Personal Development


Are you looking for a short read that provides clear and practical examples of effective leadership for personal development? If so, you would benefit from studying Donald T. Phillips’ book, Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times, an analysis of the executive leadership traits embodied by the 16th president of the United States. In his review of President Abraham Lincoln’s example, Phillips takes the perspective of one discovering a rich tapestry of leadership skills hidden in plain sight. His approach makes the reader feel like they are learning about the well-studied leader for the first time.

Phillips researched thousands of primary sources including letters, recorded accounts, and interview transcripts from people who worked directly with the President. He also highlighted several of Lincoln’s letters and quotes throughout the book. The use of the actual words of Lincoln both illuminates and validates Phillips’ claim that he possessed modern leadership traits that are applicable in today’s business and workforce environments. Phillips organized the book into four sections that address effective leaders’ ability to build relationships, personal character traits and values, endeavors to lead, and communication skills.

In the first section, entitled “People”, Phillips outlines a critical strategy that leaders may use to build meaningful relationships with subordinates. Specifically, he describes Lincoln’s example of engaging those around him to empower them, build strong alliances, and cultivate a sense of loyalty. Phillips’ second section, “Character”, highlights how Lincoln’s uncompromising policies of honesty and integrity won over many of the strong personalities he confronted. Phillips encourages today’s leaders to align their actions, values, and character to influence the character of their organizations, as Lincoln influenced the character of his nation. In the third section, “Endeavor”, Phillip teaches leaders to emulate the way that Lincoln encouraged innovation and sought generals who craved responsibility and took risks. He also provides rich, historical examples of the President’s decisiveness to show that a leader has to be decisive, set goals, and be results-oriented. Phillip’s final section, “Communication”, puts President Lincoln’s charm and masterful communication style on display to emphasize the power and importance of effective communication for leaders. He points out how mastering the art of public speaking, developing the ability to influence people through conversation, and communicating a strong vision are at the essence of executive leadership.

Potential Impact for School District Leaders/ Reflection and Recommendation

Lincoln on Leadership achieved Donald T. Phillips’ goal of illustrating in clear and concise detail the leadership prowess of President Lincoln. Phillips’ book elucidates the leadership principles that Lincoln demonstrated throughout his life and identified why executive leaders today should implement them. Throughout the book, Phillips frames Lincoln’s leadership traits in a way that aligns to the work of the Superintendent as the chief executive of a school district. Phillips’ work should equip any school leader with solid leadership principles and would serve as a reminder that leaders must embody, communicate, and affirm high values and character. Additionally, Lincoln on Leadership lays out a straightforward blueprint for superintendents to build essential relationships in their school systems and the communities they serve.

Finally, a superintendent would benefit from studying Lincoln on Leadership in great detail to better understand how the 16th president of the United States was able to lead in times of crisis when leaders are needed most. It could be argued that most superintendents would have already cultivated many of the leadership traits presented by Phillips and that it would be more relevant for aspiring leaders or first-time superintendents. However, Lincoln on Leadership can still serve as a refresher for a superintendent and should be read by all educational leaders.


Phillips, D. T. (1992) Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times. New York: Warner Books. (ISBN 0-446-39459-9)

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy

It is hard to imagine a segment of our American society in 2019 that has not been impacted by the dysfunction of our current political and social structure. Nevertheless, our inability to find unifying solutions to matters that we agree upon is an indicator of a much deeper problem that we have not begun to understand. Sadly, these issues are magnified in the public education system in America. I am sure we have all heard the adage derived from the writings of Thomas Reid, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Unfortunately, today the strength of character of the individual educator is the “weakest link” and is often overshadowed by the debate over the effectiveness of the United State’s public education system.

Collectively, we are channeling billions of dollars into innovative programs to close the growing achievement gaps between students from diverse racial and economic backgrounds, which only result in pockets of change and overall no lasting effects. We publicly claim a focus on student learning and the quality of public education, yet we are growing in our over-reliance on standardized tests and other evaluation systems that don’t accurately capture the state of student learning. We have teacher shortages across the country coupled with struggles in the recruitment and retention of effective teachers.  Moreover, increasing numbers of currently employed teachers are crossing the line with students and exercising poor judgment by engaging in inappropriate relationships with students. At the same time, more students are committing suicide and carrying out mass shooting in schools while politicians and the media argue over gun control and mental health support. These problems interfere with optimal academic performance and degrade the strength and vitality of our society. So, how can we begin to solve the issues that plague our public education system?

For starters, we should be asking ourselves individually; How have I contributed to these problems? Before you stop reading let me be clear, I know that no one wants to have the finger of blame pointed at them. As I stated earlier, there are tons of people sincerely working to address these problems on a political, financial, even spiritual level, so there is enough blame to go around. What I am claiming is that we all have a responsibility to examine who we are and the content of our character.  Before we can look at how public education can improve student achievement at the classroom, campus, or school system level, we have to hold ourselves accountable to a higher standard of character and own up to the fact that when we don’t, it negatively impacts our students and the communities we serve. Just look at your average elementary teacher. She has the responsibility to make hundreds even thousands of decisions every day that will, in the long-term, impact the lives of hundreds of students. As such, we can’t lose sight of how her character, in addition to her professional knowledge and skill, will help her accurately diagnose students’ instructional needs and adequately utilize the resources and strategies available. Principals have the added responsibility as the instructional leader, to ensure that teachers have the resources, professional learning experiences, and collective vision for all staff to do their best work. With these weighty charges on the shoulders of a collective few, it is imperative that each educator has the highest moral character and is more cognizant of how their values and integrity impact the broader system.

To this end, the more that teachers and teacher leaders enlist the courage to address their responsibilities and personal character, the more likely it is that more campuses and school systems will be able to take a different approach to mitigate the problems public education faces today. The individual in education makes all of the difference in the world!

Most days I wake up with my daily routine on my mind. I anticipate my workout and the associated feelings of accomplishment after I complete the sweat session. Ever mindful of the time, I continuously monitor the clock to make sure I have ample time for prayer, Bible study, and writing. Then it is a mad dash to hit the shower, get dressed, and kiss my family goodbye before dashing out of the door only to be joined in traffic by thousands of other individuals rushing to work. As I engage in all of these routine tasks, I am intentionally focused on doing, what I have come to learn, helps me to be the best person I can be for the day. But today, when I arrived at work, I realized that there was an important factor missing from my daily regiment.

It was when I stumbled upon an encounter with a co-worker that I rarely interact with in the break room. After a few pleasantries and a short conversation about a recent news event, my co-worker surprised me with one of those comments that make you think, “I never knew you saw me that way.” He shared a comment that included a statement like, “because of you, I have decided to pursue a long-held professional goal…”. I immediately replied, “good for you,” but internally I was shocked by his response because I couldn’t recall ever having a conversation with him about his career goals, my professional experiences, or anything that would lead me to believe I would have influenced his decision. I was quickly reminded at that moment that my personal example is speaking to people even to those that I don’t really engage in conversation.

Personally, I believe that we all should take responsibility for our words and actions, which are manifested through our personal example. So, after being reminded of my long-held belief by my co-worker, I realized that I was apparently communicating a message that encouraged others to take action to improve themselves. However, that encounter made me think a little more about the message I share daily. More specifically, I wondered, what am I doing to ensure that my personal example is communicating what I would like for it to say? After all, I put so much effort into getting ready, physically, spiritually, and emotionally to be the best version of myself, that I should be more aware of the fact that my actions are speaking to others.

Now, as an educator, you can’t avoid influencing others through your example. In fact, one of the things successful teachers realize is that your personal example is your most potent instructional tool with students. Since this concept wasn’t foreign to me, I focused on identifying approaches to help me be more present and aware of the opportunities I have to influence and hone the message of my personal example.

(1) strive to be the best version of myself in every aspect of my life, from my appearance to my word choice to my disposition every day

Excellence fosters excellence, and the more we are at our best, the more we can inspire others to be at their best. Making a conscious effort to model the highest standard of professionalism, collegiality, and respect for everyone we interact with will drastically streamline what our personal example is saying to others.

(2) concentrate on being present and paying more attention to the people I interact with daily

We have to be aware to be intentional, and it is easier to pay attention to people when your general disposition is to have outgoing concern for others. Living as an example is an enlightening way of life rooted in service to others. It can be both rewarding and eye-opening to merely think about the needs, perspectives, and strengths of others before acting.

In a Forbes article, The Most Powerful Leadership Tool You Have: Your Own Example,  contributor John Hall states, “Your own example is the most powerful leadership tool you have.” He goes on to share five things you can do to strengthen that tool and improve your example as a leader.

1. Get in the trenches (without getting trapped in the weeds).
2. Eliminate superiority barriers.
3. Forget your insecurities.
4. Challenge yourself and those around you to become better.
5. Prove the impossible is possible.

My daily routines are filled with activities designed to help me accomplish my goals. They serve me well, and I see no reason to change them. Instead, I understand the need to align them to the broader purpose of preparing me to influence and improve the lives of others positively. After all, Booker T. Washington said it best, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” So the more awareness I have of the message of my personal example, the more I will be able to accomplish my goals of helping others aim higher and be better.  Now, my question to you is, what does your personal example communicate?

Show Highlights

Superintendent of Schools for Community ISD, Dr. Roosevelt Nivens, highlighted his personal story of triumph.  During this episode, Dr. Nivens shared a truly inspiring story of overcoming as his father, friends, and teachers supported him along his journey from a poor, illiterate child, to an NFL football player, and ultimately to becoming a school superintendent. He also discussed how he developed self-confidence and how he is driven to foster the right confidence in those he serves and impacts every day.

Resources mentioned during this episode

About the Guest

Dr. Roosevelt Nivens was born and raised in Langston, Oklahoma. Education comes naturally to Dr. Nivens; his dad, Roosevelt Sr., was an educator for 46 years and his mom, Barbara, was a teacher for 36 years. In 1990, Roosevelt majored in Education while attending Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia, on a football scholarship. He later graduated from college in 1995 and realized his life-long dream of playing professional football. However, his football career was quickly halted due to an injury and he found himself executing his “back-up plan”, using his degree in education.

In 1996 he began his teaching and coaching career with Dallas Independent School District and later, in 2001, he found his way to the principalship with Lancaster Independent School District. He has served as Assistant Principal at Lancaster Jr. High and Lancaster High School. He later moved, in 2005, to become Principal at Lancaster Middle School. His last campus position was Principal of Lancaster High School for four years. In 2011, Dr. Nivens transitioned into a central office leadership position as Executive Director of Secondary Schools and he later became the Assistant Superintendent in Lancaster ISD.

Dr. Nivens earned his Doctorate of Education (Ed.D) from Texas A&M Commerce. He was appointed Superintendent of Community ISD on July 28, 2015.

Dr. Nivens is married to Karla and they have two children attending CISD: Naomi and Roosevelt III.

Contact with Dr. Roosevelt Nivens

Website: Community ISD Bio
Blog: Superintendent’s Blog
Facebook: DocNivens
Twitter: @Dr_RNivens
Instagram: @dr_rnivens
Public Cell: 972-843-1056

Connect with the Host

You can reach me on Twitter @drjeffmiller  and Instagram @drjeffreymiller or go to my show website and leave a question or comment about any of the content shared on this episode. You can also read my latest blog post at

It is nearly impossible to welcome a new calendar year without thinking about what is to come. The pressure to set new goals, make new plans, and start anew is brought on by the constant reminders from our friends, social networks, and media of all types. Essentially, you would have to be living under a rock not to be bombarded with the expectations of setting new year resolutions. Well, this year I asked myself, what if we saw the new year’s resolution craze for what it really was, an arbitrary point in time in the dead of winter that is marketed as a reset button. Upon further reflection, I believe that we are easily charmed by this idea of a ‘do-over’ because we fundamentally lack stick-to-itiveness for many of our challenging goals in life. I say this not as a pessimist, rather, as a realist that aims to focus on the bigger issue to actually achieve real change. After all, isn’t that what we all really want in the new year, change? So to do this, I will embark on the following alternative plan of action for 2019 and suggest you do the same.

  1. Count your blessings and answered prayers for the year.
    Make this a practical exercise by listing out as many blessings you can think of in 5 minutes for each month of the year. You could start with the December and work your way backward to January. Also, if you have not already done so, commit to keeping a blessings/answered prayer log this year to help you with this process in the future. The best way to put the year in perspective is to review your blessings.
  2. Take time to clarify what is most important to you.
    It is so easy to fill our lives with things that really don’t matter. We are so busy with life’s distractions, influences, and entertainment competing for our emotions, energy, and commitment that we can become a magnet for trivial pursuits. To counter this, we have to focus and refocus on ‘the main thing continually’. Try putting your ideas on paper with a simple table using columns for spiritual desires, family desires, health desires, personal desires, and professional desires. I suggest these categories because most people usually end up pursuing things related to them, but feel free to make columns for the things that you tend to commit time and effort. Then list your most desired outcomes for each. I recommend adding results to help you clarify what goal obtainment would look like and to encourage action toward each area. Keep refining your list until you have one for each category. Once complete, your table should contain what matters most to you. As your life changes adjust, but always revisit before establishing a new goal and committing your time.
  3. Recognize what is driving you to make a goal.
    This is probably the most troubling aspect of making new year’s resolutions. Far too often we go with the flow without asking the question, ‘where is this coming from?’ before taking action. Are we being inspired by someone else’s success, the fear of missing out, a clever marketing campaign, or are we merely avoiding a more significant issue altogether? The best way to accomplish this is, to be honest with yourself and ask why five times to get to the heart of what is behind our desires to take action. Getting a handle on our motivations will always result in making better choices.
  4. Drop any dead weight – things that are not working need to go.
    This is easier said than done. You may even say this is harder than starting something new because our human nature and tendency to hold on to things that we have attached emotion or affixed meaning. Unfortunately, the reality is, we all tend to hesitate when it comes to confronting failures. Maybe that is because we are so used to seeing failures as negatives. Don’t get me wrong, I like to succeed as the next person, but the older I get, the more I appreciate learning – that is learning what works and what doesn’t work. We have to work at framing failures like a researcher developing prototypes. Every day we get the chance to make a new and improved version of ourselves, and this innovative mindset should lead us to scrutinize results frequently and make decisions to stop pursuing the things that don’t work. If you really feel the urge to start something new for 2019, how about starting the year with less – no more time wasters!
  5. Make a plan to review the progress of your goals at the beginning of each season – Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.
    Yes, the need to review and revise is real, and I am not suggesting that we run from it. Instead, I am recommending that we put it in perspective. If we had a regular routine of goal evaluation throughout the year, we might find ourselves obtaining more goals and achieving what matters most in life. This is what led to my efforts to turn these steps into a practical exercise every quarter. Developing the right habits of mind toward continuous improvement and establishing practical steps for realizing success in life are always more important than following fads, trends, and emotional rollercoasters that end in failure and the need to reset every year.

So here’s to a year filled with daily renewals and not another once a year shot in the arm with the urge to set new goals.

Show Highlights

Educator and Psychotherapist, Dr. Tracey Brown, shared advice on how to find your voice and work through challenges to achieve personal confidence.  During this episode, Dr. Brown shares the following resources, experiences, and strategies to help others find their voice:

  • Recognizing the need for help
  • Giving yourself permission to succeed
  • Listening to the right voices for guidance
  • Continuing to learn and stay unboxed
  • Knowing your source of inspiration
  • Strategies for staying focused

Resources mentioned during this episode

About the Guest

Dr. Tracey Brown, author of SINGLE MOM, PHD and EBB & FLOW: A 21-Day Meditational Guide to Help You Recover from a Broken Heart and Broken Relationships, is the mother of one son and co-parent with former NFL cornerback and Super Bowl Champion, Dave Thomas. Dr. Tracey presents a compelling story of her life as a single mom and the struggles she and Dave faced in their relationship as co-parents. Welfare, court battles, and child support are not foreign to Tracey and Dave as their story is one similar to thousands of single moms and dads who struggle to find common ground and peace in their co-parenting relationship.

Dr. Tracey’s journey has been one of true courage, faith, and unconditional love as she used the gifts of faith and education to rise above her fears and find confidence in herself as a woman and single mom. The strategies Dr. Tracey offers in SINGLE MOM, PHD and EBB & FLOW tackles even the toughest relationships and encourages everyone to live their “best life from the inside out!”

In addition to being a counselor, author, speaker, and entrepreneur, Dr. Tracey also hosts The Dr. Tracey Show, an internet television talk show that challenges the important topics of our day and celebrates Life, Love, and Relationships.

Dr. Tracey is President/CEO of TRBZ Enterprises and serves as keynote speaker and seminar host for several businesses, corporations, organizations, and schools. Dr. Tracey has been featured on several television and radio shows including Dallas’s WFAA Channel 8 Good Morning, Texas, KSTA Radio, KTAB4U, and KRBC-TV. Dr. Tracey has also been recognized as the Cross Plains “True Grit”Heroine of the Day. Dr. Tracey has served the Dallas ISD for 24 years as a teacher, counselor, counselor supervisor, and psychotherapist and sits on the board of the Lone Star State School Counselor Association, which advocates for school counselors in the state of Texas and around the nation.

Dr. Tracey engages her audience on live stream platforms and in speaking engagements around the nation. Her ultimate goal in life is to help others improve their quality of life, one heart at a time!

Contact with Dr. Tracey Brown

Facebook: Dr. Tracey Brown
Twitter: @drtraceybrown
Instagram: @drtracey
LinkedIn: Dr. Tracey Brown

Connect with the Host

You can reach me on Twitter @drjeffmiller or go to my show website and leave a question or comment about any of the content shared on this episode. You can also read my latest blog post at