cockpit

Ride the Storm or Steady the Plane

Does anybody actually enjoy turbulence?  I’m willing to bet we’d all say no.  Years ago I took a flight from Chicago to San Antonio with terrible turbulence the entire trip.  It was the only time I contemplated using the barf-bag for its intended purpose.

We’ve probably all heard the captain come across a loudspeaker and say something like “Howdy folks, we’re lookin’ at some nice clean cruising up around 30’000 feet, but we’ve gotta wrangle a tough ride in order to get there.  So sit tight and we’ll do our best to get everyone comfy again as soon as possible.”  (Ok, maybe you haven’t heard that exactly, but you might if you flew out of the South.)  As long as we believe he’s looking for better conditions, we’ll cut him some slack and appreciate the safe landing.

Bottom line is, nobody likes turbulence, but we’re willing to endure it if we know it’s necessary and temporary.  In a manner of speaking, all leaders fly “planes”.

You may not have wings, but you have people, and they’re trusting you for the ride.

More than once I’ve had to key the handset and tell my team “we’re in for some turbulence”.  Maybe it’s a change in direction, an increase in expectations, a compressed schedule, a new system, whatever – it’s all turbulence.  And no matter how necessary and healthy the turbulence is, sometimes you just have to steady the plane.  Even the best get weary of nonstop jostling around, and a lull in the chaos is often all that’s needed to rejuvenate and refocus our energy.

While I’ve never struggled to make decisions that result in a bumpy ride, I DO have to remind myself to steady the plane.  It feels unproductive and boring, but it’s as necessary as the turbulence if we want to lead well and take care those we’re flying.

Are you naturally a turbulence creator or a smooth sailor?  Neither is wrong, but neither is perfect either…

Kettle

“Look out, she’s going to blow, Captain!”

Have you ever had a conversation that began harmlessly, but ended up with you in the hot seat?  You can tell the person is quite upset, but can’t understand their approach to save your life.  Like a pressurized tea kettle, they just begin angrily blowing off steam.  Criticizing, exaggerating, belittling; maybe you earned it, maybe you didn’t.  In either situation, good leadership doesn’t allow for venting back.  It’s in that moment we have a choice.  Let’s face it, venting is largely unproductive which only further complicates an appropriate response.  So having a couple healthy options on hand can make the difference between success and failure.  Here’s a few I find helpful:

  1. Own what’s yours – whatever percentage of their complaint is accurate, admit it and apologize if necessary.  Don’t apologize for what you didn’t do, but don’t dismiss their entire complaint just because some (or most) of it is inaccurate.  Many times this is the silver bullet.
  2. Get clarity – it’s natural to go on defense when we’re attacked, especially when it’s unjust. Instead of immediately going into survival mode, ask questions and make sure you understand exactly what you’re being accused of.
  3. Ask what you can do – sometimes there is literally no point, they just want to vent.  If that’s what you determine, it’s reasonable to ask “What do you want me to do?”  Depending on how well you manage your tone, this can help bring clarity and closure.  It puts action steps into play which you can then appropriately respond to.

Conversations don’t have a rewind button, so we only get one chance to respond. Good or bad, people will remember the choice we make.

What are some ways you’ve learned to defuse a potentially explosive conversation?

macho insecurity

3 Tools to Combat Insecurity

If we’re honest, we all deal with insecurity. That internal voice that speaks, and often screams “you’re not good enough”. Often it’s without serious consequence because we’re able to justify our inadequacy…nobody is good at everything. However, when insecurity attaches to something we’re supposed to be good at, it can be absolutely crippling. This is why insecurity can be dangerous, especially for leaders. Unchecked, insecurity injects a paralyzingly poison leaving us crippled, unable to move forward, and sluggish to make even the simplest decisions.

Unfortunately, unless you’re dead there’s no way to avoid insecurity.

Which is why the tactics of defeating it are so important. Here are 3 concepts that will help you maintain the upper hand next time you’re slapped by insecurity. They’re not silver bullets, but paired with discipline they can be extremely effective.


 

1. Stop the Comparing – at least twice a year I have to take a Twitter hiatus. After months of subconsciously comparing myself to the rich and famous, insecurity begins to whisper “You’ll never be as good as that guy”. There is no benefit in comparing ourselves to someone else. It requires mental discipline. Safeguards within our mind that signal “Danger!” whenever we flirt with comparison.

2. Acknowledge Your Limits – Matthew 25 gives us the parable of the master & the talents. Notice after receiving the report, the master responded the same to both servants who’d doubled their masters money. Regardless of how much they’d initially been given, what mattered was what they DID with it. We all have natural limits: economics geography, intelligence, education, opportunity. Often there’s no way to overcome those things. What matters is what we do with what we’ve been given, without regard to its magnitude.

3. Focus Your Energy – It’s popular to be well balanced. We enroll our kids in every program available, pack our schedules to the brim, and buy toys for every pastime imaginable. For what? Jack of all trades and master of none? Confidence is born out of success not involvement. This may not be entirely universal, but I would rather be amazing at a couple things rather than “good” at a bunch of things. Determine how you’re naturally wired, focus on becoming excellent in those areas, and empower those things to be your front line defense against insecurity.

These 3 have served me well on many occasions, but they’re not the only options. What tools have you developed to combat insecurity?

Open Hand

Leaders Give Up

At the end of this month I will have been in full time ministry for 8 years.  Eight years longer than I thought possible in my 20’s.  In that time I’ve realized that leadership in ministry isn’t all that different from leadership elsewhere.  I’ve lead Marines as a squad leader, teams as a project manager, and staff & volunteers as a pastor.  Each one required its own approach and skill set, but some things have been exactly the same.

Leadership always requires something from the leader before it ever gives anything back.

Here are 5 things leaders give up:

1.  AGENDA:  Squad leaders train war fighters to accomplish the mission.  Project managers align teams to maintain profitability.  Pastors encourage and enable people to carry a message.  There’s no room for a personal program that detracts from the main objective.  In each case, the leader gives up his own agenda for the sake of the bigger picture.

2.  LEAVING EARLY:  Andy Stanley says “Speed of the leader, speed of the team”.  It’s hard to ask big things from people if the leader isn’t personally willing to sacrifice.  This could extend to showing up late as well.  Either way, longs hours are part of the game.  Everybody wants to go home, but leaders give up the right to leave early.

3.  VENTING:  As a lance corporal I would say “bitching is how I cope”.  That worked as a lance corporal.  However, as an NCO I learned something different: “only bitch up hill”.  Leaders have the power to influence the emotional and psychological tone of the team.  No matter how bad the situation, leaders give up the right to vent frustration on those they lead.

4.  SIDES:  During group conflict it’s human nature to choose sides.  It’s a survival mechanism; none of us wants to be alone.  Choosing sides as a leader, though, jeopardizes the big picture which is getting EVERYBODY going in the same direction.  While it’s absolutely necessary to address the conflict, leaders give up the luxury of choosing a side within their team.

5.  TROPHIES:  Great leaders absorb criticism and deflect praise.  It’s easy to get that backwards. Most team failures usually point back to leadership, and good leaders know this.  Conversely, none of us achieve success entirely on our own, we always have someone to thank.  Lone-wolf leadership was debunked years ago.  Great leaders hold accolades with an open hand and give up the trophy.

Can you add to my list?  What have you given up as a leader?  (Hint:  Parents, you can make a colossal list!)

JollyRoger

Being Good could be a Bad Idea

How many times have you been told to “be good”?  Especially as a kid.  We grow up thinking that conforming to this often vague concept is the pinnacle of human development.  At the very least, conformity usually avoids negative consequences.  But let’s face it, something inside us hates being good.  We hate conforming.  Yes, human (sin) nature plays a part, but I don’t think that’s always the strongest factor at play.

What if our drift away from “good” also represents a healthy desire to distinguish ourselves?

A desire to break free from the enormous bubble of mediocrity.  Misguided, desire can lead to the break down of morality.  But what if we harness it?  Certainly the desire to be unique can drive us toward something other than “bad”.

So much energy can be spent on trying to be good that we never stop to consider becoming great!

I’m guilty of using “be good” language on my kids, and on myself for that matter.  I’m trying to change that.  Plenty of modern evidence points toward the benefit of pursuing greatness as opposed to just the avoidance of wrong doing.  A more efficient use of energy?  A better strategy for success?  It’s a slight play on words, but an interesting shift in how we might think about the good, the bad, and the great.

Agree? Disagree? How have you seen this play out in your life? I’d love to hear your story!

Brain Food

Brain Food

I love to read.  It’s the most effective way I’ve found to gain and absorb new information quickly.  I’ve probably learned more by reading in the last 10 years than by any other method.  Charles Jones said “We will be the same person in 5 years that we are today except for 2 things: the people we meet and the book we read”.  Reading is powerful.

Most of the books I read are recommendations from people I respect.  Some in my industry (church), some in my craft (creativity), and some in my faith (Christianity).  Here are a few of me recent favorites:

 

Creativity Inc“Creativity, Inc” by Ed Catmull

“Creativity, Inc” provides a glimpse into one of the most innovative creative companies in the last two decades.  Ed Catmull, then goes beyond the honeymoon phase and gives a detailed strategy for creating and sustaining creative cultures.  Everything Pixar does is team-based.  If you work with teams, buy this book!

 

 

Platform“Platform” by Michael Hyatt

“Platform” was a recent recommendation by J Warner Wallace via my pastor.  I’m a hobby blogger and only write when I feel like it, so this book is a kick in the pants!  I’m only about half way through, but it’s already creating renewed passion in me to become a better blogger.  If you have anything to say or sell, this is an invaluable resource written by an industry veteran.  I literally cant wait to read the next chapter.

 

 

Knowledge“Knowledge of the Holy” by A.W. Tozer

“Knowledge of the Holy” has been prescribed reading for our church this summer.  I’ve heard from so many that their concept of God is being challenged and reshaped.  Mine is too!  Ultimately, none of our mental constructs will ever fully describe God.  But Tozer, as he often does, does a great job shrinking the gap in our understanding.  It’s written in a slightly older style, but one that marries language and truth in a very readable package.  For Christians, the concepts contained here will challenge and stretch you, but in a very rewarding way.

 

I’m always on the look out for great books.

What have you been reading lately?  Tell me why you love it!

When in need, Create!

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I’m not a car person. I have one, but only out of necessity. I don’t ever dream of owning a corvette, can’t rattle off the year and model of everything I pass on the highway, and couldn’t care less about the latest thing with a HEMI in it. There, I said it.

In spite of that, I end up doing most of my own car work…brakes, water pump, alternator, master cylinder, etc. (although i did pay to have my transmission rebuilt). It’s because I’m cheep. Not stingy, just cheep labor…I don’t charge myself much. I guess I ended up with good mechanical sense and it pains me to pay for what I can can figure out on my own.

It’s funny how necessity breeds ingenuity.

One of the things I enjoy most about my job is the challenge of making something really cool with very slim resources. It’s a chance for team work, ingenuity, creativity, and some crazy MacGyver engineering. Okay, to be totally honest it can also be one of the most frustrating parts of my job. Certain days I wish I could just buy what I needed and save the effort. But where’s the fun (or stewardship) in that?

So on that note, I thought I’d share some of my favorite examples of team genius (at least we thought they were genius).

Here’s one that I had very little to do with beyond the concept. My good friend Will Gallagher made this for our Christmas production last year and we liked it so much we kept it. It’s a brilliant combination of the old and new. On the audience side it looks pretty much like an ordinary piano with enough wear and tear to look nice and vibey.

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But on the other side…

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It was a ton of work gutting all the original parts, but it’s a great way to have all the cool keyboard gear without looking like Styx.

Here’s another one of our faux keyboard rigs. It started life as an empty Fender Bassman cabinet owned by one of the band guys. Add in some 1/2″ MDF, a bunch of hardware, a little cabinetry work, and a couple cans of spray bed liner and…voila! Looks like a Rhodes…

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…but ain’t.

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Several years ago we switched to using low wattage tube amps on all our guitar rigs and we needed a way to keep them isolated from the stage and each other. With the help of a great volunteer, we whipped up these isolation boxes that do exactly what we need. Isolate…and I think they look cool (although nobody ever sees them because they’re backstage).

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Once or twice a year we do a major redesign of the stage. If you watch any of the award shows or concerts lately, you’ll notice a TON of warm incandescent backlighting. The fixtures are crazy expensive, so we decided to design and build our own approximations. We think they turned out great! And every once in a while, when really needed…they can totally melt your face!

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All of these projects were accomplished with very little money. In some cases the trade off was the cost of time. The light towers in particular. In the end though, with a few weekends and some ingenuity, we’re way ahead of where we’d be if we sat around and waited for the “proper resources”.

Creative people are all over – creative parents, creative mechanics, creative cooks, creative accountants (the non-criminal kind). How has necessity inspired creativity in you? I’d love to hear your story!