Learning After Doing

From July 12, 2010

On Saturday I took my 4 year old to pick up dinner for our family at the closest fried chicken restaurant. I noticed a button that the ladies working behind the counter were all working. “Yes! is the answer. What’s the question?” When I thought about it, that simple button describes a great attitude.

An old mentor of mine used to tell his customers that when they say, “Jump,” he asks, “How high?” in response while already in the air. The attitude that he always had was one of a servant, willing to respond to the needs of others with a willing and joyful heart.

Do I have that attitude for my customers? For others that I work with? For those that work for me?

Strategic Planning

There is a Proverb that I often hear translated, “without a vision, the people will surely die.”

We had a great conversation last week about what that means. Does it mean that we need a vision at work so that we can get engaged with it in a fresh way, with everyone working together toward a common unifying goal? This certainly seems to be the example of Nehemiah.

Or, does it mean that we will personally die without some kind of personal vision about what we specifically will be doing at work?

I think people want direction. I certainly have wanted direction. I wanted and want a vision. I want to know where we are headed. I want to know why we are going there. I want to be part of a team that is making improvements, developing, and making a selfless impact on the world.

But that is a double-edged sword. As quickly as I get it, I think that I can make something of myself by achieving that vision. I think that I can be more valuable as a person, prove myself to others, and find satisfaction through my achievements. The fruit of my labor becomes my idol.

The dilemma starts when I fail. What does this mean for me when I fail? Do I have no worth? Am I dissatisfied? Am I unproven, washed up, and a FAILURE?

As a Christian, I know that all of this is false. My identity is secure in Christ. I have every spiritual blessing already in me because of Him. I am somebody. I am worthy. I am valuable. I can be fully satisfied. All of this is through none of my merit; it is only through grace. It has all been given to me.

So how does a leader provide vision but protect his team from the risk of turning the vision into an idol?

Many days I feel like I just lead. I cannot prevent or protect people from heart issues. They have to experience it. I can talk and teach on it, but our team needs to discover it on their own.

My hope is that they succeed fully and discover that success does not provide any of those deep needs that we all have. Walking away empty, maybe then they will turn to understand that our work cannot satisfy. Not ever.

John 4:13-14 “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.”

Review: Doc

Most guys love the movie Tombstone because Val Kilmer plays (so well) the classic, cold-blooded, smooth, sophisticated, well-dressed, Southern gentleman. If you are like me in that regard, then you’ll probably enjoy the historical fiction, Doc, by Mary Doria Russell. The story line brought me into the South prior to and during the Civil War. Then, I followed Doc out West in a time when entitlement programs weren’t available and every man was on his own to survive. The author did a great job of drawing me into the scenes and helping me feel like I was witnessing history unfold. The history was just as much about what was going on around Doc (on local, national, and global scales) as well as his personal struggle while tuberculosis began waging its war on Holliday’s body.

What did I take away? Loyalty and chivalry are values that transcend time in Western culture. I love the character of Doc because he stayed by Wyatt Earp. I grew to love and appreciate Wyatt because he acted with respect and courtesy, like a gentleman should. The development of that relationship (which gets played out in Tombstone) reveals deep desires in me to be like them. Not the killing part, but the manhood part. Loyal. Chivalrous.

Review: Communicating for a Change

It took over 6 months for me to clear the stack of books and finally crack this book open by Andy Stanley. At the core, this book presents Andy’s method for crafting an effective sermon each week. The first half is an allegory and very effectively shows a need and some steps for more effective communication. The second half is more of a detailed guide through preparation and message construction for the communicator.

There are 5 steps: Me-We-God-You-We.

There are 5 questions we need to ask:

  • What do they need to know?
  • Why do they need to know it?
  • What do they need to do?
  • Why do they need to do it?
  • How can I help them remember?

And, one of my favorite applications from the entire book: make one point. Keep it simple and help folks realize their need for one thing and provide practical application based in scripture to address that need.

Review: The Things They Carried

This war story written by Tim O’Brien was a strange book for me to read. My mind swirled between disbelief, sadness, “Oh My Gosh”, and “Holy Cow!” I never really knew how to feel inside. Dismay at the reality of war. Confusion about what I would do if I were making the decision to commit our citizens to fight in a Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. I think this book is complex on an emotional level because war is simply complex.

Often in a true war store, there is not even a point, or else the point doesn’t hit you until twenty years later, in your sleep, and you wake up and shake your wife and start telling the story to her, except when you get to the end you’ve forgotten the point again.

I wish I had read this book before. I have always had a fascination with Vietnam. I loved Vietnam movies (We Were Soldiers is one of my favorite movies) and television shows (Tour of Duty still ranks in my top 3 television series.) I loved the victories but never understood what it meant to date a girl and then be shipped across the world and not have a cell-phone or e-mail or twitter to stay in contact; and then hope she would wait. War is complex. Life is complex. Everyday I learn how complex it is. This book helped me understand that even better.

Review: As I Lay Dying

“Because I am a country boy because boys in town. Bicycles. Why do flour an sugar and coffee cost so much when he is a country boy…’Why aint I a town boy, pa?’ I said. God made me. I did not said to God to made me in the country.”

Some good friends and I have been debating pride and humility recently. When I read this in Faulkner’s novel set in Mississippi, I shuddered with humility for where God made me. I was born in the USA. I was born on the right side of the tracks. I was born in the majority. I was born with some modest athletic abilities. I’m not bragging. No, I am humbled because all of what I have and who I am came by the gracious hand of God.

But why? Why would I be given these and the little boy who “God made me in…” the country, or poor, or in sub-Saharan Africa, or wherever, not be given them?

Pride says that I have caused my position on my own. That’s the egocentric perspective. Faulkner reminds me that I am here by God’s grace (and those in the worst starting places can do extremely well). I need to humbly walk that way.

But the egocentrist and the little boy who talks but does nothing have pride in common. Humility says dust that off, thank God for the breath of life in us, and get up and get to living. Get to serving. Get to growing. Get off our high horse, help the next guy, be good stewards of these gifts, and do something with the talents given to us.

Review: The Sojourn

While I don’t know what caused me to pick up this short novel by Andrew Krivak, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It was a quick read but one that I felt guilty for not taking time to soak in the words and elegance of the sentences that the author put together. This was no easy read with light sentences where fast-paced skimming passed muster. It was more of a romance between the reader and the novel, grabbing me and asking me to feel the emotion of the first-person character who experienced so much.

My key take-away from this is that the other side has innocent, but guilty, figures just like our side. Innocence or guilt is often decided by victory in war. In leadership, I must no only consider our side and our people, but their side and their people. So many of us are simply pawns in a game played by others. If ever I come across someone on their side, I would do well to remember that while they may have fought for the opposing team, they were acting in good faith, with loyalty, and committed integrity.

Review: Unbroken

I haven’t enjoyed such a riveting non-fiction since reading The Long Walk, but I believe that this story of a World War II prisoner of war is better. I took three key take-aways from this recounting by Laura Hillenbrand:

  1. Preparation is Key. Understanding the risks and preparing for the worst outcome will provide the safest and most secure route to success. The journey will never be perfect and our preparation for the bumps will determine our ability to make it to the finish line.
  2. Attitude is Everything. No matter how nasty life gets, our ability to remain mentally fresh with an positive attitude will provide strength to our body and our companions. As soon as our attitude turns sour, so will our lives.
  3. Unresolved Issues Destroy. Not forgiving someone causes bitterness in my soul and that bitterness eats away until it kills me. If there are issues that remain unresolved, then I must act swiftly to get them resolved.

Review: That’s a Great Question

A newer friend gave me this book in the Spring and it sat on my coffee table for a couple of months waiting for the right time to be read. With the subtitle, “What to Say When Your Faith is Questioned”, I expected it to be apologetics from cover to cover for the Christian faith. Instead, Glenn Pearson presented methods for strengthening our personal perspective on Scriptures.

My key take-away from the book is that Mr Pearson helped me to realize the critical nature of personal bias when we are faced with answering questions. These “filters” cause us to go into the problem-solving state with a slant that can limit my (or others) ability to objectively consider all of the options. Going forward, I need to have the discipline to understand both my filters and others’ filters so that we can work through them and get to the best answer.

While this is no page-turner, it is written for the layman like me who enjoys reading and being provoked to think but isn’t full of big religious words. I walked away enlightened and helped by the author who did a good job of weaving together personal stories and faith-defending principles.

Review: Leading with a Limp

After spotting this on a reading list by Jeremie Kubicek, I figured it would be a good option for reading at the beach. My plan for the beach was relatively simple: keep a leadership/self-help/knowledge book going at a pace of a couple of chapters a day and power through some fun or thrilling fiction (hopefully historical). If I could learn to whistle loudly while doing reading, be fully committed to playing in the ocean with my children, and find some local seafood, it would be a perfect vacation week.

I have grown to hate self-help books. Sure, the content is generally good. But as a good friend said last week, “how many more leadership books can be written?” I bet I was given a dozen this year and the general message is the same. Just sitting here, I wonder if I could come up with the 3 most important leadership books someone should read (in addition to the Bible.) I think my most referenced are Good to Great, The Servant, and the movie We Were Soldiers got to keep thinking. I like plenty more but I’m not sure they bring new material.

Leading with a Limp is solid leadership reading. The author, Dan Allender, reminded me of many of the things I should be doing and gave a fresh perspective on being a humble leader.

The most influential element of the book is in creating an honest, open environment in an organization. The “reluctant leader…creates an environment of open debate that honors differences and where no one fears reprisal.” “A bullying leader tends to silence all opposition…A controlling leader always gets what he deserves-the bare minimum and conformity without creativity.”

Allender suggests that honesty won’t come for me until I am willing to be honest with my team. If I am not certain about the future, then don’t “spin” the situation to look like I am in control and know everything. If I am concerned or uncertain or confused then I don’t need to lie and tell people that I am perfectly knowing about it all. If I act like I am in control, then folks will expect to come to me to get an answer because I know it all. Instead, if I am humble and willing to let people know that I am not all-knowing, all-seeing, all-understanding, then they are more likely to help bring solutions.

Personally I am challenged to reconsider how I engage others at work. Being honest, I have worked hard to prove to others that I deserve my position. In my heart, I am scared for others to think I have my job because I am the boss’s son-in-law. So, I work hard to know as much as I can know and to make great decisions so people will look up to me. After reading this leadership book, I was challenged to live true humility and let others in on what they probably already know. I don’t know it all. I can’t make all the decisions. And, I’ve made some bad ones. Until I can be honest with them and in front of them, then we’ll never have an environment where they can flourish and we can work as a team to tackle the big challenges and fan the flames of Tip Top Poultry.

So, while I dreaded reading another leadership book, this one presented a message that I needed to hear.