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!)


Underating Simplicity

It seems the nature of things to drift toward complexity.  The MacBook I’m typing on is anecdotal proof.  Turns out I’m quite fond of complexity.

There’s just something about a bazillion individual pieces all churning harmoniously along together that gives me a giant nerd-smile.

And that’s my problem…at least more often than I’d like it to be.  Because I find beauty in complexity, I forget about simplicity.  Too many times I’ve been challenged with “It doesn’t have to be so complex”, only to respond with “Yea…but it’s cooler this way”.  Somebody point me to the nearest Complicators Anonymous meeting…

A few weeks ago we found ourselves creatively exhausted after the prep and execution of Easter.  We put a ton of time and energy into “The Grand Undoing”, and just didn’t have the juice to dive into another ball-busting design process.  On top of that, the next series promo had to air the week of Easter, so we were actually doing these two projects consecutively.  Our creative team of 5 usually works 4-6 weeks out, meaning we’ve got 2-4 weeks to concept, design, and produce content.  However, given the Easter rush, we had just 1 week to go from concept to completion.  Somebody came up with the idea of going low budget (original, I know).  The interesting thing is that all our projects are low (or no) budget.  We just try not to let them look that way.  So on this round we admittedly kept the look consistent with the budget…low.  Here’s our completed product for the April 2012 series called “Surviving Family”:

This ended up one of our more popular videos especially among, you guessed it, families.  A special thanks to my teammates Abel, Casey, Will, and Jana for their fantastic creative contributions.  I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to create with!

I’m now on this hunt to find ways to make what appears complex, simple; and what is simple appear complex.  Any other complicators want to start a support group with me?

Dream Crusher

I was reminded yesterday morning of just how much we as a culture abhor disappointment.  We’ve developed a hyper-sensitivity toward this brutal enemy that brazenly denies us our hopes, dreams, and fantasies.  And when do our collective defenses rise quickest?  When disappointment threatens our children.  Take for instance the recent story of a young boy at a Texas Rangers game.  In case you haven’t heard about it, here’s the short version:

Three-year old attends Rangers game with parents, ball flies into the stands, three-year old wants the ball, adult couple near him actually catch it, three-year old breaks into a sob, adult couple is villainized for not allowing the three-year old to make the catch.

From what I read, the parents of the three-year boy took it all in stride.  The father actually defended the couple when interviewed by the press.  However, the TV production staff was not so reasonable.  Between the commentator, producer, and camera operators the televised case was made that these ball snatching grown-ups were despicable people…because they dared disappoint a child.  Furthermore, it appears there was an expectation for the couple to surrender their trophy!

I don’t want to overreact, but to me this is a serious problem.  We’ve begun a systematized attack on one of the greatest educators in the natural world.  How many lessons can be learned simply by the harsh reality of an unrealized desire?  Isn’t that what drives us to work harder?  When disappointment exists without dilution it becomes the catalyst for greatness!

Take it away, especially in children, and they never learn to push through, dig in, take the bull by the horns and triumph.

I believe a parents removal of childhood disappointment often has nothing to do with the child and everything to do with the parent.  We struggle emotionally with our kids letdown – the pouty lips, quivering chin, huge tears.  It tugs at our heart strings and we respond by eliminating the sad situation.  This not only removes the child’s sadness (and by extension ours), but it also makes us the hero – “Mom & Dad, the great deliverer of dreams”.  It’s easy to see why the cultural pattern has developed.

We can all probably agree that culture is unlikely to change.  Which makes it all the more difficult for parents to be the champions of reality.  We’ll need tougher skin, concrete values, and plenty of love and encouragement to dole out when disappointment invades our families.  No doubt it’s tough, but the long term pay off is huge, and someday, I believe the next generation will look back and be grateful.

The art of painting targets

For the past several months my small group has been studying the book “Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours” by Dr. Kevin Leman (Amazon).  On the cover (pun intended), it appears to be a study in developing a more stress-free form of parenting.  And while that may be true, I think it would be better described as a family leadership guide.  Here’s what I mean.  So much of leadership, in or outside the family, comes down to the matter of clarity – clarity of expectations, clarity of systems, clarity of vision.  According to the book, successful parenting is not so much about cajoling/forcing/manipulating/bribing our kids in a certain direction, rather it’s about painting the target and encouraging them (through positive and negative consequences) to shoot for it.

I believe the concept holds just as much weight for leadership outside the family.  This is something I appreciate about my boss.  He’s a painter.  Not in the spirit of Michelangelo, but a painter nonetheless – a target painter.  As an artist and leader of artists, it’s incredibly liberating to fully understand the expectation…and the accompanying boundaries.  If you’re like me, you’ve probably received some “general direction” leadership at some point in your life.  It can seem liberating, but ultimately here’s the problem: while a target has not been communicated, you will be gauged against that unspoken target.  Great leaders are experts at painting targets, but even the worst leaders have expectations.  Bad leaders just don’t communicate and clarify the expectation.  So while looking like freedom and room to run, it ends up being the rope that hangs you.

With this in mind, I’m on a quest to be the “king of clarity”.  My family deserves it, my fellow artists deserve it, and my teams deserve it.  First on the list, clarity in my own head.  Sounds like another blog post…


Dear younger self – part 1

I read one time that most people struggle to define themselves during their 20s.  Finally figure out a few things in their 30’s.  Really begin to capitalize on their knowledge in the their 40’s.  And realize the maximum return on their intellectual investment in the decades that follow.  I can only speak toward 2 of those decades, but from my perspective, it seems pretty accurate.

Frankly, I’m hoping this will be the last decade I look into the past and have to admit I knew absolutely NOTHING.

So as 40 looms ever closer, I thought I’d jot down a few things I’ve learned in my 30’s that were epic fails in my 20’s.  Here comes the awkward…

1) Being the leader doesn’t mean I get to be a butt-hole

Yes, yes, I know.  It’s hard to believe, but in fact true.  Somewhere along the line I came to believe that being a leader meant trampling those I was leading.  Whether it was a completely rude approach to a legitimate issue, or just a narcissistic stab at personal servitude, I was in it for myself.  Sadly, this was no more evident than with my family.  During my many loud and aggressive rants, I would often notice the sympathetic glances of onlookers directed at Karrie and the kids (just McKenzie and Mason at the time).  And in true form, I’d play it off as insignificant and bask even more proudly in my great “leadership ability”.

With heavy incredulity and a weighty sense of embarrassment, I gladly leave those days behind.

Not that my baggage doesn’t ever get the best of me, but when it does I recognize it for what it is – a character flaw.  I’ve learned that leadership has more to do with giving up certain rights rather than bankrolling them.  And while it’s an ongoing process, the impact so far has been significant.  My kids are happier, my wife feels more secure, and from time to time folks might even say I’m enjoyable to be around.

Got a similar story?  What was it that made you begin the change?