Thursday, May 27, 2010

Broken and Hopeful

I sent the following email to a good friend of mine who is struggling. I share with you the message of the email in order to give you hope.

Thank you for the kind words. I am humbled that you consider me worthy of your trust to share in your struggles.

Remember, we are all broken and Christ is healing us. None of us have it all together. Brokenness is actually a good thing because it keeps us humble and ever desiring more of God.

However, we must not let brokenness become bitterness and lead to distrust of God and reliance on ourselves for the answers. That leads to idolatry and addiction.

Keep being humble before the Lord and trusting in him for your satisfaction.

Never give up hope, we won't always be day we shall see Jesus face to face and all this will become a dim memory. Until then though, rest in the assurance of his grace and let his righteousness flow through you. It is his blood that has already made you as righteous before God as you will ever get and it is the Holy Spirit in you that is everyday making you more like Christ in character and conduct.

We are all broken--meaning we all are a failure somewhere in our lives whether it is an addiction, a past hurt we can't overcome, a bad habit, a bad relationship, past family problems, abuse, neglect, lack of self-control, self-condemnation, arrogance, etc.

Healing can only come from the Great Physician--Jesus Christ--who took all of our brokenness upon himself and left it nailed to the cross.

So, while we are broken we also have hope. Hope that our brokenness is being healed if we allow Jesus to heal it and will be finally and completely healed once we enter eternity with him.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ernie & James Outdoor Adventures Part II

James and I took our second hiking trip together yesterday October 17, 2008. We hiked to the summit of Hadley Mountain in the southern part of the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. The trail is approximately 4 miles round trip and ascends approximately 1,500 feet from the trailhead. It was much tougher than our earlier hike to Second Pond due almost entirely to the steep elevation. Also, much of the trail was bare rock which was covered in wet leaves making footing somewhat treacherous.

View Larger Map

The view from the summit was well worth the hike though. Following are pictures from our trip.

James at the trailhead.

Me at the trailhead

James taking a picture of me videotaping him

Great Sacandaga Lake--picture taken near summit of Hadley Mountain

Fire Tower at the top of Hadley Mountain

Me at the top of Hadley Mountain

James at the top of Hadley Mountain

Monday, October 13, 2008

A good quote

I found the following quote in a classic Christian book by Thomas Cook entitled New Testament Holiness.

"If we will we may, but if we won't we can't."

There's a lot of truth here. Cook is speaking of our will to do something--without a will or desire to do we won't do it. Thus, sin comes first from a desire to do wrong before committing the act of wrong-doing.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Balanced Spiritual Life

When I go to my family doctor for my yearly check-up he tells me I need to eat right AND exercise. I have the eating right thing down pretty well--I do sneak the occasional cookie or piece of cake or pie, or a candy bar, or donut, muffin, or other breakfast pastry (nobody's perfect, right?).

It's the exercise part with which I have the most trouble. Apparently I take in more calories on a daily basis than I burn. As a result over the past several years I have gained a few more pounds than I should have. Health gurus would say I have an unbalanced physical life.

The same can be said for the spiritual life of most Christians--it is unbalanced. There are three aspects that make up the spiritual life: the first is worship, the second is ministry, and the third is discipleship. In the Rick Warren lingo it would go something like this: majesty, ministry, and maturity. I'm fine with that.

Whatever labels you apply, the principle is the same: the spiritual life needs to worship God--that is first and foremost, then the spiritual life needs to serve others in some capacity and to be served by others.

Most Christians live an unbalanced spiritual life. They are either serving in too many ministries--in physical life parlance they burn far more calories than they consume which if taken to an extreme could lead to anorexia; or they are sitting in too many Bible studies but never actually serving anywhere--in physical life they consume far more calories than they burn, which if taken to an extreme could lead to obesity.

In the church we often call people "Martha" who are busy doing ministry and never take time to be fed spiritually, or worse yet who never take time to worship God. Martha and her sister Mary were disciples of Jesus. Martha was the worker-bee type, and Mary just wanted to spend time with Jesus. Martha was so busy serving others and Jesus that she never took time to actually worship Him. And, she complained to Jesus that her sister Mary was spending too much time with Him. Luke chapter 10 records: "But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, 'Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!' To which Jesus replied, "Martha, Martha . . . you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

The opposite of Martha are those who, in modern vernacular, we call couch potatoes--they are content to sit around watching television all day but never do anything. In the church, people who are involved in very little if any service could be called pew potatoes. They are content to watch the very few workers do most of the work. They are like the third employee in the Parable of Talents who instead of investing his talent, buried it in the backyard. When the master came back the the employee had nothing to show for what was given to him. The master was angry at the do-nothing employee, took the one talent he had, and tossed the employee out. God has gifted every follower of Christ and expects us to be doing something for the kingdom of God. We cannot afford to squander what He has given by being pew potatoes.

So, which side do you fall on--Martha or pew potato? Or, are one of the few who has a balanced spiritual life: worshiping God, serving others and being discipled? This week consider where you are and make adjustments as necessary. It may involve you stepping out of areas of service so you can make time to be fed or worship God; it may involve you getting out of the pew and stepping up to serve others.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Favorite Theodore Roosevelt Quote

Theodore Roosevelt is one of my favorite presidents--he is in my top five: 1) George Washington, 2) Abe Lincoln, 3) Ronald Reagan, 4) Thomas Jefferson, 5) Theodore Roosevelt.

Following is my favorite quote by him.

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

What great thing is God daring you to do? You may succeed, you may fail. But, if God is asking you to do it, then no failure is ever really a failure.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Three More Christians Murdered in Orissa, India

The following is from the Open Doors website....

India: Three More Christians Murdered in Orissa

At least two killed today, another succumbed to axe injuries Wednesday; 400 houses burned.

NEW DELHI, October 3 (Compass Direct News) – At least two more Christians were killed today in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district after Hindu extremists this week set fire to nearly 400 homes there and in Boudh district. A third man succumbed to axe injuries on Wednesday (Oct. 1). Read More...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Ernie & James' Outdoor Adventures Part 1

James, my eleven year old son, and I took our first hiking trip together on October 4, 2008. We hiked into Second Pond which is a small pond in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. The trail is 2.6 miles one-way, so James and I hiked 5.2

View Larger Map miles before all was said and done. The day was cool (at times cold) but we kept fairly warm.

Initially we thought the trail was only 1.2 miles, so we were surprised when we got to the trailhead to find out it was actually 2.6 miles. Not a big deal, we had a great time anyway.

Following are pictures from our trip.

Second Pond Trailhead, Johnsburg, NY

James at Second Pond Trailhead

Me, getting cozy with Second Pond Trailhead Sign

James on the trail

Me on the trail

James and Me

James at Second Pond

Fall Foliage at Second Pond

Thursday, October 2, 2008

More on Fear

I previously stated "Fear is the motivation of the unrepentant heart." We fear not getting the things we want--e.g., money, fame, power, success, possessions, etc. And we fear getting the things we do not want--e.g., abandonment, punishment, rejection, etc. However, is there something more here that drives our fears? I think there is.

Below our fear of not getting what we want and getting that which we do not want I think is the fear of not measuring up. We fear
failure most of all. We fear we do not measure up to our own idea of what is good or successful; or we fear we do not measure up to someone else's or God's idea of good or successful. For instance, my root fear of not measuring up to other people's opinions of me might manifest itself in the fear of rejection or abandonment. Or, my fear of not being rich might be driven by my own idea of success. If it is true that my root fear is the fear of failure--whether in my own eyes, someone else's, or God's, then in order to overcome this fear I need to first decide whether what I am measuring myself against is legitimate.

Is measuring myself against my own idea of good and successful right? Why is my measurement correct? What if it isn't the right "measuring stick", then what? If I live my life trying to reach my own idea of good and successful then come to the end of my life and find out I was measuring myself against the wrong idea, then what?
The same is true for measuring myself against someone else's idea of good and successful--whether it is my parents, my friends, my church, or my culture. Is their measurement correct? How can I know? What if their idea of good and successful is not correct? Where does that leave me? Cultures and people differ; how can it be that cultures and people with vastly different ideas of good and successful can be correct?

Two mutually exclusive and contradictory ideas cannot both be correct at the same time. Saying, "what is true for you is good for you and what is true for me is good for me" when the two ideas of true are mutually exclusive and contradictory is not good enough. That is moral relativism and it is wrong.
Contradictory ideas can have only two outcomes--either one is correct and the other is not, or both are incorrect. Two contradictory ideas both correct--that is a logical fallacy. So, since people and cultures have competing and contradictory ideas of what is good and successful, I cannot depend on either my own ideas or the ideas of others by which to measure my own success. Where does that leave me? It leaves me looking outside myself, my culture, and other cultures for the measuring stick by which I obtain my idea of good and successful.

I need an objective source by which to measure myself. But, what is objective? Obviously anything made by humankind is not objective, since all humans are part of cultures and influenced by what the culture says is good and successful. Maybe the five senses since my senses only tell me what is going on around me regardless of what my culture says? Hmmm.....that leaves alot unsaid, plus my five senses are notoriously unreliable. For instance a physical ailment can affect the way I smell, taste, hear. A disease like leprosy can affect my sense of touch. Besides, the physical world can't tell me what is right and wrong, or good and successful. It tells me what is, not what should be.

Ultimately, I need an objective One, who is not part of me, any culture, or the physical universe, intelligent, morally reliable and consistent, and can engage me so I can what is good and successful. That One is God. Proverbs states, "Fear of the L
ord is the beginning of knowledge. Only fools despise wisdom and discipline" (Prov. 1:7). St. Augustine stated that it is from the fear of God that we first learn to recognize His Will: what He wants us to do and what He wants us to avoid. This fear should awaken in us a healthy reflection of our bodily death and possible spiritual death, if we continue to choose to run away from Him. Our deepest seat of fear should be fear of God. But God does not leave us in a constant state of fear because He loves us. John 3:16 states, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Those who know God the best are the richest and most powerful in prayer. Little acquaintance with God, and strangeness and coldness to Him, make prayer a rare and feeble thing.

--E. M. Bounds

I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had absolutely no other place to go.

-- Abraham Lincoln

Study in Ephesians: Pick Up Your Weapon and Fight With Me (6:10-20)

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places . . . "
~Ephesians 6:12
Therefore take up the whole armor of God . . . and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints"
~Ephesians 6:17, 18

Followers of Jesus Christ are at war and unfortunately most of Jesus' followers do not seem to notice or understand this. Everyday around the world Christians are being persecuted and even martyred for the faith. In other places, Christians and the Christian faith are being attacked by the government, in schools, in institutions of higher learning, and at the workplace.

In Paul's closing remarks to the Ephesian church, he sounds the call to arms and warns his readers they are already engaged in a life and death struggle. As the Wesleyan commentator on the book of Ephesians, Mark Holmes states, "Two major points are developed in this section: (1) Christians are in a battle against opponents far greater than themselves; and (2) if they plan to win the battle, Christians must rely on provisions beyond their human capabilities" (Ephesians: A Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition).

Even though the attacks on Christians are being carried out by other humans, as the apostle Paul states, "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood . . . " Our enemies are not human, (flesh and blood) but principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness, and spiritual hosts of wickedness. These forces influence and control the people who carry out the persecution, terrorism, killing, and subjugation of Christians.

In our fight against the spiritual darkness we are given a weapon . . . the Sword of the Spirit--which is the Word of God. Yes, our offensive and defensive weapon is the Bible. We dare not use the weapons of the enemy physical--e.g., guns and bombs--psychological--e.g., mind control and coercion--political--e.g., laws and military force. Our weapon is far mightier and has brought down powers, principalities, and spiritual wickedness for centuries. Great defenders and apologists of the faith have wielded the Sword of the Spirit skillfully; men of ancient Christianity like Ignatius, Clement of Rome, St. Augustine. More modern apologists include Ravi Zacharias, Chuck Colson, and Probe Ministries

In addition to the Sword of the Spirit Christians have a force multiplier weapon--prayer. Prayer exponentially increases the effectiveness of our use of the Sword. Praying in the Spirit is like sending an artillery barrage or a squadron of Stealth Fighters after the enemy. James, in his epistle states, "The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results" (Jam 5:16). Paul exhorted his readers in Thessalonica to "pray continually" (I Thess. 5:17).

" Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan"
--John Bunyan

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Christian Freedom International Logo
Christian Freedom International

Love -- Motivator of the Repentant Heart

In my previous post I stated that fear is the motivation of the unrepentant heart. The opposite of fear is love. We fear that which we do not love. God desires for us to be engaged in a love relationship with Him. However, our love for Him cannot be merely an assent of the mind or a feeling of our emotions. It must be the desire of our hearts, an act of our will. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15).

A repentant heart is one that turns from going its own way to get in step with the way God is going; thus aligning its will with God's will. When the desires of my heart are in tune with God's heart then love flourishes.

Why would I align my will with God's? There are many reasons, but two important one's are:
  1. When my will and God's will are in alignment I have nothing to fear. Alignment with God casts out fear since what I want and the things I do not want are in agreement with God.
  2. I align my will with God's because He has already proven His love and His commitment to me. The Bible says, ". . . God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
God, in the person of Jesus Christ, has taken on the punishment for all our sins. Everyone has sinned (I will talk more about in sin in a later post), whether a "little, white lie" or a major wrongdoing like murder. In God's eyes all wrongdoing is equal--big or little--because He can allow no sin in heaven. Jesus took our sins and the punishment for our sins when He was put to death by crucifixion. He showed His love for us by taking our punishment.

I turn from going my own way, and submit my will to going God's way because I know He loves me and I trust that He knows my future and has my best interests at heart. "We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:19).

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fear -- Motivator of the Unrepentent Heart

Fear is the motivation of the unrepentent heart. I come at this conclusion from a distinctly Christian worldview. I will not explain the Christian worldview at this time--maybe someday but I stick by my statement that fear is what motivates all people who have not cleansed of their sins by the blood of Jesus Christ as stated in the Holy Scriptures of the Christian Church.

Fear comes in two categories:
  1. Fear of not getting something I desire
  2. Fear of getting something I do not desire

Most people fear God because they believe God will not allow them to have what they want--their own will; or they fear God because they believe God will give them the thing they do not want--punishment.

If my will is not congruent with God's will then I should fear. Life is all about aligning my will--i.e., my desires--with God's desires. Once I do that then I have nothing to fear. Perfect love, the Scriptures tell us, casts out fear.

"Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, wisdom and instruction, which only fools despise" (Prov. 1:7) St. Augustine tells us that it is from fearing God that we first learn to recognize His Will: what He wants us to do and what He wants us to avoid. This fear should awaken in us a healthy reflection of our bodily death and possible spiritual death, if we continue to choose to run away from Him.

The repentent heart is one where I surrender to Jesus Christ and His will. When my will and God's will align I do not fear anything because now God's desires are also my desires.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Can We Talk?"

The central nervous system of any organization--whether it be a church, a small business, a non-profit grassroots community group or a multinational corporation--is communication. The thing about communication--which I define as the sharing of information from one or more persons to one or more other persons always occurs. Even if an organization has no formal means of communicating, it will happen--spontaneously. It is well-known that in the Hanoi Hilton in North Vietnam during the war in Southeast Asia that the prisoners of war there were not allowed to talk to one another. However, it is also well-known that those prisoners invented ways to "talk" to one another, one of which was by tapping on walls. Ex-POW Wayne Ogden Smith said, "It was a 24-hour-a-day exercise. We tapped a huge amount of knowledge through those walls. The key was, we wanted to make sure that we ... leaned on each other and kept our spirits up. We wanted to make sure that we were positive. Your well-being was the first order of business."

Communication is absolutely essential to humanity. In the movie Cast Away, the main character Chuck Noland, played by Tom Hanks, was stranded alone on a desert island (an updated Robinson Crusoe) in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. His only companion was a volleyball that washed up on shore which he named Wilson after the manufacturer. Chuck spoke often to "Wilson" and even yelled at "him." So strong is the need for communication, the movie seems to be saying, that a person will talk to even an inanimate object.

When a leader fails to communicate appropriate content clearly, consistently, and concisely then his followers will communicate with one another in the absence of knowledge--which we often call rumor. The rumor mill gets going because official communication channels are obstructed.

Communication is the real work of leadership
. Often leaders underestimate the power and necessity of communication. I learned this lesson in my first job out of college. I was working for Visa International (yes, the credit card company) in Baltimore, Maryland as a quality analyst in their Emergency Card Services Center. We were told by senior management that a new performance appraisal system was going to be instituted. That was mediocre communication. But it got worse. Not much communication occurred after that so in the absence of official communication the rumor mill started humming. There was talk that pay was going to be slashed by up to 25% and there was talk that everyone was going to get up to a 25% pay raise. Other rumors started that claimed pay was going to be tied performance--which was partially true--so an employee's pay could go up (or down) by several percentage points each year--which was untrue. The performance appraisal system that was eventually rolled-out was not much different than what was already in place. Some employees got small pay raises and some (including me) had a small drop in pay due to the fact that our skill set did not match the job duties. Needless to say I did not stay with Visa for very long after this.

The Visa management problem was that they did not keep the employees informed during the development of the performance appraisal system. Even at that early stage of my leadership development I knew intuitively that one vitally important aspect of leadership is communication. Leaders must be transparent in communication to the greatest extent practicable.

Currently I am experiencing this same problem in two very different settings. One is in my church denomination and the other is in my place of employment. While I will try to convey the essence of the issues, I will leave out specific names of people, places, and organizations.

First, my church denomination. The leadership of my denomination decided to sell a piece of real estate that has been in the hands of the denomination for over 160 years--since the denomination's initial organization in the 1840's. The property and its buildings have become increasingly expensive to maintain and donated funds for the upkeep have been dwindling for years. Many other issues have also contributed to the demise of the property including inept business management. As a result the denomination has had to utilize funds from other sources to keep up the property and its buildings. This application of funds while not unethical (the funds come from a general account) constitutes the metaphor "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

As you can expect, there have been many accusations, counter-accusations, calls for resignations, authoritative decrees, erosion of trust, etc. The environment has been heated to say the least. However, if, as John Maxwell (who interestingly enough is a former church leader) says, "everything rises and falls on leadership" then the responsibility for this current crisis is laid squarely at the feet of the denominational leadership. Regardless of how the situation developed or the subsequent actions of the people, the leadership takes the blame (or credit) for the status of things.

One major failure point of the denominational leadership is their mismanagement of communication. The real estate problem itself was never clearly, consistently, nor concisely communicated to the people. Then when the only alternative was to sell the property the leadership did not engage the people, build consensus, nor listen to the concerns of those who opposed to selling the property. All of this is part of communication.

The second example is my place of employment. I have previously blogged about the project of which I am currently a part. Whereas my church denominational leadership has mismanaged communication with the people, the project leadership at my place of employment has intentionally kept communication to a minimum. In one instance the project manager was not invited to a meeting between the project sponsor and the project technical leader. There have been many other instances where project team members have been left "out of the loop" by project leadership. Well, as a result there is little trust between the different project teams, the environment is politically charged and the rumor mill is functioning at full capacity.

As I stated at the beginning of this post, communication is the central nervous system of every organization. In the human body the central nervous system carries messages from the brain to all the various parts of the body just as the various parts of the body send messages to the brain. Each talks to and listens to the other. The parts of the body listen to the messages the brain sends, such as "raise right arm." At the same time, the parts of the body send messages back to the brain that the brain listens to, such as the hand telling the brain, "the stove burner is hot" or the foot telling the brain, "the floor is wet." In order for the body to function normally, the brain must communicate clearly, consistently and concisely with the parts of the body and the body must do the same with the brain. Why do we think organizations would be any different?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Of Wizards, Hobbits, Crystal Balls, and Pulled Hamstrings

There is a small statement made by Gandalf, the wise, old wizard in the The Lord of the Rings trilogy (LOTR) that caught me upon re-reading the trilogy a few years ago. I did not catch the statement the first time I read LOTR when I was a 13 year-old back in 1984--probably because 13 year-olds are immune to or not skilled enough to understand the many subtle, but important things going on around them.

In the second of the three books, The Two Towers, Gandalf states, "the burned hand teaches best." He made this statement in reference to something the young hobbit Pippin had done. Pippin, the ever inquisitive and mischievous hobbit, had picked up a Palantir (something like a crystal ball that allows users to communicate at a far distance with others who also are using one) and immediately came in contact with the Satan-like being Sauron. The powerful Sauron held Pippin in his gaze and attempted to extract information from Pippin about the intentions of his enemies. Gandalf came to the rescue of the young hobbit since he was unable to break away from the Dark Lord. Pippin's hands, due to grasping the Palantir and being held by Sauron were burned.

Gandalf's point to his statement, "the burned hand teaches best" indicates that experience is a powerful, if sometimes painful, teacher. Unfortunately humans do not often learn from the mistakes of others, often we learn the best from our own mistakes.

On Monday, May 5 I learned a couple valuable lessons through a "burned hand" experience. I did not burn my hand, I pulled a hamstring playing on my company's softball team. The hamstring pull was excruciatingly painful, one of the worst pains I have experienced in my entire life. I visited my family doctor early the next morning and was told the pulled hamstring was not too bad (yeah, she was not the one hurt) and would be healed in a few days. She said I should take 4 ibuprofen every eight hours for a few days as well as use alternating ice and heat.

So, what did I learn from this experience? I learned at least three things: 1) proper preparation reduces the risk of adverse outcomes occurring; 2) it is important to know when to swing and when not to, even if it is a strike; and 3) there are occasions when not expending 100% of effort is best.

First, proper preparation reduces the risk of adverse outcomes occurring. I simply did not properly warm-up ahead of time. I stretched some before the game, but I did not warm-up my legs by jogging around the field and moderately sprinting to ensure that my legs were not cold when I had to run. What was the result? Leg muscles that were not stretched-out and warmed-up when I needed to sprint to first base.

What does this mean for leadership? It means that leaders must be prepared when called into action. I learned this truth many years ago when I was in the Boy Scouts; their motto is "be prepared." While I knew this truth, I did not apply it to the softball game. Had I done that, I probably would not have suffered a pulled hamstring. Leaders must be prepared. No matter how much skill, confidence, or knowledge a leader has, it means nothing if he is not prepared when it comes time to lead.

Second, it is important to know when to swing and when not to, even if it is a strike. The first pitch to me was a ball. I swung on the second pitch even though it was high and probably also a ball. As a result I hit a dribbler down the third base line but in fair territory. I knew I hit it bad and thus had to try and run it out. Had I not swung on that ball the worst thing that would have occurred was my first strike. Interestingly, I played in a softball game yesterday, Monday, May 19 (my first game back) and noticed that one of the best hitters on the other team never swung at the first pitch. He laid the bat on his shoulder and just watched the pitcher and the pitch. I guessed he was sizing up the pitcher and seeing what he could throw. He didn't care that 3 out of the 4 times he was at bat he started off his at-bat with a strike. He waited patiently for his pitch and when it came he crushed the ball.

Discernment and judgment are two skills great leaders have. Great leaders just have a sense (call it intuition) about making the right decision. A great leader will pass up a good opportunity because he seems to know a better one is coming--even if it means he may not look good at first. He knows his pitch is coming and when it does he crushes it.

Third, I learned there are occasions when not expending 100% of effort is best. As a result of my first two mistakes--improper preparation and lack of discernment--I tried to run-out a bad hit, I gave it my all. This led to certain disaster. I only got about half-way to first when I felt my leg give-out. I took a couple more steps and then fell head-long into first base--out by a country mile. I gave 100% effort when I should have cut my losses. There are occasions when giving-up in the short-term leads to long-term success. What was my reward for giving it my all when clearly the risk of injury far outweighed the potential for success? Excruciating pain, inability to exercise for two weeks, and sitting on the sidelines for one game. Obviously the risk outweighed the benefit.

Part of the mission of this blog is to share my experiences in the hopes that others will learn something from them as I have. Experience is a good teacher, but it is better to learn from the experiences of others than having to "burn your hand" in order to learn.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

"Hey Lady, Your Baby Is Ugly!"

Ok, we have all been there. Your good friends Bob and Sue have their first baby. You and your spouse, being good friends, go to the hospital to visit the proud new parents and their bundle of joy. You walk into the room and see mom has just finished feeding the baby and is now burping him. While she pats his little back you engage in small talk.

Then the time comes; the burping is done and mom asks if you like to "see" the little bundle of joy. "Sure," you say. She hands over the baby and you disbelief. You are now looking at the ugliest baby you have ever seen.

You are faced with two choices: one, you can lie and tell the proud new parents how beautiful their baby is, or two you can tell the truth and let them know their baby doesn't hold a candle to a gorilla's off-spring.

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, you will do the right thing and lie! You will gulp, and say something like, "oh, how beautiful!" Or, if you are really inventive you might say something like, "oh, what a precious, special baby!"

The one thing you never, never, never do is call someone's baby ugly.

Well, I and my fellow developers did just that to another group of developers one a day a few weeks back after they demonstrated their application to us. They acted like proud parents and we compared their little Jr. to the off-spring of Frankenstein. We let them know their application looked like a Windows version of an IDMS mainframe application; we called it old-school and claimed it was not user-friendly. The truth of it is--we were right. It is an awful application; it is not user-friendly and many potential users of the application have let us know that.

However, just as you never, never, never call someone's baby ugly, you don't do the same thing to someone else's application. We offended people we need to work with and since then the relationship has been strained to say the least. Both development teams are part of a larger project team that is building a multi-site, integrated system which will handle finance, project management, procurement, and inventory. The development team we offended is the lead technical team and the whole system is based on their application.

We do not like their application and we think using it as the base of the much larger system is a bad idea. However, since we have no long-term relationship with this other development group we have no influence or credibility with them. As a result, our feedback about their application was not well received and it "ruffled their feathers" so to speak.

You can't criticize other people with whom you have no trust relationship and expect them to take it well. Teams are held together only by the glue of trust. The problem is trust is not an easy thing to repair once broken. We violated that trust before we even gave it an opportunity to build and we may never fully be able to repair it since we broke it so early on.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Toughest Place to Lead

The toughest place to be a leader is in the church. Well, any non-profit, mostly volunteer organization. Why, you may ask.

Because, in a church, community group, or any other non-profit organization that depends on volunteers to do most of the work the leader has very little leverage over the followers. In a paid employment organization, the leader/manager has various incentive and consequence tools he can use to influence his subordinates. In most volunteer organizations on the other hand there are very few incentives or consequences a leader can use to influence those he leads. Thus, the toughest place to lead is in a church.

Most pastors I know do not receive nearly the recognition they deserve for being successful leaders. Our society rewards leaders who build giant companies, lead Superbowl or World Series winning teams, or attain the highest political offices in the land. While these are all noteworthy accomplishments--and some of my favorite leaders come from the arena of business, sports, and politics--they are possibly easier to attain than to lead a church. For the reason mentioned previously, but also because essentially a pastor leads his parishioners to do things that are antithetical to their own self-interest. Pastors regularly ask congregants to give up time on a weekend to serve others--such as teaching, driving people to church, assisting the elderly, providing childcare during services, preparing food, and a myriad of other duties. Then, not only does the pastor ask people to give up their free-time, he has the audacity to ask people to give up some of their income to help feed homeless people, send Bibles to far away countries, pay for poor children to attend summer camps, and to keep the electric and the heat on in the church facility.

I say again, pastors are far underrated as leaders. They typically work for far less pay than their peers or even those with less education, they are expected to "be there" whenever a crisis occurs and they do not have regular working hours.

If you want to find a successful leadership role model, this coming weekend attend a church service. While not all pastors are good leaders, many, many are better than most of us think.

If you are leader in business, sports or politics, try leading in an all volunteer organization and see how well you do. If you succeed, then maybe you are as good or better than you thought. If you fail, take it as a lesson learned in leadership.