Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, continues to make my top five list of best leadership books ever written. Many of its findings have influenced my perspective of, and hopefully, my actual practice of leadership. So I was thankful to learn that he published a video statement about the current COVID-19 situation. In it Collins talks about how the Stockdale Paradox, a principle outlined in Good to Great, can provide us with an effective perspective for tackling this unprecedented moment.
Take a 6 minutes to watch it. In particular, listen to Admiral Stockdale’s goal for his 8 years as a Vietnam War POW – it’s inspiring. Then ask yourself – is this my goal for this current situation?
Generally, the principles and values I learned as a Boy Scout have helped me in my life. But sometimes, unfortunately, I’ve confused the habits I’ve formed as a result of a lifetime of practice with the actual principles and values I’m committed to, as I did in getting ready for the AT.
In particular, the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared”, is burned so deeply into my psyche that I now, out of habit, over pack for every trip. For example, when I go to Canada fishing I always pack two (and sometimes three) of everything piece of essential gear just in case I, or someone else on the trip, loses or breaks something. This has worked for me because I don’t have to carry any of this gear on my back.
But that’s not the case with the AT. All the food and gear I brought with me I had to carry. That meant those extra meals, shirts, pants, socks and underwear, the extra flashlight and bottle of stove fuel (and if I would have had room – extra shoes, hat, and a solar charger) were dead weight I carried every one of those 70 miles. I estimated it all added up to an extra ten pounds (or about 25% of my total pack weight).
Now ten pounds may not sound like a lot when one wants to “be prepared”, but in reality it was like carrying a gallon of milk, in addition to the rest of my gear, for 70 miles up and down mountains.
You see, with so many people on the trail, with towns, stores, hostels and roads dotted all along the path, the best way to be prepared is to know where you can get something if and when you need it. It’s why some people hike the AT with only 25 pounds of gear (a little more than half of what I was carrying). So the hard truth was, if I was truly prepared like a good Boy Scout, I would have known this about the AT and would have packed much lighter.
So what’s the lesson in all this? Do not confuse a motto, value or principle with its application. Memorizing a motto (Be Prepared) is easy. Learning a single way to apply it (over packing) is a mindless habit. But leadership requires the wisdom to know when a context is different, because different contexts requires different applications of those timeless mottos and values.
So how do I know this? Because, for seven days, I felt it deeply in my hips, shoulders, knees and back.
Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in an era, to think that what was standard “back then” must still be standard today. We think this because we believe really smart people had it all figured out back then (translation – it’s not possible someone today could actually be smarter than we were yesterday, thus it’s impossible anyone today could figure out a better or different way).
My toes, in particular my left big toe, paid the price for such shoddy (and arrogant) thinking.
This is how it happened. A couple of months before our trip my son, MD, and I were reviewing our equipment list. He mentioned having found a good deal on trekking poles, implying I might want to buy some as well. I told him, with serious conviction, “I’ve never hiked with trekking poles before. I’ve always used just a simple walking stick and it has worked pretty well”.
Now honestly, I was also thinking to myself “the only people I’ve ever remember using trekking poles were old people and wimps. And since I’m not old nor a wimp I sure as heck wasn’t going to be using them.” (I was also having doubts about my son’s manhood).
I should have realized the first day I was in deep trouble when I was both one of the oldest hikers and the only one without trekking poles.
You see the developers of the AT must have liked to hike up and down mountains because we walked up and down mountains multiple times a day. We rarely walked on flat ground; it was always up or down. As a result I quickly began to experience toe jam (toe jam is where your toes are constantly being jammed into the front of your shoes when going downhill) resulting in swollen toes and later, as I experienced, losing your toe nails.
By the painful third day it finally dawned on me why everyone was using trekking poles. Trekking poles break your downward steps. They take the pressure off your feet (and knees) helping to avoid toe jam among other injuries. Suddenly I saw all these young hikers, including my son, not as wimps but as smart and pragmatic, and I, in turn, was the aching, old fool.
So what’s the AT leadership lesson in all of this? Never assume that what worked yesterday is still the best option today. Be humble enough to believe that people are as smart today (or smarter) than we were yesterday. As a result it’s highly likely that methods have improved or new technology has been developed today that solves the problems we experienced yesterday (like toe jam). If we can embrace this reality about yesterday and today, our toes will be happier, and we’ll be better leaders.
And more importantly, at least for us competitive types, is the fact that if we can’t measure the most important things then we can’t set clear, measurable goals for them. So, for example, I can’t set a goal of increasing my love for my wife Denise by 20% (though I’m sure I need to love her more).
Which leads to the shortcoming of the leadership maxim I examined in my last post “what gets measured is what gets done” – you can’t directly measure the most important things in life.
At SpringHill this is the dilemma we face when we want to know if we’re effectively fulfilling our mission of “creating life-impacting experiences that enable young people to know and grow in their relationships with Jesus Christ.” How do you measure a person’s growth in their relationship with the God of the Universe? And even more perplexing how do you set a goal for such transformation?
We’ve accepted that we can’t measure such things directly or with certainty, but at the same time we’ve learned we can measure particular indicators of whether such things are becoming reality. These indicators center on a person’s admitted change in perspective, commitments they’ve made, and the anticipated life change they expect to experience. And when we combine these important indicators with our own professional assessment we begin to understand with some confidence our mission effectiveness. For us, at SpringHill, these indicators provide focus and attention to the most important things without being the final word on such things.
So maybe this old leadership maxim needs to change from “what gets measured is what gets done” to “what gets measured in some way is what gets our needed attention” and it’s this attention that leads to effectiveness.43.928283-85.286682
After 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.43.928283-85.286682
Last week three SpringHill staff and I taught seminars at the Christian Camping and Conference Association’s (3CA) Great Lake’s Regional Conference. It was a chance for us to share with other Christian camping professionals some of what we’ve learned over the years. Teaching in this context clearly aligns with our vision of being an “influential ally” of other like-minded and kindred spirited organizations.
But the truth is teaching is also one of the best ways to learn and so, to be honest, it’s also another reason we were willing to invest the time of four people to teach at this conference. You see when you teach (and do a good job teaching) it requires a number of things from you that benefits you as a learner.
First, it requires you to know your subject well enough to confidently stand before people to present and to handle any questions and disagreements that arise.
Secondly, teaching forces you to be able to communicate what you know in a clear and compelling manner. And the more clearly you can communicate something the more clearly you actually understand it.
Finally, teaching requires further learning because you always discover the gaps in your knowledge and understanding which leads to the need to fill those gaps before standing in front of a crowd.
So I’m a big believer in teaching as one of the best ways to learn and take every opportunity I have to teach. And every time I do I always walk away better for the experience.
So will you consider teaching at a conference, class or other venue if offered an opportunity? You’ll be glad you did, and so will the people who’ll benefit from all that you’ve learned.43.928283-85.286682
On 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.
“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.43.928283-85.286682
One Saturday this fall my son Mitch walked over to the SpringHill gym to shoot some hoops. That weekend, like most weekends, we had a few hundred guests attending retreats. As Mitch was shooting around one of our guests, an older gentleman, came over to Mitch and struck up a conversation.
The man asked Mitch some pretty straight forward questions like “are you a Christian?” And “do you have a Bible and do you read it?” Though the questions took Mitch back a bit, he answered each question affirmatively.
Then the gentleman changed directions and asked Mitch about his parents. In answering these questions Mitch told him I was the President of SpringHill.
To which the man responded “Does your dad work here for the money?”
Though Mitch thought it was a strange question he answered “no I don’t think so”.
Now you may be wondering if this question bothered me because it implies my motives for working at SpringHill are less than noble. But truth is, as I explained to Mitch, I wasn’t offended at all, instead I was actually thankful to be asked such an important question.
Why? Because it’s a question we should always ask of ourselves, or be willing to be asked by others. You see, there’s really nothing that can go adrift faster, and with more stealth, than our motives. And it’s only by being asked the straight up question “what’s your (my) motive” that we can begin the healthy process of checking, and if necessary, correcting the reasons behind what we do.
And, in the best of all worlds, not only would our actions be noble, but our motives behind those actions would be noble as well.43.928283-85.286682
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 test of our wisdom is found in the decisions we make. It’s displayed in the quality, timeliness, and the process in which we go through to make decisions. So it’s all three of these aspects of decisions – quality, timeliness, and process – that reflect the wisdom we have, or don’t have.
Wisdom requires knowledge, experience, judgment, and analytical ability, combined with a strong sense of right and wrong. And the measure of all these things, the proof that we have wisdom comes through in the decisions we make. Decisions are the tangible, measurable expression of our wisdom. Its wisdom applied.
It’s also why one of the personal qualities and professional competencies someone needs to possess if they’re to have long-term success at SpringHill is quality and timely Decision Making.
At SpringHill this competency is absolutely critical because of the freedom we provide our staff to do their jobs and the sense of stewardship we expect them to practice. It’s because we believe that the best people to make decisions are the ones closet to the “action”, not those sitting far behind the “frontlines”. We believe this to be true because those at the “front line” have the best perspective and expertise.
Thus when an organization keeps decision-making closest to the “front lines” it requires staff who can display wisdom through their Decision Making. And, if done right, this kind of Decision Making ends up being the best because it’s almost always faster and higher quality.
And the added benefit of entrusting decision-making to staff on the “front lines” is that they continue to grow in their wisdom and in their ability to make decisions, helping the entire organization continually become better and more effective in fulfilling its mission (it’s all part of Personal Learning I covered in the last post).
This is part 4 of 14 in a series of posts about what it takes to be successful at SpringHill.43.928283-85.286682