• Leadership,  Living as a Leader,  Marriage and Family

    A Needed Perspective Adjustment

    079On New Year’s Eve I talk on the phone with a long time mentor and friend, Neil Atkinson. When I was in high school, Neil was my Young Life leader and was instrumental in my becoming a Christian. After college, Neil prepared Denise and I to become Young Life leaders. Later when Neil left Grand Rapids to become a regional director for Young Life in Kansas City, he and I continued to stay connected.

    Throughout my life, in every context my relationship with Neil took, he’s always said something that I’ve needed to hear, often when it’s been unlooked-for, as it was on New Year’s Eve.

    As we were sharing with each other how 2012 had gone, Neil mentioned that he turned 70 and I responded by telling him I turned 50. As we marveled at how old we’ve become I told Neil that turning 50 was harder than I expected because I felt that I had crossed the half-way point in my productive life.

    That’s when he delivered one of his unexpected perspective adjustments that I needed.

    Neil said

    “Let me tell you something that’s absolutely true, the next 10 years of your life will be your very best. You see you’ve come to a place where you possess the highest combination of both energy and wisdom that you’ll ever have. The next 10 years will be your most productive yet.”

    So, though it may be true that I’m over half-way through my life, I realized, to great joy, that I may not have yet reached the half-way point in my potential contribution to this world and to Christ’s Kingdom. So once again Neil, thank you.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader,  Organizational Leadership

    Making Customers Feel Like Old Friends

    You know it when you’ve interacted with a business or organization that has a serious focus on their customers and constituents. You feel as if you’ve interacted with someone who knows and understands you, your needs and wants. It’s almost like you’re an old friend. These are the organizations that you come back to over and over, and recommend to your family and friends.

    These organizations have what we call at SpringHill a “Customer Focus”. And being customer focused isn’t just good for business; we believe its, plain and simple, the right way to treat people. Thus being “Customer Focused” is a critical quality all SpringHill staff must possess.

    But we need to remember organizations are only customer focused if their employees and staff are customer focused, because it’s people who serve customers, design, build and deliver products and services, not organizations.

    Now most of us know what “Customer Focus” looks like from the receiving end, but what does it look like from the giving end? What does a “Customer Focus” person do, how do they think, how is it expressed in their day-to-day work?

    They dedicate themselves to exceeding customers’ expectations, which requires getting to know customers well enough to understand their expectations, needs, and wants. Then it’s using this knowledge to, not just meet expectations, but to do everything possible to exceed them, to surprise the customer, to make them feel like an old friend.

    Finally, it’s important we understand who the customer is. It’s not just those who pay for our services but anyone who depends on us within or outside our organization. In other words, we all have customers. Our goal then should be to exceed the expectations of all our customers, not just the “paying ones”. And when we embrace that we all have customers and thus all need to have “Customer Focus” we’re creating the kind of organization that will make an enduring impact on the lives of others.

    This is part 9 of 14 in a series of posts about what it takes to be successful at SpringHill.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader

    Being a People Centered Person

    A significant part of being a contributing member of a community dedicated to achieving something great and enduring is being able to see the world through the eyes of others. It’s the ability to relate to where others are at so to know what it’s like to “walk in another’s shoes.” In my last post I wrote about one of the essential personal qualities and professional competencies a person needs to be successful at SpringHill is to be “Community Focused”, in other words, to be a team player.

    But to be truly “Community Focused” a person also needs to demonstrate a quality we call “Compassion and Sensitivity”. It’s a personal quality and professional competency necessary for a person to demonstrate if they’re to make a long-term impact at SpringHill. We believe it’s not just enough to be committed to the mission and vision of SpringHill but to be committed to the people who work for the mission, who support the mission, and those for whom the mission serves.

    A person who is compassionate and sensitive to others shows genuine concern for other’s welfare, sees and anticipates their needs, and seeks to build relationships with all kinds of people regardless of where they’re at spiritually, physically, intellectually, emotionally, or socio-economically. In other words, it’s being a person whose “people centered” that will find long-term success at SpringHill.

    But it’s important to see that being compassionate and sensitive looks different in different people. And it’s also important to avoid the common belief that compassion and sensitivity is a personality type. Instead it’s an attitude accompanied by observable behaviors, in other words, it’s something a person does.

    So we expect all our staff to demonstrate the qualities of “Compassion and Sensitivity” regardless of their personality, because it’s a necessary ingredient in being “Community Focused”, thus for making an enduring impact through their work at SpringHill.

    This is part 7 of 14 in a series of posts about what it takes to be successful at SpringHill.

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

    Life is a Stool – Living in Balance

    My dad has always said that life sits on a 4 legged stool with one leg being work/career, another family, a third friends and service, a fourth being health and recreation, and the most important part of the stool, the seat, representing our faith. Dad says that for life to be in balance, for it to be the way it’s supposed to be we need all four legs and the seat. If we neglect or remove any part we’ve made balance nearly impossible and the entire stool, and our lives, become at risk of falling apart.

    I’ve always appreciated my dad’s way of looking at life, partly because it makes sense and partly because I’ve seen he and my mom live their lives in this way with the result being they’ve been blessed as well as having blessed those around them.

    It’s this life perspective and practice that we’ve discovered to be an essential quality of people who’ve made a long-term and an enduring impact on SpringHill’s mission. It’s what we simply call “Life/Work Balance”.

    Without this balance, life quickly crumbles and one’s ability to make an enduring impact quickly diminishes. When balance is gone health, influence and impact quickly leave as well, only to be backed filled with burn out, broken relationships, and poor judgment. Because like a stool, every part is essential and needs to be in working order or it will negatively impact the entire stool.

    So Life/Work Balance is absolutely essential for people to be at their best. And we want and need people to be at their best, whether it’s at home with their families, at church teaching Sunday school, or working at SpringHill.

    This is part 2 of 14 in a series of posts about what it takes to be successful at SpringHill.

  • Marriage and Family

    28 Years Ago Seems Like Yesterday

    Today Denise and I celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary. When I write “28” it sounds like such a long time ago, but the truth is, our wedding day seems like it was just yesterday. They have been the best 28 years of my life because I’ve been married to the  best woman in the world who also happens to be the love of my life (a nice combination).

    Earlier this summer a friend who was preparing to officiate her first wedding asked a number of us if we had any marriage advice she could use in her message to the bride and groom. Below is my answer, it’s simple but I believe it’s at the heart of why both Denise and I can happily, thankfully and joyfully celebrate 28 years of marriage today.

    “Apart from trust, shared expectations about what life should look like and be like is the most important aspect of a happy and successful marriage. It seems when marriages struggle or don’t make it, much of the time (apart from broken trust) it’s because the two people have different expectations about such things as kids, standard of living, life style issues, or where to live (in the city, in the country or the “burbs”).  Many expectations also revolve around roles within a marriage. These need to be worked out as early as possible. When there’s different, unstated, or misunderstood expectations then there’s always missed expectations. When there’s missed expectations disappointment, dismay, a sense of compromise and then bitterness can easily follow.  It’s important in a marriage to have a clear understanding about each other’s expectations, a clear plan on how to work out the differences, and then grace as you live out your plan.”

  • Living as a Leader

    April Gann – Loving Kids, Loving Staff, Loving Christ!

    April with some of her campers and staff

    This past Friday was April Gann’s last day as a SpringHill staff member (I know she’ll always be an ambassador, volunteer and advocate for SpringHill for as long as she and SpringHill are both around). It was a bittersweet day as staff and campers took the opportunity to celebrate her 12 years of ministry (in two different stints) with SpringHill.

    One of things I have always appreciated about April is her love for children, and in particular children from urban areas, and her love for our summer staff. These two loves, combined with her love of Christ, have led April to be a part of two significant startup teams during her tenure at SpringHill. First, April was on the start-up team, then the second director, for Storybrook, our 1 thru 3rd grade camp in Michigan. April helped cement the culture, program and focus of Storybrook that still exists today.

    Secondly, April has been instrumental in the startup and growth of our Day Camps ministry. Once again her love of kids and staff has helped this program grow to become a significant ministry of SpringHill. It’s become significant not just because of its reach to children but also because it’s become a desirable summer ministry opportunity for 100’s college students.

    Now April’s moving to inner city Detroit where she and her soon to be husband Josh will be taking up residence. Their goal is to continue, as April stated in her blog, “loving and serving the kids in our neighborhood” which, of course, is no surprise knowing April and the things she loves.

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    A Letter of Anticipation

    I love it when we receive letters from campers telling us about their summer camp experience and thanking our staff for all they did during their visit to SpringHill. But, up until this week, we’ve never received a pre-camp letter written in anticipation of a child’s visit to camp. But, as they say, there’s a first time for everything and one of our campers, Brynn, sent such a letter to her future counselor.

    In it Brynn thanked, in advanced, her future counselor for a great week, for also becoming her good friend and affirming what a great counselor Brynn knows she’ll be. It obvious Brynn’s been to SpringHill before because she knows what to expect – great staff, new influential relationships, memorable experiences and transformational moments.

    I, as well as the SpringHill team, are both humbled and challenged by Brynn’s confidence in us.

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Uncategorized

    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.

  • Growing as a Leader

    Funeral Perspective

    I attended two funerals last week. I’ll admit I don’t like the reality of death. The Scriptures are clear – God created us to live forever. Instead death stole into the world, not as a welcomed friend, but as an enemy. So I have biblical support for my strong dislike of death.

    But, though I despise death, I’ve come to appreciate funerals.

    First, I appreciate funerals for the reasons we have them – they provide an opportunity to grieve our loss, to celebrate the life of a loved one, and to be with family and friends.

    Yet there’s one more reason I’ve grown to appreciate funerals. It’s the serious perspective that can be gained, whether we like it or not, when we come face to face with death.

    These funerals were for two very different people who died at two different places in their lives, one at the end of what we’d call a good long life, the other passed in mid-life. As I sat quietly in each service I asked myself two perspective giving questions. Each question had an eye on my potential funerals – one at the end of a long life and the other, more immanent, at mid – life.

    The first question was simply “who’d be at my funeral and why”? The answer’s very revealing about the significance my life has had on others – whether it was positive, negative or neutral.

    The second question is “what would be said about me?” Again the answer shines a needed light, showing what, if any, difference I made in the world. It also points to what I did or didn’t do with the gifts and abilities God gave me throughout my life.

    So last week I not only attend two funerals, I had a needed perspective checkup on my life and how I’m living it.

  • Living as a Leader

    10 Questions to Ask Yourself about 2011

    Every year over the Christmas holidays I take time away from work and spend it with family, doing needed projects around the house, and readying myself for the New Year. One exercise I do in preparation for the upcoming year is to set personal goals, as well as layout plans to achieve those goals.

    As in any goal setting exercise, I always begin by evaluating the past year. After a conversation about 2011 with my good friend Jack McQueeney, Executive Director of the Navigators’ Glen Eyrie Group, he sent me the following list of thought-provoking questions to help me evaluate 2011 and plan for 2012. I share them with you in hopes that they’ll be as helpful to you as they have been for me.

    1. What is the greatest lesson you learned this year that you never want your kids to forget?
    2. How might you have behaved or acted differently this year if you had to do it over again?
    3. Looking back over the year, what did you set out to do that you didn’t do and why?
    4. What key discipline did you live out this past year that had a significant impact on your life? What was the impact?
    5. What are you most proud of this year?
    6. What were the key surprises (good or bad) that happened this year?
    7. Which relationships in your life grew this year and which regressed?
    8. If you could go back to the beginning of this year, what piece of advice would you give yourself? Why?
    9. Looking back, what was the overarching theme for the year?
    10. What will be your overarching theme for next year?

    Are there other questions you’ve found helpful to answer in evaluating your life?  Please share them with us.

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