying, "I really want to get this done. I feel extremely guilty I am so late."

I replied, "Well, that just proves what a poor motivator guilt is."

There was a very long, very silent pause at the other end.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:27 AM | Comments (3) are closed

March 29, 2010

The Technical Term for No Change

The best quote from a conference I was at this week came via Linda Cannell. She cites Mark Yudof, president of the University of California:

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:41 AM | Comments (5) are closed

November 23, 2009

Is Professionalism a Dirty Word?

My wife, Phyllis, was assigned the task of giving a talk on professionalism. She asked me, "What would you say?"

Professionalism can have negative connotations--being artificial or phony. I suppose for some that's what it is. But that's not how I think of it.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:39 AM

September 9, 2009

Creating Magic

When I read a business book, I'm often looking for the hot, sexy idea that puts a new spin on things, the innovative perspective that helps me see things in a new way, the dead-on research that makes a compelling case all by itself. Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney by Lee Cockerell is none of these things.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:25 AM | Comments (2) are closed

April 13, 2009

Leading by Listening

Back in the day I was a competitive, wide-ranging, young trivia nerd. (Now I'm a competitive, wide-ranging, old trivia nerd.) So I became a contestant on a local TV quiz show for area high school teams based on the then popular TV show College Bowl. Creatively enough, our competition was called High School Bowl.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:35 AM | Comments (8) are closed

February 2, 2009

Courage to Publish

No doubt publishing is difficult these days. But whatever challenges you and I may face, they are not very significant compared to what Lasantha Wickrematunge faced in the violence-filled country of Sri Lanka over lasantha_0108.jpgthe last fifteen years. There he was a crusading journalist who was not afraid to expose corruption and scandal both in the government and in the opposition. On January 8 he died for his efforts.

He left behind, however, a last editorial to be published on his death. It is a testament to integrity, to humanity, to doing what is right and to looking to the welfare of others before looking out for ourselves. It is publishing with courage.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:26 AM | Comments (1) are closed

January 22, 2009

The Apple of the Day

Back in April 2008 I mused on Steve Jobs's leadership style (brilliant micromanager) and how Apple has benefited from that. Yet making the company so dependent on one (very talented) person has actually made the company more vulnerable.

With news that Jobs had to give up his day-to-day duties on doctor's orders, Wall Street seems to agree. Shares of Apple have dropped about 5 percent since the word got out about his health a week ago.

Why didn't Wall Street factor in Apple's inordinate dependence on Jobs during the last five years' run up in the value of Apple stock? Why do they just recognize this vulnerability now? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the sad but shocking truth that I must now convey to you is this: Wall Street is shortsighted.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:47 AM | Comments (2) are closed

August 12, 2008

Culture Shift

A friend was asking about our office culture. Corporate? Family? Other?

While we've never been a family-owned business, we've always had a family feel. Probably that's because we started small and have grown slowly and steadily over the years. So changes in corporate culture did not come in wrenching jerks and jolts that can occur with fast growth or sudden downsizing. But as my friend and I talked, one change came into focus.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:53 AM | Comments (1) are closed

July 7, 2008

20,000 Staples. How Do You Measure, Measure a Career?

Today I used my 20,000th staple here at IVP. It's taken thirty-five years to reach this milestone. But I have achieved in my career what few others ever dreamed--or ever thought worth keeping track of!

How do I even know this? When I first came as a lowly assistant editor, I was issued a phone, a bunch of blue pencils, a stapler and a box of 5000 staples. After eight years or so, the box of staples was empty. So I went to the supply cabinet and grabbed another. Four empty boxes later, the record was reached. (And that doesn't even count the times I've used someone else's stapler or the automatic stapler in the photocopy machine!)

I'm not sure how many different offices I've occupied (five, I think) in those years, how many commas I've deleted, how many airplane flights I've taken, how many emails I've sent (though I save them all, so I could add them up if you really want to know), how many times someone has interrupted me with a question, how many stories I've listened to in the hallway, how many cups of coffee I've consumed, how many meetings I've been to, how many lame jokes I've laughed at or how many phone calls I've made. (I'm not a nerd after all!) But for some reason the staples stuck.

As I've mentioned here before, large quantities of J course through my veins, which no doubt explains a lot. But why staples? I have no idea. I do know, however, that they've connected pages of memos, letters, reports, forms and faxes representing the birth of ideas and the death of dreams, the routine of standard procedures and the one-of-a-kind reply, the affirmation of a job well done and the diplomatic response to a complaint, the mass dissemination of information and the individual offer of an answer. In this way staples are a metaphor for what editors and publishers do--connecting people and ideas and actions.

All that gets closer than do staples to answering the lead question of how you measure a career. One ancient writer struggled with the same sorts of issues and did a tad better than I have here. He said that rather than counting staples, we should instead number our days. When we do, the first thing we notice is that they are limited, finite. Whether a few or a lot, we only get so many.

What, then, do we do with those days? Will we be wise or foolish with them? In my mind, we have each been given gifts or a gift, some ability in what we do or say, or how we think or see things, that is true to ourselves and that usually stands out to others. It may be the ability to drive a truck safely over hundreds of thousands of miles. It may be the ability to bring healing to the hearts or bodies of people. It may be making numbers into disciplined soldiers. It may be anticipating the needs of others even before they themselves are aware of them.

We begin to measure a career by identifying these gifts. But then we go further. We don't just ask "What am I good at?" but "What gives me pleasure, joy or satisfaction when I do it?" Then we can ask if we have been faithful to the gift we have been given and to the Giver of the gift.

How do you measure a career? Perhaps that's how you do it.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at 3:13 PM | Comments (8) are closed

April 3, 2008

Evil/Genius

Those who are biblically literate know that Genesis doesn’t say what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate. No matter. Centuries of artists have known it was an apple. An apple with a bite out of it. Thus evil entered the world.

So the recent Wired Magazine article by Leander Kahney should come as no surprise.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 11:08 AM | Comments (2) are closed

March 18, 2008

Good News, Bad News

When Chris got the report back about the manuscript, he knew it wouldn’t be good news for the author. While there was much to commend, the end result was that the whole manuscript would have to be rewritten. It had simply been done from the wrong perspective and wouldn’t work for the intended audience. And it wasn’t just one report that came to this conclusion. It was three.

So as the editor, Chris knew what he had to do. He called the author and asked if they could meet and talk about the reports. A time and date were set. When they got together, Chris was able to smile warmly and genuinely express what he appreciated and then deliver the no doubt unwelcome news that a large amount of work yet remained. He closed with appreciation again for the author’s hard work already.

The editor was following a principle I heard many years ago that applies well beyond the realm of editing: The worse the news, the more personal the communication should be; the better the news, the more permanent the communication should be.

So if you’ve got bad news to deliver, do it in person or (if that is not possible) on the phone. If it is good news, do it in e-mail or (preferably and if time allows) a handwritten note.

The message of good news offered in writing allows the receiver to reread it and come back to the compliment, word of praise, comment of thanks or report of good results more than once. It has a lasting, tangible quality that makes it feel more permanent. If it is spoken, it can easily fade from memory. Certainly we often want to--and it is appropriate to--get good news to people quickly, and in person is often best for that. But following that up with a note is a good idea.

With bad news, it is tempting to fire off an e-mail or letter and not have to face the unhappy recipient so directly. That may help you not feel so bad, but it won’t help the person you are contacting. With the personal touch, people are more likely to be responsive to what you have to say. At the least, one hopes they will feel they were treated with some respect.

The personal meeting between Chris and the author made all the difference. Certainly, that was not what the author wanted to hear. But because it was delivered in a personal, human way, the message was palatable. Work on revising the book began very soon.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at 2:28 PM | Comments (2) are closed

January 24, 2008

Stories Are the Point

Bob Harvey, my former pastor, told the congregation in a sermon about the time he was on vacation at a lake, sitting in a giant inner tube when suddenly and unexpectedly he lost his balance and found himself upside down in the water, still stuck in the tube. As a man with a few extra pounds on his frame, he was unable to get out and right himself. While he was underwater trying to figure out what to do, he told us, he thought, You know, this will make a good sermon illustration.

Continue reading "Stories Are the Point"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:15 AM

January 21, 2008

Nobody Likes Planning

Corporate planning is the butt of many jokes and the bane of many managers. But as folks in InterVarsity have said for years, "Aim at nothing and you are sure to hit it." Tom Woll offers 35 pages on planning in his book Publishing for Profit, a book on which I've been offering a serial review. Woll covers a lot of territory. Here are some highlights:

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:56 AM

November 29, 2007

Getting on the Bus

My friend Steve worked as a school bus driver to help pay his way through seminary. His first year on the job was the horror story you would imagine--chaos, unruliness, insolence, anarchy. His second year on the job was a model of order, civility, respect and humanity. What made the difference?

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 12:27 PM

October 9, 2007

Vice President of Looking Out of the Window

The story was a legend in my family when I was growing up.

Once my mom went to have lunch with my dad, who worked as an executive at a company in downtown Minneapolis. When she got to his office she saw him behind his desk with his back turned to the door, looking out the window. She was so impressed by how hard he was working that she immediately elevated him to "Vice President of Looking Out of the Window."

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 5:39 AM

September 6, 2007

Keeping Promises

Some years ago we promised an author that if he signed his book contract with us that we would advertise the book in several key magazines. So he signed the contract, completed the manuscript and sent it in. It was a strong piece, and we were happy to publish it. However, we also discovered that it did not come to us very well targeted for the particular audiences of the magazines in which we had promised to advertise the book. As we discussed the audience for his book and possible revisions with the author, he was not inclined to make any significant changes.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 11:05 AM

August 20, 2007

What Are You Passionate About?

"Dad, what would you say is your calling in life?"

The question seemed to come out of the blue from my college-age daughter. As we stood in the kitchen, inwardly I was a bit taken aback. It was totally legitimate to ask, but it got so quickly to the core of things that I felt momentarily stunned. Did I have a calling? Had I thought about it much? What was I good at and motivated to do? What was my purpose for being on this planet?

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 11:02 AM | Comments (1) are closed

August 8, 2007

For Those with Management Talent

OK, is there anything I don’t like about First, Break All the Rules? Yes. The title.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 5:22 AM

August 1, 2007

Why Do Employees Stay?

I’ve been blogging about First, Break All the Rules, calling it the best management book I’ve read. Here's more of what it says that I find so helpful.

We measure all kinds of things in our organizations—sales, profit, growth, productivity, square footage and so on. But Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman say that there’s no measuring stick for a manager’s ability to find, focus and keep talented people. They try to fill in the gap by identifying the key questions every employee asks, consciously or unconsciously (pp. 43ff.).

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:09 AM

July 30, 2007

Nothing Beats Talent

As I wrote in a previous blog entry, First, Break All the Rules is the best management book I’ve read. One of most useful concepts that Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman offer is that of distinguishing talent (p. 71) from skill and knowledge (p. 83). Talent is “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.” Talents are “the driving force behind an individual’s job performance.” They are “the four-lane highways in your mind.”

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:04 AM

July 25, 2007

The Best Management Book I've Read

First, Break All the Rules is without a doubt the best management book I’ve ever read. All I can say is read it and do likewise.

Well, actually, I can say more. Why is it good? The way it was put together. It’s not just some management consultants giving you their dog and pony show. Two Gallup Organization leaders, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, took the results of surveys and interviews with eighty thousand managers in over four hundred companies, summarizing what the best actually do best and how they do it.

Here’s a sampling of the management myths they bust.

Continue reading "The Best Management Book I've Read"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:58 AM

July 23, 2007

The Art of Pastoring

For years people have been telling me that The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen is a great book. They said it really isn't just for pastors but for any Christian who seeks to minister to others. They said it was not superficial but full of deep insights. They said the author, David Hansen, told great stories.

Even though InterVarsity Press published it a baker's dozen years ago, I had never read it. Until now. What I have discovered is that everyone was right.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:31 AM | Comments (1) are closed

June 28, 2007

Integrity and Mission

Joe Klein wrote in his book Politics Lost that maybe the reason Al Gore lost the 2000 election is that he listened to political handlers too much. They massaged and homogenized his message so much that it felt flabby. Gore was passionate about the environment but the polling said the public was not. So, don’t talk about global warming, Al.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 11:42 AM

June 7, 2007

Gaining Buy-In

Have you ever noticed that when people don’t like a decision, they start obsessing about process? They complain about the timing of an announcement (not on a Friday but on a Monday) or how it was made (it shouldn’t have been via email but on paper, not via paper but in person, not in a large group but one on one) or how they weren’t adequately consulted or that they didn’t know a decision was about to be made.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 3:51 PM | Comments (1) are closed

May 30, 2007

What Would Jesus Delegate?

It's dangerous, of course, to impose any mode of thinking on Jesus. It is his mode of thinking that should be imposed on us.

I suppose it is doubly dangerous when talking about business models.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 11:42 AM

May 29, 2007

The One-Note Manager

Most supervisors (myself included) tend to lean on one style of leadership. You find what works for you, and you stick with it. Or, worse yet, even if it doesn't work, you stick with it anyway. You've fallen into one pattern out of habit or because it makes you comfortable (even if it makes those who work for you uncomfortable).

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:18 AM | Comments (1) are closed

May 16, 2007

Good Conflict, Bad Conflict

It may surprise my coworkers (though not my wife) that I don't like conflict. I like to make nice. Tension among people is very uncomfortable for me.

The hard lesson I have learned over the years is that dealing with conflict is like that old commercial about changing the oil in your car--pay now or pay later. It is much less painful regarding conflict and oil changes to pay now. If you let conflict simmer or fester (to mix metaphors), it can only get worse.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 12:57 PM

April 18, 2007

An Underrated Quality

One overlooked and underrated leadership quality that has gotten a bit more press recently is humility.

We should be grateful to Jim Collins for raising our consciousness about this trait with his concept of Level 5 Leadership--a person who combines great ambition for the organization with great personal humility. He offers a number of examples of leaders who missed this mark and those who hit the target, most famously, perhaps, Abraham Lincoln.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 4:49 AM

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Get to Know IVP

book cover"Some publishers tell you what to believe. Other publishers tell you what you already believe. But InterVarsity Press helps you believe," says J. I. Packer. Andy Le Peau and Linda Doll describe how this came to be a hallmark of InterVarsity Press in Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength, an anecdotal history spanning the sixty years from the founding of IVP in 1947 to the present day.