The 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.Advertisements
Whether 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.
Recently, 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.
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.
When 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.
In 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.
Tough 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?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
The 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
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.
Earlier 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.