Winners' Wisdom
by Jim Stovall

The Churchill Legacy

Those of us who are blessed to live in a free society as we enter into the 21st Century owe a great debt to a handful of people who led us through the first half of the last century. Among these few people to whom we are indebted is certainly Winston Churchill. He led with his words, his deeds, and--most importantly--his character. The mere power of his presence and his persona emboldened allies fighting for freedom all around the globe. He may be among the most quoted people in recorded history.

I believe Churchill would have been considered great if he had lived at any time in the past; however, as stated by one of my favorite authors, Louie L’Amour, “A person can only be judged based on the backdrop of the time and place in which they live.” Churchill was a decisive, powerful force at the time in history when a decisive, powerful person was most needed. He had the gift of having something significant to say and, just as importantly, he had the gift of being able to say it in a way that others could internalize.

In one of my favorite Churchill quotes, he leaves us to ponder, “Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. Courage always counts.” In this brief passage, Churchill reminds us that our success or failure is merely what we do or what we have done, but our character is who we are. Too often, those who have had temporary success stop progressing because they see this brief success as a destination instead of a springboard to greater things. Often, those who have suffered a temporary setback see it as a life sentence that they must live with. In reality, where we have been is mostly irrelevant if we have a firm understanding of where we are going and how we are going to get there.

Churchill understood that today’s headlines are tomorrow’s memories. We always have the opportunity to build on success or reverse failure. We are not our performance. Instead, we are our character. If you will focus on becoming the person you want to be, success and failure will take care of themselves. Great people will always do great things.

The Miraculous Age

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that was actually started as a prayer of parents regarding their children. This proverb states, “May you live your life during interesting times.” This may be among the most significant aspects that can impact a person’s life. If living in interesting times is, indeed, valuable, you and I have been greatly blessed.

On a recent cross-country flight, as I always do, I was listening to several books on tape. One of the books was about a group of settlers crossing the country in covered wagons approximately 140 years ago. As I was jetting across the country, reclining in my leather seat, listening to a book on tape, sipping a refreshing drink, and waiting for the flight attendant to bring my dinner, I couldn’t help but think of my fellow travelers less than a century-and-a-half earlier. They had to deal with floods, fires, disease, hostile natives, and a myriad of other perils. Their diaries described days when their travel was so slow that they slept in sight of the previous night’s campsite.

I removed my headset to eat my dinner aboard this particular flight, and while doing so, listened to a number of my fellow passengers describing their particular travel perils including missed connections, weather delays, and the dreaded lost luggage.

We live in an amazing time. When you consider my fellow travelers in the covered wagons from the perspective of recorded human history, their trip across the country was a mere blink of an eye. Over 99 percent of humans who have lived and died on the earth would have been literally dumbstruck at the way you and I live. Most of the terminal diseases have been eliminated or are being cured; we travel in the comfort of automobiles and airplanes; we live in wonderful, safe, climate controlled homes; we talk on cell phones, watch television, and are just beginning to scratch the surface of what computer technology will mean for our children and grandchildren.

If you doubt how dependant you and I have become on our modern conveniences, simply turn off the electricity for a day in your office or home. As you go through your day today, attempting to make your life better, please remember that in an historical context, it is already great.

The 80/20 Rule

When you look at your personal and professional life, the most important decisions you will make revolve around how you invest your effort, time, and energy. There are only two things you can do with your time. You can spend your time in activity or productivity. Activities are things that consume minutes and hours and get you no closer to your goals and objectives. Productivity consists of those tasks that directly impact getting you from where you are to where you want to be.

Many studies have been done that show that most people spend 80 percent of their time on activity and only 20 percent of their time on productivity. If you can ever reverse this ratio, or even affect it slightly, you will instantly notice a huge jump in your productivity.

As a blind person, one of the benefits in my professional life is the fact that I cannot read printed material. On the surface, this would seem to be a disadvantage; but if you think about it, reading is only a method of getting information. When you look at the productivity vs. activity scale, most of the things on your desk, in your files, and in your mail are activity, not productivity. As a blind person, I am fortunate enough to have people who take volumes of printed material and reduce them to the items that I have determined to be productive. If you can do this in your work life by using your own eyesight, you will have the best of both worlds.

The 80/20 Rule also applies to your personal life. This is paramount for your quality of life. Everyone you will ever meet makes emotional withdrawals or deposits in your life account. There are people who impact you positively by just being in their presence. When you are around them, you feel energized, motivated, and productive. On the other hand, there are people who drain your energy, rob your creativity, and diminish your outlook just by being there. These people violate the 80/20 personal rule. If you can spend 80 percent of your time with the 20 percent of the people who make your life better, you will be well on your way to living an extraordinary life. When you find these people who make you feel better about who you are and what you do, either personally or professionally, make sure to maximize your time with them whenever possible.

As you go through your day today, realize that both personally and professionally we become like the people with whom we associate. Control your ratio, and you will control your life.

Customer Service

Think about the best experience you ever had in a restaurant, hotel, store, or airline. Now think about the worst experience you have ever had. Chances are, the difference between your best experiences and your worst experiences are not as much about the product as the service. As budgets are tightened and costs are squeezed, quality customer service is often the victim.

Often, we are forced to work too hard to spend our own money. I realize in many cases staffs have been cut, but this does not mean we can’t have good quality service. All airlines have been going through cutbacks, but those of us who fly regularly are still experiencing flights with great service and flights with really poor service. It’s all about the customer service attitude.

Oftentimes, when you go into a department store and ask the clerk a question, they don’t readily know the answer. We’ve all come to realize these people are probably over worked and under paid. They are in charge of serving customers in a large area of a department store with far too much merchandise for them to have a high level of expertise on everything. So, when you ask your question and they don’t know the answer, you can still have either a good customer service experience or a bad customer service experience.

One clerk will tell you “I don’t know” while conveying the attitude that “I don’t care.” They may stare at you like you’re an alien, mumble something unintelligible, and shuffle away. On the other hand, in another department store, you may approach a clerk and ask your question. They will instantly smile brightly, let you know they don’t know, but they will find out immediately and get back to you. They stay with you during the shopping and purchasing experience and, many times, that individual becomes more memorable than whatever it was that you bought.

I have spent more than my share of time in both cabs and limousines. A really great driver once told me that, “The difference between a cab and a limo is the quality of the driver, not the length of the car.”As you go through your day today, serve your customers as if your life depended on it, because it might; and when you find quality customer service people in your organization or ones where you spend your money, thank them and reward them for making the world a better place.

Doing Your Best

Like me, you were probably told from the time you were a young child to “Always do your best.” As an adult, I have had time to reflect upon the things I was told as a child. Virtually all of those things have a great deal of merit, but when I examined whether or not it was important to always do your best, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that it is not important to always do your best. There are many times in your personal or professional life you can do a mediocre or even substandard job, and it simply doesn’t matter.

You can look back on many situations when you have given a maximum effort to prepare for something, and all of your hard work simply didn’t matter. Unfortunately, deciding when your best is needed can only be determined in hindsight. It’s like a game of basketball. Every shot counts, but somehow when you get down to the last few seconds, it seems that a player is taking a shot that will result in either winning or losing the game. In reality, any basket during the entire contest could win or lose the game just as easily, but you don’t know when it’s going to come down to the wire; so in order to be safe, you’ve got to play your best during the entire game.

Many people get discouraged when they prepare for a test or a project, and all of their preparations do not seem to be utilized. Often people use experiences like this as an excuse to do less than their best in the future. Many times, when you do less than your best, it will be the very instance when a little more preparation or effort on your part could have made all the difference. There’s nothing more sad than an individual who has failed to achieve their desires while realizing that the goal was within their reach had they done their best.

If you can look at doing your best as who you are instead of what you do, it can change your outlook. Defining yourself as the kind of person who always gives a best effort will keep you from that substandard performance when you will later find out that it really mattered.

As you go through your day today, do your best. It may or may not matter today, but being the kind of person who always does their best will matter for the rest of your life.

Today’s the day!

Jim Stovall is the president of Narrative Television Network, as well as a published author, columnist, and motivational speaker. He may be reached at 5840 South Memorial Drive, Suite 312, Tulsa, OK 74145-9082, or by e-mail at . Visit for additional information.

Many more articles in Personal Development in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2005 by Jim Stovall. All rights reserved.

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