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The Carpenter


A Story About the Greatest Success Strategies of All




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For Kathryn, who stood right beside me as we built a life, a family, and a mission together.


In my sessions with managers around the world, I often begin by asking, “How many of you think you are leaders? Please raise your hands if you do.” I’m always amazed that less than 20 percent raise their hands. Why is it that these managers—whose jobs are defined by leading others—do not think they are leaders?

The answer is that most people, managers included, believe leadership is defined by the title and position they hold. The managers who don’t raise their hands believe they don’t have titles that are fancy enough or positions that are high enough to call themselves leaders.

These managers probably didn’t have a father like mine. A highly decorated admiral of the Navy, my dad taught me priceless lessons about leadership. I’ll never forget when I was elected president of my seventh-grade class. When I came home from school all pumped up and proud, Dad said, “Congratulations, Ken. But now that you are president, don’t ever use your position. Great leaders are great because people trust and respect them, not because they have power.”

That’s the message of Jon Gordon’s wonderful new book, The Carpenter. I encourage you to think of the main character as a mentor. He will teach you that any human being who loves, serves, and cares is a leader.

If you’re a businessperson, shift your focus from “winning”—whatever that means to you—to using your business to love, serve, and build up others. If you do this, you will succeed and your business will grow in ways you never imagined.

You’ll also learn that to achieve genuine success, you must help others. Your first job in life is not to judge and evaluate people, but to help them succeed in whatever they’re doing. In other words, success is meant to be shared.

I am excited that you have decided to read this book. The Carpenter can change your life for the better. And you, in turn, can change the lives of the people around you—who in turn can change the lives of those they touch. And just maybe, one person at a time, we can change the world.

—Ken Blanchard,

coauthor of The One Minute Manager® and Leading at a Higher Level


I want to acknowledge Walter Isaacson, the author of Steve Jobs, who inspired the story the carpenter tells about his father being unwilling to use cheap wood for the back of the cabinet. Steve Jobs’ father taught him the same lesson and I was inspired to adapt this story to my own book.

Thank you to Erwin McManus, whose talk on being a little crazy in order to be a success inspired what I wrote on this topic.

Thank you to Joey Green, author of The Road to Success Is paved with Failure, for the examples of famous failures that I shared in this book.

Thank you to Frank Gambuzza for telling me his secret to why his hair salon is so successful.

Thank you to my publisher, Matt Holt; my editor, Shannon Vargo; and the rest of the team at Wiley for believing in this book and sharing it with the world.

Thank you to my wife, Kathryn, for reading the manuscript and making great suggestions and changes as always.

Thank you to my friends Dan Britton and Joshua Medcalf for reading the book and sharing insights and suggestions to make it better.

Thank you to my team, including Daniel Decker, Brooke Trabert, and Anne Carlson, for all your support and for making it possible for me to do what I do best.

Thank you to all the craftsmen and craftswomen who approach life and work as artists.

Thank you to all those who love, serve, and care, and become the mission.

Most of all I thank God for the Carpenter who saved me in 2006 and transformed my life, heart, and soul forever.

Chapter 1

The last thing Michael remembered before waking up in the hospital was running through the city streets and thinking about ways to build his company. Now he was lying on his back with wires and machines connected to his body as his wife, Sarah, sat by his side and a nurse stood over him.

“What am I doing here?” he asked groggily. “Did I get hit by a car or something?”

“You passed out on your run,” answered Sarah, who was crying and shaking. In all the years she had known him, she couldn’t recall him having more than a cold, never mind being in the hospital.

“How? Why?” he asked.

“That’s what the doctor is trying to figure out right now. He’s reviewing your tests and should be in shortly,” the nurse said.

“I hope I’m okay,” Michael said as he looked around the room and then at Sarah. She tried to smile and be reassuring but she couldn’t. She was scared and expecting bad news.

Michael lifted his arm and felt a bandage and lump on his head. “How did I get here?”

“The ambulance brought you. Your head hit the ground pretty hard. The EMTs told us that a man saw you collapse and helped you. He used his shirt to stop the bleeding and called 911. He just might have saved your life.”

“Who was it?”

“They didn’t get his name. He just gave them that card sitting on your table.”

Sarah picked up the card and showed it to Michael. It was a simple plain white card with only the word Carpenter and a phone number in black, bold ink.

“Not much of a marketer,” Michael said, coming to his senses and regaining his usual humor.

Sarah’s nervousness turned to laughter as she shook her head. Even while in the hospital he was thinking about business. She was thankful, at least, that he was feeling more normal.

In that moment the doctor walked in and stood over Michael’s bed. “Well, the good news is that you didn’t have a heart attack like I had feared,” he said as he shook Michael’s hand.

“Heart attack!” Michael exclaimed. “I’m too young to have a heart attack!”

“Not necessarily,” the doctor countered. “In fact, your body is warning you that you better slow down and manage your stress or you’ll experience the real thing before too long. Have you been under a lot of stress lately?”

Michael and Sarah looked at each other. “We own a business,” Sarah said. “We’ve been building it together, and with two kids, it’s been a whirlwind.”

“Well I advise you to slow down,” the doctor said as he made eye contact with Michael. “No business or success is worth your health and life. I want you to rest for a few weeks before heading back to work. It will do your heart and your head some good. You have a minor concussion as well. Nothing major or serious but we want your head to heal, too.”

Michael looked at Sarah. Rest was the last thing he needed with everything they had going on.

The doctor walked toward the door but before leaving the room he turned around and said, “You’re lucky this was just a warning. I see people all the time who don’t get a warning like this. Remember, life gives us warnings for a reason. Learn from this. Do things differently. Your health, kids, and future grandkids will be thankful you did.”

Chapter 2

The next day Michael read and watched television at home as he tried to heed the doctor’s advice. He wouldn’t tell Sarah, but he would rather die than rest. Besides, the thought of her running their business by herself was killing him. From the beginning they had done everything together, and no matter how much they had going on with their children’s school, sports, and activities, neither of them had missed a day of work until now. He knew Sarah was more than capable of running the business. She was the brains behind the software and services they sold, and also ran operations when Michael left early to coach their daughter’s youth basketball team, but he was the driving force behind their revenue and business growth, and the reason their company, Social Connect, had grown exponentially in the past year. He and Sarah had spent a number of years at different tech start-ups before venturing out on their own together. It was a scary feeling knowing that their future and family depended on Social Connect, and Michael was driven to make it a success.

But now his strongest character traits—drive, work ethic, and passion—were affecting his health, and he had no idea what to do. He felt like a baseball pitcher told he could no longer use his fastball. He wanted to go back to work immediately, but Sarah wouldn’t allow it. You’ll be divorced before that happens, she told him. “A few weeks won’t make or break our business, but it will make or break your health,” she said.

Unable to change Sarah’s mind, Michael spent his time pacing around the house, trying to relax and knowing he was failing miserably at it. He stopped in front of his flat-screen TV in the family room, sat on the couch, and thought of the entertainment center Sarah wanted to build. For the first time he could picture it. At first he thought of building it himself, but then laughed at the idea. His father had always said that Michael had better make a lot of money because he would need to hire people to fix things around the house. And Michael did something even better: He married a handy woman who could fix things. Her dad was a mechanic, her brothers were plumbers, and when something broke in the house, the kids went to her instead of him. Yet, building entertainment centers was beyond even her skill set.

Michael then thought of the carpenter who had saved him and remembered he had his card. I really should call to thank him, he thought. But what do you say to a stranger who saved your life? “Hi. You saved my life. Can you build entertainment centers?” Michael found the card on the counter and decided he was just going to say thank you and ask him where he could send a gift. He called the number and after a few rings Michael heard the voice of the man who saved his life: “Hi, I’m not answering my phone right now because I’m building kitchen cabinets at 111 Main Street. I’m putting my heart and soul into these cabinets so I won’t be returning calls until I’m finished with the job. Please know I will give the same attention and care to your work, as well. If you need to talk to me feel free to come by 111 Main Street during my lunch break at noon.”

Michael shook his head. A carpenter who doesn’t say his name on his voicemail and won’t return calls to potential clients. How does he have any clients? Michael wondered. Not only does this guy need a new business card, he also needs a lot of help to build his business.