So Who Are You Really Thankful For?

Kathy and I have been serving in a new homeless ministry (new for us) near our house for the past few months. Tuesday during a discipleship study at the mission while discussing thankfulness, I reached a conclusion regarding this subject.

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We all have things that are blessings in our lives. Our families. Our jobs. Our home. Our security.  Our things.  While many of these may be connected to to us due to choices we have made as we have lived our lives, the root of the blessing is the same.

We need to thank the Lord as he is the originator of all that we have.

This may be a great discussion for the thanksgiving table among your family. Do you really think that YOU originated all of these blessings or was it just luck?  The miracle of life, our amazing bodies and intellect, our strength and courage, our ability to love one another and take care of each other, the amazing and unexplainable things that have happened to all of us. Could luck really result in the what you have and your many blessings?

If that is the case we should call it Happy Luck Day!

As you go around the table and share what you are thankful for, ask your family who brought you this thing that you are sharing? Where did it come from? And where did this holiday (pastor called it by its original definition- holy day) come from?

By definition “thank you” is a response to a person.  You don’t thank a tree.

Everyone loves Thanksgiving. Everyone has things in their lives that they are thankful for. Our job is to remind them who is the author of all of these blessings!

Happy Thanksgiving!

So what are you most thankful for?  Do you understand who is the author of those blessings?  Click on “Leave a Comment and let me know what you think!

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So You Want To Change The World?

I believe most of us are wired with a goal of doing something really big with our lives. Write a book. Get our name on a building. Develop something new. Make a mark on the world.  Do something really big.

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Big goals are great. They stretch us. They make us see over the horizon. As I have grown older and gained more wisdom, I have learned that big is relative. Kathy and I have traveled the world on mission trips trying to help organizations make the big impact. And what we have found is that change is really about the one person that you encounter. One moment. A single soul. A single life at a time.

 

This has been our recent revelation. We don’t tend to look big anymore. The truth is you cannot place a price on a soul. A life. A legacy. It’s priceless. The value is infinite. A single soul can shake eternity.

The photo above is a group of life changers. No miracle drugs, new innovations or amazing technology solutions. No senators or mayors or CEOs. This is a group of teachers who had a profound impact on my life. I won’t pick them out or use names, but there are three of my elementary/middle school teachers in this picture.

First, my science teacher. He was well liked by me and my friends and he laid the groundwork for my leadership style. You do not need to be a tyrant to lead people. You can lead with your heart. Its ok to let your feelings show. You can truly care and its a good thing! While learning from this teacher, we were able to develop a friendship that was a positive influence on my life. This teacher even took me and two of my friends on a weekend ski trip. This was on his time. Not a school thing. Just a weekend of fun. Impact? Yes- a life changer!

Second, my geography teacher. She would give us maps to color and require that we memorize the capitals of obscure countries. At the time I thought it was a giant waste of time. But later I learned that this memorization exercise was a precurser to what was required in college and beyond. She also showed me a picture of a great big world beyond my corner of the world. She introduced me to different cultures and political structures. I have become a lifelong student of geography and this was only possible from the effort of this lady. She changed my vision of the world. Opened up my eyes and expanded my horizon.  Big impact!

Third, my english teacher. She would spend countless hours diagramming sentences, correcting poor grammar and building my writing foundation, that has been a strength for me throughout my life. (ahem- please don’t grade this!) She taught me about rules and precision. She taught me that being perfect was really hard. A small mistake counts. And if you can communicate effectively, your life will be better. I am a direct product of her work. I have often been tasked by my employers to write because it comes easy to me and I understand the power of one word. I learned this from my english teacher. She put me on a road toward excellence in communication. And for this, I am eternally grateful.

These three teachers changed my life. They had a direct impact on my skills, abilities and my attitude about learning. They were instrumental in my personal value and pursuit of life-long learning.

So you want to change the world? I say do it one person at a time. No giant programs. Just one-on-one. Soul to soul.

Change the world?  Be a teacher and be a life changer!

Give it Away!

One of the principles that I have learned as I have gained experience and wisdom is that the answer is often hidden or the opposite of logic. This realization has led me to second guess my observations and solutions and this has been very enlightening as I examine the issue from several angles and often get conflicting solutions.

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Africa 2009- Sunset on the Zambezi River

As I have coached and built-up leaders through the years, I have used this second guessing as a test on how I look at leadership and management styles and their effectiveness. For the most part I have concluded that, barring abusive behavior, as long as they are effective then their style is usually acceptable. People are somewhere between very tough to impossible to change. You work with what you got.

The outlier to this theory is how we give power to our leaders. I believe there are some pretty rigid rules in how you build a powerful leader. Much of this is common sense, yet few really follow the rules here.

The source of the power that exists in the leaders of your team comes from you! If you see a person as a weak leader, its is often a result of not being given the power and authority to do their job. You have to give it away. This narrative of weak leadership may actually be the voice in your head giving you the authority to meddle in their affairs and undermine their authority.

There are many damaging actions that thwart authority and lead to a weakened leader. Here a a few of the biggies:

Chain of Command: When you do not respect the chain of command you are undermining the authority of your leaders. If you continually direct people downstream of others you are sending a message that their leaders instructions are not important. Although you are the “big boss” and you can do whatever you want, this disregard for the authority of those you have placed in charge is damaging. Very damaging. Don’t do it.

Micromanagement: Getting in the weeds on issues and overanalyzing is damaging to authority. Accept that mistakes will happen. This is the only path to growth. Stay out of the weeds.

New Ideas: Don’t shoot down new ideas because they are not yours or they involve risk. Be receptive to new ways of doing things. This is empowering your leaders to think. To be relevant. To make a difference.

Hiding your Leaders: Celebrate and promote your leaders in the business world. Some folks will be fearful that by promoting there leaders they may loose them to another company. I say that hiding them will lead to the same result. Promote your leaders. It will strengthen your organization.

Limiting Decisions: By limiting the authority of making decisions you are also limiting their power. Give them the authority but make sure they know they own it. They will have to clean up the mess if it goes bad. This is also a path to growth.

Too many times we deduce that weak leadership is the result of a character flaw or the limited abilities of the leader we manage. The truth is that their power comes from you!

You can either build them up or tear them down. It’s your choice. If you want a strong organization you need to give your power away. Let it flow downward. Will there be problems if you let go? Yes- always. However, you will have a group of strong leaders below you and this will be a huge advantage in cleaning up the mess.

Wind them up and let them go. You’ll be happy with the results!

Lowest Common Denominator

Manage for your winners- don’t resort to designing your management systems for your bottom tier!

If you were awake in sixth grade math you probably remember the concept of the lowest common denominator in order to work with fractions. The concept was to evaluate and manipulate the numbers to obtain the lowest common number in order to make the denominator the same in order to solve the problem.

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This general concept is also used in management by instituting a series of rules to control issues that are occurring with employees. This set of rules are typically directed to only a few violator employees who are not performing or typically ride the edge of acceptability.

The root of the problem is that these employees are either disengaged, not managed properly, or are lacking feedback on a regular basis. Management by the lowest common denominator is a passive-aggressive style of management. Rather than attack the real problem, the manager will attempt to “hem in” the problem employee by developing a set of often silly rules in order to address issues in an attempt to keep employees productive.

The issue here is that this management theory requires that these rules apply to all employees. Your best performer and your worst performers.  Your best performers will resent being held to stupid rules. So you are actually catering to the lowest common denominator instead of attacking the real problem.

Don’t default to this style of management. Concentrate on the relatively few violators and address the issues at the root. Using a rules based system to lead your team is never the best way to lead. If your team members are not engaged and need constant attention then replace them. Resorting to the lowest common denominator style of management will cause unneccessary damage.

Lead your team. Provide continuous feedback. Let them know where they stand at all times.  Give them specific tasks and deadlines. Be a leader. Don’t punish your best performers by forcing them to comply with stupid rules.

Rules are for math problems, not leadership.

So what do you think? Have you experienced this management style before?  Click on “Leave and Comment” and tell me about your experience.

Your Fooling Yourself!

Do we deceive ourselves into thinking that we ARE what we are NOT?

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The mind has a way of legitimizing and reinforcing our behavior. We think that our motivations are pure. We are acting in a righteous way.  For others.  Not ourselves.  We are selfless.  But is this really true?

We also have a way of running an interior narrative that reinforces this reality.  We can truly convince ourselves that we value something when the facts actually completely contradict this belief.  The complete opposite of what we think.

The difference is reality and reality is found in action. We will DO what is important to us.  You can’t fool action.  You can tell people that you value or care about something, but what are you doing about it?  If you are not acting it’s just talk.

Folks run their mouths about helping the poor and donate absolutely nothing. The environmentalist drives a Suburban. The wife says she loves her husband but spends more time talking to her girlfriends and keeping up her super mom image. The husband who says he is a devoted dad but spends his weekends playing golf.

Examine your action VERY carefully.  What do you do?  What are your actions?  Day in day out, what is your true motivation?  You may disguise it as altruist, charitable, for others- but is it really?  Often, its really all about you and what you truly care about.

The way that you look to others.
Your image.
Your reputation with others.

There is a passage in the Bible that talks about praying loudly on the corner and praying silently in a private place.  The public display is all about you.  You have received your reward.  The private display is the only pure motivation.

Is your action about the return?  Even what looks charitable or caring?  What I GET for my GIVE.  Will I get something in return for my actions?  Will people think i’m just so amazing for what I did?

You can fool yourself into thinking all of your actions are for others.  Pump yourself up. But you are lying to yourself.  Examine yourself closely.  Are you doing it for your image? Or for your pride!

Do it in private.  Do it for someone who doesn’t think you are amazing.  Do it for someone who doesn’t even show ANY appreciation for it.

If not- you might be simply fooling yourself!

So what do you think?  Do we tell ourselves a story that may be completely false?  Can we truly fool ourself?  Click on “Leave a Comment and tell me what you think!

Boring Freedom

I have always liked the 4th of July for what it is.  A day of celebration of family, good food and a reflection on how we have been blessed as a nation.  A day at the beach or the pool is usually in order.  Relax and watch the waves or spend some time on the boat enjoying family and friends.  Nothing really spectacular or unique or cool.  Some fireworks and good food.

The 4th is the celebration of freedom, right?  We all enjoy the gift of living in the United States and probably take freedom for granted.  Freedom is an amazing gift but like any other good thing it can be abused.

I feel like we are losing our grip on the simple and boring.  We do not celebrate this kind of thinking as a country anymore.  If you have simple and wholesome values, you can actually be ridiculed now for being boring and normal.  The fringe is what we celebrate.  The unique and sometimes even outrageous.  If you are a quiet and average American you are not cool.  So what is so wrong with normal?

We have become a nation that is obsessed with freedom for the edges and the fringe.  And what we have lost along the way is innocence and a respect for the simple and good.  This obsession over cool and edgy has been the breeding ground for a generation to grow up too quickly. The self-indulged “right” to express yourself however you want. The change of a complete generation’s life goals from “raise a nice family” to power and money.

We have transformed as a nation into one giant, never ending, self-centered argument. We have lost the ability to communicate.  We only yell at each other.  We’ve completely lost any vision to see the other side.  In this noise, there is no celebration for the boring people who go to work each day and try hard to raise a family and maintain some semblance of normalcy and reality for life.  Trying to shield our children from the nonsense.  This celebration of the outrageous.  The “big show” going on around us.

I think we need to get back to our roots.  Review our values.  Be frank about what we have created.  Review our commitment to the next generation.   Can we do it?  Or is the genie out of the bottle?

This 4th of July, I celebrate freedom for everyone including the boring people.  They want the opportunity to live without being cool or edgy.  Just have a great day with family and friends and be thankful for the blessings.  Nothing spectacular.  Nothing epic.  Just another boring 4th of July!

What are you living for?

Kathy was browsing in a gift shop near our home last week and struck up a conversation with the lady clerk. This is not an uncommon thing for Kathy. She has a gift of being able to connect quickly with people. This lady was originally from Columbia (South America not South Carolina) and she has been in the United States long enough to really “get” our culture.

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We are so arrogant here. We are convinced that this is where everyone in the world wants to live. We have such great opportunities to make money and it is a safe place to raise a family. These things are important and special, but they are not everything. I believe we have sacrificed some really critical things along the way. We have made choices that have warped our culture. Unconsciously, in our pursuit to be the best, we have changed the way we live, our goals, and our priorities. And I am also guilty.

The lady began to share about her family and her life back in Columbia. She aligned with Kathy’s experiences from Costa Rica. Emphasis on family, friends, relaxation, community.

She shared, “In the U.S., you live to work and back home we work to live.”

Whether intentional or not, we have placed WAY too much emphasis on work and making money. Our lives are wrapped around our work and our careers. Not the other way around. This may not be your choice. You may feel like you want to work less and live more, but can you really do it?  Can you really shift your focus away from making money?

Will you be able to pay your current bills?
Buy the things you want?
Can you really live with less?
Can you really do it?

Our culture has raised the bar on expectations so high that we run crazy hard just to try to keep up. Building bigger barns. In the meantime we have lost community. Lost our connection. Our ability to really LIVE together and enjoy life. We’ve lost our focus on taking care of each other.

Where are you?
Are you living to work or working to live?
Can we go back?  Do you know how we can get back to where we came from?
What needs to change?  What is messing us up?

Click on “Leave a Comment” and lets share ideas!

Photo Friday: Service and Sacrifice

In memory of those who gave the greatest sacrifice for all of us and those who serve on our behalf all over the world. Happy Memorial Day!

Leading by Serving

Deer Point

This picture was taken on the rear patio of the old Officer’s Club at Deer Point (Now called the Bayview Restaurant) at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  As I looked over the bay at the sunset and snapped this photo, I realized that thousands of servicemen and women have stood at this same exact spot looking over the bay and thinking about there loved ones who were far, far away.  There are few places that you could be that are more isolating than Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

My visit to the base was a real eye opener for me.  I was overcome with the realities of what it must be like to be a military family.  These great Americans sacrifice a portion of themselves and share their families interests, to serve our country.  I think we tend to focus on the danger of loosing their lives and miss that fact that…

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Five Tips For Parents (Without Time Machines)

Gosh- if only we had a time machine.

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A place where you could go back in time and fix things that went wrong. I love some of the movies that do this. Back to the Future. Hot Tub Time Machine. Somewhere in Time. The Terminator. Go back and fix the wrong and change history.

But for now with raising kids you get one chance. ONE CHANCE. So don’t screw it up!

I certainly could have done better. More books- less sports. More one on one. Put more emphasis on the “soft side” of life. Better faith leader. More time less work.  I had MANY unflattering moments where I lost my cool, lacked self-control or did something incredibly stupid that I wish I could have taken back.

The problem is that you can’t start over. They can’t unforget things.  We can’t change time like the time travelers.

But we did do some things right. And these things had an impact on our kids lives. They really made a difference.  And it helped form the way that my children see the world. We were not perfect, but have some things that went well.  Here are a few of the highlights:

Hard Work: The only place a child will learn (at least in the U.S.) to work hard is at home. My father taught me that lesson and we did our best to teach it to our children. You need to work to get what you want. Nothing will be handed to you. You have to work for it. This requires sweat and effort. Get your kids off the couch and make them work. If they understand what hard work looks like, they will be a contributor. They will be a good citizen.  They will be able to make a difference in the world. It’s your responsibility- not theirs.

Value of Money: The best thing we did for our kids is to have little money.  This was really a circumstance- but it had great power.  They did not get everything they wanted. They understood that wants are not needs. We raised them in a very modest lifestyle that allowed them to see that money is earned and not picked off a tree in the backyard. Kathy would gather the pennies and roll them and take them to the bank. They knew about the value of money. They learned how to save.  I don’t know how you can raise children in an affluent houshold and get this message across.

Good Grades: We instilled a culture of excellence in school work. I did not give my kids the choice to go to college. Why in the world would you do that? Ask a child if he wants to continue the seeming misery of school work? Seems like most would take the easy route. That’s not parenting. We had our own grading system and we rewarded good grades and good reports from school. Just like the workplace- right? Why would you NOT do this for your kids?

Tradition: We always worked to create things that were uniquely ours. Family traditions. We created traditions that were only ours. Don’t overlook the power here. Children love this. They crave structure and predictability. They thrive in it. Create a rhythm to their lives. Give them something that is uniquely for your family. Even silly stuff. They will remember even the smallest details. Make it your family’s own. Big power here.

Competition: We encouraged our children to compete in sports, arts, activities and other areas. The world will make them compete. By sheltering them or ignoring this fact you may be setting them up for failure. Competition can be ugly and daunting for a parent. But YOU need to get them ready. This is your job.  No one else will do this.

There are more to this list but this is a few majors. The point is- you have to be an active parent. It’s not an easy job. But you can’t jump in the time machine. You can’t change it once it’s done. Don’t have regrets. Do the very best you can. Push your children. They are not your buddies. They want instruction. They want structure. Give them what they need to thrive. You can’t go back. No “do over” here!

So what do your think?  I know many would love the time machine but we can’t go back. One time.  One chance.  Do you agree?  Click on “Leave a Message” and tell me what you think!

Punched in the Face!

You won’t really get away with it- they are watching you!

Kathy and I have been spending Saturday mornings serving at an inner city ministry giving out surplus bread and produce to the homeless and needy.  This has been our Saturday morning routine for the past seven years or so.  We completely enjoy serving and have helped to build a vibrant community that has taken the ministry far past the goal of just providing food.  This is a rough area.  An area of high crime and drug activity.  Shooting and violence are common in this neighborhood.

When we get set up, there is often a group of ladies who take cuts at the front of the line.  The men will often plead with us to do something about it.  These ladies are a tough bunch and have been fighting for their families for a very long time.  I get it.  Yet it is frustrating that they can get away with taking cuts. It causes unrest. Even when we speak up, they continue to do what they want and often ignore our requests.

After observing this activity and the reactions, I have figured out how they can get away it. If they were men, the other guys would take care of things. Right or wrong.

They would likely get punched in the face!

Respect and special treatment for women or other groups are not uncommon.  And there is nothing wrong with special privileges.

Unless you take advantage of the situation. 

Leadership often comes with some special privileges.  You may have the opportunity to be in the front.  First in line.  You may be able to avoid some unpleasant tasks or duties as a result of your position.  You are likely to be treated differently than the average person.

The key is how you decide to handle these privileges.  If you are a servant leader, you can’t differentiate yourself from your team.  The truth, in terms of servant leadership, is this:  You are part of the team and you just happen to be the leader.  You must stay in the trenches with your team.  You have to be willing to get dirty and do the work along side your people.  If you exalt yourself above your team and take advantage of your position, you have violated one of the key components of being a servant leader.

Special privileges with leadership must be used with caution.  You cannot hide.  They see everything you do.  Your heart is exposed by your actions.  Be careful.  Always.  They are watching you!

So what do you think?  Have you seen examples of folks taking advantage of special privileges in leadership positions?  Click on “leave a comment” and tell me what you think!