Leadership 101: Lesson #2

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Lesson #2: Leaders Love Others

not about  youAs leaders, we do too much and love too little.  Yes, love.  That’s exactly what I said.

Okay, maybe you’re uncomfortable with the “L” word in a leadership context.  So, what if we use the “C” word – Care….Or, the “A” word – Appreciate. Would that make you feel better?

I still choose the word love.

The greatest leaders I ever had in the Marine Corps loved me and I knew it. I knew that they would sacrifice themselves for me or the misson at hand.  That type of love served as an unbreakable bond for some of the best units I ever served with.

vinceI once read an article about Vince Lombardi, the iconic, hard-driving, tough football coach. The author had attempted to show a sneak peek of the person behind the coach, the person who was passionate about growing each team member in a highly intimate and personal way.  On separate occasions, each of the former players surprised the writer with a very similar sentiment about Lombardi; “I have never been so loved by someone outside my family.  We all knew he would do anything for us…anythingWe would go through walls for this man.”

Coach Lombardi earned the right to drive his team to the limit, because his intense drive was balanced by his equally intense love for each man.  He awakened in his players the respect, drive, and love he held within himself.  When people know that a leader loves them great things are possible.

When I think of a leader’s love I am also reminded of Army Captain William Swenson. On September 8, 2009, Swenson was part of an operation to connect the Afghan government with native elders in the Ganjgal Valley in Eastern Kunar Province in Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.

capt-swensonAccording to the U.S. Army’s detailed Official Narrative, Swenson’s force was ambushed at about 6 a.m. by as many as 60 insurgent fighters who soon surrounded the column on three sides. Swenson called for air support and with two comrades crossed 50 meters of open space under direct enemy fire to administer life-extending first aid to his severely wounded sergeant.

When the column was surrounded by enemy fighters that advanced within 50 meters, Swenson responded to Taliban demands for surrender by throwing a hand grenade, an act of defiance that rallied his men to repel the enemy advance.

Swenson and his men moved his sergeant and the other wounded to a helicopter for medical evacuation before returning to the enemy’s “kill zone” for at least two more trips in an unarmored vehicle to evacuate additional wounded.  After the 7 hour firefight had ended, 15 coalition soldiers were dead.

What most people don’t know, is that Swenson is considered the only living Medal of Honor Awardee to have a portion of his actions captured on camera. The event was captured by two different MedEvac crew members and shows each crew member’s perspective of events spanning the same time period.  (You can see the video here but keep reading below first!)

What makes this video so special is not the dust, the bullets, or the chaos, but the actions of a leader. At about the 4:10 mark you can see Swenson lean over, look at his wounded soldier, and gently kiss his forehead.  It would be the last time he ever saw Sergeant Westbrook…he died soon after the ambush.

The army’s official account makes no mention of the kiss Swenson gave one of his men. But that one act explains everything about true leaership…..

Lesson #2: Leaders Love Others

Leadership 101: Lesson #1

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not about you

(Throughout my career in the military and now in the ministry I have been blessed to work with some amazing leaders. After reflecting on what they have taught me I have written a short series called Leadership 101.  The aim of this series is to share a few simple short lessons on leadership traits and principles.)

Lesson #1: It’s Not About You

I remember the day I was promoted to Captain a friend and mentor who pinned the bars on my collar looked me in the eyes and simply said, “Remember, today is not about you.”

This was not the first time I had ever heard this lesson. It was engrained in my brain from the first day I attended boot camp and I was continually reminded of it by the personal examples of the many Marines I served with. The classic manifestation of this is that in the Marines, leaders eat last. (I wrote about that here). That tradition set the leadership tone for each unit I served with.

While learning and preparing for leadership roles is an inward exercise requiring self-reflection and personal discipline, the actual practice of quality leadership is entirely an outward exchange. This change in perspectives is often the biggest challenge for leaders. As Jack Welch, former CEO of GE once said, “The day you become a leader, it becomes about them. Your job is to walk around with a can of water in one hand and a can of fertilizer in the other hand. Think of your team as seeds and try to build a garden. It’s about building these people, not about the gardener.”

But when I truly reflect on this lesson, I am reminded of Marine First Lieutenant Nathan Krissoff. On 9 December 2006, Nate was killed in an IED attack while supporting 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in al-Amariyah, Iraq. At his memorial service his parents shared the last letter they received from him about a month before:

nate“…My success will be gauged by the responsibility to lead my Marines and accomplish the mission, not by any other metric. I’m lucky to be deploying with such a phenomenal, savvy group of guys. I choose this and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s not about me.

Love you guys, Nate”

Nate chose a path that was hard for him and for his family, on behalf of the rest of us. His family members, while suffering the unimaginable pain caused by Nate’s death, doubled down on national service. His brother, Austin, accepted a commission as a Marine officer just days after Nate was killed. Their father, orthopedic surgeon Bill Krissoff, was inspired by Nate’s service to the extent that he sought and received an age-waiver from President George W. Bush to join the Naval Medical Corps at the age of 62. He deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in honor of his son.

Leadership Lesson #1: It’s not about you…..

Leaders – Instead of New Year’s Resolutions Do This!

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nonewyearsresolutionsWe inch closer to Jan 1st.  We feel the excitement of a New Year.  We reflect on our report card from the previous year.  Then we sit down and make our New Year’s Resolutions.  I don’t know about you but I have never been too good at this.

As leaders I challenge you to pass on the temptation to make another list of New Year’s Resolutions.  Instead I want to ask you a question that will hopefully compel you to spend some time thinking of your New Year in a different light.

“Who is responsible for your leadership development?”

I’ll ask you again, “Who is responsible for your leadership development?”

Did you have to think about that for a minute? I did the first time I was asked that question and actually had to provide an answer.

We all know the answer….we just don’t want to say it.

Repeat after me, “I am responsible for my own leadership development.”

We don’t like that answer because of what it implies.  If I am responsible for my own leadership development I should actually have a plan. Ouch!

I have experimented with many different versions of a personal leadership development plan and found this format most useful for me: (Personal Leadership Development Plan).  Print it out today!

Here is how I put my leadership development plan on paper:

Goals:  Be specific here. Make sure your goals are observable and measurable.

Relationships:  Complete this sentence, “I will make an intentional effort to connect with these people this year…” Maybe they are someone you admire in your professional field or a neighbor you want to build a deeper friendship with.  List them by name, add their contact info, list a few possible ways to connect.

Books: What did I learn from my personal reading time last year?  What books am I going to read this year?  List them and schedule them!  Looking for a few good reads; check here.

Courses: The internet provides virtual and distance learning for almost any profession or hobby. Many of these are fairly inexpensive and can be conducted at your own pace.  Once again, be specific.  List them and schedule them.  You will be glad you did!

Conferences: Regardless of your profession, there are likely numerous events or conferences you can attend that will help build your leadership skills. A few tips here: Don’t wait for the last minute.  Do a little research.  Don’t think you have to go to the one major national conference. You may actually be able to attend via webcast or podcast instead of physically travelling to the event. Regardless, conferences take a little more time so get them on the calendar early.

Blogs: What websites or blogs will I follow for new and fresh information?

Podcasts: What podcasts will I listen to each week or month?  For me personally my commute to and from work has become my primary time for podcasts.

—–Need a few recommendations for blogs or podcasts click here——

Regardless of the format, the key is to have a plan….a specific plan.

As a leader, parent, or spouse, others depend on you. Don’t leave your leadership development to chance!

My Top Ten Others (Blogs / Podcasts / Websites) of 2015

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Last week I shared my Top Ten Books of 2015, now I want to give you a quick insight into my Top Ten Others (Blogs / Podcasts / Websites) of 2015. From my laptop to my phone, I use these resources to help make me a better leader, dad, and husband.  A few of these also provide simple entertainment and ideas for recreation.  Similar to my last post, they are not in any particular order.

podcastAll Pro Dad.   All Pro Dad’s mission is to help men love and lead their family well. From marriage advice to practical dad tips and even a pretty neat “Stuff Men Should Know” section,  All Pro Dad has something for everyone.  They routinely have quick read articles or interviews with professional athletes, business and church leaders, and regular Joes.  I typically connect with All Pro Dad via Twitter.

careynieuwhof.com. Carey Nieuwhof (the founding and teaching pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto, Canada)  has created quite a following with his blog, podcast, and books.  I am a consumer of all three of his platforms  (especially love his podcasts) and continue to learn from each of them.  Carey has a simple goal of “helping leaders lead like never before.”   For any leader in the local church, this is the place to start!

Explore Texas. From backroad diners to tips on hiking and camping spots to any and all things Texas history this blog has everything you need to explore Texas.  The blog’s author, Omar Garcia, is an experienced world traveler (gobeyondblog.com) that has now turned extra attention and efforts to capturing his adventures in Texas. If you are looking to see Texas through fresh eyes or maybe you’re considering venturing down long stretches of Texas backroads on your own – this blog is for you. Trust me, through Omar and his stories, you will certainly make a few new discoveries about the Lone Star State!

challies.com  The second Canadian on my list, Tim Chailles (it’s pronounced CHALL-eez and rhymes with “valleys” and “rallies) is the senior Pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario.  I value Tim’s blog due to its variety and daily updates.  Tim has book reviews, links to articles, guest commentaries, etc…  Tim’s passion is theology and the local church so the majority of his selections lean that way.

This American Life.  Most weeks This American Life is the most popular podcast in the country, with around one million people downloading each episode.  Primarily a journalistic non-fiction program, it also features essays, memoirs, field recordings, and short fiction. Each week’s show has a theme, explored in several “acts.” Stories are often told as first-person narratives and the mood of the show ranges from gloomy to ironic, from thought-provoking to humorous.  Although much different than the other podcasts I listen to, I have continually found myself captivated by many of these stories.

bradlomenick.com/bradblog/  Brad Lomenick is a leadership consultant, speaker, and author of The Catalyst Leader and H3 Leadership. He writes about leadership, creativity, innovation, social media, teamwork, and personal growth.  Many of his interviews are also included on the Catalyst podcast however his blog is worth following.  Brad is a high caliber leader with a lot to offer.  Check him out!

The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast.   Probably my favorite podcast to listen to!  Created by Andy Stanley (Author, Pastor, and Founder of North Point Ministries in Alpharetta, Georgia), The Leadership Podcast is designed to “help leaders go further, faster.” Made for leaders in any organization, Andy provides leadership lessons and principles in his usual simple and easy to understand way.  If you want a sampling of what a typical podcast with Andy is like take a listen to “The Question that Great Leaders Ask” released on April 30th of this year.  If you want to lead and lead well, subscribe to Andy’s podcast!

Catalyst. Catalyst seeks to “unify change makers.”   Through their annual leadership conferences Catalyst brings together hundreds of leaders throughout numerous organizations.  I recommend you take a look at their robust website for a better understanding of what they offer.  In addition to their website, I subscribe to their podcast and also have their App on my phone – both great tools.

Best of Mike and Mike Podcast.   If you know me, you know I love sports.  On this podcast, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic (Mike and Mike) break down the top news, games and drama throughout the sports world.  I have been watching and listening to Mike and Mike for over a decade. Unfortunately I don’t have the margin to listen or watch all 3 or 4 hours of their daily show so this podcast helps me stay up to date with some of my favorite sports personalities.  If you are a sports fan, tune in!

Leadership Journal. Leadership Journal is published by Christianity Today and offers smart, honest perspective on matters of ministry and the Christian leadership experience. In both its quarterly print edition and robust website, readers can count on candid articles and in-depth interviews.  The goal of LJ is to help leaders enhance their ministry, encourage community, and grow their leadership. I follow LJ on Facebook and Twitter.  These platforms provide quick reads on a daily basis.

What about you?  What blogs, podcasts, or other platforms do you routinely follow?

My Top 10 Books of 2015

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10K. Chesterton once remarked that “there is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and a tired man who wants a book to read.” This past year I have found myself floating back and forth between these two categories so the book choices below reflect that (study and leisure).

A couple of disclaimers first:

*The majority of the books I read this year revolved around leadership, church strategy, and family ministry. This list reflects that.

*These books are not in order by preference. They take on many different styles so I choose not to rank or compare apples and oranges.

*Most of these books are faith based books written by authors with a Christian worldview. However some of them (and others I read this year) are not. Several of these books are thoughtful accounts of history, leadership lessons, and practical life hacks. They will be profitably read through the lens of an intelligent Christian worldview, though the books themselves are often not written from such a worldview. To quote Al Mohler, “The world needs more careful Christian readers, who can read honestly, reflectively, thoughtfully, eagerly, and well.”

Leadership Axioms: Powerful Leadership Proverbs. Bill Hybels.  Hybels is the founding and Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois.  He has become known worldwide as in expert in training Christian leaders to transform their communities through the local church.  I have read many of Bill’s books and this possibly ranks as my favorite (Courageous Leadership is excellent as well).  In this book, Bill provides 76 Leadership Proverbs that can (and should) be used by leaders in the marketplace, military, and ministry!  This would be a great book to walk through with the key leaders of your organization.

Be a Better Dad Today! 10 Tools Every Father Needs. Gregory W. Slayton.  Slayton does a remarkable job setting the tone for the importance of fatherhood.  He believes “the future of civilization depends on how we (fathers) do our job.”  With humor, empathy, common sense and stories from his personal experience, Slayton provides his “Ten Tools of Fatherhood.”  I read this book with one of my best friends.  We read a chapter every day or so and emailed each other our responses to the “For Further Reflection” section.  A group of men at our church completed it together as well.  The major draw for me was the practical and down to earth tools Slayton provides.  Highly recommend it for dads young and old.

The Mission at Nuremberg. An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis. Tim Townsend. The Nuremberg Trials were intended to bring those most responsible for the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust before a court of justice. Adolf Hitler and some of the most senior Nazis escaped the court, but more than 20 senior leaders of Nazi Germany stood trial before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. The most significant trials were held between November of 1945 and the following October. In the end, twelve death sentences were handed down against those who were found most responsible for crimes against humanity.

But a largely unknown story within that well-known account concerns Rev. Henry Gerecke, a U.S. Army chaplain assigned to the prisoners throughout the trial, and eventually to the condemned. This Lutheran minister found himself face to face with those who had plotted the extermination of 6 million Jews and had brought the world to the horrors of a global war. Even more moving, was the reality of how Gerecke faced the deepest personal and theological questions imaginable, specifically how much he believed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is an extremely powerful book. Consider this excerpt:

For Gerecke, the decision to accept the assignment wasn’t easy. He wondered how a preacher from St. Louis could make any impression on the disciples of Adolf Hitler. Would his considerable faith in the core principles of Christianity sustain him as he ministered to monsters? During his months stationed in Munich after the war, Gerecke had taken several trips to Dachau. He’d seen the raw aftermath of the Holocaust. He’d touched the inside of the camp’s walls, and his hands had come away smeared with blood. The U.S. Army was asking one of its chaplains to kneel down with the architects of the Holocaust and calm their spirits as they answered for their crimes in front of the world. With those images of Dachau fresh in his memory, Gerecke had to decide if he could share his faith, the thing he held most dear in life, with the men who had given the orders to construct such a place.”

Decisive. Chip & Dan Heath.  Recommended to me by my Senior Pastor, Decisive tackles one of the most critical topics in the workplace and in our personal lives: how to make decisions.  The Heath Brothers present research to suggest that our decisions are disrupted by an array of biases.  Their book revolves around what they have labeled the “Four Villains of Decision Making.”  They provide strategies and practical tools that enable us to make better choices….a key for any great leader.

Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof.  A few months ago I was on my way to work and was listening to Carey Niewhhof’s podcast.  On this day he and Reggie were discussing their book so I picked it up.  In this book, the authors describe how the two powerful influences of church and home can be combined together to widen the capacity of our parenting.  Perhaps the best chapter is the chapter on “Making it Personal.” As parents, we can’t pass on what we don’t have, and if parents are going to maximize the potential for their own kids to love and follow Jesus some day, then it must be true in their lives as well. Fairly easy read with great practical advice.

Working with Emotional Intelligence. Daniel Goleman.  This book is a follow up to his best-selling book Emotional Intelligence (EI).  Goleman continues in this work to discuss the important of emotional intelligence.  He basically states that the old days of hiring based off of IQ or proficiency alone has passed.  He presents facts and stories to show that IQ explains surprisingly little of achievement at work or home. He states that companies (and leaders more specifically) should look for people with high emotional intelligence.  He categories EI as: self-awareness, motivation, empathy, and adeptness in relationships. Although a little scientific at times, this book is a definite read for those at the executive leadership level of any organization.

American Creation. Joseph J. Ellis.  Ellis is one of my favorite American Historian Authors.  If you have never read Ellis, I highly recommend him.  He is a master story teller.  His Pulitzer Prize winning book Founding Brothers is one of my top 5 books of all time.  In American Creation, Ellis continues his examination of the last quarter of the 18th century….perhaps the most politically creative era in American history.  He spends most of the book focusing on Washington, Jefferson, and Madison; specifically analyzing their successes and failures. Overall it is a fairly easy read that will give you a greater appreciation of the “human nature” of the Founding Fathers without tearing them down.

Manage Your Day-to Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind. Edited by Jocelyn K. Glei. Super easy read!  Time is valuable.  Time is limited.  If you are like me, you try to manage your actions each day to effectively steward the time you have been given.  With wisdom from 20 leading creative minds, 99Us’ Manage Your Day-to Day helps equip you with pragmatic insights and tools for using your time wisely and making your best work.  This book was recommended by the author of a blog I follow and it did not disappoint.

Don’t Waste Your Life. John Piper.  A re-read for me.  A good friend and fellow Pastor (Omar Garcia – www.gobeyondblog.com) was recalling a few stories and lessons from this book which prompted me to read it again.  I didn’t regret it.  Piper warns us not to get caught up in a life that counts for nothing.  He boldly writes that God created us to live with a single passion: to joyfully display His love and sacrifice in all the spheres of our life.  This is a great book to start your 2016 reading with!

Counter Culture. David Platt.  In Platt’s newest book, he shows Christians how to actively take a stand on issues such as poverty, sex trafficking, marriage, abortion, racism, and religious liberty.  According to David, in a day when social issues are creating clear dividing lines, neutrality is not an option for those who believe the Gospel. Drawing on personal accounts from around the world, Platt presents an unapologetic call for Christians to faithfully and lovingly follow Christ into the cultural battlefield.  This book challenged me to look beyond the specific social issue and have a deeper understanding of who God is and how He relates to everything around us.

What about you? What are some of your favorite books of 2015.

Hunting and Life Lessons

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I love the outdoors – fishing, hiking, riding 4 wheelers, I could go on….but I especially like hunting. When Liz and I first got married I remember talking about taking our kids hunting.  I couldn’t wait for that day.  We even named our first child Hunter! (I can also share with you offline how Liz vetoed my recommended name for our second son).  Well God has been especially generous; we now have two young boys who are roosted on our family tree and are already bearing camo-clad fruit on the branches of our heritage as hunters.

hunting boysEach year we take at least one hunting trip with my father in law. The boys love hunting with their Dad and their Grandy; while my father in law and I simply love spending time with the boys.  This past week we completed this annual tradition again.  As we have now returned from our week in the woods I begin reflecting on the lessons hunting teaches my kids (and all of us).

Stay in Your Stand: Sometimes you see deer, sometimes you don’t.  Patience and endurance is KEY.  The longer you are willing to wait, to stay in your stand, the better your chances of having a successful hunt. Hunting teaches us that a lack of patience and endurance bears little fruit.

For my boys, there will be a day in their future when they will stand before a beautiful young lady and vow to be her husband. I hope they remember, like their deer stand, they should not climb out of it.  There will be great times and there will be tough times.  Hopefully they will remember, “Stay in Your Stand.”

Or maybe like me, they may find themselves standing in an airport about to board another flight for another tour in Iraq or Afghanistan and thoughts of “why am I doing this again?” pops in their head. Hopefully they will remember, “Stay in Your Stand.”

Stay Awake: Last week I read an article in a hunting magazine that stated the #1 reason why hunters are typically unsuccessful is that they fall asleep during key moments of the hunt.  I personally know how hard it is to stay awake.  Arriving in the woods before sunrise and sitting still for hours is the perfect recipe for a nice nap.  Add some cold weather and bundles of warming layers and even the best hunter is tempted to close his eyes for a moment.   In its most raw ways, hunting teaches us that comfort based decisions are costly and rarely produce results.

I want my young men to know that there will be many times after a long day at work that they will want to go home and rest, to check out for a while…however their wives and kids will require time and attention. I hope they seize the moment to spend time with their family.

Throughout their life, I hope they put aside personal comfort for the sake of others.  Hopefully they will remember, “Stay Awake.”

aim 1Know Where to Aim: The first thing we always do during our hunting trips is conduct some refresher training. We go over gun safety rules, the hunting laws (what we can and can’t shoot), and most importantly, when the right time comes, knowing where to aim.  Anyone can shoot a gun, but knowing where to aim and how to hit your target makes a successful hunter.

As both my boys go through life I want them to have a crystal clear focus on where to aim. The world will present cheap targets with brief, momentary satisfaction. My prayer is that throughout the struggles and setbacks, the successes and victories, that my boys will always keep their aim on Christ and Christ alone.

There will be a day when both my boys sit in a deer stand alone….no longer needing me to supervise or assist. They will be able to make their own hunting decisions. The clock is also ticking toward that day when they pull out of the driveway and into manhood. Among the many things I hope they remember forever, I’ll add the simple hunting principles of “Stay in Your Stand, Stay Awake, and Know Where to Aim.”

Speed of Life: How Fast Are You Going?

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I love books…especially books on leadership.  One of the best ones I have read recently is called “Leadership Axioms” by Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois.  In his book, Bill provides a collection of insight and wisdom aimed at helping today’s leader.

127846878_Autobahn_412644cDuring one of these short essays Bill recalls a moment at the conclusion of a conference he was speaking at in Germany.  Bill’s translator was bringing him back to the airport and along the way they chatted about the most impactful moments of the conference.  To quote Bill, “As we made our way through a residential part of town, our conversation matched the relaxed, easy pace of our drive.”  But then they hit the autobahn.  (For those who may not know, Germany’s autobahns are famous for being among the few public roads in the world without speed limits for cars and motorbikes.)

Bill immediately noticed that the faster his friend drove, the less they talked.  He recalls that for most of the drive on the autobahn they rarely spoke at all. He somewhat jokingly added, “Instead of continuing our enjoyable conversation, we found ourselves focusing solely on dodging other cars and avoiding a crash.”

I believe there is an important lesson in this story for all us….especially during this time of year.  We add events to our week, items to our list, and begin planning for a New Year.  We don’t want to be under-achievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous therefore we overbook. Before we know it we have generated a velocity that we find hard to sustain.

Maybe it is time to slow our pace, adjust our schedule, reorder priorities, and focus on our relationships.  I know there have been seasons in my life where the health of my relationships with my Creator and my family have suffered due to the speed I had committed to.  My speed caused me to be less aware of God’s presence in my life and even less aware of my actual presence at home.  Driving on the autobahn may be fun….but it is not sustainable and it comes with a price.


I challenge you to slow your speed.  Find time to rest…Time to relax…Time to enjoy your family and friends…Time to be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46:10).

And I’m actually going to take my own advice….if you are looking for me next week, my boys and I, along with my father-in-law, will be relaxing and enjoying the view of  Southwest Texas from a deer stand.


3 Lessons From Youth Football

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It is mid-November. In my house that means we are putting the final touches on another season of youth football.  We started practices in early August and are now in the final rounds of playoffs.

football pic 2

As I reflect on our season, I don’t dwell on the wins or losses, or the touchdowns or tackles; I instead think about the 3 lessons my fellow coaches and I have attempted to instill in each of the young men on our team.

(1) A Simple Motto. We ask our boys numerous times during each practice, “What’s our motto?” They respond at the top of their lungs, “Hard Work.”  Their habit of hard work should stretch from the football field, to the classroom, to the doors of their home. We teach them to work hard not for our benefit, but because it gives them both dignity in a job well done today and the tools and character to succeed in the future as adults.

(2) Response-ability: As my good friend and our head coach Mike continually tells our boys, “It’s not if you face obstacles, but when.”  Sports provide a great avenue to teach our kids that life is full of obstacles.  In light of this, we remind our team of their “response-ability” – translation – they have the ability to choose their response to each situation they face in life.  They are not powerless when it comes to their choices.  Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, once wrote, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s response.”  It’s important our youth learn this lesson now!

(3) Identity: This is the most important lesson.  From the first day of conditioning practices to the team party at the conclusion of the season we tell our boys, “You are loved.”  Their identity is in no way tied to their position or performance on the field (for better or worse).   For the Christ-following athlete and fan, identity in Christ becomes immeasurably important at this very point. Understanding that in Jesus we are loved unconditionally (Ephesians 1:4–5), forgiven freely (Romans 4:7–8), pursued endlessly (Psalm 23:6), and given meaning and purpose that stretch far beyond the scoreboard (Ephesians 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:9) can free us to rise above the scoreboard in victory and defeat.

football picI understand and respect the debate concerning youth sports. There are healthy arguments for and against competition at young ages.  But ultimately I believe sports are a gift, a good gift, which God gave through human creativity for our enjoyment. And just like all of life, we ought to approach it with thoughtfulness, discernment, and intentionality.

From the cheerleaders who provide enthusiasm and spirit, to the parents who trust us with their boys, to my fellow coaches who sacrifice so much of their time, and most importantly to the boys we are blessed to lead, I am thankful for football season….and the lessons we all learn.

A Terrorist Attack and Trees

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Thirty-two years have passed since the largest non-nuclear explosion since World War II took the lives of 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers. At about 6:20 in the morning on October 23, 1983, a yellow Mercedes truck charged through the barbed-wire fence around the American compound in Beirut and plowed past two guard stations. It drove straight into the barracks and exploded.


Eyewitnesses said that the force of the blast caused the entire building to float up above the ground for a moment before it pancaked down in a cloud of pulverized concrete and human remains. That day was the largest single-day loss of life of Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima. It was also the deadliest attack on Americans prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

Americans were shocked at the devastation, but at the time few grasped the significance of the deadly bombing. It marked the emergence of a deadly new form of terrorism never seen on this scale.

Almost all of the 241 deceased service members were from Camp Lejeune, NC.  241 dads, husbands, and friends from one town gone in an instant…the impact was devastating to the small military town of Jacksonville, NC.

Beirut_Memorial_1Today, near the entrance to Camp Johnson, a subsidiary base of the Camp Lejeune complex, a memorial wall is nestled among the Carolina pines. The Beirut Memorial Wall, completed on Oct. 23, 1986, bears a list of those Americans who died in Lebanon. Only four words are inscribed on the Wall: “They Came in Peace.”

The Marines lost at Beirut are also remembered in another way. Soon after the attack, a middle school class in Jacksonville decided to raise money for a memorial for the Marines. The money they raised was used to purchase 241 trees.


As you drive down Highway 24 (Lejeune Blvd) into the entrance of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, you may not notice the center lane lined with 241 Bradford Pear Trees, one for each man lost.

What many don’t know is that on the other side of the world there is a matching set of trees. In 1992, the director of the Haifa, Israel USO coordinated the creation of a memorial park that included 241 olive trees.  The trees lead to an overpass on Mount Carmel looking toward Beirut.

Col. Charles Dallachie, who was a survivor of the Beirut Bombing once wrote, “For Marines, great victories, great defeats and great sacrifices are never forgotten, but are remembered with battle streamers attached to unit colors. Unfortunately, there are no battle streamers to remember the ultimate sacrifice made in 1983 by Marines, sailors and soldiers in Beirut, Lebanon.”

He is correct, for the Marines lost at Beirut there are no battle streamers..there are only trees.

Leadership Minute: Leaders Eat Last

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“Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.”

During my career in the Marine Corps, I had the privilege to serve a few tours in the training and education community. The purpose of our job was to screen, train, and evaluate prospective and newly commissioned Marine Officers. While on one of these tours, our command had a group of college educators from the nation’s top universities visit us. Like many other groups before them, the purpose of their visit was to find out what made the Marine Corps’ version of leadership so unique and effective.

After providing a few classes on Marine Corps’ History, Core Values, and Basic Leadership, we would then take them to a “field evolution” to observe training. To put the final touches on Marine leadership, we would typically conclude the day by allowing them to observe the most high speed, intense training event of all……chow time.


See when you are with Marines gathering to eat, you will notice that the most junior are served first and the most senior are served last. When you witness this act, you will also note that no order is given. Marines just do it.

At the heart of this very simple action is the Marine Corps’ approach to leadership. Marine leaders are expected to eat last because the true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of leadership comes at the expense of self-interest.

Out of all the leadership training, books, seminars, blogs, etc… available to us today, perhaps the simplest and most easily-actionable idea is to simply take the initiative to take better care of the people on our team.

I learned a lot on leadership from my career in the Marines – one lesson I’ll never forget….Leaders eat last.