As we begin 2023, I find myself reflecting on how I can grow as a leader, spouse, parent, and friend. Perhaps you are asking yourself similar questions. What has been coming to my mind—and my heart—over the last few days are two opposing questions that bookend our day-to-day lives. Our answers to these questions separate the givers from the takers, the successful from the unsuccessful, and the selfless from the selfish. Here they are:

  1. What is the least I can do? 
  2. What more can I do?

Ninety percent of people wake up every morning asking that first question. Nobody admits it, of course—least of all to themselves. Much of this thinking is subconscious, but their actions are telling. What is the least I can do to get by? What’s the bare minimum required of me? Unfortunately, this is why nearly half of marriages fail. It’s why some 80 percent of the workforce is disengaged and disheartened. When we aren’t 100 percent invested in the people and things we ought to love, failure is inevitable.

I’m fortunate to be friends with a few 10 percenters—those rare leaders who wake up every morning determined to answer that second question. The first is Paula Just, who is Chief Human Resources Officer for Health First, a large healthcare company based in Florida’s Space Coast. I met Paula years ago, when she hired me to speak to her 12,000 employees at a hospital system in St. Louis. Five minutes before I went on stage, she shared with me some personal things going on in her life—things most people never share with new acquaintances. That is when I fell in love with Paula’s beautifully authentic heart, and it was the start of our wonderful friendship. Over the years I’ve seen firsthand the kind of wife, mother, and leader she is. I can tell you without a doubt that Paula Just has never considered doing the bare minimum. She belongs in the rare 10 percent club of leaders who wake up every day asking, “What more can I do?”

I have shared in previous blogs that my youngest son, Tate, moved to Minnesota this past fall to attend hockey prep school at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Jill and I bought a second home in Faribault, Minnesota, so we can visit him over the next four years. Faribault is fifty miles south of Minneapolis with a population less than 25,000—all of whom live and breathe hockey. These are folks all along the socioeconomic spectrum, but you won’t find many people driving around in fancy cars, even if they can afford them. There is a beautiful humility and work ethic among the locals that is so refreshing and genuine.

I met a guy in Faribault named Mark Buhrandt. I’ve become quite close with him; his wife, Sarah; and their two young children, Zoey and Frankie. During my last visit we met for breakfast at the Hy-Vee grocery store. (Yes, that and Perkins are the only two breakfast places in town). Here is what I learned: Mark has spent most of his career working at the Faribault Correctional Facility. He started out thirteen years ago as a security guard at the prison and then worked his way up to a desk job. When Mark shared his work hours, I nearly choked on my eggs: 7:30am to 3:30pm Monday to Friday. Then, at 3:30pm, he changes into his old security guard uniform and works the 3:30pm to 10:00pm shift. Mark could see me doing the math on how many hours a week he works; he brushed it off with his humble smile and said, “I am just blessed that I get to be home with my family every weekend and coach my daughter’s basketball team.” Mark wakes up every morning and asks himself, “What more can I do?”

I have a friend named Tim Brand, who founded an amazing nonprofit called Many Hands for Haiti. In all my years, I have only met a few people as devoted to serving others as Tim. A few years ago, he invited me on a mission trip to Haiti. I volunteered alongside Tim as he brought critical medical and food supplies to underserved communities. Being in Haiti changed my life and gave me new perspective on what it means to serve. Just a ninety-minute flight from the richest country in the world is one of the poorest countries in the world. Our neighbors are suffering, and only a few people like Tim are helping. He wakes up every morning and asks himself, “What more can I do?”

I am inspired by my friends Paula Just, Mark Buhrandt, and Tim Brand. They have taught me to live, love, and lead differently. They have taught me the power of vulnerability, having a strong work ethic, and serving the poor. I admit that sometimes I wake up and think, What is the least I can do today? Curling up on the couch with Netflix seems like a great answer. But Paula, Mark, and Tim have inspired me to do more. No matter how tired I am, no matter how much I want to watch college football all Saturday, my three friends remind me that there is always more I can do.

Nobody is perfect. There are going to be days when you don’t do enough. You will miss opportunities to give back to your community. There will be moments when you take the easier road more traveled. Don’t beat yourself up. Remember that what separates the 10 percent from the 90 percent is the desire to be better. True success is not listing every good deed you accomplished this year; it’s knowing that you tried to be better every single day. It’s watching the ball drop on December 31 at midnight knowing that you did a little more than last year, and that there’s more to do next year. It’s resolving to wake up every morning with one question in mind: What more can I do? 

The best 10 percent of us answer this question with their everyday actions. Their spouses, children, employees, customers, and friends all benefit from their selfless acts of service. Do you want 2023 to be better than 2022? Remember that there is a stark choice in how you love and lead. It boils down to a simple question:

What more can I do?