I Went to Jail Last Week (Fostercare and Freedom)

I Went to Jail Last Week (Fostercare and Freedom)

Last week I had the very unique privilege of visiting the birth mom of our most recent foster baby at the OC women’s correctional facility.

It was an experience I’ll never forget because of the sights and sounds, but really because of one moment in particular…

I was sitting at one of the visitation windows (with the concrete stool and phone-just like the movies) with my back to the glass looking at the view.

It was a very small box of an outdoor gated yard. I don’t think it’s used for anything (though it has the look of a prison yard break area), because although there is a high-rising gate, there is no doorway to enter from the building into the yard.

Stretching high above this outdoor area you can get a view of the face of the correctional facility. It’s a grey, non-descript, concrete, dreary looking facade with only slits of what must be windows cut at various places into the concrete… I am assuming these upper corridors are were the inmates are actually housed.

A place with no windows and no doors… a concrete mass as tough and hard as rock itself… from this vantage point you get the feeling like the building can’t breath…

Well imagine the people housed within it.

And that was my epiphany in this moment-sitting there with my back to the visitation window:

this place is the physical manifestation of no freedom.

For most people reading this you probably think, ‘duh there’s no freedom… it’s a prison… that’s the definition and essence of a prison…’

You may even be thinking: ‘architectural success!’ (If you’re particularly out of touch with humanity), but I assure you in that moment all the freedoms and privileges that I have been granted were suddenly thrust into penetrating pellucidity.

The week prior my wife had made the visit and came back shook to her core.

For starters, she had no idea what to expect… from parking to paperwork to grumpy prison guards, dirty, worn and cold passageways all the way down to the moment that she would meet our little foster baby’s momma.

The woman, for starters, was white. (Our foster baby is black). And from there, a list of subtle facial features and personality traits that spoke to the very hard worn path this woman must have walked. That we know she’s walked-from her own admission, court filings and the testimonies of social workers, etc.

The experience was harsh. And it’s safe to say that after a very trying couple of days already for Rylee (sick kids, sick herself, massive scheduling conflict with her husband) it was the straw that broke the camels back.

And my wife is one tough cookie mind you… she’s the same one that, while in college, did a home stay with an, I’ll say “complex,” family in Compton (while she lived in LA for a whole semester).

If that weren’t enough training and exposure to the context of how others live, she spent another stint living alone in Uganda where she spent her days tucked in crammed vans, riding on the back of motorcycles with foreign men and going to the bathroom in a whole in the ground (literally).

The prison and the people had rattled her.

Whatever Rylee’s expectation was, I had enough data points to go on for my visit the following week.

And not only that, but during the past 3 years a combination of working in our particular neighborhood of Costa Mesa while being a large church facility, has drawn in a very wide array of people from the street.

Some addicts, some mentally ill, some just merely transient. Over the years I’ve sat with them and prayed, sat with them and tried to find local services, sat with them and said, ‘no, sorry we can’t give you any money.’

But more than that, sitting with all those people I have this collection of faces-toothless and scarred and dirty and worn that have probably given me a unique insight into this mostly unseen community of people.

These folks… they’re not free. Not any more or any less than baby’s momma who’s locked up isn’t free.

Here’s my point: freedom is given and it is chosen. How we use the freedom we are given determines the future boundaries of that freedom. It can run unfettered or it can be restrained to a drop. It’s all a matter of how we invest the freedom we’ve been given.

And of course I would argue-using a Biblical worldview-that all freedom comes from God. The closer we are to him and the closer we pursue His suggested way of life-the closer we are to the purest form of freedom imaginable.

But most of us, not just these folks listed above in the more extreme examples, like to fiddle around and throw away our God-given freedoms.

Here are some ways I think we toss our freedom to the wind and some things that all leaders must be aware of in their own self-leadership:

  • We are free to chose our identities and yet they somehow are never fully committed. While we are not free to chose our race, gender or ethnicity we are totally free to chose the core convictions that form our life legacy. All leaders who wish to lead themselves well must understand that those 3 (race, gender, ethnicity) are only the foundation for everything else to build on.
  • We are free to chose the way we exercise our calling and yet most of us never really pick up our gifts and use them. How many of you even now-reading this post-resent 40 hours a day/5 days a week? Is that a joke?! Do you know what that amounts to over years, let alone a whole lifetime?!
  • We are free to channel our time, talent and treasure for the good of others yet most of us seldom ever do. Whether it’s allowing our finances to flounder into eventual garage stockpiles, endless goodwill clothes runs or even eating out 20/30 days in the month… whether it’s sharpening our God-given talent into weapons for world change… or whether it’s the ultimate irreplaceable commodity-our time. Turning all of these things into overflow so we can radically bless people outside ourselves seems to never make it onto the table.

  • We are free to build a family around a radical vision (much bigger and more complicated than to ‘ensure our species goes on’) yet most of us are content to let our kids grow up on the ‘non plan plan’
  • We are free to pray for and visit those who are sick, naked, hungry or imprisoned and yet we will go our whole lives before lifting one single finger.

The ball is in your court. What freedoms are currently being wasted in your life… or at least strongly under-invested? I would love to hear about your honest processing in this!

Don’t Ever Abdicate (3 Areas of Your Life That are Under Assault)

Don’t Ever Abdicate (3 Areas of Your Life That are Under Assault)

Recently I was reminded of one of my most profound learnings from 2016… the danger of abdicating. (And the power that exists on the other side of abdication… walking into the fullness of what you’re called to do.)

Now, I don’t know about you, but the first thing that comes to mind when I think of abdicating is someone leaving a throne room in some far off distant land or time.

And in truth, that’s probably because we relegate the term to those sole sources of history or literature where, in fact, someone is giving up or renouncing their power.

Therein lies the gist of the dictionary definition, but honestly the more I look at this world the more enthralled I become with its meaning, significance and potential.

Ab*di*cate

To formally relinquish power, office or responsibility 

[Latin abdicāre, abdicāt-, to disclaim : ab-, away; see ab-1 + dicāre, to proclaim; see deik- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

ab′di·ca·ble (-kə-bəl) adj.
ab′di·ca′tion n.
ab′di·ca′tor n.

It’s like to ‘disclaim’ away your power, office or responsibility.

As people we love to bail on our jobs & responsibilities, in so doing we forfeit the very essence and power of leadership.

The reason that this word carries such weight with me is not its Latin linguistic origins, it’s because of the word’s origins in the Bible.

Like most good ideas, this concept of calling… of vocation… of purpose and meaning comes from the Bible. The concept of what we are called into, which is fundamentally about identity, has a rich and extensive biblical reference.

And I will be your Father and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty -2 Samuel 7

I mean seriously? At first glance, we kind of take all that for granted… ‘oh yeah sure we are his children… right he is our father… what a cute little so-called family…’

Like nearly so many references in scripture I fear that the terms are almost too familiar so they are in danger of becoming too garden variety, generic or watered down.

Quick identify recap according to this foundational biblical truth: if we are his sons and daughters and he is our Father and he is also Lord Almighty-that is to say: supreme king, ruler, the sole universal source of power and authority-this means that we are his heirs, we are his inheritors, we are his princes and princesses.

We are called to co-rule, co-create, co-reign…. great power and authority has been vested in us.

So you have an identity… you also have a power… that means you have options… leverage that power or abdicate that power.

I’ve already sought to establish from day 1 of this blog that all people are leaders… leaders of themselves, leaders of their children, leaders of their household, leaders of employees and organizations. If you are a leader of some thing then great power has been vested in you.

Will you leverage the power or abdicate the power?

I figure we abdicate in 3 major areas…

1, we abdicate in our marriages

Here’s what I know:
We abdicate in the way that we don’t pray for our spouses.
We abdicate in the way that we don’t make sex a priority.
We abdicate in the way that we put other things (kids, work, hobby) ahead of our spouse.

First, notice that I strategically use the word, “we” in each of these… I’m guilty in every one of these areas. And they are ordered pretty closely as well. Prayer is always the 1st and easiest hold out. Who has time to pray?

Or if we do it is “all day… as I’m driving and walking and cooking and working”-yes that is a good and wonderful thing in the life of a believer when we can be in some sort of constant prayer, but it’s also not the same as a devoted, concerted, set apart prayer discipline. And that’s what is needed in covering our spouses with prayer…

Prayer for protection against the enemy.
Prayer for what troubles or ails her.
Prayer for wisdom, guidance, purpose.
Prayer for grace and mercy. (Hello-Kids!)

Sex. Yep, sex… Some how, some way, God smiled upon my wife and I by sending a small handful of couples into our lives really over the last 4 years who have stressed the importance of intentional intimacy as the bedrock foundation for all else in the lifeblood of a marriage.

And that’s simply the truth of God’s gift of sex: it is the forging of all other securities. This physical intimacy breads all the other intimacies needed: emotional, spiritual… even financial!

I mean think about it, you can’t (not in good conscience) come together in this intimate fashion, with things drastically at odds in those areas, but even if you have felt recent tension in one of those areas, the coming together from 2 to 1 has an absolutely mysterious and powerful effect on bridging those gaps of where we were missing each other… emotionally, spiritually and yes, even financially.

2, we abdicate in our vocation

We abdicate in our calling.

This abdication has two levels: 1, when we carelessly throw aside key aspects of our job description-our actual functional calling-we abdicate. And 2, when we refuse to carry the Light of the World with us into our individual sectors and industries we abdicate spiritually.

But when you think about it: both are bad witnesses. 1, when we show a lack of care for our work product, what does that say about our character->our heart->our God?

And of course 2, when we don’t seek to emulate Jesus in the way we act, talk and treat others while at work, what does that say about our faith being a worthy endeavor for others to inquire about…?

3, we abdicate in our parenting

It’s sad you know because recently at a group book study, when I was reminded all over again-the power of this word, I realized that our abdication has a certain unwieldy multiplying effect.

Take for example refusing to have the tough conversations with your children… hearing them, understanding them, spending time with them when you walk in the door.

Well when they-only a few years down the road-begin acting up and lashing out, how long before we finally conclude (based on even the counsel of good people) that they just need professional counseling or therapy?

(*Disclaimer: I’m not saying that therapy is bad for kids, teens and adults… of course it has its place! I’m talking about here the concept of preventable bahvior and character lapses due to OUR abdication as the primary developmental leads in the home!)

That would be a primary abdication that breeds a secondary abdication. We dropped the ball on seeing them, listening to them, sharing in process with them and then to compound that abdication we shipped them off.

Therein lies the cyclical nature of our abdication in parenting.

Abdication breeds abdication. Abdication multiplies abdication. Abdication supports and confirms more abdication!

Anytime we do not invest the time, effort and energy on the front end of things, we succumb to the assault of abdication.


But there’s a flip side because just as our abdication has a multiplying effect for weakness and loss, when we seize our God-given identities and authorities the power that comes with THAT has a radically multiplying affect too!

Where have you recently abdicated and sense the need to lean back in?

4 Leadership Learnings From United Airlines

4 Leadership Learnings From United Airlines

This past week another major leadership and organizational failing was put on display for the world to see through a 2 minute viral video (these days captured from multiple angles).

It was painfully sad to watch; hard to believe that something like this could happen in a developed, civilized, modernized, progressive, etc etc etc type of society.

But alas it did happen and with pretty immediate and broad-sweeping repercussion.

Stock values plummeted in the millions, thousands of people nationwide speaking of boycotting, celebrities make their typical noise-the whole thing very bad for business.

I want to address the learnings from this international faux pas by connecting with how United lost their way in 4 key areas.

1. They forgot that the customer is the hero.

That is to say ALL customers should be treated like they are the hero of the story.

I mean you could say they fell pretty far, pretty fast from “hero” and forgot altogether they were dealing with people… human beings, PAYING HUMAN BEINGS!

LEARNING:

If you want to get new customers, create loyal customers and generate repeat customers, your best bet is to create a narrative with the customer at the epicenter.

2. They forgot to train their people around ownership and autonomy.

The best startups these days focus on hiring and training people who can adopt company values, execute on company vision and all at the same time think for themselves the best way to serve the customer.

I was listening to a podcast this morning where one of the most legendary hotel executives of all time was saying that he would empower his staff (cooks, cleaners and managers) With $2k in discretionary allowance for serving the guest as they saw fit!

LEARNING:

The best companies do this; they devolve powers. And they can get away with that kind of trust because they have taken the time to create value, vision and buy in.

There are countless illustrations for this from Zappos and Amazon to even hospitals and mom and pop shops who have learned the beauty of training employees to make the best independent decision for the customer (patient, parishioner, etc) sometimes regardless of the employee handbook.

It’s clear from reading any one of the myriad headlines from this week, but this company (its senior leadership and thus its employees) had their heads so buried in handbooks and even unspoken standard operating procedures that they forgot what really matters!

3. They forgot what it means to hustle, innovate and determine what success looks like.

I’d be willing to guess that one reason that this company, (its CEO and thus its employees) arrived at this place, this major public screw up, is because they became fat and happy.

As you can read from this article and so many others like it, the airline along with 2 other major ones handles nearly 85% of the total market share… that right there will leave you pretty out of touch with reality.

It’s what made the idea of a so-called “boycott” so ironical because it was very clear that, at least if you want to fly in most major cities, you won’t have a choice.

LEARNING:

Can you imagine what kind of debilitating affect this has on the lifeblood of an organization?!

It’s like Craig Groeschel always says: the biggest threat to future success is current success.

They got lazy, lackadaisical and then they just got flat-out rude.

4. They forgot how to communicate like they were actually in the people business!

This is how, from a PR standpoint, the CEO can mess up 3 more times before finally getting it right.

He was so out of touch with having to defend and protect (let alone polish!) the brand that he made it worse before making it better. It took almost the entire week for him to arrive at, “I’m sorry, we were wrong, here’s your money back.”

LEARNING:

This last one affects everything from marriages to multi-national conglomerates because it’s fundamentally about ownership and repentance. The fastest way to mend a broken bridge is to call it was it is: BROKEN!

But #4 and #3 are intimately connected because when you’ve so lost touch with your vision and your customer it’s a very natural slide into forgetting even how to apologize for a gross and basic wrong.

Which therein lies the undergirding principle of every item on this numbered list: a total and complete loss of vision for what serves people best.


What’s a recent leadership learning of yours? It’s easy to point fingers at big targets like United (on blast via viral video), but it’s another thing to practice personal introspection for your last 3 screw ups and determine your course of action for proactively getting better… so I’ll ask: where are your growth opportunities?

Don’t Tear Down The Bride…

Don’t Tear Down The Bride…

Have you ever caught someone talking badly about you, your family or your employer?

When it happens around the church world, as pastors, we’ll say, “don’t tear down the bride with that kind of talk…” or “man, that makes the bride look bad”

This idea of the Church (i.e. The universal body of believers, Christians, Catholic, etc) as the “bride of Christ” has many scriptural reference points but here’s one of them:

2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. (2 Corinthians 11)

Recently I found myself getting all worked up, rehearsing all the comeback lines and talking points (all of this neurotically in my head-of course) over someone who had publicly made a whole group of people I represent look and sound bad.

My first thought was: flame war.
My second thought was: I should call someone first.
My third thought was: dangit now I can’t go pick a fight.
Finally, I thought: geeze, that really worked me up… what can I learn from all this?

And I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one who has every temporarily given into the adrenalizing nature of self-defense record straightening…

But the thing that bummed me out the most is that this individual was basically from the same team… you know like the same office, the same community or church, like someone who carries the same last name.

I’ll be more transparent: it was a comment from a local pastor about another pastor (and his church) and here I am a pastor. (Oh man this is starting to look like a horribly sad “3 pastors walk into a bar” joke…)

And that is what makes this scenario so pathetically painful… because you would expect better right?!

And in this case you expect better not just because you’re hoping that everyone thinks like you, operates like you and treats others like you. But because the team, the family, the household is all governed by the same exact commandments!

Here’s my favorite and most direct example of what I mean:

The Gospels record several instances of Jesus rescuing people from demon-possession; of all his acts and wonders it’s a very consistent thematic act of Jesus’ miraculous ministry.

So like many occasions before it, the people…  “they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.” (Matthew 12)

And of course the religious elite were envious and humbled by their inability to explain and believe Jesus for who he was.

They-the pious ones of the times-(who so often stood in opposition to Jesus’ way and words) then call Jesus out (even though-yes, they’re supposed to be on same team) and say something to this affect:

“Sure, he can ‘cast’ out demons because he gets his power from the prince of demons.”

So I guess the logic is: he must be on the devil’s side because he has the ability to manipulate and control them.

And Jesus does what Jesus does best which is to confound them with a totally logical and truth-filled thing to say:

23 Jesus called them over and responded with an illustration. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asked. 24 “A kingdom divided by civil war will collapse. 25 Similarly, a family splintered by feuding will fall apart. 26 And if Satan is divided and fights against himself, how can he stand? He would never survive. (Mark 3; Matthew 12)

Well yeah, duh… I’m not trying to be magically original or profound here, I’m just trying to let the verse speak… It says very plainly: how can we be on the same team and yet tear each other apart-the sooner we do that the sooner we and all that we stand for falls to pieces.

A kingdom divided by civil war will collapse. A family divided will collapse. An organization divided will collapse. A church divided will collapse.

Here are some learnings for me…

First, I got emotional. This was a great reminder of just how weak I am…

Now hear and understand me, I’m not suggesting that feelings are bad. I’m talking about a particular type of emotion that turns off the rational, higher functioning parts of your brain.

I was all alpha, all fight or flight, all incite a riot… and these, my friends, are a few of our favorite things, but not very helpful for a maturing leader.


Second, I was reminded of how I do NOT want to influence and lead people.

Here’s what I mean: do not mistake the catalyzing power of a message oriented around a common enemy. All good stories are born this way… hero, antagonist, plot (dramatic arch), conclusion. But I think it’s the lower and weaker road to mobilize people around an enemy rather than a common good.


Third, this affects all areas of our life. This is a motivation against common, everyday slander. Just don’t do it….

It does not serve anyone.
It doesn’t serve you or your reputation.
It doesn’t serve the listening audience and it obviously doesn’t serve the target of your verbal onslaught.

And when you at least say you believe in Jesus, and the way of Jesus was so clearly enemy love, you may have reason to pause and really begin to think about what serves your enemy. Weird, crazy, radical-I know… but that was the way of Jesus nonetheless.


Fourth, just take Jesus’ words… He says that when we do this, when we tear each other down from within the same team, we destroy ourselves. It’s self-destruction its cannibalism-it’s eating your own kind.

I think probably most Christians read the passage and think that Jesus was just talking about “them… out there”-the kingdom of darkness, the kingdom of the devil.

But using his logic isn’t it so plain to see that the opposite is true within our kingdom-the kingdom of good and peace and righteousness? If we can even call it that with a historical legacy of in fighting such as ours.


Finally, my learning is that we have to build some consensus and some mandate around refusing to tear down our own team.

And in fact what I wanted to do to this guy who was putting my people on blast was not to meet him on that silly juvenile playing field that is the internet, but instead what I immediately sought to do was get his phone number…

No-not to call and berate him or crank call or threaten his children. But to set up a coffee date. Literally. And that’s something very recent that I’ve learned, but it’s as old as time… that when you have a problem with someone you go to the source.

You don’t go to their friends or their neighbors or their competitors, you go to the source and have words-eyeball to eyeball. If we could learn to do this more, if we could have the courage and resolve to meet “the enemy” direct and remember that we are in fact on the same team, oh Lord just imagine the possibilities.

Leaving Well…

Leaving Well…

So I know this post was supposed to be about leaving well, but it turns out I had to write about something much more important: what I’m leaving with

You should consider both things, don’t get me wrong, but I think anyone can leave well. It takes a leader (as a learner) to know the blessing and benefit of what they leave with.

I’ll explain… 

At the end of the month I have a job transition and the truth is that long before this transition was eminent I knew full well that I would carry with me countless (and newly acquired) skills. However, more than that, I would take with me a deeper sense of character and relationships into the next thing. I want to share about two of those things below but first…

After nearly 3 years at the Crossing Church (a Non-denominational, Evangelical church where I worked since August, 2014), I will be leaving at the end of April to take up a new position at the church I first came from that summer nearly 3 years ago (Watermark OC Church).

It is a decision that has been weighed and measured and is still very bittersweet as we have built many relationships over those years. Relationships with staff, relationships with families and relationships with some of the most amazing volunteers and leaders in the whole world.

There are two more relationships that, while they have ended in an hourly work sense, have made an incredibly enduring impact on my life, my leadership, my view of the world, even my view God.

The first relationship is with the mission and vision of this church organization.

Which, ever since 1988-when it would have been far more radical even that it is today-has remained the same potent mix of belief in the command to reach those outside the church and actually living that command within every church program, ministry, message and person.

I have often described the mission and vision of this place as intoxicating or addictive. It’s the type of purpose or motivation that will make you want to forsake every other thing in your life to pursue. It’s that way not just because it sounds good on paper, but because the church actually lives it out.

For the past 3 years I sat in a room with fellow staff members and celebrated all that God has done and all that we witnessed-small moments of people making a subtle turn in their lives along with truly unbelievable stories of complete life transformation.

And I’ve alluded to this reality before but the proof is in the pudding as far as the types of “all people” who are welcome at this place… for starters, nonbelievers. 

From there every other type of “atypical” person you wouldn’t expect to see at church. Homeless, drunk, addicted or in recovery, gay, straight, black, white, Latino and Asian-we’ve baptized them all, we’ve sat next to them all and we’ve suggested that they all deserve the grace of God in their lives.

But it’s one thing to say and it’s another thing to do, we all know that axiom to be true, but this church-because of the mission and vision that has driven it these nearly 30 years-is the real deal.

The second relationship that has forever marked me is this church’s founding and senior leader-Tim.

It’s difficult to synthesize and communicate the ways in which Tim’s leadership has impacted me as a person, pastor, leader because I’ve watched him as closely as I could over these past 3 years and there’s so much you can learn from a person like Tim-himself an insatiable life-long learner.

The first thing though is just how entirely flat-out obsessed (possessed?) he is about playing a part in seeking and saving those who are lost.

I’ll give it to you mathematically first, but it is a universally known fact (on staff) that Tim’s given 24-hour day looks a little different than yours or mine.

For starters he invests only 5 hours in sleep.
He wakes up at 3:30am he invests 2-3 more hours working out… everyday, literally everyday.
From then on, he invests in the people and work of the Church.

I know that, for Tim, its an all out assault on seeing the mission and vision realized (i.e. to see people say yes to Jesus in every way and phase of their lives).

He takes morning meetings with newcomers and new believers as early as 6am, back to back to back 2-hour staff meetings throughout the day and he goes and goes and goes because he believes with the core of his being that living every ONE day-investing those hours in the things and people that matter most-is the highest call of any person on earth.

I’m not trying to make him out to be some sort of mini-messiah or Jesus Jr. I’m just trying to show you that the depths of this man’s care for the lost and his grit to introduce them to Jesus have now formed a piece of my own DNA and I’m forever changed because of him.

And I have a feeling I’m not the only one, by the way. Because the other thing I’ll say about Tim is that it’s all about tenure-which I wrote about a couple weeks ago, but his commitment and resolve (and I do mean RESOLVE, because being a pastor ‘aint the easiest job around… well it is, if you don’t mind knives in your back and forces of darkness on your shoulders) for the better part of 3 decades to stay the course is, to me, one of the most remarkable legacies I’ve ever heard of (and it’s filled with the new lives of people).


And while I could site loads of big conceptual things from this relationship that have marked me, I will descend to what may seem like the smallest and seemingly most insignificant example. I want to end by talking about pieces of trash…

Yep, pieces of trash. One of the things that Tim always instilled in us staff was an owner mentality. And employees who think like owners-they don’t wait for janitors or gardeners to pick little remnants up here and there, they don’t assume its someone else’s job; they pick it up, because they have an owner mentality.

I share this example for 2 reasons: 1, to illustrate the high levels of character that Tim is spreading through his example and 2, to explain what leaving well really looks like…

Because you may be familiar with the data on employees who over-stay the “two weeks notice” industry standard… it typically doesn’t work for most people… they become well… useless.

And even as my impending transition ensues and that little voice inside my head says, ‘that piece of trash doesn’t matter, you won’t be here next month anyway…’ I know what I must do in the face of what is truthfully a character challenge.

The high call of character is to answer that voice by doing the right thing. ‪The high call of character is to answer that “morally flexible” voice in your head by doing the very thing you doubt matters enough. ‬

So I know this hasn’t been the typical, take these 5 pointers/self-help blog post but I guess I would say if you are preparing to transition in your workplace begin thinking about what you’re going to take with you and I’m not talking about staplers or quality pens or severance.

I’m talking about the personal, emotional and spiritual leadership skills, takeaways, competencies and yes especially relationships-good, bad or otherwise-that you will take with you to the next stage, place and people that will serve and guide you there.

I’ve told people repeatedly over the last month that this transition is bittersweet. Bitter because of the transition from the people I love. Sweet because I have the utmost in hopeful expectation of what I get to leave with and take to the next chapter of ministry that God has ahead of me at Watermark. 

Thanks to all sincerely for taking the time and thanks for your support!

Coaching For Tenure: 5 Things My High School Coach Did That You Should Too

Coaching For Tenure: 5 Things My High School Coach Did That You Should Too

The other day-completely out of the blue-I met some random guy at a birthday for toddlers who knew my High School volleyball coach, who is a coach himself in the region and had nothing but good things to say about my former coach.

Then, literally, that night I got a text message from that very same coach-my coach from High School!

So he was just reminding me (and I imagine maybe over 300 others) about an upcoming alumni volleyball match, but I responded and then we had a back and forth over the next hour…

It was the weirdest and coolest thing and it got me thinking about rock solid, tenured coaches… and what makes a great coach.

The first confession I have (besides to humbly confess being a totally hopeless glory days guy) is that I have a huge respect for people who have committed to their calling, piece of work or particular endeavor really for any length of time over 10 years, but when you start getting into the 20+ category I’m just kind of awed.

To do something, to do one thing, do it well and do it for a long time…to me, this is one of the ultimate tests of legacy. And this applies to all given commitments: work, family, faith… over time we may become legacy leaders in them all. 

Having that chance encounter with an old coach, mentor, leader made me think of his traits… I’m hoping they are transferable for us all.

So what made Conti so good…?

He cared about character and integrity…

It was apparent to me that Conti’s main objectives were not necessarily success, winning, producing or even championships. His aim seemed to be deeper than that… he was up to something-almost like he was trying to get at something-he was a miner of character.

To this day (after 10 years!) I have no idea what his religious affiliation is, but he is one that I would put in the category of: he seems more Christian than some Christians I know. 

While I’m not laying out some form of “he was just a really good guy” moral relativism, what I will say is: you could see his heart, you could see the value he carried and his consistency in it all makes you think, geeze if only so-called ‘Christ-followers’ were as much a shining example in the world just imagine what kind of influence we could garner

The beauty of this principle is for 99% of my readers-who are not clergy by the way, who don’t work for an ostensibly faith-based organization-is that from wherever you are, you can make the intentional decision to let your standard operating procedure reflect huge amounts of character and integrity. (Which, by the way, can be an explosive platform for having faith discussions!)

He made us work our freaking tails off…

At the time I seldom ever enjoyed it, but it resulted in a section championship our senior year amongst many many other intangibles. We had 6am weight training, work in the sand in the afternoon in the off-season. And when season was in high gear it was 3-4 hour practices each afternoon/early evening. It was sprints, it was strict enforcement, it was limit-testing, it was challenging and competitive, it was a brilliant environment for testing and building grit.

I’m not a fan of over-working folks and no one is a fan of forcing people into burn out seasons, but the principle here is this: when you build the discipline and grit of ‘go long’ seasons you carry a certain resilience and character that will inform every other area of your life.

He was, and is now, simply tenured…

He’s worked for my alma mater for 22 seasons now that has produced 6 sectional championships (runner-up in another 7) and 2 state championships. But its what’s behind the facts and figures that make him the man and coach he is today: consistency and commitment… above average amounts of it I would say.

The attribute this makes me think of is follow through. As I’ve mentored men over the last couple years it’s actually been one of my favorite mantras of real manhood. I’ve tried to inspire in others the basic principle which is simply that a defining character trait of real men is keeping their word and seeing things through.

Being where you say you’re going to be, keeping commitments, showing up consistently well over extended periods of time. That’s a legacy to stand on.

Great leaders have excellent follow-through… it’s the hallmark of a tenured coach, mentor or people developer.

He kept his cool…

I don’t ever remember him becoming emotional in any kind of ill-tempered way, he never raised his voice above what a mid-game, high intensity moment required.

I have come to learn (as I’ve worked under great leaders and, conversely, seen the negative tendency inside myself) that all great leaders and coaches have a tremendous ability to remain unemotional.

And I do not mean that they don’t have or express feelings. I’m talking about crossing the inappropriate bounds of becoming angry or impatient (and hence partial, irrational… perhaps even nonsensical!); this includes the passive aggressive in us all too.

Conti wasn’t that way… In fact, what I have also learned about myself over the years is that I want to appease people through my achievement and performance. 

I, like maybe some of you, have a chronic fear of somehow ending up in my supervisor’s cross hairs of rebuke or criticism, because I did something wrong. And one of the few times that I ever I got called out on that team was when I became too emotional in the middle of a game-lashing out at another player for their mistake.

Great leaders are emotionally strong this way. Not guarded and impenetrable, but they don’t ‘go red.’ I think you get the metaphor, but actually it was a personality inventory that I was reminded of recently… it explains the processing pathway of all people when faced with pressure or stress. Everyone has different pathways and stages of arriving at an emotional level. It’s just some people flash much quicker and more directly to ‘red’… as leaders we can’t let that be us.

He took the long view…

He clearly must have understood that his job was about developing minds and young men far more than any win or championship, because even in our most rivaled and playoff losses it seemed like he had something else in mind.

It was never just about the game, it was never just about winning. It was about the journey, the development and the learning. When we showed up to practice late, we’d have a punishment but we’d also have a principle… Coach would say, “do you think when you get a real job one day they’ll just let you come in whatever time you like…?!” That was about developing us into young men, it was about preparing us for future realities. When you take the long view, it’s understanding that all this work on the ‘here and now’ is really an investment in the ‘then and there.’

I’ll put it this way: our legacies as ‘people developers’ is in the small moments. The pressing ‘here and now’ stuff in the traffic of everyday life is never just about that moment. It always has the potential to build into something much bigger, broader, deeper.

Know Your Blind Spots (3 Things All Leaders Must Work On Now!)

Know Your Blind Spots (3 Things All Leaders Must Work On Now!)

The other day I realized something about myself that isn’t really the greatest…

I was merely walking to the ATM to deposit a check when I realized how much I prize efficiency and simplicity.

From the walk up to the ATM-no one in line-to the way I pressed the buttons on the touch screen, to the way the check was seamlessly deposited then onto how I grabbed my card out of the machine smoothly and with ease slid it back into my wallet, turning and walking away from the ATM (with no time to read the “goodbye, thanks for using” message at the end)….

It was then, at that moment, that I realized how much I cherish efficiency and simplicity.

Everything about this very small everyday occurrence fulfilled my expectations for how things should be quick an easy.

Now you may say to yourself, ‘well I don’t know if those are necessarily bad things are they Ben?’ To which I would reply, ‘it depends…’

You see, if you value efficiency so much that it impacts the aggressive nature in which you drive your motor vehicle (speeding, swerving, giving nasty glares to people who somehow don’t understand basic efficiency driving etiquette), you may have a problem of over-valuing efficiency.

I’ve decided for myself, as an example, that when I get like that on the road it’s not just because I’m impatient or need to control or have ‘road rage’… it’s because I value efficiency in all things. When people, places or things become a hindrance in this smooth functioning, I feel the need to assert myself so things will get back into working order.

And it’s the same for simplicity I would say…

If you value simple things such that you are not willing to do the hard, grinding work in the office that is required for creative problem solving, system development or program implementation all because you think it has to be simple enough to explain to a 3rd grader, you may have a problem (like me *wink emoji*) of over-valuing simplicity.

Still don’t buy what I’m selling? Well then think about it in terms of the following principle (that I am 100% convinced is true for all human beings)…

Every strength, gift, talent taken to an extreme may become a weakness, problem, blind spot.

You’ve probably experienced this or watched it in someone close to you, but here’s what I mean…

We are all naturally hard-wired with a certain set of gifts, talents and strengths. One of mine, for example, is energy. I’m a naturally energetic person. I don’t really require coffee most days. I drink it anyway because its delicious and amazing, but I could probably go without it.

This energy when managed well can lead to all sorts of fruitful activity. It’s useful for leading and motivating people when it’s at its contagious best. It’s good for getting stuff done in a timely manner. It’s good for spreading passion and building culture… all at its very best.

However, in some of its more unfavorable forms this “talent” of being an energetic person can look like: A.D.D:
-the inability to focus for ver long on one task and see it through to excellence…
-talking to other people in the office (double whammy-now you’ve taken out 2 people!)
-working harder when all that’s needed is smarter…

We have a saying at the church (which is what my supervisor would be looking for from me by the way), it’s “impact over effort.”

You get the gist, but the point is that I need to spend less time spinning my wheel, running all over the office, completing this laundry list of tasks (when these maybe aren’t even the right tasks by the way!), just because it expends lots of energy (that may give the false appearance of momentum by the way)!

What I need to do is harness that energy for focused action that leads to impact, excellence and results.

Here’s the principle: we all have these blind spots. If we’re not careful they’ll go from personal blind spots to bad culture creators, momentum barriers and organizational ceilings!

So here are 3 things I recommend you do…

ONE…

Build in feedback loops... This could be 360 degree style where people (below, across and above you) are asked to assess and review you.

This could be setting up a blind feedback link where co-workers get an email then fill it out anonymously and you see the results.

Whatever you choose, it just needs to be early and often (hence the “loops” part, by the way, that means it’s build it, it’s frequent, it’s quarterly) and it has to be that way if you’re going to be healthy and growing.

This could also be hounding your significant other or friends who know you well to give you something that you can work on… their view from a ‘non-work angle’ might be the exact type of emotional feedback you need that affects every other relationship and context!

None of us no matter the age or tenure as leaders, at least leaders as lifelong learners, can say ‘we don’t need this… we are past this… or we’ve already heard all the feedback.’ The moment you resolve yourself to that type of thinking, you’ve just cemented that organizational ceiling right then and there.

TWO…

Work your plan... In other words, once you receive that feedback (which is just data-by the way-cold, hard, FREE data and you’d be a fool to reject free data), begin the difficult work of leading change…

One of my favorite quotes that we’ve picked up over the last 6 months at our organization is that, ‘you don’t need a new plan, you just need to work the plan you have!’

The suggestion is: we know something is broken within our organization and simultaneously we see a plan or system that’s working “over there” so maybe we should implement their style or plan…

The truth is: you already have a plan and it’s tailor-made for you and your organization, you just simply have to build the guts and discipline to work the plan right where you are.

Get your feedback. Work it into your plan.

THREE…

Give yourself (and others!) grace... This whole process is about humility-a very worthwhile humility because of what it will produce in all of your staff and organization-but humility is also painful. So give yourself and those around you an immense level of grace when rolling out this process.

When it comes to giving and receiving feedback, you’re really turning the corner for a healthy workplace. And around that corner, down the hall is the break room and that’s the place where people can get mean and nasty if they are not fully bought in to how this whole humble honesty thing is going to work. THAT’S why the delivery system of feedback must be grace.

When/what was the last piece of constructive criticism or feedback you received? Have you done anything in the way of self-improvement? Why or why not?