How often have we been told to avoid the “tyranny of the urgent”, that we need to focus on the most important work first, not the most urgent. But the problem is this assumes that all the fires in our life are not as important as longer-term priorities. But deep down we know this simply isn’t true. When our house is on fire there’s nothing more important than putting the fire out.
The reality is that tackling the most urgent issue facing us is very often the highest value activity we can do to have a productive and successful day. Urgent problems grab us, hold onto us, and demand our undivided attention. That’s why the urgent rules us like a tyrant. When a loved one is in crisis that’s both urgent and absolutely important. When a key employee announces he or she is considering leaving your team, we must drop what we’re doing to step into the situation. Because if we don’t submit to these tyrants, the long-term, important things, like our loved ones health or our team’s performance, may be in jeopardy.
So the first approach to dealing with these little tyrants is to try to avoid them ever popping up their ugly heads. We must heed the advice of management and life guru’s – be proactive. Just as we can avoid some of the cavities in our teeth with a little daily flossing, we can avoid some of the tyrants that invade our lives if we’re a bit more preventative and proactive.
But the truth is, we live in a fallen, broken and bent world where we can never be proactive enough to completely keep away all the ugly little tyrants . They will inevitably show up in our lives. There’s just no way around this hard truth on this side of eternity. We can proactively floss them down to a smaller number, but we can’t change our genetics or the bad water.
So what can we do? There’s two simple steps we must take to prepare ourselves for the inevitable tyrants trying to take over.
- First, face reality and expect them to come. It’s the nature of the world we live in.
- Second, create margin in our lives so we can effectively deal with the tyrants when they come our way. Just like having an emergency bank account, we need an emergency time, energy and focus account. We need margin in our life. This is easy to say, hard to do, but its the only way we can deal with these little tyrants before they rule us.
Take these two steps and we move to the place where the urgent is no longer a tyrant but an opportunity to do important and often lasting work.
I was recently asked to provide 3-5 “Things You Should Know” on the topic of “Leadership: Vision, Mission, Values & Strategic Planning” for our industry’s trade magazine. Below is what I provided. Let me know if you have something to add.
Leadership and strategic thinking isn’t about having all the answers, it’s, at the core, asking the right questions and then leading a team or organization to discover the best answers. And these answers are critical because it’s around them that a leader builds unity, community, focus and ultimately success.
The following six groups of questions are the most foundational and strategic questions a leader can ask and then help their team or organization answer:
- Why do we exist? What purpose do we fulfill, what difference do we make in the world? If we ceased to exist, what hole would be left? The answer to these questions is typically expressed in a purpose or mission statement.
- What’s most important to us? What are we most deeply passionate about and willing to sacrifice and suffer for? The answer to these questions is stated as an organization’s core values.
- What do we believe to be true? What is it about the world we’re most sure of? What’s true even though we may not like it? The answer to these questions is typically written in a statement of faith or a confession.
- What do we want to become? When we look into the future who and what kind of team or organization do we want to be? What are the kinds of things we’d want others to say about us? Answering these questions will lead to creating a shared vision of your future.
- What do we want to accomplish? 5, 10, 20 years from now, when we look back, how will we know we’ve been successful? What will be the key indicator that we faithfully fulfilled our mission and vision? A Big Hairy Audacious God Goal (BHAGG) answers these questions.
- What makes us distinct? What are the defining characteristics that make us stand out from other similar organizations? How do those outside our organization or team describe the work we do or service we provide? When you answer these questions you’ve articulated your brand promise (in organizations with a Christian mission – it’s often called a philosophy of ministry).
So a leader’s first task is to ask these foundational questions then second, lead their teams to discovering the answers. When these first two tasks are accomplished the leader’s job isn’t finished. The final, unending task of the leader is to teach, remind, highlight, reinforce, and be the biggest communicator and cheerleader of these answers to every stakeholder of the organization. This is the primary task of the leader and one that needs to happen every day, all the time; it’s what makes a leader a leader, and one that makes organizations great.
Where do you turn when the day runs off the tracks, the meeting you’ve prepared so hard for goes badly, or you’re in the middle of that part of your job you dislike the most? What do you do when you’re fatigued, worn thin, burned out with your work, with your life? How do you get back that energy you used to have, the joy that filled your work, the motivation to fight through any obstacle?
There’s really only one place to turn, one thing you need – to know, believe and wrap your whole being around your purpose. Your purpose answers the question – why am I here? It’s the reason you do your job, the reminder of the impact you have, the difference you and your work make, and the outcomes you strive so hard for. It’s the reason behind what you do and why you do it.
If you keep your purpose at the forefront of your mind, it provides the energy, joy and motivation to keep at your work, to fight through the challenges and boredom. Once you lose your sense of purpose or worse, you work and live outside the scope of your purpose, your energy, joy and motivation will soon slip away.
So what exactly is purpose? It’s the goals you have, but it’s more than numbers or accomplishments. It’s the direction you want to go, but it’s beyond your destination. Purpose goes deeper, wider and higher. Purpose is the ultimate end you are seeking for your work, for you self, and for those you wish to impact. It’s who God’s called you to be and the good work He’s prepared for you to do.
So how do you discover your purpose? You discover it when you clearly understand your highest values, acknowledge your gifts, abilities and life experiences, and know the opportunities you have to make a difference in the lives of others and in the world. The confluence of knowing yourself and the world you live in is where you discover your purpose.
So over the next few posts we’ll take a deeper look at the steps you can take to discover your purpose. My goal is to help you find new inspiration to do your work or, if necessary, find the kind of work that better aligns with your purpose.
Recently I was at an automotive service business run by a past SpringHill camper. When I picked up my car I asked this SpringHill alum for a tour of his business. You see I was not only interested in learning about his business but more importantly I wanted to get a glimpse into the life of one of our past campers.
After the tour we stood in the middle of his shop floor and talked about his life as a young entrepreneur. Our conversation drifted to SpringHill and reminiscing about those summers when his parents would drop he and his brothers off at camp. As we shared those memories together I could see his eyes lighting up. That’s when he said –
“It’s funny you’re here and we’re talking about camp because I was just recently thinking about my camp experiences. It’s become clear to me just how important they were in my development as a person. I was a shy, quiet kid. But at camp I gained confidence to interact with others and build positive relationships.”
Hearing him say this while sitting in the middle of his impressive business, brought to life the reality I’ve built my vocation on – that summer camp is an incredibly spiritual, emotional, and social building experience. Camp is one of those milestone moments where people’s live’s takes a quantum step forward.
And this is why SpringHill is so committed to creating life-transforming summer camp experiences. We see no other short-term experience in the world that provides young people such a life-long payback than attending summer camp. If there were, trust me, SpringHill would offer it in a New York minute. But there just isn’t. There’s no other experience that provides the breath and depth of personal, long-term growth than summer camp.
Which means there is no better short-term investment with such a life-long payback that a person can make for the child they love then sending them to camp this summer.
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.
Personal 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.
In 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?
Leaders 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.
“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:
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 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.