• Living as a Leader

    Those Little Tyrants!

    2015-12-10-15-33-09How 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.


  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader

    Leading through Presence

    284When 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.”

    Now, as only God would have it, while I writing this blog over the last two days, our Michigan Retreats Director, Eric Woods, also posted an excellent perspective on Leading through Presence. Click here to glean his insights as well.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader,  Organizational Leadership

    What’s Important Right Now?

    2013-03-24 02.30.17After the first game of our boys’ high school’s district basketball tournament (which they won) my son Mitch and I talked about his performance. He wasn’t happy in how he played and had begun to worry about its implications for next year’s season.

    In light of the district championship game two days away, I asked him, “in terms of basketball, what’s important right now?” He looked at me with this dawn of realization and said “to win Friday night’s game.” To which I said “You’re right, it’s the only thing you should be thinking about right now, because winning Friday’s game is the most important thing you and your team can do right now. You’ll have plenty of time to think about next season when this season’s done.”

    Mitch then looked at me and said “I’ve just had one of those ah-hah moments. ‘What’s important right now?’ is the question I need to ask myself every morning.”

    And of course Mitch is right, “What’s Important Right Now?” is a question every organization, every person in every organization, and frankly, all people need to ask themselves. It’s the question that keeps the right things in front of us and keeps the distracting issues off to the side. (Click here to see other important questions leaders and organizations need to ask)

    So the next day Mitch printed and framed this question “What’s Important Right Now?” and hung it in his room so he’d be focused on the right things, every day. Will you follow Mitch’s lead and ask yourself “what’s important right now“, every day? You and your team will thankful for the clarity it brings.

  • Marriage and Family,  SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    Selecting a Summer Camp for the Kids You Love – Part 1

    127Selecting a summer camp experience for the kids you love, whether it’s your own kids, grand-kids or kids you want to invest in is an incredibly important process because camps are not all created equal. Camps differ in leadership and camping/programming philosophy, in their staffing policies, camp operations, and in level of transparency and outside accountability they have.

    To select the right camp for the kids you love requires an understanding of all your camp options from each of these four perspectives. Over the next four posts we’ll look at each one of these perspectives with the goal of creating a framework that you can use to evaluate all your available camp options so you can make the right decision.

    To begin this process it’s important to make this next statement. Though it’s a statement that really belongs to the last topic, transparency and outside accountability, I need to say it now – all the information you need to evaluate a camp should be readily available in clear and understandable language in the camp’s brochures, websites or through a phone call with a knowledgeable staff member from the camp. If you cannot get answers to your questions, you don’t want to send the kids you love to that camp.

    In addition to looking at a camp’s marketing materials it’s equally important to talk to people who’ve experienced the camp. These people will supply you with some of the best information you’ll need to make a good decision. When talking with other “customers” ask them the same questions we’ll cover in the next four posts. Compare their answers to the marketing material of the camp and you’ll quickly learn as much as you need to know to select the right camp for the kids you love.

  • Ministry Strategy,  SpringHill Experiences

    The Quiet Force

    Matt and the two Resurrection Life camp administrators, Trisha and Rachel

    I can’t tell you how many times over the past number of months leaders of guest retreats have stopped me to say how much they’ve appreciated working with Matt Hildebrand, one of our Michigan Overnight Hosts, and what a great job he’s done for them and their group.

    If you’re not familiar with camping terminology, let me share with you what a camp and conference center Host does (and what Matt does so well).

    A Host’s job, just as the name implies, is to take care of guests and groups assuring they achieve their goals for their time at camp. The host is the main point of contact before, during and after a group visits camp. They make sure every detail’s thought through and every department on camp is ready to provide their part of the experience. When the group arrives a host works with them right through the experience, providing for any needs that come up and making any mid-course adjustments so they have an outstanding experience.

    For example, this past week Resurrection Life Churches had their annual youth camp with over 600 campers and leaders. When I bumped into Matt, he was on his way to meet with the Resurrection Life Camp administrators in the office space we provide them for the week. Matt’s immediate mission? He was bringing the two administrators card stock for their printers. A simple request, but a necessary one for this group, and one of 100’s like it Matt addressed for Resurrection Life while they were here.

    To be a great host, like Matt, requires a desire to serve others and see them succeed, great attention to detail, superb planning and foresight, tremendous flexibility, great relationship skills (and maybe even the ability to walk on water).

    So I’m thankful for Matt every time a leader stops me to say what a great experience they’ve had at SpringHill and how much they love Matt, reaffirming what we already know – Matt’s been the quiet force behind their success.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader

    The Reality about Time

    As I mentioned in previous posts, springtime at SpringHill is absolutely our busiest time of year as we prepare for summer camp and the 1000’s of campers we’ll serve in the next 3 months. So time is always at forefront of my mind during this season. I find myself asking – “how can I make more time to do all the things I want and need to do in the weeks ahead?”

    The problem with this question is it’s usually being asked by an exhausted and fuzzy  thinking person (me). It assumes that we can “make time”. But the hard truth is we can’t create time, only God can do that. The best we can do is to care for the time God has given us as a gift.

    But what’s even harder to face than the fact that we can’t “make time” is the stubborn truth that we’re actually losing time. The most time we ever have in our entire life is the moment we’re born. From that minute forward, day by day, moment by moment, we’re using up our time, like water flowing from a well.

    It’s these dual realities – we can’t create time but instead we’re actually losing it – that should create a sense of urgency and purpose in how we use the time given us. It means we absolutely have to be careful and intentional in how we spend every single moment of time we have left.

    I’ve found the better question to ask myself during these moments of too much to do in too little time to do it is “what’s really important now and in the long run?” The answer always frees up time because it points to the best place to spend my dwindling moments.

  • Growing as a Leader

    The Symptoms and the Cure for the Out of Control Schedule

    This week I met with my friend and advisor Bill Payne. The topic I sought his input on was prioritizing and managing my time. It’s become a bigger challenge as my job continues to evolve in light of SpringHill’s growth (see my post Time – One of Most Valuable Gifts). As always, Bill provided wise and practical input.

    Below are the symptoms I’ve been experiencing over the last year and some of Bill’s wisdom to help cure the out of control schedule I’ve had. As you read, ask yourself – “are you experiencing any of these same symptoms?” If you answer yes, then join me in trying some of Bill’s input for yourself.


    My time and schedule feel like they’re being driven and managed by everyone else but me.

    I’ve had barely enough time to do all that I need and should do in my role.

    To accomplished both what I need to do and what everyone else has expected me to do, I’ve cut short or cut out such things as exercise, sleep, house and home projects, reflection time and planning, time with friends and even, I hate to admit this, at moments, time with my family.

    The Cure:

    Block out time in my daily and weekly schedule as “no meeting” times to assure I have space to do both the important things and the things only I can do.

    Trust my team to do their work and to do it well.

    Stop trying to please everyone by saying yes to everyone’s requests and begin to say no in appropriate ways. Bill promised that saying no becomes easier the more you say it.

    Then stop feeling guilty when I say no.

    Finally, stop over playing my desire to please, a good quality I have, until taken to the extreme – which is trying the impossible – to please everyone all the time.

  • Growing as a Leader

    Time – One of Our Most Valuable Gifts

    If I learned anything in 2011 it’s that time isn’t just my most valuable resources, it’s a gift.

    It’s a gift because it’s part of God’s creation. It’s one of God’s most valuable gifts because (along with space) it’s the context in which we experience all His other good gifts.

    In the book What to Ask the Person in the Mirror (see my post) Robert Steven Kaplan recommends leaders do an audit of how they spend their time. Sensing, that with the growth of SpringHill, I was beginning to lose my grip on this gift, I did a time audit in November and early December.

    I accomplished this audit by carrying around an Excel spreadsheet with a list of key activities I do, or should do, during a typical week. Then I marked down, in ¼ hour segments, where I spent my time. I did a tally at the end of each day and at the end of the week. After the first week I made adjustments in the spreadsheet to better reflect where I was actually spending my time. It was a simple process, requiring little time and, most importantly, it was enlightening.

    After five weeks one major theme became apparent – the time I’m committing to my work has increased as SpringHill has grown. The trouble is, if this pattern continues, one day I’m going to run out of time  (time being a finite resource), which could result in me becoming a hurdle instead of an aid to SpringHill continuing to reach more kids in more places more effectively.

    This result would be unacceptable. So I’m taking intentional steps in 2012 to do a better job with the gift of time God’s given me. (See my post on questions to ask yourself in preparing for 2012).

    What will you do with your gift this year?

  • 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.

  • Book Reviews,  Growing as a Leader

    What to Ask the Person in the Mirror

    “The most successful leaders are very good at knowing how and when to ask the critical questions…” (Kaplan, p. 12)

    As part of our recent Chicago 7 gathering we read What to Ask the Person in the Mirror by Robert Steven Kaplan.

    Kaplan’s a former Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs Group, Inc and currently professor of management practice at Harvard Business School. After being assigned to read Kaplan’s book by John McAuley of Muskoka Woods the first thing I did was to scan the description of Kaplan and his professional background. I don’t judge books by their covers but I do often make snap judgments based on their authors.

    In this case I mistakenly believed What to Ask the Person in the Mirror would be a theoretical book best suited for very large organizations.

    I couldn’t have been more wrong. In a very clear, concise and practical way Kaplan lays out the key questions leaders must ask and the critical roles they must play if they’re to effectively lead an organization – large or small, profit or not-for-profit.

    The book begins with questions related to the articulation of the vision and priorities of an organization. This discussion becomes the foundation for the rest of the book with the topics working together to build a comprehensive plan for a leader and an organization to follow.

    The topics include time management, receiving and giving feedback, succession planning, delegation and evaluation. Then Kaplan concludes with an important discussion of leaders as role models and the importance of a leader understanding their “talents, personality, values and passions.”

    It’s an appropriate conclusion to a very practical and insightful book, a book that I will continue to sit on desk so that I can reference it in my ongoing efforts to becoming a more effective leader.

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