Believe the best but don’t assume

This is my new axiom coming out of the last several months of difficult conversations, organizational repair, and building a new consensus around God-inspired vision.

I’ve always been a person and a leader who prided myself on believing the best about people and seeing people’s potential over their problems. That’s really good and I don’t want to lose that, in part because the alternative seemed to be cynicism.

However over the last few months I’ve realized at a whole new level that this is not only a naïve approach to life but is also a bit lazy. I no longer believe the only two options are to assume the best or be cynical. I’ve learned there is a third option. Here’s what I mean.

When I make the big ask of a colleague, employee, or a volunteer to accomplish a task, I  should believe that when they say, “Yes” they mean “Yes.” That’s believing the best.

The problem is that if that’s all I do, I don’t know what they actually said “Yes” to. I may have made an impassioned pitch that won their heart but that doesn’t mean they fully understand all the parameters and expectations I have about what their performance needs to look like to get a “win”.

They may work very diligently at what they think I want but if I have not been abundantly clear both verbally and in writing about my expectations all their hard work may be in vain. Worse yet, I will be disappointed with their performance and now we have a relationship gap. At that point, they could feel I’m unfair or that I’m the kind of leader that can never be pleased; simply because I didn’t take the time to clarify the win.

There is no true evaluation without clarity.

What is the win here? If that question is not answered with crystal clarity it is highly unlikely either of us will be celebrating at the end of the project.

Yes, believe the best but don’t assume the person knows your mind unless you’ve taken the time to make it clear in a way they understand.

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The Story

I was asked to write an article for our local newspaper that will be published next week leading up to Easter. I thought I would do a sneak preview here. Let me know what you think.

This Sunday is Easter. Being in my profession this means I’m pretty excited about this weekend. We’ll have more people at church than any Sunday of the year, the atmosphere will be electric, and everyone is thinking about Jesus. In my world, that’s a pretty great day!

But Easter is more than a holiday and it’s more than a day to go to church. Don’t get me wrong holidays are great and I happen to think going to church is pretty great too. What I mean is, the story. I love stories don’t you?

The problem is that we often put our own spin on any story we come across; especially Bible stories. Perhaps its because many of us heard Bible stories when we were kids so we think we know them or because it’s supposed to be God’s book so we think all the characters will be perfect and therefore we can’t relate to them or maybe it’s because we don’t believe in God and that just eliminates the value of the story altogether. Regardless of the reasoning we all come with a bias, me included.

I wonder if it might serve us well to surrender some of our preconceived notions about this ancient book and just let the story tell itself this Easter. If we did that maybe…

…Peter’s denial of Christ in his hour of need wouldn’t just be about a bumbling buffoon but more a picture of our own human frailty.

…Perhaps Judas’ betrayal could teach us that we’re all prone to selfishness and greed without God’s grace.

…Mary might be a hint at the faithfulness of a mother.

…John standing at the cross as the only disciple not to run away when the chips were down could help us see what real friendship looks like.

…Then there’s Jesus, who after declaring to the world, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” gives his life for all of us.

Maybe just maybe this story could show us that our concepts of God as a judgmental, legalistic, perverse warmongering, narrow-minded, dictator are not quite as accurate as we thought they were. Maybe he’s not a heavy-handed father waiting to drop the metaphorical hammer on our lives the next time we make a mistake. Perhaps the prophet was right when he said…

He will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6

This year let’s let the Easter story speak to us rather than deciding we already know it or allowing someone else’s preconceived notions determine how we view God. Maybe we could get beyond the religious view of God and just see Jesus in his purest and simplest form, loving you and me just like we are. Because when you really see Jesus, your story changes.

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My top 5 leadership books

So here they are and why…

1. Good to Great by Jim Collins

Why? This is a book that you just can’t argue with. The quality of research is so impeccable that the principles speak for themselves.

Favorite Take-away I think my favorite principle is First Who…Then What: get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus and you can do anything. The old adage “People are your most important asset” turns out to be wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.

2. The Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus

Why? I think it’s difficult for an author to effectively express passion without sounding pious, overly critical, or judgmental but McManus does it in this highly motivating book.

Favorite Take-away This section: We created a religion using the name of Jesus Christ and convinced ourselves that God’s optimal desire for our lives was to insulate us in a spiritual bubble where we risk nothing, sacrifice nothing, lose nothing, worry about nothing.

3. Developing the Leader Within You by John Maxwell

Why? This was my first leadership book and it changed my life. I think I read it 3 times. I realized not only was I a leader but I wanted to be a leader.

Favorite Take-away So many but here are a couple: We all have problems. The person who makes a difference is the one who gets up and does something about it. Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

4. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Why? I love that the story is the lesson. Lencioni does a great job creating real people who everyone can relate to, then teaching through their characters.

Favorite Take-away Walking back to the white board, Kathryn explained, “Remember, teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”

5. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Why? We are constantly challenged with resistance in getting where we want to go or creating what we want to create.  This book names those common challenges so powerfully and succinctly that you feel compelled, kicked in the butt, ordered to keep moving forward.

Favorite Take-away If you find yourself criticizing other people, you’re probably doing it out of resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own. Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement. Watch yourself.

So these are my Top 5. What about you? What are your Top 5?

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Conflict upgrade

I’m definitely facing into a much needed upgrade concerning the way I’m dealing with difficult situations. I’ve never thought of myself as conflict averse, but I’m realizing there are specific situations that cause me to avoid it. As a result, there are relationships in my life that are surviving rather than thriving and to some degree it negatively impacts the culture of the organizations I’m leading.

2 situations where conflict is difficult…

1. When I’m dealing with someone who doesn’t seem to want to grow or lean in. If they are resistant I tend to ‘wash my hands’ and say, “Well I did my part.” If they don’t meet me half way then there’s not much else I can do. This works well in a general sense but not with mission critical relationships (i.e. family, employees, teammates).

I’m realizing this has caused me to give up on people that God wants me to engage no matter how frustrating it is to me or how ridiculous I may think it is to keep ‘going there’ with no visible results. There are certain people in my life that I don’t get the luxury of backing off.

2. This is one I hate to admit especially in this environment but in the name of ‘going there’ and keeping myself accountable to this, here goes. I’ve recently realized I have a propensity to back off difficult conversations with women in the name of some southern (U.S.) cultural chivalry that is engrained in my psyche from childhood. I grew up being taught to treat ladies as special, with respect, and a man never hurts a woman. These are good things in general but difficult conversations are painful and it means that I have to say some things that may hurt to get at the real issue.

I’ve learned to do this with my wife and daughter over the years because I love them, but somehow I had not transferred that to other relationships in my life. Rather than just saying what needs to be said like I would with a guy, I’ll dance around and try to soften the blow to the point where I’m not really saying anything, but they know I’m not happy about something.

The sad truth is that this means I’ve not treated these ladies as equals. It’s cheapened my relationships and caused unnecessary distance, confusion, and hurt. I’m grieving that and working at change.

Is there relationships you struggle to ‘go there’ with?

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The dream…Part 2

How did I get here? There was a time when Susan wanted to repaint our living room with, what I thought were, wild and crazy colors. She wanted to spend money to buy new furniture and really upgrade the place. I remember arguing with her because it seemed like such a waist of money. I argued that maybe we should give that money away or use that money to go on a mission trip. Of course these kinds of arguments leave the other person with no where to go. What could she say, “I don’t want to help the poor!” or “I’d rather buy a couch than tell people about Jesus!”

So, I won…not! I’ve learned that when you ‘win’ an argument you usually lose relationally. I was certainly losing my wife and I couldn’t figure out why. All I knew was that I had given everything (literally) to serve God and everyone else should too!

Then one day I found myself trapped in a car with Doug Fike driving through the mountains of Bath County. As I explained to Doug that my wife so desperately needed an upgrade in commitment and sacrifice for the kingdom (after all selling everything she owned and moving to Asia couldn’t possibly be enough!) he began to talk about Charlene’s creative spirit and how it had clashed so dramatically with his Mennonite upbringing. He talked about his own process with God of letting go of his poverty mentality and recognizing that God could meet us in poverty and in abundance and how Charlene had taught him that.

Then he turned the tables and said something to the effect of, “Did you ever think that maybe Susan’s desire to decorate the house and use colors you would never choose could be an expression of the creativity God put inside of her? Perhaps decorating your house so that others could experience ‘home’ and feel safe in a pleasant appealing environment could actually be worship to the God who made her.”

I was undone!

The truth is I was religious in a really bad way. One of the ways I define religion is: God does something good and we think everyone else should relate with God like that too.

I went home and asked Susan to develop a budget for the upgrades and we would find a way to make it happen. We went for it and have continued to upgrade our home along the way. As a result countless people here in Wylie and from around the world have experienced ‘home’ in an inviting and loving environment in our house over the years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say things like, “I love this house. I feel so at home. I’ve never slept better in my life.”

And last weekend when we put the house on the market we had 6 lookers and 4 offers in one weekend! I think Susan and God might have had something to do with that, don’t you?

None of us change in a vacuum. Personal growth is not really personal.

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The dream…

Recently I’ve been reflecting on the process Susan and I have been in concerning the dream God put in her heart several years ago and how it’s beginning to unfold. Her dream is to have a property with trees, hopefully near water, with a house for us to live in, and a cottage where we could host people on sabbatical or missionaries in town for a visit.

I would love to say that I’ve always been about Susan’s dreams and engaging them with passion. Unfortunately that’s just not true. Most or our married life has been about pursuing the dreams in my heart and Susan has typically been supportive and a key player in seeing those dreams fulfilled. For years I just assumed my dreams were her dreams too! My thinking went something like this, “Well, Susan’s not really a dreamer and I’ve got enough vision for 5 people so she can just latch onto the stuff I come up with and she will find plenty of fulfillment there.”

I know, I know, so lame…but nevertheless, it was what I thought.

The truth is that my dreams were pretty satisfying for her, the first half of our marriage. We moved our family to Hong Kong and travelled all over China meeting interesting people and engaging cultures we never knew existed. We moved home and planted a church that has been one of the great adventures of our lives. In the midst of all of that we raised a family, started a non-profit business, and traveled the world. What more could she want???

But these were my dreams. Brewing deep inside her was a dream that was birthed in the depths of her heart. A dream that was about her passions and formed from her own creativity and giftings.

So, over the last 2 years I’ve been on a quest; a quest to find a place that fit the dream. I’ve looked at more properties in our area than I can remember. We’ve looked at empty lots, existing houses, considered building the dream at my parent’s house but nothing ever seemed quite right. Then, a few weeks ago I was driving by a neighborhood and saw a for sale sign. This neighborhood is an area I would have never considered before because the homes are so expensive. The properties are immaculate and all of them are large in size. I felt prompted to drive down the street and just see what was there. At the end of this private drive I found the house for sale. It needs a little work but it sits on 1 acre, has a beautiful pond out back, a nice house, and a building in the back that could be converted to a cottage for guests. Susan loves it!

We are supposed to close on September 28th. Last Friday we put our house on the market and by Monday we had had 6 lookers and 4 offers! I think the dream is “ripe”!

It’s difficult for me to describe how excited I am. It’s been so fun to use the best of me (gifts, talents, passions) to pursue Susan’s dream rather than my own. Of course, in the process, it’s become my dream too but it’s different. I think of Mechanics who work on everyone else’s car but their wife’s car is falling apart or accountants whose family finances are in disarray. I know I’ve been that guy at times in the past and I don’t want to be anymore. I don’t want to be so busy helping other people fulfill their dreams that I neglect helping my wife fulfill hers.

All I can say is, “This feels really good!”

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Teamwork 2

So, for years I’ve said that I’m not an artist. What I’m referring to is the fact that I don’t paint, play a musical instrument, or design stuff. But recently I’ve begun to seriously rethink this statement because the more I understand about leadership the more of an art-form I realize it is.

Leadership, like art, requires technique, skill, and most of all creativity. It takes a certain touch by a master craftsman to lead people in the right direction and more importantly to figure out what that direction is.

The key to all of this, of course, is people. Unlike an artist, I can’t get there alone. The craft of leadership cannot be done in isolation. Effective leaders without other people are by definition, not leaders.

Jim Collins in his business classic, “Good to Great” talks about getting the right people on the bus. The idea is that if you get the right people on the bus it almost doesnt matter what you are trying to accomplish, the right people will get you there. Of course most of us have experienced the opposite as well; get the wrong people on the bus and even the most simple task becomes unattainable.

So the question is, how do I pick the right people. What criteria am I using to select my team? Ask yourself that question.

I’ll give you my thoughts and some links to some great leaders on this topic in my next post…

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Last year’s NBA champion Dallas Mavericks were such a powerful combination of talent and teamwork. Great talent for sure but not near the talent of the high-flying Miami Heat and yet teamwork trumped talent once again. In the words of Head Coach Rick Carlisle, “This championship was a referendum on team-basketball.”

When I’m evaluating leaders my #1 criteria is simple: can you build and lead effective unified teams?

If the answer is yes then you have the potential to be a really good leader. If you can’t then no matter how good you are at vision-casting, speaking, inspiring, or organizing your chances of long-term success are minimal.

Ron Edmenson tweeted recently, ‘You can’t define leadership apart from relationship.’

So true. We never accomplish alone what we could accomplish together. True significance requires people and impacts people. 

More to come on building effective teams…

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Holy Week or Crazy Week?

What a week! It’s called holy week but to be honest for those of us in churchworld it’s more like crazy week! It’s a lot of fun but also a lot of work, meetings, planning, and preparing. I’m so glad I love my job because at the end of the day, it’s really not about any of the stuff. It’s really about Jesus and his people and I love both of those!

This past Sunday was so incredible. We had 15 people get baptized, heard some incredible testimonies and worship was literally out of this world! And it wasn’t even Easter yet. Can you imagine what the Holy Spirit has planned for us this Sunday?

I’m hoping that all of us can have a great week rather than a crazy week. I think if you’ll remember these 3 things going into this weekend you will…

1. Pray…not just for people to come to know Jesus, although that’s super important. Pray for yourself. That sounds selfish doesn’t it? But pray for yourself to be more like Jesus; more loving, more caring, more compassionate, and more concerned about others than yourself. Then you’ll have his heart and you can really pray for others to know him…with a prayer like that, maybe they’ll even see him better through you.

2. Invite…at Easter people are more open to God than any other time of the year. Even more than Christmas. Invite someone to 7pm at the Wylie Football Stadium. It’s going to be GREAT! Invite someone to Easter Sunday at New Hope We’ll be having 3 services (8am, 9:30am, 11:00am) in addition to the podcast. Put it on Facebook and Twitter, like our Facebook page, share the invite with a friend.

3. Celebrate…I hope I never forget the pit that God rescued me from. He took me from the muck and yuck of a life so filled with selfishness, pain, and loneliness. He took all of that and gave me his joy, his freedom, his life. What a great God he is! The more we recognize how much we need him, the more we love and celebrate him. Let’s do that this weekend! Come ready to celebrate the risen Christ!

I think if I do those three things it won’t just be crazy week, it might really be a holy week.

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Go, and make disciples

Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.” That wasn’t a suggestion. It wasn’t an, ‘if you feel like it’ or ‘have time’ or ‘have a lot of money’ kind of thing. Making disciples is the mission of every follower of Jesus. Because healthy disciples make more disciples.

More than anything discipleship is about investing my life in the life of another person and what could be more important than that? So I wanted to share 3 characteristics of a disciple maker that I hope will help you go even further in your discipleship of others.

3 characteristics of a disciple maker

1. Disciple makers depend on God – The Apostle Paul said that he planted and watered but it was God who brought the growth. Every disciple maker prays fervently because they realize they can’t change anyone. So, they pray and seek God for people they are investing in…their family, friends, co-workers, classmates. We need God to move if people’s lives are going to be truly changed.

2. Disciple makers are intentional – Jesus prayed all night before he chose his disciples. I think too often we are hap-hazard about discipleship. We think it will just happen. Sometimes it works that way but if Jesus needed to pray about who the Father wanted him to invest in, shouldn’t we? Then he went and had an intentional conversation with these guys and they agreed they wanted his investment. Discipleship requires intentionality on both sides. If the person you are investing in isn’t really interested or serious you might be wasting your time.

3. Disciple makers are realistic – The Bible says that we sow seed but it doesn’t all bear the same fruit. Sometimes people grow quickly and then fall away and other people look like nothing is happening at all – but on the inside, God is doing a deep invisible work that will bring fruit much later. My wife often says, “Real change takes about 2 years.” I don’t like to hear that but so often it is true. Jesus spent 3 years with his disciples and lost one along the way. If we aren’t realistic then we will get discouraged and wonder if God is using us at all. He is, if we are obedient to him.

Go, and make disciples!

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