Curious? Curious Leadership and It's Results

“Many leaders are the ‘walking wounded,’ but their followers are the ‘sitting silent.'”  That’s a quote from the book Curious: The Unexpected Power of a Question-Led Life by Tom Hughes, Co-Lead Senior Pastor at Christian Assembly in Eagle Rock, CA (a city right around the corner from where I live).

curious

Curious: The Unexpected Power of a Question-Led Life by Tom Hughes

Linking Being Curious and Leadership

Curious is a great book and I highly recommend it!  There are many reasons why I like it but one of them stands behind the quote with which I started this post: healthy curiosity fuels good leadership.

But Tom also makes the point that a leader that is answer-driven instead of curiosity-driven will ultimately burn out, becoming the, as he calls it, the “walking wounded.”  And what’s the result of this kind of leadership?  Well, it isn’t good, that’s for sure!

The way Tom puts it is perfect: the “sitting silent.”  Leaders who try to answer all the questions will eventually burn out and produce passive followers.

And here’s the really odd thing (and this is my commentary now): Many of these burned out leaders blame their followers for their burned-out status and they blame them for not being a more active part of their business, church, etc.

This isn’t entirely fair.  Had the leader done his/her job from the beginning, namely leading from a place of humble curiosity and relentless authenticity, then he/she wouldn’t have to have every answer and his/her followers would be intrinsically compelled to be more active.

So, leaders, instead of complaining, let’s start leading from a place of curiosity!

 

What do you think?  What role can and should curiosity play for a leader?  And what do you think of the idea of the “walking wounded” producing the “sitting silent”?  Let me know in the comments below!

The Ugliness of Envy How to ensure that you'll be unappealing and unattractive!

I think we all have that one friend, co-worker, or family member who insists on being annoyed that anyone else has anything good going on for them.  Do you know what I’m talking about?

This condition is called “envy” and it is really pretty unseemly and downright ugly!

But I think if we’re all honest, then we know that we exhibit lots of envy in our lives too.  So that means that our behaviors, words, and attitudes make us pretty ugly to others too.  (Did you see what I did there…”pretty ugly”…get it!?)

Envy

Green with Envy

Envy Invades Us All

Recently my wife and I were having a conversation and I was talking about someone that we both know.  Everything in his life has seemingly just come together without much effort while many things in my life have taken great struggle and persistence.  I went on and on and eventually I veered off into envy territory.  I started saying things like “Well, if I were him…” and “It would be nice if my life were as easy as his…”

My guess is that this story resonates with you.  Envy is real and its reach extends to each one of us.

The Impact of Envy

What’s so bad about envy?  Some people argue that envy doesn’t really hurt anyone, so why would God tell us not to envy what our neighbors have (cf. the 10 commandments)?

Well, I think there are two reasons, at least:

  1. Envy is a sign that we can’t be content with what we have.  Envy is primary side effect of the disease known as “I wish I had that other stuff over there.”  Honestly, envy communicates loudly that our desire for things we don’t have trumps our desire for God and his will in this world.  And I’m pretty convinced that it is envy that drives our desire for more stuff, more stuff, and more stuff.  If someone else has it, then I have to too!
  2. Envy impacts the people around us.  Check out John 4.1-2: “Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John — although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.”  Do you see it?  The envy of the Pharisees about who was more popular led to Jesus leaving Judea and returning to Galilee.  Their envy impacted Jesus’ plans.  The same is true in our worlds — our envy impacts the people around us.

Envy Solution

So what’s the answer to envy?  Well, I don’t think there’s a quick fix.

Honestly, I think we have to start by being totally satisfied with God and God alone.  If we lost it all but still had him, would we be okay?  Would we be happy?  Or are we so tied to our stuff and relationships that we can’t exist without them?

A second area to work on would is being content with what we have (cf. Philippians 4).  Do we really need more shoes, more gadgets, more square footage, and more fame?  Will it ever be enough?

And a third way to combat envy would be to surround ourselves with community, the kind of community that will love us, correct us, encourage us, and hold us accountable.  So when we start exhibiting signs of envy, they can call us on it and help us change.

Lastly, a fourth way would be to pray.  We need to ask God to help us.  We can’t do this on our own — we’ll always default back to envy.  We need the internal power that only God can provide through the indwelling presence of the Spirit.

 

What do you think?  How big of a problem is envy and what can we do about it?  Let me know in the comments below.

Stretching: Learning and Growing

That’s my son Myron doing one of his favorite things in the world — stretching!

Watching him do this several times each day has got me thinking, what is stretching me?

What’s Stretching Me at the Moment…

Here are a few of the things that are stretching me, causing me to grow and to learn (in no particular order):

  1. School.  I’ve been in school for what seems like forever.  Finishing my PhD has required so much perseverance and patience, the second of which I don’t come by naturally.  If all continues to go well, I should be finished this summer.  *Fingers crossed*
  2. Marriage.  I’ve said it many times that I didn’t know how selfish I was until I got married.  And that statement is as true today as it was in 2002 when I first got married!  The stretching caused by marriage is varied but it is definitely effective!  To me, the hardest part of marriage is choosing each day to put the interests of my wife before my own.  Man, why is it so hard not to be selfish!?
  3. Parenthood.  Since being a dad is so new to me (only one month in!), it feels like the thing that is stretching me the most right now!  I’m learning to live on less sleep, to prioritize differently, and to do things that I hadn’t done often before.  But most of all, fatherhood is teaching me that my capacity for love is much greater than I ever imagined!  When I heard Myron’s first cry, I felt like the Grinch at the end of the book: my heart grew three sizes!
  4. Leadership.  Whether in official capacities or informal ones, being a leader is always a stretching experience!  Not unlike marriage and parenthood, being a good leader means putting the interests and needs of others at the forefront.  This is always unnatural, or at least it is for me!
  5. Spiritual Disciplines.  I’m not a planner.  I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-er.  And with regard to spirituality, spontaneity is not always best!  In my experience, it is best to have some spiritual practices (such as prayer, Bible reading, fasting, etc.) which are a regular part of my life.  For me, the one that creates the most stretching in me is daily, devotional Bible reading.  For me this is a challenge because when I read the Bible I constantly think about it either as an academic, thinking about all the grammatical, historical, and theological issues, or as a teacher, thinking about how to communicate the truths found within to others.  It is a daily struggle for me to find personal, spiritual meaning from the Bible.  This discipline helps me grow!
  6. Work.  I’m about to embark on a new assignment at work and it will be a stretching process!  I’m excited to see how God grows me and my community through this opportunity.  But I’m also quite aware that things will be difficult at times and that I’ll have to find creative ways to move forward or to step aside and let others take the limelight.  I’m looking forward to the challenge.

 

So, what kinds of things are stretching you in your life right now?

Let me know in the comments below!

 

Beginnings Aren’t Sexy

There is a tribe of human beings who love beginnings.  Are you one of them?

  • Did you play with toys as a child for a day or two and then move on?
  • Did you have a slew of short or shallow dating relationships?
  • Do you find yourself dreaming of what could be even while what is right in front of your face is doing well?
  • Are you kind of good at lots of stuff because you like the rush of getting to know something but the knowing it well part sounds tedious?
  • Would you rather be on a new adventure than sticking with what you know is fun and fulfilling?

If you said yes to any of those things then you might be like me: a person obsessed with beginnings.

There are other ways to describe us — visionaries, entrepreneurs, self-starters, etc.  But those descriptions are too positive, too sexy, and too deceptive.  What people like me really are is this: we’re scared of slow success, we’re impatient, and we can be a terror to lead.

When I was a freshman in college I asked my parents for a guitar for Christmas.  My dad wisely resisted, saying something like this: “Why?  You’ll just put it down and not touch it for two years after you mess around it with it for a week.”

Does this sort of response sound familiar to you?  Well, it did to me then (and still does today!).  But I promised my dad that I wouldn’t quit, that I would stick with it no matter what.  This was going to be different than the skateboard, the remote-controlled car, the yo-yo, etc., etc.

And it was.  For what seemed like the first time in my life I put in effort.  I got past my obsession with beginnings and put in the hard and arduous work of learning to play the guitar as a not-so-musically-talented person.

I spent months learning how to play the G, C, and D chords so that I could play 95% of the worship songs out there.

I took three college classes on guitar and music theory for guitar.

I upgraded my guitar, selling my first one in the process, after months of saving up enough cash.

I practiced religiously for years, eventually upgrading again and helping lead worship for hundreds of people.

I finally got to experience the joy of something besides beginnings…and it was great!

 

Beginnings Aren’t Sexy

Here’s my contention — for some of us we need to be told again and again that beginnings aren’t sexy.  They aren’t all that they seem.  Sure, they’re fun and challenging and full of affirmation.  But their joy is short-lived.  Friends, the things in life that are worth living for can’t be fully enjoyed at just their beginnings.

What sorts of things?

  • Friendship: When you first meet someone that you think you’ll develop a friendship with it can be exhilarating.  But the joy that comes with sharing your innermost thoughts and fears with someone that you can intrinsically trust due to years of proof is too amazing for words.  Sure, there are bumps in the road.  There is difficulty.  There are tears.  But their are smiles, little victories, parties, empathy, vulnerability, and depth too.
  • Marriage: The wedding and the honeymoon are great.  But take it from an old pro (12+ years in the bank as I write this), the long car ride, the impromptu lunch, and the partnership through treacherous life stuff is better.  Way. Better.  If married people stopped at beginnings then there would be fewer epic love stories, fewer weathered rocking chairs on porches, and fewer places of uninhibited personhood.
  • Leadership: Starting out is great.  There’s stuff to learn, people to assess, vision to cast, and execution to look forward to.  But it won’t take long for those things to pass and the real work of serving the people you lead to begin.  That’s where the rubber hits the road.  That’s where people will actually buy into your vision instead of just saying that they will.  If leaders only stay around for beginnings, then they’re not really leading anything — they’re starting things.  Leadership requires patience, presence, and persistence — three things that only begin to make their presence known during beginnings.
  • Following Jesus: I want to end with the most important one.  When we first hear about and internalize the good news of Jesus and his kingdom and agree to follow him, it’s amazing!  We experience the reality of God’s love and the familial support of his people.  Often we are “on fire” and we start telling everyone we care about (and someone people we barely know!) how much God loves us.  But following Jesus isn’t just for the beginnings.  No.  Just like the things above, it is often over the span of many years that how God is calling us comes into clarity.  God takes his time to show us how we fit into his ministry of reconciliation and if we stop at beginnings we’ll miss out on all that he has for us.

So beginnings can be tantalizingly appealing.  But they really aren’t as sexy as they seem.  The real stuff comes with age, with time, and with experience.  The real stuff can’t be discovered overnight.  The real stuff must be teased out and spelled out over years and years if not decades and decades.

So here’s the challenge: Barring something exceptional (like abuse or a clear word for God), stick to the things you feel God has called you to.  Don’t jump around.  Invest in your human relationships.  Lead well for a long time in one place.  And follow Jesus for your whole life.

 

What do you think?  What’s is so enticing about beginnings?  And am I right, is the long haul actually better?

Mission: Make Disciples

For the last few years I’ve been doing quite a bit of processing.  Specifically I’ve been thinking about mission.  What’s my personal mission?  What’s my family’s mission?  What’s my small community’s mission?  What’s my Sunday School’s mission?  What’s my church’s mission?

What’s the mission of a follower of Jesus?

And, to be honest, for a follower of Jesus the answer to all of these questions is relatively straightforward: to make disciples (Matthew 28.19-20).  The rub, of course, comes with how one defines these things.  What is a disciple?  How is one made?  And what does it mean that our mission as a follower of Jesus is to make disciples?

What would this look like?  How would we get from the places where we find ourselves to the places we think we should be?

Honestly, however, there are a ton of people who have written or spoken about this.  Most, if not all of them, will do a better job than me.  And most, if not all of them, will probably have more experience.

However, I still think there’s some wisdom to be found in simply following the ways of Jesus as we see them in the Scriptures, whether lived out in Jesus’ own life or in the lives of his earliest followers.

 

Mission: What Are We Aiming For?

Zielscheibe target aim

As I was doing some of this self evaluation, I ran into some common denominators.  Here they are:

  1. Comfort — At a really core level I want to aim for things that won’t rock my various boats too much.  I want stability and safety.  And other things I’m involved in appear to be bent toward this end as well.  I mean, really, who wants to intentionally do something that might be uncomfortable?  That’d be crazy, right?
  2. Autonomy — And not only do I want to be all cozy, but I want to have choice in how I make myself cozy.  And if I don’t have choice, I want to at least feel like I have choice!  I want to be the master of my own destiny.  And as I look at the things I’m involved in, the organizations and the people within them all want autonomy too.
  3. Accumulation — Lastly, I will tend to accumulate stuff that I choose to make me comfortable.  I have this gadget and that gadget and the other one too.  Each one supposedly makes my life better, but the gadgets are building up.  And this desire toward hoarding stuff shows up in the programs, buildings, etc., etc. that our churches accumulate.

These are the things that we tend to aim for.  And doing so seems to place us right in line with typical American/Western behavior.  But are these things the things we should be aiming for?  Or are we way off?

 

Mission: Perception vs. Reality?

But before we answer the question of what our mission should be, we have to honestly take stock of what our mission appears to be.  How would we figure this out?

  1. Time — How do I spend my time?  What takes precedence?  It seems to me that I spend an awful lot of time trying to make cool things that will attract people to me or to the communities I’m part of.  If I build it, they’ll come…right?
  2. Money — On what sorts of things do I spend my money?  Where do the material resources I have go?  All too often my money is spent on maintaining my comfort and on stuff that does so.  And all too often the money in our Christian communities goes toward the big gathering on Sunday, programs, salaries, and buildings.
  3. Dreams — What do I dream about?  What kind of vision is cast?  It seems to me that in my life I dream about my immediate future and the happiness and peace that can be had there.  And in communities our dreams tend to be about the glory days that we’re so sure are right in front of us if we just tweak this one thing, have an expert speak into this one area, or focus on a particular market audience.

 

Mission: Jesus’ Way

It’s not my way or the highway…it’s His way is the HIGH way!  And what is Jesus’ way?

  1. The Kingdom of God — Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15).  He did this preaching through the use of his words and by embodying it for the sake of others.  And what is the kingdom of God?  Much ink has been spilled trying to define this phrase.  But I think we’ve overly complicated things a bit.  The kingdom of God is what happens when God is in charge.  So, when God’s in charge people repent from their sins and follow Jesus.  When God’s in charge people begin to live like Jesus did, centering their lives on the kingdom of God too.  When God’s in charge his clear desire to reach out to the most in need will be lived out in the lives of Jesus’ followers.  When God is in charge Christians won’t look, sound, and behave just like their neighbors; they’ll be different.  It will be obvious; it won’t be subtle.
  2. Loving God and Loving Others — Jesus was asked once what it’s all about and he said loving God and loving others (Mark 12.28-31).  So love God by praising him, praying to him, learning about him, spending time with him, obeying him, etc., etc.  No brainer.  And we love others by putting their interests above our own (Philippians 2.3-4).  Hard as all get out; but a no brainer too.  Jesus’ way is all about love!
  3. Being Agents of Reconciliation — Lastly, Jesus’ way is to turn us all into his ambassadors of divine reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5.18-21).  Jesus didn’t take on our sin so that we can be saved but live like we’re not!  He did this for us so that we would be set free to live the lives he made us to live — lives of reconciliation.  This reconciliation, which is just a fancy word for the mending broken relationships, is dual-directional: up toward God and out toward other people.  In other words, it’s our job, all of our jobs!, to help people have their relationships to God mended and to help folks mend their relationships with one another.

 

Mission: Make Disciples

So the summary of what it means to live out the fact that Jesus is Lord can be stated like this: make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples.

  1. But what’s a disciple?  A disciple in the first-century world was a student of a teacher, especially a traveling teacher.  Carried over into our context a disciple is a life-long learner of the ways of Jesus.  A disciple is centered on the kingdom of God.  A disciple loves God and loves others.  And a disciple is an agent or reconciliation.
  2. How is a disciple made?  Well, in the first century a disciple was made by literally walking behind the teacher, imitating what he does, learning from what he says, and emulating his attitude.  Today this process is a bit different since the risen Jesus, though alive and real to us through the inner working of the Spirit, is not tangibly present.  So we have to learn what he does and says in Scripture and imitate it.  And we have to watch as trusted disciples exemplify the ways of Jesus for us and then do what they do.  And we have to help others meet and follow Jesus in the Scriptures and in our lives.  Making disciples can’t easily be accomplished through programs or preaching.  It has to be life on life, apprentice-style.  Think about how a blacksmith trains an apprentice.  He teaches him what to do with his words and actions.  That’s what we need to do.  Person to person, all throughout the body of Christ, teaching one another how to follow Jesus.

 

And that’s it.  Our mission is to make disciples.  As we examine our behaviors and see that our mission appears to be something else, then we must change it to THE mission!  There are no other choices.  There is no getting around this.  This isn’t just for the super-Christians or the paid church staff.

Making disciples is the call on the life of each and every follower of Jesus.  That includes me.  And that includes you.

 

What do you think about the mission of your life as a follower of Jesus?  As a community?  As a church?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Missional Leadership: Listening

“You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Sit down and listen Matt!”

Sadly I’ve forgotten who exactly said this to me.  I do know, however, that it was a teacher of mine in seventh grade.  As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m uber-talkative.  Especially when I’m sleepy.  And when was I not sleepy as a seventh grader!

But this aphorism from my teacher speaks volumes.  While its reliance on anatomy and physiology is cutesy; the truth behind it is solid.  Listening is important, even more important than talking.

listening

By: Travis Isaacs
Listening is a skill that needs to be developed.

Listening Is a Thing of the Past

Think about this — there are four primary types of communication: 1) writing, 2) reading, 3) speaking, and 4) listening.  Formal education in the West centers almost completely on writing and reading, with a tiny bit of speaking thrown in, such as in a public speaking course here or there.  But there is almost no training for an average student with regard to listening.  Almost none.

Isn’t that crazy?  One of the most important human skills is completely left off the educational menu!  One of my favorite leadership thinkers, Michael Hyatt, says that listening is a lost art, and it appears he is right!

The Impact of Our Lack of Listening

What kind of impact has this oversight had on us, our culture, our leadership skills, and our capacity to be missional?

  • Listening is THE major component of oral communication, thus if we aren’t doing it well then we aren’t communicating well.  And if we aren’t communicating well then our friendships, families, jobs, neighborhoods, churches, etc. are all negatively impacted.
  • Listening is a required skill of anyone who wants to learn about and from a new culture.  Taking on the role of a listener helps us stay humble and explicitly reminds us that we are here to learn.  Moreover, there’s no better way to learn about something then to listen to the people who experience it most keenly!
  • Listening is essential in leadership.  How can we hope to lead people well if we aren’t in position to hear their concerns, hopes, wishes, and desires?  How can we be trusted to take the reins if we aren’t willing to bend our ears toward others?
  • And lastly, our lack of listening is extremely detrimental to our missional efforts.

Missional Listening

So, what are some ways that listening will help us as we seek more and more to be on mission with God, accomplishing his will where we work, live, and play?

  1. Contextualize: We will be able to contextualize the good news of Jesus better if we listen.  One of the first steps that any good missionary should take is listening.  We should intentionally become a learner of culture so that we can see how best we can communicate Jesus and his kingdom wherever we find ourselves.
  2. Empathize: Being in the regular habit of listening will also show others that we care, that we empathize.  I love the word “empathize.”  It means, at its core, to understand, feel, and respond appropriately to the feelings of others.  It necessitates that we learn through listening.  And by listening to others we actively demonstrate that we care.
  3. Humble-ize: Despite how hard it is, being humble is the only way truly to listen.  And if we humbly listen well, then folks will trust us more.  And as people trust us more, the good news of Jesus and his kingdom will become more and more attractive to them.  And as Jesus and his kingdom become more attractive, communities will change for the good.

 

Therefore, friends, we need to become more effective listeners!  What are some ways that you think you can become a better listener?  Let me know in the comments below.

Arrogance: What’s Wrong with It?

arrogance

Richard Sherman during 2013 Seattle Seahawks training camp. After the AFC Championship game, Sherman made some comments that many have interpreted as highly arrogant. What do you think?

Why Talk about Arrogance?

Thanks to a crazy post-game interview by Seattle Seahawks standout cornerback Richard Sherman, arrogance has been on my mind.  Click on the link in the previous sentence to watch a video of the interview or you can read what was said here:

Erin Andrews: Richard, let me ask you; the final play, take me through it…

Sherman:  Well, I’m the best corner in the game!  When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get!  Don’t you ever talk about me!

Andrews: Who was talking about you?

Sherman: Crabtree.  Don’t you open your mouth about the best!  Or I’m going to shut it for you real quick!  L-O-B!

Andrews: Alright, befo-…and…Joe, back over to you!

I don’t want to judge Sherman directly.  Instead, I want to examine why I didn’t like his comments.

So, why didn’t I?  One word: arrogance.

Again, I want to be clear, I’m not accusing Sherman of being arrogant.  What I’m saying is that his comments certainly sounded awfully arrogant.  I mean, the guy talked about being the best twice in the matter of fifteen seconds.

And when I heard Sherman’s comments I immediately cringed.  And as I’ve thought about why I cringed, it forced me to think a bit about arrogance and how it comes across to others.  As a follower of Jesus and/or as a leader, this is an important topic.  How people perceive you is a big deal!  It can make or break your witness to someone and it can sap whatever leadership capital you may have built up over time.

arrogance

Silly cat!

So, What’s Wrong with Arrogance?

  1. As Sherman’s interview plainly illustrates, it can cause you to belittle those around you.  Even if you are the best at what you do or even if you are qualitatively better than others, no one wants to hear it.  No one.
  2. Arrogance can cause the people around you to be uncomfortable.  Just listen to Andrews’ final response to Sherman.  She’s clearly uncomfortable in that situation.  When you tell the world that you are the best, it makes others not want to listen to you or be around you anymore!
  3. Being arrogant can also lead to being over-scrutinized.  If you go around telling everyone how great you are, then the moment you do something stupid, silly, wrong, or just mediocre, people are going to notice!  They are going to remember that you said you were the best and point out to you how you really aren’t!
  4. Those with whom you are associated are affected by your arrogance also.  Seahawks’ players and coaches are having to answer questions now about Sherman’s post-game tirade when they’d rather be talking about football.  The same is true in reality.  When you are arrogant those around you are forced to either defend you, explain you, make excuses for you, or distance themselves from you.  None of those things are very considerate of the people closest to you!
  5. Lastly, arrogance is connected with self-centeredness, disagreeability, poor work performance, and lowered cognitive abilities.  In other words, being arrogant can cause people not to like you and it can hurt how well you are actually doing whatever it is that you are doing.  [SOURCE]

So, what does all of this mean for followers of Jesus and/or Christian leaders?  Don’t be arrogant!  We must fight against our natural tendencies to toot our own horns!  We need to remember that we are all messed up and broken sinners in constant need of God’s grace and anything that we do well is only thanks to the blessings of God and the help of others.  In other words, we need to live out Philippians 2.3-4:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

What do you think?  What affect does arrogance have in our relationships?  Let me know in the comments below!

Language in Leadership

language

By: Kheel Center
The power of the spoken word, of language, has long been known to have great influence to help create change for an intentional leader.

Does What We Say Really Matter?

Surely you’ve heard it said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  And that people care more about what you do than what you say.  And that your body language communicates way more than your words do.

What do these conventional sayings have in common?  Each, in its own way, seems to be saying that verbal communication – language – is not as important as other things, such as images, modeling, and posture.

Don’t get me wrong: graphics, behaviors, and how we hold ourselves are important, vitally important even!  But their importance in no way diminishes the value of actual spoken language.

What we say matters.  How often we say it matters.  The manner in which we say it matters.  The contexts in which it is shared matters.

Language can make a huge difference one way or the other for a leader.

And perhaps the most important kind of language that we have at our disposal is the analogy.

Leadership Language and Analogies

language

By: Peretz Partensky
The USS IKE Aircraft Carrier

An analogy is a language tool used in which the speaker compares one thing with another, usually for the purpose of clarification.

Here’s an example — Sometimes large institutions are compared with aircraft carriers.  The analogy usually is referring to the fact that it takes miles and miles for an aircraft carrier to turn, not to mention the fact that it takes the cooperation of lots and lots of people to execute the turn.

The implication is clear: when a speaker uses the aircraft carrier analogy he or she is communicating that the institution is slow and cumbersome.

There may be truth in this analogy for a given institution.  Maybe there’s a ton of red tape to wade through in order to get things done.  And perhaps it takes the shared vision and effort of several people and/or departments in order for real change to happen.  Great.

But what if the language we are using isn’t helping the situation.  What is actually being communicated by constantly referring to the institution as an aircraft carrier?  At best that change is slow and hard-fought; at worst that change is so difficult that it shouldn’t even be attempted.

And if an analogy like this is being used over and over and over again within an institution, it can begin to influence the entire culture of the institution.  Sticking with the aircraft carrier analogy — if it gets repeated a bunch, then a culture begins to be created in which real change is almost never attempted.

Time for a Change of Language

As leaders, no matter the size of our influence, it’s our responsibility to pay attention to the language being used, especially the language that we use ourselves.  So, if you find yourself in a situation in which a somewhat negative analogy is being used (such as the aircraft carrier analogy), start using a new analogy (like a sports team) or re-vision the old analogy (“you know, aircraft carriers do, in fact, turn!”).

One of the key traits of a leader is the ability to change institutional culture.  And perhaps the best tool to bring about change is language.

Negative language will promote decline, decay, and disillusionment (forgive the alliteration!).

On the other hand, positive language will help develop vitality, vigor, and verve (okay that one was on purpose!).

 

What do you think?  How powerful is language in creating institutional culture?  Let me know in the comments below!

Decision: Bad, Good, or Great?

decision

geralt / Pixabay
One option is good, one option is great. How do you make a decision?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

You have a decision to make, you’re under a time crunch, and lots of people are counting on you!  What do you do?

Let’s practice: Make a decision between running forty miles or eating your favorite meal.  Which did you choose?

Here’s another: Would you rather get punched in the face or spend two hours doing your favorite hobby?

One more: Would you rather run over someone’s pet with your car or land your dream job?

These are all ludicrous, right?  Not many of of us would have a hard time making any of those decisions.  Deciding between the bad and the good is surprisingly easy.  There’s an important caveat though: It’s easy to make a decision between something good and bad in a vacuum.  Given pressure, temptations, etc., things could get more tricky.  But, in general, it’s fairly easy to see the difference between the bad and the good.

Making a Decision between the Good and the Great

This one is harder, both in a vacuum and in the real world.  How do you do it?  It’s not as easy to give examples for this one since everyone’s definitions of “good” and “great” are so driven by personality, context, culture, etc.  But when you’re faced with a decision like this, you know it.  In fact, almost any decision that you’ve ever struggled with is likely one in which you had to pick between something good and something great.

Things can get even more complicated though.  Usually when you are actually making the decision, both options seem good or both options seem great.  It’s not until weeks, months, or years have passed that you can see which one was really just good and which one was great.

So what do you do?  How do you make a decision between the good and the great?  Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Obvious: If it seems plain to you from the start which option is good and which option is great, fight hard for the great.  Why would you settle for pretty good when super-awesome is within reach!?
  2. Patience: Take as much time as possible.  Unless there’s a rush, there’s no rush.  You never know, by taking your time on the decision, the good and great might reveal themselves, thus making your choice much, much easier!
  3. Legal Pad: Whip out the legal pad, or Evernote, or whatever you take notes on, and make a pros and cons list.  Split it up into time chunks: 1 month, 1 year,  5 years, and beyond.  Then for each time category think of the pros and cons of each option.  This will help you build in some perspective from the start of the decision-making process.
  4. Cons: Someone along the way gave me some excellent advice — they said to make decisions based on the cons.  Everything that seems good to you should have a long list of pros.  But everything in life has cons.  Making a decision based on which cons you can live with is a solid piece of advice!
  5. CommunityWhen you’re in your process (not after!), ask some friends, confidants, and/or mentors to help you.  You’re not asking them to make the decision for you but instead you’re asking them to talk to you about how they make decisions and to help you see any red flags that you may have missed.
  6. Prayer: If you’re a person of faith (or even if you’re not!), pray and invite others to pray for you.  God may choose to reveal to you which option in your decision is good and which is great.  Either way, connecting with God during a time in which a difficult decision needs to be made will deepen your relationship with him.

How do you make decisions?  How do you decide between the good and the great?  Let me know in the comments below!

Five Ways to Deal with Adversity

adversity

By: Forest Service Northern Region
Seeing a black bear on a hike is some adversity that can cause focus!

My wife and I were on a hike recently in the local mountain range just northeast of our home.  We were doing what we always do on a hike: solving the world’s problems by chit-chatting together.  Then, at least a quarter of a mile down the path, we saw a black bear cub.  Immediately the mantra “Where there’s a cub, there’s a mama bear” came to our minds and we got a bit scared.

The cub was blocking the only path we knew between us and the car.  What should we do?

Here’s what we ended up doing: I asked my wife to keep her eyes on the bear and I opened up my pack.  I pulled out my nice-sized pocket knife that I carry with us on hikes.  Then we switched and she grabbed her pepper spray.  Luckily the bear started down the path going away from us, so we followed slowly.  Along the way I picked up an old signpost that I could use as a distraction/weapon as a last resort.

After following the bear for ten or fifteen minutes it went off the trail and we lost sight of it.  That didn’t matter much.  In fact, it may have made matters worse.  Until we were in the car and driving back to our place I didn’t lose focus on protecting my wife and myself from a bear attack!

How to Face Adversity

In my experience nothing creates focus or intentionality quite like adversity.  Now please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not saying that you or I should go out looking for adversity all willy-nilly.  That’s just stupid.  Why?  Because adversity will find you!

And when it does, you have two choices really: 1) prepare to confront it head-on to the best of your abilities or 2) completely freeze up and be consumed by it.  From experience let me tell you that number 2 just doesn’t work as a long-term strategy!

So, here are a few tips that I’ve learned about how to focus when facing adversity:

  1. Have a well-stocked pack: I’m not sure what we would have done to feel safe on the trail if we hadn’t packed well.  The same is true in life.  What do you have at your disposal at a moment’s notice?  If faced with a tough situation do you have the resources and relationships to make it through?
  2. Come up with a plan: I’m pretty sure that my pocket knife and my wife’s pepper spray would have probably made the bear more angry than anything, but it was a plan, however ill-conceived!  When faced with adversity almost any plan is better than no plan.  So when tough times come, take a moment, breathe, and come up with a plan using the resources and relationships that you have.
  3. Proceed with cautionThere’s absolutely no need to rush into things, at least not in most cases.  Take your time.  Most real cases of adversity aren’t easily solved or overcome.  There’s no need to rush a bear on a hiking trail after all!
  4. Keep your eyes open for help: While following your plan carefully you may find something else along the way to help you, like an old sign post!  It’s always good to use whatever new resources present themselves when faced with adversity.
  5. Learn from the adversity: One of the first things I did when I got home (after sharing the bear-sighting on Facebook, of course) was to learn some things about hiking safety so that we might be better prepared for the next bear encounter we have.  Luckily for us there’s a wealth of information out there.  The same thing is true of the adversity we face in life: once we get through it, we need to learn from it.  To put it back into hiking terms, what do we need to add or subtract from our pack to help us deal with this same kind of thing in the future?

How do you deal with adversity?  Did I leave anything out?  Let me know in the comments below!