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When Your Life Makes an Unexpected Turn

2014-03-10 19.14.21-2Personal experience has taught that life isn’t one straight, smooth and effortless journey. There are patches of rocky road, exhausting up hill climbs, stretches of fog and darkness. Though life’s path can often be level, smooth, well marked, and brightly lit, those hard stretches can seem to go on forever.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this state of travel. The overwhelming evidence is that we live in a fallen and bent world and we are broken and finite people.  The mixture of both create those difficult stretches we all experience in our lives.

Rough patches can mean many things, sometimes we just need to get through them.  But other times there’s more to a difficult stretch of road than simply getting through it. Sometimes long stretches of rough travel is a signal that radical change is coming or needed.

And this radical change is a redirection of our life, a turn down a different path to a new destination we never planned on or expected.  When this happens to us what we thought was so certain, what we worked so hard for, tenaciously planned and prepared for, prayed and dreamed about is suddenly gone, often in a flash.  We feel totally blind sided by these unasked for and unwanted changes.

Yet, often, maybe nearly always, its these changes in our travel plans that lead to the better roads, brighter paths, and a more joyful journey.  Why?  Because most likely our former path had become the wrong one for us. Somewhere, unannounced to us was a much better road, one planned from the beginning of creation.  We just didn’t know it or see it. The hard road can push us to a new and better path only if we can work through the emotions of such radical and intrusive change.

Which is why these directional changes are the hardest of all.

Yet these changes , as unbearable as they can be in the moment, can also provide us hope that we’ll not only come through this rough patch but we’ll be on our way to a better destination, a new life. The real question is how we confront and deal with our new reality. Are we willing to walk away from our old plans and dreams and start to construct new plans to a new destination?

These moments do not come often, so I’ve found the benefit of the wisdom, perspective and insight of a traveling companion, someone whose traveled before us.  First, it’s simply helpful to have a friend walk with us while on the rough roads.  Secondly, a companion, because they tend to be more objective, can help us evaluate whether a rough patch is the signal to change directions and head to a new destination or something to get through.

Finally, I’ve found making sure there’s space for prayer, reflection and meditation are essential in working intellectually and emotionally through these segments of our journey.  It’s in these quiet moments that breakthroughs in perspective and clarity on direction so often come.

So, if you’re in one of those places on your journey where traveling is difficult, seek wisdom from others as well as through prayer and reflection.  Determine if it’s just a rough patch to get through or a indication of a radical change in direction.  If it’s simply getting through,  keep walking.  If it’s a change in direction,  seek out a new destination and create a new travel plan that will bring you to a better place.  But either way, standing still is not an option, going back rarely the answer, instead look, lean, and move forward -it’s the only way through it and onto your new destination.

 

So What Kind of Parent Are You?

068In my last post we looked at four ways to lead others – push, drag, carry or inspire.  In the days since it’s occurred to me that these are also four ways parents can lead their children. But before moving to those ways let’s be clear on one idea about parenting.  I’m convinced after 24 years of being a parent that the key responsibility we have as parents, maybe the only responsibility, is to lead our children.  This may seem obvious but the truth is many parents don’t lead, either because they don’t know how to or simply don’t believe it’s their place.  But the truth is the very first social organizations in history were not businesses, non-profits, or governments but instead it were families.  And since healthy organizations require leadership, we shouldn’t be surprised that healthy families need leadership and that every child needs to be lead.

So what are the ways a parent can lead their child?

Parents have the same options available as a leader of any organization – they can push, drag, carry or they can inspire their children.  Maybe the only difference is that as parents, especially parents of young children and adolescents, it’s appropriate to use all four ways  more often than you do when leading/parenting adults.  As a result, the key to successful parenting is having the wisdom to know when to lead which way.

Unfortunately this is usually where we make mistakes as parents.  We push when we should carry, we carry when we should inspire, we drag when a gentle nudge is all that is needed.

And just like leading teams, parents (myself included) can fall into one way of leading because it worked so well at one particular moment or season in our child’s life.  The tricky part is to be able to recognize the need to move away from a specific way when the child’s ready to be led differently.  We’ve seen this in the parenting of our own children, who are now adults.  When they were children,  we often dragged them to piano practice, pushed them to eat right, carried them when life was beyond their capacity to handle.  But as adults our children don’t want nor appreciate being pushed, dragged, and most often not even carried.  They do love and want to be inspired. A new season in our children’s life requires a shift in the way we parent.

How do we know we’re parenting the best way?  Our children should be accomplishing both our short-term goals (eating their vegetables) and our long-term goals (becoming people who don’t need to be pushed, pulled or carried).

So this leaves us with the question we all face as parents – are we ready to give up our go-to parenting ways for the better way in this moment or season of your child’s life?

 

 

 

Pushing, Dragging, Carrying or Inspiring?

2015-07-22 22.37.39Leaders tend to use one of four ways to move people in a desired direction. Each approach works in the short-term, especially when movement is urgently needed. Which way a leader chooses often depends on the people and circumstances involved.  But one way is ultimately the best, one that moves people farther and faster than the others.  But before we talk about that way, let’s take a look at the other three.

The first way is Pushing Leadership.  The reality is sometimes people need a simple push to move forward (think of a mother bird pushing her young out of the nest to learn to fly). In many situations this is the best approach – a gentle push and big things happen.  But too often leaders are simply pushy people. Pushy leaders will wear out their team, especially if their team already knows how to fly. When this happens those being pushed simply comply, hide or leave.

The second way many leaders lead is by dragging their followers along.  Dragging Leadership is when the leader runs so far ahead that the rest of the team is always killing themselves to stay up.  It looks much like a dog race with the leader as the rabbit and the team are the dogs running hard to catch it. It’s an excellent leadership style for dog races but it burns people out quickly.  Yes, leaders should set the pace and lead by example but they need to be careful not to confuse running with leading.

The third way is what I call Carrying Leadership. Carrying leadership occurs when a leader steps in and rescues their team by taking on their jobs and responsibilities.  As with the first two ways, there are times when leaders need to step in and help their people through a difficult patch.  But it turns destructive when leaders create leadership co-dependency by always assuring their team avoids difficulty or pain and thus never learns to deal with problems, issues and rough patches.

Finally, the most effective (and the most difficult) leadership is Inspiring Leadership. Inspiring Leadership requires relationship, clarity, communication, a meaningful cause, an opportunity to succeed, an end to the game, and understanding of role.  Inspiring leadership is helping others make their best contribution and, when they do, receive all the credit.  In Inspiring Leadership is where the team is center stage and the leader is back stage or in the sound booth assuring the team’s success.

So which way do you lead?  Are you a pushing, dragging or carrying leader?  If so, take this as a gentle push to become an Inspiring Leader, one who leads others to become all that God’s created them to be so they can do all that God’s planned for them to do. This is the kind of leadership we all crave and the type of leadership that can change our world.

To Know and Be Known

2015-07-22 22.30.29“It’s not what you know but who you know that counts” is one of those maxims that can be difficult to swallow, especially for those of us who value performance over politics.  But reality is there’s a kernel of truth in this maxim, especially when thinking about it in terms of relationships instead of politics.

You see relationships do matter, and more often than not they’re the tipping point in any given situation or decision.  Healthy relationships, whether personal or professional, will always carry the day – even in those moments when everything falls apart.

And relationships are not only good at saving the day, they’re also essential in building teams that can accomplish extraordinary  things.  Very rarely has history changing ideas, projects or efforts been accomplished solo. Almost always, great moments have been created by teams of people working in the context of personal, loving and caring relationships.

So what does it take to create healthy relationships?  There’s two simple ingredients:

To know!

And to be known!

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Relationships require knowing others, who they are, what’s important to them,  their history, their stories, and how we can assist them and their goals. Relationships require us  think of others first, so see the world through their eyes, and in the end, simply and deeply, “to know” the other person(s).

Healthy and meaningful relationships also require us “to be known”.  Allowing others to see into our lives, to know our thoughts, hopes and dreams.  To be known in this way is foundational to building the kind of relationships necessary for teams that change the world.  Without transparency, there’s no possibility of trust.  Without trust there’s no true relationship. Where there’s no true relationship, there’s no team or community. And where there’s no team or community, the possibility of world changing actions diminishes to almost zero.

So I’m recommending a new maxim.  Instead of saying “It’s not what you know but who you know that counts”, we should say “it’s not what you know but who you deeply know and are known by that will make all the difference.”

The Risk of Taking the Safe Route

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe safest route in life is to have low expectations for yourself and others, to set only achievable goals (or maybe no goals at all), and to take the proven path. The safe route assures that you are, well, safe, but almost never brings you (0r anyone following you) to a place that’s meaningful or makes a true difference.

Yet as leaders, should this type of safety (ours and others) be our over arching goal?  Is it possible to lead, to make a real difference in the world and in the lives of others,  and, at the same time, take the safe path?  The answer is a resounding no.  Leaders, by definition, take action to change and improve today for a better tomorrow, all the while inspiring others to do the same.  To this end, leaders are willing to carry the pain, do the hard work and, ultimately, risk complete and utter failure to see a better future become a reality.

Reaching higher is always a risky proposition,  but with risk comes great returns.  Safety instead of risk means a life with no lasting rewards, only temporary comfort.  Our son Mitch, a student at the United States Naval Academy, was, as a Plebe, required to memorize the following quote from Teddy Roosevelt –

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered with failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

And there’s a reason all Midshipmen are required to memorize this statement.  To attend the USNA, to dare to put one’s self in an incredibly competitive and pressure filled environment, to be subject to discipline, hardship, and a career requiring one to take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States with one’s life, is a huge risk.  But the potential reward is incredible, for themselves and, more importantly, for others and for the world.

So here’s the bottom line – we’re given only one life on this earth to live,  one life to eternally impact others,  one life to explore this planet, and one life at changing the world. We can choose to avoid the potential risks of reaching higher but we can never live free of all risks.  Because when we take the safe route we take the significantly bigger risk of living in that gray twilight where there is no loss nor any lasting reward.

Accepting the Reality of Trade-Off’s

050Whether we want to accept it or not –  every choice we make, every option we’re presented with,  and opportunity that calls our name comes with accompanying  trade-offs.  Sometimes the trade-offs are significant and sometimes they’re simply an inconvenience.  But we can’t allow ourselves to make the mistake that I, the eternal optimist, too often make – believe that there are choices with no trade-offs.

Even the best options have trade-off’s.  For example, a good friend asks me to spend an afternoon fishing with him.  Great option,  there are not many other things in the world I’d rather do on an afternoon. But choosing to go fishing comes with a myriad of potential trade-off’s.  Fishing might set me back a half of day at my job requiring me to work on the weekend, or keep me from getting a project completed at home, or miss an outing with my wife.  So, as you can see, even the best choices have trade-off’s.

And since every choice has trade-off’s the question is – how do we eliminate or minimize  them? How do we get closer to the optimist’s happy place – choices with no trade-off’s? There are 3 steps I’ve learned that help me minimize these pesky trade-off’s:

  • Name each major trade-off, including those involved, by writing them down.
  • Create a plan to deal with each trade-off.  When possible, try to turn a  trade-off into an advantage (the optimist’s approach to trade-off’s). For example – if I go fishing it’ll lead me to work at the office on Saturday.  But Saturday’s when the office is quiet, so I’ll be able to better concentrate on that project I’ve been struggling with.
  • Communicate the trade-off’s as soon as possible with those impacted by them.  Better to be upfront with my wife about the trade-off and work out a different option for our outing, then to catch her at the last-minute and simply cancel out.

Taking these three steps has helped me live with my optimistic side while making choices that are more realistic.

 

 

The Ultimate Blessing of Making a Lasting Contribution!

FullSizeRender 4Recently, in a 5 day stretch, my wife, Denise, and I attended funerals for three friends of ours and, maybe more importantly, friends of SpringHill.  These three men and their families each made incredible contributions at critical junctures in SpringHill’s history. And by contributions I’m not referring just to financial contributions (though they’ve made plenty of those) but the kind of contributions that come as a result of hard work, energy and wisdom.

For example, one of these friends, Scott, was on our board during the sensitive transition of leadership following the death of our second President, Mark Olson. Another, Herb, spent 23 straight weekends coming to our camp in Evart, MI to help prepare it for it’s grand summer opening in 1969.  While our staff gave the third friend the nickname “Saturday Jim” because he was so faithful volunteering every Saturday.  And believe me, this is just the short list of their SpringHill contributions.  Frankly it’s hard to over state the deep, long and lasting impacts these men had on SpringHill, its staff and their ability to fulfill their mission and vision.

As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure these men, before they passed on, were able to see with their mortal eyes the 100,000’s of people whose lives were, and will be, transformed forever because of their service.  But the good news is I’m convinced that all three are now in Eternity and so are blessed to fully see the extent of their effort, including knowing every single person who benefited from their work.  I believe this kind of sight, the sight we’ll have in Eternity, is one of the “jewels in our crown” we’re promised for remaining faithful like these three men were.

Speaking of mortal sight, from my perspective,  I can’t even begin to imagine SpringHill without people like Scott, Jim and Herb. Together they reflect the nature and beauty of non-profits.  You see non- profits, like these three men, exist to benefit the common good and their only fuel is the passion, commitment, time, energy and resources of people who receive no other benefit from their contributions than the anticipation it all will make a lasting difference in the lives of people and in the world.

So Herb, Jim and Scott thank you on behalf of 100,000’s of child, students, young adults, families and churches, past, present and future, for including SpringHill in your life. We’re all in a better place because of you.

 

 

 

A Company Christmas Party that Makes a Difference

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The Candy Cane Team and staff from a local school

Imagine for a moment a company holiday party that wasn’t focused exclusively on food, drinks,  and loud Christmas sweaters, but instead had a deeper purpose.  A party where the company’s core values were not left at the door step but were integrated into the party itself.  Where the meaning and the true Spirit of Christmas were center stage. And instead of an event that most people dreaded, it was a party that employees looked forward to because they knew lives would be transformed – theirs and others.

Now that sounds like a company Christmas party worth attending.  So the question is – what might such a party look like?

Well, I can tell you because this past Friday I had the opportunity, as a guest, to attend one.  It was the Flexware Innovations (Indianapolis, IN) annual Giving Challenge Christmas party.  And it was the most fun and deeply touching company Christmas party I’ve ever attended.  It had all the traditional ingredients for a great party – an excellent meal, gracious and talented people, but with an added bonus – a larger purpose.

So here’s how this party worked.  The company was divided into 6 teams of 5 or 6 employees plus one non-profit leader (there were six local organizations from the Indianapolis area represented, and I was fortunate to be on the Candy Cane team).  We started the day sitting with our teams enjoying an incredible lunch at a fabulous restaurant during with we heard a brief overview of each non profit organization by their leader.

Then the fun began.

Each team was given $1000 in cash with the mission to give it away to anyone who would be blessed by a gift before 4:00 that day.  There were no rules just a couple of suggestions – we were encouraged to make a gift in person and to an individual or family who would be especially blessed by it. From there each team had to identify potential opportunities (that’s where the non profit leaders came into play), develop a game plan to meet those needs and then make it happen.  Each team was provided a small charter bus with a driver to get us where we needed to go.

Then over the next 3 or so hours $6000 was distributed as cash or purchased gifts to dozens of people, some in deep need, others simply to bless.  For example our team helped a local middle school class complete it’s shopping list of items for a local family of 10 they adopted for this Christmas season.  We visited a grocery store in the city and bought the groceries of two families (which was very fun).  Finally,  we were able to help a single mom who wanted to take her kids to visit family out of state for Christmas but didn’t have the resources to do it.

With each gift two things happened –  those who received these gifts were blessed (maybe in ways we’ll never see), and those who distributed these gifts (Flexware employees) saw the power of generosity and the difference it can make in the lives of others.

For me personally, after the past fast and furious 6 months at SpringHill, this was the perfect way to end my work year, to see core values lived out, to be with people making a difference, to see a single mom cry with incredible joy to an answered prayer, to be reminded that God most often choses to help people through other people and to be used by God in this way is the greatest blessing of all.

Making the Tough Decisions – Part 5, Trust, the Fuel needed to Succeed

2015-04-22 11.15.59When leaders make tough decisions the chances of their success goes up proportionately to the amount of trust they’ve established by those effected by their decisions.  Think about it this way – if, as we talked about in Part 3 & 4, courage is the ignition that starts the process of making tough decisions, trust then is the fuel that brings those tough decisions to a positive conclusion.   We need trust to assure tough decisions do not fall apart, so they move as fast as tough decisions need to, and because in almost every decision we need the support and help of others to make our tough decisions become reality.

So how to you build the kind of trust needed to make tough decisions? First, as discussed in Part 4, we need to have a track record of making decisions consistent with our personal and organizational core values and beliefs (which also requires people knowing what these are).  When we have this track record people know what to expect from us when difficult situations arise.  This happens because core values and beliefs help us become consistent and predictable in our behaviors and in our decisions.  And when we’re consistent and predictable people are never surprised at the tough calls we make.  Ironically, from my experience, many times people have anticipated my tough decisions long before I’ve made them and have even wondered – what took Perry so long?  This kind of consistency and predictability builds enormous trust even when your decision isn’t popular.

Second, we build trust through transparency, honesty and forthrightness in all our decisions, whether tough ones or not.  When people believe a leader is disclosing as much information as possible in a timely fashion with no secrets being tucked away,  trust goes up even when decisions are hard.  And once again, if we have a track record of transparency, just like a track record of decisions made on values and beliefs, then people will go along with us even if they don’t like or agree with the decision.  In Part 6 we’ll tackle the sticky situation when the law and ethics require us to withhold information from others we used in our decision-making process.

Finally one last benefit to having pocket full of trust stored up –  is it provides a leader with some margin (which we almost always need when making hard decisions) if the decision we’ve made wasn’t 100% the right one or we made and implemented it in a less than perfect way.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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