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Know How You Work Best

2015-07-25 11.50.20 HDREarlier this summer I carved out a Saturday to evaluate SpringHill’s present and think through its future.  As a leader this time was important because of the critical junction SpringHill finds itself at.  I needed a clear head so I could evaluate SpringHill as it is today and where it needs to be tomorrow.

I’ve learned over the years, because of how I’m wired, I need the following tools and space to do this kind of mind bending, paradigm breaking work:

First,  I must have an inspiring location. I draw inspiration from nature and from quiet spaces.  I also find inspiration from places with historical significance, whether it’s personal or general.  On this day I chose Acorn Pointe, SpringHill Indiana’s guest house, a location that is stunning and a place that has strong historical significance for me and SpringHill.

Second, I need to stand and move.  So working at a white board or flip chart is best.  I also need the opportunity to go for long walks.  Some of the best thinking I’ve ever done has occurred as I’ve walked. So the location needs to lend itself to leaving my work as it is and going for a long walk. For this work, my location granted me long walks around Rust Lake.

Third, it’s essential I can write my thoughts out with pen and paper.  Writing helps me order my thoughts and ideas.  It also helps me refine and clarify my understanding of a topic or situation. On this day I used giant 2 by 2 foot Post-It-Notes and stuck them to the windows of the guest house’s great room.  This allowed me to stand, move and write all at the same time. Later, each Post-It-Note became a slide in a PowerPoint Deck that I used to present my thinking to three different SpringHill teams.  I also had a journal I carried with me when I went on my walks so I could write any thoughts or ideas that came to me.

So now you know how I work best.  But the more important question is – how do you work best?  What are the elements that create the space you need to bring out your highest quality work?  If you’ve never answered these questions, now at this moment, there’s no more important assignment you have than answering them.  Because when you have the answers, you’ll have the tools to do work that makes a difference.

The Multiple Meanings of F.T.K.

Bryce McClelland, SpringHill Summer Leader, United States Naval Academy Mid-shipman 3rd Class and his campers

Bryce McClelland, SpringHill Summer Leader, United States Naval Academy Mid-shipman 3rd Class with his campers

No, the letters F.T.K. are not secret code, and yes, they have meaning, serious meaning. As a matter of fact these letters stand for two significant but related purposes.

These two purposes highlight the reason why over 1000 summer and year around SpringHill leaders just ran the sprint we call summer camp.  It’s why they worked uncountable hours, at times in uncomfortable weather and conditions, and often enduring heartache and disappointment.  It’s also why they experienced the joy of loving, serving, teaching, coaching, and leading nearly 28,000 children and students. F.T.K. moved these leaders to do all they could to assure campers had the best week of their year and the most transformative experience of their life.

F.T.K. is also why 1000’s of supporters, ambassadors, prayer partners, volunteers, churches and families invest in the work SpringHill does every summer.

It’s what drives the SpringHill family, every day, to be more creative in their work, and more effective in serving more kids, families and churches in more places.

F.T.K. is how we ultimately evaluate the work we did this summer.  It is SpringHill’s plumb line, it’s what moves us, inspires us, sustains us and brought all of us together this summer.

And it’s why, for the past 18 summers, I’ve devoted my vocational life serving SpringHill’s mission.  And yes I know, if you’re not connected to SpringHill, you may not know the multiple meanings of F.T.K..

The words behind F.T.K. are significant yet quite straightforward. And as soon as you read them, you’ll understand why they are the guiding force of our work this summer.

F.T.K. represents both – For the Kids, and – For the Kingdom.  Hands down, with no serious rivals, there’s no better cause, no more important work, no better way to spend a summer than serving kids and His Kingdom.  Just ask the 1000’s of people who did so this summer and the 10,000’s of kids, families and churches who experienced the fruit of their work.

12 Reasons Camp Counselors make Great Employees

2015-07-30 13.11.37With the end of summer drawing near 10,000’s of college age adults around the country will be ending their summer jobs at camps and will be looking for new work. So being a former corporate employment manager and current camp professional it seems appropriate for me to highlight the 12 reasons why smart employers will seek out and hire these former camp staff:

Former Summer Camp Staff are:

  1. Hard working – camp jobs are a 24 hour/7 day a week jobs
  2. Disciplined and timely – camps run on schedules that need to be followed
  3. Responsible – what’s more important than the safety and care of children?
  4. Selfless – camp jobs require putting the needs and desires others before their own
  5. Flexible and adaptable – camp requires staff to adjust to changing conditions (weather is so unpredictable)
  6. Team players (they know how to work and play well with others) – camps are small, tight-knit communities where only team players survive
  7. Very good with the public – these folks interacted professionally daily with parents, camp inspectors, donors and others
  8. Creative – because their job was to ensure campers had the best week of their summer
  9. Teachers and coaches, since they were responsible to help others learn life lessons, do new activities, and experience new people, places and things
  10. Policy followers because camp has rules and it’s important that they’re followed
  11. Policy questioners, because they’ve learned that following a policy can stand in the way of achieving the higher goals of summer camp which is to provide life changing experiences for campers
  12. Leaders, having led 7 to 15 people everyday for the entire summer

So you can see, smart employers will be first in line to hire these well-trained, experienced, and talented people. Their summer experience puts them miles ahead of their peers.

A Title that Fits the Job

2015-05-31 16.58.22I’m not big on job titles. To me they’re an organizational necessary evil. But sometimes getting a job title or classification right is important because they often communicate very powerful messages.

Since SpringHill’s first summer in 1969, the people we hired to work with kids and assist in running summer camp were simply called summer staff. It’s a practical title since these people joined our staff team and worked for the summer. But the issue is, like so many titles in the world, it doesn’t do justice to the actual work these people do. It doesn’t come close to communicating the critical roles, responsibilities and impact these people have on the lives of literally 10,000’s of young people every summer.

These important team members provide the moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day leadership required to provide campers with safe, exciting, memorable and life transforming experiences. Every person on our summer team leads. They may lead a group of campers or lead their peers or lead exciting activities and thoughtful programs, but every one of them leads. And every one of them also leads in the most powerful way a person can lead – through their example, by living in a way that when young people see them, they see Christ.

As you can see this job has significantly more responsibility than the title summer staff implies. The people who have these jobs are more than just staff, they are leaders, all 1200 of them.

So, in light of this reality, during summer staff training (in the future to be called leader training) I announced that we would no longer refer to them as summer staff, but instead, from this point forward they would be known as summer leaders. It’s a title that is worthy of the work these committed people do.


Unexpected Goodness & Kindness

2014-05-25 19.12.39When we interact with big, successful organizations we expect professional interactions and excellent products and services. It’s the same expectation for any large organization whether it business, educational institution, church or other not-for-profit organization.

On the other hand, when working with smaller organizations, we expect personal attention and friendliness. We may cut the organization some slack when it comes to quality products and services because we’re willing to exchange them for personal attention and friendliness.

This was the idea my good friend and SpringHill ally, Mark Beeson, was sharing with me recently.

Mark’s thesis is – if a small organization wants to exceed expectations it needs to provide excellence in its products and services while never losing that personal touch people expect. But if larger organizations like his church, Granger Community Church, or SpringHill, want to exceed expectations then they must provide, as Marked called it, unexpected goodness and kindness. In other words, treat people like a smaller organization would.

So what does unexpected goodness and kindness look like for larger organizations? It’s…

  • Providing personal touch and the extra friendliness
  • Creating a sense of belonging to the people being lead and served
  • Making people feel like an individual and not a number or a statistic
  • Simply knowing and remembering people’s names
  • Taking care of an issue or request personally and promptly
  • Sending hand written notes
  • Returning phone calls, emails and text messages like you would your dearest friends (or your mom)
  • All levels of leadership being approachable, accessible and authentic with the people they serve and lead
  • Providing as much attention to individual people as to tasks, projects, programs, facilities, etc.

In other words, unexpected goodness and kindness is what small organizations find so easy and natural to do but bigger organizations find hard to achieve.

Which leads to the question Mark and I pondered – can organizations like SpringHill and Granger Community Church interact with people with goodness and kindness like smaller organizations?

Both Mark and I answered that question with a resounding yes, if we’re intentional, focused and prepared. As I thought more about this question I realized that for SpringHill this discussion isn’t just theoretical, it’s literally our integrity, of living consistently with one of our core values – to exceed expectations.

You see when we articulated this core value over 20 years ago SpringHill wasn’t nearly as big. To exceed expectations then meant to provide an outstanding experience and service. Today, people expect outstanding experiences and service from SpringHill. But if we’re to live out this value today, it most certainly means providing on a regular and intentional basis, authentic and unexpected goodness and kindness to all we serve and lead. This needs to be our goal; it has to be our focus, it needs to be our reality, if we’re to have integrity as an organization.

So I’m once again thankful for my annual walk around SpringHill with Mark Beeson, because the best way to learn a new concept is to experience it firsthand. This I did in my time with Mark, and both I and SpringHill have benefited from his authentic and unexpected goodness and kindness.

The Key Ingredients needed to Create a Great Job

IMG_0082 (2) In my last post, as well as in a previous post, I talked about meaningful and challenging work as key to staying energized and focused in your job. Though work that is both meaningful and challenging is critical to creating a job you’ll love there are three other ingredients that make up the recipe for your dream job that we need to talk about.

They are:

  1. Working for an organization whose mission, core values and culture align with your own calling and values. You may love your work but if you don’t get excited about your organization’s mission, values and culture you don’t have your dream job. Hint – is the organization you’re working for have an articulated mission and values as well as actually living them out? If not, there’s a good chance you won’t aligned with this organization
  2. The people you work with. Though closely related to culture, part of a great job is working with people you like, you respect, who treat you and others with dignity, and help make you both a better professional and a better person. Hint – do you find yourself looking forward to seeing your team after a weekend or a vacation? If not, it maybe because you don’t really like to be around them.
  3. The lifestyle it provides. Does your job provide you the pay, benefits, hours, flexibility, and location to help you have the life style you envision for yourself? It’s more than about salary; it’s about both the tangible and the intangible benefits a job offers that either positively or negatively impacts you and your family. Hint – does your job keep you from doing the things outside of your work you love to do or enable you to do those things? Remember, a full and healthy life outside your job is critical to long-term success in your work.

If you can land in a job where all four of these ingredients come together in the perfect blend, congratulations, you have a dream job. But the truth is life isn’t a dream. We live in a broken world where perfection rarely happens and when it does, it’s usually for a fleeting moment. What that means is there is no perfect job that has all the four ingredients in the exact amounts you’ve always dreamed of.

So even in the best jobs in the world you’ll find that you often have to compromise on one or more of these ingredients. If you can find a job that has the right balance of 3 of the 4 you’ve got a great job. The important issue is to know which of the four ingredients are the most important to you. These are the ones you don’t want to compromise on. You also need to know which ones mean less to you so you can make appropriate trade-offs and assure you have the ingredients you want. For example, if lifestyle issues are your highest value, you may be willing to work with people you don’t particularly like if the job provides you the benefits you want and need.

So know it’s possible to have a great job, one you want to get up for every day and will want to do so for a long time. But it requires knowing what’s most important to you and then never compromising on those values.

What will keep me from Retirement!


Photo by Tony Schmid

I’ve been asked a number of times over the last few months some version of this question – “how long do you see yourself doing your job?” At first I wasn’t sure why people asked me this question. I wondered if it was God’s gentle way of preparing me to move on. Or was it that I unintentionally appeared bored or unengaged in my work – though I am far from either. Maybe it’s simply that there’s an assumption that people in their 50’s don’t work at camp.

I finally asked one of my inquisitive friends what was behind their question. His answer was simple, “most people your age start thinking about retirement and with all the demands of your work I wondered if you were thinking about it as well”

Now his answer took me a  bit off guard. You see retirement isn’t on my radar. It’s not something I aspire to. I want to work as long as I’m capable of doing so. You see I love my job and, I have to admit, I love to work.

But I don’t love just any kind of work. I love work that is both challenging
and meaningful.

Challenging work is work that leads to personal learning and growth. And because I never want to stop learning, growing and becoming a better person, I need to do challenging work.

Secondly I want meaningful work because making a difference in the lives of others and in the world is why I exist; this is the calling of my life.

So I’ve answered my inquisitive friends in this way – I’ll continue in my role at SpringHill, with the blessing of our board, as long as I’m capable doing quality work and the job continues to be both challenging and meaningful. It’s only when it’s no longer challenging and meaningful that I’ll consider moving on, not to retirement, but to some new work where I can learn, grow and make a difference.

Three Life Lessons from a Holocaust Survivor

2015-05-09 13.30.43I’ve attended a number of college graduation ceremonies, including two of my own. And at every ceremony there’s always been a commencement speech. Yet, until I attended our daughter Christina’s recent graduation from Butler University, I’ve never heard a truly memorable one.

This commencement speech was given by Eva Mozes Kor. She is a survivor of the Holocaust. Every person in Hinkle Fieldhouse was riveted Eva told the story of her experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Because she and her sister were twins, when her family arrived at the camp via train aboard a cattle car, they were immediately separated from their parents and other siblings. Eva and her sister never saw the rest of their family again. They didn’t go to the gas chambers because the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele chose instead to use them as human guinea pigs in his inhuman and evil genetic experiments.

After briefly sharing her story, Eva went on to share with the graduates three important “life lessons” she learned from her life during and after Auschwitz. By this point she had us all ready to not only hear what she learned but, in doing so, find her secret to dealing with the pain, hurts and disappointments everyone in that field house has experienced.

Here are her three simple but powerful life lessons.

  1. Never give up on yourself or your dreams. Never lose hope no matter how desperate the situation may seem. (I might add, never give up on God and the hope you have in Him)
  2. Give your kids, parents and other loved ones a hug every day. Never take for granted that you’ll see them again.
  3. Forgive those who have hurt you. When you forgive you’re no longer a prisoner or a victim.

Unfortunately as Eva’s learned, this last lesson comes at a high cost in return for the high reward of freedom. She has received criticism in the media for her very personal and public forgiveness of Nazi guards at Auschwitz.

After the ceremony we talked about Eva’s message. Christina mentioned how her classmates graduating in her program all commented on how powerful and memorable Eva’s message was. Now to have the graduates really listening makes that speech a true winner and a great example of telling a compelling and personal story that does more than entertain but benefits those who listen to it.


Dare to Serve

Dare to Serve Book Photo

I just finished one of the most inspiring leadership books I’ve read in a long time – Dare to Serve – How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others by Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. It’s so good that it now sits on my book shelf right next to my signed copy of Max De Pree’s leadership classic – Leadership is an Art.

So what makes this book so inspiring, engaging and helpful?

First, is Cheryl’s thesis – “When you choose to humbly serve others and courageously lead them to daring destinations, the team will give you their very best performance” p. 9. Cheryl’s value based, people centered leadership philosophy is not only right on, it’s a desperately needed message in the celebrity driven, leader centered culture found in so many organizations today.

Second, there’s Cheryl’s courage. Think about it, how many CEO’s of a multi-billion dollar publicly traded company, would dare to proclaim such a contrarian idea as one that says – you can lead teams to great performance by serving them? And, of course, courage in others is always inspiring.

Third, Cheryl is not only a student of leadership, she is a leader. Her book isn’t filled with theories but reflects what she’s learned by actually leading people and organizations. Which means this book is a case study in leadership and, specifically, in leading the turnaround of a struggling organization.

Finally, I’ve spent some time with Cheryl, so I can vouch for the fact that, as a leader and, more importantly as a person, she’s the real deal, which only affirms that her book is the real deal.

So if you’re a leader of any kind or aspire to be one, Dare to Serve gives you a great roadmap to become a better leader. It will inspire you to lead humbly and courageously so that you and your team will win.

Never Confuse the How’s and Why’s of Leadership!

2015-03-05 09.16.13Our family loves basketball. Our three boys played basketball through high school (sadly it’s our youngest son’s last season). As a result we love March Madness – both high school and college.

So when filling out our family’s tournament brackets I always pick the teams with the best defenses. Because, as every serious basketball fan knows, a team’s success in a single game elimination tournament most often hinges on playing great defense.

Which leads to a couple of questions – is defense the reason why teams play in tournaments? Or is defense simply the means, or how a team wins a tournament? The answers are obvious, teams play in tournaments not to play great defense but to win. Winning is why they play, defense is the how.

Unfortunately, unlike basketball, when people think about leadership they too often mix up the how of leadership with the why. It maybe because one of the best “how’s” is servant leadership. Servant leadership is so right, so good, so appealing, that we tend to think of it as the result or the why of leadership, not the how.

But servant leadership is the how, it’s the posture of leadership, it’s the way leadership can and should be done. But it’s not the why; it’s not the result of leadership. Servant leadership is basketball’s equivalent to playing great defense.

So servant leadership isn’t the purpose of leadership; it’s not the answer to the question –why do we lead?

The answer to that question is that we lead so we can multiply, to reproduce. Our why is to grow those we lead so we can grow the impact and effectiveness of teams and organizations we’re entrusted with. We win when our leadership results in multiplication (click here to see more on leaders as multipliers).

So our leadership strategy is servant leadership but our goal is always multiplication. We must never confuse the two.


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