Monday, January 30, 2012

Mentors At A Distance

This past weekend I drove to Connecticut to visit my in-laws. To prepare for the drive I packed up some CD’s to help make the time more constructive. Included in my stash was Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. Dave has become my financial mentor at a distance. As I was listening to him I started thinking that I have developed a few mentors for various areas of my life.

There are a few signs that someone has become a mentor at a distance. One sign is that I begin to call the person by his first name. The mentors are like friends. I have a relationship with them (even if they don’t have a relationship with me.) I can say to my wife, “I was listening to Dave and…” and she won’t say, “Dave who.” She knows I mean Dave Ramsey.

Another sign someone has become a mentor at a distance is that I consider what he would say or recommend about a decision I am making. If I can envision Dave Ramsey getting in my face about a financial decision, I know it isn’t right and need to rethink it.

Tony Horton has become my exercise and eating mentor. Over last year I dropped 30 pounds doing P 90 X and this year have started doing P90X 2. Without his program there is no way I would have lost the weight I did. Looking at his materials inspires me to work out harder and eat healthier.

Henry Cloud is my counselor and psychologist from a distance. Henry Cloud has written great books especially “Integrity” and “Necessary Endings.”

Andy Stanley is my spiritual mentor. I have learned a great deal listening to his messages about how to practically walk with Christ. His wisdom for living is outstanding.

Who are your mentors at a distance? Is there an area of your life you want to improve, but find yourself failing time and time again? If you found some mentors, even at a distance it may go a long way in achieving your goals.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stand Up To Bullies

I was in so many fights in Middle School I can’t even count them. Actually, to call them fights would be a misnomer. In a fight, two people participate. Bullying is probably the more accurate term. For whatever reason, many kids throughout my Middle School years wanted to pick on me. I am convinced my reticence to ever fight back led to more skirmishes. Ironically, my own desire for peace at any cost brought fights in my direction. Most times, I would suddenly find myself staring face to face with someone who had some problem with me. The “fight” would usually last 30 seconds to a minute. The other guy would throw his punches, get his aggression out. I essentially would take it. The “fight” would be over. As I said, bullying is the proper term. I never really cared so much about taking the punches. I just wanted the conflict to be over.

One time I fought back. Essentially, a kid kept picking on me day after day. He threw rocks at me. He pushed me and I just took it. I didn’t fight back. Finally, after a few days, I had a Popeye moment in which I said, “That’s all I can stands I can’t stands no more.” I went home and told my parents at dinner that I would probably be in a fight the next day because this kid kept picking on me. My dad to his credit gave me permission to defend myself. The next day the kid came up and punched me in the face and then I unleashed about 15 to 20 punches on him. He never bothered again.

At the end of the day, all evil is essentially bullying. Bullies look tough and talk tough, but once you stand up to them, they will eventually wilt. The devil and all the demons cause havoc when no one stands up to them. Edmund Burke said, “All evil needs to do to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Leadership often requires us to simply stand up to bullies.

The devil is a bully. John Eldredge notes that he especially tries to bully the wounded areas of our hearts. Isaiah 14:16-17 says that one day we will look on the devil and say, “Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities, who did not let the prisoners go home?” Until then, if you and I wish to lead, we must recognize that we must stand up to the bullying of the devil. We must stand up to the bullying of evil wherever we recognize it. If we don’t stand up to bullies, we give them permission to beat us up and to beat others up as well.

Do you have any experience of bullying? Do you believe in the Devil? Do you agree he is just a big bully?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Growth Requires Intense Experiences And Daily Habits

We are midway through the first month of the year. I continue to reflect on goals and plans for the year. Recently, I took a day away to set some goals for the year and ways in which I hope to grow. On my time away, I took a post blog post by Michael Hyatt that resonated with me a while back. In the post he advocated putting aside days in your calendar for intense growth such as going on retreats and improving skills in a compressed amount of time. Exposing ourselves to intense experiences helps us go further faster.

As I was taking a walk, I thought about Hyatt’s suggestion. At the same time I was thinking about Jim Collins description of the 20 mile march in his book Great by Choice. Collins says that great companies are very disciplined in their approach to setting goals. They neither stretch themselves too much or challenge themselves too little. They find the sweet spot. So which is the right approach? Intensive Times or disciplined, consistent efforts?

As is so often the case, both are true. Growth and success come from occasional intense efforts and daily disciplined investments in the right accounts.

When it comes to spiritual growth, I have found intense, compress expeirnces very important to my relationship with God. Intense retreats or time away can accomplish some things in our spiritual lives that we could never on our own. When doing youth ministry, I would see kids connect with God on a much deeper level at conferences and work camps.

With family, week or two week vacations are so important. They create experiences that help bond us together. From the focused time together we allow more time for conversations and laughter that get squeezed out in daily life.

On the other hand, intermittent intense experiences are not enough to sustain faith or any relationship. Daily and consistent deposits are necessary. Prayer and acting on what we discover in prayer, slowly changes us into the men and women God has created us to be. Talking with my wife on a daily basis, interacting with my kids in small ways builds our relationship and builds our family. Improving in any skill simply takes disciplined effort on a daily basis. You can’t write well or play the piano or get good at a sport just through some intense times. You need daily practice.

So when setting our goals for the year, we have to look to see if we have both a plan for a couple of intense periods of growth or investment as well as putting time in our daily schedule for skills and relationships we want to cultivate.

Do you have some times of intense growth planned for the year? Vacations, conferences, workshops? What are the habits you need to put into your life to grow in the year ahead?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Grace - It's Personal

A few weeks ago I had a project to do around the house that wasn’t an emergency but had to get done. It was something above my pay grade and abilities. (By the way it doesn’t take much to get there. I’m not very handy.) So I called a friend of mine to see if he could come and help me. When I asked if he had any time to help me, he responded in a way that caught me completely off guard and even disturbed me a bit. He answered, “I’ll make time for you.”

As strange as it sounds, I felt disturbed and a little bothered. I know, I know it makes no sense. Don’t we all desire friends that will rearrange their schedule for us, who love us enough to make time for us? Yes, theoretically, but to be hit with it face to face is completely humbling. In a sense I didn’t want him to come and help me, but to be something he would do for anyone. I wanted him to say sure it is no big deal. It was quite another thing for him to come and help me just out of friendship with nothing in return. It was completely gratuitous on his part.

In reflecting on this part, I realize there is a part of us that doesn’t want grace , especially a very personal grace. Maybe we don’t want this personal grace because it is so humbling. Yes, Jesus died for us and saved the whole world through his death. When I am lumped in with the rest of humanity, I don’t feel like it is all that personal. I don’t feel that it necessarily it was my sin that nailed him to the cross. But when I sink in that grace is incredibly personal. That all the ways we experience God’s grace, including the cross, God like my friend says, “I would do it for you.” That’s humbling and as that thought crosses my mind and sinks into my heart tears well up.

Over and over again, every single day God puts opportunities before us to receive his grace and says, “I would do it for you.” When we come face to face with that reality, its humbling and amazing.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What the New Roman Missal Taught Me About Leadership

Over the last month, the Church introduced the New Roman Missal into English speaking countries. Personally, I don’t have much of an opinion about it. However, in adjusting to the new translation I have been reminded about one important aspect of leadership.
A day before Christmas Eve we celebrated Mass at the Timoinium Fairgrounds where we held our Christmas Eve Masses. We celebrated a Mass with a few people from staff as well as some volunteer ministers. The purpose of the Mass was consecrate the space (the Cow Palace) as well as the hosts that would be given for Communion. As we went through the Mass, often we were at a loss as how to respond. At one point I said to our pastor as he waited for us to respond, “We don’t know what to say.”

I have had this experience with the New Roman Missal - people just not responding because they are uncertain and unclear about what they are supposed to say. I have found myself hesitating even on responses that have not changed, responses I have said for over thirty years. With the new changes, there creeps in a little bit of doubt about what to say so I say nothing.

So how does this apply to leadership?

Uncertainty tends to lead to inaction and so if we want people to act confidently, then it is important as leaders to be incredibly clear about our expectations for people. Clarity and certainty lead to action. Uncertainty and ambiguity leads to inaction or even worst counterproductive action. One of the chief jobs of leadership is creating certainty.

As a manager or supervisor this means being clear about what an employee needs to accomplish, as well as what authority a person has to accomplish the task. Clarity means defining the problem that needs to be solved by a team. It means clarifying wins, so teams work confidently trying to accomplish the same goals. As a parent it means setting clear rules for our kids and being clear about their behavior at the dinner table, when going to bed and about fulfilling their school work. It means giving them a clear structure.

At the end of the day it is about clarity of communication - communicating with both our words and actions. As I write about this, I recognize I am not very good at this. I tend to think people can read my mind. Before leaving to visit my parents at Thanksgiving, I was getting frustrated with my kids because I didn’t think they were helping us get out the door. My wife asked me, “What do you want them to do?” I said, "I don’t know." So if I was unclear about what I wanted them to do obviously they were as well. It was poor leadership on my part to get mad at them when I hadn't communicated clear expectations.

So the first step to creating clarity is for us as leaders to identify what we are asking others to do. Then communicate it clearly, recognizing, we cannot over communicate when it comes to setting clear expectations. Before we blame employees or kids for not doing what we asked them to do we need to examine if we know what we want them to do and have communicated it very clearly.

Where have you seen uncertainty lead to inaction? How do you communicate clear expectations?