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Making the Tough Decisions – Part 4, Being Clear on Your Convictions

Annual Planning MPIn my last post we discussed the need to courageously face the brutal facts and resist the temptation to “bend the map”.  So, for leaders, the obvious follow-up question’s are:

  • Where do we find this courage?
  • What’s the solid foundation we can plant our feet on?
  • Where do we find the confidence that, regardless of the outcome of our decisions, we can rest knowing we made them based on strong values and clear convictions?

It’s in this last question that we find the foundation to having the courage to make those tough decisions. We need to seek, find and articulate both our personal and our organizational values and beliefs.  So to that end, let’s take a brief look at both core values and beliefs and the critical role each play in making tough decisions.

Core values answer the question – what’s most important?  What are the things we’re willing to work and sacrifice for, and never compromise on?  What’s so important that we’ll defend these values even if it causes great pain and loss?  Think of the great price paid by the men and women of our military to defend our nation’s core values of liberty and freedom.  Core values, when used in decision-making, provide a guide on what we’re willing to do and not to do.

The second half of our foundation for courage is knowing our core beliefs.  Core beliefs answer the question – what do we believe to be true?  They’re different from core values because they’re found outside of ourselves or our organization not from within. Though they’re similar to core values, because when they’re core we’re willing to defend, sacrifice, and suffer pain and loss because of them.  However we must remember that core beliefs are true regardless of whether everyone values or believes them. Articulating core beliefs is an act of acknowledging the reality in which we live and work and gives us a solid foundation to face and make difficult decisions. It keeps us from “bending the map” and helps assure we’re making decisions that match up with the realities of the world.

So as leaders we have the dual responsibility of knowing and articulating both our personal as well as our organization’s core values and beliefs.  They provide us the foundation for the courage we need to make tough decisions, the peace of mind we seek during difficult times and the guard rails to keep us on track.

If you’ve never articulated your personal and your team’s core values and belief’s I encourage you to begin the process as soon as possible.  Taking time before the new year begins will help you and your leadership prepare for the inevitable tough decisions that will come your way in 2016.



Making the Tough Decisions – Part 3, Bend the Map or Face the Brutal Facts

FullSizeRenderTough decisions have their birth when a leader’s faced with what Jim Collins calls the brutal facts.  Brutal facts are those stubborn, nasty little realities that scream at us “leader, you have serious problems”. And serious problems always require making the tough decisions to solve them.

Which is the problem for so many leaders – when we’re faced with the brutal facts we must do something with them, we’re compelled to act, to make tough decisions. So one of the first and most courageous steps a leader must take is simply to face the facts and accept them for what they are – reality.  But there’s a strong temptation to explain away the facts that will cause us difficulty, pain, extra work, or we simply don’t like.

This temptation has the same elements as the temptation people often faced with when they become lost, it’s a phenomena psychologists call “bending the map.”  It’s when a lost person stops believing their map because it doesn’t line up with what they think their reality should be. They explain away the inconsistencies between what their map is telling them and where they find themselves.  They chose not to believe their map but instead to believe their own distorted reality. This happens because the fear of being lost is such a powerful emotion that people will disregard all the facts, talk themselves into believing what is false all to stave off that fear, even if the result’s to become more lost.

From my experience the phenomena of bending the map doesn’t just occur when people are lost. Something similar happens when leaders bend their financial maps because they can’t accept their financial results, or they bend their people maps when they can’t believe people would act or perform in a certain way, or they bend their performance maps because the key indicators don’t line up with their expectations.  When leaders lose the courage to face the brutal facts they begin to explain away and rationalize that their maps are wrong and their indicators are off base.  They chose bending the map instead of taking the very courageous step of facing the brutal facts and admitting their lost.

So the very first step in making the tough decisions is to resist the temptation to bend whatever map you’re looking at and instead to face the brutal facts.  To embrace the reality your map is telling you and, more importantly, to accept the responsibility to change course by making the tough decision.

Is there any place in your leadership where you are or have bent the map, where you’ve failed to face the brutal facts?  What have you done to find the courage to accept the harsh reality staring you in the face?



Making the Tough Decisions – Part 2, What makes a Decision Tough?

Barn and piano

As people, and as leaders, we face decisions every day, all day long.  Most are easy, simple decisions, because they’re decisions we make often – where to go to lunch, what route to take to work, which new jacket to buy, etc..  But other decisions are not so easy.  They require much more from us than the routine decisions we make everyday. Yet, as I said in Part 1, it’s these tough decisions that provide us the greatest opportunity to positively impact the world and the lives of others.

So what’s the anatomy of a tough decision?  There are three facets to every decision that determine their degree of difficulty:

  1. The potential consequences:  The bigger the consequences of making (or not making) a decision the tougher it is to make.  Think about a decision to walk across a steel I-beam straddling a 3 foot deep ditch to reach a hurt child compared to one stretched between two buildings 20 stories above the ground.  The bigger the potential consequences, the tougher the decisions.
  2. The quality and nature of the information can make decisions tough. It’s what I call the leader’s “fog of war” (we’ll discuss further in a future post).  The “fog of war” results in distorted and missing information.  On the other hand,  there are times when the information is available and clear but our lack of experience or expertise makes it hard to digest and process, thus making decisions tough.
  3. People are nearly always an element in tough decisions.  The people element makes decisions tough because:
  • We see the potential negative consequences people may experience from these decisions, and
  • because people often fight you and your decisions because most people do not like change .

For me, because I’m both by nature a risk taker and a people pleaser,  it’s the people element that makes my decisions difficult.  When faced with hard decisions I can tend to lose a lot more sleep thinking about all the potential people issues than I do about the consequences or the nature of information I’m looking at.  It’s the people element that clouds my thinking, slows my decisions, and often trips me up.  I’ve found I benefit from seeking and listening to an outsider’s perspective concerning the people element when faced with tough decisions.  When I can talk with some one with a detached perspective I’m in a better position to make the right call even when it impacts people I love.

Thanks for your input on my last post.  They’re very helpful to my cause of preparing for a workshop I’m giving at the Christian Camp and Conference Association’s (CCCA) national conference.  Here are two more questions I’d love to hear your thoughts on:

  • Which of these three facets of a decision do you find the most challenging?
  • What do you do to help yourself work through this facet when you’re faced with a tough decisions?

Making the Tough Decisions – Part 1

imageThe most important test a leader will ever face is when he or she must make the tough, painful, gut wrenching, and sleep losing decision.  It’s part of the leader’s job, it’s in their unwritten job description – leaders must make hard decisions, it’s not a matter of if, but of when.

So when I was asked to teach a workshop on how to make tough decisions at the Christian Camp and Conference Association’s (CCCA) national conference in December I said yes.

To that end, over the next month, as I prepare to present I will post some of my ruminations about this important subject looking for input and feedback.

One of my first conclusions about making tough decisions is not only do leaders need to make hard decisions but being a multiplying leader (Leadership25) and making hard decisions are actually synonymous.  The two are inseparable.  To be a leader means to make hard decisions.

The reason is we live in a fallen and broken world and, as a result, hard decisions will come our way.  So it is that leaders will always face hard calls.  And the most impactful leaders will always take on the hard decisions, seeing them as opportunities to make a difference in the world.

Over the next several weeks, as I develop my workshop on making hard decisions, I will post thoughts on such issues as:

  • Conviction and courage
  • Facing the brutal facts
  • Clarity on answers to key questions
  • Being the only person with all the information
  • Trust and Speed
  • The Fog of war and making mistakes
  • Prayer

What I’d love is for you to join me in this work.  I’d love your feedback, thoughts, and stories that can help me create an effective workshop that will benefit leaders from around the country and the world.


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.


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