UnderdogI have always been drawn to underdog stories, especially in sports. There’s just something inviting and appealing about stories of teams who have risen from the ashes or who have achieved results that are unexpected or seemingly impossible. I’ve especially appreciated these stories when they’re about teams that I follow or people I know.

At the same time, I’m always reading books, striving to learn and know more every day. Since seminary, I had heard the name Patrick Lencioni over and over again in leadership circles. Having taken a leadership class during my time in seminary, I was drawn to concepts and principles that relate to leadership. Lencioni’s name had quickly risen to the top of my list of authors to read.

I finally cracked open Lencioni’s book “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” last weekend. If you aren’t familiar with Patrick Lencioni and his style, he writes what he calls “leadership fables.” He explains and lays out leadership principles and practices through the use of narrative. He tells a fictional story to show how these principles and practices play out in a more realistic scenario rather than simply explaining concepts.

It’s possible when something is hyped as much as Lencioni had been to me that a huge letdown will occur, but that wasn’t the case. I got hooked into the story as he described the dysfunctions of a team, so much so that I stayed up far too late trying to get to the end of the book. I soaked up everything that he had written.

Any of us who have lived and operated in the corporate world for any length of time have surely experienced a team, warts and all. Although the church environment is not corporate, the same principles can easily be seen and apply. Having served in two churches prior to the one in which I currently serve, I’ve been part of teams that showed these dysfunctions of which Lencioni writes.

Lencioni writes that building cohesive teams is not complicated but simple. The hard work is in actually making it happen. There are so many factors that go into building a team and having seen it done poorly in the past, I can appreciate so much of what Lencioni writes.

More than anything else, I realize how crucial a team leader is, whether it’s a coach, manager, captain, or whomever, their attitude can make or break a team. While ego easily plays into success, if there isn’t some amount of humility and transparency, the team will never get off the ground. The best leaders whom I’ve had have shown an equal share of competence and confidence as well as humility. Despite popular belief, those traits can all coexist.

The best teams which I’ve seen and served on are the ones that are made up of individuals who have the greater good in mind as a focus. The team members aren’t about rising up in the ranks so much as they are about seeking the success of the team or organization on which they are serving. They will easily make sacrifices if they know that those sacrifices will pay dividends for the overall team.

One of the dysfunctions that I saw early in ministry was a lack of commitment. It wasn’t that people were not committed to making things happen, it was that there was a hesitancy if not a blatant refusal to be wrong. In wanting to move forward, I saw leaders delay decisions until the planets aligned or all of the pieces fit perfectly into place. Those leaders missed an important lesson, as Lencioni describes it, “…it is better to make a decision boldly and be wrong…..than it is to waffle.”

To be honest, I would point to that lack of commitment as the demise of one specific place where I served. Instead of boldly moving forward embracing a willingness to be wrong, this leader dragged his heels and eventually watched the catastrophic failure of the vision which had been cast and a mass exodus of all who had exerted blood, sweat, and tears to get to that point.

Conversely, I’ve seen what happens when a leader takes a step out and leads with boldness, confidence, and a willingness to be wrong. People are inspired, people follow, people get on board. While there still may be fear and trepidation over the unknowns, there is something to be said about entering into unknown territory as a team rather than feeling as if you’re a lone ranger. When team members feel that they have the support and encouragement of their leader, those who are committed to the greater good will be inspired to do whatever it takes to accomplish it.

I will never forget the 2004 Boston Red Sox, the self-proclaimed “band of idiots.” While there were good players on that team, the sum of the parts was so much greater than each of the individual parts. They accomplished what had never been done in history, coming back from three games behind to beat their rival, the New York Yankees, by winning four consecutive games.

They would never have accomplished that had they all wanted to shine as individuals or had they lost sight of the end goal: to win a world championship. Every game, a different player seemed to rise up to be the hero for the day. They were aligned on their goal.

I’ve been privileged to serve with some great people on great teams. I’ve also learned a tremendous amount from having served leaders who were less than stellar in their approaches. Every experience is one to value for the lessons learned of things to do or things to avoid. I’m grateful for humble leaders, leaders who have seen my own potential and invested in me, and leaders who were always willing to “take one for the team” in order that the greater good could be accomplished.

I’m glad I’ve got more years ahead of me to practice some of the principles and lessons that I’ve learned. I’m not a leadership expert, but experts are overrated. Sharing what we learn regardless of where we reside on the ladder of leadership is a crucial part of our own growth as well as the growth of those around us. I probably overshare and tell too much of what I’ve experienced, but if it helps the people with whom I serve, than I’ve done what I’ve set out to do.

I’ve still got at least one more Lencioni book on my pile of books to read, in the meantime, I’m going to see what I can do to practice the simple principles. They’re easy to understand but they’re hard to implement and live out. Here’s to living as leaders!

On the Job Training

learningSince I graduated from college, I’ve spent two decades in two distinctly different fields of work. I graduated with a civil engineering degree and worked for consultants while I got a Master’s degree in environmental engineering.

After 10 years in engineering, I felt a call to go into full-time vocational ministry. I was called to be a pastor in a church in Asheville, North Carolina. The denomination in which I was serving did not care so much that I didn’t have a seminary degree, they were more concerned with what I believed and whether or not I really felt that God was calling me to do this. I eventually went to seminary, successfully achieving a graduate degree in both of the fields of work in which I had spent my time.

In both my engineering career and my ministry career, I experienced on the job training. Most of the things that I had to do once I started as a consulting engineer were not things that I had been directly taught in college or in graduate school. I had a great mentor for those first few years in engineering who showed me an awful lot. We got along fairly well, which was helpful considering the amount of time that we spent together.

The same was true when I went into ministry. Considering that I had not gone to seminary when I had first started as a pastor, I felt that I was even more behind the eight ball. Every week, I was reading two or three books about ministry or theology or some subject that was relevant to what I was doing. In those first few years as a pastor before I went to seminary, I was learning on the job and I was soaking in any and every nugget of information that I could find in the books that I read, the people that I met, and the experiences that I had.

My doctor while I was in high school and through college was a doctor that my parents had used for a number of years. He was a nice guy, personable and winsome with a great bedside manner. As can often be the case with those kinds of doctors, we would get to chatting whenever I would go to the office for a checkup or visit. In our conversations, I discovered as I was getting ready to go off to college that he had graduated from my alma mater, Lehigh University.

I’ll never forget what he said to me that day. He told me that he had gone to medical school up at Yale. I thought about how smart he must have been and imagined where my next move would be after college. But he told me that he had a harder time getting good grades at Lehigh than he had at Yale. I kind of scratched my head considering all that I had heard about Ivy League schools. Then he said, “The thing is, at Lehigh they taught me how to learn.” Those words always have stuck in my head, in college, I learned how to learn.

While I rarely touch on the things that I spent hours and hours studying in college, the act and process of learning were just as important, if not more so, than the actual subject matter. Learning how to learn was an important life lesson that set the way for the rest of my life.

Since that day, I’ve laughed often as I’ve taken personality and strengths assessments that tell me of my love for learning. Anyone who knows me knows that on any given day I am probably reading three or four books. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I still have to learn, but that’s not reason to give up, it just makes me hungrier to know more, not so that I can lord it over anyone or brag but so that I can engage with as many people as possible.

I love to talk with new people. I love to hear their story and to know where they’ve been and where they’re going in life. As I delve into different subjects in my life, I find that it helps me to connect with others because I can always find some common topic to vamp on for some amount of time.

I’ve been grateful to have had some pretty great work environments where I can learn as I go. I’ve had some great mentors along the way. It certainly didn’t hurt my entrance into ministry that my dad and I had a good relationship. Having served as a pastor for about 36 years by the time I became a pastor, he was a great mentor to me. I miss him every day and long to have conversations with him, to glean his wisdom, and to hear his insights and thoughts.

As I watch my children grow, I’m thrilled to see a strong love of reading in both of my boys (my daughter hasn’t reached the reading stage yet). That love of reading and of learning will help them wherever they go. I’m looking forward to the day that I can share some of the same insights that have been shared with me. If they crave learning and learn to learn, they’ll go far.

Working For the Weekend

sabbath-restThe weekend is a funny thing, isn’t it? We wait all week to get there, we work hard and keep it in our sights all week long. When it finally comes, we celebrate, we proclaim, “TGIF,” and we party like it’s 1999…….right?

Well, that may have been the case back when we were teenagers. Maybe we even carried it into our 20s and 30s, but at some point, it seems that we begin to understand that the whole purpose of the weekend was to actually rest and recreate. After all, there is a reason that some of us call the weekend a Sabbath.

Of course, not everyone does this. There are some people who simply see Saturday and Sunday as an extension of the work week. Some of those people do it because that’s the nature of their job. Others do it because they are drive, motivated, and (possibly) obsessive people.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to a room full of young moms about Sabbath. I felt a little inadequate on a few different levels, not the least of which was the fact that instead of speaking, I felt more like I should be listening to this roomful of wisdom. Young moms are a resource that more people need to encourage and tap into because of the collective wisdom that they have and can offer.

But I also felt inadequate because speaking about Sabbath rest to a roomful of women who can barely find 5 minutes to themselves can feel a bit overwhelming. The biblical mandate for Sabbath speaks of setting aside a day of rest, how could that possibly be on the radar of people who can’t think about an hour of rest?

As with so many other things in life, we don’t get there overnight. As the old adage says, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” It’s taken us a long time to get to where we are and it will most likely take a good deal of time for us to establish a new norm, a new way forward. Just because it takes time and work doesn’t mean that it’s not worthwhile though. What things have you ever found that were valuable and didn’t require work?

As I said to that roomful of moms that morning, you’ve got to start somewhere. You need to find an hour or two and fence it off. Protect it…..relentlessly. Let everyone know that it’s important to you, that you’re not to be disturbed during that time. Communicating that to infants, toddlers, and children is a challenge at best and a fiasco at worst, so enlist the help of someone else to make it happen. We aren’t alone in this and we weren’t created to be alone. Set the time aside and then make it happen.

Once you find that time and fence that time off, use that time to do the things that energize and recharge you. A Sabbath, a weekend, they’re not there for us to get ahead on the stuff that we do Monday through Friday, they’re there so that the stuff that we do Monday through Friday can be better because by the time we get back to them after some rest, we are fired up and ready to go.

I’m no expert in Sabbath rest. I’ve gone weeks without really taking some down time. Sometimes that’s a stage of life thing, but other times it’s because I’ve not relentlessly protected the time that I had set aside. No one else will protect it if you don’t. If you compromise it, everyone else will as well. That’s an important lesson that I am learning. If I set aside a day to step away and yet engage in every phone call, email, test, or social media post that comes across my path or screen during that day, I’ve said with my actions. rather than my mouth, that this time isn’t important to me.

Rest. Relax. Recharge. Find restoration. I’m learning through my limited experience that the more I take time for these things, the better I am to do the things that I have to do throughout the week, and the better I am to be around.

It’s an uphill battle, but the reward at the top of the hill is completely worth it.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

Cam Newton dejected

The Carolina Panthers were a machine and force to be reckoned with for the majority of the 2015-16 season. Cam Newton, their quarterback, alone was able to run the ball so well if he didn’t hand it off or find an open receiver. Going into Super Bowl 50, they seemed unstoppable.

And yet, somehow, they were stopped. In fact, they were made to look like a shadow of who they had been throughout the season. The pomp and attitude that had marked them, their celebratory dances and gestures were nowhere to be found while they watched their chance at a championship slowly fade into the California sunset.

Throughout the game, the ordinarily bouncy and boisterous Cam Newton seemed tired, reserved, frustrated, and unsure of himself. His confidence wasn’t there and it seemed as if someone had handed this “Superman” his kryptonite. His joyous celebrations were nowhere to be found because there was really nothing for him to celebrate

After the game, his comments were short. His usually verboseness was nowhere to be found. He seemed agitated that he needed to sit there and answer any questions at all from the media, almost like a child being forced to sit and take their punishment. Not far off from where he was sitting could be heard the celebratory cries and shouts of the Denver Broncos, the team that had bested him for the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy. With all this swirling around, Newton cut the interview short by getting up and walking out on the reporters.

Some critics have charged that it was his duty and responsibility to answer any and all questions that the reporters had of him. I’m not so sure that I agree with them. They thought his attitude was bad (which it kind of was) and that he should have answered the questions asked of him instead of getting up and walking out. He was accused of being a sore loser.

Newton has since come out and admitted to being a sore loser, because if you find someone who is content in losing, then you’ve found, he claimed, a loser. He quoted Vince Lombardi himself by saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

Remember the movie “Bambi” and the title character’s friend Thumper? Remember what he told his friends? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all!” I think it’s pretty good advice, advice that Newton most likely took to heart himself. In his moment of frustration and weakness, I think he inadvertently embraced that very phrase for reasons of self-preservation.

I know what it’s like for me to be in emotionally charged situations. I’ve come to points where I’ve needed to embrace my own need for restraint. It’s a hard thing to do. Passionate people react passionately. As a friend and colleague often says, there is a shadow side to all of the strengths that we have. While Newton’s passion and leadership shined throughout the season, that same passion and leadership could get him in trouble should he not curb it in a heated moment.

Cam Newton is 26 years old. In our culture, it seems that we expect more and more from those who are younger. We expect them to do things we never did at their age, to act differently and more mature than how we acted when we were their age. Some might even say that we are asking them to grow up faster than we did. Sure, he’s making millions of dollars, millions of people are watching him throw a leather ball around, but he’s human, no matter how superhuman he may have claimed to be throughout the season.

Going into Super Bowl 50, I was not a fan of the Carolina Panthers. I’ve grown tired of all professional athletes showboating when they perform well, and my disdain for it certainly carried over Newton and his Panthers. It helped that the quarterback which he was up against had always handled himself with professionalism and grace. But that quarterback was also 13 years his senior and had far more experience than Newton has had.

Only time will tell what Newton learned from this beating, only time will tell whether he learned a valuable lesson in that beating. Time alone is the test of the lessons that we all learn and how well we learn them.

There’s no denying that Cam Newton has talent, the kind of talent that makes rivals hate him for just how good he is, but in the humility area, he’s got a long way to go, or so it seems. I say, give him a break, let him learn through experience, in time, we’ll see just how good he is at learning valuable life lessons.