Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

A while back I was introduced to a concept that has changed how I approach many aspects of my life, and I want to share it with you today. The Principle of the Leadership Lid is something you may have already heard or read about it. The principle itself is a part of the larger work of John C Maxwell, an expert in leadership and the author of the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. The principle itself can boiled down to the simple statement that an organization can move no higher than the leadership qualities of it’s leader. This means that no matter how many quality folks you staff your team with, they are “capped” by the abilities of their leader. To put it another way, if you have a team full of 8’s and your leader is a 5, you can only realistically expect to be a 5 as an organization. Through this concept I realized that it wasn’t just about training my people well, and equipping them with the tools to succeed. It was also about training and equipping myself. Leading isn’t just doing the job at hand, it is about getting your team to buy in, inspiring them to think critically, understanding the ebb and flow of morale. No matter how well trained your team may be, you will never get them to reach their full potential unless you push yourself to your full potential, until you set the bar for them.

So how do we become better leaders? How do you go from the 5 in our example to an 8 or a 9? The most important step, as is usually the case, is the first one. Simply be intentional about how you lead. Put it to the forefront of your mind. As you make your decisions, ask the straight forward question, am I being a good leader by making this choice? I am not saying you will always get it right, but your more likely to as long as you are intentional.

The next step is completely contrary to our preconceived notions of leadership: follow. In order to be a strong leader, you have to follow a great leader at some point. The Quarterback is undoubtedly the leader of the football team. ( or at least the offensive unit). The team will usually only go as far as the QB will take them (leadership lid!!!). Breat QB’s aren’t, just hatched that way. They have studied under other great leaders. Be it coaches or offensive coordinators, someone lead them, and they learned the principle of great leadership through that relationship. Would the Manning brothers have been capable of 3 Super Bowls if they had not been taught how to lead by David Cutcliffe? I don’t think so.

I would also encourage all of us who are leaders to be a perpetual student. Go to seminars, read books, have an insatiable appetite for learning. The reason I asked earlier how we get to 8 or 9 instead of 10, is because I don’t believe in 10. 10 means you have hit the pinnacle, that you can go no further. The idea that you are the best you can possibly ever be is frightening to me. There is always another step to take, there is always another lesson to learn. You may be a 9.9 right now, but if you just sit back on that, you will never make it 9.99, and neither will your team.

The beauty of this principle is that it doesn’t just apply to the 40 hour a week, 9-5 role I serve in at my day job, or the time I spend in my church or other organizations. It also applies to the 24-7-365 job of being a father. How can I expect my children to do their best, if they don’t see me doing mine. How can I expect my children to succeed if I do a poor job of leading them? Sure, my wife and I are a team and she is as much a leader to my kids (if not more) than I, but we have to lead as a team. I have to hold up my end of the load as well. This is important, and I fail regularly, but I never give up. I don’t want them to give up, either. I want them to succeed as members of my team, and I want them to be successful leaders all their own, one day.

I will leave you with one final thought. Even if you aren’t in management, don’t have a family, or aren’t a part of an organization, you are still potentially a leader. We never know who is watching us, emulating us, using us as their point of measurement. We may not have a title, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t a leading. We may not be aware of it, but our own lack of growth may be putting a lid on someone else’s potential.

When You and I Don’t See Eye to Eye….

I had two posts already started and intended for publish this week. Something better came along and I felt compelled to push those other posts to the wayside and dive into this instead. The following, therefore, is mostly off the cuff. Please proceed with caution!

During October 2012 Story Church, where I am a member, is running an excellent series on politics. I know what you are thinking, and yes politics and religion is absolutely a combustible mixed topic. Before you click on the back arrow, let me stop you. This series doesn’t go in the direction you may expect it to. No one is handing out flyers on who to vote for, or how to vote on certain issues. Instead the discussion is about going beyond the division of left and right, red and blue, conservative and liberal. It is about unity, and moving beyond platforms and parties.

One of the key points made in this series, so far, has been the simple statement that “as long as there is an US vs THEM, there can be no WE.” Like all good lessons, this one is pure common sense, but is hard to live out. Is it not easier to draw our battle lines and stand shoulder to shoulder with like minded individuals, than it is to associate with those who don’t share our core beliefs? We would rather shout into our echo chamber, and look at all the bobbing heads who agree, than be on the other end of someone expressing an opinion contrary to our own. Where, I would ask, does that get us? It doesn’t take an active imagination or in depth research to figure it out. If you happen to be social media junkie, er, user like myself, just look on your twitter feed or Facebook timeline and see for yourself. We place our platforms ahead of our fellow man/woman. We value our opinion more than we value our relationships. Friendships are being damaged, relatives are ready to disown each other. Facebook friend and Twitter follow counts are plummeting! This doesn’t have to be the case……

My favorite moment of the series so far, was a point made at the end of the service this past Sunday. We were challenged to make a concerted effort to move beyond these divisions. To buy that person on the other side of the aisle lunch. To go out of your way to have a cup of coffee with that person with the “vote for” bumper sticker that looks the opposite of yours. To make a connection with someone who votes differently than you.

While the context of the discussion has been political divisiveness, I think it can be more broadly applied. What if you stopped thinking that the person whose skin is a different color than yours as “them.” What if you decided to have lunch once a week with that co worker who you know is in a lower tax bracket than you. What if you came to the conclusion that the person who doesn’t share your faith or beliefs is no less worthy of your love.

This doesn’t mean you don’t care about your issue, or that you shouldn’t take part in the political process. We should be so thankful for our right to vote, and we should exercise that right when given the chance. What it does mean is that we become mindful of how our political and personal leanings effect our interactions with others. It means being able to say I love you, even if I don’t agree with you. This concept is the lynchpin of my faith. To love you, even if you don’t vote or think or even pray the way I do. To care about you, even if you don’t care about me.

Pastor Jeremy Copeland has spoken and written (more eloquently than I) on this topic, and is my key source for almost all of this material. I would encourage you to check out his blog (jeremycopeland.com) and the podcast on the Story Church link above.

It is what you make of it: attitude adjustments in the “happiest place on earth.”

At midnight on Saturday we finally pulled in to our driveway.   642 miles (give or take) prior we had been in the so called happiest place on earth.  The brain child of cartoonist and visionary Walt Disney: DISNEY WORLD! You may have heard of it, quaint little amusement park with a small plot of land with a couple of rides.  It’ s made a few bucks in it’s time.

Seriously, for most people a trip to Disney World is a cause for jubilation.  It is often the punctuation of some monumental occasion like a honeymoon, a graduation, a major birthday.  It is the ultimate cliche in celebrating sports championships. “Cam Newton, you just won the Super Bowl, what are you going to do now?” ” I am going to Disney World!”(Hey it could happen!)  So obviously I must have been pretty hyped up about this trip, right? Not so much.

It wasn’t that the trip wasn’t a celebration of something special.  In fact, what we were celebrating was more special in many ways than the examples I gave.  My older brother is a Veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq.   While on his last deployment he asked us if we would be interested in all going to Disney World once he was back in the states. The trip would include our parents, his family of five and my family of four.  Disney is his families favorite vacation destination and they have even bought into the vacation club there ( If you don’t know what that is, think timeshare only with mouse ears and a nightly fireworks display.)  So once he returned safe and sound, and we were able to save up enough,  we were off to Orlando for a week of rides, characters, and pricey T-Shirts.

So what is the problem, then?  Well, honestly, the problem was me. To start, I really don’t like amusement parks. They are crowded with people who are generally either rude or oblivious to the other patrons at best.  Everything costs twice as much as it would outside the park, especially food. To top it off the main point of going to an amusement park is the rides.  I don’t like rides.  I don’t do upside down, and I have substantial dislike for heights. So unless I really dig waiting in line for 45 minutes to meet a college student dressed up like 5’10” chipmunk, this was obviously not my place.

The trip started as I expected it would.  Waiting at the bottom of the rides with my 2 year old in the Florida heat.  Everyone around me having fun while I pulled toddler duty. Sure, the other adults offered to hang out with him while I took a turn, but why bother.  I wouldn’t have any fun anyway………Then I stopped and thought about it for a moment.   I could stew in my own self centered bitterness, or I could actually try to enjoy myself. I could stand at the exit of every ride while my family was having a great time, or I could challenge myself to ride along side them as often as I could.   I could choose to continue being a grumbling spectator, or I could actively make memories with my children and my wife. So I stopped being selfish and indignant. I got on that roller coaster, the one that  honestly scared the daylights out of me, because I knew my daughter would remember for the rest of her life that time Daddy rode the Himalayan Expedition with her.  I stopped being a malcontent about waiting in line, because I knew that at the end of that line there wasn’t just some sweaty kid trapped inside an anthropomorphic duck costume. There was also the silliest smile I have ever seen on my son’s face as he met “Dah-Duck.” I stopped my endless fretting about the cost, and I just let myself enjoy the fancy restaurant my brother made reservations for my wife and I at. She got the 50 dollar steak, and a couple cocktails.  We splurged for desert.  The chipotle chocolate cake was amazing.

No, I didn’t conquer my fear of heights.  I still don’t really care for roller coasters or rides. The people were sometimes rude, and it was crowded and hot. My feet felt like over ripe berries ready to burst. It has been pointed out to me a dozen times that I have a semi circle sunburn on the front of my noggin from where I wore my hat backwards. I also picked up a nasty cold that is currently waging open warfare on my sinuses.  Above all else, I had a fantastic time and made some awesome memories.

PS we already started saving for a return trip.  I am looking forward to it.

Fear, progress, and hand siphons.

A pair of recurring themes in my life right now are fear and progress. The two are definitely interconnected. More accurately, they are like a valve on a hand siphon. If you have never used one of these, it is basically a couple of tubes (one goes in where there is gas, the other goes where you want that gas to be) connected to a bulb by a valve. By compressing and releasing the bulb you trigger the valve to open and close. When the valve is open it allows the gas to fill the vacuum left by the bulbs decompression. When the valve is closed no new gas can come up the line. Progress is the valve in an open state. Fuel rushing up the line, out of a place where it is no longer needed or where it can’t be used at all. From there it goes into a place where it is ready to be used for new purpose, oftentimes as an answer to a desperate need. However, when that valve is closed it all stops. There is no more flow. You have everything you need in that moment to make things happen, a fuel source, a place for the fuel to go, and the means by which to get the fuel from point a to point b. That is all well and good, but as long as that valve is closed NOTHING is going to change. That is actually the best case appraisal. Most likely things will get worse. What happens if you stand there long enough? The fuel you are trying to siphon up will evaporate. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to see how this metaphorically represents our own struggles.

Once we know that fear is acting as a valve, stopping the fuel (passion, drive, creativity, happiness) from flowing, how do we disengage that valve? The simple answer is to just take action. Squeeze the metaphorical bulb on the siphon and it will work. Stepping out of the metaphorical it is taking the first step towards whatever goals you have set in front of you. Move, disregarding the risk, take the chance. It is so easy, or at least it is easy to type or say aloud. The truth is that applied action is difficult. Our heart races, our heads spins, our stomach knots up. Our whole body yells out “STOP!”

At the end of the day, whether you use to motivate yourself to move, it is all an exercise in self discipline and control. Even if you are like me and believe in the power that comes from moving on faith in God, it still takes that initial surge of self discipline to put our feet in motion. I pray you have that self discipline, and that you don’t let your lack of self control hem you in, away from where you want to be. I pray that my self control, which has a long way to go, will improve and allow me to make those first steps. To disengage the fear valve, so that my fuel, my creativity, my passion, my drive will flow. I pray that there are people there along the way to cheer you on, to help you feel like you can overcome that fear. I pray that you will go deaf to the voices who would tell you, “you can’t.” I pray your fear valve never stops your dreams from flowing.