Wisdom doesn’t just happen. It takes work.

Wisdom doesn’t just happen. It takes work.

My father’s first sermon was delivered at the Bowery Mission in New York City. He began with a rhetorical question: “Would you rather be wise or foolish?” Unfortunately for him, one of the inebriated attendees shouted out his answer from the back of the room: “Foolish!”

Thankfully, readers of this newsletter would opt for wise. But like so many things of value, wisdom is not acquired simply as the result of passing time. Wisdom takes work.

Wisdom Building Statistical Strategies

Most of us have strategies that are statistically successful. That is, they work more often than not.

One of my statistically successful strategies is taking the words of clients seriously. When a client says, “I’m really struggling to develop a vision for the next three years of this organization,” I don’t respond, “I’m sure you’re doing fine. You’ve always come up with a clear vision that has motivated your organization to success.”

Instead I ask…

“Why do you think you’re struggling? You’ve always done well with crafting vision in the past. What has changed?”

Another statistically successful strategy has been speaking directly about issues to people. “You say you want to spend more time with your family, but you seem to draw meaning almost entirely from your work. What will motivate you to change your current behaviors?”

Both strategies have failed.

One of my favorite examples was lunch with the CFO of a multinational corporation. He asked me, “Stephen, what motivates you? What is it that you are seeking to achieve?” Without hesitation I responded, “My mission is to free people to be themselves.”

About five minutes later, my lunch companion remarked, “Reflecting back on your comment about freeing people to be themselves, I can assure you that as CFO I have absolutely no interest in seeing that happen.”

Each of us has strengths and statistically successful strategies that arise from our personality and gifting. They come naturally. We don’t have to work at them or even think consciously about employing them. They flow from us. It could be listening, encouraging, evaluating, critiquing, directing, advising, motivating, or any of 1,000 additional gifts.

Wisdom Building Through Natural, Non-Conscious Strengths And Gifts

Wisdom comes when we take these natural, nonconscious strengths and gifts and begin to consciously shape their expression.

By modifying these statistically successful strategies to be even more successful. We learn to read our audience, understand the context, consider the timing, and thereby modify what comes naturally. Take the nonconscious and make it conscious. Make the statistically successful even more productive. It becomes a super-strength.

This requires thought, effort, and nuance. This requires work.

It may also require humility as we learn from others who advise us how to be more successful in the expression of our strengths.

How do I become wise? I read my clients and understand that they don’t intend for their words to be taken seriously in this context. I recognize that directness would not be appropriate at this time.

Where can you move from statistically successful strategy to wisdom? Move from natural strength and gifting to super-strength? Are you willing to invest the energy, the work, required for this transformation? Are you willing to accept input from those around you?

Let those around you observe in your behavior that you are shouting, “I want to be wise!”


Dr. Stephen Julian is President of Julian Consulting, a firm specializing in team health, effective communication, and leadership development. He has worked with leaders and their teams for nearly 30 years in a variety of settings – including Africa, South and Central America.


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Are You Happy?  Is Not The Best Question

Are You Happy? Is Not The Best Question

Back when I was a little too clever for my own good, I would ask people, “Are you happy?” Then, regardless of their answer, reply, “It doesn’t matter. Life isn’t about whether or not you are happy.”

As we mature, sometimes we believe things quite similar to when we were younger, we just find better ways of expressing those beliefs.

What is life about?

I still believe life isn’t about happiness – not ultimately. Feel free to ask me what I do think it’s about, but that won’t be the point of this newsletter. You may think this newsletter is a review of my life, but I assure you, it’s really about you.

I want to challenge you to examine what you are pursuing. What life are you creating for yourself? Why are you making the choices you are on your journey?

You may be sick of the phrase “new normal.” I get it, but Coronavirus can provide an opportunity to reevaluate tendencies that have become ruts along your path. Use this strange period to quit assuming that the destination to your journey is inevitable. Ask: Is it time to reorient and chart a new direction?

If I Had A Dream

I tell people I had three dreams as a child. To be a professional baseball player. Read books about baseball and memorized all sorts of stats about the Big Red Machine (the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s). And attend baseball games. The one thing I neglected to do was to play organized baseball.

I wanted to be a Native American. Seriously. So I read books about the unjust treatment of Indians, identified with those injustices and wanted to help right them. Iron Eyes Cody was featured in anti-littering ads and I’ve never littered since. You can read the online debate about whether Iron Eyes Cody was even a Native American, but to me he was and I listened to his counsel.

I wanted to become a genius. Then my father told me that geniuses are born. I was smart enough to know what he meant. I wasn’t a genius. I read a lot of books about baseball and Native Americans, but I wasn’t any of the things I dreamed about being.

So, early in life I was 0 for 3 on my life goals. It was time to reorient.

Then in college an adult I respected said, “Julian, you are far too serious.” I realized my melancholy nature and natural discontentedness were leading me down a path toward a life I didn’t want to inhabit. So I decided to follow the advice of Carole King in “Beautiful.” And when I got up with a smile on my face found that people were happier to be around me.

This isn’t about me. It’s about you. I just know my story better than I know yours.

Your Life Pursuit

What are you pursuing in this life? When you take time to reflect on your life, if you ever slow down long enough to do so, I want to suggest one question for you to ponder:

Are you pursuing goals worthy of a human life?

Restated: If you got everything you are seeking to accomplish/acquire, would your life have been worth living?

You may guess at my answer to what life is about. I’ll give you a hint: Whatever it is, it has to be larger than you. No amount of money, lake house in Michigan, car, McMansion or actual mansion, fame, power, or influence will ever be enough.

Are you happy? Yes? That’s great. I’ll check back in a week, a month, a year to see if your happy answer remains unchanged. In the meantime, ask yourself: Am I pursuing goals worthy of my time on this planet? This may be the most important question to ponder as you battle the Coronavirus blues.


Dr. Stephen Julian is President of Julian Consulting, a firm specializing in team health, effective communication, and leadership development. He has worked with leaders and their teams for nearly 30 years in a variety of settings – including Africa, South and Central America.


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Stacking Teacups On Your Head–Four Principles For Parents

Stacking Teacups On Your Head–Four Principles For Parents

There are principles for parents that make parenting a little easier.

One of my favorite vacation memories is of Dieter Tasso stacking teacups on his head. The trick was that he threw each teacup and saucer from his foot to rest upon the previous teacup – on his head.

Some of you may feel like Tasso these days. You are trying to balance more than you ever thought possible. Sometimes navigating between parent and friend to your child is challenging, but now you are teacher and coach as well.

Piano lessons seemed like a great idea, but now you are not just tracking practice times, you’re helping with Zoom lessons and answering questions you were paying someone else to address.

Math? Forget it. Your version of subtraction no longer adds up, and don’t even get me started on geometry or calculus. We don’t want to let our kids in on the secret that many of them really won’t use this information later in life.

Some of you are craving a bit of social distancing within your own home. So, what are you to do? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, no escape hatches.

The bottom line is that you embrace your role during this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to influence your children in ways they may never forget. Keep these four principles in mind as you stay strong and lead the way.

When Considering Principles For Parents: This too shall pass

Last month I wrote that the sky isn’t falling – it just feels like it is. Help your children to gain and maintain perspective. This is an unprecedented event for those of us living through it, but humanity has survived innumerable unprecedented events and we will get through this as well. People are dying. Jobs are being lost. Investments are shrinking.

But the love of a family persists. Make sure your children see you modeling an appropriate response to these events. 

This is a great season for perspective. 

When Considering Principles For Parents: Your Child Having A Future Is Paramount, Even If That Future Is Different Than Planned.

It is sad to see the number of people who won’t have their planned weddings, graduations, or once-in-a-lifetime family gatherings. We have a friend whose Olympic dreams have been put on hold and he has no idea whether they will ever be realized. 

Many of us are used to living near the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, focusing on self-actualization. Now we are joining much of the world that spends their lives attending to physical needs and safety. Your child’s future depends on being here for the future more than it depends upon that cherished event.

Help your children recognize that while we are suffering, we have simply entered the world in which many people live their daily lives. Teach them to turn from self-pity to serving others, and they will discover that everyone’s situation improves. 

This is a great season for empathy. 

When Considering Principles For Parents: You Are Teaching Far More Than Math Or Science These Days

Your children are watching. Study after study affirms the same truth. More than their peers, children care deeply about the values and affirmation afforded by their parents. They care what you think about the world, about faith, money, sex, relationships, communication, and family. 

They do a great job of acting as though they are indifferent and many parents abdicate their influence because they believe this indifference is real, but these same parents should recognize that they still care what their parents thought and taught. We measure our lives against the lives and affirmation of our parents.

Don’t get lost in the weeds and miss the larger point that your children are watching how you handle a crisis and from that they are learning how they should live their lives. 

This is a great season for modeling. 

When Considering Parenting Principles: Love Covers A Multitude Of Sins.

My father was a minister and during his 50 years of serving families he saw it all. He reminds me that even when things got ugly, families have a remarkable way of healing because love covers a multitude of sins. You are tired and grouchy. Digging for bugs was fun for the first fifteen minutes, but your child persists in that pursuit for hours and wants your full attention.

Don’t despair. You are doing far more right than you currently recognize. You may lose your temper or say something you wish you could retract. Fine. Take a deep breath and reengage. As someone who has worked from home for more than 15 years, I know all about children interrupting work. When you are on that Zoom call and the dog barks or the kid screams, laugh.

It’s OK. People understand. Remember: You can never be everything your child needs and this season is no different. There will be gaps in your child’s experience during this pandemic, but they will catch up. 

This is a great season for grace. 

Hang in there. Your family is doing better than you realize. Just be thankful you don’t have to teach your kids how to stack teacups on their heads.


Dr. Stephen Julian is President of Julian Consulting, a firm specializing in team health, effective communication, and leadership development. He has worked with leaders and their teams for nearly 30 years in a variety of settings – including Africa, South and Central America.