It has been awhile since I’ve shared some thoughts. These were inspired by a sermon by my friend, Kris Vallotton, and some other great sermons I’ve listened to by fabulous preachers and leaders like Tim Keller and Steve Bucklund, and many more that I can’t remember…credit given to all!

Over my years of being an entrepreneur beginning when I was 13 years old with my own paper route in Scottsdale, Arizona, I’ve learned that it is more difficult to figure out what to do when you have success than it is with failure. When you have failure you have no friends. When you have money you have all kinds of “friends.”

So the question is:  “What do you have to do when you have so many people that like you or you have more money than you need…how you would handle this true test?”

As Kris stated, “The test of abundance is tougher than the test of lack.” Trusting in the time of lack is difficult, but it is a true test of a person to trust during abundance.

I have made tens of millions of dollars and I have lost tens of millions of dollars (the painful part). The one big lesson I have learned is to do my best to act like Jesus acted when He walked on earth; to be humble, gentle and powerful. After 50-some years in business for myself, I’ve realized that success is clearly propelled by humility. Humility is not thinking less of yourself–it is thinking about yourself less.

It is so important to have business partners—and especially employees–who will speak truth in love with compassion to suggest corrections in what I say and do, and how it affects others’ lives. I have been told I am extremely “intimidating” in person. I understand to some extent because I am big, loud, boisterous and I wave my gigantic arms around a lot when I talk. I have also been told that I have had a tendency to override or correct those in my presence without taking time to really understand that they are gently trying to communicate the best way they can on an issue that is important to them in our relationship. Learn from my mistakes.

As I’ve grown older, I realize that I have received advice from people regarding new strategies in a negative fashion. Years later, I found out that they were correct. Now I really pray in my heart and brain for guidance to impart wisdom to help transform another’s difficulties by staying humble, low and asking in advance for forgiveness for presenting an idea that they may not like. I have gone back to people that have given me great advice that I did not listen to, to let them know they were truly correct.

It appears to me that there is a big debate in business now, as noted in a recent article in Atlantic magazine, that young MBA students are coming out of school confused about whether they should be tough-minded and feared like some successful CEOs, or whether they should be a humble servant/leader like other successful CEOs? As I survey the landscape of truly successful leaders, I am coming to my own personal spiritual opinion that God is now putting a big spotlight on the most humble people, and blessing them with success. If we are always low and humble, always willing to be corrected–especially by those who you know love you–we find ourselves getting closer to a door of revelation and discovery about an issue and those we are serving with in business or ministry today.

Remember, you do these principles for yourself–not because of others. Be sure you are honest about your weaknesses. Always admit your mistakes first, and don’t make excuses or blame others. Be honest about your weaknesses.

As a true leader, have an attitude that no task is beneath you (take out the garbage occasionally for your own well-being). Make sure when you compliment those that work for you, that you do so without telling them how great you are (a problem I suffer from continuously).

Ronald Reagan said, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Give others credit even when you know it should be attributed to you. Don’t worry about others acknowledging your success.


I love this one from Kris: “Be more concerned about what your conscience whispers to you instead of what people shout about you.” He also states that, “Reputation is forged in the crucible of repeating character during your life.” If you don’t like your reputation, change your repetition. Begin with humbling the hell out of people. Some say that adversity is the mother of invention, but I am clearly seeing humility is the father of promotion.

The greatest attribute of a leader in business is the ability to impart hope. Don’t worry about trying to do something great–do what you were doing with great faith. Focus on serving others to bring them freedom; you will experience more freedom yourself. When you are given an open door to be a positive influence, go for it! Don’t be frustrated about what door is not open.

Paul the Apostle “counted it all joy” in the midst of a battle.


My terrific life partner-friend Lindsey has quoted to our children many times her high school social studies teacher who said to them, “You are in the most imminent danger of being wrong when you are the most positive of being right.” How true. Many times in my life, I’ve charged forward into a situation 150% knowing that I am right. I ignored the gentle questions asked by people wiser than me in those particular circumstances. Because I am a believer that perseverance is 50% of success, I have somehow plowed through some very ugly situations to a successful outcome. But life would have been much easier for me if I had my wisdom antenna up high enough to be humbly receptive to what others were suggesting about particular situations.

This is particularly difficult when you’re put in a position of being the “expert” with other experts in the room waiting for you to deliver the magic bullet solution. In my older years, I am learning the power in those situations of “asking questions, using kind words.” By asking questions and truly listening for genuine understanding of a situation rather than plowing forward boldly based on experience, an opportunity to fully understand a situation in the moment occurs, and then I can draw upon my scar tissue of failures to help all involved find success.

Every day I believe we are coming into an age of “compounding evil.” Recently, I had an opportunity to spend two and a half days with 18 college and university presidents. These were some of the smartest and spiritually tuned-in people I’ve ever met.

As we shared intimately the challenges they faced as leaders, I remembered some of the headlines about their institutions which I read about in the news. When I read the headlines and the news stories I ascertained what wisdom I could from a drive-by review.  What I failed to understand was the underlining domino effect of the principle of “compounding evil.”

Each attack or negative event affecting these institutions had underlying tsunamis of compounding evil. Because of the confidential nature of the intimate gathering, I cannot share any of the details, but what I learned is that when I read a headline about a business or ministry, I will forever stop and say a prayer for the leadership involved to quickly triage the fact that they must be prepared for compounding evil as a result of the main event. I know this sounds simplistic but I was shocked at the underlying challenges the leaders faced solely as a result of one event that, in my mind after reading the news story, seemed manageable. Some of these events that seemed like short-term crises might very well affect these institutions’ stability for years to come.

So always remember to be humble, gentle and yet powerful. Remember that you don’t have all the answers based on your experience, but your experience can help inculcate a current situation with real wisdom once you know as much as possible about that situation.

Lastly, remember that terrible things happen to everybody, including Christians. Real joy can be based on the scripture, “All things work together…”  Remember that the Bible promises us that, “Our bad things turn to be good things…that our good things can never be taken away…and the best is yet to come!”

15 responses on “Humble…Gentle…Powerful!

  1. Rebecca says:

    Well said! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and life. I find the power we gain by being humble is that of being respected by others. It goes without saying you have earned the respect of others. In fact many people, myself included look up to you as a leader and pioneer in this ever changing educational field.

  2. Anita says:

    Michael: This is insightful, wise, vulnerable and amazingly well written! Hi to Lindsey.

  3. Troy Carl says:

    Well said brother! Very encouraging and even timely for my life.

  4. Dennis says:

    I know what you mean about the statement “When you have failure you have no friends. When you have money you have all kinds of “friends.” You where a close friend when I was riding high and vanished when I ran into challenges. I felt that you where a great friend when you need my connections and once those connections where gone so was I…. never heard from you after that day!

    True friends are always friends!

  5. David Brown says:

    You clearly have lived with the volatility of being an entrepreneur and learned the benefits of staying grounded during the highs and resilient during the struggles. We have lived similar paths. I respect your belief that Christianity and the Scriptures provide a you moral framework, but your observations apply to many other philosophical and spiritual frameworks beyond Christianity. I see too many examples of bad public policy in our country rationalized by literal adherence to the Scriptures.

  6. Timothy Emerick says:

    My dear friend. I know that we live in a culture where by we want instant miracles. We want God to answer us at the speed of a microwave oven. We don’t want to wait, or serve, or endue. We want instant discipleship. Discipleship is along obedience in the same direction towards God’s high calling in our lives. For many they want to be tourists rather than pilgrims in their relationship with God. Man made religion has fostered a tourist mindset when it comes to relationship with our Creator. God uses every experience to mold us into His image and that takes a life time and a different mind set than the world cares to have. We are on a journey and God is our Chief and Commander. He will be nothing less. I pray that we will be able to listen to that still small voice that bids us to walk with Him in spite of obstacles or trials that come upon us. True faith in God is demonstrated by our obedience.

  7. Babu says:

    Enjoyed reading your rambling, Michael. When you are truly humble, you also become selfless. When you die only what you do for yourself dies with you, but what you do for others get immortalized! Therefore, humility is the beginning of that journey. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. The resume is about Confidence and Competence, while the Eulogy is about Character.

  9. From my continual research and writing on the importance of Character Quality in leadership, I tend to agree with Jim Collins in Good to Great, that two critical elements of effective leadership are personal humility and strong will, both of which you identified here. I’m working on a book that combines Confidence, Competence, and Character into a unified framework for self-development and leadership development. The missing ingredient in most hiring decisions and self-development efforts is the development of Character Qualities as the foundation of self-control. Things like the definition of Love (a verb) in I Corinthians 13 and the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5, are only developed as we allow the Holy Spirit to minister to us during our Solitude, Silence, Sacrifice, Service, Sabbath, and Salvation (from the works of Dallas Willard). This might be best illustrated by the differences between what we put on our resume and what we want our Eulogy to say. The first is about our Confidence and Competence, while the second is about our Character. Character changes the world. It is the only thing that ever has.

  10. Reymundo Marin says:

    Your thoughts are precious to me. As a friend I appreciate what you have done and I am sure, with God’s help, you will continue to do greater things. My prayers are with you and your family. Echoing Winston Churchill, “Never give up, Never give up, Never.” God be with you!

  11. Peter Constine says:

    John 8:32New International Version (NIV)

    “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

  12. Don Worcester says:

    Thanks for doing your Theology. Your article was humble, gentle and powerful. Some Big Things make little difference and some little things make a huge difference. Your words resonate with my on heart and experience. Thanks for sharing from your experience along the way.

  13. Good write-up. I definitely love this website. Keep writing!

  14. Jan Serino says:

    Nice post. I learn something more challenging on different blogs everyday. It will always be stimulating to read content from other writers and practice a little something from their store. I’d prefer to use some with the content on my blog whether you don’t mind. Natually I’ll give you a link on your web blog. Thanks for sharing.

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