• Growing as a Leader,  Leadership,  Living as a Leader

    “What was I thinking carrying all this stuff?” Leadership Lessons from the Appalachian Trail – Part 3

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGenerally, the principles and values I learned as a Boy Scout have helped me in my life. But sometimes, unfortunately, I’ve confused the habits I’ve formed as a result of a lifetime of practice with the actual principles and values I’m committed to, as I did in getting ready for the AT.

    In particular, the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared”, is burned so deeply into my psyche that I now, out of habit, over pack for every trip. For example, when I go to Canada fishing I always pack two (and sometimes three) of everything piece of essential gear just in case I, or someone else on the trip, loses or breaks something. This has worked for me because I don’t have to carry any of this gear on my back.

    But that’s not the case with the AT. All the food and gear I brought with me I had to carry. That meant those extra meals, shirts, pants, socks and underwear, the extra flashlight and bottle of stove fuel (and if I would have had room – extra shoes, hat, and a solar charger) were dead weight I carried every one of those 70 miles. I estimated it all added up to an extra ten pounds (or about 25% of my total pack weight).

    Now ten pounds may not sound like a lot when one wants to “be prepared”, but in reality it was like carrying a gallon of milk, in addition to the rest of my gear, for 70 miles up and down mountains.

    You see, with so many people on the trail, with towns, stores, hostels and roads dotted all along the path, the best way to be prepared is to know where you can get something if and when you need it. It’s why some people hike the AT with only 25 pounds of gear (a little more than half of what I was carrying). So the hard truth was, if I was truly prepared like a good Boy Scout, I would have known this about the AT and would have packed much lighter.

    So what’s the lesson in all this? Do not confuse a motto, value or principle with its application. Memorizing a motto (Be Prepared) is easy. Learning a single way to apply it (over packing) is a mindless habit. But leadership requires the wisdom to know when a context is different, because different contexts requires different applications of those timeless mottos and values.

    So how do I know this? Because, for seven days, I felt it deeply in my hips, shoulders, knees and back.


  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader

    “Oh, My Swollen Toes”, Leadership Lessons from my week on the Appalachian Trail – Part 2

    2014-07-10 19.13.35Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in an era, to think that what was standard “back then” must still be standard today. We think this because we believe really smart people had it all figured out back then (translation – it’s not possible someone today could actually be smarter than we were yesterday, thus it’s impossible anyone today could figure out a better or different way).

    My toes, in particular my left big toe, paid the price for such shoddy (and arrogant) thinking.

    This is how it happened. A couple of months before our trip my son, MD, and I were reviewing our equipment list. He mentioned having found a good deal on trekking poles, implying I might want to buy some as well. I told him, with serious conviction, “I’ve never hiked with trekking poles before. I’ve always used just a simple walking stick and it has worked pretty well”.

    Now honestly, I was also thinking to myself “the only people I’ve ever remember using trekking poles were old people and wimps. And since I’m not old nor a wimp I sure as heck wasn’t going to be using them.” (I was also having doubts about my son’s manhood).

    I should have realized the first day I was in deep trouble when I was both one of the oldest hikers and the only one without trekking poles.

    You see the developers of the AT must have liked to hike up and down mountains because we walked up and down mountains multiple times a day. We rarely walked on flat ground; it was always up or down. As a result I quickly began to experience toe jam (toe jam is where your toes are constantly being jammed into the front of your shoes when going downhill) resulting in swollen toes and later, as I experienced, losing your toe nails.

    By the painful third day it finally dawned on me why everyone was using trekking poles. Trekking poles break your downward steps. They take the pressure off your feet (and knees) helping to avoid toe jam among other injuries. Suddenly I saw all these young hikers, including my son, not as wimps but as smart and pragmatic, and I, in turn, was the aching, old fool.

    So what’s the AT leadership lesson in all of this? Never assume that what worked yesterday is still the best option today. Be humble enough to believe that people are as smart today (or smarter) than we were yesterday. As a result it’s highly likely that methods have improved or new technology has been developed today that solves the problems we experienced yesterday (like toe jam). If we can embrace this reality about yesterday and today, our toes will be happier, and we’ll be better leaders.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader

    When Not Having all the Answers is the Right Answer! Leading the SpringHill Way – Part 13

    2014-04-09 14.15.53 HDRCan you effectively lead without having all the answers? Will others follow when you’re not the source of all knowledge? Or might it be possible that having all the right answers might actually get in the way of leading others effectively?

    Now before you answer these questions ask yourself this – what is the role of a leader? Is it to be the source of all knowledge? Or is it to be a guide to others in their journey of discovery, to empower others by helping them find their own answers?

    Consider this reality – knowledge is power, so having all the knowledge of knowledge means having all the power. Now admittedly leaders need power and good leaders use power for good reasons. But power and knowledge are not scarce resources to be held tightly and handed out like war rations. Instead they are much more like Black-eyed Susan’s, when planted in well watered and fertilized soil, spread and fill a garden with beauty.

    In other words, leadership is about multiplying power not keeping and hording it. And the most effective way to multiply power is to help others learn how to discover their own answers to their questions, to gain their own understanding and knowledge.

    How do we help others do this? We shy away from the temptation to simply answering their questions; instead we answer their questions with our own thoughtful, probing questions. We use the right questions to guide and direct others in their journey of discovering the right answers. Because when a person discovers their own answers they’re empowered with their new knowledge to anticipate, act and respond to the world around them.

    So in leadership it’s better to ask the right questions than have all the right answers.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader,  Organizational Leadership

    When it’s Good to be a Drip! Leading the SpringHill Way – Part 12

    015No one ever wants to be considered a drip. But sometimes being a drip is the best way to lead. My friend and mentor Jerry Martin use to tell me that when I wanted to move others to a new place I had to drip on them. You see just as a slow drip of water, overtime, can wear away rock, simple and gentle persuasion can move people farther along a desired path than being hammered by our position, power or authority. This is because when we drip, we allow people the opportunity to see, understand and then embrace change instead of having changed beaten into them. And whenever people embrace change, they own it. And owning it people move from simple compliance to serious commitment. And serious commitment is the key ingredient in any organization that intends to do remarkable and impactful work. Now admittedly there are times when we need to hammer, especially when safety, significant loss or when there’s clear moral and ethical failure. Most often in these situations there is very little time to drip, decisive leadership’s needed. But, in a leader’s work, these moments are the exception not the norm. And if a leader uses the dripping of gentile persuasion as their primary way to lead, when the moment calls for decisive action they’ve created the credibility and trust needed to move people with commitment and speed. Learning to lead through dripping is also critical to leading those who do not report to you or in whom you have no positional or organizational authority. Effective leaders must learn to persuade and move others who are not required to move. So at SpringHill, we want to be drips, which mean we want to lead through persuasion and influence, so that people move from compliance to commitment, and move our organizations from average to remarkable.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader,  Organizational Leadership

    Being a Difference Maker in Something Significant! Leading the SpringHill Way Part 11

    2013-07-01 22.17.30If you could, unhindered and with clarity, delve deeply into your own heart and soul how would you answer this question – “what are my deepest desires for my job and career?”

    My guess is that your answer would be something like this – “I want to be a part of something bigger than myself and I want to do something meaningful in that something bigger.”

    I know your answer because, from the first moment of creation, God put these desires into each of us. They’re a significant part of who we are as image bearers of God.

    This first desire, to be a part of something bigger and more significant ourselves, comes from a reality we also sense in the deepest recesses of our soul – that we and the world are not an outcome of  time + chance + matter. Instead we’re a result of a thoughtful, intentional, orderly and purposeful plan. And because of this we desire to be a part of a community or organization that is working on and aligned with this order of the world. In other words, what we want to be part of a cause that is making a positive difference in the world and in the lives of others.

    The second deeply held desire for our work is directly related to the first. Not only do we want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves but we want to make a meaningful contribution in something significant. We want to be a difference maker in an important work. You see it’s not enough to be in the stadium of an important game, we need to be in the game making plays.

    These two deeply held desires for our work – being a part of something bigger than ourselves and doing something meaningful in that big thing – need to guide our leadership. As leaders we need to assure that our organizations are doing important work and that the people we lead see and experience that on a regular basis. Secondly, we need to assure that those we lead are appropriately challenged and doing meaningful work. Then we need to make sure they see the difference their work is making.

    At SpringHill we lead with this conviction – that all people want to be difference makers in something significant. We believe if we do this, help our staff see the difference their work is making in SpringHill and in the lives of young people, we’ll never have to motivate them to do their work; they’ll do it naturally with zeal, joy and impact.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader

    Winning the Right to Be Heard! Leading the SpringHill Way – Part 10

    2014-05-03 07.11.20“Winning the right to be heard” is another maxim I learned in my years as a volunteer Young Life leader. It simply meant, as leaders, we worked to have students granted us the opportunity to share the Gospel with them.  We’d do this first by going to where they were at (physically, emotionally, socially) and building authentic, caring relationships with them. As a Young Life leader I found this maxim to be true, students were significantly more interested in what I had to say only after I demonstrated that I cared for them first.

    Stephen Covey, in his classic book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, identifies this “win the right to be heard” concept as 5th of his seven habits. He called it “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Covey articulates this fundamental truth about human nature – people care about what others have to say only after believing others care for first. And what better way to demonstrate care for another person than to understand their perspective before trying to convince them to move to a different position.

    As a leader in a non-profit organization, I’ve found that winning the right to be heard is absolutely the most effective way to move others to a new place. Why? Because non-profits have many constituent groups (including staff, donors, board, volunteers) to whom I lead and, at some level, I also work for and am accountable to. This means I can’t rely solely on my “positional” authority to move people in a new direction. And, more importantly, if I’m after commitment not compliance, then I’m compelled to seek first to understand before I’m understood, because people become committed when they know they’ve been heard.

    And this principle is at the center of leadership at SpringHill – to go where we believe God’s called us to go, to be the kind of organization He’s called us to be – we need to earn people’s commitment to our mission and vision, we need their hearts, minds and resources to be with us. And to gain that level of trust, people need to sense first that we know, hear and care for them first as people.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader

    Be a Mudder! Leading the SpringHill – Part 7

    2014-04-29 13.28.08When my brother, sister and I were growing up our dad encouraged us to be what he called “mudders”. By mudders he meant being people who were willing to get down in the mud and do the hard work. Every time I heard him say the word mudder I’d have this mental picture of wearing overalls, putting on big rubber boots, and digging a ditch after it rained.

    In addition to valuing hard work I believed part of my dad intention was to help us understand that no work was beneath us, even manual, dirty labor, if it adds value to the lives of others.

    These two complimentary attitudes – valuing hard work and believing no good work is ever below us – speaks to people at every level in an organization because every job has boring, menial and mundane parts to it. If we approach these parts of our jobs as mudders it encourages us to do this work with both timeliness and quality, and it keeps us from allowing the boring work to drag us down.

    Being a mudder is especially critical in customer focused organizations. Because at any given moment one of our staff members can be asked by a customer (they don’t usually care about title and position) for assistance that requires manual or menial work. And of course outstanding customer service requires that staff be willing, with a sincere smile, no matter the job, to help the customer.

    More importantly, as leaders, when we’re willing to be mudders, we set an example for everyone in the organization. If we embrace doing the purposeful but menial and dirty work as much as the exciting and challenging work, we help those we lead also become mudders. And a team of mudders doing all the necessary work, including the menial, dirty and mundane jobs assures that all organization’s work gets done and done well.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader

    Don’t let the Flag Touch the Ground! Leading the SpringHill Way – Part 6

    2013-04-12 13.56.56The American flag represents the highest values and beliefs of the United States as articulated in our Constitution. This is why, when I was a Boy Scout, we learned to never let the flag touch the ground. We were to protect and keep our flag from being soiled or trampled on, treating it with the highest respect.

    As leaders we have the same responsibilities to the organizations we lead and work for – to protect, uphold and advance the answers (core values, mission, vision, etc.) to the 6 key questions (click here to see the 6 questions) every organization needs to answer. This is why, at SpringHill, a leader’s job is to assure the “SpringHill flag” never touches the ground.

    How does a leader assure that such things as the core values, mission and vision of their organization stays fresh, untarnished and respected?

    1. Authentically live out the values, mission and vision of your organization.
    2. Over communicate the answers to the 6 key questions.
    3. Reward, recognize, celebrate, and reinforce, both publicly and privately, any examples of your team practicing your organization’s values, mission, etc.
    4. Regularly and honestly evaluate how you and your team are doing living out your organization’s mission, vision and core values and then be willing to make any necessary changes.

    So take it from a Boy Scott, if you make these four practices a part of your leadership, you’ll help assure that your organization’s flag will never touch the ground.


  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader

    Forward Leaning! Leading the SpringHill Way – Part 5

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen sitting we can take many postures. For example we can slouch back and put our feet up or sit erect and tense, or we can sit on the edge of our seat leaning forward. Each posture communicates a different attitude about the world around us.

    Sitting postures provide a great illustration for different postures we can take as leaders. For example, there are times when being laid back or tense and alert can be the most appropriate postures a leader can take. But I believe a leader’s most predominate posture should be forward leaning. Forward leaning leaders are leaders who are ready for action, looking for opportunities, and attuned to the people and world around them. It’s an externally focused posture.

    This posture is important because we lead in a fast changing and values shifting world where opportunities and dangers disappear as quickly as they appear. Only leaders who are in a forward leaning position can effectively navigate and lead in such a world.

    • So what’s your leadership posture? Here are some of the questions that can help identify your “sitting position”:
    • What is my mental, emotional and physical posture?
    • Am I focused on the world around me or is my focus turned inside?
    • If an opportunity arises will I see it?If a problem comes our way will I have myself and my team prepared or will we be caught off guard?

    Be a forward leaning leader and you and your team will always be ready for action.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader

    Handsome is as Handsome Does! Leading the SpringHill Way – Part 4

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday it so often seems our world value celebrities, fame, and image over integrity and character. As a consequence, leaders are often tempted by the promise of influence that fame offers so they can quickly slide into focusing too much energy on managing their image instead of building their character.

    However the problem with fame and image, from a leadership standpoint, is that they’re superficial, temporary, and do not build meaningful relationships. And without meaningful relationships, transformational leadership becomes impossible. Now here’s why (so follow my chain of logic for a moment)–

    Transformational leadership requires a context of healthy relationships

    Trust is the key ingredient to healthy relationships

    Trust comes not from image or fame but from integrity

    And integrity is simply doing what we say we’re going to do when we say we’ll do it.

    In other words, handsome is as handsome does.

    This is why leaders at SpringHill are more concerned about doing what it takes to positively impact  the lives of others and the world as well as following through on the promises they’ve made rather than becoming a celebrity, being famous or enhancing their image. For the SpringHill leader the only handsome they care much about is the good looks that come from integrity.

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