Leadership that Lasts

gpa&jo

In a world of never-ending corporate sell-offs, sports organization shake-ups, constant political jockeying, and increasing religious in-fighting are we losing sight of the importance of Leadership that Lasts?

I’ve been reading my dad’s book, The Resilient Pastor, and came across a quote this morning that got me thinking about the staying power of leadership in our culture today. He says,

“In life and leadership, it is not so much about the beginning as the finishing. Many begin well; too few finish well.”

I’m not a pastor and I’m not reading my dad’s book just to be a good son. What I’ve found as I’ve worked through his practical ideas for pastors to put into place in their lives to weather the storms of leading a church is that if I replace the word “pastor” with “leader” throughout the book, the lessons and guidance are universally applicable. The fact of the matter is that today’s leaders – in business, in politics, in sports, AND in the church, are facing some serious challenges to their ability to LAST for long periods of leadership. While the details that create these challenges might be different, the core factors are the same:

1) Leaders are often unprepared or underprepared for the challenges of being THE LEADER.

2) Leaders often have a weak or faulty personal foundation.

3) Leaders succumb to unrealistic or false self expectations and try to take short cuts to meet them.

4) Organizations fail to support and encourage leaders through periods of challenge which limits a leaders’ willingness to take risk.

5) We, as a culture, have become enamored with brevity in our communication, our patience, and our view of change, expecting organizational change and growth to happen in that same brief cycle.

As I look at my own life, I see places where I have fallen victim to these challenges myself.

I look back on my hopes and dreams from just 10 years ago and I am thankful that I wasn’t thrust into more visible leadership roles. It is only with the gift of time that I can look back and recognize that I didn’t have the foundation that would have made me a great leader at 30. While I do believe my foundation is still being built at 40, I also know that I am much more prepared today for formal leadership than I was 10 years ago.

In much the same way, my own leadership ability has been shaped and strengthened by personal challenges. Having kids, buying and selling homes, working through marital struggles, persevering during lean financial times, and sorting through my own personal strengths and weaknesses has made me a more stable person with a stronger personal foundation. By going through those things I’ve been able to put solid bricks into that foundation.

It is the mark of a successful leader to be driven to succeed in their chosen field. What I have recognized, however, is that I can’t do it all. I was having a laugh a few weeks ago with a good friend of mine who has taken a position that I used to have. I was sharing with him some of the stupid things I used to do in that position because I thought I could, and should, do it all. Staying at the office at all hours of the night to put together a scorecard for the next game because I had sold it that way seemed like the right thing to do at the time. In my mind, I was being a good leader by making sure that our organization did what we told the sponsor we were going to do. As I think back on that now, it seems so silly. The only reason I put those unrealistic expectations on myself was because of immaturity. Thankfully, my friend is older and wiser than I was when I had the position and understands that if you’re majoring in the minor details as a leader, you’d better look at how you’re doing things because that is a recipe for burn out.

I’ve also been a victim of organizational management that created an environment of fear for its leaders. It is important for any organization – business, political, sports, religious to remember that expectations that you STATE and the actions that you TAKE have to be in sync. A few years back I was handed the reigns of a failing, dis-functional sales organization and told to rebuild it for long term success. Too often in both sports and business, the initial expectations that we lay out for our leaders quickly change to “Just win baby,” and that is what happened to us. As soon as the organization saw early positive results from the first phases of my re-building, the expectations shifted to setting sales records. The plan was derailed because the team wasn’t stable enough yet for that kind of pressure and we ultimately failed. My confidence as a leader was shattered.

Last, but not least, I’m guilty of not taking a long view. If you look back at the picture accompanying this post, it illustrates what I’m TRYING to do in my leadership life now. That picture is of my dad and my daughter standing on the top of Stone Mountain, GA a few years ago. Just like in this picture, my dad has been holding the hand of young leaders as they go through periods of fear and excitement, looking out on their possibilities for over 40 years. Before I was born, he was forming his own leadership foundation, making his mistakes, and faithfully leading where he was instead of worrying about what was next. It is my hope and prayer that I’ve reached a point in my life that I can start holding hands as well. I’m sure there will be times that I’ll have to run back to daddy for support when I get too close to the edge or have a scary stretch, but like my daughter in this picture, I’m going to keep my head up, looking at the long view of leadership and understanding that it isn’t so much about the beginning as it is the finishing.

Thanks dad for that great reminder today.

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When Life is a Treadmill

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I’m on record that I hate running on treadmills. I’m going to amend that to include when work “feels” like a treadmill as well.

It seems like there are just phases of life where every work day is pretty much the same as day before. Where you feel like you’re running a good pace because you’re getting tired, but not really going anywhere. No measurable victories, no significant losses, no new challenges, no change in scenery. Generally, it is like your work has been put on a treadmill.

The reason that I don’t like running on treadmills is that even though you consciously know you’re doing something, sub-consciously it feels like you’re standing still. The scenery never changes so your mind doesn’t measure the work that you’re putting in. It is mindless and boring to me. I like to see new things, experience new places, and face new challenges when I run. I desire the same things in my work – new challenges, different day to day schedules, and new clients and colleagues to engage with in meaningful dialogue.

So, when my work life starts to feel like a treadmill it feels mindless and boring to me. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on one of those work treadmills – several big projects are rolling along without too much of my interaction required; we’ve put some great proposals on the street and it isn’t time to “push” those opportunities yet; there don’t seem to be a ton of new projects on the horizon; AND I work from home, so no one just to grab coffee with and brainstorm about new ideas. It is just plowing along, putting in effort, but sub-consciously it feels like it isn’t going anywhere. BOOORRRRRINNG!

So, what to do? I guess there are a few options:

  1. Take a vacation. I actually did take yesterday off since the kids were out of school and I’m taking next Monday off for the same reason. I hope we’ll be able to share some experiences together to get my mind off of it.
  2. Take on a new challenge. Seems like I don’t ever have to look very far to find a new project or challenge around the corner. I have a new opportunity to teach a college class again this semester and I’m finding out about new and interesting things in my world every day just by opening my eyes it seems. (Trick is to not take on too much)
  3. Feed my mind. I’ve checked out some books I’m interested in and I’m trying to catch up with some friends I haven’t talked to in awhile. Writing and reading are good distractions for me.
  4. Push on old business relationships. This is hard to do when things are busy, so I’ve reached out to some past clients just to see how they’re doing and fill them in on what we’re up to at Downstream.
  5. Consider the obvious. Am I getting the kind of “work exercise” I want and need? Is it time for a “new type of training?” I’m still grappling with this one.

What I don’t want to do is sit around wasting time surfing the internet. I don’t want to become a micro-managing part of my team just because the rest of the team is hard at work on the projects we closed at the end of the year and my “heavy lifting” is on a break right now. I don’t want to get dis-enchanted with what I do if this is just a spell.

So, even though I find treadmill running incredibly boring, I’m just going to accept today that sometimes its cold outside and if you want to work up a sweat, you just have to hope on the treadmill and run. And so it is in work as well.

A Thank you to Marriott

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I’ve been in jobs in Sales, Marketing, Coaching, and Administration my whole life that have required interaction on a regular basis with hotels and hotel brands. Because of this engagement, I don’t pass out compliments lightly. However, I feel like I owe Marriott a “thank you” for 2015.

I made Platinum level in the Marriott Rewards program for the first time in 2015 and that was nice, although not necessarily mind-blowing. I appreciated the upgrades and the welcome gifts, but they didn’t vastly change my experience. What did change my experience was the bonus points I received with each stay, which allowed me to amass points in 2015 at a whole new level. And having this mass of points is what I’m thanking Marriott for the most because they allowed me to…

  • Give a good friend a week’s stay in Cleveland, OH while her father was in the Cleveland Clinic having a heart procedure. It felt great to know that her and her mother didn’t have to worry about how they were going to pay for a hotel or if they were going to have a nice place to stay while they were going through this stressful time.
  • Take a trip of a lifetime with my wife for my 40th birthday. Our long weekend in Rome, Italy at the Marriott Boscolo Exedra was an experience I’ll never forget and one I wouldn’t have been able to afford without all of those points.
  • Provide a place for my mother-in-law and wife to stay in Knoxville, TN over Christmas when my father-in-law had to be rushed to the hospital on their way to visit us for the Holidays. Having points to share on these hotel rooms kept my family from having to sleep in a hospital room for over 3 weeks; while it was a difficult time, a nice place to sleep and a smiling face in the concierge lounge every morning made life bearable during this tough time for our family.

I was a committed Marriott Rewards member before this year, but the ability to make these things happen with my points not only made me feel good personally, but showed me the value in loyalty.

Any of us to travel a lot know that not every location of our favorite hotel chain is perfect. We run into problems from time to time and get frustrated. But my experience with the Marriott properties I stayed at in 2015 was fantastic and I’m particularly thankful for the Courtyard Cleveland Independence, the Boscolo Exedra Roma, and the Knoxville Marriott for making my family and friends feel welcome and cared for on our points stays. You’ve increased my loyalty for 2016 and beyond.

THANK YOU.

I DO Care, But I Still Love Him

jacklibrary

“I don’t care if my kids play sports, I just want them to be happy.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say this, often some of my best friends, and almost always the parents of kids who are playing sports and loving it. This comment is usually a part of an explanation as to why they have their kids playing a sport year round at 9 years old or when they are telling me that their kids WANT to participate in 2 different leagues that require practice 4-5 nights a week. Essentially, it is always the parents whose kids ARE playing sports who say they don’t care. And always I wonder…would they say that if their kids DIDN’T play sports?

Tonight, as I was walking around the neighborhood after dark on a pretty crisp January night for North Carolina, I heard the bounce of a basketball. I followed the sound until I found one of the neighbor boys, a middle school aged kid, shooting baskets in his driveway by the light of the streetlight by himself. I was instantly taken back to my middle school days when I would shovel the neighbor’s driveway in the winter so I could shoot baskets on their garage hoop because I didn’t have one of my own. They had a light on the corner of the garage that lit up just enough of the driveway to see and I knew how to get in the garage and turn that light on (and they were patient enough to let me keep on shooting). It was where I first started to really love the game, where I first honed my skills, and where I first dreamed of playing college basketball (for Lou Henson and the Flying Illini!) Watching that boy shoot hoops in his driveway reminded me how much joy the game brought me as a youngster.

My wife and I both achieved many of our athletic goals – we were both scholarship athletes in our sports in college, we both coached at the high school and collegiate levels, and we both worked in big time college athletic departments. Sports were and remain a big part of our lives and who we are as people. To this day, I earn my living working with sports organizations at the college and pro level.

The thing is, despite our passions, abilities, and interests, our kids (ages 9 and 6) don’t play sports. Our kids aren’t even really that interested in sports. We’ve tried to make them play…not interested. It isn’t that they aren’t athletic – both are in the top 10% of height and weight for their age and both run and play around outside all the time. They just don’t play sports.

And I DO CARE! It bothers me. It makes me sad that I don’t have to call them in from the driveway for bed or tell them we have to stop playing catch because it is getting dark. It makes me sad because both Jessi and I have experienced first hand the value of team sports and are the people we are today because of our sports. But as I walked home tonight, I also realized that I LOVE THEM ANYWAY.

The picture above pretty much sums up my son, Jack. He’s happiest in a book store, sitting quietly by himself or playing in his imagination in a solo world. My daughter teaches her baby dolls all sorts of lessons and tags along with her big brother on his neighborhood exploring, which seems to be her happiest moments. And I’m learning to appreciate what makes them who they are and what makes them happy. But I’m not going to lie about how I feel about them not playing sports – I do care, but I love them anyway.

I hope that parents who say they don’t care will just stop and instead admit that they DO CARE and stop apologizing for it. It’s just what they enjoy doing right now and all you really should do is love them. Just be sensitive to what they really WANT to do and when they do want to stop playing sports, whether they verbalize it or not, let them. While they do want to play, encourage them but don’t overdo it, because when they stop you’ll realize that your really DO CARE and it may make you sad when they don’t.