leadership

3 Lessons From Youth Football

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It is mid-November and 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 a guy I used to coach with (Mike Hernandez) used to tell our team, “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-pic-newI 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.

Leadership 101: Building the Perfect Team

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Did you know, according to data from The Harvard Business Review, the time spent by leaders and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more over the last twenty years, and almost three-fourths of an employee’s day at most companies is spent communicating with colleagues?

That is a lot of time working with others!

There are numerous reasons for this rise in teamwork and collaboration but I think it is common understanding that for many tasks, working in teams encourages faster innovation and better problem solving.

Just this week, a team I am a part of read and discussed an article on Google’s Quest to Build the Perfect Team. In 2012, the tech behemoth launched a venture called Project Aristotle, which gathered data by analyzing many studies and actually observing the way people interacted in a group.

For years Google had believed that by putting the best subject matter experts in a room would result in the best team. What their in-depth study and all the data revealed did not support that theory.'On paper we have the perfect team.'

Turns out, the key to successful groups isn’t in the personalities or skills of the individual team’s members at all, but comes from the team’s “group norms.”

So what are “group norms?”

Group norms are the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather. Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound.

Based upon the study, here are a few examples of group norms categorized by healthy or dysfunctional teams:

Common group norms for dysfunctional teams were:

– You must prove yourself. One is not necessarily a part of the team to accomplish a task or complete a project but to further their standing within the organization.

– Competition among peers. Because I must prove myself, my success and recognition is more important than the goal of the group.

– Zero tolerance for mistakes. Very few risks are taken therefore the new or good ideas can only come from the top.

– No outside social interaction. Simply put, team members do not enjoy each other’s company.

teamwork rowGroup norms of the successful groups were:

– Vision focused. The accomplishment of the mission and vision trump individual performance.  If one succeeds we all succeed.

– No competition or judging. An atmosphere of “safety” is present…where ideas can be shared and discussed without the fear of intimidation.  Everyone has a voice in the discussion regardless of title or role.

– They have fun!

– They cared for each other.

So what does all this mean for the leader? Easy answer:  If group norms are the key to successful team building, guess who can directly influence, change, and set those group norms?  You!

As a leader, ask yourself (better yet – your team members) the following questions:

– What are the group norms of our current team?

– Do my actions and example support or hinder a healthy team?

Who knows, maybe you’ll build the perfect team!

Leadership 101: Leaders Do More With Less

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We had a saying in the Marine Corps, “We have been doing so much with so little for so long that we can practically do anything with nothing.” Translation:  “Marines do more with less.”

One of the most important skill sets of any great leader is resourcefulness. It’s about realizing that you can do more with less because you and your team have more potential than you may have thought before.

more with lessIt’s about what we do when the precise resource that we need is not at hand.

It’s about how hard we look to find its replacement or to solve the problem at a difficult, maybe even overwhelming moment.

For our businesses or ministry, it doesn’t mean just exhausting every option, but finding new options that never previously occurred to us.

History shows resourcefulness has separated ordinary people from those considered heroes. It has been applied to get people out of tight spots, as in the near-fatal Apollo 13 mission. It has also been applied to change the way we travel, as demonstrated by the Wright Brothers.  Scripture too provides us with some great examples of resourcefulness. When a paralyzed man could not be brought close enough to Jesus because of a large crowd, a few of his friends put their minds together and devised a plan. Luke tells us they climbed atop the roof of the house in which Jesus stood and cut a hole in it.  This band of determined friends then lowered their buddy down in the presence of Jesus.  And whose faith did the Lord praise? Not the man with the infirmity. The resourceful characters who may have ruined someone else’s roof received the acclaim. They evidently understood what was more important than anything else at that moment in time….Jesus Christ.

In part, I think resourcefulness is a matter of attitude rather than access. A true leader wants to redefine the possible: extract greater results from the same hours or minutes, cut through the clutter of to-dos and focus on how to get real results. Because for a leader, there is no such thing as limited resources, there are only opportunities for innovation and self-realization…like cutting a hole in someone’s roof for the sake of a friend.

Leadership 101: 4 Keys to Team Building

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team-building-conceptThere’s no way to overestimate the importance of learning from the people around us. When we’re open to learning from others, we benefit from their experience as well as our own and we can inherit their wisdom and knowledge.

I learn a lot from my friends and teammates. Recently one of them, Ryan Cook, wrote an article for LEAD 222, an international coaching and mentoring ministry. In this article he shared his 4 keys to team building.   Here is an excerpt from his piece:

*Wherever you are and whatever capacity you serve in I’m going to bet you became very aware, very quickly that leadership is kind-of a big deal. Either because you experienced good leadership or you experienced bad leadership. The health of any organization, ministry, or team will rise or fall on leadership.

Early on I saw the huge impact of leadership and began wrestling with questions like:

What does a good leader do?

Am I a good leader?

Can I effectively lead others?

Can I build a winning team?

So here are a couple things I have tried to do to lead my team:

  1. PRAY – I serve with a great team right now.  It has taken four years to build and lots and lots of prayer. I asked God to bring leaders of leaders. Then I waited patiently and didn’t move until He said to.
  2. VISION – You have to lead with vision rather than tasks. Leaders follow vision and workers accomplish tasks. Invest the time to pray and seek God for His vision for your ministry. Learn how to cast vision effectively – too big and the team can get demoralized, too small and the team is uninspired. Find ways to celebrate little wins along the way and always keep the vision in front of your team. Vision leaks so YOU have to fill it up again!
  3. EMPOWER – Surrounding yourself with the right people allows you to manage lightly. I sit down with my team members each month and ask 4 questions – How are you doing personally/spiritually? What have you been working on the last month? What are looking ahead to the next month? What do you need from me? We always end with prayer. Checking in more often feels like micromanaging and checking in less often feels like neglect.
  4. STAFF FUNZIE’S – Ministry is a grind. Set aside one time a month for your team to do something fun. It could be a simple lunch, a day trip, a conference, an overnight get away or dinner at your house. Make memories and build community. Right now we have the “Year of the Burger” – so we are going to lunch once a month at a new burger spot in town. Simple but fun.

There are so many other things, but this is a good start. Leadership is a life-long pursuit. Grow as a leader and you will build a winning team. Lead with wisdom and humility and God will honor that and ministry can be a lot of fun. *

Ryan is spot on…whether in the workplace, ministry, or your local community, team building requires a keen understanding of people, their strengths and what gets them excited to work with others.   Team building is both an art and a science and the leader who can consistently build high performance teams will accomplish more than he could ever do alone.

My challenge for you today – take a few of Ryan’s keys to team building and give it a try.  I think you’ll find it worthwhile!

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

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 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.