At SpringHill we’re in what we call the “Spring Snarl”. This snarl typically starts around the first of March and goes through the first week of summer camp. It’s our busiest, craziest, most stressful time of the year. Too many meetings, too much to do and not enough time for it all.
Below is a note I sent to my Leadership Team addressing this moment, and how we can not only survive the Spring Snarl, but grow through it and ultimately slay it. I share it with you, with hopes you may find something useful to help you and your team’s snarls.
I know that there’s been some discussion about the amount of meetings we’re having and that so many meetings can keep us from working on our priorities. A few thoughts:
1. Make sure our meetings are productive – moving us forward on key priorities. That we take good notes, have clear action plans when the meetings finished, make decisions and don’t kick them down the road, and know what needs to be communicated to who as a result of the meeting.
2. Have the right people participate in the meetings. If someone just needs to be “in the know”, send them the notes. Also, be willing to ask, do I need to be in this meeting? What’s the downside if I’m not? Am I invited out of courtesy or because I’m really needed?
3. Error on the side of scheduling a meeting for less time than you would normally schedule it for – 30 minutes instead of an hour. Try to get work done faster. Create a sense of urgency for the meeting. You’ll be surprised how little time you actually need.
4. Be clear on the purpose of the meeting – is it a status meeting like a daily huddle or scrum huddle? Make it 15 minutes. A working meeting? Be clear of the goals for the meeting and then acheive them. A planning meeting? Have a clear process to map out a plan.
5. Finally, read this article, it has some great ideas about how to get work down when you’re in meetings. Very practical and helpful ideas.
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.
A 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.
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.
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 over twenty years Michael Perry has made it his mission to bring young people closer to Christ through his Bible study publications, his capacity as the President and CEO of SpringHill, and his recent book, Experience = Everything. Over the last fifty years, SpringHill has changed over half a million lives—proving that it is more than just camp, or a place, SpringHill is a transformative experience.