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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.

“You Need to Feed Them and Love Them Before You can Lead Them”

2013-06-21 11.57.45I recently heard again a pastor’s old maxim – “you need to feed them and love them before you can lead them”. This got me thinking, this isn’t just a helpful maxim for pastors but for every leader.

So I asked myself, “how does this old maxim apply to other kinds of leaders, ones who are not pastors?”

So here’s my take on it.

First, “Feed them” implies giving people the tools, time, encouragement, and clarity of expectations, training, and coaching they need to successfully do their work now and into the future. It means providing both challenging and meaningful work while assuring people have what they need to meet every challenge and, at the end of the day, be successful. Feeding people is building into them professionally and personally.

Then the second requirement of leadership is to “Love them“. How can we love those entrust to our leadership? We start with treating them as people created in the image of God. We can do this simply by knowing and using people’s names. People love and need to be known. We make sure we understand what people do in their work and the contributions they make to the team. Then we should never stop thanking them. We get to know people on a personal level so we can lead them in a way that brings out their best. We also show an interest in them beyond what they can do for the team. This means being committed to well-being of their professional lives (goals, fears, desires, calling, development, etc.) as well as their personal lives (family, hobbies, spiritual).

If, as leaders, we can effectively feed and love people, then, and only then, will we earn the right to lead them, to be granted the privilege to be their leaders. Without earning this right, by definition, we’re not leaders because we simply will have no lasting followers, just people stuck till they can find another leaders and team.

So challenge yourself by answering the following questions about the people entrusted to you. Then earn the right to lead by actually do what you’ve said you will do in each answer.

  1. What will I do this week to feed them?
  2. How will I tangibly express my love for them this week?

5 Steps You can Take to Help Your Team Win

2013-07-16 04.58.12Do you want to assure your team accomplishes a goal, task or project? Then there’s five steps, as a leader, you must take to increase the odds of your team being successful. By the way, in the spirit of transparency, I write these as much as reminders to myself as I do to be helpful to you.

  1. Put the goal, task or project clearly and concisely in writing – writing down a goal, task or project with the accompanying plan gives it a sense of permanency and significance. Making it clear includes defining success so your team knows when it has won. Also outline the steps and resources needed to win. Make sure it’s concisely written because by doing so it will make it more memorable.
  2. Measure and track progress on a regular basis – How often you measure and track your progress depends on duration of the goal or project. The shorter the horizon the more frequent you must measure and track. The farther out the horizon is the less frequently you need to measure and track progress. But no matter the horizon, don’t ever believe you can stop or avoid regular tracking and measurements. If you do, your team will soon flounder. The depth of your measuring and tracking will also depend on the track record of your team.
  3. Provide consistent and regular feedback If you’re appropriately consistent in measuring and tracking then you’ll be in the right place and posture to provide timely and helpful feedback. Feedback includes recognizing the good progress and providing correction if necessary.
  4. Stay with it till it’s accomplished and finished – Doing these five steps requires discipline on your part as a leader. If you lose sight of a goal, task or project eventually our team will as well. What you chose to focus on will be what your team focuses on, and what you chose not to focus on (or lose focus on) will eventually be what your team choses not to focus on as well.
  5. Celebrate – By doing these first four steps you will increase your team’s chances for success. This last step increases your team’s chances of success on the next project, task or goal. So celebrate, thank, reward, and affirm the good work your team does and they’ll be ready for the next challenge that comes their way.

Don’t Wear the “Blame & Complain” T-shirt

Blame and ComplainA while back I was sitting at a coffee shop with a friend and our conversation took us to the subject of people’s unwillingness to take responsibility for their decisions and actions and their tendency to blame others and complain about all their problems. My friend said, as he set down his latte, “If I could buy these people a custom t-shirt, it would say in big bold letters, ‘Blame & Complain.'”

Now that’s a t-shirt no leader wants to be offered. To blame and to complain are the opposite attitudes and behaviors of people who are making a difference in the lives other others and in the world.

Instead of blaming others for problems, leaders take responsibility when things don’t go right even when it’s not directly their fault. The legendary college football coach, Bear Bryant, use to say “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it.” Blame, self-justification, and skirting responsibility takes leaders and their teams nowhere good. It only leads to loss of credibility, respect and broken trust ending in fractured relationships. And all those places create a spiral of poor performance which will never be broken but only exasperated by blaming and complaining.

As to complaining, leaders don’t waste a New York minute complaining because it doesn’t do one thing to solve problems. A leader’s job is to help their team move forward, to tackle problems and to solve them. This takes hard work, time, energy and focus, all of which get diluted with complaining. As I often tell our team “If it wasn’t for problems and obstacles we face every day, SpringHill wouldn’t need most of us. Our job is to solve, deal and prevent problems so why complain about them; it’s why most of us have jobs.”

So don’t ever be tempted to wear the “Blame & Complain” t-shirt instead always be quick to put on the “Responsible & Will Solve It” shirt, it’s the one t-shirt leaders are always willing put on.

All You can Do is Your Best. Yes, but…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was in high school I remember coming home after our high school football team lost a critical conference game. I played defensive end and had a rough night holding contain, and slowing down our opponents receivers. When I walked into our house both my mom and dad knew I was upset, disappointed and defeated. In an effort to help me move forward they asked me this question –

“Did you do give your best tonight?”

And of course I answered “yes I did” because I wanted to win as badly as any player on the field.

Then my parents said that’s stuck with me ever since,

“Then if you did your best there’s nothing more you could have done to change the outcome of the game. The only thing you can do now is learn from this and improve for the next game.”

My parents wanted me to know that I couldn’t control what others do, the conditions I perform in, and most other factors that impact my performance, but I can control myself. I can always do my best.

But, as I also learned on that Friday night so many years ago, sometimes doing your best isn’t enough. Effort, though important doesn’t equal winning, doing your best doesn’t guarantee success. It just guarantee’s, no matter the results, I don’t have to hang my head.

I also realized that evening that, by definition, we can never do better than our best. There’s no space above doing all we could in a given situation. What we can do, as my parents told me, is to learn so that our top-level can be redefined, our best ceiling can rise. In most cases, unfortunately, the conditions required to create this kind of transformative learning happens after we lose or perform badly.

So, we can and should always do our best in any given situation. But when our best isn’t enough, we need to take the opportunity to learn so that the next time we perform, our best will meet the challenge.

What are the Ingredients in a Dream Job?

2015-01-21 03.30.18There are four factors that influence how much you’ll love your job – the organization you work for (including your direct boss), the lifestyle it provides (pay, hours, travel, location, etc.), the actual work you do, and finally the people you work with. If your job is only good in zero or one of these factors, find a new one now. If two of these are present, it’s an ok job but don’t let it be long-term.  If your job has three of four, it’s a great job.  Four out of four, now that’s your dream job. This week I experienced a big dose of all of these factors, reminding me again why I have a dream job.

First, I met with many of our board members to talk about how we can best organize our resources to accomplish our vision. Each meeting was a powerful reminder of the impact of SpringHill’s mission and the quality people I’m blessed to serve on behalf of.

Next I spent a big part of my week in Indianapolis with all our SpringHill leaders at our annual Leadership Conference. The conference provided me an opportunity to do two things that I love to do – teach and learn. I was able to speak with our team about being a multiplying leader and I learned from our own team and SpringHill friends about building healthy team culture, living out the Gospel and preparing ourselves for leadership.

But most importantly this week gave me the opportunity to spend time with a group of people I truly love – SpringHill staff. We worshipped, played (Duck Pin Bowling was a blast), ate, prayed, worked, learned, laughed, encouraged, challenged, and grew together as a team. This group of people, and the incredible work they do, is why I’m blessed beyond what I deserve to have the job I do.

I guess our Michigan Winter isn’t so bad … On Reading Real Life Adventure Stories

002I’ve just started Alfred Lansing’s Endurance – Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, the story of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew’s adventure of living on an ice-moored ship near Antarctica for 10 months before their ship sinks, followed by 7 months living on an ice floe in the open sea until finally reaching safe harbor.  I can barely put it down.

I’ve always loved real life adventure books, such as Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, Huntford’s The Last Place on Earth, Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, and Stanton’s In Harm’s Way.  I follow the stories with maps next to my chair and Google Earth on my IPAD.  I do background research on the people, the places and the times.  Every one of these stories engages me in a way fiction, however exciting and adventuresome it might be, rarely does.

I think it starts with the obvious fact that these stories are about real people and real events. Now understand I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings, but when the story brings you to the tightest places, I expect Gandalf to show up with some magic, and of course, he or some other character usually does because Tolkien can make it so.  In real life adventure stories, there’s no magic. There’s the occasional miracle (I do believe in those), but there’s also a lot of remarkable behavior and action by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

So, as a result, I’m always inspired by these stories.  They remind me that whatever challenge I’m facing (like a winter in northern Michigan), there’s always others who’ve went through a lot worse and not only survived but were victorious.  But I also approach these books as I did business school case studies, an opportunity to learn, to grow and to gain new perspective and insight into people and the world.  I learn from both the successes and the failures that are always a part of real life stories.

In particular I love to look closely at the leaders in these stories. I ask questions such as – what was their leadership style?  Was it effective?  What can I apply in my context?  If I could, I would love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men so I could learn firsthand about his leadership.  But since that’s not possible, reading a well –written and researched book about him and his adventure is the next best thing.  And, in this case, it also reminds me that my winter in northern Michigan isn’t really so bad after all.

 

Reflections – Series 2, Vol. 4

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