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!

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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!

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!

Searching for Home

Kathy and I had the privilege to serve in a refugee camp on the Panamanian border. The camp has several hundred Africans and some Pakistanis who are stuck in the camp due to issues with the Nicaraguan government letting them pass through their country. We spent time hearing the stories of their journey through the Amazon rainforest and being robbed by the mafia in Columbia. These were men looking for a safe place for their families. They risked it all to find a place that is safe and secure. Some told us stories of walking through the jungle with a compass simply pointing them north. They spent days walking through swamps with water up to their chests.

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An incredibly dangerous journey.

They shared the struggles back home and the reasons why they left on this journey. Stories of killings and brutality. Corruption and political struggles.

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As I sat and listened I realized that the conditions back home were so bad and dangerous that it was actually better for them to risk traveling through the jungle with the hope of finding home. This is not a story about money. This is about safety for their families. Searching for a place where they can live without fear. They were searching for home.

They are risking their lives to help provide a safe place for their families.
There is no guarantee that they will make it.
Yet, they will put it all on the line for a chance to make it to the U.S.

How about you?

The U.S. certainly has its problems, but we have justice and peace. The Pakistanis knew it. They knew that the U.S. was a good place. A place with good and caring people. A safe place with opportunity.

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So as we as a country discuss “walling off” our country in I can’t forget about the faces of these people. They are risking their lives to find something better for their families. They will continue to point their compass north. They will continue to struggle to find safety. Something we take for granted. A place where they can sleep at night without worry. A place of peace and security.

The march will continue.  Heading north. Searching for home.

Photo Friday: Service and Sacrifice

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 they are really giving up their lives as they live and serve the country.  They are far away from home and stuck on a base isolated from the people and the things that they love and cherish.  I was reawakened to this sacrifice made by millions of men and women during the history of the United States.

These men and women who sacrifice to serve our country are truly the greatest Americans!

So what do your think?  Are you from a military family?  Have you experienced the sacrifice first hand?  Have you stood in this same spot before?  Click on “leave a comment” and tell me what you think! Click on “like” if your agree with me!

Serving Others…Without the Exchange

One of the keys to being a servant leader is serving others by putting their needs ahead of yours.  A great example of this is being a parent.  When you raise a family, you learn that the needs of your children naturally come before yours.  Children do not have the ability to take care of themselves.  They do not have the experience to make good decisions.  They are yours- so you love and nurture them and make sure they have the things needed to stay healthy and to grow and prosper.

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This is an easy one.  What about another tougher example.  What if the person that needs help is not your child?  What if they are not your relative?  What if they are an adult?  What if this person lives in another country?  What if they don’t speak your language?

Shouldn’t matter.  You were made to serve others.  Unconditionally.  Without strings.  Everyone.  Period.

This is tough stuff for someone who is used to the exchange.  I give something and then get something back.  This exchange can be very subtle.  Often when we lead others- we still get something back, right?  Is this really giving?  Serving your children benefits you by benefiting your children and your family.  Serving your workmates helps you while helping them.  You get something back for your hard work.

Can we give without getting back?  Giving in it’s purest form should be one sided- right?  Give and don’t get back.  If you skip the exchange, what is the great equalizer?

Kathy and I are leading a missions team to Costa Rica  May 21-June 1 to minister to the poor and support the local church. We will be staying Alajuelita which is in the central valley of Costa Rica near the capital city of San Jose.  This is a poor area of Costa Rica and we will be ministering in the poorest barrios (neighborhoods)- tin shacks with dirt floors.  These areas are full of families and children are everywhere.  We will be helping to feed the children and will spend time with the moms and the elderly.  We will also be ministering at a woman’s rehab center.  Drug abuse and prostitution (legal in Costa Rica), is a big problem in Costa Rica.  Many women are often forced to sell themselves just to feed their families.

Missions is very important to me.  I know that we are blessed beyond measure in this country and I have a burning desire to give back and serve the poor and needy.  The greatest gift that we can provide those in need is the reassurance that there is a God in heaven that loves them unconditionally.  Love makes all the difference.  This is often all we can hold onto when we are in the toughest situation.  This truth has helped me during tough times in my life.  And I have seen with my own eyes what this truth can bring to a Costs Rican who feels hopeless.  This is the power of the Gospel.  This is what we will share on our trip to Costs Rica.

Will you please partner with me on my trip?  We are trying to raise all of the funds through donations so that your money, prayers and love will actually travel with us and make a tangible impact in Costa Rica.  Without leaving your house, you can be part of the work that we are doing in Central America!  Any amount would be greatly appreciated.  This donation is also tax deductible- the church will send you a receipt for tax purposes.  You can send a check to me or you can donate on line by credit card (secure connection through Pay Pal). Below is a link to the online donation to our church- River City Church:

http://www.rccjax.com/give

Please click on “one time donation” and fill out the information.  This only takes a few minutes.  Do it now or you will forget! (I only say this because this is what I do!).  If you donate on- line please contact me  (Click on “Contact” tab on this website) and tell me that you donated.  I have to alert the church about your donation or your donation will NOT be appropriated to our mission trip.

I am so excited to be going to Costa Rica to spread God’s love to the poor and needy. Please give to help us fund this trip so you can be with us as we work to make a difference in the lives of those we reach.  Giving them our time and our love.  Taking your love to others far away.  Giving unconditionally.

God bless you and your family!

So what do you think?  Do you give without the exchange?  Is love the great equalizer?  Click on “leave a comment” and tell me what you think! 

 

Reaching Down

My grandfather was an avid golfer.  He simply loved the game.  I remember thinking when I was a young kid just how great it would be if my grandpa invited me to play golf with him.  I actually visualized it often, but I knew that it would be a pain for him.  I would be sending the ball all over the place and it would be frustrating for him to watch and try to teach me the game.  My grandpa would visit with us often and we would watch golf together on television.  I waited for the day that he would invite me to play golf with him.

But the invitation never happened.

My grandfather passed away when I was twenty something.  I wonder now what our relationship could have been if we would have played golf together.  See, golf was his game.  I saw how he came alive watching golf on TV.  I wish I would have had the opportunity to watch him play the game that he really loved and enjoy spending time together on the golf course.

I thought about asking him to take me golfing.  But I didn’t want to be a bother to him.  I knew that he would rather golf with someone who knew what they were doing.  The problem was, I was not in the right position to initiate the golf game.  My grandpa was.  Even though his position was above me he could easily reach down and pull me up to a golf game with him.

I believe that this condition relates to many relationships.  I believe that the person in the power position has the more natural path to initiate the connection.

To bring others along and walk with them.

To spend time together.

To share problems and struggles.

To teach and mentor.

To share wisdom and experiences.

Do we seize this opportunity or do we let it go by?  If you are in the upper position it’s as easy as reaching out your hand.  If you are in the lower position it is much more difficult as you have to get past “the ask”.

I can tell you, in relationships of growth, even the smallest of things can have a significant impact.  I am reminded of this every time someone repeats some rather obscure instruction, story or lesson that I gave years ago that I have long since forgotten.  I promise you- they are listening and watching.  You have a greater impact than you believe.  If you want to experience more- reach down.  Pull them up with you.  They are waiting.

So what do you think?  Do you have a story to share where you pulled someone up?  Did this get you thinking about your position in relationships?  Click on “Leave a Comment” and tell me what you think! 

Rich or Poor?

I just returned from a mission trip to Costa Rica.  This was my fifth trip to Costa Rica.  The country is full of breathtaking natural beauty.  Most folks visit Costa Rica to enjoy this beauty.  Many head to the Pacific coast to a resort, maybe surf, or enjoy the excellent offshore fishing.

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On our trip, we went to the very poor barrios surrounding San Jose in the central valley.  These areas are filled with tin covered shacks packed together on the hillside.  VERY, VERY, tough living conditions.  Most of these neighborhoods are squatter communities.  Very little in sanitation and services that we have come to expect here in the States.  It is a bit of a sensory overload visiting these barrios- lots or colors, sounds, smells and movement.  Children and dogs everywhere.  Sounds of life.  Colors cobbled together in scraps of tin and salvaged doors and building materials.

The thing that has always amazed me about Costa Rica is that the Costa Rican’s are generally very happy people.  Yes, there is strife and hardship in the poor barrios, yet even there, you will see smiles, laughter and life.  If we subjected the average American to the conditions in Costa Rica they would be miserable.

Complaining, heads down, depression.

So who is really poor?  We seem to equate the word “poor” to money.  We think that money will solve our problems.  Money can make us happy.  Right?

Well, I got news for you.  I have seen the Costa Rican’s lifestyle first hand and I believe they may actually be the rich ones.  In the US, we are slaves to our lifestyle.  We struggle to gather and save.  We strive to buy the best things.  We work ourselves to death- really– in order to sustain our wealthy lifestyle.

Results: pain, suffering, disease- AND- complaining, heads down, depression.

So how are the Costa Rican’s rich?  What makes them rich without the money. Here are a few observations:

They value their families!  We talk about having close family relationships but the Costa Rican’s do it on steroids.  Most live in the same areas their whole life.  In the US, we are transient.  We move away from our families, often, again to make more money.  Costa Rican’s care for each other when times are tough.  In the US, we often let the government take care of our families.  In Costa Rica it is common to have extended families living in the same household.  They understand what it means to be a family and to take care of our own.

They live slower!  In Costa Rica things get done when they get done.  If it takes longer they are OK with it.  This has been frustrating for me in the past working on construction project in Costa.  They don’t fret over the time.  We struggle so hard to pack it all in.  In Costa Rica, there is alway mañana (tomorrow).

They have strong community!  In even the poorest areas, the Costa Rican’s know their neighbors and understand the power of living in community together.  They take the time to stop and greet their neighbors.  They watch out for their neighbors children.  They help each other when they are sick.  In the US, most folks don’t even know their neighbors!

They let you in!  We are so guarded.  We are cautious to let anyone into our lives.  Costa Rican’s invite you into their house.  They want you to sit down and they will often bring you a drink or some food.  They are not worried about whether their house is messy or if they have something really impressive to share.  They share what they have.  They welcome in strangers.  They want you to sit down and relax.

They walk!  The streets are filled with life with sidewalks filled with people walking.  Walking leads to interaction with others.  In the ten years or so that I have been visiting Costa Rica, car ownership has grown significantly, yet walking remains a way of life.  Walking up and down mountainous steep paths and walking to shopping and visiting friends is the natural order of things.  I am sure that this exercise contributes to the longevity that Costa Rican’s enjoy.  Living a life that extends well into their 90s is not uncommon.

So my question again- are we really rich?  Seems like the things that we gather and our lifestyle may be more of a hindrance than a benefit.

Can we slow down?  

Can we dump the stuff that we end up serving?  

Can we take the time to develop community?

I’m not sure that we can go back-completely.  The genie is out of the bottle.  I can even see Costa Rica changing as we bring them added wealth and raise the expectations.  I pray that they can hold on to riches that they have!

So who is really living the rich life?  Seems like we have a lot to learn from our friends in Costa Rica!

So what do you think?  Are we as rich as we think we are?  Have you noticed the difference when you visit other cultures?  Click on “Leave a Comment” and tell me what you think!

 

Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men- Really?

Is the Christmas message really relevant?  How can we truly believe the angels who made this declaration upon the birth of Jesus with all of the turmoil that we saw this past year?

Continued terrorism, violence and beheadings.

Demonstrations and violence over police actions and racial strife.

Sluggish economic conditions and unemployment.

The struggle for fairness and equity.

Immigration rights and yielding to the law and authority.

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I’m sure you can come up with many more.  This year has been a poster child for the struggle of life.  The  struggle to provide for our families.  The struggle for justice and fairness.  The struggle to be heard.  So why don’t we have the peace that the Christmas story seems to promise?

The reality is that the Christmas promises are personal.  The peace that Jesus offers is for you.  If Jesus was truly looking to fix things here on earth he certainly would have freed Israel from Rome’s brutality.  He would have ended the inequities of the rich and poor.  He would have taken away hunger and disease.

What Jesus offers is simply love.  See, love is more powerful than all of these things.  Love will cure all problems.

Jesus knew the struggle first hand.  That’s why he had to live amongst us.  So we would  know that he knows the struggle first hand.  Jesus did not promise to take evil away from the world.  At least not until the final victory.

So how does the promise of Christmas provide me with peace?

I don’t need to worry about fairness.  I know that the Lord will take care of me.  The fixation on fairness and equity can be disguised pride.  That making things equal fixes things.  I know that things will not be completely fair this side of heaven.  I will be taken advantage of.  I am OK with this.  He will take care of me.

I don’t need to worry about provision.  I know that the Lord will provide for me.  He always does.  I have been continually blessed.  He will take care of me and my family.

I don’t need to worry about controlling everything.  I know that the Lord is in control and he will take care of things.  I can take my hands off the wheel and let him steer.

I know that he loves me and love drives out fear and worry.  So how do I know this?  I have seen with my own eyes the power of this love first hand.

I have witnessed changes in my life and others.

I have watched connections made and provisions that cannot be explained.

I have watched his peace invade lives, change hearts and restore what is broken.

I have witnessed his power, his truth and his promises.

The promise of peace this Christmas season is your peace.  Are you at peace ?  Can you relax knowing that he’s going to take care of you?  Do you know that he loves you and wants the very best for you?  If you struggle- his offer stands.  Just reach out to him.  He’s waiting for you!

Blessings to you and yours!  May your Christmas be filled with wonder, joy and peace!

Don’t Lose The War!

You probably have heard the expression- “don’t win the battle and lose the war”. I think this result happens more than we want to admit. And when we lose the war, it can really hurt and cause pain. You forget to look beyond the immediate to see the long term consequences.

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There has been a discussion recently on the effectiveness of the War on Poverty started in the Johnson administration fifty years ago. Despite the efforts to wipe out poverty, the overall statistics have not changed much- still about 15% of the population in the US are still at the poverty level. Regardless of the discouraging statistics, I know that there are also real success stories of how government assistance has pulled families up and allowed them to prosper. Yet, there has been a great and unexpected consequence that is far more damaging than the monetary pain.

The assistance has lead to real damage to the family structure in the inner city.

Kathy and I have been working in inner city ministries for many years and we have witnessed this first hand. We see single mothers with large families- sometimes 6 and 8 children. On the street they call this “getting papers” which is getting assistance based on supporting children. This assistance has promoted children born to homes without fathers, families or resources. With the available assistance, the mothers receive more money if they have more children. We see houses loaded with kids. However, in my own neighborhood it is rare to see a home with more than two children. It’s completely backwards. And these inner city kids have a very, very tough future. And the dependency grows and self-perpetuates.

With the assistance, men and families are essentially let off the hook. They feel little responsibility for the support of the children. “Let the government take care of them.” Other programs lead to the ability to distance yourself from family responsibility. Social Security disability is another example. In the past, when a family member became disabled, the family would rally around this person, help them and support them. Now, we let the government take care of them.

So what’s the message in all this? Should we be callous and cruel? Should we freeze-up in our decision making due to unintended consequences? Here is what I think can be learned:

Good ideas are not always good! There are great pragmatic ideas that are not practical or have unintended consequences. Don’t let the “good” sounding option cloud your rational decision making. Consider all sides, think of the future and any potential and unintended consequences. Like the description above, the consequences can actually be more damaging than the immediate problem. If you have a fight in the bread line and someone gets badly hurt then the hunger would have been a lesser problem- right?

Don’t be afraid to make changes along the way! We see programs go on and on that are not really effective. Why is this? I think part of this is a result of dependency but even larger is the fact that someone has their name on it. You have to admit that it’s not working. You have to admit that it’s broken. Sometimes its just pride or politics. Have the courage to admit that it’s not working and fix it!

Nothing has to last forever! If the concept has run it’s course then let it die. Yes, it will be painful to let it go. We tend to get attached to things. They become part of our identity. Be objective and evaluate and let it die if it is no longer effective.

The truth hurts! It can be difficult to deliver the bad news. When a project goes astray and you have bad things happen, the party is over! Many of us do not like to be the voice of reason. We want to stay on the sunny side of life. Let someone else be the bearer of bad news. In order to be a good steward of limited resources you have a responsibility to evaluate things for efficiency. Do the right thing and tell the truth- even if it hurts!

Leaders are empowered to make decisions and we must be objective and consider all of the consequences. I hurt for our friends downtown. They are struggling in many ways due to faulty unintended results and an unwillingness to make tough changes. The human cost of this is staggering. We continue to dig a hole that only gets deeper. Don’t do it! Consider all the consequences for your decisions and be willing to make the tough changes when necessary.

Win the war- people are counting on you!

Have you been the victim of unintended consequences? Have you seen the pain that results from the aftermath? Click on Leave a Comment and tell me your story!

Copyright © 2014. Leading by Serving- Leadership is for Everyone!. All rights reserved.