Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Parent’s Nightmare: Lessons from an 11 year old’s bike accident – Part 1

Yesterday was a day I will never forget. My oldest son had just left on his bike for the bus stop, and I was firing up my laptop next to my other two sons while they ate breakfast. All of a sudden, in the dark, someone started pounding on our door and frantically yelling for help. We quickly came to find one of our neighbors who rushed to tell us that our son had just gotten hurt badly on his bike. My wife and I quickly changed and took off.

We arrived to find many neighbors we didn't know circled around our son. He wasn't moving, his eyes were shut, and he was lying in a large pool of bright red blood. Needless to say, this was not a scene I was ever planning on seeing. Some neighbor ladies began consoling my wife as I knelt down and started talking to him. He responded immediately but didn't move or open his eyes. One of the neighbors had his right hand wrapped in a towel while applying pressure. They told me that the ambulance was on its way. I noticed a disturbingly deep laceration on his right knee that had gone unnoticed. Knowing we needed to act quickly, I talked to my wife and she quickly gained her composure and went to sit beside our son as I went home to change and get ready to ride with him in the ambulance. One of our neighbors took our younger boys to school and then my wife joined us at the hospital.

From 8am to 6:15pm that night we met many doctors, nurses, and hospital staff in fact we spent half the day at one hospital and the other half at a second one due to the severity of the wound on his knee. I won't go into the gross details of the day, but all-in-all he got 10 stitches on his right hand and 17 stitches on his right knee. The pain he endured between getting his wounds cleaned out, to countless pulling and pushing of the lacerations to the severe testing of his knee joint would make the toughest person squeamish. He was AMAZING.

As I've started reflecting on yesterday's events some lessons and insights have begun to surface. I'm going to share one in this entry and another in the following entry. Here goes:

When my son hit the pavement and saw that the back of his right hand was completely split open, he started screaming. Some of the surrounding neighbors came out of their homes and found him on the ground rapidly losing blood by the second. What's interesting is that they weren't the first to find him. At least one car saw him and drove right by. We only knew one of the neighbors that helped our son that day. We didn't know the man who found him. We didn't know the man who called 911. We didn't know the lady who brought out a blanket to cover him. We didn't know the man who stood in the middle of the road to warn oncoming traffic to be cautious and slow down. What compelled those people to help our son – a neighborhood boy they didn't even know?

Meeting new people can be a challenge at times. We typically establish new relationships with caution because we want to guard ourselves. I know when we moved into our community we didn't go to the 40-50 homes on our street and insist on door-to-door introductions. Did you? Highly unlikely. How weird would that have been? I find it intriguing how something mortally urgent, scary, or tragic can immediately tear down our walls and unite us. Do you remember the days, weeks, and months following 9/11?

So what is the difference? I think we get an idea when we start to try to understand the image we were created and crafted in. God ultimately wants what's best for us and desires to help us. The writings in the Bible talk about Him as our "rescuer" and how He is a "strong tower". My neighbors were rescuers and they worked to protect our son when we weren't there as if they were a strong tower. They heard him scream (which still haunts my thoughts and brings me to tears) and immediately responded. That desire to respond when someone is in need is not an accident but a real portion of us – our maker's fingerprints on our deepest parts.

Where have you had the chance to act and help someone in need? This is the time of year it seems everyone is asking for help. Many times we act like the car that didn't stop and make up excuse after excuse. But….inside of you and me is that small voice that tugs at your heart and tries to nudge you forward to act. Let's try listening to it and see where that action takes us. You want to change the world don't you? You were designed to respond. So what are you waiting for?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Narrowing the Pie Wedge

Over the years I’ve been in a lot of meetings. At times, I would force myself to come up with questions to ask, showing my engagement, because every good leader asks meaningful, thought provoking questions, right (ala Jim Collins’ Qualities of a Level 5 leader)? Yes…except when they don’t care. That’s right, I said it. Don’t get me wrong, I tried hard, but I struggled connecting my passion with the subject matter much of the time. “Why don’t I care?” I would ask myself. It made me feel ashamed. “There must be something wrong with me. All these other people ask much better questions than I do. How do they come up with these?” This remorse and confusion lasted for YEARS.

I sat in a meeting earlier this year and was a non-stop chatter box. Ideas, insight, innovation and edgy creativity were oozing all over the place. I was on a roll and it was fun! When I was driving home, I started reviewing the meeting and asked myself, “What in the world happened? I didn’t even have to think! How did I come up with stuff? I was automatic!” I never had to strain or manufacture a question in order to feel that I did my part. Instead, it was instinctive and easy.

My oldest son started middle school in August. His day now begins earlier than it did in elementary, and I quickly realized that we’d be eating breakfast around the same time. Immediately I felt this was a divinely orchestrated opportunity for us to read, talk, and start our day together. He’s also still at the age where he wants to spend time with me. In September and October, we have focused on reading a selection of proverbs, discussing what sticks out to us, figuring out how to apply it, and then memorizing one selection a week. Our first week, we chose to memorize, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” The writer uses some blunt language “Above all else,” and “everything”. The last time I checked, there isn’t much that escapes from those terms…including disconnected meetings.

This is where the “no duh” moment comes in because the answer to my question is in the second half of the proverb. Everything I do flows from my heart – EVERYTHING. Therefore, if I am in a meeting and I have to work to engage, it means my heart is not connected to it. Our strength areas are directly connected to our heart. This is a significant litmus test for whether or not we are working directly in our zones of greatest gifting.

Recently I accepted a new opportunity within my organization. A couple weeks ago we had a strategy meeting to discuss our plan of attack for the rest of 2012 and began laying the groundwork for 2013. Not once did I need to think of a question to ask; instead, I was intuitive and intensely engaged. Why? Because this new role is more aligned with my strengths and ultimately has a direct line into my heart. My friend, Tim Elmore once told me, “As you get older, you must continue to narrow your pie wedge so that you find alignment with your strengths, your calling, and your vocation.”

Do you find yourself manufacturing questions and communication most of the time in order to keep up the appearance that you are interested, when you’re not? If you do, you’re not in an environment or a role that feeds on your strengths and connects with your heart. What sorts of interactions, tasks, or opportunities bring out your best, resulting in amazing creativity, meaningful debate, and ground-breaking innovation? Where are you “automatic”? Once you get the answer to the question, it may be time to consider narrowing your pie wedge because too much pie makes you fat and lazy.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Assessing Personal Organization: Tips for Increasing Yours and Improving Others

Have you ever had an employee who was always behind, struggled to manage their time, and couldn't prioritize if their life depended on it? What's worse is when you work for a leader who struggles with the same thing. I worked for and with people like this and it is maddening. When a person with a lack of time management and prioritization skills infiltrates a company it begins to erode trust, confidence, camaraderie, and leadership equity.

If you are a leader with this problem, it's time to get some help. This doesn't mean hire more people, instead this means to reach out to those who successfully handle competing priorities. Odds are you'll learn about their process and how they've built it to suit their personality, demands, etc. As with most things, you can't just assume that one day things will slow down or that you will have an epiphany regarding your personal organization. Humbly admit where you struggle and use your resources. If you don't, you will sacrifice effectiveness and it just isn't worth it.

If you are a leader with followers who struggle with time management and prioritization, good luck! Just kidding! I have made many mistakes over the years, but one of the more common ones in the beginning was not assessing and valuing this trait in the hiring process. Attitude, charisma, and work ethic all have value, but you have to throw personal organization into the mix. What I began to find was that I hired some great people with outstanding attitudes, but when it came down to tactical strength (prioritization, organization, and time management) those same people STRUGGLED. Once I identified this and saw the consequences, I began asking questions in interviews like, "How many emails are in your inbox right now? What do you do when you get an email? How do you organize your inbox?" It's funny how someone's email habits are a litmus test for their organizational skills.

What did I do with the people I had hired who were extremely weak in this area? My leaders and I tried teaching them how to establish methods in order improve. We showed them how to arrange their inboxes. We helped them set up systems to deal with clutter on their desks so that things weren't falling through the cracks. Sometimes it worked and other times it didn't because no matter how you slice it, strengths are strengths and most weaknesses will continue to be weaknesses (ala Marcus Buckingham). Therefore in the end, we released them into the world to be free and find something that better suited them.

So let's prioritize this and do something about it. Assess your own process (maybe you don't even have one) first and then look at your team. Set a due date for action and move. You can't just file this away for the future and forget about it. The time is now.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Thinking, Wanting & Calling – 3 Questions to Ask During Your Decision Making Process

I recently wrote about the book 10-10-10 by Suzy Welch and how her process for decision making helped me during a time of tough choices. One of the biggest challenges with difficult decisions is in acting with authenticity. You want to own your choices and feel like you're not making them to please someone else. How do you do this? You must find alignment in three areas in order to ensure your decisions are genuine and support your purpose.

The first is your mind – what do you think you should do? Of the three questions, this one is the easiest. We live in a culture that encourages us to voice our opinions, and it normally doesn't take much time to figure out what we think we or anyone else should do. If we are clear with ourselves first and understand what choice needs to be made, we will be clear with others.

The second is your will – what do you want to do? There is a difference between what we think we should do and what we want to do, but unfortunately they don't always align. What we think is typically almost a knee-jerk reaction, but what we want is a little more personal because it takes into account things like pride, ego, and selfishness. Sometimes we need to vent to someone else to fully understand what we want and hear another viewpoint. But in the end, we must own it. Without buying into your own wants you will never truly want your decision and commitment will be a bear to sustain.

The last area is probably the toughest to identify but also the most important to making and owning a decision as it provides objective clarity. It focuses on your heart –what are you called to do? Answering this question involves your purpose. We move through life every day making choices that don't necessarily involve our calling. It is when we're faced with a tough choice that we must understand our purpose and how it plays into the decision. When we made the choice to move to Florida it forced me to understand that my purpose is to be a husband and father, which is more important than running a business unit in my company. I thought we should move, over time I began to want to move, and finally I knew we were called to move.

The next time you're faced with a decision, whether it's life altering or not, see if your mind, will, and heart line up and if it's something you think, want, and are called to do. Answering the questions will promote clarity and ownership while helping to move the ball down the field.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Global Imperatives – A Call for Leadership

I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to realize that we are in the middle of a global crisis. Things are broken. As we survey the landscape of the issues in front of us, three main themes emerge. The first is the need for social sustainability. Our society continues to deteriorate. The current divorce rate is an even 50%. This means that 50 out of 100 marriages are destined for disaster before they walk down the aisle and say, "I do." Domestic violence continues to grow. Every year 3 million women are physically abused by their husband or boyfriend. The worldwide suicide rate is now up to 10.07 per 100,000 people, which is a 65% increase in the last 25 years. Someone takes their own life every 40 seconds. This means that while you watch your favorite NFL team play on Sunday, 270 people choose to end their life. The Pentagon recently released statistics to the AP surrounding soldier suicides and it is now the highest it has ever been as one soldier is ending their life every day. My family has been touched by some of these issues, has yours? In order for our society to sustain, we need change. Marriages need greater guidance, and hurting people need hope and someone to come around them in a time of hopelessness.

The second theme is environmental sustainability. I am by no means an environmental activist, but it is easy to see that we continue to abuse our planet for the sake of progress and profit. President Teddy Roosevelt had incredible foresight by creating the national park service. He saw the human appetite for more, bigger, better, faster, cheaper. We have come a long way in the last twenty years as many communities and businesses have recycling programs. In today's manufacturing environment, the EPA is stricter than ever on emissions standards, but they are merely scratching the surface. It's not just our country though as others around the world would rather turn a blind eye as they dump bio-hazardous chemicals into the local water supplies because they won't spend the money to properly dispose of them. Each one of us are stewards of this planet and are called to take care of it. The innovators of today must continue to find cleaner alternatives that put less of a stress on the planet and reestablish our global sustainability.

The last four years our planet has wrestled with our economic sustainability. Greed, immediate gratification, and our appetite for more have replaced the American attitude of saving, budgeting, and financial discipline. I love what Dave Ramsey says, "Every time I read the story The Tortoise and the Hare, the tortoise always wins." Slow and steady has been our recipe for success, but somewhere along the line we lost our patience and became undisciplined. My generation and those behind me want now what took their parents years to financially accomplish. As we watch what is happening around the world, we realize that our global economy is all connected. Sure, the "BRIIC" nations (Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China) continue to grow and develop, but the rest of the world is realizing that our best times are now behind us. Even China has struggled the last couple years with rapidly rising labor costs as their people are tired of getting paid peanuts to produce the world's commodities. Politicians love to discuss their thoughts on how to fix our issues, but they aren't economists or entrepreneurs and have never run a business. If we cannot right the ship and restore economic sustainability our children will pay a catastrophic price.

So what do we do? How do we get our arms around these issues? The word imperative means: an urgent priority; something that is absolutely necessary and must be done. In order to recapture sustainability, we have a global imperative to act. This action is found in recognizing the need for authentic leadership. Our "leaders" today dance around with their own personal agendas while trying to convince us that they are working with our best interests at heart. Authentic leadership is an identity and recognizes the need to serve, influence, and execute. It is the lens through which you view every interaction, issue, experience, and opportunity. Whether you are with your family, at your place of worship, in your community, or at your job, authentic leaders realize their calling is to lead first.

What would happen around the globe if we had leaders that acted in an authentic way? I would argue that socially, environmentally, and economically, we would be at a far different level. How do we impact these issues? It starts with you. The choice is yours to pursue a life of authentic leadership. To begin using your leadership lens every day at home, in your community, and at your job. We must elect officials that humbly reflect, believe, and act on these ideals. If we don't have any to elect, then we need the ones sitting in the background to courageously come forward. The world can't wait any longer for you to step up and lead. It's imperative!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Leadership as Identity

A few months ago I posted an entry on my own identity. A friend of mine sent me a link to an American Express commercial and it is of Duke University men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. In the commercial he clarifies the fact that he isn't a basketball coach who is a leader, but instead a leader who happens to coach basketball. This sense of identity is the difference between authenticity and pretentiousness.

So often we say that we want to be a leader or we desire a leadership role when in fact your identity as a leader must come before a title or a position. You must learn to view each interaction, circumstance, and opportunity through your leadership lens.

Knowing your leadership identity is important because if you do you will be able to lead in business, at your place of worship, and most importantly in your home. True leadership isn't circumstantial and doesn't depend on your environment. Instead, it is who you are at your core.

As my wife and I train and develop our sons we realize it is our responsibility to help shape their leadership identity. I still need the same level of assistance and receive that from mentors who consistently speak truth into my life.

I challenge you to begin viewing each interaction, circumstance, and opportunity both personally and in the world around you through the eyes of a leader and see how it changes how you view life. Check out Coach K's commercial below.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Life & 10-10-10

Once in a while God sends a book (other than the Bible) to come along side you at the right moment to help you through the tough times of life. John Maxwell refers to them as "the books that have marked my life". As many of you know, the last year has been trying for my family. I spent a weekend in the hospital the end of March 2011, Heather and the boys spent April in Michigan trying to figure out if a change in environment would produce a positive response in her battle against her sickness, and we chose to give up many "things" in our life to relocate our family to Jacksonville for Heather's health. What a year!

Last May, I saw Suzy Welch (wife of Jack Welch) speak at a leadership conference. She spoke on a decision making tool she developed. The idea addressed the problem of feeling like your life is running you and that you are just a bobber on the ocean of existence. Through her own struggles while being forced to deal with a life she hadn't chosen, she stumbled onto a concept that would change her life forever – 10-10-10.
The idea is rather simple but powerful when used to make decisions – large and small. Knowing what you value (being there for others, time with your children, having fun, etc), what are the ramifications of your decision in the next 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years? In other words, what is the impact immediately, in the foreseeable future, and in the unknown? This framework allows you to check your emotions at the proverbial door, take a step back, and calmly think through the impacts of your potential decisions.
I used this tool almost a year ago to try to wrap my brain around the impending decision to give up my position at my company, put our house up for sale, and relocate our family. Heather was way ahead of me. She was ready to go. It was me who was holding up the process. I was torn and waiting for a "sign" of what to do. Thank God for 10-10-10.

Thinking about 10 minutes, I knew that it would be financially painful going backwards. I also knew that we were young enough to recover. Knowing myself, it was clear that my ego would take a beating. I wasn't sure if I was 100% comfortable with that, but figured I was blessed with a few active mentors in my life that could help me navigate the waters.

At 10 months, Heather could be feeling better and we could have the queen of our family back. If we stayed, she could get even worse, and I dreaded the thought of living without her. I was unsure about how I'd adjust with my new role at work, but knowing how competitive I am, I figured I would find a way to succeed. The financial part scared me a bit, but when I thought about it, I knew that we would have to find a residence that fit our financial condition.

In 10 years, my hope was that we would be able to look back with confidence knowing that even though it was a difficult decision, we made the right one. Heather would be healthy again, our family would be stronger than ever, and our boys would learn countless lessons through the tough decisions we made. If we stayed, she could be gone and there wouldn't be a job on Earth that I'd take or a paycheck large enough that'd I'd exchange for life with her. There will always be money to be made, but memories and moments are priceless.

Throughout all of this I knew that if God was in it, He would not let us fail. He would provide for us financially, He would help me land new clients, and He would heal my wife.

It will be 8 months this weekend that we moved. The boys have adjusted beautifully, we live in a downsized yet cozy house with a pond full of fish in the back for the boys and me to play with, my sales pipeline is strong with relationships at potential clients that still make me scratch my head about how they came to be, and the best part is that my wife has made HUGE leaps and bounds toward a full recovery. The boys consistently share about how different she is and those closest to use continue to comment about how beautiful and healthy she looks.

I will admit that coming to the point of deciding to go for it wasn't easy. In fact, it was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had. I am thankful to Suzy, and if I were to ever have the sincere opportunity to spend some time with her, I would thank her for taking the tool of 10-10-10 and sharing it with the world. Thank you Suzy!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I am ALWAYS Right!

A friend of mine made a statement a few weeks ago and the more I think about it, the more I believe he's on to something. Pride is the root of every argument. No matter what the issue is, there is an element of pride in play. Is this true for you? I know it is for me.  Arguing and debating are fun. When I was growing up, my parents used to tease me saying I'd make a great lawyer. My point of view is consistently the best one out there. Haven't you heard?

We run into issues when we value being right more than doing the right thing. When my wife and I get into an argument, I quickly lose my focus of having a listening ear while being loving and caring. Instead, I need her to know I am right – no matter the cost. I go "all in" on my opinion and figure if I can sell myself then I should be able to sell everyone else. The danger lies when the lines between right and wrong blur and we rely on our pride to guide us. Would you rather be wrong or do the wrong thing?

What do we equate with being wrong? Weakness, losing, inadequacy, ignorance, mediocrity, being viewed as uninformed, and the list goes on. Who wants any of those labels? Not me. I think that as we age and mature, being wrong becomes less threatening. We tend to get more comfortable with who we are – our strengths and our weaknesses. Being wrong doesn't scare us as much. I function the best when I take a step back and consider what is being said. Sometimes I come to my senses and remember that there are multiple ways to solve a problem, address an issue, or achieve a goal. My way isn't the highway to enlightenment.

The next time you get into an argument take a step back and check yourself. Investigate to see where pride may be getting in the way. Once you identify It, jump back in with humility and work together for a balanced solution. Happy arguing!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fishing for Leadership

I grew up on Lake Michigan where fishing was a common activity. My parents used to let me skip school once a year to go ice fishing with a man in our church who was a trophy winning salmon fisherman. I attended college and ultimately got a job about 40miles inland, and my fishing came to a halt. My wife and I moved to Atlanta 7years ago and fishing was more of a memory than an activity.

We moved to Florida a few months ago and our backyard sits on a good-sized pond. I was excited to get the chance to get back to fishing. My boys started catching bluegill consistently, so I thought I'd test the pond a bit and took one of their fish. I put a hook through its back, attached a large bobber, and sent it out. Within five minutes I got a large strike that left me with only the head of my original fish! The boys got another fish and I sent another one out. Within five minutes, the same thing happened, only this time I got about half my fish back. I got him on a few more times, but either my line kept breaking or my hook wouldn't set right.

I quickly became obsessed with catching the fish in my pond. It became clear that I needed new line and some different hooks. I made multiple trips to the sporting goods store to ensure I had what I needed. We saw a fin sticking out of the water multiple times and tried to figure out if this was a bull shark in the wrong neighborhood.

Once I had the right equipment, the fish stopped biting. Figures, right? I kept trying to entice him with fresh, live fish, but got nothing in return. It was frustrating because I knew I wasn't crazy. The guys in my office made me a shark helmet to wear when I caught my nemesis. They thought it was hilarious, and I thought it was funny but also wanted to show them that I wasn't crazy.

Two weeks ago I decided to try smaller a bluegill and finally got a strike. I ended up pulling the bait out of its mouth. The hook didn't set. We tried another fish. This time when the bobber went down, I counted to six (my 7yr old son was right next to me), and I set that hook as hard as I could. This time there was nothing getting in between me and the fish. My 30lb test line was more than enough. The hook worked like a charm. In fact I even added a red insurance hook to utilize color. I started to bring him in and after a couple splashes figured out what I had – a catfish. It wasn't just any catfish either, it was about 35lbs!

My boys went nuts! I let my older two wrestle with him for a bit while my wife held on to them to make sure they didn't end up in the pond. We made a great memory!

When my wife and I reflected on the whole experience later, she reminded me of some great principles that translate into life and leadership:

  1. Patience – anything worth doing in life will take time and effort. Nothing comes easy. It's part of paying the price for success. Companies, teams, and big fish don't just happen. It takes focus, time, preparation, and patience to succeed.

  2. Equipment – in order to be the most effective you need the right equipment. The last time I changed my line I was 13 or 14. I would say the age of my line had a lot to do with its effectiveness. You've got to stay fresh and prepared. Your success is largely determined by your equipment.

  3. Approach – I changed hooks, hook placement, casting location, time of day, outdoor temperature, size of bait, etc. multiple times. I knew I would get him at some point. I just needed to continue to be open-minded and creative. Don't be afraid to try multiple ideas when leading people or growing business – your approach matters.

When it was all over, the memory I made with my family far outweighed the 35lbs of catfish that I took out and released back into my pond. The truths I modeled for my boys, much like the truths you model for your team, will stick in their minds forever.

Consequently, I think I've got a few big fish in my pond and that this big catfish is just one of them. I'm still hunting the fish that keeps eating half of my bait since catfish don't have teeth!



Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Humble Leadership

Leading with humility is a prevalent topic among the well-known leadership thinkers of our day. It continues to grow in popularity because we don't often see it. What we're used to seeing are people who are self-proclaimed know-it-alls who overstate the importance of their thoughts while undervaluing the opinions of those around them. Ironically, we typically miss the fact that people are attracted to those who are humble and vulnerable – especially when they're leaders.

I can easily identify with the know-it-all crown because I am a recovering one. Some days are better than others. I can't put my finger on exactly what happens, but when I get into a discussion I think my words carry more validity than the people around me. I honestly don't know why, but it is a struggle. The toughest part is learning to actually be open-minded enough to entertain ideas that are different than mine.

Here's the weird thing – there are others who I trust implicitly and I allow their opinions to completely reshape my own. Why the dichotomy? I think part of it is that I trust and respect those peoples' opinions more than my own. Their success in life demands that I listen and think about their viewpoints. It's when I run into those whose life experience I don't respect or appreciate that my know-it-all weaponry comes out in full force.

Is this a good thing? No. Do I need to work on this? Yes. I need to work on it because I need to embrace humility. As Pat Lencioni once said, "Being humble doesn't mean you're always popular." I struggle with this too because I like to be known. I love attention as long as it's positive. Who wants negative attention? No one. Being humble doesn't mean I cave to every opinion, but instead it means that I interact and view others in a different manner. It is true that you can't give what you don't possess. Therefore, I want my know-it-all voice to get smaller so that I can live in humility. I recognize that I'm not the smartest, wisest, most successful person on the planet. If I truly embrace that thought, I need to live like it, but writing is easier than living.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Work Hard and Flex Your Muscles in 2012

Another year ends and another year begins. I like endings and beginnings that are positive and produce growth, progress, and success. When they don't, the effort put forth feels like a waste.

When you think about it, hard work is productive no matter the outcome. Every time a muscle flexes and works it gets a little stronger. When it isn't used it shrinks and dies.

How will you "flex your muscles" in 2012?