Friday, April 11, 2008

The Bookends of Success by Dr. John C. Maxwell

NASCAR drivers know the importance of starting in the right place. Before a race even begins, they compete with one another in the hopes of earning the best starting position. At qualifying runs, held the week prior to the official race, each driver speeds around the racetrack in a timed performance. The driver with the fastest time earns pole position - or the right to begin the race in front of the other cars. A driver in pole position doesn't have to be concerned about passing anyone in order to win the race. All he or she must do is hold their position in order to win.

Conversely, a driver who does poorly in the trial run must begin the race in the worst possible position - at the very back of the pack. Stuck behind the other race cars, the disadvantaged driver has virtually no chance of winning. To finish first, he or she would have to pass every other car on the track during the course of the race.

In addition to starting strong, a NASCAR driver understands that his or her performance depends on finishing well. In a 500-mile race, leading for 499 miles is meaningless if a driver isn't in front at the checkered flag. Regardless of a driver's skill maneuvering the car early in the race, if he or she crashes or loses focus toward the end, the driver will forfeit the lead and lose the race. Nobody wins points for their position in the middle of the race; rather, each driver is assigned a place based on how he or she finishes.


Great leaders understand the two bookends of success: starting and finishing. We generally think about them in terms of doing a task or project. However, what's true in our approach to projects is also true in our approach to each day. How we spend our mornings and evenings has a tremendous bearing on the course of our leadership.

I use my morning to set up a game plan for the day. During this time, I allow no interruptions. I never schedule breakfast meetings, and I isolate myself from distractions. I do not permit myself to strategize years down the road or to project my thoughts months into the future. Rather, I narrow my focus to the upcoming 24 hours. I ask myself: "Just for today, how can I be a success?" Viewing life in 24-hour increments, I place a premium on each day. I try to make each one a masterpiece.

During the evening, I reflect on my day. By reflecting, I translate my day's experiences into learning opportunities. This process solidifies in my mind the lessons I've discovered or bits of knowledge I've uncovered. Reflecting also gives me the space to assess my progress on the goals I made during the morning.

Relaxation is another important part of my evening routine. I make a point to put my leisure time into activities that replenish me by refueling my energy. For me, such activities include spending quality time with my wife, reading a book, or studying Scriptures. Relaxation puts me in a good emotional state, lifts my spirits, and reminds me of the joys of life.

When I neglect to carve out time in the morning to plan my day, I notice adverse effects. First, I don't live my day on purpose. Instead of choosing where to invest my time, I cede control of my schedule to whatever circumstances happen to arise. Second, I squander my energy. Since I don't outline clear goals for my day, I float from one activity to another without getting anything done. Finally, when I skip my morning planning time, I feel overwhelmed. Since I'm ambitious, I have a propensity to bite off more than I can chew. If I don't focus my attention, the weight of my numerous involvements begins to drag me down.

When I am not intentional about setting aside evening time for relaxation, I encounter negative symptoms, too. First, I get uptight. My times of reflection and relaxation act like valves that release stress from my life. If I don't guard those times, I get tense, my thoughts are more negative, and my health suffers. Second, I lose passion. My leisure times fuel me. If I am not intentional about putting time into my favorite activities, then life loses its luster. Third, I miss chances to grow. When I don't reflect on the meaningful moments from each day, I rob myself of the benefits of experience.


Yesterday is gone, and tomorrow is out of reach. That's why today matters. Leaders who value each day know the importance of starting well and finishing strong. In the mornings, they focus their energies on key tasks, and in the evenings, they replenish themselves. By mastering the bookends of success, leaders position themselves to make an impact every day.

"This article is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell's free monthly e-newsletter, "Leadership Wired," available at"

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