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Sometimes a Situation Requires a little more than Horse Sense!

There once was a horse who lived on a farm with other farm animals.  There were two goats, three sheep, a pig, a handful of chickens, and a milk cow.  Each of these animals were an important part of the farm family’s, the MacDonald’s, livelihood, providing food and other products for use and trade.  Now, as most people know, horses are the smartest of all the farm animals and this horse was no exception.  As a matter of fact, she was smarter than the average horse, having the ability to look at a situation and finding a solution to address it.  

Now a situation did arise that required all the intelligence the horse could muster – the entire MacDonald family fell ill of a contagious disease and was unable to care for the farm and its animals.  Eggs needed to be collected, the pig fed, the cow and goats milked, the sheep sheared, the barn yard cleaned, and the fences mended but the family was incapable of doing any of it.  So the horse began to devise a plan to help the MacDonald’s by taking care of the farm.  But it soon became clear that as smart as the horse was,  she could not devise a plan that assured all the farm chores were done in a timely and orderly manner.

As the hours then days began to slip by the situation became dire.  The farm was becoming chaotic and, as anyone who has spent time on a farm knows, chaos is the last word that should describe a farm.  Finally, in desperation, the horse began to do the farm work herself.  She tried to collect the hens eggs but found she to often dropped them or simply broke them in her teeth.  She attempted to feed the pig but couldn’t stomach the smell of the mush.  She even tried to milk the cow and the goats but got kicked because her hoofs hurt the utters too much.  Instead of helping the MacDonald’s, the horse was making the situation worse.  It seemed the more she tried to do herself the worse the farm became.  She was desperate to help but didn’t know what to do.  

Then when things were at their lowest point, the pig came to the horse and said, “I know you want to help the MacDonald’s but so do I and so do all the other farm animals.  If for no other reason than to make sure there are no more broken eggs rotting in the barnyard, or utters rubbed raw. You see it’s in our best interest as well to have the farm taken care of.  But you haven’t asked for our help, you haven’t allowed us to do the work we’re capable of doing.  Instead you’ve tried to do it all yourself.  

Even though I’m not as intelligent as you, I’m very hungry and that’s driven me to think about and devise this recommendation.  First, because you’re the oldest and smartest animal in the farm you need to be our leader.  As our leader, you must bring all the animals together and explain the situation so we’re all in the same pen together. Then ask for our help. Lead us in figuring out the work only we can do because we have the gifts, abilities and experiences to do it right and on time.  Finally support and encourage us in our work.  Assist us in moving any rocks that stand in our way, help us think through difficult situations, and make sure we’re all working together.  

If you can lead us in this way I’m sure we can help you bring order back to our farm.  But if you insist on doing all the work yourself, the situation will continue to get worse and we’ll all suffer, including the MacDonald’s.” 

So the horse listened to the pig and carried out his recommendation.  And before too long the farm started to turn around. The chickens decided to lay their eggs right in the egg baskets thus avoiding extra handling.  The cow milked the goats and the goats milked the cow since both understood the delicate and sensitive work milking is.  And the pig started to clean the barn yard up of all the rottening eggs and other debris, bringing order to the yard and at the same time fixing himself a fine meal.  

It was such a remarkable turn around that the horse began to write in her journal all the lessons she learned from this experience so she’d never forget them (a practice all smart horses do in these situations). The first lesson the horse recorded was to never pre-judge an animal’s ideas by their looks or the food they eat (pigs can and often have great ideas you just need to ask and listen to them).

The second lesson was this – every animal has different gifts, abilities and experiences so is capable of doing different and important work.  The job of the leader is to get to know each member of the their farm community so they can know and understand each animal’s capacity to contribute, then help them do so.

Lesson three was simply remembering it’s almost always in the best interest of everyone involved in a bad situation to see the situation improve.  So everyone will be motivated to do something to make a difference.  The leader’s responsibility is to reconqize this interest then motivate and channel their action into productive work.

The final lesson the horse wrote down in her journal was simply this self realization.  A leader must do what only they, as the leader, can do keeping them from trying to do the things someone else is more capable and motivated to do.  And one of those things only a leader can do is help others identify and then flourish in doing what only they can do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections – Series 2, Vol. 4

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A Powerful Reminder of Why I Love My Job!

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I love my job. I love it because of the incredible people I serve with – staff, board, supporters and volunteers.  And, of course, I also love it because of the way God choses to work in and through SpringHill to make a lasting difference in the lives of kids and their families.

So here’s a powerful reminder of this love I have for my work. SpringHill recently received this video from a camper parent.  Her name is Angela and she and her five children have been fighting homelessness for the past three years.

This year Angela heard about SpringHill and called to see if she could send her son, Justin, to camp.  Because of support from faithful givers, Justin was able to come to camp on scholarship.

She shares her story of how God is working in their lives and a special thanks to SpringHill for Justin’s experience. I promise it’s worth your time to watch the entire video.

We recently spoke with Angela and I am happy to share her family is in transitional housing and no longer homeless. Angela will be putting certificates under the Christmas tree for four of her children (one is too young), to attend our overnight in Michigan and Day Camps next summer.

Just one more reason why I love my job.

To See and Be Seen! Leading the SpringHill Way – Part 9

Our 2013 Michigan Medical team in staff training.

Our 2013 Michigan Medical team in staff training.

When I began my career, I worked for a company that preached and expected its leaders to “manage by walking around” or “MBWA” as we called it. As a result, during my 10 years with the company I literally wore out the soles of my shoes before I even scuffed the uppers. This is no exaggeration – I must have resoled a half-dozen pairs of shoes in my tenure there.

Also during this same period, my wife Denise and I were volunteer Young Life leaders. We learned that the one of the most important elements of relational ministry was “to see and be seen”. In other words we were to go to where high school students hung out, whether it was school, ball games or other local gathering spots. It was another version of MBWA.

Thus the MBWA and “to see and be seen” approach to leadership has so deeply influenced my leadership style that it’ now a deeply held value of mine. You see, for me, I must lead through being present in the lives and the work of those I’m called to serve.

However when I first arrived at SpringHill, because our camps are so large and spread out, our staff developed a habit of driving around camp. Though driving saved our staff a few minutes of time, it also meant that they’d miss the sounds, sights and smells of camp, and more importantly, interacting with campers and staff. You see, driving in this context isn’t the same as “seeing and being seen”, and it certainly doesn’t qualify as “walking around.”

So when I began my habit of walking around camp, people wondered how I had time “to take a walk”. My response was always “how do you not have time to see, hear, experience camp and interact with our campers and staff in the intimate way? Being present is how we’re going to lead SpringHill. Any extra time it takes to walk will more than be made up by the fact we’ll lead better for it.”

For another leader’s perspective  on “MBWA” and “to See and Be Seen” read Michigan Retreats Director, Eric Woods post “Trading up-front for out-there“.

This is a repost from a June 26,2013 post.

Reflections – Series 2, Vol. 2

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“I’ve arrived” and Why Believing that Could Cause You to Lose Your – Job Part 7

Michael Perry

???????????????????????????????when doing a benchmarking visit of another camp I asked one of their senior people “do you ever visit other camps?” I was hoping to return the favor and offer him the opportunity to come to SpringHill so we could share with him what we’re doing. His answer was shockingly honest – “why would I want to do that?” You see this leader believed that he and his camp had already arrived. And when you’ve arrived why would you be interested in learning anything more?

In this series of posts about the seven attitudes and behaviors that can cause you to lose your job the fifth attitude “believing you’ve already arrived” can be the slowest way out. Slow because this attitude in and of itself typically isn’t enough to cause someone to lose their job especially if they are performing to expected levels.

But the problem is, over the long…

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Working in the “Fog of War”

We live in a less than perfect world, and in this world we have less than perfect eyesight. This reality creates frustration for people looking for certainty, clarity, and predictability. Now most of us desire certainty, clarity and predictability because it makes life less complex, decision-making easier, and judgment sounder. But we rarely have this luxury. More often than not, we live and work in the “fog of war.”

The trick then is to be both willing and able to effectively deal with complexity and ambiguity. As a matter of fact, I’ve become convinced that the ability to work effectively in the “fog of war” is a necessary quality leaders must possess today. The increasing speed of change at every level, from the family to society, from communities to nations, has nearly eliminated certainty, clarity, and predictability from our lives, and within organizations.

And SpringHill hasn’t been immune to this rapidly changing world, thus our staff recognizes the need to carry forth our mission in this “fog of war”. We call this ability simply “Resourcefulness”. Resourcefulness is being able to effectively work in complex and fast changing realities with less than perfect information. It’s the ability to lead others through the ambiguity, uncertainty, and chaos that so often marks the world in which we work.

And finally, and most importantly, it’s the ability to successfully carry forth our mission of communicating a timeless and changeless message to people that live in these rapidly changing days, and doing so without compromising this message or the God whose given it to us to share.

This is part 13 of 14 in a series of posts about what it takes to be successful at SpringHill.

The Power of Shared Experiences

In response to the question in my last post – “the beach or the mountains or somewhere else?” my good friend Tony Voisin answered “honestly wherever my family and friends are. I’d hate to be either place without them.” I love Tony’s answer because it highlights the powerful impact shared experiences have on relationships.

At SpringHill we define a shared experience as any new, challenging and adventuresome activity shared within the context of a small community of people, be it a cabin group, a family or small group of friends. It’s within this context that the building of the lasting foundations of life time relationships happen.

This is why my friend Tony wants to have these experiences with those he loves and it’s why shared experiences are integral to the SpringHill Experience. We feel so strongly about shared experiences that we assure all our campers participate in all camp activities together with their cabin groups. It’s why our ziplines have 6 or 8 lines so entire cabins can go down together. It’s why we have ropes courses that can accommodate an entire cabin and why we have small distinct and creative housing villages. We want to create shared experiences because we believe they build powerful and lasting relationships with others, and most importantly with Jesus.

Over the last few years we’ve also come to believe that these same shared experiences can create power relationship building opportunities for families. We’ve witnessed God using shared experiences to heal wounded families, lay the foundation for lifelong relationships and build families able to weather the storms that will inevitably come. As a result we’ve added additional summer family camp experiences at both our overnight camps.

So plan a family vacation or attend a SpringHill family camp this summer and create some powerful and lasting shared experiences. Your family will be stronger for it.

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