Archive for 'Leadership'
Posted on 23. Oct, 2010 by Brett.
“How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?
Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?
Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?”
–Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder, commencement speech to Princeton class of 2010, given on May 30, 2010
Posted on 29. Jun, 2010 by Brett.
This is a post I recently wrote for the Plywood People blog. I made a few edits to that article. My post there was more from a values-based perspective while this one is more faith-based. Enjoy!
Our life is a story of growth. From diapers to school naps to multiplication tables and so on. Under the cupped hands of school and family, we bloom. We grow. We grow up.
But along the way, we bump up against vampires.
Vampires—negative people intent on draining us of life, hope and optimism. They’re the bully in the gym, the gossip in the girls’ bathroom, the soured-on-life co-worker. Vampires come and they go, but they never really go away. They move with us, lurking from lifestage to lifestage. Jesus dealt with vampires too.
Sometimes disguised as friends and even family, vampires stand in the shadows of our greatest moments—arms crossed, jealous toe tapping. And when our shining moment fades and the lights dim, they track us down in the parking lot, only to remind us of our pimples, hiccups, and scars.
And these vampires do real damage. Their words stick, clinging to our souls and thrashing around in our minds months and years and decades later.
And then one day we meet a cheerleader. Ahh…the anti-vampire. Her face is warm. She’s cute and has a pony-tail. Her words soothe, encourage, affirm. She’s our 5th grade teacher, or a smiling face from church, or college buddy who loves life. The cheerleaders of life tell us everything we want to believe about ourselves. That we’re good-looking and funny and that we smell good. Not only are they present during our shining moments, they’re actually the ones helping create them, toe-touching and fist-pumping us the whole time.
But there’s a third player—the surgeon.
And he’s the difference-maker.
The surgeon is one part vampire, cutting and hacking and slinging blood. And he’s one part cheerleader, nourishing pallid souls back to health. He recognizes the ills of life and offers to help. He seats us on the hospital table with the crinkly paper, finds the hidden tumors, and goes to work. He doesn’t just dice and slice—for this would make him only a butcher. He also administers blood during the procedure. He identifies and fixes what we don’t need, and gives us more of what we do need.
And, like vampires, surgeons are scary. Dark eyes peering over a surgical mask, scalpel in hand. Oh, that scalpel–his instrument of pain! But the surgeon, in all of his blood-soaked horror, has a noble calling. Like a vampire, he wounds. But he wounds to heal. He cuts to fix. He injures to revive. While the vampire is our enemy, the surgeon is our friend…
“Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” – Prov 27:6
Most of us spend a lifetime running from vampires and running towards cheerleaders—avoiding pain and chasing after people who make us feel good. We resist the call of the surgeon, the call of the mentor. Because in the wounding there is pain (and we are biologically programmed to resist pain). But the wounding is the hallmark of a good mentor. A good mentor is not merely a cheerleader. He’s more than the rah-rah. Like a surgeon, a good mentor identifies the tumors in our lives. She sees the things that we cannot see or refuse to see—character defects, blind spots, and glaring inconsistencies in the way we live. Mentors step into our personal space and ask us the tough questions. They challenge our presuppositions on living. They aren’t afraid to get bloody. The ancients understood this; apprenticeships were a way of life. Professional athletes understand this now; personal trainers and coaches are a foregone conclusion. Yet in our personal lives, we’re content to march along alone, sovereign rulers in the Kingdom of Me. And it’s in this secret kingdom where the tumors of hubris, infidelity, and scandal take root.
Better to swing open the gates and invite a surgeon in. Surgery may be needed. And you don’t have a day to waste.
Posted on 20. Jun, 2010 by Brett.
Jeff Shinabarger is a new friend here in Atlanta. Jeff is an incredibly talented creative. Aside from doing creative consulting with organizations like Catalyst, he also is a serial entrepreneur having started organizations like GiftCard Giver and Plywood People. Jeff was at a recent event where I spoke to some high school students about tuning out the haters and tuning into a good mentor, someone who drills into your life and challenges you to be a better person. My talk was entitled “Vampires and Surgeons.” Jeff asked me write an article about it for the Plywood People blog. So that’s what I did. Here’s a snippet…
“Like a surgeon, a good mentor identifies the tumors in our lives. She sees the things that we cannot see or refuse to see—character defects, blind spots, and glaring inconsistencies in the way we live. Mentors step into our personal space and ask us the tough questions. They challenge our presuppositions on living. They aren’t afraid to get bloody. The ancients understood this; apprenticeships were a way of life. Professional athletes understand this now; personal trainers and coaches are a foregone conclusion. Yet in our personal lives, we’re content to march along alone, sovereign rulers in the Kingdom of Me. And it’s in this secret kingdom where the tumors of hubris, infidelity, and scandal take root.”
To read the entire article, you can click HERE.
Enjoy, and let me know what you think!
Posted on 09. Apr, 2010 by Brett.
My friend Philip Cummings in Memphis tweeted an article this week that’s just been haunting me. It was about a teenage girl in Massachusetts who killed herself after being bullied at school. And when I started Googling around, the rabbit hole just got
Articles like this make me wonder. Did anybody stick up for these kids? Did anyone step in front of the bullies? Was there even one gritty 16-year old boy who took a stand?
Maybe I’m wrong, but I have to think not.
When I’m a Christian parent, I’ll teach my kids right and wrong, but I hope I also teach the other side of the Gospel—the side that values justice over passivity, steely resolve over blithe compliance, and action over inaction. I don’t want “polite, moral, and preppy” to be my child-rearing end-game.
“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.” – Ps. 82:3
I don’t know…maybe Christian parents care more about their kid being sweet and smart and athletic and popular than being a defender of the weak?
We’ve trained our boys to be polite and compliant. That’s well and good. But why are so few willing to “defend the cause of the weak and fatherless?” I guess that’s what happens when you teach kids about “conflict resolution” when what they really need is training in conflict engagement. “Resolution” is the language of flight; “engagement” is the language of rushing in.
I hope and pray some day that I have a son and that he feels as strongly about defending the weak as he does about sports or video games or moral issues. I hope I raise a boy who’s a football star; I really do. But more than that, I pray I raise a kid hellbent on justice and truth and taking a stand.
And maybe one day, as a skinny 15-year old, he’ll get suspended from school because he shut up the biggest, baddest bully on campus.
I think that’d be cool.
He’ll have a proud, teary-eyed dad waiting on him when he gets home. And we’ll load up the mini-van and take the whole family out to dinner to celebrate.
A future dad can dream can’t he?
Posted on 31. Mar, 2010 by Brett.
I’ve written on this blog several times about my college fraternity experience. We weren’t the beer-can-crunchers like you see in movies. We worked really really hard to build a great organization. And we won some big awards.
I could write a book on all the lessons I learned during those years, but there is one that still burns bright five years after graduation.
Every Sunday night 80 men would cram into a musty fraternity house. Sitting on grimy couches and surrounded by old trophies and composite pictures, we’d debate, often late into the night. Everyone was passionate and everyone had an opinion.
Do we give this jerk kid a bid just because his dad is an alum? Do we kick this guy out for underage drinking? Who should be the next president?
80 brains alive, picking apart every rhetorical angle of the debate. Oh, the debate! Loud debate! If a stranger walked into the room, they’d think we were the icons of dysfunction.
I was always amazed how guys could go from combatants to buddies once the meeting ended. In the 30 second walk from chapter room to front porch, a miraculous transformation would take place. Frat-battle-royale would melt away and take a backseat to the friendships that held the organization together. Guys would separate the issue from the person. Guys would remember that the brotherhood was greater than the business being discussed. Guys would properly balance the good of the organization and the value of that individual. Guys would demand fraternal excellence while not forgetting personal grace.
And this is unusual in organizations.
Because most people are thin-skinned and can’t handle conflict; they run from the tension. People storm out of the room, give the silent treatment or barricade themselves in their office and get drunk off Solitaire. The organization can’t handle it, and conflict goes extinct because no one likes living in a battle zone. Peace is easier and mediocrity sets in.
Growth is hard. Success is a painful process, and it always requires struggle. If you want to build a great organization, build a culture where it’s okay to be passionate, and it’s okay to disagree. And require it to be done on a trellis of respect. That demands strong leadership.
Leaders walk in that zone between the chapter room and the porch where people fight for the organization but temper that fight with love for one another.
Posted on 16. Mar, 2010 by Brett.
I’ve been stung a few times recently. Not literally. But stung by constructive criticism. And I don’t call it constructive “feedback.” Feedback soothes; criticism stings. Feedback nibbles; criticism bites. It’s painful. It reaches down into my comfort zone with a jumbo-sized blender and cranks that sucker up to frappe.
And I hate it. With everything in me. I crave compliments and affirmation. I run towards attaboys and people who like me and make me feel valuable. A fallen world makes me needy. Nothing makes my soul squirm like when someone calls me out and puts me in my place.
Constructive criticism hurts.
Like a bee sting.
What if, everytime you got stung by a bee, the bee gods deposited $50 into your checking account? Might that change your mind on bee stings? Probably. Would it remove the sting? Would the sting hurt any less? No. But the value would outweight the pain. And you might not mind so much. In fact, you might seek out more bees.
That’s what constructive criticism is like. Hurts like crazy; helps like crazy.
I’m convinced the very thing holding most people back is that they’ve built a fortress of insecurity around them, insulating themselves from constructive criticizers. Insulating themselves from $50 bee stings. They could be filthy rich, but years of running from bees has left them dirt poor. I’m learning that the “rich” among us–leaders, world changers, remarkable creatives–are those that run towards the hive. You’ll get stung, but that’s where all the honey is.
(See also Prov 27:6)
Posted on 02. Feb, 2010 by Brett.
The college football season ended about a month ago officially. Unofficially, it ends tomorrow. Tomorrow is National Signing Day which is the deadline for high school recruits to make their college choice. This post is in honor of CFB’s sad ending and the eight month slumber til it cranks up again.
I don’t consider myself an expert in anything. But if there’s one thing I’m a semi-expert in, it’s the current state of Alabama football. I grew up an Alabama fan and remember fall Saturday’s with my dad, posted up in front of the Magnavox–jumping around and high-fiving and yelling so loud the dog would pee on the floor.
Since then, I’ve logged way too many hours on Bama message boards, bustling communities of thousands of super-fans with handles like CrimsonReign, TideWinder44, and SabanToothTider. These guys know everything– on-the-field schematics, recruits’ stats, insider information. If Sportscenter, TMZ, and Married with Children had an Internet lovechild, this would be it. The drama is palpable. And as a loyal superfan, you get to put yourself right in the middle of it.
And that’s where I’ve been. I’ve seen the highs and lows. Bama’s last decade has been one of unending drama–ridiculous losses to pathetic teams, NCAA sanctions, sex scandals, six consecutive losses to a bitter rival, and outrageous coaching changes. But somehow, through all the insanity, Bama fought back to the top of the heap in 2010. I was right there in Pasadena when it all went down, just like I was as a 12 year old kid in the SuperDome when Bama won it all in 1993.
How’d we go from worst to first? Success doesn’t happen accidentally. It’s a recipe. And when you’ve been peering into the Bama pot for so many years–like I have–a few key things bubble to the top. Here’s the championship formula as I see it. (High profile coaches scanning fan blogs for tips, take note…that means you Lane Kiffin)
1. The Success Tri-fecta: Leadership, Talent, Coaching (in that order)
When Nick Saban came to Alabama in January of 2007, it was nothing short of a spectacular hire. Saban was a proven winner, having won two SEC titles and a national title at LSU. He was just the right leader Bama’s jacked-up program needed. A relentless general that demanded excellence in everything.
But leadership alone wouldn’t cut it. After leadership, came a flood of talent. By the Rivals.com recruiting rankings, Saban signed the number one ranked class in 2008 AND 2009. While previous coaches had scratched around in the dirt for some talent, Nick Saban packed a crimson caulk gun full of miracle gro and jabbed it right into the heart of Alabama’s program. The talent level soared as was seen in this year’s 14-0 run where Bama beat ten teams with a winning record–something that had never been done in the history of NCAA football.
Leadership and Talent gets you 2/3 of the way there, but you must have solid coaching to complete the trifecta. The excellence, dicipline, and execution that Saban requires of his players is legendary. Equally well-known are his complex defensive schemes that keep quarterbacks on their toes or on their backs (see Ryan Mallett, Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, et al). Fans naively think that signing top classes makes you an automatic national title contender. Nothing could be further from the truth (see Phil Fulmer). Success–in the sports or business sector–never happens outside of good coaching. Leadership. Talent. Coaching.
2. Change isn’t a catalyst for success. The RIGHT change is
While sometimes random change is the catalyst an organization needs, that wasn’t the case with Alabama. Athletic Director Mal Moore struggled for over a decade to find the right coach. There was Mike Dubose, then Dennis Franchione, then Mike Price, then Mike Shula. It was a coaching carousel that made the turnstiles at Magic Mountain feel innocent and new. But the Crimson Tide needed a Winston Churchill. It needed the right change. That change was named Nick Saban, and he did in three years what the previous four guys couldn’t do in 17 years.
3. Catalytic events create momentum…
When asked about his quick success at Alabama, Nick Saban has consistently pointed back to one catalytic event. In April of 2007, Alabama played its annual A-Day practice game. Bama fans, all juiced up to see their new leader, showed up en masse. 93,000 fans streamed into the stadium…for a practice (It was actually more than that. Estimates said that another 10,000 couldn’t get in. I would know, because I was one of the ones locked out.). A listless fanbase was suddenly electrified with a new surge of momentum.
4. …But unleveraged momentum is worthless
Many times, Coach Saban has referenced this one event as the spark of momentum that caught recruits’ attention. Essentially, this became another weapon in his recruiting arsenal. Coaches look for every conceivable competitive advantage in the recruiting process. After all, would you rather go to a program that can’t fill its stands on gameday or Alabama where fans fill the stadium even for fake games? Passion is a powerful thing and Nick Saban knew to leverage it to tip those recruits sitting on the fence. Catalytic events are rare opportunities. When one appears, it must be leveraged like crazy.
5. The process is more fun than the final product
I’ll never forget a post I saw on one of the Alabama forums just a day or so after the national championship. Keep in mind, these forums are places where guys have been dreaming, for years, of the day when Bama would once again hoist the crystal ball. Only a few years earlier, our team had lost to Louisiana-Monroe in an embarrassing defeat that had the whole SEC laughing at us. We were at rock bottom. A national championship seemed so far off. Yet here we were, with the entire college athletic world under our feet. After years of staggering around in the desert, this was the ultimate satisfaction, right? To paraphrase the poster…
“Is it possible the process was sweeter than having arrived?…This doesn’t feel like I thought it would.” A few others chimed in to agree.
That sentiment was reflected a few weeks later at Alabama’s national championship celebration in Bryant-Denny Stadium. About 20,000-30,000 showed up to revel in Bama’s big win.
Hmmm… 93,000 hopeful fans show up to watch a troubled team practice, but only 25,000 show up to celebrate the Tide’s ascension to pigskin glory. Could it be that the “process is sweeter than having arrived?” I think so. What a shame to experience the letdown of arriving, having missed the beauty of the journey.
And with those five lessons, I will officially step off the ledge and close the door on this tremendous college football season. See you in August. Roll Tide.
Posted on 07. Dec, 2009 by Brett.
It’s December. You’ve got 11 months to look back and reflect on…
- What one word would you use to describe this past year for you?
- What goals did you set in 2009?
- What goals did you accomplish in 2009?
- What did you learn about yourself in 2009?
- What/who held you back in 2009?
Maybe 2009 was a great year for you. Maybe it was a total bust. Guess what? It doesn’t matter. It’s ancient history now. You know what does matter?
Yep, Lord willing, you’ll have another year to learn, grow, and make a difference. For the next year…
- What goals are you setting in 2010? (For help, check this out)
- What one change in your life would radically change everything?
- What books will you read in 2010?
- Who could you enlist as spiritual or professional mentors?
- In your career, what 3-5 things can you stop doing to focus more on your gifting?
What would happen if you lived the next year on purpose? What would happen if you cut out 30% of random, unintentional, cruise-control living? What if you actually took this list of questions and…
- Prayed about it
- Typed out your responses
- Printed it
- Hung it over your desk at work
What would happen?
Posted on 16. Nov, 2009 by Brett.
If your English sucks…
If you come from the hood…
If you’re fat or short or ugly…
If your family is full of crazies…
If you don’t have the right clothes…
If you only have a high school degree…
If you aren’t experienced enough in your field…
If you’re really pretty and everyone thinks you’re stuck up…
If you’re from the south and people think you’re an ignorant redneck…
Low expectations can pave a road of despair…
or one heck of a RUNWAY…
Depends on how you look at it.
That’s the thing about low expectations.
(See also I Peter 4:13)
Posted on 28. Oct, 2009 by Brett.
A half-built house doesn’t interest me. Bare wooden planks slung together on an ugly construction site littered with Mountain Dew bottles and cigarette butts. Nothing special there. A brand new, finished home is something to pull over and check out. A house-in-the-making? Not so much.
Yet I’ve noticed a few of my newlywed friends on Facebook who post picture after picture of their new homes during construction.
Oh look! Here’s a picture of the grassy lot before construction begins.
And here’s a picture of the foundation–an exciting concrete slab sitting inspiringly on some exquisite dirt.
Oooooo…. Ahhhhhh….. Diiiiiiiiirt…..
Here’s a picture of the house’s wooden frame, the skeleton of the house.
But I’ve never marveled at the dry bones of a human skeleton. Same with house frames.
Yet to the newlyweds, it’s all beautiful. Beautiful empty lot. Beautiful concrete slab. Beautiful dirt. Beautiful skeleton. So beautiful, they want to showcase it to their 1000 Facebook friends.
Because it’s theirs.
It belongs to them. They own it. Ownership.
I could care less about anonymous 2-by-4’s and dirt. But to the owner, it’s an inspiring representation of future and family and warm home-i-ness. They care immensely about those 2-by-4’s.
Humans value things they own. People magically begin caring when they have some skin in the game. I think businesses, churches, and even families forget this. If you’ve got people that just don’t care, they probably don’t have any ownership in the process. Figure out a way to make the wood and the nails and the dirt theirs, and they’ll wake up and take notice.