Love. Serve. Lead.

How Many Books Should I Read?

how many booksThis is a very personal decision. We’ve already established that average business people read one book every two years. At DEFENDER, we hire and promote above-average team members, so I would expect you would choose to read more than one every two years. The A+ players are reading 24 to 25 books a year. We have people at DEFENDER who read 50–60 books a year!

Reading in the way that I’ve described it here will speed your personal growth and increase your impact on the team you are serving. There is such a thing as reading too much. You will know you’re reading too much when you’re not executing on any ideas that you’re getting from your reading.

Pick the pace that is right for you. Set a reading goal. Start out with six books a year. That’s one every two months, the same pace as the Fortune 100 CEOs. Next year, try for 12 books. The third year, you can probably hit 24 books.

Consider the level of difficulty of the books you are selecting when you are planning your reading program. There is a big difference between books in the amount of information, complexity, length and style. A book like Who Moved My Cheese will take two to three hours, while Good to Great might take 18.  Reading six Good to Great’s a year is a more difficult task than reading 12 Cheese’s.

Remember that since we are reading to get those one to three big ideas, there is no right or wrong decision in selecting the difficulty level of your books. There are many very simple books that are packed with life-changing information..

Harvesting Ideas from Books

Harvest ideasThe human brain only has the capacity to retain four thoughts at a time in short-term memory, and at the most, seven. In order to harvest what you are learning in a book, you need to get a reliable tool to collect those AHA! moments.

Traditionally, people have highlighted, underlined and made notes in margins of books to collect what they feel is important. A few years ago, I was searching for a better approach. Highlighting and such is good if you want to identify quotes or emphasize what you think is important. Margin notes are useful, but can be difficult to locate when you go back to a book to check your thoughts. However, they don’t really capture what I’m driving at when I talk about capturing those BEST ideas.

I’m looking for the answer to this question, “What do I want to do with the information I’m learning in this book?” These will look more like “TO DO” items. Sometimes they look like the very valuable “STOP DOING” items. On occasion, I’m capturing an AHA! moment that is a profound thought from the book I’m reading.

The way that I deal with these items is: open the back of the book. There will usually be one to four blank pages in the back of the book. I write my action steps on these pages. It is important to do this as you read the book. Remember, the human brain will only retain four thoughts at a time. You’ve got to harvest that new idea by writing it down so that you are ready for the next idea to land. This is a vitally important step in your continuous improvement program. Write the ideas down.

Not all the ideas will be great ideas. Don’t worry about vetting them out immediately. Just write down your thoughts. When you finish your book, you may have 10–20 ideas written on those pages. It is important to understand that not all 20 ideas need to be executed. Nor is it likely that all 20 should be executed. Your task now is to identify what those one, two or three ideas are that have the greatest chance of changing who you are, how you think and how you do things forever and ever. I cannot stress this point enough. Success is not defined by getting everything done. Great success is about getting the right things done. Pick the things that can get the most impact for you and your team.

If you have 20 ideas written down, get comfortable with only picking one idea if you have one really fantastic idea! Are there remaining ideas that should be shared with other teams or team members? Are there remaining ideas that should be delegated to someone else on your team? Don’t hoard what you’ve learned. Share it. You’ve got more ideas where those came from..

Reading and the BIG Idea

Big IdeaEvery book has at least one idea that will change who you are, how you think or how you do things forever and ever. When you read with this purpose in mind, you will attract the right ideas, the BIG ideas, to you. If you try to memorize, outline, highlight or write pages of notes, you are very likely (perhaps even destined) to miss the BIG idea!

You must learn to use discernment to capture your BEST idea. Success is not about capturing ALL the ideas in a book. You will never capture all the great ideas in a book. Greatness is attained by focusing on the one BIG idea, capturing that one BIG idea and then applying that one BIG idea!

And these BIG ideas will apply across many areas of your life, both personally and professionally. I once had an argument with a peer at work. In the argument, he had given me some constructive criticism and it stung. I didn’t agree with it. I debated it with him and there was some heat in the discussion. I ruminated on the unfair criticism for a long time. The day after the argument, still nursing my self-inflicted wounds, I left for vacation. On my vacation, I was reading Deepak Chopra’s The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire. About halfway through the book, I encountered this, “When someone criticizes you, handle it the same way that you would handle flattery and say ‘thank you.’ Don’t say anything else.  Don’t debate the criticism. Just say ‘thank you.’ It takes a lot of courage to give a person feedback, and in order to learn from the feedback, it is best to just say ‘thank you.’” I started thinking back through the criticism my peer had delivered and was shocked to discover that there was some truth to what he had pointed out. I adjusted my style based on that coaching and, to be honest, it was one of the best improvements that I’ve ever accomplished. It has changed who I am, how I think and how I do things ever since. In addition to that, I started to develop the habit of just saying “thank you” when people give me feedback. This creates an environment where people are more willing to give me feedback and I’m able to make more improvements.

A few years ago, two of our sales people approached me with an idea that they thought could improve our sales close rates. When I first heard their idea, it wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, I just couldn’t figure out how to make it work within our financial model…we couldn’t afford it. Six months later, I was reading The Perfect SalesForce by Derek Gatehouse and encountered an idea that, combined with my sales people’s idea, might solve the problem on how to make the financial model work. We launched a series of tests to prove out the model. The result was a 75% lift in our sales results. This idea created a whole new career path for our sales force, helped new sales people to be more successful, quicker, enabled marketing to be more effective and created hundreds of new jobs. We moved the bottom line and top line numbers way beyond our expectations. We changed who we are, how we thought and how we did things at DEFENDER forever and ever..

How to Read a Book

Boy studyingI often talk to groups about the importance of reading at DEFENDER. Without fail, many look troubled by the thought that they will have to read a book. They have that look on their face like they’ve just been lied to by the recruiting department that hired them. I’ve had people with MBAs look like I just asked them to give up a kidney.

Why is reading so intimidating for adults? My belief is that the adult learner equates reading for personal growth with the reading they used to do in school. In school, it went something like this:

Read Chapter 1

Quiz on Chapter 1

Read Chapter 2

Quiz on Chapter 2

Read Chapter 3

Quiz on Chapter 3

Take a Test Over the First 3 Chapters

With that cadence in mind, the reader is focused on things like:

  • What will the teacher ask on the quiz/test?
  • What do I need to memorize to regurgitate on the quiz/test?
  • How will I get a good grade?
  • I will make an outline so that I’m sure I’ve collected every possible item that the teacher may ask on the quiz/test.

The type of reading that I am challenging you to engage in does not use any of these tools. The adult learner in my application has only one significant question to ask as she reads for continuous improvement:

What are the one, two or three ideas in this book that will change who I am, how I think or how I do things forever and ever?

That’s it! It is the only reason to read a book when you are reading for continuous improvement..


misc_book3Charlie “Tremendous” Jones says, “The difference between you today and you a year from now is the people you meet and the books you read.”

The average business person reads one book every two years. The average Fortune 100 CEO reads six books a year.

Verne Harnish, founder of the Gazelles Institute and author of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, says his team’s research is showing that the A+ players in business read 24–25 books a year.

DEFENDER is a reading organization. At DEFENDER, we believe leaders are readers. Everyone at DEFENDER tells me they’ve read more since coming to our team than they ever have in their career. We have 100 book clubs throughout our business where people are meeting in teams, reading books together, discussing what they have learned and how they might apply that learning. We have a corporate library, a recommended reading list and we recognize our readers in weekly newsletters and other corporate communication tools..


CoachabilityBob Knight says, “I’d rather have a player who is coachable over a player with talent, any day of the week.” I agree. If you’re not coachable, there is a limit to how great you can become. You’re not capable of learning from others. If I hire a person who is not coachable on our team, they are as good as they are going to get on the day I hire them. That might be enough for that role for awhile. In a business that grows as fast as DEFENDER, that person will get left behind quickly. The coachable team member is a person poised to deliver continuous improvement by tapping into resources that will help deliver better results, faster. They are able to handle not only the current role, but there is an extremely good chance that they will be able to grow into bigger roles and coach others to do the same..

A Healthy Lifestyle

Healthy LifestyleBeing a part of a highly driven, high-achievement team takes a lot of energy. You cannot get your best results when you are worn out all the time or fighting off every bug that the kids bring home from school. When you are on a high-performance team, you have to care for your body like a high-performance engine. Your energy level is going to have a lot of effect on the successes that you can deliver.

The definition of a healthy lifestyle is going to be different for each of us. Age, gender, family composition, current physical condition, stress levels and health history all play a role in determining how you should set priorities for optimizing your health. You and your doctor should have a conversation about how to shape these opportunities to increase energy and effectiveness. At DEFENDER, we encourage our team members to know their health-related numbers, monitor at regular intervals and make adjustments to help improve their outcomes.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things you could do to improve your health. I like to focus my efforts by working on those things that increase energy levels. They are fairly simple and easy to do, but often require building new habits in order to get the most out of them.

Get plenty of rest. The average person requires a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night. While it is true that some people can survive on less than five hours of sleep, they only make up 2% of the population. This means uninterrupted sleep. When you consistently get less than the minimum amount of sleep, you take years off your life. It is a huge health drain. Turn the TV off. Turn the IPOD off. You don’t want to subject yourself to all that negative programming while you are sleeping anyway.

Drink plenty of water. Your body needs water to run its systems efficiently. Many health problems are caused by dehydration. I personally know four people who have gone to the emergency room in the past year, thinking they were having a heart attack when in reality it was dehydration. To determine the amount of water you should be drinking, take your body weight and divide it by two. That’s the number of ounces of water you should be drinking per day.

Exercise. An average of four hours of exercise a week is what my doctor recommends. If you are not exercising at all, you’ll see a tremendous improvement in your health if you exercise at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week. The best starting point is probably NOT hiring a personal trainer and buying thousands of dollars worth of exercise equipment or gym memberships. The best start is a good, old-fashioned walk. Hit the pavement and get your heart pumping..

Being Around the Right People

Right PeopleIt’s just like your momma told you, “Be careful who your friends are.” Or the old saying, “If you lay down with dogs, you’re going to get fleas.” These are more than just old sayings. They are truth. Let’s look at the evidence.

  • Dave Ramsey’s research finds that your income will be within 5–10% of your 10 closest friends.
  • Gallup Research shows that if your best friend has a healthy lifestyle, you are 5 times more likely to have a healthy lifestyle.
  • Also from Gallup Research, if you have a close friend who becomes obese, you are 3 times more likely to become obese.

This evidence points to the fact that we cannot go to sleep at the wheel when making decisions about the people we are spending our time with. We will undoubtedly take on the behaviors of those we spend the most time with.

Don’t be a frog! If you want to boil a frog and you drop that frog into a pan of boiling water, he will jump out as soon as he hits the water. But if you put that same frog into a pan of cool water and heat the water up gradually, he will sit in that pot and happily boil to death.

Many of us are sitting in the pot slowly boiling to death because we have gone to sleep at the wheel about who we are spending our time with. We let our circle of friends steal our confidence through negativity and fixed mindsets. We waste our time with folks who can’t provide thought leadership or life lessons that keep us on a development path.

Make decisions that will keep you in a crowd that is moving toward the same types of goals and values that you are. “We are what we repeatedly do.”

Attitude may be the single biggest attribute to evaluate when selecting the people you surround yourself with. Are the conversations productive and pointing toward an overall objective of improving one’s quality of life and the lives they encounter? Or are the conversations centered on complaining about the spouse, the kids, the professor, the economy, the job, the boss, the coworkers, etc.? (A good rule of thumb from Darren Hardy is, “Don’t talk about problems with people who can’t solve them.”)

Here’s a trap that many people fall into:  they like being the big fish in a small pond. This person surrounds themselves with people who have less education, less money, fewer successes, less potential and less drive than they do. People in this group like the feeling of superiority they get by not being challenged. It’s like being 20 years old and acing the second grade every year. Reach, stretch and challenge yourselves by connecting with great thinkers and doers.

Develop the habit of surrounding yourself with great people..

“That Guy” – Energy Vampire

I want to share another great video from our “That Guy” series. This video series is a fun way to shine a light on some annoying office behaviors. In this episode we’ll learn about the consequences of having an Energy Vampire around.  Watch your attitude, it’s contagious!


Tips for Getting the Most from Your Personal Board of Advisors

  • Meet regularly with each member of your PBOA. In some cases, you may want to have meetings with your advisors as a team. I like a monthly cadence to keep me on track and delivering the most value from my goals and objectives.
  • Advisors are not always lifetime contributors on your PBOA. There are seasons connected to each advisor’s role. An advisor you engaged because you needed better parenting skills will not be the same advisor you need when tackling the challenges of empty nesting or retirement. Be aware of when you have outgrown an advisor. Honor the role that they have played in your success, but keep developing and shaping the advisors as your needs evolve.
  • Hire a professional, especially for those roles around accountability and spotting greatness. Professional coaches can add a lot of value. Plus there is something magical about making a financial investment in a good coach that causes you to be more deliberate about the results.
  • Darren Hardy has some great advice about where to apply your energy in your PBOA selections: “Talk to people who care about things that matter.” The team you field must care about the results. And you need to honor their investment in you by following through on your commitments to continuous improvement.
  • When you’ve done a good job selecting your PBOA, you will have assembled some superstars who have big constraints on their time and attention. They have made a big commitment to serving you as you seek better results. Use their time and abilities wisely. The topics you discuss should be relevant to your biggest opportunities. Prepare an agenda ahead of the meeting. Ask yourself, “What is the one thing that I need to be focusing on right now in order to impact my future in the biggest way possible?” Talk to your advisor about that ONE thing.