Leadership: Your interactions today will be the topic at dinner tonight

As a leader, you must have the self awareness to understand that every interaction you have with your team today will have an impact. Like waves that radiate from a stone thrown into a tranquil pond of water, your interaction will wash into the lives of the families and friends of your team.

Have you heard the name Stephanie Louise Kwolek? Probably not.

Kwolek was a Polish-American chemist who worked at DuPont for nearly 40 years. In 1965, she invented one of the most significant materials in modern times. This material has saved millions of lives.

Five times stronger than steel. Kevlar is an unbelievably durable material. It’s mainly known for use in “bullet-proof vests.” But, Kevlar can withstand 500 °F for seventy hours. It holds up in −320.8 °F cold.

“Kevlar is used as a material in more than 200 applications, including tennis rackets, skis, parachute lines, boats, airplanes, ropes, cables, and bullet-proof vests. It has been used for car tires, fire fighter boots, hockey sticks, cut-resistant gloves and armored cars. It has also been used for protective building materials like bomb-proof materials, hurricane safe rooms, and bridge reinforcements. During the week of Kwolek’s death, the one millionth bullet-resistant vest made with Kevlar was sold. Kevlar is also used to build cellular telephones; [Wikipedia]

At nearly 48 years old, I’ve been in the trenches and learned so much about relationships – often times the hard way.

In leadership roles, I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded. My failure file is much larger than my success file.

When asked about all the failures he experienced attempting to invent the first lightbulb, Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” In other words, Edison saw failures as vital steps toward success. I imagine Stephanie Kwolek failed a few times as well on her journey to create Kevlar.

Today, I see my failures at creating durable relationships as steps toward success. While I’m still a work in progress, I’ve at least made progress at becoming a bit better leader than I was yesterday (I hope).

As I see it, every interaction I have with someone adds credit to a relationship account. Every time I open up and allow the team into my life to see the good and bad, more credit is added to that account. Every time I can own a mistake or ask for forgiveness for doing something wrong, more credit. Every time I can celebrate with a teammate, credit. Every time, I can come along side and help them through a tough time, credit. Every time I pray with and for my teammates, credit. Every time I invest even a moment acknowledging their contribution to the mission and vision, credit is put in that relationship’s account.

My cup runneth over!

This is not about some flimsy transactional relationship model. I use the word ‘credit’ because that’s the best way I can think of to describe how to build and cultivate deep relationships on a team.

Perhaps, I’m trying to be like Stephanie Kwolek, I want to create the most durable fabric possible within the culture of my team. I don’t want to create cheap thin polyester fabric, I want Kevlar relationships – bullet-proof relationships with a lot of grace and dynamism.

Your interactions today will be the topic of conversation around the dinner table tonight.

As a leader, you must have the self awareness to understand that every interaction you have with your team today will have an impact. Like waves that radiate from a stone thrown into a tranquil pond of water, your interaction will wash into the lives of the families and friends of your team.

If you stop and think about it, as a leader, you have the power to shape the conversations long after the work day is over.

If you have such significant influence in someone’s life, don’t you think it’s important to understand the consequences of every single interaction with your team whether its verbal or non-verbal? It’s a relational stewardship – a huge responsibility.

How was your day?

Imagine someone on your team whom you lead going home after a hard day at work and sitting down at the dinner table with his or her spouse and children. Perhaps, the spouse asks, “How was your day?” The children pause eating and cast their gaze exhausted parent.

This is where your earlier interaction has the power to shape the entire evening of that family.

What if your team member responded with a description of how you ignored her or berated her over a mistake, or lost your temper, or didn’t listen, or made them feel like a cog in a wheel, or didn’t communicate something important, or allowed conflict to fester within the team?

What a sad story to tell at the dinner table, right?

That story will have a ripple effect beyond dinner. The children sharing their winning goal at the soccer game, or good grade on a math test matter very little when their father or mother is demoralized and feels unloved or unseen by their leader.

On the other hand… What if that person on your team responded to the question, “How was your day?” differently.

What if, their eyes lit up, a huge smile crossed their face, and a tear of joy moistened the corner of their eye as they excitedly shared what their leader said to them today? They tell the family how you (the leader) stopped by and took time to remind them they are important to the organization. How you said, that the project you’ve been working on for weeks matters, despite the challenges. How you thanked them for their hard work and grace with you as the leader. How you asked about their family or prayed for them on the spot!

Perhaps, you as the leader asked for forgiveness for being short or owned a mistake? Maybe, they tell the story of how you recognized their contribution or comforted them or asked for advice on an important project. What if it all you did was simply give your team member a big smile, a nod of approval, and wink of the eye just to acknowledge their contribution or a job well done?

That interaction will not only place more credit in your account, it will strengthen the relational fabric of the team – making it more bullet-proof and fire-resistant.

Most importantly, your interactions with your team today will be the topic of conversation around the dinner table tonight – and beyond.

What is the story you want told tonight?

Not a story all about you, but about how you made someone feel significant, appreciated, cared for, valued, and connected to something bigger than themselves.

That should be the story every leader should want told about them around the dinner table tonight.

So, why don’t you create that story when you go to work today? Don’t just pass by your team members without being aware that you have the privilege of shaping their story.

What that story will be is up to you. Make it a good one.

“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”
– Proverbs 22:1

Special Thanks to my mentor and coach, General David Warner (Ret.) for making me aware how my attitude and actions impact the people around me. It makes me want to be a better leader, a leader who leads like Christ.

Untended fires

From a Christian perspective, I believe the primary fire we must never allow to die out is our relationship with God.

Have you ever sat by a campfire on a cold winter night?

I’ve always enjoyed a good campfire, particularly on cold nights. I love the warmth, watching the flames release smoke like plumes of silk into the air. Fires bring warmth, light and stir something deep within my soul. There is a connection to our past. Before the smartphone, electricity and stove, there was the campfire. Man has been staring into flames for thousands of years – a campfire in some ways embodies a kind of essence of primordial humanity.

Every campfire eventually dies out if left untended and without fuel. On a cold night as the flames have ceased and embers are fading, darkness and cold encroach the once warm space. The faces of those sitting around the fire grow dark as the light fades and the chill in the air creeps through your neck and back as cold advances on the area once claimed by warmth and light. At this point, you have a choice… Let the fire die out or tend it to bring it back to full flame.

It takes discipline to leave the tent in the cold of winter to stoke the fire. But, the fire is what sustains our warmth and comfort. Tend it, stir it and care for it. A fire is either growing or dying out. At no moment does it remain static.

You and I can learn a lot from a campfire.

Because of the gift nature of creation, even a campfire has meaning and significance beyond itself. In other words, fire has an essence infused into its existence that is much fuller than its utility. I think thats why most people find enjoyment, wonder and contemplation beyond the light and warmth of a fire.

My good friend Dr. Doug Cecil once said in a seminary class, “Untended fires soon die out and become a pile of ashes.” Think about that statement for a moment. If you’ve been around a fire, you know its absolutely true. Fires die out without tending and fuel. To sustain a warm fire, it takes commitment and time. The flames must be stoked and renewed with fuel.

Now let’s apply this ‘untended fires’ idea to our relationship with God and others because I believe we can learn deeper truths about reality and relationships from a simple campfire. When our relationship with God is neglected, that relationship grows cold. The same goes for our relationships with others.

I have old friends I have not spoken with in 20 years. I don’t know where they are or how their lives have turned out. Why? Because with the passage of time the relationship has grown distant and cold due to a lack of attention and tending. Are these relationships a dead pile of ashes? Perhaps. But perhaps not. The only way to find out is to reach out to that old friend and see if there is a hidden ember beneath the ashes. Then, I can fuel that ember and possibly bring the fire back. Given, there are some fires that must be allowed to die out and become a pile of ashes. Those are unhealthy relationships. However, for the most part a good stoking and tending of an old friendship can bring light and warmth into our lives.

From a Christian perspective, I believe the primary fire we must never allow to die out is our relationship with God. By stoking and fueling my communion with my God and creator, I am able to stir a kind of eternal flame in the lives of others (potentially). For my fellow Christians, it will be the flames of fellowship, encouragement, exhortation, challenge, comfort, joy, rest, peace, love and following Christ. For those who do not know the love of God in Christ Jesus, it will be the flames that shed light on sin, awareness of darkness, cold and judgement but also the inviting warmth of God’s goodness, grace, forgiveness, rest, love and peace. Notice how the fire and warmth for both end up pointing to a loving relationship with God.

What fires need to be tended in your life?

Want to know God better?
Spend time with Him in His word – the Bible. By reading and meditating on scripture, you are renewing your mind and stoking the fire of your love and knowledge of Him. The more time you commit to fueling your relationship with the God who loves you and saved you from sin the more you will experience Him as a growing reality in your daily life. The result will be the deep enjoyment of rest, joy, love and peace regardless of how cold and dark the circumstances of life become.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

“I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8)

Want to see God transform the lives of other people and the world?
Pray and intercede for others. Reading and meditating on God’s word reside also with prayer. If reading and meditation are the fuel, prayer is the oxygen required to bring the flames alive. Like warmth radiated by a fire, the result of prayer is the transformation in the world around you – particularly those standing close to your fire. Therefore, we tend fires through prayer.

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,” (1 Timothy 2:1)

Want to experience the fullness of Christ?
Serve Him by serving others and sharing your hope in Him. Nothing ignites or reignites a fire in ourselves and others like hope. One way to share the hope you have is through serving others. Meeting the needs of others and protecting the vulnerable take you further into the Kingdom of God and draw you closer to His heart. There is also a blessing in the action of ‘doing ministry’ (John 13:17). Serving others is where what we believe intersects with our will to act. The toil can be tiresome even painful at times but you will experience a fullness and deep joy through serving and sharing. So, we can tend fires through serving and sharing.

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:17)

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

“Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” (Proverbs 11:25)

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

My hope and prayer is that you and I will attend to our relationships with God, each other and folks around us. May we remember that untended fires soon die out and become a pile of ashes. You’ll never look at a campfire quite the same again. Perhaps, you’ll see your relationship with God and others in a different light as well.

(Comment and share your thoughts below)

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Fatherhood: A Father’s Gain – Part 1

Fatherhood: A Father’s Gain – Part 1

Not quite a year had passed since my dad died (April 3, 2016) when I received a call from a close friend in tears. He was on his way to see our friend Jamon. Jamon was in the final moments of his battle with cancer.

Fatherhood ain’t easy

As with many father-son relationships, there can be seasons of distance and contention. I experienced it in my relationship with my father. But, what is so interesting about terminal illness and dying is that the pain and suffering clear away the trivialities of life. The fire of trial and pain strip away the coldness of wills and egos.

When you are in the crucible, there is no way of understanding gain as there is no way of experiencing rising when falling. The goldsmith dare not attempt to snatch up the gold while it’s in its liquid form. He must wait. In the fire of trials, we must wait.

Priceless treasure can be found when the fire dies down and the fog of grief dissipates. I think it is our duty to discover the gain. Where is it? What does it look like? What does it mean?

Later that night as I was working in my home office, I received a call that Jamon was gone. Jamon died on March 6th, 2017 at the age of 44. Although time and distance separated us, he was my friend. I began to weep. All I could do was weep – weep for the loss, weep for Jamon’s teenage son who was going to be graduating from high school soon, weeping for his parents, weeping over the memories… weeping over the laughter and good times we shared.

That is when I discovered a priceless treasure formed when my father passed away. My son, Nelson (7yrs old) quietly entered my office. He gently placed his little hand on my shoulder. Nelson recognized the tears of his father. He had seen the tears before and he was ready and willing to step into my pain.

Nelson looked me strait in the eye and said, “I am sorry about your friend Jamon dying.” He put his arms around me and held me like I hold him when he’s fallen and hurting. I hope that I hold him like he was holding me and would do well to aspire to his example.

I cried on my 7 year old son’s shoulder for a few moments. Then, Nelson backed away to look at me again and put his hand on my arm. He said, “In times like this we should pray.” So, we prayed. Then Nelson said the most profound statement any human being could make. Remember, he is 7 years old.  He said, “Dad, when someone dies, instead of being sad, we can remember them and rejoice.”

“Dad, when someone dies, instead of being sad, we can remember them and rejoice.”

I was presented with a priceless treasure in fatherhood that had been refined and purified for more than a year in the fire of my dad’s death. I had received a father’s gain.

This is not the end of the story. Here is a link to Part Two…


Read previous posts: Are you a person of peace?

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U.S. Elections: What the heck just happened?

U.S. Elections: What the heck just happened?

The US Elections are one for the history books. Here is my analysis. Please bear with me as I draw on chords that lead to what just happened in the US last night. Please understand, I’m making broad observations above politics.

A good friend of mine in Montreal Canada posted a comment on Facebook this morning. He and I are on different sides of the political spectrum. Let me provide a backdrop to our friendship.

Alex and Me - Friends from opposite ends of the political spectrum

Alex and Me – Friends from opposite ends of the political spectrum

In 2004, Alex booked me for a gig at StereoBar in Montreal. I stayed with him and his family. We all enjoyed a home cooked meal as the snow fell on the city. It was a record snowfall. GW Bush was in office. We had a lively political debate and I so enjoyed their company, I remember it fondly to this day. We tolerated each others differences and embrace each other in friendship. Both of us lost our fathers way to early. We share that loss, vigorous debate at times and a love of house music.

Alex’s Facebook post this morning (after elections):
“Urgh. Brexit, Trump – This is what happens when you continuously talk down to people who already feel that they have nothing, and are angry about it. In 2016, working class beats smirking class.”

Alex is spot on in his analysis. Remember, we are from opposite ends of the political spectrum but we find agreement here.

Regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or faith, I believe most people just want to work, enjoy family and be generally left alone. For the past 20 years, the establishment has trespassed into the lives of normal folks trying to live quiet normal lives. Trump and Sanders are what you get when the establishment starts exerting its will on everyday folks. I think ‘the Bern’ phenomenon speaks just as loudly as Trump. There has been a shift in American political culture.

I think the turnout in the US will be a study into the anthropology of a cultural shift.

What cultural shift?
Let me draw on some historical chords that stand out in my mind. I’m not positing moral equivalency here. I am simply ‘thinking out loud’ for the sake of discussion.

Baby-Boomers
The Woodstock Flower-Power generation challenged the established authority and found unity in disrupting the status quo. They activated for racial equality, freedom of speech and expression, sexual freedom and anti-war. Somewhere along the line, this movement was subverted by an insurgent movement emanating from the academy (universities). 30-40 years later, the anti-authority Boomers became the established authority in America. They eventually violated their original cause. They undermined the very freedoms they fought for in the 1960s. That was one cultural shift worth noting.

Arab Spring
In 2010, the world witnessed a populist uprising against the establishment in a few countries in the Arab world. This is still unfolding six years later. But, its worth noting, it began with everyday folks rejecting the establishment.

Brexit
This year, the UK surprised the world when it held a referendum to leave the EU. The people voted to challenge the establishment. This is still unfolding.

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump
As an anthropologist and student of culture, I don’t know what is more interesting, the Bernie phenomena or Trump’s victory. If the Bernie would have been allowed to run against Trump, I think he would have won handily (not by a landslide but handily). However, the DNC establishment wanted none of it. I know Sanders supporters who voted Trump because it’s not a left vs right thing anymore… it’s a establishment vs the people thing. Bernie brought that to light and Trump played that chord. It resonated with the people.

Bernie and Trump supporters are at opposite ends of the left vs. right spectrum. Yet, they are in agreement in their challenge to the political and economic establishment and power structure. Their means are different but they both are convinced the status quo must go.

So, here we are on the first page of a new chapter in history. As the ink spills and fills the future pages of this book, it is worth noting ‘what the heck just happened’ is not a political shift but a cultural shift. Politics and legislation are lagging indicators of the culture. The anti-establishment movement is the new establishment. Hopefully, it does not succumb like past movements.

As the Zen Master once said, “We’ll see what happens….”

Make the most of life

Make the most of life

“The tide—so faithful and so sure—offers every man, sooner or later, the chance of escaping from the tiny cove of the Here to the broad bosom of the Everywhere, from the little bay of Self, to the infinite sea of Service; and they are life’s most enviable voyagers who, when the sublime opportunity presents itself, are all alive and all alert, waiting, with oars in rollocks, to make the most of it. It is the hour of destiny. The kingdom of heaven pours its wealth into the heart of the man, who is ready when that hour strikes. He was waiting: but only waiting for the tide!”

-F.W. Boreham, ‘Waiting for the Tide’, The Nest of Spears (London: The Epworth Press, 1927), 48-57.

There are tides in life as there are in the sea. We need only to wait for them. One cannot rush the ocean’s tides, neither can rush the tides of life. I cannot face a beautiful sunrise, look at my watch and command the sun to hurry up. The sun doesn’t respond to such a foolish thing.

In all manner of life, there come opportunities. Whether in love, life or death; life has all manner of tides. When the tide comes in, there is abundant opportunity. However, in order to make the most of it, we must take our eyes off ourselves and place them on others.  The farmer enjoys the harvest by waiting for the season to arrive as the fisherman waits for the tide.

True wealth is not found in the “little bay of Self”. The real treasure of life is discovered and enjoyed in the “infinite sea of Service.” Making the most of life is about being ready and waiting for the tide. We must be ready when the tide comes by taking our eyes off of ourselves and looking toward others. In serving, we find infinite possibilities to express love and kindness.  Jesus said he came to serve.  He opened the door and we can follow his lead into a universe of overwhelming need knowing we cannot meet the insurmountable need alone. Go to where there is need and serve.  There is a voyage ahead for anyone willing.  Are you ready?

Love is – An exercise for your heart

Love is – An exercise for your heart

Love changes everything about you.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV).

Instructions: Print this “Love is” (PDF Worksheet)

Continue on your journey….